It was three days after I'd been in the ring with Joe. I was in my room doing prep. Mike had finished his and was off visiting. He was a much more gregarious boy than I was. He was also very comfortable getting grades anywhere from A's to C's. My feeling was that anything below an A would reflect poorly on me, and in any case, would be personally disappointing.
Derek knocked on the open door and walked in. I glanced at him and smiled. I was lying on my bed, reviewing a chapter in my textbook that I'd already read twice, one we'd be discussing in class tomorrow. I closed the book and sat up on the bed, turned to face him.
"Don't stop on my account," he said. It was the same voice he always used. He had the same posture he always had. Both were slightly self-deprecating. He came in looking like the Derek I'd known all along. Yet I found myself looking at him as if he were a different boy.
He saw the look in my eyes and frowned. "Luke, I wish you wouldn't look at me like that. Like I'm not who I've always been. I am. I haven't changed a bit."
He came in and sat on Mike's bed. I watched him do it, all the time readjusting my opinion of him.
"You're not, you know? To me? I thought of the four of us, you were the softest, the gentlest, the one who'd need protecting if any of us did, the one we'd all have to be looking out for. But you're not any of that. You're strong on the inside where it counts. You're brave. You're all the things I wish I could be, but aren't. You can box like a Golden Gloves champ, and no one knew. You're a perfect stroke for our crew when none of us would have been able to do it nearly as well. You allow anyone to have the wrong opinion of you, and it doesn't matter to you at all. But the boxing. I can't forget that. You did what you did for me. Of course I'm going to look at you differently now."
He looked down, not meeting my eyes. When he spoke, it was quietly, as always. "Can you just forget about what I did in the ring, then? I was just mad. I saw him as he is, a bully who doesn't care about other people, who only thinks of himself. I don't like that kind of boy. And when he hurt you, well, I guess I should have just watched like everyone else, but I couldn't. I…I like you, Luke, and it hurt me to see you lying there like that. I like you…" He tapered off, still looking down.
"I like you, too, Derek, but I just have to adjust how I think of you."
"No, you don't! Please don't. I'm the same kid I've always been. I have the same feelings, the same insecurities, the same worries I've always had since you've known me. I still want to be in the background. I'm uncomfortable if the spotlight is on me. The only thing different about me is just that you know something about me now that you didn't before. I'm really the same person. Please?"
He did look up then. I could read things in his eyes I hadn't seen before. I'd known he was smart, maybe smarter than I was. I hadn't known he was as complex a person as I now realized he was. He had thoughts going on in his head like I did in mine; I just hadn't looked at him that way. His eyes were telling me something now, and I had no idea what it was. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know him, really know him, at all. Maybe he knew that and was letting me see there was more to him than I'd given him credit for.
I didn't know what to say. Surprisingly, I felt a little shy all of a sudden. I turned away from him.
I heard him sigh. I had to say something. I didn't want him to think turning away meant I was rejecting him. I wanted things the same between us as they'd always been, too. We'd been entirely comfortable together before, and if we weren't now, it was because of me. I was the one causing his disappointment, and if I felt tension, that was on me, too.
"I'm sorry," I said, though I wasn't quite sure why I was apologizing. "I'll try to not let what happened change anything. But I'm grateful to you and so surprised you could do that. Hey, I know! Why don't you teach me how to box? You're obviously very good at it. Mr. O was showing me the fundamentals, and I didn't really like boxing. I think I might like it with you." Then, in a smaller voice, I said, "Maybe you could share some of your courage with me, too."
"OK. But I don't know about the courage part. You got in the ring with Joe. You've got more courage than most." He was grinning, and he sounded happier than a moment ago. I turned back to him. He was smiling. I got a peculiar feeling. Derek cared for me, he'd shown that, and it occurred to me I cared for him, too. More than I'd realized. Suddenly, I wanted to touch him, but I didn't know how to do that without it being weird. We were looking at each other in a way we never had before.
But then I did know. Know how to touch him. A way that wouldn't seem strange at all.
"Of course," I said, inching forward on my bed, "I never thought you were very strong, and you showed me you were. I always had thought you'd be a pushover when it came to anything physical. I thought you'd be easy to wrestle down, that I could have my way with you…" I let a wicked gleam come into my eyes, and then I attacked!
I dove from my bed at him, tackled him, and we both fell onto Mike's bed. I sprawled on top of him and quickly found his ticklish spots. He shrieked, laughing and fending me off. He was quite a bit stronger than I'd thought. Perhaps I should have known. Well, obviously I should have known from the time we'd spent together, but I hadn't thought of it; the words strong and Derek just didn't fit together in my mind. They seemed so separate. He was strong, though. He had to be in order to be a capable stroke and to knock Joe down as he had. He was quite obviously stronger than I was, even though I, too, was stronger now, with all the work we'd done practicing for crew.
We rolled around a bit, each on top, then the bottom, both of us squealing with laughter. Then he was on top and the laughter abated, and I felt that he was hard, just as I was.
He was looking down into my face, his slowly becoming serious now. I pressed up into him, feeling how hard he was, making sure he felt me, too.
He started to roll off, and I gripped him, holding him in place. "Sorry about getting hard," I said. "I always do when wrestling another boy."
"Oh," he said, his eyes immediately becoming mischievous. "And do you wrestle boys a lot? Huh? Huh?" He was pressing into me, too.
I could play this game as well as he could. "Well, no, only you. I guess I should have said, I always get hard when I wrestle with you."
"Hmmm. Now that does put a different complexion on it, doesn't it?" he asked, then laughed.
That laugh really helped. It took any awkwardness away, and we both knew then there was no reason to be embarrassed.
I pressed up into him again, not entirely willfully. It was more just my body doing what the occasion demanded, what it wanted. He didn't seem to mind.
I pressed again, and he said, "You do know the door's open, don't you?"
He laughed and rolled off me, and this time I didn't hold him in place. He stood by the bed, his eyes devouring me. He was still Derek; his appearance was a little shy, his eyes were soft. But he was also entirely different. Perhaps it was because he wasn't just Derek—he was Derek-with-a-hard-on, a hard-on which was quite obvious in his pants; and Derek with an excited grin; and Derek with soft eyes that were full of lust. I guess mine were, too.
"Should I shut the door?" he asked, his eyes twinkling, his voice throaty.
"I wish," I replied, "but Mike could come back at any moment. I wouldn't want him to walk in on anything."
Derek made a face and reluctantly sat back down on Mike's bed, then reached into his pants to arrange himself more comfortably. His face showed no embarrassment at all. "Do you two mess around at all?" he asked.
"No. Mike's straight. He wasn't sure till a month ago, but even before that, we didn't. We talked about it. We talk about everything. You've heard him talking about this girl he met. He's really into her. Well, not physically. Not yet. But will be, soon, I'm sure. How could any sane person resist him?"
"You mean you've got a crush on him?"
"I think I did. Nothing like the crush I had on Sutton before I got to know him."
Derek laughed. "We all did. Before we got to know him."
He smiled. "Of course. But eventually I saw how he was. That wasn't what I wanted. Isn't what I want."
I gulped, but then asked, "So you're gay?"
He nodded. "I didn't know if you were or not. I thought you might be. I hoped you were. I really like you, how you carry yourself, your personality. You're a little shy but work hard to overcome it and not let it interfere with your life. You don't fit in real well with group activities, and are reluctant to join in fully. I'm the same. That's probably the main reason I jumped in—with Joe, I mean. I couldn't let him do that to you, knowing how you feel with others around watching. Not just hitting you in the balls, either. That wasn't what really pissed me off. It was the way he condescended to you. He's not better than you. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I wanted him to know that. To feel it. To feel what it's like to get humiliated in front of people you want to impress."
I blushed. He stood up, and I did, too, moving to my bed. Derek sat down next to me.
"Are you gay?" he asked.
It was my turn to nod.
Neither Derek nor I were the type of boy anyone would call cute or handsome, the type who'd turn your head or stir your loins. But the smile he gave me then lit up his face, and to me he was suddenly beautiful. I couldn't help myself. I leaned in and attacked that smile with my own, bringing my lips to his. I hesitated, giving him time to pull away if he wanted, but he didn't. His lips were soft and compliant. I'd never kissed a boy before. I did then and learned what I'd been missing. At the end of the kiss, I was harder than I'd been from wrestling!
He was, too. We were both so hard we were uncomfortable.
I couldn't stand this! It was too much. I came up for air and said, "Are you feeling what I am?"
"If you mean you're ready to explode, then yes!"
"What can we do?" I asked, panting.
He was silent a moment then said, "A shower! We need a shower?"
"He'll have to wait his turn!" Derek jumped off the bed and began stripping, moving toward our small bathroom. "Besides, there's hardly room for two, let alone three."
I laughed and started pulling off my shirt. There was hardly room for both of us to undress in the bathroom, so he did it there and I did it just outside the doorway, both rushing as fast as we could. We both had to struggle with the last bit, the underpants, because we were both rigid and because we both had our eyes on the other's and not our own problem.
We were both about the same size, the size normal for thirteen-year-old boys who are going on fourteen. Plenty large enough for what we were doing. What we were then doing was, I was shutting the bathroom door, and he was turning on the shower and adjusting the temperature. When it was just right, we both squeezed in, shut the stall door, and were pressed together by the four walls.
It felt so great, touching each other from head to toe with nothing but skin separating our souls from each other, front side to front side, the warm water pouring down on us. We were slippery, but then even more so when Derek got the brilliant idea to add soap to the mix.
Sliding against him, holding on for dear life, I got to laughing, and of course then so did he. The feeling was so delicious, us sliding all over each other, trying to keep our hard-ons between us as they kept slipping aside. Finally, Derek took mine in his hand, moving his hand between us to hold it in place, and once he had it, he didn't let go. I quickly followed suit so our hands were next to each other, both pressed against our stomachs.
It took almost no time at all after that. No time, but that didn't diminish the exquisite, explosive feelings that left us both breathless and leaning against each other, only the closeness of the shower walls holding us upright.
That was how Derek and I came together in a whole new way. Mike was lying on his bed when we left the bathroom. My clothes were outside; Derek's inside. I peeked through the door before opening it all the way and saw Mike there. He was reading a book but kept flicking his eyes up at the bathroom door. Or perhaps at my pile of clothes lying on the floor in front of it. I never left my clothes there. I always either took them with me or put them in the laundry bag. Something was going on, and Mike knew it.
I told Derek to dress, which he somehow managed, tight space and all. Then I opened the door and walked out naked. I quickly pulled my clothes on, but Mike got an eyeful. He was now one up on me. I'd yet to see him bare.
Derek and I walked in and sat on my bed. Mike had dropped his book so only his eyes were visible, but they were shining with laughter. "Something I should know?" he asked.
I didn't know what to say. Derek did. "I think we were checking each other out as potential boyfriend material. Just testing, you know? Luke passed."
I looked at Derek, astonished. And he thought I had courage!
Mike was looking at me. I gulped, then turned to Derek. "So did he," I said. And then I broke into a smile, a huge smile, maybe the biggest smile I'd ever worn.
Derek and me. Really!
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