A Balanced Equation

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Dabeagle


I lay awake, thinking about it over and over. I know I wasn't raised anywhere near like the 'average' person. For the longest time my life was school and church, and when I was at home it felt like some weird mix of the two. Garrett was always the one who was different – but I slowly started to see that my parents didn't treat him like me – things weren't fair. At first, being little, I didn't realize what that felt like to him. Garrett could have easily hated me.

I remember in grade school someone talking about some story where two kids had walked into a lawyer’s office after their parents had died. That seemed scary enough. But then the lawyer said one of them got everything from the parents, because the other one was adopted. I started feeling kind of angry. That wasn't fair. Somehow my pea brain made a connection with how my parents treated Garrett differently, and I wondered if that's how the adopted child had felt, once they were singled out.

It wasn't very long after that before it was Garrett and I against the world. Garrett had always stepped in to protect me at school – not that it was needed very often. When I realized how unfair my parents were, that quickly led to me not trusting them.

Now I was hiding things from Garrett. I don't think he'll be mad, exactly, when he finds out – and we've gotten mad at each other before. I'm pretty sure he's going to be disappointed, though, and I'm really trying to avoid that.

Garrett came out last fall, and it changed everything at home. It really exposed a lot of crap, and we finally broke away from the church my parents had been taking us to. Garrett tells me all the time how smart I am, and I know he's not wrong. I get good grades, and adults at school have always encouraged my brain. I'm in advanced placement classes this year for the first time, and I enjoy them. I get weird if my mind doesn't have something to do.

Garrett got a boyfriend. His name's Sterling. I never admitted it to Garrett, but I was worried about Sterling for a whole bunch of reasons, from the selfish, like he was going to take Garrett away, to the medical, like Garrett was going to die because gays carry all kinds of diseases. I mean, I should have figured that last one out for myself – things you hear at church that aren't backed up at school should be looked at with some skepticism.

But smart isn't perfect.

Ginnie is this girl I know. She's a little overweight. Last fall she got really interested in me while watching some of our football practices. She kind of made me feel uncomfortable, and I wasn't totally sure why. Some of the guys on the team talked about her in a bad way, especially about her weight. I don't actually like the guys on the football team – they're kind of a stereotype personified. So I guess I didn't listen to my feelings of discomfort about Ginnie because I was prejudiced about what the other guys on the team had to say about her. I mean, so what if she wasn't a twig? She was still a person.

Looking back, I think the problem is that while I was just treating her like a person, she interpreted it as me being interested in her. The way she would compliment me and almost seemed desperate for my attention was an odd mix of revolting and appealing. I spent some time thinking about it all, and I talked to Garrett and Sterling – Sterling had become someone I trusted really quickly.

I'd feared he'd take Garrett away, especially just as things were craziest with my parents. Instead he'd invite me along for stuff with them. He came to my games, sitting in the stands with my brother – even when Garrett had a game the same day. He told me he loved Garrett and that I was important to Garrett, so I was important to him – at least for the start. As time went by and I got my first phone, I ended up talking to him and developing our own friendship.

Sterling took a wait and see kind of attitude, telling me not to cut things off with Ginnie until I knew myself a bit better, and Garrett said much the same thing. Eventually, though, I'd told Garrett I thought it wasn't very kind to let Ginnie think I was interested in her beyond friendship and that I intended to break it off.

I didn’t have anyone in mind – it was just the way my mind works – but I asked Garrett what it was like to kiss a boy. His answer was both informative and confusing.

“It's very similar,” he'd replied. “Guys who grow more facial hair, maybe that changes how it feels, but the basics of kissing are the same. What makes a difference is what people prefer when they kiss and how kissing them makes you feel.”

I found that statement a bit confusing and questioned him further.

“Like, some people – male or female – might like to be kissed aggressively, or to kiss aggressively. Some people might prefer something more tender. Others might prefer a mix of those, depending on the situation. Take all those and add in how that person makes you feel. Like, I've kissed girls, and it was nice, felt good. But Sterling...that's different. He makes me feel different because of how I feel for him. Kissing him is way, way better than anyone that I've kissed before.”

That, at least, made sense. Especially when I weighed how it had felt when I kissed Ginnie – really, she'd led the way, but you know. I was there. After the winter break she'd wanted to talk about dating openly. She'd wanted to tell my parents, and that was a hard pass. The last thing I need is my parents getting involved. I'd lied to Ginnie early on and told her my parents said she was too old for me. I'd heard that used as an excuse; I hadn't really thought about why.

Anyway, we made out a few times, and she'd say really embarrassing things to me that were supposed to be compliments. I think a narcissist would probably see it that way, but I don't think I'm there yet. I admit I should have broken it off. I should have. Garrett told me I could probably date anyone I wanted to, but I wasn't so sure. Besides, I wasn't sure who I'd even want to date. Oh, I told Ginnie I wasn't too sure about dating, but she kept up the affection and compliments, which weren't really helping her cause as much as she might have thought.

But then something occurred to me. Maybe Ginnie's behavior wasn't really about me as much as it was about her. She was attracted to me, not the other way around. She saw me treating her like a person as romantic interest, even when I said that wasn't the case. I tried to slow things down with her, not meeting as much, but she was almost like a friend. I didn't want to hurt her, but I was starting to think there was no way to avoid that.

One night on the very edge of winter, I lay awake and felt guilty – for more than one reason. I'd met Ginnie down at the end of the road, like we did sometimes, and she talked about a bunch of stuff, like she does. But then she'd brought up dating again, and I felt I really had to be honest, while trying to spare her feelings as best I could.

“Ginnie,” I said, probably sounding like I was whining.

“I know – you have some worries, but we're practically dating now. I just want to kiss you in public and let everyone know how special you are.”

I shook my head and pushed the toe of my shoe into the ground. “Gin. Look, I have to be honest. I don't...think of you like that. I haven't said yes to dating, because I don't think it's what I want to do.”

She'd paused for a moment, then changed tactics. It was something she did sometimes. “Well, sure. I mean we're close, right? It would be changing our relationship. But you shouldn't make a decision until I've had a chance to show you what I can offer.”

“It's not like you're a product on a shelf,” I said, thinking this was an odd way to argue.

“Everyone is, sometimes,” she'd replied. “If you get along well with someone – and we do – then sometimes it takes some event or situation to make you see someone differently. I want the chance to make you see me in a different way.”

She was looking at me so...hopefully. It was hard to even think about disagreeing, because, again, I didn't want to hurt her. I had the sense she'd been ridiculed enough – I didn't want to add to it.

“I don't know,” I said quietly.

“Come on. Give me a chance,” she said, and when I didn't say no right away, she took my hand and led me off the street into a small stand of trees. When she knelt down in the dark, I thought maybe she'd dropped something. But then the front of my sweatpants was being pulled down. I tried to get my hands out of my coat pockets, but then her mouth was on my dick, and...it felt good. Weird, but good. I didn't think a lot for the next few minutes. Nothing like how I should be handling relationships or anything. I was a little lost in the moment.

Once I'd come and she started to stand, my brain slowly started to emerge from the fog that had wrapped around it, much as her mouth had wrapped my dick. The first coherent thought was how cold my dick felt all of a sudden, and I pulled my pants back up.

“See? I can do things for you, Tim. I know how to make you feel good – and by the way, that was amazing! You have such a nice cock, like I knew you would.”

That made me feel so odd. She's been thinking about my dick? I hadn't thought of her naked in any way.

“Uh. Yeah. Felt good,” I said, trying to figure out what all this meant.

“That's just a warm up – although I'm totally willing to keep making my case, “she said with a little laugh. “But if you thought that felt good, wait until you pop my cherry.”

That wasn't something I was sure I wanted to do. I was curious how it would feel, but then I wondered how she would feel afterward when I told her I was only curious what it would feel like and that it wasn't important that I experience that with her or someone else. So as I lay in bed I knew that I had to stop this, even if I had some desire to feel a mouth on me again.

Garrett got up and went to the bathroom, and as I waited for him to come back, I worked up my courage to ask strange questions. Things I wasn't sure I’d have asked him before, but for sure no one else. When he came back, I was ready.


“What's up?” he asked tiredly as he rolled into his bed.

“Have you ever...gotten a blow job?”

He was quiet a moment before answering. “Yeah. I have.”


“Why do you ask, buddy?”

“Well. I was wondering if...is it important? I mean is it like just a relationship thing?”

“Oh. Well, not always, no. You know about sex before marriage and stuff. Usually a blow job is considered foreplay – like something you do to get someone hot for actual sex. But sometimes the whole point is the blow job, just to get off.”

I wasn't entirely sure what to do with that. “Um. So if you get a blow job, then the next thing is actual sex?”

He shifted on his mattress, and then his face loomed in the dim light of the room by the edge of my bed – I had the upper bunk.

“Timmy, have you...please tell me you didn't fuck Ginnie. Or if you did, please tell me you were safe.”

“What? No! No we didn't do...that.”

He was quiet a moment and then asked, “So Ginnie convinced you to let her blow you?”

“I, uh, don't know about convincing. I mean.” My face grew warm in the darkness. “It was a little bit of a surprise.”

He sighed. “What happened?”

I shifted on my mattress, turning on my side to see him a little better. “I was telling her how I didn’t want to date and how I didn't really see her that way, but she said something like...how she wanted to let me see her a different way. Like to try and change our relationship by...I don't know. I kind of forgot some of what she said.”

“Yeah. Getting your dick sucked can give you some amnesia,” Garrett said and then sighed. “Okay, so how are you feeling about all this?”

“Confused,” I said, glad to articulate something concretely. “I mean, I still don't see Ginnie that way, but...damn. That really felt good.”

“Okay,” he said slowly. “So...picture Ginnie on her knees. Right in front of you. Don't think about your dick getting wet, just see her opening her mouth and...what do you think about that?”

“Uh. I mean. It's hard not to think about her sucking me,” I said, embarrassed.

“Yeah, but does it matter that it's her?”

I frowned. “Like...what do you mean?”

“Okay, look,” he said, putting his fingertips to the space between his eyes. In a very quiet voice he whispered, “Like hot knives, right between my eyes.”


“Nothing,” he said, moving his hand. “Okay, so, I'm going to tell you something I'm not super proud of, but I need to make a point.”

“Uh. Okay.”

“My first blowjob was with Luther.”

I paused. I mean, I felt like my whole body just stopped for a few seconds. “Luther? From church?”

“Yeah,” he said, sounding resigned.

“But...why? You don't even like Luther.”

“It's a weird story, but the important part is that it was exciting, because it was the first time, and in the dark I could pretend it was someone else. But the fact is, like you said, I'm not into Luther. I wouldn't want to do that with him again. Think of it like a learning experience. Now that I'm with someone I care about, that's on the table for us.”

I thought about that for a minute, trying to break things down to understand what he was trying to tell me. “So...I guess feeling guilty about Ginnie doing that to me isn't-”

“No. No guilt,” he said forcefully. “Ginnie knows what she's doing, and she literally wants your dick. In some ways this is almost like what Mom and Dad were hoping would happen with that girl at church. Ginnie may not want to be pregnant – yet – but she's trying to manipulate you into being with her, because she'll do stuff like that to you.”

“I mean...it's an effective tool,” I said absently.

“Yeah, it is,” he said. “But while you're busy with sneaking out and letting her suck you off, you're missing out on someone who will value you and who you might like to make happy, too. I mean, you have to play this like you see it, but I see her manipulating you with sex. Eventually that's going to be fucking her – not because you want to fuck her, necessarily, but because she wants to keep you any way she can.”

I paused and thought for a moment, considering his words. “Oh. Yeah. I was thinking earlier about how she might feel if I said I didn't mind who I got to have sex with, like she wouldn't matter. But I hadn't thought she was manipulating me.”

“This is what I mean when I say there are different kinds of smart, Tim. You're really intelligent, and you can argue with facts, but when people get deceptive-”

“Like pastor?”

Garrett nodded. “Like pastor. When they don't use facts, it starts to mess with you. Once you understand that they are messing with you, they lose all credibility.”

I blew out a breath. “Seems like you're the one who's smart. You figure people out.”

“I just complement you, buddy,” he said with a tired smile. “So listen. Ginnie. Get all the blowies you want, but don't – under any circumstances – fuck that girl. Don't stick your dick in, desperate or crazy.”

I chuckled, and he did as well before he went back to bed. I still felt guilty for leading her on and wondered about who it made me if I let her keep doing that, even if I told her that it wasn't going to lead to more. I suppose she could bank on me changing at some point, but I don't see how that works. I liked the blow job, but is it...well, I guess it does sort of change your mind a little, since I'm thinking about letting her keep doing it because I like it. Garrett is right – it is manipulative, and if I let her keep going, it'll be me manipulating as well.

Sometimes it seems like life would be easier if I were a little dumber.


Winter was slowly heading for Spring, and things with Ginnie were...making me feel bad. I tried talking directly to her and being more forceful about me not being interested in her romantically, but she said these things take time and not to cut her off before I got to really see what she could bring to the table. I warned her I didn't want to have sex with her, but that didn't stop the blow jobs – and I'm a little ashamed to say that a bit more than six inches of me was okay with that.

Still, I usually felt some guilt later. Garrett told me it's because I have a big heart, but it seems like feelings aren't something you can trust too much in some cases. I trust my feelings about Garrett and Sterling, but I have reason to.

Speaking of Sterling and the Spring approaching – for Christmas he'd gotten me a set of lacrosse armor, and Garrett had bought me a new stick. They were the things I prized the most in the world, and I was so looking forward to using them. I really, really wanted to do well, to show them I appreciated what they did for me. I don't really expect these things from my parents, but that's more because of finances. I know they have rent or mortgage payments as well as food, electricity and stuff. Garrett told me he'd saved, but he didn't have those expenses.

He still tries to be fair when it comes to our parents. But I know it cost Garrett more than money – it was probably some security from what he called his 'just in case' fund. Like just in case our parents throw him out as an eighteenth birthday gift. I hope not – they think we fight now?

In March two things happened.

Firstly, Ginnie told someone she was getting with me, and that spread pretty quickly through the school. I think it was the first time I'd had that kind of attention on me – I mean negative attention. People were giving me a hard time because of what Ginnie looked like, as opposed to the actual act. There were a lot of things said; none of them took any imagination. It's almost like anything that rhymes is enough for the simpleminded to repeat.

Ginnie and I had a blow up about it. It was a misunderstanding on the level of biblical mistranslation causing all kinds of problems. Ginnie felt happy with the way things were, as she felt, progressing. I tried to explain that giving me blow jobs wasn't exactly the grounds for a relationship, no matter that my dick would disagree. She said she was proud to have been with me and didn't want to hide, and I was trying to make her understand there was no 'we'.

“Why should we hide, Timmy? I'm good to you, aren't I? I love you!”

I shook my head. “Ginnie, I told you I don't feel like that for you. I'm trying not to be a bad guy here.”

“Tim, I don't understand. Why are you okay with me sucking your dick, but you don't want anyone to know? Are you ashamed of me? Don't mind the fatty as long as no one knows she's sucking your dick?”

A flare of anger ripped through me. “I told you from the start I wasn't comfortable, but you kept telling me to give you time – no matter how much I tried to be honest and tell you I don't feel that way for you. The only mistake I made is not stopping this sooner. We're done.”

That went over about as well as you may expect. Tears, and I felt bad again. Anger, and I felt justified again. It just wasn't a situation with a clear outcome – she wouldn't let it die.

Secondly, we started working out for the Lacrosse team. We did running drills and some weight lifting days to work on conditioning and stamina. Initially some guys still had dumb stuff to say, but it tapered off after the first day or two. I knew all the guys on the team, more or less. We had a few less familiar faces; a few guys had moved on to another sport or school.

I tried to focus on working my body, comparing my progress to those around me. Coach was a big fan of suicide sprints, where you run from a set point to a set point, bend down and touch the line and then run back to the initial point before turning and running to the next, more distant point. It was brutal. I wasn't leading the pack when running these drills, but I was moving up in the pecking order each time. We were finishing up one night, and I went into the locker room to grab a quick shower; Garrett was coming with Sterling to pick me up from practice, and we were going to a movie.

I had tried to tell them they didn't have to take me, but Sterling had been looking forward to the movie and had told me a lot about it, so I was actually pretty happy to go. Besides, it was time out of the house, and things were just weird at home, especially with my mother. I didn't like being home by myself, but I also didn't expect them to take me on their dates.

A couple other guys showered as well, and there was some chatter as is common. A few years ago they'd put up dividers with doors around the shower heads, which boosted the number of people getting cleaned up after gym. I washed my hair, rinsed off and shut off the water. My towel was hanging on the outside of the door and I snagged it, toweling off and then wrapping the towel around my waist before heading over to the bench. I wore shower sandals to prevent foot fungus, because fucking yuck.

I pulled my underwear on under the towel and then removed the towel to finish drying my hair and wipe up stray drops of water. I pulled out fresh socks and sat down to thoroughly dry my feet, taking the time to get between each of my toes. I hate feeling lingering moisture between my toes or fingers – when I wash my hands I have to wipe in between each finger to dry off.

“So how do I get home then?” came a voice from the next row over. “I'm not taking an attitude! I just thought you were picking me up, and I don't have a way home.”

Satisfied, I pulled my socks on and then pulled my jeans up.

“No.” The voice had gone a bit sullen. “I understand. But I don't have that app anymore, remember? You blocked it on my phone.”

I fished around for my clean shirt.

“I'm just saying...no. No, I'm sorry. It's just a long way.” There was a pause. “Okay, Dad. Yeah, okay.”

I pulled my shirt on and took a moment to debate if I should stick my nose in or not. I had no idea what the story was, but I'm predisposed to think parents aren't being fair. People can be a little touchy about other people knowing their personal crap, but I figure that this person just needed a ride home. Sterling would probably be good with that, or at least I was willing to risk it. I slipped on my shoes to avoid getting my socks wet and went around the corner to see who was there. There were a couple guys that were just getting started with getting changed at the end of the aisle, but near my end, where I'd heard the voice, was Conor Bradly.

I didn't know him that well, but he seemed like an okay sort of guy. He was sitting on the bench in his towel, hair dry, so he likely hadn't hit the shower yet.

“Hey, Conor.”

He looked up, his eyes a little red, and he wrinkled his nose as he sniffed, masking his emotions.

“Hey, T. What's up?”

“Uh. My brother will be here in a bit. You need a ride?”

“For real? That'd be great,” he said, sounding better already.

“Yeah. I'll text him. I'm sure it's fine.”

“Bro. Thank you! You don't even know,” he said with a shake of his head. “I have time to shower?”

“No worries,” I said and tapped the metal of the locker before going back to my side. I put my dirty clothes into a ball inside my towel to take home and clean before taking out my cell and texting Garrett to ask if it was okay to drop Conor off. He replied quickly that Sterling said it was cool and that they were on the way.

I stuffed my things into my bag and then sat down to take one shoe back off; the sock had rolled a little bit when I put it on, and I hated feeling the unevenness in my shoe. I guess I'm a little neurotic about my feet. That fixed, I put my shower stuff in my locker, after drying off my shower shoes – I've seen guys that left their wet stuff in their locker and what grows on it. No, thank you. I headed back into the bathroom and combed my hair in the mirror before going back out and shouldering my bag. I poked my head around the corner just as Conor pulled his underwear on under his towel, then pulled the towel away and started to pat his hair dry.

I dropped my bag and sat down on the bench. “I texted. They said it's cool.”

He pulled the towel away and swiped at his chest. “Thanks, bro. Seriously. My dad said he'd be here to get me, but he's over with some friends and fucking flaked. He'll probably crash there.”

“That's shitty,” I commented. I wondered if his dad drank often. I was guessing that's why he was reluctant to leave and pick his kid up.

“Right?” he said with a small smile as he sat and dried his feet before pulling his socks on. “He likes hanging out with his friends, but damn. Not when you say you're going to do something, you know? Then he acts like I'm the problem because I'm playing lacrosse.”

I nodded. “Some people have a weird idea about what having kids means.”

“No shit,” he said with a snort, pulling on sweatpants and then a tee shirt. He shook his shower shoes to get the excess water off them. “Our road sucks to walk on, too. No streetlights and no sidewalks. I've killed my phone battery a few times trying to use it as a flashlight, bro.”

I shook my head. “I don't like the dark.”

“It's fucking darker than dark!” he said with a laugh, wiping down his shower shoes and putting them in his locker. He put his sweaty clothes and towel in his bag. “It's country dark, bro. I'm ready.”

We made our way out to the front of the school, and I led the way to the curb where Sterling had parked his little sedan.

“Conor, my brother Garrett and his boyfriend, Sterling.”

“Hey, thanks for the ride,” Conor said, closing the door behind him.

“All good,” Sterling said. “We have extra time tonight – decided to hit up a later showing, so it'll be good and dark. We can give Tim some jump scares later.”

“No,” I whined. “Bad enough it's a horror movie.”

“It's the best part!” Sterling said with a laugh.

“Hey, Conor, did you eat yet?” Garrett asked.

“Nah. I'll find something at home,” he said.

“We're going for pizza, why don't you come with?”

“Better than a sandwich, but I'm broke,” Conor replied.

“All good – you were invited,” Garrett said.

Sterling teased me some more about scaring me after the movie. I love horror movies, and I kind of enjoy the tension before the scary parts happen in movies. You know something will happen, with the music building and the way the characters will slow down and be looking around carefully. Plus, it's always fun when Sterling plays some with me, teasing.

We pulled into the parking lot and went in to get slices. We talked a little, Garrett and Sterling hitting Conor with some questions about Lacrosse, like how long he'd been playing and what positions he would normally play.

“I'm trying to play offense next to this guy,” Conor said, tilting his head to indicate me as 'this guy'. “We're both pretty fast, so I think we can make some shit happen out there.”

“Tim's pretty fast, that's true,” Sterling said. “He stutter-stepped this guy off the line last fall, then put his wheels on – left the guy holding his dirty jock at the line.”

“You're such a fanboy,” Garrett said with a laugh, bumping Sterling.

“Kid's got the goods,” Sterling said with a shrug. “My mom wants to make lasagna tomorrow, so we have to go out and get the stuff in the morning.”

“I love her cooking,” Garrett replied. “It'll taste good after all that work.”

“What work?” I asked.

“Tree came down in our yard the other day. I have to cut it up and get it to the front yard. Mom's got a guy that will haul it away for firewood. Bunch of branches and stuff in the back, crap to pick up basically. You busy tomorrow? Want to come help? Mom might toss a couple bucks your way.”

“She doesn't have to pay me. Sure, I'll help,” I said.

“If there's cash,” Conor said, trailing off.

“Yeah, probably a few bucks and some lunch in it for ya,” Sterling said. “You going to stay over with Tim? Pick you all up in one place?”

“Uh, I don't know – we didn't talk about anything like that,” Conor replied.

“We'd have to ask our parents,” I said, looking at Garrett. “Usually they let kids from church stay over, but we haven't had anyone come since...well, for a while.”

Conor looked back and forth between us, but let the question on his lips go. I admired that; minding your own business is a lost art.

“Yeah, it'll be fine,” Garrett said. He was far more confident in getting his way with our parents these days. I'm not sure they'd have the balls to try and throw him out. I'd even thought about trying to go with him if that happened, but that wouldn't be fair to Garrett. Then again, I'm hoping he wouldn't leave without me – and I know my parents are aware they would be ruining any bit of a relationship they have left with me if they did throw him out.

We finished up and headed back to the car. “Hey, you doing anything?” Sterling asked Conor.

“Like tonight? Nah. Dad's partying with friends, and my older brother left last year. I'd just text him to say what I'm doing. What's up?”

“Oh, just thought you might like making Tim jump, too,” Sterling said with a laugh. “We got passes to the movie, so no worries about having bucks.”

“Oh. Um. Yeah, that'd be cool,” Conor said, looking at me and raising an eyebrow.


We pulled into the movie theater and got seated. Garrett produced some candy, handing some boxes out to us. The movie was full of jump scares, but Conor was just as bad as I was – if not worse! There were a bunch of times where we ended up leaning shoulder to shoulder as the tension on screen built up before jumping – either because of the movie or because one of us jumped in anticipation and caused the other one to jump. It was pretty funny, actually. We shared our candy and were both kind of jumpy when it was over – a fact Sterling delighted in taking advantage of.

We went back home, and Garrett kind of asked if it was okay for Conor to stay over. My dad talked to Conor for a minute and then said it was fine. With that settled, Sterling brought us all over to Conor's house so he could get clothes. Our house wasn't anything to brag about, but then neither was Conor's place. He was right; it was pretty far out in the country. Our house was on a dark lane, but you could see our neighbor's lights from our house. Not so much with Conor's place. There was junk on the lawn, like old washing machines and lawnmowers.

“My dad fixes stuff to resell,” Conor said. “He keeps these around for parts.”

I wasn't sure I believed him, but it didn't matter. As Conor climbed from the car, Sterling made eye contact with me and subtly indicated I should go with Conor. Huh, not sure why. I got out of the car, though, and followed him up the shabby wooden steps to the dirty front door. The house was pitch dark until he hit a light switch, and good thing. There was no way I'd have made it across the floor without tripping. There was just stuff everywhere. It wasn't just flat surfaces like at my house; it was furniture and the floor and stuff on top of stuff. It wasn't like you see on those hoarding shows, but it was trending that direction.

I followed him through the narrow living room to an equally small dining room, parts of appliances spread out and piled on the table as if someone were working on eighty-five different things and then had left them there to go start an eighty-sixth. An arched doorway, shrouded in darkness, was off to the left, and next to it, going deeper into the house, was the way Conor headed. I stuck with him. The next room was a small kitchen, and in the back left corner was a doorway. I followed Conor, and he flipped on the light to reveal a cramped space; a single mattress, narrow closet with no door and a dresser leaning to the left, the wall holding it up as much as the dresser did itself.

“Let me just grab some stuff,” Conor said, and emptied his bag into a laundry hamper and started grabbing a few things from his dresser. “You think I can shower after we work tomorrow? Should I bring fresh stuff?”

I nodded. “I'm sure Sterling would let you.”

“They seem cool,” he said, his tone changing slightly.

“They're goals, honestly,” I replied. “Garrett is a lot happier, and Sterling treats him right. Sterling played football, too. He's graduating this year. He gave me a lot of tips that helped me out, and he came to my games.”

Conor turned to look at me, items in his hand to put in his bag. “Isn't that weird? Boyfriend going to his boyfriend's brother's games?”

“I never thought so,” I said. “He knows how close Garrett and I are. I think maybe at first it was just to be polite, but Sterling and I get along pretty well. I think he's just a good guy.” I paused. “Why? Do you think it's weird?”

He shrugged as he put things in his bag. “I never thought about it before. It's the first time I've seen someone, like, take an interest in whoever they are dating's little sib, you know?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said quietly, but now I felt strange. “Conor – is this a problem? Like with them being gay or something?”

He looked up at me and said, “No, I don't think so bro. I heard about Garrett dating, of course. Was kind of surprised, honestly, 'cause I heard he was such a pussy hound.” He shifted on his feet. “I mean, you want who you want, yeah?”

I nodded slowly. “Okay. If you're sure. I don't want any trouble for them, and I asked them to give you a ride so it's like, my responsibility.”

His expression became confused. “I don't understand. I didn't say any thing. Why are you thinking I have a problem?”

“Just from what you said. About Sterling coming to my games, being my friend.”

He sighed. “I just never saw that, you know? My brother dated half his class, and none of those girls ever gave a shit about me, so it's different, okay? I wasn't trying to say anything...just making conversation.”

“Oh,” I said, wondering if I'd misread him. “Okay then. Um. Sorry. I wasn't trying to....”

“I get it. You're protecting them.”

“Forget about it?” I asked.

“Please, can we?” he replied, letting out a small laugh.

We started back through the house, but it felt weird – more so when he turned out the light in his room and I was headed to his living room only by the distant light. As we entered the dining room the light in the living room went out and I came to a stop.

“Uh I can't – wuah!” I jumped and called out as Conor dug his fingers into my ribs. “You shit! Oh my God, I think I shit my pants!” I said, my heart beating wildly as he laughed and turned the light back on.

“Sorry, couldn't pass that up!” Conor said through his giggles.

“You're a dick,” I said, smiling. I leaned past him and flipped off the light and then grabbed him screaming. Of course he knew it was me, but he screamed anyway, and then we were both giggling, falling into each other, and then we spilled through the doorway and onto the kitchen floor, laughing all the way. His bag was to our side, I think, and the narrow doorway made getting back up kind of difficult. We pushed and shoved a little, but to get even with him and extend the laughing I flopped on him, not allowing him to get up, which caused him to laugh some more, and I joined him.

We struggled to sit, but I became aware suddenly that he was hard. It wasn't anything erotic; I just realized it as we pushed and shoved, but it made me curious. Was it just a reaction to wrestling? The physical contact making his dick pop up inconveniently? I had no idea how to ask, but we disentangled and got to our feet in the dark. As we stood he told me to hold still while he got the light and started working his way around me, but then – of course while I was off guard – he dug his fingers into my ribs again and made me scream and jump, then we laughed while I called him names. He flipped off the light, his face flushed with good humor, and we laughed a bit as we walked back through his house and down to the car.

“What was all the noise?” Garrett asked.

“Conor thinks he's funny,” I said, smiling but grumbling.

“Scaring him in the dark,” Conor said with a chuckle.

Sterling dropped us off at home and left with Garrett, saying they'd pick us up in the morning and go for breakfast. I led Conor back to the small room I shared with Garrett, and he glanced around with curiosity.

“This room isn't much bigger than mine,” he said, putting his bag on the floor.

“The house is tiny,” I agreed. “When Garrett came out, my parents were going to make him move into the living room, but we fought them.”

“How do you fight your parents?” Conor asked. “I mean, they own it all.”

“Yeah, but they also want things from us. Or me, I guess. It's complicated. Things are always kind of tense here.”

“I hear that,” he said quietly.

My dad opened the door. “Sterling said you guys are going to do some work on his mother's property tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Yard work mostly. I guess there must be a lot; he said a tree came down and he was going to cut it up, but there are branches and stuff that need to be cleared away.

“That's good,” he said with a nod. “She can use the help. Okay, don't stay up late. He said they'd be back for you between eight and nine.”


Conor kicked off his shoes, and I did as well before shedding my jeans and hanging them on a hook on the wall for the next day.

“Are you changing? You want me to leave?”

I looked back to Conor and shook my head. “Nah. Just getting comfortable for bed. You sleep like that?”

“Oh, I didn't know we were going to bed.”

“My house is boring and my cell phone is pay as you go, so I don't have much data,” I explained.

“Oh. Uh, we can watch some clips on my phone. You ever see Ghost Ship?”

“No,” I said, my mouth curling with a smile. “Sounds like you want to scare me some more.”

“Not much. You'll yell and wake up your parents,” he said with a snicker.

“Not like you're exactly quiet!” I replied, laughing.

I set aside my socks, and we climbed onto Garrett's bunk, being the lower one and more convenient. We lay back against the wall, and he pulled up the movie on his phone – or at least clips that had been loaded. It seemed like a neat story, and the graphics were pretty cool, but we both still jumped together when they pulled crap on screen, which was double funny, since he knew what was supposed to happen.

“Now I want to see the whole thing,” I said, stretching out.

“Hey, where's your bathroom?”

“I'll show you.” We climbed off the bed, and I walked him down the short hall to the bathroom before detouring to the kitchen. I passed my father, dozing in the living room on his chair, and found my mother reading a book at the kitchen table.

“Oh, Tim, so nice to see you made a friend,” she said, smiling and putting the book down.

“Yeah. I guess it is,” I said thoughtfully. I was enjoying hanging out with Conor, whom I'd never really thought much about before.

“There are some cans of pop up in the cupboard. Why don't you pour one for your friend?”

“Good idea,” I said. It was odd for her to volunteer things like soda, but then maybe things were different now. I didn't want to think too deeply about what her motivations were, because they were probably crappy and I was having a good night.

“Don't forget to brush,” she said as I headed out of the room.

“I won't.”

I heard the sink running in the bathroom and headed back into the bedroom, leaving the door open so Conor would know where I was. But as I set the cans down on the dresser, revenge crept into my thoughts. With a grin I slipped behind the door. I heard the door to the bathroom open and the light switch click off and his quiet padding, his socks muffling most of his movement if it weren't for his heavy steps.

No sooner was he in the room than I shut the light off and grabbed him in the ribs, making a weird noise as I did. He shrieked – way, way louder than I had at his house.

“Holy shit! Oh my God, you jerk, you scared the shit out of me!” he said, cheeks flushed and his mouth smiling as I flipped the light back on. I laughed loudly, and my father stumbled into my doorway.

“What happened? Is someone hurt?”

“Your son tried to give me a heart attack,” Conor said, dropping onto Garrett's bed and chuckling.

“That wasn't very nice, Tim,” my dad said, running a hand over his forehead. “You startled me. I must have drifted off in my chair.”

“Sorry, Dad,” I said, sounding anything but. “This guy has been jump scaring me all night. I'm telling you, I was just getting even!”

My dad chuckled a little and then said, “Okay, well, no more of that. It's probably time for you guys to start winding it down.”

“Mom just gave me soda,” I said.

He glanced over at the dresser and then nodded. “Okay. Well, keep it down, and don't stay up late, or you'll be sorry tomorrow.”


He closed the door, and I looked at Conor and started to laugh again.

“That was good. I'll give that to you. But I'm going to get you back!” Conor said.

“I was just getting even for the crap you pulled at your house,” I defended, then picked up the cans and handed one to him.

“With as much as you made me scream, bro, I have to get you back,” he said with a grin, popping the tab on the can. I chuckled and settled in beside him. “So. Ginnie, huh?”

“Oh, not you, too,” I groaned.

“Not trolling, just kind of surprised, I guess. I don't know much about Ginnie, but she didn't seem like she was in your league.”

“My league? What's my league?”

“Everyone knows how smart you are,” he said with a small scoff. “Ginnie's not in advanced classes or honor society. Just seemed like you'd match with someone more on your level, smarts wise.”

I snorted. “I'm hanging out with you, aren't I?”

He chuckled. “I count because I'm fun.” He paused. “Although I guess you must think Ginnie is fun, too.”

I groaned again. “Seriously. Listen. When she started talking to me I was just trying to treat her like a person, you know? People get all down on others because of how they look and stuff. I guess she just...isn't used to that.”

“So her saying you guys are hooking up isn't true?”

I let out half of a sigh. “I...she's been, you know...couple things. I've been telling her I don't feel the same way she does, but she thinks she's going to change my mind.”

He shifted a little. “So Ginnie's not your speed, huh? What's Tim French's type?”

I widened my eyes and shrugged as I let out a breath. “Fuck if I know.”

He was quiet a minute. “What about when you said your brother and his boyfriend were goals? What did you mean?”

“Look at them,” I said with a chuckle. “Look how they are with each other. I swear, Garrett was feeling so bad and so low for so long, and I didn't even totally know. I knew the things people said at school weren't true, but I didn't know he was gay and how lonely he was. Finding Sterling was...huge for him. He's happy with who he is, Sterling validates him, and they get along so well. I want that.”

“Yeah. I get it. Everyone is always looking for 'special',” he said and sipped his drink. “I have no idea what that looks like, though. How will I know when it's there? Are you supposed to plan for it, or does it all work by random chance?”

“I have no clue,” I said with a sigh.

After a moment of quiet Conor said, “How did Garrett meet Sterling?”

“Uh. Funny story, really. Last Fall Garrett was in Sanitaria Springs for a soccer game, and it started to rain super hard. So he went to hit the port-a-potty, and while he was doing that, the bus left without him. Sterling was there, and he gave him a ride home.”

“Not a short trip.”

“Yeah. So I guess they talked in the car. Things were bad here at home. It was just this...random act of kindness that got them together. They started to talk when they could, and eventually they got caught by my parents, and we had this huge blow up and stuff. But Sterling stuck with him, took care of him. They are totally goals, man.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes, and I was thinking about the randomness of Garrett and Sterling meeting and how they supported each other. It really was kind of strange – a story. One you can tell and people will just shake their heads and, as Conor was saying, grow a relationship from a random act of kindness.

“So. Ginnie and you...done?”

I swallowed from my can. “Yeah. I told her again. I was kind of mad when I heard she was spreading stuff around school – mostly because it's not true. I won't say I wouldn't care if it were true, but...just seems like...why tell everyone?”

“I guess...she was proud that she was having you?” he offered.

I shook my head. “Seems weird.”

“Bro. People are weird.”

“Most valid thing you've said all day,” I said with a grin.

“You're just trying to start shit now, bro,” he said with a chuckle.

“I'm going to brush and go to sleep,” I said. “Sterling likes waking me up by scaring the shit out of me, so I want to try and get up early. Terrible way to wake up.”

He laughed gently and joined me in the bathroom. After brushing we went back into the room, and I climbed up into the top bunk. He hit the light, and I heard an article of clothing slide off him and get tossed to one side. I lay on my back and reflected on the evening – probably the best one I'd had in a while. Mom was right for once about something – it was good to make a new friend.

I thought about practice, about how I was saving my new stick for outdoor work instead of the stuff we were doing indoors right now. The practices were pretty tiring, and doing homework at night didn't make that any easier. I did as much as I could do at school, because I didn't want to do it at home anyway. Especially science. If I'd trusted my parents more, maybe the things they said about people living side by side with dinosaurs and how young the earth is compared to the things science tell us, then maybe I'd believe in stupid shit, too.

As my mind drifted I thought about how Conor had sounded in the locker room. Sad. Sort of betrayed with the way his dad had pulled the rug out from under him. I felt pretty good about stepping in – a random chance to help, and I took it. I thought about how I'd rounded the corner and how Conor had looked kind of beaten down, not sure what to do next. I thought about how his shoulders had looked a little slumped, and how broad they’d looked when he'd straightened up to talk to me. How he'd given me a smile when he realized I was offering him a helping hand.

It was a really nice smile.



“OH MY GOD!” I hollered as I twisted away from whatever was grabbing my ribs.

“Ha ha, got you!” Sterling sang out merrily.

“Oh my God, you suck!” I complained, feeling my heart thumping away in my chest.

“You totally are,” I heard Conor say. I leaned over the side and looked down at him in the lower bunk. “Did he get you too?”

“Yes! How does he even reach that far apart to get us both! Damn, bro!”

“Come on, you guys. Get moving so we can go to breakfast,” Sterling said, grinning in satisfaction. “Unless you want to wait for your mom to cook?”

“I'm up,” I said, swinging my legs over the side and jumping down. “Let me pee and brush my teeth.”

I headed into the bathroom and peed, then headed for the sink.

“Bro, my eye sight is turning yellow,” Conor said from outside the door.

“Okay, come in. I'll keep my back to you,” I said. He opened the door and slipped past me, making little noises of panic. Finally he let go and sighed. I laughed a little to myself as I washed my face and brushed my teeth. Conor followed, and I realized he'd slipped his sweatpants off the night before, as we were both in tee shirts and underwear, though he had socks on. I mean, how do you sleep with socks on?

We got dressed and met Garrett and Sterling in the kitchen. My parents were sitting down to a cup of coffee, and Sterling was telling them about the work we had to do. We headed out and drove to a diner in Sanitaria Springs. The whole way Conor was relating how I'd scared him the night before and how unfair it was that Sterling had gotten him too. He was promising revenge, but I don't think Sterling was too worried.

After breakfast we went to Sterling's home, and I met his mom for the first time. It's usually kind of awkward to meet adults – they all ask the same questions, like how school is going and maybe what your favorite class is. His mom was so much more fun, though, bringing Conor and I inside and equipping us with cans of silly string. We sprayed the hell out of both Sterling and Garrett! Apparently his mom owed him for something, so she used us to get him – which we were fine with.

We did eventually get down to work, though. Despite the relatively cool temperatures, the work quickly warmed us up. Sterling was using a chain saw, while we used axes and hatchets to cut up smaller branches and put the pieces in a wheelbarrow to bring to a spot out front and dump on a tarp. I guess it's a lot cheaper if you do the grunt work and the guy just hauls the tree away. Garrett got down to an undershirt, but Conor and I were being competitive with the hatchets, chopping fast and being stupid, so we took our shirts off.

It took a big chunk of the day to get the work done, and I was kind of embarrassed when Sterling's mom forced us to take money for the work. I do mean forced – I tried to turn her down, waving off her attempts to pay me, but she shoved the money in my front pocket using Conor! She offered him ten more bucks if he could get the money in my pocket, and before you know it we were wrestling on the grass. Sterling and Garrett were egging us on, and we flopped and twisted around, getting pretty dirty.

Eventually he shoved the bills in my pocket and stood up, raising both his arms and crowing about his victory, but I cut him short by jumping up and digging my fingers into both sides of his ribs, getting him awkwardly squawking.

“Jerk,” I taunted, and he pushed me back while laughing. Of course we were both soon a bit itchy from rolling in the grass. As we headed back for my home Conor tapped my forearm.

“Hey. Want to sleep over? My dad said it's okay.”

“Uh, yeah. Let me ask my parents, and I'd have to shower.”

“Cool,” he said, smiling.

“Wait. Is this s setup? You're going to try and scare the shit out of me, aren't you?”

“Would I do that?” he asked, grinning.

Once at my house my parents decided I could stay, as long as my dad brought me to Conor's and met his dad. It was a little more than I expected, but I wasn't too sure about what they'd think when they saw all the metal junk in the yard. I took a quick shower and gathered up a change of clothes and stuff. It was really exciting – the only overnights I'd really done were church related, since our house was so small. Even the few people I'd liked from church didn't stay over, but I have no idea if that was due to my parents, our house or the other people not wanting to.

On the way over my dad decided to pry by way of small talk. “So how do you guys know each other?”

“School. The Lacrosse team,” I said. “Conor plays right bench.”

“Oh please! Bench? Bro.”

We started teasing each other, and I guess that passed whatever test my dad had rolling around his head. We pulled into the driveway in front of Conor's house, and Conor spoke up right away, explaining the variety of large appliance carcasses in his yard. Unlike the night before, there was an old pickup parked near the house.

“I'll get my dad,” Conor said, hopping out of the car and heading for the front door.

“I'm not so sure about this place,” my dad said.

“It's cluttered,” I agreed. “But out in the country people do things like that. Did you see a few houses back all the rusted cars next to that barn?”

“I did,” he confirmed. “Maybe the person will start a junkyard or something.”

Conor came back out from the house, and he was followed by a thin man with greying hair and a goatee, though what hair color he had left was similar to Conor's chestnut.

“Hi! Thanks for running Conor home,” he said, holding his hand out, which my dad shook. “I'm Ken Bradly.”

“Charles,” my dad replied. “Conor says you're a repairman.”

“Yeah, usually more work than I can handle,” he said with a chuckle. “I take a lot of the broken things for parts – some folks can't afford new, so if I have something here it saves some money. Not like older machines, though, where you had more mechanical parts. Now it's a lot of circuit boards and buttons.”

My dad glanced around. “I hadn't thought of it like that, but you're right – repair work can be expensive.”

“Especially once the warranty expires. It seems like machines wait until that ends then go nuts, right?”Ken said with a chuckle.

“True enough,” My dad said with a little smile. “Well, thank you for having Tim over.” He turned to look at me. “Call me if anything comes up.”

“Okay. Bye, Dad,” I said falling in with Conor to go in and dump my bag. The house still looked just as junky during the day, but I wasn't as jarred by it as I was the first time. I put my bag in Conor’s room, and he said he was going to grab a shower, as he was still itchy from the grass.

I trailed behind him as far as the dining room, noting the open archway I'd seen before that went into darkness had an open door leading to a bathroom.

“Oh, hey,” he said, turning, and I nearly ran into him.”Easy, killer,” he said, putting his hand on my chest to keep us from colliding. “Since Sterling's mom paid, I was thinking Chinese take out? Hungry?”

“Sounds good. I can chip in,” I replied.

“My treat,” he insisted.

“Hey, whoa, am I left out of this? I like Chinese food too,” his dad said, coming into the house. “Hey, Tim, nice to meet you. Thanks for getting Conor home Friday. I went to a friend's birthday and didn't feel safe to drive after.”

“Oh, no problem. He wasn't too much trouble,” I said, giving Conor some side eye.

Conor snorted and looked to his dad. “We did yard work today and got paid. I can buy.”

“Yeah, I don't think you're old enough to be treating your dad to dinner,” his dad replied with a chuckle. “Let's see, what do you want?” he asked, tapping the screen on his phone. We put in an order, and Conor went to shower, leaving me with his dad.

“Conor says you guys play Lacrosse together, huh?”

“Yeah. I played last year. It was fun,” I replied.

“It's nice of you to come out here. We live far enough out that it's not easy for people to come out to visit, or for him to get places. He was riding his bike a lot, but he stayed too late at a friend's last fall, and it got dark faster than he realized. Some car got close and bumped him on the bike, and when he fell to the side of the road, his bike kicked out, and the car crushed the front wheel. I was going to get it fixed, but he's not too keen on biking on that road anymore.”

I widened my eyes. “Oh. He said it wasn't good to walk on, but he didn't mention an accident.”

“Fucking scary,” he said with a shake of his head. “Help me shift some parts? We'll make some room out here so we can watch TV while we eat.”


We moved some items, many in boxes, to make more space for seating. His dad seemed like a nice guy, which I think I wasn't expecting. The yard, and the way he'd not come to get his son after telling him he would, had painted a bad picture in my head. Maybe it was more of an aberration than a pattern. His dad rambled a little about how it was just he and Conor, with his other son having moved to another town to take a job and follow a girl. He said he'd meant to clean up more, but the parts just seemed to multiply, and he suggested tomorrow we could help him load some things into the truck that he could drop for scrap on Monday.

Eventually Conor emerged from the bathroom with his hair wet, wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt.

“Want to watch Ghost Ship?” he asked.

“Haven't you seen that?” his dad asked.

“Yeah, but I was showing Tim clips on my phone, and he liked it,” Conor replied.

“I knew it. You just want to scare me,” I said with a little smile. He grinned and turned to head toward his room, so I followed him. He climbed onto his bed and leaned up against the wall, so I copied him.

“Your dad seems nice. I thought he might be kind of mean, the way he left you hanging Friday,” I said.

He snorted and shook his head. “You know what I like about you? No bullshit. You just say stuff like we've been bros forever. It's comfortable.”

I was a little confused. “I'm sorry. I guess...I grew up a lot in the church my parents made us go to. I'm not used to going to people's houses, unless it's to be quiet and make my parents look good.”

“All good, bro,” he said with a smile. “It's a good thing. A lot of people might say crap about my yard being full of old washers and dryers, but they say it behind my back. You say things right to me, but you don't come at me about it. It's just talking, not accusing me or something. And yeah, Dad's usually pretty cool. He doesn't really drink or anything, so he was sorry he'd had a few beers and didn't want to risk driving – and I get it. He has to have his license to work. I just hate that road.”

“Yeah, he told me about the bike accident.”

“Fucking scary, bro, not gonna lie. But yeah, Dad's okay.”

The food was delivered shortly after, and we assembled in the living room – Conor and I on the couch and his dad in an easy chair. His dad teased him about watching the movie again, but he was determined to show me the whole thing. After the food was gone he brought out a blanket, and we huddled under it. I was leaning into him, but it was kind of funny that he was leaning into me, too, since he'd seen it before. We watched another movie after that, before his dad said he was going to tinker.

“Those were gory and interesting, but not too many jump scares. I liked them,” I said as we headed to his room after brushing and using the bathroom.

“Yeah, they are a couple of my favorites,” he said. He flopped onto his mattress and made a show of moving over so I could lie down too. He gave me the WIFI password, and we spent some time looking at videos and talking about nothing at all. Eventually I started to get tired, so he got up and turned the light out, and I heard clothes sliding once again in the dark. He climbed over me, intentionally poking me with his fingers, and we tussled for a moment before coming to rest side by side.

It was an odd feeling. The bed was narrow, so our arms were touching, and his skin was soft and warm. Farther down, I realized he'd taken his sweats off again and our calves were making contact, and it sent a shiver through me.

“Think Ginnie will try to get you back?” he whispered.

“I don't think so. I just hope she doesn't make a big deal out of it. I was just trying to treat her like a person, you know?”

“Yeah. So who's next then? Who's your perfect upgrade for Ginnie?”

I chuckled. “I don't know what that even means.”

“Looks, smarts, personality, sense of humor. What are you looking for?”

I shrugged, aware of my arm rubbing against his. “Never thought about it.”

“Really? Never?”

I bumped him with my shoulder. “No. Why? Is that all you think about?”

“Yes, because I'm normal,” he teased, bumping me back. That set us to pushing and shoving. He put his arm around my neck and pulled my head back on his chest, and I put my chin down, holding his forearm as we giggled and struggled.

“Settle down, you two,” his dad said from somewhere, and we subsided.

“You're not much of a pillow,” I said, the back of my head still on his chest and my hands on his forearm.

“That's because I have muscles,” he said, flexing his pecs and making us both giggle again. He shifted a bit and his arm moved, but then I became conscious of a hardness behind me that shifted almost as quickly as I'd felt it. Without thinking about it, I shifted more to my side, forcing his arm to extend flat on the mattress – and there it was again; he was definitely bricked up.

“My arm is falling asleep,” he said, pulling his arm back and turning himself to the wall. “There, you can have half the pillow.”

“Thanks,” I said quietly. I wasn't that sleepy for the moment now, though. I was curious about Conor and if what just happened was just a randomly hard dick or if it meant something else. It made me think about asking Garrett what it was like to kiss a guy, and I wondered what it would be like to kiss Conor. What would he think of that? Would he want to? I thought I'd like it, only because I liked Conor. I liked him more than I'd liked Ginnie. With her it had been nice to have someone to talk to, but the conversations were usually a little one sided. She'd be really inquisitive about something and want me to talk, or she'd go the complete opposite and just talk and talk and talk.

With Conor, talking was easy, even though we were still getting to know each other. I twisted on my back a little, until my shoulder was touching his back, but he didn't move. I shifted again so we were touching, back to back – and that was good. I liked the warmth. I thought again about him being bricked and drifted to sleep wondering what that meant.


After Conor's dad dropped me off at home Sunday, I had chores at home to finish. I was anxious to talk to Garrett, so when I was done I waited for him in our room. I swear he knew something was up, though, because he kept delaying, coming in and going back out of our room. Sometimes it stinks when your brother knows you so well.

“Good weekend?” he asked as he finally came into the room after dinner.

“Yeah. You? What did you guys do?”

“Saturday we went to this antique place that had all kinds of vendors, so we dug through a bunch of junk, really. It was fun, though. Went to a little shop for hot chocolate and amazing muffins. I have to take you there. What did you do? How was it staying at Conor's?”

“It was cool. We watched two horror movies and scared each other,” I said.

“I never knew you liked that stuff, but then our folks never let us watch anything, so....”


“So...Conor. What are you thinking?”

I frowned. “I'm thinking a lot of things. He’s really nice, huh?”

“He is. I liked him. Doesn't hurt he’s fucking cute,” Garrett said, smiling at me.

“Don't go stalking my friends,” I said with a tone of warning. “Besides, it would be really unfair for you to cheat and make me choose between you and Sterling.”

“Choose? You shit,” he said with a laugh. “I'm just saying he's nice to look at. Conor kind of came out of nowhere though, huh?”

“Yeah. He...makes me curious.”

Garrett's smile flickered. “Curious how?”

I frowned a little. “I've been thinking about it a lot, but I keep coming around to the idea that I don't think I know enough. Like...I know some stuff, but I'm guessing there is a whole lot more I don't know than I realize, so it makes me hesitate.”

“That may be, all in one, the smartest and most confusing thing you've ever said to me,” he replied, chuckling. “Come here. Explain this to me.”

I hopped down to sit on his bed with him, crossing my legs and facing him. “So, he's really nice. We get along. He's funny. We like some of the same stuff. That stuff kind of points to maybe being good friends. But then on Saturday night we were going to bed, and I realized he was bricked up. I wasn't sure if it was just a random thing or if it had something to do with me, but I was thinking about it today. On Friday we wrestled a little, and I remember he got hard then, too. So I think maybe it's me.”

“Okay, yeah, it could be you,” Garrett agreed. “But we also know that guys get hard easy, so having that happen because of wrestling or physical contact is also possible. Do you know anything about Conor? If he's dated? Also...how do you feel about this?”

I shook my head. “Conor wasn't really on my radar. I know who he is, but I don't know anything about dating or stuff like that.” I sighed. “About how I feel...I think I'm curious. I mean, I like him more than I did Ginnie – personality wise.” I paused and smiled a little. “He's warm, and his skin is soft. He has a nice smile. I don't know – does that mean anything?”

“Well, it means you like him. But I'm not completely sure what advice to give you because, honest, Tim, the parents had you pulled into church more than me, and I took more social risks than you did. You're really book smart, but you're not always great at reading people. So what you're feeling could be the start of an awesome friendship, like the closest of friends, or it could be that, because you've never had that outside of me, you're misinterpreting that close friendship for something romantic. You follow me?”

I thought hard about that. He could be right. What if I don't understand my own feelings? Was I just thinking about Conor this way because of curiosity, or was there anything else there?

“Okay,” I said finally. “I think maybe you have a point. I feel curious about him, but I've never had a close friendship, so I don't know if what I think I feel is actually what I feel.”

“Hey. It's not a bad thing,” he said with a smile. “Good friends are just as necessary.”

I nodded, but I was lost in my own thoughts.

Back in school, I looked forward to the times I'd see Conor during the day. We would try to sneak up on each other and scare each other. We hung out at practice, pairing up whenever we ran drills and competing with each other. All the while I tried to sort out my feelings – friend or more? Both? I fell victim to the most common complaint older people have of people my age – I became obsessed with my phone. We texted what seemed like a lot. I only have Garrett and Sterling to measure that by – but this seemed like it was on the level of how much Ginnie used to text me, except that I text back to him. I looked through his pictures online and saw him through a new lens. His dad was in a few, usually happy and smiling with Conor. It looked like they went camping; there were a few shots of Conor diving off a big rock into a lake, Conor making goofy faces and flexing, and others of him just living life.

I don't know how I feel about posting pictures of the things I do. On the one hand it seems weird that anyone could stumble on them and do any manner of thing with them. Somehow it seemed like an intrusion. But I also liked the idea of a repository where I could go look at events that were meaningful to me. There were pictures of Garrett and Sterling, of course, on their accounts; there were also pictures of me with them. I could recall when they were taken, and they were almost universally something I'd enjoyed.

The feeling was the same when I saw Conor post pictures of us: hanging out, at practice, whatever. I liked looking at his pictures, because it made me feel the way I do when I'm hanging out with Conor; it brought forth the fun we have scaring each other, the way he smiles when he's up to something where just one corner moves up – as crooked as his intentions. When he does that, I tend to smile back, because it's going to be entertaining.

Friday he texted me and asked me if I wanted to run that weekend to help get us further in shape for the season, and I was down with that. I suggested we see if he could stay over Friday, so we could run Saturday morning with Garrett. I explained that Garrett didn't stay over with Sterling all the time, and this weekend he'd be home at night. He agreed, and I called my mom to get permission when school let out.

“Oh. He seems nice, Timothy, but I think his father has a right to know that Garrett will be in the room this time,” she said.

“What? Why? Wait.” I pinched the top of my nose. “Are you about to say something crappy about Garrett again?”

“No,” she said, indignant. “I just think that parents have a right to be informed.”

“So if Garrett were straight you'd call Conor's dad and reassure him that Garrett is straight? No need to worry he might try to rape his son in the night?”

“Gay people-”

“You know what? You're incredible. Every time I think there's a shred of hope for you, something like this happens and reminds me just how evil you are,” I spat.


I hung up and called my dad. “Dad, Mom is being hopeless. Is it okay if Conor stays over tonight? We're going to go running together in the mornings this weekend to help condition for the team.”

“That seems fine, though space is something of an issue. Will he be okay with that?”

“Yeah. He only has a single bed at his house, so we shared last time.”

“Oh. Well.”

“Stop. We slept.”

He cleared his throat. “I...yes, that should be fine then.”

“Thank you. If Mom calls, will you please try to tell her Garrett isn't a danger to rape Conor in his sleep?”

“I'm sorry, what now?”

“She'll tell you, I'm sure,” I said. “Dad, I'm really sick of fighting all the time. I'm glad you're at least trying. Mom is...she feels like a stranger.”

“Well.” He paused. “I think the last several months have been something like that for all of us. Making sense of things hasn't been easy, nor do I think it's over. But...we do what we can.”

“Yeah. Okay. Love you. Bye.”

“I love you, too. Goodbye.”

I had no idea where Conor was. Sometimes he got to the locker room at the last second, so I decided to call him so he could get things set with his dad.

He picked up right away. “Bro.”

I deepened my voice to mock him. “Bro.”

He laughed. “What's good?”

“My dad says you're good to sleep over tonight.”

“Perfect. My dad says he can pick us up from practice so I can get a change of clothes before we go to yours. Work for you?”

“Yeah. See you in the locker room?”

“Not if I see you first,” he said, and I could hear the grin in his voice.

“Yeah, okay. Love you, bye.” I hung up and then paused. Shit. Did I just tell him I loved him? Well this wouldn't be awkward at all. My phone buzzed, and I looked down to see a text from Conor – like three rows of hearts. I texted back that I'd just said that to my dad and it was habit; no love for him. He texted back heartbreak emojis and then a row of crying emojis.

Fucking goofball.

Practice was hard that day. We did a ton of suicides then passing drills, and then we formed lines and gave the goalies a beating. Then – big shock – more suicides. I was wrecked by the time practice was over. I sat down on the bench in front of my locker, and Conor plopped down beside me, having changed lockers earlier in the week.

“You smell worse than normal,” he said.

“How can you smell anything over your own stench?” I asked.

“I smell fresh,” he said, pinching the front of his soaked tee shirt and moving it in and out, pretending to sniff like a rich person.

“A fresh dump, maybe,” I said, giggling.

“Like a man, you mean,” he said, laughing with me.

“A man with a load in his pants,” I countered.

“Okay girls, let's get moving,” coach bellowed.

I grabbed my toiletry bag and towel. “You cleaning up here or at home?”

“Home. I'll meet you out front?”

“Okay. I'll be quick.” I showered briskly, just wanting to get the sweat off and cool down a bit. I hate sitting around in sweaty clothes that cling to your skin and grow cold. It's really gross, especially if the cloth moves away and then back; the clammy slap against my skin creeps me out. After showering I dressed quickly and met Conor in front of the school. He was talking to his dad beside their truck.

“There he is,” his dad said.

“Hi,” I said with a wave.

“Conor's going to ride in the back so he doesn't stink us out of the truck,” his dad joked.

“Told you,” I said.

“Told you,” he mimicked. “Get in the truck, bitch.”

“NnuNn.” I tilted my head side to side while making the noise, crossing my eyes and he shoved me toward the door.

I climbed up into the back seat, and Conor got up next to his dad. He asked us how practices were going and asked me about my classes. He talked a little about the things he'd run into through work that week. It was interesting to me, because his dad was nothing like my parents. I don't really know how their days go at work, because they never talk about it. It never occurred to me to ask anything beyond how their day had gone.

Once we arrived at Conor's, we went in and he hit the shower, leaving me with his dad.

“Hey, so Conor says you guys are running tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I said with a nod. “Conditioning for the season. My brother likes to run, so he'll probably run with us.”

“Garrett, right? Conor mentioned him.”

“Yep. Garrett plays soccer, so he runs a lot. Although I think the freak just likes running. He's weird.”

He chuckled. “Well, if you guys want to get a little pocket money, I could use some help loading some of the scrap up around here tomorrow, and we'll make a few runs to the scrap metal place.”

“Yeah! Sounds good.”

The shower turned off, and he glanced at me. “Don't wear yourselves out too much. Those machines are heavy.”

I nodded, turning my head as Conor emerged from the bathroom, towel around his neck in just sweatpants. With a nod to his dad – again, so I felt awkward – I followed him to his room.

“Just put a few things into – ah! Jerk!” he exclaimed as I dug my fingers into his ribs. I laughed at him and danced away, but not fast enough as he backhanded my shoulder.

“You scream like a girl,” I teased.

“Quiet or I'll smack you with Ginnie's gooch,” he retorted.

“You'll what?” I asked, bursting out with laughter.

“I don't know,” he replied, giggling. He threw some stuff into a bag and then finished dressing, and we headed back to his dad's truck. After we got to my house and tossed his bag in my room, we talked to my dad, because Conor's dad had given him money for snacks – since my parents were nice enough to let him stay. I think my parents liked that gesture, so they said it was okay for us to walk down to the little grocery store a mile or so away.

“This is cool that you have sidewalks. I don't mind walking if it's not on the road,” he said.

“I can see why. Too bad about your bike.”

“Do you guys have bikes?”

“We used to, but they got crappy, and my parents didn't get them fixed.” The conversation paused as we crossed the street, jogging a little, because the road was fairly busy, and the idea of getting hit by a car made my skin crawl.

“So. Um. How did you take it when Garrett came out?”

I cocked my head. “What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “He had a reputation. I don't think I saw that coming.”

“Huh,” I said. “I didn't think about that much. I mean, I don't think about people that much. Sometimes I think I'm the only one of a certain species and the only one that I understand is Garrett, and sometimes Sterling.”

“You said Sterling's cool?”

“Yeah. I was surprised. I was wondering why he'd even spend time with me, since it was Garrett he was dating, but he got how close me and my brother are. Plus, he said no one deserved that much alone time with my parents, which, facts.”

He laughed.

“But, back to your question. I kind of got it out of Garrett. He was...unhappy. A lot. My parents were always mean to him, and I didn't really catch on until I was about ten. I mean yeah, here and there I realized they weren't being fair about something, but I think I was selfish enough that I figured it was okay or they balanced some other way, if I thought much at all. But I remember that Christmas – I got a game system, and he got an alarm clock. At first,” I shook my head at the memory, “I thought it was funny, but then I noticed how sad he looked. How disappointed. That really stuck with me, and I asked my parents why Garrett didn't get something nice, and they said they have to choose, sometimes.”

“That's mean.”

“Yeah. I mean, at the time I thought they meant hard choices and stuff, but it woke me up enough that I noticed I always got better things. Small gifts. Favorite meals. I started to wonder why that was, and as more time went by, I didn't like the answers little me could come up with. So Garrett and I started to talk more, and we got really close. So when he suddenly started being happier, I noticed. He finally told me he was seeing someone and admitted he was gay. I was just like...finally. Someone is going to treat him right.”

“Wow, really? I mean, if Garrett was used to being treated like crap, seems like someone could take advantage. Right?”

“I hadn't thought of that,” I admitted. “But Sterling treats him like gold.”

We walked a few feet in silence. “So for you, even going to church and stuff, you were okay with the gay?”

“I don't believe what they teach at church,” I said. “I started reading a lot when Garrett and I would talk about something the pastor said that didn't line up with how he acts. Like the car he drives – a really nice Mercedes. Or his clothes – fancy, but nothing I'd ever wear. We started debating stuff about the bible and just...can't buy into it. I started checking out books from the library at school on different philosophies and stuff. There are a lot of ideas out there.” I glanced at him, a cold hand running up my back. “Why? Garrett doesn't bother you, does he?”

“Me? Nah. I was just asking.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Why? You didn't think I would, did you?”

I shook my head. “Never thought you would; in fact, it never crossed my mind. Then you asked, so it got me to wonder, because I don't think about how other people will react to stuff, sometimes. But then my folks are jerks to him even more, now. Well, Dad is better, but Mom keeps saying shitty stuff – like she wanted your dad to be 'informed' that you'd be in the same room with Garrett. I hate her sometimes.”

“That's vile, bro.”

“You're telling me. I live with her.”

“Wallet check!” he said loudly and slapped my ass before running for the door of the store.

“Asshole!” I hollered, chasing after him.

We went into the small store and picked out a few bags of chips and got a six-pack of soda. We picked on each other – he said it was all for him, and I said he could carry it all then, and we went back and forth. Once home we sat down for dinner with my parents, which was awkward, but less so once Conor and I started talking to Garrett. Dad joined in a little, but my mother seemed lost.

My game system didn't have any WIFI to connect to, but we took turns gaming together with some racing games and one-on-one combat, ate junk food and drank sugary drinks like we don't normally get to. It was one of my better nights at home.

As it crept toward eleven my dad told us to wind up for the evening, so we brushed and got settled into bed.

“Fuck. I hope you two don't come crashing down on me. Fat asses,” Garrett teased.

“Pft! You'd probably be in heaven,” Conor said with a laugh.

“Nah, I got a man, boys,” Garrett said with a laugh.

“Boys? We going to take that?” Conor asked me.

“You'll take it, and you'll like it,” Garrett replied, laughing quietly.

In a thoughtful tone I said, “But, Garrett...isn't taking it your job? Didn't you say-”

“Whoa! Slow your roll, little man,” Garrett replied, laughing again.

We jostled around a bit to get comfortable, and Conor warned me not to push him out of bed. Just to mess with him I did push him a few times. Good thing there was a partial railing.

The next morning we were up and out the door early. Garrett usually runs on his own, something about time to think. I'm not sure I buy that. I don't care for running for the sake of running, and I wasn't really enjoying the experience just because Garrett and Conor were there. You can't talk, you're out of breath, sweating for no fun reason...I mean. I got why we were doing it, but I wasn't really thinking I wanted to do it again.

We took quick turns showering at home and then had some breakfast. Dad went to drop Garrett off at his volunteer job at an animal shelter, and Conor and I were left alone with my mother. I wanted to just head back to my room and we could game or something, but she started talking to Conor, and he was too polite to walk away.

“So your dad works on appliances, is that right?”

“Yes. He owns his own business,” Conor replied easily.

“That must be nice, having some control over your schedule,” she commented.

“I don't know about that,” Conor replied. “People call late sometimes or on weekends. It kind of sucks, because if you need the work, you have to take it when it comes in. Plus there's times when he has to wait for parts, and sometimes a customer hasn't had some appliance for a few days, and Dad will go fix things for them after hours or something. Kind of stinks sometimes.”

“Oh, yes, I hadn't thought of that. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” She glanced at me and back to Conor. “Did you sleep well? No...disturbances?”

“Okay, we'll just wait in my room,” I said. Conor looked slightly confused, then an expression of understanding crossed his features.

“Timothy, I have a right to ask in my own home,” she said, sounding a little like a kindergartner.

“And you realize that you're asking those things about your own son, right? The one you gave birth to? My oldest friend?” I curled my lip. “Just remember how far your loyalty goes when I'm turning my back on you.”

I turned to head to my room, but she wasn't done. “You can't talk to me like that! I'm the parent! You'll stay home today! You-you're grounded!”

I turned, walking backward slowly. “Dad already said I could go. You can argue with him. As long as you hate on my brother, I have no use for you.”

Conor followed me into the bedroom and closed the door. I went to the small window and started taking deep breaths, trying to slow my pounding heart.

“Are you okay, bro?” Conor asked quietly.

I glanced at him and then turned my gaze back outside. “I'm sorry you had to be here for that. Life's been weird – actually the last year or so I've woken up to how weird life has been here all my life. Last year I never would have said something like that. I was raised to respect my parents and obey them, but after seeing their rank hypocrisy and how they treated Garrett when they found out he was gay...it changed me. My dad struggles, but he's trying. I give him credit for trying. My mother...I don't know her; actually I just don't want to know her.”

“I feel that, bro,” Conor said, keeping his voice low. “My mom bailed on us. She was hooking up with this guy at her job, and one day she just took her stuff and left us. Fucked me up for a while. I didn't know why she'd leave me behind, but now? Now she's not anyone I want to know.”

I looked back at him and then back out the window. “I'm sorry. About your mom.”

“Same about yours. I...kind of wanted to say something smart when she said that about Garrett, but my brain kind of locked up.”

I smiled a little and turned back to him. “Come on, you? Say something smart?”

He grinned. “Bro, you do me like that?”

I chuckled. “I'm just sayin'. You and smart? C'mon.”

“Bro, fuck you,” he said, chuckling. His expression grew more serious. “Will she actually stop you from coming over?”

“Not likely,” I replied. “She might make a stink, but my dad will be home soon, and he's been a lot better, like I said.”

“Oh, good. I don't want to do all that work by myself,” he said with an evil smile.

“I feel so wanted,” I said sarcastically.

He chuckled and shuffled a little closer. “For real, though...sorry you have to deal with that.”

I cleared my throat. “All good.”

“Do you ever wonder who you'd be if it weren't for other people? Where you live, expectations. Stuff.” I glanced up at Conor, who was looking out of the window. Before I had thought of a response he continued, “I mean, like society wants some things from guys, some things from girls. Some people are parents who shouldn't be, and other people never stop being kids. We're all expected to do certain things, though.”

I swallowed. “I think some expectations or norms are good. You need them for a society, and society does have some good things about it. I looked into it when pastor told us morality comes from God and following his teachings. I was really interested in researching the things pastor said, because so much of what he said ended up being bullshit.”

Conor looked at me with curiosity. “You don't talk like someone our age sometimes, you know that? It's like you memorized all the vocabulary words since we were little, then how to use them.”

“I...don't think that's a bad thing.”

“It's not. It makes you sound smarter than the rest of us.”


“Yeah, I know,” he said with a laugh. “You are. But you were saying?”

“Um. Yeah, so, morality. Things like not stealing or killing people. If you have a group of people and one kills another, they expel or punish that person. Same with stealing. It's better for the group, so they do that – in a basic sense. That leaves out if the thief is charismatic and convinces people their theft wasn't so bad or if the murder was justified in some way.”

“So you're saying God isn't the only explanation for stuff.”

“Exactly. Not that society is perfect, but that there are alternatives that are just as compelling.”

Just as compelling,” he mimicked, his lips curled in a smile. “You're going to be a professor or something.”

I shook my head at him. “What does that have to do with who you'd be if things were different?”

He shrugged and looked away. “I just think society divides people.” He looked back at me. “I mean, look at us. Why weren't we friends before? Because you were at church, and that part of society says only hang out with the people that believe like we do? What if my dad had been able to pick me up that night? It's all just...random.”

I widened my eyes. “That was pretty deep. I mean for you.”

He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow, and I laughed at him.

“No, I get what you're saying. It is pretty random, and maybe some things just are. I mean sure, church – my parents' involvement with church – kept me from having friends, but it also had me in this town and this school. Positives and negatives. Nothing's perfect.”

Conor shrugged again. “I guess...I just don't make friends that easily. I wish it would have happened sooner.”

“Yeah. Valid.” I heard the front door close, and I headed out to talk to my dad. As usual it turned into a small argument, but my dad said I could go so he and mom could talk. Conor's dad arrived shortly after, and we went to their house – and it was work. Those machines were heavy, the parts were heavy, even the air seemed heavy. We were sweating and grunting, lifting the stuff into the truck, then riding over to the scrap yard, where we had to offload the stuff, which was easier, onto a scale, and they'd pay. Then we were back at it.

I know I was wiped out and sore, completely not used to working my body like that. I was happy with the hundred bucks in my pocket from all the work, though. Conor's dad insisted. I tried to say it was too much, but he wasn't having it. I didn't exactly feel guilty, but in a way I did. I was getting a little stiff by the time we were going to turn off the light.

“I have some stuff I can rub into your back, if you want,” Conor said.

“Does it work? I mean, if I sleep it'd probably be better in the morning.”

“It works pretty good. Let me grab it.” He left the room, and I just lay there, sore, but not stupid sore. I've put some cream on sore muscles before, and Garrett and I had done it to each other's backs or shoulders – but I wasn't prepared for what Conor had in mind.

“Take your shirt off,” he said, coming back into the room. I complied and rolled over. He knelt down beside the low bed, and I heard the stuff squelching as he rubbed it between his hands.

“Just warming it a little first,” he said, then his hands made contact with my skin. It was a little cool to the touch at first, but the heat of his skin came through quickly. He spread the cream out and then began to push down, rubbing it deeper into the sore muscles.

“That feels good,” I said quietly.

He grunted, but made no other reply. He worked on my shoulder and then down toward my neck and the spine before moving to the other shoulder. He slowly moved down my back, moving deliberately. His strokes were sure but slow, stretching the muscle as he applied the cream across my skin. As I relaxed under his touch I began to enjoy the sensations. I was a little surprised when I started to brick up.

I tried thinking about something else, but then he moved down my back to just above my butt, pushing his fingertips just past the waistband. He pushed down a bit, swirling his hands across my skin and it was all I could think about. When he stopped I was almost relieved, but then I heard the squelching sound of more cream in his hands and then he was starting on the back of my thigh, moving his hands to either side and working the skin – though in my fevered mind it felt more like stroking, and his fingertips along my inner thigh weren't helping me get rid of my boner.

It got a bit better when he moved down to my calves, but I wished he'd go back up to my thighs.

“Are your feet sore, too?” he asked quietly, his breath sounding a little ragged.

“Um. Uh, no. I feel a lot better already.”

“Oh. Okay. I'm just going to wash my hands,” he said, capping the cream and taking it with him. I pulled my shirt on and took some slow breaths, willing my dick to go down. I stood up and pointed my elbows to the walls and twisted side to side, the movement finally giving my dick the clue that now was not the time.

Garrett and I had talked about situations where your cock has a mind of its own. I had to wonder, though...I'd gotten bricked for Ginnie when she did certain things. Now I was doing the same for Conor, even though they weren't the same things. With Ginnie it had been clearly sexual stuff – kissing, and of course when she moved to sucking me off. With Conor it was the wrestling, the closeness, and now the way he'd touched me. I had no doubt I'd get it up for him in a sexual way, but that still left me wondering about the why of it all.

This hormone shit is really stupid. I don't understand people that say this is the best time of my life. Have they forgotten how absolutely beyond control a person's body can get? You'd think they'd remember when they get presented with buying adult diapers. I guess in comparison, getting the occasional awkward boner must not seem so bad.

“Ugh. Sorry I was gone so long, had to use the bathroom,” Conor said as he rejoined me. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, actually. I feel a lot better. Thanks,” I said, being truthful and wanting to leave the door open for him to do that again. “Seemed like you knew what you were doing.”

“I've done a little of that for my dad. Sometimes his back hurts a lot or his shoulder. Sometimes I'll sleep wrong and get a stiff neck, so he showed me how to work a kink out with some help.”

“I appreciate it. It was relaxing, and I feel a lot better,” I said, again wanting him to know it had been welcome.

He smiled. “Any time.”

We settled in, him facing the wall and my back against his, and I felt comforted with the heat of him behind me. For a while my mind turned over and over my feelings from his...massage. I couldn't come up with many concrete answers. I'd liked it. I'd like him to do that again. Did it mean anything beyond that?

Sunday morning was quiet at home when I got dropped off, but I was on alert when my dad called me over to the table with him and my mother.

“Tim – son – we should have a conversation,” he said. Cautiously I took a seat. I didn't like his tone. I knew I was going to be disagreeing with them, and I found it suspicious as hell they were talking to me while Garrett wasn't home.

“What's going on?” I asked.

“Son...things have been difficult for some time here. We have done our best to listen to you...and your brother. But we are also your parents, and it's time for you and he to do some listening as well.”

I rubbed the underside of my nose. “If this is about you running down Garrett for being gay, then it’s going to be a loud conversation.”

“I don't think it's running down,” my dad said.

“It goes against nature!” my mother said firmly.

“What your mother means is that there is a divine order. Men and women go together, they procreate and ensure the continuation of the species.” He cleared his throat. “God's chosen creatures. What Garret engages in – what he believes himself to be – goes against that symmetry. You must see that.”

I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair. “Sure. But that's too simple to encompass human sexuality.”

“It seems pretty darned straight forward,” my mother said, also crossing her arms.

I nodded. “So how do you explain masturbation?”

“How...what?” my father frowned.

“You're saying that sex exists between men and women for procreation. So then what use, in that plan, is masturbation?”

“It's sin,” my mother hissed.

“But it’s medically recommended for the health of your prostate,” I pointed out.

“Doctors,” my mother sniffed.

“Right. The ones who helped you give birth twice,” I said, letting sarcasm into my tone. “The ones who rely on the scientific method to test ideas and revise what is understood based on actual, visible, measurable results. Not medieval voodoo.”

“Voodoo? Are you seriously comparing the Bible to Voodoo?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “Voodoo does seem more advanced, since they don't condemn people for their sexuality.”

My father raised his hands up and gently set them down on the table, flat and palm down while letting out a deep breath. “We are off topic. The discussion is more about children, and parents having a right to know who their children are spending time with. Mr. Bradly deserves to know that Garrett is...what he is.”

I nodded. “Well, as usual when it comes to anything vaguely modern or sensible, you're both wrong.”


“No. You said what you wanted. You claim this is a discussion.”

“Actually, we said you two had spoken, but it's high time you hear us!” my mother snapped.

“Okay,” I said agreeably. “I hear you, and you're wrong. Both of you. Good talk.”

“Sit!” my father said, raising his voice a bit. I stayed seated and crossed my arms again. “You seem to have not heard a word we've said.”

I shook my head. “Other way around. You spoke. I listened. I just don't believe you.”

“How can you possibly argue that?” my mother demanded.

“Because homosexuality is a standard variation in human development. They serve a biological purpose, not that they need to be useful to have a right to exist! But let's take a look at your motivations here, okay? You want to tell Conor's dad, because you think so badly of your own son – your own son! – that you think he should know Garrett's gay for what? Conor’s protection? That means you think Garrett is so evil that he's going to molest him? Like you suggested he was molesting me?” I stood. “Do you even realize what utter trash you are?”

“Timothy!” my parents said in near-stereo as they also stood.

“Nah.” I waved a finger at them. “You drank your Kool-Aid. You keep it to yourself. You say you want to rebuild things with me, but all I see is you trying to wait things out and drag me to your point of view, never stopping to consider the damage you do.” I pointed at them. “Trash. The both of you.”

“That's it,” my dad said, standing angrily. “You're grounded.”


“Phone.” He held his hand out.

“Nah. Garrett pays for it and gave it to me. Come and get it if you want it so badly.”

“Timothy,” my dad said in a tone of warning.

“Michael,” I said, mocking him. We stood there for a few moments staring at each other, and then I turned and walked quickly to my room. I started trembling as soon as the door was closed behind me – all my nerves shook out across my chest and stomach. This was not normal. They wouldn't let go of the idea that Garrett was somehow diseased. The idea that they'd circled back to the disgusting idea that he'd molest someone showed how little effort they've made. It was all for show, just waiting things out.

I wanted to call Garrett, but he was on his date time with Sterling, and even though he'd be mad I didn't call him, I didn't want their time to be ruined by my parents. That would come later anyway. So I called the only other person dear to me.

“Whoa, are you crying?” Conor asked. His face was such a comfort on my phone.

“My parents were saying that crap about Garrett molesting you again. Wanting to tell your dad about him.” I wiped at my eyes. “I'm just so pissed off, but I didn't want to call Garrett. He's out with Sterling. He'll be mad at me later, but he should be able to enjoy himself. You know? So I called you. Ruin some of your day instead,” I said, letting out a barking laugh.

“I'd be pissed if you didn't call me, bro. I can bike over, if you want.”

I wiped my eyes again, touched that he'd offer, considering how scared he was of biking on his road. “No, thanks. I'm grounded for now anyway. And there will be a big fight when Garrett gets home and I fill him in.”

He sighed and shook his head. “If it matters, my dad knows. I talk to my dad a lot. He's not some hater.”

“Oh? Well. That's okay, I guess. I just don't think everyone needs to know about who someone likes or could fall for. I mean it's one thing if...I mean. Garrett has stuff on his socials with Sterling, so it's not a secret. It was just how they framed it.” I put a hand to my forehead. “Sorry. I'm having trouble thinking.”

“It's okay, bro. Your brain probably needs a break anyway. You probably think way too much. Your muscles were all knotted up last night, and I bet it's not all from the work we did. You're probably stressed out.”

I brushed my hair back and tried to smile at him. “You'll have to massage me again then.”

“I guess I could, if I have to,” he said with a grin. Heat flashed through my face at the thought of the massage and his smile about doing it again. He kept me company for a while, and then I heard the front door close and knew Garrett was home. I said I'd text him later. Garrett came into our room and just seemed to know. So I talked to him, and we went back out for another round with our parents, but this time I was really surprised by how calm Garrett was.

He sat down and actually made my parents doubt themselves. Then he said he'd been waiting for them to do something like this, and he gave them a card. It was for some church that had different views on homosexuality.

“It's not to change your mind,” he said sadly. “I think you'll always hate me, if not for being me, then just because my brother won't hate me with you. He loves me more than I deserve. But I hope you guys, for yourselves, can find a loving god to worship rather than what you've found.”

My parents were quiet, completely different from the way they'd been with me. I couldn't help but be impressed with Garrett. After a subdued dinner, Garrett and I took turns in the shower before settling into our room for the evening.

“How was your overnight? Did you guys do a lot of work for his dad?” Garrett asked.

“Yeah, we took a lot of scrap in – like five trips. Their yard is much cleaner looking now, and I made a hundred bucks.”

“Whoa! That's not bad for an afternoon of work.”

“Garrett. Have you ever had a massage?”

He looked toward the wall and appeared to be in thought. Looking back to me, he said, “Not that I can think of. I mean, Sterling rubs my shoulders sometimes, but it's not because I'm sore or anything. It just feels good. Why?'

I let out a breath. “Because I was sore after the work Saturday, and Conor had some lotion he said was good for that, and he gave me a massage, basically,” I replied.

Garrett sat up a bit. “And...how did that make you feel?”

I shook my head and raised a hand, only to let it drop against my leg. “Confused in some ways. I mean, some things were really clear. I liked it. I felt better after. I felt good while he was doing it. But I also...I got...hard.”

“Okay,” he said gently. “We've kind of talked about that stuff.”

Nodding, I agreed. “Yeah. That part was kind of clear to me. Except...what if it's not? Clear, I mean. If I liked what he did, and my body liked what he did, what does that mean? I got hard for him, but I also got hard for Ginnie sometimes. I've never kissed Conor, but when he was touching me...I liked it. I'm just not sure what any of it means.”

Garret grunted. “Do you want to kiss Conor?”

I widened my eyes and let out a breath. “I don't know? I mean, I don't think I'd mind it? I don't know if he wants that. But if I did and I got hard like I did with Ginnie, then what?”

“Well. I mean, you don't have to lock yourself into anything, Tim. Before, when you'd talk about Ginnie, I thought maybe you were leaning toward being ACE.”

I tangled my fingers. “Yeah. I wondered about that, too. But I don't think so, now. I mean I liked the blow jobs, even if I wasn't thrilled it was Ginnie doing it.”

He tilted his head. “What would you think if it was Conor?”

I inhaled deeply and let it out, shaking my head. “I don't know. I like Conor more than I ever did Ginnie – as a person. He's so much fun to be around, and he seems to actually care about me, but not just how it affects him. He's asked important things, like how you and I get along after you came out, and he was really a good friend after he saw mom being toxic this morning.” I looked up at him. “He just feels more substantial than she did.”

“Okay, that says a lot for you,” he said with a smile.

“What do you mean?”

He pressed his lips together and smiled as he tilted his head from side to side. “You're a complex guy. Really smart. But remember what they say about complex systems?”

I nodded, at least having an answer to that. “They break down more easily because of their complexity.”

“Right. So when something or someone isn't right with you, it's easy for that relationship to break down. If you were a simple guy, you'd probably be the most popular kid in your class, or at least one of them. You're good looking, you're kind, you're smart – all things people would look up to.”

I stared at him. “But?”

He shrugged and grinned. “But you're super smart. If you're going to be friends with someone, they can't just see you as someone popular to be friends with. You don't waste your time with vapid.” He held up a hand. “Actually what I mean to say is you see no value in vapid people, so you don't engage with them – a sub-conscious decision. You're not a snob. So I think you learned stuff from hanging out with Ginnie, especially that there is such a thing as being too kind. You let things go on, even when you were thinking about cutting things off. She played you a bit – played on your good nature.”

I thought on that for a moment. He was right that I'd been conflicted about continuing to hang out with Ginnie, especially since I thought it was deceptive – that she'd be hurt, and that I was being a jerk for not being more honest that I wasn't interested in her earlier. I thought Garrett was right that she'd moved things into a sexual space to try and convince me, and I'd allowed it out of curiosity and a feeling of peer pressure, maybe. I let it go on because of the intense pleasure of having that done to me, despite my guilt. If Garrett was pointing to my feelings of guilt and breaking things off as my good nature, I guess I could see his point. I looked back to him and nodded.

“So from what I understand, the fact that you enjoyed the oral sex and let the relationship linger because you enjoyed it points to you not being ACE. Now that Conor has stepped into the picture, first, he must be the right kind of person for you, because you enjoy his company and he enjoys yours. It seems like you are being yourself, but what's complicating things is that you're not sure where that line is between friendship and something more – probably because you don't have the experience – or in scientific terms, you lack empirical data.”

I frowned. “Stop talking 'nerd'. It messes with your dumb jock aura.”

He laughed, and I smiled at him. He continued, “So have you any reason to think your friendship is anything more?”

I pushed my lower lip up and then my tongue under my upper lip as I thought about that. “Yes. He's bricked up a couple of times around me. I told you I have, too. So it seems like it's possible.”

He waited a beat. “And how do you feel about that?”

I widened my eyes and shrugged. “I don't have a problem with it, if that's what you're asking. I'm ...comfortable with him. When we sleep we're back to back, and I like the feel of him there, the warmth. Today, after I went around and around with the parents, I called him, and I felt better just talking to him. So...I know I like him. I know I value him.”

“Do you think he's attractive?”

I frowned. “I do. But...he's objectively attractive, right?”

Garrett smiled gently. “He's subjectively attractive, too. It sounds like maybe you have some feelings for your friend.”

My heart sped up and I looked up at my brother. “Yeah. I think I might. But does that mean-”

He shook his head and held a hand up. “Pause. Don't worry about what it means yet. I know, that goes against how your brain works, but hear me out. You need information – more data. This is probably your first real relationship – a positive one at any rate. Let it grow on its own, and take the steps as they come to you.”

I stared at him.

He smiled again, just a little wider. “Let whatever this is reveal itself to you when it's time. Think of it like cooking – everything needs time to reach temperature, mix flavors and be cooked properly – not raw and inedible or burnt and inedible.”

I frowned. “It sounds like you're saying I want to eat my friend.”

He burst out laughing. “No, you're taking the analogy a bit too literally.”

I let out a slow breath. “Okay. Just...slow down and let this thing happen.”

“Yep.” Garrett smiled a bit wider. “But be honest. He's a little hottie.”

The corner of my mouth pulled up in a smile. “I'll tell Sterling.”

“That's okay. He agrees with me.” Garrett laughed at my expression. “But hey, just out of curiosity, have any girls caught your eye or made any moves on you with Ginnie out of the picture?”

I thought for a moment. “I can't think of any girls that made enough of an impression that I'd want to find out,” I said. “I mean...they can be pretty in a little moment of time, but that's it. And, uh, Karla Muller told me she can blow me better than Ginnie. I just kind of...walked away.”

“Huh. Look at you, attracting them all over.”

I sighed. “I just wish they'd stop. It's too much.” I paused and then glanced at Garrett and smiled just a little. “Or at least one at a time.”

He burst out laughing.


Ginnie tried to get me to sneak out and talk to her, but after one last text chat where she refused to listen, I just blocked her. There is only so much you can do, and I was done giving her my energy. Oddly, the next time I saw her she seemed to refuse to accept that, too. She handed me a flyer for the upcoming spring dance and said we needed to coordinate what we were wearing and she couldn't wait to see me.

“Ginnie,” I said with a sigh. “I'm not going with you. I'm sorry, but you have to stop.”

“I just think-”

“Aigh!” I jumped as fingers dug into my ribs.

“Gotcha!” Conor laughed in triumph and I turned to him. “Jackass! God, I'm going to get you!” I said, punching him in the shoulder as he laughed at me.

“Uh. We were talking? That's rude,” Ginnie said.

“Oh? Sorry. I thought you were done,” Conor said, not sounding sorry at all.

“We were done,” I said. “I'm not going with you.” I looked at Ginnie pointedly and walked away, Conor falling in beside me.

“Jesus, she's still after you? You have chocolate flavored cum or something?” Conor teased, and I shoved him.

I talked to Garrett about Ginnie, but increasingly I knew this was just one of those situations like talking to pastor – there really isn't anything you can do. They will think what they like, do as they please, and it doesn't matter if it makes sense or not. I really have a hard time with that. It seems to me that if you get presented with new information, you have to step back and see how that fits and not reject it simply because it's inconvenient.

I wish people were less...peopley.

A few weeks later Conor was over to stay the night, and Garrett told us he was going to the mall with Sterling so they could match their outfits for the spring dance.

“Are you going?” Conor asked.

“I don't think so. They have this policy where you can't say no if someone asks you to dance. I'm pretty sure I'd get stuck with Ginnie at some point,” I said.

“Shouldn't let her ruin it for you,” he said. “We could start a vicious rumor about how she nearly chewed your pecker off like a rabid weasel and-”

I didn't hear the rest. I was laughing too loudly.

“Why don't you guys go stag?” Garrett asked. “That way you can look out for each other. Conor can make sure you can slip away from Ginnie, if she's still being delusional.”

“Yeah!” Conor said, looking enthused. I couldn't help that his excitement made me smile. “C'mon, Tim. Want to?”

“I guess, if you want to,” I said. That was how I ended up in the back seat of Sterling's little car as we went to the mall to get something nice to wear. I had my hundred bucks from the work I'd done for Conor's dad, and I didn't really have anything I’d wanted to spend it on. I half wanted to save it, but Conor was so excited, and I felt like that was a good reason to spend it.

I don't really like clothes shopping, or I never had in the past. My parents bought less expensive things, and I understood that. We were poor, so you bought what you could afford, and you blocked out things you might want, because you couldn't have them. I got that. It just meant I didn't care much for the things we could afford. Now I could buy one nice outfit, and it was kind of fun to look at things I wouldn't normally.

Practicality won out a little bit, though. I got a khaki colored pair of jeans, or something very jean-like, that was tough and I could wear with other things. Since it was spring, I was thinking about a white shirt, but Sterling suggested this kind of hot pink button up with a bright white tie. I wasn't sold on it, but Conor picked something where the pink was toned down a bit, and I said it looked kind of like a Valentine's thing. Garrett had me try it all on and said I looked great, then Conor agreed, and I felt like if everyone else thinks I look good, I should give it a shot.

Conor picked out a pale green button up, actual khaki's that were nearly white and a white tie to match mine. I mean they matched, though I wasn't sure he was trying to match me. Wow. What if he was? I had some decent shoes at home that I used to wear for church, so my outfit was all set. We got something to eat at the mall and occupied a small table.

“Can't believe your folks didn't fight you going to a school dance,” Sterling said.

“Oh, they don't know,” Garrett said with a smile. “Like they don't know we're at the mall tonight. They started talking to this reverend I found at a more inclusive church, and they've been getting really involved in the groups and stuff they provide. I'm not sure what's happening, but I hope they're actually working through some of their programming.”

“Is that likely?” Sterling asked.

“Not really,” I said glumly. “They are probably arguing. There's a quote I read by Isaac Asimov where he says something along the lines of how there have always been stupid people who think that their stupidity is just as valuable as someone's knowledge. I won't go so far as to say this new group has knowledge, but my parents are definitely in the stupid category.”

“Okay, Professor,” Conor teased.

“Shut up,” I told him.

“Have you ever noticed the way his speech changes when he starts showing off his brain?” Conor asked the other two.

“You're impossible,” I told him.


The following week was a real challenge. For some reason I wasn't really getting what we were doing in math, which is one of my better subjects. I had a project in Global Studies that was due soon, and I was struggling a bit with putting it all together, plus there was this stupid dance thing. My parents were just background noise for the moment. I have no idea what was going on at this new church they were suddenly so involved in, but it was keeping them busy, and I'd take that, for now.

Thursday night I closed my math book with a sigh.

“What's wrong?” Garrett asked.

“I wish I knew,” I told him.

“Did you and Conor fight?”

I turned to him. “What? No. Why? Did he say something to you?”

Garrett laughed. “No. I just can't think of anything more important in your life, so I figured it must be a Conor thing.”

I rolled my eyes. “I've been having a hard time with a few classes this week. I have a project I'm struggling with, and my math just seems like gibberish right now.”

“Hm. You should to go Conor's tomorrow night. Stay over. Some buddy time will do a lot for you.”

“I don't see how,” I said with a sigh. “He's a distraction more than anything else.”

“Yep. Your mind is struggling because you're working through something – it's too busy to deal with math and school projects. So you need to take a break and let it do whatever it needs to. Don't add more to it by cramming more thought processes onto yourself.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “That makes some sense. I mean, I could take my work with me. Maybe it would be easier after I don't think about it for a bit.”

I didn't even have to ask to stay over, as Conor invited me on Friday. It wasn't surprising, considering we were more or less alternating whose house we stayed at. I still felt a silly idea take hold that he knew I needed to decompress and he was the guy to do that with. After practice we cleaned up and went to his house – I had checked with my dad first – and we settled in to watch a set of horror movies. Although they were kind of enjoyable, we ended up talking and trying to jump scare each other, and the movie became kind of secondary. His dad finally came back to Conor's room and told us to chill, as he had an early morning appointment and was going to bed.

We started to get ready, going in the bathroom to brush and I spotted the container of cream I thought he'd used for the massage last time I'd slept over. Feeling a little silly I said, “Practice has been brutal, huh? I'm kind of sore from the beating coach gave us this week.”

“Really? I've been feeling better, mostly,” he said.

He wasn't taking the hint. I picked up the container. “Is this what you used on me last time?”

“Yeah. It works pretty good, huh?”

“Yeah. I felt a lot better.”

“Um. I could do it again.” He paused. “You know. Only if you want me to.”

I cleared my throat. “Yeah. That would be great.”

I felt a sense of awkward excitement as we finished up and headed back to his room. I stripped my shirt off and lay on my stomach, as I had last time, while Conor hit the light and closed his door. I heard him pop the lid of the container and then the squelching noise of the cream between his hands.

He hasn't started, and I'm bricking up already, I thought.

The last time Conor had done this he'd been deliberate, at first, with pressure and working sore muscles. This time his hands moved with slow, soft strokes working slowly from my neck down my back. The last thing I needed was to have to adjust my dick, so I tried thinking about math. The equations we were working on shouldn't be so elusive to me, but the way his fingers felt moving down to my lower back and the way he got closer and closer to my behind with every stroke made – shit. Connecting dots, I made a decision that I'd have to kill Garrett.

Conor's fingertips pushed lower than he had last time, although not far enough to be truly awkward. I didn't think.

“Is this...okay?” he asked softly.

“Yeah. Really good,” I said, just as softly.

“The, uh...butt is a pretty big muscle. Kind of pulls on stuff in the back and legs.”

I swallowed. “Yeah. I know.”

“Okay. Just...wanted to. Um.”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “All good.”

His fingertips swirled the lotion along the bottom of my back, each turn pushing a bit more against my waistband. I tried to relax, but the intimacy was too much to ignore – and I wasn't sure I wanted to. I wondered if he would push my underwear down completely or if I should reach back and push them down, allowing him access to my skin. Conor cleared his throat and the familiar squelching sound of the cream between his hands hit my ear, loud in the darkness. I waited in anticipation of his hands touching me, only to twitch as his hands came down on the back of my thigh. His fingers worked down my inner thigh while his thumb grazed the skin beneath my underwear.

I felt a ripple inside my dick and I let out a small, breathy groan. I fought the sensation of his touch with math problems in my head, desperate not to do something unrecoverable, like actually cum in my underwear. But it wasn't easy. His hands on me were the most erotic thing I'd ever experienced. His strokes moved down my leg, and while still very enjoyable, working on my calves wasn't quite as thrilling to me – which was a relief. Not enough of a difference to make me go soft, but enough that I thought I wasn't going to mess myself soon.

“Okay,” he said, standing from the bed. “Should be good. I'm going to wash my hands and stuff.”

“Thanks. That was great,” I said, turning to look over my shoulder as he opened his door. As he turned to pull the door closed, the tent in his underwear, outlined by the dim light from the kitchen, was obvious. Then he was gone. I lay quietly, wondering if he was going to jerk off in the bathroom. If that's what he'd done last time. I was tempted to relieve myself as well, but what if he walked in and I wasn't done? Well, that was silly – I was close enough that it would be over in record time.

The thought passed as I heard the toilet flush and then the door opened. We shifted on the mattress and assumed our back to back position, yet feeling his heat behind me was too distracting. I got up and went to the bathroom for privacy.

I woke up around four in the morning and realized Conor wasn't there. I waited for a few minutes, sleepy, but curious where he was for so long. Eventually I got up to pee, but he wasn't in the bathroom either. I walked through the house quietly, but didn't see him anywhere. His dad's truck was outside in the driveway, not that I seriously thought he'd taken it. As I walked back toward his bedroom, I thought I heard a noise just outside the kitchen. I walked to the door and looked out into the dim backyard, overgrown with grass and junk.

Slowly I opened the door and looked around the small porch with sturdy-looking concrete posts holding up the roof.

“Conor?” I whispered.

There was a shifting above me, and then his head appeared, upside down, from the porch roof. “What are you doing awake?”

“Looking for you,” I said. “What are you doing?”

“Just sitting.” He bit his lip. “Want to come up?”

“Sure.” I shimmied up the pole and climbed next to him. I felt a little weird, since there was no railing or anything. “Is this safe? Like all our weight?”

“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “I used to climb up here when I was smaller, so my dad reinforced the whole thing so I could do this whenever I wanted.”

“Oh. That's really cool of him,” I said, sitting down on a blanket beside him. “Why are you here now?”

“I just have stuff in my head. I like to lie back and look up at the stars, or sometimes to watch the sun come up. It's peaceful and helps me to relax and think.”

“Oh.” I thought about asking him what was on his mind, but he had a process for working through his thoughts. I didn't want to mess with that.

“Do you mind? Just, like, lying here?”

“No. All good.” I lay beside him, shoulder to shoulder and waited for the sun. There aren't very many people you can be quiet with and not feel alone at all. Lying with him, waiting for the sun to come up, brought me a unique sense of privacy, as if the world outside of us, looking to the heavens, didn't exist. I felt no pressure because of my perceived intelligence, my school worries melted, even my swirling questions about my own emotions as they related to Conor drifted away as I lay in the perfection of us.


The night of the spring dance was on us, but first there was a final ugly turn with my parents. They were angry that I hadn't asked permission. In a normal house I could see the point and even respect it. There was a lot of back and forth, but eventually we worked things out. I got to the school and texted Conor to see where he was. He was still on the way, so I waited out front for him.

I'd been nervous throughout the week, though I did speak to Garrett eventually. I'd worked out that he figured my brain was struggling with how I felt about Conor and that was why my schoolwork was suffering. He was right, but I didn't like that instead of suggesting it to me, he'd put me in the position with Conor to have it become obvious to me.

“Okay,” he'd said with a little smile. “I can understand what you're saying, but here's why I did it that way. Feelings are kind of scary. Overwhelming sometimes. You've felt that with our parents – the negative emotions. What you're feeling for Conor right now...these are big, scary emotions, but they are good ones. I don't know how he feels for you, but I can tell you that feeling these things would be unfair for me to deny you.” He smiled. “When I fell in love with Sterling, it was the best feeling, and I want you to be able to have that experience without someone stepping in and telling you what you're feeling. It's important that you are smart with your feelings just like you are with school.”

I stared at him. “Are you implying I love Conor?”

He grinned wider. “I'm implying you should find out.”

It irritates me more than it should that he was ahead of me on something, especially when it was my own feelings. I can't completely express how irritating that is to me.


I turned and smiled as Conor approached. His dad trailed behind him, their truck at the curb.

“Look at you guys,” his dad said with an easy smile. “Let me get a picture, will you? Conor never dresses up.”

I moved beside him, and we smiled at the camera. His dad thanked us and said he'd be there to get us afterward. We took a few selfies together, and we looked good together. We fit, working out like a balanced equation.

“Ready to go in?” Conor asked.

“Not yet,” I said. He looked at me with a curious expression. “I need to ask you a really personal question.”

He squared his shoulders to me and nodded.

“How would you feel if I said...I thought I liked you. Like. In a gay way.”

He blinked a few times and smiled, looking away and then back. “Are you trying to make a joke? You don't do funny, you know.”

I shook my head. “I'm serious. I don't know what I am, not really. I have almost no experience. Maybe I'm seeing things that aren't there, but I feel like all the evidence points to you liking me. In a gay way.”

“Me?” he asked, chuckling nervously. “I don't. Uh.”

“Conor,” I said quietly. “I'm asking if you feel as mixed up as I do.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah. You're...way different. I feel...nervous and happy and a few other things when you're around.” He swallowed. “Is that...I mean.”

I nodded. “You're distracting me from my work.”


I sighed. “Math is my best subject, but I've been struggling. Garrett figured it out first, and he's never going to let me forget it – and I feel irritated as well. There were clues, and I didn't put them together.” I locked my gaze to his. “But I'm always thinking about you and wanting to hang out with you and just...be. With you. I don't know if that's really...gay or not. I don't know what I am, except that I feel like I know who I am better when I'm with you.”

Conor looked at me for a few moments. He licked his lips. “I do like you. In a gay way.”

“Then you're okay if I do? Like. I'm still figuring it out. But I want...I want to find out with you.”

He pressed his lips together. “What does that...mean?”

I opened my mouth a few times and then managed to speak. “I guess more of us? More of what we're doing? But...now we know. How each other is feeling. We should probably talk about it. Yes,” I said with a nod. “We should talk about it.”

He chuckled. “Talk about it? Talk about what​? How much I like you? How I'm thinking there's no way I get you? How you aren't sure about me but...what? What do we talk about?”

I frowned. “I'd like to talk about how you feel, yeah. But I think it's important that you know how I feel, too.”

“That you might like me in a gay way? That you aren't sure?”

“Yes. That's being honest,” I said. “But also...I care about you. A lot. I like when...when you touch me. Being with you...that's where I want to be.”

He rubbed the side of his neck, pulling his fingertips along his cheek.

I stepped slower and pitched my voice low. “Am I not...are you not interested? Because I'm not sure of myself?”

He barked out a laugh. “I'm struggling not to grab you and kiss you, you moron. I'm just afraid. I really want to be with you, but you not being sure of how you feel scares me.”

“Oh,” I said, nodding. “I think I get it.” I reached out and took his hand. “I need time. I need time with you. Even if I was gay – if I knew I was gay – we might work out or not. I just want to take that chance with you. I understand, though, if you don't feel-”

“Shut the fuck up,” he said quietly and leaned in, placing his lips on mine.

Honestly? I think I'm going to like figuring this out.