We arrived in the late afternoon. College had ended for Sasha and Alec a few weeks prior to my school ending. I'd tried to convince them that I could miss the tail end – fuck knows we don't actually do anything for the last few weeks – but it was one more big fat 'no'. Alec and Sasha were holding on to more stuff than they had in previous years, they'd said, so Lucien had driven up, we'd loaded his brick shaped bus with stuff, and I'd ridden back down with him.
I liked Lu. He wasn't nosy, and I was kind of expecting all these new people I was supposed to meet to ask all kinds of questions. People seemed to like doing that, asking questions that they had no business knowing about. Instead Lu told me about the town and some of the people I'd likely meet. He said he had to do an oil change on the bus soon and asked if I'd be up for helping him. I nodded that I would, even though I didn't have a clue how to change oil. I knew you're supposed to, but had no idea why.
I'd already met Alec's parents, and they were really nice. Just like in Albany, I'd have my own room, though it bothered me that Alec and Sasha would be down in the basement. I'd have liked it more if they were only a door away – not that I needed them. I could take care of myself. But what if they needed help? I could probably help.
“Angel!” Mrs. Kutsenko exclaimed with a smile as I walked in behind Alec and Sasha. The corners of my mouth turned up of their own accord at her greeting.
“Hi, Mrs. K,” I replied and accepted a hug from her. She leaned back and looked down at me.
“You look good. Has Alec been behaving?”
“Hey!” Alec snorted. “Of course I haven't. What sort of question is that?”
I shook my head as greetings were exchanged. A few minutes later Mr. Kutensko got home, from the store apparently, with bags in hand. He shook my hand and greeted everyone else. After getting changed they trooped out to empty the vehicles, while Mrs. K grabbed my arm and told me she needed to take her daily walk.
“Mom,” Sasha said in a knowing tone. “He hasn't had dinner yet.”
“Well, he's a good eater. Aren't you, Angel?” she asked and shook me by the chin. I wasn't a big fan of being treated like a little kid, but I didn't mind Mrs. K doing it. It was actually kind of nice, because she liked to spoil me. I don't know why, I don't think I'd ever acted in a special way to her or anything, but she was just so damned nice about everything.
“So, how glad are you that school is over?” she asked with a knowing smile.
“I hate that school,” I told her honestly. “It's...trashy. Alec said he and Sasha were talking about getting an apartment in a better district next year. I'm kind of hoping for that.”
Smiling she said, “That's wonderful. You're so smart – Alec showed me your progress reports. You must be proud of your work!”
I bobbed my head from side to side. “It's okay. I mean, they're grades. It's school.”
“Oh, I know,” she said and nodded knowingly. “It all seems so pointless now. Take it from an old lady - they are important.”
“Okay,” I said agreeably. “But why? Who cares if I know the capital of Indiana?”
“Oh, honey, lots of reasons,” she said with a little laugh. “For instance, what if you go into politics or logistics and you need to know where things are? Every person needs to know the basics so they can decide what really appeals to them, and then they can pursue that in college or a trade school. Besides, I know what you trade your good grades for, so don't tell me you don't care about grades!”
She grinned at me and laughed while pulling on my shoulder to bring us close. This was why I liked her. She didn't stop with the bullshit answer of 'lots of reasons' and actually, you know, gave you a few. When she laughed at me, she always tempered it with something like this half hug to let me know she's not teasing to hurt. She's about the nicest person I know.
“Well,” I said, dragging the word out. “After a long day, a massage is the perfect way to unwind.”
She laughed again and squeezed me slightly. “Oh, you poor hardworking man.”
It was true, I reflected as we got in line for ice cream. The idea of someone touching you like they do for a massage had seemed weird at first, but Alec really seemed to like it. I hadn't been so sure he wasn't just screwing with me, but I'd quickly learned that massage was super relaxing, and I just felt better about everything after I'd had one. Sasha explained something to me about compression and how kids could benefit from it. Some kids just would basically hug themselves, or sometimes someone would bear-hug them. I liked the massage better. Sasha would talk to me and push me down into the table, essentially squeezing me between his hands and the table, and it just felt good.
He also stretched me and twisted me around a little, which he claimed was more stretching, but I think he just liked hearing me grunt while he pretended I was a pretzel. Either way, I was relaxed and felt loose and comfortable when he was done with me. Good grades and good behavior at school netted me massage time so, yeah, grades were important as trade material.
We walked back slowly after she'd stopped and gotten us a single scoop cone of ice cream. Mrs. K told me funny stories about Alec as a kid and how proud of him she was. When we got back home we ate in the backyard at a picnic table. Mr. K served up stuff fresh from the grill. Man, cookouts are about the best thing ever. I want to cookout every night! After we ate Lucien left to go stay over at the Kirkwood's and Alec asked me if I wanted to hang out with him at the pool the next day or hang with the Kirkwoods and whomever they had over.
It was the smug little look that did it. I still don't get why Alec likes to fuck with me about living with him. He assumed I'd rather go with him and Sasha – and he was right. But I wasn't about to let him know that.
“I'll see what's going on at the Kirkwoods',” I told him.
“Really?” he asked with mild surprise.
“Yep. I can handle it,” I said. Jesus, talk about famous last words.
The house was a large white colonial, and it screamed 'pretentious rich folks that don't want to look rich live here'. At least that's what I thought, from the manicured lawn to the sculpted bushes. You can bet for sure the people that lived there didn't do any of that shit. I still wasn't really sure what Alec expected me to learn or do here. I didn't understand why he wanted me to spend time with Jamie, or why Jamie thought Alec really wanted me to spend time with his brother, whose name I'd forgotten if I'd ever known it. It wasn't that I didn't like either of the brothers. The fact was I hardly knew them.
I didn't make friends easily, though. Trust issues. My therapist tells me I have every right to have them. I like that she never outright says I'm wrong, but I did catch on that she does it while trying to lead me around to whatever point she wants to make. I resisted like hell when I first realized, but eventually I started to wonder if she might know something I didn't.
Hey. It could happen.
I mounted the steps with Alec a few steps behind me. Hell if I was going to follow in his wake like some lost puppy, no matter how nervous I felt. The door opened without my knocking or ringing a bell and a small child peered out. Appearing to be about six, with blond hair and a spark of mischief in his eyes, he said, “Who are you?”
“Uh. I'm Micah.”
The little boy's gaze moved upward and he smiled widely. “Hi, son of the bitch!”
“Wow, wait till I tell your dads you said a swear, Linc!” Alec said as he placed his hands on his knees to bend down and look the tyke in the eye. “I bet you get paddled.”
“Nuh-uh. I'm the boss.” The little boy placed his hands on his hips and faced Alec while I simply stood still, unsure what to do. Quite suddenly the door opened wider and Linc was scooped up by a handsome youth who I thought was Robin. I wasn't sure because I'd never met him in person before; I'd only seen him through a grainy video chat with Lucien.
“What did I tell you about talking to strangers, Linc?” possibly-Robin asked as he dug a finger into Linc's side.
“Hey! I'm not a stranger!” Alec groused.
The youth looked at Alec with a smile. “They don't get much stranger, Alec.”
Alec looked down at me. “You see the abuse I have to take?”
“Pft,” I said and hooked at thumb at maybe-Robin, “I'm with him. Nobody is stranger than you.”
“Cripes, Robin!” Alec said while shaking his head. “I said be nice, not convert him.”
“I'm gonna throw up! Put me down, Uncle Robin!” Linc screamed and kicked his feet.
“Yeah, yeah,” Robin said and set the little boy down. “Gotta run, I'm cooking. Come on in.” I stepped in followed by Alec, but we were stopped once more.
“And who is this angel?” asked a pretty, middle-aged lady who was pulling on a light coat as she prepared to leave.
“Mrs K, I'd like you to meet Micah,” Alec said, placing a hand on my shoulder. It was odd, the way he'd said that. I was having trouble identifying his tone of voice, but he used it a lot when introducing me to people.
“Oh,” she coo'd and put a hand on my cheek. “Oh, Alice didn't mention what a heart breaker you are, Micah! Alec, I may have to steal him from you.”
“No way,” Alec said, pulling me back into him and wrapping me in his arms from behind. “Kid's all mine, and I've got the bruises to prove it.”
“Moron,” I grumbled as I half-heartedly struggled to free myself.
“Oh, he's adorable though! Maybe I'll just borrow him from you this summer. You're home for the summer, right? Of course you are!” She shook her head as she rattled her car keys. “You're life-guarding again with Kale. I swear, every year I lose another marble!”
She smiled and looked down at me with an expression similar to the one Mrs. Kutsenko, Alec's mom, gave me. “Well, if you ever want to defect, you come to me, okay Micah?” she said with a chuckle. “See you later, boys. Have fun.” Then she was headed out the door.
“Ready to go?” a man asked, rushing in from the back of the house. “We're going to be late.”
“It's just work, Leafy. Relax,” Alec chided. The young man frowned and then directed his attention to me. “Hi, you must be Micah. I'm Kale. I'm really pleased to meet you, finally.”
Kale offered his hand and I, after glancing at Alec, shook hands. Kale turned and called to Linc to be good and then he turned his focus back to Alec. “Now, let's go. This was a dumb idea. I knew you'd make me late.”
“Late, sure. Never knocked up, though,” Alec said as they descended the steps. I won't say I felt dismissed or abandoned or anything so weak as that, but I did feel a little weird. Almost like when I got dumped at a new foster home. Alec looked back at me and paused before walking back to me. “Got the phone in your pocket?”
“Yeah,” I said sullenly.
He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Hey, you still have the option. Want to come to the pool with me?”
I did. I really did, but I'd already said I'd come see this Jamie guy, and I'm not a pussy. I don't have to be around Alec and Sasha so I don't fall apart or anything. I'm not delicate. I can do this. I opened my mouth to answer but was drowned out.
“Micah! You're here!”
Alec and I turned to see the newcomer, a teenage boy with the same dark hair and pale skin as Kale and Robin, who bounded in from somewhere deeper in the house and stopped next to us.
“Hey, Jamie,” Alec said. He looked back at me. “So? Up to you, buddy.”
“What's going on?” Jamie asked, but before I could answer another teen, who looked strikingly similar to Jamie, descended the stairs.
“Hey, Jame? Uh, Linc is using your underwear as parachutes for his army men.”
“Crap. Is the window open?” Jamie asked as he headed toward the stairs.
“Yeah. Our backyard looks kind of like a campground,” the other boy laughed as Jamie tore up the stairs, calling out Linc's name in a threatening tone.
I looked at Alec seriously. “These people are nuts.”
“Yeah,” Alec agreed. “But it's the good kind. So? Staying or coming with?”
“Hey, my summer buddy,” the other teen said. “Breakfast is on. You hungry?”
I looked at Alec and told myself not to be such a pussy. I said, “I'll stay.” Then, with my stomach quivering a little, I asked, “But...what time will you be back?”
“About six-thirty. Have fun, Little bit.” Alec paused and sneezed. “Damn it. Did it have to be glitter, Micah?”
I snorted. “Teach you to be nosy, Moron.”
A horn honked and we turned to see Kale holding his hands out. Alec waved and headed back to the car and they left for work.
I followed the Jamie look-alike, whose name I didn't recall, deeper into the large home and into the spacious kitchen. There we found Robin scooping pancakes off a griddle and stacking them onto a plate. Robin flashed me a smile and asked if I liked pancakes.
“Yeah. I love them,” I replied. Jamie's near twin took a seat at the breakfast counter and patted the space next to him.
“I'm Sean, in case we didn't really get introduced,” he said. “Kind of chaotic but it's the first real day of summer vacation, so...yeah, madhouse.”
Robin snorted as he placed a plate in front of me. “You say that like this is different from any other day. Sean, would you grab the syrup and butter from the table? You guys are the last ones.”
“Sure, and no we're not,” Sean said as he retreated. “I told Ash you were making pancakes. He'll be here in five.”
“Then you can cook for your boyfriend yourself!” Robin called after him. He shook his head and smiled at me. “Tell Alec you should be an only child.”
“Uh, not sure I get a vote.”
“Robin, please? Ash loves your pancakes,” Sean whined as he reappeared with the butter and syrup.
“He likes having someone else cook for him,” Robin said with a snort, yet he poured more batter onto the grill.
I looked warily at Sean. “You're gay too? Everyone Alec has introduced me to is gay.”
“Dangerous question in this house,” Jamie said, entering the room with a squirming Linc. “But I am the only man dating a woman.”
“Man? Woman?” Robin asked with a laugh as he placed a plate with two pancakes in front of me.
“Trust me, Rob. All woman,” Jamie said with a snicker and took the stool on the other side of me while turning a protesting Linc upside down. “We don't have to take my word for it, though. She's on her way. She loves your pancakes.”
“I'm done!” Robin said, flipping the spatula up in the air and letting it clatter onto the counter top. He pointed at Sean and Jamie in turn and said, “You two cook for your other halves. Not my job.”
“Did Lu eat?” I blurted and then paused, wondering if I'd misspoken but fully realizing he was Robin's other half and that he'd likely cooked for him already.
“Your Uncle Lucien is in the shower, actually,” Robin said. He very quickly continued and I had the impression he was trying to cut someone else off from speaking—maybe me since Lu wasn't my uncle? “I heard Alec complain about glitter? What's that about?”
Linc twisted out of Jamie's grip and ran into Sean in his mad attempt at a getaway.
“Well, excuse me, Linc!” Sean said the the boy.
“Why? Did you fart?” Linc asked and grinned at Sean.
“You brat,” Sean laughed and took a big step toward Linc who squealed and took off deeper into the house while Jamie called after him to stay out of his stuff before turning back to me.
“So, Alec and glitter?” Jamie prompted.
I snorted. “He's always telling me he knows about stuff before I do it. So I took an envelope from the school and filled it with glitter. I stashed it in my room for him to find.” The boys began to snicker and, emboldened, I smiled as I said, “I got home from school on Friday and he had it stuck in his hair and everything.”
They were laughing loudly and I felt excited that they'd liked my story. What they didn't know was why Alec had been looking in my room in the first place; because the principal thought I was involved with some pot selling thing at school. I was no idiot. I knew what it smelled like, and I stayed away from that and any other crap. It annoyed me to be suspected, and I didn't like that, as Alec explained, he had to look. To be honest, though, I'd planted that envelope weeks before, and I'm not sure when he spotted it or how long he resisted the urge to open it.
“That's classic,” Robin said with a laugh. Lucien entered the room while I was eating. He patted me on the back in greeting before taking a seat next to me.
“How're the pancakes, Micah?” Lu asked.
“Good,” I said with a nod and a thumbs up.
“Better than the ones, oh I don't know, that my mom made for you this morning?” he asked in a speculative tone, looking at Robin. Robin crossed his arms and the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile.
Something in my chest froze and I felt a pressure settle on my ear drums. I glanced from one to the other with something very near panic making my heart race. I tried to breathe, which was harder than it should have been. I tried to calm my thoughts and, you know, think. Lucien had been nothing but nice, and Robin had cooked for me. Not mean things. I managed to get a lungful of air, though it felt like I were gasping. I thought quickly, feverishly, set my fork down and, with as much sincerity as I could fake, said, “It's almost like Robin has your mom's recipe.”
“Dude,” Jamie said with a trace of awe in his voice. “That was slick!” He held his hand up and I high-fived him while the other boys chuckled. I felt a little giddy with adrenaline from my fear and relief all mixed together.
“How'd you know I had pancakes at home?” I asked Lu.
“Alec told me you were all fed and watered before he dropped you off. I guess mom likes to spoil you, huh?” he asked with a smile and poked me in the shoulder.
“It was just one morning of pancakes,” I said with a grumble and shoved more food in my mouth.
“A little spoiling is a good thing,” Lu said reassuringly while patting my shoulder and chuckling. “Hey, so how did you sleep last night?”
I gave him a baleful look and he laughed aloud. “Did Alec tell you?”
He nodded while snorting out a laugh and others asked what was so funny.
“Did Alec prank you?” Sean asked.
I nodded and felt a little stupid, though I wasn't sure why. “He put bubble wrap on my bed. Some of it popped when I went to go to sleep,” I grumbled. Once more laughter raced through the room.
“I'll help you get even,” Lu said with a chuckle and gave my shoulder a light squeeze. “I know what it's like to live with my brother, and he can't be allowed to score too many points. We'll get him back tonight.”
“How?” I asked, curious despite myself.
“Easy. He wants to mess with your sleep? We'll mess with his. We're going to take old wrapping paper – Mom has a ton; she buys it in bulk when it's cheap after Christmas – and we put a layer under his comforter and one under each sheet, and we should find a way to get a whoopee cushion somewhere in there just to break the mood,” he said as he trailed off into thoughtfulness.
“Finally, you'll have an ally against Alec, huh?” Robin asked with a grin. “I have a few ideas, too. We'll talk.”
Lucien abruptly turned to me and smiled widely. “So, Alec said you're the king of detentions, and I've been dying to ask you...which one was your favorite?”
“My favorite detention? Are you stoned?”
Lu laughed and the room echoed as the other boys joined him. It was kind of weird.
“No. Which thing you did to get detention. Come on,” he said and clapped a hand on my arm. “You must have done something legendary.”
“Babe,” Robin said, coming up behind Lu and pushing him. “Don't encourage bad behavior.”
“I need pointers,” Jamie said as he plopped down next to me. “Come on, Micah. What was the most epic thing you pulled?”
I looked around at them, wondering if they were serious. “Well,” I said after a moment of consideration. “Once I had this substitute and he told me to get out. But he couldn't just say that, he decides to tell me when I'm walking out that he's going to tell the principal every last nasty thing I'd said.”
“Wow. What had you said?”
“It wasn't me, actually. No, really!” I protested as they all chuckled. “He even called me by the wrong name and said he'd been warned about me. He was looking at the wrong class roster!”
They were laughing, but Jamie said, “Okay, but how was that epic?”
I wiggled a little. “Well, like I said, he said he was going to tell the principal every nasty thing I'd said. And...I told him it'd be hard for him to do that with my dick in his mouth.”
Laughter howled around me, except Robin and Lu who had their hands over their mouths to hide it. Everyone else just laughed aloud, and I wasn't sure if I should be pleased or if they were laughing at me. Amid that noise a boy and girl walked in through the sliding glass doors at the back of the room and looked quite confused.
“What did we miss?” asked the boy as he sidled over to Sean.
“Yeah, what's so funny?” the girl asked as she wrapped her arms around Jamie.
Holy crap but she was gorgeous. My eyes jumped from lips to hair to eyes to...damn.
“Micah was just telling us his best story about getting detention,” Jamie said with a chuckle and wiping his eyes. “It was epic, but not for your ears.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
“You're too pretty to hear vulgar things like what he just said,” Jamie snickered.
Miss Gorgeous let her arms slither away from Jamie and she turned toward me and, smiling, approached. “You must be Micah. I'm Emily, and I've been looking forward to meeting you.”
I tried to speak, but every connection I had in my nervous system was firing off in different directions. My mouth would start to open and then just close right up. My jeans felt tight and then not. I think I was still breathing, but only because that's kind of automatic. Shit. Was I breathing?
“My God, he's adorable,” Emily said with a chuckle. “It's okay, Micah. Say hello.”
“Um, Hi. Hello.”
Quite suddenly my dick made the decision that no matter how tight the fit, it was getting hard and I squirmed uncomfortably. Emily's gaze flicked down and back up and, with a tiny smile playing about her lips, she backed off. My face burned in embarrassment and I snarled something impolite and left the room. I had no real direction except away from her and whatever laughter was sure to follow me. I headed for the front door and jammed one hand down to adjust myself and the other down in my pocket to look for the phone Alec had given me to call in case of emergency.
Shit. Was getting boned up an emergency? Maybe I should just walk home.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Jamie said as he caught up to me. He grabbed my arm and spun me around easily and I stumbled backward and sat down hard on my butt.
“Ow! Dammit!” I snarled and sprang back up. “What's your problem?”
“Actually, what's yours, dude?”
“F...” I trailed off as I saw Linc on the stairs with the arms of a shirt tied around his neck like a cape. He was looking at me with wide eyes and I realized that what I'd thought was a snarl was probably more like a yell. I think I scared the little one.
I closed my eyes. Fuck. Me. Alec and Sasha are going to be so angry. No, worse. Disappointed.
“Uncle Jamie! Catch me!”
I opened my eyes to see Linc smiling and acting as if he were ready to jump from the landing, a good three or four feet, as Jamie closed the distance to safely scoop the little guy up. Linc's legs began to pinwheel as he ran in place until Jamie dropped him to the floor. Then he plowed right into me and I went down on my butt again.
Jesus H. Christ, these people were nuts.
Linc giggled until he went flying backward. Jamie had grabbed the waist of his pants and now had his nephew suspended in the air.
“Linc! You could have gotten hurt, and you knocked Micah over. Apologize to him!” Jamie scolded.
I climbed to my feet and Linc was definitely not going to apologize. He was busy screaming at Jamie to put him down. Jamie steadfastly refused and I thought that racket would go on forever until Robin grabbed Linc, placed him on his feet and stared hard at him.
“You just lost snack. You want to take an early nap?”
Linc stomped his foot. “I want my snack!”
“You were rude,” Robin told him. “You didn't listen to Uncle Jamie and you knocked Micah over. What happens when you're rude?”
“No!” Linc yelled and stomped. He threw a little fit while Robin watched and I wondered exactly what the point of all this was. My mom would have just whupped the hell out of me. A minute later, though, Linc was all cried and stomped out. He was sniffling and Robin was still fixing him with a steady look.
“I'm sorry, Uncle Robin,” Linc said softly.
“What else do you have to say, Linc?” Robin prompted.
Without turning to look he said, “Sorry, Uncle Jamie. Sorry, Micah.”
Robin nodded and pulled Linc to him. “Okay. Let's see what we can do about a snack.”
Robin led Linc back toward the kitchen and I stood still, wondering if this was how things happened in real families. Alec and Sasha didn't do shit like my mom had, but...well, I guess I didn't throw fits like Linc, either. What did that make Alec, Sasha and I?
“You good?” Jamie asked and I turned, having forgotten he was there. In a rush I remembered his girlfriend, Emily, and why I'd been headed for the front door.
I looked away. “I think I should go.”
“Really? 'Cause I think you should build a bridge and get over it. Whatever 'it' is.” Jamie frowned took a step closer. “Nobody is bleeding, no need to call the cops so whatever it is, it can't be that big a deal.”
Heat rushed into my face. “Your girlfriend might not agree.”
“Em? Why...” Jamie trailed off into silence. He looked thoughtful and I was thinking about just walking out the front door. I looked away but was startled when he clapped me on the shoulder and steered me into the living room.
“What are you doing?” I asked and jerked my arm from his grasp. “Be a little less grabby?”
Jamie frowned at me and took a deep breath before muttering something under his breath about forgiveness.
“Look, I just want to tell you a story, okay? It's a little embarrassing so I'd appreciate you not, you know, blabbing.”
“Then why tell me?” I challenged.
Jamie sat on the arm of the couch. “Because I figured it out. You're no different than anyone else. So,” he said, looking up at the ceiling as if searching his mind. “This would be a few years ago, before Sean got here.”
“What do you mean 'Before Sean got here?'” I asked. “Aren't you the same age?”
Jamie met my gaze. “Yeah, but he has a different mother. Story for another time.” He waved his hand and continued, “So, my friend Scott and I were going to the club pool. See, Alec had played this awesome trick on Kale, right? These girls were talking about how cute they thought Kale was and Alec totally set Kale up.”
I frowned. “How?”
“Well, you know Kale is married to Chase, right?”
“Alec said so, yeah.”
“Okay, well, they were dating at the time. Alec fed these girls some bullshit story about how Kale's girlfriend just broke up with him and he could really use someone to make him feel better.” Jamie paused and grinned. “Each one of these girls wanted the job. Add in to that Alec took this picture of Kale getting out of the pool – a lucky shot, really. So he posts it to this website and all these girls sign up for swimming lessons and they are spending all their time hanging off Kale and stuff. Kale was so uncomfortable!” Jamie started laughing and wiping his eyes. It was sort of funny, but not that damn funny.
“What's so embarrassing about that?” I asked.
“Oh, that. Well,” Jamie said as he mastered his giggles. “See, I went to the pool that day figuring I look enough like Kale, I might get some side action, you know?”
I blinked at him. “You hoped girls would like you because you look, sort of, like your older brother?”
“Yep, genius, right? So this one girl...what was her name?” Jamie asked himself as he looked away from me. “Right, Stacy. Stacy Quinn. At the time,” he said as he turned his gaze back toward me, “she was so hot. Scott said she was a six on his finger scale.”
“Finger scale?” I asked in confusion.
“Yep. That's how many fingers he'd cut off to get to fuck her!” Jamie said and laughed loudly. I couldn't help but chuckle a little as it was kind of funny.
“Classy, Kirkwood. How many fingers do I get?” Emily asked as she rounded the corner.
“Um, as many as you want?” Jamie asked, still grinning.
“Oh, sweet talker.” She stood beside him and then pushed him over onto the couch before sitting beside him. “So, tell me the rest of this story.”
“Uh, well, I was telling Micah, actually,” Jamie replied. Emily fixed him with a look and he smiled, a little red in his face. “Fine. So, Stacy was laying out on a deck chair and I decided to be slick and walked over to ask her if she needed lotion on her back, right?” He had turned his attention back to me. Emily was watching him with amusement.
“So she says yes and little old me is going nuts, because I've got my hands on this pretty girl and her skin feels so nice and she rolls over, right? With her face right level with my boner,” Jamie said and started to laugh.
“You did that?” Emily asked and started to laugh as well. I chuckled, but uncomfortably. I knew where he was headed, I thought, and didn't want to get there in front of Emily.
“I did. So I ran off, crying like a baby. Kale came and got me, gave me the whole story about how peckers are traitors and just do their own thing.” Jamie paused and said, “Seemed like the end of the world at the time. Always bothered me how Stacy said it was gross.”
“She gets no second chances,” Emily told Jamie who looked back at her innocently. “Not if you want to keep it attached, James.”
Jamie winced and looked at me. “She broke out the proper name, bro. Beware of any woman using your proper name.”
Emily stood. “I'm a little flattered when that happens, to be honest. Especially when the guy doesn't make a dick of himself afterward,” she said, eyeing Jamie.
“What'd I do?” Jamie asked. Emily leaned down and gave him a peck before turning and leaving the room. Jamie looked at me. “Did any of that make sense to you or is it just me?”
“It's just you,” I said out of contrariness. I kind of thought Emily might have been letting me off the hook, even though I was still embarrassed as all hell. And if Jamie was telling me his story because he saw, why wasn't he pissed I was boning up over his girlfriend? I'm sure I'll never understand most people, and Jamie wasn't really helping that.
“Listen. Can you watch Linc for a bit? My mom left a chore list, and we can get done a lot faster if we don't have to worry about small, shifty and looking for trouble,” Jamie asked with a rueful smile.
“Shh!” Jamie stood to a crouch and looked out toward the hallway and waited in silence for a good ten seconds. Turning back toward me he sighed. “Thank goodness he didn't hear you. He hates the idea that he needs a sitter, but all bets are off if you add in the word baby.”
I looked at him steadily.
“So, will you? He'll watch his cartoon, so there isn't really much to do except make sure he doesn't throw my underwear out the window again.”
“Where will everyone else be?” I asked cautiously.
“All over, really. We've got the lawn, trimming hedges, raking around to make room for the mulch my mom will inevitably want to put down,” Jamie said, his hand going in circles as he recited the litany of things to do. “Ash and Emily will be in the kitchen putting things away from breakfast and stuff, so you won't be alone if anything goes nuts.”
“Wait. Your girlfriend is doing your chores?” I asked doubtfully.
“We're cooking out for lunch.” He grinned, “She likes my meat.”
I raised an eyebrow as he smiled and headed for the doorway. “What? I can cook!”
Moments later Sean poked his head in the doorway and beckoned to me. I followed him, still not convinced this was a good idea. He led me into a TV room where Linc was watching some cartoon and fidgeting with a box of Legos. Sean clapped me on the shoulder, said thanks and was gone. Distantly I heard the sound of a mower turn on and then a second one. Other buzzing noises joined in and I was mildly surprised they were all doing work. What kind of place was this where a parent could leave a list of chores and actually expect the list to get done – and have expected that all along?
I sat tentatively on the couch. Linc was oblivious to my presence as he stared at the screen while one hand fidgeted inside his Lego pail. I glanced at the screen for a minute and watched the cartoon until the commercial break. It was like a switch had been flipped and Linc dumped out the pail on the floor and revealed far more than Lego blocks. Toy cars, action figures and a slinky tumbled out, mixed in with the brightly colored building blocks.
Linc began to play with the items and my hand fidgeted of its own accord. I wanted to play with an action figure, but I wasn't lame enough to actually get up and go do that. I had to admit, just to myself, the one looked pretty cool, though. The sound of a mower grew steadily louder and I got up to look through a window. Robin was pushing a mower, a light sheen of sweat on him. I was instantly envious of the abs he had on display. I wanted to look like that – no one would mess with me if I had muscles. I didn't want to be like a pro wrestler or anything. I'd be happy to be lean like Robin. You could see all of Robin's muscles – like, zero fat. It was enough to intimidate, I'm sure.
I turned quickly with a racing heart and looked at Linc. He had the slinky on his head and it had caught on one of his ears.
“Hang on, Linc,” I said nervously.
“It hurts!” he told me and gave me a look that I'd never seen aimed in my direction. I still can't nail down all the different things I saw in his eyes, but the main one was that he needed help and he was sure I'd be the one to get him out of this jam. Gingerly I shifted the slinky while telling Linc to hold still. After just a few moments I had him free and he was rubbing his ear.
“Stupid slinky,” he muttered and hit it with a car.
The commercials ended, and with the return of his show Linc stared at the TV, toys forgotten. I retook my seat, and my phone buzzed as I did. I pulled it out to find a message from Sasha.
'How's your day going so far?'
'Okay. I'm babysitting Linc.'
'Oh. Keep a close eye, he's a shifty one.' He followed that with a laughing face, tears streaming from its eyes.
My gaze flicked over toward Linc, who was still enthralled by the screen, and I returned to my conversation. 'He got a slinky stuck on his head. I got it off him, though. He's watching TV now.'
'If that's the worst he does, you've done well!'
'Are you at the pool?' I asked.
He responded by sending me a selfie of himself and another guy, a blond, sitting in a lifeguard chair. 'Chase and I are on duty. He can't wait to meet you.'
'Because he's heard all about you?' Another laughing emoji followed. I wasn't sure how to feel about that. What did Alec and Sasha say about me?
“Aha!” Linc hooted in triumph as he grabbed my shin and wrapped his arms and legs as if hugging my leg.
“Aha? Aha what?” I asked him.
“I got you! Now you can't move!” he stated, smiling at me.
“Oh yeah?” I asked and he gripped my leg harder and tucked his head down, giggling.
I spent the next little while playing on and off with Linc during commercial breaks and shows that he wasn't interested in. It was kind of fun, which surprised me. I don't think I've ever liked little kids at all. I wasn't sure I actually liked Linc, but watching him wasn't so bad. At one point he stood suddenly and said he had to go potty and raced for the stairs. I wondered, for a second, if he could go by himself and then decided if he needed help, someone else could do that.
“Hey,” Robin greeted me as he entered the room with a glass of water in hand. Sweat ran down his body and highlighted the enviable muscles.
“Hi,” I replied. “Do you work out?”
He smiled. “I lift my milk jug for my cereal every morning,” he told me and chuckled before swilling some water.
“I want muscles like yours,” I told him.
The corner of his mouth pulled up. “I got mine from playing sports. Doing the work to get better, a little stronger. I don't have an exercise routine or anything, but if I go for a run or whatever, you're welcome to join me.”
“Cool,” I replied.
“Bathroom,” I replied.
“All under control, then?”
“I think so,” I replied.
“Look! I got it all the way to the stairs!” Linc stated. I turned, as did Robin, and saw Linc holding a piece of toilet paper in his hand. One that seemed suspiciously long.
“Linc,” Robin said, a trace of humor in his voice. “Is the other end of that in the bathroom?”
“Yup!” Linc said proudly.
Robin looked at me with a smile instead of a frown which would be more what I'd expect. “I think that's a job for the babysitter,” he told me and laughed.
“I'm not a baby!” Linc yelled and pelted down the stairs, toilet paper forgotten. Robin laughed and headed for the kitchen, Linc swinging his little fists and hitting Robin in the behind. The whole house was kind of weird. I'd put up with it, though, if I could look like Robin did. Nobody would fuck with me, then.
A few hours later everyone had come back inside and showers were had. Robin taught me how to make grilled cheese with ham inside and everyone had lunch. People were talking about getting in the pool when two more people arrived; a really pretty girl with hair so black it was like light stopped existing when it got too close and a younger, slightly chubby girl who looked about ten.
“Averi!” Em called out and hugged her friend.
“Hey, Em,” Averi greeted her friend and then said hello to everyone else. “I brought my little sister to drown – I mean swim!”
The younger girl scowled at her. We headed outside as a group. I just went where they were going, feeling unsure about being in the house by myself and not sure what else to do. Things got started fast as Jamie pushed Emily into the pool and that started a chain reaction of people finding themselves in the water.
“Are you going in?” I turned to find the little girl next to me, giving me an odd look.
“Um. I don't know.” She smiled up at me and then leapt into the pool. She surfaced and turned, pushing her long hair, somewhat similar to her sister's, and beckoned me to come in.
“Micah,” Lu said as he draped an arm over my shoulders. “We have to welcome you to the family, you know?”
“Uh, what do you mean?” I asked. I was surprised and physically overwhelmed as Lu pulled me to him while Robin scooped up my legs and started pulling on my shoes.
“Hey!” I yelled indignantly. “Put me down!”
“We will! As soon as we get your shoes off,” Robin laughed. That took very little time, even with my struggles and protests and then I was flying through the air and landing in the cold water. As I surfaced I had murder on my mind, quickly swamped as they both jumped in the water by me. Initially I was a little salty since I wasn't wearing a bathing suit, but I got over it as everyone began to play. I took the chance to get even with Robin and Lu, splashing them and helping others in whatever struggle they engaged in with them.
Sean brought Linc out and he was like a king, riding on Sean's shoulders and splashing people as he went by. I jerked suddenly as someone grabbed me from behind, wrapping their arms around my neck and hanging.
“Gotcha!” the little girl said triumphantly. At first I was a little amused and I dove into the water to shake her. I held my breath long enough for her to let go but she was like a predator as she tracked me and latched on whenever she got close or I wasn't paying attention. At first it was a game but after a while it got kind of old. It was distracting, too, because I was totally checking out the older girls in their swimsuits – at least at first I was. It's interesting in a way, because they didn't get any less attractive, but after a while it wasn't such a novelty, I guess.
“I'm going to fire up the grill,” Jamie announced. “Micah, want to see how a real man cooks a burger?” he asked with a grin and giving Robin some side eye.
“You go ahead and cook. You're not baiting me,” Robin said with a laugh as he held his hands up.
“Sure,” I said and started for the edge of the pool. I didn't get far dragging this weird girl along and, if anything, she tightened her grip. “Come on, let go,” I said, annoyed.
“No. How come you swim with a shirt?” she asked instead.
“I got thrown in with it on,” I snorted. It was true enough, but others had taken their wet shirts off. The real reason, of course, was because I didn't want everyone to see my scars from my mother putting cigarettes out on me.
“You're not supposed to,” she stated.
“Get off,” I told her and twisted around to dislodge her. Her hands slipped, or I thought they had, but then she grabbed the collar of my tee shirt. As I pulled away it tightened around my neck, and then ripped clean away. She pulled away, the shirt tightly in her grip and continuing to tear down the side, covering less and less the farther she got.
“What the fuck!” I screamed and scrambled for the scraps of my shirt.
“Micah! Chill, it's a tee shirt, dude,” Jamie chided.
“No!” I stated both to him and to her as she tossed the scrap of my shirt from the pool. Embarrassed rage filled me even as Averi began to chide her sibling. I turned and pushed my way through the water to the edge of the pool and pulled myself out. I grabbed my shoes and headed away from the yard as fast as I could, tears threatening and nothing more on my mind except not letting anyone see.
“Micah! Hey!” I could hear feet running across the yard and I broke into a panicked run, but too late. Lu put a hand on my arm and brought me to a stop. I turned, snarling at him.
“Let me go, fucker!” I slipped from his grip, both of us being wet, but he moved to block me. I looked away from him and remembered the phone Alec had given me. I wanted to call him – and then remembered it was in my pocket and had been dunked in the pool the whole time. Shit.
“Micah. Micah what's wrong, bud?” Lu was asking me gently. I think it was the tone of voice that did it. My anger, embarrassment and every other emotion except defeat was wiped out and tears threatened. Alec and Sasha would be so disappointed I ruined the phone. They said it was a test to see how well I could take care of it, and I'd had every intention of...everything just felt so overwhelming.
“Holy shit.” Jamie's voice, from behind me. He could see the scars. That was the only thing that explained that tone of voice. The threatened tears materialized and I tried to push past Lu, but he wrapped me in his arms and kept saying stupid shit to me in that gentle voice that just made me feel dumb. I hadn't heard Jamie run away but I did feel him as he put a towel around my shoulders, and he spoke my name in a steady, yet tense voice.
“Come back to the house, Micah. I'll loan you a shirt, buddy,” Jamie said.
“That seem like a good idea?” Lu asked me softly. Why was he being so nice? I just felt confused. Wasn't he embarrassed of me, too?
“My phone was in my pocket,” I blurted.
“Oh? Shit. My bad. I forgot all about it,” Lu said as he leaned back a bit and looked at me. “I'll text Alec and Sash. Is that why you were so angry?”
I looked down and away from him and pulled the towel a little tighter. “No,” I said softly. “I just remembered.”
“Come on, my summer buddy. Let's get you outfitted,” Jamie said and steered me toward the front of the house. We crossed the newly cut grass, our feet making a susurrus as we walked around the large house.
“Micah, you should probably get used to that,” Jamie said in a serious tone.
“Used to what?” I asked listlessly.
“Well, the men in this family are pretty damn good looking. So that may not be the last chick to try and rip your clothes off. I mean, I think Molly just figured out she's a girl today and what boys might be good for!” He chuckled and patted my shoulder. I came to a stop and he continued for a step or two before turning to face me.
I looked to one side and slightly down. “You saw.”
He cleared his throat. “Yeah.”
I waited but he didn't continue. I figured he'd ask what had happened, but he didn't.
“For what it's worth, those marks aren't who you are, man. Plus, chicks dig scars. You can always say they were from molten metal as you pulled someone from a car fire.”
I turned my head, my gaze meeting his. I took a steadying breath and then another. “My mom put out lit cigarettes on me.”
I'm not sure what I expected him to say or do, but he'd seen them. The damage was done and I wasn't going to lie. Still, I was shocked when he hugged me hard and sniffled in my ear. I didn't return the hug, but the urge was there. He patted my shoulder and stepped back, placing his hands on my shoulders.
“Sorry. I was about to cry, and I decided it would be manlier if I hugged you so you didn't see me crying,” he said with a rueful grin.
I looked at him in confusion.
“Can I tell you something? I mean...Micah, I need to tell you something. Okay?” Jamie asked, looking at me seriously.
I merely nodded, unsure what else to do.
“Kale? He had open heart surgery when he was in high school. He has a scar on his chest. It was pretty scary. I mean, he's wound so tight you could shove a lump of coal in his ass and get a diamond in ten minutes, you know?”
I raised an eyebrow at him but made no comment.
“But I was afraid he'd die. After, when he was getting better, he was a real asshole. He hated the scar, everyone knew it. I found out, though, Alec told him something that was kind of amazing. I think it works for you, too.” He looked at me steadily and I waited.
“He told Kale that his family loves that scar because it means he survived and we still have him. So Micah, I hate that you got those scars, dude. I hate that your mom...but I'm glad. You survived. Those scars also mean someone threw their worst at you and you're still here. I guess that doesn't make a lot of sense. It made more sense in my head, anyway. Come on, let me get you a shirt.”
Jamie lent me a bathing suit and a tee shirt and I felt better covered up. Lu had changed and let me know that he'd let Alec and Sasha know about the phone and that it wasn't my fault.
“They said it was a cheap pre-paid so I'll grab you another one. You want to get back in the pool or maybe grab a burger before we go?” Lu asked.
“Oh, Micah, bro! You have to eat one of my burgers. Then you have to tell Robin it's the best thing you ever tasted, okay?” Jamie said excitedly.
I felt a bit of an involuntary smile and I said, “Okay. A burger sounds good. Just...keep that girl away from me.”
“I told you, you're family. You'll be beating girls off with a stick, man,” Jamie said as he preceded us down the stairs.
“Micah.” Lu's voice was gentle, just like before, and it had a power over me I can't describe. I turned to face him. “I'm going to ask you to do something. Whenever things seem out of control I need for you to not run. Find me, find Robin. Jamie or Sean if we're not there – outside of Alec or Sash, of course. Whatever the problem is, we'll face it with you, if you let us.”
I studied his face. I guess it was a pleasant enough face and the glasses seemed kind of natural on him. His eyes were warm, though. As gentle as his voice. He placed a hand on my shoulder and I didn't feel the need to throw it off.
“It was because of the scars. On my back.” I paused and swallowed. “I didn't want everyone to see. What had happened to me.”
He nodded. “I understand. We all have scars, Micah. For some of us they are on the inside but you have both. It's your right to decide who gets to see them and who hears why you have them.” He paused a moment and smiled. “This family won't judge you for your scars, inside or out. When you're ready, they'll be there for you.”
We rejoined the others and Averi made Molly apologize to me which was just awkward. Molly wasn't really sorry and I think most folks didn't understand why I'd freaked, but they weren't making a huge deal out of it, either. I ate the burger and played up how good it was. Robin just laughed. It didn't seem like anything bothered him.
Shortly afterward I climbed into the front seat of Lu's bus and we headed toward a store.
“You don't have to replace the phone. I should have said something,” I told him.
“Yeah, well, at the end of the day we threw you in and it wasn't your fault. If you'd have said there was a phone someone would have fished it out before we tossed you, but I think you were distracted by being manhandled and those pretty girls in bathing suits.”
I looked at him in surprise. “You looked at the girls?”
He looked at me askance. “Hard to miss, Micah. I wasn't drooling like you, but I noticed.”
Heat rushed to my face. I was about to mount a defense when Lu changed the subject. He started talking about scars, again. He told me about things he thought had scarred him – his sister betraying him. I hadn't known he had a sister. His father dying and his mother being kind of crazy and what she'd put him through was all kinds of nuts.
“So, Micah,” he said. “Everyone has scars. Everyone you meet will have them. It's your choice, though, how important those scars are to you.”
I frowned lightly. “What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “I could walk around, defeated. I don't. Not because that stuff doesn't matter but it doesn't matter enough. I have good things and good people in my life, and I can choose not to let that stuff hold me back. I miss my dad. I'm sorry for what happened with my bio-mom. My sister and I are putting things right between us.”
“How can you? I mean forgive your sister?”
He met my gaze and held it firmly. “Everyone has their scars, Micah. She does, too. So we're working on it.”
I nodded slowly. Her scars, her reasons, must be private. At least, hers to tell. Lu grew a hundred times in my esteem for him, my respect. I knew then that he wouldn't be blabbing about me, either. If he did tell, it wouldn't be like gossip or something.
“More importantly, you have the same advantages I do. My first advantage, my first big clue that everything could be okay was Alec.”
I chewed on that as we entered the store and Lu brought me over to the prepaid phone section. We spent a few minutes looking at them as he pointed out one feature versus another. He pointed at a phone with a slide out keyboard.
“Robin had one like that for a long time,” he said with a little smile. “Worked well for him.”
I thought of Robin and how perfect his body seemed, how much I wanted to feel strong like he looked. “How about him? Does Robin have scars? He doesn't look like anything bothers him.”
Lu turned his head toward me slightly. “Robin has a lot of scars, Micah. He'll tell you, if you ask him.”
I looked at him doubtfully. “Really? He seems....I don't know. He said I could run with him and stuff. I want a body like he's got.”
He snorted. “Join the club.”
Lu brought me home and hung around for a bit. His parents came in a little later in the afternoon and he went back out. I wandered onto the front porch and played around with my new phone. I had it hooked into the house's wifi and I had a list of the numbers I was supposed to have in there, so I was programming it. I was flipping through a list of free games I could download when I heard some music and looked up to see where it was coming from.
Our street had houses on either side, and it was heavily lined with trees that offered privacy to each lot. I walked off the porch and down to the sidewalk, listening. I wasn't sure what the music was, but I kind of liked it. I walked over one house and then crossed the street before coming on a boy dancing in his own driveway. He was dressed kind of oddly. Sort of preppy but....I couldn't put my finger on what you'd call it. He was doing this willowy dance, moving kind of slowly but sort of gracefully as he bent at the waist and tilted his arms over. It looked a little like ballet, I guess.
The music ended with him standing in that sort of bent position, and then he straightened up and smiled as his eyes alighted on me.
“Oh. I didn't see you. Hello.”
“Um, hi.” I paused and then blurted. “What were you doing?”
He grinned widely. “I was doing an interpretive dance to welcome summer,” he said.
I looked back at him, blinking a few times. “Do you have dances for all the seasons?”
He laughed, kind of a girlish laugh and covered his mouth with his fingertips. “Oh, that was a fantastic question. Of all the things you could choose to ask or say, that has to be the very best thing.”
I raised an eyebrow and looked around, wondering if some joke was being played. Behind him the front door of the house opened and a boy who looked strikingly similar exited. There was a vast difference in their demeanor, however. While the dancer looked kind of feminine in his manner of dress and his physical motions, the other boy was the opposite, in a sleeveless shirt that looked like it had originally had sleeves, sweat pants that had been cut back into shorts and a basketball tucked under his arm.
He glanced between the other boy and me and bounced the ball. “Everything okay?”
“Perfect,” the dancer said with a smile. “He asked if I had dances for the other seasons!”
The ball boy paused and looked at me and then back to the other boy. “Cool. You see Theresa?”
“She left to go with her hag group,” the dancer said dismissively.
Ball boy bounced the ball again and approached me. He nodded as he got closer. “I'm Dominic. That's my brother, Carlo.”
“Micah,” I replied.
“My full name is Giancarlo, but it's easier for most people to just say Carlo,” the dancer – Carlo – said as he stood next to Dominic.
“Micah's my full name. Most people just call me Micah.” I paused and Dominic chuckled while Carlo laughed outright, his whole demeanor feminine. “Um, are you guys brothers?”
“Yeah. Fraternal twins – even though I always tell Carlo he's adopted,” Dominic replied with a half smile. “Want to shoot a couple hoops?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Let me just text to say where I am,” I replied. I shot off a quick note to Sasha and then put my phone in my pocket. Carlo moved his radio off the driveway and sat kind of daintily in the grass.
“I gotta warm up,” Dominic said as he dribbled a few times and launched a shot that hit the side of the garage.
“Yay!” Carlo said and slyly followed with, “was that a good shot, Dominic?”
“Shut up, Tinkerbell,” he muttered and picked up the ball. “For such a girl you shouldn't know so much about sports.”
“I love sports. Just not participating.” Carlo looked at me. “Some people can be very graceful when playing sports. Not Dominic, of course, but some people.” He grinned widely and Dominic flipped him off.
I knew a little about basketball and Dominic and I played around for a hour or so before I heard Alec calling out.
“What? Who said you can play basketball without me?” he asked and lifted me up from behind, turned me around and dropped me back on my feet. “Wow, you're a smelly mess." He stuck a hand out to Dominic. "Alec.”
“Dominic,” he replied. He jerked his thumb behind him, “My brother, Carlo.”
“Okay, Dom, how about two on one, huh? Think you guys can take me?” Alec asked playfully.
“It's Dominic,” Carlo said as he gained his feet. “He doesn't like to be called Dom. Because then I call him a Dom Dom.”
“Thanks. Anyone else you want to tell?” Dominic asked him.
“Okay, the real question is, can you guys stop me. Huh?” Alec swatted at the ball and made an easy lay up.
Dominic looked at me, grinned and nodded. He and I were kind of awful at basketball, but Alec did make it fun even if he could have destroyed us with no problem. Sasha wandered over and took a seat on the lawn with Carlo. I could hear Carlo telling Sasha about how I'd asked about the dancing and it just sounded weird. Why was he talking about that like it was special? We'd been playing for about forty minutes when the front door of the home opened again and an older...no, old man shuffled out.
“What's all this? We got a tournament or what out here? Where's the cheerleaders?” he asked with an interesting accent.
“Hey, Mr. Casatelli! How are you?” Alec asked as he shook the old man's hand.
“Alec? Madonna! How you've grown. Isabella! Come outside! Alec is here and he's taller than a redwood tree!” he yelled back toward the house and then turned back to us. “Are you home from school?”
“Yeah, just got back a few days ago. How's things?”
“Oh, you know how it goes.”
“Need a hand with anything?”
The old man's reply was cut off with the clapping of the screen door and the addition of a female voice, one matching the man's age.
“Alec, look at how handsome! How's your mother?” she asked as she reached for Alec's face. He obligingly leaned down and gave her a light hug.
“She's good. Both my folks are doing very well, thanks,” he replied.
“If you have time this summer, I have to change the hot water tank. It'll be trouble to get the thing up the basement steps. You think you can give me a hand?” Mr. Cassatelli asked.
“He means will you carry it out for him,” his wife corrected him. “Don't let him try and pick that thing up; he'll break his back.”
“Don't worry,” Alec told her. “I'll make sure he doesn't go too far.”
“Alec is the expert in going too far,” Sasha said with a smile. Turning his attention to me he said, “Your grandmother is getting pizza. Would you like to invite your friends?”
I turned a questioning look to Dominic and Carlo who both nodded – Carlo subtly, Dominic not so much. I looked back to Sasha. “Yeah, that would be cool.”
“Well, let's go get cleaned up, then,” Sasha said.
“Game wasn't over,” Alec said and then, as Sasha shot him a look, “Okay, game's over! I win!”
“You weren't winning!” Dominic said.
“Yeah, but your teammate has to leave,” Alec said in a rational voice.
“You're making him leave,” Dominic replied, as if speaking to an idiot.
“Technically, my husband is making him leave. Not me,” Alec replied and smiled smugly.
“You just don't want to admit you lost,” Carlo said and sniffed, then looked at me and smiled.
“I've never lost,” Alec said proudly.
“I beat you at Halo last week,” I snorted.
“Silence!” he said imperiously and I laughed at him, quickly joined by the other boys.
“Giancarlo, Domenico, come clean up if you're going with your friend.” Mrs. Casatelli glanced over at me. “What's your name, handsome boy?”
“Micah,” I said quietly.
“This is your boy?” Mr. Casatelli asked as he looked between Alec and Sasha.
“Yep, he's ours,” Alec said, again with that unusual tone. He looked at me and smiled, then stuck his tongue out.
“He's going to be a good boy, then. I can tell these things,” Mr. Casatelli said and he patted my cheek.
“He liked my dance, Nonna,” Carlo said.
“And why not? You're a good dancer,” she said firmly.
“I didn't know you enjoyed dancing,” Sasha said to me and I flushed.
“He was dancing when I walked up. It was cool, that's all,” I said. Carlo smiled widely.
“You just made a friend for life,” Dominic muttered.
I frowned lightly as Dominic shook his head and then smiled at me.
“Who are all these people?” came a female voice from behind us. I turned to see an average looking girl, made less attractive by the slight sneer on her face and in her voice. There were two other girls with her, one overweight and the other one was thinner than looked healthy to be.
“Theresa,” Mrs. Casatelli said in a tone of warning.
“I'm Alec, this is Sasha and this is Micah,” Alec said to her. I don't know how he blocks out people being jerks. “And we've heard all about you. Nice to see that rash cleared up.”
She visibly faltered and asked, “What?”
I started to laugh, trying to hold it in but Dominic and Carlo laughed outright.
“Alec will not take your attitude, missy,” Mr. Casatelli said to her. “You will be respectful.” He glanced at Alec. “Something you were told once or twice, eh?”
“I have no idea what you mean, Mr. C. We both know I'm as innocent as the driven snow.”
“You do know every flake has a germ at the center, right?” Dominic asked.
“Lies. Lies and slander.” Alec hooked his arm around my shoulders. “I don't have to put up with this. Wait till you see what I do to your food – if you spot it!” He laughed maniacally and said goodbye to the elder Casatellis. I walked home with Alec and Sasha and they asked after my day. I figured Lu had already filled them in so I didn't understand why I needed to as well. It's frustrating, wondering why people do the shit they do. I took a quick shower, and then Alec shooed me out so he could shower, too. I went out onto the porch again and Sasha joined me.
“Sash, can I ask you something?”
“Of course. What's on your mind?” he asked, turning on the porch swing to look at me.
“I just...I can't figure it out. Every time Alec introduces me to someone he gets all weird. Like, his tone of voice. He makes it weirder than normal...everything. What is with that?”
Sasha smiled at me and there was just no mistaking the affection. I shifted uncomfortably, still unused to that kind of look.
“It's because he's proud of you, Micah. He's proud to introduce you as being his. Ours.”
I paused and tried to turn that over. “Why?”
“Oh. Could be the progress you've made. It could be the person you are, that you try to hide so much. But, if I had to go with one thing I'd say it's because we love you.”
I looked at him steadily, waiting for him to say something else. But he didn't. He just looked at me and I slowly felt some weird, uncomfortable feelings running around in me, too fast to put names to. He held his arms out to me and wiggled the ends of his fingers and I went to him, pulling my arms around myself and letting him hold me while I tried to...stabilize. If I accept that as true, and accounting for how resentful I feel, sometimes, toward Alec or the rules in the house...how much of a dick am I, really?
“There are your friends,” Sasha said and I sat up. Carlo and Dominic were crossing the street and I only had seconds before they could hear me. I wanted to say something to Sasha, to let him know I'd heard him and then the moment was past.
“Hi!” Carlo waved kind of daintily.
“Hey,” Dominic said.
“Hey, guys,” I greeted them. We went inside and Alec's parents made a few comments about how long it had been since they'd had so many boys in the house for dinner. Alec was Alec and we ended up playing a board game, which was actually kind of fun. Around eight I walked them back toward their house, Alec having invited them to come swimming the next day at the club. It was a cool idea and I was kind of glad he'd suggested it.
When we got to the Cassatellis' Carlo said he was going in to shower and Dominic and I idly fooled around with the basketball.
“Is it cool having gay parents?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. I'd never really been asked and, while I had a litany of things I could complain about, none of them really counted. Not with that question. “Yeah. They're actually really cool. Way better than what I started with.”
Dominic nodded. “Are you gay?”
“No,” I replied uncertainly. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Most people crap all over Carlo. It's hard to make friends. We come here for the summer from Johnson City – that's right next to Binghamton. A lot of kids there treat Carlo like shit. You kind of seemed to understand him. You were cool to him so I just wondered is all.”
He bounced the ball to me and I took a shot. “I know a lot of gay people,” I told him. “I used to think that was a bad thing but...I guess maybe I've learned better.” I was kind of surprised at myself, listening to my words, but they were true.
Dominic nodded. “I used to think that, kind of. I resented Carlo. But I saw someone hitting him and I just snapped, you know? Nobody hits my brother.”
Thinking of Jamie and the 'family', I nodded. “Yeah. I think I understand that. So you guys come here for the summer, you said? Where are your parents?”
“They run a restaurant. I'll probably have to start working there in a few years. Carlo, too. I think Theresa will go next year – and man, she is bitching about it!” Dominic said with a laugh and he tossed the ball toward the hoop.
“Oh,” I said with a trace of disappointment. “I'm only here for the summer, too.” I was about to tell him Alec and Sasha would go back to school, but I caught myself. Maybe I needed to try calling them what they really were, what they seemed to actually want to be. “My parents go to school up in Albany so I go to school up there, too.”
“That's cool, though. This is a good place to be for the summer, and my grandparents love having us here.” He bounced the ball and looked at me. “My folks worry about Carlo. There are some girls he hangs with when we're back in Johnson City, but most of the guys avoid him.”
“Why does he act that way?” I asked.
Dominic shrugged. “It's not an act, Micah. That's who he is. How about if I ask you to act like Carlo? Think you could do it all the time?”
I flushed a little. “I see your point.”
“That's why he's making such a big deal about what you said about his dance thing. Most guys would have called him a pussy or something. But he wasn't hurting anyone, you know?” He shook his head and tossed the ball toward the rim again. “People are just dicks.”
“Not everyone. I met some cool people today. Some of them are gay, but I don't think that really matters. I think they'd be cool to Carlo.”
“Who would be cool to me?” Carlo asked as he exited the front of the house, hair damp and dressed in loose clothing as if for bed.
“Some people I was hanging with earlier today. They're good people,” I said, feeling the truth of it without having really thought about it.
“I like good people,” Carlo replied. “Want to come in for ice cream? My grandparents are serving now.”
“Oh, sweet,” Dominic said and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come on.”
I nodded and followed them inside. The house was really organized and looked clean and neat. I didn't want to touch anything. Mrs. Casatelli had sliced strawberries and added them to angel food cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. She put a tiny bit of sugar on the strawberries and then handed them to each of us. It's kind of a simple thing, but man, was that good!
Not long after the treat my phone buzzed. Alec was wondering if I'd been abducted by aliens. I realized I'd forgotten to tell them I'd been invited for dessert. I texted him back and stood to leave.
“Goodnight. See you in the morning,” Carlo said with a smile. I nodded and returned the smile and headed for the door with Dominic behind me. The elder Casatellis were in a sitting room and I thanked them for the dessert before heading out the door.
“So you're really good with Carlo coming tomorrow?” Dominic asked, letting he screen door close behind him.
I frowned lightly. “Yeah, of course. Why?”
He picked up his basketball, bounced it a few times and then took a shot. The ball bounced off into the shadows and he let it go.
“Some people invite him just to be polite, but they are really only asking for me to go. Because I'm...what they expect a guy to act like. That's why he stayed inside. He doesn't want to go if you really don't want him there.” He looked at me steadily. There didn't seem to be a challenge in his posture, just a statement.
“Carlo acts kind of girly, I guess, but whatever,” I said. “He's nice. As nice as you are, I guess. Not that you're nice,” I said, grinning and he smiled in return and pushed me lightly. “But no. I meant both of you.”
“Cool. Carlo will be disappointed you're straight, though,” he said and chuckled. “Not that many straight guys are nice to him.”
I shrugged. Thinking of Lu's comments about scars I said, “I was making friends. I guess there might be stuff about me you might...judge. I don't care about gay or straight unless you're a pretty girl. Then I really want you to be straight and interested in me.” I laughed.
“Right?” Dominic laughed, agreeing with me.
I paused. “Do you have any scars?”
“Hell, yeah,” he said and pulled his shirt up, showing me a patch on his ribs. “I didn't have a shirt on and I fell off my bike. Skidded on the asphalt and got some road rash. Hurt like a bitch!”
Carlo came back out and approached us. “Are you showing your stupid marks again?” he asked in a teasing voice.
“Yeah. Show him yours,” Dominic said, putting his shirt down.
“Ugh,” Carlo replied. He pulled up the side of his shorts and showed me a curving scar running high on his leg. “I jumped out of a tree and landed really close to one of those spikes they use in a horseshoe pit, you know the ones?”
“What's a horseshoe pit?”
“You take horseshoes, right? You toss them in the air and try to get them to land as close as you can to a stake in the ground. Sounds thrilling, right? It's more fun with beer is what I hear,” Carlo said and rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I landed practically on the thing. What about you?” he asked, letting the side of his shorts fall back into place.
I took a deep breath and pulled my shirt off and turned my back to them.
“Whoa,” they both said and I shivered as fingers touched my skin.
“Hot metal. Pulled someone from a car fire,” I said in a choked voice. I turned slowly to look at their slack faces and I gave them a tight smile. “Actually, my mother put cigarettes out on my back. It's. Um.”
“Fuck,” Dominic breathed. “You're one tough bastard, Micah.”
Carlo had a hand over his mouth and I pulled my shirt on. “Can I hug you?” he asked in a little voice.
I shifted uncomfortably. “I guess so.”
Carlo hugged me lightly and sniffed. “That's horrible. I'm so glad you got away.”
“He's straight, Carlo,” Dominic said in a teasing tone.
Carlo leaned back and smiled at me. “That's okay. I like him anyway.”
I headed home shortly afterward with my feelings all over the place. I don't know why I showed them my scars. I don't know why I let Carlo hug me. I just felt overwhelmed and suddenly tired. I frittered away time in my room, playing games on my phone but my mind couldn't focus. As the night wore on I felt strongly that I wanted Alec and Sasha. I headed downstairs and through the kitchen to the basement door where their room was. I put my hand on the door and took a deep breath.
I headed down the stairs and found them changed for bed but watching a TV show. Alec paused the screen and Sasha smiled at me.
“Getting ready for bed?” he asked.
“Almost,” I said with a bob of my head.
Sasha tilted his head to one side. “Is everything okay, Micah?”
I suddenly felt tears threatening and I didn't know why. I shrugged and got no farther before they were both in front of me, hands on my shoulders and asking what was wrong. Frustration welled up in me.
“I don't know. I don't know!” I wailed. “So much crap happened today and I just don't...I can't....”
“Come sit with us. Let's make sense of it,” Sasha said and guided me over to their bed. They both sat, leaning against the headboard, and I flopped onto the mattress. I sniffled a little and then worked my way up between them and felt a little better. Safer. Maybe I needed that, more than I wanted to say. Not that I had to say.
“I thought Jamie was going to get really mad at me. Or his girlfriend. But they didn't and I don't get why.” I paused. “It was embarrassing.”
“Are you...upset they didn't get angry with you?” Sasha asked.
“No. I just...don't understand.”
“Okay. I know you said it was embarrassing, but do you think you can tell us? We might be able to understand better if you fill in the blanks for us.”
I shuddered and felt their arms tighten around me. I looked down at my hands. “I...got a boner. Over Emily.”
A moment of silence passed and Alec said, “You have excellent taste, Little Bit. She's funny, she's smart and she's got Jamie wrapped around her finger. Well done.”
I looked at him with wide eyes.
He shrugged. “Look, Micah, your dick is a traitor. Learn it now and learn it well. That fucker will stand at attention anytime it thinks there is something in it for, well, it. Dicks don't care whose parts are attached to what. All it knows is it likes being touched, and if your mind likes what your eyes are seeing, your dick thinks it should get in on the act, too. She won't be the last pretty girl you have to adjust your johnson for, trust me, buddy.”
I nodded slowly and looked toward Sasha.
“He's right. I can't argue with anything he said, Micah. I know it was embarrassing, but they both know the facts at this point. I'm glad they were mature enough to not hold something like that against you and not to tease you, either.”
I blinked a few times and nodded, letting out a breath I didn't know I was holding. “Lu told you about the shirt?”
“He did,” Sasha confirmed. “How are you feeling about that?”
I shook my head. “I thought it would be the worst thing but...I guess it turned out okay.” I looked at Alec. “Do you have scars, Alec?”
“Well, once I picked my nose really bad – but you have to look up my nostril to see it,” he said and tilted his head back as if I actually would want to look. I looked at him steadily and the grin faded from his face. “Yeah. I lost a friend, like he died. I had nightmares for a long time about some guys that beat me up pretty good. Everyone has them, Micah.”
I nodded and looked at Sasha.
“I married Alec,” he deadpanned. I laughed and it felt good. Sasha sobered and said, “I had some nightmares, too. The guys that beat Alec did that because he was defending me. I always felt some guilt for that. Of course, I also lost a friend, the same as Alec. Scars are universal, Micah. Why do you ask?”
I shifted around on the bed so that I was still between them, but now facing them. I glanced from one to the other, gathering myself. “I showed Carlo and Dominic my scars.”
They waited patiently and I wasn't entirely sure what to say. Then, I did. “It was okay. They both have scars, too. Maybe not for the same reasons, but I guess we have that in common.”
Alec wiggled his eyebrows. “Chicks dig scars, Micah.”
“Please. After that little girl today?” I snorted.
Sasha got a devilish look, something that didn't happen that often. “I hear that little girl had a sexual awakening today.”
Heat rushed into my face. “Shut up.” They chuckled but didn't continue. I sighed and pushed myself, willing the uncertainty to be over. Swirling thoughts were finally coalescing and I was afraid. Hopeful, but fearful.
“So...Dominic asked me what it was like to have gay parents.” I looked at them, gauging their reaction. Perhaps mild surprise and curiosity.
“What did you say?”
I rubbed under my right eye – an itch, no tears. Seriously. Fuck you if you think otherwise.
“I love you guys. Are you actually my parents? Like...are you going to be my dads?” Okay, fine, then I cried. Happy now? Then I got swarmed. Hugs are sort of awkward. I like them, but there's something weird about them. These were okay, though. I wasn't sure why they were crying, too, but they were. More importantly, they love me back. They are my dads and I don't have to worry about any of that kind of shit.
I was sandwiched in the back seat with Carlo and Dominic as we rode over to the pool with my dads. Dominic was dressed like I was, in a tee shirt and board shorts. Carlo had on something he said were trunks, and they were a little more form fitting and shorter on the leg. He had a pegged button up shirt that he said was linen – not that I knew or cared much about that stuff, but it was what Carlo said.
We exited the car and Kale from the day before popped out of the driver's side of a parked car and the blond guy from the selfie Sasha had shared with me the day before exited the passenger side.
“Finally I meet the famous Micah!” The blond guy grinned at me as he approached.
“Infamous, more like,” Alec said and messed up my hair.
“Watch the hair, moron,” I told him, out of reflex more than actual irritation.
“You made some friends already?” Kale asked, eyeing the boys behind me.
“Yeah. This is Dominic and this is Giancarlo, but everyone calls him Carlo,” I said, pointing to each in turn.
“Giancarlo! I love it,” the blond guy said in a sort of bubbly tone. He wasn't really like Carlo, but he was in the same ballpark, I guess. “It's very exotic and mysterious.”
“Thank you,” Carlo replied with a wide grin. “In Italy, Giancarlo is the shortened version of Giovanni Carlo – John Charles. I guess, in actuality, it's the Italian version of a deep south name. You know, like Ricky Bobby Earl or Wayne Lee Bubba.”
“I think your name is far better. I love your shirt, too,” Blondie bubbled on. Jesus Christ, was he carbonated or something?
“Nice to meet you guys,” Kale said with a nod, and we moved as a group through the turnstile, into the changing rooms and finally onto the pool deck. The morning was already warm and I was ready to get in the water and cool down, but Alec caught me first.
“Hey, Little Bit. You took some sun yesterday. You look like you're blushing all over. Kinda lucky you didn't burn. How about some sun block, huh?” he asked and handed me a tube.
I glanced at my arms and realized some of the warmth I was feeling might be from the red tinge I was seeing on my skin. “Yeah, okay.”
“Have fun,” he said and messed my hair up. What is it with screwing with my hair? I kicked off my flip-flops and started putting the cold sun block on my legs and feet, first.
“Do you burn?” Dominic asked. “We never do. Just bronze up real nice, makes the girls all giggly.”
“You think that's why they giggle? Oh, Dom,” Carlo said with an exaggerated sigh.
“Screw you,” Dominic replied and pushed Carlo.
I put the paste on my arms and then paused. Did I want to take my shirt off? I didn't really like to, even though Carlo and Dominic knew already. I guess everyone would know, eventually. Was I ready for questions? I didn't really want to fight with anyone. I glanced over at my friends and Dominic already had his shirt off, the scar on his side plain as day. Carlo's scar was visible as well since his shorts didn't go down as far as the boardies Dominic and I wore. I decided that if anyone had anything to say about my scars, I had my friends and dads here. How much more support did I really need? Feeling like a coward I yanked my shirt off and squeezed out more sun block to put on my shoulders and chest.
“Want me to get your back?” Carlo asked.
“Sure,” I told him and handed over the tube. It felt a little weird to have him spreading the sun block, especially knowing he kind of liked me. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing or just the normal thing. Or was I doing something else, something unintended? Too much to think about. Especially when Carlo pushed me in, the fucker.
We played for about a half hour before other people started to show up. A group of girls arrived and they looked to be about our age. I couldn't help scanning them in their swimsuits and wondered if I'd ever have the courage to offer to put sun block on any of their backs. I was pulled from that thought by the arrival of some of our friends from yesterday – Jamie, Emily, Sean and Asher.
“Summer buddy!” Jamie called out as he dropped his towel on the pool deck and jumped in. Emily sat on the edge of the pool and dipped her feet in, waving and calling out to me. Sean and Ash dropped in soon after Jamie and waded in our direction.
“Hey, Jamie,” I said as he drew closer.
“Hey, Buddy,” he replied with a grin and surged close enough to grab my arm and yank me around. I barely got to sputter out a demand to know what he was doing before he lifted me, arched backward and dropped me in the water. I surfaced and charged him and was gratified to see Carlo and Dominic jump in.
“Shit!” Jamie yelped. “Sean, help!”
“Hell, no. You got into that mess, you get out,” Sean said with a laugh. We played for a minute, getting revenge on Jamie before coming together as a wet group.
“I didn't know you had back up, punk,” Jamie said with a laugh.
“Carlo, Dominic – this is Jamie and his girlfriend Emily,” I said pointing over and Emily waved and said hello. “That's his brother, Sean and that's Asher, Sean's boyfriend.”
“Oh my God, you're dating? That is so cool,” Carlo gasped.
Ash adopted a disinterested stance. “Well, it's okay.”
“I'll give you okay,” Sean said as he tackled a suddenly laughing Asher. We paired off into teams for chicken fights – I rode Dominic's shoulders, Ash and Sean were a team and Carlo was on Jamie's shoulders as Emily said she'd pass. Not that I really blamed her. We played for a while and it was a lot of fun. We switched around a few times and it was actually kind of funny watching Carlo try and carry Jamie on his shoulders. He did all right but like Dominic and I, wasn't as strong as the older boys. I guess it was funnier to me because I expected Carlo to be weak because he was feminine – but he wasn't. Not any more than Dominic or I.
A few older girls arrived and Emily apparently knew them. I was a little worried my stalker from the day before would show up and I think Jamie picked up on that.
“Don't worry, Micah. No girls will try and rip your clothes off today. That only happens about once a week, on average,” he said with a teasing grin. I tried to drown him.
“Wait, what's this now?” Dominic asked.
“One of Emily's friends had her little sister with her yesterday,” Sean explained. “She had a thing for Micah and ripped his shirt off in the pool.”
“Working the charm on the elementary girls, huh?” Dominic teased.
“Shut up,” I told him and splashed him. We started playing some other game, but Carlo didn't join us this time. I saw him sitting over with Emily and I wondered, briefly, if he felt more comfortable around girls than guys. In rapid fire thoughts, though, I remembered Dominic telling me Carlo wasn't acting and this was who he was and how much Carlo liked sports, though he didn't seem to play. If anything he was proof that you just can't put people in a box, label them and call it done.
Maybe an hour or an hour and a half later, Jamie and company got ready to leave. Emily pulled me aside and I asked her a question that had been in the back of my mind. “How come you guys came to the pool? Jamie has one at home.”
“We heard you were here,” she said and smiled before tapping the end of my nose with her finger. I sort of felt like a puppy, right then. “So listen, I wonder if you'd do me a favor.”
“Me? Sure. What is it?” I asked.
“Your friend Carlo? I think he likes you.”
“Yeah, I like him too. That's why he's my friend,” I told her, my tone slipping into something indicating she wasn't being very smart. I guess it means something that I knew I was doing that and regretted it, though didn't know how to fix it.
“No, Micah,” she said and placed a hand on my shoulder and I shivered from the contact. She locked her gaze to mine and said, “He likes you. I'm going to ask you to be kind to him. Do everything you can to be sensitive. You're adorable, I'm sure he won't be the first person you have to let down easy.”
I blinked at her a few times. “He, like, has a crush or something?” I sort of thought Dominic was teasing me the day before, but maybe not.
“Something like that. He's not like Molly, he knows you don't feel that way. But I'm going to ask you to be kind, okay?”
I glanced at Carlo, who had wandered over to the pack of girls I'd noticed a while ago. “Yeah,” I said, my voice pitched low. “I will.”
“Thank you,” she said and patted the side of my face. Then they were gone and Sasha was calling me over.
“We packed a cooler for lunch. It's in the trunk of the car, you want to grab it? Are you and your friends hungry?” Sasha asked.
“I'll grab it just in case,” I told him. I took the keys from him and walked over to Dominic. “I'm grabbing the lunch cooler from the car. Are you hungry?”
“Sure. My grandparents sent us with some money for lunch at the snack bar, but we can blow that on crap after we have lunch, now,” he said with a grin. He paced beside me as I walked to the car.
“So is Theresa actually your sister? She seems nothing like you and Carlo,” I asked as I popped the trunk.
“I wish she weren't. She's a founding member of the See You Next Tuesday club,” he said with a snicker. I looked at him in confusion. “Cunt? Sound it out?”
I blushed and laughed. “Oh, okay. Why is she like that, though?”
“Who knows? Actually, I think I do know,” he said thoughtfully. I closed the trunk and we started back.
“Well, Carlo's the baby, you know? Before him Theresa was spoiled and the special one. But with the kind of guy Carlo is, I think my folks felt like they had to shield him more. I think she's jealous, mostly,” Dominic said and shrugged. “Either that or she's on the world's longest period.”
We both laughed. I brought Sasha back his keys and went around to bring Alec a drink and sandwich from the stash. Dominic waved Carlo over and he waved back in acknowledgment.
"If you and Carlo were identical twins you guys could pretend to be each other,” I said to Dominic as we stretched out on our towels in the afternoon sun and picked up our sandwiches.
“I know. It still works out one way, though. Girls will tell him shit they won't tell me, you know? It's like a secret weapon,” he said with a snicker.
“Damn, you're right! Think he'll work for me, too?”
“Pft. He'd probably blow you if you asked him nice, for Christ's sake!” Dominic belly laughed at my look of shock. He sat up suddenly and patted my arm. “Look, look. He's talking to those girls. Man, what I wouldn't give....”
“Just tell them you're gay. Simple!” I told him and he slugged me.
Carlo turned from the girls and swam over to us. He planted his hands on the side of the pool and lifted himself up. “You guys are popular. I deserve a reward or something.”
“Yeah, yeah. You can have Micah. What are they saying?”
“Hey!” I protested.
“Very pretty girls,” Carlo said. “Smart, too! They want nothing to do with either of you. I'm kidding!” he burst out laughing. “Seriously. If you guys come over with me, I think you might get a phone number.”
Dominic looked at me with a grin. “Bro, you want to go over?”
I glanced at Carlo. “Yeah. What about you, though?”
“Maybe you'll help me out one day,” Carlo replied with a confident smile.
“Let's go!” Dominic said as he clapped me on the shoulder.
“Dom Dom, have a little strategy,” Carlo chided as he climbed from the water and rummaged in the cooler. “If you run right over you set an example. Then they always expect you to run to them. Let them wait just a little.”
“Bullshit. You're hungry and you don't want to miss out on all the flirting,” Dominic charged and Carlo laughed.
“Okay, maybe a little.” he glanced at me, “Awkward flirting is too good to miss.”
Still, it seemed like decent advice so we ate the sandwiches, fruit and juice that we'd been given. If I had to guess I'd say Sasha put the lunch together, but I thought I changed my mind when I found the ice cream cups stashed at the bottom. That was Alec's mom all the way. I put the near-empty cooler by Sasha's lifeguard stand and walked back over to my friends.
“Micah! Don't forget to refresh the sun block!” Sasha called out.
“Yeah, Mom,” I muttered. I picked up the tube and started to apply it and Carlo didn't even ask, just took the tube from me and started to smear it on my back. I glanced over at the girls, right where they'd been the whole time we were eating. They were just hanging out in the shallower end, chatting and drifting around.
I slid into the water with my friends and we made our way over to the girls. I was grinning to myself, never having felt more a part of a group than I did with Carlo and Dominic. I hoped it was the brown haired girl that likes me. Oh, man, was she pretty! Her hair was long and straight, wet and glistening in the sun.
“This is my brother. A twin, but fraternal,” Carlo said to the girls. “And this is our friend, Micah.”
A girl with a round face said, “Oh, the one from Albany? Must be a change for you, coming here for the summer, huh?”
“He was just telling me the girls are prettier,” Dominic stepped in. He was smiling at the brown haired girl and, shit, she was smiling back at him.
If anything, Carlo was proved right with respect to awkward flirting. I had no idea what to do and didn't say a great deal, but Dominic said several obvious things that the girls still tittered over as if it were something special. Over the course of the afternoon we drifted back and forth, playing and talking among ourselves and interacting with the group of girls. I found out the brown haired girl was named Kara and the round faced girl was Beth. Beth was nice enough, but I had a hard time keeping my eyes off Kara.
Eventually we headed home. Dominic and Carlo told me to stop over after dinner and I agreed. Alec and Sasha complimented me on my friends, but I wasn't sure why. It's not like I made them or something. It wasn't long after dinner was done that I was eager to head back to my new friends, but Alec's dad told me to give the Casatellis time to eat, too. I rolled my eyes but did as he said. Alec picked me up and shook me upside down, demanding I give him change or something. Such a moron.
Finally I headed over and knocked on the front door of the Casatellis. Theresa came to the door, saw it was me and rolled her eyes as she turned to walk away and waving a hand to tell me to come in. I frowned at her back then forgot about her as I spotted Dominic. He waved a hand at me.
“Hey, we were waiting for you. We're going to watch a movie downstairs, just making popcorn now,” he said and I followed him into the kitchen. “Carlo's downstairs looking at movies for us. We have DVD's, there's no wifi in the house.”
“Really?” I asked, leaning against a counter as he opened the microwave.
“I know. It's like the dark ages. Theresa has been talking to – well, badgering – my grandparents and the cable guy is supposed to come out next week so we might get an upgrade. No Netflix or Hulu though.”
“Okay,” I said with a shrug. I was used to the streaming services since it's what my dads watched when we were at home, but I didn't really care about them one way or another.
“Like parm on your popcorn?” he asked as he held a container over the bowl.
“Parmesan cheese. Some strange people don't like it, but Carlo and I do. What, you've never had it?” he asked with a little crooked grin.
“No. I'll try it, though,” I said. “Even though it sounds weird.”
“It's not weird,” he said and poked me in the chest playfully. “It's Italian.”
“But you're American,” I said as I followed him.
He said something I didn't hear and then we were headed downstairs. Carlo had something cued up and we sat on the couch, me in the middle holding the popcorn bowl. I don't remember what we watched, it wasn't very memorable. Dominic fell asleep and Carlo started to talk to me, rather than watch the movie.
“So Beth seemed nice,” he said.
“Yeah, she was okay. But Kara, man,” I said and let my head tilt back.
“Kara gets all the attention. I'll bet Beth is nicer, though. She seemed like it, anyway,” Carlo replied.
“What do you mean nicer? Did Kara say something?” I asked as I turned to look at him.
“Not so much, no. But she was kind of different when you two weren't around. Kind of pushy. Kind of like she was putting on an act. I liked Beth better.”
I chewed on that for a moment, putting popcorn in my mouth as well to make up for my lack of a reply. The parm on the popcorn wasn't bad, sort of a nice option to regular buttered popcorn I guess. I thought of Beth, and Carlo was right that she'd been nice. She had paid me some attention, too. I wonder if she liked me?
“So...you going to call Beth?”
I blinked and looked back at Carlo, who was looking down at his hands. “You think I should?”
He glanced up at me. “Not right away. Wait at least a day so you don't look desperate. You want her to know you're interested – if you are – but not desperate.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked with a chuckle.
“I read and watch a lot of movies and TV. I binge watch all kinds of stuff.” He paused and looked down at his hands again, turning them over in his lap as the movie ran in the background. “You thinking about kissing her?”
“No, not really,” I said honestly. “I hadn't thought about her that much. Now, Kara, I'd thought about, but she seems to like Dominic.”
The corner of his mouth pulled up in a smile. “Dominic's cheesy lines work more than they should. You should think about this kissing thing, though. You know what worries me about kissing? That I won't be any good at it.”
I frowned lightly. “Is that a real thing? Can you really be bad at kissing?”
“Sure,” he said, chuckling again. “Ask Dominic about Marsha Farone. He said after they made out his whole lower face was wet with spit.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, astonished. “Did she drool on his face or something?”
“Sloppy kisser. That's what I hear,” he said and waved a hand. “Now that's what everyone says about her. She doesn't just kiss lips but the chin and the cheekbones and she leaves slobber behind her. The way people talk you'd think she's part St. Bernard.”
“Shit,” I said softly and realized that rumors spread fast. Stuff like that, I'll bet it spreads even faster. “How are you supposed to know? I mean, did she know she stunk at kissing before she slobbered on Dominic's face?”
“I don't think so,” Carlo said, taking on a thoughtful tone. “Not sure anyone else wants to kiss her now, though. Shame, she's pretty.”
I looked at the TV, which was scrolling credits. How cruel is that? One bad kiss – maybe your first – and you get a reputation so bad no one wants to kiss you anymore? I wondered if the girl would have to switch schools to get a second shot.
“So if you kiss Beth, do you think you'll be any good at it?”
I glanced at Carlo, who was back to looking at his hands. “I don't know. I haven't done it before. I figured, you know, you just kissed. Like...everyone knows how to do that. Sort of like breathing or walking, you just do it.”
He snorted lightly. “So few guys are gay, I'm afraid I'll screw it up and lose all my chances. I mean, once I find a guy, you know?”
“Yeah,” I said.
Carlo glanced at me briefly and took a breath. “Hey. You know, maybe we could make sure we don't screw it up. Like, if you go to kiss Beth you'll already know you know what to do, right?”
I frowned lightly. “How?”
“Practice,” he said quietly.
I thought for a moment but came up blank. “Practice how? Your hand or a mirror or something?”
He turned and looked at me. “Well, no. I was thinking we could practice. Then, when we find someone, we'll know how to do it right.”
I was stunned for a moment and emotions swirled up and down inside me. I sort of felt led to this point and that made me angry. I felt embarrassed because Carlo wanted to kiss me. I felt nervous because a fight with Carlo would mean losing Dominic, too. I was really liking hanging out with them. The idea that it could end so fast had my stomach in knots.
I set the bowl down and stood up. “I should probably go home,” I said, my voice tremulous.
I headed toward the stairs and Carlo was right behind me. “Micah, wait, please,” he asked and placed a hand on my arm. I paused and turned toward him, feeling my stomach clenching and unclenching.
“I'm sorry,” he said and dropped his hand away from me. “I thought...you know, it's just a kiss. I figured we'd be safe, not telling anyone if one of us was bad at it, you know?”
I still felt confused. Anger, embarrassment, fear and excitement rolled around, making it impossible for me to think, much less reply.
Carlo looked at me steadily and then leaned a bit closer. “Maybe just this once? Just to see what it's like?”
I was frozen as he got closer and closer. Then his lips met mine. Not for long, just a few seconds. He pulled back and my paralysis broke. I turned and fled home, my mind a mess and my emotions an absolute wreck. He'd kissed me. I hadn't wanted him to. He knew I wasn't into him like that, but he'd done it anyway. What the fuck?
The next day I complained I didn't feel well and Lu said he'd stay home with me. Initially I went back to sleep, but once I was awake I was just bored. My thoughts kept turning back to the whole conversation and how crappy I was feeling about it. I couldn't exactly put my finger on what it was I was feeling – not one thing, anyway. It made me kind of miserable, though. I stayed in my room except for dinner, even turning down dessert to sell my act. I sure as hell didn't want to do that for another day, though.
The following day I went to hang out with Jamie for the day. He and Sean were in the basement and a well muscled guy I didn't know was taking Linc over to the park.
“Who was that guy with all the muscles?” I asked after the door closed.
“That was Hamster,” Sean replied. “I should have introduced you. We can say hi when he comes back. Jamie and I are going to play a few games, want to join us?”
“I guess. His name is really Hamster? Did his parents hate him?”
Sean laughed. “Austin Hamilton is his given name, Hamster for short.”
I did play, but I was distracted and I was getting pissed pretty easily. I knew I was basically being cranky and I knew the kiss was why. Eventually Hamster came back with Linc and Sean went up to give the little terror his lunch. Jamie paused the game he was playing and set his controller down.
“Okay, you've been crankier than normal this morning. I thought you wanted to hang out?”
“What? I do. I just...” I ran a hand through my hair. “I don't think you'd understand.”
I eyed him for a moment. “Did a guy ever...kiss you?”
I frowned lightly. “Like, when you didn't want him to? Didn't he know you were straight?”
Jamie set his controller down and leaned back on his hands. He looked at me with curiosity and then said, “Yeah, he knew. Kissed me really hard.”
“What did you do?” I asked quietly, glancing at him and away just as quickly.
“I pushed him away and told him I was trying to work things out with Em. We were going through a thing.” Jamie shrugged and tilted his head. “Why?”
“What happened then?” I asked, dodging his question.
He frowned. “You mean with me and Boomer? The guy that kissed me?”
I nodded, watching him.
“I got pissy for a minute. He explained himself and I kind of got over it. He...well, he's got a thing for me. Maybe not anymore, but he did. I just told him, you know, wrong way to go about it and we got past it.” He looked at me steadily for a moment and then asked, “So why are you asking? Who kissed you?”
I looked down and knotted my fingers together as I wrestled with my thoughts. Figuring there was no way around it – after all, he knows someone kissed me – I looked at him and said, “Carlo. He started saying some shit about how much it would suck if we weren't any good at kissing once we found someone to kiss with, you know? It sounded kind of shady and then he just did it.”
Jamie smiled. “Was it horrible?”
“Yeah!” I said defiantly.
“Really? Huh. Both guys I kissed were pretty good at it, to be honest,” Jamie said matter-of-factly.
“What?” I asked, dumbfounded. “But you're straight!”
He shrugged. “What does that have to do with anything? I'm not supposed to like a kiss because it came from a guy?”
I stared at him, wondering if he was messing with me. He had to be. “You're screwing with me. Why? I'm pissed he kissed me!”
“Because!” I said, waving my hands in the air. “He didn't just say that's what he wanted! He lied to me, set me up! He confused me so he could get what he wanted from me!”
“Oh,” Jamie said and frowned deeply. “That's different. Nobody lied to me. I mean, yeah, Boomer just laid one on me, but I don't have a reason for trust issues like you do.”
“I trust people,” I grumbled. “Some of them.”
“Yeah, but not right away, right? Like your default is to wait and see what crap they try to pull, right?”
“Sort of. So what?”
He shook his head and laid back flat, looking up at the ceiling. “Well, if I were you I'd probably feel the same way. People have jerked you around plenty, am I right? I mean, this kid probably thought he was being clever to get a kiss from a guy he liked, but maybe he just wanted to skull fuck you, huh? Which do you think?”
“Well he...wait, what? What are you talking about?” I asked in frustration.
He sat up and rested on his elbows. He looked at me and tilted his head slightly. “Well, you know Carlo better than I do. Do you think his plan was to mess with you or just to try and get cute and kiss his crush?”
I frowned and looked away. “Does it make a difference?”
“Sure it does. It's all about intentions. My friend Boomer? He felt bad he'd just laid one on me. He knew it wasn't right. If Carlo is a decent guy, he probably feels pretty guilty. I mean, did you yell at him or anything after he kissed you?”
“I just got out of there,” I said with a snort.
“Okay so, fair bet he knows you're not happy with him, right? Have you seen him since then?”
“No. I played sick yesterday.” I glanced at Jamie, “Don't tell Lu. He sat with me all day.”
“No problem. But do you think he feels bad about it, now? Like, was he actually setting out to screw you over? Like I said, you know the kid, not me.”
I looked away and thought about it for a moment. Carlo had seemed nice. I had really liked him and Dominic. Who knows what Carlo told Dominic, though? Maybe he'd said I was a jerk after I'd left and neither of them wanted anything to do with me anyway. But why should that matter to me? He'd played me for a sucker. Mislead me.
“So? Which do you think it is?”
I gritted my teeth and looked away from him. “He probably thought he was slick. That doesn't mean telling me some bullshit story to get me to do something he knew I didn't want to do was fucking okay!”
“Totally. I'm with you. I mean, I bet his lips left a mark on you, huh?” Jamie sat up and then stood, looking down at me. “I mean, even if he said he was sorry you couldn't listen to that noise, right?”
“Why not?” I demanded, my frustration coming out. “Maybe he's really sorry. Oh, fuck! Come on, now you're screwing with me!”
I gained my feet and headed for the stairs.
“Micah,” Jamie said. I paused at the foot of the stairs. “All I'm saying to you is...maybe you should give him a chance to apologize before you drop him as a friend. Every friend makes mistakes and you will, too.”
I fumed. “Are you still friends with the guy that kissed you?”
“Yeah. Both of them, actually. They're family, Micah. Listen,” he said and took a few steps toward me. “Everyone screws up. One time I made a guy really mad and he punched out Sean, thinking he was hitting me. I felt so bad that day. Sean's my brother and I got him hurt.” I turned to look at him askance and he moved farther into my field of view.
“I'm not saying you can't be mad. I'm not saying you have to forgive him. Kissing someone that doesn't want you to...legally that's some bad shit. He might not have thought what he was doing was so bad. Maybe he thought you'd put a stop to it and when that didn't happen...he went for it.” He placed a hand on my forearm. “Only you can decide if you want to hear him out and if you decide to forgive him. No matter what you decide, the family is on your side, Micah.”
I looked down and sighed. “I thought they were my friends.”
“You may be right, Micah. They could end up being good friends. You'll never know unless you talk to them.”
That night I was still debating what to do. Should I walk over? Should I forget they existed? I hated not knowing what I should do and I hated that talking to Jamie left me with a decision to make rather than a freaking answer.
“Angel, you want to take a walk with me?” Alec's mom asked me.
“You just want to spoil him with ice cream,” Sasha said in a teasing tone as he passed through. “Why don't you just ask him that?”
“Maybe I won't get ice cream! I do have to walk, you know,” she said to Sasha's back. She looked back at me. “What do you think, Angel?”
I stood to say I'd walk with her, but someone knocked at the back door. It was just a screen and it was plain Dominic was on the other side.
“Oh, your friend is here. Well, maybe next time?” she said with a smile and opened the door. “Come on in.”
“Thanks,” Dominic said as he entered the kitchen. He looked at me uncertainly. “Hey, Micah.”
I paused a beat and then replied, “Hey, Dominic.”
He looked down for a moment. “Uh, got a minute?”
I nodded slowly. “Sure, come on,” I told him and he followed me up to my room. I waved him to the room's only chair and I sat on my bed. He looked at me for a moment, looked away and then let out a deep breath.
“Carlo's been dragging around the house like his dog died. I finally got it out of him about ten minutes ago.” He paused and wet his lips. “I'm not making excuses. He'd like to apologize. He was too chickenshit to come over and face you, though. Um, he knows he fucked up.”
Some of the tension flowed out of me. I wasn't sure if Dominic was going to blame me or if he was going to challenge me somehow.
“So, what, I'm supposed to walk over with you?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Look, I know he screwed up. He knows he screwed up. If you want to try and work this thing out then yeah, come on over. If what he did was too much...then I'm sorry about that.” He looked at me steadily. “Seriously, Micah. We both like hanging with you. You're the coolest guy I've met in this town and I was thinking summer would be more fun this year. But...I understand, I guess, if you're too pissed off.”
I stood up and walked over to my window and looked down into the yard. My dad's car was out there next to the grandparents' and a big space where Lu...my uncle Lucien would park his bus. I was home and I had a family. A real one. I sighed.
“Well, I guess I'll see you,” Dominic said, misinterpreting my silence.
“I'm in foster care,” I said quietly. “Alec found me when I was living on the street because I ran away.” I paused and was surprised to find it wasn't as hard to talk about my past as it had been before. I wonder when that happened? I turned and looked at Dominic. “When you live on the street, people try to take from you. Your stuff. Clothes. The place you're squatting in. Even...your body. I was too suspicious of people to let that last one happen but...I heard stuff. Bad stuff.”
He stared at me for a moment and then shook his head. “I didn't know.”
“It's not the sort of thing you brag about,” I replied. I crossed my arms and then uncrossed them, feeling nervous.
“Look, Micah...you have no reason to believe me but...Carlo isn't some weirdo. He's got a crush and most guys are dickheads to him. He knows he went too far, but if he'd have realized how much crap would get stirred up he'd have never done that to you.” He paused and looked down. “And, to be honest, I'm the one that gave him the idea.”
“You...what?” I asked, stunned.
He looked at me with a red face. “I didn't think a kiss would be such a big deal, especially if you guys went about it like you were just practicing. I figured it wouldn't be any worse for you than kissing a girl you weren't all that into. I mean, best kisser for me so far was a girl who was kind of plain to look at. I really, really didn't think it would be that big a thing. I'm sorry.”
I looked away, back at the yard. The truth was I felt betrayed.
“Look, he would never have done it if it weren't for me and my dumb idea. I didn't know about the personal stuff you just told me. I'd have known better, then. I understand if you don't want to be friends with me but please...don't punish Carlo, too. He just had a crush, man.”
I turned back to him slowly. “I kind of thought we understood each other because we're both straight. I feel...like you hung me out, a little.” I took a breath. “A friend of mine – remember Jamie, from the pool?”
“Yeah. He's got the hot girlfriend.”
“Fucking A she is,” I agreed. “Anyway, he said one of his friends kissed him without permission.”
“A guy? What happened?” Dominic asked quietly.
I looked up at the ceiling, struggling to put a voice to the things I was learning – learning too fast to fully grasp. Looking back at him I said, slowly, “These people, Dominic, they don't make friends like normal people. I mean, some people hang out for ten minutes and say they have a friend. There's this guy back at school that told everyone we were friends. I think I loaned him a pencil or something.” I shook my head at the memory and continued. “These guys are family. I'm still kind of feeling my way about that and what it means. I didn't really start to get it until I got here, actually.”
“Seriously? 'Cause your dads are awesome. My parents spend all their time on their restaurant. I know it's how we have a house and everything, but everything is about that restaurant. My dad doesn't come out to play basketball. He doesn't come to our games or plays or anything. He's got tunnel vision about this restaurant.” Dominic slapped his leg. “I'd kill to have your dads, man. How can you just be getting that?”
“Did you miss the trouble trusting part of my life?” I snapped.
He held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, take it easy. I never would have...I mean, I figured you were adopted but, like, hit the jackpot.”
I nodded slowly, ever more realization dawning on me. “You know, you're right. I'm sorry. I did hit the jackpot. I just didn't realize it.”
He pursed his lips slightly. “So...you want to come over? Maybe we can talk this thing out?”
I looked at him for a few minutes and I realized that, above all, I missed them. “Yeah. Okay.”
We walked over to the Casatellis'. I wondered if this could be resolved considering Carlo had his crush and I didn't know how to handle that. I wanted to try, though and that made me feel better. To have a goal. I wasn't kidding about friends. The school I went to in Albany had police in it and metal detectors at the doors. My dads said they'd be looking to move us into a better school district for next year because they were worried about the one I was in. I hadn't really gotten on with anyone there and...that's what made Carlo and Dominic different. They were my first real friends.
I followed Dominic inside and Theresa looked up, frowned as if we smelled bad and went back to her tablet. Screw her. I trailed behind Dominic as we descended the stairs where things had gone all weird just a few nights before. Carlo was sitting on the couch and he looked at me apprehensively. In truth I felt anxious as well.
“Okay. This whole thing was one big cluster fuck,” Dominic said. “I already told him how it was my idea, Carlo. I think you have to hear more about Micah to really understand where we're at.”
Carlo nodded quickly and looked at me raptly. Again, I found it easier to speak of my past – not that they deserved the details, but because I realized it would make things clearer. Maybe to all of us. I explained about how my mother had treated me beyond burning me. I explained about the various homes and how I finally ran away. A little slower I talked about my time on the street and how hopeless it seemed. Finally I told them about Alec and Sasha. I looked Carlo in the eye and, when I was sure he was watching me, I spoke just to him.
“I have a hard time trusting people. You guys were the first people I've met in a long time that I just...didn't suspect of something. Anything.” I looked at him steadily and Carlo's eyes grew wet. “For me, maybe the kiss wasn't the most important thing. I think, for me...I felt like you used me. I can't have that.”
Carlo put his fingertips on his lips and nodded at me. “I understand. I'm so sorry. I didn't think...not past kissing you,” he said, his voice trailing off. “I promise you, I wasn't trying to be terrible. I just...I didn't think about it. I'm really, really sorry.”
I nodded slowly. I looked back and forth between them. “What you guys know about me...only my dads know. I mean, unless they told someone some stuff. Oh, um, and my therapist.” I sighed. “Point is, it's not for everyone. If we're going to be friends...I realize now I have to be able to trust you.”
Carlo moved toward me and placed his hands over one of mine. “I'll do anything I can to make it up to you.”
My throat felt tight. I felt like he was being completely honest, was totally sorry and for the first time I can think of I felt like I could – would – forgive someone. All of that rolled around inside me and was desperate for a way out of my system. Maybe it was because of Alec, maybe I really am his son in some ways. It's the only way I can explain it... because I had an evil thought.
“Okay. You can make it up to me.” I looked at him steadily and he began to nod.
“Sure, you name it!”
“Kiss your brother.”
They both stared at me. I worked tremendously hard to keep a straight face and managed it for about ten seconds before I started to laugh and they joined me. Friends and family – I had them both.