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Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 51

Inner Battles

POV: Calvin, Mikey, Jay

I spent over an hour on the phone with Benny on Sunday evening, but I'd swear at least fifteen minutes of that was taken up with idiotic grins and more than a few giggles. Another half hour was filled up by, um…I guess you'd call it 'a severe violation of phone etiquette'....What are two red-blooded teenagers supposed to do when it had been more than twenty-four hours since they'd last seen each other? Yeah, we traded cookie recipes. Let's just say, we both got some sort of cookies to snack on before falling asleep in a sweaty mess. I'd be taking a morning bath before school anyway, since I had to milk our cows first, so I might as well add a little fun to the usual mix of cow funk and barn dirt.

We weren't as big a farm as the one owned by Jay's family, so my chores didn't take nearly as long. We only had three cows—fawn-colored, broad-faced Jerseys—and I'd mucked out their stalls on Sunday, so I just had to milk and turn them out into the pasture. Grandma gathered the eggs while I did that, and then started breakfast for me like she did every morning. Eggs, bacon, toast, and milk…she saved the big production of pancakes or waffles for weekends, which was fine with me. It gave us time to talk about school and what plans I had for the day after getting home. Breakfast was our special time, just as it had been when grandpa was still alive.

The biggest thing Benny and I talked about was me finally getting to meet his younger brother Finn. I'd heard more than one story about his antics—and how protective he was of Benny's feelings. From what I'd been told, he was nearly as big as my foxy wrestler, but not quite so muscular…though that gave me little reassurance about how we'd get along. I was praying he'd like me, but Benny'd also said he knew about our parting of the ways last semester. Even though Benny had stressed that it was his own fault, I had to hope Finn believed him.

If Finn didn't like me, I wondered how long Benny and I would last....

It was days like this when I missed my old Army fatigues…they gave me a sort of camouflage which my new jeans and shirts didn't. They had been over-sized, and I could pretend they were a shield against the kids around me, but our little shopping trip to the mall had left me with clothes that fit right, taking away my sense of anonymity. The new clothes didn't make me stand out so much as take away my sense of the familiar. Now that Benny was my boyfriend, I expected I'd need his comforting presence more than ever…but that was fine by me.

Benny had said something about me getting to know Finn a bit before we went to the drive-in again on Friday; it seemed Finn wanted to see Death Race 2000 with Greg's brother Lee before it ended, and we'd be taking the two of them for its last showing. We'd been in my car last week, instead of Benny's with the bucket seats, which meant we'd actually missed some of the movie while we were making out. Therefore, I wasn't real upset about another viewing of it; it had been a fun movie, judging by the parts we'd seen. For my Benny, I'd gladly sit through it as often as needed.

My hands were a little slick on the steering wheel as I drove to school, and I found myself rubbing them on my jeans more than once. I didn't have the cool FM radio in my car like Benny—my Buick had been my grandfather's and was new when he bought it in '65, but he hadn't thought the more expensive radio was worth it. I'd only had the car for less than a year—it ran great and looked almost new, so I hadn't wanted to put the money into getting a new one. Because of that, I had no plans to sell it anytime soon. Maybe I'd save up and change the radio out this summer.

In the gloom and glow of my headlights, I saw Ben's Barracuda parked in its usual spot, and pulled up next to it, swallowing nervously as I climbed out. Because we were nearly a half hour early, the only cars around were those of a few teachers in front of the school. Benny climbed out of his car as I circled around mine to stand between the two. He was closely followed by a slightly thinner version of himself. Finn….

I shifted on my feet uneasily as I stared at him…damn, Ben didn't tell me he was a fox! He was a little thinner than my big wrestler, but the hair seemed to be the same color as did the eyes. I rubbed my hands on my thighs again, and was wanting to reach out and hug my guy, but didn't despite the fact there was only the three of us in the student lot. Benny gave me a smile, and I knew that he knew what I was thinking. Every time we were together, it got harder and harder for us to keep our hands off each other. I raised my hand in a semi-wave, and moved it to include Finn before dropping it to my side again. "Hey, guys…."

Benny repeated my half-hearted gesture and greeting, adding another warm smile. "This is Finn—my brother…Finn, this is Calvin Schuyler…." He was going to say something else, but I never heard what it was because the boy in question interrupted with a huge grin on his freckled face and an evil twinkle in his green eyes.

"So—did Benj renew your hickey like you did his?"

I stood there with my mouth open, dumbstruck. Before any of us could get another word out, Benny was chasing his brother in the direction of the cinder track next to the parking lot, hands clenching as if they were already around the boy's throat. 'You promised you be nice, you little shit!' was followed by maniacal laughter from Finn…and I could swear he called out 'Sucker!' as he rounded the far turn.

Greg had my chocolate milk for me today; now that he knew what I liked, he always managed to save one or two for me—if I only wanted one, he'd give the other one to somebody else in line. Some days, I just felt like grabbing a Pepsi from the vending machine instead. From watching the new show Laverne & Shirley, I'd seen it could be mixed with milk, but hadn't tried it yet. I imagined it would be similar to a root-beer float, but much as I loved those, I wasn't brave enough to take the chance.

I had a few minutes to think about things before Jay and Denny came in from gym, so I went over what had happened last night after learning Kevin Sommers might be joining our study group. My reaction when Jay asked his parents if another guy could come over wasn't what any of us expected—'Shit!' was less than enthusiastic, and I had to admit that I'd surprised myself as well as my kæreste's family. I had been thinking that feeling over even before they said anything.

Mr. Beckel—Dirck—held up a hand to forestall any comments, and put his other hand's rough fingers over mine where they lay on the kitchen table. He gave my hand a light squeeze. He could see my mind was already at work. "Think it through, søn…."

I closed my eyes and found myself biting my lower lip, while my free hand rubbed at my left temple…both instinctual habits when I was thinking really hard. Jay told me last night that Greg and Denny had spent some time talking with the guy during the break between their two movies, but all we'd done was exchange greetings with him before our own had started…maybe five minutes of talking to him directly—the rest was all Bill's talking about how they'd met. I didn't have a lot of experience meeting new people, but even I had to see that forming an opinion about somebody after that short a time was ridiculous.

Where would I be now if Jay'd done that when he first tried talking to me?

The sounds of the lunch room faded as my mind lost itself in last night's events. The Beckels all knew how shy I was, so they gave me a lot of space as my brain sorted through what I knew of Kevin—and of myself. It sounded like he had a really bad time of it at home, and I could understand that with my own situation—but then I paused—my parents didn't have much time for me…but that they might hit me never crossed my mind. My problem seemed a lot more trivial than his, so I couldn't really put myself in his place. None of us could. Our parents gave us varying numbers of rules to follow, but when it came right down to it, none of them were too hard to live with. Was that why I was reluctant to invite Kevin into our group—fear of the unknown?

That one took me a little longer to work out, mainly because there was more than a little truth to it. I'd always had trouble making friends, and I think the first ones I had—the kids on my street—were friends for just that reason…we grew up together since we lived only a few houses apart. Because of that, I didn't remember how we'd met, but I was pretty sure it had been through my older sisters knowing their older brothers and sisters. In elementary school I'd talked with a few kids who sat next to me in class, and then we'd play a little together at recess on the swings or other games like Four-Square…but there was no one who I spent time with out of school. That sort of thing hadn't happened until this year with the study group. Though it should have been obvious, it surprised me—every good friend I had now, I had thanks to Jay!

Was that the problem with Kevin—that Jay hadn't drawn him into our circle? It didn't seem likely since that's just what my elskede was planning on now….

I started to reject that one too, but then hesitated in order to think it over again. Was there something the other guys had that made them different, and thus more acceptable to me besides Jay getting us together? When I looked at it that way, there was one big common factor—they were all gay. Greg had called me and Jay to see if we'd be boyfriend material, and Denny had revealed himself to Jay after their run-in with Timmy Zane during gym, and their later talk in the parking lot.

It was another scene in the student lot that brought Benny and Calvin to our attention, though it seemed pretty obvious later that Greg had known about both of them before Jay and I; who knew the two of them had been drooling at one another from afar since last semester? The two big jocks had then been invited to join our study group, and they fit right in. I stopped at that thought….

That was it—the problem with Kevin wasn't how he came to our group—it was how he'd fit in! We were all gay—no, more than that—we were couples; Kevin was the unknown 'X' Jay was always looking for in that class I'd dropped. We knew very little about him since he'd just moved here a few months ago—hell—we didn't even know if he was gay like the rest of us. All we had to go on were some vague impressions from our new friend Bill from Pizza Hut. He'd given us an image of an angry and confused guy who, under the influence of pot, had kissed him and said he 'loved him.'

That 'love' could have been brotherly affection, zany enthusiasm due to the influence of marijuana…or it could have been genuine romantic queerness at work. We just didn't know. And now Greg wanted us to invite him into our sanctuary. We had a place where we could all be ourselves, and comfortable with that, at the Beckel farm. Some of us could be that way at home, like Greg and Benny and Jay, but for me, and possibly Denny, this was our only chance to have some time with our boyfriends. Would having Kevin Sommers here interfere with that—or even more important—endanger this refuge for the rest of us? My protective instincts were on full alert.

I wasn't sure how much time had passed during which I was the center of the Beckels' attention, but Dirck and Rosalie were giving me gentle smiles while my Jay had slipped into the chair next to me, wrapping one arm around my waist. I absorbed his warm reassurance, and it helped me see our relationship wouldn't be affected by Kevin or anyone else joining our group. Looking at his mother and father, I recalled when Dirck had held me on the old glider that sits on their back porch, after my elskede learned Jerry was coming home for Linda's Graduation. Stupid jealousy had reared when I saw him so excited, and I'd felt threatened for no reason…and, at least in my own mind, I'd thought I'd lost him. Dirck had set me straight on my 'misconception' that afternoon, getting me to see that I was letting my own insecurity get the best of me. I was doing it again.

Jay and I had pledged ourselves to each other—I wouldn't lose sight of that again!

"Dude—are you in there?" The soft snicker brought me back to the present, as did the clatter of lunch trays landing on our table. Jay took his usual seat across from me while Denny parked himself on my right. It had become his own place of choice. Greg would take the seat opposite him when he had his own lunch break once the line dwindled down to the last stragglers. Like me, I saw they'd picked the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and white gravy. I picked green beans and applesauce for my other dishes, but Jay went for Jell-O, and Denny for cooked carrots. The chicken wasn't too greasy, though the choice of pieces was limited to drumsticks, thighs, and wings. I knew from going to the store that you could get those pieces in bulk packages which were cheaper than other cuts. When Greg joined us a few minutes later, I saw he'd made the same choices I had.

"This isn't bad, but your mom's is better, Mikey." I blushed when I remembered how he'd kissed me in my driveway after he'd had dinner at my house…the same night he'd gotten permission for us to study together. As if to remind me of that, I felt his ankle rub mine under the table, and I grinned at him while my face went pink. He'd done the same thing that night and more than once since then, both at his house and here in the cafeteria, and I'd blushed every single time. Again, I was reminded just how solid the bond between Jay and I was. Kevin would be no threat to us.

I looked around the lunch room and spotted the fiery topped red-head sitting with his darker, less fiery-haired cousins, the twins Eric and Derik. He seemed to be listening rather than contributing to their encounter. Even I knew the twins' talks were full of half-sentences and silences punctuated with occasional gestures only they could follow due to their extremely close bond—unless you could get into their heads, you'd be lost in a few minutes. I felt a wave of envy for their closeness, and at the same time, sympathy for Kevin, who'd found himself thrown into their lives with no warning. On top of any other problems he might have, I knew in my bones that he must be very lonely—and that I could fully understand.

"So what did your parents say," Greg asked quietly with his eyes focused on my kæreste.

"You know them—as long as we actually study, it's fine with them," he answered with a smile before turning his eyes in my direction. "Mikey was worried about adding him though…since we don't know a lot about him."

"Adding who to what?" Denny asked in a confused whisper. I guess Jay hadn't had a chance to fill him in during Phys Ed class, so he quickly explained about inviting Kevin to join our study group. I watched the curly-haired runner for a minute as he chewed on a piece of his chicken...then he looked at each of us in turn. "Me and Greg talked with him between movies on Saturday, and I admit he's hard to get to know…but we both think it's worth the effort…."

I set my gaze on Jay's face, and though he was at about the limit of my range to get good details with my glasses, I knew from experience alone he wanted to help Kevin, just as he had me, if entirely by accident. He was just that kind of person: open, honest, and caring. It was why I loved him—he couldn't be anything else and still be Jay Beckel.

"I see one problem here, guys," I said, hiding my grin as much as I could. "Greg knows him better than me or Jay, but we meet at Jay's house—so who's gonna ask him to study with us?"

"Maybe we should find out if he has a ride first, and isn't it kinda important to know where he lives?" This came from Calvin, who'd walked up unnoticed with Benny as we'd been talking. Benny was hard to miss with his build, and Calvin wasn't much less imposing, but we'd all missed their approach. We really had to be more careful.

I'd forgotten we'd agreed to exchange opinions about the movies we'd seen at the drive-in, so we could figure out if we wanted to see the other ones before they ended this weekend. I wanted to see Rollerball no matter what Greg and Denny had to say about it, but it was all in Jay's hands since he was the licensed driver. He'd sounded eager when we first saw the sign and I'd described what I knew about both movies, but I'd feel guilty if he only went because of me.

"…drives an old VW bus," I heard Denny say. "At least that's what he was using Saturday night, and he was alone in it…but I don't remember seeing it in the school's parking lot." The six of us exchanged glances to see if anyone knew more than that, but got only blank looks in return.

"There's a Sommers family over on York Road north of Outville…could he be one of them?" Again more shrugs with Calvin's latest question. This was a pretty rural area, and it wasn't uncommon for several families to have the same last name and turn out to be related to one another, but we knew Kevin came from Reynoldsburg which was almost the 'Big City' to people from our tiny town.

"Hey, there's only ten minutes before the bell—what about the movies?" Benny asked. "No time for long descriptions now, but I'm taking Finn and Greg's little brother to see Death Race Friday night. Me and Calvin could watch it again with them, or do the other one so they could be by themselves."

I suspected we all had a few questions about why the two younger boys would need to be alone, but there wasn't time to get into that now…so Greg put in his two cents about Rollerball as he finished up his meal. He had to start clearing up the cafeteria as part of his job.

"The parts of the movie with the guys on skates and motorcycles were cool—and it would be neat if there was such a sport for real—but there was a fair amount of talk in between. It was all important to fill in the background of what the rules of their world were, but I thought it could have been done better in less time…."

"I gotta agree with Reb on that, but the action scenes were frequent enough and definitely exciting enough to make it worthwhile for me," Denny cut in. "It beat hell out of that THX-1138 we were talking about the other day—so I say go for it."

"What about Breakout," I asked as I finished up my own meal. I saw Jay raise his eyebrow to go along with my query. "At least for me and Jay, we liked Death Race a heck of a lot more than Mechagodzilla. By halfway through, we'd even given up laughing at it and took a nap."

After weeks of studying with these guys, and having the cookout at my house, why did I even think they'd swallow that? None of them did more than grin, but I had no doubt they'd figured out what we'd really done during the second movie. Greg stood to gather up trays, and he just shook his head as he took off for the trash can to dump his garbage. "Right—me and Yank napped through most of our second movie too…."

We decided to talk about it more tomorrow, but it was generally agreed we'd go see the movies each of us had missed last Saturday…even if we didn't stick around for the second half of the double-feature. A truly awful Japanese monster movie or a Mexican prison escape movie? Not much choice there because most of us were ardent sci-fi fans. In the end, only Jay and I were left to clear off our trays, and I realized we hadn't come to a decision about Kevin Sommers yet.

Jay's hand brushed mine as we both moved to set our trays on top of the can at the same time, and he gave me a smile. "I think you were right the first time—we meet at my house, so it should be me that asks him…." I saw his head turn toward the exit, and caught a glimpse of bright red hair going into the hall toward the lockers. "I'll try to catch him now so we can talk about it after school."

Just like that, Jay was off like a shot to arrange a rendezvous at 2:15. I followed, heading for my own locker and the books I'd need for my Chemistry class next period. I wouldn't need any for Art, which was our last one of the day. I was walking through the crowd past the Office in the East hall and half-way to the Chem Lab when I stopped dead in my tracks, nearly causing a collision with a boy rushing to another class in the same direction.

Wait a minute—what did Jay mean by 'we'…?

I did catch up with my quarry as he was turning into the West hallway, but by then there wasn't enough time to really do a lot of talking…not that he seemed too willing to say much. About all I could do was say 'hi' and remind him we'd talked briefly at the drive-in Saturday evening. The kids rushing by to get to their 6th period classes were thinning out now, and we had maybe a minute before the bell rang, so I couldn't do any more than ask if we could talk after school in the parking lot. Kevin grudgingly agreed with about the same amount of enthusiasm as going to a dentist appointment. Since I'd had to do one of those just a few weeks ago, I recognized the signs right off the bat, but he did say he'd be there.

We'd finished up with pottery now in Art, and there were a lot of groans when we found out the new topic was sewing…by hand…without using a machine. Who did that in this day and age—even mor used our old White Sewing Machine if we ripped something like shirts or pants—everything else went into the rag pile to be used for cleaning. I could remember her darning socks for us when we were little, mainly because we grew so fast it'd cost a bundle to buy new ones all the time. Now they went into a second life as dust rags. A glance at Mikey showed he was just as worried about this as I was.

For the first half of the period, Ms. Jones spent time going over the hand-out showing the stitches we'd learn: running stitch, backstitch, French Knots, and things like satin stitch for embroidery. There were also the practical things like button-holes and replacing zippers—that got some snickers from a lot of us boys—and hemming. One of the jock-types wondered why boys had to learn this stuff in the first place, and he didn't seem convinced when she said it would save money to fix something rather than buy a new one when it got torn, like his gym shorts. A lot more of us laughed when she added, "Your moms won't be around to do this when you get older—and some of you will have a hard time finding a girlfriend who'll want to go near a guy's sports clothes without a gas mask…."

At least we cheered up when we were also told that there wouldn't be a final project for this lesson, just a demonstration of our best efforts on all the stitches. Because this was new for most of us, she handed out not sewing needles, but embroidery ones which were a little bigger, along with a few skeins of 'floss' to go with it. We were also handed a two-foot square piece of brown burlap to use for practice in class, and she said we be getting real cloth and thread next week once we felt a little more comfortable with what we were doing.

While Ms. Jones went around the room showing us how to do a couple of each of the simpler stitches, I managed to tell Mikey about meeting Kevin in the parking lot. When I said he didn't seem too thrilled, I thought my boyfriend would tell me not to bother…but he surprised me by giving me a little smile. "Good job, Jeepers." That last was said in a whisper I could barely hear, but I definitely caught the faint hint of seductiveness in his nickname for me.

When the bell finally rang, Mikey and I put our sewing things in our bags and headed off to the north end of the building to meet Kevin. The Art room was almost in the middle of the school between the original and the 'new' building; for a few months the two hundred foot space between them had been open, then it was a simple corridor before three extra classrooms had been added to the west side of it. One of those was our class, right next to an exit for the west side of the building, but it was used mostly by smokers, and as a quick way to get to the football field and bleachers. It was faster to go through the West Hall then cut down to the East one and exit by the cafeteria to get to the parking lot because the gym block stuck out a long way past the rest of the school; if we'd gone out through the door next to the Art room, we would have almost doubled the distance needed to get to our car.

My eyes were fixed on the exit as we leaned on the fender of Mikey's Pontiac—we had finished priming my truck, but I didn't want to drive it until our dads fixed the wooden bed in back. After that it would get the shiny new maroon paint job we all agreed would look best. Anything would beat the dark blue it was now, and it was one of the colors Ford used when it was new, back in 1947. I felt a nudge to my ribs.

"Get your foot off the fender—you'll mess up the paint," he whispered in my ear. I put my foot on the gravel of the lot right away…it was a habit I had because my truck had wide running boards to laze against, or sit on and smooch in a dark driveway like the one at Mikey's house. I looked down to see if I'd marred the turquoise, but didn't see anything. The front and bottom half of each side was that 1950s greenish color, while the trunk lid, hardtop and upper half of the sides was a creamy white. I had to admit that I was almost as proud of his car as my boyfriend was…the light gray bench seats were cushy and great for making out on. I was really looking forward to another trip to the 40 East drive-in.

Thinking about last Saturday night distracted me, so I was a little surprised when Mikey waved a hand in front of my face and pointed toward the front corner of the school rather than the exit by the cafeteria we'd used. "Du er så sød." Mikey had picked up just enough Danish to figure out I'd said he was cute, and he blushed while I called out to Kevin to get his attention. He dodged a couple other kids as he came over, casting looks around and back over his shoulder. Most of the people were starting to board the long line of bright yellow busses for home, so I was a little confused. I thought Denny said he drove an old van or something?

The most remarkable thing about Kevin was his bright red hair, but he had a nice looking face beneath it, with green eyes and a medium-sized nose. He would have been more attractive if he smiled because his lips had the potential to be soft if he let them. At the moment, they just seemed impatient. His voice was between a baritone and tenor—not too high and not too low when he spoke.

"What did you want? I can't miss my bus." Another glance over his shoulder revealed a brownish book bag hanging by one strap that seemed to be half-empty. I couldn't recall him in any of my classes, but that didn't mean much with all the different ones going on. By the look on his face, I decided to skip the issue of his van and get right to the point.

"Well, some of us get together most nights to study for classes, and it's helped our grades a lot with the quizzes we just had." I was a little put off by his checking the line of busses in front of the building, and I was about to ask him if he could pay attention to what I was saying when Mikey put a hand on my arm. His touch had its usual effect of making me relax, so I went on in a friendlier tone than I'd been about to use. "We'd like you to study with us at my house."

That got his attention all right, but not in the way I expected. "Why? What's in it for me—and what do you want out of it?"

I couldn't help it—his tone just rubbed me the wrong way. "If you'd stop eyeing the fucking busses, I'll tell you. We'll drive your ass home if you miss it." Mikey's hand grabbed my arm like a vise, which made me wince, and I saw his eyes were far from happy with me. My own gaze dropped to look at the ground where I scuffed my feet. "Sorry Mikey…." I whispered sadly. I couldn't look at Kevin just then in case I'd see him gloating at my loss of temper. Mikey handed me his kit bag and gave me a little push toward the driver's door.

"Give us a sec, Jay," he said with a slight smile. "Put our stuff in the car while I talk with Kevin." I nodded and walked around to the other side to open the door before sitting behind the steering wheel. I felt like shit for what I said and the way I acted toward Kevin, but even more for disappointing my elskede. From inside the car, I could just make out what they were saying because we'd left the windows open an inch or so to keep the interior cooler while we were in school. By the start of June, it wouldn't be an option like it was now in the first week of May.

"I have to congratulate takes a lot to piss off Jay, and you did it in about a minute—makes you feel good, doesn't it?" Mikey asked gently. I heard him go on before the other guy could interrupt. I couldn't see their faces from my position, so all I could go by was their voices, and Mikey's sounded conciliatory. I hoped he knew what he was doing…his confidence was growing by the day since we'd become friends, then lovers…but it was still fragile.

"Okay, what's in it for you? A chance to study with some pretty nice—and smart—guys…and if that's not enough, you might earn some friends out of the deal." I heard something creep into Mikey's voice, a hint of determination. "What do we get out of it? Not a damn thing—but just maybe—another friend we can spend time with."

When Kevin answered, I could hear defiance in his tone. "I don't need any friends."

There was a long silence at that, and I wished I could see their faces to get the full impact, but I'd have had to almost lay down on the front seat and look up through the passenger window, and I had a strong feeling this needed to be as private a conversation as possible if our plans were to get anywhere. As much as I trusted my friends' judgment, I was wondering if Kevin was really worth all this trouble. I thought Mikey would be getting annoyed with this guy's attitude, but I was in for a surprise.

"You think you're the only one with problems—fat chance." His voice dropped to a softer tone, and I could hear the emotion coming through as he gave Kevin a hint of his background. If he scoffed at this, I swore I'd kick his ass. "All we know is that you're living with your cousins now…but I can see the wall you've built around yourself—I built my own for five years.

"My problem began with these." From the gesture I guessed Mikey was pointing to his thick glasses. "Not much of a problem, you might think—but tell that to a little boy who couldn't join his friends in sports in case he got hit too hard…then carry that through school where kids make fun of anybody different." I could see Kevin shift on his feet as my boyfriend went on, and wondered if he was looking at the line of busses again.

The babble of voices was diminishing as kids boarded and was masked by the vehicles' idling engines. They would be leaving any minute, whether everyone was aboard or not. Most drivers knew who belonged on their bus, and if someone was missing, it could be assumed they had other arrangements that day, like going to a friend's house or having something to do at school.

"It took until this semester for my wall to start coming down, thanks to Jay and his family. I'd learned that all my wall was doing was keeping me in prison—the sense of safety wasn't real like I thought it was." I heard a mix of regret and joy as Mikey continued. "It took him some doing, but Jay showed me just how badly I needed a friend. All it took on my part was being open enough to let someone in, and that was really hard for me…but I wouldn't go back to my old life now for anything.

"Like I said, all we know is that you're Bill's friend, and he's ours. That's enough for us until you decide to tell us more. If you don't, that's fine too…it's up to you, but I suggest you at least think about being part of the group. You can just study with us, or hang out once we're done for the day like everybody else…it's your choice. Friends are worth it if they're the right ones."

I couldn't see what Mikey was able to in Kevin's face, but their stances were a little more at ease. "I...don't know…if I can," Kevin said hesitantly. I thought he was finished speaking, then I heard him add softly: "…been a long time…"

The sudden roar of engines told me the line of busses was leaving, and I saw them head out the far end of the half-oval in front of the school. It looked like we'd be giving Kevin a ride after all, new friend or not. I was mollified by his answer to Mikey's question, even if I hadn't heard the last part thanks to the din from the yellow caravan. I did see Mikey extend his hand for Kevin to shake, and it was very slowly accepted.

I watched as the passenger door opened and Mikey hopped in, then slid across to the spot right next to me. At my raised eyebrow, he gestured to where the redhead was climbing in after him, taking the place next to the door. The seat was wide enough that we weren't crushed together, but I did enjoy the feel of Mikey's jeans-covered thigh against mine. I hoped I didn't get a boner from the contact, but even the thought of Mikey's leg could set me off. "Where to?" I asked.

Mikey gave me a grin and patted/rubbed my thigh gently…presumably since it was easier than tapping my arm, but I knew him better than that. "Your house, so Kevin can meet your parents and the other guys…then he can call his aunt's house."

"So you're going to study with us, Kevin?" I saw him lean forward a bit to look around Mikey's frame, and I was almost certain he saw my boyfriend's hand on my leg, but he didn't comment on it. Did his silence mean he was okay with the gesture, or simply oblivious to it? It didn't feel like the right time to press the issue of his being gay or not…the situation was still too new…and possibly precarious.

"I'm gonna try," he said quietly, then gave a very small smile. No hint of an apology, but I thought his answer covered more than just the prospect of studying. He was still pretty guarded, but then so was my kæreste for a long time. I turned the key and rolled my window down some more, motioning for Kevin to do the same on his side. Checking both ways, I eased the car toward the exit and the trip home. Mikey's hand automatically went to the radio, and the sounds of Tommy James' Crystal Blue Persuasion came from the speakers. Was it an omen of things to come?

Maybe not a friend yet—but it was a start.

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