Boy, Bus & Key

By Dabeagle


Summer is the best time to be a teenager, I think. Free time coupled with the ability to work as much as you could or wanted to before Fall hit. Fall was the sad time with the impending return to school and all the leaves to be raked. The only good thing about this upcoming fall was that this would be my senior year; the last I'd have to endure. Then it was on to college and a more mature mind set.

At least that was the hope.

Of course there were so many things I'd miss about High School. The lost fights. The endless well of names to be called, books to be knocked out of hands and lunches to be stepped on. My personal favorite was pissing on my clothes while we were in gym class, that took a massive amount of brain power to mastermind. I was vaguely aware that other people had problems; but I was mostly focused on my own. Of course there must be worse things that walking home in your sweaty gym shorts and tee shirt in January with snow on the ground, I just can't think of any right now...

Walking home is another adventure. I live on the north end of town and the school is on the southern end of the middle of town. It's a nice walk spoiled by all the cars that go by with food to be flung from them. You might think eggs are the worst but no, you'd be wrong. Egg doesn't stain your clothes, but tomatoes do. I started taking the bike path that runs behind our school all the way to the north end of town, until I got rolled one morning for any money I might have had.

You might think I'm a wuss at this point, and you'd be wrong. I fight back, I get my shots in. They just get more of them; usually there is more than one of them anyway, so the outcome is pretty easy to predict. I'd really like a collapsible baseball bat or something, crack a few heads. I daydream about that a lot; getting even. Helps to pass the time as I stock shelves at the U-Sav down the street. I work hard, so the department manager gave me extra hours this summer for soda displays and other big projects.

I was saving for a car for college. I figured if I drove one to High School it would probably get trashed and I didn't want to waste my money. Besides, I wanted to pay for my car and insurance up front so it would be cheaper; insurance is a fucking rip off anyway. So I saved, and dreamed about some kind of muscle car maybe, one with lake pipes and a growling engine. Some old school Detroit rolling iron like a Gran Torino with the 351 Cleveland engine, not the Windsor. Of course, lake pipes might look funny on that car and it would get about 3 miles to the gallon...

Still, it would look cool. Maybe I'd sit in the parking lot with the radio on instead of driving, it would be cheaper. What a dumb idea, I can't believe I just thought that. I continued to daydream about four wheeled conveyances until my shift ended. I walked through the swinging doors between the bakery and the seafood department and grabbed my time card. It felt weird to punch out. I remember my first time doing it there was a novel feel to it. Now I feel like Fred Flintstone punching out after a long day at the quarry. After getting my iPod from my locker I started walking home.

My challenge to myself this summer had been to lose weight. My mother said it leads to low self esteem but I always told her I had people at school for that. Being overweight just meant I needed more comfort food than others. I got nervous when she started muttering about heart attacks and leaving strategically placed articles on stomach stapling surgery and decided to start my own weight loss program. After all what else was I going to do?

I had no friends. Zip. I was mostly okay with that. Sure it made conversation kind of weird, but on the bright side I could talk to my dog and he'd never contradict or make fun of me. So I guess I have to take that back, I do have one friend; but he has four legs and a speech impediment. Bad breath too. We won't even discuss the sniffing of genitals – human or canine. So with my busy social calendar cleared for the summer I decided to take up walking. I know what you're thinking, with no vehicle I have to walk home anyway. Yes, but here is where my plan comes in. Home is only five blocks away, but if I turn down and walk to the bridge, then up to my street and back to my house that's six miles. Done twice a day, it adds up. You might think walking, considering my issues with the human race, would be ill advised. For the most part, they were too busy. Factor in my lean chicken and baked beans and you see fat melting off me like an ice cream cone on a sidewalk. Wow. That image is kind of gross.

You can see a lot while you walk, I've discovered. I headed down the sidewalk and took note of how heat rippled off the roof of the burger joint next door, and the door was propped open in the kitchen to try and get a breeze. I could smell the burgers too, which were not on my list of things I could eat so I walked quickly before my willpower collapsed. Next to that construction was moving along on a mini plaza for five or so retail stores. They'd torn down four houses to build it, which kind of sucks except they were probably death traps anyway.

I continued down the street, taking stock of the shabby businesses and equally shabby homes. This was an old town and the closer you got to the old city center the worse it got. Also the houses were really cramped; one so close to the next they practically leaned on each other for support. I was told that when the houses were built, people were smaller and so the rooms were built to that scale. What, we were all hobbits in 1900? Air conditioners huffed in windows, dangling from the sides of buildings. Those unlucky enough to not have an AC unit were lounging on their front stoops, idly chatting with neighbors who were also on their stoops.

I didn't know any of them, I just listened to my music and moved on.

There are a lot of stories to be told on the side of the road. I didn't know any related to these houses or sidewalks, but there were still stories to be discovered. For example, as I stroll along I see a key on the sidewalk. It's a house key just like the tons of blanks you see on a rack at any hardware store or Home Depot; just waiting to be cut. This one, of course, is cut already. But it's story is how it got to be there that interests me. I pick up the key and begin to study it as I walk.

It started out life at a factory where a machine probably stamps out key blanks by the ton. It's journey brought it to a store where it hung with the other blanks until selected and a personality was cut into it. I can picture a young couple, perhaps, just moving in together and this key was a great symbol of their trust. It was something concrete about their cohabitation. It probably fit a lock that was little better off than the door it sat in, if this area was to be any kind of measure. It had probably been on a ring and was tossed, with all the other keys, onto a table after entering the apartment. It may have jingled musically against it's ring-mates when the person walked, or simply rubbed against the others in the dark confines of a purse.

Then, as so often happens with young love, they fight. Since the key was on the sidewalk, the fight might have occurred while driving. Maybe they were drunk and in the middle of the argument one of them angrily throws the others key to their home out the window and it came to rest here on the sidewalk. I noted a second key laying on the sidewalk and I stooped to pick it up. It had 'Ford' stamped on it, a car key. I amended my fictitious key history to include the car key being tossed, perhaps the key ring had broken when it hit the sidewalk. Id' imagine the car stopping as the owner of the key got out to find their property, only to have the driver pull away and them follow behind screaming, keys forgotten and uncollected.

Of course maybe they were keys that no longer fit anything, and some child had left them on the sidewalk while playing. Or maybe...

I told myself stories to help pass the time as I walked, it made it seem like it went faster. I pocketed the key to add to my key box when I got home.

My route kept me away from any parks or areas where sports could be played. I was a fair athlete but I didn't excel at it. More importantly people who did play usually enjoyed taking a break long enough to harass me. Of course I exaggerate a little; no one interrupts a fast break to hit me with the ball but there was no sense tempting fate. When school started up they'd have that opportunity anyway, why give them any extra shots? On the corner where the bridge was sat a small convenience store. On particularly hot days I'd stop for water here, no soda; that was out with the new weight loss plan as well. I checked traffic and crossed the street, passing the savory smells of the local Chinese take out place. I made my way up the five blocks to my street, passing a mattress store with dust covered windows, long out of business, and a small lunch counter and a bar.

Turning onto my street everything sank into full on residential, no more convenience stores or businesses sputtering on life support. Carefully trimmed postage stamps of grass, bushes neatly pruned into squares or spheres decorated most of the houses. This area was older, not quite shabby, but as the years went by more houses were rented out than lived in by their owners. The ones that were rented were always shabbier than the owner occupied ones; lawns would go untrimmed or hedges would cover windows on the rental properties.

The sidewalk was uneven and poorly cared for in most cases. Some areas had slate slabs that had frost heaved and sat in odd juxtaposition to their mates. Others were concrete that had simply split or crumbled over time, leaving gaps and rough surfaces.

At last I reached my house and slowly climbed the yellow brick stairs. Nothing else on the house was yellow brick, just the front steps, so weird. I liked yellow brick houses, I wished ours was one. I sat on the cool stones to rest for a moment and stretched my legs; twisting the ankles one way and another and stretching the leg muscles one at a time. I was told that stretching before and after was a vital part of exercise and, since I was walking six miles, thought it appropriate.

The screen door burst open behind me and my father stood on the porch looking surprised to see me.

“Oh, I didn't know you were home,” he stated.

“Just got here, stretching a little. It's kind of a long walk.”

“Yeah, it is,” he agreed and took a seat next to me. “You've shown a lot of dedication sticking to this routine of yours, I have to admit I'm impressed. Do you have any idea how many people say they will lose weight, change their habits and actually do it? It's not easy.”

“Well, if you send mom over to see them and explain stomach stapling to them, they might follow through,” I said dryly.

“Yes, they might,” he smiled.

“So...” I looked at my dad questioningly.

“That obvious huh?”

“Kind of hard on the screen door, dad.”

“Yeah, I guess I was at that.” He went silent for a minute, looking down at the brick steps. I wonder if he liked them as much as I did. I always felt like I had a good relationship with my folks, all things considered. They were very supportive and tried not to fret too much in my presence about my school issues and lack of a social life. Even so I was a little curious what could make my dad hesitate so long.

“Your mom and I have been talking and we've made a couple of decisions; both of them concern you.”

“No,” I smiled and covered my stomach, “No surgery.”

“No surgery,” he agreed. No smile though, even for my lame joke.“Look, kiddo I'm sure you'd have had an opinion but,” He paused and spread his hands out, “Sometimes circumstances force your hand. Your uncle Ethan and your cousin Winnie are going to be staying with us a while; they should be here by tomorrow night. This is going to upset the balance a bit, close quarters and all.”

“Did you guys promise my room to one of them? Please say you didn't?” I covered my face.

“No, Oliver, we didn't. Ethan will sleep in the basement and Winnie will get the spare room.” He gave me a tight smile.

“Why are they coming?”

“I'd rather not go into details; lets say they are having problems with their marriage and leave it at that.” He pursed his lips and exhaled as he glanced out at the street. “Your mom and I didn't feel the need to fill them in on you that much; but I don't expect it to be an issue. If it is, you need to let us know so we can handle it.”

“Okay,” I shrugged. I didn't know the extended family well. My mom said that my aunt and uncle never failed to ask about me whenever they spoke; somehow that implied I should care about them. In my opinion if they only asked my mom how I was, it was out of politeness to her, not me.

“One other thing though. I know you were putting off buying that car until High School was over but, your mom and I think now might be a better time.”

“Really? I don't know about that. I don't think I have the money to get what I want; plus kids at school will probably wreck it.”

“We've taken that into consideration. Your mom and I actually made arrangements a few days ago, but with this business with the relatives...” He spread out his hands and grinned at me, “ I forgot.”

“What arrangements?” I narrowed my eyes.

“Well, we got you an inexpensive car and added it to our insurance. Since it may get some damage from school we thought it better to get the benefit of our coverage versus what you'd get right now, and what that would cost.”

“An inexpensive car?” I groaned. “Are you guys going to make me an even bigger loser? An Escort? A Tercel? No wait, please say it's not a station wagon!”

“For a guy who claims to not care what others think, you're awfully concerned about a free car,” he laughed.

“Screw other people; I don't want a shit-box!” I laughed.

“Well, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Retro is cool now, I hear.”

“Yeah, I'll be able to tell you because, as you know, I'm the authority on cool.”

“Of course,” he smiled and reached as if to tousle my hair and stopped. “You're getting so tall. Don't ask me why I just noticed, maybe because your face is so lean now.”

“Dad? You're not going to cry are you?” I snickered.

“No, brat. Come on, to the backyard!” He hoisted himself up and I joined him; I threw my arm around his shoulders as compensation for the crying crack; he returned the contact.

“I had one of these one time, the most fun I ever had on four wheels, I think you're going to love it.” He said enthusiastically.

“Wait, is this a Pinto?”

“I never owned a Pinto,” dad demurred.

“Gremlin? Pacer? Trabant?”

“You know a Pacer would be a great conversation starter, everyone would notice it.”

“Yeah, great moving target,” I muttered. “Don't think the glass coverage would be affordable.”Dad dropped his arm as he reached for the latch on the gate and we walked into the back yard. There was a stockade fence surrounding the yard with a large double gate at the back through which he had driven what was, apparently, my new vehicle.

“So, what do you think?”

“Dad, I said I didn't want a shit-box. It looks like a shit colored box.” I laughed. In front of me was a square shaped van with a spare tire capping its nose. It was, as you may have guessed, chocolate brown and the cover for the spare was white. It was a two tone color, the brown stopping at the window line and white taking over from there. It had a thick white plastic looking top on it which added a few inches to it's height.

“Bitch, bitch, bitch. Come on.” He dangled the keys. I grinned back at him and took the small pieces of metal. These keys had a story behind them too but unlike the ones I'd picked up on my way home, these had a new story ahead of them. I took in the keys, lopsided at the top with a worn VW embossed in the metal. My dad was already climbing in the passenger seat so I squeezed the handle on the drivers side and the door popped open like it was relieved to do so.

“Mom would need a ladder to get in here,” I joked as I clamored into the vinyl seat. It squeaked under me, like an old bed spring. I hopped on it a few times experimentally producing a series of squeaks.

“Not something I want to listen to!” my dad laughed while covering his ears. He didn't have much to worry about there. I studied the dashboard for a moment, took in the ridiculously long and slender shifter and experimented with the pedals. I wanted to be familiar with the brake and clutch in relation to the gas since learning to drive a stick had been full of embarrassing situations. I popped the van into neutral and turned the key to be rewarded with the distant sound of the engine turning over and it suddenly chirped to life.

I glanced at the diagram for the gears, thinking it weird this big old thing only had four plus reverse. I tried to put it in reverse and every time I let the clutch out the van would strain forward. My father, unhelpfully, was giggling in the passenger seat. I fixed him with a glare and he settled in long enough to let me know I had to push down and over, like literally push the shifter towards the floor and then over towards my legs to get it into reverse.

“That's dumb,” I muttered.

“It's for safety, a lockout to help make sure you don't accidentally go into reverse when you're aiming for first.” He explained.

“Still dumb,” I said. I slipped the van into reverse and began letting off the clutch and sure enough I could feel it straining to go backward. We weren't moving though.

“Parking brake,” my father squeezed out between giggles of amusement. I sighed and reached towards the floor next to me, feeling around blindly for the handle. When I didn't locate it I glanced down in frustration and wasn't there.

“My poor son, so many things you still have to learn,” and so saying my dad took my hand and guided it up to the middle of the dashboard and a funny looking handle. “Twist and it'll go in.”

I complied with his instructions and the handle collapsed to the face of the dash and the van began lurching backward. I backed into the alley behind our house and then shifted into first and made for the street. Dad informed me he'd ordered Chinese so I headed down our street testing out my new ride. It was like being in an amusement park ride, you bounced with every bump in the road what with the seat being right over the tires.

“Hey! Wipe that smile off your face!” my dad burst out laughing.

“This is fun!” I grinned back at him.

“I told you.”

“The back looks weird, what is all that stuff?” I asked while trying to get quick glimpses of the interior via the rear view mirror.

“It's a camper bus. There is a little fridge and sink, the top pops up and there is a cot there for sleeping. I think the back folds out too.”

“Is that why this kind of van was the most fun you had on four wheels? Wait, never mind!”

He just laughed as we cruised down the streets, the van backfiring slightly between third and fourth gear. It wasn't fast or sleek, no lake pipes in evidence but I have to admit I really liked it from the get go. We picked up the Chinese and began to motor home, my dad fiddling with the ancient radio. No iPod jack. Just a radio. What were they thinking?

We sat at a light, the last major intersection before turning onto our street. The steering wheel was thin and hard between my fingers, not at all like the wheel on my dad's Subaru or mom's Taurus. I glanced over my shoulder at the camper rear with a bench seat that dad claimed folded down. I suppose if I had friends this would be a lot of fun. As it was, with a month and a half to school, I didn't see that changing anytime soon.


Uncle Ethan and Winnie arrived on Sunday with a few belongings. I was at work, but when I got home I noticed the strange mini-van outside our house that still had boxes and plastic storage bins inside. I made my way to the steps and sat down to stretch. I wasn't driving the van to work, otherwise I'd miss out on my walk. Plus there was gas money. God I sound like a cheapskate.

The screen door popped open and my uncle Ethan walked out looking tired and washed out. He gave me a wan smile and greeted me with a handshake before continuing out to his van to grab some of his stuff.

“Most of my stuff fit in a few garbage bags. The clothes anyway,” Winnie said plopping down next to me on the steps. “Hey Oliver, looking good. You slimmed down a ton since I last saw you.”

Winnie was gorgeous. She had thick chestnut hair like her father and these unique eyes, a light tan. I guess most people would call them hazel, but that seemed to pedestrian a term for them. Of course she was slim, wore clothes that informed you that she was slim and she appeared to not notice how pretty she really was.

“Hi Win, nice to see you again.”

“Yeah, I'm sure you're thrilled, roomie.” She smiled and hit my arm. “Where do you keep your porn stash? I didn't find any in your room and my laptop is still somewhere in dad's van.”

“You went through my room?” Indignation filled my words.

“Kidding, I kid,” she held her hands up and smiled. “But I could use the porn, be nice to rub one out later, you know?”

My jaw must have dropped and she burst out laughing.

“Sorry, the one thing my parents agree on is my inappropriate sense of humor.” She grinned at me. “Sue me, I'm a little nervous.”

“Yeah, I guess you have a lot going on right now.” I replied slowly.

“Add to that a new school, my psycho mom and the fact that,” she put a hand out in apology, “No offense but even though we're family we don't really know each other.”

“Yeah, we don't.” I agreed.

“I think the last time I saw you was at a family party somewhere. You had the biggest dish of Neapolitan ice cream I'd ever seen in front of one person.”

I colored at that. Neapolitan was a weak spot for me and I'd actually swiped other peoples at that party. I also got a seriously unhappy stomach after wards.

“But look at you now! All handsome and trim. I'm going to take you to the beach to make other guys jealous.” She smirked and winked at me, “We'll need a system so you'll know which guys I want you to make jealous for me and which ones you can not leave me with under any circumstances.”

“What?” I said in total confusion.

“Oliver, I know this sounds incestuous but you got totally hot. Kudos on whatever it is your doing, it's working.”

I'm used to being made fun of, but this was kind of low.

“That isn't funny.” I muttered.

“I'm not joking, you look,” I started to get up and she grabbed my arm. “Oliver, seriously, you look great.”

“Thanks.” I mumbled, then slowly withdrew to my room.


“This sucks, Wilson.” I said to my dog as I stroked his head. He wagged his tail in agreement, or whatever thought was passing through his furry head. Uncle Ethan and Winnie had dragged the rest of their stuff inside and I had hidden from it. My mother referred to it as rude and thoughtless, but I was thinking quite a bit. Wilson got a sudden itch and twisted around to get his head in range of his back leg to address the issue.

“She's pretty forward. It's kind of weird because...she looks like the kind of girl that wouldn't talk to anyone on my social level. But weirder than that is how in your face she is. Watch her Wilson,” I scratched his ears and he wagged in response, “She's after the porn.”

When we got Wilson my parents decided to name him that since I began talking to him endlessly from day one. They claim it's in reference to 'Home Improvement' where everyone talks to that Wilson guy next door, but personally I think it's more like Tom Hanks in 'Castaway'. After all, Tom Hanks had no one else to talk to but Wilson; the 'Home Improvement' people had lots of others.

Wilson doesn't say much, but he's a pretty good listener. Unless mom is cooking, then he's much more concerned with the kitchen and rather vocal about it. I scratched his side and he rolled over so I could work his belly instead. Nope, doesn't have me trained at all. There were a few taps on my door and then it cracked open a little.

“Are you whacking off?” Winnie asked then thrust her head into the room.

“No,” I said wrinkling my nose.

“Damn.” She stepped just inside the door and leaned against the wall. “I need to know so when other girls ask I have info to trade. Mind stripping down?” She burst out laughing at my expression. “Kidding! I kid.”

Wilson wagged at her and sneezed.

“Aww, who is this?” she asked stepping forward and putting a hand out.

“He's Wilson,” I said grudgingly.

“Oh yeah? Your name Wilson? Huh? Yes it is! You're so cute, look at you aww,” she fell right into baby talk and Wilson, that traitor, ate it up. She glanced up at me and must have noted my discomfort.

“Sorry to barge in like this, seriously. The adults are all trying to tip toe around each other and me; it's freaking me out.”

“So you come to my room?”

“Well, you look as uncomfortable as I do and it beats sitting alone in the guest room. With no porn.” she smirked again and I felt myself wanting to return the smile.

“Well, it is weird, I'll give you that much.”

“It's double weird when you're the person invading someone else's space.” She found Wilson's good spot and he wiggled in pleasure trying to scratch an imaginary itch. “You want to go for a ride? Maybe take Wilson and just...get out of here for a little while?”

I mulled the thought for a minute and may have said no except that Wilson had heard the word 'out'. For him out could mean anything from going to the backyard to do his business to a road trip and anything in-between. He began to whine at me and do his little doggy dance; which is Wilson's way of saying pretty please with a cherry on top. Win laughed at Wilson's antics and rubbed his ears a bit.

“Wilson is up for it, what do you say?”

“Okay. I don't know where you want to go though.” I sighed as I stood up and went to my dresser for my keys and wallet.

“How about a tour of the town? Show me where the grocery store is, the school, the adult book store,” she smiled as I turned to face her.

“Are you serious?” I demanded.

“Well, about the book store yes, I don't really care about the school.” She said with a straight face, then burst out laughing. “Oliver, you should lighten up. We're going to be kind of close quarters for a while. Be nice if we weren't at each others throats or anything, right?”

“Right, true.” I said and then bit my lower lip. I pointed at her and said, “But just so you know, Wilson is guarding my porn stash so don't try anything.”

She laughed and looked at Wilson and began rubbing his ears again. “Wilson, how about I trade you bacon? Pork for Porn? What do you think about that, huh?” And she descended into baby talk again. Wilson ate it up.

I leashed Wilson and we climbed into the van. “Oliver, this is a sweet ride. Check it out, ice box and a table. Fold out bed, a little closet. It's phenomenal!”

“Dad says there is a cot in the roof too,” I offered.

“A pop top? I've heard of those. We should put it up somewhere, just to see,” she enthused.

“Are you always this...”

“Nervous? No. But you have to admit, these are unusual circumstances.” She replied.

“I was going to say energetic. But I guess you'd know if that was in fact nervous.”

“I'm a mess right now, Oliver, seriously. Ever since my dad found out my mom was cheating everything I counted on that was my life just got blown away.” She sighed.

“I, uh,” I cleared my throat and tried not to look at Win. “I didn't realize exactly what the situation was.”

“I'm not surprised. My parents didn't want to tell me either, but I got it out of my mom. She and I aren't speaking too much these days.”

“I...I don't know what to say. I'm sorry Win, that's...”

“It's okay, I know. It kind of leaves you speechless. Kind of like if I told you my last boyfriend had an eleven inch dick, right? It just sounds too amazing to be believed.”

I burst into a coughing fit, glancing between her and the road.

“I'm kidding, I kid,” She held her hands up in surrender. “Oliver, you are very easily shocked, has anyone ever told you that? You do know there are guys with eleven inchers out there, right?”

“I had...ahem...I hadn't really thought about it,” I replied.

“Sure you have.”


“Oh come on, everyone knows!”

“Knows what?” I squeaked.

“You know, that guys compare their junk in the bathroom. A sly look over at the guy next to you. Kind of gauge how you rate next to others.”

“No, I...No I don't know who would have told you that.” I sputtered.

“My ex, Milo. He's a fountain of useful information.”

“He sounds like a pervert.” I said primly and she burst out laughing.

“You sounded like Miss Manners there,” she turned to face me and put on a serious expression, “The modern and well mannered young man will never glance at another man's wang in the bathroom.” Then she burst out laughing and, I have to admit, I did too.

“Now see, Oliver, you should smile more. I can't get over how different you are!” She smiled, “ All I can remember is this pudgy kid who loved his ice cream.”

“I still love ice cream,” I replied with a smile, “But I cut back on all that stuff and started walking a lot this summer. I guess it paid off some.”

“It did. I swear Oliver, I was kind of stunned when I saw you. Just not who I remember at all.”

“Well, you don't look the same either,” I replied. I wasn't quite ready to accept her compliments on my appearance; compliments were a fairly foreign concept to me at the best of times. “You're very...pretty.”

“Oliver, you charmer,” she laughed. Wilson began howling and standing up at the side window. We both looked to see what he was so excited about, which turned out to be another dog. “So...when do I meet your friends?”

“Oh, well, you already have.” I hooked a thumb back at Wilson.

“Really?” She turned sideways in her seat and looked at me. “How can you hold a conversation?”

“He listens, I talk. He sits with me when I watch TV, he licks the bowls when I'm done and he never told me I was fat or ate too much. He never calls me names of throws shit at me...he's pretty good as friends go.”

“Do you have know, people friends?”

I sighed. May as well get this out of the way. She'd find out in a month or so when school started anyway so there was really no sense trying to be friends now, it would all change once we got inside that brick prison.

“I have no friends at school or in the neighborhood. I am...not well liked.”

“Why not?” she asked. I glanced at her face and she appeared genuinely interested.

“Well, I was pretty fat, as you might recall.”

“Pudgy I said, pudgy. Big difference.”

“Well, after I was pudgy I got fat. Being fat and gay was enough to make most people be dicks to me. So I don't have any friends.”

“People are superficial, you'll probably be popular this year.” She said confidently.

“I doubt that,” I snorted.

“Well, at the very least you'll be scandalous this year.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, you'll show up on the first day with this hot babe in your van, a camper van with a fold down bed!” She paused dramatically while I gaped at her. “Then they will all assume you and I are knocking boots, rumors about you being gay be damned! Then when they find out we're cousins! Oh, the small town heartburn!” She burst out in giggles and I started to do so as well.

“Aww, look. You still have your dimples when you smile!” she grinned at me and I smiled back at her, feeling silly. “So tell me, are there any hot guys at your school?”

I caught myself laughing a little at work, thinking about some of Win's comments. She was so unapologetic about nothing being taboo for her it was...exhilarating. I found myself liking her more and more despite my reservations about liking anyone. In fact her breezy chatter had set my mind going in new directions of self examination. In all our conversations she had pushed the issue more and more about why I had no friends and she had me half convinced that I'd begun pushing people away before they had a chance to hurt me.

I mean, yes, someone had thrown food at me from their car and someone had pissed on my regular clothes during gym, but those things happened a year apart. In other words, they weren't every day. I guess it just felt like they happened every day.

“That guy that pissed on your clothes? I bet he was just marking you as his.” She opined one afternoon.

“What? That's the dumbest thing I ever heard!” I laughed. She and I had walked down to the local handmade ice cream stand. She convinced me if we walked down and back and I limited myself to a single cone rather than a banana boat dish of ice cream, that was all right.

“No really,” she said licking her ice cream, “Men are closer to the animal kingdom than women and lots of male animals piss to mark their territory. Male cats spray in the house, dogs whiz everywhere. I mean look at Wilson!”

“That's insane, he was just being an asshole.” I went back to my ice cream and was trying to eat fast enough that it didn't melt all over me, but slow enough to enjoy it. Not easy.

“I'm just saying...I mean maybe he was a neanderthal...oh god, it was someone from the football team that likes you!” She giggled and began pantomiming dragging her free knuckles on the sidewalk. “Milo says guys on the football team have the smallest penises.”

I choked on my ice cream.

“For a gay guy you are awfully uptight about cock.” she laughed.

“You're awfully forward,” I spat out. “I wasn't expecting it.”

“You should by now, really,” she smiled sweetly.

“Guys that date you, they probably think they are getting this sweet little girl and then you open your mouth...” I smiled at her.

“Yeah, well, they may say they want someone sweet to bring home to mama but I'm more real than that. I enjoy guys. I like looking at them, I like playing with them.” She shrugged, “They will like me for who I am and I won't pretend for anyone.”

As I cleaned the shelving I mused that hers was a good attitude to have, if you were brave enough. Minus the mouth of course, I just couldn't imagine being as outspoken as she was. In her first week at home she and I had really become close, talking all the time and confiding in each other. It was a new experience for me, having a confidante that didn't shed or leave a conversation when ham got put in the oven.

I started to replace the stock onto the newly cleaned shelf when Win sauntered up the aisle.

“Hey, Oliver, those pants are too loose for you,” She grinned.

I just rolled my eyes, “Hi Win. What are you doing here?” I kept restocking the shelf, my boss wasn't bad about people talking to you if your work got done. Not that I had any real experience with that, just what I'd observed in others.

“My dad got me a replacement cell today,” she held up the little gadget and demonstrated the slide out keypad complete with hand gestures like a game show presenter. “I was all cut off from my friends cause of psycho mom.”

I felt a trickle of cold down my back as it occurred to me that she'd needed someone to talk to before and now she would have her friends back. Damn, should have seen that coming.

“So anyway, I thought I'd come down and walk home with you when you got out? I need to lose a few pounds before school.” She pooched out her concave stomach and I laughed.

“Yeah, right. Win you're the football teams wet dream, I wouldn't worry about it.”

“My point exactly. I want the baseball team... bigger bats.” She smiled widely and I stifled a laugh into the crook of my elbow.

“What? That was appropriate for in public, right? I didn't say because they have bigger,” I put a hand over her mouth quickly and started to giggle with her. She was incorrigible.

“Outside, I'll be done in about ten minutes,” I said as sternly as I could manage.

“Aw, come one Oliver, I'll be good!”

“You'll get me fired! Go!”

She grunted and mock stomped back down the aisle. I smiled as I watched her go and wondered when, exactly, I'd started to like her so much. She was everything I wasn't, but maybe that was the reason. I finished up and grabbed my stuff from my locker and met her out front. She was sitting on a bench watching the cart guy go from corral to corral, snagging the left behind shopping carts.

“I really like that your store lets the guys wear shorts. He's got nice legs.” She said as I sat down next to her.

“I think he's on the track team,” I told her.

“Oh, that explains it then. Nice form, decent tan. Hey...” she leaned in close, “I wonder how far up his legs the tan goes?”

I glanced at the guy and began to follow her train of thought before she giggled next to me and I looked at her questioningly.

“I can imagine a full body tan, can you?”

I glanced back at him and he seemed to have noticed he was under surveillance. I felt a little flush as my mind conjured up an image of him sans clothing and stood up. “Come on, lets get to walking.”

She merely laughed and fell into step with me. “So Oliver, is anyone else out in your school?”

“Not that I know of, and I'm not out at school. They all just assume I'm gay. That they are right doesn't matter.”

“Yeah, but you can't get a boyfriend if no one knows, right?”

“No one wants to date a fat turd,” I muttered.

“Oliver!” she slapped my arm. “I am so sick of hearing you put yourself down. So you were fat? So what? Lots of people are. Most of America is overweight! They still manage to find love. And look at you now! Maybe you aren't used to it, but honey you better start because I'm not kidding when I said you got hot.” She pulled me by my shoulder so that I faced her. “you're going to get noticed.”

“Maybe. But if people didn't like who I was when I was fat, why would they like me now?” I said resuming my walk. She fell into step next to me.

“I told you before, people are superficial. I mean, look. You don't fall in love with someone's personality from across the room. You notice the pretty package with the bow on it and the colorful paper. That's what gets them to begin with, you have to spend time with someone to fall in love with who they are instead of what they look like. So now, they'll see the paper and the bow, the rest is up to you.” She put a hand on my shoulder, “But we have to do something about your crappy attitude!”

“Oh?” I lifted an eyebrow at her.

“Yeah, you need one more like mine.”

I snorted. Her phone began to chime and she glanced at the screen. “Do you mind if I answer this?” I shrugged and she touched the screen of the phone.

“Hello sexy!” she squealed then laughed at the response. “It's been okay, I made friends with my cousin. By the way my hot cousin.” She threw her arm behind my back and over one shoulder. My ego was definitely getting inflated with her compliments, I was almost getting used to hearing them from her.

“I know, I'm sorry I haven't, but psycho threw my phone in the toilet.” She paused and then replied, “Well, when I called her a whore she happened to have it in her hand the bowl it went.”

She pointed out the ice cream stand to me and I shook my head. She nodded vigorously and pulled out a ten from her pocket. “No,” I mouthed to her. She grabbed my arm and pulled me into line anyway.

“Milo, I know. I know, I'm sorry, I could have called. Was she a mega bitch when you talked to her? No, my car is still at the house, something is wrong with the trans something or other.” She pooched out her lip. “It's broke. No worky worky.” and she burst out laughing at Milo's response.

“Hang on, listen, I have to order ice cream cause my cousin won't. Tell him to share his porn with me,” and so saying she thrust her phone at me.

“I don't want to talk, I don't know him!” I said as she shoved the phone into my hand.

“Talk! He's nice.” So saying she dismissed me as she went to place her order.

I looked at the phone with trepidation. Well, how bad could it be? I lifted the phone to my ear and said hello.

“Hi, I'm Milo!” came the cheerful voice, “I'm so sorry for you getting Winnie inflicted on you, she's kind of a shock to the system isn't she?” he laughed.

“Yeah, it's different all right. But she's family I guess.” I replied. I covered my face, I can't make conversation.

“She's like having a non-stop comedian. Whatever you do, do not give her your porn.” He said gravely.

“Um.” I laughed nervously.

“I'm still waiting for her to give me mine back. I'm just saying.” And with that he laughed again and I joined him.

“You're right, she has a non stop commentary on everyone and everything,” I replied.

“Yeah, and it's all from a perverted sexual angle, right?”

“Yes! She was trying to get me to picture the cart guy at work with an all over tan!” I laughed and I could hear Milo echoing me.

“That's nothing; her pranks are worse.” The phone was scooped out of my hand and Win spoke sternly to Milo.

“My cousin, do not fill him with ideas. I have not yet begun to defile him.” She grinned at me while handing me a Neapolitan single scoop. “Plus Milo, he's hot. Maybe as hot as you.”

We started walking again, eating our cones as she talked to Milo, and I almost felt as though I were part of the conversation. After a few more minutes she told Milo her cone was melting and she'd call him later.

“Milo says he's not surprised my cousin is hot, it must be the genes.” She told me as she cleaned up the ice cream running down the side of her cone. “I apologize, I think talking on a cell when you're with someone is rude. I miss Milo something terrible, so thank you for not minding.”

I shrugged, “No big deal. Didn't you say Milo is your ex?”

“Yes, but we get along so well and,” she leaned her head against my shoulder, “he's incredibly hot. Like pick him out from a crowd hot. He doesn't even notice. I mean, he knows he's not a troll or anything, but he just doesn't know he's an eleven.”

“Are we talking about dicks again?”

“Why?” she asked slyly, “Want to talk about Milo's dick?”

“Incorrigible.” I muttered.

“Oliver!” she said looping her arm through mine. “That's the nicest thing you've called me!”

I woke up Friday morning to Wilson's claws digging into my back as he tried to push me off my bed. I rolled him over so his feet were aimed the other way and threw an arm over him. He responded by licking my arm. I used my other hand to rub his ear and we lay like that for a few moments in silence. A moment later my door opened and Win stepped in, shut the door and leaned against it. Tears were trickling down her face.

“Win? What's wrong?” I asked as I sat up. She glanced up at me in misery.

“Shit, I'm sorry Oliver.” She crossed to me and buried her face on my shoulder. I held her lightly as she cried. “This is so fucked up.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“My mother. She called a little while ago,” she wiped her eyes as she pulled back from me. “She is such a monumental bitch!”

I stayed silent, not really sure what to say in response. Taking Win's side might seem like the right thing to do, but I've always heard that only family can make fun of family, and I just wasn't that close to my aunt. Win sat back and looked at the ceiling for a moment before wiping her eyes with the back of her hands.

“Oliver, I have a deal for you.”

“A deal?”

“Yes, and don't look so suspicious!” she gave me the ghost of a smile. “You know I'd never try to do anything bad for you Oliver.”

“Yeah, but...a deal implies you want me to do something I won't want to in order to get something I would want to have or whatever.”

“Well, the first part is true I guess. One of the things my mother had to say was that she had found a jacket of mine I really love and had it in a closet for me. But see,” she held up a finger, “The shitty thing is she's trying to hold it hostage so I'll come talk to her.”

“Which you don't want to do?” I ventured.

“Damn right! Look Oliver, if you get married or even if you're dating, I think the other person has the right to expect you to not fool around on them. If you don't want to be with that person anymore then handle it like an adult and leave.”

“Well, yeah, I agree. Except...”

“Except what?” She narrowed her eyes.

“Well, I'm guessing if you have kids or a mortgage, car payments or something it might complicate stuff. You know.”

“Yeah, okay I can kind of see that, but still you go to the other person and work it out, right?”

“I guess,” I shrugged, “If you and the other person get along enough to do that.”

“Hm. Well, listen, would you take me over to get my jacket? I really can't ask my dad to go anywhere near her, you know?”

“Uh. Is she going to be home?”

“Don't worry Oliver, I'll protect you.” She smiled toothily at me.

“I guess so,” I sighed.

“Don't worry you'll be well rewarded. Today is Friday and Milo will be at the beach with everyone else. Grab your swim trunks and...oh.” She glanced at me and I started to look around wondering what was so interesting. “Oliver, you sleep with no shirt, I can see you sleep in anything?”

“Out. Get out.”

“You sleep commando? Hot!” she giggled and left the room under my stern gaze.

“For the record, no I do not sleep commando!” I called out. A slight knock and my Uncle Ethan poked his head in the door, grinning.

“I see Win's been talking to you. Don't worry, you're secret is safe with me.”

I could just die of embarrassment.

“So that's what you're wearing?” Win asked as she bounced into my room and on my bed.

“What's wrong with it?” I glanced at the mirror.

“Okay, unless you plan to go swimming in pants, those won't do for starters. Plus green and red go together only one month of the year, and it's not that month yet.”

“Win, listen, I don't mind taking you to your mom's...mostly. But I barely know Milo, except from talking to him once on the phone and you talking about know.”

“Eleven incher? Yeah, sticks in the memory doesn't it?” she grinned devilishly, “We can talk about it more if you want.”

“No, no. Win...look.” I flexed my hands open and closed as I looked anywhere but her. “I'm not good with people, they don't like me.”

“Milo will love you;, he loves everyone.” She wrinkled her nose, “He even manages to say something nice about Rick Santorum.”

“That's...impressive.” I allowed.

“Oliver, if it gets to be too much, we can go. Just...come on. You may like them, they may like you. After all, with them you have none of the baggage you have at the school you're at now, right? They don't know you so, give it a shot?”

I sighed. “My swim trunks don't fit me anymore.”

“Oh, let's go shopping!”

Win's old home looked nice from the outside. It was, I think, called a Tudor style with stucco on the bottom and a divider of wood with runners of the same type of wood running up the walls at 45 degree angles. The windows had those crisscross strips of wood that formed repeating diamond shapes. It made a very nice, very comfortable impression. Win headed up the walkway flanked by carefully trimmed shrubbery, and pointed out her little car; the one that was broken. She gave me a nervous smile and pushed open the front door.

The entryway walls were done in wood about five feet high, the upper part done in a cream color. The floor was dark wood with an oriental runner leading off into the interior of the house. Heels could be heard clacking and my aunt appeared in a modest dress with a conservative band of pearls at her throat and medium heels on. She looked slightly unbalanced as if she'd been drinking but otherwise looked like a Republican politicians wife.

“Winifred,” she nodded at her daughter and stared at me for an uncomfortable moment.

“Hi, Aunt Renee.” I mumbled.

“Oliver? My, you've grown.” her gaze returned to Win and dismissed me. “I'm glad to see you decided to be sensible.”

“Well, it's a really nice jacket, my favorite one. Since you take things I own and throw them in the toilet, I thought I should come get it.”

“Must you be so belligerent?”

“I must,” Win smiled sunnily. “Any chance I can just have my jacket and go?”

“We need to clarify a few things first. Oliver,” she glanced at me, “This doesn't concern you, you may wait outside.”

I took a step back as if to leave and Win locked her arm in mine. “Oliver stays, he's my conscience now. He might keep me from calling you names.”

“Winifred, this is a family matter.” My aunt frowned.

“Oliver's family. If it wasn't for what he said this morning, that maybe you might have had a real reason, I'd have broken in when you weren't home and stolen my jacket back.” Win glanced at me, “Sounds so weird having to steal back something you own, am I right?”

“Winifred,” Aunt Renee said in a warning tone, “What I have to say is quite simple. What is happening between your father and I is none of your affair. You have no right to judge me. I am your mother.”

“None of my affair?” Win's grip on my arm tightened. “You did notice I don't live here anymore, right? You think something that has me out of my own home is none of my affair?”

“You are a child;, you will be provided for regardless of the condition of mine and your fathers marriage. You do not have the right,” she lectured and Win interrupted.

“The right? Don't have the right? You miserable slut, you don't even respect me as a human being, do you?” Win began to tear up, “Now I understand why you respect yourself so little and decided to cheat on Dad.” Win turned on her heel to her mothers protestations and I followed her, shooting my Aunt a disapproving look.

“You see Oliver? Miserable, monumental bitch.”

“Yeah, I see.” We climbed into my van. Aunt Renee came to the door, but pursuing her daughter was too undignified so she simply closed the door. Time to hit the cooking sherry I guess.

I cranked over the bus and popped the emergency brake before heading back out of the neighborhood the way we'd come in. Win sniffled a little, sighed deeply and started to regain her form.

“Okay, the mall first, you need a swimsuit. Let's hit the grocery store too, couple snacks and some soda and ice for the fridge back here.”

“Oh yeah, there's an ice box. I forgot.”

We arrived at the mall and Win was a whirlwind taking me from store to store looking at swim suits. She dangled a Speedo once, but I'm sure my blushing was enough to let her know she'd never get me in that; not that it stopped her in any way. She just focused on the real possibilities and simply terrorized me with the skimpy swimwear. She had me try on several and finally settled on board shorts that stopped just short of the knee, red ones. She had me get a white tee shirt with a red stripe running top to bottom and a button up shirt to leave open but whose colors, she claimed, fit the rest of the outfit.

She found a pair of flip flops and insisted I had to wear them rather than sneakers. I glanced doubtfully at the sandals, and she leaned heavily on one leg and put her hand on her hip. “Are you going to seriously question my sartorial superiority right now?”

“Your what?”

She clenched her teeth, “They complete your outfit. Put 'em on.”

I glanced dubiously at them, tan with red stripes on the straps. I sighed and kicked my sneakers off and tucked my socks inside them before slipping the sandals on.

“Oliver!” she moved in close, “Why are your toe nails like that? Have you been climbing trees? Using them for traction?”

“What? They're mostly even,” I mumbled. She gave an exasperated sigh. After making my purchases, which was basically handing over price tags since I was carrying all the clothes I'd walked in with, she dragged me to a nail shop in the mall and forced me to endure a pedicure. It kind of felt good, except for the tickling to my feet once in a while. The lady working my feet kept apologizing whenever I'd squirm suddenly. Win was next to me sighing theatrically and saying how wonderful a pedicure was.

At last we left the mall, with me completely redesigned. “So,” I ventured, “Was I too embarrassing to show your friends before all these new clothes were on me?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes at me, “No moron. We're going swimming, but you still wore your green shirt and I picked out red shorts. Duh? Besides, if you'd just let me introduce you to them while you were starkers they'd love you on sight!”

“You are obsessed with nakedness.”

“I am. It makes me so happy!” she giggled and all I could do was laugh with her; it was no use trying not to.

The next stop was a grocery store for snacks. While I dimly realized I was eating into my car fund, I never bought clothes and I never went out with friends so I felt somewhat good about it. Except for the flip flops, I still wasn't sure about them. Soda in the ice box and ice in box, snacks in the cupboards and Win declared us ready to go meet her friends.

“So who will be there?”

“Oh, well I have my own little clique, you know? They drank my Kool-Aid, now they are mine.” She laughed while making an evil face. “But anyway, Milo will be there, like I told you. Lisa should be there, you'll like her. Um, I think Brenda will be there; she and Lisa are attached at the hip.”

“Are they...a couple?”

“No. But I wouldn't be surprised if they had a little thing on the side. I think...” she put a finger to her chin as if in deep thought, “We had this weird conversation one night and I think one of them said they'd agreed on which guys they could share, or something. “

“Okay,” I drew out the word.

“Oh and maybe Steve. He's kind of new. I think he was one of the guys Lisa and Brenda agreed on, but I don't think anything happened there.”

I decided I wasn't going to ask why.

“You want to know why, right? Of course you do.” She playfully slapped my arm, “It's because they are big talkers, but I think if Steve pulled his pants down they'd both wet themselves and pass out.”

We motored over to the beach near her town, it was a state park with tall trees and a large lake with plenty of beach on it. We got a parking permit for the van and got as close as we could to the end of the lot nearest the asphalt path that led towards the beach. I relieved Win of the bag containing our towels and sunscreen while she carried the blanket we were to lay out on. We started up the path which wound through trees shaded some picnic tables and stands for grilling. After passing a public washroom a stone fence started near the top of the hill that led down to the water.

“Hey, Oliver, you never told me. What's your kind of guy?”

I shrugged, “I don't know, I've never really...”

“Bullshit, of course you've thought about it. C'mon, give me a hint? What does it for you? Abs? Legs? Ass? Chest? Face? You're an artistic type, it's probably eyes huh?”


She snagged my arm and brought me to a stop. “Sure, quiet and contemplative – artistic. But seriously, like...well look around. There's a beach of guys down there, what do you find attractive?”

I glanced around uncertainly. I know it was silly but I imagined every guy on the beach was now looking at me waiting for me to say something about them; daring me so they could make fun of me or worse.

“Win, c'mon...” I groaned.

“Nope, we stay right here till you spot one guy you think is hot and point him out to me.”

I reluctantly glanced around again...and stopped. Longish brown hair, kind of slim with square cut trunks that showed legs that just went on forever, like staring up at infinity. One leg was crossed over the other at the knee and he was looking away from me, though I could still see his face in three quarter profile. He was slim, his chest apparent but not built. He was frowning a bit, perhaps a bit of sun in his eyes. Regardless, he was someone I could be interested in.

“How about that guy?” Win asked pointing to a nice looking fellow with his shirt off.

“He's okay,” I replied, my eyes stealthily sneaking back to the fellow with the long legs.

“How about that one? Guy at the snack bar?” She frowned, “Hard to tell, he has to stay dressed back there, huh? Oliver?” She nudged me and I glanced at her, caught.

“Oh, you found someone, which one is it?” She asked excitedly.

“Um, over there, on the fence.” I mumbled, not wanting to be heard.

“Who? Oh, that guy leaning on the fence? Long legs? Actually,” She looked closer, “Probably long everything.”

“Um, yeah, him. Can we go now?”

“Of course!” She smiled widely and hooked her free arm in mine and dragged me right over to the guy. “Milo!”

I was mortified, to say the least. She was enjoying the secret knowledge that I picked out Milo, of all people, as being someone of interest and she wasn't telling him...yet. So she had me in suspense, sweating bullets, and Milo was just riding the wave that was Win.

“Win, about time you showed up. I've been waiting for today since you suggested this!” Milo smiled at her after a big hug.

Wait, since she suggested this? I glanced at Win in suspicion. Alarms went off in my head as she turned and introduced me to the guy that was making me sweat.

“Milo, this is my hot cousin, Oliver. Oliver this is my smoking hot ex, Milo.” She was grinning and, in my mind, I reached out to choke her for her scheming.

“Oliver, nice to put a face with the voice,” Milo extended his hand to me with a large smile. My hand automatically reached out to meet his and it was thrilling. His hand was soft and warm but not floppy. It was firm without being aggressive. Oh, I was analyzing this too much. I tried to duplicate his grip and mumbled something about it being nice to meet him as well.

“Oliver got a VW van, we should go camping or something before summer is over. Where are the rest of our people?”

“Staking out a spot. Want to head down?” Milo slipped on some low top converse all stars that were resting on the stone fence and picked up a bag. Win hooked her arm through his and then snagged my arm and did the same as she guided us down the path towards the beach with our blanket crammed under one arm.

“Oh. Boys, you know what I'm thinking, right?”

“Yeah, pretty sure.” Milo laughed. Win looked at me and I shrugged.

“I'm thinking I am the envy of every skank on this beach because I have the two hottest guys on my arms and there is nothing left over for them!” She pulled us both closer to her and grinned back and forth between us. I felt a smile pulling at the corners of my mouth, and as I glanced up at Milo who rolled his eyes at me while grinning, I gave in and allowed the corners of my mouth to turn up.

“Lisa!” Win released our arms and dashed forward in a mad, off kilter run across the sand. Milo stopped short and I stopped as well, taking in the scene before me. Win was in her element, with her friends and this gave me a mixture of emotions. On the one hand I was happy to see her so happy, since I really had grown to like her over the past several weeks. On the other hand, selfishly, I was afraid of her being around her friends and forgetting me. I guess that's kind of sad on my part, to be worried about myself over someone's happiness.

“So, just so you're prepared, Win has been telling the girls to call you 'Hot Oliver'.”

“Oh no,” I covered my face with one hand.

“Yeah, typical Win. I'm going to guess she's decided you have confidence issues and has become a one woman cheer leading squad.”

“That obvious?” I winced. Milo put a hand on my shoulder and, goodness help me, I may have whimpered slightly.

“Hey, no sweat man, it's Win's thing. She's done it to all of us.”

I glanced at Milo in disbelief. How could he have a crisis of confidence? With his looks and what Win had said about his...endowment, he should be one confident fucker. No pun intended.

“Seriously, relax. Come on, Win will want to introduce you.” Milo tossed his arm around my shoulders and steered me forward. I enjoyed his arm being there; it was something I could get used to very quickly I decided. We crossed the beach and came to a spot about thirty feet from the water and Win was just turning back to see us approach.

“Did he try to run back to his van, Milo? Thanks for bringing him over,” She wagged her finger at me, “Come meet everyone.”

“I didn't try to leave!” I sputtered, but it fell on deaf ears as Win pointed to one person after another.

”That's Lisa, and that's Brenda and that little sex toy is Steve.” I began to give them a group wave when they all opened their mouths and said, “Hi, hot Oliver.” and burst out laughing. Milo clapped me on the back and laughed as he walked past me to join the rest of the group. I mumbled a hello and stood around feeling foolish with our bag of junk.

“I'm Lisa,” the petite brunette said as she moved away from the group. She gave me a quick hug in lieu of a handshake and smiled at me. “We had strict orders to call you that, but it was all in good fun.”

“Not that you don't live up to the name,” the second girl said as she came up and smiled at me. “I'm Brenda and can I tell you it's so great to meet you after all Win has had to tell us.”

“Oh thank...wait, what? What did she say?” I am reasonably certain panic laced my voice.

“Oliver, will you quit worrying?” Win turned around with her arm hooked through Steve's. “Lots of people sleep commando.”

“Win! I said I...oh for the love of donuts!” I dropped the bag and sighed at her. She released Steve's arm and took mine.

“I'm sorry Oliver, I know I'm over the top. These guys all know that so they automatically delete most of what I say.”

“It's true,” Brenda said while pushing her long red hair back and trying to retie her ponytail. “That one isn't something I'm going to forget anytime soon though. Usually, I use brain bleach after talking to Win.” They all laughed and I still felt a bit mortified.

“Oh, we forgot the snacks!” Win glanced at Milo, “Will you walk back with Oliver so I can talk about you both while you're gone?”

Milo smiled at her and gave a half bow, “But of course my lady. Come on Oliver, show me to your chariot.” He put a hand on my shoulder and started to turn me back the way we'd come. We started walking up the beach and Milo put his arm up on my shoulders again. I shook him off and gave him what was, probably, an undeserved glare. “I won't try and run off.”

He put his hands up, “Sorry Oliver, I was just … well, forget it, I'm sorry. I do that a lot, I'm kind of a touchy feely guy.”

My internal temperature climbed at least ten degrees.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like a dick.”

“It's cool, Win sometimes pushes that envelope just a touch out of your comfort zone, she's good at that.”

“Yeah,” I fell silent feeling like an idiot.

“Well listen, man, you don't have to worry about anything while you're with us. We're all pretty laid back, try to not take things too seriously. Most important, we're not the same strong personality type as Win.” He grinned at me and I felt my core melting. After all, I should try and take advantage of the chance to maybe make friends, right? Of course, people don't like me and Milo would probably see that soon enough, so I may as well be up front...or at least find out how much he knows.

“So you and Win used to date?” Great conversation starter, Oliver. Just grand.

“Yeah, way back in seventh grade. I was just sitting there waiting for the bell to ring in homeroom and she sat down right in my lap and told me she intended to date me.” Milo burst out laughing. “It was so surreal, but then you must know how she is since you guys are related, right?”

“Well,” we had crested the top of the hill and were now winding down the path towards the parking lot. “Yes and no. Win's my cousin on my fathers side, but we never saw them much. My Uncle Evan is her dad but once he married my Aunt Renee we didn't see them much, except for like family weddings or something.”

“Oh man,” Milo clapped me on the shoulder and laughed, “So you got Win with no warning?”

“Yeah, it was kind of a shock.” I admitted. His hand was still on my shoulder and I let it stay there.

“You guys just live across the river though like, what, twenty miles away or something? Like a half hour, how did we not know about you before this? Oh, wait.” Milo clapped his hand to his forehead.


“I'm sorry, I'm doing it again,” His hand squeezed my shoulder and released it's grip. I, oddly, kind of missed it. “Just so you know, Win isn't all bad. She told me not to play twenty questions with you, and here I go.” He grinned sheepishly, “Sorry to interrogate you.”

“Oh,” I glanced ahead and angled towards my van. “That's okay, not like you were asking anything personal.”

“ long as you don't mind...I am just kind of curious, like I said, with you being so close I'd have thought Win would have pulled you into our group. But now that you mentioned family functions only, I guess Renee kept you guys apart.”

I shrugged, “Not that I know of, but I saw her today. She's pretty uptight.”

“Yeah, I know, right? But still, her not wanting it would normally mean Win would try that much harder. It's just not like her.”

I pulled my keys out as we approached the van, “Well, truth is, I don't think Win would have really noticed me before anyway.”

“What's not to notice?” I glanced at Milo and he pushed his eyebrows up once and grinned. “You don't have a hunchback, you're not going bald yet and none of your nose hairs can be wrapped around your waist.”

My eyes bugged out and he laughed at me, once more putting a hand on my shoulder but this time to steady himself.

“I was fat. I mean, really fat.” I'm not sure why that slipped out, but it brought him up short for a second. He squeezed my shoulder before removing it.

“Well, 'were' seems to be the operative part.” Milo smiled, a very pretty smile. But if he was going to be a friend, I should be honest. But, I didn't have to tell him all at once, did I? No, I thought not. I unlocked the sliding door of the van and Milo hopped in the back.

“This is sweet!” He sat down on the rear bench seat. “Win says the back folds down into a bed, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess it's kind of a mini camper. Top pops up for an extra bed, too.”

“I would love,” he paused to emphasize, “Love to go camping in this thing. It is so awesome!” he laughed and stretched those long legs out in front of him and tilted his head back, pretending to snore. I glanced nervously at him, taking in his chest and following his outline all the way down to his black canvas sneakers.

“Win did say something about that,” I managed to squeak. His head popped up and his eyes lit up.

“You think we can?”

“Uh, maybe. Yeah.” I shrugged.

“I'm sorry, I'm doing it again!” Milo put his hands up. “Where are the snacks?”

Milo and I walked back with the chilled sodas and the bag of snacks Win and I had purchased. Milo chatted with me all the way back, although it would be more accurate to say he did the talking and I simply absorbed the stories, his voice and the casual contact that seemed to be so natural for him. We arrived back at the beach to find the girls all stretched out and Steve applying lotion to one back after another.

“I thought you two would never come back, were you abusing my cousin, Milo?” Win asked.

“No, he wasn't abusing me.”

“Pity,” Win grinned at me and I blushed. “I put your blanket out, go cool off and come lay next to me,” Win patted the space next to her.

“Okay,” I said as I put the stuff down. I kicked off the sandals and started to walk down to the water.

“Oliver!” Win sounded scandalized.


“What are you doing?”

“Going to get in the water?”

“Like that? Oh I don't think so!” Win popped up and ran over to me. I watched her draw closer puzzled at what would draw this response from her. She reached out and at the last second I realized, with horror, that she intended to remove my shirt. I pushed her hands down but she started to wrestle me and laugh while she did so.

“You can't go in like that!” she laughed. I was nearing panic and began to push harder when I overbalanced and fell towards her and she fell backward, pulling my shirt most of the way off. In fact it was over my head and I knew, sickeningly, that my chest was exposed. I began to struggle to get the shirt back down but, in a flash, it was gone and Milo was looking at me with concern.

“You okay?” His hand was on my bare shoulder. I was embarrassed and angry, and Win was laughing and running off with my shirt calling out that I could have it back after I'd swam. I glanced back at Milo's concerned face and, feeling my eyes start to water, turned away from him and strode towards the water.

In my minds eye I felt the burning looks of the strangers on the beach who had initially looked at the pretty girl stripping the fat boys shirt off. Now I felt anger and humiliation as they could now see my flabby 'moobs' and my sagging stomach, the signs all fat people wear. I broke into a stumbling run and plowed into the water, burying my head and kicking out into deeper water. The cool water didn't stop the burning in my cheeks nor dispel the tears from my eyes.

I stayed under until I could hold my breath no longer and surfaced, blowing air and a fine spray from the water on my face, much like a whale I'm sure. I fluttered my legs in place and brushed the water off my face. I let my feet stop moving and I drifted down, touching bottom when the water came up to my chin. Water splashed behind me and I shivered, covering my mouth and nose with my hands. Hot tears flooded my eyes and I dunked my head underwater again, coming out with my face leading the way so my hair would stay back.

“Oliver, hey...Oliver, what's wrong?” Milo was suddenly there and I felt even more stupid than I had before. Now I'd made a spectacle of myself, going from bad to worse and all of it happened in front of Milo.

He floated up next to me, the water coming to the tops of his shoulders and his wet just reminded me of everything I wasn't. I glanced away, ashamed and waited for him to splash away. Instead he merely stood next to me, not speaking but not forcing me to either. I glanced back at the beach where Win waved my shirt at me in victory and I frowned at her; not that she could see me.

“ you mind if I ask what just happened?” Milo asked gently. Why was he being so god damned nice? Pity perhaps?

I turned away from his perfect, pretty, sexy face. “Sure, I'll tell you. Why not? I'll never see you after today, so what does it matter?” His hand was on my shoulder again.

“If you'd rather not, I understand.”

Right, he could understand. Put us side by side and tell me that, he was everything I wasn't. “I don't swim without a shirt.”

“I'm sorry?”

“The shirt, I don't swim without one. It's embarrassing.”


“What do you mean why? Because I'm a lard ass with boobs and a flabby stomach, who wants to look at that?” I mumbled. His grip flexed on my shoulder.

“You might have had those things, Oliver, but you don't now. If you want to be who you are now, you have to learn to leave your old self in the past.”

That sounded like new age psychological crap to me and I said as much. His grip tightened and he slowly turned me around. His other hand settled on my other shoulder and then slid down my chest and to the middle of my stomach where he drove all five finger tips into my sensitive stomach. I jerked in response and he grinned at me.

“I feel a flat stomach and pecs, no boobs here.”

I smiled shyly, a little embarrassed and he grinned, splashing me with water. As my head was so close to the surface I was swamped and fluttered my legs to get some lift and returned the favor. After no more than a minute of that, maybe thirty seconds he lunged forward and picked me up, lifting me above the water and sending me crashing down on my back. I plunged into the water and tried to get to a shallower spot to be able to fight back better. When I surfaced he was waiting and despite the water being only up to my shoulders it came to Milo's pecs and he spun me, wrapped me in his arms and lifted me from my stomach dunking me again. The fight was on.

In less than five minutes Milo had made me forget, if only for a few minutes, my anxieties about myself and about him. He was smiling and splashing and, at last, I got under him and lifted by his thighs ejecting him from the water. I moved to a shallower depth, breathing hard and laughing as he closed in on me, dove and took me crashing into the knee high water. We climbed out of the water grinning and Milo slung his arm over my shoulder as we walked back to the others. And I let him.

“So, what did you think of your new friends?” Win asked as we left the parking lot of the lake.

“They are your friends, but they were nice.”

“They're your friends now too,” she smiled, “They all liked you.”

“Win,” I shot her a serious expression, “Friendship takes time. This was just...making acquaintances. If you never brought me back, they wouldn't care.” I reached for the radio and began scrolling through the FM stations.

“Totally not true. At least two of them were interested in more than friendship.”

“Oh come on!”

“No,” she held her hand up, “I know these things.”

“Win, seriously though...we do have to talk.”

“Uh oh.” Win lifted one leg up and put her foot onto the seat and gave me her attention.

“Win, I'm not like you. I have issues that aren't all resolved yet and even if I look better than I did and feel better, I still feel like a fat kid. I still feel...ugly.”


“No, you got to run things today with your friends but you have to listen to me now.” I glanced at her and wet my lips, unused to sticking up for myself without using my fists – and losing. She closed her mouth and nodded.

“Every time I swam, before today, I wore a shirt in the water. It only takes one time of people being so mean...once you...” I hesitated and felt the wetness coming back to my eyes. I fought it back and regained my composure, but just. “Once you realize that you look so ugly, that you are that fat lardass with 'moobs' and 'cankles' that everyone is talking cover up.”

I glanced at Win and she sat quietly, “You know, you're beautiful. You don't have people telling you all the time how much it must suck to be you. Taking off my shirt in public made me feel like shit, like me being afraid just didn't matter to you. If you really want to be my friend you have to realize...I'm scared.”

We came to a stop at a red light and I realized my hand was shaking. It's easier, I think, to get into a fight. There is no choosing the right words, no revealing a vulnerability that can be exploited later. You fight, you lose but maybe you hurt them enough they don't try you again. Verbal confrontations were different, the goals could be different. Sure, you could try to verbally decimate someone or your goal could be to not only bring about a desired result, but do so in a way that does no or little harm.

Win's hand came down on my arm, gently. “I'm sorry Oliver, I didn't realize.”

“It's okay,” I said as a few tears of relief trickled from my eyes. “It's not like I don't want friends, I do. But I've been alone so long...I have no idea what it feels like to be accepted.”

The light changed and I accelerated through the intersection and headed for the short highway connection that would take us home.

“The nice thing, with these guys is, you can always be you.” I glanced over at her to find her looking pensively out the window. “My mom wanted me to be someone else. She spent a lot of time telling me how disappointing I was to her. When I was little, I'd try to make her happy. I'd try to walk the way she wanted me to, dress the way she wanted, talk the way she wanted.” She shook her head. “It was never right, though. She never respected me as a person, as someone with my own passions. At least that's what the shrink says.”

“I had-” This was all I got out as Win interrupted.

“I know, Oliver, I know.” she turned towards me with a sad smile and patted my arm. “The nice part about you is you don't mind that I'm as fucked up inside as you are. I just show it differently. We all are, we all hurt. But you're right, I need to respect you as a person too and I forgot that. But I hope you know it wasn't intentional, and I'll do my best not to hurt you on purpose.”

“I know...I should know.” I sighed, “Maybe I overreacted.”

“You want to see overreaction, you should have seen Brenda when you got out of the water all wet with Milo,” she grinned, her old self breaking through, “She actually said 'now that's what I call a wet dream'.”

“Stop,” I said with a bashful smile.

“Aww, Oliver. Those dimples!” she laughed, “I told Brenda you had your eye on someone already so, she wont' hassle you.”

“Oh, well, um. Thanks.” I knew I was flustered, and I knew she knew too.

“Milo is great, isn't he?”

“He was...really nice.”

“Oliver,” she gave me a bump on the shoulder and smiled slyly, “Do you have a crush on my Milo?”

I thought of the sides I'd seen of Milo today, the physical and the emotional and I felt a warmth in my chest and an involuntary smile on my lips. What the hell? I'd like to tell someone. “Maybe.”

“So cute.” She leaned back in her seat and smiled as she looked out the window.

Wednesday morning I was at work building a soda end cap but my mind was miles away. Ever since Saturday morning when I woke up with thoughts of Milo I'd been wishing I could see him. Win was being coy, claiming she hadn't spoken to him. Technically she may be right, but I'm sure she was texting him. I felt too stupid to ask her to call him and I couldn't think of a good reason to get us all together just so I could see him again. I was also too embarrassed to just ask her for his number, after all how awkward would that be for me to call him? What would I say?

All day Saturday I'd thought of Milo, of my time with him and tried to analyze every aspect of it. If I were honest with myself there was still a tiny part of me that was whispering that he hadn't liked me, just took pity on me. But I was sure I'd liked him and I wanted to know more about him. Even if nothing happened between us, he seemed like someone that could let me grow into being a real friend to him as well as him being one to me. A real friendship. I thought on this all through my shift at work Saturday night.

Sunday had been a work day at home with lawn mowing and hedge trimming. Win and Uncle Ethan went out to look at apartments and I felt a little pang of regret over that. I was anxious about what might change if Win weren't here, but also what that might mean for me. A lot was on the line for me, and even though I felt a tiny bit selfish I also understood why. I finally had something to lose. Before Win and Milo I had no immediate hopes, but that one day at the beach had changed that. I'd seen, no, experienced what might be first hand.

Monday dawned as the first day of August and I was at work early. Win kept texting me at work and my boss finally came over and told me I'd have to shut my phone off at work, I wasn't being paid to text. It was the first time I'd ever been in any trouble at work, and I was a little mortified. I spent the rest of Monday wondering how I could bring up the subject of Milo with Win. All Win seemed to care about was hitting the amusement park on Saturday and she'd gotten me to ask for the weekend off. One thing my manager liked about me, sadly enough, was that he could always count on me for Friday and Saturday's since I had no social life; I'd like to think he approved it with short notice because I had never asked for them off before.

Tuesday I worked as well, and Tuesday night Win insisted we go to the movies. I was all set for it, and tried not to be too disappointed when it turned out to be just the two of us. I quickly got caught up in all that is Win and managed to dump my longing off for a while. So here I am on Wednesday with that soda end cap, thinking about how it felt to wrap my arms around Milo's legs to lift him out of the water, and about how it felt to have him put his arms around me before he returned the favor when a hand came down on my shoulder. Yes, I jumped.

“Hot Oliver, how's it going?” Milo grinned at me. Brenda was walking towards us with Win, arms laced together and giggling about something.

“Milo!” I smiled broadly.

“Aren't his dimples the best?” Win said as she arrived.

“Very sexy,” Brenda agreed. “Oh my god, he's even cuter when he blushes!” Milo's hand tightened on my shoulder before releasing me.

“Win says you're down in the dumps and we had to come cheer you up.” Milo gave me a serious look, “I can see how being without us would sap your will to live.”

“Well of course,” I agreed, “Having you here makes life worth living.” I glanced around and with the silence I interjected, “Having all of you here...”

Brenda burst out laughing, “Okay, I surrender. Milo has dibs! Hey what aisle is the candy in?”

“Um, aisle twelve at the back...dibs?”I looked at Milo.

“We were discussing you batted for. I won.” He smiled broadly.

“Oh.” I glanced at Milo, looked past him to see my boss approaching and turned back to my project. “Boss incoming.”

Win swung into action grabbing a bottle of soda and lacing her arm through Milo's and heading deeper into the store. I didn't see them leave but that may be because my boss started working with me to build the display. I was distracted though, what would this mean to the group if anything? Amazingly I wasn't panicking, hard as it was for me to believe. I hoped anyone that was friends with Win was pretty safe being who they were, as foreign as a concept for me as it was. My only real worry is how that would affect Milo. After all, being touchy feely with a gay guy might make him feel uncomfortable, right? When I walked out the front of the store I turned my phone on and was startled by an arm on my shoulders.

“Hey, did you get in trouble?”

“Oh, no, I'm good.” I smiled at seeing him again.

“I hear you like to walk home and that there is good ice cream to be had on the way?”

“Yeah, there is. I mean I do. Ugh.” I covered my face and tried to stop being a moron in front of him. “Yes I do walk home and yes there is a good ice cream place.”

“Lead on, McDuck,” he waved an arm in front of me.

“Isn't it MacDuff?” He matched my stride and he screwed up his face for a moment.

“You know, I think you may be right. I'm confusing my Shakespeare with my Disney again.” I grinned while he chuckled at his joke. He was wearing a sleeveless tee shirt and cargo shorts along with his black canvas sneakers. I felt like someone should be calling out 'Beauty and the Beast' at some point on my walk, but I just didn't care. Milo was walking me home.

“So are you out?”Milo asked.

“To my parents, and Win.” I frowned, “I guess at school too, though everyone just assumed.”

“Ah cool.” He took my hand. I glanced up at him in surprise and was rewarded with his smile. “So Win ever tell you why we broke up?”

The gears in my head spun quickly and I grinned, “No way.”



“Yeah. Thing is, you know, Win really helped me through that. The nice thing about her is there is nothing hidden, if she loves you...she loves you. And when I say that, I mean she loves the person, not like sex.”

“She has a lot of experience I guess.” I nodded.

“Naw dude, she doesn't.”

“Well she told me...” I bit my tongue and just tried to enjoy holding Milo's hand.

“What? What did she tell you?” Milo poked me in the ribs with his free hand.

“Stop, stop!” I squirmed but couldn't go far with my hand in Milo's – and I wasn't giving that up so easily.

“Tell me!” he laughed.

“Okay, all right!” I smiled at him and kept my hand up to intercept him since he kept faking trying to poke me again. “She just always talks about sex and is so forward, I guess I figured she was...experienced.”

“Nah. Far as I know she's still a virgin.”

“Can't be she said...”I clamped my mouth shut.

“Oh this is gonna be good; come on Hot Oliver, spill.”

“No, I just realized what she said didn't necessarily mean that she'd, you know, partaken.” This sounded weak to me and I immediately began dodging his finger again. We stopped while he wrapped me in his arms in order to tickle me better and I squirmed, shrieking for him to stop but loving every second of it.

“Tell me what nasty little thing my perverted Win filled your head with!” he kept up the tickling and at last I simply couldn't breathe anymore. He stopped tickling but grabbed my hand again so I couldn't get away. “Come on Oliver, tell me.”

“'s kind of...embarrassing.” I managed while I caught my breath.

“Of course it is, it's coming from Win, what did she say?”

“She said...Oh I can't believe I'm saying this.” I put a hand over my eyes. “She said you were eleven inches.”

Milo burst out laughing and I started to giggle. He pulled on my hand and started me walking again, but he was laughing and I couldn't stop giggling at the absurdity.

“Yeah, so about that,” Milo grinned. “Win decided to make some chick jealous for some reason I forget and started telling everyone I was huge.”

“That increase your offers at school?” I smiled and Milo's face took on a guarded look, something that seemed totally out of character for him.

“Well, it did get some people's attention. Sometimes the wrong thing in the right person's ear can be a lot of trouble.”

We walked in silence, me dying to ask and he just holding my hand. I decided it was my turn to not pressure one of us to talk and I simply enjoyed being with him and, perhaps, being there for him. I wasn't quite sure if just walking and holding his hand qualified as being there for him, it was a new concept for me.

“You know...I like you. But I want to be up front. I'm looking for someone to be a partner. Someone who will be, like, a partner in adventure. Go places, do stuff but...I'm not looking for anything serious. Just fun.”

“I like you too,” I replied. I hoped I looked calm on the surface, but underneath my mind was roiling. Did that mean he saw me as disposable? Was I the reason he didn't want anything serious? Was it because he was so much more experienced and I was just getting started? I had a list of maybe eight or eighteen right off the top of my head as to why I could be the cause of that. I decided though, that if he was willing to spend time with me, I could live with it.

“So, uh, I guess there must be rules. Like,” I lifted our hands, “This is okay but...what?”

“Dude, setting limits is like having a boyfriend type relationship. We're friends, working on being good friends. We should define those things, don't you think?”

“Yeah, okay. I was just know, what the rules were so I didn't break them.”

He laughed, “Oliver the rules are just between you and me. If we talk about whatever and keep it casual, we should be fine right?”

“Okay, okay! Sue me for worrying!”

“What do you have to worry about?” He smiled.

“Well...what if Win doesn't go to my school? They are looking for an apartment, if she goes back to school full time in her old school...” I stopped and Milo turned to face me with an inquisitive look. “I know this is wrong on some level, but...I don't have friends. If you guys aren't here to see Win, I'm afraid I won't see you guys.”

“I promise I won't drop you.” He grinned at me, “ Now how about that ice cream?”

So we walked the rest of the way to the ice cream stand and then we walked to my house. Brenda, Lisa and Steve were already there and Wilson was eating up the attention. It was then that I discovered we were going camping, not to the theme park and since I wasn't working Thursday and had taken Friday and Saturday off, plans were in full swing. I glared at Win, who smiled as if she hadn't been planning behind my back again and I finally decided to just let it go. After all, I was going camping with Milo.

The biggest snag turned out to be we needed an adult, or more precisely someone over the age of eighteen. We all surrounded my Uncle Evan who finally relented. The pressure of the separation was wearing on him and his boss certainly understood, so he took a few vacation days and the trip was official. Thursday afternoon everyone showed up at my house with their camping stuff – tents, sleeping bags and junk food.

I was in the attic when they arrived which was accessed through my room. Opening the door showed you a small closet on the right and to the left a staircase that wound up to the attic. I dragged down an old sleeping bag from one of the storage shelves and was coming down the steps from the attic when I heard Win's voice calling to me.

“Up here,” I called as I exited the closet door. She was standing in the doorway of my room that led out into the hall with a confused look.

“Why were you in the closet?”

“It goes to the attic? Where the sleeping bag was?”

“It does?” She was overcome with curiosity and headed over to the closet door to see for herself. As she did so Milo, Steve and Lisa walked into the room as Win called out how cool it was 'like a secret passage' and the others made their way over to look. Milo trailed behind and looked around my room. I tensed slightly, wondering what cues about me he'd get from my living space. Wilson was right behind him and hopped up on the bed and began pawing the air in his direction. Milo smiled down at him and started to pet his head.

“Wilson is a pretty good judge of character,” I commented with a smile. I was waiting to hear what Milo would say, just about anything would do. In order to keep my hands busy instead of, say, wringing them like an idiot, I re-rolled the old sleeping bag, binding it into a smaller bundle so it would take up less space in the van.

“Is that true, Wilson?” Milo bent down and put his face at Wilson's level, “You approve of me seeing your boy?” Wilson gave a small woof and licked Milo's nose. Milo burst out laughing and Wilson wagged his tail. I sat down on the bed and hugged Wilson into me.

“Wilson is my oldest friend,” I told Milo. “He knows all my secrets.”

“Oh, right, Wilson!” Milo said with dawning comprehension. “Win said she was working on a plan to get Wilson to tell her where your porn was; I assumed Wilson was a friend not your dog!”

“Wilson is definitely my friend, unless there is a ham in the oven then he's nothing but a stomach on four legs,” I rubbed Wilson's head, “Right Wilson?” He whined as he turned his ear into my gentle rubbing and pushed his head to get a more thorough job done. Milo wandered around my room and I tried to watch him without staring. He finally came around to my dresser and the cardboard box of junk on it. He pointed to my key box on the top with a question on his face and I nodded. He lifted the top off and took in all the keys.

“I'm guessing there is a story here?”

“Sort of.” I shrugged, “I started to walk a lot this spring to lose weight. If I work I have the path you and I took yesterday but if I didn't have to work I'd just pick a direction and head out. I find a lot of keys while I walk, more than anyone might think. I think of stories as to why each key is there for me to find. Some people throw away keys, even if they still work. Or they lose them or they are bent.”

“I'm sensing a metaphor here, you with all these keys looking for the right lock?” Milo grinned.

“He's the key master,” Win confirmed popping out of the closet. “I'm the gate keeper.”

“There is only Zul!” Steve said in a deep voice.

I gave them all a blank look while Milo smiled at me, “Ghostbusters.” He supplied.

I just shook my head in amusement. We all headed down towards the front hall where our gear was stacked and began ferrying things out to the vehicles. Uncle Evan pointed out the need for other essentials besides junk food and took us shopping, only buying some of the items, not all. We pitched in and got some stuff to cook out with, ice for storage, etc.

Milo was hanging out with me in the store and I felt undeniably special as I basked in his attention. He and I chatted about nothing mostly, except for one little thing. We were walking through the store picking up some hamburger and hot dog stuff while everyone else was getting yet more junk food when Milo stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.

“So hey, I was wondering.” He stopped and I looked up at him to see the impossible. He was blushing!

“Milo?” I drew the word out, “What are you thinking?”

“Well, I was just, you know, wondering...I'd really like to camp out in the van think I could? I mean you and I could, you know, sleep in the van? You said it had a fold down bed and stuff.”

“Milo! I'm a good boy, we haven't even had an official date and you want to sleep with me?” I whispered while grinning. His eyes went wide.

“Did you just tease me? Oh no, Win is rubbing off on you!” and he grinned.

“Well,” I sighed heavily as I turned away from him, “I guess I could look at myself in the mirror the next day if we slept in the same vehicle together.”

“Oh, okay, just so long as you can live with yourself afterward.”

“My worry,” I said while scooping up a package of sliced cheese for the burgers, “Is what Win will make of it.”


Late Thursday afternoon we were on the way in two vehicles. Steve rode with Uncle Evan and the rest rode with me. I glanced in my rear view and was so pleased to see that idea I'd had when I first got the van coming true; to have a carload of friends off on an adventure. Milo was in the back and Lisa was next to me up front chattering away. She was half turned in her seat and addressing me as well as the rest of the group.

I found it interesting that Steve was riding with Uncle Evan, and I discreetly asked Lisa if she knew why. She smiled wickedly and looked at Win, “Win. It seems kind of weird Steve is back with your dad. Does he have a shotgun in the car? Explaining the rules of the road to poor Steve?”

“Oh my god, can you believe how silly my dad is being? I'm pretty sure by the time my dad gets done with him Steve will become a monk!”

“Win, you like Steve?” I was surprised, considering how just a week ago her language revealed nothing.

“Well, once I realized he wasn't going to get into a manage e trios with my slutty friends, I took a closer look. He has a great ass and,” she held up a finger, “I noticed while he was putting on the suntan lotion that he has very soft hands.”

“He does have a great ass,” Milo agreed and I felt my temperature rise amid the groups laughter. The fact that he and I weren't dating didn't make it any better, I was definitely feeling a twinge of jealousy.

“You know, just because Brenda and I agreed on him doesn't qualify us as sluts!” Lisa laughed. “Besides, If I told you there was a way to have a piece of Steve, but you had to share you're saying you wouldn't take it?”

“Well, it depends.” Win pretended to think about it, “If it was Steve and Milo I'd definitely have to consider it! But you and Brenda? I know where you two have been!”

“Oh you liar!” Brenda burst out laughing. “I swear, if I had as much sex as you make it sound like I do I couldn't walk!”

“Sure you can, tongues don't make you bow legged. Not like Milo and his foot long!” Win laughed and the group burst out with Milo flushing just a touch.

“Hey last week you said it was eleven, he grew an extra inch?” I asked.

“Oliver!” Win asked as if scandalized, “Are you actually asking for information about Milo's penis?”

My mouth flopped for a few seconds and everyone laughed again. Leave it to Win to turn it all around on me.

Once we'd arrived tents started to go up and I worked with Uncle Evan to get the food started for dinner, beings as my sleeping arrangements were already well in hand. He had a single person tent and it seemed everyone else was cramming into a five man. I'm pretty sure the only reason Uncle Evan was allowing Steve and Win in the same tent was because Lisa and Brenda would be there. We set up a fire and we actually sat around it like a big old cliché and made s'mores. After dinner, while we sat near the warmth, my eyes began to drift closed. Not even thoughts of curling up to Milo could keep my eyes open so I excused myself, and set up my bed in the van.

After putting my bedclothes on and brushing my teeth I crawled onto the folded down bed. I realized it was going to be a snug fit with two people and I ruminated on that. I'd never cuddled with anyone, slept with anyone or made out. Would we do any of those things? I suppose the cuddling might be very nearly unavoidable but even with anticipation making me feel like a live wire my body finally drifted off to sleep while I was still alone.

I awoke with the sun streaming through the window and my bladder complaining loudly. I rolled slightly and was surprised to find myself alone. I felt stupid; after all Milo and I weren't an item and my looking forward to something intimate with him probably fell outside the rules of whatever casual meant to him. But he had been the one to ask if he could sleep in the van, so I was left doubly confused and disappointed. I grabbed my necessities and left the van for the bathroom facilities, all the while wondering what had happened with Milo the night before. Had he changed his mind? Well, obviously. But why? Was the idea suddenly too personal to him? Breaking that rule of nothing serious?

I reached the bathroom and completed my morning ablutions. Flimsy shower stalls were set up and I occupied one, making it fast with the very cool water. I pulled on shorts and a tee shirt from my bag and headed back to the van. As I approached Steve had a coffee pot on the fire perking and the smell was just what I needed. He smiled and waved, putting a finger to his lips. I put my things away and sidled up as he poured out two cups of the dark liquid into the tin cups lined with baked ceramic. He gestured away from the tents and I walked with him towards the path that wound from our camp and down towards the lake.

“Thanks for the coffee,” I saluted him with the cup before taking a tentative sip of the very hot liquid.

“My pleasure. Need that first cup,” he smiled and sipped his own. We arrived on the bank of the lake and simply stood, looking at the morning sun scattering its rays across the water.

“So, how was riding with my Uncle Evan?”

“Not so bad, really. He more or less said Win isn't as wild as she pretends to be and to treat her like a lady.”

“Hard to believe, huh?'

“Oh, I don't know.” He gave me a knowing smile, “I've actually had my eye on her for a long time but her group of friends is kind of exclusive.”

“What do you mean? They all seem pretty welcoming.”

“Oh yeah, they are, don't get me wrong. It's more to find a casual way to get into this group without setting off alarms that you have a goal in mind, I guess. An...agenda.”

“An agenda? To what, sleep with my cousin?”

Steve nearly spit out his coffee and started to laugh, trying to cover his mouth so as not to let the sound carry too far. “No, no. Listen,” he laughed a bit more. “Listen, Win is one of those rare people that just takes everyone as they are. If you're an asshole, she dismissed you as such. If you had friend potential, she'd cultivate you. If you had some fatal flaw, socially speaking, she'd never hold it against you unless you fell into the asshole category.”

“Yeah, okay, that sounds like Win.” I allowed.

“But she also has a very compassionate side to add to that. See, everyone around her has their baggage. I won't tell tales, but as you get to know them you'll hear their stories. But I will tell you mine.” He smiled and struck a pose with his arms wide and I took a moment to take him in, silly pose wide smile and all.

Steve was average height I guess, curly dark blond hair and an athletic build, but not like one of a body builder by any means. He was a nice looking guy, in short, with his pretty blue eyes to go with his Germanic looks. I motioned for him to continue.

“As you know being different in any way is pretty much the kiss of death, in my case it was my parents.” He smiled and pointed to his chest, “Adopted with two dads.”

“Really? Cool.” I replied.

“Now, see,” he gestured with his hands, “That's what I expect from someone that Win likes, and I understand you're family? So doubly so. No,” he shook his head, “Win's not someone you try to lay, she's a keeper in every sense of the word. I'm not fucking around, I'm playing for keeps here.”

My mind absorbed what he said and, guiltily, I found myself wondering how his insights into Win could be applied to my situation with Milo. “ did you decide...she was, what, the one?”

“You asking how I fell in love?” Steve smiled, a wide welcoming grin.

“Yeah, kind of.” I shrugged.

“Well, with Win it was easy. She is a force of nature, which of course you know, but she's also deceptively mature in her thinking. Lots of people only see the front she puts out, the loud or the 'inappropriate' comments or something and assume that all there is.” He looked up at the sky as he smiled even more deeply, if that was possible. “But Win was never bothered by my dads, she never listened to the bullshit at school, and she made her own judgment. That shows me that if she ends up liking me, it'll be for me.”

“Were your dads like, disappointed you're not gay?”

“Well, secretly I think they kind of hoped I would be. They are very active in gay youth organizations and stuff like that; totally supportive. If I'd been gay, they were ready. But they loved me regardless and I never worried about coming out as straight to them.”

“ you love Win?”

“Yeah, pretty sure. She's smart, hot and has a heart. That's kind of a rare combination. She seems like a really good person and I think I can build something with that, even if it doesn't end up being romantic.”

“Huh.” Was all I could verbalize as I looked out across the water.

“So...any advice for me with your cousin?”

I glanced at him, a hopeful look on his face. “Just do what you're doing, be a good guy and she'll find that in you.” I held a finger up, “And apparently you have a great ass and soft hands, which seem to count for something in her book. And don't hurt her.”

“Dude, hurting her is the last thing I want to do.”

We stood in companionable silence, but a question was burning my brain and I was trying to come up with just the right way to ask it. Steve started to turn away to head back to the camp and I snagged his arm.

“I want to ask you a question but...I want to do it so that you don't betray anyone's confidence or...a private past.”

“Okay,” he said with curiosity plain on his face, “I'll answer as best I can with those restraints in mind.”

“Can you give me any advice about Milo?” I said after a pregnant pause. Steve put his eyebrows together and studied me. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.

“Milo is a complex guy if you don't know his story, but it's not my place to tell it to you. Even if I did, I probably don't know the whole thing. The best advice I can give you...” He gave me a tight smile, “Be patient with him. From everything I know about him he's a great guy, but not everyone saw him as a long term guy.”

“He confuses me.” I sighed.

“I think he confuses you because he's confused himself.”

“About being gay?” I said with alarm.

“No, not at all.” He licked his lips and looked out over the water. “Milo...all I can say is be patient, show him who you are and he'll show you, eventually.”

So saying he turned and walked up towards the camp to gather his things and hit the bathrooms. Uncle Evan was drinking some of Steve's coffee and the smell was rousing the others slowly. I'd imagine maybe sleeping on a rock or a root might have had something to do with it too. One by one they emerged, stretching and slipping on footwear to get them over the rough ground and to the bathrooms. I turned away from them and sat down on the rock I had been sharing with Steve and watched the sunlight play off the water.

Breakfast was pretty rough, there was some cereal and Lisa tried to make some eggs, but burnt most of the stuff. A second pot of coffee was made and everyone sat around the ruins of the previous nights fire. Brenda took my hand and dragged me off on one of the paths that wound it's way around the park. Win was off with Steve already and Uncle Evan decided he needed an air mattress so he was headed into town; Milo and Lisa wanted to get something to eat, apparently breakfast was important to them.

So Brenda and I walked, her red hair swinging freely about her shoulders and her pace easy. She idly pointed out items that interested her and I tried to pay attention to them, like I imagined a friend should. Not that I should repeat them verbatim later but so that I would know that, for instance, she had an interest in nature in general and birds in particular. She led me out onto an open spot where a group of rocks made a flat table and gave a view of the hills and a tiny slice of the lake below.

“So I finally got you all to myself!” She smiled and sat on the rock, patting a spot next to her.

“Oh, okay,” I grinned, “I talked to Steve this morning so now it's your turn?”

“Ugh, Steve got to you first? That sneaky weasel.” she rolled her eyes.

“Well, I had to ask him his intentions towards my cousin, you know,” I feigned seriousness, “I assume you're here to ask me about Milo.”

“Damn, you're good.”

I blinked. “Seriously?”

“Duh.” She smiled at me, “I've known Milo the longest, and even though Win is trying to fix you guys up, I want to know he's going to be all right.”

“Wait, she's trying to fix...well of course she is but...wait, no, all she did was introduce us!” I protested in confusion.

”Yeah, but you wore red. It's his favorite color. Plus you have to admit, Milo is easy on the eyes.” She raised a finger in the air, “And I'm sure Win has told you repeatedly how hot he is.”

“Yes, he is.” I replied; and I realized once again Win had manipulated me, this time by wearing a group of clothes that included red in every item. Red board shorts, white tee with a red stripe, button up with red bits in it and even the damn flip flops had red stripes.

“Milo has been a great friend to me, I met Win through him.” She smiled and looked out into the surrounding trees. “My dad died of cancer when I was twelve and I had the kind of relationship with him that all little girls should have...I was his little princess.”

“I'm sorry, Brenda, I didn't know.” She patted my hand and nodded.

“That was a heartbreak for me, someone I still miss. To make matters worse my mom remarried like three months later. I have a deep suspicion that she was seeing this guy before my dad died, maybe while he was sick. Makes things at home...awkward.”

“Yeah, I guess it would.”

“Through every little bit of that Milo was there. He never told me I was being dramatic or emo, he always let me rant or cry as much as I needed to get back to a place where I could manage.”

“Sounds like he was a good friend.”

“Oh honey,” She patted my hand and then gripped it lightly in hers, “He was my brother when I most needed one, he was my teddy bear offering me comfort and my therapist when I needed to talk.”

I was beginning to wonder how I could ever live up to this guy. I had an inferiority complex to start with but Milo was sounding more and more like someone that was simply out of my reach no matter what I might do.

“So I wanted you to know that, how wonderful he is. And that sometimes we don't see ourselves as others see us.”

I let that sink in and tried to obtain some wisdom from it, but I wasn't entirely sure I got it. I was thinking I should ask her, maybe try to get some more information on Milo, but instead we sat in the sun absorbing the mid-morning rays.

“So what did you guys do after I fell asleep last night?” I asked, trying to fill the silence with something other than probing for information on Milo.

“Oh god, Win is so bad,” she giggled. “We waited for her dad to settle in and start to snore then we climbed into the tent as quiet as we could and played strip poker.”

“You ...what?” I turned to look at her.

“Oh I know, we were laughing so much but covering our mouths with pillows and then we started doing dares instead of losing clothes if we got down to our last bits, you know? Jesus, we were pretty much all in nothing but our underpants, all the tits were hanging out and the dares were ridiculous.”

“Like what?” I asked with a sick feeling.

“Well, you'll have to ask both Milo and Win how good a kisser Steve is!” she giggled. “Of course Lisa, that bitch, made me kiss Win too. It was like kissing my sister!”

I tried to laugh enough to hide my discomfort, but again I felt jealous and I had no right to. I also felt a little sad and was thinking that Steve's advice wouldn't work if Milo was interested in others; which if I looked like him I probably would be. I was also a little unhappy Steve didn't mention kissing Milo, not that I would have liked it any better. Dammit, I wanted to kiss Milo.

“So listen, to get back to my interrogation...why are you single?” Brenda flipped her hair idly.

“Gee, so many ways I can go with that,” I replied.

“Oh,” she covered her mouth with her hand while turning to look at me with wide eyes, “ I just realized how snotty that sounded, I'm sorry.”

“I didn't take it that way, really,” I smiled. “People don't like me would be first on the list of me being single.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Well, because I was pretty fat for two and for three I'm gay.”

“No, you're gay?”' she held a horrified hand to her mouth, “Jeepers!” I laughed at her and she joined me.

“Yeah but, I guess it started with me being fat. People made fun of me and I started to shut them out and then they added I was gay, not that they know that for a fact, but yeah.”

“Well, I don't know what qualifies for fat, but you don't have an ounce now,” she stated confidently.

“Well, thanks. I'm not used to compliments so I'm really bad about taking them,” and I went ahead and told on myself about meeting Win at my house when she moved in. Brenda burst out laughing, leaning on me for support and I managed to laugh with her. She wiped a tear from her eye.

“Oh Oliver, that was priceless!” She giggled, “I think Milo had to get used to it from Win too, she's always trying to boost him up.”

“He doesn't look like he needs it.”

“Well, like I said, we don't always see ourselves the way others see us.”

I ruminated on that, wondering just how a guy like Milo could look in the mirror and not see a guy who could have whomever he wanted. Brenda and I finally walked back as we started to get hungry and I took some of the hamburger out and grilled us a couple of burgers. Win and Steve were still out walking, I guess, and Uncle Evan's car was still gone. Brenda and I ate and chatted and she continually made me laugh with stories about the little group, none too revealing but it broadened my knowledge quite a bit.

“So let me be a little forward,” Brenda smiled.

“You?” I grinned, “When aren't you?”

“Yeah, I know. But you have to understand,” She allowed her grin to relax into something less jocular and more serious. “Milo is so dear to me and I don't want to see him hurt. That's why I ask these things; I'm really not trying to be a nosy bitch.”

“I don't think you have anything to worry about,” I said quietly while declining to meet her eyes. “Milo made it clear he doesn't want anything serious. He confuses me, he says things and I expect...something to happen and he doesn't follow through, no explanation.” I shrugged, “I guess I don't rate an explanation for whatever he and I are doing,” I glanced at her, “Which is nothing; it's so casual as to not exist.”

“Oh,” she leaned back and looked at the sky, “Milo, Milo, Milo.”

“So no, I don't want to hurt him, but I don't think what I want matters much.”

Brenda remained silent and I tried to be understanding of that, although I was getting tired of the constant 'protect Milo' mentality of the group. I certainly didn't feel like a threat and I had no intention of becoming such. We sat in the quiet, listening to the birds and the wind moving through the trees. I suddenly had a horrible/wonderful idea. What would Win do? Like literally, how would she handle this situation?

I recalled her conversation where she said that people didn't fall in love across a room, they liked the pretty package all tied up with a bow, but it took time to fall in love with the person underneath. Steve was totally into what he knew about Win and he was definitely trying to get to know her, so he could figure out the rest. Win would probably recognize that and, I'd think, appreciate it. So, what did I know of Milo?

He was very attractive, but that was the wrapping paper and bow so I tried to put that out of my head. He was compassionate, he displayed that at the beach with the whole shirt debacle. He was patient, he didn't force me to address any of my issues. He had a sense of humor and a sense of adventure, wanting to go camping in the van. So far the only real negatives were that he was acting in a contradictory manner which, I figured, meant one of two things. Either he liked me and was having a weird time dealing with that or he didn't like me and was trying to be nice, perhaps for Win's sake.

I knew I liked him, so the only real path for me to follow was to assume he liked me too and try and work though why he was sending me mixed messages. I narrowed my eyes, time to play 'catch Milo'.

Win and Steve came back first and she came over to me with a big grin on her face. “Oh my god Oliver, I have to talk to you!”

“Sure, but just so you know, I'm working a plan so I have to snag Milo when he gets back before anyone else does.”

“Oliver,” she said fixing me with a smile. “You? Be forward?”

“Ahem, you had news?”

“News? Oh, right!” She grabbed my arm while turning me towards the bus. I glanced at Steve who was grinning and talking to Brenda animatedly. We slid open the side door and perched inside, Win snagging a soda from the ice box. “So Steve is a total surprise.”

“How so?” I asked as I leaned against the passenger side seatback. I wanted to make sure I spotted Milo.

“Well, when he asked me to go for a walk I kind of groaned inside, like 'okay here it comes, he's going to try something in the woods with me since my dad won't be around, show his true colors'.” She put a hand on my arm. “Well, he did show his true colors and they are nothing like I would have expected. We talked, he asked questions and actually listened to me. It was like, a mature hot guy.” She smiled an leaned back, “Oliver I think I kind of fell a little in love today. It feels so good!”

“That's great Win, I talked to Steve this morning and he really seems like an awesome guy for you.”

“He talked to you?” she narrowed her eyes at me, ”What was he asking? What did he say?”

So I related the conversation to her and, partway through, Uncle Evan pulled up and I tried to break off the conversation but Win was having none of it. By the time I reached the end, even rushing along, Milo was engaged with the group and heading down to the beach with them. Dammit. I sighed at Win, who was oblivious. She just carried on relating her conversation while walking with Steve and I agreed he was a great guy. She suddenly lurched forward and grabbed me in an awkward hug.

“Thanks, Oliver. I knew you'd understand.”

“Why would I understand?” I mumbled against her shoulder.

“Silly, you're falling in love too, at the same time I am. We have a unique insight into...oh shit! Milo came back! And I was talking oh!” she put her hand to her forehead. “I'm so sorry Oliver, here I was rambling on and of course you get mister hot and complicated and I got mister straightforward and reasonable.”

“Yeah, well, Steve has a plan. Now, so do I.”

“Oh? Tell me, tell me, tell me!” she grinned.

“Uh,” I smiled, a little embarrassed, “ Milo has been sending me mixed signals. Like, he asked to sleep in the van...with me...but he didn't show up. I haven't been able to talk to him since yesterday at the grocery store.” I looked at Win who was rapt with attention.

“He does sweet things like meeting me at work and walking me home, he even held my hand Win,” I smiled and looked away, “It was so awesome that he is so confident that he just...grabbed my hand! We walked down the street big as life!”

“Aww, I wish I could have had a picture, I bet you were smiling from ear to ear!” She wiggled in her seat, “Then what?”

“Well,” my smile faded. “He told me he didn't want anything serious, just a casual thing and that he wanted a partner in adventure, whatever the hell that is.” I twisted my hands in frustration, “I tried to ask what the rules were, what he was saying to me but he was very vague, kind of like 'it is whatever we decide it is' and that left me just ….”

“Yeah, probably just wanting more and not knowing how to get there, am I right?” Win said with a sad smile.

“Yeah!” I said with my hands out, “That's exactly it! So I started thinking about what you said, how people notice the package first and now that I know a little about him, I need to find out more. I want to know if he could be, I don't know,” I waved my hands in confusion, “Someone I could fall in love with? But he's really mixed about telling me if he likes me. Like he goes from sweet and holding hands boldly to blowing me off and not talking to me.”

“You know what I'd do?” Win asked confidently.

“Yes, and I plan on letting him know where I stand. I'm going to snag him and spend some time alone, show him I'm interested without overwhelming him and breaking his casual rule, but!” I put a finger up, “Casual had better include kissing since I found out he kissed Steve last night.”

“Oh that barely counted as a kiss, there was only a little tongue!” Win rolled her eyes. I must have had a stricken look on my face because she grabbed my arm and smiled softly, “I kid Oliver, I kid. It was a very chaste kiss on the cheek and that's why we had to change the rule right away to specify lip locks.” She grinned widely, “Steve has very soft, yet firm lips.”

We strolled down to the lake and everyone else was in the water already, even Uncle Evan was stretched out on a towel. I sat down next to Win and we just watched them play in the water, happy and about as carefree as you can get I guess. I grunted.


“I was a little jealous yesterday when Milo agreed with you that Steve has a nice ass.”


“He was right, he does.”

“You were jealous? Oh boy, you got it bad. Listen,” she leaned against me, “I'll work on dinner tonight, I'll try and make it a group event. You grab him and go for a walk; tell him you walk so many steps a day, use that pedophile feature on your iPod.”

“Pedophile feature?”

“Yeah, pedo means feet or something. Pedotrist? Foot doctor?” She scrunched her face up.

“Podiatrist, Win. Pedophile is like...a molester.”

“Oh yeah, right. Well, you know what I meant. Just tell him and drag him along. Get to know him and get him to know you.” And she was off, getting ready to put her plan into action. Well, it could be worse, I was thinking about trying something like that...minus the pedophile thing.

I watched as Win leapt into action, and I felt really good that she was doing all this just for me. Well, maybe for me and Milo if I was accurate, but still. She snagged the girls first and had one of them get Steve. She had him building a fire and setting up the charcoal for the grill. She had the girls getting the food and setting up the table with plates and stuff. Milo came up and asked what needed doing and before Win could make a blush inducing comment I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away with me.

“Hey Oliver,” he smiled as he allowed me to lead him away.

“I was going to give you a lame reason to get you to go walking with me, but I just want you to walk with me. Is that okay?”

“Of course,” he grinned and took my hand. See there he goes again, sweet and holding my hand like it didn't matter who saw. I put us on the path that would wind around the lake, it was probably a good hour long walk. For a few minutes I just savored holding his hand, maintaining the silence. Birds called from the deeper parts of the lake, the mournful cry of a loon.

“This is a nice spot,” Milo brought us to a stop at a break in the trees where the lake dazzled with the sun slowly starting its descent. I squeezed his hand once and slowly let it go. He wore a puzzled expression. I motioned for him to follow me and he fell into step along the path.

“What do you like to do Milo? Are you for or against hunting? Do you like to drink? Party? Read books?”

“Wow, I guess you're asking for the Milo Encyclopedia?” he grinned.

“The abridged version will do,” I smiled and took his hand, “For now.” He stumbled and regained his composure before answering me.

“I enjoy reading, I read pretty fast. I kind of get in a groove and can read a book really fast if I like it. I like Sci-Fi the best but I can get into almost anything with a good story.”

“Movies? TV?”

“I like movies, not real big on TV though. If I like something I just watch the whole season on NetFlix in like a weekend.” He grinned, “I can't remember to watch a show from week to week, even if I do like it.”'


“All over the map. I like almost anything. You?”

“I'm pretty slow to adopt new music. I like movies, and I feel the same about TV. I love to read, do a lot of it.”

“What's your favorite color?”

“Blue,” I grinned slyly at him, “And yours is red.”

He laughed, “Yeah. that why you were all in red the other day?”

“Yes and no. Win dressed me.”

“Figures, she's a little troublemaker.”

We walked and I simply held his hand, enjoying him being next to me. And as we walked the mental puzzle that is Milo started to be solved. I'm going to say my subconscious was working on it in the background, putting together my gathered intel on him and coming up with a more complete picture. I decided to act upon my suspicion.

“So...have you ever dated before? I mean, besides Win?”

“Uh, yeah. Three times if you count Win.”

“And?” I prodded.

He shrugged, “Not much to tell. Win and I broke up cause I was gay. Win being Win it kind of became obvious which side I played for and a couple of guys that aren't out asked me out.”

“Wow that must have been exciting, right? Someone pursuing you?” I smiled at him, “Not that it surprises me.”

“Oliver...” He sighed and slowed to a stop. “Look.” he bit his lower lip and I held a finger to his lips.

“You don't have to say anything you don't want to, Milo. It's none of my business.”

Milo glanced away at the lake for a few moments, silence lingering between us, hanging like a veil that gave us just enough privacy to not see the other clearly. He turned back to me and a tear tracked down his face. I reached for it, smoothing it away and began to softly apologize for upsetting him.

“No, it's okay. I...” He let out a shuddering breath and took a moment to calm his breathing. A shiver ran through him and he took my hand again and began to walk further around the lake. “You're right, it was kind of a thrill. Like a spy or something, clandestine, hiding in shadows and bedrooms when no parents were a round to steal a kiss, maybe a little groping.

“First guy's name was Todd. Was a quiet type, I was sort of surprised he had the courage to ask me out. I mean, he wasn't out but he was such a quiet guy...well, I underestimated him. He, ah,” Milo coughed and I remained silent, ready to stop him if he showed any signs of discomfort or embarrassment. “He actually dumped me cause I wouldn't have sex. Like, go all the way.”

“It's kind of a big step, isn't it?” I asked while squeezing his hand. I felt the pressure return and resumed my silence.

“Well, it was just kind of weird, he was like a porn story. He was all quiet and then as soon as a door closed he was reaching down my pants and trying to put his tongue in my stomach. It was just real aggressive and even though I wanted to have sex, I realized kind of quick I wasn't really sure I wanted to have it with him. But it turns out that he was cruising internet spots and meeting guys out in the woods. I kinda felt like I a dodged a bullet there.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“The other guy was Gary. He, uh,” Milo covered his face, “This is sort of embarrassing.”

“You don't have to tell me anything Milo. I tell you what, I'll tell you about my dating history,” I grinned at him while he lowered his hand and I squeezed his other one again. “I haven't.”

“That's not really fair,” he chuckled.

“Well, I'm just saying that no dating is worse than bad dating? Maybe? No, maybe not.” I grinned.

“You know, what is it about you?” Milo smiled. “Okay so, Gary. Gary got wind of the rumor that I was hung and spent a little time trying to get me drunk so he could take pictures and put them on the internet. He had some lame idea that, somehow, he'd start a porn site using him and me.”


“Yeah...I seem to have bad luck with dating. Plus,” he sighed and gave me a sad smile. “You know Win, she's always telling me how hot she thinks I am and telling others? It's cause Gary started to tell everyone I looked like an ape.”

“What? What the hell?” I pulled back and looked at Milo's pretty face.

“Yeah, well, once I looked in the mirror and I could see, you know,” he pointed to his face, “My lips are kinda big and my sorta large forehead.”

Now I understood, he'd had his confidence stripped away by these guys who didn't actually like him for himself; all they saw was the pretty package, the colorful paper and the bow. They never saw all the pain they inflicted or they just didn't care. This was it, the moment and I seized it. I let go of his hand and wiped his welling tear away.

“Milo, I can't see you anymore.”

“What?” His mouth dropped open, “but...”

“Milo, I want something serious. And I want that something serious with you; every time you hold my hand I fall for you just a little more. I've been thinking about you all week; it's been distracting me at work and making me crazy.” I cupped his face in my hands, “Yes, you are beautiful. I love your lips, your forehead and all the space in between. I've reflected on your wonderful compassion and patience; your sense of humor and your interest in adventure.

“Hell, I was even jealous of Steve this morning,” I laughed sadly.

“Of what?” his brow wrinkled.

“I found out this morning you kissed Steve last night.” I put a hand on his chest, “I have a casual arrangement with you. He doesn't. If he gets a kiss, I want one too. But more than that, I only want you kissing me. I want you Milo, not whatever rumor Win started. I want the guy I just got to know a little and who I want to know a whole lot better.”

He glanced away from me, his eyes starting to brim again. He ducked his head and turned his face back towards me. “Really? You mean that? I can't … I can't take it right now, if you're not serious.”

I took his hand and pulled him along the path. “You showed me who you are, let me show you what I can be.” I smiled at him, “I can be a whole lot more than I was, with you next to me.” We walked together back to the camp, strolling in hand in hand. Win started to clap and, slowly, the others did too. We joined them, a little sheepish but happy and the normal chatter resumed; the laughing, the poking fun and the warmth I'd grown to enjoy with these people.

I sat in front of Milo, leaning back between his legs with my head on his chest. Win, true to her word, had taken care of dinner and even the cleanup so that we didn't break contact. Eventually the fire burned low and the yawning started. I stood up and dusted off the seat of my pants and reached a hand to Milo, helping him up. I snagged his bag from the tent and walked him over to the bus, throwing his bag in the back.

We changed, brushed teeth and I admit my nerves were a little taut right then. Finally we climbed into the fold down bed, with me holding Milo, his back to my front.

“Thank you, for today.” Milo said softly.

I hugged him to me, loving the warmth and the feel of his skin on mine.

“You know...I got you something.” He whispered.


He rolled over on his back, turning to face me and held in his hand a key. It was a large, ornate skeleton key. I took it slowly, admiring the spirals on the handle.

“This is awesome, Milo.”

“Well, there's a bit more to it...see,” Milo sighed and smiled at me, propping his head up on his hand. “After I saw your keys and stuff I was really conflicted. Before I had been sure that the whole casual thing was what I needed to do to protect me. I mean,” he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder, “I had so badly misjudged those other guys and when I met you at the beach it was like,” he swallowed and gripped my shoulder just the tiniest bit tighter.

“You were so sweet and vulnerable I was thinking I'd be a bad thing for you, with all my baggage. Win was trying to talk sense but...I went out with Brenda and Lisa to this flea market and this key was there. I got it for you right away, but the guy was telling me it has a secret to it.”

"It does?” I glanced down at it and tried to puzzle it out.

“It has a secret compartment,” he reached out and twisted the handle of the key and it unscrewed from the shaft to reveal a hollow space for an object, like a note. Which was inside it now.

“I was just going to leave that note in there, kind of a...I don't know, like dropping a note in your locker or a message in a bottle floating out at sea. You'd have it but not know so I couldn't be hurt.”

I glanced at Milo and withdrew the slim paper and unfolded it. In black pen he'd written 'Milo fell in love with Hot Oliver on a Friday at the beach. It was a really good day. If you never find this, it's okay because I'll always carry this message in my heart'.”

Milo and I got my first kiss and, I guess, my first make out all taken care of that night, right there in the back of my VW bus. We didn't go too far. It was sexy, sexual but not about the sex. It was sensual, it was emotional and filled me with the realization that I could be loved, romantically as opposed to what my parents gave to me. I touched a boy for the first time, gave and got pleasure, and nothing was going to ruin that.

Not even everyone shaking the van in the morning and chanting 'if this bus is a-rocking, don't come a-knocking' because when I woke up, Milo was in my arms. He was the missing key and I was now unlocked.

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~The End~