Little Boy Lost: Enlightened
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by J. P. Barnaby
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Little Boy Lost, Book One Little Boy Lost is the story of Brian McAllister, the boy next door. Brian goes to school, does his homework, and helps his foster parents around the house. Brian also has a secret: he is in love with his best friend, Jamie. But in Crayford, Alabama, being in love with another boy is the worst kind of sin. Brian and Jamie will discover just how deep their emotional bond runs, and at what cost. What will they do if their secret is discovered? From fumbling through their first sexual experiences to hiding all aspects of their relationship from everyone in their lives, Brian and Jamie battle for the one thing that is truly theirs--love.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [249 KB]
Reading time: 173-243 min.
My name is Brian Patrick McAllister, and I am going to hell.
"In Romans one, verses twenty-four through twenty-eight, we find that God calls these people and these acts that they perform unnatural--an abomination against Him. It says, 'Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them, for they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever'. Amen," the preacher cried, slamming his beefy hand onto the straining wood of the pulpit. In response there was a resounding chorus of "Amen!" throughout the small congregation. I looked around and found that they were all, Jamie's mother included, enthralled by this charismatic, white-haired Baptist preacher. Even though they were fanning themselves or wiping their brows in the sweltering heat of the late southern Alabama morning, their attention never wavered.
The small tide of congregants were dressed in their Sunday finest, some of the men in short-sleeved button-downs and clip-on ties, others in long sleeves and perfectly knotted standard-issue paisley specials. The women were almost clones of each other, most wearing gaudy floral dresses with perfectly respectable neck and hemlines that preserved their modesty. Their children were perfect little carbon copies of their parents, with one glaring exception: these miniature adults in their ties and floral dresses seemed to be bored almost senseless.
Taking a deep breath that nearly popped the straining buttons on his starched white dress shirt, the preacher continued reading from his large hardcover Bible, encouraged by his followers' enthusiastic responses. "'For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions. For their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned'--notice, folks, that it says burned--'in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the dire penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind to do those things which are not proper!'"
The thunderous sound of him slamming his Bible closed against the wood jarred me, and I jerked in my seat. Jamie looked at me, concerned, but after meeting his eye for the briefest second, I looked away. He seemed so angelic in his light-blue button-down and dress pants, his blond hair falling into his eyes. Due to the heat, Mrs. Mayfield had let him skip the tie, and I could see the smooth, soft skin of this throat behind his open collar. My stomach lurched, and my mind and my heart were both racing. The way that I felt about Jamie, I was everything that the preacher was ranting about: depraved, indecent, and immoral. Jamie Mayfield was my best friend in the world, and I wanted him more than anything else in it.
I looked up again at the giant of a man in his threadbare sky-blue Sunday suit. He was using a white narrow-brimmed hat to fan his sweaty, flushed face. The excitement blazed in his eyes, and it was obvious that he was passionate about his sermon, and he truly believed in everything that he preached. Had his words really come from God? The preacher loosened his dark blue patterned tie, just enough to reveal the top of his neatly buttoned shirt to the captivated audience. No clip-on tie for this man; he was the real deal, the embodiment of Southern grace.
The pulpit where he tended and shepherded his flock was old but lovingly maintained. While the worn wood no longer gleamed in the morning sun, it was spotless, without even a wayward scratch. The large, perfectly crisp engraved cross on the front nearly glowed from its recent waxing and polishing. If everything in the world had its place, this was certainly the preacher's place. He was perfectly at home, frightening as he was, and comfortable in his element, addressing the Sunday crowd from his old wooden pedestal.
As his sermon came to a close, I thought about what he'd said. For a few years now, I had tried not to like looking at other boys, instead forcing myself to think about girls when I lay in bed at night jacking off. I thought about the half-naked, faceless girls that I'd seen on television. I thought about their bare silicone-infused breasts, naked hips and thighs, and tight asses in their jeans. Sometimes, I even used hand lotion from my foster mother's bathroom to make it feel all slick and wet, as I imagined a girl would feel. I was fairly certain that Carolyn would have been horrified at the uses to which I put her emollient.
But when it came down to it, when I was so fucking horny that my mind disengaged from my conscious fantasies, when those random images shot through my head, there was only one thing that I would see. My imagination focused completely on the shaggy mop of blond hair, mischievous blue eyes, and skinny body of a seventeen-year-old boy. I imagined my best friend in the world as his lips closed around me. I could almost feel his soft blond hair brushing against my stomach, his faintly trembling hand on my thigh as he took me into his mouth. In that moment, all that I had worked so hard for, trying to be normal by imagining the faceless girls, shattered into a mind-blowing orgasm that left me shaken and riddled with guilt.
"Brian, darlin', are you all right?" Jamie's mother, Patsy Mayfield, asked quietly, breaking into my thoughts as the collection plate was passed down our row. Tossing in the few dollars that Carolyn had given to me, I wiped my hand across my forehead, brushing my damp brown curls out of my eyes. I was sweating, and my skin was clammy. On the other hand, she looked perfectly at ease, even in the light sweater covering her blinding yellow sundress. Her long blond hair was pulled back into a single braid down her back. It was obvious where Jamie had gotten his beautiful hair and soft, delicate features. Her hazel eyes were the only difference, because his were like sapphires. But her eyes were also kind as she watched me with concern.
"No, ma'am, I'm sorry. I don't feel well," I told her, looking up slowly, my hopeful brown eyes meeting hers. It was true; I didn't feel well, not at all. The guilt brought on by the sermon was causing my stomach to lurch precariously, having just found out that I was going to burn in hell for something I absolutely could not control. I'd tried to control it; I'd wanted to like girls, but I was just wired wrong. I wanted to have sex with boys, and I was surely going to spend eternity in the lake of fire because of it. That was certain to cause some measure of nausea.
"Well, the service is just about over. Why don't you leave a little early and head home? I'm glad you could stay over and go to church with us this morning. I'd love to see you attend more regularly," she whispered as the murmuring started to die down. Her voice was soft and kind, like you would expect any mother's voice to be. Then, with a reassuring smile, she added, "I told you maybe cold pizza for breakfast wasn't a good idea," and patted my hand.
I tried to smile back, but it just came off feeling more like a grimace. Before Jamie or anyone else could call me back, I walked swiftly for the double doors. The disapproving faces flashed past me, row after row, making me feel like a criminal escaping from prison. At any moment one of them could try and stop me, could call me back to finish my Sunday morning sentence. Once I pushed through the left-hand side door at the back of the small church, I broke into a sprint, and I did not stop until I had reached my own back porch.
Sprinting through the humid, ninety-degree heat, it was a wonder I hadn't collapsed. When I stepped through the screen door, my too-tight suit jacket was balled up in my left fist and my tie was wrapped around my right hand. The cluttered screened-in porch offered a small respite for me to catch my breath. I took off my shoes, as was customary at my foster parents' home, and leaned on the arm of the yellowing wicker sofa that dominated the space. I couldn't remember what color the cushions on the worn-out couch had been originally, but now it held a faded jungle print, washed out by years of the sun's harsh rays.
The Schreibers, my foster parents of nearly five years, were the best I'd ever had. They didn't have a lot of money because Dr. Schreiber was on staff at the local hospital and not in private practice. What they lacked in financial strength, they made up for with an abundance of stability and compassion. One junkie looking for a stereo to hock for drugs had changed the whole course of my life, but I felt safer here than any home that I'd lived in since my parents had been killed. I had only been three years old, so I didn't remember much about them now, just flashes, vague impressions, and half-forgotten nightmares.
I tried to open the door quietly, but luck was just not on my side. Carolyn was standing in the kitchen, and I watched her for a moment as she pulled a fresh apple pie from the oven. She was the best foster mother I had ever been placed with. To be honest, I was thankful for her and for her husband, Richard. Reluctant as I was to admit it, I felt rather ashamed of my first thoughts of my foster father. Richard had specifically requested a teenage boy to be placed with them. At first I thought he was one of those. I had already dealt with a few of them in foster care.
One such foster parent was Mrs. Butler, who would come into my room at night and make me jack off while she watched. I was eleven years old, so I had no idea about the context or the scope of the act, only the quick breathless instructions she had given me that first time. She got so excited when I would finally blow. I remember her face would get all red, and she'd kind of bounce a little in the chair she sat in next to my bed. It took forever, because it was kind of hard to get all worked up with your foster mom watching you get off. Even though she would always try to "help me clean up," I'd just grab the towel from her and get under the covers, terrified that one night she would want to get in bed with me. To be honest, she fucking creeped me out. However, it wasn't long before I was removed from her care and placed with the Schreibers because Child Services had been called to investigate the rumor that Mrs. Butler was having sex with my younger foster brother. Only eight, he wasn't old enough or strong enough to resist her. I was thankful that I never saw her again.
Richard was different, though. He just wanted a teenage boy because in his sixties, he was getting too old to do certain chores around the house and needed some help. Richard and Carolyn had started taking in foster kids years ago, after their baby boy had suddenly died in his crib. A montage of school pictures from each of their wards was arranged and dutifully maintained on the southern wall of the living room. At eleven, about to turn twelve, I had been the closest they could find to what they wanted, but he seemed happy enough with me.
"You're home early," Carolyn commented as she turned off the oven. Shrugging, I quickly looked away from her gaze, noticing the mess on the kitchen counter. She was a fantastic cook, but her cleaning skills left something to be desired. Tossing my balled-up jacket and tie onto one of the kitchen chairs, I went over to the counter. Feeling a little calmer now that I was out from under the preacher's watchful eye, I started to clear away some of the mess. After a few moments, I felt Carolyn's hand on my shoulder.
"Is everything okay, Brian?" she asked gently. This was exactly why I didn't mind helping out around the house--cleaning the gutters, mowing the yard, and doing dishes. She was the closest thing I could ever remember having for a mother. Having been just a toddler when my parents were killed, my own mother was a faint memory stored somewhere between Sesame Street and potty training. I briefly considered talking to her about how I felt, but since I wasn't really sure about her views, I just couldn't take the chance. Reaching behind her, she untied the worn apron and hung it on a peg behind the door. Pushing her graying, light-brown hair back in the general area of her messy bun, she watched me with speculative concern, but I remained silent, concentrating on my cleaning. She took off her oval-rimmed glasses to rub her deep-set gray eyes.
"Going to hell, are we, Brian McAllister?" she finally asked in an offhand voice. Spinning where I stood, I openly gaped at her, the cluttered counter forgotten in an instant. Any thoughts of concealment were lost in my surprise at her question, and I couldn't even form the words to find out why she would ask me that. "Old Preacher Moore thinks everyone is going to hell for one thing or another. Whether it's Richard for having wine with supper or me for gossipin' with the ladies in my sewing circle, someone's always in trouble," she said with a chuckle. "I'm sure whatever you're feeling all guilty about isn't worth fussin' over. You're a good kid, Brian."
"Thanks, Carolyn," I told her with genuine affection, though not altogether reassured, and turned back to cleaning. She couldn't know that I had nothing to worry about, since she didn't know how I felt or what I'd done. For all I knew, she may agree with the preacher on the subject of boys being attracted to other boys. After wiping down the counter, dodging the obstacle course of appliances, racks, and the newly baked pie, I dropped the rag on the divider between the two sides of the stainless steel sink and grabbed the broom from the corner. As I swept the flour from the worn pattern on the slightly warped tile floor, she continued to talk.
"Now, if it has anything to do with the...," she started and then lowered her voice to a whisper, "birds and the bees...." She looked meaningfully at me and then resumed in her normal tone, "You may want to go and talk to Richard. The last thing on earth you need in your already difficult life is to knock up some cheerleader."
I almost laughed right out loud at that. If only, I thought wryly, but just nodded, and finally the thoroughly awkward subject was closed.
That night, after cleaning up the supper dishes, I lay in my bed and stared up at the blank expanse of ceiling over my head for a long time. Not for the first time, under the guise of attempting sleep, my eyes traced its cracks and imperfections. My bedroom was simple but safe and warm, which was exactly what I needed. The small student desk under the window was perfect for doing schoolwork or building models whenever I got them for Christmas or birthdays. That was my passion, building things. I had built ships and cars from kits, but lately I had been working on buildings with old scraps of trash that I had found around the house--toilet paper and paper towel rolls, newspaper, and for signs I would use color advertisements from magazines. It was wonderful of Richard and Carolyn to indulge me in my fascination with models when they could.
The dresser, with its deep scratches and gouge marks, held my finished models as well as my clothes, and looked like it literally had fallen off the back of a truck. The bed was a slightly different story. After years of housing a couple of foster kids at a time, they had gotten too old to handle the discipline problems that usually accompanied abandoned and sometimes abused children. So, after their last two charges had turned eighteen, they'd decided to only have one at a time and had replaced their bunk beds with one brand new sturdy twin. It was the most comfortable bed I'd ever had. The worn green comforter, good no matter the gender of the kid sleeping in the bed, was warm and reassuring. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
My thoughts raced as I continued to trace the cracks in the ceiling with my tired eyes. I thought about what Carolyn had said; maybe I wasn't so horrible after all. I mean, I wasn't looking for this to happen. I didn't want to be like this; I didn't want to like boys. Maybe there was something wrong with me that a doctor could help with. Maybe I should talk to Richard. A small measure of hope flared within me at that thought. Or maybe that was the way God intended for me to be? If He had absolute control over everyone and everything, why would he have made me bad? Broken? Wrong?
It was hours before sleep finally took me.
* * * *
"Hey, man, are you feeling any better?" Jamie asked as I slammed my locker closed with a rather loud bang. As he leaned casually against the wall nearby, I noticed that his lanky body had started to become more defined under the jeans and soft blue T-shirt he wore. That shirt was my favorite on him.
Slowly raising my eyes to his face, I wondered if he could see right through me. His brow was furrowed, and he looked worried. For some reason, that made me feel conflicted. I was pleased by the way he cared, even if it was only as a friend, but at the same time I felt guilty about my attraction to him, my need for him. I was terrified that someone would find out about that need, because in our small town, anyone who was even the least bit different from the stereotypical Southern boy was ostracized, vilified, as were those close to him. I couldn't imagine that Carolyn would be pleased to be asked to leave her sewing circle because of her queer foster kid.
"I'm fine," I told him in a clipped tone, not meeting his eyes. "Let's go to class." I started to walk around him, but he grabbed my arm. A feeling like an electric current shot through my skin, and I pulled away sharply. When my eyes finally met his, I was saddened by the hurt and confusion I saw in them. Pushing past him gently, not wanting to make either of us feel more uncomfortable, I headed for English. Jamie was right behind me as we passed door after door of teenagers piling into their classes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of people wave at Jamie, but he only gave them a halfhearted nod. His legs were longer, so he had caught up with me by the time we reached the doorway to our first class. He didn't say anything, just took his customary seat to the right of mine.
I felt like people were staring at me, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Glancing around, I saw that the rest of the kids in the room were only now taking out their books, getting ready for class to start. Feeling utterly paranoid, I turned back around in my seat and noticed Jamie watching me surreptitiously from my right. Grabbing my English book, a beat-up notebook, and my pen, I turned and waited not-so-patiently for the teacher. I was about to pay strict attention in class for probably the first time that year.
For the next hour, I earnestly tried to pay attention to the material being presented, nearly boring a hole in the wall behind Mrs. Cornell's head with my unflinching stare. By the time the bell rang, I could have told you how many books were in the bookcase behind her desk, listed every piece of paper on the bulletin board, and described in detail the intricate pattern of the crack in her "Best Teacher Ever" coffee mug. Doing everything I could to push the fear out of my mind was fruitless, however, because of all the sideways glances from Jamie. He must have tried to catch my eye at least thirty times during the hour-long lesson, and if he didn't fucking stop, people were going to talk. Nothing in the world caused more drama than teenagers. What if people started to suspect? What if they started rumors about us? What would I do then?
The rest of the day was spent in a similar manner. Our school was small, so the entire junior class generally moved as one from room to room, trudging down the hall together like a chain gang of criminals out for their afternoon at the rock quarry. Some people ventured off to band instead of choir, or remedial math instead of algebra, but Jamie was a constant throughout my day.
At that point, it was both a blessing and a curse.
The thought of sitting next to him, trying to ignore the gnawing guilt in my stomach for the whole lunch hour, was not pleasant. When the bell rang signaling lunch, I told him I had to get my lunch bag from my locker and I'd meet him in the cafeteria. Of course, there was no bag. I headed past the hallway that led to my locker and kept walking right through the double doors and outside. Sitting on the far side of a large oak away from the few students who had ventured out on the gloomy, overcast day, I noticed that it looked like a storm was threatening, but I didn't care. Let the skies open up and wash away my sins.
As I sat outside, away from the watchful eyes of several dozen nosy teenagers and away from Jamie's baleful stares, I was able to relax a little and breathe again. The panic started to return when I thought of having to hide like this for the next six weeks until school was out. It was only the end of April now; how the hell was I supposed to keep this up until the beginning of June? If someone started the rumor, or even just insinuated that I spent just a little too much time tagging along after Jamie Mayfield, it could ruin us both. The fear settled in my stomach, rooting itself there, like an infestation of my body and soul.
Our last class of the day was the generic rotating "extra" electives. That day, it was art. Music was actually my favorite extra elective class, but art wasn't bad. I enjoyed the creative element, and usually it was a pleasant diversion from the normal boredom that made up our high school curriculum. As Jamie and I walked in, we saw Mr. Barnes in the back of the room setting out supplies. He wore a similar T-shirt, sweater vest, and khakis to the ones I'd seen him in every Monday since the start of term. It almost screamed "gay," but I mean, everyone in school knew that already; it wasn't like you couldn't tell.
I stopped dead in the doorway, Jamie nearly slamming into me from behind. Mr. Barnes was gay. Everyone knew Mr. Barnes was gay; he just gave off that vibe. Would everyone know about me? I'd never really given it any thought before. Like the pea-green walls of the art room, it had just become like background noise. What if he could tell that I thought about other guys? Suddenly, I felt sick and fell onto the bench at the picnic-like table, my skin crawling with a cold sweat.
Ignoring Jamie completely, I rushed through my charcoal representation of a birdhouse and was cleaning up long before the bell rang. For the remaining twenty minutes of class, feeling Jamie's worried gaze as he worked, I stared unseeingly out of the classroom window, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do. When class ended, Jamie looked at me once and then left the room without another word.
I had a feeling I would have to get used to that. It did nothing to help the sick feeling in my stomach.
"Brian? Could you stick around for a minute?" Mr. Barnes requested quietly as everyone else filed out of the room and into the hall. I looked around wildly at the slowly emptying wooden tables with loose benches, but I didn't see anyone looking or whispering. No one seemed surprised or even interested in his request. I had to get a hold of myself, or I would be the one to expose my secret.
Packing up my stuff, I tried to look like everyone else, but I felt trapped, panicky. Once the rest of the class had left the room, I sat back down at the art bench. My breathing was shallow and uneven as I used my nail to pick at a spot of dried paint. Not even having the balls to look him in the eye, I just sat there, waiting for the axe to fall. He knew. He had to know or why else would he want to talk to me? I'd never been in trouble, never been disrespectful. I felt sick that now everyone else would know too. My life would be over. Maybe the Schreibers would even send me back to the State. I mean, who wanted a perverted freak in the next bedroom?
"Brian, I've noticed that you have been fairly distracted the last few classes. You seem upset about something," he started, sitting down across from me. He folded his arms delicately on the worn and scored wooden table. I could feel his eyes on my face. "Is everything all right at home?"
"Yeah," I said quietly, only it came out more like a croak than an actual word. Why was he dragging this out? Couldn't he just get on with it? My life was going to be ruined now; didn't he have the decency to make my end swift? It was like he was trying to perform surgery with a dull, rusty scalpel.
"Brian, unless someone is physically hurting you, which I don't think is the case, anything that you tell me will stay between us," he reassured gently. Finally, I raised my head.
"It's not... No one is hurting me," I started hesitantly. "I just... I can't talk about it." I really wanted to talk to someone, anyone who could help me not feel so fucking scared all the time. But I was afraid that once I said it out loud, it would be true. It would be real. I would be gay, and my secret would be known by everyone. My friends, the other kids at school, the Schreibers... Jamie. They would all know.
"Does it have anything to do with Jamie Mayfield?" My eyes shot up to meet his, and I saw that they were solemn; his normally impassive face had softened. "I noticed that you two were distant today. Usually you're two peas in a pod," he mused, and I blanched. If he had noticed what Jamie meant to me, would other people notice too, or was it just because he was gay? I couldn't drag Jamie down with me in this. His parents were such zealots about their religion, they would never forgive him. Shaking my head violently, I tried to quell the panic rolling in my stomach.
"I know I'm a teacher, but I might just understand," he offered, patting my arm as he stood. "If you change your mind, my door is always open. Please, come and see me any time, okay?" Nodding as I grabbed my bag, I practically ran from the room. I had debated about just telling him, just saying the words. All I had to say was that I thought I might be gay, but the fear of saying it out loud, making it tangible, pushed me out the door without looking back.
* * * *
For the rest of the week, I did my best to appear normal. I went to all of my classes, spent time in the cafeteria at lunch, and tried to be actively engaged in conversations with our friends. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to suspect that there was something bothering me--or more to the point, something wrong with me. I'd been scared of how I felt for years, but now that my feelings for Jamie had been more clearly defined, and labeled as evil, it was all I could think about. Only Jamie had really figured out that I was having some kind of problem. I caught him watching me a few times--in class, at lunch with our friends, and at our lockers. I had made a point of not being alone with him. If we weren't alone, he couldn't corner me to ask what was wrong. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep it up forever, but it was all going fairly smoothly--until Friday afternoon.
Gym had never been my favorite class, but I tolerated it because it wasn't exactly optional. I didn't mind the physical exertion or the games that we played; it was the drill sergeant they called a teacher. It wasn't the fact that Coach Williams was recently back from his overseas deployment that made me crazy, it was the fact that he worked us like we were storming the beaches at Normandy rather than just trying to earn high school credit. However, lately gym had become almost physical torture. Being in the showers, naked near Jamie, it was all I could do to think of baseball stats and multiplication tables to stop myself from getting hard. I had to force myself not to watch as he used his bare hands to lather up his skin. Those were images to feed the fantasies I would have later at night as I lay alone in bed.
Friday, however, I had one more factor working against me. In my quest to become more normal, I had refrained from masturbating all week. If I didn't masturbate, I couldn't think of guys while doing it. If I thought about sex at all, the next thing that popped into my mind was that stout preacher man. That, in and of itself, was a wonderful way to kill my libido. In my imagination, he was standing there, using his huge ham-like hands to push me straight to hell to atone for my sins.
Only right then, it wasn't working.
Unfortunately, without that release, I was paying for my pent-up sexual tension. I hadn't even taken off my gym uniform of short shorts and tight T-shirt emblazoned with our red and white school colors, and I was already hard. I knew there was no way I could strip and get into the showers. Completely mortified, I stood in the boys' locker room, surrounded by thirty of my half-naked male classmates. Looking over in alarm, I noticed Jamie watching me. My locker was open in front of me, the door blocking my bulging shorts, but I had to get out of there. I couldn't let him or anyone else see I was aroused by the sight of other naked boys. After throwing the jeans and T-shirt I had worn to school into my backpack, I ran, not really having any kind of plan as to where I would end up.
I had sprinted about a block from the high school when I realized that it was raining, but my momentum and my adrenaline continued to carry me forward anyway. I ran through the streets and past the quiet houses, until finally I stopped at a garage overhang where I could catch my breath out of the rain. Bent over with my hands on my knees, I gulped down air. Extremely pleased that my erection had finally gone down, I remained partially stooped, breathing heavily. The mist dripping off the roof cooled the back of my neck as I tried to get myself under control. The noise of the driving rain on the tin roof over my head masked the sound of heavy footsteps pounding toward the garage. I didn't have any indication that Jamie was approaching until he stood in front of me. When I tried to make a break for it, he grabbed my shirt.
"Fuck no," he said in a stern voice, and I gaped at him. I don't think I had ever heard him swear before. "You and I are going to go to my house to talk--now." I looked away from the alley. With a sinking feeling, I realized that we stood just yards from his house. Without even thinking about it, I had run right to him, or at least to his home. He dragged me the few remaining feet to his back gate, and, resigned to my fate, I let him push me through it.
Seeing the house that held so many good memories for me, I felt my insides go cold. What the hell was I going to tell him? I couldn't tell him the truth. As we climbed up the stairs of the large wooden deck, I knew that I wouldn't be able to lie to him. He was the best friend I had ever had, and deep down I knew that I cared for him much more than I should. The rain spattered against the large bay windows that overlooked the Mayfields' kitchen. The white trim around the window seemed to set off the light-gray siding perfectly. Everything about Jamie's house, from the expensive brick patio to the perfectly cut lawn, said "upper middle class." It was just another reason why Jamie and I could never be more than what we were. His parents tolerated me as the local charity case; they would never accept me as anything more.
When we got to the back door, he swore again. I turned to look at him and for the first time noticed that he was still wearing his gym uniform. He must have taken off right after me. The white and red T-shirt clung to his chest, and while I didn't check, I was sure the shorts were clinging too.
"I left my fucking keys at school." He looked around, and I saw his eyes fix on the tree house. We had spent so many hours in it when we were younger. It was one of the first places I had ever felt safe after coming to live with the Schreibers. I had mostly forgotten about it now that we were in high school. At nearly seventeen, we were a little old to be playing in tree houses. In fact, I think Jamie had said his dad was going to take it down at the end of the summer.
I still remembered how completely impressed I'd been the first time I had seen it. It was masterfully built from sturdy pine with a real roof like that on their home. Apparently Jamie's father had built it around the time they'd had their roof retiled, and he'd used the leftover material to build a roof for the tree house. The wood looked old and a little rough, and there were large openings on two sides with shutters tied closed to keep out the elements. The whole tree house looked battered now. Even the wooden ladder, which was simply the front part of a painter's ladder disassembled and affixed to the huge oak where the tree house was built, was starting to show signs of wear.
The model of the tree house sitting on my dresser was in much better condition.
Climbing up the old ladder and pushing through the trapdoor at the top, we stood hunched in the small space, which seemed to have shrunk since the last time I had been up there. A six-foot-by-six-foot space seems so much larger when you're just a kid. The pictures of different comic book heroes that we had drawn as kids still hung on the walls. Most of the paper was molded and yellowed with age, the tape that held them up peeling and brittle. The bean bag chairs that Mrs. Mayfield had made for us were long gone, but the milk crates and scrap wood we'd used for a table were still there. Playing cards and various broken crayons were strewn over the table and floor.
Sitting down in the corner, I brushed a cobweb from the ceiling just above my head as Jamie shrugged out of his wet T-shirt and hung it on a nearby nail. The sight of him, so close and shirtless, made my temperature jump in our impromptu confessional. It was already hot and musty in the closed space, but his proximity intensified that, and I felt the sweat bead on my forehead and cheeks. He sat down on the floor, cross-legged, right in front of me and stared into my face for a long moment. Then he spoke.
"What did I do?" His voice was tender but strong, as though determined to get an answer. "Please, just tell me what I did." The pain in his eyes was heartbreaking to me. I couldn't believe he thought I was mad at him, that he had done something wrong. But looking back at my behavior over the last week, I could understand how he might have come to that conclusion. Stunting our conversations, avoiding him, running from him in gym--yeah, I certainly followed his logic.
I had to tell him.
I couldn't tell him.
He would hate me, and I would lose my best friend.
That thought was like a knife through my heart, and I felt my throat start to burn. Oh God, I couldn't cry in front of him too, not after everything else that had happened today. He already had to think I was a pansy. Looking up at the ceiling, I tried desperately to calm myself, but it was no use. The tears began to fall.
"Brian, please," he murmured and scooted closer. Then his arm was around my shoulders and my forehead was pressed against his neck. He was holding me, and it felt so fucking good. This wasn't like the quick hug I'd given him when his aunt had died last year, or even the tight squeeze he'd given me last week when I'd thought I was going to fail my math test. The way he was holding me, comforting me, was something else entirely, and it felt so fucking good to not feel like a freak, even if only for just a few minutes. His temple was pressed against my shoulder, and I could feel his quick breath against my wet skin. It was like every dream I'd ever had about being with him, only better because he was actually here, touching me. Jamie's touch felt so tender that I could pretend for that one moment we were everything I had wanted us to be. Before I could sink too far into my fantasy, I began to pull away, but slowly, hesitantly, he turned his face to the side and kissed the exposed skin of my neck. I sucked in a breath, stunned. The feeling of his soft lips on my throat, even just in that small comforting gesture, shocked me into complete and utter silence. I had no idea what to say, no idea what to do next. All I knew was, in that moment, I needed to look into his eyes. I had to know what he felt.
When I pulled back, I saw the shock and utter terror that I was feeling reflected back at me from his perfect face.