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Foley-Mashburn Saga #6

Summer Fun

Story © 2002 Brew Maxwell. b [email protected] Chapter 1 (Kevin's Perspective) The last day of school for Tim, Kyle, and Brian was May 20th, and the last two days were exam days. Kyle worried and fretted about trig but actually ended up making a B in the course. The other two studied hard, and they both got A's in everything. My twenty-seventh birthday was on May 25th, and it was a Monday that year, Memorial Day, in fact. We decided to celebrate it on the 23rd. "Guys, I want a simple cookout. Naked swimming. All guys, no ladies. And no elaborate stuff. If you're dying to do that, wait till I turn thirty," I said. We were all in the den, planning the party. "Just guys? Hell, I wanted to bring a date," Justin said. That broke us up, of course. "What girl would go out with you," Kyle asked. "You'd be surprised, Kyle. There's a girl in housekeeping that's had her eye on me for a while. She'd be a good date, too. Wouldn't eat much, either, unless I bought her some teeth first." He had us screaming. "I thought she was your sister," Kyle said. "She is. So what?" More laughs. "Are we planning a party, or what," Kyle said after the laughter died down. "I don't know about you, but I'm at one right now," Jus said. "And I'm having a damn good time, too." When Kyle finished laughing, he said, "I know. That's what I mean. We need to get this planning done." "Kyle, man, you're so fucking compulsive about this. Come here," Jus said. "What?" "Come here and get in front of me. I got to settle you down," Jus said. Kyle did what he told him. "Now take your shirt off." Again, Kyle complied. Justin started massaging Kyle's neck and shoulders. Kyle got a look of total contentment on his face. "Damn, you give good hand, Bubba. Not good handjobs, just good hand." Of course we laughed. Justin popped him on the side of his head. "Cut it out. You're going to give me a cauliflower ear," Kyle said. "Good. You can serve it at the next party. Meat and vegetable, all in one. Cut your planning time in half."

When he said that, Jeff doubled over in laughter. The rest of us were gasping for breath from laughing so hard, too. "Stop," Rick said. "I can't catch my breath." "I ain't giving you mouth-to-mouth, that's for sure. No telling where that nasty tongue's been," Jus said. All of it was totally deadpan. We all sort of sat there with huge grins on our faces, exhausted from laughing so hard. Justin was still working Kyle's shoulders and neck. "Thanks, Bubba," Kyle said. "I think you worked all the compulsive kinks out of me." Then, in a second, "Steaks? Potato salad? Fried eggplant? Coleslaw? How does that sound? Rolls and birthday cake and ice cream, of course." "Kyle, you are fucking relentless," Jus said. "Does that sound good to everybody? How about it, Kevin? Is that good?" "Kyle, it's great." I could barely keep from laughing. "Okay. I feel so much better." Justin started to say something, but just then we heard this whimpering and scratching at the back door. "Let her in, Kyle," Tim said. "You think," Kyle asked. "Yeah, let her in." Kyle got up and went into the kitchen. In a second, a black Labrador Retriever puppy came bounding in. It's tail was wagging furiously. It went from boy to boy, nosing and licking. Then it saw Tim, and it jumped into his lap on the sofa. Kyle came in right behind it, grinning. He sat down on the sofa next to Tim, and the dog licked his face. "What the hell is this," Rick asked. "It's a dog, Rick. What does it look like," Tim said. "I know it's a dog, Tim. What's it doing here?" "She came to visit us," Tim said. "She knows me and Kyle." "Is this your dog, Tim," I asked. "No, sir, not officially, but I want her to be. She is so sweet, Kevin, you wouldn't believe it." I thought about the black Lab we had had when I was a kid. I actually loved that dog more than I did my brother, at the time. Of course, I was only about ten when she was poisoned. I don't remember it, but supposedly I didn't talk for a week after she died. This one was exactly like mine when we had gotten her. "Where did she come from," I asked. "Tim and I were skateboarding one afternoon about a week ago down at the motel we worked at last summer. She just came up and started playing with us, Kev. A couple of days later, Herman called me to come get her. Herman the Heartless didn't want her," Kyle said. "You've still got it in for Herman, haven't you," Rick said. "No comment on that," Kyle said. "Who are y'all talking about," Jus asked. "Who's Herman?" "The asshole manager of that place where we found you, Bubba. You remember him. He didn't want to comp your room, and he would have probably called the cops on you, too. That's who." I could tell Kyle still felt really strongly about that whole episode, and I wanted to change the subject. "So where has she been since then," I asked. -2-

"In our yard. Your yard, I mean," Kyle said. "Tim and I have been feeding her, and I think she's hungry right now. This is the first time she's been in the house, though, Kevin. Scout's honor." "Kyle, don't say that. This might be the first time you've let her in, but she's been in before," Jeff said. The dog's ears perked up when she heard Jeff's voice. She raised her head from Kyle's lap and looked at him with a really cute look on her face. "You," Kyle asked. He sort of cringed a little bit. "Yeah. A couple of times." "I've seen this dog around some, too. I tried to run over it, though," Justin said. Kyle got instantly furious, or pretended to. "You asshole. You tried to run over this dog? I'll run over your ass." "First you're going to save me from the cops, and then you're going to run over my ass? Got you last, Kylie," Justin said the last part in a sweet, soft voice. "I knew you'd never do that, Bubba," Kyle said. "I'm too hyper." Yes, you are, I thought, but I didn't say anything. "Actually, I've played with her a little bit. I threw your dirty jockstrap out into the street for her to fetch. She loved it, Kyle. She ate it, in fact." "You shit," Kyle said. We all laughed. "What are we going to do about this dog," Rick asked. "I think we should keep her, Rick. She loves us," Tim said. "She belongs to somebody, though. You can't just keep somebody's dog because it ran away," he said. "Rick, we've been looking in the paper every day. Nobody has advertised losing a black Lab puppy. I called the county Humane Society, and they don't know of anybody who has lost a black Lab puppy. I think she's a throw-away," Kyle said. "What do you think, Babe," Rick said to me. "Rick, if you don't want this dog here, then there's no dog here. Period. But I have to tell you this. We had a black Lab when I was a kid, and I loved her more than I loved Craig. And he loved her more than he loved me." "So, I gather everybody wants to keep the dog," Rick said. "If you don't want the dog, we don't keep the dog, Babe. This is your home," I said. "Yeah, but it's everybody else's home, too. And this is my family. If y'all want to keep the dog, I'm fine with it. I'm not taking care of her, though. And I'm not picking up any dog shit, either. The rest of y'all are going to have to do that," he said. "Babe, that's fair. We'll do all of that, right guys," I said. They all agreed. "And that dog ain't sleeping with us, either, Kevin," he said. "It never crossed my mind she would, Babe," I said. "Kyle said she's hungry. I think we should feed her," Rick said. Everybody grinned at Rick. "We've been calling her Trixie," Tim said. The dog perked up when she heard that. "We call her Trix, too," Kyle said. -3-

She barked a little when she heard that. That was a very smart dog, I decided. We fed Trixie and put her to bed on a ratty blanket in the laundry room. I decided the next day we would get her a proper dog bed. She was so cute, and I knew Rick would soften up to her. (Rick's Perspective) I got blindsided on this damn dog thing. I know Kevin didn't have anything to do with it, but the kids set me up. How could I have missed a dog that big on my own property for a week? Jeez. When I got up for my run the next morning, what's the first thing I see in the kitchen? The dog. She was wagging her tail and wanting to lick my knees and shit. Yuck. I try to sneak out to run, and I'm not quick enough. The dog sneaks out with me. Good, I think. Maybe it'll get lost. But it doesn't get lost, and it keeps right with me the whole way. When we finished, I gave it some water, and it lapped it up. It emptied the soup bowl I gave it the water in, and I refilled it. What the fuck am I doing, I thought. I said I wasn't taking care of this damn dog, and here I am, taking care of it. The next morning, she was waiting for me in the kitchen. She barked a time or two. I told her to shush because I didn't want her to wake up Kevin. Then I thought, Wake his ass up. He deserves it. She did a number on me that morning. She started running at my pace, but then she ran ahead and stopped. She started barking for me to come on, like she was my coach or something. I'd get to where she was, and then she'd run ahead again. She did that a bunch of times until we got to my turn-around. She remembered it, evidently, because she ran in the other direction when I got there. I was pretty impressed. When we got home, we were both wringing wet. I dried off, and then I dried her off, too. She licked my face. Yuck. Somebody had bought a dog basket for her to sleep in, and food and water bowls. I filled up the water bowl, and she lapped it up quick. I filled it up again, and she drank about half of it. Then I filled up the food bowl with this shit they had bought. She liked it and ate a good bit of it before I went and found my husband. The third day was a Friday. We had been up late the night before, and I had decided I wasn't running Friday morning. Or so I thought, anyway. I woke up at ten minutes after five to this clawing at our door and this whimpering. I thought one of the kids was sick or something. I jumped out of bed, and it was damn Trixie. She barked a couple of times and then led me, like she wanted to run. Jesus, I thought. I can't even sleep in when I want to. I needed to run, though, so she and I took off. That weekend was Kevin's birthday, and I wanted us to go out to celebrate it. The kids all wanted to go out to eat with us. "Can't Kevin and I have some privacy around here? Can't we have a night to ourselves," I asked. "Rick, we want to be with you because we love you guys," Kyle said. "We know that, Kyle. But don't you and Tim want to be alone sometimes? We're probably going to talk about you guys and this fucking dog, who seems to have taken me on as a project, but I want private time with Kevin tonight. Tomorrow night's the family celebration. Tonight's ours, okay?" "You guys love each other, don't you." He was close to blubbering. "You know we do, Kyle." "Yeah, and we don't give you much space, do we?" "Yes, you do. We have enough space. I just want a little extra tonight with my guy, you know? We'll be home early," I said. "Wait up for us." -4-

Kevin and I had a great meal that night in what was probably the best restaurant in town. Most people thought the best ones were on the beach, and there were definitely some good ones there. But the one we ate at was the best one east of the bridge. We got home around eleven o'clock, and the boys were in the den waiting for us. Kevin and I sat down next to one another on the sofa, and Trixie jumped up and sat next to me. She put her head in my lap. "I think Trixie has a new boyfriend," Justin said. "She's in heat, and she smells that cum in Rick." They all laughed, but I didn't think it was all that funny. "Jus, that was pretty gross, you know," I said. "I know, but you would have said it about me if she had her snout in my crotch and you'd have thought of it." "Yeah, I probably would have," I said. "The fact is, Trixie and I have been getting to be good running friends." She sat up and licked my face when I said that. Jesus! "I knew you'd give in and love her," Kyle said. "What was it you called me once? You hard-ass macho fuck." "He called you a horny macho fuck, Kyle," Kevin said. "Okay, y'all were right, I was wrong," Rick said. "I love Trixie. She's part of our family now." (Kevin's Perspective) My secretary buzzed me around ten in the morning. "Kevin, it's a phone call from a Jackie Thomas. Will you take it?" "Jackie Thomas? Yes, of course I'll take it," I said. "Hello," a voice said. "Jackie, is that you? Where the hell are you, man?" "Paul and I are in Emerald Beach, Florida. Where the hell are you?" "You're here? Jackie, I'm so excited, man." I was half laughing and half crying at the same time. "Calm down, K. You gonna be all right," he said. He was laughing, too. "Where the fuck are you. I mean, exactly where the fuck are you?" "I'm sitting on a bed in room 732 at the Laguna Hotel in Emerald Beach, Florida, that's where I am. And my brother Paul is sitting on the other bed." "Jackie, don't move. I'll be there in fifteen minutes," I said. "What if I have to piss," Jackie said. "I absolutely knew you were going to say that, man. And you know what?" "Suck it up?" "Exactly. That's exactly what I was going to say. But you knew that, didn't you?" "Get your honky ass over here right now, so I can go pee if I have to." "I'll be there in ten minutes," I said. "Ten or fifteen?" "I don't know how long. Right now, call down to the bell desk and tell them you want Justin and Jeff in your room right away. Those are two of my sons. Tell them who you are, you hear?" "Your sons?" "Well, foster sons, but they don't have anyplace else to go. Just call 'em, okay. I'm hanging up now. See you in ten." I was so excited. I felt like I knew what Kyle must feel like when he gets excited. I ran down the -5-

hall to Rick's office. "Come on. Let's go," I said. "What's going on," he asked. "Paul and Jackie Thomas are here. They're staying at the Laguna," I said. "Your two buddies from school?" "My two buddies from birth, Babe. Can you leave?" "I guess I can," he said. He told his secretary he might be gone for the rest of the day. When we got to the hotel, a valet parker met us first thing. She was sharp and crisp, and I liked that. She had no idea who we were, and that made her demeanor even more impressive. We took the elevator to the seventh floor and found their room in a few seconds. "God almighty, look at you," Paul said, when he opened the door. "Look at me? Look at you," I said. He ushered us in, and I grabbed Jackie in a big hug, too. "This is too good. This is too fucking good," I said. I had happy tears running down my face, and those guys did, too. They had met Rick at Craig's wedding, and they remembered each other. "You've met Justin and Jeff, right," I said. "Oh, yeah. We've already told them about ten stories about you," Paul said. "You better not have," I said. "Guys, call your brothers and tell them to get their asses over here." Justin got out his cell and called them. "Are y'all here on vacation, or what?" "On vacation and to see a good friend," Jackie said. "Did you know my birthday is Monday," I asked. "Of course we knew that, asshole," Jackie said. "What do you think?" There was a knock at the door. "That's probably the kids," I said. Paul opened the door, and I was sure the kids weren't expecting a black man to be on the other side. "Are you Kevin's kids," Paul asked. "Yes, sir, we're Kevin's kids," I heard Kyle say. "Well, come on in," Paul said. We did all the introduction stuff, and all the hand shaking. "Is anybody hungry," I asked. "Yes, sir. You know we're hungry," Kyle said. "The seed don't fall far from the tree, I see," Paul said, laughing. "Let's go eat," I said. We had a great lunch that lasted until two o'clock that afternoon. We got caught up on one another's lives. Paul was working for an engineering firm in Portland, Oregon. He had been in a serious relationship with a girl from there for several years, but he was single once again. He said he wanted to get married eventually, but he wasn't in any hurry. He was looking to relocate to New Orleans. Jackie had just gotten his Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and he was getting ready to do a year-long residency in an in-patient facility for adolescent boys in New Orleans. He had spent the previous five years in Baton Rouge going to graduate school. "Come live with us. That'd do it," Justin said. "There's nothing crazy about this bunch," Jackie said. "You might have some minor problems, but no group with this much love has serious psychological needs." -6-

"You can almost feel it, can't you? The love, I mean," Paul said. "There's plenty of that, all right," Justin said. "You don't find that among people who I treat, Justin," Jackie said. "Oh, guys, do you remember Rebel," I asked. They both thought for a second. "Your dog," Paul asked. "Yeah," I said. "I remember her. Damn, how long has that been," Jackie asked. "A long time," I said. "We've got a puppy that's exactly like her. I can't wait till you meet her." "Are y'all coming to the party tomorrow night," Kyle asked. "Are we invited," Paul asked. "If you're not, nobody else is," I said. "It's a pool party for my birthday." "So bring our suits, right," Jackie said. "Nope," I replied. "Oh, it's one of those. Just like the old days," Jackie said. "That's right," I said, grinning. "This guy used to love to get naked," Paul said. "I didn't know why 'cause there wasn't ever much to show off." "Still isn't," Jus said. That made everybody laugh. "Kevin, you tease me all the time about being a nudist and always wanting to be naked," Kyle said. "It's a case of 'it takes one to know one,' Bubba," I said. "I tease you about it, but I don't make fun of you for it." "That's true," Kyle said. "What's the worst thing he ever did," Tim asked. "Do you guys know what a potato gun is," Jackie asked. "No! No! Don't tell that story," I said. "Tell it," Rick said. "I've never heard this one." "A potato gun is a kind of cannon made out of PVC pipe," Jackie said. "You pack a raw potato in it, spray hairspray into the end, and light it. The hairspray is the fuel, and it explodes in the confines of the pipe. It shoots out the potato, and it makes a loud noise, sort of like an explosion. "Well, we made one, and we were playing with it in the playground of the school we all went to. We could have gotten in trouble just for being on the playground right then because our parents thought we were in church. It was a Catholic school, so there was the church there, too. The church had a stained glass window behind the altar that showed the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles, including Judas. We had had . . ." Jackie started laughing and Paul took over. "Kevin was convinced that Judas should not have been in that window, and we had argued about it a bunch of times. That day, with that potato gun, he decided it was his job to take his ass out. No more Judas." "Did you shoot the window out," Kyle asked. "Yes, but there's more to it," I said. "That whole window had thick Plexiglas on the back of it to protect it in storms and what not. I just wanted to hit Judas in the face. I knew the potato couldn't go through the Plexiglas, and I never intended to break the window." "But . . .," Paul said. -7-

"But I did," I said. "That was the only panel that didn't have Plexiglas, apparently, and it went right through the glass into the church." "Tell 'em what else," Jackie said. "It was Good Friday, and there was a service going on inside," I said. "God, this is so embarrassing." "Oh, shit," Rick said. He was all warmed up to this story. "We were supposed to have been there for the service," I said. "All four of us were altar boys, and we were all supposed to be dressed in our robes in the church. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon." Jackie was laughing hard, but he continued. "When the thing flew into the church, it must have scared somebody and they screamed. Craig screamed out, Oh, fu . . ." He was laughing too hard to continue. "Craig screamed, 'Oh, fuck! You killed somebody,' at the top of his lungs. And just then, two men came running out of the church. They caught us before we could get away," Paul said. "Did y'all get in trouble," Justin asked. "What do you think? Did we ever get in trouble," I said. "How old were you guys," Kyle asked. "I was nine. Jackie, you and Craig were eleven, right?" "And I was twelve," Paul said. "What did they do to you," Brian asked. "Well, let's just say we couldn't sit down for about a week after that," Jackie said. "This guy tried to save the rest of us, though, I will give him that much credit." "Did you have to pay for the window," Rick asked. "Of course," I said. "Actually, my dad paid for it, and he wasn't very happy about that." "So you guys were badasses. Way to go, guys," Justin said. Everybody laughed at him. "I hadn't thought about that story in years," I said. "What else did you do," Kyle asked. I could tell he was thrilled by my misadventures as a kid. I was sure he had plenty of his own, too. "That was about the worst thing we did," Paul said. "We were pretty much always in trouble for something, though. We were a pretty high-spirited bunch." "So what else did you do," Kyle demanded. He was being delighted by all of that. "We set the garage on fire one time," I said. "Yeah, but that was really an accident," Jackie said. "That depends on your interpretation of the word 'accident,'" Paul said. "I was already in high school, and Craig and Jackie had just finished the eighth grade. We had to wear uniforms to grammar school, and part of the uniform was a black tie. The last day of school, those two wanted to burn their ties because they hated them so much. We set them out on the workbench and sprayed them with lighter fluid. They wanted to see which one would burn up first. It was kind of like a race. Craig and Jackie each struck matches and set them to the ties, and they didn't burn. The fire went out." Jackie took over. "Craig decided to really soak those ties with that lighter fluid. In the process of doing that, he got lighter fluid all over the damn place. We didn't think it would set the wooden workbench on fire, though. How dumb was that?" "It was pretty damn dumb," I said. "We didn't actually destroy the building, but the fire department had to come to put out the fire. We dragged the workbench outside, and that's what saved the building." -8-

"Red ass on that one, too," Justin asked. "No. By then we were too old for spankings," I said. "We were just grounded for a month. Although, these guys still came over to our house every day." "I didn't. I was working by then," Paul said. "In fact, I don't remember why I happened to be there for the conflagration." "It sounds like you guys were really close," Rick said. "Unbelievably close," Jackie said. "Did you ever see Kevin get his dick caught in his zipper," Tim asked. "Not more than about once a week," Paul said. "I didn't do it that often," I said. "Maybe not, but it happened all the time," Paul said. "And he'd make us all look at it to check out the wound." "Craig did it, too," Jackie said. "He's not circumcised either. Craig and I were in the same class because we were the same age, and we were also best friends. One time at recess he and I were taking a leak, and he was in a hurry to get back to the game we had been playing on the playground. He's in a big hurry, okay, and he's not paying attention. He pulls up on the zipper, and then you hear this unbelievable scream." "Oh, my God," I said. "I know what's coming." I was laughing almost too hard to talk. "I look over to see what's wrong, and he's got quite a large chunk of his foreskin caught. He's trying to pull down the zipper to free it, but there's blood all over the zipper tab, and his fingers keep slipping off. Of course, he's crying and jumping around. "I try to get the zipper down, but I can't do it, either. 'Go get Kevin,' he says to me. 'Where is he?' 'He's in class.'" "Let me take over this part," I said. "I was in fourth grade, I guess, and I was in my desk, trying to pay attention to the teacher. This joker barges into the room and says, 'I need Kevin to come help his brother.' The teacher says, 'Help his brother do what?' She knew Craig and Jackie because they had both been in her class. Her name was Mrs. Landry. 'He's got his wee-wee caught in his zipper, and only Kevin can get it unstuck.'" Everybody howled. "Well, she wasn't going to let me go. She wanted Jackie to call his mother, which we ended up doing, anyway. But Jackie says, 'But Miss Landry, it's his wee-wee. He needs Kevin for his wee-wee.'" Kyle and Justin were laughing so hard they were slapping the table. "All the kids in the class were laughing. I didn't wait for permission to leave the room when he said that." "Damn right, son," Justin said. "When there's a wee-wee in a jam, you got to take action." That made everybody laugh even harder. "We ended up calling Miss Dilsey, just like the teacher had said to do, and she took him to my mom's office. No stitches, though." "I haven't thought of some of this in forever. It's so good to see you guys," I said. "Kev, listen, man. We're not going to monopolize all your time. We've got some college friends that we're actually here with, in fact," Jackie said. "But you'll be at the party, won't you," I asked. "Of course. We wouldn't miss it. You're twenty-seven, right," Paul said. "Right. Can you believe we're as old as we are? We've known each other all that time, too. I don't have any recollection of not knowing you all." -9-

"I know. We've been brothers all our lives, haven't we. One more story, then we're going to have to go. We had watched some movie about kids becoming blood brothers. They cut their arms and held the cuts together so their blood could mingle. We decided to do that. This genius here," Jackie said, pointing to Paul, "goes first and cuts a fucking artery in his wrist. You talk about bleeding like a stuck pig! He's bleeding and crying, Craig is laughing, and macho man Kevin faints dead out. I'm the only one who's half-way in control, and I start screaming for my mom. She runs upstairs to--whose room was it? Craig's?--to wherever we were, anyway. She snatches up Paul and they haul ass to the emergency room. "Meanwhile, I've still got Kevin passed out. She didn't even notice him. I grab Craig, who is in some kind of hysterical shock or something, and can't control his laughter, and ask him where they keep the smelling salts." Everybody laughed. "We all watched too much TV. Doesn't everybody have smelling salts around the house? Anyway, he didn't have a clue. I ended up going downstairs to the kitchen and taking a jar of horseradish back upstairs. By then Kevin was awake, but I made him smell it anyway." "To this day, the scent of horseradish makes me sick to my stomach," I said. Everybody was in stitches. "I had forgotten that story, Jackie," I said. I had tears in the corners of my eyes from laughing so hard. "We had fun, though, didn't we? When you hear those stories, it sounds like we were bad as hell, but we really weren't, most of the time." "Let's blame it on Craig, since he isn't here," Paul said. They laughed. "These guys all know Craig, and I'm sure they'd believe you about that, Paul," I said. "Did you guys live on the same block," Brian asked. "Oh, no, son. Our mother worked for Miss Beth." "Their mother raised me and Craig, boys, and that's a fact. Her name was Miss Dilsey, and their daddy is Mister Gabe," I said. "Miss Dilsey passed away a few years ago. She and Grandma were very, very close friends. Best friends, really." "But they took care of us, too," Jackie said. "We went to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, and then we both went to Tulane University. The Foleys paid for every dime of all of it." "Did I know that," Rick asked. "I didn't know about college," I said. "I thought you guys had scholarships. That's what they told us." "We did. Foley scholarships. We're the only ones who have ever won one of those," Paul said. "This will be the next bunch to get them," I said, meaning our boys. "Guys, I can't tell you when I've enjoyed a lunch as much as I have this one. We need to catch up with our friends, though. We'll see all of you tomorrow night," Jackie said. "Boys, don't let this dude make you think he was anything but a normal, pain-in-the-ass kid." We shook hands, and then I hugged Paul and Jackie. "Those guys are soooooo nice," Tim said. "There's the best, Tim," I said. "Most of the stuff we did was when we were young, in elementary school, or grammar school, as they called it. When we went to high school, we sort of drifted apart, except for Craig and Jackie. We were in different classes and different sports and other activities. We made different friends. Plus, they didn't need to be watched after school by that age, so they went home instead of coming to our house every day." -10-

"But you still seem to like one another a lot," Brian said. "We love one another, Bri, and we always will. Craig and Jackie still hang out some together. The two of them were much closer than I was to either one of them or than he was to Paul. They stayed good friends all through high school and college, too. In fact, Jackie was in Craig and Cherie's wedding. That was the last time we saw one another. You'll have to get Craig to tell you the story of what happened when they got drunk together at a Tulane football game." "I wish Craig was here," Rick said. "Me, too," I said. "This is the kind of stuff they used to do. One time they were on a double date, and apparently the girls were virtuous and didn't want to get into heavy making out. Do you remember that big fountain we saw at the lakefront in New Orleans? Well, that's where they were parked. Anyway, they're both frustrated, right? So Craig says, 'Thomas, you swollen up back there, boy?' and Jackie says, 'Hell, yeah, all pumped up and no place to go.' Craig says, 'I'll bet you mine is bigger than yours right now. I'll put ten bucks on it, in fact.' Jackie says, 'No, way, whitey.' Craig says, 'Only one way to prove it. Get out.' "So they both get out of the car. The two girls are horrified and threaten to tell the boys' parents if they go through with it. By the way, Craig and Jackie had planned this. Maybe not for that particular night, but they had talked about doing this if they ever found themselves in that situation together. So, anyway, Craig says to the girls, 'Y'all can watch. We ain't bashful.' The girls say they're not going to watch, and the guys had their backs to the car, anyway. Jackie says, 'All right, Foley. On three. One. Two. Three.'" I slowly and methodically took several sips of water at that point in the story to build suspense, or something. "So what happened? Who had the biggest," Justin demanded. "On the count of three, they both pulled their belts out of the loops on their pants and held them up to one another. 'Damn, Foley,' Jackie says to Craig, 'yours is longer and wider. I never thought a white boy would out-measure a black boy.' 'Girls, can you believe this?' They turn around to the car and hold up the two belts. Craig's date thought it was funny, but Jackie's date got super pissed off and demanded to be taken home. Those girls never saw those boys again after that night." They were all laughing. "That's hilarious," Jeff said. "Who thought that up?" "I don't know. They're both capable of it, but they might have read about it or seen it in a movie or something. When Jackie and Craig get together with their friends, especially after a couple of drinks, they . . . You can't breathe, you're laughing so hard," I said. "Let's get together with them the next time we go to New Orleans," Kyle said. "We'll definitely try," I said. "Paul's been in Portland for several years, and Jackie's been in Baton Rouge. They didn't used to get home all that much, but it sounds like they'll both be in New Orleans from now on. Both of them are borderline geniuses, by the way." "You were the dummy of that crowd, then," Justin said. "I'm smarter than Craig," I said. "And a lot more modest, too," Rick said. "Let's get back to work." Chapter 2 (Kevin's Perspective) Kyle had let it be known at Brian's party that The Clay would be in service starting around one -11-

o'clock the day of my party. Anybody who was interested in water skiing should present themselves whenever they felt like it after that time. Rick was the lead organizer for my shindig, but Kyle wanted to be involved in the preparations, too. "What needs to be done," he asked Rick, as we were sitting around in the den in our briefs that morning. "I think it's pretty much under control, Kyle," Rick had said. "I need to pick up the cake, but that's about it, I think." "Do we have ice?" "The cake and some ice," Rick said, grinning. "When are we going to get an ice machine? Don't you think it's a pain in the ass having to remember to buy ice all the time," Kyle asked. "Yeah, it is. Why don't you be in charge of getting us an ice machine," Rick said. "That's all I've been waiting to hear," he said. "I checked out the kitchen in the clubhouse, and there's a place for one already there. We just have to buy it and have it delivered and installed. No plumbing." "Plumbing? Why would it have to have plumbing," Tim asked. Kyle rolled his eyes at his monkey. "Where do you think the water to make the ice comes from," Kyle asked. He didn't say that sarcastically, which I might have been tempted to do. "Oh, yeah. How do you know stuff like that," Tim asked. "How do I know you make ice out of water?" "No, I know that. How do you know it doesn't need plumbing?" "I looked at it, and I saw the water line," he said. "Tim, go to your room." Tim shot him a bird, and then they both laughed. "I'm going to get an ice machine that makes clear ice," Kyle said. "That's the pretty kind, I think. I hate cloudy ice cubes." "You don't have enough to think about," Justin said, pointing at Kyle. "What do you mean?" "Who ever thinks about cloudy ice and clear ice?" "I do, evidently. Do you have a problem with that," Kyle said. They were facing off for a round of jokes, and I chuckled with anticipation. "I think it's just such stuff as that that gives gay men a bad name, Kyle." We laughed. "So you don't think straight guys dislike cloudy ice?" "I don't think they notice," Jus said. "So what does that make you?" "Okay. You got me last," Justin said. "I'm not having my queerness challenged by some damn ice cubes." That was funny. "So, do you want to help me pick out the ice machine? It has to be color coordinated with the rest of the stuff in that kitchen out there. Then there's the whole matter of size." "Kyle, when we get the fucking ice machine, look for your dick in it, 'cause that's where I'm putting it when I cut it off," Jus said. Even Kyle laughed at that one. -12-

"Gahh, I'm ready to party," Kyle said. "Why don't you go out and walk up and down on the pier a while. Take the edge off, Buddy," Justin said. Tim yawned and stretched. "Why do we get up so early, Kyle," he asked. "I dunno. I just wake up," he said. "Go back to bed, if you're tired." "He doesn't want to be in bed without his sweetie," Jus said. "Shut up, asshole," Kyle said. "Oh, you know what? I didn't tell Jackie and Paul about skiing. Does anybody know the phone number of that hotel?" Justin started saying the number. "Not so fast. I need to dial it," Kyle said. He let it ring, and then someone at the desk must have answered. He asked to speak with Jackie or Paul Thomas. "Hello. This is Kyle Goodson, one of Kevin's kids. Who's speaking, please. Pause. "Hi, Jackie. We sure did enjoy meeting you guys yesterday. Those stories were awesome." Pause. "Kevin told us the one about you and Craig on the double date with the belts. That's rich." Pause. Laugh. "Well, thank you. Actually, the reason I called was to let you and Paul know we're going to start running the ski boat at one o'clock, if you guys are interested. You will need suits for that. But just come on over anytime you want to." Pause. "Men or women?" Pause. "Oh, bring 'em on. The more the merrier. And we have plenty of towels, so don't worry about that. Do you like to dance? 'Cause we usually get around to dancing after dinner. Sometimes before." Pause. "Well, we'll see you later, then. Bye." He hung up. "I just invited two more guys. I hope there's enough for them to eat." "I gathered as much. How'd that happen?" "Well, he said they have two friends with them, and they wished those guys had a chance to meet us. What was I going to say?" "You could have said SOL," Justin said. "What does that mean," Tim asked. "Shit outta luck." That made us laugh, too. "Jus, Kyle did the right thing. In fact, we should have told them to bring their friends when we saw them and invited them yesterday. Think about this, Jus. How would you and Brian feel at a party of thirty or so black men if you only really knew one other person there?" "I'd probably feel uncomfortable, but because they were strangers, not because they were black," Jus said. "Especially if I had to show my wee-wee just to swim." We laughed. "You say that about race not being an issue, and I know you mean it, but that isn't true for a lot of -13-

people. It's probably not an issue for them, now that I think about it, but it could be. But, Jus, your point about being strangers is a very good one," I said. "They're going to feel more comfortable with their friends here." "So the Stud saves the day," Justin said. "Why are you picking on me this morning," Kyle asked. "'Cause I love you." "Oh. That's what I thought," Kyle said. After a moment's pause, Kyle continued, "Kevin, since we don't start work until a week from Monday, can Tim and I do some camping on the island?" "How come they get a week off," Justin asked. "You had a week off in March for your trip, and you got paid. They don't get paid until they work," Rick said. "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that," he said, grinning sheepishly. "Besides, this is Memorial Day weekend. We're lucky any of us is off," Rick said. "We ought to have your ass down there toting luggage." "Well, ain't you the hard-ass, all of a sudden," Jus said. "It's usually Kevin. Stay away from him, Rick. He's rubbing off on you, Bubba." Rick laughed at him, and Jus and Kyle knocked fists together. "Kyle, in answer to your question, don't you think you should ask your parents, instead of us? "We did. They said it was all right with them, if it was alright with you all," he said. "Well, yeah. It's alright with us, isn't it, Babe?" "Sure. Who's going? Just you and Tim?" Kyle nodded. "And can Trixie go with us?" She perked up when she heard her name. "What about Brian? Are you just going to leave him here by himself? He's not working yet, and Justin is. Did you think about that, Kyle," Rick asked. "Do you want to go, Bri," Kyle asked. I could tell that was a genuine invitation, not a perfunctory one. "Not if Jus can't go," Bri said. "Why can't he go, too," Rick asked. "He's working, Babe," I said. "Not at night. What are your hours, Jus?" "I work 7:30 to four this coming week," he said. "How long does it take to get out to the island?" "About twenty minutes from here," Kyle said. "This doesn't sound hard to me," Rick said. "Kyle picks him up here after he gets off work, they all spend the night on the island, and Kyle brings him home in the morning in time to get ready for work." "Do you want to do that, Jus," Kyle asked. "Yeah. Hell, yeah, I'd like to do that," Jus said. "Then I say it's a done deal," Kyle replied. "It'll be more fun with you guys there. Kevin, we were thinking we would leave tomorrow morning after family time. Would that be all right? It means we wouldn't be with you all day on your birthday. Would you mind?" "My birthday's Monday, Kyle. Today's the 23rd, not the 24th." "Oh, my bad. But we won't see you at all on Monday, probably." "You're seeing me now, Kyle. I really don't mind, guys, but thanks for thinking of that. Rick and I were thinking we might drive over to Tallahassee, anyway, on Monday. And it's all right with me if Trixie goes with you." -14-

"Do you guys still have friends in Tallahassee," Justin asked. "A few," Rick said. "Some people we worked with, and I'll reluctantly grant Trixie permission to go." Just about then Jeff came in. He was the late sleeper in the crowd, but it was really only ten o'clock, not exactly late by adolescent standards. "Good morning, Jeff," we all said in one form or another. He told us good morning, too. Jeff got himself some coffee and made himself a bowl of cereal. Trixie tried to get into his lap, but he pushed her away. "Jeff, we're talking about going camping for a few days starting tomorrow. You want to go," Kyle asked. "I have to work," Jeff said. Kyle explained how they had it worked out so that he and Jus could camp and still go to work. "Thanks, Kyle, but I don't think so," he said. "You're not the outdoor type, are you, Bubba," Jus said. "Not at all, Jus. I love doing things with you guys, but camping doesn't really do it for me. Besides, you'll have to get up so early to get in in time for work." Jeff looked uncomfortable, like he had something on his mind. I hoped he wasn't depressed again. Finally he spoke. "Would it be all right if I asked a date to the party tonight," he asked. Kyle's face lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. "You met somebody? How'd you meet him," he asked. "Where'd you meet him?" "Yes, I've met someone," he said. "I first met him on line in a chat room. We've had coffee a few times after work and went out one night." "Who is it," Kyle wanted to know. "His name is Tyler Jones, and he's in the Coast Guard. He's stationed here." "Jeff, I think Kyle's reaction tells you how we feel about your friend coming over tonight. We're happy for you, man," I said. I got a little misty eyed when I thought of the implications of his having a date. Kyle was much more effusive. He got up, went over to Jeff, pulled him from his seat, and hugged him. Kyle even bounced them around a little. "I'm so happy for you, Bubba." "Thanks, Kyle, but it's just a date. He hasn't proposed or anything," Jeff said. "I know, but think about where you were last October, man. And Christmas? It's that ink, isn't it?" Jeff couldn't help grinning at his little brother. "That reminds me. We still haven't seen that ink," Rick said. Jeff hadn't been with us in briefs mode lately, and he was already fully dressed that morning. He was a much more private person than the rest of us were, and we respected that and gave him all the space he wanted. "You'll see it tonight. It will be the great unveiling." "Has Tyler seen it," Kyle asked. "No. Of course not," Jeff said. "Kyle, don't pry, Bubba," Rick said with mock sternness. Kyle grinned, and Rick grinned back at him. "Well, I need to get some gas for the boat," Kyle said. "Tim, can I take your car?" "What's wrong with yours," Rick asked. -15-

"It's not mine; that's what's wrong with his," Tim said. "I'll take you, but I'm driving." "Fair enough. Let's put the top down." (Rick's Perspective) Those weekend mornings were some of the best times of our lives together. One of them, Kyle I think, had called it "family time," and that's truly what it was. Sunday morning was sacrosanct for the family to be together, but even that wasn't always true, if Jeff couldn't be there. Saturday mornings were our second best time, and Kevin and I cherished the hours all of us spent with one another. The boys had their own lives, and they were pretty busy people. But when we were all there, we were a unit. Chris had done a number on me at first. He was a very likeable kid, but, frankly, I was scared of him at first. He was so small and so stiff that I was afraid we'd hurt him without even realizing it. The boys didn't have those hang-ups, though, and they wrestled him and swam with him and even threw him back and forth among themselves in the pool. He loved it, and all of us were very sad when he had to leave. I had been thinking since he left about a cross-country car trip for us to go to Montana to see him, but I hadn't brought it up yet because I knew the kids would want to leave the next day. And that damn dog! What am I doing, I kept asking myself. But she got to me, let me tell you. I broke her quick of waking me up when I didn't want to run in the morning, but it was so much more fun running with her than running by myself. I had said I wasn't taking care of her, but I'm the one who took her to the vet the first time she went. The doctor said she thought Trixie was about eight months old, and she also said she thought Trix had had some training. I had expected to step in loads of dog shit all over the house, but that didn't happen. A couple of times there were wet accidents in the laundry room when we had been late getting up, but I swear she was embarrassed she had done it. You could actually see the sorrow on her face. How could you not love a beautiful animal like that, who was smart as hell and always more than glad to see you? Kyle and Tim had been right. She did love us, and we loved her. Tim's birthday party was unbelievable. The New Orleans crowd came for it, and I was just a little bit sorry Kyle hadn't thought to call my mom and Arnie. I don't know if they would have come, but I was going to make sure they'd at least know about the next "all call" for Justin's birthday. Of course, it had been on the family Web page, so I guess they had seen it. Kev just wanted locals at his, and we didn't even post the party to the Web site for fear they'd feel obligated to come for it. I mean, we're talking two big medical practices and two law practices here. They just couldn't drop everything every other weekend and come see us, five hours away. Kevin's point was that if we invited them, they'd feel like they had to come, and that just wasn't fair to them. We'll invite them for Justin's party on the Fourth of July, though, and I'm almost certain they'll come for it. And mine was July 11th. I thought I'd do for mine what Kevin did. Locals only. Kevin and I were doing extremely well at work. We had both been working very hard since we had gotten those jobs the previous September, and the hard work was paying off. The company had always made a lot of money, but it was making even more than it had before. Gene praised us constantly, and he gave us bonuses all the time, too. The money was nice, but we didn't need nearly as much as we got. We had a really good investment program going, but Kev and I weren't interested in getting rich, necessarily. Gene was rich, and he ended up giving away more than half of it to various charities every year. He had the lawyers create a Goodson Family Foundation to give away his money, and Kevin and I were board members of that. The local United Cerebral Palsy Clinic got a good bit after Chris was with us. We were in the very inner circle of that business, but even we didn't know everything that Gene was into. We knew that Kyle was rich in his own right, but he had no clue about what he owned, and we didn't know the details of that, -16-

either. We knew that was probably going to have to change pretty soon when he turned eighteen, but we also knew it wouldn't make any difference with him. Was I happy? Was I content? Was I satisfied? Was I ever! The only thing that had been a problem for me was Arnie, my step-father, and how he felt about me and Kevin. The boys had pretty much taken care of that, though, at Christmas, and the only worry I had in my life was whether I would finish the next marathon I entered. (Kyle's Perspective) They started coming in early on the day of Kevin's party. I knew they would, so I made Tim stop at Publix when we went to buy gas so we could buy some sandwiches and fried chicken and stuff for them to eat. I got ten foot-long deli sandwiches, and I made them cut them into six pieces each, instead of just two. They didn't want to do that at first, but I said, hey, look! I got sixty pieces of fried chicken, a gallon of slaw, and a gallon of baked beans. I also bought a couple of sacks of bakery cookies and that sort of thing. I knew those boys were going to be hungry when they got there, even if they had just eaten lunch, and we were going to be prepared. "What did you do? Buy out the store," Rick asked me when we got it all inside. "They're going to be hungry when they get here. You know that," I said. I grabbed me up a couple of wings. The wing was my favorite part of a chicken. Justin and Brian came in from somewhere just then. "Yum, lunch," Justin said. He and Brian each made them a plate. They each took a couple of sandwich pieces, three pieces of chicken, healthy dippings of the slaw and beans, and a couple of spears of dill pickle. "Have I made my point yet," I asked Rick. "Yeah," he said. "You're learning, aren't you?" "Learning from the masters," I said. Philip and Ryan were the first ones there around 12:30, and they needed food. Chad, Gage, Sam, and Fred came in about a half hour later, and they were hungry, too. Morgan, Blake, and Riley were in next, and they needed to eat. All afternoon there was a steady stream of people coming in, and that food went. We did some fine skiing that afternoon, too. I made pass after pass up and down that lagoon, which was really a bayou, and I think everybody who wanted to got at least one chance to ski. I skied a couple of times, and I let some of the ones I had trained drive the boat. They all did a good job, especially Philip, but I expected that of him. That was the first time I had seen Morgan ski, and he was pretty good. Blake wasn't bad, either, but Riley needed some pointers. Philip took him in hand for that, though. Paul and Jackie got there about mid-afternoon with their friends Randall and Tyrone. Randall and Tyrone were just as nice as they could be, but none of the four of them wanted to ski. They got lunch food, too. Then they wanted to play basketball. I snatched Rick up to play with us, and we had a pretty good three-on-three for a while. "Y'all never thought this many people would show up this early, did you," I said to Rick. "No, we didn't. I'm so damn glad you bought that food, man. Jesus Christ, what would we have done if you hadn't?" "They'd have gone hungry, that's what," I said. "But I knew." "Yeah, you did, Bubba, and thank you." "Let's play some ball, man," I said. -17-

I was in just a Speedo and a pair of Nikes, and my tattoo was showing proud. I was so slick with sweat, you could have shoved me up somebody's ass, but I was having a great time. I had left Philip in charge of the boat, and Trixie was out there with the boys. Every time somebody fell, she jumped in the water to go save 'em. You tell me about another dog as good as that one, and her still a puppy. After that basketball game, we were all hot and tired. All six of us got naked and went in. Let me tell you something. Those black guys were built, and I, for one, appreciated what they looked like. I'm not talking equipment, although that was pretty good. I'm talking overall physique. Those were some good looking dudes. After I went in the pool, I didn't put my clothes back on right away. There were naked guys all over the place, and if somebody had a problem with that, fuck 'em, I say. Not even Rick said anything about it, or my dad, when he got there. The highlight for me of that day, though, was meeting Tyler, Jeff's date. What an incredibly nice guy! I was naked when he came in, which probably wasn't the best way to meet your brother's new friend for the first time, but he handled it good. Yeah, he glanced. Who wouldn't? He was really nice looking, and I figured him for a virgin. He had that really short military hair, which was bright blond, and he had that real scrubbed clean look. He had one of those squared-off jaws that I liked, and he had a really nice smile. "You done good, Bubba," I said to Jeff when Tyler had gone to the bathroom. "Do you like him," Jeff asked. "From what I've seen, I do. How old is he? Where's he from?" "He's twenty-one, and he's from Minnesota," Jeff said. "If you want him to sleep over, you know it's okay, don't you?" "Yeah, I know, but we're not nearly there yet, Bubba." "Hey, that's the first time you've called me Bubba, I think." "Probably. Usually I can remember your name. I couldn't just now, though," he said. That made me laugh. "Fuck you," I said. He grabbed me in a big hug. "Thank you so much, Kyle. For everything." "You can forget crying, 'cause you ain't getting no ice cream right now," I said. He laughed his ass off. (Justin's Perspective) Kyle came up to me, naked as the day he was born. "What is this about," I asked, just to tease him. "Fuck you. Did you meet Tyler?" "No, not yet. Did you?" "Yes, and he's an incredibly nice guy, too. And very cute." "I'm surprised you ain't hard," I said, again to get his goat. "You fucker. Come with me. Let's go talk to him. I want your opinion, and Jeff's gonna want it, too," he said. "All right. Let's go." "Tyler, this is our other brother, Justin," Kyle said. "How you doing, Tyler," I said, shaking the man's hand. He told me hi, and he smiled real broad and friendly. That boy was major cute, you hear me? I always notice people's teeth, and he had some of the best. "How many brothers do you have, Jeff," Tyler asked. -18-

"Too many," Jeff said. We all laughed, and ole Tyler looked at Jeff like he was liking what he was looking at. "Actually, I have one blood brother and four honorary brothers," Jeff said. "I told you that." "He's got a sister, too, and they could be identical twins," I said. "What," Jeff asked, all puzzled. "Trixie," I said. "Trixie's the dog," Jeff said. Tyler laughed, and it was a good laugh. "Can I get anybody something to drink," Kyle asked. We all said yes, and he came back with four cans of beer, still unopened. "If you'd rather have a soft drink or a mixed drink, we've got those, too," he said. We all said beer was fine. Kyle disappeared and came back a few minutes later with his Speedo on. I was glad he did that, too. Kyle's got a great body, and I wouldn't mind looking at it all day long. But Tyler was a new friend, and there wasn't any reason for Kyle to be naked, since we weren't swimming. "Would you all like to shoot some pool," I asked. "We might have to put our names on a list," Kyle said. "Monte, Terry, Sam, and Fred were playing when I went to get the drinks. Let's go see, Jus." "What did you think," Kyle asked me, as soon as we got in the clubhouse. "I think ole Jeff's got him a stud, is what I think," I said. "I know. He seems real nice, too, doesn't he," Kyle asked. "Hi, guys," Mont said when we walked up to the table. We both told all of them hi. "Is there a list of who wants to shoot pool," Kyle asked. "Not that I know of," Sam said. "Why? Do you guys want to play?" "Yeah, but not until y'all have played all you want to," Kyle said. "We're not in a hurry." "What if we just come find you when we're finished," Sam asked. "That'd be great, Sam," I said. "But don't rush, okay?" Kyle and I went back outside, but Jeff and Tyler had moved off from where they had been. Then I saw they were shooting baskets, and they both had their shirts off. "I want to see Jeff's tattoo," I said. We walked over to where they were, and just kind of stood there, nursing our beers. It was a red heart, about the size of a quarter, about an inch above and to the right of his left nipple. It had a word under it, which I knew was Clay's name in French. It looked damn good, and it also looked like it belonged right there, too. "Where's your camera, Kyle," Jeff asked. "I took a bunch before, but let me get some more," Kyle said. He went in the house and came back with his camera bag and both cameras. He handed me the digital, and he went to work with his other one. He got a bunch of shots of Jeff and Tyler playing basketball. Then he put that one away, and made me give him the digital. I had only taken three or four shots, but he went to town. "He's taking pictures for our family Web site," Jeff said to Tyler. "I'll have to show it to you later." "Cool," Tyler said. "Does it say anything on there about you guys all being gay?" "Not a word," Jeff said. "Plus, it's password protected, so the general public can't get to the pictures. Would you prefer that your picture not be on it?" -19-

"No, that's fine. I would prefer that my picture and my name not tell the Coast Guard I'm gay, but it doesn't sound like that's an issue," Tyler said. "The 'don't ask, don't tell' rule," Jeff asked. "Exactly. You'd be amazed how many guys in the military are gay, though," Tyler said. "Is it hard being around all those hot guys all the time," Jus asked. "Sometimes it's hard, but I kind of enjoy that," Tyler said. We weren't expecting that kind of pun out of him, so it took us a second to react. When we did, Kyle and I laughed our asses off. "You sound like us, Ty," Kyle said. "Do you mind if I call you Ty?" "Not at all. That's pretty much what I go by with my family," he said. "Where are you from," I asked. "I'm from Alabama." "Minnesota," he said. "I'm sort of the farm-boy type." "That's me, buddy. I'm pure country," I said. "Do you like country music," he asked. "Are you kidding? What other kind of music is there?" "Rock and roll," Kyle shouted. He loved all those old songs from long before we were born. Every time we were in the car, he'd put the radio on an oldies station. Kyle could sing pretty good, and he knew the words to every one of them. Compared to a lot of guys our age, though, music wasn't all that big a deal for any of us, really. "Are you guys dating," Tyler wanted to know. "Yeah, but not each other," I said. "We're just best friends, ain't we, sweetie?" I put my hand on his chest and started playing with his nipple ring. "Get off me," he said, knocking my hand away. "You just wait till later, honey," I said. "Shut up, Justin," Kyle said. "His boyfriend is Brian, Ty, not me, and my boyfriend is Tim." "Do you guys joke around a lot," Tyler asked. "It's pretty much constant, Ty, especially these two," Jeff said. "It's really fun living with these guys." "You said you're not going to go back to the University of Florida," Tyler asked. "Right. I'm switching to the FSU campus here," Jeff said. "What? When did this happen? Why wasn't I consulted," Kyle demanded. Jeff explained about the rivalry between those two colleges and that he and Kyle were the only Gators in a house full of Seminoles. "It sounds like you don't want me around, Kyle," Jeff said. "You know that's bullshit, Bubba. I'm just carrying on. I'm glad you're going to be here. You know that," Kyle said. "I know, especially when I get you last like I just did," Jeff said. "You fucker," Kyle said, grinning. Jeff explained about "got you last," and Tyler laughed. Kyle looked at his watch. "Let me go check on the boat," he said, and he took off. "Do you notice that he never says 'my boat,' only 'the boat' or 'our boat,'" I asked Jeff. "Yeah. I think that's pretty neat," Jeff said. "Is that the boat he named after your boyfriend," Tyler asked. "Yeah," Jeff said. -20-

"You know about Clay," I asked. "Yeah. We've talked quite a bit, and we've had, what?, three or four coffee dates before tonight," Tyler said. "We know each other pretty well, don't you think, Ty," Jeff said. "You know him, and you're still willing to date him," I asked. "Go to your room, Justin, like a good little asshole," Jeff said. All three of us laughed. (Tyler's Perspective) I "met" Jeff the first time I ever went into a gay chat room. I had wanted to do it for a long time, but I had been afraid. I had been afraid someone would walk up behind me and see what I was doing. I had been afraid somebody would trace my on-line activity, discover what I had been up to, and expose me. I had been afraid of the implications of the fact that I was hopelessly gay and didn't want to be. I had been afraid. But the loneliness just got to be too much. I had been a really popular guy in high school, with lots of friends. But that was in a school of less than 250 people, and everyone was accepted, more or less. Nobody but me knew then that I was gay, of course, and I was determined that nobody but me would ever know that. I went to community college for a year after graduation, but I was tired of school. For one thing, it was forty miles from home, and the daily commute, especially in the winter in Minnesota, was a killer. For another thing, I couldn't force myself to study. High school hadn't been very challenging, and I had made reasonably good grades by more or less just paying attention in class. College was different, though, and I didn't have much self-discipline or motivation. I dropped out at the end of the spring semester. My parents actually encouraged me to join the military. They thought it would help give me focus and goals, and they thought I would benefit from being away from home. I knew they only had my own good at heart. I chose the Coast Guard because it seemed more exotic than the other branches of the service. I didn't know very much about it, but it seemed like it was as good as any other branch. I guess you could describe me as a gentle person. I'm not weak or effeminate or shy, even, but I seem to feel things more deeply than the other guys in the Coast Guard. Throughout basic training and the schools they sent me to, I never really connected with anybody. I wasn't looking for sex or a romance, and the guy didn't have to be gay. I just wanted a friend, and I couldn't find one. A couple of guys teased me about being a fag, but I knew they had no way of knowing I was. That got on my nerves, but it wasn't really serious harassment. It was just insensitive joking by guys who were trying hard to be macho. I was rather appalled by some of the talk about pussy and the constant joking about what they would like to do with (to?) every girl we happened to see. I had grown up in a place where modesty was considered a virtue by many, and all of a sudden I found myself surrounded by guys who thought nothing of walking around stark naked, even when they were half hard. I overcame my shyness about nudity, though. After a couple of years, I had adjusted reasonably well to military life, but I still didn't have any friends. That's why I took the chance and went to the on-line chat room. I logged on to a room for the southeastern part of the United States. One of the guys who was already there was using "EmeraldBFL" as his nickname. Since I was in Emerald Beach, Florida, I decided to check him out. It turned out he was in Emerald Beach, also, and we seemed to have some things in common. He described himself, and I liked the description. He told me about being in college and deciding to transfer to a college in Emerald Beach. I knew there was a community college here -21-

because I passed it often, but I wasn't even aware Florida State University was in town. When I finally checked it out a few days later, I discovered a beautiful campus tucked away on a bay, out of the view from any main roads. The guy told me his real name was Jeff Martin and that he worked as a bellhop in a hotel on the beach. I told him that I was in the Coast Guard, that I had a brother ten years older than me, and that I loved to read. He loved to read, too, and we spent a while talking about favorite books. I talked to him for well over four hours that first night, and we agreed to meet in the chat room again the next night. The next night, Jeff told me a lot about himself. He told me he had been in love with a boy named Clay who had died from some kind of reaction to a drug he had been given for a headache. He said he had gone through some serious depression but that medicine and Clay's brother had helped him overcome that. He told me he was ready to start dating again. He also told me about the trauma of getting disowned by his parents when he told them about Clay, about moving in with Clay, and about the family in Emerald Beach who had taken him in. He seemed like he was very gentle and kind. He asked me for my email address because he wanted to send me a picture of himself. My first reaction was panic, but I eventually gave it to him. When I opened the picture, I knew he and I could be friends. Jeff and I chatted every night for two weeks, sometimes staying up so late that I had trouble at work the next day. It was worth it, though. He had a very dry sense of humor. He was great at making puns, which was something I did all the time, too, and we just hit it off. He was the one who suggested we meet after work one day for coffee. I didn't commit to that right away, but I yearned to see him, to hear his voice, to shake his hand. Our first meeting was nervous for both of us. Jeff had over a year of sexual experience with a partner behind him, and I had only years of guilt-ridden masturbation. Jeff had a houseful of gay men to support him, and I had only him who even knew I was gay. Jeff seemed very confident and self-assured, and I felt worthless and scared. I had no history of involvement with another, and Jeff had the painful residue of his lover's tragic death. I had no past to overcome, and Jeff had to get past his dead boyfriend and the need to start over. I had a deep secret that I could probably keep forever, and Jeff had "in-laws" to deal with as he started dating again. After ten minutes together, though, we both knew we had a new friend in one another. We met a few more times for coffee, and one Saturday in mid-May we met at a place and rode go-carts and played miniature golf. We went out for a couple of beers after that, and we had a great time. Then he invited me to Kevin's birthday party. He told me that most of the people there would be gay, and that nude swimming would be a featured entertainment. By then I wasn't intimidated by having others see me nude. That's probably a good thing since Kyle, whom I knew to be Clay's brother, was stark naked when Jeff introduced us. It was distracting as hell because he was gorgeous, but I only glanced at his full body once or twice. Jeff said his younger brothers would love me simply because I was his friend, and that his older brothers would like me, as well. He said there would be wonderful food, lots of games to play, and dancing. I was Catholic, as was he, and he said a Catholic priest would be in attendance. He said I would feel safe and accepted. I was scared, but I accepted his invitation. As it turned out, that was probably the best time I had ever had. Chapter 3 (Kevin's Perspective) -22-

My birthday was great. Having Paul and Jackie Thomas show up out of the blue was the first of a series of things that happened to make the whole thing wonderful. Their two friends were as nice as they were, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them a little. It turned out that the trip to Emerald Beach was more than just a vacation for Paul, though. "Kevin," Paul said at the party, "I told you yesterday I'm trying to relocate to New Orleans, and I am, but I'm actually here to talk to a company about a job at the Navy Base." "That would be terrific," I said. "In fact, it's almost too good to believe." "Could you stand having me around," he asked. "Are you out of your fucking mind? Stand it? We'd love it, Bubba. You know that, man. You saw how the kids reacted to you and Jackie yesterday. Could you stand being friends with a house full of queers?" "Are the boys all gay," he asked. "Every one of them," I said. "Kevin, I know you didn't mean anything by that question, but had somebody I didn't know and love as well as I know and love you asked me that, I would have been insulted. You know where I have always stood on the subject of homosexuality. In fact, if that Kyle kid was a little older, I might have to go after him myself," Paul said. "Are you telling me . . ." He laughed. "I'm not gay, Kev, and I'm not bi, either. I'm straight. But that kid's got a lot of sex appeal, even for me." "Yeah, he does. I don't want you to misunderstand anything, Paul. Rick and I are scrupulous about making sure there is no adult-kid sexual contact, at least that we are aware of. And I'm 100% sure they haven't had any sexual contact with any adult since they've been here," I said. "It never crossed my mind that it would be any other way, Kev. You forget how well I know you, man." We grinned at each other. "You and Rick look very much like an old married couple to me. Am I right about that?" "Oh, yeah. It's only him for me and me for him," I said. "Not that your fine black ass doesn't make me wonder if I shouldn't reconsider." He howled with laughter, and I laughed hard, too. *** Another unexpected treat of my birthday weekend was learning that Jeff had started dating. The boy he brought over, Tyler Jones, was handsome, well built in a lean way, and gifted with the kind of sense of humor that would make him fit right in among us, if that's what was in the cards. "You're the famous Kevin," Tyler had said when Jeff introduced us. "Famous?" "Aren't you the guy who hung the moon," he asked facetiously, grinning warmly. I was both a little embarrassed and greatly flattered that Jeff would have spoken so highly of me. "He's actually the one who shoots the moon," Jeff said. We all laughed. We made small talk, getting to know one another. He asked about my job, and I told him, and I asked about his career field. He was in computer network administration, and he told me his rank, which was, unfortunately, meaningless to me. For some reason, many military people think everyone knows what all those different ranks mean. I had the officer ranks pretty well under control, but that was about it. Tyler seemed pretty self-confident, and he seemed to like Jeff very much, too. Jeff made it -23-

obvious he and Ty were very good friends and on the road to becoming even better friends. Jeff later told me in private that they had logged many hours chatting on the Internet and had actually had a few dates before that night. The dates came as a surprise to me, but I then realized that our evenings were often splintered. He could have been out with him every night some weeks, and I wouldn't have noticed Jeff's absence. I saw Jeff's tattoo for the first time while I was talking with them. They had been playing basketball, the only sport Jeff had ever really shown any interest in at all, and they had their shirts off. The tattoo was small, tasteful, and meaningful to him and his brothers. I asked about the word written under the heart, and he told me it was French for Clay. "That's a nice touch, isn't it," Ty said. "It's a very nice touch," I said. And it's damn nice of you to say that, I thought. *** The food was pretty simple, but it was delicious. That was definitely a pool party, and we were back to plastic plates and cups, although Rick did use the new cutlery Kyle had bought us for entertaining purposes. The family member who probably had the most fun at the party was Trixie. Everyone, kids and adults alike, couldn't resist her when she came up for a morsel and cocked her head. Most of them had never met Miss Trix before that night, and they all fell in love with her. Pretty much everyone had been in swimming before we ate. The adults, including Jeff and Tyler, had bothered to put shorts or a bathing suit on before dinner. Most of the kids, however, led by Kyle and Justin, stayed nude. The year before, both of them had often had partial erections at pool parties, no doubt a function of hormones and a young boy's natural need to flex. I noticed that they were both completely flaccid all the time that night. I knew they were still horny as hell, but they were moving into the age when they got erections because they wanted them, not because there happened to be a breeze. Tim and Brian were still young enough to be worried with spontaneous pop-ups, but, as usual, they handled the situation well. I opened my presents before dessert, and I got the usual assortment of shirts, ties, books, CD's, and gift certificates. Kyle and Tim gave me a beautiful antique lap desk that I was sure Rita had found for them. Justin and Brian gave me a crystal decanter that I had no doubt Rita had bought as well. George gave me a subscription to National Geographic, and Gene and Rita gave me an embarrassingly large check. The best gift, though, was the one from Rick. I had started collecting small statues a few years back. I had a particular fondness for horses, but I had one or two other things, as well. For my birthday, Rick gave me a set of twenty antique lead British redcoat soldiers. They came with a beautiful oak display box to hang on the wall. It was gorgeous, and tears came to my eyes when I opened it. There was also a thank-you letter from the United Cerebral Palsy for a donation to them that had been made in my name by a Mr. Richard Mashburn. From that day on, the CP kids of Emerald Beach were going to be our charity, all thanks to a happy little monkey named Chris Uhle. After dinner there was dancing, pool, ping pong, basketball, cards, and, of course, swimming. Kyle had taken quite a few pictures, and he set those up on the computer for whoever wanted to see them. "Those ain't the good ones," he told me in hushed tones as I was looking at them. He was inside the clubhouse, still naked. "Where are the good ones," I asked. "I have to develop them," he said. "The good ones are the ones I took with my SLR." "What the hell's your SLR," I asked. "Single lens reflex camera," he said. "The one that uses film." -24-

"Oh. How do you know those will be better than these?" "I just know," he said and smiled his irresistible smile. It was a great party, and everyone had fun. Trixie didn't know what to make of the dancing, and she thought everyone wanted to play with her. Justin picked her up at one point, and the two of them danced together. Kyle went crazy and took a bunch of pictures of that. Justin was still nude, but it hardly mattered. I knew that at least some of those would have to go on the Web site. Gage had brought over a karaoke machine, and Kyle, who really did have a very good voice, did some singing. Trixie wanted to sing, too, and everybody, including Kyle, doubled over in laughter when she started to howl at his singing. Kyle finally put his Speedo back on to act as MC of the karaoke machine, and several guys, including Jackie Thomas, tried their hand at it. Gage had brought a dirty-lyrics songbook, too, and we had fun with the puns and changes in words of songs we had all heard a hundred times. That was fun, and I knew Kyle's next purchase would be a machine just like that one. "Jesus Christ! When are they going home," Rick said around 1:30 Sunday morning. "Some of these damn people have been here more than twelve hours." A good many had left already, but there were still quite a few there. "Are you tired?" "No. I just can't wait to get your ass in bed," he said with a leer. "Let's tell the kids to start cooling it," I said, as eager for my ass to be in bed with him as he was to have it there. "Okay." I don't know what Rick told Kyle, but a few minutes later Kyle made the announcement over the karaoke equipment, "Tim, let's go to bed so these people can go home." That broke everybody up, but it also gave them the hint they needed. The house was empty except for us by 1:45. Nobody left without saying what a wonderful time they had had. The kids, including Tyler, insisted on cleaning up the place, and Rick and I went on to our room. It didn't take him long to show me why he wanted me in bed. (Kyle's Perspective) The party for Kevin was a big success. Everybody had a great time, and they proved it by staying late. My motto is, If you're not having fun at a party, get the hell out of there. I think most people believe that. Ty stayed to help us clean up, and I figured he and Jeff were going to slip up to Jeff's room. They didn't, though. Jeff walked him out to his car, and I watched what happened. They stood real close facing each other. Jeff had his hands on Tyler's hips, and they might have even been touching in front below the waist. I couldn't see that part. Ty had his hands on Jeff's shoulders. They looked at each other for a few minutes, and Jeff kissed him. It wasn't a hot, get-your-dick-hard kiss, but it was a kiss. I prayed to God right then that Tyler and Jeff would become boyfriends. I loved Jeff, and I wanted him to be happy and to have somebody special in his life. I found the puppy sound asleep behind one of the sofas in the clubhouse. I picked her up to take her to bed, and she only stirred a little bit. She put her head on my shoulder when I carried her inside, and I wished somebody could get a picture of that because I bet she looked cute. I put her in her bed, and she didn't even open her eyes. She had sure been a trooper that day, and she was worn out. I had never had a dog before, had never wanted one, really, but I was so glad we had her. I knew Rick wouldn't be running in the morning, so she could sleep for a long time. I put fresh water in her water -25-

bowl, and I filled up her food bowl in case she got hungry during the night. I popped a couple of the kernels of food in my mouth to see what it tasted like. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't steak, either. I knew she liked steak better, too. Tim and I got in bed around 2:30. He was so tired he only mumbled "good night" when I kissed him. I snuggled up next to him, like I always did. He smelled really good to me, and ordinarily I would have been hard in five seconds. Not that night, though. In about half a minute, it was lights out for Kyle. *** The next morning we both woke up hard. Surprise! Anyway, we peed, and then we made each other feel real, real good. "Did you like Tyler," I asked, when we were relaxing after making love. "Yeah, I liked him a lot. Did you like him?" "Yeah, I did. I hope he and Jeff hit it off," I said. "You really care a lot about Jeff, don't you," Tim asked. "Yeah, I do. I think there's like this bond between us, you know? More with me than with anybody else." "Yeah, I know. But you chose me, didn't you?" I didn't know what that was supposed to mean, and I didn't much care. "Yeah, I chose you because I saw the monkey potential in you from the first," I said. "Kyle, I love you so much," he said. "I love you more," I said. "Come on. Let's get up." *** It was eleven damn o'clock by the time we got downstairs, and Tim and I were the first ones there. I let Trixie out to go pee or shit or whatever she does first thing in the morning. Tim and I were standing at the kitchen window watching her out back. She squatted to pee, and then she started sniffing around the patio. "She's looking for meat," I said. "Somebody put food out for her last night. She didn't even touch it," he said. "Yeah, I did. That food isn't good, Babe. Don't eat it," I said. He looked at me real strange. "How do you know it's not good? Did you eat some of it?" "Just a bite or two last night. I wanted to see what it tastes like. It's not awful, but it's not good, either," I said. "Kyle Goodson! You kissed me after eating dog food? Did you at least brush your teeth first?" "No." "Oh, my God. I'm going to throw up," he said. He and I were both laughing hard. "I kiss you all the time right after I've been licking your butt. You don't seem to mind that." "My butt's clean. Don't ever kiss me after you've been licking your own butt, though. Don't do it, Kyle." "I'm going to kiss you any time I want to," I said. "Like right now?" "Yeah, like right now," I said, and I started in on him. Kissing was one of my favorite things we did, and I could kiss him any time, any place and never get tired of it. We played tongues for a while, and then we heard somebody clearing his throat. It was Rick. "Isn't this sweet," he said. -26-

"We're sorry, Rick," Tim started. "No, I meant it, Tim. It is sweet. I know you guys love each other, and I know nobody else was around. But it's still pretty damn sweet. Don't be embarrassed." I appreciated him saying that, but I wasn't the least bit embarrassed. Our dicks were hard as rocks in our underwear, but so what? He'd seen that before, and he was probably going to see that again. We all made ourselves cups of coffee and went out into the den. "What are we going to eat," I asked. "They're not still serving breakfast anywhere that I know of." "I'm way ahead of you, Kyle," Rick said. He went into the kitchen and brought out four big boxes of doughnuts, two dozen in each box. I'm sure my eyes lit up when I saw those. I am always so damn hungry the morning after a big meal, and I dove in. I ate about a dozen, which I knew wasn't the polite thing to do, but there were plenty. Kevin came in next. He had showered up and shaved, even, and I wondered what that was all about. He got some coffee and ate a few doughnuts. "Are you going somewhere, Kevin," I asked. "Yeah, I'm going to ride around to the hotels and motels to see how things are going," he said. "Why," I asked. "This is Memorial Day Weekend. It's a very big weekend for us. We have 100% occupancy at all of the properties. I just want to show my face." "Oh, yeah. My dad used to do that on big weekends," I said. "Now I do it," he said. "Do you want to go with me?" "Yes, sir, I do, but we're supposed to go camping today, remember?" "Oh, that's right," he said. He got a second cup of coffee, had a cigarette, and then got up to get dressed. He came back in nice pants and a Polo shirt. "If I don't see you before you all leave, have fun camping," he said. "Do you want me to come get you and Rick for dinner? Say on Tuesday night," I asked. "I'll bring you home, of course." "Or we could spend the night," Rick said. "Yeah, let's plan on that, Kyle," Kevin said. "Well, I'll see you all later." He took off. *** We farted around in that den for way longer than I wanted to. Justin and Brian came down around 11:30, and I pretty much knew there was no hope of us seeing Jeff that morning. That boy was a sleepy head. I finally told them I wanted everybody downstairs and ready by 12:30. Justin had to give me a little bit of a hard time about that, just like I knew he would, saying who fucking made me boss, and so on. He knew somebody had to get us going, though, and he was just teasing me about it. Our first stop was the grocery store. They all wanted to know why we didn't just get on the boat and go. What the fuck are you going to eat and drink, I thought. You can't just go off camping like that without food and water, at least. Justin probably didn't know any better, but Tim and Brian were fucking Eagle Scouts. They should know that. Sheesh. The only one who didn't complain was Trixie. We were in Tim's Wrangler, and I was driving. We had the top down and the radio on. One of the old Beach Boys songs came on, and I love those guys better than anything. I started to sing, and Trixie started to howl. "Why does this dog want to make that noise every time I sing. She did it last night, too," I said. -27-

"She wants to sing with you, Bubba," Jus said. "And truth be told, she's got a better voice than you." "Very funny," I said, but everybody but me was laughing. Trixie was barking, even. What is this all about, I thought. Tim and Brian stayed in the car with Trixie, and Jus and I went shopping. There were two pretty good-sized coolers on the boat, so we would have plenty of room for stuff that we needed. We got some good meat and cheese in the deli for sandwiches, and I bought eight nice steaks for Tuesday night when Kevin and Rick would be there. There would only be six of us, probably, but I was holding out hope that I could talk Jeff and Tyler into coming out with Kevin and Rick. We bought lots of chips and some dip, fruit, candy, cookies, a couple of bags of salad greens and two tomatoes. I got two bags of marshmallows and a big box of chocolate-covered graham crackers for So' mores. Justin loved pickled okra better than anything, so he put a couple of jars of those in the buggy. For drinks, I got twelve-twelve-twelve. Twelve bottles of water, twelve cokes, and twelve beers. I had already packed a quart of Jack Daniels whiskey, in case we wanted it, too. Knowing that crowd, we might bring back all twelve beers and an unopened bottle of Jack, or no beers and an empty bottle of Jack. You just had to be prepared. I bought myself two packs of cigarettes, too. I didn't think I would smoke more than three or four the whole time, if that, but I wanted to be prepared. I got a large bottle of sunscreen, too. I didn't want any burned butts or dicks on that trip. And we didn't forget the puppy. I got a bag of the stuff she ate at home, and I got a bag of bacon snacks for her, too. I knew we couldn't feed her as much as she would eat, even though we might want to, but this was going to be her only vacation. She deserved to eat good. "How long are we going to be camping," Justin asked while we were in check-out. "Me, Tim, and Brian don't have to report for work until Monday week," I said. "Kyle, you're already brown, man. You're going to be brown as a nut after a week," he said. "So?" "So nothing. Have at it," he said. I knew that wasn't enough food for us for a whole week, but I figured I could re-provision on into the week when I took Jus in to work. We bought eight bags of ice, something we wouldn't have to do before long, once we got our ice machine. I was pumped about buying that ice machine. There really wasn't that much room in Tim's car for all that stuff we had bought, and we had to put some of it on the floor of the seat Justin and Brian were sitting in. Brian was holding Trixie against his chest, and he made her get under the seatbelt. She kept turning her head around to lick his face. That was really cute. We got the boat all loaded up. We were probably taking way too much, I knew. We had a soccer ball, a volleyball, a volleyball net, a football to toss around, my cast net, four fishing poles, a couple of Frisbees, and a .22 to shoot sharks, if we had to. We had all our camping gear. We didn't take a tent, but we took sleeping bags as ground cover, some charcoal in case we couldn't find enough wood, my boom box and about a hundred CD's, snorkel masks, and, of course, my cameras. We didn't take many clothes 'cause we didn't really plan on wearing them. We had the bare essentials, of course, but that was all. It was two o'clock before we took off, and that bothered me a little bit that we were so late. Then I thought, Chill, Kyle. You've been with them having a great time all morning. It's about having fun, dude, whatever the fun is. Just about everything I ever did with them was fun, and shopping in that grocery store with Justin had been fun. It's the people you're with who are fun, I thought, not what you're doing. I pretty much had fun all the time, but I had to remind myself of that sometime. -28-

(Rick's Perspective) Kevin and I had a great day, just the two of us, on his birthday on Monday. We drove over to Tallahassee and rode around on campus. Summer school had already started, and we saw a few students darting around. It was a holiday, though, and the campus was pretty much deserted. We marveled at how much it had changed in the four years we had been gone. There were three new buildings, and there were two others under construction. My mom had commented that the campus wasn't what she remembered when she had visited there, and more and more Kevin and I were feeling the same way. Kevin and I knew a lot of the same people, and we hooked up with a few of them. We went to the place where he had worked, and three people, two guys and a girl, were still there from his time. One guy had dropped out of college altogether, and the other two were still going at it sporadically. He and I both knew all three of them, but from different connections. They were hanging out, drinking beer, not working that day. Driving home that night, Kevin said, "Did you get the feeling that we were grown-ups and they were still kids?" "Yeah, I did. I wanted to grab all three of them and say, 'Get a fucking life!'" "We got a life, didn't we?" "Yeah, we did. And it's a damn good one," I said. "What would you change about our life," he asked. I thought for a minute, but I didn't need time to think. I knew what the answer to that question was. "We'd adopt them," I said. He smiled. "We couldn't adopt Tim and Kyle," he said, "or Jeff." "I'm not so sure about that, Babe. A teacher at my mother's school was adopted by his aunt, and he was thirty-two. His parents were both alive, too." "The aunt was straight, though, wasn't she?" "Maybe, maybe not. Who knows?" "Florida is a great state, and I love living here, but this adoption thing is all wrong," Kevin said. "Thank you, Rosie O'Donnell," I said. "Well, our guys have adopted us, even if we can't adopt them," he said. "Do you think it's ironic that the only family member we totally control is a female dog?" "You've really taken to Trixie, haven't you," he said. "Well, yeah, you know." "Rick, I knew you would, man," he said. "I guess I'm a sucker for a cute face," I said. "How about a cute dick," he asked. I laughed. "Ohhh, that was low, Kevin." He laughed, too, and we drove home. (Justin's Perspective) The very first thing Kyle did after we got the boat unloaded was strip. Kyle looked good naked. I don't mean just his dick, although that was really nice. His whole body looked good, and he was so totally natural about it. A lot of guys are a little self-conscious at first, but not him. One thing I noticed that he always did when he got naked was kind of fluff out his pubic hair. Brian and I trim ours and shave the tops of our dicks because we use condoms. If you've ever gotten your pubic hair caught in a condom -29-

when you were rolling it down to take it off, you know that's not any fun. A little trim and a little shave takes the pain away. Trixie was real cute when we first got there. Tim was running around playing with her, and she was barking and playing with him like she was a kid. Tim stopped and took off his clothes, and then he and Kyle were sort of playing chase with Trix. They would run after her, and she would run away. Then she'd turn and chase them. Tim and Kyle ran into the water, and she was right on their tails. Kevin had told me that Labs were hunting dogs and wouldn't think twice about going in the water after a duck or a bird or something. She proved it that day, for sure. "Do you want to go in the water with them," Brian asked me. I was pretty comfortable on the two sleeping bags Brian and I would be using, but I was getting hot. "Do you," I asked. "Don't you think it's hot," he asked. "Yeah. I'm going to take my clothes off," I said. I stripped just like Kyle and Tim had done, and Brian did the same thing. We teased Kyle sometimes about being a nudist, but what was wrong with that? I pretty much wanted clothes on, at least underwear, if I was inside lounging around, but outside in our yard or on the beach, it felt good to be nude. After Brian and I had taken our clothes off, but before we had gotten up to go in the water, Kyle, Tim, and Trixie came back to where we were. The boys were dripping, of course, and Trixie was wet as hell, too. She had shaken off when she had gotten out of the Gulf, but that didn't mean she was dry. She came up to me and Brian, just a-wagging that tail. We were laying down, and she wanted to kiss us and love on us. I had never had a big wet dog get on me like that before, but it wasn't too nice. There was a frisbee within arm's reach, so I threw it. She took off. At first she didn't know what it was, so she pawed at it a little bit where it landed. When she saw it wasn't going to bite her, she picked it up in her mouth and trotted over to us with it. "Throw it again," Kyle said. I hummed it. She took off after it and brought it back. I hummed it again, and she got it again. "We need to teach her how to catch it in the air," Kyle said. "So how you gonna do that," I asked. "Let's show her how to catch it," he said. If there was some new way to play and have fun, Kyle was all over it. I got up slow and gave Brian my hand to hoist him up. The four guys got in a kind of circle or something, and we started throwing the frisbee back and forth. The more we threw it, the bolder we got, catching it between our legs and behind our backs and such. "Let's see if she'll catch it," Kyle said, and he threw it to Trixie pretty easy. Well, she jumped up just like we had been doing and got that sucker in her mouth. She brought it to Kyle, probably because he had thrown it, tail a-wagging. When she turned it loose, he petted her real good, and it looked like she had a smile on her face. I know dogs can't smile, but I swear to God it looked like a smile. A grin, even. We played a good bit more with her and the frisbee. She didn't always catch it in the air, but she always picked it up in her mouth and brought it back to us. One time when Brian had thrown it, she started to take it to Tim. When she saw it was the wrong one, she bounded back when Tim tried to take it -30-

from her. Then she took it to Brian. Now, I thought, that was damn smart. We played that game for a long time, and everybody, especially Trixie, had fun. When we finally crashed on the sleeping bags, Trix was panting. "Babe, I think she's thirsty," Tim said. "Okay," Kyle said. He got up and got a bottle of water out of one of the coolers. He looked through the grocery stuff for something to put the water in, and he came up empty. "Damn. We didn't bring any bowls to give her water in," he said. "Well, we can't not give her water," Tim said. "Go get her a bowl." "Let's see if she can drink from the bottle," Kyle said. He opened the bottle of water and drank from it. She was watching him hard, tongue about to her chest, she was so hot. Then he put the bottle to her mouth, and damn if she didn't drink from it. He was careful not to go too fast for her, and she lapped that water up right from the bottle. "That's good to know," he said. "I'll get her a bowl tomorrow morning when I take Jus in, but there are going to be plenty of times when she's going to need to drink out of the bottle. I'm glad she knows how to do it." "I know," Brian said. *** We didn't do anything, but we did everything the rest of that afternoon. Tim and Brian wanted to relax and read on the beach. Kyle wanted to go see if he could catch anything with his cast net, and I wanted him to teach me how to throw it. "We need some sun screen," Kyle said. "We don't want no burned dicks or asses, do we?" We all laughed. He had the kind of skin that only tanned, never burned. The rest of us were much fairer than he was. He put a little bit on his face and ears and shoulders, but he left the rest of himself alone. He made the rest of us lube up good, though. I figured Kyle knew what the hell he was doing, so I didn't say anything to him about not lubing himself up. "I wish I had one of those sun patches," Brian said. "What are you talking about," Kyle asked. "You know. A heart or something that people put on to cover a part of them so it doesn't get tanned under it." "Oh, yeah. Those are cool," Kyle said. "I don't know what y'all are talking about," I said. "Jus, it's something that sun won't go through. You put it on before you start to tan, and it's like a non-tanned part of you after you're tanned. Almost like a tattoo," Kyle said. "Oh, okay. I see what you mean," I said. "A bunch of guys at school got 'em during Spring Break," Tim said. "Do we have anything here to do that with," I asked. "No. They're like little stickers," Kyle said. "We sell 'em at the shops. I'll get some tomorrow when I take you in, Jus. I want two little hearts on my dick." "Ain't that sweet," I said. "Yeah? You're gonna want 'em, too, dude," he said, "when you see what it looks like." "Probably so," I said. "Kyle, you and Tim need to do something about all that hair y'all have down there. Trim it, or something, man." "You and Brian trim, don't you?" -31-

"Yeah, we do. Ain't no shame in that, man." "I'd do it right now, except I don't have anything to do it with," he said. "Tomorrow when you go in, get a scissors, a razor, and some shave cream. We'll neaten you boys up," I said. "I'll get it, but I ain't shaving my face for however long we're out here. I think this might be our only vacation, and I ain't shaving on my vacation." Only vacation, I thought. Yeah, Kyle. Since late October we had only been to North Carolina twice, New Orleans twice, Sarasota once, and New York City once. Here it was, late May, and the only vacation you could catch was a week or so on the most beautiful fucking beach I had ever seen in my life. I knew he didn't think about stuff like that. He was all about having fun doing whatever we were doing, but he just didn't realize how good we had it. Even Tim knew the truth about how lucky we were, and he came from a family with money, too. "What are you thinking about, Monkey," Kyle said to Tim. "I'm thinking about Chris and about how much fun he would have had here," Tim said. "Did you see Kevin break down and cry when he opened his birthday card from Chris," Kyle asked. We all said, Yeah, we had. "He wants us to come see him," Kyle said. "I know," Brian said. "How do y'all know that," I asked. "Hasn't he been sending you email," Kyle asked. "I don't really check it," I said. "I don't really know anybody besides y'all." "Check it every day, Jus. Man, he's sent us some funny ones. And he definitely wants us to come see him," Kyle said. "He couldn't even wipe his ass. How can he type," I asked. "He uses voice recognition software," Brian said. "His dad is a computer scientist at the University of Montana, and he's hooked Chris up. A lot of times it's hard to read because his speech is so bad, but you know what he wants to say." "Now he was a little monkey, for sure," I said. "And I loved that guy." "Yeah, he was like a little monkey, wasn't he," Kyle said. "I think we all loved him, Jus. I know I did." Brian and Tim said they loved him, too. "Kyle, you need to organize a trip to see him, dude," I said. I knew that was all it was going to take. We'd all be in Montana, including Trixie, before the summer was over. Kyle was quiet just then, and I knew those wheels were turning. That boy was an organizer, if ever I saw one. "Let's eat," Kyle said. "Only sandwiches tonight." He pulled out some roll-up sandwiches on pita bread, and they were delicious. He had a bunch of all different kinds that he had bought at that grocery store. I saw him picking stuff out of that case while I was busy eating all the free chicken fingers I could get my hands on from the lady displaying them, and that must have been what he was going after. I felt like Kyle was always going to be the responsible one. I knew I needed to do some of that myself, but I was willing to lay back and let him do it, as long as he would. I felt like you only had a few perfect days coming to you in life, and I had already had me two or three with those guys. That day wasn't totally perfect because I had to get up for work the next morning, -32-

but it was damn near. The four of us were about as close as any four guys could be, and Brian and I loved them. We loved each other different, but we loved them a lot. Kyle made a little fire for us to roast marshmallows to make So' mores that night, and Trixie got her share of those, too. Tim tossed her a hot one one time, and she caught it. She let it out of her mouth onto our sleeping bag, though, and then she scooped it up when it was cool enough to eat. "I wish she didn't chew and swallow so damn fast," Kyle said. "How can she taste it?" "She likes them, though," Tim said. "I think she might like anything we give her," Brian said. "I think you might be right, Little Buddy," I said. "I think she just likes us." Chapter 4 (Kyle's Perspective) We went to sleep pretty early that first night on the island. We had been up late the night before, and we had had a pretty busy day. Trixie was so funny. Both couples kissed a lot and brought each other off that night, and she waited until we were finished to get with somebody. She finally chose Brian, which I thought was a good choice. I set the alarm on my watch for six o'clock, but I was awake at 5:30. We had all been asleep by nine o'clock the night before, probably, so I had gotten a good night's sleep. I slipped out from around Tim, who had a death grip on me, pissed down-beach from us, and made a little fire for some coffee. I woke Jus up at six, and he was grumpy as a bear. He didn't cuss me or anything, though. He knew he had to get up, as much as he didn't want to. We watched the sunrise over the bay, and it was really nice. Everything was calm and peaceful. Suddenly, Trixie jumped up, but she wasn't wagging her tail. Then she pounced. There was a big hullabaloo, shaking her head back and forth real hard, and she came trotting toward us with something in her mouth. When she got to us she dropped it, and it was the head and about six inches of a snake. Justin jumped up, and Trixie went after him to lick him and play with him. When he saw it was dead, he sat back down. Trix wanted to lick both of our faces, but we made her sit down. "She saved somebody's life, Kyle," Jus said. I picked up the stump of the snake she had delivered to us. "No, it's not poisonous," I said. "You can tell by the shape of its head," I said. I had learned that shit in the scouts. "Still, she went after it like it was a bad one," Jus said. "I know. She'll protect us. Did you see how she went after people falling when they were skiing?" "Yeah. That was pretty cool," he said. "You and I and Trixie need to go hunting this coming year," I said. "The rest of them aren't going to want to go, except maybe Rick." "I know," Jus said. "You ever get a deer?" "I got one. When I was fourteen. It was a doe, though, not a buck," I said. "Was she pregnant?" "No, thank God. I couldn't handle killing a pregnant doe. It was on a lease where they had way too many deer. They needed that population thinned, or they would have starved to death. That's a hard concept to face, but it was true. We had her butchered, and the meat was good, especially the sausage they made. My dad's been a hunter all his life. Clay and I have been, too." "Is there anything you haven't done, besides biting my dick off," he asked. -33-

I laughed at that. "Yeah, there's a lot of stuff I haven't done," I said. "But, there is also a lot that I have done." Pause. "Jus, I want you to be honest with me, okay?" He looked at me funny, but he nodded. "Am I obnoxious," I asked. "Obnoxious? No. What the hell makes you think that," he asked. I could tell he was being sincere. "Well, sometimes you tease me, I think, about who made me the boss and all," I said. "Yeah, and that's all it is, too. Teasing. Kyle, if you didn't have good ideas, and if I wasn't willing to follow you, I wouldn't, man. We joke around sometimes about whipping each other's ass. I don't know if you could whip mine, and I don't know if I could whip yours. I know neither one of us would get out of a fight in one piece. But that's just joking, you know?" "That makes me feel better. I know I can be pretty pushy sometimes, and I know I get on people's nerves when I get hyper." "But that's just you, Kyle. It's one reason everybody loves you, Bubba," he said. "But I don't want to be obnoxious," I said. "I'll make a deal with you. If I ever think you're being obnoxious, I'll pull you over for a private chat about it. How does that sound?" "That would give me a lot of confidence," I said. "It's like you would have my back." "Yeah, it would be, but if you got any more confidence, I don't know where you'd put it," he said. "Let's get going. I've got to take a shit, and I'm damn sure not doing it out here." We cranked the boat and took off. Trixie had been off exploring or something, but she ran to the edge of the water when she heard the outboard. "We're coming back, girl," I said. She barked a couple of times, like she was saying "hurry back," or something. (Brian's Perspective) I was really glad Rick figured out how Justin could go camping with us because I really wanted to go with them. There was no way I was going to leave Justin at home all by himself, though. That big ole boy would have been so lonesome that I don't even want to think about it. Sure, we both liked sex and did it pretty often, but that was not the reason I didn't want him to be home by himself. It was that I just loved being with him. He could make me laugh faster than anybody I ever knew, and I loved him. I didn't know if I loved him as much as Tim loved Kyle, but if Justin and I ended up staying together for life, that would be fine with me. Trixie had really added a lot of fun to our family. She was really a smart dog, and I wondered if I could teach her how to do tricks, like her name said. I had gone to the circus once, and one of the clowns had a dog that could do tricks, like flips and stuff. It was a little dog, though, not a big one like Trixie. When we got her, I checked out some information on the Web about Labs. It said they like a lot of exercise, and Trixie sure got that with Rick every morning and with us the rest of the time. It also said they love to swim, and that was true of Trixie. They were really good hunting dogs and would go after ducks, birds, and other smaller animals that hunters shot. Trixie brought back just about anything you throw for her to catch, so she seems to have that feature. Mostly, though, Labs were great people dogs, and nothing could have been more true about Trix. I had never had a dog, but I always wanted one. Trixie liked all of us, but I thought she liked me better than she liked some of them. I knew she liked Kyle the best, though, just like people did. I had done some reading about how to train a dog. Trixie already knew how to sit when we told -34-

her to, and she was great about fetching stuff. When we played frisbee with her, she learned how to catch the frisbee in her mouth and to bring it back to us. I had never seen a dog do that before, and I thought that was pretty cool. Kyle and Justin were already gone when I woke up that first morning on the island. We had four sleeping bags zipped together, so we had a pretty nice area. I wasn't cold, really, but the air was cool and wet. I wished Justin was still there to warm me up. "Bri, are you awake," Tim asked. "Yeah," I said. "Are you cold?" "A little bit," I said. I was cold more than a little bit, I realized. My skin had goose bumps on it, and my nipples were hard as two little rocks. I had an erection from having to pee. "Do you need to pee," Tim asked me. "Yeah. You?" "Yeah. I hate to get up to do it, though. Will you go with me?" "Yeah," I said. He and I slowly got up. Trixie was between us, and she got up, too. Tim and I walked down to the water, and it took both of us a few seconds to get the pee going. After we were finished, he said, "Let's fold the sleeping bags over us. Trixie can keep us warm." We both laid down again, but toward the middle of the mat our sleeping bags made. Trixie got between us, and both of us snuggled up to her. She was warm and furry and nice. She licked each one of us a time or two, but then she went back to sleep. We did, too. *** Trixie slithered out from between us when she heard the motor of Kyle's boat. I think we had slept a long time after we got warm, and Trixie was ready to play. She got the sleeping bag in her mouth and started pulling it off us. Tim threw a frisbee to distract her, and he said "fetch." She went after it. She had it back to us by the time we were on our feet. "Hi, guys," Kyle said. He was sure bright eyed that morning. I knew he had taken Jus into work, and I wondered if he had gotten the stuff he said he was going to get. "Come and eat before it gets too cold," he said. He had stopped at a breakfast buffet and had bought Tim and me breakfast in styrofoam containers. There were scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, a couple of biscuits, and a pretty good portion of fresh fruit and melon. That was typical Kyle. He was feeding his boys. But, to my surprise, he had a third styrofoam container. He opened it, and it was all meat. It was loaded, too. He offered it to Tim and me, but we both had enough breakfast on our own plates. Then he set it down in front of Trixie. She wanted it bad, but Kyle had told her to stay. "Don't tease her, Kyle," Tim said loud. I could tell Tim was pissed at Kyle for what he was doing to Trixie. "Tim, shut up, man. I'm not teasing her. I'm training her. She gets to eat when we say, not when she says," Kyle said. I could tell Tim didn't believe that. "That's what it says about training a dog," I said. "Kyle's right, Tim." In a minute, Kyle told her to eat. She went after the food. In a few minutes, though, he said stop. She didn't stop, so Kyle jerked the food away from her. -35-

"Kyle." Tim's voice sounded whiney. "Babe, I'm training her. I didn't go to the trouble of getting this damn food so I wouldn't let her eat it. Give me some room here, Tim." Tim didn't say anything. Kyle put the plate back down, and she didn't go for it right away. Then he said eat, and she started eating. In about thirty seconds, he said "stop" again, but she didn't stop eating. He pulled it away from her again. "Sit," Kyle said. She looked at Tim and me, but then she sat down. He put the food down in front of her again, and she was whimpering. She wanted the rest of her breakfast. He waited a little while, probably less than a minute, and then he said eat. She started eating again. In a matter of a few seconds, he said stop. She took one more bite, but then she stopped. He snatched it away from her, though. She was standing up again, and he told her to sit. She did. He put the food back down but didn't say anything. She was squirming and being cute and cocking her head at him. I wanted him to tell her to eat so bad. I knew he was going to let her eat again, but he took his own sweet time about it. Finally he said eat, and she did. "Stop," Kyle said, when there were just two or three bites left. To my surprise, Trixie stopped eating, and she sat down without being told to. "Good girl," Kyle said. He was all over her, petting her and making her happy. "Good Trixie," he said, petting her some more. She got up and started licking his face and hands. "We're working on licking next," he said. "Okay, sit." She sat down, and then he said eat. She finished her breakfast. "Good girl," he said. "Very good girl. Let's go in the water." Kyle was only wearing a Speedo and a tee shirt. He had those off in about two seconds, and he and Trixie went in. They played in the surf for about fifteen minutes, and then they came back to join us, both of them out of breath. "Lab's like to eat a lot," I said. "She needs a lot of exercise so she doesn't get bored and try to run away." "Do you think she gets enough," Kyle asked. "We'll just have to see," I said. "But I think running with Rick and playing with us is pretty much enough." "I'm going to train her the whole time we're out here," Kyle said. "In fact, let's all train her. We can take turns doing what I did." "Why do we want her to stop eating when we tell her to," Tim asked. "Because that makes her know who's boss, Tim," I said. "I read about this stuff on the Internet." "Me, too," Kyle said. "Yeah, and we have to be the bosses. All of us, not just me. But I'm ready for some fun." *** We had fun all day, doing all kinds of stuff. Kyle caught some chofer fish in his cast net, and we used those for bait. The four of us went out in his boat until we couldn't see shore, and we fished. Kyle caught the first one, which was a grouper. Trixie went crazy when we got it on board because it was flipping around so much. Kyle told her to sit, though, and she did. Her tail was going so fast I thought she -36-

would wear a hole in the boat, but she didn't try to eat it or anything. I caught the second one, and it was too little to keep. I threw it back, and Trixie went off the side after it. We lost sight of her, and all three of us were ready to dive in to rescue her. Then she came up on the other side of the boat from the side she had jumped in on. The first thing she did when she got back on board was shake off, getting all of us wet. And, worse luck, she didn't have the fish. All three of us were naked all day. Kyle had stopped somewhere and bought some of those sun stickers I had told them about. We put those things all over ourselves, and all of us put two little hearts on our penises. We each took one off at the end of the day to see if it was working, and it was. The heart shape on our skin was a little faint, but it was definitely there. We had other ones besides those hearts, though, and we put them all over ourselves. Kyle put an eagle on his right butt cheek and a big one on the small of his back. It was kind of an abstract design. If we stayed out there a week, we'd have some awesome designs, courtesy of mother nature. (Justin's Perspective) I really hadn't wanted to go to work that first morning we were on the island, but I knew I didn't have a choice in the matter. Kyle woke me up in plenty of time, and he and I had coffee before he took me in. I used the bathroom, showered, shaved, and got dressed pretty quick, and Kyle and I had time to stop for breakfast before I had to be at work. He was in just a bathing suit, tee shirt, and deck shoes, but that was okay. He had his wallet tucked in the waist band of his suit. He got me to work at 7:15, and a couple of the other bellhops were already there. "Who's your boyfriend," one guy asked. "He's cute." "That's Kyle Goodson, and he's not my boyfriend. He's my best friend and my brother, dude. What makes you think I have a boyfriend, anyway?" "I'm was just kidding you," the guy said. I started to ask that guy if he had a boyfriend, but that wasn't any of my business. I didn't care if he did or not. I watched him eying the male guests that day, though, and he did some serious looking, that's for sure. I made pretty good tips that day, unlike some days. A lot of people were checking out that morning to go home after their long weekend, and we were pretty busy. One family had their stuff packed in two humongous suitcases that weighed a ton each, and then they had like ten plastic bags of stuff they had bought on the trip. Those things were hard to handle because they had a tendency to turn on their side and dump out all over the place. There was a guy around my age in that family, and he started to help. His mom told him to leave it alone and that I would get it. Thanks, lady, I thought. They gave me a five, but I was just as polite to them as I would have been if they had given me a twenty, which I preferred and thought I deserved. That was pretty much how the day went. *** Kyle was at the house waiting for me when I got home, and he had the rest of them with him, too. Brian gave me a hello kiss, and that was sweet. They all seemed hot in the temperature sense, and I knew that was from being in the sun all day. They had taken showers, but none of them had shaved. "Kyle, don't forget to take a razor and some scissors," Tim said. "For what," Kyle asked. "So we can let them trim up our pubes for us," he said. "Will y'all really do that," Kyle asked. "Sure. Why not? It might be kind of fun," I said. -37-

I changed clothes into shorts and a tee, and we went back out to the island. They had left everything where it was, and nobody had messed with it while they were gone. That was one of the great things about that island. It was really beautiful out there, but it was also private, especially where we were. There was a ferry landing at one end, but the only way to get to where we were was by boat. That was probably why they let you run around naked. We all took our clothes off as soon as we got there, and I saw the patches they were wearing. "Did you check to see if those things are working," I asked, meaning the patches. Kyle took one off his dick, and sure enough, there was a faint little heart on his skin under it. He put it back on right over where it had been. "You want some on you," he asked. "Well, yeah. I don't want to be the only one without 'em," I said. "Come here," Kyle said. He got down in front of me and took my dick in his hand. He put one on, and I felt myself starting to pump up. "Don't get hard, Jus," he said. Oh, right, I thought. Let me just re-direct the blood flow, Kyle. Sure. That's it. I'll just pretend the sexiest boy I've ever seen isn't holding my dick. "I can't help it," I said. "Okay, well, let's wait a few minutes," he said. He turned me loose, and I started petting Trixie. Then I threw a frisbee for her to chase, and that took my mind off it enough for it to go down. When it was down again, Kyle put the other patch on. "Do you want one on your butt," he asked. "Yeah. Have you got another eagle?" "Yup," he said. "I bought four sets of everything." He put it on my butt, but that didn't cause any reaction. Then he put one on my shoulder blade. "What's going to happen if I get a hard-on," I asked. "They'll come off," he said. "Can't I just put them back on?" "Yeah, unless they fall in the sand and get all gritty. We've got more, though," he said. "Are you ready to give us a trim?" "Sure, get some water and a towel or something," I said. We got all set up, and Kyle wanted to go first. I combed out his pubic hair, and then I trimmed it and shaped it sort of with the scissors. He had a lot of it, and it grew sort of wild. It grew into the crack of his legs on both sides, too. I cut it short right above his dick to make it neat. "Clean up his butt hole, too, Jus," Tim said. "How about his balls," I asked. "Yeah. Everything," Tim said. Kyle's dick was rock hard by then, and his patches had come off just like he said they would. He was on his back and had been just laying there letting me work on him. I saw that he had a lot of hair under his dick, and his balls were real fuzzy. I lathered him up real good. I knew that felt good to him because it always felt good when Brian did that to me. It takes a lot of trust to let somebody go after your dick and balls with a razor, but Kyle knew I wouldn't let him down. I sort of teased him, though. "You're going to make me come, Jus," Kyle said, sort of laughing. "That's okay. Do what you have to do," I said. -38-

I had the bone of a lifetime going myself right then, and my patches came off, too. Tim and Brian, who were up close watching me work, were stiff as rods themselves. I figured it would turn into that kind of situation, and I knew none of us minded it. Tim reached over and started rubbing Kyle's chest. Tim was cute the way he was doing that, making his boyfriend hot. Kyle's nut sack was real tight. That wasn't the best for shaving, but I got most of the hair off. Then I worked on the area right around his hole, and I got it nice and smooth. When I was putting a second lather on, kind of playing with his hole a little, ole Kyle shot his load. He grunted loud, and then he started laughing. That made us all laugh. "That was pretty good," he said. Seeing Kyle shoot made Brian and Tim both real horny, I guess. They started stroking their dicks. Kyle sat up to join in the fun, a big streak of cum on his chest and belly. Brian and Tim went after each other's dicks then, and Kyle worked on mine. None of us lasted long. "We hadn't done that in a long time," Brian said. "Tim, I wish I had a foreskin like yours." "Well, that one belongs to me," Kyle said. "You big romantic guy, you," I said. That actually made Kyle blush a little bit, and I loved doing it. It wasn't often Kyle blushed about anything. "Let me finish you up, Kyle," I said. He got back in the exposed position, but he wasn't hard any more. I scraped off all the hair that was still there, and he was clean as a whistle. "Do you want your chest shaved," I asked. "What do you think, Tim," he asked. "I know you want to do it," Tim said. "Just for the summer, okay?" "Okay," Tim said. I shaved his chest for him, which was something he could have done for himself. I didn't mind doing it, though. I liked touching Kyle. Tim was next for the pube treatment, and I got him cleaned up without incident. He didn't have nearly as much hair down there as Kyle did, so it didn't take very long. "Thanks, Jus," Kyle said. He never forgot to say thank you for a favor of any kind. "No problem, Bro," I said. "I kind of enjoyed it." We all giggled. "Now what," Kyle asked. "Do you think we could ski," Tim asked. We spent the next couple of hours skiing. It was unusually calm for the Gulf right then, and the skiing was good. Kyle held Trixie on one of his ski passes, and she seemed to love it. I wondered if we could teach her how to ski on her own. After skiing, we ate dinner. There was a beautiful sunset that afternoon, and us four boys felt good and comfortable with one another. Kyle made a bourbon and coke for him and me, but the other two didn't want that. After about half of that drink, I felt more relaxed than I had ever remembered feeling before. I thought about the four of us spending our lives together, best friends and lovers. That made me smile. -39-

(Tim's Perspective) It felt weird to be shaved. The shaving was kind of weird in itself, and I felt like I was opening myself up to Justin when he had made me put my legs up so he could get to my butt. I knew he would be careful, but somehow I felt like Kyle should be doing that to me, not Jus. I didn't get hard like Kyle had done, but that was probably because Brian had made me shoot just a few minutes before that. Once the shaving was done, I felt clean and even more naked than I was. Skiing naked was fun, and the wind caused by moving over the water on the skis felt good--different, but good. I was glad we had done the shaving, and I couldn't wait to see what it would be like with Kyle. He was the hairiest one of us, and I had sort of mixed feelings about that. I loved Kyle completely, and I loved everything about him, so that wasn't it. When it came to the hair, though, I found it sexy as hell, especially the hair on his chest, but sometimes the hair on his nuts and around his hole didn't turn me on all that much. It didn't turn me off, that's for sure, but it just seemed a little gross or something. A few times the hair around his hole had pinched him when I went into him, too. Kyle and Justin had a drink after we had eaten and were just relaxing on our sleeping bags. Being out on the beach like we were, with the waves coming in and making soothing, rhythmic sounds was very relaxing. Not relaxing in the sense that it put you to sleep, although I always slept real good when we were out there, but relaxing in the sense that you just felt good. Kyle suggested we play cards. He taught us how to play gin rummy, which was pretty much fun, but we didn't bet or anything. It was just to see who could win. Brian ended up with the most points. When it got too dark to play cards anymore, I wanted us to go to bed. I didn't want to say it, though, because I knew Jus would tease me about being a horn dog or something. The fact was, I was a horn dog that night, and I couldn't wait to get Kyle off by ourselves. "Justin and Brian, would you guys be offended if Tim and I moved down the beach a ways tonight," Kyle asked. I was so glad he said that. I knew that meant he wanted me that night as bad as I wanted him. Justin chuckled. "What's up, Stud? You and Tim got a big night planned?" "We just want a little privacy, is all," Kyle said. "But me and Brian want to watch," Justin said. "Justin!" Brian said. His tone of voice said he was horrified that Jus had said that. Justin laughed. "I'm just teasing Kyle, Little Buddy," he said. "No, Bubba, we wouldn't be offended one bit if y'all moved. We might just want to take advantage of some privacy, too." "I'll get you up in the morning, just like I did today," Kyle said to Jus. "Good night, guys." "Good night, brothers," they said. We unzipped our two sleeping bags from theirs and started to move. Trixie didn't know what was going on, and she thought we wanted to play. "Hold her, please, Jus," Kyle said. Justin grabbed Trixie, and he and Brian started wrestling around with her while Kyle and I moved away. Kyle had a Coleman lantern that he took with us. I hated to take away the best light, but Brian had a flashlight that sort of worked like a lantern. That would have to do them. We spread out our sleeping bags and got down on them. Kyle pealed the stickers off our dicks and put them aside for the next day. Then we started. I was more turned on than I had been in a while, and I dove for Kyle's dick with my mouth, after we had kissed for a few minutes. I got down between his legs, and I sucked his dick a while. Then I moved to his balls and to the place under them. Then I went after his hole. Without the hair, it was a -40-

whole new experience for me. "Tim, you're ferocious, man," he said. "Do you like it?" "Like it? I love it," he said. "It's the shaving that's getting to me," I said. "I know. I can't take any more, though. Fuck me," he said. I got inside him, and we had a great time. Kyle came right after I did, and I was really and truly satisfied. We curled up together and went right to sleep. (Kyle's Perspective) I know that Kevin, Rick, and the other guys think I'm the horn dog between me and Tim. I'm usually pretty aggressive, and I know it, but that's not really how it necessarily is when it comes to sex. Tim has this cute, gentle way about him, and I'm sure they think he just goes along with sex because it's something I want. Well, if they had seen him that Monday night on that beach, they would have known the truth. Sure, I'm the one who gets us started a lot of the time, but I only do it because I know he wants me to. Justin and Brian were both awake when I went down to their camp to wake him up the next morning. Brian was still half asleep, though, and I was sure Jus had accidentally woken him. "Bye, Buddy," Brian said. He kissed Jus. "I'm going to go back to sleep with Tim." He straggled off down the beach toward Tim, Trixie right behind. Justin was rock hard, and there was a pearl of pre-cum on the end of his dick. You don't get that with regular morning wood, or at least I never did. I figured he had been hoping for a little something that morning, but Brian had been too sleepy. He walked over to the edge of the water to pee. It wouldn't have surprised me if he had tossed himself off, but he didn't. He was still hard when he came back. "I thought you were going to take care of that," I said, referring to his erection. "Naw. It'll go down. Did you and Tim have fun last night?" I grinned. "Yeah. Did you and Brian?" "Yep," he said, and then he grinned. "Sex with him is so nice," he said. "I know it is for you guys, too, but it's really an act of love for us. He lets me know he wants us to have sex by saying he wants to give himself to me or give me a present or something like that. That's pretty sweet, ain't it?" "It is. Pretty different from the old days for you, ain't it?" "Oh, Kyle. You don't even know, son," Jus said. "I'm leading a whole new life, and that old life ain't even a part of it." "Are you ready to go? I didn't make any coffee this morning. We'll have to get some at home," I said. The truth of the matter was, I had gotten up later than I thought I would, and I really hadn't had time to make a fire, let it get hot, and then brew coffee. He and I slipped on shorts, tee shirts, and deck shoes. "What about them," he asked, meaning Tim and Brian. "They're both Eagle Scouts, dude. They know how to make coffee over a campfire, I guarantee it." He laughed. "Oh, yeah." There wasn't anybody on the bay that morning, so I opened that mother up. I hadn't done that before that day, and that baby flew over that water. I shaved a full five minutes off the trip, too. *** Kevin, Rick, and Jeff were all in the kitchen when we got to their house. Justin went upstairs to get -41-

dressed for work, and I poured myself a cup of coffee. "Y'all are coming out tonight, right," I asked. "Yep, we're looking forward to it," Rick said. "What about you, Jeff? Have you changed your mind," I asked. "Tyler and I are supposed to go to a movie tonight, Kyle, but thanks, anyway." I started to get some of the eggs that were on the table, but I changed my mind. I decided to do what I had done the day before and take breakfast back to the others. "I started training Trixie yesterday," I said. "Training her to do what," Rick asked. "Training her to obey," I said. I told them what I had done with the breakfast meat I had taken her. "What's the point of that," Rick asked. "Well, I'm building up to training her not to lick people, Rick. Don't you think that's a little bit disgusting?" "She's kissing you, Kyle. She's just being affectionate," Kevin said. "I know, but yesterday morning she killed a snake and brought it to me and Jus. The first thing she wanted to do after she dropped the snake out of her mouth was lick us on the face," I said. "I think that's pretty disgusting." "Oh, my God! I'll say it's disgusting," Jeff said. "I may gag." "It's like with you, Rick. You never know where that tongue's been," I said. Kevin and Jeff laughed hard, and Rick laughed some, too. "What I thought I would do is get her used to the command to stop by using food. Then I'll use it when she goes to lick one of us. I'm hoping it will work," I said. "Did you think that up all by yourself," Rick asked. "No, sir, I did some research on the Internet," I said. "I'm going to use treats when she doesn't lick when I tell her stop, but I'm also going to give her a lot of praise, too. I think she understands that. Gradually, I'll wean her off the treats and just use praise. Then, I'll stop the praise, too. It shouldn't take too long. She's real smart." "What kind of treats? Don't give her candy or chips or stuff like that, hear," Kevin said. "I bought some bacon treats. I gave her a few, and she lapped them up," I said. Justin came back in, got himself a cup of coffee, and lit up a smoke. I hadn't had one in quite a few days, so I lit up, too. I was careful not to inhale too deep. "Jus, bring your coffee and smoke into the den. Rick and I want to talk to you," Kevin said. That ole boy got a stricken look on his face. Neither him nor me had had a double-barrel private chat in a long time, and I could tell he didn't know what he had done. "You're not in trouble, Bubba," Rick said. "Then why can't we talk in here? I'm going to tell Kyle and Jeff all about it, anyway," Jus said. "Okay," Kevin said. "Jus, we had a call from Tyrone Williams yesterday. You remember him, don't you?" "Yeah. My caseworker, right?" "Yeah. He had had a call from the state's attorney who is prosecuting Burl Jackson in Alabama. They want to interview you to take your deposition. He said there's a real good chance you'll be called to testify in the trial, too," Kevin said. Justin went white. His hands started trembling, and he bit his lower lip. I knew he was so scared right at that moment. He was sitting next to me at the table, and I took his hand to hold it. "We're here, Bubba," I said. "We ain't going anywhere." -42-

"They're going to be here today at ten, Jus, and you've got an appointment with them," Kev said. "Where," I asked. "In my office," Kevin said. "Are Craig and Cherie going to be there," I asked. I was getting agitated, and they knew it. "Kyle, calm down, son. Justin isn't accused of anything. In fact, they'll probably eventually try Burl Jackson for felony child abuse for what he did to Jus. We don't need the legal eagles here for this," Kevin said. Justin was numb, and I knew it. I stood up and got behind him so I could massage his shoulders like he had done to me a few times. When I put my hands on him, I felt tight steel springs ready to pop. I kneaded those muscles as best I could, but the shirt got in the way. I made him take his shirt off, and I worked him as best I knew how. He gradually loosened up a little. "I'm staying here with him," I said. "Tim's got my cell phone. I'll call him and let him know something has come up and I won't be back till this afternoon." When I said that, Justin stood up and grabbed me in the biggest hug I had ever gotten. He was crying hard, and I started crying with him. In about a minute, everybody was in tears. "It's gonna be all right, Bubba. We'll be there with you," I said. "We won't let them hurt you or be mean to you. You've got my word on that, Stud." We all settled down in a few minutes. "Jeff, I don't want to tell you how to run your life, son, but . . .," Rick said. "Oh, shit. I didn't realize it was this late," Jeff said. He still needed to shower, shave, and dress for work. He took off upstairs. I called Tim and told him I wasn't coming back until late that afternoon. He said he and Brian would be just fine. There were plenty of sandwiches left from the day before, and there was also a ton of deli stuff to eat. I told him to try to work with Trixie like we did yesterday, and he said they would. We said we loved each other, and then we hung up. "What do we wear to this," I asked. "Suits?" "No, I think khakis and a nice Polo," Kevin said. "This is a deposition. It's not court." "Come on, Bubba. Let's get cleaned up," I said. He has already taken a shower, but I thought he needed another one for relaxation purposes. We went upstairs to his room, and we took a shower together. He was like a zombie almost, so I washed him. I washed myself, and I shaved, too. There was absolutely no sex involved, but there was a whole lot of love. After we were dressed, we didn't go back downstairs right away. I had to get him feeling better, and the only way I knew how to do that was to try to get him to laugh. "Let's practice some questions," I said. "You be the lawyer, and I'll be you." "What do I ask?" "Well, start off with basics, like name, address, and that kind of stuff." "Okay. What's your name?" "Justin Davis, but I sometimes go by Alabama Davis, Bubba Davis, or Stud Davis," I said. That brought a chuckle. "Where do you live?" "In the big house on the hill. Where do you live?" "Big house on the hill?" "Big house on the lagoon," I asked. "Yeah, I like that better. Do you know Burl Jackson?" -43-

"I know him good enough to know the doctor slipped at his circumcision," I said. He smiled. "I know what you're doing, Kyle, and I appreciate it. I just don't feel like laughing right now, Bubba. Thanks, though," he said. "What can I do to make you feel better, man? I want to more than anything," I said. "Just being here is the best, Kyle. Just knowing that you love me, that all of you love me, and that I'm not a bad person in your eyes is all that matters. I can get through this knowing y'all are behind me." I didn't know what to say. I generally knew what to say to make people feel good, but I was at a loss with my best friend. I loved him as much as I loved Kevin and Rick, my parents, or anybody but Tim. I loved him as much as I loved Clay. But I felt kind of helpless. "Are you hungry," I asked after a long pause. "Yeah, I am, now that you mention it," he said. "Let's make 'em take us someplace nice for breakfast. Let's make 'em take us to the dining room at the Boardwalk," I said. The Boardwalk was one of our four brand-name hotels, and they had an awesome dining room. I had only eaten there a few times with my parents, but I thought it was the nicest one we had. They all liked the Laguna, and that was nice, too, but the Boardwalk was my favorite. They were waiting for us when we went downstairs, and I told them what we wanted to do. That was cool with them, and the four of us took off. We went in Tim's car, with me driving. The top was down, the sun was shining, the air was still cool, and it was a glorious day. I felt like I was a Roman soldier driving a chariot to war. Chapter 5 (Kevin's Perspective) Telling Justin about having to give that deposition was one of the hardest things we had ever had to do with the boys. Rick and I knew they couldn't ask him about Burl Jackson without delving into the prostitution and abuse Justin had had to endure, and we knew that would be hard for him. Justin hadn't witnessed the crime, but he had witnessed Jackson's confession to it while Jus was bathing the blood off him. Kyle was wonderful, as usual. He had been telling us about training Trixie not to lick, and, in an instant, he switched to his role as Consoler General. He had done a lot to bring Jus back to the land of the living that morning, and he had wanted us to take them out to breakfast at the Boardwalk. That one was the smallest of the big four, with only 425 rooms, but it was still big by local standards. Goodson Enterprises had slightly more than five thousand rooms altogether, and that one had a pretty substantial place in our lineup of properties. We slipped into the dining room unobserved, I thought, but that turned out not to be the case. The GM came in to make sure everything was the way we wanted it to be. I introduced Rick, whom he had certainly heard of, he said, but had never met, Justin Davis, a bellhop at the Laguna and our son, and Kyle Goodson, another son, soon to be a bellhop at the Laguna, too. He did a slight double take at Kyle's name. "One of them," he whispered to me. "Yeah. One of them," I said. "The only one of them left in the next generation." "Kevin, call me later, please. I beg you." "Why? Kyle wanted to come here because he said this was the best restaurant of any of them. -44-

You're obviously doing a great job, Morris. I'm not going to have time to call you today, okay? Just relax, man." "Oh, thank God, and thank you, Kevin," he said. "No, thank you, Morris," I said. Nine of the eleven properties had restaurants, but the big four had really nice restaurants. Some of the others had good restaurants, too, but they tended to feature simple American cuisine that tourists from the southern states liked, especially a lot of fried seafood. The big four had real chefs with real training and credentials. Rick and I were fundamentally restaurant people at heart, but we hadn't really explored our own restaurants very thoroughly. When we went out to eat, it was almost always to the same bar and grill that had become a quasi-hangout for us. We'd have to do better. The waiter took our order, and it was there very quickly. He had asked if we wanted an eye-opener, meaning a Bloody Mary, a Milk Punch, a Mimosa, or some other kind of alcoholic drink. That was the last thing we wanted that day. Rick and I both ordered Eggs Benedict. Kyle ordered a poached egg dish set on two artichoke hearts and covered with crab meat and Hollandaise sauce. Justin got scrambled eggs, link sausage, and grits. Kyle made Jus taste his dish, but I could tell Jus was in no mood to be a gourmet that morning. We finished breakfast around 9:30. Kyle, Jus, and I went into the men's room before we left, and Justin almost lost his breakfast. Kyle wet some paper towels and put them on his neck and forehead after he squeezed them out. "Come here, Bubba," I said to Jus. He came to me, and I hugged him. "You know the people here with you are your family, don't you? You know we love you, don't you," I asked. "I know, but I'm probably going to have to say some really bad stuff, and you're not going to love me after you hear that," he said. Kyle grabbed him away from me, and he slammed him up against the wall. I thought a fight was breaking out. "This is the same shit you pulled in New Orleans at Christmas, isn't it?" No response. "Isn't it," Kyle said much more aggressively. Again, no response. "What did I tell you then? Huh? Say it." "You said I can't do anything to make you stop loving me," he said. Tears were streaming down his face. "That's right, and it hasn't changed. It's never going to change. You can't make us stop loving you, Justin. Love is forever, man. Get that through your thick country-ass head. We love you! We will always love you, no matter what!" Kyle and Justin were crying, and I started crying, too. Then Kyle and Jus started laughing and crying at the same time. "Let's wash these ugly faces, Bubba," Kyle said. Morris the GM came into the restroom just then. I was sure he or someone else had heard what was going on and become concerned. "Can I help in any way," he asked when he saw what was going on. "I think we have it under control now, Morris. Thanks, though, man," I said. "Who is that guy," Kyle asked, once Morris had left. -45-

"He works here," I said. "Don't worry about him." *** They let Rick and me sit in on the deposition, since we were Justin's foster parents. Tyrone Williams was there, too. In addition to the court reporter from Alabama, the state's attorney and Jackson's court-appointed defense attorney were there, as well. There were seven of us in the conference room adjacent to my office proper. Kyle was out in Mary Ann's office. The questioning started off pretty gentle, just asking for information about Justin's relationship with Jackson. Pretty soon, though, it got kind of rough, with the man asking about what Jackson had made Justin do. I knew he was embarrassed beyond words by all of that, but he answered the man honestly and well. I had been angry at Kyle for jumping on him in the restroom at the hotel, but at that point I was damn glad Kyle had done and said what he had. After about an hour, Justin asked for a bathroom break, and Rick and I went out with him. Kyle was right there. We all went to the bathroom and either peed or pretended to pee. Gene came in there with us to find out how it was going and to ask if there was anything he could do. Justin pulled Kyle aside, and the two of them hugged. I knew Jus was telling Kyle what was going on, and Kyle was totally pissed. He borrowed Justin's cell phone and made a call. I figured he was calling Tim and Brian on the island, but he looked too serious for that to be the case. Who he was actually calling, though, was my brother for legal advice. "I'm going in with y'all," he said. "Craig said I can probably just slip in, and I'm going in with him." Nobody objected to Kyle's being there, since he wasn't with the media or anything. We broke for lunch an hour later. "I think the worst is over," Jus said. We were on the back deck of a restaurant at another one of our properties, overlooking an inlet. It was cool and nice, and the food was excellent. I got a bowl of she-crab soup and a Greek salad. Rick and the boys got the same thing, plus a roast beef sandwich. That restaurant was a place where people could pull up in their boats to eat, and a couple of them did that while we were there. It was built on stilts over the water, and the floor seemed to shake a little when somebody walked around. The floor was a little uneven, but the place was rustic and had a lot of charm. Once again we were spotted, and the GM of the hotel came out to see us. That place wasn't one of our big four, but it was a great place for lunch. I introduced Rick and the two boys. The guy recognized Kyle's last name right away, and he asked me in a whisper if that was who he thought it was. "Yeah, that's Gene's only child," I said. "Oh, my God," the guy said. "Lighten up. Kyle doesn't even know his family owns this place. He's a kid, Stewart, and he's more concerned about his brother's deposition than anything, right now. We're here to eat, not evaluate. After his brother's deposition, his second big concern is how to get our puppy to stop licking us on the face." Stewart grinned. "Unbelievable," Stewart said, obviously relieved. I saw Stewart talking to the restaurant manager, and in a minute a tray of desserts was presented to us for our selection. Kyle and Justin ordered some kind of chocolate cake dish that looked incredibly rich, and Rick and I ordered coffee. Since we were at an outdoor table, smoking was permitted. Justin, Kyle, and I all lit up. After lunch, we went back to our building for the rest of the deposition. It didn't go as well as I had hoped, and twice Jus had to take a break because he was too emotional to go on. "This is one of the worst parts of my job," Tyrone said, "watching these poor kids have to go -46-

through this. He's doing well, though. I'm glad Kyle is here. He seems to give Justin strength or something." "Yeah," I said. The deposition was over by four. We all went back to our house and crashed in the den. Justin was very quiet and subdued, emotionally drained from the day. We all were, really. Kyle and Justin were sitting next to one another on the sofa. Kyle started humming, imperceptibly at first, but it gradually got louder. At first we couldn't tell what the song was, but then we realized it was "Friends in Low Places." By the time he got to the chorus, the part we all knew by heart, he was singing softly. In a second, Justin joined in and Kyle got louder. Then Rick and I joined in, too, and all of us were singing Justin's favorite song and grinning. The line "I'll be okay" had special meaning that day, and we all knew it. Kyle got up and put the CD of that song on the stereo. He got Justin on his feet, and suddenly they were dancing. Rick took me in hand, and we danced, too. By the time the song had played through three times, the blues had been washed away. Kyle had done it again. (Kyle's Perspective) I was about to jump out of my skin sitting in Mary Ann's office while that deposition thing was going on. I wanted to be in that room with them so bad I could taste it, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. Mary Ann was just about the nicest person there was, and she kept trying to talk to me to get my mind off what was happening in the next room. Kevin must have told her about Trixie, and we talked about her some. I wasn't much in the mood for conversation, though, and she must have figured that out. Eventually, she stopped talking and just let me sit and worry. I don't know how long it was, but pretty soon they came out. Kevin, Rick, and I went into the restroom with Jus, and that boy was shook up. Finally I thought to call Craig. He would know if I was allowed in the room with them. When I told him what was going on, he said it wasn't really open to the public. He said I should just slip in and hope nobody cared, and that's what I did. If they noticed me, nobody said anything. After the whole thing was over and we were sort of rested up, I wanted to get everybody over to the island. I wished damn Jeff was going with us so the whole family could be together, but he wasn't even home yet. I knew he had other plans, too, but I thought maybe I could convince him to go, if he had been around. He wasn't, though. The great thing about that island is it's so peaceful. Tim, Brian, and Trixie were there to greet us. We didn't waste any time getting naked, and we all went for a swim. The water was cool but not cold, and there were enough waves to be fun without us having to worry about a rip tide. We played in the water for about an hour, and we all got out to lounge on the beach. I got beers for Kevin, Jus, and me without even asking if they wanted one or if Jus and I could have one. I think Kevin and Rick thought that we had been through a lot that day and that if we were men enough to do that, we were men enough to have a beer. We cooked the steaks we had brought, and I cut up one for Trixie, too. I made her stop eating a couple of times, and she pulled her mouth back the instant she heard me say the word. When we were finished eating, we were all lounging around, and she didn't once lick anybody in the face. I knew that she probably hadn't been completely broken of that, but it was a start. We got up some beach volleyball after dinner, and we had a great time. At first, Trixie wanted to play, too, but after a while she just sat and watched. One time I took a dive going after a ball, and she jumped up to see about me. She didn't lick, though. Having her around was like having another person there who cared about you. -47-

When it got too dark to play, we sat around and talked about a million things. We didn't talk about the deposition except to fill Tim and Brian in on what had gone on. We talked about Jeff and his friend Tyler some, and we talked about our little Chris, some, too. I hadn't had time to do much thinking and planning for a trip to go see him, so I didn't want to bring that up. I wanted to have everything worked out before I even presented the idea so they couldn't shoot me out of the water on some technicality, like having to work or something like that. Summer was our busiest season, of course, but it was also the only time for a two-week trip, which is what I figured we'd need, at a minimum. I knew they wouldn't hear of us missing that much school, so if we were going to do it at all, it would have to be in the first two weeks of August. I was already tied up at school during that third week of August with orientations and such, and school started right after that. On around ten o'clock, everybody was looking pretty tired. "Six o'clock wake-up call," I asked. "Why don't we just wake up when we wake up," Rick said. "Good idea," Kevin said, "and Jus you plan to stay out here with your brothers tomorrow. I'll let your boss know you're on special assignment for me tomorrow." We all grinned big at that one. "Thanks, Kevin," Jus said. All six of us slept on those four sleeping bags zipped together. We all snuggled up with our partners, but there wasn't any sex that night. I was sure there were boners all over the place, though. I know I had me one, and Tim did, too. Apart from holding his, though, that night was sex-free. (Rick's Perspective) Kyle took us in on Wednesday morning and came in with us for some coffee. He used the bathroom and showered, but he didn't shave again that morning. I can't stand having stubble on my face, but evidently some guys, like him, didn't mind it. That black shadow on his face looked sexy as hell, though. He cooked a big breakfast while Kevin and I were getting ready for the day, and he packed most of it up to take back to the island for the guys. He made plates for us, though, and he left just after we made it into the breakfast room. "I think we're going to come home tonight," he said. "You're not going to stay the whole week," I asked. "We had talked about it, and we still might if they all want to, but Brian and Tim are getting a little tired of being dirty and sticky all the time from the salt water. We've gotten a lot of sun, too. See?" He pulled down his shorts and pealed a sticker off his penis to show us the little untanned heart that was there. A lot of people would probably freak out if a kid his age did something like that at the breakfast table, but in our household it went without comment. "Call us if you decide to stay, okay," Kevin said. "Yes, sir, I will, but I think we won't." "Have fun today. And Kyle, thank you for yesterday, Bubba. It meant so much to Jus for you to be there with him," Kev said. "He's worried about the trial," Kyle said. "I know he is, but we'll all be there with him. We'll get him through it," I said. Kyle took off then with breakfast for his pack of boys. *** They really did come home that night, and they all had to show us their suntan tattoos, as they -48-

called them. Kevin and I had noticed Tuesday night that some shaving had gone on, and the neatened effect really looked good with their suntans. With the hair gone and with the dark tan, Kyle's chest and abdominal muscles looked a lot more defined than they had before. He had always been a powerfully built kid, but the effect of the work in our gym since Christmas was really noticeable. It was on all of them, but we had noticed it more gradually with the others. I now knew why bodybuilders shaved themselves. The rest of that week went by without incident. Brian and Tim hung out together during the day. Sometimes they skateboarded, sometimes they shot pool or played ping pong, sometimes they sat around reading. Kyle joined them for some of those activities, but he also spent a good bit of time in the darkroom at school. He had gotten basic instruction on darkroom work from the photographer he had befriended, but, as he put it, "it just takes hours of practice to get good." Sally Ortega, the principal, obviously loved Kyle to death and had given him permission to use the school darkroom as long as he bought the supplies he needed. He was more than grateful, and I'm sure he bought a lot more supplies than he would use all summer. She even went so far as to give him a key to the exterior door of the classroom that had the darkroom in it, and he was able to get in and out of that room from the outside of the building whenever he wanted to. Kevin and I both had things well under control at work, and most days we were able to get home around four or 4:30 to work out with the guys. After that, we would swim. On Friday night, Jeff and Tyler joined us until around nine, and then they went out. After they had left, Justin brought up the subject that I figured everybody was wondering about. "Do y'all think they're fucking?" "Say what you mean, Bubba. Don't beat around the bush," Kyle said. We all laughed. "No, I mean it," Jus said. "Do y'all think they're having sex?" "We don't know, Jus, and it's none of our business if they are, now, is it," Kevin said. "I knew you were going to say that," Jus said. "Why do you care," I asked. "Because we care about Jeff, that's why," Kyle said. "Yeah," Jus agreed. "I know you do," I said, "but he plays it pretty close to the vest. We may never know for sure, and that's his right, don't you think?" There really was no room for disagreement on that point, and we let the subject drop. We knew Tyler hadn't spent the night at our house, and Jeff had been there every morning, at least. Tyler had his own apartment, but he also had a roommate, who was also in the Coast Guard. I had no idea if the roommate knew he was gay or not, but that was something they would have to work out. Ty had a lot vested in not being outed, that was for sure, but they could still do whatever they wanted without spending the night with one another. We put it away around ten that evening. The boys went upstairs to their rooms and Kevin and I went to bed to make sweet love of our own. *** Sunday night everybody, including Jeff and Tyler, was gathered in our den. Ordinarily, Tim and Kyle would have been at one or other of their own homes, but they wanted to spend that night with us because the next day was their first day of work at their summer jobs. "Are you nervous, guys," I asked. -49-

"Naw," Kyle said. "I am," Brian said. "I've never had a job before, and I'm afraid I'm going to screw up." "Just do what they tell you to do, and you'll be fine," Jus said. "That's what I do. And it doesn't hurt to use your noggin once in awhile, either." "What do you mean," Bri asked. "Well, if you see something that needs doing, go ahead and do it, even if nobody tells you to," Jus said. "That's good advice," Kevin said. "Kyle, I get to train your ass tomorrow," Justin said. "Tim's already taken care of that," Kyle said. "Ain't you, Babe?" "Kyle!" Tim said. We all knew he wasn't really embarrassed by what Kyle had said, but his pretend shock made us laugh. "Not that kind of training," Jus said. "Bellhop training." "Like what," Kyle asked. "Well, how to get them ice, how to adjust the air conditioner, and, the most important part, how to hang around for your tip without being obvious," Jus said. We all laughed. "Do you make good tips," Kyle asked. "Yeah, most days," Justin said. "I'm working on quite a nice little bankroll, in fact. I'll also teach you how to know when it's your turn to take a guest and how to get along with the other bellhops." "Are they hard to get along with," Kyle asked. "Just a couple of guys," Jus said. "I'll tell you about them later." "Tell me now," Kyle said. "You know I hate secrets, Jus." "Well, okay. There's this one guy who will probably flirt with you all day long," he said. "Flirt? What do you mean? What does he do," Kyle asked. "Just different things. He looks at you with sort of knowing eyes, you know? Or he'll find excuses to touch you or do little kisses in the air at you. Stuff like that," Jus said. "Does he do that with guests, too," Kevin asked. "No, sir, not that I've ever seen. He just does it with the other bellhops, especially if nobody is looking." "What do you mean he touches you? Like, down there," Kyle asked. "Oh, no, nothing like that. I mean, when he talks to you, he'll put his hand on your arm. Shit like that," Jus said. "A lot of people do that, Bubba," I said. "I know. I probably wouldn't think anything about it, if he didn't do the other stuff, too. One morning this week, Monday I guess it was, he asked me if Kyle was my boyfriend when he dropped me off at work." "What did you say," Brian asked. "I said 'no,' of course. Then I asked him why he thought I might have a boyfriend, and he said he was just teasing me," Jus said. "He doesn't mean any harm by it, and he's usually pretty funny, too." "I'm glad you told me that, though, because that's the kind of thing that would have gotten all over me if I hadn't known about it ahead of time," Kyle said. "What about the other guy?" "The other guy's just the opposite. He's always calling everybody fag and homo, and stuff like that. He really gets on Stephen. That's the first guy's name, Stephen and not Steve. I made that mistake the first day, and he set me right. His name is Stephen." -50-

"Has he ever called you fag," Kyle asked Justin. "A couple of times. Yeah," Jus said. "What about you, Jeff? He ever call you fag?" "He calls everybody that, Kyle. Don't go there looking for a fight," Jeff said. "I'm not," Kyle said. Kyle got quiet. It was almost like you could see the little gears working in his head, trying to sort it all out. "Kyle, you go there tomorrow with the intention of getting along with everybody, you hear," Kevin said. "Yes, sir, I am," Kyle said. "He and I might have to have a private chat, is all. What's his name, anyway?" "It's Wayne," Jus said. "Kyle, you can have a private chat, but no pulling rank, you hear me? 'Cause I'll fire your ass, if I find out about that," Kevin said. "I'm not going to do that, Kevin. I learned my lesson last summer with Herman. I'm not going to be an asshole," Kyle said. "Why change now," Jeff asked. We all laughed, and Kyle got this really hurt look on his face. Jeff rarely teased him, or anybody, like that, and it appeared Kyle had taken it personally. "Kyle, I didn't mean that. You're not an asshole. You know I don't think you're an asshole, Bubba." Jeff was all over himself apologizing for what he had said. "Got you last," Kyle said and laughed. The rest of us laughed, too, including Jeff. "On second though, you are an asshole, after all," Jeff said. We all laughed hard, and Kyle was positively tickled. Just as Jeff rarely teased anybody the way the rest of us did, we rarely had a chance to get him last. "I wish somebody knew something about the gift shop we're working in," Brian said. "Yeah, like, what are we going to have to do," Tim asked. "You guys will start out learning the stock," I said. "That's usually the first thing. Then you'll learn how to run the register and wait on customers. Once you've learned the stock, you'll be able to tell people where to find stuff." "Does it get really busy there," Tim asked. "Sometimes," I said. "There will be five of you working at any one time. You guys work from eight till three, and then another shift will come on. It closes at ten. Sometimes you'll have to close." "That's a long damn day," Justin said. "They'll go in at three on those days, Jus," I said. "Don't you guys have shifts?" "Yeah. Seven-thirty to 3:30 or 3:30 to 11:30. There's the graveyard shift from 11:30 at night to 7:30 in the morning, but they have regular guys who work that shift all the time. We won't get that one ever." "Actually, Jus, I set it up for the summer that you guys will only work the day shift. You might have to fill in occasionally at night, but not usually," Kevin said. "That's called working a double, just so you'll know," I said. "You do it in the restaurant business all the time." "Well, I'm all set and ready to start," Kyle said. -51-

(Gene's Perspective) Frankly, I had very mixed feeling about Kyle starting to work at the Laguna. On one hand, I was excited as hell that my son, my baby boy, was moving into the family business. If the good Lord said the same, he'd have my job one day, and it was important for him to know that business from top to bottom. The gift shops were profitable, and we could have lived damn well if those were all we had, but the hotels and motels brought in the real money. Even though I was excited for Kyle, I was also a little sad that he was already old enough to work at all. With Clay, I always knew, or thought I knew, that he would grow up and be a man. Kyle, though, would always be a little boy in my mind, I thought. What ironies life throws us! Here he was, at seventeen, a mature, responsible, sensitive, intelligent, and very capable young man. Clay never made it as far in his twenty years as Kyle had in seventeen. Sixteen, really, because he didn't just get to be that way. I had made big plans to buy the resort in the next town and to turn it into an international showplace. Then September 11 came along, and financing for that sort of project disappeared almost over night. I had already hired Kevin and Rick so I could devote my full time to the resort, and I wasn't about to let those two get away. I went in to work every day, and I didn't say anything to them--or to anybody but Rita--about what had happened. But my resort plans crashed along with the World Trade Center. I hadn't gotten over the emotional shock of that catastrophe when Clay died, and that really threw us for a loop. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Period. At forty-three, Rita and I were still young, but when Clay died a part of us died with him. Rita was especially hard hit. She went into deep depression, and it took two doctors and almost-daily therapy to get her out of it. She was totally listless. When she wasn't crying, she was sleeping. We had always had a pretty active and vigorous sex life, but that came to a screeching halt. It wasn't until we were in New York after Christmas that we were able to make love again since Clay. I missed it, sure; who wouldn't? But, to tell the truth, it took weeks after he died before I could even get aroused. I had always masturbated, even when we were making love almost every day, but I didn't even do that for a couple of months. I've since read that Rita and I were not at all unusual; if anything, we recovered faster than most. At the time, though, I thought death had robbed me of my masculinity and of a fundamental part of the most important relationship in my life. In the spring, things improved significantly in the tourism industry, and the banks and mortgage companies that had shot me down on the resort deal came sniffing around wanting me back in play. By then, though, I had lost interest in the resort. I decided, instead, to buy just the hotel portion of the package, which they were eager to sell me. That deal wasn't closed yet, but it would be by the end of July. I hadn't yet talked to Kevin and Rick about it. One part of me wanted to get back into hotel management in a hands-on kind of way, and Rita and I had talked at length about selling the house in Emerald Beach and moving closer to the new hotel so I could run it. Kevin and Rick could run corporate, as they had so well demonstrated. In fact, the best business decision I had ever made was hiring Kevin and Rick to run the business here. They were both smart as hell, and they seemed to thrive on hard work. More importantly, though, they were a natural team, and those are rare. Had both of my own children not been gay, I might have hesitated to hire a gay couple for their jobs. What a fool I would have been to let that stop me! They brought a synergy to their jobs that was priceless and irreplaceable. I got a little worried a few times in the spring when they got into some major arguments over policy decisions. I needn't have worried, though. Those were just honest differences of opinion about work -52-

matters, and they had nothing whatever to do with their personal lives, except maybe to improve them. I commented about my concern to Kevin one day, and he just laughed. "If you knew what those arguments did for us in the sack, you'd encourage them every day," he had said. That was what I wanted to hear. I had already decided I was going to stay away from the Laguna on June 1st, the day Kyle started there. Nobody else's daddy checked up on them on their first day on the job, and he didn't need me doing that, either. But I'd be there on June 2nd, prouder than a peacock. (Kyle's Perspective) I had wanted to work in a hotel all my life. When I was little, before he died my grandpa had my dad's job, and my dad had the job Kevin and Rick have now. He used to take me and Clay with him to visit the hotels and motels on Saturday morning sometimes, or in the summer. We didn't have as many then, but I loved those places. I wanted me a uniform like the bellhops had. What they did looked like it was so much fun. I didn't understand about getting paid and tips and all of that. I just knew I wanted to work like they were working. "Are you excited, Babe," Tim asked me in bed the night before our first day of summer work. "Yeah. Are you?" "I'm excited, but not like you are," he said. "What do you mean?" "When we make love when you're excited about something, it's like no other time, Babe." I propped up on my elbow to look at him. "Did I hurt you," I asked. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do. He started laughing. "No, you didn't hurt me, Kyle, but one of these times don't be surprised if I pass out because it feels so good. Making love when you're excited is the best." I smiled at him. He was so cute and innocent. I mean, obviously I knew he wasn't totally innocent or a virgin or something, but he just seemed innocent, somehow. "It's always good for me," I said. "It's always good for me, too, Babe, but nights like tonight are just super good," he said. "I lasted a long time, didn't I?" "That was part of it, but there's just more intensity when you're excited. I don't know what it is, but I can always tell, even when you're not jumping around," he said. "I'm getting better at not jumping around, ain't I," I said. "Yeah, I think you are. You and Trixie," he said. "You little monkey," I said laughing, and I went after me some of that big, fat banana of his. *** We really didn't have to get up until 6:30, same as during school, but I was awake by 5:30. I was hoping Tim would wake up, but I didn't want to wake him myself. It always made me feel selfish to wake him up just because I wanted sex. He never said anything or told me no, and I knew he wouldn't that morning, either. We had done it twice the night before, and I knew I would stay alive without it that morning. Still, I was really, really horny, and I thought it would be nice to start the first day of our new jobs by making love. I eased myself out of bed to pee and use the bathroom for the other thing, too, just in case. I was careful getting back in bed, too. I was just lying there, listening to him breathe, and I was wanting him bad. -53-

"Hi," he said. He kind of startled me a little bit because I wasn't really expecting him to wake up. "Hi, Baby," I said. I kissed him gently on the lips. "That wasn't much of a good morning kiss," he said, so I kissed him again, that time so he knew how much I wanted him. "Lie back," he said, after we had kissed for a while. Ever since Justin had shaved me, Tim had wanted to rim me and suck my nuts even more than before. I loved when he did that, and it always made me horny to have him do it. He put a finger inside and found my sweet spot. I wanted his dick, though, and I knew he'd get around to that eventually. It was almost like we knew what each other wanted without having to say it. It didn't take him long to get me so hot I was about to pop. I was leaking pre-cum into my belly button, and he was rubbing it around on me. He scooped some up and rubbed it on his own dick. God, that was hot, I thought. He squirted a little of the lube that was on the nightstand on me, and he rubbed it in as deep as he could go. Then he lubed himself. I pressed down to make it easier for him to get in my butt, and we made spectacular love. "That's the best way to start the morning. Now I'm going to have some of you inside me all day," I said. "Just don't fart," he said, and that cracked both of us up. We got up and took a shower together. We washed each other, but we only got a little hard, not the real thing. I figured our bodies were trying to recover from the night before and that morning. I put on my uniform, and it felt great. I only had two, so I would probably have to wash it every day. I was supposed to wear a white tee shirt under it so that it showed at the collar. Maybe that would help so I could wear it more than one day, I thought. Then I thought, Hell, I'll just buy some more. Tim didn't really have a uniform, but he sort of did. He had to wear a navy blue polo shirt with the company logo on it and khaki shorts or long pants, his choice, as long as they were khaki. No jeans. They were all waiting for us at the breakfast table. Rick had gotten up and cooked a really nice breakfast, and we had plenty of time to eat it without rushing. I noticed Brian didn't eat very much. "Nervous, Bubba," I asked Brian. He smiled real sweet and nodded. "Tim will take care of you, Buddy," Justin said. "I'm going to have to take care of his boyfriend's ass; he might as well take care of yours." It was right on the tip of my tongue to say that Tim had already taken care of my ass that morning, but I caught myself in time. That was the kind of remark they definitely didn't like. I got Kevin and Rick to take some pictures of us with both cameras. I took some of Tim with the SLR, and I knew they'd turn out good. Justin and Jeff had been riding together in Jus's truck, but three didn't fit all that good in it. We took my car that morning, but Jeff and I would alternate. Jeff had a Mazda 626 just like me, and it was a company car, just like mine was. I knew Tim would let me take his, if I asked him, but I also knew he was pretty damn proud of that Wrangler and loved to drive it. Since we had to be there at 7:30, we left the house at seven. They didn't have to be at the gift shop till eight, and it was also a little closer than the hotel. I punched the clock when I got to the hotel. Justin showed me how to do that, but there really wasn't anything to it. Then he took me up to the lobby where the bell captain was waiting for me. I hadn't met him before, so I introduced myself to him. The captain's name was Jason. He looked like he was thirty-something and pretty good looking. -54-

He smiled real nice when we shook hands, and he eyed me up and down pretty good, too. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring or anything, which I knew didn't mean squat, but I just had a feeling that maybe him and me were on the same team. I met Stephen, Wayne, and a couple of other guys. Stephen wasn't exactly prissy, but he wasn't going to win any Mister Macho contests, either. He was in his early twenties, I guess, and he was pretty cute looking. "And who might you be, cutie," he said to me before I introduced myself. "Hi, I'm Kyle," I said. He looked at my name tag that said "Kyle." "And so you are," he said. "Any last name, or is that confidential?" "Goodson. Kyle Goodson," I said. "I'll bet you're good at more than just being a son," he said. Usually I hate it when people play around with my last name, even though I've gotten that all my life. The way he said it was just funny, though, so I laughed. Wouldn't you like to know, I thought. I was going to like him, I already knew it. "Hi," I said to this big guy with strawberry blond hair. His name tag said he was Wayne. "Hi. You're Justine's boyfriend, right?" "Justine?" I started laughing. He didn't want to laugh, I could tell, but he finally did smile a little. I had the feeling that was as much joy as that boy had had in a while. I just ignored the comment about being Justin's boyfriend. "Kyle, I want you to work with Justin today, at least this morning. He knows the routine pretty well, and he can show you what to do," Jason said. "Yes, sir," I said. He kind of smiled sarcastically at me when I said that. I'm sorry, but that's just the way I was raised. Blame my parents, Jason, I thought. Saying "sir" was just a reflex. Justin explained about taking turns with guests. Usually the captain went out to greet the guests, and one or two or sometimes even three of us followed, if they had a lot of stuff. One guy would take them up to their room, but the other one or two would help load their stuff on the cart. We had to make it snappy so they wouldn't have to wait for us. The guests would check in, and we would hang behind, but out of everybody's way. Our goal was perfect invisible service. Jus said a lot of times the lady would strike up a conversation with the bellhop while the man was checking them in. If they had kids, he said it was a good idea to keep an eye on them in case they wandered off. You weren't supposed to go after them or anything, but you would be able to tell the parents where they were when it was time to go up to their room. He said most of the time the kids were pretty excited to be on vacation and in a hotel, so they tended to roam. I found out that Monday wasn't all that busy a day for bellhops. Vacation people usually checked out on Sunday morning and new ones checked in on Sunday afternoon, if they were staying a full week. I had always figured working Sunday was for the low guys on the totem pole, but the opposite was true. Because there was so much traffic that day, the guys who had been there the longest got to work that day because they made so much more in tips. I was just glad to be there. I found out, too, that that particular hotel was about fifty-fifty during the summer--fifty percent vacationers and fifty percent business travelers. The hotel ran a couple of shuttle vans back and forth to the airport and to the Navy base, where most of the business travelers were headed. They went to other businesses on the beach, too, like the game and fish research station, the Coast Guard base, a cell phone company that had like a million employees, and others. A lot of people rented cars, too, of course, even if they arrived by plane. We also had business meetings and business training sessions there, but -55-

those were mostly in our non-vacation seasons. Justin and I worked four sets of guests together, two arrivals and two departures. He showed me how to get a room ready for them, where to get ice, and that sort of thing. It took about a half hour for each set of guests because of the time at check-in and all. Sometimes it took longer, he said, sometimes not that long. The departures were much quicker, and you usually got a lot smaller tip from them. They were usually in a hurry, and a lot of times they were probably broke from their vacation. Remembering to save money to tip the bellhop wasn't real high on many people's priorities. Another thing we had to do was deliver room service. We had a couple of those orders, too, that morning. The people called room service to place their order. The people in the kitchen made it for them and called the bell desk. Usually the captain took the call, but whoever was closest did, if the captain happened to be away from the desk. You then had to go to the kitchen to get the order, deliver it, present it, ask if they needed anything else, like more towels or ice or a blow job (just kidding), and then leave. Usually they put the cart in the hall when they were finished, or housekeeping got it back to the kitchen later in the day. A room service call usually meant a pretty good tip. They probably thought we had cooked it. "Are you ready for a break," Jus asked me. I hadn't even thought about getting a break, but I guess you had to have time to pee sometimes. "Yeah," I said. "I guess." "Come on," he said. He took me to an employee break room. It had a couple of vinyl couches, some vending machines, and four or five tables with chairs around them. "This is where we take our breaks," he said. "It's also where we eat lunch. It's okay to smoke in here, if you want to." I didn't have any smokes on me, but he did. I bummed one from him and got myself a soft drink and a candy bar from the machines. I sat down on one of the couches, and all of a sudden I realized I was tired. "How are you liking it," he asked. "I'm loving it," I said, and I wasn't lying. Wayne came in right about then and lit up a smoke. "Are you two sweethearts having a good time," he asked. At least he's talking, I thought. "I'm having a good time," I said. "What about you?" "Same as always. Two cocksuckers stiffed me, though. The bastards." If you'd be more friendly, that might not happen, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut. "I think you're ready to be on your own," Jus said. "We'll see what Jason says, but you know what to do." "So you're turning your boyfriend loose, sweetie?" "Look, dude," I said. "We're best friends, but we're not boyfriends, okay? So lighten up with that shit." "You're a feisty little cocksucker, aren't you?" "Come on, Kyle. There's no point in talking to this guy," Jus said, and we left the break room. Jason said it was okay for me to start taking guests by myself if Justin thought I was ready. The rest of that morning was fine. I didn't see much of Wayne after that. Chapter 6 -56-

(Kyle's Perspective, Continued) The rest of the morning went really good. I had a couple more room services and a couple of check-outs. Justin was right about the check-outs. They didn't tip for shit. It so happened that day that Justin, Jeff, and I had lunch at the same time. Lunch and breaks had to be staggered so that there were enough bellhops on duty all the time, but we happened to luck out that day. The other bellhop who was off for lunch with us was Stephen. One of the things I learned at that lunch was that the break room was for all the employees, not just the bellhops. There were a bunch of housekeeping people in there, mostly ladies, a couple of valet parkers, a few people--ladies and men--from the bookkeeping and financial part of the hotel, and us. They had a special line in the kitchen for the help, and it was free. That day it happened to be beef stew, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and salad. We filled up our plates big and went in to eat. We only had thirty minutes to eat, but that was okay. We all got glasses of tea from a service cooler, and it was good and sweet, just like I liked it. Stephen joined us, probably because he saw the uniforms we were wearing. He had no way to know how we were related to one another. "You ladies mind if I join you," he asked. "Come on and join us," I said, "but don't call us ladies. We all have dicks." He sort of grinned. "Even more interesting," he said. Nobody said anything at first. We were all eating pretty hard. That stew was damn good, and those were real mashed potatoes, too, not canned or out of a box, like at school. Breakfast and lunch were the meals I ate the most at, and I got me a good lunch that day. "Has your day been good, Kyle," Stephen asked. "Yeah, it's been real good. I love being a bellhop," I said. "Well, some of us have greater aspirations," he said. I didn't know exactly what he meant by that, but I didn't stop eating to try to figure it out. "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them," Jeff said. Stephen perked up when Jeff said that. "Exactly," Stephen said. "Julius Caesar, right?" "Right," Jeff said. "You guys know each other, don't you," he said. "I saw you drive up together this morning." "The three of us are brothers," I said. "How can that be? You don't look anything alike, and you're all different. Muscle Man, Redneck, and Shakespeare." "Yeah, but we are brothers, dude," Jus said. "Sort of foster brothers and honorary brothers, but we're brothers." "Foster brothers and honorary brothers? I don't get it," Stephen said. "It's a long story, Stephen, but that's what we are," Jeff said. "Do you have any brothers, Stephen," I asked. "I don't even have parents anymore, much less brothers," he said. "You don't have parents anymore? I'm sorry, man. Was it an accident," I asked. "Yes. An accident of birth. My parents disowned me and kicked me out a year ago. That's when they found out I'm gay," he said. "You guys knew I was gay, right?" "Yeah, we figured," Justin said. The peach cobbler we had for dessert that day was shit. They used damn canned peaches, and -57-

there was way too much corn starch in it. I knew how to make a fruit cobbler, and that was definitely not the way to do it. I wondered if that was on the menu in the dining room. Probably not. After we finished eating, Stephen lit up a cigarette. Justin did, too, and he passed me his pack. I had already had one that day, but I took one anyway. I figured I was turning into a cigarette fiend, with a nicotine stain on my index finger, just like that boy in The Music Man . I looked at my finger, but it was clear. I didn't know what a nicotine stain looked like, but I was going to be on the lookout. We went back to work after we finished lunch. A lot of what we did that afternoon was just hanging around. I talked to a few of those guys, and they were all real nice. They were all college students or older. A couple of them had gone to Beachside, and they seemed to think it was cool that I was still a high school student and had that job. In mid-afternoon a Mr. Rooney came around looking for me. He was the General Manager of the hotel, or the GM, as they all called him. He called me out to talk to me. "Kyle, we're very happy to have you here, son," he said. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I'm very happy to be here," I said. "I've known your dad for four years or longer, and when he called me to say he wanted you to work here, I was thrilled. Welcome aboard, Kyle." "Thank you, sir. I'm going to be good for you," I said. I knew that was lame, but I didn't know what else to say. That guy was my top boss. I knew, and he knew I knew, that Kevin was ultimately my boss, and his boss, too. What he didn't know, but I knew, was that Kevin would fire me ten times faster than he would fire him if I stepped out of line. And I knew my daddy would back Kevin up, too. I didn't have a choice but to be a good employee, which I wanted to be, anyway. "I know you'll be good, Kyle. It's in your blood, son. It's in your blood." "So who the fuck are you, that the GM would come out to see a bellhop on his first day," Wayne asked me. "Are you blowing him?" "He knows my dad," I said. "Is he blowing your dad? No, your dad must be blowing him. That's how you got this job, right?" "Leave me alone," I said. "I ain't leaving you alone, motherfucker. I hate homos. I don't know for sure yet that you are one, but I saw you eating lunch with that queer, Stephen. I will haunt you Kylie, just like I'm going to haunt Justine and Jeffette. You fucking queers are going to get torched by me, and I know you need these jobs. You can't quit, motherfucker, and I know it." "Are you saying all of this because the general manager came down from his office to say hello to me? That made you think my father is blowing him? Wayne, I think you're crazy, man." "Yeah, crazy like a fox," he said. Before I knew it, it was time to punch out and go home. I relaxed when I sat down in my car when we all got in it, and I was tired. I had been standing up almost all day, and that really takes it out of you. Nobody was in the den when we got home. Jus and Jeff went up to their rooms to change or something, and I laid down on one of the sofas in the den. I was out in ten seconds. *** They woke me up when they came home. I had only been sleeping for a few minutes, like maybe thirty, but I really felt good when I woke up. It was like I had had a full night's sleep. I was still in my uniform, so I hopped upstairs to put on shorts and a tee shirt to work out in. Tim was asleep in our bed. I thought about crawling in there with him, but I really wasn't tired anymore. I decided just to change and to -58-

leave him alone. I figured they had worked him and Brian pretty hard at the gift shop, and he was tired out. One of 'em made a pot of coffee, and I wanted some as soon as I smelled it when I went downstairs. I checked my watch, and it was just a few minutes after five. "Hi," I said, when I went into the breakfast room. Kevin, Rick, and Jeff were sitting at the table, having coffee. I fixed myself a cup and joined them. "Hey, Bubba," Kevin and Rick said. "How was your first day," Kevin asked. "It was great. I think this kind of work is in my blood. At least that's what Mr. Rooney said," I said. "Oh, you met Jack Rooney? He's a really nice guy, isn't he," Kevin said. "Yes, sir, I did, and he seems to be real nice." "Kyle had his first encounter with our resident homodion," Jeff said. "Homodion? What does that mean," Kevin asked. "It's a word I sort of made up," Jeff said. "Homophobe means somebody who fears homosexuals, right? Well, the Latin word for 'hate' is odi. I just put that together with 'homo' and got homodion, somebody who hates homosexuals." "Interesting," Kevin said. "So who is this guy? Tell us about him." "He's some asshole," I said. "No more details than that? What did he do," Rick asked. "He called Justin Justine and Jeff Jeffette. He asked me if I was blowing Mr. Rooney. I told him my dad knows him, and he said something like, oh, your dad must be blowing him, then, for you to get this job. Just shit like that," I said. "He said he was going to haunt us and that we'd get torched by him. He said he knew we couldn't quit because we needed our jobs." "He does that kind of stuff all the time, Kevin," Jeff said. "But not just to us. He does it to everybody except Jason, I think. Jason's the bell captain." "That's harassment, Babe, plain and simple," Rick said. "I know. Do you guys want me to do something about it," Kevin asked. "We told you this stuff as our brother, Kev, not as our boss," I said. "Let us have a few more days with him before you do anything. You told me not to pull rank, and I don't want to." "Yeah, but that's a direct violation of our personnel policies," Rick said. "That's not pulling rank, Kyle. That's protecting your human rights, man, and the human rights of the other guys." "Still, let us work on it, okay?" "Okay, but if this shit keeps up, I want to know about it, as your boss, not your brother," Kev said. "This could be a legal issue with other employees, guys. I need to know what's going on." Justin came in dressed for a work out, and he got a cup of coffee, too. "Hey," he said. "Brian's dead to the world. They must have worked his ass off at the gift shop." "Tim, too," I said. "I caught me forty winks on the sofa. I was tired, too." "You'll get used to it," Jus said. "I did." Rick, Justin, and I worked out, and then we went for a swim to cool off and relax. The puppy came in the pool with us, and we all played around with her. You could really see those suntan tattoos on Jus, and mine looked sharp and clear, too. Rick kept looking at them. I knew he wasn't checking us out. He had had plenty of chances to do that if he had wanted to, and he had never given us more than a glance before. I wondered what ole Wayne from work would say about them. I chuckled to myself when I thought of that. -59-

(Brian's Perspective) Our first day of work at the gift shop wore me out. I don't usually take naps after school or on Saturday afternoon the way some of them do, but I sure needed one that day. The work wasn't hard, and we didn't have to lift heavy things, or anything, but we had to stand up all day. I wasn't used to that, and I think that's what made me tired. Tim was tired, too, and he took a nap also. Working with Tim was the most fun. He and I are really a lot alike, and both of us liked talking to people who came into the shop. Rick or somebody had said there would be five people working, but there were more than that. For one thing, there was a snack bar in the back of the place. It was in a separate room, but it was definitely part of the operation. There were two cooks and a girl on the register. She did the bus work, too. A girl named Ellen was the manager of the whole thing, and she was super nice. The assistant manager, who came on as we were leaving for the day, was a guy named James. He seemed really nice, too, and he seemed glad to meet me and Tim. We got there around ten minutes to eight, and we were the first ones there. We couldn't even get in the place. It didn't open to the public until ten, and we spent the first two hours restocking the shelves. Rick was right about learning the stock, but I thought we were going to do nothing but that for the first few days. He must have meant we would do that the first thing every day because that's what we did. We sold a lot of different things, but the most popular items were bottles of water, sunscreen, disposable cameras and film, and cigarettes. We weren't supposed to sell cigarettes to anybody who was under eighteen, but if somebody who looked like Justin or Kyle asked for some, we just sold them to them without asking for ID. I carded one guy, and he was only sixteen, so I wouldn't sell them to him. Two minutes later, this other guy comes up and asks for the same brand as the sixteen-year-old. He was definitely older than eighteen, so I sold them to him. I saw him giving them to the younger guy not a minute later. They looked like they were brothers. We sold a good bit of beer, too. The age for beer was twenty-one, and we were a lot stricter about checking ages for that. I figured there were some fake ID's floating around in that place when one group of about ten came in together, but we let them have it if the ID said they were twenty-one. Ellen said we weren't the cops, although I noticed that she confiscated one ID that looked fake even to me. It had been made using a scanner and a computer, and it was printed out on regular paper. I mean, what state issues driver's licenses that way? The Florida ones had a hologram on them, so they were harder to fake. Of course, Kyle had a Florida one that had belonged to his brother. It had Clay's picture on it, but it looked enough like Kyle for him to get by with it. The thing is, it said that Clay was twenty-two. If Clay was still alive, he'd still only be twenty, so it must have been a fake when he had it. One thing I hadn't counted on was seeing all the people in just their bathing suits. I don't really notice cute girls all that much, but I did that first day. A few of them were just plain beautiful, and they had on bikinis that really showed a lot of skin. This one girl had really nice breasts. They weren't really all that big, but they were really nice. Tim noticed them, too. Both of us noticed the guys who came in. This one guy came in wearing just a yellow Speedo that was almost the same color as his hair. He had a cool tattoo on his left bicep and a nipple ring in his left nipple. He had a great tan, with just a little reddish underglow, and he had really good muscles, especially his abs. He didn't have an erection, but you could clearly see the outline of his softie, and it was a big one. I've never had a wet dream, but he was what I thought I would dream about if I had one. Tim saw him, too. That guy wanted to buy cigarettes, and I knew he was old enough to buy them. I started to ask for ID anyway, just so I could know what his name was, his age, and where he lived, but I didn't do it. "Hey, Buddy," Jus said when I went into the den. "Did you have a good nap?" -60-

"Yeah. Hey," I said, and I gave him a little kiss. "How was your day? Did you check out any cute boys in the shop," he asked. Before I could say anything, Kyle said, "Yeah, he did. Look how he's blushing." He ruffled my hair and grinned at me. "Don't tease him," Jus said. "You would have done the same thing, and you know it." "Hell, yes, I would have," Kyle said. "In fact, I scoped out a few at the hotel." We all laughed. Tim came down just then, and they went through almost the exact same routine with him, only it was Jus teasing him about the cute boys instead of Kyle. It was like they had worked out an act between them, and they played different parts, depending on whose boyfriend they were teasing. "Did you guys work out," Tim asked. "Yeah," Kyle said. "I'll go again, though, if you want me to." "Naw, that's okay. I can skip a day," Tim said. I was glad he said that because I didn't feel like working out. I knew that if he did it, I would have to do it, too, and I didn't want to. We all got a snack of some watermelon and cantaloupe that was in the kitchen, and then we watched TV. All the boys except Jeff went to bed early. (Justin's Perspective) Kyle's first day on the job was a good one. He learned all the stuff in about twenty minutes, which I knew he would. I mean, it's not real hard or anything. I could tell he loved doing it, too. One of the first things he asked about was getting some more uniforms. They gave us two when we got the job, but you had to buy them if you wanted more than that. I had bought me three more so I'd have at least enough for a week, and that's what Kyle did, too. All the uniform was was navy blue pants and a navy blue shirt that you were supposed to wear untucked. You had to wear a white tee shirt so it showed at the neck of your shirt, but the tee shirt had to be tucked. The shirt had a breast pocket with a Laguna Hotel logo on it. You weren't supposed to carry cigarettes in the shirt pocket, though. A pen and a little pad were okay to have there, but no smokes. I didn't know why they had that rule, but I did like they told me. The pockets in the pants were plenty big and loose enough for cigarettes, though, and they didn't care if you kept them there. The first day, Kyle had a little run-in with Wayne, the asshole. He said something like Kyle had gotten his job because Mr. Gene was blowing Mr. Rooney, the General Manager of the hotel. I thought Kyle was going to go off and bust that dumb fuck, but he didn't. He just told Wayne to leave him alone. I knew Kyle had to force himself not to get pissed off, and he did a very good job doing it, too. The second day was pretty much like the first and like most of the others. One difference was that Mr. Gene came by to say hello to the three of us. That man was so proud of his boy you could just see it on his face. Kyle was all happy and excited to see him, and he explained everything a bellhop has to do, like his daddy hadn't done that kind of stuff his whole life. Gene listened to him, though, like maybe Kyle had some insight after a day and a half that Gene and all those other guys hadn't thought of in all those years. Even if Kyle wasn't my brother and best friend, I'd still know he was cute. It started up with Wayne right after Gene left. "Who was that? Your sugar daddy," Wayne asked with a real mean tone in his voice. "He's my daddy, not my sugar daddy. I don't have a sugar daddy," Kyle said. His voice was even and calm-sounding, but if you knew Kyle like I did, you would have known there was a volcano fixing to erupt right under the surface. -61-

"I guess your 'daddy' must be in the back sucking Rooney's cock," Wayne said. "All you faggots are alike." "My daddy don't do that, man, so shut up about it," Kyle said. "Or what," Wayne said. "Just shut up, okay," Kyle said, and he walked away from Wayne. Jeff was standing there watching it all with me. "That guy doesn't have good sense," Jeff said. "He doesn't know what he's dealing with in Kyle, now, does he?" I laughed at what Jeff had said, and he laughed, too. "You got that right, Bubba," I said. Jason was sitting on a stool behind the bell desk, and we were close enough to it for him to have heard what we had been saying. I didn't know if he had heard what went on between Kyle and Wayne, though. Jason was a live-and-let-live kind of guy, so he never said anything when Wayne was picking on people. He more or less pretended he didn't notice it, but I knew he did. He called me and Jeff over. "It's been my experience that when a guy hates gays as much as Wayne claims to, that guy is hiding something," Jason said. "Are you saying Wayne is queer," I asked. "I didn't say that," Jason said. "But that's what you meant, isn't it," Jeff asked. "Jeff, I don't judge people," Jason said, "and I also don't care if Wayne is gay. The hospitality industry has always been gay-friendly, though. Hell, this company even offers domestic-partner benefits to gays and lesbians and their partners." "Really," Jeff asked. "Yeah, for a little over a year now. The rumor is the owner's son that died was gay, and he wanted to do that in honor of the son and his partner, even before the son died. I don't know if that's true or not, so don't go spreading it. That would tick Wayne off even more than he already is," Jason said. "I won't," Jeff said. Buddy, if you only knew, I thought. *** That night we were talking about it with Kevin and Rick. Tim and Kyle were spending that night at Kyle's house, so they weren't around. "Kevin, you would not have believed it was the same Kyle, man. Our Kyle. All I could think of was Kyle's knee in the nuts of that guy in New Orleans at Mardi Gras who was picking on me. I thought, Wayne, son, you don't even know what you're dealing with here," I said. "Why do you think he's being so restrained," Rick asked. "Because he doesn't want to disappoint you guys or his dad," Jeff said. Jeff told them what Jason had said about maybe Wayne is hiding something. "Jason may be right on target," Kev said. "It wouldn't be the first time some--what was that word you used yesterday, Jeff?" "Homodion?" "Yeah, some homodion had that as a motive," Kevin said. "What would really be cool is for Kyle to get a picture of Wayne in some compromising position, like on his knees blowing some dude," Jeff said. "You guys watch too much TV," Rick said. We all laughed. -62-

*** Later that evening, Brian and I were in our room watching TV. Jeff knocked on the door. Brian and I were both naked in bed, but we weren't doing anything. Brian said "come in" before we thought to put on shorts or something, so Jeff came in. "Oops," Jeff said. "Sorry, guys." "It's okay, Jeff. How many times have you seen us like this? We're not even hard," I said. We did get up and slip on some briefs, though. "What's up, Jeff," Brian asked. "I've been thinking about us getting a picture of Wayne giving somebody a blowjob. I know it'll never happen, but wouldn't it be great if we could do that?" "We'd have to really set that kind of thing up," I said. "I know. It's ridiculous, and I know it," Jeff said. "And it all goes up in smoke if it turns out he's a top." We laughed hard at that. *** Tim and Kyle were sitting at the breakfast table the next morning, all dressed and ready. They hadn't spent the night there, but Tim had to take Brian to work. Jeff and I could have gotten to work without Kyle, but we knew Kyle wanted to go in with us. "Did you tell your daddy what Wayne said about him yesterday," I asked. "Hell, no. I would never tell him stuff like that. He's about as open-minded as they get, but he doesn't want to know that shit, that's for sure," he said. "I was just teasing you, Kyle," I said. "Jeez, lighten up, man." "I know. And I got you last," he said. They all thought that was damn hilarious. I didn't think it was all that funny, but I laughed, too, just to be a good sport. *** We finished out the week, and it felt good to kick back on Friday night. The first thing Kyle wanted to do was count his tips. I never counted mine all at one time. In fact, a lot of days I didn't have any idea how much I had made in tips. We also got an hourly wage, but it wasn't even enough to worry about. It was with tips that you made your money. "How much did you make," I asked when he had finished counting it. "None of your business," he said. "You mean you're going to sit here and count it right in front of us and not tell," I asked. "I reckon so," he said. "Are you satisfied with it," I asked. "Yep." "Kyle, you're starting to frustrate me, now. How much damn money did you make? You're probably going to spend it all on us anyway. You might as well tell." When I said that, it finally dawned on my pea brain what was going on. Everybody in the damn room had a big grin on their face. Everybody but me. Kyle jumped on me and started wrestling around with me. He was laughing his ass off, too, and the rest of them started laughing. "Okay, you got me last," I said. "So how much?" "Eight forty-something, almost eight fifty," he said. "How much did you make this week?" I didn't know exactly, but it was about the same amount. -63-

"About that," I said. "You don't know, do you," Kyle asked. "I don't know exactly, no. So what?" "What do you do with your money," Kyle asked. "None of your damn business," I said. Two can play that game, buddy, I thought. "Seriously, what do you do with it," he asked. "I carry some on me, but mostly I bank it," I said. "You've got to pay income tax on that, you know. Wait till you get your check and see how much tax you have to pay. It's almost my whole check." "They didn't explain that to you, Jus," Kevin asked. "Explain what?" "For tip employees, we estimate what the tips will be and pay tax on that amount out of your check. That's why the tax is so much and the check is so little. That way, you probably won't have to pay much income tax when you file, if any." "No, they didn't explain that. Man, that puts things in a whole new light. I thought I would have to pay the government most of what I was earning," I said. "Did you know that, Jeff," Kevin asked. "Yeah, but not because they told me that at the hotel. I knew a lot of restaurants did that for wait staff, and I figured out that must be what's done for us when I saw how much my check stub showed I had paid in taxes," he said. "You guys didn't sign a form authorizing us to do that," Kevin asked. He seemed kind of annoyed. "I signed a bunch of stuff when I got hired, but I didn't read any of it," I said. "If it was there, I signed it." "Me, too," Jeff and Kyle both said. "Why didn't y'all read the stuff you signed," Kevin asked. "I didn't have time to read it all," I said. "The lady said it was all routine and for me just to sign 'em." "She was supposed to explain it to you, too," Kevin said. I could tell he was starting to get pissed, but it wasn't at us for once. "Babe, I remember my mom saying more than once that she didn't really know about the school she taught at until I was a student there. This sounds like a case of the same thing," Rick said. "Well, things will be different come Monday morning," he said. Then he did something that I though was pretty cool and that I would never have thought of. He made a phone call, but he must have gotten a machine. "Reminder to myself: Send a memo to tip employees regarding withholding tax. Ask Mary Ann to schedule a meeting of all human resources people for Monday afternoon. Get with payroll to make sure they haven't fucked up the withholding tax." Then he hung up. "What was that all about," I asked. "I called and left a message for myself on my voice mail at work so I won't forget about that stuff between now and Monday," he said. "Wow, that's pretty cool," Kyle said. "You guys don't ever leave reminders for yourselves," Rick asked. "No, but I will from now on," Kyle said. "But how do I call my cell phone from my cell phone?" "You have to use another phone, dummy," I said. "Jus, can I borrow your cell a minute, please," Kyle asked. -64-

"Sure, Bro," I said. I had it on my waist band, and I flipped it to him. He dialed a number, and in a second his cell rang. He didn't answer it, though, and let his voice mail pick it up. "Reminder to myself: bite off Justin's dick the first chance you get," he said and hung up. He handed me my phone back, just a-grinning. The rest of 'em were just about on the floor laughing so hard. I had to admit, that was pretty funny, and I laughed, too. "Who wants to shoot pool," he asked, and the five kids all went out to play. *** "Are y'all up for some strip pool," Kyle asked. "Hell, yeah," I said, "but only if you promise to grow your own cue stick again." The others laughed. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you," Kyle said. "Nope. It don't look like it," I said. That made 'em laugh even more. "How do you play strip pool, Kyle? I wasn't in on the famous game," Jeff said. "Every time you scratch, you have to take something off," Kyle said. "For purposes of this game, a scratch is when you pocket the cue ball, when you don't hit any balls at all on a shot, and if you shoot the cue ball, or any ball, off the table. Everybody got that?" "Yeah. Are we going to play Eight Ball," Jeff asked. "You really can't play that with five people," Kyle said. "Let's play Continuous Pool. It's sometimes called 14-1 Pool." "How do you play that," Tim asked. "You take turns shooting, and you can shoot at any ball, anytime, but you have to nominate the pocket," he said. "You get a point for every ball you get in a nominated pocket." "What does that mean," I asked. "That means you have to use a wall chart or something to keep track of your points," he said. "No, I meant a nominated pocket." "Oh, that means you have to say what pocket you want the ball to go in," he said. "If it doesn't go in, it's the next man's turn." "What if it goes in the wrong pocket? Is that a scratch," I asked. "You're thinking of Eight Ball, Jus," Kyle said. "If the eight ball goes into the wrong pocket, then you lose. In this game, you just spot the ball, and the next man shoots. You just keep playing continuously. There's one thing about this game that's a little peculiar. After fourteen balls have been pocketed, you rack them, except for the ball in play. The shooter is supposed to get his ball into the nominated pocket and mess up the others, too. If it just goes in and the rack isn't disturbed, the ball is spotted and that guy loses his turn. It sounds more complicated than it really is. I'll tell you what to do when we get that far." "How do you know all this stuff, Kyle," Tim asked. I just took it for granted Kyle knew everything about having fun. Of course, for all I knew, he might have just made every bit of that up. I wouldn't put it past him. "I make it my business to know," he said. "You, Brian, and Jeff ain't the only smart ones, you know." "I see I was left out of that line-up," I said. They laughed. "You and me are smart, Bubba, but just in different ways," he said. -65-

"You guys are people-smart," Brian said. "I'd much rather be people-smart than book-smart." "So would I, Brian," Jeff said. "Tyler loves all of you guys, but he especially loves you two." He meant me and Kyle. "Speaking of Tyler, where is he tonight," Kyle asked. "He'll be over in a little while. Today's his roommate's birthday, and he took him out for a drink to celebrate," Jeff said. "That's everybody's wet dream. A drunk boyfriend, and you don't even have to pay for it," I said. "You nut," Jeff said, laughing. "Do y'all want to lag for break," Kyle asked. "The official break is pretty complicated, so I usually just play regular break. Is that okay with you all?" "Why don't you just break for us," I said. "Yeah, but the one who breaks doesn't have much chance of sinking a ball," he said. "I'll do it," Jeff said. "We can go in reverse order of age, starting with me." "Wait, before we start, let's even up on the clothes we're wearing," Kyle said. "What do you mean," Tim asked. "We all start off with the same clothes on. Shorts, underwear, and two shoes. No shirts and no socks. Is everybody wearing underwear?" We all said we were. We all had shirts on, too, except Kyle, so we got out of those. And then we started the game. Brian was the first one to lose a piece of clothes. I would say that of all of us, Jeff was the least athletic and Brian was a close second. Of course, he had some skills with balls that I fully appreciated, but don't put him on a basketball court or a pool table and expect much. We had a great time playing pool together. We always had fun, though, and Kyle and I were cracking wise back and forth at one another, keeping everybody laughing. It was funny watching people play with just one shoe on. All of us were wearing deck shoes, and it's harder to shoot pool when you aren't balanced quite right. I remembered what Kyle had told me about keeping my head down. I was making some good shots, but I was scratching more than I should have been, too. After about an hour I was down to just briefs. "Let's take a break," I said. "Who wants something to drink," Kyle asked. "I'll have a margarita," I said. I had no idea what that was, but I had heard Craig say that one time at breakfast and get a laugh out of it. "That sounds good," Jeff said. "I was just kidding. I don't even know what that is," I said. "I do, though," Jeff said, "and I know how to make them." "I'd like to try one," Kyle said. "I've never had one before." We all gathered around the bar to watch Jeff make the drinks. Tim and Brian just wanted cokes, so they were easy. The first thing Jeff did was to pour some coarse salt onto a towel. Then he wet the rim of the glasses with some lime juice out of a bottle that was in the refrigerator. He turned the glasses face down in the salt, and it stuck to the rims. He put some ice from Kyle's new ice machine into the glasses and poured a jigger and a half of tequila into each one, followed by a half jigger of something called triple sec. He added two jiggers of lime juice, and the drinks were done. He said "cheers," and we clinked our glasses together. I knew better than to take a big swig of that stuff, so I just took me a sip. I could tell it was a strong drink, but the taste was like nothing I had ever -66-

had before. It was sort of sour and sweet and salty all at the same time. "This is good, Jeff," Kyle said. "Yeah. Thanks, Jeff," I said. "Brian, take a little sip, Buddy." He did, and Kyle gave Tim a little sip of his, too. Tim made a face to show that he thought it was nasty. "We ought to give Trixie a taste," Kyle said. "Get her tipsy." "No way," Brian said. "I'm just teasing, Bubba," Kyle said. "Besides, she's inside with Kevin and Rick." He said he was teasing, but I'd bet money he'd of done it if Brian hadn't said something. That's all we'd need was a drunk dog. Tyler came in as we were starting on our drinks. He told everybody hello, and we told him hello, too. "Go ahead and kiss him hello, Ty. It's just us, and I know you want to," I said. "You guys," he said, all shy and embarrassed, but then he kissed Jeff. "We're having margaritas, Ty. Do you want me to make you one," Kyle asked. "I've already had a couple of beers," he said. "Ty, if you feel like you can't drive later on, you can spend the night. We've got lots of extra places for people to sleep. I'm not pimping Jeff. We have two empty bedrooms on the third floor that nobody is using, and both of these sofas out here open up," Kyle said. "Besides, this is a celebration." "What are we celebrating," Ty asked. Yeah, I thought. What the hell are we celebrating? "We're celebrating our first week of gainful employment," he said, "and we're going to play all weekend." "I'm all for that, guys. Yeah, Kyle, make me a drink, please." I hoped real hard, and prayed to God, too, that Jeff and Tyler would fall in love with each other. I had gotten to know Jeff much better in the last few months, and that boy was a prince. Tyler was as nice as he could be, too, and I wanted them both to be happy. Kevin came out with Trixie to check on us around 10:30. He said he and Rick were going to bed but for us to stay up as late as we wanted. If he noticed we had had some drinks, he didn't say anything. "Tyler's going to spend the night with us, and we're all going to sleep out here, okay," Kyle said. "That's fine. That's why we bought the sofa beds," he said. "Good night, guys. Rick and I love all of you." We all said good night and that we loved him, too. We all had another drink, and by then pretty much everybody was just about asleep. We slept three in a bed, but that was all we did. Sleep. Chapter 7 (Jeff's Perspective) Tyler came over on Friday night, and we shot pool. He and I had been seeing each other and talking on the phone for well over a month, and I was really starting to like him a lot. He had only been around the home crowd a few times, but he loved them. Of course, that was an easy group to like. They accepted anybody you wanted them to accept, and they treated Tyler like he was a dear friend from the first minute they met him. Even Trixie seemed to like him. Tyler was kind of an archetypical "nice guy," a "boy next door," even. He was handsome and well -67-

built, and he had a great smile that he flashed with little provocation. His personality was easy going and agreeable, and he was always willing to do anything anybody wanted to do. I found myself thinking about him more and more at odd times, and I was rapidly developing a case of serious "like." I talked to Clay about him, and Clay approved. I know that sounds crazy, but it was real to me. Up until that weekend after the guys' first week of work, Ty and I hadn't done anything physical. We had kissed a few times, but those had been minor expressions of affection, not serious kisses. I couldn't help noticing that he was aroused much of the time that we spent together, and I was often aroused as well. I knew it would be up to me to make the first move, so to speak, and I figured that weekend was the time to do it. My only sexual experience had been with Clay. He and I had become best friends and inseparable comrades over a period of a couple of months. We had come out to each other early in our friendship, and, as we got closer and closer emotionally, we both knew the next logical step was the physical expression of our feelings. Still, we didn't rush into it. Clay had had some very minor experience with a couple of guys in Emerald Beach before we met, but he was basically as virginal as I was. Kissing had been the first step. When it got to be so intense that we needed release, we had brought each other off fully clothed. That had been rather messy, so we took the next step of getting naked together in bed. For eight months our passion grew, and we made the usual progress physically, as well. Finally, we were ready to take the plunge into anal sex. I knew Tyler was older, even if he was less experienced than Clay had been, and I knew he was ready for more than a chaste peck on the lips. It was, as they say, time. That Saturday night we were alone in his apartment. His roommate's birthday had been the day before, and the roomie had gone home that day to spend the weekend with his family. Clay had rented a couple of movies from Blockbuster, and we were sitting next to one another on the couch in his living room. After the first movie had ended, I made my move. We hadn't yet kissed deeply, but we did it then. Ty might have been a virgin, but he certainly knew how to kiss. We kissed for a long time, and both of us were thoroughly aroused. Finally, I put my hand on his penis through his jeans. "Don't tease me, Jeff," he said. "I'm not teasing," I said. "Are you ready for this?" "I'm very ready," he said. He smiled at me in a way that let me know he wasn't kidding. We were both a little nervous, but we both wanted one another. I unbuttoned the fly of his jeans. His penis was very hard, and there was a sizeable wet spot on his briefs. He raised his butt slightly to allow me to pull his jeans and underwear down, and I saw his erection for the first time. Next, he got my shorts and underwear down, and we used our hands on one another to achieve what we both needed and wanted. "I feel so different," he said after we were through. "What do you mean," I asked. "I feel a bond with you that I've never felt before with anyone else," he said. "It's like you and I have a secret that nobody else can ever share." "I know what you mean. I feel the same way. It's something special between us, isn't it?" "Does this mean we're a couple," he asked. God, he was cute! "It does as far as I'm concerned," I said. "Me, too," he said. "Definitely, me, too." We went out for coffee after that, and then he took me home. My car was still in the parking lot of his apartment complex, but I'd get somebody to help me retrieve it the next day. I went to sleep that night with a sense of completeness, as though I had come full circle in my life. I had a boyfriend again. -68-

(Kyle's Perspective) Tim and I spent Sunday night with my parents. That's when I first heard that the resort deal was off. Instead, my dad was buying another hotel over there, and they were talking about maybe moving. I got kind of scared. "I want to finish high school at Beachside," I said. "Kyle, that's not an issue, son. Of course you will," Dad said. "Even if we move?" "If Daddy and I move, that doesn't mean you have to, Kyle," my mom said. "You'll be eighteen in November, and absolutely nothing is going to happen before then. We'll buy you a condo, and you can stay right here." That sounded pretty good. But my own place? That'll never happen. "What's going to happen to the business here," I asked. "I've got the two best men in the world running it now," Dad said. "I haven't done squat in that business since last September. That's the main reason I feel so good about this." "Won't you miss being in charge," I asked. "That's my point, Kyle. I haven't been in charge for almost nine months, and things are going great. I go to the office every day and more or less just fart around. I get bored to death. I want the challenge of taking this old lady of a hotel and making her profitable again. What I'm talking about doing is exactly what my father did when I took over. He went back to managing a hotel, and he had a great time doing it." "Won't you miss living here," I asked. "We'll still be part of this community. It takes exactly forty minutes to get from our driveway to the GM's parking spot at that hotel, and that's with traffic. We'll be back and forth all the time," he said. "In fact, we'll probably pick up a small condo here, too." "I feel like I haven't been a very good son," I said. "Are you out of your mind," my mother asked. "Kyle, we could not have asked for a better son than you are, baby." "Kyle, don't think that, please. Don't ever think that," Dad said. "Losing Clay got you mama and I thinking. Life is too short to spend it doing anything less than what makes you the happiest. I want to run a hotel. I haven't done that in years, but I know that's what I do best." "I see what you mean," I said. "I'm going to be happy no matter what. I want you all to be happy, too, though, and if it takes moving to do it, then I'm all for it." "Don't say anything about this yet, boys," Dad said. "It's probably going to happen, but it's not 100 % yet." Tim and I said we'd keep our mouths shut about it, and we did. *** "Why do you think your parents talked about that stuff tonight with me around," Tim asked. I hadn't thought about that until then. "You know what I think it means," I asked. "No, what?" "I think it means they see us as a couple, a real couple. My future is your future, and yours is mine, too. That's what I think they were saying, sort of," I said. "I know that's the way you and I think, but for them to think that way, too, is pretty awesome, don't you think?" "Yeah, that is so cool. They don't think we're just kids playing at being in love. They know the truth -69-

and accept it, don't they?" "Yeah, they do." "Oh, Tim. That makes me feel so good," I said. "They know the truth. They think we're grown-ups. It's not just Kyle anymore, is it? It's Kyle and Tim, forever." Tim started crying a little bit, and I knew exactly what he was feeling. I cried with him, but they were the happiest tears of my life. (Justin's Perspective) I was out in the breezeway one afternoon during Kyle's second week on the job unloading some people's car. Jason was talking to the man, and Wayne was playing with their dog, so that left just me to do all the work. Wayne was up next to take them to their room, too. All of a sudden I notice a car that looks just like Tim's Wrangler drive into the parking lot. I wanted to look to see who it was, but one of the damn kids was asking me a million questions about the swimming pool. I was just about to tell the kid that he wouldn't be allowed to use the pool at all if he didn't shut up when Tim walked into the breezeway. "Hi, Jus," he said, smiling nice. "Hey, Bubba. What's up, man?" He had a paper sack in his hand. "A lady left her purse in the shop. She's staying here and called to see if somebody could run it over to her. I volunteered." "Cool. Just a second. Let me finish with this," I said. I finished piling their shit on the cart. "Okay, Wayne. You're all set." "That's the famous Wayne," Tim asked. "Yeah. Wayne the asshole," I said sort of low so only Tim could hear me. He laughed a little. "Is Kyle around," he asked. "Kyle who?" "Oh, I don't know. Just any old Kyle will do," he said. He and I both laughed, and we walked back inside. "He's around here somewhere," I said. "He's probably getting ready for break. Why don't you stay and visit him during his break?" "I will. I've got to get rid of this thing, though," he said, meaning the paper sack, which is where I guess he had the purse. "Go over to the desk and ask what room the lady's in, then take it up to her. She'll probably give you a tip." "Okay. Where would Kyle be when I come down?" "I'll be here. I'll show you where the break room is," I said. "Why don't you take break with us," he asked. "I'll stick my head it, but I'm not scheduled for break for another half hour." "Oh, okay." He went to the desk and got the room number. I checked the bell stand to see if there was anything for me, but there wasn't. I just stayed put waiting for Tim, and Wayne came back from his delivery. "Who was that fag that just drove up," he asked. "Kyle's boyfriend," I said. "Yeah, right, asshole," he said. -70-

"Why'd you ask, then, if you're not going to believe me," I said. "I've got to keep my eyes on you faggots, that's why." "He's a friend of ours," I said. "Oh." Jesus Christ, Wayne, I thought. You're all the time calling us fags and shit, and then when I tell you the truth about Kyle, you don't believe me. "That's a nice little fag car he's driving. I hope nothing bad happens to it while he's here," he said. Then he giggled like a little girl. "Nothing bad better happen to it," I said. Wayne said shit like that all the time, and I knew even he wasn't crazy enough to mess with Tim's car in broad daylight with people all around. I waited for Tim, and he came down in about five minutes. I walked him over to the break room. "Did you get a tip," I asked. He grinned, so I figured he had. Then he flashed a twenty. "Damn, boy. You lucked out," I said. Kyle was surprised as hell to see Tim when we showed up in the break room. He was sitting at a table with one of the valet guys showing him a card trick. "Hey, Tim," he said, a mile-wide grin on his face. "What are you doing here," he asked. Tim told him about the lady's purse. "Sit down. You want a coke," he asked. "Yeah," Tim said, and Kyle got him one from the machine. "I'll see y'all later," I said and went back to the bell desk. I was just standing there waiting for some business when I heard some yelling out in the parking lot. I stepped outside to see what was going on, and I saw Wayne by Tim's car. Brendan, one of the valets, was trying to take something away from him. When I looked closer, I saw that Wayne had a can of spray paint. I ran across the lobby to the break room. "Kyle and Tim, y'all come with me. Wayne's messing with Tim's car," I said. We all hauled ass outside. When we got to Tim's car, we saw that Brendan had gotten the can of paint away from Wayne but not before he had sprayed "FAGGOT" on the driver's door. When Kyle saw what had happened, he jumped on Wayne and slammed his ass against the car. Wayne's uniform smeared the paint, and he got paint all over himself. That was a suit for the rag bag. Kyle reared back to punch Wayne's lights out, but I grabbed his arm before he could deliver. Tim grabbed Kyle around the waist and pulled him back. I knew that boy was strong, but I didn't know until then just how strong he was. The whole time, Wayne was laughing his ass off like what was going on was the funniest thing in the world. "Calm down, Kyle," I said. "What's so funny," Kyle screamed at Wayne. "What the fuck are you laughing at?" "Calm down, Babe," Tim said. "Why is that asshole laughing," Kyle demanded. "He's laughing 'cause he's nuts," I said. "He's having some kind of breakdown or something." Just then, Wayne pissed his pants, and that made him laugh even harder. "Call Kevin," Tim said. I was afraid to turn Kyle's arm loose for fear he would go for Wayne. Brendan was there, so I gave Kyle to him. I had my phone out quicker than a hard dick at a porno show, and I pushed the speed dial -71-

button for Kevin's cell. He answered right away. "Kevin, get over here right now," I said. "Wayne's been messing with Tim's car." "What is Tim doing there," he asked. "He came to return a lady's purse that she left in the shop." "Where's Kyle?" "He's right here, and I think we've got him calmed down. Nobody got hurt." "Where's Jeff?" Jeff had just walked up, and he was helping Tim with Kyle, who really wasn't fighting them. "He's right here. He and Tim have Kyle under control. A bunch of people are out here already, and Mr. Rooney just walked out the front door," I said. "I'll be there in a few minutes," Kevin said, and then we hung up. Kevin got there quick, and Rick was with him. The only one missing is my little Brian, I thought. Kevin saw the damage to Tim's car, and he told Mr. Rooney that he would take care of it personally. Rooney was embarrassed to death that the whole thing had happened, but when Kyle told him Tim was his boyfriend, he just about shit a brick. He already knew all three of us were gay, but it didn't matter to him. The fact that Kyle cared so much mattered a lot, though. "Justin, call 9-1-1 and ask them to send an ambulance," Kevin said in a real calm voice. "I'm on it," I said. I was Telephone Central that day. "Why did you call for an ambulance," Tim asked. "This man's out of control," Kevin said. "Somebody needs to calm him down, and we can't do it." Wayne was on the ground by that time, still laughing. He added screaming to his gig just about then, too. While we were waiting for the ambulance, Kyle asked me for a smoke. "Kevin, I'm sorry, man," Kyle said between drags. "You didn't do anything wrong that I can tell, Kyle," Kev said. Then he wanted a smoke, too. It was a good thing somebody carried 'em. "I know I didn't hit him, but I was fixing to," Kyle said. "But your brothers saved you, didn't they," Rick said. "Yes, sir, they sure did." "Jack, do you think you could scare up some turpentine or mineral spirits to see if we can get this paint off the car before it dries," Kevin asked Mr. Rooney. Mr. Rooney looked at me as if to say, What are you waiting for. "I'm on it," I said. Where the hell am I going to find turpentine or mineral spirits, I thought. I knew what turpentine was, but I had never even heard of mineral spirits. Then I thought maybe Jason might know, and he did. He and I got some rags, and we went at it. In just a little while, we got that car cleaned up good as new. Of course, both of us were wringing wet from sweating, but it was almost time to clock out, anyway. Jason didn't smell too good, and I was sure I didn't, either. "Thank you, Justin and Jason," Mr. Rooney said, once we were back in the lobby. The ambulance had just gotten there, so Mr. Rooney went outside again. "I've got to go see what's going on," I said. "Rick, I'm going to follow the ambulance to the hospital," Kevin said. "I'll call you to let you and the boys know what's going on." "Okay," Rick said. "I'll take you back to your office, Rick," Tim said. "We got off a half hour ago, and Brian's probably -72-

wondering where I am." "I'll call Brian to let him know you're on your way," I said. "What's the number?" "I don't know," Tim said. "You don't know your work number," I asked. "Lay off him, Justin," Kyle said. There was a real edge to his voice, like he was spoiling for a fight. "Kyle, I'm on his side, remember? Your side, too. Calm down, and don't give me any shit," I said. I must have sounded mad, because Kyle grabbed me in a big, sweaty hug, and he started crying. "I'm sorry, Bubba. I didn't mean to sound like that," he said. "Let's take a walk, you and me," I said. "I'll call Brian," Jeff said. "I know how to look up phone numbers." "Very funny," Rick said. Jeff stuck his tongue out at Rick, and they both laughed. Kyle and I walked down to the end of the building. "I was proud of you back there, Kyle. We all were," I said. "I'm not proud of myself, though," he said. "Why? You didn't do anything, and, if you had, he would have deserved it." "But he's crazy. He probably couldn't help himself," Kyle said. "Crazy, or a damn good actor," I said. "But you didn't know that. We figured that out when he started laughing. By the way, I told him Tim was your boyfriend, and he didn't believe me." That got him laughing, and that was good. "Come on, Bubba," I said. "You know you're a fine man, and we know it, too. You lost your temper when the boy you love most in the world was getting his beautiful new car trashed by a psycho. Nobody's going to fault you on that, son, and I hope you know it." He didn't say anything for a few seconds. "You know how to make a guy feel better," he said. "Yeah? I wonder where I learned that." That made him grin. "See? Now you know what it's like to feel like shit and to have your brother pull you up. You've done it to me a million times, Kyle. I'm just glad I could do it to you this once." "I'm ready to go home, are you?" "Hell, yes. Let's get out of here. It's quitting time, anyway," I said. Mr. Rooney was waiting for us, and he wanted us in his office. "Oh, shit," Kyle said, but not loud enough for Rooney to hear him. "Sit down, boys. Er, Kyle, I hope you're not too upset about what happened," Rooney said. "No, sir. I was, and I'm sorry for that," Kyle said. "It won't happen again." Rooney looked at him real strange. "Are you apologizing to me," Rooney asked. "Yes, sir, and I mean it sincerely," Kyle said. "Well, I asked you to come in here to apologize to you. To both of you and to your friend. Kevin told me Wayne had been riding you hard since you started here. You should have come to me about that," Mr. Rooney said. "Sir, we told Kevin about that as our brother, not as the boss." "That's why we called him today, too," I said. "Because he's our brother, not because he's a boss." "Well, I can understand that, and I'm not offended or upset about it," Rooney said. "Kevin told me he would fire me if I tried to pull rank because I'm a Goodson. I did it last summer, -73-

and I promised them I wouldn't do it again." "You mean with Herman," Rooney asked. "You know about that," Kyle asked. He was embarrassed, but I doubt Rooney could tell. "I've heard him tell that story on himself two or three times, Kyle. He thinks its funny, and it is. He also never fails to tell that you saved a boy from slavery and that you apologized profusely to him the next day." "That boy was me," I said. "Oh, really! I had no idea, Justin," he said. "That's the day this boy and me became brothers," I said. "Complicated relationships," he said. "Kyle, what I wanted to say about pulling rank is this: just because your last name is Goodson doesn't mean you have fewer rights than anybody else who works here. I admire your character, son, but reporting Wayne's harassment might have kept some other boy from getting hurt. It appears that Wayne is deeply troubled. I hope he can get the help he needs." "Yes, sir," we both said. "There was a third boy that Kevin asked me to seriously consider. Jeff Martin. How does he fit in this mix?" "He's our brother, too," Kyle said. "There are five of us." "And Kevin is the foster father of all of you," he asked. "Kevin and Rick," we said at the same time. "He's honorary for me and Tim, the boy whose car got messed up," Kyle said. "It's pretty complicated." "Really, just honorary for Jeff, too, isn't it," I asked. "Well, yeah, since Jeff is over eighteen," Kyle said. Suddenly it dawned on me. "I'm almost eighteen," I said. Then it dawned on Kyle, too. "Well, you fellows need to get going, I know. Kyle, I just hope you won't hold this against us," Mr. Rooney said. "Oh, no, sir. What sense would that make?" "Well said. Goodbye, guys. See you tomorrow." *** Kyle and I didn't say a word the whole way home. Finally Jeff said, "Did Rooney read you guys the riot act or something? You're so quiet. What's going on?" "No, he didn't read us the riot act. I think we just both have a lot on our minds right now," Kyle said. We didn't see Tim or Brian when we got home. Trixie wasn't around, either, so I figured they must be off somewhere with her. I went into our bedroom, and I flopped down on the bed. All of a sudden, the thought of turning eighteen in less than a month, and of no longer being Kevin and Rick's son, was too much for me, and I started bawling. "Jus, can I come in?" It was Kyle. "No. Go away," I said. Kyle came right on in, just like I knew he would. He sat down next to me on the bed, and he picked up my hand. He wrapped my hand around two of his fingers, and he moved it back and forth like I was jerking him off. Even though I was worried and sad, I started laughing. Then he started laughing, and pretty soon we were both howling like Wayne had been. -74-

"Kyle, you are something else, man," I said around my laughter. "What's the worse that could happen," he asked. "They could kick my ass out of here, that's what could happen," I said. "You mean like they did Jeff?" "Yeah, but he's family," I said. "No more than you are," Kyle said. "Yeah, well, maybe," I said. "Do you honestly think they don't love you," he asked. "No, I know they love me." "Do you think Kevin Foley and Rick Mashburn are capable of putting someone they love, someone who has been their son for over a year, out on the street just because he turned eighteen?" "When you put it that way, no, but . . ." "There's no 'but' to it, Jus. I think we both panicked a little bit because of that shit with Wayne. You ain't going anywhere, dude, so you can forget that shit," Kyle said. "I don't know what's going on today," I said. "I feel like I've been on a roller coaster, only it was dragging me behind it." Kyle laughed. "You need to get a shower, dude," he said. He was right. "Okay, and thanks, Kyle," I said. "Oh, no. Thank you," he said. "Oh, no. Thank you," I said. "Oh, no, Justin. Thank you," he said. "Shut up and get the fuck out of my room," I said. I heard him laughing all the way down the hall. (Kevin's Perspective) I followed the ambulance to the emergency clinic the county medical center had on the beach. I had no idea what was going on with that guy, and I certainly didn't know how to handle it. He was still laughing and screaming hysterically when we got to the station, and two orderlies had to help the two men on the ambulance get him inside. "Are you the responsible party," a lady at the desk asked me. "I guess so, for now, anyway," I said. "What's his name," she asked. "Wayne something. I don't know his last name," I said. "Do you happen to know if he has insurance?" "Yeah, I do know that, and, yes, he does. He works for Goodson Enterprises, so he has employee insurance," I said. "Oh, I'm very familiar with that," she said. Well, that's a break, I thought. Then I wondered if a lot of our people came here when they got sick. An orderly brought Wayne's wallet out to the desk and handed it to the lady. She in turn handed it to me, and I put it in my pocket. "Would you mind going through it to see if there's any information about an emergency contact," she asked. "Oh. Oh, sure," I said. -75-

When I took it out, I noticed two circles embossed in the leather of the outside of the wallet, and I knew those could only be condoms. I decided not to embarrass the lady, myself, and Wayne by going through it right there for fear of what it might contain. "Is there someplace I can do this in private," I asked. "Yes. You can use this office back here," she said, directing me to a small office that looked unused. I pulled out his driver's license, and I learned that his name was Wayne Smith. Great, I thought. It should be easy to locate a next of kin with that name. The license was three years old, and I was sure the address had changed by then. The wallet was actually quite thick, almost a cube, so I started going through the other things that were in it. I opened a couple of sheets of paper that had photographs of nude men that had been printed from a Web site. There was a newspaper clipping of an obituary that had the word "Yes," followed by three exclamation points, scrawled at the top. I scanned it, but there was no mention of a Wayne Smith. There were a couple of gasoline credit cards and a Visa card, membership cards for three different movie rental places, a parking ticket, his company insurance card, and fifteen dollars. There was nothing that remotely resembled a name to contact in case of an emergency. I thought for a moment, and then it dawned on me that we routinely got information of that type on all new employees, in case someone had to be taken to the hospital from work. Duh, I thought. Way to go, genius. I got my secretary on the phone, and she had the information I needed in about fifteen seconds. In case of emergency, we were to call his sister, Darlene Smith, and we had a work number as well as a home number for her. I tried the work number first, and it was a dental office. Darlene Smith was a dental hygienist. "Miss Smith, this is Kevin Foley, with Goodson Enterprises," I said. "I'm sorry, I'm really not interested," she said. "Besides, I'm at work." "Don't hang up," I shouted into the phone. "It's about your brother, Wayne." "What about Wayne," she asked. "And what is Goodson Enterprises?" "I'm sorry. Goodson Enterprises is the company that owns the Laguna Hotel, where Wayne works," I said. "I'm in the central administration of the company." "Oh?" "Yeah, there was an incident at work today involving Wayne. He's not hurt or anything, but we couldn't get him under control. He had some sort of episode, and he started laughing and screaming hysterically. I didn't know what to do, so I called an ambulance. I'm with him now at the Emerald Beach Emergency Clinic on the Parkway," I said. "He's not hurt," she asked. "No, ma'am, there's not a scratch on him." "Thank you for calling. I'll be there in a few minutes," she said with a resigned tone of voice. I wondered if this was a repeat performance for Wayne. "What did you say your name was?" "Foley. Kevin Foley." "I'll be there in a minute, Mr. Foley. Goodbye." I went back to the desk and filled the lady in on what had transpired. "Did you happen to see an insurance card in the wallet," she asked. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did." I took it out and presented it to her. She turned to a copy machine behind her and ran a copy. I could no longer hear Wayne's voice, and I wondered if he had calmed down or if they had -76-

sedated him. I took a seat and waited for Darlene. I didn't wait long, though. She got there in about ten minutes, still wearing her dental hygienist uniform, of course. Darlene Smith was an attractive woman, maybe a year or two older than I was. She was about five feet four, medium-length brown hair, quite a nice ass from my angle, and she was wearing a sweater. How strange, I thought, and then I remembered that several of the women in my office wore sweaters in the summer because they said the air conditioning made it cold. She followed the lady into the back where the treatment areas were, but she was back in just a couple of minutes. She walked over to me. "Mr. Foley?" I stood up. "Yes. Miss Smith?" "Please call me Darlene," she said. "And please call me Kevin," I said. We both sat down next to one another. "How's he doing," I asked. "He's sedated right now, but the P.A. said he should wake up in about an hour," she said. "P.A.?" "Physician's assistant," she said. "Can you tell me what happened?" "I wasn't there when the commotion went on, but apparently your brother spray painted the word 'faggot' on a boy's car. The boy had just pulled up, and Wayne didn't know him." "My God," she said, more like a prayer than an expletive. "One of the valet parking staff tried to take the can of paint away from him, and they struggled. The other boy must have gotten the paint, though, but only after Wayne had sprayed the car." "Will the whole car have to be repainted," she asked. "No, as a matter of fact, they were able to get the spray paint off. I don't know how they did it, but they did," I said. "Well, that's a small mercy, anyway," she said. "We had had some unofficial complaints from some of the other bellhops that Wayne constantly harassed them about being gay," I said. "That sounds familiar," she said. "I take it this has happened before?" "Twice," she said. "Never before at work, though. Had Wayne been drinking, do you know?" "I doubt it. I think we would have noticed," I said. "The other two times alcohol had been involved. I had assumed that alcohol somehow triggered those episodes," she said. "His doctor has been skeptical that it had, but I was hoping that they were alcohol-related." "I don't understand," I said. "Well, I can usually keep him from drinking," she said. "I see. Any reason why he would be so down on gays?" "Mr. Foley, Wayne is gay, but except for a few nameless encounters on the beach with tourists, he's never been sexually active," she said. "Darlene, you don't have to tell me all of this," I said. "That's his private life, and it's none of the company's business." "I'm glad you feel that way, but it's all very relevant," she said. "Wayne was sexually abused by our uncle from the age of nine until he turned seventeen. Nobody knew anything about it. The man was -77-

married and had two daughters of his own. He's dead now." I wondered if his was the obituary in Wayne's wallet. "I'm sorry to hear that," I said. "Well, it's part of his history that imposes itself from time to time on his present. Wayne is in total denial about his sexuality, or at least he had been, until recently. He had been dating a boy, a really nice young man, for several months, but the other boy broke it off," she said. "I thought you said he has never been sexually active," I said. "He hasn't been. It seems that Wayne was ready to ratchet the relationship up to the level of physical intimacy, but the other boy wasn't. He's a really nice guy, but he comes from an extremely strict fundamentalist Christian family. He told Wayne that even knowing him was an occasion of serious sin for him. Ken is his name," she said. "So you think breaking up with the boy caused what happened today," I asked. "No. What it caused was a pretty serious bout of depression. Wayne has bipolar disorder. Do you know what that is," she asked. "I have just a very vague idea," I said. "His form of it is pretty rare and pretty extreme, unfortunately. He takes medicine for it every day, and the medicine keeps him right on the cusp of depression, but not quite depressed. More like subdued, really. The break-up with his boyfriend put him way over the edge into depression. His doctor increased his medication to accommodate that, but he was never able to find the right dosage. Any change in meds with Wayne is risky. The upshot was, he simply refused to take anything. The manic phase of the illness kicked in, and that was what caused today's episode." Oh, shit, I thought. What am I going to do with him? "Darlene, Goodson is going to work with you and with Wayne any way we can, but, frankly, I don't see him going back to the Laguna as a bellhop," I said. "I can't say that I blame you," she said. "He was very happy there, though, until the break-up. He hasn't been happy anywhere since that happened." "We want to do the right thing. The trouble is, I don't know what the right thing is, at this point. I'll put Wayne on extended sick leave until I figure something out. He'll get his hourly wage, but he won't be making any tips, of course," I said. "That's actually more than I expected. I thought you'd fire him outright. Thank you for being so understanding," she said. Suddenly I wished I had paid better attention in college to the information we got on the Americans with Disabilities Act. I did want to fire him right on the spot, but I had to think it through. I sure didn't want a damn EEOC complaint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could be a real bear. "Do you think you'll be able to get him back on his medicine," I asked. "Yeah. I suspect this will be enough of a wake-up call that he'll voluntarily take it. That's really the only way he can function," she said. "What's he like when the medication is working," I asked. "Rather quiet, shy, pleasant enough, really. He's the type that you probably wouldn't notice." An orderly wheeled Wayne out at that moment. He was ready to go home, and he had obviously calmed down enormously. In fact, he appeared almost groggy. "Hi," Darlene said. "Ready to go home?" "Yeah," he said. "I'm sorry, Dee," he said. "We'll get you fixed up," she said. "Do you know this gentleman? I think he's actually your boss." -78-

"No," he said. "I'm Kevin Foley, and I'm really your boss's boss, not yours directly," I said. I offered my hand, but he didn't accept it. He seemed to be more than a little out of it. "His boss's boss? Was it that serious," she asked. "No. Actually, the reason I'm involved at all is that it was my son's car," I said. "Oh, my God! Your son!?" "Foster son," I said. "I'm not old enough to have a sixteen-year-old of my own," I said. "I didn't think so, but still . . ." "Well, here's my card. Please call me if I can help in any way, and be sure to call me once the medicine is working properly," I said. "Thank you Kevin for being so nice about all of this," she said. "And thank you, too, for taking care of him until I could get here." "Well, getting him well again is our first priority," I said. "It was nice to meet you. I'm sorry it had to be under these circumstances." "Nice meeting you, too. Thanks, again." *** It was after eight by the time I got home. I had called Rick to tell him what was going on, so he wasn't worried about me. In fact, he made me a drink without my asking him to, and he brought it to me. That was a rare treat, and it did a lot to help me relax. "Where are the kids," I asked. "Probably off engaging in deviant sexual behavior," he said. I laughed. "Good for them," I said. "I knew there was some reason to be proud of those boys." That made him laugh. "Do you want to talk about it," he asked. "Of course, but right now I want to sip this wonderful drink, look at you, and think horny thoughts about deviant sexual behavior with you," I said. He smiled. He turned off the TV set and put on some soft music on the stereo. He came around behind me and started taking my shirt off me. "What are you doing," I asked. "Taking care of my guy," he said. When my shirt was fully off, he started one of those wonderful neck and shoulder massages that can only be called Platonic, they're so good. Chapter 8 (Kyle's Perspective) That first day back at work after the Wayne incident wasn't real good for me. They all thought I was a hero or something, but I didn't even touch him except to throw his butt against that Jeep. If there was a hero at all, it was Brendan, the valet guy. He was real cute, but he was totally straight. That part didn't matter to me, though, but I had my suspicions about some guys who might have had their eye on him. "Tyler's coming over this afternoon, and we'd like to ski," Jeff said that morning before work. "Oh, great. That'll be fun," I said. I knew he wanted the boat for just him and Ty, but that was too good to resist. -79-

"Well, er, Ty and I were thinking it would just be us," he said. "Can we use your boat?" "My boat? It's our boat. You know that." "It might be our boat, but you have the keys," he said. "There are keys hanging on the bulletin board in the kitchen of the clubhouse, Bubba," I said. "Oh, okay. I didn't know that," he said. "We'll just use those." "Wait a minute. Not so fast. Have you passed the full Coast Guard inspection yet? I mean the big inspection." He knew exactly what was going on, and he was grinning big. "Yeah, I passed with flying colors, and so did Ty," he said. "All right," I said. "I knew you would, bro." I was grinning full out. "Kyle, you are a fundamentally evil person. Do you know that about yourself?" "Yeah. I practice getting better at it all the time," I said. "I love you," he said. "I love you, too, but I actually love Ty more than you. Bigger dick. What can I say?" "You little shit," he said, laughing hard. "I think this might be a case of me getting you last," I said. "Do you realize you're the only one who ever gets me last," he asked. "Superior mind and a good left hand," I said, as I punched him with my left. I grabbed him in a hug with my right, though. Jeff and I were special to each other, and we both knew it. Everybody loved Jeff, but there was a bond between him and me that the others couldn't ever have. *** That night we had "Come to Jesus," for sure. Everybody was in the den, including Ty. All six kids were on the floor, and Trixie was going back and forth among us. She licked me once on the face, and I shouted "stop." She jumped back and put her tail between her legs. They all got on to me for being mean to her, but she didn't lick anybody else after that. I had seen that snake she had in that mouth on the island, and I didn't want that tongue on my face ever again. Dogs don't have to lick you to show you they love you. I loved her, but I didn't lick her. "Something happened yesterday that I know you all know about. This is going to be a kind of training session about that." Great, I thought. I'd much rather have a training session on Friday night than shoot pool or play ping pong or watch a movie or go swimming. God, Kevin! "This isn't going to be too long, but it's important. So don't get your panties in a wad, Kyle." Rick and I looked at each other, and I knew he was thinking exactly the same thing I was. "I don't wear panties," I said. "Very funny, Kyle," Kevin said. "Go to your room." "If I thought you were serious about that . . ." "But I'm not, so shut up and listen. Most of you are probably going to be in high-level management at Goodson some day, and you need to think about this. By the way, if I hear that any of you has said anything about this to people at work, you're fired, and I mean it." "We know, Adolph. Get on with it, please," I said. Kevin grinned at me, but I knew if he had had a cow pie in his hand at that moment, it would have been on my face in a heartbeat. "What I want to talk to you about is related to Wayne, but it's not about him. He has a disability called bipolar disorder, and it's a problem that he was born with, probably. It makes him real depressed -80-

sometimes, and it makes him real happy sometimes." "Manic-depression," Jeff asked. "Exactly, Jeff," Kevin said. "I've known people with that, and they were able to keep it together and function well," Jeff said. "And Wayne can, too, and he will. But that's not what this is about. It's about our responsibility as his employer." "Sick or not, that fucker ain't gonna make it if he messes with Tim again," I said. "I smell testosterone in here. Anybody else," Kevin said. Rick, Jeff, and Ty laughed hard. I didn't know what was so funny. "Kyle, settle down, Bubba," Rick said. "I'm okay," I said, and I was. "Kyle, this is especially for you," Kevin said. "There is something called the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA. It basically says we have to find ways to treat employees who have disabilities fairly, just like every other employee. We have to bend the rules sometimes, too." "Kevin, I say fire his ass, man," I said. "Would you fire Chris because he shit on the floor," Kevin asked. That stopped me cold because he knew I wouldn't. "I wouldn't, and he really did shit on my arm," Justin said. "Of course, I wouldn't fire Chris. He couldn't help doing that, if he ever did that," I said. "You know that, Kevin." "Yeah, I do know that, and we all love Chris. But it's really no different, Kyle. Wayne has a disability that made him do what he did yesterday. How can you love and accept Chris, and hate Wayne?" "I hate Wayne because he's a fucking destructive asshole, that's why. You don't know him, Kevin. He hates me, man, and I hate him," I said. "He trashed Tim's car, and he doesn't even know him." "Well, you just think about this, Kyle. You love Chris, and he's the most physically disabled person I've ever met. You took care of him in some of the most private ways anybody can ever take care of another person, and you never said a word of complaint. I'm not asking you to wipe Wayne's ass, like you did for Chris. I'm just asking you to understand what disability is all about." "I'll get back to you on that," I said. "That's all I ask, Bubba. That you think about it." Goddamn, I thought. What next? *** I'm sorry, but I resented the hell out of Kevin comparing Wayne to Chris. Chris was nice and cute and loving and fun. He had been a pain in the ass to take care of sometimes. I'll admit that. It embarrassed me at first to do some of the stuff I had to do for him, but he was always joking about it and loveable and having fun. Kevin was right. Chris was severely disabled. That's not what made me love him, though. Being himself made me love him. Wayne was mean and ugly to people. He and I had laughed together a few times, so maybe there was something good in there somewhere, but you sure didn't see it much. He had no mercy on Stephen. Sure, Stephen was a little on the flamer side, but that didn't bother me anymore. Hell, if Chad and Gage could be some of my best friends, I could sure be friends with Stephen. Wayne was really mean to him, though. Plus, I thought Wayne was dangerous. He wasn't a small guy, by any means. What would happen if he went berserk in the lobby with a guest? He probably didn't really know what he was doing when he -81-

painted Tim's car, but what if he doesn't really know what he's doing when he hurls somebody through the plate glass windows in the lobby? And what if that somebody is me or Justin or Jeff? The rest of them had gone out to shoot pool or whatever. I was still in the den. Kevin came back in and sat right next to me on the sofa. "What are you doing," he asked. "I'm thinking," I said. "About Wayne?" "Yeah. What do you think?" "I thought maybe you were thinking about me," he said. "I was. How can you compare Chris and Wayne, Kevin?" "I could tell that bothered you." "It bothers me a lot, man. Chris might shit on the floor or on Jus's arm or something, but he's not mean. Wayne is mean. And I think he's dangerous, too." "Kyle, I knew you didn't like it when I compared Chris and Wayne, and you're right. It's two entirely different situations. That was probably unfair of me, but the point I was trying to make is that we, and especially you, don't dislike people just because they're disabled. Chris loves you, Kyle. He loves all of us, and we all love him. Especially you. Wayne probably isn't capable of love when he's in one of his states. He is mean when he's like that. I know he's mean, but that's the disability, not the man. His sister told me he's quiet and shy when his medicine is working." "So why didn't the medicine work?" "Because he stopped taking it. It's real complicated, and there are some aspects of the situation that I really don't feel that I can go into. You trust me, don't you?" "Of course, I trust you. That's why this is so damn hard for me to understand," I said. "If I didn't trust you, I'd just say you're full of shit and move on. I trust you, but I want to understand it, too." "Okay. Let's look at it this way. I can do this better with a diagram. Hold on." He got up and got some paper and a pen. He drew two circles on the page. One was a whole circle, and the other one had a wiggly line cutting across the circle near the top. "Okay. This is your brain." He wrote my name in the whole circle. "And this is Wayne's brain." He wrote his name in the circle with the wiggly line. "Your brain and your body make all the stuff they're supposed to make, and that's why the circle isn't messed up. Wayne's brain doesn't make this part." He pointed to the little piece at the top. "Just like you can't control what your brain and your body make, he can't control what his brain and his body don't make. Are you with me so far?" "I'm following what you're saying," I said. "I guess Chris's brain makes all the right stuff. It's just kind of mashed in a little bit." "Good analogy. Kind of like this." He drew another circle that was sort of flat on one side. He wrote Chris's name in that one. "Wayne's medicine fills this empty part up." He colored in the little piece that was cut off by the wiggly line. "The trick is, they have to figure out exactly how much medicine it takes to make up for this part." He pointed to the colored-in piece. "That's trial and error. Sometimes that takes a while to get right." "Okay. I understand all of this, but why isn't this part filled up?" I pointed to the section he had colored in. He sighed big when I asked that. -82-

"Let's just say he had some personal issues that made him stop taking his medicine. When he did that--and I know you well enough to know you would have done exactly the same thing under the same circumstances--things went south. Do you know what I mean by that?" "Yeah." "His sister said she thought he would start taking his medicine again voluntarily, after what happened yesterday, so this part is going to fill up again soon. He won't work again at the Laguna, but I think he will be working for us again, and probably as a bellhop." "What if he doesn't take his medicine?" "He's on extended sick leave right now so he can get the medicine straightened out. If that doesn't happen, we can't take him back. You're right. He could be dangerous, and we can't have that." "I feel a lot better about this right now," I said. "Do you understand where I'm coming from," he asked. "Yeah, I do, and thank you for teaching me this. The next thing we need to do is get this one pumped up right," I said, pointing to the picture of Chris's brain. "Exactly. We're going to do our part for cerebral palsy," he said. "I think we should do our part for cerebral palsy by going to see Chris this summer." "You shit. I knew that was coming, sooner or later. Plan it out, okay? I'm thinking the first two weeks of August." "That's exactly what I was thinking. Oh, Kevin, this is so right, man. This is going to be an awesome trip. Have you talked to Rick, yet?" "Of course. Wouldn't you have talked to Tim by now about it?" I laughed a little. "You see us that way, don't you?" "Yup." (Kevin's Perspective) I spoke with my brother or my sister-in-law on the phone several times a week, and a lot of times I spoke with both of them separately. I knew they did the same thing with Rick. Usually, it was a five-minute check-in, but sometimes it was a lot longer than that. On the Friday after the Jeep-painting episode, Cherie called me at the office. "What are you doing," Cherie asked when I answered the call. "I'm talking on the phone," I said. That exchange was a tradition with us. I had been going through Wayne Smith's personnel folder, but I knew I didn't want to get into that with her, at least not right then. "Do you remember Seth Adams from Mardi Gras," she asked. "Of course. That boy our guys befriended, right? What about him?" "His dad, Matt Adams, is going to be teaching a course in London over the next six weeks, and he asked me if I would ask you if Seth could come and stay with you guys while they're gone." My first impulse was to say "Of course," but there were seven people in our household, and I knew the kids ought to have a say in this, not to mention Rick. "Would he be here the whole time," I asked. "If you'll have him. The alternative is for him to stay at home alone, with no support. His sister's at some kind of program at Duke University all summer. I suppose they could leave him at home by himself, but they don't seem to want to do that. Matt said he talks about your boys all the time, and he thinks it would do Seth a lot of good to spend time in your home," she said. -83-

"That's pretty flattering. Kind of like Queer Summer Camp," I said. She laughed. "I know you're joking, Kev, but that's not as far from the truth as you might think. Evidently, just being with your guys at Mardi Gras has made a huge difference in Seth. Matt didn't say this, but I'm pretty sure he's hoping extended exposure will do even more good," Cherie said. "I pretty well know the answer is going to be 'yes,'" I said, "but I need to run it by the others, too." "Of course," she said. "When do you think you'll have a verdict?" "Probably by tonight," I said. "I'll give you a call." I went down to Rick's office and told him what Cherie had said. Just as I knew he would be, he was all for it. "Can you use another bellhop at the Laguna," Rick asked. "Yeah, especially since Wayne Smith is going to be out for a while. In fact, we'd have to replace him, anyway. I'm not putting him back at that hotel," I said. "I don't blame you. Too much bad blood. Plus, I'm sure he would be embarrassed as hell to have to go back to work there," Rick said. That night I had my little talk with the guys about Wayne and about what had happened, and then I spent some time with Kyle to help him work it out in his mind. After that, Kyle and I joined the others in the pool. "Come around here, guys. I have something else I want to talk to you about," I said. They came around me. Brian was holding Trixie, and he put her down for our little chat. "Guys, Cherie called today. You all remember Seth Adams, don't you?" They all said "sure." All, that is, except Tyler, who hadn't met him. "Anyway, Cherie asked me if it would be possible for Seth to spend some time here with us this summer. Six weeks, in fact. His parents are going to be in England, and for whatever reason, they're not taking him. His sister is already at some kind of program at Duke University," I said. "What did you tell her," Kyle asked. "I told her I'd have to talk with you all," I said. "I think it would be cool," Kyle said. "He and I have gotten to be pretty good friends through email, and I knew he wanted to come see us." "Is he still pestering you every day," Justin asked. "Naw. That stopped a while back. We write every week or so, though. He's made a couple of friends, too. Not just on the Internet, either," Kyle said. "Do any of you have any objections," I asked. "No, I don't," Tim said. The rest shared his opinion. "I'm going to put him to work at the Laguna with you guys," I said. "He'll be able to earn a few bucks and hang out with you all at work." "Cool," Kyle said. "Did y'all know he had some surgery on his face?" "No. What did they do," I asked. "Tried to make him look a little better, but he says it didn't work. They took some off his nose, added to his chin, and did something to his ears. That's how he spent his Spring Break," Kyle said. "When's he coming," Justin asked. "That's a good question," I said. "Let me go call Cherie. Maybe she knows." Seth actually answered the phone when I called. "Hello. Foley residence," he said. "Hi, this is Kevin Foley. Is this Seth?" -84-


"Yeah. Hi, Kevin. Do you remember me?" "Of course I remember you. We've just been talking about you, in fact." "Really?" "Yeah, we were talking about you coming to see us for part of the summer. Do you want to do

"Absolutely! That's fantastic," he said. I smiled at the excitement in his voice. "So, when are you coming?" "How about tomorrow," he asked. "That would be great. Are you all packed and everything?" "Yeah. I've been here for the last couple of days. My parents are in England. I haven't unpacked my stuff here yet," he said. "Are you driving," I asked. "Yeah. How do I get there?" I gave him directions. I suggested he download and print a map from the Web, and he said he would. I made sure he had our various phone numbers in case he needed them. "Are Craig and Cherie there," I asked. "No. They haven't come home yet. They were meeting some people right after work for a drink, and then they were going out to eat. Do you want them to call you?" "Not necessarily," I said. "I talked to Cherie earlier today. Well, let me let you go so you can get ready for your trip. We're looking forward to having you, Seth. Kyle and the other guys said to say hello." "Tell them hello for me, too, please. And Kevin, thank you. Thank you so much," he said. "We're going to have fun this summer, Seth," I said. "Oh, I know we are." I told the guys how excited Seth seemed, and that pleased them. They wanted to go to a movie. It was almost nine o'clock, but I knew they could catch a 9:30 showing. They went off, all six of them, and Rick and I eventually went to bed. (Tyler's Perspective) I can't believe how lucky I was meeting Jeff on line. Not only was he good looking and very intelligent, but he was also sensitive in a good way and extremely nice. Things between us were developing well, and we considered each other our boyfriends. I had been physically attracted to guys for my whole life. In puberty, just being around certain guys had given me an erection. At first I didn't think anything about that. My dick got hard all the time, anyway, and I didn't make the connection between my arousal and the presence of a handsome boy. When I finally did make that connection, I was terribly embarrassed every time it happened. A lot of guys stayed half-hard when we were showering and changing for sports, so I didn't really attract any attention. It was other times, when I got a full hard-on talking to some guy fully clothed, that I was embarrassed. The random boners had pretty much come under control around seventeen or eighteen. I still got them occasionally, but I could usually figure out why. I thought about sex a lot, all the time, in fact, and those thoughts were enough to get me hard. After I came out to Jeff and he came out to me, I started seeing erections in a different light. I was a gay man looking for a sexual relationship with another gay man, and the erections seemed more like an asset, all of a sudden, than a liability. I got hard the first time I saw Jeff. We had met at a coffee shop, and we were there to meet in person and to check one another out. We both had told each other we were looking for friendship, and I -85-

was. But I was also ready for a boyfriend, a sex partner, that could make me feel good and that I could make feel good, too. There was a lot of sexual tension during that first date. I was more than a little nervous, and the fact that just seeing him and shaking his hand could turn my dick into a steel beam added to it. We had a few more dates after that. I got hard at the start, and I stayed that way throughout. I noticed that he got hard, too. The first time we did anything was on Saturday, June 6th. My roommate had gone to visit his parents and girlfriend, and we had my apartment to ourselves. We watched a movie. We weren't sitting on top of one another, but we were sitting a lot closer than I would ordinarily have sat next to a guy. After the first movie, we kissed for a while, and then we stroked one another off. I know that's not all that bold or daring, but it was the first time I had done anything with another person. It was a sensation I won't ever forget. He made me come! Another guy made me come! And I wanted him to do it. And I did it to him. I made him come, too. When it was over, we agreed that we were boyfriends. After that, I thought about Jeff non-stop. I couldn't wait for the next time we could be together and do it, and I didn't have to wait long. My roommate called me to say he was taking an extra day at home. He was having girlfriend troubles, and he had planned to be on leave on Monday, anyway. Jeff and I took advantage of his absence, and we did it in my bed. We were both completely naked, and we held one another in our arms. The warmth, the closeness, the pure tactile joy was almost too much. I figured it would be good, but it was good way beyond what I had imagined. We didn't make love every day that week, although we did three more times. "Why don't you plan on spending tomorrow night with me," Jeff said on Thursday. "Will it be okay," I asked. "Of course." "Will the other guys tease us about it," I asked. Those guys that Jeff lived with were awesome, but they teased one another constantly. I didn't exactly relish being ribbed by them about Jeff and me. "I don't think so. They're very happy I'm dating you, and, knowing them as I do, I'm sure they're dying for us to do it," he said. "They're good guys, Ty." "I know they're good guys. In fact, I've really had fun with them. I guess you haven't said anything, right?" "Right. Kevin and Rick have a very strict rule about sex being private, and I think it's a good one," he said. "So you guys don't talk about sex?" "We joke about it all the time, but we really don't give any juicy details about what we do in the bedroom. At least not publicly." I went to Jeff's house after work on Friday, and he and I took Kyle's boat out skiing. Later, Kevin talked to all of us about something that had happened at work involving Tim's car. I didn't know too many of the details of that, though. After the talk, we went swimming and then to a movie. I spent the night with Jeff that night, and he and I had fun in bed. The next morning, we went downstairs in just our underwear. They were all sitting around the den dressed the same way we were, and it was like I had done that a hundred times. They were all pleasant and friendly, and any worry I had had about being teased was pointless. I was Jeff's friend or boyfriend or whatever, and that was all there was to it. *** "Have you said anything about us to Matt," Jeff asked me Saturday afternoon. -86-

We were in his room. He was working on the family Web page, and I was laying on the bed flipping through a magazine. Matt was my roommate. "No," I said. "Does he even know you're gay," he asked. "No, and that's going to be a problem," I said. "Why? Does he hate gays," Jeff asked. He stated the question as matter-of-factly as if he had asked if Matt likes ice cream. "Not that I know of. I mean, I've never heard him say anything derogatory about gays. It's just never come up, I guess." "Ty, I don't have a problem with him knowing or not knowing," Jeff said. "You have a lot to lose by being outed to the Coast Guard, and I understand and accept that." "Thanks, Jeff. I want to take my time with that," I said. "He and I are roommates, but that's for convenience, not because we're close friends. We've never really done much together. He goes home to Alabama most weekends to be with his girlfriend. During the week, he hangs out with three friends of his. I think they drink a good bit. I'm usually in bed by the time he comes in." "You must have really been lonely," he said. "Extremely lonely." "Well, you're not going to be lonely anymore." He got up from his desk, got in bed with me, and we made love for the second time that day. (Justin's Perspective) My prayer was answered. Jeff got him a boyfriend, and it was Ty. It's so good when people find somebody to make them happy, but when one of them is your brother and both of them are the nicest guys in the world, it's double good. "Did you see 'em go up together," Kyle asked us when Jeff and Ty went up to Jeff's room after the movie on that Friday night. "Is that what they were doing climbing the stairs," I asked. "Were they going up together?" "You know what, Jus? I should break your legs," Kyle said. "Yeah? You and what army?" "No army. I think I can get Trixie to help," he said. "That's about all it would take." Tim and Brian were already laughing their asses off, and I laughed, too, when he said that. "I want a Purple Cow," I said, changing the subject. "What the hell is that," Kyle asked. "Haven't you ever had a Purple Cow," I asked. "It's ice cream in a glass, and you pour a coke in it. Root beer's even better, I've heard." "That's a coke float," Kyle said. "Sure, I've had those. Where did you get 'Purple Cow?'" "Kevin made me one the other night, and that's what he called it," I said. "That's some more of that New Orleans bullshit talk, Jus. It's called a coke float," he said. "Well, I don't care what it's called. It's good, and I want me one," I said. We made Purple Cow coke floats. "Don't you think Kevin says some strange things," Kyle asked as we were having our drinks. "I've noticed that," Tim said. "Grandma and Grandpa do, too. And so do Craig and Cherie." "I'm sure y'all think I talk funny," I said. "I like the way you talk," Brian said. "I think we all do, Jus," Kyle said. "I like the way Kevin talks, too. I like the way everybody talks." -87-

"I think Seth talks like Kevin," I said. "Best I remember, anyway." "He's going to be here tomorrow, isn't he," Kyle said. "Yeah. Where's he going to sleep," I asked. "There are two bedrooms on the third floor," Kyle said. "He can sleep in my room. I haven't slept in there in a long time," Brian said. "Yeah, Kyle," Tim said. "He can't be up there by himself. He needs to be on the second floor with us." "I don't care where he sleeps, as long as you and me have a bed, Babe," Kyle said. "Do you ever use your room, Brian?" "I do homework in there sometimes, but I never sleep in there," he said. "You're not going to have homework this summer. That's a good place for him," I said. "I wonder if he's popped that cherry yet." "I don't think so," Kyle said. "He would have written to me about it. He's eager to, though." "Maybe he'll find a summer boyfriend," I said. "Maybe ole Stephen at work." "It could happen," Kyle said. "I think Stephen's a nice guy, don't you?" "He's all right. I don't like him touching me, though," I said. "I've watched him when he was talking to you. He stands too close, but he doesn't touch you any more than anybody else does," Kyle said. "Maybe that's it, but I always feel like he's getting all over me," I said. "He likes you, sweetie," Kyle said. I laughed. "You never quit, do you?" "Why would I quit. You're such a good target," he said. "He gets you as much as you get him, Babe," Tim said. "I know. That's what I mean," Kyle said. "You know what I want," I asked. "What," Brian asked. "A bowl of cereal," I said. "That sounds really good," Kyle said. All four of us made ourselves big bowls of breakfast cereal. I ate quite a bit of food during the course of a day, but I always seemed to be hungry. The rest of them were the same way. Tim stuck his head in the laundry room to check on Trixie. He turned on the light, but she didn't even wake up. She knew Rick was going to run her ass off the next morning, and she needed her sleep. Back in the den, Tim said, "Have you guys noticed how much Rick loves Trixie?" "Yeah," I said. "He thinks she's his dog. That's a big change from that first night y'all got her." "He told me the other day he has to take her to the vet pretty soon to have her sprayed so she won't be able to have puppies," Tim said. "I think it's spayed," Kyle said. "But it might be sprayed. I think on TV they say spayed, though." "Whatever it is, I think it would be fun for her to have a puppy," Tim said. "They don't have one at a time," I said. "They have litters, like five or six or more." "What would we do with that many puppies," Tim asked. "You put 'em in a sack and throw 'em in the lagoon," I said. I knew we'd never do anything like that, but I wanted to get to him. "Use 'em for fish bait, or in a crab trap," Kyle said. He and I looked at each other and had this mental communication. I loved it when it was him and -88-

me against the little boys. "Oh, my God! Kyle! How could you do that to a puppy," Tim said, going after the bait. "You can eat fish and crabs. You can't eat a puppy," Kyle said. "That's right. And you could catch a mighty big fish off puppy bait." Brian hit me. "What was that for," I asked. God, that guy was cute. "Justin, how can you say such a thing," he demanded to know. "'Cause it's true, Brian. You troll with puppy meat, and the really big ones come up. Especially puppies as cute as Trixie would make," Kyle said. "It's a good thing Rick is going to get her sprayed, then," Tim said. Tim was pissed, and so was Brian. Kyle and I started laughing, and Kyle wrapped his arms around Tim and put his head on Tim's shoulder. "Get off me, you murderer," Tim said. He shrugged Kyle off, but Kyle and I were laughing so hard we couldn't have killed a mosquito right then. "What are you laughing at," Brian demanded. That only made me and Kyle laugh harder. Brian said, "Tim, we've got some sick boyfriends, I think. They think that Wayne guy is nuts. I think they're nuts, too." Kyle and I eventually settled down. "Do you really think we would do that," Kyle asked. Tim and Brian looked at each other, and they knew. "You shits," Tim said. He and Brian were laughing by then, too. "I hate both of you." "No, you don't. Y'all both love us, but, in fact, we did get you last," Kyle said. "How could we fall for that," Brian asked. "We're sorry," I said. "No, you're not," Tim said. Kyle and I looked at one another and busted up again. Tim and Brian started laughing, too, and I knew they were having fun. "Whoooo," Kyle said. "My stomach hurts from laughing so hard. I think I ate too much." "How about another Purple Cow to settle it down," I asked. "Okay," he said, and I made four more. (Rick's Perspective) Kevin can go to sleep when they're out late at night, but I never can until I hear them come home. That night it sounded like they were having a damn good time in the den. I started to get up and join them, but I really did want to run the next day. I knew that if I got up, there would be no way I could do that. I saw guys running in the heat of mid-day occasionally, but I knew I had about another week before it would be dangerous to run, even early in the morning. I'd have to switch to running on a treadmill in our gym pretty soon. I enjoyed the air conditioning of the gym, but it wasn't the same as running outdoors. Trixie could run along side me on the treadmill, though. I thought about everything that had happened that week and about how great Kevin had been with it. He was spooned up against my back, and it felt good. We had made love earlier, and I had a sense that I could still feel him in me. It was a nice feeling. We were getting another one the next day. He was "time sensitive," just like Chris had been. Six -89-

weeks, and we'd probably get to love him just like we had Chris and the others. Kevin told me he had given the go-ahead to Kyle to work us up a trip to go see Chris, and I knew it would be well planned. I finally drifted off. Chapter 9 (Kevin's Perspective) We had a phone call from Seth on the main household number around one o'clock. He had just pulled off the Interstate, and he wanted to double check directions. Getting to our house from where he was was a little tricky because it involved back roads, but I listened as he ran through the directions. He had them right. "That was Seth on the phone," I announced to the people in the room. At that moment they happened to be Jeff, Tyler, and Rick. "Where was he," Rick asked. When I told him, he said, "About another hour." We had driven home that way from New Orleans so many times, we knew every pine tree along the way. "I told him to call us when he gets to the beach. I'll go find him and lead him back here," I said. "I'll go with you and drive his car," Rick said. "Okay," I said. The other guys had been out in the boat. It wasn't clear to me what they had been doing, though, since that hadn't been skiing. "Hi," they all said when they came inside. Trixie was with them, and she was wagging her tail like she hadn't seen us in a week. She didn't lick anybody, though. I liked her better, now that Kyle's no-lick policy seemed to be in full force. The boys all had on shorts, tank tops, baseball caps, and deck shoes, and they looked great with their tans. "Hi. What's up," I asked. "We set out some crab traps," Kyle said. "We're gonna have us a fine mess of crabs by tomorrow." "What's a crab trap," Ty asked. "They're these wire cage things. You put bait in them, and the crabs go after the bait. Trouble is, once they're in the trap, they can't get out," Kyle said. "What did you use for bait," I asked. "A litter of puppies," Justin said. "We did not," Brian and Tim said in unison. Kyle and Jus laughed hard. "Kevin, last night Kyle and Justin were teasing us about using puppies for fish bait and to bait crab traps," Tim said. "They made Brian and me cry." Kyle and Jus got looks of astonishment on their faces. "We didn't make you cry," Kyle said. "You're lying through them perfect teeth, Bubba," Justin said. "We really didn't cry, but we did just get them last," Tim said. "I was blindsided just now," Justin said. "I wasn't expecting anything like that. I'll get your ass, Tim. Never worry. Or always worry, maybe." Everybody was laughing. "But really, what did you use for bait," I asked. -90-

I was waiting for them to say road kill, or something. "Chicken necks and chicken backs," Kyle said. "Where did you get those," I asked. "We bought 'em," Kyle said. "They package them special in the grocery store for crabbing. Haven't you ever seen them?" "I've seen those," Rick said. "I was wondering if people really ate those things." "Some people do," Jus said. "You can make a pretty fine chicken stew out of them. Add some giblets? Mighty fine served on mashed-up cornbread or rice. Thinking about that is making me hungry." "What are you going to do with the crabs," Ty asked. "Eat 'em," Kyle said. "How do you cook those," Ty asked. "We boil 'em, Ty. I'll teach you how to open them and pick out the meat," Kyle said. "It's easy for most people." He stared at Tim when he said that last line. The last time we had had boiled crabs, Kyle had ended up picking Tim's for him and feeding him the meat off his fingers, which I was sure Kyle didn't mind one bit. "I'll get the hang of it," Tim said. "Besides, I thought you liked me to suck your fingers." "I do, but I'd rather you . . ." "Kyle. Tim," I said. "Whoa." "I knew that was getting close," Justin said. "I saw what it did to you, too, Kyle. Remember?" "Okay, guys. Let's move on, shall we?" "Yeah, but I just want to make this one point. Y'all think Tim and Brian . . . oh, never mind," Kyle said. "What were you going to say," I asked. "Well, y'all think me and Justin are the only horny ones. I know you do, but . . ." "You were right the first time, Kyle," I said. They all laughed. "So what are you going to do with the crabs you catch until you have enough to cook," Rick asked. "Aren't they supposed to be alive when you boil them?" "Yes, sir, that's the best way to do it," Kyle said. "I've got a holding trap that's tied to the dock. I set out eight traps, and it shouldn't take more than a couple of days to get a mess of 'em. Maybe even just one day, if we're lucky. Let's go check 'em, boys." They left to check the crab traps. "Those guys are amazing to me," Tyler said. "Are they ever in a bad mood?" "Not very often, but it happens occasionally," I said. "Justin used to be pretty moody sometimes, but he hasn't been since his surgery last December." "What kind of surgery did he have," Ty asked. "I'll tell you about it," Jeff said. "We had a hard fall last year, didn't we?" "I'll say we did," Rick said. "There's been a lot of laughter in this house, Ty, but there's been a lot of tears, too." "I guess like every family," Ty said. "Yeah," I said. "Just like every family, only in some there isn't much laughter." *** The crabbers came back in about twenty minutes, all excited. "How many," Jeff asked. -91-

"Two dozen," Kyle said. "We'll go out in about two hours, and we should have a lot more." The phone rang, and it was Seth. He had reached the spot I had told him to call from, and he was ready for us to go get him. "We'll go," Kyle said. "Let's take the Wrangler." "One of you drive his car back here," I said. "Take the Parkway. Don't take the beach road." "Do you think the Parkway will be quicker on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of tourist season," Kyle asked sarcastically. "Get your asses out of here," I said. They all laughed hard. (Kyle's Perspective) I'm glad I remembered about those traps. Me and Clay used to run them all summer long back when my daddy still had a boat, and we had fresh crabs anytime we wanted them. To me, the only thing out of the water that was better than a crab was an oyster, but you couldn't eat those in the summer time. Something about the month had to have an "r" in it. Now that we had a boat again, we were going to be eating good. Another thing I really like is lobster. They say that Florida lobster isn't as good as Maine lobster, but they sure taste good to me. I still had my SCUBA gear and certificate, although it probably wouldn't hurt me to take a refresher. Maybe we could all take SCUBA lessons and go get us some lobsters. Scallop season didn't open until July first, and I would definitely have us some scallops when that happened. You had to snorkel to get those. That's another seafood I like a lot, and we could get us some of those easy. We could ride over to Cape San Blas after work, scoop us up a mess of scallops in about an hour, and be eating them by seven o'clock that night. Everybody thinks shrimp are so good, and they are. But you have to go way out to get any good shrimp of any size, and my boat wasn't big enough to handle a shrimp net. We'd have to buy those. I knew some Vietnamese shrimpers that would sell them to me for a dollar fifty a pound, and that was for twelve-counts, where the shrimp were so big you only got twelve to a pound. That was heads-on, of course. Those big ones were the kind I liked. They were good boiled or on the grill. I loved driving or riding in Tim's car with the top down, and that's what we were doing that afternoon going to get Seth. We passed a convertible with four girls, each with long hair, and it was blowing out behind their heads. They saw us and flirted with us, and we flirted our asses off right back at them. You don't have to be straight to flirt with girls and to have fun with them doing it. The traffic on the Parkway was nothing like the traffic on the front road, but it sure wasn't light. We got to the service station where Seth was supposed to meet us, and he was standing out, leaning on his car. Tim started blowing the horn as we pulled up, and ole Seth was grinning and waving at us. "Hey, buddy," I said, when we all got out. I grabbed him up in a big hug. He smelled good, like aftershave or something. "How was the trip?" "It was good. Why is there so much traffic here?" "It's just summer traffic," I said. He shook hands with everybody and hugged everybody, too. I had forgotten how skinny he was, but he looked pretty good. I scanned his face to see if I could see any difference, and there was some difference. He wasn't going to be anybody's model any time soon, but he wasn't so dog ugly anymore, either. The thing was, though, he was so nice you didn't care what he looked like. At least I didn't. "We're going to have us a good time, son," Justin said. "I know it, Jus," he said, grinning big. "Thank you all so much for having me." -92-

"It's our pleasure," I said. "And Jus is right. We are going to have a good time." "Whose Jeep is this?" "It's mine," Tim said. "I got it for my birthday." "Awesome," he said. We were standing in the sun, and I was starting to break a sweat. We could visit a lot better back home in the air conditioning. "Let me drive your car. There's a lot of traffic, and I know one or two short cuts," I said. "Come on and ride with us, Jus." The three of us got in his Mustang. That was a real nice car, and I had never driven one before. It was dark green, and it had this really cool decal of a mustang pony right above each front wheel. We talked about this and that on the way home. We told him about him having a job at the hotel with us, and he got pretty damn excited about that. He had never had a job before, and he really liked the idea. "I think you'll probably start Tuesday because there's paper work and all, but you can come in with us on Monday so we can show you what to do," I said. "It's not that hard." "Cool," he said. "Any cute guys around?" "Several," Justin said. "Kyle, do you know that Cody guy in valet? Stephen told me Friday he's gay." "Are you shitting me," I asked. "Cody's gay?" "That's what the man said. I don't know how he knows, though. I'll bet you Cody ain't getting it on with him," Jus said. "Seth, this Cody guy is major cute," I said. "If you could hook up with Cody, you'd have you something good, dude. He's kind of shy, though. I've only talked to him a few times, and now that I think about it, Jus, he does look at you pretty thorough when you talk to him. I'll bet you Stephen's right." "He said he knew it for a fact," Jus said. "We'll get after Mr. Cody, if you want us to, Seth. Jus, that ought to be our challenge for the summer, if Seth wants. You, me, and Jeff hook Seth and Cody up," I said. "How would you do that," Seth asked. "Aw, you know. Be nice to him, talk to him, rub his dick a little when he ain't paying attention." Seth busted up laughing. "We wouldn't do that, of course, but if he's gay and looking, we can make him look your way. We'd have to out you to him, though. Would you have a problem with that," I asked. "It's got to happen eventually, I think, don't you," Seth said. "Absolutely. You ain't going to get a boy in bed unless he knows you're gay," I said. Listen to you, I thought. How the hell would you know what to do? You ain't no Romeo, Kyle. I smiled at what I was thinking. "Do you think Cody's had a lot of experience," Seth asked, "because I haven't had any." "Shit, no," I said. "He's a virgin, if ever there was one. He just graduated from my high school, and nobody there thought he was gay. Hell, I didn't even know it. I'm telling you, though, this boy is hot. Do you like the muscle type, 'cause that's what he is? He wrestled for our school." I glanced over at Seth's lap, and he had him a big one. Tell you the truth, I was a little plumped up myself, and I figured Jus had him one, too. "Yeah, I think muscles are hot. You've put on some, haven't you," he asked. "Yeah, we've been working out. We got a really nice gym for Christmas, and we use it pretty much every day. Not so much on weekends, though," I said. -93-

"That's what I need to do," he said. "Maybe then I wouldn't be so damn skinny." "You're fine, man," I said. Lie. You need to work out, I thought. We'll take care of you, though. You're going to leave Emerald Beach a man. I was going to see to that. "Well, here we are, such as it is," I said. "Such as it is? Man, this is a fantastic house," Seth said. "I know. My dad always says that, though, about our house. We just passed it. It was the one with all those colored-leaf flowers in the yard," I said. "I noticed that one. That's a nice house, too, Kyle," he said. "That one back there is my official home, but this one is my real home," I said. *** Tim and Brian pulled in right behind us. Kevin and Rick, and Jeff and Ty welcomed Seth like he was some long-lost brother, and he ate that up. We got Seth's stuff up to his room. He didn't unpack, though. I saw him eying Brian's computer in that room. "It's on a cable modem," I said. "Fast download, and no timing out." "Oh, wow," he said. "I'm still on a dial-up at home." "This house is on an Ethernet network, and Jeff is in the process of setting up a Web server. When he figures it all out, we're going to run our Web page from here," I said. "The modem has a static IP address, so we can do that, we think." "Stop it with the geek talk," Jus said. "I'll get your geek to talk," I said, and I groped his crotch. Seth thought that was hilarious. Justin and I did stuff like that to one another all the time, and we didn't think anything of it. "Let's go check the traps," I said. Everybody went on that trip, and that boat was riding low in the water. We got an even four dozen on that pass, and that was getting close to being enough. I re-baited the traps, and I moved four of them to places where we hadn't had them before. There weren't any other traps in our section of the lagoon that I could tell, so we were going to get all the crabs that wanted to be got that day. It was already four o'clock, and I knew we had Mass at five. It would stay light till eight or later, though, so I knew we could make another pass after we came home from church. "Let's have a party tonight after church," I said. "Let's invite Jerry and Pat, if they can come, and Sam and Fred, and Chad and Gage. I'll call my Vietnamese boys for some shrimp. They'll bring them to church for us, I'm pretty sure." "Kyle, what are you talking about," Kevin asked. "I'm talking about a small party to celebrate our new brother, that's what. Monte and Terry, too. I forgot about them. They've got to meet Seth, too," I said. "You do it, Bubba," Rick said. "Okay. I will. I want them here for seven. We can do this, now that we've got a decent ice machine." They all laughed. They had all ridden me hard about wanting a good ice machine, but, by God, we had us one. They could tease me about it all they wanted to, but they were going to know the truth, one of these days. "Do you like clear ice or cloudy ice," Jus asked Seth. "I think the clear ice is prettier," he said. "You damn queer," Jus said. -94-

Seth got a little red and looked embarrassed, but everybody else who was in on the joke laughed. "Seth, don't listen to his bullshit. He thinks only queers like clear ice. But you know what? Ain't nobody here queerer than him," I said. "He's been teasing me about wanting clear ice for weeks." "Y'all are going to have to help me out with stuff like that," Seth said. "You'll catch on," Jus said. "Kyle, I think he's one of the smart ones. We're way outnumbered, Bubba." "I know," I said. Everybody else laughed, but Justin and I knew it was true. We unloaded the crabs into the holding trap, and they were frisky. Trixie was barking at them, like that was going to make them behave. "Pull her back, Tim. Don't let one get her nose," I said. I had once seen a crab get on a dog's nose, and that was not a pretty sight. I didn't want our puppy getting her nose eaten up by some damn crab. Once I got them in the holding trap, I started calling people. I called my Vietnamese boys first, and they could meet us at the church when Mass was over. They were Catholic, too, but they went to some other church. They had the big ones, and that's what I was after. I also told him I wanted ten pounds of potatoes, three dozen ears of white-and-yellow corn, shucked, and five pounds of onions. He asked me if I wanted artichokes, and I had to ask him to repeat himself three times before I figured out what he was saying. I told him I wanted three dozen when he finally got through to me what he was talking about. I told him we needed a ton of crab boil, too. I next called Jerry and told him what was up. He could come, and he thought Pat could, too. He asked would it be all right if Pat brought a date, and I said sure. Hmmm. Pat's dating, I thought. That was a good sign. Monte said he and Terry had just been talking about us, and they would definitely be there. Sam said all four of his would be there. Chad and Gage were actually working in gift shops for Goodson that summer , but we hadn't seen them since school was out. It was going to be a good party; I just knew it. It was thrown together pretty quick, which wasn't at all my style, but it was going to be good. Ice cream or coke floats for dessert. Ice cream always goes good after seafood. There wasn't much we could do before church, but there was going to have to be a lot of action after we got home. I got plates and cups and silverware set up outside. I set up the two gas grills to hold the pots of water to boil the stuff in. Jus, Tim, and Brian got the patio looking good, especially moving tables so we could more or less all eat together. There were going to be nineteen of us, but we had the picnic tables to handle that many. Jeff, Ty, and Seth got the clubhouse set up for games. They made sure there were fresh sheets on the writing pads on the walls to record stuff, cards on the game tables, CD's to dance to, and anything else we might want to do. I was very proud of my brothers. We went to church for five o'clock Mass. Jerry was the priest, and the story from the Bible that night was about Jesus multiplying the loaves and the fishes. Shit, I thought, when I heard that. I forgot about the damn crackers. I had the fishes part covered, but I didn't have any crackers. People want crackers when they eat crabs and shrimp. They don't want loaves. Maybe they used to, but not any more. Jerry talked about the importance of celebration. I didn't usually pay much attention to what he said in the homily, but I did that night. Man, I thought, you're saying this for us. And I knew he was. I just wished I had some damn saltines. When we got home after Mass, I hauled ass, I'm telling you. I was out in that boat grabbing up those traps in no time. I didn't even bother to count 'em on that pass, but it was a lot. We must have had -95-

ten dozen crabs, at least, by then. Tim and Brian helped me get 'em squared away. I couldn't have done it without those boys, that's for sure. Justin got the grills going while we were gone, and the pots were both boiling when we got back with the crabs. I put equal potatoes, corn, onions, and artichokes into each pot, along with the crab boil, a lot of salt, and the seafood. Crabs in one, shrimp in the other. All the crabs didn't fit into that pot at once, so I had to end up cooking them three dozen at a time. It only took a few minutes to cook them, so we were on schedule. The vegetables took longer to cook, and I left them in the hot water after I took the crabs and shrimp out. A lot of people like to eat boiled seafood hot, but I rather it be cold, or at least cool. It's easier to peel cold, for one thing, and I think it tastes better, too. If anybody wanted it hot, I'd dump it back in the hot water for a minute or so before they ate it. We always had plenty of beer, wine, and soft drinks chilling in the refrigerator in the clubhouse. Rick set out some bottles of whiskey on the bar for those who wanted that. A drink of whiskey before dinner is good, but I personally think an ice cold beer is the best with boiled seafood. Everybody has different tastes, though. I put out a hunk of cheddar with some fancy crackers, some nuts, and a big bowl of pickled okra for Jus. That boy loved pickled okra better than anybody I ever knew, and I teased him about liking those little slimy green dicks. "Yep, the slimier the better," he said. I couldn't help laughing at that. Truth be known, I liked 'em pretty slimy myself, and he knew it. Not green, though. *** Everybody was there by 7:15 or 7:20. We hadn't seen Chad and Gage since the day school let out, and it was good to see those boys. We had lunch with them every day during school, but we hadn't had time to do squat with them yet that summer. Jeff was busy introducing Tyler to everybody, and it was pretty obvious they were a couple. Somehow you can just tell when two people are just friends and when they really like each other. They really liked each other. I introduced Seth to Chad and Gage. They all shook hands, and Seth and Chad struck up a conversation. They sort of walked away from us. Gage pulled me aside. "Kyle, who is that," Gage asked. "That's Seth. That's the guy from New Orleans that we got to know at Mardi Gras. We told you about him," I said. "Yes, I remember. But you didn't tell everything. My God, Kyle, the hair! That boy needs a total make-over immediately. Let me see if Antonio will see him tomorrow." Gage whipped out his cell phone and pressed a button. I didn't know who he was talking to, but I heard what he said. "Antonio, if you saw him and had any kind of conscience at all, you would drop everything and get over here immediately," Gage said. Pause. "Tomorrow really isn't soon enough, but if that's the best you can do, so be it." Pause. "No. First thing. Say, one o'clock. I'll have him there." Pause. "Definitely highlights. 'Mousy' is way too kind to describe it." -96-

Pause. "Yes, a shave, too. If he shaves at all, he doesn't do it often enough. Eyebrows, too, Antonio. Definitely eyebrows. I'm going to put him totally in your hands, sweetie. You have to make him look good. I demand it." Pause. "Chad and I love you two. Say hello to Sid for us. Bye, baby. See you tomorrow." "What the hell was that all about," I asked. "That was all about making our new friend Seth presentable. Seth is a diamond in the rough, Kyle, and my job is to chip away the rough. Your job is to lead. My job is to enhance." I laughed when he said that. "Laugh your jock ass off all you want to, but this guy's gonna look better when I finish with him," he said. I noticed he didn't use his usual effeminate voice just then. "Sweetness," he said, switching back. That really made me laugh. He could switch back and forth for comedy. What an incredible guy, I thought. The big surprise of the evening was Pat's date. It turned out to be Mr. Lawley, my trig teacher. Oh, shit, I thought. I actually liked the guy, and I had made a B in the course. It was dual enrollment, which meant I got college credit and high school credit for it. My guidance counselor had talked me into taking college algebra first semester last year, and that was dual enrollment, too. That meant all my college math was under my belt, doing what, I don't know, but it was down there somewhere. "Hi, Kyle," Mr. Lawley said. He was all friendly and even shook my hand. "Hi, Mr. Lawley," I said. "Glad you could make it." "Call me Mike," he said. "Here, anyway." "Okay, Mike," I said. "I hear you've been busy today," he said. "Yes, sir. I caught the crabs, and I'm cooking everything. Would you like something to drink? We have just about everything," I said. Pat came over with beers for him and Mike. "Hey, Kyle. I see you've met Mike," Pat said. "Yeah. I already knew him, though," I said. "Really? How was that?" "I don't want to get off on that tangent." Pat looked at me kind of strange when I said that, but Lawley laughed his ass off. "What's so funny," Pat asked. "I taught this guy trigonometry at Beachside High School last semester," Mike said. When Pat heard that, he laughed, too. "I should have figured there was a pun involved. Mike, these guys are incredible when it comes to puns. They'll keep you laughing, but you've got to pay real close attention, sometimes," Pat said. "You know he's going to be student body president next year, don't you," Mike said. "I think my brother mentioned that," Pat said. "Congratulations, Kyle." "Thanks." "You should have heard his speech, Pat. It was a masterpiece. He had everybody laughing, and then he launches into tolerance for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. It was very short, but it was very effective," Mike said. -97-

"Hi, Mr. Lawley. Hi, Pat," Gage said. "I heard what you were talking about, Mr. Lawley, and I felt like I was on the top of the world after that speech. You should give it again tonight, Kyle." "No way! Are you out of your fucking mind, man?" Then I realized what I just said. "Oops. Sorry about that," I said. Mike just laughed, so I knew he was okay with what I had said. I didn't curse in front of grown-ups that I wasn't real close to, and that had truly just slipped out. I knew to watch myself better than that. "When are we gonna eat? I'm hungry." That was damn Justin. He handed me a drink when he said that. It was bourbon and coke, and it was my first of the night. "When it's ready, that's when," I said. "This stuff smells so damn good, it's making me digest my stomach," he said. "Go eat you some okra," I said. "I ate it all," he said. He had a huge grin on his face. "You ate all of it," I asked. I had put out two large jars of it, and it was damn sure all gone. "Well, somebody else might have stolen some, but I ate most of it," he said. "I crave it, Kyle. I can't help myself." He and I were laughing so hard we had to lean on one another, just to stand up. "You're the okra pig." "I thought Okra Winfrey was the okra pig," he said. "Oh, that is soooooo low," I said, but that didn't stop me from laughing my ass off. Pat, Mike, and Gage were laughing, too. "Mike, I want you to meet my brother and best friend, Justin Davis," I said. "Hiya, Mike," Justin said. They shook hands. Then Justin shook hands with Pat, too. He hadn't said hello to him yet. "I'm serious, Bubba, those potatoes have to cook for another fifteen, at least. You don't want to eat no crunchy raw potato, do you?" "No, I reckon not, now that you put it that way. What do you need help with?" "I'm doing real good," I said. "How about if you put a couple of CD's on that are just music, instead of that shit-kicking stuff, while we eat? Would you do that? Nothing too fast. Get Jeff to help you pick it out." "Kyle, this is unbelievable that you put this party together so fast," he said. "You're learning how to do it, too, aren't you," I said to Justin. "Yeah, from watching you. But how'd you learn it?" "Total trial and error," I said. "One of these days it's gonna fuck up in my face." "I doubt it." "Mr. Lawley, I'm sorry man. I've been cursing like a sailor here. I don't usually talk like that," I said. "It's just been slipping out." "Bullshit," Justin said. "He talks like that all the damn time. We all do. Well, maybe not everybody, but him and I do." "Kyle, it's okay. Lighten up, dude. We're just friends here. I'm not your teacher anymore," Mike said. "He was your teacher," Jus asked. "Yeah. Trig," I said. "Did you pass?" "Hell, yeah, I passed." -98-

"He did pretty well, in fact," Mike said. "That's math, ain't it? I didn't think your dumb ass could pass a math course," Justin said. "I didn't, either," I said. "I just had this really good teacher." "Now it's really getting thick," Pat said. "I'll say," Mike agreed. *** The food was really good, if I do say so myself. Those crabs had plenty of meat in them, and they were fat, too. I showed everybody who didn't know how to peal them, and Tim finally caught on. I let him suck some meat off my fingers a time or two, and I got rock hard when he did it. I had on shorts, though, so I don't think anybody saw it. Now why would him sucking my fingers make me hard like that? I put that in the back of my brain to experiment with later on. After dinner Rick and I put the food away. We had a lot of crabs and shrimp left over, and there were a whole lot of vegetables, too. Cooking those vegetables in that seafood water, with all that salt and crab boil seasoning, made them really good. I was the kind who could get a handful of shrimp, a cold potato, a cold ear of corn, and a cold artichoke for a little snack and be perfectly happy. I wasn't too keen on biting into a cold boiled onion, but some of them loved that, especially Justin. When Rick and I went outside after we had finished, most of them were naked in the pool. Seth wasn't, though. He was sitting off to the side by himself. I went to him right away. "Hey," I said. "Hi, Kyle. Dinner was really good." "Thanks. I'm glad you liked it. How come you're not in the water?" He got this real shy and embarrassed look, and I thought, No way, Bubba. You ain't ever hurting in this house, I don't care what. "Are you shy about getting naked," I asked. "Yeah," he said, and hung his head a little. "Well don't. Let's go find you a suit," I said. "I've got a dozen or more here. Come on." "Won't they make fun of me, if I come out in a suit?" "Not in this house, Bubba. Not at my party in your fucking honor, they won't. It just won't happen. I'll wear one, too, if that will make you feel better," I said. "Will you really do that for me? I've seen the pictures on the Web site, and I know you never wear a suit." "Hell, yes, I'll wear one. I'd like to see them make fun of me for wearing a suit," I said. "I'll pull their dicks off." He laughed. "Let's go get suited up. I'm so nasty from cooking, eating, and putting away all that food, I need to get in the water." We went upstairs to our room. I had a damn drawer full of swim suits, of all kinds. Most of mine were Speedos, but I had some trunks, too. I knew he had brought a suit or two, but they were still packed in the other room. I gave him a pair of trunks to put on that were so baggy they would conceal an elephant's hard-on, if necessary. He had to pull the string really tight at the waist, but he kept them on. In the hip department, I'm like a snake, but that boy was like a piece of spaghetti. I got him fixed up, though, and we went downstairs. Nobody said a word when we went out to the pool. We both jumped in and got right into the splash fight that was going on. "What are you doing with a bathing suit on," Kevin asked me. -99-

"I wanted to wear one tonight," I said. "Why?" "Because I did, that's why," I said. "Seth didn't have anything to do with it?" "So what if he did, man? He's new, you know? Just shut up about it, okay? He'll be all right." "Kyle, you're wonderful, you know that?" "Don't say that. Man, that pisses me off. I'm not wonderful. I'm just a kid. A cute kid, maybe, but just a kid." That was all it took. He jumped on my ass and dragged me to the bottom. Trixie was barking her head off at him when we finally came up. It was like she was going to eat him up for drowning me. Dogs are so funny. They only know to love you, but they don't know when somebody else loves you, too. In the rough and tumble of our house, Kevin was showing me how much he loved me by dragging me down, and I knew it. Trixie didn't have a fucking clue. "Lick," I said to her, but she didn't. Kevin laughed. (Mike's Perspective) When Kyle Goodson came up to me at that party, I almost dropped a load in my pants. I had heard the rumors at school about him being gay, but I figured that was all they were. Rumors motivated by jealousy. He had spoken out in his election speech about gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, but I figured that had been noblesse obliges. He came from what was probably the richest family on the beach, and nobody would be willing to stand up and confront him about what he said. But there he was at a party of all gay men, and it turned out he was the host. My God! And a very good host he was. He told me that he had caught the crabs we ate that night and that he had done all the cooking. I knew Kyle was smart as hell, but his math skills weren't the best. He had come to every after-school session I had held, though, and he honestly pulled out a B on his own. I don't give points, even if your daddy does own half the beach. There were some very interesting people at that party, and most of them were extremely good looking. Kevin and Rick, who actually owned the house, were stunning looking. They were both big shots in Mr. Goodson's empire, but Pat wasn't really clear on what they actually did. Justin was pretty "country," but Kyle introduced him as his brother and best friend. Justin was a very good looking man, but Kyle seemed to be more attached to Tim. Gage Franklin was there, and he and Kyle were obviously good friends. I just didn't get it. "Did you have a good time tonight," Pat asked me when he dropped me off. "I had a great time tonight," I said. "Thank you for taking me." Pat and I had been dating for several weeks, but thus far there hadn't been any sex. "Do you want to come in," I asked. "No. I'll call you tomorrow, though, okay? We'll do something." "Okay," I said. We kissed goodnight on my doorstep, and I tasted his tongue for the first time. That was encouraging, and I was willing to wait as long as it took. Chapter 10 (Seth's Perspective) -100-

They gave a party in my honor the first night I was there. I couldn't believe it. In fact, I didn't know it was in my honor until after we had eaten. That's when Kyle mentioned it. And, my God, what a sweetheart he is. I was really shy about getting naked in front of all of those guys. I checked them out, of course, and almost all of them had big, hanging, swinging dongs. When mine was soft, which was rare around them, it nestled in its bed of pubic hair, so small you could barely tell it was a penis. A couple of other guys there were on the small side, too, but I needed more time to adjust to them before I would show mine. Kyle got me a pair of trunks to wear, and he wore trunks, too, so I wouldn't be the only one in a suit. That was a small and painless thing for him to do, I realized, but it said so much to me about his character and about him as a person. I was going to have a job, just like the rest of them. I had never had a job before, and I was pretty excited about that. My parents were rather well off, but they both worked. I knew that I would have to work all my life, too, and I was kind of eager to see what it was like. Kyle and Justin said they were going to take it as their summer challenge to hook me up with a guy named Cody, if I wanted to get hooked up. I hadn't seen him or met him, but I was already fantasizing about him, just on what they had said. Kyle came into my room early Sunday morning. I say "early." It was after nine, and I was already awake. I was lying there thinking about Cody, actually, and getting ready to masturbate. "Sunday morning is our family time," Kyle said. "Put on just some briefs. Have you got any?" "Yeah, that's what I wear," I said. "Cool. Put 'em on, and let's go." "I sleep in my briefs," I said. "Well, come on, then." "I can't." "Why? Are you hard," he asked. "That don't matter. So am I." I had noticed his erection as soon as he had come into the room. Nobody had ever before asked me if I had an erection, but somehow it seemed perfectly natural coming from him. "Come on, Seth. Nobody gives a shit if you're hard," he said. "Just don't play with it downstairs, okay?" I couldn't imagine the circumstances under which I would ever play with my erection in front of a group of guys. "Okay," I said. "Seriously, that's one of the big rules around here. If you get hard when you're naked swimming or something, just ignore it. Don't fool with it. We don't ever do sex in public, unless it's just the kids." He chuckled. "We sometimes play around, when it's just us. Never around Kevin and Rick though, okay?" "Okay." "We don't talk about what we do in private, either, around them. Since I've gone this far, I might as well tell you the major rule. You never do anything sexual unless both guys want to do it, okay? No forced sex. Period." "Okay." Again, I couldn't imagine myself in a situation for that to apply. It took me a few moments to get out of bed, but eventually I did. "Nice one, dude," he said. I'm sure I blushed to the very marrow of my bones. "Why are you blushing like that. I've seen it, remember? You ain't got nothing to be ashamed of." Yes, I did remember, and I was horrified that he did. He must have seen that in my face. He sat down on the bed, and he pulled me down next to him. "Seth, look at this objectively, man. You're gay, and everybody else in this house is gay. We all -101-

get hard-ons all the time. It's part of being a guy, and it's definitely part of being a gay guy in a house full of guys. If somebody teases you about that, it's going to be in fun. Always in fun, never to hurt. This is a family. We love each other. We don't hurt each other. There are nine guys in this house this morning, and I would say at least five have erections right now, if not all nine. Don't let your dick be a barrier to loving those guys and participating in our family fun. 'Cause it is fun. Almost always." "Almost always?" "Sometimes the big brothers, Kevin and Rick, have to get down on us because they think we need it. That isn't fun, but it always ends in fun," he said. "I trust you, Kyle," I said. "Well, let's get our asses downstairs," he said, and I followed him. We went into the den, and everybody else was already there. They were all in just underwear, and I would have felt strange and out-of-place if I had dressed. I looked around, and Kyle was right. There were several erections in that room besides mine. "Kyle, go get us some breakfast," Rick said. "Some real breakfast, not just biscuits." "Okay," he said. "Tim and Seth, go with me. I'll drive, Tim." "I figured that this morning," Tim said. We went upstairs and put on shorts, tank tops, and shoes. We went to a Shonys, and Kyle talked to the manager like they knew each other. The manager was a black man, and it was pretty obvious he considered Kyle a friend. Kyle told him we wanted nine breakfasts to go, and he brought out a bunch of styrofoam carry-out plates for us. "Fill 'em up, Kyle," he said. Kyle paid him with a credit card, and we marched back to the breakfast bar to fill up. We got four heaping plates of scrambled eggs; four plates of meat; a ton of grits; two plates of biscuits, one covered in sausage gravy and one plain; three plates of fruit; two plates of French toast with syrup; and one plate of salad, smothered in Ranch dressing. I had never had salad for breakfast, but it actually looked pretty good. A little girl was crying at a table near the bar. There were probably a dozen people at the table with her, and they were all dead quiet. "They're embarrassed," Kyle said. "They need to take that little bitch outside." "Kyle!" Tim said. "How can you say that? You love little kids." "I mean it, Tim. The rest of the people in here are paying good money to have a nice breakfast, and that little bitch is ruining it for them. Look at her. There ain't a tear on her face. All she wants is power. She's the boss of this restaurant right now, and she knows it. And that mother is so fucking dumb, she thinks a two-year-old is supposed to be able to make a whole restaurant full of people miserable, if she wants to." "How'd you figure that out," I asked. "I don't know. I just know people, I guess," Kyle said. "What would you do, if that was your kid," Tim asked. "I'd haul her ass out of here. If you ain't hurting, you can't be crying. That's my motto, when it comes to kids. If they put her ass in the car and walked behind it where she couldn't see them, I guarantee she'd shut up in a minute. You have to train a kid, just like we have to train Trixie. The dog can't be the boss, and the kid can't be the boss." "Trixie doesn't shit or piss in the house, and she doesn't lick anymore, either," Tim said. "I know," Kyle said. "But y'all thought I was being mean to her when I was training her, didn't you?" "Yeah, we did. You spoke so hard to her," Tim said. -102-

"I know I did, but I had to. Who do you think she loves the most?" "Rick," Tim said. "Yeah, but after him. Me, right?" "Yeah, you," Tim said. "'Cause I make her mind." We took that food home, and it was still hot when we got it there. We all stripped down to just briefs again. They had coffee ready, and juice, and we all ate a good breakfast that morning. *** "Who wants to ski," Kyle asked. Everybody said they did, including me. I wasn't all that good at it, but I liked water skiing. "Let me go move the traps," Kyle said. "Come with me, Tim." "I've got to use the bathroom," Tim said. "Seth, you come, then," Kyle said. "Let's put on our suits first." I went upstairs with Kyle to his bedroom, and he dug around in a drawer for another pair of trunks for me. He put on a very small red Speedo, and it left very little to the imagination as to what was under it. I noticed the tattoo of a monkey he had on his lower stomach. "I didn't know you had a tattoo," I said. "It's cool." "Thanks. I got it in New York at Spring Break. We all got 'em," he said. "I saw theirs last night, but your trunks hid yours. I see you have Tim's name under it," I said. "Yeah. That monkey's him. He's my little sex monkey," he said. That was all it took. You've heard of certain statements being red flags? That statement caused me to provide the pole for the red flag. I was going to have to get a grip on myself; otherwise, I'd stay hard all the time. "Kyle, Gage said something to me last night about getting a haircut today at one o'clock," I said. "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. He wants you to get a makeover, or something like that. Do you want to?" "I guess. I sort of need a haircut. Is that all it is?" "He wants you to get some highlights added to your hair. You know, lighten it up in spots a little bit. I think it'll look good. Gage knows all about that kind of stuff," he said. "So you think I should do it?" "If you want to. It might be a good time to experiment, you know? I mean, nobody knows you here. You can be whatever you want to be. I'd do it. Last summer my hair was pure blond, and it was fun." "Are you going to do that again," I asked. "Naw. I'm going to grow me a little fringe, though. I've already started," he said. I didn't know what he was talking about, so I asked him. "This here," he said. He rubbed a thin line of beard that was no more than a quarter of an inch wide that started at his sideburns and went down to, and across, his chin, sort of outlining his face. I had seen guys with beards like that, and I was jealous of them. "It's a bitch to shave, though. I don't know how long I'll keep it." "I thought you had hair on your chest," I said. I had seen it at Mardi Gras when he had taken his shirt off, and I had thought it was mad sexy. "I do. I shaved it off, though. I trimmed up my pubes, too, and got rid of the hair on my balls and on my ass, too. See?" He pulled his Speedo down to show me, and I almost fainted. -103-

"Cool," I said. What else can you say to something like that? "Let's go," he said, and we did. He and I moved the crab traps off to the side of the lagoon so they wouldn't be in the way of skiing. In the process, we collected a bunch of crabs. Kyle re-baited the traps, too. That took us about thirty minutes. "We need to go get some gas, and then we'll be all set," he said. "Okay." "I need to get gas for the boat. Then we'll be ready to ski," he told the others in the den. They were all still lounging around in their underwear, reading the paper, watching TV, and just relaxing. Justin was leaning on Brian on the sofa, and he had his legs spread wide, showing everything you could show with a pair of briefs on. Oh, don't do that to me, I thought, when I saw him. After Kyle, I thought he was the sexiest one of them, and I could have easily fallen for him. Kyle went upstairs and came back with his wallet. He was wearing just the tiny Speedo and a pair of deck shoes. I wondered if I would ever have the self-confidence to go anywhere in public dressed like that. We put the two ten-gallon gas tanks from the boat into the Jeep, and we rode off to get the gas. We had the top down on the Jeep, and it was fun. "Have you ever driven one of these," he asked. "No. It looks like it's fun. Riding in it is fun," I said. "You can drive back," he said. We went to a convenience store gas station not too far from their house, and he and I each filled up a tank. It was heavy as hell when I lifted it to put it back in the car, once it was filled. We went inside to pay. There were three or four people ahead of us in line, so we had to wait. In a minute, a guy came in in just a bathing suit. I glanced at him and thought, Oh, my God! He got in line behind us. "Hey, Kyle," he said. Kyle turned to him. "Hey, Cody. What's up?" "Just getting some gas. I thought I'd surf this morning, but it's breaking up too bad." "I'm surprised," Kyle said. "I thought I saw a southeast wind out there." "Yeah, me, too, but it's not working today. Maybe later this afternoon," he said. "Cody, I want you to meet my good friend Seth Adams. Seth, this is Cody Mitchell. Seth's going to be working at the Laguna with us, starting tomorrow. Bellhop. Replacing Wayne," Kyle said. I shook hands with Cody, and he flashed me a huge smile. He held my hand and my eye just a tad longer than usual. He was about six feet tall, had dark blond hair, blue eyes, and the face of a model. He was quite muscular, just as they had said he was, and his tan was perfect. "We're fixing to ski. You want to ski with us," Kyle asked. "Yeah. Sure, if I won't be barging in," he said. "No way, man. There are eight or nine of us, but we'll take turns. You'll know some of 'em," he said, "and the rest you'll get to know." "Kyle, I never did tell you how much I liked your election speech, man. Nobody's ever said anything about gays before, and that needed to be said." "Thanks, Cody. Like they say, 'We're queer and we're here.'" "We damn sure are," Cody said. "You knew that about me, didn't you?" "Yeah, I had heard. Just a rumor, though." -104-

"Well, it's true. I decided that once I graduated, I wasn't hiding anymore. I said goodbye to the closet on my way to the ceremony," he said. "Everybody's been fine with it, too, haven't they," Kyle asked. "Yeah, my parents and my two brothers pretty much knew, anyway. The friends I've told haven't had a problem with it. I told Stephen at work, and I figured he'd get the word out," he said. It was our turn to pay. "Just follow us," Kyle said. "We're in that little white Wrangler." "Is that your car," he asked. "No, it's my boyfriend's. That's why I got so pissed off when Wayne tried to fuck it up the other day," Kyle said. "Oh, man. Did he know who it belonged to," he asked. "Not really. At least, I don't think he did. We got it cleaned up, though. Well, let's go," Kyle said, after Cody had paid for his gas. "That's the one, isn't it," I said after I had pulled out. "Yep. That's the one. I couldn't believe he just came out to us like he did. He's a hell of a nice guy, that's for sure. Pretty smart, too," Kyle said. "I saw how he looked at you, too, there, buddy." Kyle was grinning. "We might have us some love on the lagoon this afternoon." "Stop it," I said, teasingly. "It could happen," he said and laughed. Oh, God, please let it happen, I prayed. (Kyle's Perspective) I couldn't believe the good luck of running into Cody in a damn convenience store. It couldn't have worked out any better if I had planned it. I had thought I'd invite him over to swim or work out or something during the coming week, but this was even better. We'd have to take turns skiing, anyway, and he and Seth would have time to get acquainted in a natural kind of way. This was perfect. I got 'em all out on the dock. I introduced Cody around. He already knew Justin and Jeff, so he felt pretty much at home. He was the real friendly type, anyway, though, so he was at ease with them. They brought lawn chairs down to the dock to sit on while they waited their turns. "Let's set an order to ski in so y'all won't have to wait down here, if you don't want to," I said. "Let's go by age. Kevin, that means you're first. I need a spotter. You want to do that, Tim?" "No. Brian and I are going to fly kites," Tim said. I had forgotten about those kites I had bought for Brian's birthday. We had had them all that time, but we had never flown them. "I'll spot," Rick said. He and I got in the boat, and Trixie was there having a fit to ride with us. "Come on, girl," I said, and she jumped into the boat. Kevin skied first, and then he spotted while Rick skied. Rick and I switched off after that, me driving sometimes with him spotting, and him driving with me spotting. There were ten of us to ski, and I let everybody have a fifteen minute run. That way, we could get through everybody at least once in two and a half hours. Just before we broke for lunch, my cell phone rang. "Hello," I said. "Kyle, this is Gage. Where are you? I hear this really loud noise in the background." "I'm on the boat," I said. -105-

"Turn it off. I can barely hear you." "I can't. Somebody's skiing. I'll talk louder. What do you want?" "Tell Seth I'll be there to pick him up at a quarter to one," he said. "Okay. Why don't you and Chad come over," I said. "Okay, I'll pick him up after I take Seth to Antonio's," he said. "I've got to go now. Bye." "Bye," I said and closed out the connection. I told Seth what Gage had said when I picked up the next skier, and he said okay. When we broke for lunch, I noticed that Seth and Cody seemed to really be hitting it off good. We ate leftovers from the party, and Kevin or somebody had grilled hotdogs, too. I was glad he had done that because it would have taken too long to eat enough seafood to get a decent meal. I loved driving the boat, but I wanted to give somebody else a turn at it, too. Besides, I was getting pretty tired of doing that. "Who wants to swim," I asked. Several of them said they did, so we went over to the pool. Tim and Brian started pulling off their suits, and ole Cody got him a rapid case of bug-eye. "We don't swim with suits, usually," I told him. "You can if you want to, though. It ain't against the rules or anything." "No, that's cool. I've never done it in broad daylight before, though," he said. "We do it all the time," I said. Cody stripped down, and I watched to see if he would fluff himself out like most guys do. He did, but there wasn't much to fluff. All of his dick that you could see was the cap. He had a real sharp tan line from a Speedo, it looked like, and I had to admit the boy was impressive looking. Seth was eyeing that stuff up, too, and I smiled at him. He got just a little embarrassed, but he smiled back. We played in the pool for a while, and then we shot some hoops, still naked. I loved being naked outside, and I did it every chance I got. At one point, Cody's dick started putting on a little weight. "Just ignore it, man," I told him. "It happens all the time around here." "I know, but it's embarrassing," he said. "No. What's embarrassing is when you can't get it hard when you want to," I said. "Yeah, like you would know anything about that," Tim said. We all laughed, and I think that made Cody feel a little more at ease. Seth came back with his new haircut, and it looked damn good. He had gel in it, rough-combed the way I usually wear mine. We pretty much all did, in fact. There were enough highlights in his hair to make it look shiny and alive, but it was still basically brown. Cody, Tim, and I were sitting at a picnic table, and Seth sat down with us. "Your hair looks great," Cody said. "Thanks. I thought it came out pretty well," Seth said. "It looks fabulous," Gage said. He had just walked up. He came over behind me and started playing with my nipple ring on the right side. "What the hell are you doing, Gage," I asked. Who the hell do you think you are, touching me like that, I thought. He took his hand away and sat down. "Sorry, but I couldn't resist. I want to do that to you every time I see you," Gage said. "Well, don't do it, man," I said. "Are you mad at me," he said, all pouty and everything. "No, I'm not mad, but that's pretty intimate, you know?" -106-

"Who's getting intimate," Justin asked as he walked up. "Nobody," I said. God, let's just drop it, okay, I thought. All I need is a big, fat boner right now. "Your hair looks good, Seth. It looks like you shaved, too. Did you," Jus asked. Seth nodded. "What's this shit on your face," he said, rubbing my cheek. "What's it look like," I asked. "Are you growing a beard," he asked. "Yes. Do I have your permission?" He laughed, and then he put his hands on my shoulders from behind. I knew he was just being affectionate, but what was it, Touch Kyle Day? He started massaging my shoulders and neck. Then I decided he could touch me all he wanted to. "Kyle, beards like that are very 'in' right now," Gage said. "They're cool, but I'll bet they're hard to shave around," Cody said. "How many days is that?" "The last time I shaved my full face was Friday," I said. "Damn, Kyle, that's pretty good for just two days," Cody said. "That much would take me a week, probably." "Is anybody still skiing," I asked. "Jeff and Tyler, and Kevin and Rick are still out there," Justin said. "Does anybody know where Brian is?" "The last time I saw him before we started playing basketball, he was lying on a sofa in the clubhouse watching TV," Tim said. "I bet he fell asleep." "Probably," Jus said. "What'd you do? Keep him up all night," I asked. He popped me on the side of my head. "Owww," I said, pretending it hurt. He and I both laughed. "I want to get back in the pool," I said. "Me, too," Justin said. He took his suit off and pulled it down over my head. "Damn, you're looking good there, Kyle," he said. That got a laugh. I pulled the suit off my head and threw it toward the pool. It went in. Trixie came trotting up from the dock when I did that, and she went into the water after the suit. "I hope she tears it up for you," I said. "I don't care if she does. It belongs to you," he said. "Oh, shit. That's my favorite suit, too," I said. "What was that sticky wet stuff on the inside of the suit that I felt on my face just now?" "You wish," Justin said. "I wish, too, now that you mention it." That made us all laugh. "Seth and Cody, you guys must think we're filthy," Tim said. "I think it's pretty damn funny, actually," Cody said. "I knew Kyle was funny, but I didn't know about the rest of you." "Everybody knows Kyle's funny, don't they, sweetie," Justin said, rubbing my chest. "God almighty! Why is everybody wanting a piece of me today," I asked. "'Cause you're so hot and so irresistible, Kylie," Justin said. -107-

He was all over my chest when he said that. I could have gotten pissed off and knocked his hand away, but I knew he was just playing around to tease me. Plus, it felt pretty damn good, too. "If you give me a hard-on, I'll get your ass," I said. "Goodie," he said. That broke everybody up. "I wouldn't mind seeing Kyle with a hard-on," Gage said. "What about you guys?" "That's it. I'm in the water," I said. I got up and got into the pool. The rest of them joined me, all but Seth. "Come on in, Seth," Gage said. "I'll show you how to fix your hair when you get out." "He's a little shy, Gage," I said in a whisper. "Come on in, Seth. You saw me," Cody said. "Just barely," Justin said. Everybody, including Cody, laughed. "Don't make fun," Cody said, still laughing at Jus. "I ain't making fun. You're a grower, not a shower," he said. "What does that mean," Cody asked. "That means your dick's built to grow when you need it to. It ain't built for showing off in a pool," Jus said. "What's that good for?" "That's a good way to put it," Cody said. "That's exactly what I am." "That's what I am, too," I said. "Yeah, right, donkey dick," Jus said. "That's definitely what I am, too," Seth said. "I'm going to come in, so don't laugh, okay?" "If anybody laughs, they'll answer to me," I said. "Yeah, hot shot? What you gonna do," Justin asked. I reached down and pulled his dick, pretty hard, too. "Owww!!! That hurts, asshole," he screamed. "It's going to be black and blue. Brian'll have to be up all night kissing it to make it better." We all laughed hard on that one. "I'm sorry I hurt you, Bubba. Here, you can pull mine," I said. "I ain't touching it. You'll probably shoot off all over me, if I do," he said. That made us all laugh, too. While all of that was going on, Seth slipped into the pool, sight unseen, at least by me. We played around in the pool for a long time. Everybody was hungry by then, so I decided to grill some hamburgers. "Where's Chad? I thought he was coming over," I said to Gage. "Oh, my God! I was supposed to pick him up, and I forgot," Gage said. "He's going to be pissed." "It's only four o'clock. We'll be playing a lot longer," I said. "Call him and tell him you're on your way." "Where's a phone," he asked. "My cell's on the table," I said. He called Chad, but he didn't act like Chad was pissed off at him, or anything. "Is he coming over," I asked. "Yeah. He wasn't mad, either." "What'd you do? Give him a handjob over the phone," Jus asked. Cody and Seth were both standing there, and they both laughed. Gage took off to get his guy. "It wasn't bad going in naked, was it, Seth," I asked. -108-

"Not really. I'm glad this guy is like me, though. I'd hate to be the only one with the invisible penis around here," he said. "What y'all need to do is trim up your pubic hair. You've got way more than you need, not that you need any, that I can tell. It'll show off what you've got better," Jus said. "You trim, don't you," Cody asked. "Yeah, but out of necessity, not for looks," he said. "Necessity," Cody asked. "Yeah. You ever use a condom?" "No," he said, kind of shy. That boy was damn cute, let me tell you. "If you have hair on the top of your dick, or long pubic hair, it gets caught in the condom when you take it off. That hurts like hell because it pulls the hair out," Jus said. "I've seen pictures of guys with a nice sharp line of hair right above their dicks, and I've wondered about that," Cody said. "That's why they do it," Jus said. "Of course, I think it looks better trimmed, and in your case it'll look a lot better. Seth, think of it as the part of your makeover the barber guy missed." We all laughed. "Jus trimmed me and Tim up about a week ago," I said. "Two weeks, 'cause we were on the island when I did it, remember? You're about due again, too, Bubba." "Will you do it again," I asked. "I think that's something you and Tim can share," Jus said. "Yeah, you're right," I said. I said that kind of suggestive, and they laughed. (Cody's Perspective) I was really disappointed when I got to the State Park and discovered the surf was breaking up all over the place. We had been having pretty good days during the week when I had to work, and the first weekend day the wind was out of the southeast it started breaking up in the pass. Damn. I decided to go home and see if I could interest either or both of my brothers in going to Destin with me. The Web site that reported local surf conditions said they were having a good day. Before I could go home, though, I had to buy gas. I had ridden out to the park on fumes, and I was afraid I wouldn't even make it home if I didn't stop. I thought about my brothers and my parents. My family was absolutely ordinary and typical in every way. Both of my parents were college educated, and they were both in the real estate business. They did well, and we always had a good family income. They were in their early forties, and the three kids, me and my two brothers, were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, a year apart to within a few days of one another. I was the middle child, and I guess I had most of the typical "middle child" characteristics. Except I was gay. I had first started suspecting that about myself when I was about twelve. My two brothers were my best friends, and we talked about everything with each other. At that age, my older brother was starting to show an interest in girls. A couple of years later, he "bagged" his first chick, as he put it. By then, I was fourteen and pretty much knew I liked boys "that way." My younger brother was interested in girls by then, too. I did a certain amount of dating in high school, both because I wanted to do the things one does on big dates, like proms and Sadie Hawkins and Christmas dances, and because I didn't know how deep my attraction to boys really was. I never did anything sexual with any of my dates, though, and I really -109-

didn't feel as though I wanted to. I knew I was considered a "safe date," but I didn't care. Let my brothers spread the family seed around, I thought. By the time I was a senior, I was really tired of pretending to be somebody I wasn't. I was a jock and pretty well developed physically, so I was never teased about being queer. There were a few effeminate boys who took a lot of that shit, and I figured I'd get it too if I let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. On the night of my high school graduation, as the family was eating dinner in a nice restaurant after the ceremony, I told all of them I was gay. Talk about a non-event! Nobody cried, not even me; nobody raised his or her voice; nobody said much of anything at first. Then my parents both assured me it didn't matter, and I knew they were telling the truth. My older brother said he figured I was, and my younger brother said I would still be his best friend, no matter what. Actually, I was closer to my older brother than I was to him, but I didn't say anything about that. I went out with my two best buds from the wrestling team when I left my family that night. We went to a couple of parties, and then we each bought a six pack of beer and went to the county pier to drink it. After a couple of beers, I got up the courage to tell them. "Is that why you always got a boner in practice," one of them asked jokingly. "Is that why you always did," the other one asked him. We all laughed hard. "Cody, we've been like brothers for four years, man. That's not going to change," Alvin said. "No way, dude," Butler, whom we always called But, said. "Thanks, guys," I said. "What's it like," Alvin asked. "What's what like," I asked in return. "You know. Doing it with a guy?" "How the hell should I know? I've never done anything with anybody," I said. That was the truth, too. I was a total and complete virgin. I never even jerked off with my brothers, although I had thought about doing that more than a few times. I wanted a boyfriend, though. I had read a bunch of stories on the Internet about guys being in love with one another and having great sex, and I wanted that. I wanted somebody I could call my own, be myself with and not have him judge me or belittle me for what I was, or for what I wanted to do. Rumors had started circulating about Kyle Goodson at the start of the school year that he was gay and had a boyfriend. I didn't believe them at first, but I heard them so often I began to wonder if they were true. Kyle was just as masculine as any other guy I knew. He was the jock type, even though he didn't play any sports that year. He had a ton of friends, including two guys that everybody knew were gay, but the majority of his friends were straight. Girls would have spread their legs for him in a heartbeat, and, for all I knew, he was "bagging pussy" every weekend. Near the end of the school year, it came time for Student Government elections, and Kyle was running for president. Everybody pretty much knew he was going to win, he was that popular. Every year we had this assembly where all the candidates for major offices had to give speeches. That's when I knew the rumors about Kyle were true, and that was also when I decided the closet was no place to live my life. He didn't come out or anything, but he said enough for me to know that homosexuality was an important issue for him. Three weeks later I walked out of the closet for good. *** I got a job as a valet parker at the Laguna Hotel. I had worked in a surf shop the previous two summers, but I wanted to make a lot more money than the surf shop could pay me. Kyle got a job at the Laguna, too, as a bellhop. He and I exchanged pleasantries a few times, but I really didn't know him very -110-

well. There was another bellhop, Justin Davis, who hung out with Kyle and who rode with him to work every morning. I figured the two of them were boyfriends. There was an incident with a car and a weirdo named Wayne Smith, another bellhop. Smith had cracked up or something and spray painted the word "faggot" on a guest's car. Kyle went crazy and almost beat Wayne up. I only saw some of it, but Kyle was pissed. Kyle had talked in his speech about tolerance for queer people, and I figured his reaction that day was all about that. The Sunday morning after that incident was the day I couldn't surf and needed gas. I found myself in line to pay behind Kyle and another guy. The other guy was sort of dorky, but he had a great smile. I could tell he was intelligent, too, just by looking at him. Kyle asked me to come over to ski, and I accepted immediately. It turned out the guy Kyle was with, Seth Adams, and I clicked immediately. There were a lot of guys at Kyle's house, and we had to wait our turn to ski. Seth and I had a chance to get acquainted sitting on the dock, and he was a great guy. He was gay, too, as were all the guys there, I learned, and he would be working at the Laguna, too, for six weeks. I found out that that wasn't Kyle's house. It was the house of Kevin Foley and Rick Mashburn, both of whom worked for the company that owned the Laguna. They were a gay couple of long standing. That was the first time in my life I had ever been with a group of gay guys, and it pretty much changed my life. Up until then I had been worried about being "strange," or "different." None of those guys, with the exception, maybe, of Gage, was in the least bit "strange" or "different." They were just guys who liked to have fun. There were a lot of jokes about sex and about being gay, and to them it was the most natural thing in the world. I loved being there with them. I felt at home. We played all day long. First we skied, then we swam in the pool naked, then we played basketball naked, and then we played ping pong and pool inside. Seth and I talked the whole time, and I got to like him more and more as the day went by. I could tell he liked me, too. I wanted to do something with just him. He walked me out to my car when I was ready to leave around ten. "This has been a great day," I said. "Your hair really looks good, too." "Thanks. It's been a great day for me, too," he said. "Can we do something tomorrow night," I asked. "Sure," he said right away. "Do you like to ride go-carts?" "I've never done that, but I bet I'll like it," he said. "Cool. I'll pick you up around six, okay?" "Okay," he said. We shook hands, and I put my left hand on our two hands when we were shaking. We said good night, and I backed out to drive home. My God, I thought. I have a date with a guy! Chapter 11 (Seth's Perspective) Cody and I walked out to his truck when he was ready to leave. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on him at the service station that he was somebody special, and I hoped then that he would like me. We spent a lot of time talking that day. They were doing a lot of sports activities, which ordinarily weren't my cup of tea, but I had fun doing that, for a change. For one thing, nobody made fun of me if I -111-

missed a ball or fell while I was skiing, and that made all the difference in my confidence. I wasn't exactly trying to impress Cody with my athletic ability because I knew that was a hopeless cause, but I was trying to show him that I enjoyed doing things with him. As the day moved on, I got to liking him more and more. We had a lot in common, even though he was a jock and I wasn't, and we talked about everything, from religion, to politics, to movies we liked, to what celebrities we thought were cute. I felt totally free and at ease with all of those guys, but I especially felt that way with Cody. Before he left, he asked me to do something Monday night. Without even thinking, I said "yes." I was starting my first job the next day, and I was a house guest. I should have taken those things into consideration before accepting his invitation. But I didn't. In fact, I didn't even think of those things. I wanted to spend as much time with Cody as I could. We shook hands, but, oh, God, I wanted to kiss him so bad. I wanted to put my arms around him and tell him he was the nicest, best looking, cutest, smartest guy I had ever met. He put his left hand on our right hands while we were shaking, and I wanted to embrace him. I knew people became aroused when they kissed, but had anybody else ever gotten a hard-on from a handshake? Ordinarily, if that had happened under any other circumstances, I would have died of embarrassment. That night, though, I wanted to put his hand on my crotch and melt into him in surrender. Kyle walked out to the street after Cody pulled off, and he chuckled a little when I looked at him. "You like him, don't you," he said. A part of me--the "in the closet" part--wanted to deny that I had any feelings for Cody at all. The other part of me, the real part, wanted Kyle and everyone else in the world to know that I thought Cody was the greatest. "I do, Kyle. I really, really do," I said. "We're going out tomorrow night." Kyle started laughing his joyful laugh, and he grabbed me in a hug right there on the street. "I could tell he liked you," he said. "Seth, I'm happy for both of you. Did y'all kiss good night?" "No, but I wanted to," I said. "This fella down here tells me something's been going on." Kyle was touching my penis through my shorts, but I didn't care. He stopped doing that in a second, though. "Sorry about that," I said. He laughed. "Don't be sorry, Buddy. It's supposed to do that when you're with a guy you care for," he said. "I know, but all we did was shake hands," I said. "So what? I'll bet you he was just as hard as you were," he said. "I hope you're right." "I pretty much know I'm right," Kyle said. "Kyle, ever since I met you and the other guys, things have been going well for me. I've been happy, and I wasn't ever happy before," I said. "I know, and it makes me happy that you're happy. We all really got to like you at Mardi Gras," he said. "I know you didn't think you were worth shit, but it turns out you're worth gold. We like gold." I laughed with delight when he said that. "Do you know what a Purple Cow is," he asked, changing the subject abruptly. "You mean, ice cream and a coke or root beer?" "Yeah," he said, laughing. "Let's go have one." I didn't know why he thought that was funny, but I was ready for one, too. -112-

*** Kevin and Rick were still up, but nobody else was in the den. "Kevin? Rick? Can I talk to you all," I asked. Kyle was in the kitchen making Purple Cows for all four of us. "Sure, Seth. What's on your mind, Buddy," Kevin said. "First, I want to say thanks for having me. I really hope I'm not inconveniencing you guys," I said. "Seth, this is your home for as long as you're here," Rick said. "You're not inconveniencing us or anyone, Bud." "You're our friend, Seth, and our friends are always welcome here," Kevin said. "Thanks. Another thing. Would it be okay if I went out tomorrow night for a little while?" Kevin turned to Rick and said, "You were right." Then they both smiled at me. "With Cody," Rick asked. I nodded. "Sure," Rick said. "Just remember you have to work the next day. Not too late, okay?" "Yes, sir. I won't be too late." "He's a nice boy, isn't he," Kevin asked. "Yeah. He's a really nice boy," I said. "This is your time, Seth," Kevin said. "We want it to be good for you. And bring him around here any time you want to, okay? He's always welcome here, too." "Upstairs, too," I asked. "You mean, in your room," Rick asked. "Yes, sir," I said. "Depending on what you guys want to do, probably better there than down here," Rick said with kind of an evil grin. "You know the rules of the house, don't you," Kevin asked. "Yes, sir. You all explained them to me in New Orleans, and Kyle went over them this morning," I said. "Just keep those rules, and everything will be fine, Seth," Kevin said. "Can we take food to our rooms," I asked. My parents didn't allow that. "Sure. Just bring the dishes down the next day," Rick said. Kyle came back in with the floats. I'm sure I was grinning my ass off, I was so happy. "Look at him," Kyle said. "He's pretty cute, isn't he?" I felt myself blush. Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, including my parents or grandparents, that I remembered, had ever said that about me before. "Don't go turning all red, dude. You are cute. At least I think so." "I think I need to go to bed," I said. Kevin, Rick, and Kyle were laughing. "Okay, Buddy. Good night," Kevin said. "Kyle, get him squared away with a uniform for in the morning, okay, Bubba. The paperwork stuff won't take more than an hour, and he needs to get started earning tips as quick as he can." "He's in my hands," Kyle said. "It's too late for that tonight, Kyle," Rick said. I didn't get it immediately, but Kyle sure did. He, Kevin, and Rick laughed. "Okay, Stud. You got me last, but don't be messin' with my brother, hear?" -113-

"Go to your room," Rick said, and he threw a pillow at Kyle. "Good night, bros. I love you," Kyle said. "I love you, too," they each said. *** I thought sleep would be out of the question that night, but I was very wrong. I started thinking about Cody and about how good he looked naked, and I got an erection. I thought I would masturbate in a few minutes, but I wanted to enjoy the sensation of arousal for a while. The next thing I knew, the alarm clock was buzzing and Kyle was knocking on my door. "Good morning," he said, after he had come into the room. He was already dressed in his uniform. "You need to hurry up so you can eat breakfast with us." "I'll meet you downstairs," I said. "Okay, but don't fart around in the shower. We have to leave in forty minutes." "Okay," I said. It suddenly dawned on me that I was starting a job and that I would be seeing Cody again in a little while. I went into fast-forward, and I was showered and dressed in less than ten minutes. Gage had showed me how to "fix" my hair, and that took almost no time. That morning I was glad I didn't have to shave. Everybody was in the breakfast room when I got downstairs. Trixie greeted me with a little bark and a big wag of her tail. I thought for a moment that I was in some kind of sitcom on TV about the perfect family. There was a place set for me, and I dished up eggs, bacon, and toast for myself from the platters on the table. There was a big bowl of grits, too, but I didn't take any. There was a cup of coffee and a glass of juice waiting for me. Rick was shirtless and in running shorts, but Kevin was already dressed for the day. Justin, Jeff, Kyle, and I had on the navy blue bellhop uniforms we had to wear, and Tim and Brian were in shirts and shorts, also ready for work. "I'm going to school right after work," Kyle said. "Miss Ortega wants to talk to me, and I want to put in a couple of hours in the darkroom." "I'm going out with Ty tonight," Jeff said. "Out or in," Justin asked. Jeff grinned. "None of your business," he said. "Tim and I are supposed to go to the water park with our troop tonight. Are you going, Kyle," Brian asked. "Hell, yes. Somebody's got to keep you Tenderfoots under control," Kyle said. "That was low, Kyle," Rick said. "I know," Kyle said, grinning. "Jus, you're coming, too, aren't you?" "Am I invited," Jus asked. "You are now," Kyle said. "It's a public place. Anybody can go." Justin took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. Then Kevin and Kyle both took one. I had forgotten anybody smoked. I hadn't seen anyone smoking all weekend. "Are y'all ready," Kyle asked. "Jeff, are you driving?" "It's your week," Jeff said, "but I will if you want me to." "No, I just forgot," Kyle said. "See y'all this afternoon." Kyle kissed Tim goodbye, and Justin kissed Brian. Seeing them do that was strange and wonderful, normal and bizarre, all at the same time. Nobody else even seemed to notice it. -114-

(Justin's Perspective) I watched them all day Sunday. I knew Cody, and I knew Seth, but I didn't know either one very well. It didn't take more than an hour for those two to get a thing going that I knew was going to last at least all summer. They were busy talking to each other all day long. They did stuff with the rest of us, but I had the feeling that if we all vanished into thin air, they wouldn't have even noticed. That Cody boy was cute, too. I could tell that sucker had pumped some iron in his day, and he had the sharpest tan line from his bathing suit I had seen in a long time. Rick had a sharp tan line, too, from running in just a Speedo, and I thought that was pretty damn sexy. Kyle and the rest of us spent too much time in the sun bare-ass to have a really crisp one. We had 'em, but they were sort of fuzzy and not all that distinct. I liked being outside naked, but your tan line definitely suffered. By the end of that Sunday, I knew that Seth and Cody had hard-ons for one another. I knew both of them were just as cherry as the day is long, and I hoped they had a good time busting those for one another. Seeing them that day, I knew that was coming, too. It was just a matter of time. "Hey, Jus," Cody said, when I saw him that morning. He was a valet, so he had to be outside more than I did. Those guys would come in the lobby with us, though, to get out of the heat. They let them wear shorts, which I thought was only right. "Hey, Cody. Did you have a good time yesterday?" "I had a great time. I really liked your boy Seth," he said. "Yeah, he's a nice guy, isn't he?" "Very nice," he said. "At first I thought he was a little plain looking, but that makeover really made a difference, didn't it?" "Get out of here, boy. You know you were horny as hell for him right from the first," I said. He was laughing. "Was I that obvious?" "It was obvious to me two fine guys were interested in each other," I said. "We have a date tonight. It's the first date I've ever had with a guy," he said. "What are you going to do?" "I thought maybe ride some go-carts or something. Is that too stupid?" "I don't think that's stupid at all," I said. "I love go-carts, and there aren't too many places you can do that, that I know of. Except here." "I hope he has fun, and I hope he likes me," he said. Likes you, I thought. Shit, he'd stick his ass up in the air for you in a heartbeat, son. "I think he likes you, Cody. Y'all will have fun." "Where is he," he asked. "He's still up at the Taj Mahal signing his paperwork. He'll be here soon." The employees all called the Goodson Building the Taj Mahal, including Kyle. I asked Jeff what that meant, and he told me about some beautiful temple in India or something. I knew Kyle didn't have a fucking clue what that was all about, and I wasn't going to tell him. The closest thing I ever came to a building dedicated to me was a portable toilet at Mardi Gras that said "MEN." *** The bell captain assigned me to train Seth when he got to the hotel, and he was another quick study. He had spent time in hotels before, so he pretty much already knew what to do. I watched him slip his first tip into his pocket without even looking at it, and I thought that was pretty classy. I was going to do it that way from then on. I didn't count it or anything, but I always looked. I wasn't going to do that anymore. Later that day I watched Cody slip a tip into his pocket without looking at it. Yep, I thought. Two of a kind. -115-

Seth wanted to hang out with the valets. I wonder why. Jason, the bell captain, noticed. "Justin, tell the FNG to get his ass in here so he can take his turn. Has he got something for Cody, or what?" "Or what," I said. "I'll take care of it." "Seth, Jason told me to tell the FNG to get his ass inside so he can take his turn. That's you, Bubba." "What does FNG mean?" "Fucking New Guy," I said. "Am I in trouble," he asked. "Hell, no. Kevin doesn't even know who Jason is." "Kevin? Why would he care," he asked. Shit, I thought. Your little cherry ass doesn't even know how this all works. "Kevin's the boss, man. Didn't you know that?" "He's the boss of this hotel?" "This one, and ten others," I said. "And Rick's the boss of sixteen gift shops, including the one where Brian and Tim work." "I didn't know any of that." "Did you know Kyle owns all of it? Or his daddy, anyway?" "I figured Kevin knew somebody to be able to get me this job without even an interview, but I didn't know any of this," he said. "Yeah, well, it's true. Did you notice you went to the Goodson building this morning and that Kyle is Kyle Goodson?" "Shit, Jus. I feel like a total dumbass," he said. "Why? You think Kyle and those guys are going to go around bragging? If Kyle ever bragged about any of that shit, we'd kick his ass from here to Christmas." "My God," he said. "Kyle's on strict orders from Kevin not to pull rank, which he did last summer to save my ass from jail." "This is way more complicated than I had thought," he said. "Kyle acts like he's just an ordinary person." "He is an ordinary person. Kyle is more scared of fucking up than any of the rest of us are. You see how much he hustles? Ninety percent of that is just Kyle being Kyle, but the rest is fear of fucking up." "What would happen if he screwed up," he asked. "Would Kevin fire him?" "He might transfer him, but I don't think Kevin could really fire Kyle. It is very complicated," I said. "I can see that. I'll cool it with Cody, though," he said. "Just till tonight," I said. "Heat it up all you want to tonight, Bubba." "Justin!" I was laughing, and he was, too. "Young love," I said. He hit me, and we both laughed hard. (Kevin's Perspective) "All right. Here's the deal," Kyle said. Seth was out on his date with Cody, and Jeff was off with Ty. The rest of us, the mainstay kids -116-

and Rick and I, were in the den after the water park. "We fly out there on Sunday, August 2nd, and we fly home on Saturday, August 15th," Kyle said. "What are you talking about," Rick asked. I knew he knew Kyle was talking about a trip to see Chris, but Rick never let Kyle get away with anything that easily. "I'm talking about a trip to see Chris," Kyle said. "You knew that, asshole. Don't even say you didn't." "So what is this fly shit? I thought we were going to drive," Rick said. "It'll take us four full days to drive there, and four back. If we fly, we can be there in a day, and a day back. That'll give us more time there," Kyle said. "Plus, we won't have the wear and tear on the car." "So how much is this going to cost," Rick asked. "Nine hundred each, round trip. Delta. And we've all got the money," Kyle said. I watched Rick closely. He was trying to find holes in Kyle's plan. It was a game they played, but it was a good one because it really made Kyle plan and think. "Are we going to leave Trixie here? We could take her, if we drove," Rick said. "Three hundred dollars, and I'll pay it," Kyle said. "Dogs fly all the time." "You've figured this all out, haven't you," Rick said. "Yes, sir. That was my job, wasn't it?" "Wouldn't we have fun driving up there," Rick asked. "Yes, sir, of course we would, but I would rather see my brothers spend time learning at our country's beautiful National Parks and wealth of historic sites in Montana and the states immediately around there than driving down Interstates listening to Garth Brooks," Kyle said. "You little shit," Rick said laughing, and he threw a pillow at Kyle. "Say it," Kyle demanded. "Say what?" "You know what. Say it, damn it," Kyle said. "Okay. You got me last, asshole." Kyle and the other boys laughed. They had been noticeably quiet during that exchange. "Okay, we got to get serious about this. We rent a car, right? A big one. His dad's some kind of teacher, I think, so he'll be off." "He's a professor, Kyle," I said. "Ain't that a teacher?" "Yeah, basically. Go on," I said. "Jeff told me he doesn't want to go on this trip. He wants to go on a trip with Ty during that time. They want to go to Key West and someplace called South Beach," Kyle said with a look of disgust on his face. "I don't understand that, but that's what he wants to do." "And you accept it, don't you," I asked. "Yes, sir. I don't see that I have a choice but to accept it, but I don't understand somebody who grew up in Florida wanting to go someplace hotter than this hell we live in instead of someplace cooler in August," Kyle said. We all laughed. "Have you checked all of this out with Chris's parents," Rick asked. "Yes, sir. I talked to his daddy twice. It's going to be him, Chris, and Chris's brother who go adventuring with us. The dad is really excited about it, and Chris is about jumping out of his skin. We can rent an eight-seater, like we've got, but one of us would have to hold Chris, anyway. Or we could sit four -117-

in the middle seat with him. He's so little." "You really care a lot about this, don't you, Bubba," Rick said. "Yeah. I care a lot about it," Kyle said. "Bottom line, Tim and I are going, or I'm going by myself, if he can't go." We were quiet for a few moments, reflecting on the importance of what Kyle had said. Kyle had taken care of Chris much more than the rest of us had, and I knew he loved him. It wasn't a "gay thing," by any means. It was a human thing. I knew they emailed each other regularly, maybe every day, and I knew there was a bond between those boys that would probably last a lifetime. One was golden and severely disabled; the other was golden and gay. I guess it was the gold that bonded them so well. "Make the reservations tomorrow," Rick said. "We're all going." Tears were trickling down Kyle's face. "I think this is an ice cream moment," Justin said. "Yeah, me, too," Rick said, and he and Jus got up to fix it for us. (Tim's Perspective) I couldn't believe what happened to my car. Kyle and I were sitting in the break room at the hotel, talking and having a coke, when Jus burst into the room to tell us to come quick. We ran across the lobby, which ordinarily we would never do, and ran outside to the parking lot. One guy in a uniform with shorts was scuffling with another guy over a can of paint. When we got to the car and saw what he had done, Kyle jumped on the guy who had done it and slammed him into the door of my Jeep. The paint smeared, and the guy got it all over his uniform. He was a bellhop, too. Justin and I pulled Kyle back before he had a chance to hit the guy. I knew Kyle was furious, just like me, but we didn't want him to get in trouble for hurting the guy. I knew the car could be repainted, if necessary, and it wasn't worth a police record or hurting someone. We later found out the guy had mental problems. That made Kyle mad, too, but at himself for getting so angry at the man. Kyle seemed a little quiet and distant that night, like he had plenty on his mind. We got undressed and got in bed, like we always did. "Hold me," he said real softly. I put my arms around him and snuggled him. "Are you mad at me," he asked, again softly. "Why would I be mad at you, Babe," I asked. I knew he was feeling guilty for what had happened, but, if anything, I thought he had been pretty restrained. I had learned in my religion class at church that anger is sometimes justified. We had talked about that in connection with September 11th, and I thought the same thing applied to what happened with my car. "Because I'm so mean," he said. "You're teasing me, right?" "Sort of, but I don't feel very good right now." "Don't you think you made me proud today? I'm always proud of you, Kyle, but you stood up for me," I said. "But he's sick," Kyle said. "You didn't know that when it happened, though." Any time I touched Kyle like I was touching him just then, I got hard. And he got hard, too. "Turn around," I said. He turned to face me, and his dick was pointing straight up at the usual forty-five degree angle. -118-

Kyle's dick was beautiful to me, and I love to look at it, especially when it was hard. I knew he wanted me with everything he had in him, and that made me as happy as anything in the world could ever make me. It wasn't just how good he made me feel physically, although that was pretty great. It was the idea that he wanted to make me feel good, the idea that he wanted me that did it for me. I started rocking against him, my dick rubbing on his. The sensation was incredible, but the emotion was almost overpowering. In my mind, Kyle was the best of everything, and I was the only one he wanted. "Do you think we'll still be doing this in twenty years," I asked. "Yeah. Of course we will be. Why wouldn't we?" "Do you think you'll ever get bored with me," I asked. "Don't talk like that. You know I'll never get bored with you, you little monkey." He grinned when he said that, and I knew whatever hurt he was feeling before was then a thing of the past. We continued thrusting into one another, and our rhythm was totally synchronized. When we came, we came big. *** The next day we found out that Seth was coming for a visit. I knew he really liked us, and I knew he and Kyle had been writing email to one another back and forth. Seth was kind of like a "case" for Kyle, and I knew Kyle was going to love having his "patient" on hand. I wasn't prepared for how different Seth looked from when we had seen him in New Orleans. Kyle said he had had surgery on his face but that Seth didn't think it had done any good. Well, in my opinion, it had done tons of good, and, while he still wasn't the kind of guy that people look at and gawk because he's so handsome, you also didn't look at him and feel sorry for him. He had started getting a lot more outgoing at Mardi Gras, and he was that way from the very beginning when he came to see us. Kyle and Justin had decided their job for the summer was to get Seth hooked up with a guy they worked with named Cody. I had seen him at school, but he was a senior and I was only a sophomore. We didn't cross paths that often. Cody was really good looking, though, and he was very well built. I had gone to a few wrestling matches with Kyle and the others, and that boy was solid. He was a good wrestler, too, although our team was pretty shitty, overall. The second day Seth was here, he and Kyle ran into Cody when they had gone to get gas for the boat. Kyle had invited him over to ski and hang out with us, and I think he and Seth really got to liking one another. Kyle came to bed after me that Sunday night. "Are you awake," he whispered. "Yeah. Where have you been," I asked. "I've been downstairs with Seth and Kevin and Rick," he said. "Cody asked Seth out tomorrow night." "Is Seth excited," I asked. "Oh, yeah. Real excited," he said. Kyle had his arms around me, and I could feel that he wanted me as bad as I wanted him. We made love. "You know what's happening to us," he asked. "No, what?" "I think we're reaching a point where we don't have to do everything together all the time." "What are you talking about," I asked. "Well, like today. You wanted to fly kites with Brian instead of spotting with me in the boat." -119-

"Did that bother you," I asked. "No. Just the opposite. That's my point. Last summer it would have bothered me a lot, and I would have wondered if that meant something about if you still loved me. Today, all it meant was that you wanted to fly kites with Brian. Do you see what I mean?" "Yeah, I do see what you mean. A year ago I would have been afraid to tell you 'no' about spotting. Now I know it's okay for both of us to do what we want. It doesn't change anything about us, does it," I said. "No. Not a thing. I think we're more secure with each other," he said. I was quiet for a few moments. He was holding me, and that felt so good that I never wanted it to change. "You know something, Kyle?" "What?" "I think the way we make love is getting better, too," I said. He chuckled a little. "I was just thinking those exact words," he said. "I love you so much." "I love you more," I said. He continued to hold me, and we drifted off to sleep that way. (Seth's Perspective) I'll probably remember my first day at work for the rest of my life. Kyle drove us to work, and he dropped Justin and Jeff off at the hotel. Then he took me to an office building where I would have to learn about the personnel handbook, sign forms, and listen to the lady go on about withholding tax for tip employees. Craig, Kevin's brother who is also a lawyer, had told me to read everything carefully before I signed it, but I didn't really have time. Nobody else read anything, and I didn't want to be the only nerd who slowed everybody down by reading. There were twelve of us getting jobs that day. Everybody else was in jeans and shorts and stuff, but I was in a uniform that Kyle had given me. I felt really out of place, and one guy even asked me where I had gotten it. I told him a friend of mine had let me wear his, which was true. At the end of the session, they gave us each two uniforms, and a tee shirt, a baseball cap, and a mouse pad that all said "Goodson Enterprises," and tickets for two complimentary meals for up to thirty dollars each at a hotel that was part of the chain. They made sure we didn't get tickets to the restaurant at the place we were going to work, though. Kyle had told me to meet him on the deck behind the coffee shop on the first floor of that building. He was sitting at a table facing the ocean when I walked up. "Hi," I said, when I got to the table. I think I startled him because he jumped a little bit. "Hey," he said. He grinned at me. "Did everything go okay?" "Yeah, I guess so. I was the only one wearing a uniform, though." "Shit, Kevin didn't even think of that," he said. "I'm sorry, dude." "It was all right," I said. "Do you want some coffee," he asked. "No, but I could use a coke," I said. "Yeah, me, too. I'll be right back." He went inside the coffee shop, and a really cute waiter came up to ask me if I wanted a menu. I told him no. Kyle came back in a second with two cokes and two huge pastries for us. -120-

"What did you do while I was in the meeting," I asked. "I just visited with some people I know here," he said. "You're going to start as soon as we get back. Those other people will start tomorrow, probably." "There were a bunch of different hotels. They all had different uniforms, though. Not all of them were going to be bellhops." "Yeah, I know. This company owns a bunch of places. You really work for the company, not the hotel. Did you know that?" "Yeah, they said something about that," I said. "It's not important," he said. "These things are good, aren't they?" He was referring to the pastries, and they were very good. "Shouldn't we go," I asked, after we had finished our snacks. "In a minute. This breeze feels good." He was quiet for a few moments. "I'm glad you and Cody hooked up," he said. "Yeah, me, too." "If you have any questions about, your know, intimate things, you can always ask me or Kevin and Rick," he said. It was so cute the way he said that that I had a surge of love for him at that moment. "Thanks, Kyle. And thanks for being my friend," I said. "We're more than friends now, dude. We're brothers. All of us in that house are your brothers, and brothers don't let each other down." I had felt a kinship with Kyle from the first day I met him, and there he was, making it explicit. The torture I had inflicted on myself for years had ended four months before because of him, and now he was taking me to the next level of acceptance and happiness. I had been vaguely in love with Kyle all that time, but I knew any return on that was out of the question. I felt for Cody what I had been feeling for Kyle, and the difference was Cody was available, and apparently willing and interested. I didn't know how many other guys went to the first day of their first job in a state close to nirvana, but I certainly did that day. (Kyle's Perspective) I had to go up to school after work that Monday to meet with Miss Ortega, the principal. She was a really cool lady, and I would say that all the kids, except for a handful of gangsters in the school, loved her. She didn't take any shit from anybody, but you could tell she loved her job and she loved us kids. I think she was actually married, so she should have been "Mrs." Ortega, but about half the people just called her Miss Sally. That's what I did. She was petite, slim, and had gray hair. She was like everybody's mama, but don't let that fool you. I had seen her cry her eyes out on September 11th when she called a special assembly in the auditorium to sing some patriotic songs and pledge to the flag before they sent us home, and I had seen her kick some major ass when the son of the head football coach and some of his friends had gotten busted for weed on campus by the school district's drug dog. She was fair but strict, and I thought that's what us beach rats needed. "Thanks for coming up here, Kyle," she said. "Where are you working?" "The Laguna," I said. I stuck my chest out so she could see the hotel logo on the pocket. "Do you like it?" "Yes, ma'am, I love it. I think I want to do hotel work as my career." "I'm sure Gene's glad about that," she said. -121-

"You know my dad?" "Kyle! Duh! I grew up here. I babysat your father when I was in junior high school." I took a big gulp. I didn't know that, and I didn't know where that was going. "I got a phone call from my mother the day Clay was born and one the day you were born, son. Telling me about you guys." I didn't know what to say. She changed the subject, and I was glad. "Let me get to the point of this, though. I'm sure you're eager to get home to Tim." When she said that, I almost fucking fainted. She knew! Oh, my God! "I want you to be the student representative on some interview committees. We have to hire six new teachers this summer, and my policy is that the whole school community is involved. You'll have exactly the same vote as the parent who is president of the School Advisory Committee, the two representatives of the other teachers, and the representative of the administrative faculty. I'm an ex officio member of the committee, but I don't get a vote. I do have veto power, though. I tend to exercise it sparingly, too." "Why me?" "Why do you think, Kyle?" "President of Student Government?" "Exactly," she said. "Are you all right with this?" "I didn't know this was part of it," I said. "I'm sure you didn't, but we've done it this way for the five years I've been at this school. Are you up for this?" "Yes, ma'am, I can do this," I said. "I knew you could. Are you still using the darkroom?" "Yes, ma'am. I've sold eight pictures in New York already," I said. I didn't want to brag, but that just slipped out. "My God, Kyle! That's wonderful. Are you represented by a gallery?" "Yes, ma'am. It's in Soho," I said. "I'm so proud of you." "Thanks. I developed and printed all but the first two here, too." She picked up this little electronic thing on her desk and said into it, "Memo to the editor of The Marlin: Consider a feature story or news story about Kyle Goodson as a professional photographer." "Miss Sally, they're going to want pictures, and I can't give them the ones I've sent to the gallery," I said. "Those have to be exclusive." "Do you have any that aren't exclusive?" "Yes, ma'am, I have a bunch of those," I said. "They can use those, then, if they want to," she said. "My husband and I are meeting our son and his partner for dinner, Kyle, so I'm afraid I need to cut this short." "Your son and his partner," I asked. "Yes, our son and his partner. Our only child. He's gay, Kyle. Do you have a problem with that?" She was so damn cute when she said that. "No, ma'am, I don't have a problem with that," I said, grinning big. "I didn't think you would. Bye, Kyle." We got up together, and she kissed me on the forehead. I left then thinking, How'd this happen to me? -122-

Two days later, Tim and I looked up her address in the phone book, and we took her a hamper of live crabs that we had caught. The hamper basket had a lid that went with it, and we made sure it was secure so the crabs couldn't get out. I wrote "Love, Kyle and Tim" on the lid with a Sharpie, and we left it on her doorstep. We rang the bell and ran for Tim's car. Her husband came to the door and found them, and he smiled big when he saw what it was. He knew the truth about what he had there. I hoped he and Miss Sally enjoyed them. Two days later, we found the empty hamper on our door step. It had a note that said, "Thanks. More. Sally." I laughed my ass off when I saw that note. "She's going to get all she wants," I said to Tim.

Chapter 12 (Seth's Perspective) My first day of work was fun, but it was tiring. I had seen bellboys working in hotels all my life, and it always looked like a good way to make some bucks. It's pretty demanding, though, because you have to be on your toes all the time to anticipate what a guest might need. I made about eighty dollars in tips, too, and that was very good. My parents had given me a good bit of money for the summer, and I was going to try to return every dime of it to them. I almost got into trouble my first day because I stayed outside too much talking to Cody. That guy was a magnet for me, and I was a helpless metal filing around him. His smile was incredible, and he had a terrific sense of humor. Justin had to set me straight on what I was supposed to be doing, though, and I did what I was told after that. I went home after work and lay down on my bed for a little while. Cody was going to pick me up at six, so I didn't really have time for a long nap. I had seen something on TV once about power naps. They're short, like less than a half hour, and I decided to try that. I set the timer on my alarm clock to go off in twenty minutes, and I went to sleep almost instantly after I set the timer. When I woke up twenty minutes later, I felt like I had had a full night's sleep. I felt terrific. I took a shower and washed my hair. I had sweated a good bit off and on all day, and I sure didn't want to have any body odor that night. I hadn't had time to jerk off that morning, and the result had been that I was horny all day long. I didn't keep a full erection the whole time, but I kept getting them every time I was around Cody. My underwear stayed damp, and my dick was really slimy every time I took a leak. I noticed that Cody had gotten hard a few times, too, and that's what I tried to visualize in the shower. I got hard as a rock in seconds, and I tossed myself off. I didn't get soft right away, though, so I did it a second time. Maybe that'll keep things under control tonight, I thought. "Hi, Seth," Cody said when I went out to his truck. He flashed me the best smile I had ever seen, and I felt myself becoming aroused. I didn't focus on that, though. "You really look good." "Thanks. So do you," I said. Take off your clothes, I thought. Making friends isn't easy for me, and I usually don't know what to say or what to talk about when I meet somebody new. That wasn't at all the case with Cody, though. It seemed like he and I could talk about anything and everything, and I never felt nervous or awkward with him. -123-

We went to a pizza buffet place first. We each got a pretty big salad, and then we got pizza, of course. They had other Italian stuff, too, but we both just stuck to pizza. We talked about work and the people we worked with. "Did you know Kevin Foley is our big boss," I asked. "Really? No, I didn't know that." "Justin told me. And Kyle's father owns the whole thing. I mean the company that owns our hotel and about ten more," I said. "Are you sure about that," he asked. "Yeah. He's Kyle Goodson, and Goodson Enterprises owns the hotel. That's who we work for," I said. "That makes sense, I guess, but why is Kyle working? I'm sure he doesn't need the money." "I know. It's strange," I said. A couple of girls spotted Cody, and they came up to our table. After he told them hello and introduced me, one girl said, "Cody, there are all sorts of ugly rumors going around about you." "They're not rumors, Heather," he said. "Oh, you're kidding! Tell me you're kidding!" "I'm not kidding. I'm gay," he said. She was really pretty, and very cute acting. "Cody Mitchell, you get right back into that closet this minute," she said. Cody and I laughed, and she and her friend did, too. "Why," Cody said. "Because I'm going to marry you, and I can't have a fully-out gay husband." That made us all laugh even more. "Er, Heather . . .?" "I'm just teasing you, Cody," she said. "I don't give a shit if you're gay. I did want to marry you, though. Maybe we could just have babies. You could do that, couldn't you?" More laughter. "I actually probably could, Heather, but I don't want to. He's more my type," he said. Oh, my God! He said that about me, I thought. "Well, damn. He's cute, too," Heather said. "Melissa, it's true. All the cute ones are gay. Look at Kyle Goodson. That boy makes me wet just looking at him." "Heather, that's probably TMI, don't you think," Cody said. "TMI?" "Too much information," Cody said, and laughed. "I thought it was 'TMFI,'" she said. All of us laughed. "I'm working with Kyle this summer, and Seth here is living with him," Cody said. "Oh, you lucky boy," Heather said. We laughed at the lustful way she said that. "Not that way," I said. "Kyle's my brother, sort of. Sort of like a foster brother." "I know not that way," she said. "He's got a boyfriend. Tim Murphy, another hunk-and-a-half. I know I could seduce that boy, if I really tried. Do you know him?" "Of course, I do. I wouldn't try seducing him, though." I really liked that girl. -124-

"Oh, I know. It was nice to meet you Seth," she said. "Mel and I are meeting the Troglodyte Twins, and we've got to run. And Cody? Don't choke on your pizza or anything else tonight, hear?" That broke everybody up, and Cody blushed pretty deeply. "Oh, instant sunburn, I see," Heather said. That made us all laugh even more. "Get out of here, girl," Cody said, still laughing. "I'm gone. Call me, Cody, and I mean it. I want every detail, and, who knows, I might be able to give you a few pointers," she said. That brought on another gale of laughter, and Cody blushed even more. "She's a good friend, I take it," I said, after the girls had gone. "She and I have known each other since kindergarten," he said. "And, yeah, she is a very good friend. I've actually gone to a couple of dances and things with her, and I'm pretty sure she's known for a while that I'm gay ." "Are the kids at your school pretty tolerant," I asked. "Yeah, for the most part. There are some assholes, of course, like everywhere, but it's pretty much a 'live and let live' atmosphere there. That guy Gage, and his boyfriend, Chad, from yesterday get picked on, or teased at least, some, but not all that much. Tim got the worst harassment I've ever seen when that guy painted his Jeep last week, but that wasn't school related. We have a pretty big GSA on campus, and the principal doesn't tolerate any gay bashing at all," he said. "GSA?" "Gay-Straight Alliance. Isn't there one at your school," he asked. "Are you kidding? I go to an all-boys private Catholic high school. There, the gay kids, or the ones they think are gay, get picked on a lot. I don't because I don't come across as gay and I stay to myself, but it's pretty bad for some of them," I said. "That really sucks," he said. "I know." We finished eating and paid up. He insisted on paying for both of us because he had invited me. "Yeah, but next time I'm paying, okay," I said. "Okay," he said, "but the times after that, why don't we each just pay our own?" The times after that, I thought. Yes! We went to a place called the Emerald Beach Go-Track. There were go-cart rides, bumper cars, and a whole arcade of electronic games, skeeball, pinball, and that kind of thing. We mostly rode the go-carts and had a great time, but we played a few video games, too, and even shot a little skeeball. We ate ice cream cones, drank a couple of cokes, and had fun with each other. He bought a bag of boiled peanuts, which I had never even heard of before, and he wanted me to taste them. "This tastes like bat shit," I said, after I had eaten one. He laughed his ass off. "How much of that have you eaten," he asked, still laughing. "Fair question, but I don't think I have to, now that I've eaten that. What a waste of a perfectly good peanut," I said. "I think it might be an acquired taste," he said. "Yeah, maybe so, but it's not one I'm going to acquire," I said. "They're best when they're hot. All nuts are best when they're hot," he said. I didn't react right away because I couldn't tell if that was supposed to be a pun, or not. I decided it was, and I laughed. -125-

"I guess you'd know," I said. "No, not yet, but I hope I'm fixing to find out pretty soon," he said. Oh, my God, I thought. Down Boy, I mentally said to my penis, but Boy didn't mind any better that time than he ever did. Cody checked his watch. "We probably need to get going, don't you think? We've got to work tomorrow." Nooooo!!!!!! I thought. It's only 9:30. I'm having one of the best times of my life. I don't want it to be over so early. "Okay," I said. We left the Go-Track place. "It's a full moon tonight. Have you ever seen a full moon over the Gulf?" "No," I said. We pulled into a condo parking lot, and we walked down to the beach from there. The beach was totally deserted, and the light of the moon on the waves was awesome. "Can I hold your hand," he asked. "Yeah," I said. We walked down the beach a way, and then we stopped. "Seth, I wanted to do this last night, but I was afraid," he said. "Can I kiss you?" I didn't bother answering. I moved in front of him from along side him, and our lips met. Ohhhh, I thought. Ohhhh. We kissed for a long time. In a minute, we tried using our tongues, and that was the best. When we finally stopped kissing, both of us were panting hard. My dick was ready to fire at any minute, and his was as hard as mine. I felt his rub against mine through our shorts, and I knew he felt mine, too. "We need to go home," he said. "I know. I don't want to, though," I said. "Me, either, but we have to." "Cody, tonight was a first for me," I said. "Me, too," he said. "First date with a guy?" "First date. Period. Ever. With anybody, and it was so much fun." "I had fun, too," he said. "Let's do something tomorrow night, too." "Okay," I said. We drove home, and we kissed again in our driveway. "I'm going to dream about you tonight," I said. "Nightmare?" "No way, dude," I said. I kissed him quick and went inside. All of them except Jeff were in the den watching the end of a movie. I went into the kitchen and got a coke, and then I went out into the den. The movie was over by then. "Did you have a good time," Kyle asked. "I had a fabulous time," I said. Every one of them was grinning at me, but they were grinning because they were happy for me. "I'm not telling anything," I said. "We don't want you to," Kyle said, "but we're happy you had a good time. Who wants a piece of watermelon? I bought one today." Everybody said they did, and he brought out huge slices of watermelon. Judging from my piece, -126-

the thing must have weighed twenty pounds. "The next time we have a watermelon, we're going to have a melon fight in the pool," Kyle said. "I'm all on top of that," Justin said. "I'll wash your face in it, Goodson." "Yeah? We'll see," Kyle said. Trixie was hovering around us like she wanted some watermelon. Jus bit off a piece and dropped it on a newspaper on the floor for her. She smelled it, but she didn't eat it. "This ain't a Southern dog," Jus said. "Everybody in the South likes watermelon. Dogs and cats, included." "Jeff probably don't like it," Kyle said. "Why'd you say that," Rick asked. "Any boy who grew up in Florida and wants to go to Key West in August, instead of to Montana, can't be a real Southerner," Kyle said. "That's still in your craw, isn't it," Rick asked. I didn't know what they were talking about. "Yeah, it's still in my craw," Kyle said, "but I'll get over it. How can he not want to see Chris?" "Because he wants to spend time with Tyler, that's why, Kyle," Kevin said. "Why can't Tyler go with us?" "Kyle, give it some thought, man. You're going to take a two-week vacation with your boyfriend and his six brothers? How romantic can that be," Kevin said. "Not very, I guess," Kyle said. "Give Jeff a break, Kyle. He wants to spend time away from us with Ty. Do you think that's strange?" "No, Kevin, I think it's fine. But why go someplace that's so fucking hot? Why not go to Maine or somewhere," Kyle asked. "Orlando's hotter," Brian said. "I know it, Bri. That's the hottest place on earth," Kyle said. "I went there two years ago in August, and I'm never going back there in the summer. Ever. I don't care if they parade Walt Disney's dick up and down the Magic Kingdom on Gay Day. I'm never going." We were all laughing because he was so serious and so funny, at the same time. "That's this month, not in August," Kevin said. "In fact, it might even be this weekend." "I'll bet it was 110 in Orlando today. We at least get the sea breeze. They don't get any relief there. This is making me hot just thinking about it. I'm going to bed so I can get naked and get cool." Kyle was grinning and laughing. We told Kevin and Rick good night, and we all went to bed. Once in bed, I thought about what had happened that night. I had kissed another person, another boy, and I had gotten aroused. And he had gotten aroused. I gave another boy a hard-on! In fact, he had gotten hard several times that day, and he knew I knew. I had hated my body for so long that it was difficult for me to imagine anyone ever finding me tolerable, much less desirable. But I was desirable to Cody. I sexually aroused another boy! It was almost more than I could comprehend, but I knew it was true. I had felt it through his shorts, and his rough breathing left no room for doubt. Someone wanted me. Me. Worthless me. I did it very slowly that night, slowly and gently. I wanted the feeling to last forever. A shudder in my loins shot out years of doubt and self-loathing, and it felt wonderful. *** I had forgotten to set my clock the night before, but Kyle came in and woke me up the next morning. I was sure he had knocked, but I was truly dead to the world. Kyle gently nudged me and -127-

whispered my name so he wouldn't startle me, I guess. He sat on the side of my bed. I was naked and hard, and the covers were all askew. He could see everything, but I didn't care. "It's time to get up," he said gently. "Okay," I mumbled. Kyle started picking the gobs of dried cum out of my pubic hair, grinning fiercely. "You need to use a towel," he said. "I know," I mumbled. "Why are you doing that?" "I'm sorry," he said. "You don't have to be sorry," I said. "I don't mind." "It was a stupid thing for me to do," he said. "Cody ought to be doing that." I'm sure I blushed. "Don't blush, Bubba," he said gently. "Was I right about him? Is he a good one?" "He's the best, Kyle. Thank you," I said. "That's what I'm here for. Now get up, shower, and come on downstairs. I woke you up fifteen minutes earlier today than you got up yesterday. I'm not going to do this every morning, but I thought you might need me this morning." "Kyle, I never knew how badly I needed you. Not this morning, although I'm glad you thought to wake me up. I needed you for my life," I said. "I know. Now it's yours, Bubba. Are you ready for it?" "Yeah. I am so ready for life," I said. "Well, get your ass out of bed and live it," he said. He grinned, stood up, and walked out of my room. I heard him say something to Tim in the hall, and the two of them laughed. Before that day, I would have been sure they were laughing at me, and I would have been worried and upset for hours. But I knew they weren't making fun of me. They didn't make fun; they had fun, and what a huge difference that was. *** Thursday night of that week was the moment of truth. Cody had a cousin who was a year out of college, and she lived in a little concrete-block house on the beach with another girl. She had just finished her first year of teaching at an elementary school, and she was working as a waitress for the summer to tide herself over. In fact, both she and her roommate were waitresses. She and Cody were very close. She was an only child of a single mother, and Margaret and Cody and his two brothers were as close as siblings. Cody and I had caught Margaret at home on Wednesday night, her only night off, before her date picked her up, and we had had a good time with her until around nine, when she went out and we left. The house Margaret lived in had two bedrooms, but, like so many 1950's-vintage beach cottages in Emerald Beach, it also had a "sleeping porch." That was a big room across the back of the house that had once literally been a porch but that had since been enclosed to provide extra sleeping space. After we got something to eat Thursday night, Cody and I stopped and rented a movie. We took it over to Margaret's house. He and both of his brothers had keys to it, and Margaret expected her cousins to use it for dates anytime she and her roommate weren't home. We each got a beer out of the refrigerator, popped the movie in the VCR, and snuggled into one another on the couch to watch it. Cody put his arms around me as I leaned into him, and I was hard in an instant. I had on very light-weight khaki shorts, and my tent was visible immediately. I didn't do anything to hide it, though. In fact, I wanted him to know what he did to me. He got in the same condition just as fast, and we lounged there "watching" the movie with rampant erections. Ten minutes into it, we started making out. Thirty -128-

minutes into it, we both had visible wet spots on our shorts. Forty minutes into it, we were on the sleeping porch in one of the double beds, naked. Fifty minutes into it, we were grinding against one another, breathlessly. Sixty minutes into it, we were cleaning each other up. "Did you think the first time was going to be like that," Cody asked after we had kissed and snuggled for a while. "No. Not at all. I thought I was going to be scared to death and embarrassed beyond belief because my dick is so small," I said. "But it was wonderful." "I know. Me, too. Your dick really isn't that small, though, Seth," he said. "Yours isn't, either. Have you measured it?" "Many times. It's right at five inches hard. What about you?" "Five-and-a-half," I said. "I've always wanted it to be bigger until tonight. Now I don't care." "Neither do I. Our friends aren't going to make fun of us. They've proved that. I guess we can probably both relax now about it, can't we?" "Yeah." We were quiet for a few moments. "Cody, do you consider me your boyfriend? 'Cause that's how I think of you," I said. He grinned and kissed me. "I was trying to figure out a way to bring that up," he said. "Yes, I consider you my boyfriend." I was so happy. "Do you think you could spend the night at my house tomorrow night," I asked. "I haven't asked Kevin and Rick, but I know it will be okay." "Yes!" "You don't have to ask," I said. "Not anymore. When I turned eighteen about a month ago, my dad and I had a talk. One of the things he told me was that I don't have to ask to spend the night out anymore. I have to let them know where I am, but I can make up my own mind about that," he said. "I just have to call them, and I can leave a message on the machine, if it's late and they're already in bed." "Cool," I said. "Have you done it yet?" "Not yet. Tomorrow night's the first one," he said. "You are so incredible. You know that?" "You're pretty incredible yourself, dude," he said. "I am so glad I met you." "Me, too," I said. We were still in bed, holding one another. We were both hard again, so we took advantage of that a second time. When I went to sleep that night, I was happier and more relaxed than I had ever been in my life. I had someone. I had a boyfriend! (Kyle's Perspective) I woke up early Saturday morning, like I always did. I didn't know why I didn't need more sleep, but I didn't. We had been up pretty late the night before talking to Seth and Cody about sex, and of course Tim and I were too sexed up to go right to sleep. I was hyper when I was little, and I used to always wake up before anybody else. I would get up and go next door to Clay's room. I would get in bed with him and want to play. He finally broke me of that, though, by beating the shit out of me one time when I woke him up too early. After that, I would still get in bed with him, but I would just lie there for a little while. Being in bed with my big brother made me feel so safe and so good. I loved that. I never stayed more than about fifteen minutes, though, because I couldn't keep still and just lie there with nothing to do and nobody to talk to. Those were good minutes, -129-

though. That Saturday morning, I laid in bed next to Tim. I had a water woody like I always did, and eventually I got up to pee. I decided to take a shower because I was pretty dirty with dried cum from the night before, and I went ahead and shaved my whole face, too. I had been growing that little fringe beard, and I liked the way it looked. It was too much trouble, though, so I shaved it off. I shaved my balls, my dick, and my asshole, too, while I was at it. My chest was showing signs of needing it, so I went ahead and did that, too. Damn, I thought. Pretty soon, if I keep shaving so much, I won't have to bathe. I can just scrape the dirt off with a razor. I put on some clean briefs and went downstairs. Trixie wasn't in the house, so I figured she and Rick were out running. I made a big pot of coffee, poured me a cup, and sat down at the breakfast room table. I turned on the TV, and I watched some news stuff on MSNBC. Rick got home from running around six o'clock, and he was a mess. "This is it for me," he said. I got him a couple of big glasses of water, and I poured him a cup of coffee, for when he was ready for it. "What do you mean," I asked. "It's too fucking hot, Kyle. Even this early. I'm on the treadmill from now until October." Trixie looked happy, but she looked run out, too. I gave her some water in her water bowl, and she lapped it up before I could sit down. I filled it up a second time. "I guess we had a full house last night," Rick said. "Huh?" "Tyler and Cody both spent the night, didn't they?" "Tyler and Jeff didn't, but Cody did. We stayed up late talking to Cody and Seth," I said. "Do you like those guys? Cody and Ty?" "Yeah, I like 'em. I like 'em a lot. Don't you?" "Yes. Kevin and I both like them," he said. "Oh, I just noticed. You shaved this morning." "Yeah. It was too much trouble shaving around that beard every day," I said. "It doesn't bother you, having that on your face," he asked. "Not really. I don't notice it," I said. "It drives me crazy." "Short trip, right?" "Very funny, asshole," he said, laughing. "We don't really talk that much anymore, do we," I said. "Just the two of us, I mean." "No. I try to avoid you," he said. I made myself get this really hurt look on my face. "Kyle, don't do that, man. You know I'm teasing you, don't you? You know I love you." "Do you, Rick? Do you really?" I knew Rick loved me almost as much as he loved Kevin, but I couldn't resist teasing him. "Of course, I do, Kyle. Don't be this way, man. You're tearing me up here." "But will you say it?" "Yes! Of course, I'll say it. I love you. I'll always love you. How could you not know that?" "No. I meant the other thing," I said. He thought for a second. "Ohhhh. Kyle. You fuck. Ohhhh. I gonna get your ass for that, you shithead." He was laughing, -130-

and I was, too. "Say it," I demanded. "Okay. You got me last. You are so wrong, Kyle. You are so evil. I ought to kick your ass into the pool." We were both laughing hard, and Trixie wanted in on the fun. She started barking at us and wagging her tail and jumping up on us. "Look what you did. You upset the puppy," I said. "I'll upset your puppy," he said, and he grabbed me in a big hug. I hugged him back. "As a family, we're pretty weird, aren't we," I said. "We're not weird. We're just different. We actually love one another," Rick said. *** One of the bad things about getting up so early was there was nobody else around to do anything with. I decided to check the crab traps. Then I remembered I didn't have any more bait to re-bait them. I took Tim's car, and Trixie and I went to the grocery store. I got the chicken necks and backs I wanted for the traps, but I also bought stuff for breakfast. Then I decided to go ahead and shop for the weekend. I figured we'd have a crowd around all weekend, and they would all be hungry as hell. We almost always ate out on Saturday night after church, so I didn't worry about that meal. I got some roll-up sandwiches on pita bread, three dozen pieces of fried chicken that were just coming out of the fryer, a half gallon of potato salad, a half gallon of coleslaw, a half gallon of macaroni salad, a quart of mac and cheese, three pounds of smoked sausage already cooked, some Cuban rolls for sandwiches, two pounds of sliced baked ham, and two of Swiss cheese and salami, too. I got the usual pickles, pickled peppers, olives, and pickled okra for Jus, and I got two heads of iceberg lettuce and a half dozen tomatoes for the sandwiches. In the bakery I picked up four dozen doughnuts, two pound cakes, two coffee cakes, and three dozen cookies. We had plenty of stuff to drink on hand, but I figured we needed some ice cream, in case we wanted coke floats. I went back to the deli and got three pounds of thick bacon, and then I picked up four dozen eggs. I knew we had grits at the house already. I got a watermelon and four cantaloupes, two pounds each of red grapes and cherries, and a dozen peaches from Alabama. I thought Alabama peaches were better than the ones from Georgia or South Carolina. I also got two cartons of huge figs. I loved those things. I had a lot of stuff, but you never know who's going to show up or how hungry they're going to be. I mentally went through the contents of my two carts and realized I didn't have any snacks. I got three large bags each of potato chips and corn chips, some salsa and Mexican cheese dip stuff to have with them, and a couple of cartons of prepared dip. I checked out fast because I was the only one in that store, and it came to $230. I put it on the household credit card Kevin and Rick had given me. Some people might think I was too young to have their credit card, but they knew they could trust me. Trixie was all happy to see me when I got back out to the car. That was one thing about her. She was always glad to see you, no matter what. Rick, Kevin, and Tim were up when I got home. They helped me unload the car, and we put the stuff away. "I'm glad you thought of this, Kyle," Rick said. "Now I can scratch 'grocery store' off my list of things to do this morning." -131-

"No problem. There are doughnuts and fried chicken for breakfast, if anybody is hungry. I know I am," I said. "I'll make some grits to go with that," Rick said, and he did. The four of us ate breakfast, and then I went up to put on my swim suit. Tim came with me. "I wonder what Seth and Cody did last night after we talked with them," Tim said while we were changing. "I don't know, but I bet it wasn't saying their prayers," I said. Tim laughed. He gave me a big hug and a little kiss. If the kiss had been bigger, I would have known he wanted to make love. That would have to wait, though. I guess he got all he needed for a while last night. The traps were just about full. I went ahead and re-baited them and moved them off to the side of the lagoon so we could ski. Trixie was with us in the boat, and she got all excited every time I pulled up a trap. The crabs were lively and were sometimes hard to get into the holding trap because they caught onto the catching traps with their claws. I kept the holding trap in the water and just pulled it up to dump crabs into it. It was fun to watch her try to scare those crabs. Those big teeth of hers were ready to bite the head off those crabs. Trouble is, they didn't have heads. "I think I'm going to go ahead and boil these this morning," I said about the crabs in the holding trap. "We can put some of them out for people to pick on." "Who's coming over," Tim asked. "I don't know. I told Philip for him and Ryan to come over." "Morgan told me this week that he and Blake and Riley had seen us last Sunday and had wanted to come over. I told him to come on over anytime there was a crowd," Tim said. "There you go," I said. "You just never can tell who'll show up. We're soon going to need another boat so everybody can ski." "Mont said last Sunday he wants us to go out to the island on his boat tomorrow," Tim said. "I don't know how many, though." "Don't you just love summer," I asked. "Yeah," he said. "So far it's been wonderful, but I need to talk to you about something." "What's that, Babe," I asked. "I have to go away for two weeks. My dad told me that yesterday. I have to go to Boston right after the Fourth of July to see my grandparents." That hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no way I could go for two weeks without him. Nuh-uh. No way. He started rubbing my chest. He sometimes did that when he thought I was upset. It felt good, but it didn't take away the sting of what he had said. "Does that make you sad," he asked. "Of course it makes me sad, Babe. What do you think, Tim? I know you have to see your grandparents, but why can't you just go for one week?" "We're going to spend the first week in Maine at a place where a lot of my relatives will be. The second week is in Boston with my grandparents," he said. "Maybe I can talk my parents into letting me fly to Boston for that week. Would that be okay?" "Oh, Babe, that would be the best," he said. "I know Boston pretty well, and we could have a hell of a good time there. Do you think Gene would let you go?" "I don't know. He's pretty serious about me working, but my mom believes I should travel as much as possible, too. I've never been to Boston, that I know of. Let me work on it," I said. -132-

Shit, I thought. Of all the fucking kinks that could come up! This was a complication in the summer I hadn't counted on. I could survive without him for two weeks if I absolutely had to, but I didn't want to. I could easily go two weeks without sex, but going two weeks without seeing him and talking to him and touching him was way too much. "Will you be staying at your grandparents' house," I asked. "No. We have to stay in a hotel. My great-grandmother is living with them, and she's pretty sick. My grandfather is in a wheelchair because of his arthritis, too. They have three bedrooms in their apartment, but they have a nurse or somebody that stays there to help out," he said. "That's going to be my angle with my dad," I said. "It'll be a chance for me to study another hotel up close. That's it! This is going to fucking work, Babe. I'm going to pitch it slow and easy at first, but it can turn into a nut ball in a heartbeat, if it has to. And he ain't wearing a cup." Tim started laughing at what I had said, and seeing him laugh made me laugh, too. "Kyle, how do you come up with stuff like that," he asked. "I don't know, but this is gospel. Count on it." "You're incredible." "You're pretty incredible yourself, Monkey," I said. "What is this? A banana for the monkey?" He was talking about my hard-on, which I didn't even realize I was getting till just then. "It's a natural cue stick. I'm fixin' to sink me some balls." He laughed his ass off over that. "I'm not touching it out here on the lagoon, if that's what you want," he said. "I know. Let's get in. Maybe it'll go down by the time we dock. Dock the boat, I mean." He screamed with laughter. *** We had us a great time that day. That place turned into a black hole, sucking in boys from everywhere, and I was damn glad I had bought that much food. A lot of good people were there, like Monte and Terry, Sam and Fred, Pat and Mr. Mike Lawley, Philip and Ryan, Morgan, Blake and Riley (who were beginning to make me wonder about their relationship, by the way), Chad and Gage, Stephen from work, Jason from work and his boyfriend, and Javier, who was a friend of Tim and Brian's from work. Add to that the ten of us who were already there, and it was quite a crowd. We pretty much spent the day on or in the water. I drove the ski boat a while, and then Rick took over. He had been making sure there was plenty of stuff out to eat all day long, and I took over that duty. Around four o'clock, Kevin made an announcement. "Guys, Rick and I want you all to stay, but we and our sons are going to church for Mass at five. You can go with us, stay here, go home for the night, or go home and come back. We're cooking hotdogs, hamburgers, and ribs on the grill when we come back, and you're welcome to eat with us. I took the hamburgers and ribs out this morning, Kyle. They're already thawed, and the ribs are in the oven." Damn, that's sure a load off, I thought. I'm glad he knew to cook those ribs slow in the oven before we slapped them on the grill. You can't cook a whole slab of ribs on the grill and expect them to get done and not burned. "The Foley-Mashburn boys better get ready for church," Kevin said. Those showers in the clubhouse came in damn handy that day. The shower for the guys had four heads, and there were a good twelve kids in there when Tim and I were in there. Trixie came in with us, and she was barking and jumping and having a great time playing in the water. "Don't let the dog get your bone," Justin said. -133-

That really broke everybody up. I looked around, and there were a couple of bones pretty well along, too. "Here, Trixie, Trixie," Gage said. "I've got a bone for you." That made us all laugh, too. "What would you do if she chomped down on that thing, Gage? That's a female dog, you know," Justin said. "Oh, my God! How disgusting. Never mind, Trixie. Fetch." He actually threw a bar of soap against the wall, and she went after it. She slid and crashed into the wall. She whelped a tiny bit, but she got the soap and took it back to Gage. She wasn't hurt. "Don't do that anymore, Gage," I said. "We don't want to hurt her." "I won't. I'm sorry I did it," he said. "I didn't think she'd go after it." "She's okay. Aren't you, girl?" She came up to me when I said that and put her snout in my crotch, nudging my balls. "Ain't you sorry you ever trained her not to lick," Justin asked. That broke all of us up big. "You still lick, don't you," I said. "Yeah, but I don't lick you," he said. "This ain't exactly like other gang showers I've been in," Cody said. "This is way more fun." "We're having a gay ole time, ain't we," Justin said. "Jus, that was terrible," Jeff said. "Get out of here." "Only if you come with me," Jus said. "Okay. Let's go," Jeff said. That pretty much ended our shower time, but it damn sure didn't end our fun that night. I think everybody went to church with us, and we took up three pews. Jerry's eyes just about bugged out of his head when he saw all of us, and he was grinning up a storm. He called Pat and Tim out to be his altar servers because he didn't have any. They were both in shorts and flip-flops. Pat had on an untucked tee shirt, and Tim had on an untucked tank top. Nobody thought that was strange because that was the way it was in Emerald Beach. I thought about those guys on that altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York during our trip and about all the robes they were wearing. Jerry was in robes, but I wondered if he had on shorts and a tee shirt under them. Knowing him, I'll bet he did. Doc and Sonya, and Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, Jerry and Pat's parents, were there, and they came over from where they were sitting to join us. The music was just a guitar, and the young Asian guy who was playing it could sing really good. That guy was cute, too. I loved to sing, and I had heard all of the songs we sang that night before. I followed along in the song book, and I sang out pretty loud. Everybody in our group did, and that was kind of festive. It was sort of like a celebration, or something. They sang one song when everybody went to communion called "Be Not Afraid." That one always gave me goose bumps, and I sang my heart out that night. One verse said, "Blessed are your poor, for the kingdom shall be theirs. "Blest are you that weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh. "And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me, blessed, blessed are you. "Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest." "Blessed, blessed are you." Tears came to my eyes when we sang that line because I knew it was about me. It was about us. I looked at Seth, and his tears were streaming down his damn face. Cody was doing the same thing, and so was Tyler. If wicked men insult and hate you all because of me and the way I made you, queer to the core, -134-

blessed, blessed are you. I was overwhelmed. My interpretation probably wasn't Cardinal Bernard Law's interpretation up in Boston that night, with all those gay priests, but I didn't care. They were my God and my Jesus, too, just as much as they were his, and they told me to be not afraid. They would go before me always. Come follow them, they said, and they will give me rest. Chapter 13 (Cody's Perspective) After what Seth and I did Thursday night at my cousin's house, I couldn't get my mind on anything but him. All day long on Friday I kept making excuses to go into the lobby where the bellmen were, just so I could see him and say hi to him. Every time I did that, I got hard. My penis leaked so much pre-cum that day I thought my briefs would actually crackle after it dried. As it got closer to quitting time, I started getting more and more excited. I was going to spend the whole night with Seth, in his bed, and I knew we'd be naked. I couldn't wait to have him in my arms, pressing against me, rubbing against me, both of us hard and sticky. I knew it was probably just a crush or lust or something, but I didn't care. He was my boyfriend, and I wanted him bad. And I knew he wanted me, too. That was the best part. We churned each other up. Seth had ridden to work that morning with Kyle, Justin, and Jeff, but he rode home with me. I had brought a bag with the clothes and other stuff I would need, and I had told my parents I would see them Monday night. My dad was so cool about it. He offered me a fifty dollar bill to help with the expenses of the weekend. He had done that with my brothers a bunch of times but never before with me. I had a wad of money from work, and I really didn't think I would need any money, anyway. "Thanks, Dad, but I can pay my way," I had said. I was so glad to be independent of them for spending money. "Okay, but I'm going to put this on your desk in your room," he said. "Thanks, Dad. I appreciate it," I said. "You really like this boy, don't you?" "Yes, sir, I do. I like him a lot," I said. "Your mother and I are happy for you, son. Bring him around soon, so we can meet him, okay?" "Yes, sir, I will." "Have a great weekend, son. We'll see you Monday night." That was pretty damn cool, I thought. I never doubted them, though. Seth and I went right up to his room as soon as we got to the house. He locked the door, and we were in each other's arms in a heartbeat. We started kissing standing in the middle of the room, and we undressed each other as we kissed. Once our clothes were off, we stood there kissing. We were rubbing against one another, and Seth reached behind me and rubbed my butt. Wow! I never knew that could feel that good. We moved to the bed, and he got on top of me. We were kissing like we were trying to eat one another up, but he moved down onto my chest. He got one of my nipples into his mouth, and he sucked it and teased it and licked it. Oh, my God! And then we made love. When we were finished, neither one of us said anything. We held one another and kissed and nibbled a little bit, and we both went to sleep. We both needed showers when we woke up. -135-

"Let's take a shower," he said. "Together." He grinned, and I grinned back. We showered and dressed, and then we went downstairs. We couldn't resist playing with each other in the shower, too, and that was pretty intense. They were out at the pool when we got down there, splashing around naked. "Hey, guys," Kyle said, as he walked up to us. His penis was bouncing up and down as he walked, and I envied that. Why? I didn't really know, but it just looked good doing that. Mine had already done well by me that night, but I just wished it was bigger. "Hey," we both said. "There's food out on the counter in the kitchen," he said. "It's just us here tonight, so it's not really that much. Jeff and Tyler are on a date, I guess. We can call for pizza or fried chicken, if y'all are really hungry." "What's out," Seth asked. "Fruit, cereal, peanut butter and jelly. Some salad, too, I think, and there are boiled crabs in the fridge. Eat up quick so you can come play with us," he said. Seth and I went back inside to the kitchen. There wasn't all that much left, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with a cold glass of milk, sounded great to me. I made sandwiches for each of us, and we chowed down. God, it was good. They had grape jelly, which was my favorite, and I made four folded-over sandwiches for each of us. That was the way I liked it. One piece of white bread, folded in half, thick with peanut butter and jelly. When we finished eating, we went back out to the pool. They were all screaming for us to get in, and the dog, who was in the pool with them, was barking for us. The Sunday before, it had been really tough getting naked in front of all of those boys. I had done it so they wouldn't think I was a bad sport or something, but I was pretty self-conscious because of my size. I knew I had a dick the size of a chipmunk's, an animal I had never actually seen, by the way, but that night I was with Seth, and I didn't care. "Are you going in," I asked him. "If you are," he said. "You don't care, do you?" I put my hand on his shoulder and kind of rubbed him a little bit. "If you keep touching me like that, it won't be little much longer," he said. I laughed, but I took my hand off him, too. We got undressed to go in, and I wanted to touch his butt so bad. I kept my hands to myself, though. Even though I wanted to touch him in the worse way, I knew he didn't want that just then because of the effect it would have on him. We fooled around in the water for a while. It was after eight when Seth and I got out there, and there was no telling how long the others had been in the pool. "I've had it, guys," Rick said. "Me, too," Kevin agreed. "I'll see everybody in the morning," Rick said. We all told him and Kevin good night, and they went inside. "I'm getting out, too," Justin said. "My dick's about shriveled up to nothing." "Oh, no!" Brian said that like he was panic stricken, and everybody laughed. "You're going to have to warm it up for me," Jus said to Brian. "Give it a little of your famous saliva therapy tonight." -136-

Brian slurped, and again we laughed. "I can't believe how open you guys talk about sex and stuff," I said. "We don't, when Rick and Kevin are around. At least not as much," Tim said. "Are they offended easy," I asked. "Hell, no. They just believe that sex is private, so we don't talk about what we do in private in front of them," Kyle said. "We do in front of each other, though. Is everybody getting out?" We all more or less said "yeah," and we got out. Kyle and Tim headed over toward the clubhouse, and Seth and I, and Brian and Justin followed them. "Who wants a beer," Kyle asked. Justin, Seth, and I said we did, and Kyle got four beers. They were Millers, and I didn't know you couldn't twist the cap off. I almost cut my hand to ribbons trying, and then Kyle handed me an opener. We were all still naked, and nobody looked like they were anxious to get dressed. We sat on some leather sofas that were in there. We were dry by then, though. "Do Kevin and Rick ever talk to you all about sex," Seth asked. "Kevin or Rick said in New Orleans they would answer any questions we had about it." "We talk about it sometimes," Tim said. "I think we've got most of our questions answered, though, by now." "Have you got some questions," Kyle asked. It looked like he was being serious, almost like he was Seth's big brother. "Well, sort of," he said. "I guess you all know that Cody and I are both just starting out." I expected some wisecrack, but, to their credit and my relief, they didn't say anything. "Are you still virgins," Kyle asked. "That depends on how you define it," I said. "I say, if you make the other guy come, or he makes you come, you ain't a virgin anymore," Justin said. "It doesn't matter how you do it." "Then, no, we're not," I said. They all said stuff like "cool" and "way to go." I would have been completely humiliated to be telling my straight friends something like that, but it felt totally natural with those guys. "Kyle, in New Orleans at Mardi Gras, you told me something about using your finger on the other guy's prostate gland," Seth said. "Oh, yeah. That's really good. We do that all the time," Kyle said. "Help me out here," I said. "I'm not really following this." "Do you know what your prostate gland is," Tim asked. "Not really," I said. "It's the gland inside of you that makes most of your semen. Your cum. Only a little bit comes from your nuts," Tim said. "I didn't realize that," I said. "Hey, guys," Kyle said. "I notice that everybody's starting to get a little hard. This is important stuff we're talking about, and hard-ons are bound to happen. Let's just let nature take its course, okay? We can take care of them later. And there's no point in trying to hide 'em. We all know what they look like, and we've all seen each other plenty of times before, all except Cody, but his ain't any different from the rest, I bet." I was glad he said that because I was starting to get aroused and embarrassed. "It's true what Tim said," Brian remarked. "Your nuts make sperm, but only a tiny bit of your cum is -137-

real sperm. The rest is secretions from your prostate and some other glands." "So what's this about using your finger on the other guy's prostate? How do you do that," I asked. "You have to put your finger inside him," Jus said. "How do you do that?" "You have to go in through his butt hole," Jus said. "Look, Cody. Here's what you do, man," Kyle said. "You get your finger lubed up real good. This is the one I use because it's the longest." He held up his middle finger like he was shooting a bird. "Oh, make sure your fingernail is clipped, first, too. Anyway, your prostate is about here. Stand up, Tim, so I can show him." "You're not sticking your finger in me right now," Tim said. We all laughed. "I know. I want to show on your outside where it is, dumbass," Kyle said. Grinning, Tim stood up, and his dick was hard and standing proud. "It's right about here, Seth and Cody. It's toward the front of the body, right on top of his dick. When you go in, you rub toward the front of him. Not real hard, though. You don't want to bruise him," Kyle said. "How will I know when I find it," I asked. "He'll put out a lot of pre-cum, for one thing, and he'll probably start moaning, for another," Kyle said. He was grinning at Tim, and Tim blushed a bit. "So is that what butt fucking is really all about," I asked. I had never seen the point of that for the guy who takes the dick up his ass. "Exactly," Brian said. "I mean, there's tremendous intimacy and tenderness involved, too, but a dick rubbing your prostate really feels good." "Doesn't that hurt a lot," I asked. "Cody, it can hurt like hell, man, but it doesn't have to hurt at all, if it's done right," Justin said. "How do you know if you're doing it right," I asked. I felt like a naive kid asking questions like that, but that was the very first time in my life I had ever talked to anybody who knew about that sort of thing. Even my friends who were fucking girls never really gave me any details about how to do it. I guess it was something everybody was supposed to know instinctively, but I didn't. "Cody, first off, you only do that when both guys want it, and want it bad," Kyle said. "Everybody's different when it comes to sex, but Tim and I didn't do that for a long time. By then, I was totally in love with Tim, and I would have killed myself before I would have hurt him. In fact, all in the world I cared about was making him feel good. I didn't care if I got off doing it or not. And he was exactly the same way with me. We truly did give ourselves to each other when we did that. There were no more secrets, no more holding back any part of ourselves, when that happened." "They know all that shit, Kyle. They want how-to," Justin said. I thought almost everything that guy said was funny, and that was no exception. It wasn't exactly a laughing moment just then, though. "I know. Shut up. I'm getting to that part. I'm trying to think like Kevin would right now." Justin grinned at him. "Ex-cuuuuuze me, Little Rick," Jus said. Kyle grinned back, and I figured that was some kind of inside joke between them. "Anyway, guys, when you decide to do it, if you decide to do it, you prepare the guy who's going to take it by loosening him up. You should be as relaxed as you can be. Then you work the guy's ass with -138-

fingers and tongue till he's loosened up. I've heard about people using a dildo or something to get their partner stretched out a little. When you finally do it, it helps for the bottom to push down, like he's taking a crap. That seems to let it go in easier," Kyle said. "Bottom," I asked. "The bottom is the guy taking it, and the guy giving it is called the top," Kyle said. "That's sort of gay slang, I guess. The guy who sticks his dick into the other guy, ass or mouth, is the top. The one providing the hole, ass or mouth, is the bottom." "I guess 'top' and 'bottom' are better than thinking about one being the girl and the other the guy," I said. "Exactly," Kyle said. "I'm the bottom about half the time, but I ain't never a girl." "Is that true for all gay couples? They alternate," I asked. "It is for us, Cody, and for Kevin and Rick, too, but not everybody," Kyle said. "I've only topped Jus in anal sex four or five times, Cody," Brian said. "That's what works for us." "You're a real masculine guy, Brian," Seth said. "It doesn't have anything to do with being masculine, Seth," Justin said. "I had some real bad experiences being a bottom when I was a kid, and the sex monkey here loves it." Brian slapped at Justin, but he also grinned in a way that made me know he loved him. "I want another beer. Anybody else," Kyle asked. The three other beer drinkers said they did. "Jus, you got any smokes out here," Kyle asked. "In the locker room," he said. "How about gettin' 'em." "Okay," he said. Kyle came back with the fresh beers, and he and Justin lit up cigarettes. I had seen Jus smoking in the break room at work, but I had never seen Kyle. He obviously knew how to do it, though. "What about blowjobs," I asked, once we were all settled again. "I'm all for 'em," Justin said. That made everybody laugh "What about 'em," Kyle asked. "You know there's really no blowing involved, don't you?" "Yeah, I knew that much," I said. "It's really more like a suck, isn't it?" "Yeah, that, but also kissing, licking, just playing with his dick with your mouth," Kyle said. "Balls and asshole, too. That's called 'rimming' when you kiss and lick his asshole." "I guess most gay guys do that, huh," Seth said. "I don't know, but we do," Tim said. "In fact, we do quite a bit of oral love." "Do you come in each other's mouths," I asked. I knew that was damn personal, but so had been everything else we'd been talking about. This might be my one big chance to find out what I've been wondering about for years, and I wasn't going to stop at anything. "Sometimes we do," Brian said. "It just depends on what we feel like doing. I love sucking Justin off." "So, doing it to the other guy is fun, too," I asked. "I think it is," Bri said. The others agreed. "Man, my eyes are really being opened tonight, guys. Thanks for helping us out like this." "No problem, Cody," Justin said. "You can tell we love talking about it, anyway." Everybody's dick had actually gone down by then. I couldn't wait to try some of that stuff, but at -139-

least I wasn't on the verge of shooting, like I had been before. "One thing you might not know about is your nipples," Tim said. "I didn't until earlier tonight," I said. "That was really intense." "Some guys are nipple-dead," Justin said, "but not any of us, and I guess not you, either." "Nipple-dead! How do you come up with expressions like that, Jus," Kyle asked. "I don't know. The same way you come up with the funny stuff you say," Jus replied. "We haven't talked about condoms," Seth said. "Do all of you use them every time? And what about for blowjobs?" "Let me talk about that, okay," Jus said. "Brian and I use 'em every time for anal because I've had unprotected sex in the past, Seth. With guys I didn't even know. I've been tested for HIV and every other sexually transmitted disease three times, and I'm clean. But it ain't worth taking the chance. I mean, it's not like we're trying to get pregnant, you know? We don't use them for oral, though." That made us all laugh. "On the other hand, we don't use them," Tim said. "Neither of us has ever had body fluid from another person inside us except from each other, and we don't screw around on one another. We've played around with these guys some, and with Jeff, but we never suck or fuck, or even kiss that way." "You know what? It might help for y'all to watch a couple of movies. They're gay porn, but they're good. The boys in those movies really know how to do it, and I know I've learned a lot from watching," Kyle said. "Yeah, you really have," Tim said. "So have I, I hope." "These are movies by a company called Bel Ami. Most gay porn movies you download from the news groups on the Internet are shit. You know, one guy sucks the other one for fifteen minutes, and the guy getting sucked doesn't even get hard. Sometimes it's young guys like us, too. And usually the one getting fucked isn't hard. That is so bogus to me. I have never not been hard when he was fucking me," Kyle said. "I know, and they don't get hard when they suck their partner's dick," Brian said. "Anyway, these Bel Ami guys get hard and stay hard," Kyle said. "I don't know how they can go as long as they do without coming, but I guess they've got that down." "I know," Jus said. "One guy will get sucked for fifteen minutes and then fuck the other boy for fifteen, and he has to beat off to come. That ain't the way it works for me." "I've actually read something about that," I said. "I think they do it over and over, all day long, so it's just not as exciting for them or something. I've seen some straight porn, and I've thought the same thing." "And then some of them get these looks of ecstasy on their faces and make all this noise after they're finished shooting, like that's when the good part is," Tim said. "Well, anyway, is everybody sexed up enough to have fun tonight," Kyle asked. We all laughed. "Thanks for talking to us about this, guys," I said. "Yeah, thanks a lot," Seth said. "No problem," Jus said. "Like I said, we all pretty much like talking about it." "Come by our room before you go to bed, Seth, and I'll give you a couple of movies. Is there a VCR in that room," Kyle asked. "Yeah, there is," Bri said. "That's technically my room, so I know what's in there. The VCR is built into the TV." "Okay. Thanks," Seth said. -140-

I was hoping we'd get a chance to practice at least some of what we had talked about. Maybe we could watch a little and practice a little. God, I was so horny for him, and my dick was swelling. Justin noticed. "I don't think this one needs a movie," he said, touching my dick. "Hey, watch it, buster," Seth said, jokingly. "Yeah! Leave that alone," Brian said, also joking. "All right. Chop my hand off, why don't you," Jus said. "See how you'd like that, Little Buddy. Can't do much with a stump." Brian got a cute look on his face. "Don't even think about it," Justin said. And then he laughed. "Good night, guys. Oh, we all pretty much just hang out downstairs in just underwear on weekend mornings," Kyle said. "You don't have to, if you don't want to, but it's kind of like a family tradition. Kevin and Rick, too." "Okay. See you in the morning," I said. Seth went to Kyle and Tim's room to get a couple of movies, and I went to his room to wait for him. I was so hard by that point that it hurt. Kyle was right about those movies, too. Seth and I did a little practicing, and it was very, very good. *** The next morning, everybody was downstairs in just briefs, like Kyle had said. I expected them to tease Seth and me about the night before, but it was like the whole talk and movie thing never happened. They had said that Kevin and Rick expected them to respect everybody's privacy, and they sure did that. I was feeling real at ease around them, but I sure didn't want to talk about what Seth and I had done after we went to bed. Kyle had done a ton of grocery shopping, and they had doughnuts, fried chicken, and grits for breakfast. What a combination, I thought. I ate several doughnuts and three pieces of chicken, though, and it was good. I skipped the grits, but Justin loaded up on those. It was a very relaxed and informal atmosphere. I guess you really couldn't be too formal and uptight when everybody was just in their underwear, but guys were lounging around in some pretty sexy poses. Jeff and his boyfriend, Tyler, came in around 9:30. "Hey, Bubba," Kyle said. "Hi, Kyle. Hi, everybody," Jeff said. Tyler told everybody hello, too. Then he and Jeff got cups of coffee, doughnuts, and pieces of chicken to eat with us in the den. By my count, there were ten guys sprawled around that room, and it didn't really seem crowded. They had a big house and a big family, it seemed, including me. "Kyle, come over here and sit with me," Rick said. "What's the matter, Bubba? You seem kind of down." Tim got up and went and sat with Kevin. "Is there trouble, guys," Kevin asked. It was so obvious to me that Kevin and Rick loved those two boys like they were their own sons. I hadn't really picked up on it when it was going on, but when I though about it, both Kyle and Tim were sort of down. "Not trouble, Kev. Challenges," Tim said. "Do the four of us need to go off to talk," Kevin asked. -141-

"Naw. It's a family matter. Tell them, Tim," Kyle said. Tim took a deep breath, and then he started. "My dad told me yesterday afternoon that we have to go to New England for two weeks the day after Jus's birthday," Tim said. "We're going to see relatives and my grandparents." "And you don't want him to go, do you," Rick said to Kyle. If Rick held me the way he was holding Kyle, I was sure I'd pop a boner. I kept an eye on Kyle's briefs, though, and there wasn't even a stir. "No, sir. I know he has to go. I'm just trying to figure out a way I can get to Boston for that second week. Do you think my dad will let me go?" "What do you think, Kyle," Jeff asked. "Huh?" "I don't know, Jeff. What do you think? He wants me to work, you know?" "Kyle, I think Rick and I can talk to Gene for you. I think he'll understand," Kevin said. "Y'all think I'm spoiled, don't you," Kyle said. "I think your parents want to spoil you, Kyle, just like they want to spoil Jeff and Kevin and me," Rick said. "And all of us. But you resist it, don't you? You won't let them spoil you, will you?" Kyle and everybody else was quiet for a few moments. Even Trixie seemed to know it was a serious moment, and she kept quiet. "We'll just see what happens," Kyle said. "I need to see if the water's ready for the crabs. Let's don't talk about this today, okay?" He got up and went out onto the patio. Justin and Jeff went outside with him, but Tim stayed in the house with us. I watched them through the window as Kyle dumped some crabs into the pot. They were laughing and joking. Justin lit up a smoke and offered his pack to Kyle. He declined, though. "The Three Musketeers," Rick said. "Yeah, they are, Babe. I hadn't thought of them that way, but they really are. Tim and Brian and Ty, I hope you guys aren't jealous of their relationship," Kevin said. "Brian and I know," Tim said. "Ty, Jeff and Kyle are stitched together at the heart. You can't possibly know all of it," Kevin said. "I know enough to know that, Kevin," Tyler said. "Yeah, but he saved my life," Seth said. That surprised the shit out of me. "I know, but he saved theirs first, Seth," Rick said. "Go out there with them, man. You're a rightful part of that circle, too." He looked at me, like he wanted my approval. I smiled and nodded. Seth went outside with the other three, and Kyle gave him a big hug. Trixie sneaked out when Seth went outside, and she barked and jumped with happiness at the boys. "What does that make us," Tim asked. "It makes you and me the two luckiest boys in the whole fucking world," Brian said. Kevin and Rick both looked at him with surprise on their faces. I had never heard Brian say the F-word, and I suspected they hadn't either. "Let's push their asses in the pool," Rick said. "Be careful you don't hurt somebody," Kevin said. "Lighten up, grandpa," Rick said to Kevin. They both laughed hard as we charged out onto the patio. (Justin's Perspective) -142-

Jeff and I both knew by instinct that Kyle needed us out on that patio that morning. He hadn't been his usual happy self. But there he was out there with food for the rest of us to eat. He had caught those crabs, he was cooking them, and he was going to serve 'em up for us and our friends. That was typical Kyle. I didn't know how bad he was hurting about that trip thing. He seemed more concerned that we thought he was spoiled, though. I knew Kyle was rich. I mean, you just had to look at the house he grew up in to know that. But he was just as down-home as any city boy could ever be, and he never, ever, not even once, made any of us think he was rich. Sure, he paid for most of the stuff we did, but his attitude was his parents had given him money because they wanted to treat us. He was as shrewd, when it came to money, as any poor boy I ever knew, too, which he proved on our trip to New York two or three times. He had nice clothes, a nice car, and a very nice boat, but he thought of those as belonging to us, not to him. Hell, he and I were the same size, and I wore his clothes all the time. Sometimes I wore his new stuff before he did, but he didn't care. More than once he had told me a shirt or something looked really good on me, not even realizing it belonged to him. All Kyle was really interested in, besides Tim, was having fun. And it wasn't the kind of fun that cost money. It was volleyball in the pool, or volleyball naked on the beach. Or pool or ping pong or whatever. That kind of thing. Of course, you had to have money to have a pool or a boat to get you to a naked island. I think he took all the stuff he had for granted, but you also knew he could have had just as much fun playing with a hose in the front yard, if that's all there was to play with. When Jeff and I went outside with him that Saturday morning, it took about two minutes for him to come around and start cracking jokes. That boy had saved my ass from something I didn't even want to think about any more, and he had saved Jeff from mourning and depression and all that shit. There was no way in hell his two brothers weren't going to be there to hold him up, if he needed us. "These crabs are huge," Jeff said. "Yeah, they're nice, aren't they," Kyle said. "How would you like to have four or five of those things crawling around on your crotch," I asked. "Do you want to hold one? Play with it a little," Kyle asked me. He said it serious, like he wasn't teasing. "Those fuckers are trying to eat each other up," I said. "Why the hell would I want to play with one of those?" Just then, one of them got out onto the ground as he was trying to get some in the pot. That sucker reared back with those two big pinchers open and ready. He was angry. Trixie went apeshit, barking and growling at it. It was like she was trying to protect us. "Hold her back, Jus," Kyle said. I grabbed her by her collar, and she thought I wanted to play with her. She was wagging her tale at me to beat the band, and she forgot all about that crab. Kyle and I were barefoot and in just our briefs. Jeff was dressed with shoes on because he had just come home with Tyler. Kyle did something I thought was crazy. He stepped on the claws of that crab on purpose. Then he reached down and picked it up by these two flippers it had at its back. He started coming toward me with that thing, the devil on his face. "If you put that on me, I'll kill you, Kyle," I said. "No, you won't," he said. "Kyle, please don't," I said. "I'm scared of 'em. I admit it." I probably sounded like some frantic little girl, but I could just see that thing pinching my dick off. He threw the crab in the pot, and I breathed easier. -143-

"Come here," he said. "No! What are you going to do to me," I said. "I want to hug you, man. Did you think I would really put that crab on you," he asked. I was half laughing, and so was he. "I didn't think so, but people do go berserk in times of stress, you know?" Jeff had been laughing through the whole thing, but he really laughed big when I said that. "Come here." He said it real gentle and affectionate. I stepped over to him. He put his arm around my shoulders. "Bubba, I would never let a crab do this." He grabbed a-hold of my dick and pinched it a little when he said that. "Owww," I said. "That hurts, Kyle." I said that, but it really didn't. In fact, it felt pretty damn good. "It hurts so good?" Before I could say anything, the wild men from the house came out and pushed us into the pool. Seth had come out with us by then, and they pushed him in, too. Jeff was fully dressed, and he probably had his wallet in his pocket, too. We were scurrying out of the pool to toss them in when Tim saw something in the lagoon. "Look!" he said. We all turned toward the water. "What was it," I asked. "Four dolphins," Tim said. "I think it was a whole family of them." "Tim, get my cameras," Kyle said. Tim ran inside on command, and he came out a second later with Kyle's camera bag. We all hustled down to the dock to see the dolphins up closer. Those dolphins were jumping out like nothing I had ever seen before. Kyle was taking pictures right and left with his film camera. "Let's get in with them," he said. "Are you out of your damn mind? They'll kill us," I said. "No, they won't," Kyle said. "They're used to being around people. They wouldn't be in this lagoon, if they weren't." "Can we take the boat out there," Tim asked. Kyle thought for a second. "Yeah, but no motor. We can paddle it out, but the motor is too dangerous, since it's an outboard," he said. "I want some good pictures of some naked boys swimming with some naked dolphins, you hear?" "Let's go," Rick said. We jumped into that boat, lickety-split. Trixie was right there with us, excited as all get-out. She didn't have a clue about what was going on, but she was excited because we were. Kyle started up the motor real slow for a little ways, and then he killed it. We took over with paddles. I was on one, and Rick was on the other. That boat had ten man-size people on it and a big-ass dog, and it was hard to paddle. We finally made it out there, though. When we got to where they were, the dolphins started standing up like they were begging for food. "See, they know people," Kyle said. "Just jump in." He put down his anchor. I was surprised as hell, but Kevin was the first one to skinny out of his briefs and jump in. Rick was right behind him, buck naked to the world. "Let's go, Little Buddy," I said to Brian, and we went in. Trixie had followed Kevin in, and she was curious as hell. Kyle got five or six pictures of her and -144-

one of the kid dolphins looking like they were kissing or something. He also got a couple of those with his digital, and they were on the family Web site by noon that day. We had a ball with those fish, or whatever they were. Seth was having so much fun, he was about out of his mind. He jumped on one to ride it, but Kyle screamed for him to get off. "You'll hurt his skin, Seth," Kyle said. "Just play with 'em. Don't try to ride 'em." I didn't know that before he said it, and I was about to jump one, too. I didn't, though, after he said that. Eventually, Kyle got all the pictures he wanted or had film for or something, and he got in, too. We were only in there with them for about an hour, but I didn't even remember when I had had that much fun in the water. All of a sudden, they had enough, and they were gone. "Damn, guys," Tyler said. "That was incredible. I've seen them when I've been out on ships, but I'd never been in the water with them before." Kyle started the motor on the boat to take us in. "Kyle, let's ski in," Jeff said. "You on my shoulders." Kyle's face lit up. "No," Kevin said. "You'll get arrested." "Kevin, no we won't," Kyle said, sort of pleading. "You know what this is about, don't you?" Kevin thought for a second, smiled, and then told them to go ahead. We idled the engine. They got out the skis and the rope, got in the water, and took off. Kyle started out on the skis right behind Jeff, but then he climbed onto Jeff's shoulders, standing up. Jeff held the rope with one hand and one of Kyle's hands with his other one. Then he let the hand go, and Kyle stood up straight up on his shoulders. Tim was busy with the digital, taking a movie of it. All of a sudden it dawned on me what was happening. It was Kyle and Clay, just like that video on the Web site. Two brothers were skiing naked in the lagoon. Rick was driving the boat, and Kevin was right next to him. The two of them kept turning around to watch, and tears were steaming down their faces. Everybody in the family had seen that video, and we all knew. Chapter 14 (Kevin's Perspective) It was Monday, June 15th, and the kids had already been out of school for three-and-a-half weeks. A lot had happened already that summer, and I felt as though our family was expanding and getting closer, all at the same time. Seth was a new foster son, of a sort, and he was fitting in beautifully. He had brought Cody into the mix, and he was a real delight. He was handsome, intelligent, well built, and extremely personable. The biggest surprise, though, was Seth himself. When I thought about that pitifully homely kid we had met at Mardi Gras and compared him to the Seth that had been at the breakfast table that morning, I almost couldn't believe it. He had had some plastic surgery since we had seen him, and he had told Kyle in an email that it hadn't worked. Well, Seth was dead wrong. It had improved his appearance enormously. Gage had taken him for a "make over" the second day he was at our house, and that was truly the touch he needed. He still didn't hold a candle to some of the other ones in the looks department, but his looks were just fine. Rick and Justin had wasted no time in putting together a work-out program for Seth. He was still very thin, and it was way too early to see much difference, but it must have been having an effect on his self-confidence. He carried himself better, more upright and less dorky, for lack of a better term. He -145-

looked like an ordinary kid. A thin kid, to be sure, but an ordinary thin kid. That was a big change. It was fun to watch the other kids deal with him and relate to him. He worshiped Kyle. Kyle knew it, and the rest of us knew it, too, but Kyle never gave him an inch. He didn't pay any more attention to Seth than he did to Tyler or Cody or Brian, but he inspired Seth. He made him want to be like him without saying a word about it. "You know Seth wants to be just like you, don't you," I asked Kyle on Sunday, when we were on Dune Island with Monte and Terry and some of the others. He shrugged. I didn't know how deeply to dig with that. "Aren't you going to respond to me?" "I don't know what to say, Kevin. I just have to be myself, you know? If he wants to be like me, then let him. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I can only be myself, you know? I don't know what else to do." "Have you noticed changes in him since we first met him," I asked. Kyle coughed out a laugh. "Yeah, quite a few," he said. "Just keep doing what you've been doing, okay," I said. He looked at me long and hard. "Do you think those changes are because of me?" "Yes," I said. "I think you've been smoking crack cocaine, Bubba." We both laughed, and that was the end of it. *** That Monday night, some of us were in the den watching a Braves game on TV. Seth and Cody were either up in Seth's room or out in the clubhouse, I didn't know which. Justin wasn't interested in the game, and he was playing with Trixie. She was loving the attention, of course. Brian was there with us, but he was reading one of his summer-reading novels for school. Kyle and Tim were watching the game, more or less, but they each had books they were supposed to be reading over the summer for school, too. Rick was in my arms on one of the sofas, his body in the V of my legs and his head on my chest. He was pretending to watch the game, but he was dozing in and out. It was about seven o'clock. Jeff and Tyler came in. "Hi," I said. Rick stirred enough to say "hi," too, as did the others. Their coming home was really of no consequence, and that's the way everybody treated it. "Can we talk," Jeff asked. It was only then that I saw the worry on his and Ty's faces. "Yeah. Turn that off, Bri," I said. The remote was closest to him. "What's on your minds, guys?" "It's my roommate," Ty said. "He caught us tonight. About an hour ago." "Caught you . . .," Rick said. "Kissing, Rick. Ty and I were kissing in the living room of their apartment, and he came in unexpectedly. He got pretty pissed off, too. He called us fags and homos, real creative stuff, you know," Jeff said. We all smiled at his sarcasm, but we also knew it was potentially a very serious situation. "What exactly did he say," I asked. "He said we were disgusting and he didn't want to be around us," Ty said. "He asked me if I took it -146-

up the ass and if I spied on him in the shower. He'd probably been drinking. He hangs out with three other guys, and they pretty much drink every night. That's why I didn't worry about what we were doing. He's never home before ten, at the earliest." "Do you think he's the kind that would out you to your superiors," I asked. "I honestly don't know," Ty said. "I really don't know him that well. He posted an ad saying he wanted a roommate. I needed a roommate, so that's how we got together. We're not social friends at all." "What could happen to you," Rick asked. "I could be discharged. He caught us engaging in homosexual behavior, and that's definitely grounds for discharge," Ty said. "What if you quit first," Kyle said. "Could you do that?" "I could, but I'd have to out myself to my commanding officer," he said. "I'd probably get a general discharge, and my parents would want to know what the hell that was all about. I'm not out to them, and, frankly, they wouldn't take the news that I'm gay well at all." "How much longer do you have in this enlistment," I asked. "Just another year, and I've been planning on getting out and going to college then," he said. "One of the main reasons I joined the Coast Guard in the first place was for the educational benefits. I'd lose those, I'm pretty sure. I couldn't afford to go to school without them." "Do you think he'll kick you out of the apartment or something," Kyle asked. "He might. It's sort of his apartment. I mean, he was there first, and all," Ty said. "Why don't you plan to stay here for a few days and see what happens," I said. "Is that all right with you, Jeff?" "I already invited him to do that, Kev. In fact, we brought the clothes he'll need for the rest of the week. They're out in his car," Jeff said. "Good. Let's hope he thinks about it and decides to leave well enough alone," I said. "Some guys do have a conscience, you know?" "What's his name, Ty," Kyle asked. "No, no, no," I said. "You're not getting involved. This is for Ty to work out, Bubba." "What if he calls here," Kyle asked, the very soul of innocence. "His first name is Matt, Kyle. If a guy named Matt calls here for me, that's him," Tyler said. I wished he hadn't gone that far, but at least Kyle and his gang couldn't go looking the guy up. "Where do you live," Kyle asked, innocence itself. "No, Ty. Don't tell him. That's none of his business," Rick said. "The next thing you know, he'll be over there trying to mediate this thing, or worse." I could tell Kyle was frustrated, but he didn't say anything. I wondered what was going on in that head of his. *** The week moved on, and Ty was a regular member of our household. We all really liked him, and he typically spent the entire weekend at our house, anyway, for the last few weeks. We had a full complement of boys there, then. Kyle and Tim seemed to be spending a lot more nights at our house that summer than they ordinarily did, and, as usual, they were a joy to have around. "I talked to Matt today after work," Ty said Thursday night, as we were eating our evening snack. "What did he say," I asked. "He apologized for getting angry at us the other night. He said he had had an argument with his best buddy and he was in a really bad mood that night. He said he'd been thinking about me almost non-stop. He said he wasn't going to make an issue of it, but he prefers that I move out of the -147-

apartment," Ty said. "Well, that's sort of a relief, isn't it," I asked. "Well, yes and no. I'm glad he's not going to make an issue out of it, but now I have to find someplace to live," he said. "Why don't you just stay here," Tim asked. "Tim, Ty's welcome here for as long as he wants to stay, but don't you think that's something he and Jeff might want to work out," Rick said. "Give it some thought, guys," I said. "I'm with Rick one hundred percent, Ty. I think we all are, but you and Jeff have to work that out." "Thanks, guys. Jeff and I have talked about it. We like one another very much, and we really care about one another. We don't really think we're ready to live together, though. I'll need to find a place," Ty said. "We understand and respect that, don't we, guys," I said. There was no response. "Don't we, guys," I said again, more emphatically. They all sort of mumbled agreement. "I wonder if my cousin might want a roommate," Cody said. "She has a roommate, doesn't she," Seth said. "Did," Cody said. "Her roommate moved in with her boyfriend last weekend." "Your cousin's a girl, I take it," I said. "Yes, sir," Cody said. "She lives in one of those little cottages out at Sunny Side. It's two bedrooms, with a real nice sleeping porch. She might be willing to share with you, Ty, especially since I know you." "His cousin's really nice, Ty," Seth said. "And the place isn't bad, either. One bathroom, though." "I could live with one bathroom," Ty said. "Maybe she'll take showers with me." "We might not be ready to live together, but you're still my boyfriend," Jeff said. "She'd be perfectly safe showering with me, that's for sure," Ty said, and we all laughed. "Do you want to go meet her," Cody asked. "She's at work right now, but we could probably talk when she gets a break." Jeff was sitting on the sofa, and Ty was sitting right in front of him. Jeff leaned over and started rubbing Ty's shoulders. "What do you think? Would you like to meet her," Jeff asked. "Sure," Ty said. "How does she feel about gays?" "I don't know if she likes all gays, but she loves my ass," Cody said. "And Seth's, too. She doesn't care, Ty. I can page her, if you want me to." "Yeah, do that," Ty said. Like most of the rest of us, Cody had his cell phone at the ready. He pressed a speed dial button and entered his phone number for a call back. "I'm glad this worked out like it did," Rick said. We went about our evening's business. Kyle, Tim, Justin, Brian, and Trixie went out to check the crab traps. Rick and I turned on the TV to find a baseball game. Seth and Cody went up to Seth's room, for what, I didn't know. Jeff had some work he wanted to do on the family Web site, so he and Ty went into the study to use the computer in there. It would stay light until close to 8:30, and the crabbers decided they wanted to swim when they got back from checking the traps. It was only seven o'clock, but Rick was already dozing in my arms. -148-

Seth and Cody went with Jeff and Ty to the restaurant where the cousin, Margaret Mitchell, worked. I wondered if her parents were big fans of Gone with the Wind, or if the name was purely coincidental. They came back in about two hours with news that the new roommate situation was a done deal. Cody had even taken them by the place so Ty could see his new digs, and everybody seemed happy and content with the way things had worked out. (Alex's Perspective) I felt like a fugitive. I wasn't, but that's how I felt. I had left home a week before, and nobody knew where I was. Not that they would have cared, or even noticed that I was gone, but it still felt weird to be in such a totally different place and totally on my own. I was in Emerald Beach, Florida, and it was around five o'clock on a Sunday evening. I had hitchhiked there from New York, and I had finally arrived around three o'clock that afternoon. The trip down had been interesting, to say the least. I got my first ride on the outskirts of Rockville Centre on Long Island, where I had grown up. It was a nice car, an SUV of some description, and there were two guys in it, who looked to be, say, late thirties, early forties. "Where you headed," the passenger guy asked me after they had stopped. "Florida," I said. "Oh, my. We can get you into the city, but you're on your own from there," he said. His voice had "queer" written all over it, but I didn't give a shit. I threw my duffel onto the back seat as I climbed in. My back was hurting pretty bad, but it felt better once I sat down. "I'm Victor, and this is Warren," the passenger guy said. "Hi. I'm Alex." "So, what's in Florida at this time of year," Victor asked. "I'm meeting up with some friends down there," I lied. "Warren and I have tons of friends in Florida," he said. "We have a condo in Cocoa Beach. Mostly we rent it out, but we spend February there every year. Where in Florida are you going?" Shit, I thought. How the fuck do I know? I hadn't planned this escape out real well. "Emerald Beach," I said. I had heard of that place because MTV had been there for Spring Break that year. I didn't have a clue as to where that actually was in the state, and I hoped they didn't either. "That's a beautiful place," Victor said. "The sand is snow white; I kid you not." "Cool," I said. I hated that expression, I kid you not. Whoever said that the first time must have thought it was funny, but it wasn't to me. It was just dumb. Warren didn't say a word, but Victor chatted like I was a long-lost relative. He turned around in his seat to talk to me. One time he put his hand on my knee, and I flinched. That made my back hurt. Shit, I thought. "Why did you flinch? I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "I know. I'm sorry. Just a reflex, I guess." "You don't like queers, do you," Victor asked. "No, I'm fine with qu . . ., er, gay guys," I said. "Are those marks on your legs bruises," he asked. He was so nice, and I could tell he wasn't interested in any sex business with me. "Well, yeah. I was in a little accident the other day," I said. -149-

It was an accident, all right. I had accidentally gotten in the way of my step-father's shoe as he was trying to kick me to death, after he had thrown me onto the living room floor. I was usually better at avoiding his kicks than I had been that time. Through the years, I had learned how to dodge his punches and kicks, but you can't always do that. I never knew why the man hated me, but he did. It had started when I was eleven, even before he married my mom. I was known in my neighborhood as the accident prone kid because I always had bruises and cuts all over me. I had gotten pretty creative in making up accident stories to account for things like cracked ribs, a broken collar bone, a couple of broken arms, and an injured testicle that almost had to be removed. That injured nut had hurt the worst. On top of that, there was the embarrassment. I mean, I was fourteen years old, for Christ sake. There I was in the emergency room with a nut the size of a small orange. It was like some kind of phenomenon, or something, and every doctor, nurse, and orderly had to come in and look at it. A good many of them touched it, too, and I would scream every time they did that because it hurt so bad. The pain was probably a blessing, though, because I would have been hard as a rock, otherwise. They ended up putting me out and using a needle to draw off the blood. I had to wear this funky little nut sack supporter thing for a couple of months. It made my dick stick out, which was fine at first. Everybody likes a little bulge down there. Then I started to get hard-ons again, and that was embarrassment heaped on humiliation with the way that nut sack supporter stuck my dick out. Sheesh! It wasn't that I was all that small, either. I was five seven, weighed one forty, and I had a pretty toned body. I mean, I wasn't a model or anything, but I looked okay to me. But Austin, my step-father, was a fucking giant. Six four, two thirty, at least. "Do you have a girlfriend," Victor asked me. "Er, no," I said. "A boyfriend?" Warren made his first human sound of the trip on that line, and he and Victor giggled. How do they know, I wondered. I was eighteen years old, for Christ sake. I knew what gaydar was, but I wasn't really gay. I was bisexual. Could they tell that, too? If they could, I wish I had met them when I was fifteen. They could have told me about being bi, and that would have saved me a hell of a lot of confusion and pain. Fifteen was a very bad year for me. I had started dating. Well, not really dating because you can't really do that if you don't have a car, but I went to school dances and shit. My next door neighbor was a year older than me, and he and I double dated for those things. After the dance or football game or whatever, we would go parking. He and his date would make out, and me and my date would make out, too. I enjoyed it, and I got rock hard every time. But I just knew that if he had changed places with my date, I would have come all over myself while I was kissing him. After those dates, I would jerk off. Instead of thinking about my date and her tits and ass and all, I would think about my neighbor. His name was Dave Levy, and he had those dark Jewish looks that I think are so hot. I had glanced at his dick a few times out of the corner of my eye while we were peeing next to one another. He was cut, but that was no surprise. So was I, in fact. But it looked like his was a good bit bigger than mine. It might have been the angle, but probably not. When I jerked off, I'd see that dick in my mind's eye. Sometimes it was hard, and he was sliding it into a pussy. Sometimes it was hard, and he was feeding it into my mouth. "Well, here we are," Victor said. "It's been nice talking with you, Alex. Good luck, son." We were standing in a high-rise parking lot in Brooklyn. He put his hand on my shoulder. -150-

"It's going to all work out, Alex," he said. He smiled at me like he really cared about me. I thanked them for the ride, and then I took off, looking for another one. Man, the people you meet on the road when you're hitching on a long trip like that one! I sort of knew that truckers, independent truckers, that is, would give you a lift, and that was true for me on that trip. One trucker who picked me up for my longest ride was a real young guy, maybe twenty years old, maybe twenty-one. He had a picture of a girl and two little kids on his sun visor. That was his family, and he talked about them a lot. He was a part-time preacher in some redneck town in north Georgia, and he made me listen to the sermon he was preparing. He would get about two paragraphs into it and start over. "This gon' be 'bout a hour and a half one," he said. "It takes me all week to get it ready, but it's gon' be a humdinger when it's done." The first night on the road, the driver and I both slept in the truck. He got into this little berth thing behind the seats, and I stretched out as best I could in the passenger's seat. My back hurt me bad, too. We had quieted down, and I thought he was asleep. I had an erection that was killing me, and I thought about stepping out of the cab to take care of it. We were at a rest stop on the Interstate, and I could have pretended I needed to take a leak. "Alex, do you ever abuse yourself," he asked in a voice only slightly above a whisper. "What?" I didn't know what he was talking about. "Abuse yourself. Rub your penis until it shoots out gravy," he said. I had never heard cum called gravy before, but there was a lot I didn't know. "All the time, but I've never done it with another guy," I said. I figured he was horny and maybe wanted a little human contact that night. I would have done it with him, too, especially if he would have let me sleep in the berth with him. My back needed to stretch out bad. "That's good, son. That would be an abomination before the Lord Jehovah, and it would cause you to be cast into the fiery pit forever. But even doing it to yourself is a grave sin before the Lord, Alex," he said. "You don't do it," I asked. "I won't lie and say to you that I have never done it, but since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior a year-and-a-half ago, I have not done it," he said. "Wow! But you're married, right?" "Yeah, but she ain't here on lonely nights, now is she?" "So, what do you do, man?" "When the pressure builds up, like it is right now, I pray that God will visit me with a wet dream that night. Nine out of ten times, that prayer is answered," he said. "Do you have wet dreams, Alex?" "Naw. I thought that was a myth," I said. "Not at all, son. It's God's way of helping a man cope when his woman ain't around. I prayed tonight for one, Alex, and I prayed for one for you, too," he said. "Well, thanks, I guess." He got quiet after that, and in a minute I heard his breathing indicate that he was asleep. I carefully and silently opened the truck door and eased myself out. It was quiet at the rest stop, but cars and trucks whizzed by on the Interstate. I went around to the side of the truck that was opposite the lights from the rest area, and I gave myself a wet dream. That guy might be willing to wait for God to visit him in his sleep, but I didn't believe in leaving anything to chance, if I could do it myself. We got to his town in north Georgia on Saturday night. I had left on the previous Saturday, and it had taken me that long to get where I was. He offered me a bed for the night, and I accepted. His wife -151-

was not a pretty girl, a little fat from the kids, no doubt, and she was in serious need of some major dental work. The hair was also a big disaster. The two little kids, a boy and a girl, were two and three years old. They were all over him, laughing and having fun. He told his wife to get them to bed, though, and she did it. We all went to bed around eight o'clock. They put me on a ratty couch in their living room, and they went to bed in a room right next to where I was sleeping. The guy's name was Ricky Turnipseed, and Ricky didn't have sleep on his mind that night. I could hear every word they said and every breath they took. "Let us pray," Ricky said, and he launched into a long prayer to thank God for bringing him home safe. After the prayer, Ricky started fucking her. I didn't hear any kissing sounds or anything like that. She gasped a little when they started, but that was it out of her. Ricky bounced the headboard of that bed against the wall with a good bit of force, and the one picture on the wall on my side wobbled. I got a mental image of Ricky fucking his wife. He was pretty lean and not very tall, and he had light brown hair that always looked like it needed a good washing. I had seen the inside band of the baseball cap he wore when he drove the truck, and there was a thick slick of greasy dirt on it. But it wasn't Ricky's hair or baseball cap I was thinking about as I lay there listening to him in bed. I had managed a peek at his dick at one of the rest stops, and he had a nice one. It was cut, too, and the head of it seemed large, out of proportion to the shaft. In my mind, Ricky and Louise, his wife, were in the classic missionary position. That big, fat cock of his was rock solid, and he was slipping it into her with religious zeal. I imagined myself on the bed right behind Ricky, helping him out with his pumping. When he got close, I mentally saw myself going down on his asshole, licking it, tonguing it, sticking my finger into him to give his prostate some relief. That was all in my mind. In reality, Ricky let out a deep groan. I could hear him move on the bed, like he was getting off her. "Oh, girl, that was good," he said when they were finished. "That one was for the Father. We still got the Son and the Holy Ghost to go. Let us pray." He said another long prayer about the importance of wives and children being obedient to the head of the family, and then they started fucking again. I had gotten hard the first time, but that time I had to let it go. I rubbed my cum all over my belly. I hoped they would let me shower the next morning before I left, but, if they didn't, at least it would dry faster spread out like that. The third fuck, the one for the Holy Ghost, was preceded by a long prayer for more children. Shit, I thought. You already got two, dude, and you live in a fucking pig sty. What the hell do you want more for? After the prayer, they fucked again. The girl started moaning a little, and Ricky kept bouncing the headboard against the wall. They stopped suddenly. "What the fuck are you doing," he demanded. Then there was a loud slap, and she made some kind of noise. "You don't move under me, woman. You ain't no harlot. You ain't no whore. You keep still, and I mean it." Another slap and a whimper from her. "I'm sorry, Ricky. I won't do it no more. It was the devil getting to me. Get back to business, baby, for the Holy Ghost," she said. Ricky got back to business, all right, and he announced his own orgasm to the immediate world. They got real quiet after that, and soon I heard him snoring. The next morning they wanted me to go to church with them to hear Ricky preach. I had heard the -152-

damn sermon so many times that I could have given it myself, so I declined. They dropped me off at the Interstate, and I got a ride right away. That guy took me all the way to Emerald Beach in about six hours. He had two sons, one nineteen, one seventeen. The older one was a "hellion," in his words, but it was obvious he loved his boys. *** I had left home with four hundred dollars, all the money I had in the world. I had gotten a good bit more than that when I had graduated high school the previous January, but I had blown it. I wished I could find a drink machine that took CD's instead of quarters. I could have hosted a fucking coke party. The last guy I rode with was delivering groceries, and he dropped me off in the parking lot of this humongous grocery store. I was sort of walking around the parking lot aimlessly, and I spotted this Jeep with a big black dog in the back seat. It kind of looked like a puppy, and it was looking pretty sad. I walked over to the dog. I knew not to scare it or seem threatening. If I had done that, it would probably have gone for my throat. It saw me coming up, though, and it stood up. It was wagging its tail, and I expected it to lick my face when I got close to it. It didn't, though. All of a sudden I realized I hadn't really bathed or shaved in a week. I was a blond, so my beard wasn't all that noticeable most of the time, but after that many days, it was stubbly. No wonder that dog didn't lick my face. Who could blame it? I stood there playing with the dog, wondering if I was going to have as good a place to sleep that night as that dog was. All of a sudden, two boys came out of the store, and each of them was pushing a grocery cart. The dog looked at them and started barking what I thought was a pretty happy bark. Those were obviously its boys. I stepped back. This one boy, wearing a mid-cut white tee shirt, a very small red Speedo, deck shoes, and a red baseball cap, went up to the dog. He was like something out of a magazine. Real dark hair, black even, maybe, and nice muscles everywhere. I checked out the bulge in his bathing suit, and it was impressive. In fact, my dick started getting hard a little. The other kid was a blond, like me, and he was a looker, too. He had on a tank top, a blue pair of swim trunks, and flip flops. The other guy had on deck shoes. The dark-haired boy went up to the dog to say hello. The dog started to lick his face, which was stubbly, too, but he said "stop." The dog backed off. "Good, Trixie," the boy said. "See, she's learning." Then the blond guy noticed me. "Hey," he said. "Hi," I said. That boy looked good. "Is that your dog," I asked. "Yeah. She's ours. Do you have a dog," he asked. "Naw. I don't have a dog. I really don't have anything," I said. "Are you a tourist," he asked. "Yeah," I said. "Where are you staying," he asked me. "That's a good question," I said. "I just got into town. I'm not staying anywhere." "You don't have a place yet," the dark-haired guy asked. "It's getting on to night time. You need to find a place, man. The cops will pick you up, if you try to sleep on the beach." "Well, I guess you can visit me tomorrow in jail," I said. "What's your name? I'm Tim Murphy." That was the blond one talking. "Hi. I'm Alex Stewart," I said. -153-

"I'm Kyle Goodson. Come with us, man. You can crash at our place," he said. I shook hands with both of them. "Where's your car," Kyle asked. "I don't have one. I hitchhiked here from New York," I said. "Whoa! We were just in New York about three months ago. We missed you, I guess," Kyle said. I laughed hard for the first time in over a week. "Did you have a good time," I asked. "Yeah, we had a real good time. I won a bunch of money off some guys shooting pool in Greenwich Village. I hustled the hustlers," Kyle said. "You know that's a gay neighborhood, don't you," I asked. "Yeah. That's why we went there. We're gay," he said. What do you say to that kind of announcement in a grocery store parking lot in a town you've spent a week hitchhiking to get to? "Come on and go with us, Alex," Tim said. "We'll find you a place to stay." "Are you sure," I asked. "Alex, that's your background talking, man. You basically don't have any options. Get in the truck." "It's not a truck, Kyle. How many times have I told you that," Tim said. God, those boys were cute, I thought. "I know. Get in the Jeep," he said, and he and Tim laughed. The dog barked happily, and we took off. *** I couldn't believe the house we went to. It was a damn mansion on some kind of body of water. I came from a middle class family, so I wasn't just blown away by the house, but it was still very nice. A lot nicer than ours. My mom did public relations for the city of Rockville Centre, and my step-dad was a respiratory therapist at a local hospital. I figured they made about $1.75k or more a year, together, so we weren't down and out. The schools I went to were good, not too many minorities, and I was slated to go to a good college. I was also slated, it seemed, to get my ass kicked on a regular basis. "This is it, such as it is," Kyle said. "Summer camp." I laughed. Summer camp, my ass, I thought. Kyle and Tim put the groceries away in the kitchen. They asked me if I wanted a beer, and I said I did. Kyle opened one for me and one for himself, but he didn't give one to Tim. Instead, Tim took out a can of coke. I sort of stood around watching them. "Why did you come down here," Tim asked. "I had some shit I needed to get away from back home," I said. "Like what," Kyle asked. "Nothing important, really. I just needed a change." "Have you got a job," Kyle asked. "No. I just got here," I said. "Do you guys work?" "Yeah, for the summer," Tim said. "I work in a gift shop, and Kyle works in a hotel. We all work in one or the other of those." "All?" "Us and our brothers," Kyle said. "We've got sort of a weird family." I must have made a facial expression or something that made him continue. "Kyle and I are boyfriends," Tim said. "The guys whose house this is are a gay married couple, and they have some foster sons. We consider all of those guys our brothers." -154-

"How many," I asked. "Let's see. There's Justin and Brian, Jeff, Seth, and us. Six," Kyle said. "Is everybody gay," I asked. "Yep. Everybody but Trixie, and the verdict is still out on her," Tim said. "Trixie?" I really didn't need an answer. When the dog heard that name, it perked up. "This is Trixie," Tim said. "Aren't you, girl?" Trixie barked a little. That seemed like a very smart dog to me. After they put the groceries away, Kyle and Tim each made a big tray of snacks. Then we went out back to the terrace, taking the trays along. There was a very big pool, and there must have been twenty guys around, most of them buck naked. "Wow," I said, sort of under my breath. I didn't know where to look first. Some guys were in the pool, and the naked ones sitting around all had wet hair, like maybe they had just gotten out of the pool. "You can swim, if you want," Tim said. "We pretty much all swim naked, but you don't have to, if you want to wear a suit." "What happens if you, er, . . ." "Bone up," Tim asked. "Nothing. You just ignore it. No sex in public. We get hard-ons all the time, and nobody will care if you do." Nobody but me, I thought. Until about six months before then, I had assumed I was straight. I mean, I liked girls, they aroused me, and I wanted to be straight. Then we got a cable modem at home, and I was able to download porn movies from the news groups on the Internet. I wasn't working more than twenty hours a week at a CVS Pharmacy, so I had a lot of time to do that. At first, all I looked at was the straight ones, and I found myself watching the guy a lot more than the girl. I watched a few lesbian movies because I had heard they were incredibly hot, but they did absolutely nothing for me. I needed to see cock to really get worked up. Then I found a couple of gay news groups with tons of movies, and I downloaded a bunch of those. Some of those were incredible, especially the blowjobs. I started having fantasies about blowjobs. At first, I was getting them from another guy, and that was hot. Then I was giving them, and that was even hotter. Finally, after doing a bunch of reading on Web sites, I decided I was bisexual. I knew that a lot of gays were suspicious of people who claimed to be bisexual. Some of them thought it was a cop-out for guys who were afraid to admit that they were gay. Maybe that was the game I was playing. I didn't know. I did know, though, that I was more attracted to guys than I was to girls, at least at that stage in my life. What Tim had said about no sex in public was almost laughable to me, at least in my case. I hadn't had sex with anybody, male or female, boy or girl. I was a complete virgin. Believe me, I didn't want to be, but that was just the way it was. I wanted either a girlfriend or a boyfriend, but my first choice would have been a boyfriend. "Alex, are you going to go in," Kyle asked. I had sort of spaced out a little, thinking about all that stuff. "Yeah, but I think I need a shower first," I said. "It's been a few days, you know?" "Okay," Kyle said. "Tim, do you want to take a shower?" "I guess so," Tim said. They took me inside a building that was next to the pool. It was as nice as the lobbies of some hotels I had been in, and there were some guys in there, too. Some of them were shooting pool, some were playing ping pong, and there was a table of cards going on, too. They led me to a locker room. I -155-

really wanted to shave, so I got out my razor and shave gel. Kyle and Tim got undressed, so I assumed they were going to shower, too. I know I gawked, but I couldn't help myself. They were both totally smooth on their upper bodies, and it even looked like their pubic hair had been groomed. They both had little gold hoops through each nipple, and that was totally hot. They each had a little tattoo above their pubic hair. Kyle had a cute little monkey, and Tim had a bunch of bananas. Kyle's was on his left side, and Tim's was on his right. Kyle's said "Tim" under it, but Tim's didn't say anything. They looked at me, too, after I undressed. What guy wasn't curious? Only I really gave them something to look at when my dick got hard right before their eyes. "I'm sorry, guys," I said. "I'm not used to this." I knew I must have been beet red. "That's okay. We've seen 'em before," Kyle said. We went into this little gang shower that had four shower heads. There was shampoo and soap out for you to use, and Kyle had handed me a wash cloth as I had gone in. The shower felt really good after so many days of not having one, and I shampooed twice and soaped up twice to get myself clean. When I was finished, I lathered my face and started shaving. I had taught myself to shave without a mirror about a year before, and it was so much more efficient than having to dry off and then shave. Kyle definitely needed a shave, and Tim could have used one, too, but neither of them bothered. I noticed Kyle checking out my body very thoroughly. He looked at Tim every few seconds to see if Tim was checking me out, too. It was beginning to make me a little nervous. I mean, I didn't know those guys from Adam. What if they were planning a gang rape? I had my razor in my hand, and I thought I could defend myself, but they were pretty big boys. Kyle whispered something to Tim, and I really tensed up. Tim disappeared, though. "Were you in an accident or a fight or something, dude?" Oh, shit, I thought. They had been looking at my bruises and cuts, not at me in any kind of sexual way. Kyle's dick, which must have been at least five inches, was completely soft. He had seen me as hard as I ever got, and it hadn't done anything for him. I was relieved he wasn't going to rape me, but I was just a little disappointed that two gay guys stayed soft as Jell-O when they saw me hard. "Something like that," I said. In a minute, Tim was back with an older guy. He was as fine as he could be. Dark hair and eyes, a sculpted face, a really nice body, and a great tan. He was shirtless, but he had on shorts and flip flops. I had finished shaving by then, and I was looking around for a towel, or something, to dry off with. "Hi, I'm Kevin Foley. Welcome," the guy said. He stuck out his hand, and I shook it. "Hi, I'm Alex Stewart," I said. "Thanks for having me over." "You're welcome, Alex. Listen, Tim told me you have some really nasty bruises, and some cuts, too. Do you mind if I take a look at them," he said. I was embarrassed to death, but what was I going to do? Tell him "no"? Kevin turned me around to look at my back. I hadn't seen that part of me, but that's where I had taken the worst of my step-father's shoe. "I'm going to touch you, okay? Tell me if it hurts." "Okay," I said. He touched bruises all over my back very gently, and they all hurt. Then he touched the small of my back, where my kidneys were. I screamed. "It's okay, buddy. I didn't mean to hurt you," Kevin said. He sort of hugged me. "Kevin, look," Tim said. Tim was pointing at my dick. It burned like fire just then. I looked down, and there was a drop of -156-

blood on the tip of it. I was sort of panicky. I had been pissing blood for a week, and it hurt like hell every time I did it. I knew to drink a lot of water, but that only made me have to go more. The blood in my piss never let up, though. "Get his clothes," Kevin said to Kyle. Kyle must have gone through my bag because he brought back clean underwear, some clean shorts, and a clean tee shirt. "Alex, I think we need to take you to the doctor right now," Kevin said. "I don't have any money for doctors," I said. "Yeah, but we do," he said. "You two get dressed and go with us. Kyle, go tell Rick, Jeff, and Justin what's going on. We'll call them when we know something. Tim, go get his wallet, and then go get Kyle's car out from the nest of cars in the driveway. That's the one we're taking. Mine is in the garage, and we could never get it out right now." "Yes, sir," they both said. They both took off to do what he said. "Do you think I'm really hurt," I asked. "Yeah, but you're going to be okay in a few days," he said. He grinned at me like he really cared. "Thanks for doing this," I said. "No problem. Can you walk all right by yourself?" "Yeah. I can walk." I took a step forward, like I had been doing all week. It hurt like hell, though. "Maybe you could help me," I said to Kevin. *** In time, everything came out all right, but I was much more injured than I had thought I was. I had some kind of ruptured vein near my kidney, or something like that, and they had to do emergency surgery to repair the damage and stop the bleeding. The doctors told me I was a miracle case and that I really hadn't had much of a chance of living, even as long as I had, with that condition. I would live a normal life, the doctors said, and I basically had Kyle to thank for noticing how banged up I was. I went home to their house after I got out of the hospital. They took turns staying home from work to take care of me for a few days. I didn't need that much care, but it was good to know somebody was there with me. I was really a stranger to them, but I felt totally at ease around them. That was my introduction to the Foley-Mashburn family and their introduction to me. I had had some prejudices about Southerners, as I guess all Northerners did, but those guys personified Southern hospitality at its best to me. I guess you could call saving my life "hospitality." Chapter 15 (Kevin's Perspective) They performed emergency surgery on Alex the Sunday night, June 21st, that we took him to the hospital. He was eighteen, and could prove it with his driver's license, so he could sign the necessary papers for himself. He was adamant about us not contacting his parents, and we honored his wishes. They had to repair a vein to his left kidney so he wouldn't bleed to death, and the doctor said it was a miracle he had lasted as long as he had. That was scary. Tim and Kyle were total troopers. They put him in intensive care after the surgery, but he was really in no danger by then. Apparently ICU was standard procedure for anybody who had major organ surgery. One of us was at the hospital pretty much around the clock, although Tim and Kyle did most of the duty. One of the nurses was a girl I had known in college. She and I had worked together at the -157-

restaurant in Tallahassee, and we renewed our friendship. "Kevin, do you know who Peek-a-boo Street is?" "The skier," I asked. "Yeah. Did you know she's a nurse and runs an intensive care unit," Diana asked. "No, I didn't know that. I guess Olympic athletes have real lives apart from their sports, though," I said. "Yeah, they do. At her hospital, they call her unit the Peek-a-boo ICU." I burst out laughing. "No, they don't," I said. "She isn't really a nurse, is she?" "I don't know, but I heard that joke on Car Talk on NPR during the Olympics. I've told it a million times since then. Do you know Click and Clack, the Tappit brothers? The Car Guys?" "Yeah, very well," I said. "I listen to them almost every Saturday, when I'm running errands. They're hilarious." "I know," she said. Then she got a lot more serious. "Kevin, why do you have to be gay?" That really took me aback. How did she know? Why did she care? "I guess it's because that's the way God wanted me," I said. "Oh, I know. I'm not putting you down. But, Kevin, I'm so fucking single. I think you and I could have hit it off, under other circumstances," she said. "Diana, that's a real compliment, and thank you. But that's not going to happen, you know?" "Oh, I know. I've been talking to Tim and Kyle, both of whom are wonderful and think you and your partner are right off Mount Olympus, to keep the Olympic theme going. You know they worship you and Rick, don't you?" "Yeah, I think we know that," I said. "They were our first two boys, and nobody will ever replace them in our hearts." It suddenly dawned on me how she knew I was gay. "Well, they're treasures, for sure," she said. "So, are we going to still be friends when this is over?" "Absolutely. I didn't know you lived here," I said. "This is my home town. I didn't know where else to go," she said. "You're doing well here, though, right?" "Oh, yeah. The job is great and just what I wanted. I've dated some, you know, but I need a group. I mean, my parents are here, but both of my sisters are married and gone away. People I was close to in high school have vanished. I don't know." "We have some straight friends, but they're basically married couples. Most of our other friends are gay men," I said. "I don't give a shit," she said. "I want friends. People I can care about and who will care about me. I don't care if they're straight, bi, or gay." "Would you come to a swimming party with a pool full of naked guys," I asked. "In a heartbeat," she said. "You think I haven't seen those things before?" I laughed. I gave her my business card that had all my numbers and addresses on it, professional and personal. "I'll give you a call soon," I said. "I'll be waiting." She gave me her card, too. *** Rick and I also took our turns staying home from work with Alex, and I spent the better part of my day getting to know him. It was almost a full week after his surgery, and he was feeling pretty good by -158-

then. He had trouble finding a comfortable position, sometimes, because of the incision, but that was minimal by then. "How you feeling, man," I asked when he came downstairs in the morning. Everybody else was already gone for the day. "I feel pretty good, thanks. How about you," he asked. "Not bad. Can I get you some juice?" He wasn't allowed to have coffee or anything else that contained caffeine, but that was only a temporary inconvenience. "Yeah. Thanks," he said. Alex had obviously come from a home where people were polite to one another, at least verbally. "We haven't really had a chance to talk," I said. "We really don't know very much about one another." "I know. I know that you and Rick must be, like, saints or something," he said. I laughed. "That's because you don't know what goes on in the bedroom," I said. He chuckled politely. "Tell me about yourself," I said. "There's not that much to tell, really. I'm an only child. My parents divorced when I was five, and my mom raised me for a few years by herself. She remarried when I was twelve. We live in a suburb of New York City on Long Island. It's a nice enough town, I guess. I graduated high school in January, and I've been working part time since then. I was supposed to start community college in September, but I guess that won't happen now. What else do you want to know?" "You know we're all gay, but what about yourself? Gay? Straight?" "How about bi," he said. "Bi works," I said. "I guess I'm bi, but I'm in a guy phase right now," he said. "What do you mean," I asked. "Well, I've been attracted to girls in the past, but right now only guys seem to really do it for me, you know? When I see you and Rick together, or Kyle and Tim, or Jus and Brian, I guess I want to be just like that." "Well, if you hang around here, you'll probably meet some nice kids. I don't want to pry, but have you, er, ever . . ." "No. I'm a total virgin with both sexes. I'm only eighteen," he said. "Hey, man, if you were forty and told me that, my reaction would be the same. I'd say so what? Nobody here is going to tease you about that or think less of you for it." "I know. That's one reason I feel so comfortable here. You guys are just so incredibly nice to me, and to each other," he said. "You guys are so accepting." "We try to be," I said. "How did you get hurt?" "Do we have to talk about that," he asked. "No, but the doctor said there is no way it could have been an accident. Somebody did that to you, and that person or those people ought to be brought to justice," I said. I could tell he was thinking about that last statement of mine, as though he had never really considered his beating to be a crime. "It would kill my mom," he said. "Did your mother do that to you," I asked, incredulously. -159-

"Oh, no. Not at all. It was my step-father, her husband. This isn't the first time, but it will damn sure be the last time," he said with passion. "You ran away because of it, didn't you?" "Yeah. I decided letting him do that to me was bullshit, and I got out of there. I was in pretty severe pain, too, but I got out. And I'm never going back," he said, adamantly. "I can't say that I blame you," I said. "Do you want to press charges? Did he do it because of your sexuality?" "No, to the sexuality question. He doesn't know about me. Nobody but you guys knows about that. He just hated me since he first met me, I guess. He wasn't drunk or anything, when he did it, either. You read about guys getting drunk and beating up the kid. That wasn't it. This particular time I had used his car, with permission, and had forgotten to put gas in it. He didn't run out or anything. It was just lower than when I had used it. A quarter of a tank of gas? Hell, I'll kick his kidney out. That's fair, isn't it?" There was bitter irony in his voice. I couldn't begin to understand how a mind like his step-father's must work. "How did your mother react to all of this," I asked. "She didn't know. He told me that he'd kill me if I ever told her, and I didn't tell. A few times I had broken bones because of what he had done to me, and there was no hiding that. I made up stories about bike accidents or football injuries at p.e. Stuff like that, to make it seem real." I had a hard time believing his mother didn't suspect something, but his illusion that she didn't know was too important to him for me to shatter it. "Do you have any money," I asked. "I knew you were going to get to that. I'll pay you back somehow, Kevin. I know you've spent a bundle on me, and I'll pay it." "Alex, that wasn't why I asked that question. You actually had insurance. Did you know that? That covered most of it. Plus, Rick and I don't need and don't want your money, son." "No, I didn't realize I had insurance," he said. "Well, you did. You had an insurance card in your wallet. I'm sorry I had to go through something that personal, but they needed your driver's license and insurance information. You had both," I said. "That's okay that you went through my wallet. Did you notice the condom I had in there?" He was smiling a bit when he asked that question. "Er, yeah. You shouldn't keep used condoms, Alex," I said. He laughed pretty hard, and I think it hurt him a little. "I got that thing when I was in the eighth grade," he said. "It's probably no good anymore, but I flashed it many times to prove I was ready for whatever came up." Then it was my turn to laugh. "Pretty good trick," I said. "I'll bet at least fifty percent of the high school boys in America have condoms in their wallets for exactly the same reason." "I know. All my friends did. Like having a condom in your wallet made you a man or something," he said. "When we first got them, half of us didn't have dicks big enough to fill one up." I laughed. "Back to my question, though. Do you have any money?" "Just what's in my wallet. I think it's about two fifty. I had four hundred when I left, but just eating on the trip took that much," he said. "Well, you don't need any money while you're here with us. Except spending money for when you feel good enough to go out and do something. As soon as you're ready, I'll fix you up with a job. What -160-

kind of work had you been doing?" "I was a clerk in a drug store," he said. "Not exactly an executive-level position." "No, but it was honest work. You were honest, I hope." "Yeah, I'm the honest type," he said, and I believed him. "Although I did read the magazines without buying them. Even the ones in the shrink wrap." I laughed. Rick had recently put magazine stands in four of the larger gift shops, and he said the plastic wrap on the dirty books was absolutely no barrier to in-store reading. He stocked a full array of titles, including gay magazines, and the gay ones were selling nicely. I had pretty much assumed the Internet had rung the death knell for print pornography, but evidently I was wrong. "Do you want something to eat," I asked Alex. He wasn't a big breakfast eater, but I thought he might like some toast or something. "No, thanks. I think I'm supposed to take some medicine, though," he said. "Oh, shit! I forgot all about that," I said. He laughed. I got his medicine for him. "There are only three more in the bottle," I said. "I guess today is the last day for the meds." "Yeah, unless he gives me some more this afternoon," he said. "Do you have a doctor's appointment today," I asked. "Yeah. He's going to take the stitches out today. It's at one o'clock," he said. "That's good. Has it itched," I asked. "Something awful," he said. "That's good. That means it's healing," I said. "I know," he said. "It'll be a week this coming Sunday." That day was Friday, and it had been almost a week since the surgery. "Do you want to lay out by the pool," I asked. "Yeah, that would be good. Kevin, I can manage on my own, you know," he said. "If you want to go into work or something, I'll be okay." "How will you get to the doctor? Besides, I'm enjoying being here with you," I said. His face was a sunrise of a grin when I said that. We went out onto the patio, and we each took a book. I was reading Me Talk Pretty One Day, by the gay writer David Sedaris. I had heard Sedaris on National Public Radio several times, and his voice was so distracting that I didn't really think he was funny. In print, he was hilarious. I'm talking gasping-for-breath-because- I'm-laughing-so-hard hilarious. Alex was reading Twelve by Nick McDonell. Nick had written that book as his "summer job" when he was seventeen, and I had swallowed it whole the night it arrived from Amazon. Alex and I both got naked to sunbathe. I put sunscreen on the parts under my bathing suit that weren't as tanned as the rest of me, and I insisted Alex do the same thing. All he would need was a big sunburn-swollen dick, on top of everything else. We spent the next couple of hours reading and roasting. I was one of those kinds of readers who wanted to share what I was reading with whoever happened to be around. Rick hated it when I read a funny book in bed because I would constantly read passages aloud to him. He would either be reading himself or trying to get to sleep, and my oral reading was annoying in either case. He was slowly breaking me of that habit (mainly by punching me or kicking the shit out of me whenever I did it), but I indulged myself that day with Alex. Unlike the love of my life, though, Alex actually seemed to enjoy what I read to him, and he and I laughed out loud several times at what Sedaris had written. The doctor's appointment that afternoon was a big success. He took the stitches out, or at least the physician's assistant did, and the doctor told him he wanted to see him again in six weeks. He said -161-

that, based on the x-rays, everything inside was exactly like it was supposed to be, and he told Alex he could go back to his regular diet of caffeine products, if he wanted to. I took Alex to the Goodson Building, and I had him fill out an application for employment. He seemed slightly in awe of the place and of my standing in the company, but he really didn't say much about that. When he was finished, I hunted up Rick, and the three of us went down to the coffee shop on the first floor to celebrate Alex's discharge by the doctor with a cup of coffee. "God, this coffee is good," Alex said. Rick and I both grinned at him. He was really a cute kid, and we both liked him a lot. "The only thing that would be better is to have a cigarette with it," he said. I knew the pleasures of a cigarette with a cup of coffee. I pulled my pack out of my pants pocket and tossed it on the table in front of him. "Help yourself, Bubba," I said. "You're a big boy. You can smoke, if you want to." "No. I quit a month ago," he said. He picked up the pack, though, and turned it around in his hand. "Well, maybe just one," he finally said, and took one out. Rick and I both laughed at how cute he was. I gave him my lighter, and I lit up as well. Later that night in bed, Rick said, "I think we've got another one." I knew he was talking about Alex, and he knew I knew. "Yeah. Are you getting tired of this? Taking these kids in?" "Where the hell else is he going to go, Babe? Did he tell you his story today?" "Yeah. Did he tell you?" "I know the injuries were an attack, not an accident," he said. "His step-father did it to him. He thinks his mother doesn't know, but apparently that guy has abused Alex for years." "Goddamn it," Rick said. "Jesus Christ! How can people do that to kids?! That makes me want to get in that car out there and drive to New York to kick the fucking shit out of that bastard. His own fucking kid!" "You make me so proud of you," I said. "Kevin, that might be the ultimate non sequitur," he said. "Why did you say that?" "Because of how strongly you feel about the kids." He grinned at me. "Oh. I thought maybe you had been toking some crack, or something," he said, laughing. "No. The only crack cocaine I've ever had is that stuff Kyle made tonight. Was that stuff good, or what?" "I know, and I want another handful right now. I think we ate it all, though," Rick said. Kyle had made a mixture of lightly-salted peanuts, raisins, and regular M&M's, and we had gone after that stuff like vultures. It was fun to watch. At first, everybody got just a little bit to be polite when he passed it around. After they tasted it, though, people were taking double handfuls. The tastes of those three ingredients were created by God to go together, and the texture in your mouth was just as good as the taste. "I'd like to have some right now, too," I said. "You know that candy dish on the coffee table in the den? We have trouble keeping it filled as it is. With that stuff in it, it would never be full," he said. "Do you remember the night he made that really salty popcorn with Snickers bars cut up in it? My God! That was so good," I said. "I know. I want some of that, too, right now." -162-

"Let's go see what we can find," I said. Rick and I got up stark naked and went into the kitchen. Who should we find there, also stark naked, but Justin and Brian. "Hi," Rick said out loud. "God!" Justin said pretty loud. "You scared the shit out of me." All four of us were laughing. "What are you guys doing down here," I asked. "We're looking for more of that stuff Kyle made tonight," Brian said. "Did you like that?" Rick grabbed Brian in a big hug around his shoulders. "That's what we're looking for, too, Bubba," Rick said. "But we think it's all gone." All of us laughed again. "How does he come up with shit like that," Justin asked. "Jus, you know him as well as anybody does. How do you think he comes up with it?" "I don't know. Do you remember when he made the popcorn . . ." "And Snickers," Rick said. "Oh, God, yes," Jus said. "I think the stuff tonight was better, but that popcorn stuff gives me a craving just thinking about it." "Did you know that Kyle doesn't like raisins? He told me one time that they remind him of dried up ticks, like you pick off a dog," Brian said. "He ate some tonight, though." We all laughed. We had been looking in the cabinets as we were talking, and we didn't come up with any of the ingredients for anything we had been talking about. "Let's have cereal," I said. I got out four bowls and a fresh box of Cinnamon Crunch Crispix. The four of us polished off that whole box and a half gallon of milk. Kyle had bought that cereal because he loved it, but that was too damn bad. It was gone, and it was all his fault for treating us so good. "What was that stuff tonight called," Rick asked. "I asked him. He didn't have a name for it," I said. "He just said 'M&M's, raisins, and peanuts.'" "That figures," Jus said. "I wonder if he invented it." "Maybe, maybe not, but I'd never had it before," I said. "We can make it just for the four of us, if we have to," Rick said. We all laughed. It was time for bed. (Kyle's Perspective) When Tim and I met that boy in the Publix parking lot, I could tell he was a good guy. That's not one hundred percent foolproof, but you can usually look at somebody and tell about them. He looked like a scared puppy to me, and I'm partial to puppies, anyway, canine or otherwise. We took Alex home, and he wanted a shower. Truth be known, he needed one. Bad. I had spotted those bruises on his legs in the parking lot of that grocery store, and I wanted to see if he had any more. I made Tim take a shower with him and me because I thought he would be skittish if it was just me. He boned up big and hard when he saw us, so I figured him for a member of our team, without him saying it. Maybe not, but probably so. I checked out those bruises on his body, and I looked at Tim a few times to see if he saw them, too. He did. He squirted out a little piss in the shower, as guys will do, and it was fire engine red. That could only be blood. -163-

I got Kevin in there to look at him, and we ended up taking him into town to the hospital. We had an emergency station on the beach, but Kevin wanted a big hospital, with real doctors, not PA's. Those PA's were good, but they couldn't cut him open out on the beach, if that's what he needed. Turned out, that's what he needed. We took turns staying home with him after he got out of the hospital, and I took the first day. He couldn't shoot pool or play ping pong or shoot hoops or any of that stuff. In fact, he stayed in bed almost all day. He slept a good bit, and he and I watched TV in his room when he was awake. I was bored to death the whole damn day, especially when he was sleeping, but I had it to do, so I did it. He was in the study room downstairs where we had put Chris. That turned out to be a damn handy room. He started getting better pretty fast, though. The next day when I came home from work, he was out in the den. He kept getting stronger and better every day after that. He walked sort of funny at first because of his operation, but he got okay pretty quick. Alex was a really nice guy. He said he was bisexual, meaning he could go for a boy or a girl. I could sort of relate to that. I knew I was gay and all, but I knew I could have sex with a girl, if I had wanted to. I didn't think that boy was really bisexual, though. I thought he was gay. He was the kind who might not suck a dick, but he would sure hold it in his mouth till the swelling went down. But that was okay with me. I didn't care if he was totally straight. He was somebody who needed help right then, and I'd make sure the boys were there for him, regardless of his sexual orientation. That was the thing about us. We didn't care. When Saturday rolled around, Alex already had his stitches out, and he could go in the pool. We had a crowd of guys over, as usual. Tim and Rick and I went surfing. Everybody else went skiing, of course, but I didn't think it was a good idea for him to try to get up. He knew something about driving a ski boat, though, so he and Jeff and Justin took turns doing that. "You guys have a lot of friends, it seems," he said, after I had come home from the beach. "Yeah, we do. Most of them are gay, but some are straight. Do you have a lot of friends at home?" "Yeah, I have some," he said. "My best friend is a girl. Savannah. I miss her, too. Do you think I could call her sometime?" I handed him my cell phone. "Call her right now, if you want to," I said. "It's long distance," he said. "Duh!" That made him laugh. He had a cute laugh, too. In fact, he was a cute boy. He and his friend talked on the phone. I tried not to listen, but I heard him tell her about getting the shit kicked out of him and needing surgery to repair his kidney vein. He told her about living with us. They talked for about a half hour, and I was glad he touched base with her. "Was she okay," I asked. I really didn't care, but I thought I should say something. "Yeah. She was fine," he said. He said it in a pretty sad voice, though. I was a little worried about him. I mean, he had been through a lot, without benefit of being around people he knew. I put my arm around him to show him I was with him and wanted to support him. "Let's go inside," I said. We went into the house and into his room. He was still downstairs in the study, but we were getting ready to move him up to the third floor into one of those empty rooms up there. I pulled him down next to me on the sofa, and he snuggled against me. Then he started to cry. "Let it out, buddy," I said. -164-

He cried for a good ten minutes, and he got his tears all over me. That was okay, I guess, because I wasn't wearing a shirt. In fact, all I had on was my Speedo and some flip flops. Oh, and a baseball cap. I almost always have a cap on. I held him like he was a little kid whose friends had just been mean to him. He needed me, or somebody, anyway, and I wanted him to know I'd be right there for him. "Do you want to talk," I asked. "You guys have been so good to me," he said. "I feel so worthless, Kyle. Everything and everybody I've ever known all my life is gone now. I just don't know what to do." "It was hard talking to your friend, huh?" "Yeah." He sighed heavy, and I thought he was going to cry again. He didn't, though. "She was crying for me on the phone, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears, too," he said. "Is she your girlfriend?" "No. I've never had a girlfriend. But she's my best friend, and I love her," he said. "And I probably won't ever see her again." That's when he started crying again. "You know what, Alex? That's not true, man. You'll see her again. I know you will," I said. "Maybe," he said. "But I'm not ever going back there, Kyle." "I can understand that. Do you think you should call your mom?" "No. I couldn't handle that right now," he said. "Maybe in a week or something, but not now." I started rubbing his back gently with the palm of my hand. I know he needed physical contact, but I didn't want to do anything that would make him hard. Or make me hard, for that matter. I thought a backrub was okay, though. "Kyle, what you're doing really feels good, but it's turning me on," he said. "Oh, Alex, man! I didn't want to do that to you, man," I said. I took my hand off him. "It's okay, Kyle. I know you didn't. It's me, man, not you," he said. "I'm so horny, anything turns me on. Don't stop." "No, I can't do that, Alex. Knowing I'm turning you on is going to turn me on, and nothing can happen, okay?" "Do you think I'm attractive? You know, in a sexual way," he asked. I didn't know where that was headed, but I promised myself I'd be real careful. "Yeah, I think you're attractive in a sexual way. You're a good-looking guy, well built and all. Why wouldn't I think you're attractive," I asked. "Last weekend when we were in the shower with Tim, right before you guys took me to the hospital, I got an erection. Neither you nor Tim did, though. I thought maybe you thought I was repulsive, or something," he said. He said that real shy, like he was totally vulnerable, or something. "Oh, no, Alex. Not at all, man. You could turn me on that quick, if I let myself go," I said, snapping my fingers. "I don't get hard every time I see another guy's erection. They happen all the time around here, and I'd be hard all the time, if I did. I used to, but it doesn't happen like that any more. Or at least not very often. Besides, I was real concerned about all your bruises. I knew that one in the small of your back looked bad, and I was worried about it." "I've thought about you guys not getting hard a lot all week," he said. "I think you and Tim are totally hot." "Thanks. You're hot yourself, man," I said. -165-

I had been doing everything I knew how to do to keep from getting hard, short of walking out of the room. I sure didn't want to give him false hope or anything like that. He was cute, but there was no way in hell I would have sex with him. "Are you feeling better," I asked. "Yeah, but don't go, okay," he said. "Okay," I said. Shit, this isn't easy, I thought. "Are you and Tim in love? I mean, you look like you are. Are you?" "Completely and totally," I said. "Is that why you didn't want me to get aroused by you," he asked. "Yeah, it is. It wouldn't be fair to you if I let that happen. Tim and I sometimes fool around with Jus and Brian, and even other guys, but it's just playing. We never do it when it's just one of us, and we never do anything serious with them." "What do you mean by serious," he asked. "Well, we never suck them or let them suck us. And certainly not fuck. Or even kiss, except maybe the way you would kiss your brother," I said. "How does it happen," he asked. "Well, maybe we'll be watching a movie, you know? A porno? You know, everybody gets turned on, and we play with one another. Usually, it's just me with Tim and Justin with Brian. We've touched each other, though, and even jerked each other off. Just that," I said. "Do you fuck Tim, or does he fuck you," he asked. "Well, both," I said. "Cool. Does it hurt to get fucked?" "No. It feels good. We wouldn't do it if it hurt," I said. "How old were you when you realized you were gay," he asked. "Well, I sort of realized it gradually, but I guess I finally really knew when I was about twelve. I didn't tell anybody for a long time, and then I told my parents, when I was fourteen," I said. "Did they freak out?" "Not really. At least not in front of me," I said. "My dad told me a few days later that my mom had cried about it, but she didn't cry in front of me." "Your dad told you that? Was he trying to make you feel bad about it?" "No. I asked him a few days later how he felt about it. I mean, I couldn't tell there was any difference in how he felt, but I just wanted to make sure. He told me that what I had done had taken a lot of courage and character, and he thanked me for trusting them so much. That was it," I said. "They thought my older brother would get married and have them some grand kids, but you know what? He turned out gay, too." He chuckled. "He's dead now," I said. "Your brother is dead? Was he killed in a wreck or something?" "Naw. He died from some drug he was given in a hospital. He had a bad headache, and Jeff took him to the hospital. Two days later, he was dead." "Jeff? This Jeff here," he asked. "Yeah, they were lovers and partners. Jeff is really like a brother to me," I said. "How old were you the first time you had sex," he asked. "Sixteen. It was with Tim, too. He's the only one I've ever had serious sex with, and we're going to be together for the rest of our lives." -166-

"Have you two made, like, vows or something," he asked. "Not yet, but we're planning on it. When we're older, though. Not right away. Have you had sex yet?" "Not yet. I want to, though," he said. "You might meet somebody at work. You're going to be in housekeeping, right? There are mostly women in that department, but a guy might come along that you like and that likes you. I'll keep an eye out for you," I said. "Thanks, Kyle." He paused. "Kyle, do you consider me a friend?" "Of course I do, goof. What else would you be?" "Do you think the other guys think of me as a friend?" "Hell, yeah. We don't know you too well yet, but we all like you. Kevin and Rick probably consider you another foster son. They sure act like they do," I said. "They're incredible. All of you are incredible. I feel so lucky," he said. "I think we all feel lucky to have one another," I said. "Are you ready to go back outside? I'm glad we had a chance to talk." "Okay. Before we go, though, can I, er, . . ." "What," I asked. "Can I kiss you? Like a brother?" I smiled at how cute he said that. I didn't wait for him to kiss me. I leaned over and kissed him on the lips, and we went out to play with the others. *** "I had a long talk with Alex today," I said to Tim. We were in bed, and I was holding him in our favorite position. I was on my back, propped against the headboard, and he was on my chest and between my legs. I was rubbing his chest. We had made love once already, and I knew we'd do it again. We were just sort of taking a break. "About what," he asked. "About him, mostly. He called a friend of his, and he got real emotional. He cried." "I don't know how you can handle people when they're like that, Babe. But you always do," he said. "I started rubbing his back, and he started getting hard." "Is this going to upset me, Kyle?" I laughed, and then he knew it wouldn't. "No. I stopped doing it, as soon as he told me that. He wanted me to keep on, though, but I didn't. I don't think he wanted to do anything with me. I think he just wanted to get hard, you know?" "Yeah, right. Nobody would ever want to fuck you, Kyle," he said. "Are you jealous?" "Am I down there kicking in his other kidney?" "You wouldn't do that," I said. "If somebody was trying to seduce you, and you didn't want it, I damn sure would do it. You're not the only guy around here who can get mad, you know." "What if I wanted him to seduce me?" "Then I'd kick your kidney in," he said. I laughed, and he did, too. He started rubbing the insides of my thighs, and that was sure to get me hard. I started playing with his nipples. We kept that up for a few minutes. "You know I would never do that, don't you?" -167-

"Do what," he asked. "Want some other guy to seduce me," I said. "Yeah, of course I know it. With you, it just as likely would be a girl as another guy," he said. "What do you mean?" "Aren't you curious about what it would be like to fuck a girl," he asked. "Yeah. Aren't you?" "Slightly, but only in the abstract," he said. I laughed. "I don't know that much about straight sex, Babe, but I don't think you fuck 'em in the abstract. I think it's in the pussy," I said. He laughed, and then I laughed at how cute he was. "Babe, it's almost like the two of us are really two people, you know? One for each other and one for everybody else." "I've often thought that. Nobody would believe how gentle and considerate you really are, or how guilty," he said. "What am I guilty of?" "Nothing. That's just it. Every time something happens like what happened with Alex this afternoon, you tell me about it. You didn't do anything wrong, but you had to confess, anyway." "Would you have told me about that," I asked. "No. It wouldn't have occurred to me to tell you," he said. "I know you wouldn't care about that, any more than I do." "Would you care if I slept with a girl," I asked. "If it was just out of curiosity, or if you were drunk or something, not one bit, Babe. I know you're mine. Just don't tell me about it, if it happens one day, okay?" "You're serious, aren't you?" "Yeah, I'm serious. Kyle, I see the way girls look at you and the way they act around you. It wouldn't surprise me if one of these days you give in, that's all. In a moment of weakness, not in some scheme you cook up to get her into bed," he said. "Are you telling me you don't trust me, Tim?" I started to worry a little. "Just the opposite. I trust you completely. I know that if it happens it won't be because you don't love me or anything like that. I know how you feel about me. I trust you enough to know that if you do fuck somebody it won't have anything to do with me, or with us, Babe." I knew he was telling me that stuff to make me feel better, so I wouldn't feel guilty about being attracted to other people. I knew he was motivated by love for me in saying what he did. I think I grew up a little in that bed that night. I knew he was dead right in every word he said. I very well might give in with a girl, under the right circumstances. I had always known that about myself, but I hadn't faced it or accepted it until that night. That whole thing was like some unseen monster in the back of my mind, waiting to pounce on me when I wasn't expecting it. Knowing how Tim felt made it easier for me to face that part of me. I prayed to God that He would make me a faithful husband to Tim, and I also said a prayer to say thanks for giving him to me. We made love a second time that night, and I never felt closer or more at one with him than I did that time. We went slow. He had topped me earlier, and I topped him that time. When I stuck my dick in his ass, I was on emotional overload. For the first time in a long time, I cried because I was so happy to have him. He cried happy tears, too. -168-

Chapter 16 (Tim's Perspective) Making love with Kyle was always fun, and it was almost always great. The night before, though, was beyond great. It was beyond spectacular, even. It's always best when he's really excited about something, but that night it had gone way past that on the greatness scale. I sensed a total surrender, a total giving, even though he was in my ass and not me in his. Our relationship was the most important thing in our lives, and that night I had the feeling we had moved up to a new, higher level. "Hi," he said, when I woke up. He was always awake before I was. He went to sleep really fast, slept very deep, and woke up early. A lot of times he was up doing things, usually things to make life better for the rest of us, but that morning he was still in bed with me. "Hi," I said. He had obviously brushed his teeth because his breath smelled fresh and minty. I was sure mine smelled like Trixie's butthole, but he would never say anything about it. He kissed me, though, with a good bit of passion. "Let me take a leak," I said. I got up, squirted, and brushed my teeth. I knew what he wanted, and I wanted it more than he did. "God, I love you, boy," he said. "You make me so happy, Tim." "I know. Move over. I love you that much more," I said. He was all over me that morning. We kissed and petted and hugged and rubbed against one another. It wasn't he serious sex of the night before. It was playful, puppyish sex, and I thought we were both pretty good at it. He got us up on our knees, and he got behind me. He put his dick between my legs and told me to close them. He moved back and forth, rubbing my balls and my anus with every thrust. When he came, he shot clear to the headboard, and I was right behind him. Neither of us stroked me off. It was just that intense. "What do you want to do today," he asked, once we were lying down again. "I want to make love to you all day long," I said. "I'm pretty drained in the love-making department right now," he said. "I know. I said that's what I want to do. I didn't say we were going to do it," I said. "Do you want to see if the surf is up? We haven't surfed in a while. I smell the paper mill from town. That's usually a sign of surf," he said. "I heard you tell Rick that once. Why is that," I asked. "That means there's a strong southeast wind, and a southeast wind makes good surf," he said. "Plus, there's a little disturbance in the Gulf. That can only help surf conditions." "Do you know everything there is to know about that damn Gulf," I asked playfully. "No. I don't know where the treasure ships are," he said. "You're incredible," I said. "No, I'm not. You're just in love." "You're damn right I am," I said. We kissed again, but that was a signal it was time to get up. We got out of bed and made it up. He insisted on doing that when we got up at the same time, but he didn't care if I made it or not when I got up after him. Strange boy, I thought. Strange and wonderful. We put on briefs and went downstairs. Justin, Jeff, and Tyler were in the den. Kyle and I got coffee and joined them. -169-

"Good morning, baby brothers," Justin said. "There's no food in the house, Kyle. Feed us!" Everybody laughed. "I had business to attend to this morning," Kyle said. "Why don't you go shopping? I'll give you the card. You know where the grocery store is." "Oh, but Kyle, you do it so much better," he said in a whiny voice. "What's up with you today," Kyle said. "You're in a strange mood. Where's Brian? He's probably upstairs jerking off because you aren't there to satisfy him." "Very funny. I'm just in a goofy mood, I guess . You guys look like you had a little taste of heaven this morning. Am I right?" "My baby took good care of his boy this morning," Kyle said. "Excellent," Jus said. "Where are Rick and Kevin," Kyle asked. "Where the hell do you think they are, Bubba? It's Sunday morning, remember? And it's only eight o'clock," Jus said. "Shit, I want to go surfing, and I'm sure Rick would want to go," he said. "Ummf," Jeff said. Jeff stretched. He and Ty were sort of slumped together at the end of one of the sofas, and it was pretty obvious they were both still sleepy. When Jeff stretched, I saw that he had an erection, and that wasn't that common a sight. "Are you awake, Jeff," I asked. "Hey, Tim," he said. "Yeah, but just barely. Kyle, go surfing if you want to. We'll tell Rick where you are when he gets up. Are you going to be at the state park?" "Yeah," Kyle said. "Tim, do you want to go with me?" "Yeah, I thought I would," I said. "Good. Anybody else? Jus?" "Kyle, you know better than that. I love the idea of Sex Wax, but it means a whole other thing to me than it does to you, Bubba," he said. Kyle and I both laughed. Sex Wax was the name of the product Kyle used to wax down his boards. When I had heard the expression "waxing down my surfboard" in a song, I had thought it was like the kind of wax you put on floors to make them shine. In my mind, a waxed board would go faster in the water. It was just the opposite of that, though. You put the wax on the side you stand on. It was really thick, like candle wax or something. It was used so your feet wouldn't slide off the board when it was wet. Every sport has equipment associated with it, of course, and surfing was no exception. Obviously, you had to have a surfboard. But you also needed surfing boots and it was a good idea to wear board shorts, too. Some of the guys wore goggles and a nose pincher, but Kyle and Rick didn't. Kyle had several wetsuits, too. He had a couple of full-body ones and a "shorty," which didn't have arms and legs on it. At that late date in June, the water was warm enough to surf in just board shorts, though, without a wetsuit. He had a helmet, too, but he never wore it. I think it was something his parents had given him for some occasion just to have a gift for him. The theory was that the helmet would save you from brain damage if your board hit you in the head at, say, forty miles per hour. I wore the helmet, and I didn't care how dorky it looked. We went upstairs and put on board shorts. Then we went to Kyle's house and got a long board and a short board for him, and a short board for me. I had wanted to take Trixie, but she would have been a nuisance out there, Kyle said. She would have wanted to be in the water with us, and that was -170-

just too dangerous for her. Kyle had taken her out a couple of times, and she had ridden waves with him. He said she loved it, but he didn't want to take her that day. As much as he loved that dog, I knew it would be bad for her, so we left her home. The waves at the state park were awesome. In fact, the only time I had seen bigger ones was right before the hurricane the year before when we had gone surfing before we left for Dothan. "They're breaking so fast, there's going to be a mean undertow," Kyle said. "Be careful, you hear?" "Okay. You, too, Babe," I said. There were quite a few people out that morning, but Kyle and I both caught some good ones. He could be pretty acrobatic on the short board, and he was showing off good that day. Rick showed up after we had been out for about an hour and a half, and he had a good time, too. I got tired after about three hours, so I went up onto the beach to take a break. Kyle caught a wave and was coming in good, but he lost it. He crashed. That was no big deal, usually, but there were a bunch of waves in rapid succession right behind the one he was on. He went under water, and his board disappeared. I knew that was a bad sign. He had his board tied to his ankle, and the subsequent waves kept pushing his board down. If he had been loose, he probably could have come up between the waves. But that board kept pulling him under. My heart was in my throat. Rick saw what was going on, and he undid the cord of his board from his ankle to go after Kyle. The trouble was, you couldn't tell where Kyle was. You couldn't have even seen bubbles coming up to mark his spot. "Jesus, please help him," I prayed. "Please let Kyle be safe." It seemed like forever that he was under. About six big waves came fast, and Kyle didn't have a chance to pop up. I felt totally helpless. I was close to tears, and I would have cried except that I was praying so hard and hoping so hard. Then he popped up. Rick and four other guys were right on him. They laid him on his board and swam him in. I ran down to the edge of the water and helped them carry him on the board back up onto the beach. He was breathing really shallow. I put my hand on his chest and pushed down. The other guys carrying him said "hey, cut it out" because I was making it heavier and more difficult to carry, but what I was doing made Kyle cough. That was what I wanted because when he coughed, sea water flooded out of him. He coughed a lot. When he stopped coughing, he grinned at me. That's when I started crying. He was fine. When we finally set him down, he jumped up and hugged me first, then Rick, and then the other guys who had helped. "I'm going back right now," Kyle said. "No!" I said. "He's got to do it, Tim," Rick said. I trusted Rick with my very life, but I didn't think that was a good idea at all. "If he doesn't do it, Bubba, he might never surf again," Rick said. "He's got to get back in there and prove to himself he can do it, Tim." I wanted to shove my board up Rick's ass right then. Then I wanted to run after Kyle and tackle him. I could do it, too. I knew I could. He was a few pounds heavier than me and had more muscle, but I didn't want him dead. Rick knew what I was thinking, and he threw me to the sand. "Give him a chance, Tim. He can do it. Watch," Rick said. "He could have died, Rick," I said. "I know, Tim. Believe me, I know. I've been where he was, and he did almost drown. But he could get killed crossing the street in front of our house. He could slip on the stairs and die going up to bed. -171-

You don't want your husband being an emotional cripple when it comes to surfing, do you? He loves it, Tim." I was very quiet as I processed what he had just said. He had called Kyle my husband. That's what he was, and he was right. I didn't want him not to take risks to have fun. "You called him my husband," I said. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, Bubba. That was a slip of the tongue," Rick said. "That's the way you think of us, though, isn't it?" "Yeah, pretty much. I'm sorry, Tim." "Sorry? Sorry? Rick, that makes me so happy," I said. "Don't be sorry. Rejoice with us," I said. "I do, Bubba. Every day, man." I was crying with relief and happiness, and Rick cried with me. Kyle caught a wave, and he was doing great. Rick and I stood up to watch him, and he rode that wave all the way in. We ran down to the water line to catch him. "You did it, Bubba. You ain't scared of that surf, are you," Rick said. Kyle was grinning from ear to ear. "No fuckin' way, dudes." We all hugged and laughed and delighted in the bond among us. It was already after twelve noon, and Kyle and I hadn't yet eaten that day. We gathered up our stuff. "Well, I guess I lost a board today," Rick said. "Bummer," Kyle said. "You can always use one of mine. Or Clay's." "I'd rather have you than the board any day, Bubba," Rick said. "See, I'm different. If it was a choice between you and my best board, . . ." "Shut the fuck up, asshole," Rick said, and all three of us laughed hard. Just about then this little kid came up carrying a surfboard. "Hey, mister, is this your board," he said. He looked like he was about ten years old, but he could have been older. He was really, really good looking, but he was pretty small. I wondered if he had started puberty yet. He had a board under his arm. Rick took the board from him, and Rick's name, address, and phone number were all written on the water side in indelible marker. "Yeah, thanks, buddy," Rick said. "We saw your friend lose it, and I thought his ass was grass, man," the kid said. "What's your name, buddy," Rick asked. "I'm Kyle, but everybody calls me Chip," the kid said. "No shit? That's my name, too. I'm Kyle, too," Kyle said. "No shit? Whoa, this is like a magic day or something," the kid said. "It is for me," Kyle said. "I want to give you something for returning the board." He reached into my Jeep and pulled out his cap. "This is my favorite cap. I want you to wear it, okay?" "Thanks, dude," he said. "I'll wear it, man." "I want to give you something, too," Rick said. He went to his car and fumbled around with his pants. He came back with three twenty dollar bills for the kid. "Oh, man. Thanks, mister," the kid said. "Hey, before I leave, does anybody have a smoke to spare?" -172-

He might have wanted a cigarette, but he was laughing like it was a joke. "Spare a smoke? Shit. Get the fuck out of here, dude," Kyle said. He pushed his butt a little with his foot. That boy was laughing so hard he was having trouble breathing. "I'll see you guys again," he said. "Bye for now, but be ready for me. I know I look young, but I'm going to be a freshman at Beachside High School in August." "That's where we go to school," I said. "This guy is going to be president of the student body next year." All of a sudden, it was like he recognized Kyle. "I know who you are. You're a bellhop, right? My last name is Rooney. Does that ring any bells?" "Mr. Rooney at the Laguna," Kyle asked. "One in the same. I'm his son." "Cool. Why aren't you working there this summer, man," Kyle asked. "Some asshole boss wanted his sons, or something like that, to work there. I don't know, but I'm pretty pissed about it. That's a damn good company to work for, and I want to get into that organization. I'm going to run it some day," he said. The three of us looked at each other, and we could barely keep from laughing. "I guess it could happen," Kyle said. "It will. You hide and watch, dude. It'll take me a while, but I'm going to be CEO one of these days. You can put money on that. That hotel's going to be mine." "Chip, why don't you come over to our house this afternoon, man? About three o'clock," I said. "It's 12345 North Lagoon Drive. Tell your dad you're going to spend the afternoon at Rick and Kevin's house." "Okay," he said. "Are you really going to be president next year," he asked Kyle. "Yeah, I really am. I was actually sworn in at an assembly the last day of school, so I am now. You'll see me at Freshman Orientation," Kyle said. "Cool. I'm going to his house this afternoon. Will you be there, Kyle?" "Yeah, I'll be there," Kyle said. "Cool. Later, guys," the little dude said. "Kyle, there's your competition, son," Rick said, after he had left. "I don't really think so," Kyle said. We all laughed. "He was cute, though, wasn't he? He's got gonads the size of watermelons, too," Kyle said. "Yeah, he was cute," Rick said. "I'm really hungry. Can we go eat somewhere," Kyle asked. I was hungry, too, and so was Rick. We rinsed off at a shower head on the boardwalk and changed right there in the parking lot of the state park. We ate at a gigantic buffet on the beach, and then we went home. (Rick's Perspective) Jesus Christ! I thought for sure we had lost him. When Kyle went under, I knew exactly what was going on. His board was pulling him down and keeping him down, and I knew it. That had happened to me twice before, and both times I had thought I was dead. The first time it happened to me wasn't as bad as the second time. Both times, though, I thought I was swimming up when I was really swimming down. Kyle had been on a short board when it happened, so it was a lot easier for him to swim up than if he had been on a long board. The trick was knowing which way was up. -173-

He made it, though, and I was so glad. Tim pumped him out, and that was a good thing. He would have made it anyway, but Tim made him breathe normally much faster. Kyle wanted to go back in right away, and that was exactly what he should have done. He was okay physically, but he had to know he could surf again in water that was about as rough as we ever got, except during a storm. We were already in hurricane season, and I knew there would be a lot more heavy surf before it was over. Even if we didn't get a hurricane straight on, we'd have high surf from the ones that went to Texas or to the west coast of Florida. Kyle proved that day that he had guts. I was so proud of him, I could have burst. And then we met this really cute kid called Chip Rooney. He brought my board back to me after I had let it go to dive for Kyle. I hadn't expected to see it again, but he brought it back. He said his goal was to be CEO. It wasn't clear, though, about whether he wanted to be CEO of the Laguna Hotel, which is sort of what his dad was without the title, or CEO of Goodson Enterprises. We knew who was probably going to get that job, and it wasn't going to be Chip Rooney. Back at the house after we had come home from surfing, the gang was already assembled. Justin and Jeff had the ski boat going, and there were a bunch of guys naked in the pool. Kyle and Tim disappeared, probably to shoot pool in the clubhouse, or maybe just to rest. Surfing was pretty damn taxing physically, so I was sure they were tired. On around three o'clock, Chip showed up. Jack Rooney, his dad, brought him, and he walked back to the pool with Chip. Kevin and I saw them come up, and we went over to say hello. I had on shorts, but Kevin was as naked as the day he was born. Since that wasn't exactly the best way to greet one of your most important employees and his son, he grabbed a towel to put around his waist on the way over to meet them. "Hi, Jack," I said. We shook hands. "You know him," Chip asked. "Yeah, I know him," I said. Kevin greeted Jack and shook hands, too. "You know him, too, Dad," Chip asked. "Yeah. Kevin's my boss, in fact. Kevin, this is my son, Chip," Jack said. "Hi, Kevin Foley," he said, shaking hands with Chip. "Hi. Man, I feel dumb as shit," Chip said. "Son!!" "Don't sweat that around here, Jack," I said. "We don't." I knew he was upset, or pretending to be upset, because Chip had said "shit." "So why do you feel dumb as shit," Kevin asked. I could tell he liked that kid the instant he met him, just like I had. "It's something I said earlier," Chip said. "Let's just forget about it." "Okay. Can I get you a beer," Kevin asked Jack. "Yeah, that'd be great," Chip said. "Not you. Your dad," I said. "Oh. I was afraid of that," Chip said. We laughed. "Kevin, Chip was the guy who saved my board today," I said. "Yes, and you gave him way too much money for doing it," Jack said. "Not really. Do you know how much a board costs," I asked. "Even so, twenty would have been fine. Here's the rest," Jack said. -174-

He handed me forty dollars. "No way, Jack. Chip, do you see that jar over there that's marked 'UCP'? Go put that money in it," I said. We had started putting out a jar for donations to United Cerebral Palsy, and every week we collected a few bucks. It wasn't the money that mattered, really. It was raising awareness among our friends that we were really after. "Where are those two guys? They said they would be here," Chip said. "Kyle and Tim? I think they're probably in the clubhouse," I said. "Come on. I'll take you over there. Jack, stay and play with us, man." "I'd like to, but I'm MOD today," he said. That meant he was the Manager on Duty, which I thought was strange for the General Manager of a place that big on a Sunday. That was his business, though. "We'll get him home," Kevin said. Tim and Gage were shooting pool, Kyle was asleep on a sofa, and Brian was working with Trixie, teaching her tricks. "Look at this, Rick," Brian said. "Trixie, pray!" She sat on her back haunches, raised her front paws, and crossed them, like she was praying. "Trixie, good job," Brian said. "Wow, Trix. That was great, girl," I said. She loved the praise. I knew she wanted to lick the hell out of Brian and me, but she didn't. She was wagging her tail really fast, though, and she had a sort of smile on her face. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but she looked happy. "She's a cute dog," Chip said. "Thanks," I replied. "Chip, this is Brian Mathews. He's one of our sons. Brian, this is Chip Rooney." They shook hands and told each other "hi." "This is a nice place," Chip said. Then he got a very confidential tone of voice. "Is that guy over there gay," he asked. He was referring to Gage, probably, but everybody in the room was gay, except him. And he might have been, too. "Yeah, he's gay. Do you have a problem with that," I asked. "Hell, no. I don't care. He's not really my type, though," he said. "What's your type," I asked. He shrugged. "Well, gay, straight, or bi, you're welcome here, Chip," I said. "Would you like something to drink?" "I guess no beer, huh?" "No beer," I said. "How about a coke?" "That'd be great," he said. "I'll get it," Brian said. "Anybody else?" "Yeah, get me a Diet, okay," I said. Kyle had been asleep, but he woke up just then. Chip and I went over to the sofa where he was lying. He sat up as we approached. "Hi, Chip," Kyle said. "Glad you could make it, dude." "Thanks. This is a great place," he said. "How do you know these guys?" "How do I know y'all, Rick," Kyle asked. "Kyle and Tim, the other guy you met this morning, are our honorary sons and little brothers," I -175-

said. "Only they're not so little." "Do you have any kids of your own," he asked. "Besides Brian?" "Quite a few," I said. "There's Brian, Justin, Kyle, Tim, Jeff, Seth, and Alex now, I guess." "Damn, how old are you?" "I'm twenty-six, for another couple of weeks, anyway," I said. "You're not old enough for Brian to be your son, are you?" "None of them are our natural children, Chip. All foster sons, some legally and others honorarily," I said. "All of 'em live here?" "Well, Kyle and Tim technically live with their parents, but they have a room here," I said. "Seth's a visitor for the summer, and Alex just showed up about a week ago," Kyle said. "In fact, it was a week ago today. Damn, a lot happened in a week, didn't it?" "Where is Alex, anyway," I asked. No sooner had I said that than Alex, Jeff, and Tyler walked in. I introduced Chip to them. "You're going to have to help me with all the names," Chip said. "They can't remember each other's names, either. They just all call each other 'Bubba,'" Jeff said. "Very funny, Bubba," Kyle said. We all laughed. "You see what I mean," Jeff asked, and we all laughed again. "Where's Justin," Kyle asked. "He's fooling with the boat. Putting it away, I guess," Jeff said. "You didn't stay to help him," Kyle asked, slightly annoyed. "He looked like he knew what he was doing," Jeff said. "Besides, I was hot and thirsty." "A fine friend you are," Kyle said. "Why don't you go help him," Jeff retorted. "Naw. He can do it," Kyle said. We laughed. Justin came in just then, and we introduced Chip. Justin had on just a Speedo and sandals, and he was damn impressive looking. His tan was as good as the tan of any of us, and the sun had lightened his hair. I figured he must have been the last one to ski, and his muscles were more pumped up than usual. I used to think Jus wasn't as good looking as some of the others, but I had long since revised that opinion. "Hey. What's up?" "Just hanging out, meeting everybody," Chip said. "Jus, watch what I taught Trixie." Brian demonstrated the "pray" trick for Jus, and he was obviously proud of Brian. "How'd you get her to do that," he asked. "It takes a lot of patience, and a lot of this," Brian said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of nuggets of dog food. He tossed one to Trixie, and she caught it on the fly. "Can you teach her how to roll over," Jus asked. "Probably," Bri said. "Let's go to work, Trix. We have a request for a new trick." "Is anybody in the pool," Kyle asked. "Yeah, a few of 'em. Seth and Cody were in there, Chad, Sam, Fred, Kevin. Maybe some others," Jus said. -176-

"What were they doing," Kyle asked. "Just talking." "Do y'all want to play some pool volleyball," Kyle asked. "Yeah, I'll play," Justin said. "Me, too," I added. "Tim and Gage, do y'all want to play volleyball," Kyle called out. "Yeah. He's whipping my ass on this pool table," Tim said. "He can whip your ass on the pool table. Just don't let him wipe your ass on it," Justin said. We all laughed, and I could tell Chip was really taken with the crowd. "Er, what should I call you," Chip asked me. "We call him Big Kyle," Jus said. "Call me Rick, and call Kevin, Kevin," I said. "Bubba works for them, too," Jeff said. "Where's Mrs. Rick," Chip asked. "What should I call her?" "There is no Mrs. Rick, Chip," I said. The boys all looked at one another. They took devilish delight in explaining the intricacies of our family to newcomers, and they were all eager to see Chip's reaction. "Isn't that a wedding ring," Chip asked. "Yes, it is," I said. "Kevin and I are married." There was a look of bafflement on his face. Then he smiled. "So, are you guys, like, gay?" "Yep. All of us are. Everybody in this room," I said. "Except you." He didn't say anything to that comment. "Let's go play," Kyle said. He stood up and started to get undressed. "Chip, if you want to get undressed or changed, I'll show you where the locker room is," I said. "Damn. I forgot," Kyle said. "Come on, dude. I'll show you." As they walked away toward the locker room, Chip said to Kyle, "You're gay? Do you get picked on at school?" "No. I get elected president." "Cool." (Kyle's Perspective) A bunch of us were in the locker room, taking off our clothes to go swimming. We had the new guy with us. He was small, probably only five four, weighed maybe 110, but he was damn cute looking. And pretty ballsy, too, I thought. "I almost drowned today," I said to no one in particular. "What?" Justin asked. "I got caught in a rip, and my board pulled me down," I said. "Where were the others," he asked. "It was just me, Tim, and Rick. Tim was on shore, but Rick was in the water with me. There wasn't anything they could do," I said. "Tim, were you about to die," Jeff asked. "Was I ever," Tim said. "Jeff, I thought about you, man. You and Clay. I was praying so hard I didn't even start crying until it was all over." -177-

"So, no more surfing for you, huh," Justin asked. "No. I went right back in. I was fine after that." "Are you guys not wearing suits," Chip, the new guy, asked. "You can if you want to, but we don't," Tim said. "Do you need a suit?" "Are you guys going to laugh at me," he asked. "That's one thing about this group, Chip," Tyler said. "They'll never make fun of you to hurt your feelings." "I can vouch for that, too," Gage said. Chip took off his shirt, and there wasn't any development there. Then he took off his shorts and his underwear. Nothing. Zero. Little tiny dick and not a strand of hair. I tried not to look because I didn't want him to feel self-conscious. He looked at me, though. I didn't mind it. I know boys are curious, and I wasn't shy. Then he touched my dick. "What's up, buddy," I asked. He smiled at me. "How about turning it loose," I said. Jesus! "Sorry. I thought you'd like that." "He does," Justin said. "Don't you, sweetie." "You asshole," I said. "Chip, this is what he really likes," Jus said, and he pulled my dick five or six times. "Shit! What the fuck is this? Fondle Kyle Day or something? Play with your own dicks," I said. I knew what Justin was up to. Chip thought I'd like him touching me because I'm gay, and Justin was doing it so Chip wouldn't be embarrassed. Then Tim got in the act and started rubbing my butt. "Goddamn it, if y'all give me a hard-on, I'm going to make every last one of you suck it," I said. Jus and Tim busted up laughing, but ole Chip got this real worried look on his face. "You better look worried. You started it, and you're going to be first," I said to Chip. I started tightening up and relaxing the muscles inside me to make my dick bounce up and down. Chip's eyes got big as saucers. "Here it comes. You better get that mouth ready," I said. By then, everybody was laughing their asses off, even Chip. The thing is, his little dick started to get hard, so I stopped making mine bounce. Nobody noticed but me, so I picked him up like a fireman would, ran him outside, and threw him in the pool. Then I jumped in with him. "They didn't see it," I said. "You know I was just teasing you, don't you?" He looked like he was about to cry. "Hey, buddy, I'm sorry that happened, but that's the way we play around. It's not because we're gay, either. It's because we're older guys. You'll get used to it." "Thanks for getting me out of there. I guess I'm still pretty dumb about sex and shit," he said. "You're going to see guys around here with hard-ons. We just ignore 'em when it happens, though. We don't play with our own or anybody else's in public, either, okay? See. There goes one right now." Chad was about 80% hard, and Gage was chasing him around the pool to throw him in, or something. "Damn," he said. "The grown-ups don't get mad when somebody gets hard?" "What would be the point? They get real mad if you play with 'em out here, but they get 'em, too. You can't help it, and they can't either. Although, it's usually the younger guys like Chad over there who get them for no reason," I said. -178-

"I get them for no reason all the time," he said. "How old are you," I asked him. "Fourteen-and-a-half," he said. "Have you started making sperm yet," I asked, figuring he hadn't. He put his head down and whispered "no." "Don't worry, man. You will. It'll come." Then I realized what I had said. "No pun intended." He didn't get it. "All right, guys, let's play some volleyball. Who wants to be captains?" Chapter 17 (Kevin's Perspective) Alex started working at the Laguna with the rest of the gang on Monday, June 29th. It would have been good for him to work for the bell service like the others, but we just didn't need any more bellmen. Instead, Jack Rooney put him on in housekeeping. Rick had told me about his first encounter with Chip on the beach the day before. "Chip said he wanted to work at the Laguna but that some dumbass boss had made his dad hire the dumbass boss's sons," Rick said. I laughed. "I'll bet he's a handful at home," I said. "You know what that's all about, don't you?" "Jack didn't want him working there," he asked. "Exactly. Jack told me he was going to blame it on me. He's only fourteen, after all. He's very bright and fairly mature acting for his age, but Jack wanted him to have at least one more summer of fun before he puts him to work." "And Chip wouldn't have accepted his dad telling him that, I guess," Rick said. "By the way, his first name is Kyle. Kind of reminds me of another Kyle we know and love, but without the hair." "I'll say. I saw Kyle talking to him in the pool. If that kid has a gay bone in his body, he's probably in love with Kyle right now," I said. "No question about it. Even if he isn't gay, he probably wants to be just like the Stud," Rick said. "You know what? Justin's got a birthday next weekend. I forgot all about it until just now." "Yeah, I know. What are we going to get him? This is the big one, you know? He'll be eighteen." "I know. Frankly, that's not good news to me," I said. "Why not?" "He'll be legally an adult. He can't be our foster son anymore." "Ouch," Rick said. "He's not going anywhere, though, is he?" "Of course not, but I just like the idea of him being our son. This year has been incredible with him, hasn't it?" "Jesus, it doesn't seem like a whole year, does it," Rick said. "Not at all. If anybody would have told me that kid would blossom the way he has, I would have called them a liar. I called Craig for legal advice the morning after we got him, and I told Craig he wasn't worth one of Kyle's or Tim's pubic hairs at the bottom of a urinal. I can't believe I ever felt that way about him," I said. "That's pretty funny, Kevin," Rick said. "Craig thought it was hilarious." We were both quiet for a few moments. -179-

"Babe, I never thought I'd say this. I love Justin as much as I love Tim and Kyle," I said. "So do I," he said. "How'd we get into this with these kids?" "It beats the hell out of me," I said. "I know we'd be happy if it was just you and me, but don't you think they add a lot?" "Absolutely. But I think we've been lucky with the ones we've gotten, you know. I think Kyle and Tim parent them just about as much as we do," Rick said. "Kyle certainly has done that for Jus, that's for sure," I said. "Back to the original topic, though. What are we going to get Justin for his birthday," Rick asked. "I thought about a car," I said. "Yeah, that's pretty logical, but you know what? I'm not really sure I like that idea. I mean, his truck is in great condition, he keeps it spotless, and he bought it himself. He never talks about it, but that truck represents a personal achievement for Jus, don't you think?" "I see what you mean," I said. "That's a damn good insight." "How about a trip? We gave Kyle and Brian trips. Why not Justin?" "Are you thinking Boston?" "I'm thinking Boston," he said, grinning and nodding his head. "The four of them have so much fun together. In fact, Gene actually asked me if Jus and Brian were going to go with Kyle when he goes up there to meet Tim. The last time I talked to George, he said his father had surgery scheduled for the Monday of the week they're going to be in the city, so there won't be much grandparent time. They scheduled the surgery for then so George would be there. He's going to be tied up with his parents, so it'll pretty much be the four boys on their own." We were at work and in my office. I buzzed my secretary and asked her to make airline and hotel reservations for Jus and Brian. I gave her the details of when and where. "I was wondering how long it was going to take for that to come up," she said, laughing. "Has Kyle said anything about a party," I asked. "Oh, yes. He has it all figured out. He really liked the catering idea from last time for Tim, and he's going to do the same thing this time. Different menu, though. He asked me if people ever served whole cows like they did whole pigs," Rick said. I laughed. I could just picture a whole cow, head and all, on a buffet table. "What kind of menu did he decide on," I asked. "It's going to be surf and turf. Crabs, shrimp, fried fish, lobsters, and steak. How does that sound?" "Inside or outside," I asked. "Both, actually. He really liked the day-long thing like we did for Tim's birthday, so we'll do that again. Bare-ass swimming at his house for anyone who's interested until five, and then drinks and hors d'ouevres outside on the patio and in the house. Dinner will be in the clubhouse, followed by dancing, pool, ping pong, clothed swimming, etc. Oh, and fireworks because it's the Fourth." "I can picture everything but the fried fish. Where does that fit?" He laughed. "This is complicated. Justin loves two foods equally, fried fish and cheese grits. Kyle wanted to have those for him. Those will be lunch, along with coleslaw with that wretched sweet pickle relish in it. Oh, and sweet tea. Real sweet." I laughed some more. "Sort of your country meal, right?" "Absolutely. Kyle even called it 'country lunch,'" Rick said. "For dinner, the first course will be shrimp and lobster cocktail, followed by she-crab soup. Then a light salad, followed by steak and -180-

potatoes and grilled vegetables. Red, white, and blue cake, with vanilla ice cream topped with blueberries and strawberries, for dessert." "Do you remember last year he wanted us to sing the Star Spangled Banner after we sang Happy Birthday," I asked. "Oh, yes. That is definitely on the program again this year. I think Kyle actually plans to sing it himself," he said. "Cool. He can do it," I said. "I know," Rick said. "Has he invited people yet," I asked. "Invitations went out two weeks ago," he said. "It's been on the Web site that long, too." "Shit, I haven't looked at that damn thing in a while," I said. "I hadn't either, until Jeff gave me a heads-up about it yesterday," he said. "Jeff said he hadn't seen a login from either of us in a long time, and he was worried we didn't know what Kyle was planning. I think it's unbelievable the way these kids do things. It's like they're adults or something." "Well, a lot of them actually are," I said. "But still, I know what you mean." "For some reason, Kyle doesn't think it's a real party unless there are women there. He always refers to them as 'ladies,' too. I think that's kind of cute," Rick said. "Speaking of ladies, I can invite my friend Diana Ravitch. Do you know her?" "I don't think so. Who is she?" "She and I worked together for about six months in Tallahassee. I ran into her when Alex was in the hospital. She's a nurse, and she was in charge of the ICU. You'll like her. Really bodacious ta-tas," I said. "You shithead," he said, laughing. "You'll like her a lot, Babe," I said. "Seriously." "Does she really have big tits?" "Gigantic," I said. "Whatever will we do with them," he asked. "I wish there was a way we could give some of them to Cherie as a transplant," I said. "I'm calling Cherie right now and telling her you said that." He went for my phone, and I basically tackled him around the waist. He went down, knocking over a lamp and hitting the door of my office with his foot. We were both laughing hard at ourselves and our foolishness. I felt a button pop off my shirt. "Is everything okay in there, boys," Mary Ann, my secretary, said through the door. "Yes, ma'am," Rick and I said in unison. We were both laughing and could barely talk. "Good. Don't make me have to get your father," she said, also laughing hard. "Yes, ma'am," we said again. Rick and I dissolved in a puddle of laughter against one another. "God, I love you," I said. "Do you know what I'd like to do right now?" "Yeah, and I want to, too, but she's right out there," he said. "Kevin, I'm going on break, and I have no idea when I'll be back. I have several errands to run. I transferred your phone to Cheryl. Be good, boys," Mary Ann said. "Bye, Mary Ann," we both said together. "She's wonderful, isn't she," I said. "Yeah. Now let's you and me be wonderful." And we were. -181-

(Mary Ann Pennington's Perspective) I heard noise coming out of Kevin's office like maybe he and Rick were in some kind of scuffle. At the beginning of the Spring Break season, they had argued fiercely, and I had feared that their relationship was on the rocks. I loved those boys like they were my own sons, and I would do anything I could to keep them from breaking up. I mean, they obviously loved one another, the same way a happily-married man and woman did, and I didn't want anything to happen to that. Plus, they had all those kids they were responsible for. I went to Mr. Goodson and told him of my concern. He just laughed. "Mary Ann, what you're seeing is some very aggressive foreplay. Don't worry." I'm sure I blushed a little when he said that, but I didn't worry after that. I knew next to nothing about homosexuality or homosexuals, but whatever was going on between Kevin and Rick just seemed so right. So normal, even. When I heard that noise that morning, I got worried. What if Gene had been wrong? What if they were really fighting? When a man and a woman fight, it's usually all verbal. What happens when a male couple fight? I visualized punches being thrown, and I thought that might be what I was hearing. Then I heard them laughing. Nobody can really fight and laugh the way they were laughing at the same time. I remembered the "very aggressive foreplay" line from the spring, and I decided to get out of there. My daughter-in-law was a teacher at Beachside High School, and she knew Kyle Goodson and Tim Murphy. She said everybody knew they were gay and a couple, and she also said Kyle pretty much had everybody eating out of the palm of his hand. I had known that kid's parents since long before he was born, and I had kept up with him throughout his life. He came up to see Kevin every once in a while and always spoke to me, but one time recently he had just come up to see me. He called me "Miss Mary Ann" like southern boys do, and he was precious. He and I talked about Clay on that visit. I knew he and Clay were very close, and it was obvious in the way he talked about him. Kyle and Clay looked a great deal alike, and I knew Rita Goodson couldn't look at her baby without thinking about her first born. Those people had more money than any thousand families like mine put together. But they were just people. They knew pain. They knew suffering. And they knew love. Kevin and Rick knew the love part, at least. (Chip's Perspective) Journal Entry for June 29th I don't know where the hell to start. When I got up yesterday morning, I smelled paper mill in the air. That meant the surf was up. But it was a Sunday, so I'd have to go to church. But my dad was MOD that day, so that meant no church. Yea! I could surf. I rigged my board onto my bike, as I usually did, and I hauled ass to the state park. The end of the park was right on the pass, which is where the best surf always is, and it was awesome yesterday. The wind was perfect, and there was a tropical disturbance in the Gulf. What better conditions for surf? I met up with some guys that I knew. They were all older than I was, but I think they respected me. Maybe just tolerated me, but I was careful to never take off on 'em. I've seen guys beat the shit out of one another because one took off on the other one, and, little as I was, I didn't want that. There were some boys down a ways from us, a big-ass blond and a big-ass black-haired guy. -182-

They were doing really good. Then a man joined them, and the three of them surfed together. The blond boy went up to the beach and laid down. Then the black-haired boy caught a wave and totally wiped out. He went under, and I figured the rip tide had gotten him and his board. Oh, shit, I thought. That fucker's dead. Literally. Drowned. He wasn't, though. The grown-up with them slipped his cord off his ankle and tried to dive for him. He came up empty handed, though. He didn't know it, but he missed getting a board to the head by about a foot. I watched his loose board floating. I decided to be a good guy, for once in my life, and get it for him. It was a long board, and it had a really heavy coat of wax on it, just the way I liked mine. The guy caught in the rip popped up, and some of his friends, or just some guys who happened to be out there, brought him in. I think they revived him or something, and that fucker went out again. Damn, I thought. I ain't ever doing that, not after that close of a brush with death. He rode it in, though, and they were getting ready to leave. I went over to them to give the guy his board back. What an interesting meeting that was, as it turned out. First, the guy who almost drowned was named Kyle. My first name is really Kyle, so how coincidental was that? That ain't all that common a name. Second, he went to the high school I was going to next year, only he was going to be a senior. Not only that, he was going to be student body president. Whoa! How many freshmen know him? Third, he worked at my dad's hotel as a bell boy. Fourth, the adult with him turned out to be the gay partner of my dad's boss, Kevin Foley. I had only called Kevin an asshole in front of Rick, his partner. That's all. Fifth, Kyle's last name happened to be Goodson. As in Goodson Enterprises. I'm dropping my dad's name left and right because Kyle works at his hotel. Kyle keeps his mouth shut, and he owns the fucking building. Sixth, I go to Rick and Kevin's house that afternoon, totally unaware of who these people are. Turns out, they both know my dad. Why? Because Kevin's his boss, that's why. And Rick, the guy who's board I grabbed, is Kevin's husband. Seventh, I still have no clue who Kyle is at that point, other than a senior at Beachside and president of the student body. But, we're naked in a locker room, and I know he's gay by then. I grab his dick. Hmmm. He's real cool about that, but he doesn't like it. I'm making a hell of a first impression. Eighth, I'm still not knowing who Kyle is except he's this gorgeous hunk, and I start to get hard. He sees it, runs me out of there, and tosses me into the pool. He spends time talking to me, like he does every naked freshman with no dick to speak of, and certainly no hair. Ninth, I have a wonderful time with those guys, they bring me home, and I talk to my dad about the great time I had. He tells me who they all are. I listen in shock. I get up, tell him good night, and go to my room to think about my suicide note. My God! Could I have been any dumber? I don't think so. But you know what? There was a message on my machine tonight. Kyle called to invite me to Justin's birthday party on July 4th. He said he knew it was late and he wouldn't blame me if I already had other plans, but they wanted me to come to the party. It was an all-day thing, too. Starting at nine in the morning. Lunch, dinner, spend the night, if I wanted to. Unbelievable! There wasn't a way in hell you could keep me away from that party. (Kyle's Perspective) Justin's birthday was July 4th, and it was his eighteenth. We were having a hell of a party for that. -183-

I had sent out invitations on June 14th, and I knew all of our family and friends were going to be there. The New Orleans people were ready to come. I had talked to Grandma twice about it, and they were on their way. I definitely wanted her there, but I don't think there was any way I could have kept her away. She and Grandpa, and Craig and Cherie, were going to stay at my house. Tim was leaving for New England the next afternoon, and I had talked my parents into letting me go to Boston a week later. That was cool. Rick's parents were coming, too. In fact, they were going to be staying at Rick and Kevin's house. Seth would give up his room for them, and he'd take the empty one on the third floor. They were coming on Wednesday, and the New Orleans crowd was coming on Thursday. It would be a long weekend of celebration. Tim and Brian and I decided Jus was going to need a laptop for college, so that's what we bought him. We each got him one other thing. I got him some really cool sunglasses from the warehouse. Tim and Brian each got him a shirt, also from the warehouse. The week leading up to the party was sort of ordinary until Wednesday. Grandma and Grandpa Jacobs got there around four. Kevin and Rick went to the airport to pick them up. When we got home from work, we started getting dinner ready. I had a ton of crabs for us to snack on before dinner, plus nuts, olives, chips and dip, and shit like that. The main dish was a nice pork roast. I had actually picked up five of those at the grocery store. They were already cooked, and they were so tender you could cut them with just a fork. I'd warm those up in the oven right before dinner. I went into town to the farmers' market during my lunch time, and I ended up taking a good bit more than the half hour I had for lunch. I had told Jason, the bell captain, where I was going, and I even offered to pick up something for him, if he wanted me to. He made me clock out so I wouldn't get paid for the extra time it took. I didn't really care, but I thought that was a little bit petty. Nobody made him clock out when he had his forty-five-minute bowel movement every day. I wanted to go to the farmers' market for five reasons: fresh tomatoes, fresh corn on the cob, fresh peas, fresh butterbeans, and a good watermelon. I made the guy swear to me that he had picked the corn that morning. Corn starts losing sugar the instant it's picked, and the fresher the corn, the sweeter the corn. Justin loved it, and I wanted it to be good. Grocery store corn has been picked for a week or more by the time you buy it, and it's just not the same as picked-that-morning corn. I got five dozen ears of white corn and five dozen of a white-and-yellow variety. The white corn was the sweetest, but the white-and-yellow had a better texture. Kevin liked to eat peas on rice. They eat rice with everything in New Orleans, so I guess it was just his background. We had rice at the house, though, and they didn't sell that at the farmers' market, anyway. The tomatoes were out of this world. First of all, they were huge, and they were so tender it was like they didn't even have a skin. Second, the flesh was the brightest red you could imagine. Sometimes you get tomatoes in the store that have been grown in water in greenhouses, and they're a pale pink and tough as alligator hide. Not these bad boys. I ate one like it was an apple while I was shopping the market. I dripped some of the juice on my uniform, too, but you couldn't notice it, once I had cleaned it off. I was going to slice those up with some sweet onions and serve them with oil and vinegar. I'd put some out just sliced, too, in case anybody would rather have them with mayonnaise. Those would make some righteous tomato sandwiches, too, on white bread. I took the peas and butter beans over to the shelling machine they had there. For fifty cents they would shell a bushel. I had a bushel of each. I made the man plug the watermelon, and it was exactly what I thought it was going to be: yellow-meated. I ate the plug before I bought any, and it was just as -184-

sweet as anything I'd ever tasted. I bought two huge ones of those. I could have stayed there all afternoon talking to the farmers about their produce. I picked up a few odds and ends, too, like six cucumbers and a couple dozen peaches. I bought some plums, too, but I wasn't about to put one of those nasty things in my mouth. Somebody had some Muscatine grapes, and I got a mess of those. Then I saw the figs. Yeah, buddy! I bought every damn one they had. "Is your wife gon' make preserves with them," the cute little old lady in the stall asked. "No, ma'am. They probably won't make it all the way home, as much as I love 'em," I said. She laughed her cute little granny laugh like I was joking or something, but she didn't know me. I swung by the house and dropped off everything I had bought. I ate quite a few figs, but there were even too many for me to eat. That whole trip took me two-and-a-half hours, and I didn't get lunch, but I was satisfied we had some decent food in the house. *** Our new friend, Chip, started coming around in the afternoons after we got off work. I don't know if he had other friends, but we made him our friend right away. He worked out with us, and then we'd all go in the pool for a while before we ate anything. We pretty much all worked out nude, and of course we swam nude all the time. He had him a little nub of a dick, but that didn't seem to bother him around us. He'd get naked with us without even blinking his eyes. Of course, nobody ever teased him about his dick, and that probably gave him some self-confidence. Of course, he wasn't short on self-confidence, that's for sure. He got hard a couple of times and walked around there with that thing just a-bobbing out in front of him. He was definitely a grower and not a shower. It wasn't all that big stuck out, but at least it looked like a real dick. I knew he'd be growing soon, though, and I just hoped the other kids in his p.e. class wouldn't make fun of him. "Chip, are you taking p.e. next year," I asked him. "Yeah," he said, sort of depressed. "What's the matter, dude?" "Kyle, look at me, man. I'm afraid they'll make fun of me." "We don't make fun of you," I said. "I know. That's why I'm not ashamed around you guys. Plus, Seth and Cody really ain't that much bigger, you know what I mean? They've got hair, though." I laughed. "You been checking us out, dude," I asked him real playful. "Yeah, I guess. Is that bad?" "Hell, if it's bad to do that, every damn boy in the world is guilty of being bad," I said. He grinned. "Yours is the best," he said, sort of joking. "Whoa! You looking to get after some of it, or what," I said. He grinned, but he never did say yea or nay. I bounced it a time or two using my internal muscles. "Don't do that, man," he said, half laughing. "I'm just playing with you, dude," I said, laughing. "I know. Do you have to take showers in p.e.?" "Freshmen do," I said. "Is it a freshman course you're taking, do you know?" Our school had a really good p.e. department. You had to have two full credits in it to graduate, which meant you had to take it either a full year, two half years, or four nine-week periods spread -185-

throughout high school. We got a half credit every nine weeks in the schedule we were on. You had to take two required courses and two electives, but you could get permission to substitute electives for the required courses. For example, the first required course was swimming. Well, that was a farce. There was hardly a kid in Emerald Beach who hadn't known how to swim since they were big enough to walk. Except for kids who moved there from somewhere else. You could take the swimming proficiency test at the start of any nine-weeks, which you ultimately had to pass anyway, and skip the swimming course. "I have to take swimming," he said. "No, you don't," I said. I explained about the proficiency test. I had seen him swim, and he could have passed that test hogtied. "What should I take instead of swimming?" "Take an elective. Take something like outdoor recreation or tennis or archery or any elective. Horseshoes and shuffle board. Hell, they even offer a ping pong elective. You don't have to shower in those. Swimming, you have to shower before they let you in the pool," I said. "Really?" "Really, man. Or you can save your p.e.'s for later. It's going to grow, you know. You're going to get some hair. Why not wait till that comes in to show it off?" "Kyle, if this is true, you've taken a ton of bricks off my shoulders," he said. "Chip, I joke and tease all the time, but I don't lie about stuff that matters, man. And I know this matters to you," I said. He actually got tears in his eyes. He didn't cry, just like he didn't cry on Sunday in the pool with me, but it was mighty close. "Let's you and me take showers, put on some clothes, and go check my traps. You want to?" "Yeah," he said, and his face lit up in a grin. I saw it in those eyes of his. That boy was fast getting a big, hard crush on me. I didn't know if he was gay or bi or something, and I really didn't care. I didn't know if straight boys could get a crush on another boy as such, but I knew the ins and outs of hero worship. I was going to have to be really, really careful not to do or say anything to mislead him. After Chip and I were all showered up and dressed, we headed down to the dock. Trixie was right there with us. She wanted a boat ride. She had been in the pool with us, though, and she was all wet. We didn't need a wet dog in that boat with us. Plus, I knew she'd jump off the boat into the damn lagoon when I started pulling up the first trap. Then she couldn't get back in by herself, and I'd have to wrestle her into the boat, me clean and dry, and her all wet. Then, of course, she'd have to shake off. That was instinct, and I understood that, but I didn't want it that day. She's ahead of us, of course, trotting and playing around. She jumps on the boat. "No, Trixie," I say. "Get out, girl." She didn't obey, so I had to get stern. "Trixie, get out of the boat," I said in my voice that said I meant business. She jumped on the dock when I said that, and then she did something I'll never forget. She perched up on her hind quarters and put one front paw over the other one. She whimpered. That damn Brian, I thought. I'm going to wring his neck for teaching her that trick. How could I possibly say no to that? And I think she knew it, too. "Okay. Get in," I said, and she jumped into the boat. She was so excited. "If you jump in, I'm going to leave your ass in that water, you hear me? A big ole gator's going to come and get it, too. And I'm just going to laugh at you." I was talking like I was teasing her. I knew she didn't understand a word I was saying, and she -186-

was just wagging and being happy, like I was telling her about Santa Claus. "You wouldn't let a gator get her, would you," Chip asked. I grinned at him, he was so serious. "No, but don't tell her that, hear? I am going to make her swim back, though, if she jumps in. Which I pretty much know she will," I said. "Can she make it," he asked, sounding kind of worried, too. "Oh, hell, yeah. These dogs love exercise. Look at the muscle on her," I said. Chip, Trixie, and I went out. I got her to stay in the boat on the first four traps with just voice commands. She was raring to go, I knew, but she obeyed me, a little more reluctantly each time. The next two, she almost went, but Chip grabbed her by the collar to hold her back. I had two more to check, though. On number seven, over she went. "Shit! Fuck!" I screamed it, and I'm sure people in their back yards up and down the lagoon heard me. "Why are you so mad," Chip asked. "Just watch what it's going to take to get her back in here," I said. I spoke harshly to him, and I didn't mean it that way. I told him I was sorry and I wasn't mad at him. He said he knew, and he grinned at me. "Get in here, Trixie," I shouted at her. She knew I was mad, but she didn't know what to do. "I have an idea," Chip said. I had shut the motor off as soon as she went in. That was another pain in the ass about her, but I wasn't about to run an outboard motor with her in the water that close. If she had gotten hit by that prop, she would have been dead. We had a doughnut-shaped life preserver on a rope that we could throw to a skier, if we had to. She was right there, and Chip let it down into the water. She put her head and front paws through it, like we had practiced that, which we hadn't. Chip started hauling her in. She was heavy for him, so I helped him. We pulled her about halfway up, and she got her front paws on the gunwale. She literally leaped right into the boat. That was pretty damn amazing. I praised her good, but I also praised Chip for thinking of that. Of course, she shook off all over the damn place, but at least I didn't have to get in the water. That was a good thing she and Chip had done, but she wasn't going in again. I took some of that rope from the float and tied it to her collar. I put it on a real short tether, and I tied it to one of the seats. She could bark her damn tongue out of her mouth for all I cared, but she was staying put. We finished checking the traps. If Brian could teach her to pray and beg like she did, he could teach her to keep her ass in the boat when she went with me to check the traps. We all loved that dog like she was a person or something, and we all had a ton of fun with her. But I think you have more fun with a dog when you're in charge, and not them. We were getting there with her, but it was slow progress. At least that afternoon I learned how to get her ass back in the boat without having to get in the water myself. The next step was no jumping off the boat unless we told her to. And we could damn sure teach her that, and she could damn sure learn it. *** The next day was Wednesday. Rick's parents were coming in that afternoon, and I had an important meal to cook. That was the day I was going to the farmers' market at lunch, and that's what my mind was on. "Kyle, have you got a second?" It was Mr. Rooney. What the fuck did he want, I wondered. -187-

"Yes, sir. Sure," I said. "Come over here, please. I want to talk to you." What was that about, I thought. I hated it when he pulled me out like that. All the rest of them looked at me like I was in deep shit or something. I looked at Jason for a clue, but he just shrugged like he didn't know anything about it. Yeah, right, Jason, I thought. You probably told him I was leaving to go shopping. You prick. "Yes, sir. What can I do for you," I asked. I was nervous. "Kyle, what did you do to my son yesterday?" I panicked. "Mr. Rooney, I didn't do anything to him. I swear to God, I didn't touch him," I said. He started laughing. "I'm sorry, Kyle. I should have said, 'What did you do for my son yesterday?'" What a big fucking difference a preposition will make, dude, I thought. Jesus Christ! "I don't know," I said. "Kyle, he came home last night extremely happy, saying that you had saved his life. I was just wondering how you saved my only child's life. Call it idle curiosity." "I still don't know, Mr. Rooney," I said. "We worked out, swam a little while, and then he and I checked my crab traps. He figured out a way to get the dog back in the boat without me having to get in the water. But that didn't save anybody's life." "Did you talk about anything important?" "No, sir. We talked about the p.e. course he should take next year, but that's about it. I told him how to take an elective p.e. so he wouldn't have to shower at school. That's all." He busted into a big grin. "That was it," he said. "Chip's a late bloomer, just like I was. He'll get there eventually, but it's difficult for him right now. He thinks you guys, and especially you, are from the heavens above, and for some reason he doesn't have a problem showering with you guys. Thanks for taking care of him, Kyle." "What do you mean? I don't take care of him. He's our friend." "Think of the significance of those three words, Kyle. 'He's our friend.' Chip doesn't have many friends. He knows a lot of people, and they all like him, but he doesn't really have any friends. Yet." "Didn't," I said. "I beg your pardon." "Maybe he didn't have any friends, but he does now. 'Cause we're his friends. Me and my brothers, and our friends. We have, like, this huge extended family, and Chip's part of that, now." "I know, Kyle. And thank you," he said. "I think I'm up next," I said. "Okay, son. Get back to work. But thank you, Kyle. From the bottom of my heart." "I'm going to the farmers' market at lunch. Do you need anything?" "No, but thanks." *** Sarah and Arnie's plane was coming in at four, supposedly. I figured they'd be home about five, assuming their plane was on time, which was a crap shoot, at best. Chip was already at the house when we got home. "No work out today, buddy," I said to Chip. "No? What's up?" "Rick's parents are coming in today. We're all cooking," I said. -188-

"I'll help," he said. "Okay. And plan to stay and eat with us tonight," I said. "Do you know how to peel an onion?" "I've never done it," he said. "Brian, you know how to peel an onion, don't you," I asked. "Yes, sir," he said. He said that like he was talking to Kevin or Rick, and I just ignored it. "Show Chip how to do it. Y'all slice the tomatoes and then let me know so I can put the dressing on them, okay? Make the tomato slices about a half inch, and the onions, too." "Okay," Brian said. I chopped a few onions, a tiny bit of garlic, and just a smidge of celery. I put the peas in one pot with half of that, and the butter beans in another pot with the other half. I put ham hocks in both, and they were all set. I set up the damn rice for Kevin in a double boiler. Then I thought, hell, I'm cooking it now and warming it in the microwave later. He'll never know the difference. "Justin, do you know how to shuck corn, or just how to eat it," I asked. He grabbed me by my shoulders and looked me deep in the eyes. "Kyle. My brother. My best friend. There is nothing you can do with an ear of corn that I don't know how to do." "You are so bad," I said, laughing. He was laughing, too. "I've got the corn covered," he said. "Forget about it till you bite down on it tonight." The watermelon would take care of itself, and the pork roasts were ready to pop in the oven for heating. I put some rolls on a cookie sheet to heat up. Then I got my cornbread batter ready. I didn't know if they ate cornbread anywhere else but in the South, but you couldn't have a meal in north Florida like we were having that night if you didn't have you some good cornbread. My Grandma Goodson had won blue ribbons at the county fair for her cornbread, and I had the recipe. We always had a housekeeper who cooked at our house when Clay and I were growing up, and I could count on one hand the number of full-fledged meals my mama had cooked herself from scratch. That just wasn't her thing. She had the recipe, though, and now I had it, too. I made enough batter for two makings, but Kevin and Rick only had four cast iron pans to make it in. I had seen my grandma make it in a skillet on the stove top as one big piece, but I wasn't quite ready for that yet. The pans they had were a bunch of little pie slices, sort of, and I made enough batter for sixty-four of those little slices. The secret was, you had to use enough oil in the pans to basically fry the cornbread inside the oven. It had to be really hot when you put it in, and you didn't leave it in so long that it burned. I doubled the salt and sugar the recipe called for, and it was going to be good. Once that was done, I didn't know what else to do. Justin had made good time with the corn, but there was a lot there. I helped him. "Are we shucking all this for tonight," he asked. "I don't even know how many people are going to be here," I said. "Well, count 'em up, dumbass. There's no point in shucking all of this if we don't need it," he said. "Well, who's here? You, me, Tim, Brian, Jeff, Tyler, Seth, Cody, Alex, Chip, my parents, Doc and Sonya, Kevin and Rick, and Sarah and Arnie." "That's eighteen people. I say we shuck out six dozen ears," Jus said. "Yeah, that ought to be enough. A lot of people will just eat two or three," I said. "Yeah. Thanks for getting this today, Bubba," he said. "You know I got it for you, don't you?" "Of course I know that, Kyle. That's why I'm telling you thank you," he said. "I ate an ear of that -189-

white-and-yellow, and it's really good." "You ate it raw?" "Yeah. So what?" "I hope you don't get the screaming shits tomorrow morning," I said. "Well, if I do, it'll be worth it. To tell the truth, Kyle, I ate three ears," he said. I started laughing. "Justin, I'm been meaning to ask you, man. Do you like corn?" He laughed hard. He grabbed me around the neck, and he tried to shove an ear of corn, shucked, into my mouth. We were both laughing too much for that to happen. I don't know how we ever got that meal on the table for laughing so much, but we did. Chapter 18 (Rick's Perspective) My parents were coming for Justin's birthday and our Fourth of July celebration, and I was pretty damn excited. Kyle had called them to invite them even before he mailed out invitations, and they eagerly accepted. After our Christmas trip to Sarasota, I no longer thought of Arnie, my step-father, as my enemy. In fact, I thought of him as a member of my family, and I was really glad he and my mom were coming. They had never met Kevin's parents, and I couldn't wait for them to meet them. Kyle went hog-ass wild the day they were getting there, going to the farmers' market at lunch to buy provisions. Justin, being a country boy to the core, loved so-called country food, and that was exactly the kind of stuff Kyle bought. If Kyle ever got a taste of restaurant work, he would never again set foot in a hotel as an employee. His career would be restaurant all the way. And, while I liked restaurant work a lot more than the work I did, it just wasn't conducive to family life, especially if Tim was going to be a doctor. Kevin and I left the kids home cooking dinner, and we went to the airport to pick up my parents. There was much hugging and kissing from my mom, and much hand-shaking, followed almost immediately by hugging, from Arnie. They both looked great. They were tanned, and a tan makes you look healthy, even if exposure to the sun can be deadly for some people. They both must have just had their teeth cleaned, too, because their teeth looked unusually white. Teeth were the first thing Justin noticed on people, and I couldn't wait for his assessment of theirs. Everybody was at home, showered, shaved, and nicely dressed, when we got there. We introduced Seth and Cody, Alex, Tyler, and Chip, the little monkey who had most recently become part of our crowd. "And they're all gay," Arnie had asked me privately. He still had a hard time fully understanding that somebody could be gay and otherwise perfectly conventional. "We don't know about Chip, so we're assuming he's straight, but, yeah. We're all still gay, Arnie," I said. "And we figure the boyfriends are, too." He took my ribbing in the good-natured spirit it was intended, and he and I laughed. We did the obligatory tour of the house and grounds, and they were impressed. We got them settled in their room, and then everybody gathered in the den. Jeff and Tyler made the drinks. I trusted Jeff to give Tim, Brian, and Chip soft drinks, but I also figured he would fix up his brothers who were older with real booze. Ironically, I was the only non-drinker -190-

in the bunch, and I couldn't care less what those older boys drank. My precious husband, on the other hand, who tossed them back with the best of them at a party, always felt a little guilty about letting the kids have a drink. Kyle brought out munchies that were easy to eat in a room like the den. He had boiled crabs lying in wait for anybody who was adventurous enough to peel those things, but you had to do that at a table, like out on the patio. Gene and Rita got there around six, and we made the introductions. Then George and Sonya came in a little bit later. Gene and George bonded with Arnie almost immediately. I had given Gene and George the heads-up about him, and they went all out to make him their friend. The three of them walked out to the dock to see the boat, and then they did the tour of all of the vehicles we had. If there was any question about where Kyle had gotten his way with people, the answer was clear that night. He had gotten it directly from his father. Gene could out-Kyle Kyle any time. I had pretty much already known that, but that man could have gotten Arnie in bed, if he had wanted to. He proved that night why he was as successful in business as he was, and I knew he wasn't even trying all that hard. He didn't have to. I could tell my mom bonded with Rita immediately. When Sonya came in with George, it was like three long-time friends had been reunited. "This is going good, isn't it," Kyle said to me when I went into the kitchen to see if he needed help with anything. "It's going great," I said. "Kyle, the food smells good." Justin was in the kitchen helping Kyle, too. He got kind of a long face, and Kyle noticed. "What the hell's wrong with you," Kyle asked. "Cowboy up, Bubba. Get with the program. All of this is your favorite food, man." "I know," he whimpered. "Justin, what is wrong with you? You look like you're about to cry or something," Kyle said. "I am," he said. "Why the hell do you want to cry? This is supposed to make you happy," he said. "It is making me happy. This is all about me, isn't it? I mean, they came all this way because of my birthday, didn't they?" "Yeah, they did, Bubba," I said, "because they love you. And more are coming tomorrow. We all love you, Jus." "Me! Think about it," he said. That's when Kyle and I both lost it. We did think about it. We thought about him buck naked, in shackles, on a bare mattress in a motel room. We thought about the times Kyle had come really close to whipping his ass when he first came to us because he didn't know how to act. We also thought about the fun he had brought us in the months since then, the pride, the joy, the love. Suddenly the emotion was too strong. I don't know who grabbed who first, but all of us gathered together in a big three-way hug. "Thank you so much," Justin said. "I would be dead now without you." I don't know if they heard us in the other room or not, but one by one they drifted in. Tim. Kevin. Brian. Our core family. Jeff joined us in a minute, and we engulfed him in our massive hug, too. The newcomers knew instinctively what was going on, and they cried happy tears with us. Kyle let out a deep breath. "Okay. We've got a houseful of company. Let's let this be our one and only time to do this for the weekend, okay," Kyle said. Fresh tears were streaming down his face when he said that. "Okay," Justin said. -191-

Like the rest of us, he was wiping his eyes. "Let's wash our faces, guys," Kevin said. We took turns at the kitchen sink and dried ourselves with paper towels. Why that particular moment had brought out our love for one another that strongly was a mystery to me, but it had. I hadn't gotten even slightly aroused during all of that, and none of them had either, but the afterglow for me of that encounter among the seven of us was as good as the afterglow of a stupendous orgasm. (Kevin's Perspective) Rick's mom and step-dad came in on Wednesday afternoon, and their plane was actually on time. We met them at the airport, and it was a pretty emotional reunion. Rick had had a thing about his step-dad since we had gotten together, but I knew he now considered Arnie a friend. The kids were wonderful, as usual. Kyle cooked, and the meal was outstanding. It was all simple stuff, like corn and peas and butterbeans, but that was some of the best food of that type that I had ever eaten. He made cornbread that was fluffy light in the middle and crispy on the outside. I liked cornbread a lot, but I had always had the kind that was more like a cake than it was like bread. He served rolls, too, but everybody ate his cornbread first. He had baked it in the oven, but he had used a lot of oil, almost like it had been fried in the oven. "Kyle, this is the best cornbread I've ever eaten," Justin said. "Son, this is your Grandmother Goodson's recipe, isn't it," Rita Goodson said. "Yes, ma'am," Kyle said. "How does it compare?" "It's a hell of a lot better," Gene said. "She never cooked it long enough. This is mighty fine, son." Since the grandmother in question was Gene's mother, I guess he knew. I noticed none of the women asked for the recipe, and I knew that none of them ever intended to make it. I counted nine corn cobs on Justin's plate by the time he finished. He skipped the pork roast Kyle had given us, and he just ate vegetables. And he ate a whole lot of them. Kyle watched what he was eating the whole time, and I knew he was taking great pleasure in Justin's enjoyment of the meal he had made for him. We were going to have a much more sophisticated feed on Justin's actual birthday, but it would be catered. Getting the official birthday meal together took a lot of organizing and planning on Kyle's part, but that Wednesday night dinner for Jus and Rick's parents was Kyle's tribute to his brother and best friend. "Kyle, that might have been the best meal I've had in my whole life," Justin said, once we had finished and it was all picked up. "Thanks, but you didn't eat any meat," Kyle said. "I'm sure it was good, but you didn't cook it. What you cooked was the best, man. Kyle, that was real country cooking, and I loved it. And that cornbread was the best I've ever put in my mouth," Jus said. "I thought you were some down and out guy. Where did you eat home cooking," Kyle asked. "You want to explore every inch of me, don't you? The lady next door had me over for dinner sometimes. They didn't have any kids, so they sort of took pity on me, I think." "Did she cook good," Kyle asked. "Good, but not as good as you. And I think watermelon is the perfect dessert for a meal like that, especially yellow-meated watermelon. I saved some seeds. I'm going to plant 'em," he said. "Don't ruin the landscape," Rick said. "No, sir, I won't. You know that little alley between the clubhouse and the hedge? That gets good, strong sun all day long. That's where I'm going to plant 'em. I figure I've got room for a dozen hills back there. You won't be able to see 'em from the yard," Jus said. -192-

"I just might come raid your watermelon patch, Jus," Gene said. "I love those yellow ones." "I'd never had yellow watermelon before tonight," George said. "Are those very common?" "No, sir, that's why I want to grow us some," Jus said. "Just keep the snakes down, okay," Kyle said. "That'll be Trixie's job," Jus said. "She'll get after a snake. We saw that on the island, didn't we?" "Yeah," several of them said. "She's a beautiful dog," Sarah said. "Does she have papers." "No, ma'am. She's outside trained," Brian said. We all laughed. His sense of humor was so subtle, you couldn't really tell with a remark like that if he was being serious or making a pun. As smart as he was, I voted for a pun, and everybody else must have, too. "Sarah and Sonya, do you play bridge," Rita asked. They both said they did. "Maybe we could convince one of the gentlemen who's willing to forego the traditional after-dinner summer activity at this house to be our fourth. I think we have time to get in a few rubbers," she said. When I first met Rita, I was convinced all of her Southern Belle ways were an act. But they weren't. They were authentic, but she wasn't nearly as prim and proper as she appeared to be. She said the word "rubbers" as though it were spelled "rubbahs," and I knew she had purposely used the word, which is a perfectly legitimate term in bridge, for its comic effect with the boys. I watched their faces, and I knew it delighted them. They were just being too polite to laugh out loud. "I'll be happy to join the ladies," George said. "Splendid," Rita said. "Sarah, wait till you see her house," Sonya said. "It's to die for." "Sonya, don't exaggerate," Rita said. "She isn't exaggerating, Rita, and you damn well know it," George said. "Well, I try," Rita said, all modest and coquettish. "And succeed," I said. "We're very proud of our home, aren't we, son," Gene said. Kyle shrugged, and everybody laughed. "Typical boy," Rita said. "Yeah, but he's gay," Gene said. "What the hell use is a gay son if he can't appreciate good decorating and how much all that stuff costs?" We all knew he was teasing Kyle, but none of us was ready for what came next. "Gene!" "Dad!" Rita and Kyle said in mock horror at the same time. "What is it y'all always say? I got you last?" We all howled with laughter. Kyle hugged his dad, and they just about grinned each other to death. "You don't get two people last at one time very often," Justin said. "I've got to hand it to you, Mr. Bubba." That made us laugh, too. "I hope you find the patio comfortable tonight, dawlin'," Rita said, exaggerating her drawl. "Let's go play cards before they start getting naked. Especially Gene. Y'all don't want to see that, I can assure you." "She just got you last, Mr. Gene, and I don't think that's the end of it," Justin said. "Nor was it the beginning, Jus," Gene said. -193-

We all laughed. With the three ladies and George gone, there were still fourteen of us guys there to swim, shoot pool, and have fun. It was still early, only 8:30 or so, and there was plenty of time before we'd have to call it a night. "That George is mighty pussy-whipped, isn't he," Gene said to Rick and me. "Do you think that's why he went off with them," I asked. "That, plus I think he wanted the boys to have a chance to swim, if they wanted to," Gene said. "George is a very good man, fellas. He's my best friend, and I've got a lot of friends." "Do you think he and Sonya are in love," Rick asked. "Hell, I know George is in love. We see each other or talk on the phone every day, and, yeah, he's definitely in love with her. And I think she's in love with him, too," he said. "Do you think they'll get married," I asked. "Absolutely. It would already be planned, probably, but George is waiting on an annulment from the church. Jerry Taylor has been working on that with him. Apparently, it's a sure thing, but it takes time," Gene said. "I'll bet we've rocked George's world down here in Emerald Beach, with all the gay stuff and all," I said. "Ironically not, Kevin. I've never know a man more accepting of you guys and your orientation than George Murphy," Gene said. "More than Gene Goodson," I asked. Gene smiled. "Well, probably not more, but the same, anyway," he said. *** That Wednesday night was the start of a long-weekend party to celebrate Jus and America. Rick and I weren't going in to work on Thursday and Friday because of our house guests, but the boys all had to work those days. That year the Fourth was on a Saturday, and our guys were off on Saturdays. They had had to work the previous year on the Fourth. It was the biggest weekend of the year for both the hotels and the gift shops, but other people would have to cover it for us. Around 10:30 Kyle came up to those of us who were sitting on the patio with Chip in his arms. Chip was naked from swimming, as was Kyle, and Chip was dead asleep. "What am I supposed to do with this one," Kyle asked. "Is he all right," Gene asked. "Yes, sir. I checked out his breathing and pulse, and they're fine. He kind of gets close to waking up, but then he goes right back under," Kyle said. "Put him in the study," Rick said. "Everything else is full. We can't leave him out here tonight. He'll freak out if he wakes up in the clubhouse by himself." "Is he asleep, or did he pass out," I asked. "He's asleep. He hasn't had a drop," Kyle said. "I'll call Jack and let him know he's spending the night here," I said. Kyle yawned. "I'm going to put him away and go to bed, too," he said. "Goodnight, Daddy." He kissed Gene on the cheek. "Goodnight, everybody." We told Kyle and Tim goodnight. Then the other boys started coming forward to say goodnight, too. We told them all goodnight, and the party ended. Rita dropped off Sarah. She walked her to the door and collected Gene, but she didn't come in. -194-

George and Sonya had gone home from the Goodson house. We all said our goodnights and went to bed. (Kyle's Perspective) The party that night the Jacobs' got there was really good. I thought the pork roast was outstanding, and the rest of it was good, too. I was sorry I hadn't made more cornbread because everybody really seemed to like that. I only had four cast-iron pans to work with, though. We needed more of those. I watched Justin eat, and he ate enough for a damn battalion. That was really his birthday dinner, and he knew it. We were going to have a fancy one Saturday night in his honor, but the food on Saturday was for the company, not for Jus. I mean, shrimp and lobster cocktail? She-crab soup? Come on! He'd like all of it, for sure, but his kind of food was what we served Wednesday night. He couldn't get over thanking me for making it, either. It was a pleasure to cook for somebody that you loved and that enjoyed it as much as he did. I just didn't want to be around in the bathroom the next morning when all he ate that night passed through. I spent a lot of my time that evening shooting pool with Seth, Cody, and Alex. Alex couldn't get over how it was with us, and he kept saying how much he appreciated everything. I finally had to tell him to shut the fuck up and take his shot. He laughed when I said that, but he did it. Who had as good a time as anybody at the party was Miss Trixie. We ate in the dining room, and she was right there with us. Rick said after the blessing that nobody was to feed her from their plates, but everybody, including him, did. What she wanted was meat. Justin handed her down a corn cob at one point, and she took it, no doubt thinking it was a big ole bone. She dropped that sucker in her corner, though, when she figured out what it was. Or what it wasn't, more likely. After dinner and a swim, Arnie and Brian got busy with her, teaching her tricks. Brian had the patience of Job when it came to her, and Arnie had some know-how when it came to training a dog. They had her doing all kinds of crap, and I figured we'd have us a circus dog by the time the weekend was over. They actually got her to do a backwards flip, which I thought was pretty damn good for a dog her size. Brian was about the quietest one of us, and in a couple of days or so he'd be the only one with a real legal link to Kevin and Rick. Brian was the best looking of all of us, too, I thought, and I had taken about a million pictures of him. Four of them were hanging on a wall of a gallery in New York City that night, and they were priced high. I figured they would sell, too. The local guys paid $75 an hour in modeling fees. I paid $750, but only if you happened to be my brother Brian Mathews. If they sold for what they were asking, I'd still make a nice profit after his fee. But none of that money stuff really mattered. We all had every damn thing in the world we wanted, and a whole lot more. My parents spoiled me rotten. My dad gave me the full run of that damn warehouse they had, and I used the privilege, too. I just got the basics for myself, but I was generous with the rest of them. I loved my father to death, so don't get the wrong idea. But doing that was a very dumb business decision, and I knew it. We shopped at the mall and other places, but you just couldn't beat the prices at the warehouse. The next day, Thursday, the New Orleans people got there. Rick and I had some really bad miscommunications with Kevin on that one. We both thought we were going out to eat that night. Wrong! It was Friday night we were going out. We learned that morning that we had to come up with dinner for all those people. "Kevin, I'm sorry, but there was a failure to communicate here, somewhere. I didn't know we were -195-

feeding them tonight," I said that morning at breakfast. "Well, we can go out tonight," he said. "No way," I said. "Not on the night they get here. They're going to be tired from their trip. They're not going to want to go out." "Can you and Rick do it," he asked. "Rick's got to be with you, Kevin. What are you thinking? His parents and yours will be here, and they've never even met each other. He's going to be home in the kitchen? I don't think so," I said. "Well, then, can you do it?" "Is the pope a Catholic?" He laughed. "I'm taking the afternoon off, though. I need to get this thing organized. How many?" "We had eighteen last night. I guess four more," he said. "Twenty-two people. Hmmm. I can do that." I had decided to have a fish fry on Saturday for lunch. For Tim's party, I had picked up sandwiches and fried chicken and stuff like that at the deli at the grocery store, and that had worked out good because we could just put the stuff out and people could eat it whenever they got hungry. A fish fry for lunch would mean everybody would have to stop what they were doing to sit down to eat when it was ready. I re-thought that. "Justin, come outside with me for a minute," I said. We had finished eating breakfast, and it was still too early for us to leave for work. He took out his pack of cigarettes when we got outside and offered me one. He always did that even though I almost never took one. I did that morning, though. "What's up," he asked. I told him I was thinking about frying fish that night instead of on Saturday, if that was okay with him. "Of course it's okay, Bubba. They'll be good tonight," he said. "I'm going to make cheese grits and a Greek tomato salad to go with it. Anything else you want?" "What about corn on the cob," he asked. "Well, grits are corn, you know," I said. "Oh, yeah, that's right. How about boiled okra? Okra boiled with some of those peas from last night. Were there enough of them left over?" "Hell, yeah, there were a lot of peas left over, and okra and peas are so good together, too," I said. "It'll go real good with the fish, too. I'll make some rice for the New Orleans people, though." "Ice cream for dessert," Jus said. "You always have to have ice cream after fish or seafood." "True. How about hot fudge sundaes?" He gave me the go-ahead, and then we left for work. I didn't ride with the others that morning because I would be leaving at lunch time to get ready for the party. I called the fish house I did business with on my way to work and ordered grouper, enough for twenty-five people. I knew we were only having twenty-two, and that's if Chip ate with us, which I figured he would, but I always liked to have more, just in case. I worked that morning, but my mind was on cooking and entertaining, not really on work. I was pretty excited about seeing Grandma and Grandpa Foley, and Craig and Cherie, too. I tried to remember if we had had Trixie when they had come for Tim's party, and I couldn't remember. I didn't think we had. I wished I knew how to teach her tricks. If I did, I'd teach her how to grab hold of Craig's crotch without hurting him, just as a joke. Knowing her, though, she'd probably be wagging that big ole tail of hers ninety -196-

to nothing the whole time she was pretending to want to eat him up. The morning dragged. We weren't very busy, and I just sat around a good bit, waiting for business. Cody was in and out all morning, talking to Seth. A couple of times that boy had him a big ole hog of a hard-on in his pants. I knew Seth saw it, too, and he got him one, too, one time. "Your boy seems excited to see you today," I said to Seth. "I know. He wants to go somewhere for lunch today instead of eating here," Seth said. "Liquid lunch?" Seth blushed a little bit, but he laughed when he saw I was just ragging him a little. He punched me on the arm pretty hard, though. "You like him, don't you," I said. "Yeah. I like him a lot. I still can't get over the fact that I can arouse another person, much less somebody that looks like him," he said. "I know. That used to get to me, too," I said. "Now I just accept it." "You used to think like that," he asked. It sounded like he couldn't believe such a thing. "Sure. Sometimes Tim shoots off just from sucking me, you know? That still blows my mind every time it happens," I said. "He doesn't do anything to himself," Seth asked. "Nope. He says I just turn him on that much. It doesn't happen every time, but it does happen," I said. "Kyle, we can't keep talking about this," he said. "Why? Is it making the little man want some attention?" "Yes, it is," he said. I grabbed his nipple through his shirt and kind of squeezed it a little, just to play around. "Ohhhh, don't," he said. We both laughed hard at our foolishness. The time for lunch finally got there. I told Jason, the bell captain, I was leaving for the day. "Clock out," he said. "No, I'm not clocking out. I'm going to be working for Kevin Foley this afternoon, and I'll be working a lot harder for him than I would be if I stayed here," I said. "I don't know who Kevin Foley is. Clock out." "You've been to his house, Jason. Kevin, of Kevin and Rick," I said. "If you want to keep your job, you better clock out, Goodson. And I mean it," he said. "Okay," I said. Why bother arguing, I thought. That dumbass doesn't even remember who Kevin is, or maybe he doesn't know. I dunno. "What are you doing," Mr. Rooney asked me as I was punching out. "Kevin's parents are coming in today, and I'm in charge of dinner tonight. I can't get it done unless I'm off this afternoon," I said. "That's ridiculous. You don't have to clock out for that, Kyle," he said. "Clock back in." Everybody wanted to argue over the fourteen-dollar wage I'd make that afternoon if I didn't clock out. Nobody said a word, pro or con, about the tips I'd be missing, though. "Yes, sir," I said, and I punched back in. "Chip called me a little while ago to ask if he could spend the night at Kevin's house again tonight. He's not getting on you guys' nerves, is he?" "No, sir. We all like Chip. He's just getting to be one of us," I said. "Well, he loves being with you guys, but you chase him home if he turns into a pest," he said. -197-

"Yes, sir, but that won't happen," I said. "Well, thanks for looking after him, Kyle. I owe you a big one for that," he said. A big one? No way did he mean it that way, I thought. Then I smiled a little at how stupid my thoughts were sometimes. "I didn't mean it that way," he said, when he saw me smile. When he said that, I totally lost it right there, and he did, too. We were both laughing so hard we had to prop ourselves up against the wall. "I think you just got me last," I said. He laughed even harder. "Chip told me about 'got you last,'" he said. "Well, you got me last, for sure, and in a big way," I said. I hadn't intended that to be funny, but he laughed even more. "Get out of here, Goodson, before I kick your ass," he said. I couldn't resist. "Kick?" "Get going, boy," he said. He turned to go back into his office, still laughing. *** The fish weren't ready when I got to the fish house to pick them up. The boats were just coming in. That figured. Story of my life. "It'll be another hour and a half 'fore them fish is ready," the girl behind the counter said. She was fat and had a couple of teeth out in front. Her hair was nasty as hell, and I even noticed a couple of small fish scales caught in it. She had a tattoo of a bulldog on her right forearm. I bet she didn't shave under her arms, but I didn't want to find out first hand. I could just see myself in bed with her, both of us naked. Hot and sweaty. And greasy. "Hey, you mind if I sink a crab trap in your pussy," I'd say. "No, go ahead, but I get to eat half of 'em," she'd say. "Hot as you are, they'll probably come out already boiled," I'd say. And she'd laugh until she shook the bed to pieces. "Okay. At least I know they're fresh," I said. "I've got a little shopping to do, so I'll be back to get 'em." "Okay. Hey, do you want my number," she asked. "I've got it, Maureen," I said. She was wearing a name tag. "You do? What is it?" "Zero," I said. She laughed like that was the funniest damn thing she had ever heard. She didn't even know I was teasing her. "That ain't a number," she said. Yeah, it is, I thought. You ask any math teacher. "I know it ain't. I'm dating somebody, though. Otherwise . . ." Otherwise, I'd damn sure take your ass out. To the end of the county pier and throw it in at high tide, I thought. "You're cute," she said. "Maureen, get on the fish, okay? I want good pieces now, you hear? I'm cooking for my grandparents tonight, and it's got to be the best," I said. -198-

"It'll be the best, Kyle," she said. Shit! How the hell did she know my name? Then I remembered I was still in uniform, and I had a name tag, too. I winked at her just before I left, and she giggled. Jesus Christ! I went to a fast food place and got four chili dogs, two large fries, and a large coke. I had skipped lunch the day before, and I hadn't yet caught up. I was hungry. After I ate, I went to a roadside vegetable stand and bought okra and tomatoes. The tomatoes were just as nice as the ones I had bought the day before at the farmers' market. "Where'd this stuff come from," I asked. "Farmers' market in town. First thing this morning," the guy said. "You get fresh from there every day? Corn, too?" "Yes, sir. Every day. Especially corn. It's gotta be fresh picked the day you eat it for it to be good," he said. "I'm Kyle Goodson, and I just became a regular customer of yours," I said. I shook hands with the guy. He was pretty young, maybe eighteen or nineteen. His hand was so rough that I wondered if he had scales on it. No amount of spit or lotion could make that hand feel good on a dick. He probably stayed raw down there. His name was Curtis. "Do you know Maureen at the fish house up by the bridge on the lagoon," I asked. I sensed kinship. "Yeah. She's my cousin. She's an ugly bitch, ain't she? Did she hit on you?" "Yeah, sort of," I said. Yeah, but I didn't get close enough to her for her to hit on me with her hand, I thought. "Not surprised. She does it to me all the time," he said. "You ever, like, . . . you know?" "Yeah, a few times, but I ain't got what it takes for her," he said. "Why? Are you gay or something," I asked. "No, I ain't gay. At least not that I know of, but this is me," he said. He picked up an okra that was about six inches long. "And this is what it would take to really get in there good through all that fat." That's when he held up a cucumber that was at least a foot long. I started laughing, and he did, too. In fact, we laughed a good bit. I liked that guy, and I thought he liked me. "What's all the laughing out here," a man said, as he came through the tarp that was the back of the stand. He had a good-natured grin on his face. He just wanted in on the fun. "We're laughing about Maureen, Daddy. This is a new regular customer. He's Kyle," Curtis said. "Kyle Goodson," I said, extending my hand to shake. He was definitely another one with a raw dick, I thought, judging from the hardness of his hand. "Goodson? You any relation to Mr. Gene Goodson?" "Yes, sir. I'm his son," I said. "I've known Gene for years. Nice to meet you, Kyle," he said. "Nice to meet you, too," I said. I was slowly coming to realize that everybody in Emerald Beach, and in town, too, knew my daddy. I didn't know if that was a good thing or not. I mean, they didn't give me a discount, or anything. "Well, I've got a date with Maureen," I said. They both laughed. "Get her to take the fish scales out of her hair before you fuck her, son," the daddy said. -199-

"Why didn't you tell me that," Curtis demanded of his dad. We all laughed hard when he said it. I really liked those guys, and I could have stayed all afternoon, laughing and joking with them. I knew Justin would really like ole Curtis, too. I thought maybe one night him and me could get a couple of six packs and pick up Curtis to go drinking with us down at the county pier. Tim, Brian, and Jeff wouldn't want to go, but I knew me and Jus could be friends with that boy. I picked up my order at the fish house and put it on the credit card. To feed twenty-five people for forty dollars, and the fish so fresh I had to wait for them to get it in off the boats, was a damn good deal, I thought. And it filleted. There was nothing like summer in a beach town, except that it was so hot until the sea breeze picked up around three o'clock. That's what I waited for every day, and most days it didn't let me down. I got busy when I got home, and we had us a fine fish fry that night. We were too many to eat in the house, so I had my boys set up three tables in the clubhouse. I stopped on the way home and bought some checkerboard oil cloths to use on the tables. That's what you needed for a fish fry, not real cloth. Flowers for the tables didn't fit the occasion, either, so I wracked my brain for what to do for centerpieces. This wasn't an elegant meal, but it was a "Welcome to Emerald Beach" meal for the New Orleans crowd. Kevin collected little statues of horses, and he must have had eighty of them all over the damn house. I put eight or nine on each table as centerpieces, and I thought they looked pretty good. "Kyle, are you responsible for this," Grandma Foley said when she saw the room. "Yes, ma'am," I said. "It's beautiful, Kyle. Thank you for going to so much trouble for us," she said. "It wasn't any trouble," I said. "Tim and Brian did it, really." And they had. The two of them had set the tables, and Tim had brought out the horses I told him to get. I had only had to rearrange three or four of them, to sort of balance things out. "They might have, but you thought of putting the horses on the tables, didn't you," she asked. "Yes, ma'am," I said. My mom was right there next to her, and she was beaming. "Breeding shows, Rita," Grandma said. My mother never really grinned, but she smiled damn hard when Beth said that. I thought of Maureen and Curtis from that afternoon getting it on, breeding. Whoa! We did all the usual stuff with drinks and snacks and shit before we ate. I got all the stuff ready in the kitchen, and Rick was in charge in there. We had to do it buffet style, and I regretted that. I would have rather we served restaurant style, with a really pretty presentation on each plate. That wasn't possible, though, because I was afraid the fish would get cold. I was at the fryer outside. I had bought it just the week before, and I had never used it till that night. It had two tanks of blazing hot grease, and I could put a lot of fish to fry at one time. Everything else was on the buffet table, but that fish had to be steaming hot and crispy, too. Plus, I had hushpuppies to cook. "Get 'em out here," I said to Tim, when I knew I had about another ten minutes of cooking to do. Everybody came out and found a place in the clubhouse. Craig came over to me on the patio with a drink in his like he wanted to talk. He lit up a cigarette. "Not now, son," I said. "I'm busier than a one-armed paperhanger with the seven-year itch." He laughed his ass off. "Where does it itch?" "Shit, Craig. Get the fuck in there, man. I can't talk right now," I said. "You know I want to talk to you, but I'm too busy at the moment." -200-

He laughed some more, but at least he left me alone. I had hushpuppies bobbing up all over the place, and every one of them needed turning. When I got it all done, I took it in. Ed was fixin' to pray. "Heavenly Father, once again you have brought this family together, and we thank you for that. There are new faces here tonight, and we welcome them and love them. Beth and I, and Sarah and Arnie, thank you for our sons, for their love for one another, and for the grandsons they've given us. We thank you for Rita and Gene, and for Sonya and George. We thank you for all the boys, and we especially thank you for Chip, our Benjamin. Thank you for the presence of Clay, who will always be with us at our table of love. And thank you for these gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen." Well, the Clay line did it for me and for a lot of us, including Tyler. That boy must really like Jeff, I thought. Good thing we had big napkins. "Ladies first," I said. "Then out-of-town men. Then whoever can elbow in front of the other one," I announced. They laughed, but it was a pretty orderly buffet. I wanted to be last to see if everything was still hot by the time I got to it, and it was. I guess I can do a fish fry, I thought. That was a very important skill in northwest Florida, and I had done it with minimal help. I knew I could run whole political campaigns since I knew how to give a nice fish fry. People don't think about teaching their kids stuff like that, but that was important where we lived. As I was waiting to get my food, I thought about that line you hear all the time, about having bigger fish to fry. Not me. All I wanted to do was feed my family. There were lots of things I would do different the next time I fried fish, especially on timing, but that fish fry turned out good. And I knew Justin loved it. All but the youngest had had some nice wine for dinner, and I, for one, was feeling pretty mellow after that. Trixie was in there with us, of course, but she stopped begging after three or four people gave her a piece of fish. I was a little bit nervous about giving her fish because there might be a bone or two in a piece she got, but she didn't want it anyway. "I have wanted to experiment with something for a long time," Craig said. I thought of several nasty things to say when he said that, but I kept my mouth shut. "What's that, son," Ed said. "Well, I've always heard that the name hushpuppy came from the fact that somebody was cooking hushpuppies and the dog was making a racket. They threw one to the dog and said, 'Hush, puppy.' That's where the name comes from. Can I try it with Trixie?" Craig was sitting at my table. I got up and got a platter of hushpuppies for us to throw to Trixie. He was grinning and laughing. He picked one up and said, "Trixie," real loud. She jumped up, just a-wagging and a-barking. "Hush, puppy," he said, as he threw one to her. She caught it on the fly, chewed it about three times, and wanted more. "It's true," he said. "I want to verify it," Cherie said. She let one fly and said "Hush, puppy." It must have been a girl thing because after Trixie caught Cherie's hushpuppy, she came up to her and put her head on Cherie's lap. That was too cute. I got that on film, too. Rick stood up. "Trixie, go out," he said, and she followed him like a wide receiver followed a quarterback. She caught it, too, and had it down in two chews. Before I knew it, the heart surgeon, the oral surgeon, the CEO of Goodson, the orthodontist, the two Executive Vice-Presidents of Goodson, and the pediatrician were taking turns throwing hushpuppies to Trixie. Everybody was laughing their asses off and having a great time. Then Justin, Brian, Tim, and -201-

Jeff joined in. I thought a fucking food fight was about to break out. "Kyle, go make some more," Jus said, when they were about out. "No way," I said. "Oh, man," he said. "Jus, it ain't good for her to eat stuff like that," I said. "She can handle it," Beth said. "The veterinarian should know," Ed said. George and Sonya laughed when he heard that. Beth shot Ed a bird, and the whole room laughed when she did it. "That was fun. And pretty wild for this group," Jus said. "How'd it happen?" "I know how," I said. Then I started singing. "Blame it all on my roots. I showed up in boots. I ruined your black-tie affair." That was all I had to sing. Most of them knew that song because we had heard it so damn many times, and they were all singing along on the next line. I saw Jeff slip the CD into the player, and I saw him find the track. In about two seconds, the song came on. In about another two seconds, Justin snatched me up to dance. The rest of them were right behind us, and we got a good dance going. Trixie was mighty excited. She was running all over the place, barking and wagging that tail. She wanted to dance, too. She was pestering Brian, and she wanted him to pick her up. He did, too, and they danced together. I had my cameras at the ready, of course, and I got some great shots of them dancing. Brian kissed her on the lips, and she snaked out that tongue. That broke all my training rules about her licking, but I knew those pictures would fetch a couple thousand each in New York. Nobody, gay or straight, could resist a boy as good looking as Brian kissing a dog as good looking as Trixie. He put her down, and she barked her head off for him to pick her up again. Rick went over to the buffet table and picked an okra out of the okra and peas dish. He flung it at her and said, "Hush, puppy." She caught it on the fly and swallowed it. But it wasn't what she was expecting. She gagged on it and went and sat down for a little while. She was back up dancing with us in a few minutes, though, wagging, barking, and grinning. Chapter 19 (Justin's Perspective) I couldn't believe I was fixing to turn eighteen. I mean, it wasn't anything, really. I would just be another day older on July 4th. But legally it meant a whole lot. I would officially be an adult. I couldn't be a foster "child" anymore, and that kind of hurt. I wanted Kevin and Rick to be my foster fathers. I wanted to be their son, but that couldn't be anymore after my birthday. I could vote, and that was good, I guess. I'd vote for whoever the people I trusted told me to vote for, but I'd vote. I could buy cigarettes. I had been smoking since I was fourteen, but it would soon be legal for me to buy them. I could go into bars and clubs, but I couldn't drink. I had been in several of those places with my family in New Orleans and New York, and I hadn't once been carded. I could no longer have sex with Brian, since he would be a child and I wouldn't be, after my birthday. The fact that we were in love, and had been for more than six months, didn't matter. That was the law, although Craig had told us we could just go right ahead loving each other. Kyle was unbelievably good to me that weekend. He loved to give a party, and that fact didn't have anything to do with me. But he didn't have to work as hard as he did. He basically threw three parties for me: Wednesday night, Thursday night, and all day on Saturday. I knew he wouldn't have done -202-

it if he hadn't wanted to, but the fact that he wanted to just blew me away. I had known them just a little over a year, and Kyle was the best friend anybody could ever have. At first, he held me to a strict code. Once I figured that code out, though, and decided to live by it, I knew he would support me in anything. "Are you excited about your birthday," he asked me at work on Friday. "We're going out to eat tonight at the best place in Emerald Beach," he said. "Yeah, but it won't be your cooking. Nothing could be better than that," I said. He sort of cocked his head at me when I said that. "You really liked what I cooked, didn't you?" "No, Kyle. I loved what you cooked, man." "Well, I loved doing it for you," he said. *** Saturday was my party. "I'm so proud of you," Brian said, after we had made love that morning. "Proud? Why? 'Cause I lived long enough to turn eighteen?" "Stop it. You know why I'm proud of you," he said. "Because I love you?" "Yeah, that's part of it. But it's really because you are who you are. You're smart, hard working, funny, good looking, and so incredibly stable and loyal," he said. "I ain't really all that stable," I said. "Yes, you are. Kiss me. Make love to me," he said, and we did it again. (Kyle's Perspective) I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn on the Fourth of July. I looked at Tim next to me in bed, and he was so damn cute and so damn good looking. I wanted to wake his ass up and just have my way with him, but I knew that wasn't fair. I had my cameras ready, though, and I snapped some more pictures of him sleeping. Then I showered and shaved and dressed for the day. I figured I'd be in and out of different clothes all day long, but that morning I dressed patriotic: white tee shirt with an American flag on it, navy shorts, white socks, white tennis shoes, plain navy baseball cap with a flag insignia. I guess I could have painted red, white, and blue stripes down my dick to be dressed more patriotic, but I didn't think that was necessary. The only one up that early was Arnie. I knew he wanted a cup of coffee bad, but he hadn't turned on the machine. It was all set up, and all he had to do was turn the switch to "on." He hadn't done it, though. We told each other good morning when I went down there. I turned on the coffee maker and sat down at the table with him. "Kyle, this dog is so incredibly teachable," he said. Trixie was up and wide awake. "Yes, sir. She's real smart," I said. "She's more than smart, Kyle. This dog has an instinct for tricks. She wants to please her people much more than dogs of her breed usually do," he said. "You and Brian taught her some tricks last night, didn't you?" "Yes, we did. That Brian is a fine boy, Kyle." "Yes, sir, I know he is. He's like my brother, you know?" "I think all of you guys are fine boys," he said. "Thanks. We're okay, I guess," I said. "Why are you up so early," he asked. "I don't know. It's just a habit when we have a big party," I said. "I've got to do some shopping -203-

pretty soon." "May I go with you when you go shopping? I'd like to see some more of the area." "Of course you can," I said. Arnie and I drank coffee. We didn't say that much to one another, though. I went out and got the paper, thinking he might want to look at it, but he just glanced at the headlines in the front section and in the sports section. Arnie and I each drank two cups of coffee. He kept fooling around with Trixie, and I could tell she really liked him. After two cups, I was ready to go to the store. I wanted to get the shopping over with so we could get on with the day, but you couldn't get there too early because they wouldn't have the fried chicken cooked yet. I had ordered the birthday cake a couple of days before, so I knew that would be ready. We left for the grocery store around 6:45, and, of course, Trixie wanted to go with us. I decided to take Tim's Wrangler so she wouldn't be cooped up in my car while we were in the store. If she got out while we were inside, she always managed to get back in before we came out with the groceries, so I wasn't worried about her running away or anything. Arnie and I did the grocery shopping. I knew just what I wanted, so it didn't take a very long time to load up two carts. Plus, there wasn't really anybody else in the store at that hour. I knew the girl who was on the check-out, and we flirted a little bit. "She was cute," Arnie said, as we were loading the stuff in the Wrangler. "Yeah," I said. "Kyle, I don't get it. You're gay, right?" "Yes, sir," I said. "So how can you think she was cute?" "Have you ever seen a guy that you thought was good looking or cute," I asked. "Of course I have," he said. "I think you guys are all cute and good looking." "Does that mean you're gay?" "No." "Well, thinking that girl was cute doesn't mean I'm straight. There's really not all that much difference, you know. Between gay and straight, I mean." "Kyle, this is very personal, and I'm asking this because I'm trying to understand, not pry," he said. "I know that, Grandpa," I said. He really liked it that I called him Grandpa. "Are you attracted to girls at all? I mean, could you ever, er, like, er, . . ." "Have sex with a girl? Sure. I'm curious as hell about it, too, but I don't think I could ever be in love with a girl like I'm in love with Tim. I couldn't be in love with another guy like I am with him, either, though," I said. "So why have you chosen . . ." "I haven't chosen to be gay. I am gay. It's who I am," I said. "It's like choosing to have sex or not to have sex. I could choose not to have sex with anybody at all, but I'd always want to. It would be a constant struggle for me not to have sex. Do you see what I mean?" "So if you chose to be, er, straight, it would be a constant struggle not to be attracted to guys? Is that what you mean?" "Exactly. I know I could do it, but I don't want to. You know? Just like I know I could not have sex. I just don't want to because everything in me wants me to," I said. "I used to think gay guys were weird and strange, but now I know they aren't. I'm learning a lot, -204-

Kyle. Be patient with me, okay?" I grinned at him. He was being really honest, and I knew that wasn't easy for him. "Did you think all gay guys wanted you," I asked. He laughed. "That's it, isn't it," I said. He laughed some more and nodded. I knew he was a little embarrassed by that attitude, but he was being honest. "Arnie," I said, laughing a little, "I love you to death, but . . ." "But you don't want to jump my bones," he said. "Not even a little bit," I said, still laughing. "I think straight guys are afraid of gay guys," he said. "Why?" "Because of that. I think most straight guys think all gay guys want them, and they're afraid that if the gay guys put a move on them, they'd want it, too." "You said you're learning, but I'm learning a hell of a lot from you, too, man," I said. "So you think gay people and straight people maybe ought to talk to one another about this kind of stuff," he asked. "Definitely. That might save a life here and there, you know?" "Is there a GSA at your school," he asked. "Yes, sir." "There are in our schools, too, but one of our school board members wants us to disband them," he said. "Are you active in the one at your school?" "No. I'm not a member." "You're not? Why not?" "I probably should be, but everybody at school knows I'm gay. If all the out gay kids were in GSA, then it would discourage straight kids from joining, I think. I mean, the club would look like it was just for gays and lesbians, you know?" "I see your point. But you're going to be SGA president next year, right?" "Right." "Was being gay your platform when you ran," he asked. "No, not at all. I talked about tolerance for gays and other minorities in my campaign speech, but mostly I ran on the platform that I'm just a normal, ordinary guy. The kid who ran against me is super smart and sort of arrogant. I'm smart enough, I guess, but I'm not the best of students. I'm just middle of the road, I guess." I could tell he was thinking. We had long finished unloading the grocery carts, and I was ready to get going. "Are you ready to go," he asked. "Yes, sir." He didn't say another word riding back to the house. It wasn't uncomfortable, though, because I knew he was thinking. He was the deputy superintendent of schools back home, and he probably had a lot of power and influence in the way they ran their schools. If I had helped him understand a little bit, then maybe the kids in Sarasota would be a little better off for it. I hoped so, anyhow. *** They were all up when Arnie and I got home with the groceries. I did a head count. It was Kevin and Rick, Kyle and Tim, Justin and Brian, Jeff and Tyler, Seth and Cody, Alex, Chip, and Sarah and -205-

Arnie. Fourteen hungry people. I put out a couple dozen doughnuts still in the boxes for them to nibble on while I cooked. Tim, Rick, and Justin helped me, while Brian and Jeff set the table. I scrambled up thirty-six extra-jumbo eggs. I had bought pre-cooked link sausage and pre-cooked bacon, and those went into the microwave. We had a ton of cheese grits left over from Thursday night, and I warmed those up in the second microwave. The biscuits I had bought at the grocery store were still warm, but I popped those in the oven to heat up a little more. In twenty minutes, it was all ready to eat. "Kyle and I had a very interesting conversation this morning," Arnie said, mostly to Sarah but really to everyone. "Oh? What about," she asked. "Sex," I said. I watched their reactions. Rick and Kevin busted out into grins, and so did Arnie. Sarah looked a little puzzled. "Did you give him the 4-1-1, Stud," Justin asked. "The 4-1-1," Arnie asked. "That's the phone number for information," Jus said. "The 4-1-1 isn't a problem," Sarah said. "It's that other number I would be worried about." I didn't believe this lady was sitting there talking about 69, and I was afraid to laugh, like I wanted to. It finally dawned on Rick what she was referring to, though, and he howled. I laughed hard, too, then, and so did Tim. Finally the rest of them caught on, more or less. "Mom, I think you just got everybody last," Rick said. She grinned smugly. "How do you know about that," Arnie asked. "Probably the same way you do," she said. "Hmmmm," Arnie said. He was pretty damn cute when he said that. "Chip, do you need the 4-1-1, buddy," Jus asked. "I think I must because I don't know what you guys are talking about," Chip said. He was pretty damn cute, too. "Kyle and I will catch up with you later on the 4-1-1," Jus said. "Okay?" Chip smiled. I could tell he really liked us, and we liked him a lot, too. "Who's skiing," I asked. Pretty much everybody wanted to. Chip said he'd like to try it but we'd have to teach him. "How long have you lived here, Chip," Kevin asked. "Four years." "None of your friends taught you how to ski," I asked. He kind of hung his head a little bit. Then I realized he probably didn't have any friends. He had a houseful now, though. "We'll teach you, Chip," I said. "Who wants to help me move the traps?" "What are you trapping, Kyle," Arnie asked. "Crabs. Do you like 'em?" "Yeah. I saw you had some out the other night, but I didn't get a chance to eat any. Did you catch those," he asked. "Yes, sir," I said. "I'll help you," Arnie said. "Me, too," Sarah said. "Should I put on my bathing suit first?" "No, ma'am, you can go like that." -206-

She had on shorts, which were fine for what we were going to do. "Sometimes Trixie goes in after the traps, and she shakes off when she gets back on board. We can leave her home this morning, though." "How often do you check the traps," Arnie asked. "Just once a day now," I said. "I've been getting about two dozen a day. I have eight traps." "Does anybody ever rob your traps," Arnie asked. "I don't know, but I don't think so," I said. "You know it's a felony to rob crab traps in this state, don't you," Arnie asked. "Yes, sir, I knew that," I said. "They arrested some people down our way recently for doing that," Sarah said. "It was in all the media, too." "I could see how some kids might do that, not knowing it was illegal," I said. "These weren't kids. These were adults," Arnie said. "Well, are y'all ready to go?" We went and moved the traps. I didn't bother checking them, and Trixie stayed put in the boat, for once. (Cherie's Perspective) We had been there in early May for Tim's sixteenth birthday party, and every time we went we had a better time than the time before. Craig and I loved Kevin and Rick more than anybody else but each other, and their kids were just unbelievable. You hear a lot about parents having problems with adolescent boys, and I'm sure Kevin and Rick had their share with theirs. But there was a peace, a sense of rhythm and routine to their lives, that we coveted in our own. It was mostly due to the fact that they were just good kids to start with, but Kevin and Rick treated them like young adults, which they were. I wondered if a lot of the problems parents had with their late adolescent children weren't related to the unreasonable demands and expectations they set for their kids. Kevin and Rick had rules, of course, but only a few. They knew what they were dealing with, though, and the kids responded beautifully. Matt Adams had come to me with a real dilemma. He had an opportunity of a lifetime to teach at one of the Inns of Court in London for the summer. That was probably the most prestigious law education program in the world, and it would do Matt's career, not to mention our firm's reputation, an awful lot of good if he could do it. The problem was Seth, his son. Seth had undergone quite a transformation from Mardi Gras to the end of the school year. He had met Kevin and Rick's boys at Mardi Gras, and, quite literally, I think, had fallen in love with them. We saw the first part of his transformation over the Mardi Gras weekend, but that was only the beginning. He had plastic surgery to correct some cosmetic issues over his Spring Break from high school, and, despite Seth's complaint that it hadn't "worked," it did wonders for his appearance. While I'm not prepared to go as far as to say he had been ugly, he had been pretty close to that before the surgery. After, though, he was an ordinary-looking kid. He wasn't gorgeous, and people weren't going to turn in the street to stare at him, but he looked all right. Money can buy you things, including a new appearance, if that's what you wanted. The big change, though, was in his personality. He actually got one, for example. He had been shy, quiet--hell, almost catatonic--before the change had begun. Now, though, he was outgoing, making friends at school and in the neighborhood, doing stuff with other kids--all for the first time in his life. He came out to his parents that he was gay. That was no big surprise to them, and they were as accepting of his sexuality as any parents could be. That helped, I was sure. He was well on his way to becoming -207-

the kind of leader of people that his dad was. "He doesn't want to go," Matt had said, "and, quite frankly, Cathy and I would enjoy the time away from both kids." He was talking about the London gig. "Could he make it on his own at home," I asked. He was seventeen. A "young" seventeen, admittedly, but they would only be gone eight weeks or so. "Well, that's what we're thinking about. How much of a burden would it put on you and Craig to be his backup?" "None at all. We'd love that," I said. "Are you sure? This is a lot to ask of you, Cherie," he said. "It's not all that much. Believe me. We'll be happy to do that." "He's going to try to find a summer job," he said. I thought for a minute. "You know what would be really neat?" "What," he asked. "If we ship him to my brothers-in-law in Emerald Beach for the summer. They can give him a job in their company, and he can hang out all summer with all those boys they have," I said. "Oh, that would be wonderful, but it would be such an imposition," he said. "Are you kidding? They're always taking in kids off the street for indefinite periods of time. You know they like Seth, and you know he likes them. You know Seth won't be any trouble. I think it's a deal made in heaven," I said. He thought about that for a few moments, and his smile got bigger the longer he thought. "Cherie, that would be absolutely perfect," he said. "Seth would be ecstatic if that happened." "What you really mean is, he'll cream his jeans, right," I said. He laughed hard at that one. "You and I might not ever know if that literally happened, but my money is on it as a definite possibility," he said, still laughing. I got right on the phone to Kevin. I called his office, but he was already gone for the day. I decided not to call him at home because I wanted to make sure he didn't have any distractions when I asked him. Matt and Cathy flew out that night, and I had Kevin on the phone first thing the next day. He said he would have to talk to Rick and the others, but I knew it was a done deal even then. He called me at home that night, but we were out. He told Seth he was welcome, and Seth left the next morning. The Bubbas came through for a great kid, just like I knew they would. *** I met Seth's boyfriend when we got there Thursday night, and he was a hunk, with a capital hunk. His name was Cody Mitchell, and he was as nice and polite as he was good looking. Seth was positively euphoric over the whole summer situation, and we were all having way too good a time that night for us to talk. They had to work on Friday, so talking privately was out of the question that day. Friday night we went out to eat, and we didn't get to talk then, either. In fact, it wasn't until mid-morning on the Fourth of July that I finally found time to get with Seth. "So, how's the summer going," I asked Seth. He and I were on the dock waiting our turn to ski. "Cherie, I've been here less than a month, and this has already been the best time of my entire life. Ever. Really." "I'm so glad, Seth," I said. "You set it up, didn't you?" -208-

"Well, I had a small part to play," I said. "It was your idea, wasn't it?" "Well, sort of," I said. "I knew it," he said. "Thank you so much for doing that." "This Cody dude seems pretty . . ." "Hot? Yeah!" We both laughed. "I was going to say 'cool,' but 'hot' will do, too," I said. More laughter. "We're not in love the way some of them are, but we really care for one another. We're being pretty realistic about it. We know it won't work long distance, but knowing him and dating him is absolutely the best thing that has ever happened to me," he said. "Is it, like, platonic, or what?" "You're a nosey little thing, aren't you," he said, laughing. "Now that I think about it, that was pretty nosey," I said. "But you still want to know, don't you?" "Yeah! I want details," I said. "Oh, Cherie, his penis is just so . . ." "Not those details! I just want a 'yes' or 'no' to whether it's platonic, and I think you've just told me it isn't," I said. He hugged me, and we laughed some more. "How's the job," I asked. "Well, I don't want to be a bellhop all my life, but it's fun. Cherie, these people have, like, this huge empire here. Kyle's family. These people have mon-eeeey. I mean, really big money. I'm thinking maybe hospitality administration might be the field for me. Not with them, necessarily, although when Kyle's running it . . ." "You like him, don't you?" "Who doesn't? He's, like, the real boss around here, at least of the kids. Brian even slips and says 'yes, sir,' and 'no, sir' to him, sometimes. Nobody else does that, that I've heard, but that's how we all feel about him," he said. "Yeah, I can see that," I said. "He's pretty charismatic." Seth and I continued talking for a while until it was our turn to get in the boat to ski, but I had heard what I had wanted to hear. He was happy, and they were taking very good care of him. (Kyle's Perspective) Plain and simple, we needed another boat. That's all there was to it. I mean, some of them had to wait for hours to ski. I knew they were having fun doing other things, but I could ski twice as many people with another boat. Kevin and Rick made a lot of money, and they could damn sure afford a second ski boat. I was going to have to start on that as soon as we got Tim and Doc on the plane the next day. I had been skiing people for three hours at that point, and I needed a break. Jus and Jeff wanted to take over, so I got out of the boat. Who should be waiting for me there but Craig. "Hey, Bubba," he said when I got off the boat. "Hey, what are you doing, fool?" "Just hanging out. Are you finished driving?" "Yeah. For now, at least. I'm so thirsty my tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth," I said. -209-

"Here." He handed me his drink. I took a big gulp and almost spit it out. "What is that," I asked, after I had swallowed it. "Bourbon and Sprite," he said with a grin. "There's Sprite in there," I asked. "A little bit," he said. "How you been? I haven't had a chance to talk to you yet." "The summer's been great, so far. We had a little bit of an incident with Tim's car a few weeks ago, but since then it's been great," I said. "Yeah, Kevin or Rick told me about that." "That didn't really have anything to do with Tim, you know? It was a man with a problem, and we hope he's getting better," I said. "So what's all this with you and the pictures," he asked. "This gallery in New York's selling my stuff. I'm doing all right with it, I guess. The United Cerebral Palsy people want to use a few of my pictures of our buddy Chris in a national ad campaign. I'm going to let them use it, but I'm going to make it a donation. The gallery will get its cut, but I won't." "That's pretty damn nice of you," he said. "The UCP is going to set up a Chris Uhle fund with the money they would ordinarily pay me for the pictures. It's going to be like an endowment, so it'll just grow and grow over the years, hopefully. We'll add to it, of course," I said. "I saw the jar on the patio with the sign that said UCP. I didn't know what it was for, though," he said. "It's for UCP. United Cerebral Palsy, and you damn sure better put some money in it," I said. "You've turned into a little beggar-boy, haven't you," he said. I laughed, and he laughed, too. "How have things been with you? You getting any?" He laughed. "You shithead," he said. We both laughed. "Craig, I have to tell you something, but you can't tell him I told you this, okay?" He looked a little doubtful, but he said okay. "Justin told me he wouldn't mind being straight if he could get him one like Cherie," I said. He processed that a second or two. "Wow! That's really quite a compliment, isn't it?" "That's about the biggest one you'll ever hear out of us," I said. "Notice, he ain't interested in your sorry ass, even though he's gay." "Yeah, that did cross my mind," he said. "I, on the other hand, think you're very cute, Craig," I said. "You shithead," he said, and we both laughed hard. "So when are we going to get us a baby for me to spoil," I asked, joking. He got real serious, all of a sudden. "That's a problem, Kyle. It looks like we might not be able to have kids," he said. "Are you shitting me? What's the problem?" "Well, in simple terms, it looks like she's allergic to my sperm," he said. "What does she do? Vomit?" He laughed. -210-

"Very funny," he said. "No, it's like this fundamental incompatibility thing between us. Mom and Dad have researched it, and they've tried to find a solution to it, but their fields are different from that, you know? Nobody seems to know how to correct the problem." "So, what about adoption?" "That's of course what we're going to do. We've already registered with all seven adoption agencies in New Orleans. We'll have children for you to spoil, Uncle Kyle, no question about it. We just don't know when," he said. "You need to get you two little boys, one named Kevin and one named Rick," I said. "How about one named Kyle and one named Tim," he asked. "Naw, you couldn't do that," I said. "We could if we wanted to," he said. Cherie came over to join us, and they put their arms around each other's waists. "I've just been talking to Seth. He's having a fabulous time this summer," she said. "How's he working out, Kyle," Craig asked. "He's working out great. You met his boyfriend, didn't you," I said. "Yeah. He seems really nice. Is he a nice kid?" "Yeah. I've known him, sort of, for a long time. He came out to his family the night of graduation this year," I said. "And?" "And they're fine with it," I said. "I don't think they're that many prejudiced people here." "Have you and Tim talked any more about college in New Orleans," Cherie asked. "Not too much, but some," I said. "I'm thinking about working for a year before I start college. That way Tim and I will be in the same grade." "If you went right on, would you come to New Orleans without him," she asked. I must have had a stricken look on my face because they both laughed. "As it is, he's going to be gone all next week, and I'm already dreading it," I said. "George mentioned a trip to see his parents," Craig said. "Yeah, but I'm going the next week. We're going to have a week in Boston. His grandpa has to have hernia surgery, and Doc's going to be with his parents that whole week. Tim and I are staying in a hotel by ourselves," I said. "Some place called the Swisshotel, all one word." "That's a nice one," Cherie said. "I haven't stayed there, but I've passed it several times. It's very close to the theater district and Chinatown, too, I think." "Cool," I said. We made chit chat for a while, and then we drifted toward the pool to get something to eat. That's pretty much the way the whole day went. There were a lot of people there, in and out. Tim and I went down to my house to swim for a little while, but nobody else was there. "I want to make love," Tim said. "Right here," I asked. "Yeah. In the water," he said. I had thought about doing that a bunch of times, but we never had done it before. It was like a little experiment in physics, or something. We kissed a lot, and we were both ready pretty quick. "I want you," he said. Tim put his legs around my body, facing me, and it turned out to be a lot easier than I had thought it would be. I lasted a good bit longer than usual in that position, and it was very good for both of us. We kissed a long time after we were finished, too. -211-

"I wish I didn't have to go on this trip," he said. I was rubbing his chest and just looking at how beautiful he was. "I know, but it's only for a week. You'll have fun. Who are you going to see in Maine?" "Cousins," he said. "They're actually my dad's cousins and their kids. I know a few of them, but not many." "Do they know you're gay," I asked. "I don't know. I kind of doubt it, though," he said. "It's a big Irish family. I'm sure I'm not the only gay one in the bunch." "You know something? I think we've both grown up a lot in the last year, don't you?" "Physically?" "Yeah, that, but sort of in maturity, too," I said. "I know you have. We're bigger physically, too. Take these bad boys," he said, touching both of our dicks. "These are bigger, Kyle." I laughed a little bit. "Yeah, I guess they are. It's from stretching 'em out so much." That made Tim laugh. We stayed in the pool like that for a long time, enjoying each other's company. Sometimes we talked, and sometimes we didn't. Tim and I could be happy just being in the same room with each other. We didn't have to touch or talk, even. Just being together was really all that mattered. "What would you think if I became a Catholic," I asked. "Do you want to," he asked. "I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I know the Catholic Church isn't officially tolerant of gays, but every Catholic I've met has been. I'm sure there are plenty who aren't, but that doesn't matter." "Have you talked to anybody about it," he asked. "My parents some. They're all for it, if that's what I want to do," I said. "Why don't you talk to Jerry. He knows what you'd have to do." "I might try to talk to him tonight," I said. "Or soon." We went back to Kevin and Rick's house for the rest of the party. Chapter 20 (Kevin's Perspective) "Son, how many more do you have room for," my dad asked me during Justin's party. "Physically or emotionally," I asked. "Both," he said. "Well, we're just about maxed out on rooms. We have two more empty rooms on the third floor, but that little guy, Chip, has been sleeping there some. His dad is the General Manager of the Laguna, where a bunch of the kids work, and that little dude has latched onto us," I said. "I don't know how he's going to fit in with us in the long term. He needs us now, though." "How old is he," Dad asked. "He's fourteen, almost fifteen," I said. "Really?! Late developer," he said. "Is he gay?" "I don't know. Nobody does. Dad, he's just so needy. He worships our guys, and, God bless 'em, they've been so good to him. Physically, he's still a little boy, Dad, but he doesn't appear the least bit inhibited by that around our guys. His dad told me he said Kyle saved his life the other night because -212-

Kyle told him how to play the school scheduling game so he won't have to take a shower with the other guys at school," I said. "Isn't that what Kyle does? Save lives," Dad asked. I laughed, and Dad did, too, but we both knew that was true, at least figuratively. "Well, he has his hands full this summer, although Seth seems to be fine and on his own now. I guess Seth is another case closed," I said. "Who's this Alex boy? Where'd he come from?" "Rockville Centre on Long Island in New York, but Kyle and Tim found him in the parking lot of a grocery store here. He's an abuse victim of his step-father, and he ran away. We had him in to the hospital for emergency surgery the first night he was here," I said. "Your mother told me about that," he said. "He says he's bisexual, but I'm not really sure what that means," I said. "Aren't you bisexual, son? You told us you thought you were. You've been with girls, haven't you?" "Yeah, I have, Dad, but that was a sham. That wasn't me. I'm fully gay, and I always have been. My understanding of bisexuality is that the attraction to men and women is pretty much equal. Alex says he's bi but that he's in a male phase right now. This sexuality stuff . . ." "It's very complicated, isn't it?" "Yeah, it is, especially for these young guys. I know who I am, Dad, and Rick knows who he is." "And you know who the two of your are, too, don't you?" "Yes, sir, I think we do," I said. He grabbed me into a big hug. "I'm so proud of you, Kevin, of you and Rick, I could burst," he said. "You and Mom, and Craig and Cherie, have been wonderful in the way you've supported us," I said. "And we always will support you, son. We always will. Did Craig tell you about the problem they have in conceiving?" "Yes, Dad. They both told me," I said. "It's terrible, isn't it?" "Well, yes and no. They'll adopt. They've already put in applications all over the place in New Orleans. It's terrible that they can't have their own like you mother and I did, but it's wonderful that they'll give a good home to children who are otherwise unwanted," he said. "Kind of like us," I said. "Exactly like you and Rick," he said. "Those boys are going to be your sons for the rest of your lives, Kev. And probably a lot more of them will be, too. Am I right?" "Yes, sir. Probably a lot more." (Beth's Perspective) The boys were even more magnificent at Justin's birthday party than they had been at Tim's. We hadn't seen them in a couple of months, and I think every one of them had grown. So many people dwelled on the difficulties of raising adolescents, but adolescence is a glorious time. I can remember the nun I had for homeroom and English when I was a senior in high school saying, "You want to be adults when it suits your purposes, and you want to be children when it suits your purposes. Unfortunately for you, nobody else can see it that way." Kevin and Rick had decided they were raising young adults, not children, and everything they did pointed in that direction. One example was, they let the boys smoke openly, if they wanted to. They couldn't have stopped those boys from smoking if the boys had wanted to, any more than Ed and I could -213-

have stopped Craig and Kevin. A lot of people would have criticized them for that, and, as much as Ed and I abhorred smoking, we knew that a lot of people smoked. Kevin and Rick were right not to make an issue of that. The result was that the boys smoked very little. The issue of drinking was the same. Those boys were going to drink, just as my boys had drunk when they were teenagers. By not making it an issue, they defused it as a point of rebellion. Seth was a case, though. I had first met him at Mardi Gras, so I got a glimpse of the "before" and "after," as it were. I hadn't seen him since February, but his plastic surgeon had worked a miracle on that boy. That was only the physical side, though. Kyle and the other boys, but mostly Kyle, had somehow worked a miracle on the rest of him. I had known that boy was gay when I had first set eyes on him--I raised one, after all--and his acknowledgment of that about himself had allowed him to turn an important corner. There he was in Emerald Beach, boyfriend and all, proud and happy. I said a little prayer of thanks to Our Lady of Lourdes that he had come that far. Alex concerned me. Of course, Kevin had filled me in on him when he first got there. I had started to go to Emerald Beach when I found out about his surgery, but I didn't know him. I was afraid that importing a doctor from another state might have scared him and unnerved him, and his procedure, while serious, was relatively simple. The incision was only about an inch long, and, as it turned out, he was at work within a week. He had endured abuse for years, though, and I knew that would have long-term psychological consequences. It probably would with Justin and Brian, too, but they were both coping exceptionally well. And Chip. Precious little Chip. I'm sure his parents called him that because they thought he would be a "chip off the old block" that was his dad. In his case, though, he was more like a splinter. I probably had twenty boys and girls in my active pediatrics practice who had delayed puberty, and every one of them suffered emotional consequences from it. The girls were relatively easy to handle. I would write a prescription for prosthetic breasts, falsies, in other words, and most of them were then able to cope. The boys were a very different story. Many schools insisted that boys shower with other boys in those horrible gang showers, and that was an open invitation for ridicule for a boy like Chip. There was no hiding the truth under those circumstances. I had written innumerable letters to schools on those boys' behalf, and I was only certain a few had hit the mark. They were precious kids, just as Chip was, and I had many of the children of some of the first I had treated on my current patient roster. Like they had, Chip would eventually mature, but the hell he would have to go through in the meantime was awful. "Hi, Grandma," Kyle said, disrupting my reverie. "Hey. We haven't had a chance to talk yet, have we?" "No, ma'am. You were looking at Chip. Were you thinking about him," he asked. "Yes, I was, Kyle. Are you taking care of him?" "Yes, ma'am, I'm trying to." "You're going to be BMOC next year, aren't you?" "What does that mean," he asked. "Big Man on Campus," I said. "I don't know about that," he said, and he blushed just a tiny bit. "Aren't you student body president next year? If that's not a Big Man on Campus, I don't know what is," I said. He blushed a little bit more. "Is Chip going to your high school next year," I asked. "Yes, ma'am," he said. -214-

"Are you going to take care of him? Because he needs you, Kyle." "Grandma, what do you think? Of course I'm going to take care of him. I take care of all my boys," he said, smiling broadly. "I know you will, son. Nobody messes with your boys, right?" "Right," he said. "You are so cool, Grandma." We sat in companionable silence for a few moments, and I could tell Kyle was thinking. "Is there anything you can do to make Chip have puberty? I don't think he's had it yet," he said. What an incredibly innocent and quaint way of saying that, I thought. "That's just what I was thinking about when you came over," I said. "You knew about him?" "Yes, I could tell. Delayed puberty is pretty common. He'll reach it eventually," I said. "It's important for you boys to remember that he's almost fifteen and for you to treat him like a fifteen-year-old and not like a little kid." "I think we pretty much do that. I mean, we talk about the same kind of stuff with him that we do with each other, and we play around physically with him the same way we play around with each other. I don't think he has any friends but us, though, and he's a real nice guy," he said. "I'm sure he feels pretty self-conscious, and that keeps him distant from most people. Do you know if he's seen a doctor about it," I asked. "Well, we haven't talked that much, but he said his dad told him he was like that, too, when he was a kid. The doctor he went to x-rayed his hand and wrist. Now I could see how the size of your hand and wrist would tell you something about puberty in a guy like me, but . . ." I howled. "You are terrible," I said, barely able to talk from laughing so hard. Kyle was grinning his head off. He knew he was cute. "The doctor did a bone age study with that x-ray. Even though Chip might be fourteen or fifteen chronologically, it doesn't mean his bones have developed at the same rate as his age. That's especially true if his dad had the same condition when he was a boy," I said. "Bone age is a good indicator of when somebody will start puberty. It sounds like the medical part of the problem is well under control. It's the psychological and social parts that need work, and you and the other boys can do more to help there than a roomful of doctors." "We'll do what we can. This morning at breakfast he said he doesn't know much about sex," he said. "I'm sure he knows the basics, but nobody ever feels that they know all they want to know about sex, Kyle," I said. He grinned shyly. "Am I right?" "Yes, ma'am, you're right," he said. "But I thought I was the only one like that, though. Me and the other guys." "That's pretty much universal, son," I said. (Justin's Perspective) The day of my birthday was unbelievable. When Kyle gives a party, he really gives a good one. He was in charge of the food and drink, and there was enough to feed a small army. That was a good thing, though, because that day everybody turned out. It started around nine in the morning with skiing, and there were a good forty people here by noon. More came as the day moved on, and Kyle told me we -215-

ended up feeding sixty people dinner. Everybody had to keep their clothes on at Kevin and Rick's house because there were ladies around all day. That was okay, though. Anybody who wanted to swim naked could go down to Kyle's house, but mostly we just swam in suits. Around three o'clock, I got pretty tired, so I went into the house to catch me a little nap. Kyle was in the den by himself, and he had a really long face on. "What's the matter, Bubba," I asked. "Nothing," he said. I sat next to him on the sofa. I wanted to put my arms around him to cheer him up and to show him I cared, but I knew he wouldn't like that. I knew Kyle pretty damn good, and I knew he was thinking about missing Tim. "Are you thinking about him," I asked. He just nodded. "It's only for a week. Then you'll be going up there to see him," I said. "I know. I'll make it," he said. "I'll be here with you, Bubba. None of this, though," I said, grabbing his crotch. I did that as a joke, but I'll tell you what. He was in a little red Speedo and nothing else, and that boy looked good. Usually when I did that, he pushed my hand away or hit me or something, and I did the same to him, when he did it to me. He didn't do anything, though, that time. I felt him start to get hard right away. I knew that wasn't a good idea for either of us, so I took my hand away without him saying anything. "I knew you wouldn't do it," he said, laughing. "I'll be good," I said. He grinned at me. "It's hard sometimes, isn't it? To not just go for each other, I mean," he said. "I knew what you meant, and, yeah, it is. But it's best the way it is between us, don't you think?" "Oh, yeah. It's the way it's got to be," he said. "Are you having fun?" "I'm having a great time," I said. "I still can't believe everybody's turning out for me like they are. And they all brought presents, too." "I'd have busted 'em, if they hadn't," he said. "It's your eighteenth birthday, man. Everybody's got to celebrate that." "I'm not Kevin and Rick's kid anymore," I said. "I know. In a few months they won't be able to be my guardians, either, if something were to happen to my mom and dad," he said. "I'm not so sure I like this getting older shit." "Kyle, you and Tim and the rest are going to have to help me when I start college, okay?" "We'll help you," he said. "You know, I never went to a day of high school. I don't even remember much about going to middle school," I said. "Just do what everybody else does," he said. "You're cool. You just better watch out for them girls." "See, my contact with people has been a lot more limited than yours or the others'," I said. "Kyle, I'll lay it on the line to you. You're my best friend in the world, and I really do love you. Man, I'm scared to fucking death about going to college." "Have you been out there yet," he asked. "I'm supposed to go take some tests next week, and register, too, I guess. Tuesday, in fact. I wish -216-

you could go with me." "If you want me there, I'll be there," I said. "Oh, thank you, man," I said. "I've been worried to death about that." "Why didn't you say something sooner?" "Kyle, there's a limit to how much I can ask out of you, you know?" "No, there isn't." "You've been busy getting the parties ready for me, and all," I said. "Justin, there's not a person in this house who wouldn't do anything at all for you. Especially me. I wonder if Cody and Alex are going to do the same as you," he said. "What do you mean?" "Well, I know Cody's starting college the same time you are, and I know Alex wants to," he said. "They have to take tests and register, too, you know. You ain't the only one, and you ain't the only one who's scared, I bet," he said. "I didn't think of them," I said. "All three of you guys need to stick together, take the same classes and all. That way, at least you'll know somebody in each class, and y'all can study together, too. I know Seth will be leaving at the end of the summer, so Cody won't have a boyfriend here anymore. But I also know he loves hanging around over here, and I hope that won't stop. Alex doesn't have any place to go, so you know he's going to be here," Kyle said. "Listening to you, I'm feeling a hell of a lot better," I said. "I wish you could go, too." "Well, that's out of the question, except for night classes," he said. "Gimme a smoke." I handed him my pack and lit up, too. "Kyle, about you and smoking," I said. "I don't want to discuss it. My job is to get you a carton every couple of weeks. Your job is to give me one every now and then, when I want one." We both laughed. "You said something about night classes. What's that all about," I asked. "They have this thing called dual enrollment. I can take some classes and get both high school and college credit for them. I've already taken some of those, and I have college credit for them. Right there from Emerald Coast Community College." "I didn't know that," I said. "Why the hell did you think I took all that hard math last year? I took College Algebra and Trigonometry dual enrolled. I'm signed up for dual enrolled English, but I bet that's one I could get at night. That would give me a period during the day when I could take Leadership," he said. "Leadership?" "Yeah, it's a bullshit course that I can take because I'm a senior and a major officer. The SGA sponsor wanted me to take it anyway, but I said no because I wanted to take dual enrolled English. If I went at night with you, I could take Leadership both semesters. I could work on SGA stuff during that time. That's basically why they have it, anyway," he said. "I'm already signed up for it second semester, anyway. I'll have two periods of it second semester." "What else are you taking," I asked. "Oh, Jus. It's a schedule made in heaven, man. First semester I have weight training, archery, Leadership, and economics, if I take English at night. Second semester I have weight training, cooking, Leadership, and Leadership," he said. "I'll take English at night then, too." "Not too much homework, it sounds like," I said. -217-

"Probably some in econ, which I can do during Leadership. Of course, I will have English. They'll be homework in that, I guarantee you," he said. "Like what?" "Writing papers. Essays. Probably reading some books, too, if it's like high school English," he said. "What do you mean by 'essay'? Like a story?" "No. It's like a thing where you get a thesis and write about it," he said. "See. I'm already lost," I said. "Maybe we ought to set you up with just a couple of courses. How does that sound? One during the day, and one at night," he said. "Get your feet wet." Cody and Seth came in just then. "Hey," Kyle and I said. They said hey back. "We've been talking about college," Kyle said. "Shit, I almost forgot about that. I have to go over there Tuesday for testing and other stuff," Cody said. "Registration, maybe." "Are you scared about it," Kyle asked. "I'm terrified," Cody said. Kyle looked at me and grinned, as if to say, See, you're not the only one. "I probably need to go, too. I'll call on Monday and find out what I have to do to take night classes. Jus and I are taking English at night," he said. "Well, count me in, boys," Cody said. "That is a real weakness for me. I'm only taking nine hours first semester so I can get my feet wet. Plus, I want to keep working. I'll guess they'll keep me after the summer." "They'll keep you," Kyle said. "What else are you taking, do you know?" "I guess I need to get my math out of the way. I'll probably take a history course, too. I think they call it Western Civ, or something like that," he said. "I forgot about that," Kyle said. "That's another one I took last year. Dual enrolled." "I wish I had taken some dual enrolled courses," Cody said. "History's going to be hard for me," I said. "I don't know anything about history. Like, I know the Fourth of July has something to do with history and some war or something, but that's all I know about it." "You don't know what the Fourth of July is all about," Seth asked, like he didn't believe anybody didn't know about that. He didn't say it mean or anything, but I could tell he was shocked. Kyle looked at Seth as serious as he ever looked at anything, and Seth noticed. "Step back on that one, Bubba," Kyle said. Kyle grinned at Seth, but it wasn't a happy, fun grin. It was forced, and Seth got the point. He grinned back at Kyle, but he shut up. "That might be a good one to take, Jus, especially if you and Cody can get in the same class," Kyle said. "Justin, you've got to do it with me, man," Cody said. "That would make such a big difference to me." "Let's go for it," I said. "Do you think I should take math, too?" "Yeah," Cody said. "Let's see how you do on the test," Kyle said. He was more realistic than Cody was, maybe. I had just finished my GED prep courses in December, and math hadn't been all that hard for me. Maybe I could take three courses, but I'd listen to -218-

Kyle's advice about that. I knew I could trust him. I could trust Cody, too, to be there for me, but he hadn't already had college math. Kyle had. We spent a full hour in there talking about that stuff. At four o'clock the people from the hotel came to get started on the dinner, so Kyle had to go see about it. "He's something, isn't he," Cody said, after Kyle had gone out with the hotel people. "He's the best," Seth said. Yeah, he is, I thought. And I'm his best friend. Not you. *** We started off with drinks at 5:30. I had been drinking all day, off and on, but I wasn't drunk or buzzed or anything. It was just two or three beers. I took a shower with Brian after the hotel people got there, and we had put on shorts and nice shirts. I noticed most of the other ones had done the same thing. We ate at seven o'clock sharp, and everybody expected Jerry to say the blessing before we ate. "I think Kyle would do a better job tonight," Jerry said. "Will you lead us, Kyle?" "Yes, sir," he said. This is what he said: "Father in heaven, you say in the Bib le that you will lead your chosen people to freedom, and you did. Tonight your family is gathered here to celeb rate the freedom you have led us to. We celeb rate the freedom our country declared on this day many years ago, and we also celeb rate Justin's freedom from the awful tyranny of the yoke of childhood as he b ecomes a free adult today." Many people, including most of the grown ups, laughed. Kyle winked at me. "Justin's job in life is to give us fun and happiness, and he does that job extremely well. We thank you for our freedom as Americans, for our b rother Justin and the freedom of joy he gives us, and for the gifts which we are ab out to receive from your b ounty. Through Christ our Lord." "Amen!" everybody shouted out. And then they clapped. "Eat up," Kyle shouted. I couldn't help myself. I had tears in my eyes. Kyle gave me a big hug, and then Brian did, and Tim, Kevin, Rick, Jeff, and then all the rest of them filed by to hug me. By then, the tears in my eyes were running down my face, dripping off my chin. I don't have the words to say how happy I was. Trixie was right there, wanting a hug, too. I got down and hugged her, and she licked the tears off my face. Kyle was taking pictures. I knew he didn't want her doing that, but he didn't say anything. That was a time for love to replace the rules, and it did. The dinner was excellent. There were six tables set up in the clubhouse, and I knew we only owned five tables and fifty chairs. Kyle must have called the hotel at the last minute to tell them to send a table and ten more chairs over. My table had all of us but Jeff, Tyler, Alex, Seth, and Cody. When Kyle saw that Chip wasn't at our table, he made him come over and sit with us, too. That made Chip very happy. Between courses, Kyle made me get up with him to go from table to table to talk to the people. Brian and Tim came, too. It was our families and friends. There were a lot of damn people there, including a girl we had met at the hospital when Alex was sick. She was at the table with Doc and Sonya, Grandma and Grandpa Foley, Craig and Cherie, Beth and Arnie, and Jerry. "This must be the straight table," Kyle said, after they had all told him what a great job he had -219-

done on the blessing and after they had wished me happy birthday. "Almost," Jerry said, and they all laughed. "It's like a seminar, Kyle," Cherie said. "Medicine, law, education, and religion. Four of your more powerful forces in society." "Don't forget bullshit," Kyle said. "Oh, no. No bullshit. We're ignoring Craig tonight," Cherie said. Kyle and I both knew she had gotten him last. Everybody laughed. "Shall I say it for the group," Ed asked. "Son, your wife just got you last." "I know, but thanks anyway, Dad. Not the first time, either," Craig said, after everybody had laughed. "I hate that 'got you last' game." "Then you should never have invented it, son," Beth said. "Your mother just got you last," Ed said. "Thanks, again, Dad. I know." That boy was so dry, it was funny as hell, even if you didn't know them like we did. I was sure that Dianna girl didn't know what the hell was going on, but I knew they would tell her. "I just want to say thank you for coming for my birthday. You can't ever know how much this means to me," I said. I was tearing up a little bit, and I had promised myself I wasn't going to do that. Grandma Beth pulled me down and kissed my cheek. She knew. Tears were coming down on her face and mine. We did that same thing a couple more times between courses, but I didn't cry for the other ones. I teared up with Mr. Gene and Miss Rita, though. And Jeff. He was sitting with the Goodsons. "Justin, we are so proud of you," Rita said. "I need a hug from you on your birthday." I hugged her and Gene and Jeff and Tyler and Chad and Gage. And there came the tears. What a damn emotional day! After dinner, we had presents. I got a whole bunch of really nice stuff. I got checks from Beth and Ed, Cherie and Craig, Sonya and George, and Rita and Gene. Altogether it was ten thousand dollars. I was weak. My brothers gave me a laptop computer and some other stuff, too. The rest of them gave me shirts, shorts, books, CD's, several gift certificates, and a couple of magazine subscriptions. The last gift was from my parents, Kevin and Rick. It was a small box that you might put handkerchiefs in. I didn't ever use those. Why were they giving that to me, I wondered. When I opened it, though, I saw it wasn't handkerchiefs at all. It was tickets and money for Boston. "Whoa! We're going, Little Buddy," I said. "We're going to Boston!" Brian and I latched on to one another, and we danced around. Kyle and Tim got up and hugged with us, too. Then Kevin and Rick did it, too. "Another trip," I shouted. "Oh, my God!" Everybody in the room was just clapping and laughing and carrying on with us. "This is the best, guys," I said to Kevin and Rick. They hugged me up big. And you know what? I cried. Surprised? (Tim's Perspective) It was late when we finally got to bed that night. After midnight. I wanted Kyle desperately, and I knew he wanted me the same way. We made love slowly and deliberately, taking our time, making it the best for one another. -220-

"Today was a good day, wasn't it?" "Oh, Babe. It was the best," I said. "The dinner was wonderful, and I know Jus really liked it. The fireworks were great, too. Did you watch Trixie? She didn't know what to do." He chuckled. "I know. I think we got us a very good dog, Babe," he said. "I think so, too," I said. "I want to hunt her this fall. Would you do that with me?" "I'll go with you, if you want me to, but I'm not going to hunt," I said. "I didn't think you'd want to. Jus wants to, though," he said. "That's something you guys can do together," I said. "Brian and I will stay home and read and play with his airplanes." "Can you believe how close Brian and Arnie have gotten this weekend? All because of Trixie, too," he said. "I know. They've taught her lots of tricks," I said. "I know," he said. Kyle and I sort of settled into sleep. I had never known anybody who could go to sleep as fast as he could. All it took was a moment's silence, and he was out like a light. *** The next morning was a blur of activity. Kyle and I woke up around seven. Actually, Kyle woke up, and he dragged me out of bed. Our plane didn't leave till ten, but there was a lot to do before then. The New Orleans people got off around 7:30, and we had a tearful goodbye with them, as usual. The Sarasota people weren't leaving until that afternoon, so we didn't have to worry about them that morning. Kyle and I went to my house around eight after I told Kevin and Rick goodbye. We went to the airport. Sonya drove my dad in his car, and Kyle drove me in mine. We took Trixie with us, and she was quiet, like she knew I was leaving. "Don't worry. He's coming back, girl," Kyle said to Trix. That made her wag her tail, but we knew she was responding to the loving tone of his voice and not to what he actually said. Kyle gave me a goodbye kiss in the car at the airport. We couldn't do that in there, we knew, but it was loving and warm. It made both of us a little stiff. I didn't really want to leave there without him, but I didn't have a choice. "I'll see you a week from today," he said. "Yeah." "God, I love you," he said. "I love you, too," I said. I went through security, and I saw him just as I was leaving. He wiped tears from his eyes. I had some of my own to deal with. (Brew's Perspective) This concludes another segment of the story of the boys from Emerald Beach. It's not over, by any means, and I'll probably start writing the next segment in a few days. One of my readers told me in an email that he pictures Tom Welling, the adolescent Superman, when he thinks of Kyle. I checked out a few Tom Welling Web sites, and he looks exactly like the way I picture Kyle in my mind's eye when I'm writing. I'd appreciate knowing who other readers picture when they think of the characters in this story. It's hot as hell in Emerald Beach, but the boys will soon be going to cooler climates. Justin, Brian, -221-

Tim, and Kyle are on their way to Boston, and then the whole crowd will soon be on their way to Montana to see Chris. I hope the heat doesn't follow them. My thanks to all of you who have written. Some of the stories you've told me about yourselves have literally moved me to tears. I hope this story brings some joy, fun, and entertainment. Take care.



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