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Wearing the Inside Out

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 3 - Under the Radar

The next morning, I woke up with my last dreams still very vivid in my head. The whole of the dream was dark, yet not cold, not frightening. I could feel the darkness around me like a blanket, heavy and thick yet not binding or smothering. It was a feeling of safety, peace. And for once, I wasn't sad or miserable in my dreams. Because, I realized I wasn't alone.

In the dream, I felt arms on me as well. Familiar arms. I turned against the blanket and found myself staring at Jack's face. He was in the blanket with me, his arms around me, mine around him. It wasn't a moment that was arousing. I mean, I even woke up without the usual AM wood. But I felt at home, at peace, and Jack seemed to be the same way. Oh, I know his face looked expressionless. But it was his eyes that told the tale. They were slightly hooded by the angle of his head, his chin depressed to his chest. His eyes were looking deep into mine, an expression as close to happiness as I'd seen in his eyes the night before shone up at me. Gratitude, acceptance, affection. All of that.

I woke slowly, almost able to feel those familiar arms around me, but my blankets were still tucked into the mattress. I had just plopped down on the bed when I got home and fell asleep with my sneakers still on. Didn't even bother to close and lock the door, like I normally do, you know, in case I wanna do something. Private. You know what I mean.

I'm not sure how long I lay there, eyes open, just staring at the wall paper of what had once been my cousin's bedroom before he went off to college, marriage and his own home almost fifteen years ago. I kinda was in a state where the feeling of the room and the feeling in my head from the dream and the feeling in my chest from the night before were mixed. My body was totally relaxed, like a rag doll, but my mind was on fire.

Confusion was a large part of what I felt. I mean, everything that happened after dinner that night kept replaying in my head. The phone calls and how Jack seemed to know exactly who was calling before he even picked up the receiver. His strange behavior. My strange behavior. That kiss. Those kisses. The way he suddenly turned cold towards me. It was all so very strange.

Stranger still was my reaction to all of that. Even after thinking about it on my own, I wasn't sure what I felt, or why I felt so many things so intensely. I know that part of it was just me being horny as hell. And part of it was some kind of reaction to how Jack spoke that night. Just something about his voice drove me as nothing I've ever felt before. Kinda brought out my own feelings more. Made me realize what I felt, I guess. Seeing my own confusion and excitement mirrored in his eyes kinda made it even thicker under my skin, you know? It made me feel that my skin was far larger and hotter than ever before. That any contact with Jack right then was not only right, but necessary.

And that's when I realized it. I didn't just want to touch Jack, or have him touch me. Not anymore. It wasn't about "want" anymore at all. It was about "need." I needed to feel his arms on me, his hands at the back of my neck, pushing my hair about. I needed to feel his head flop down on top of mine. I needed to have his small chest pressed tight against mine, my arms around him.

And I suddenly realized that not only did I need his presence, his touch, but I needed him. We completed each other. We were balance for each other. I had feelings for him. In short, I was in love with Jack. And I kinda had to believe, based on everything we'd done so far and what happened last night, that he was in love with me.

At least I hoped he was.

It was kinda weird to admit that to myself. I mean, that basically meant I was gay, right? I'd never felt like this about any other boy. I didn't get aroused thinking about other guys, and I never felt any burning need to check out other guys in the locker room for gym class. Hell, I'd never even seen another boy wearing anything less than a bathing suit since second grade when I watched a neighbor change her baby son's diaper. Which was far from arousing, let me tell you. How such a smell comes out of something so small and cute, I'll never know.

Yet here I was thinking about love and Jack in the same breath. And not squeamish thoughts, either. It felt right, somehow. I just didn't know how to deal with it though. You hear stories all the time, in the news and around school about gay kids. About how they aren't respected or how they get beat and messed with all the time. How even the implication of being gay, whether it's true or not, has often been enough to ostracize, intimidate and even just plain brow beat someone. There were even cases of abuse just based on rumors. So many people seem to be so easily frightened by something that doesn't even affect them.

The fear started to seep in then. Who could I tell, who could I trust to ask about all these strange feelings? Certainly not Mom. That would be just another stab through her heart. One more reason to hate me without regret. I didn't really know Aunt Sarah that well, even though she was nice and tried to make a connection to me. Suddenly I realized how thin my social circle was. How alone I was in a city of some 60,000 people.

Aunty poked her head in the doorway then, smiled seeing me awake and then walked into the room more.

"Didn't realize you were already home. You feelin' okay?"

"Yeah," I replied, sitting up, feeling kinda groggy. "I came home while it was still dark. Jack's dad had some things for him to do this morning, so we figured it would be better if I just went home."

"Oh. Well, guess that means I have someone who can go out to breakfast with me." She smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. "If you're up to it, that is."

"What about Mom?"

"She'll be fine. She's left the house with one of her old high school friends. I managed to get someone with more stubborn than her to come and get her out in the fresh air. They'll be gone for hours." Her expression changed subtly. "Honey, are you alright? You look like the whole world is sitting on your head."

I wasn't planning on talking to her about it. I mean, I didn't know exactly what was going on in my own head as well. Was it so obvious that I was confused, happy, sad and just plain, well, confused? Could I trust her? I guess all these things showed on my face at once, because she stepped into the room and leaned against the bed post. A simple gesture of being intimate and concerned without breaking too deeply into my personal space, I guess. I'm guessing at a lot of things right about then.

"I know it hasn't been easy on you, coming to live here. And with your mother's condition, well, that can't have helped matters any, either, Pauly." She called me that all the time. It's what they called me when I was a hands and knees carpet ranger, back when I wore diapers and bibs. I didn't really like it, but you can't really get the old people in the family to stop using a baby name. "She is getting better."

"It's not Mom," I said, feeling my face pouting. My shoulders slumped in, kinda like Jack's had the night before. "It's… nuthin'," I said, sighing.

"Well, get dressed, and we'll go get some breakfast. I don't feel like cooking but I could sure do with some bacon and eggs." She smiled, ruffled my hair and got up from the bed. She started down the hallway and then stopped, catching the edge of the doorframe to slow herself down. "Oh, I almost forgot. Your friend Jack's father called earlier. He said something about wanting to talk to you later, if he could. Weird, I never see him much, just coming and going, and I've lived here 30 years. He's never called once."

"Oh. Okay, Aunt Sarah. Thanks," I said as she closed the door behind herself. Jack's Dad wanted to talk to me. I couldn't help but think that it had everything to do with that phone call last night and Jack's reaction to it. But what linked them I couldn't see.

Anyways, we got out, walked about three blocks to a breakfast and lunch only restaurant called Joe's Diner, on Primrose Street. Kinda a typical place, you see them in all sorts of movies and such. Checkered table linens, tall posts at each booth for hanging your coat and hat once you sit down, small juke box in the corner, turned down low enough that you could have a decent conversation without having to shout but still hear the music. It was a very friendly and inviting joint. Even the plants hung about the place seemed to be inviting you in. Each table had a small tray with breakfast necessities and a single rose in a white glass vase. I half expected to see Norman Rockwell pictures all over the walls. A few old duffers I'd seen around the neighborhood were about, reading their morning papers and sipping at coffee and OJ. The epitome of a quiet New England breakfast nook, I'm told, isn't so much in the menu as it is in the environment. Outside it might be murderous hot or wicked cold, but pulling up a chair here was like stepping into a warm, soft robe and kicking back in your own kitchen at home. Well, you know, without having to do the dishes afterwards.

We took our seats and ordered up. As I sat there sipping at my milk and reading the sports page, Aunt Sarah gulping down coffee and reading the main news section of the paper, I noticed a tall dark haired man and two boys, kinda younger than me, come in and take a booth across from us. The dark haired boy went immediately to the juke box and began selecting songs.

"So!" Aunt Sarah began, laying her paper to the side. My eyes had followed the dark haired boy as he stood over the lighted panel and punched in his selections. Sarah's voice brought me back to the table and focused my attention some more. I had the sneaking suspicion that she thought I was checking the other kid out. And to be honest, I couldn't be sure if I wasn't.

"So," I replied, trying to keep my tone light.

"How's Jack doing? You know, it's been ages since I've seen that boy smile like that. You're good medicine for him."

"He doesn't smile all that much, does he?" I kinda said, flatly.

"He's a very bright and sensitive boy, but I don't think his home life is very healthy."

"He's in great shape," I said, a little too defensively. The boy at the juke box looked up at me, slightly startled, smiled with his awesome gray eyes and returned to selecting music.

"No, I mean emotionally. His brother, well… he's not exactly what you'd call a good role model. And his poor father is so old to have a son so young that it boggles the imagination. I dunno how he keeps up, sometimes."

"Yeah, Jack's dad is kinda creepy."

"He hasn't tried to hurt you, make you do anything you don't want to, has he?" I looked at her perplexed. "The father, I mean. I know Jack would never harm you. It's not in him."

"No, Jack's dad never bothers with us much. He's always so busy. Which kinda has me thinking," I said, leaning forward on my elbows more. Some ancient "doo-wappy" sounding 70's song started coming out of the speakers, making me look up at the ceiling speakers suddenly. I guess it kinda fit the mood of the place. The dark haired boy walked back to his table, smiling brilliantly at me as he went by. I couldn't help but smile back when those bright gray eyes locked onto mine, even if just for a second in passing.

"Hey, are you listening to me?" Aunt Sarah asked, and I snapped back to her face. I kinda jumped a little in the seat when she called me back from where ever I went. I had to control that better, looking at other boys. Wait, where did that come from?

"Sorry." I felt kinda ashamed that I had missed what she was saying while I watched the other boy head to his table. Aunt Sarah looked over at the other table and smiled.

"Hiya, Mitch! Long time no see," my aunt exclaimed.

"Indeed, it's been a while, Sarah. How've you been?" The man she was speaking too looked like an older version of the boy I'd been ogling. Maybe a little different about the eyes, but still very good looking, and his beard and moustache gave him a kinda roguish look. Bigger than life, you know?

"Fine. Just fine. Taking my dapper nephew here out for breakfast. Does he look familiar to you?"

I felt Mitch's eyes linger on me a second, looking up just in time to see realization dawn over there. "Wow, he's the spittin' image of Ryan Carver, all over again."

"Yup! This is his son, Paul."

"Nice to meet you Paul," he said, inclining his head. "This is my son Kenny and his friend Robby." Both boys waved, the blonder of the two giving me a lopsided grin that kinda reminded me of Han Solo from the older Star Wars films, even though the faces didn't even come close to matching up.

"Very sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man, and a good friend."

"The two of you did run around a lot together as kids," Aunty supplied. I nodded at Mitch for the comment about by father. It was good to know that he had a lot of friends at home who still remembered him. It made this place feel a little less alien to me.

"So Mitch, you still teaching fencing at the Y?" my aunt asked, and I kinda brought my eyes back down from the other two boys. There was some talk about what they were both up to these days and how things were with the family. I just continued reading the sports page, trying to figure out how my baseball teams were doing this year. For the record, they were sucking wind, one of them so far out of first place that they'd need a team of wilderness guides, a pack of hunting dogs and an animated cartoon map to show them how to win a game.

And while I was really looking through the sports page for the reasons I said, part of me just wanted a little distance from looking at those other guys. I felt a little exposed for some reason. I mean, I was having weird feelings for Jack, but why all of a sudden did that translate to other dudes? Or had it always been there and I only noticed after what Jack and I almost did? Things were shifting and I didn't understand the shift, nor knew if I was good with it yet.

Aunt Sarah was really getting into the conversation. I kinda passed on it, just reading the sports pages, and trying hard not to think about Jack and everything that went on last night. That's when I heard Aunty get up and go to sit at Mitch's booth.

"Mind if we have breakfast with you?" I heard from the other side of my newsprint barricade. I twitched the corner down and saw the two boys standing on the other side of the table, standing really close together now that I noticed it. Their hands seemed to be just a slight movement from holding, interlaced at the fingers. Had to shake my head to keep that image from trying to lay itself over the reality of the two of them standing there, apart, but not by much.

"Uh, sure," I said, folding the paper.

"Thanks," the blonde boy, Robby, said, taking a seat. I could see now that his hair was more a sandy color than a true blonde. Just sun bleached. "I was afraid the old fogies there were gonna get into it deep like that."

"My dad is not a fogy," the dark haired boy with the sparkling gray eyes said, slowly. "I'm Kenny. This jerk is Robby." Robby gave Kenny a sidelong glance, you know, mock angered by his jerkness status. But the look quickly faded as Kenny clearly smiled and ignored the slight. Seems these two were the best kind of friends, the ones you can joke with around others and no one gets upset about it. For a moment, I was jealous.

"Paul," I answered, trying to sound less enthused than I was. "But most just call me Carver." Introductions always are a kick in the pants, but you just have to get through them in order to be civil and polite.

"Good to meet ya. You're not from around here, huh?" Robby said, sipping his OJ. The music shifted, suddenly, now playing some old 80's song about "hush hush/keep it down, down/ voices carry," or something like that. Not exactly the kind of thing I'd expect another teen to pick out. Definitely not on my MP3 player. Not enough beat to it, even if it was kinda heavy for a chick song. Lots of keyboard work and bass in it too, making kinda a spooky, eerie sound. Weird.

"My folks were from here. We moved a lot. I don't really have an accent, I guess."

"Cool, cool," Robby said, diving into his juice a bit.

"So I guess you live over on 8 th Avenue, with Mrs. Willets."

"Yeah, sorta. It's not really my house," I answered, almost getting drawn into the gray eyes.

"Robby lives over on Highland. I live up on Peabody Street, across the river. She was our 6 th grade History teacher, although we didn't have her in the same block."

"Cool," was all I could think to say. I never thought that my aunt was a teacher. It kinda made a few things about her drop into place in my head. She just has a way about here that makes people at ease and yet she can be kinda bossy.

The waitress promptly arrived with our orders and began passing food about. It was a moment or two that we all took to dig in. I know I'm a chow hound. Good to see that the other guys are, too. Made it easier to keep up a conversation if none of us is talking much.

"So, guess you've met Jack by now then?" Robby said, between forkfuls of pancakes. The kid could guzzle orange juice like he breathed the stuff.

"Yeah, he's my friend." They traded a quick glance at this. I didn't make much of it at the time, but now that I think back on it, there was a lot of meaning in that shared glance. Wish I'd paid more attention at the time. But just mentioning Jack's name again put me in a mood to remember last night, his lips on mine, the supple feel of his firm yet soft skin under me…

"Hey, that's pretty cool. He's notorious for not being real friendly. I'm kinda glad he's found someone he trusts," Robby said.

"Yeah, he's needed someone to share his dreams with for a while now," Kenny added.

I looked up at both of them, kinda startled, wondering if my excitement was showing on my face, my embarrassment, at thinking about touching Jack like that. I wasn't certain about what to do next. It was a dangerous point for me now, with two strange but nice kids, almost popping a bone thinking about who they acknowledged was the town weird kid.

But then Kenny took a lot of the tension out of the air for me. Okay, he made me really tense for a few seconds and then he relaxed me. Here's how.

"Looks like you and Jack are a lot closer than just friends, huh?" Okay, when he said that, I went totally stiff, not in my shorts, but all over, scared stiff. Then he goes, "It's okay, Carver. You aren't the only one at this table that likes another boy. Look under the table."

Now, I wasn't thinking much just then, but the power of his voice kinda cast a spell on me, and well, I couldn't resist looking under the table, almost afraid I was about to see them grabbing each other's crotches and squeezing what lay beneath.

But instead, they had their legs pressed close together under the tablecloth, their hands intertwined in the lap created by both of their legs. I stuck my head back above the table as the waitress came by, asking if I'd dropped my fork. I mumbled something about checking my shoelaces. Robby had a hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh and Kenny simply grinned at me.

After the waitress left I looked over to the two of them, head kinda bowed down in shame. I didn't know how to look at them. They had figured out my secret with just a few words and had showed me one of theirs, almost casually.

"Changes everything, huh?" Kenny said, still smiling.

"So you guys, I mean, together you….uh," I was stammering.

"Yes," Robby said, quietly but with such strength that it caught me off guard. "We are, we do and we like it like that."


"And," Kemmy began, the two of them resuming both hands above table mode, "we know how to keep secrets, so you're safe with us."

"But how did you know that Jack and me…well, I mean…."

"Sometimes it's written in the stars, but most often it's just in the eyes. When Robyn mentioned Jack's name, I saw the flicker there in yours."

"We kinda have a nose for our own kind," the blonde boy said, tilting his head slightly.

I kinda groused for a second, playing with my bacon strips in a pool of maple syrup. "We haven't really done anything, or talked about it much. He just helps me. Teaches me stuff about gardening and such."

"You don't have to be bouncing each other off the walls when you're in love, ya know," Robby said, putting his juice cup down, empty again. "There's far more to love than sex. Although, I gotta say," and he leaned forwards to whisper, "the sex is good!"

"Ignore him, he only got off four times last night," Kenny said, shaking his head. Robby snorted in mock disgust. "He's right though, sex just expresses how you feel. It's the feelings that count."

"But, I'm so confused," I said. Here I was, the tough guy, losing the tough guy image over breakfast with total strangers who had unmasked me and were now trying to play "love doctor" and help me. It wasn't a situation I had prepared myself for. Then again, neither was last night.

"Something weird happened between you two, didn't it?" Kenny asked. It was like he knew already, but he was being polite and asking.

"We…" I looked over my shoulder as my aunt and Mitch were chatting away, laughing over coffee. "We kinda started… kissing last night. And it was good. Real good. But then the phone rang and Jack's dad started asking him questions, and then…" I sat back, totally feeling the sadness build up. "Then Jack sent me away, said that his dad had stuff for him to do tomorrow." I took a shuddering breath, realizing that tears were streaming down my cheeks now. "What did I do wrong?"

Robby was at my side in a minute, draping an arm over my shoulder. I just turned into his neck and held on, crying like I normally do with Jack, but for a different reason now. God, it musta looked weird, but no one seemed to notice.

"Let it out, Paul," Robby said, holding me gently. I only held onto him for about two minutes, but it felt so good to let all that confusion go. I didn't know that it could hurt so much keeping it all inside. Whatever magic these two guys had, I'm so glad they chose me to work it on.

"You probably need to hear this from someone, before you get too lost in the circles around Jack's dad," Kenny said, reaching out to clap me on the shoulder. "There's secrets within secrets about Jack, okay. He's not everything he appears. Neither is his father for that matter."

"What're you talkin' about?" I asked, almost whining.

"Paul," he said, this look of uncertainty on his face. Like he wasn't sure what the next words he had to say should sound like. "Jack isn't like other boys. He's got a special something that none of us has. Very few know his secret. We only know it by accident." Robby took a deep breath and shot it out through his nose, glancing at Kenny briefly.

"What?" I was now beginning to wonder about these two. They were strange in a sort of way I'd never figured I'd see before. Except maybe on some lame "star wars" wannabe movie on the web.

Kenny leaned in to whisper across the table. "Do you know what Jack's dad does? His job, I mean?" Robby looked away, muttering something about Hubert Farnsworth. I didn't get the reference.

"He works out at the industrial park across the river. Something about bio-technology or something with computers."

"It's far more than that," Robby said, sadly. "Have you ever heard of cranial hemorrhaging?"

"Sounds like… bleeding in the brain," I responded.

"Yes," Kenny nodded, sagely. "It happens to some baby's at birth. Jack's mom was only 14 when she had him."

"Ohmigod!" I whispered. "But Jack's dad is so old. How? I mean I know how, but… Man that's creepy. Why would she…"

"Because he's not Jack's real dad. Not in the biblical sense," Robby said with sarcastic backspin.

"Say what?"

"Jack's father is a former doctor. He lost his medical license several years ago. Big time malpractice suit. A kid died because he did some unnecessary surgery to his brain while removing a blood clot."

I looked at Kenny like he'd just told me who killed Kennedy. "So what's this got to do with Jack?"

"Jack was still-born, too much bleeding in his head. His poor mother died on the operating table. She was far too young to have a baby anyways."

"But he's alive!" I almost shouted, getting angry. He'd been alive and happy and warm under me last night. I couldn't believe what they were telling me, I wouldn't believe it.

"Paul," Robby said, his blue eyes boring into me with such power I couldn't move. "He is alive, but not like you or anyone else is. You see, his father's been experimenting with brains and electronics for a long time. The technology finally caught up enough that Jack's dad was able to put a chip into a still born brain and reanimate the body."

"Paul," Kenny said, softly and with a lot of emotion behind it, "Jack's a real boy in all aspects save one. He's not totally flesh and blood between the ears. He's got a computer in his brain."

"You must be smokin' crack!" I whispered, harshly. I mean this was Jack they were talking about. Total strangers to me, and they were trying to tell me outrageous, impossible crap about a boy they had pretty much figured out I was in love with.

I sat back stunned. It couldn't be. There wasn't any way it could be. Too much sci-fi channel for these guys. It couldn't be done. The brain is just too complex, too unknown…

Yet they both sat there with neutral expressions. Either they had serious poker face going on, or they really believed what they'd said. My mind boggled. Yet somehow…

"What does your heart tell you?" Kenny said, softly, but with such a sense of compulsion that even though I rejected what they were saying, a bit of it flowed backwards over me. No, it couldn't be. There was just no freakin' way in the world that…

But then I started thinking about Jack's odd behavior. His incessant need to know things, his ravenous appetite for books, his genius with plants, his father's careful behavior and odd questions. How his father treated him more like a science fair exhibit than a son. How starved for attention and affection Jack's body was. It all made too much sense to ignore.

Still, I needed proof. I was Jack's friend and I wanted, suddenly, to be so much more. I needed him. Like other folks need water and air, like plants need rain and sun, I needed Jack.

"How do I know you're not just bullshitting me?" I asked, timidly. It was something you quickly get used to, being a military brat. When you pick up and move to a new place sometimes, you run into a certain type of jackass that instead of being your friend, acts like a friend, only to play with your mind or put you down. It's a tried and true bully tactic and I hate it. Over the many moves we've had to make, I learned to be cautious. This didn't smell like the same sort of trap, though. Kenny and Robby were too honest with me about things I didn't even know I was broadcasting.

"Because," Kenny said at last, "you know it's true in your own heart. But if you need more proof…" He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. "His father keeps tabs on all his vital functions through a radio transmitter in his back. The antenna is a long flexible wire that runs the length of his spine, down the back of his neck. You should be able to feel it with your hands if you press in just a little."

"How do you know this?"

"We've been in gym classes with him before. You kinda notice that when the guy takes his shirt off next to you all the time." Robby nodded to Kenny. "Plus, we've seen the receiver computer at Jack's house. If you go to his dad's basement, you'll see it there."

"What were you doing in the basement of Jack's house?"

"Would you believe, chasing the boogieman?" Kenny said, smiling. Robby play-slapped him on the shoulder, but they were both giggling about that.

And in that instant, I not only believed them about Jack, I understood a lot about myself and about being the "g" word. I could still be me and want Jack to be touching me. I could still want to hold him and be loving with him and have sex with him, and still be the tough guy, the aces skater. I didn't have to become a flamer. I just had to love Jack.

And it was that simple.

But now, what was I going to do? The boy I love is some science fiction cliché, and apparently his father is on to what we were doing last night. I had to see Jack, find out if it's all true, or just some cruel joke.

"Look, we didn't say all this to you to get you to treat him any differently," Kenny said, stabbing something on his plate and lifting it to his mouth.

"Yeah, the last thing we want is to screw things up." Looking over at Robby, I could see that he meant that. None of what they said was in malice or to deceive me. It was still a massive nugget to get past, but it was true. I could just, idunno, feel it.

"Listen, if there's any one piece of advice we could give right now," Robby continued, exchanging a glance with Kenny, "it would be that the things that make us who and what we are shouldn't be things to divide us. Kenny and me have secrets too, some we can't tell you. I'm sure you have the same sort of things in your life."

"Well, I guess," I admitted.

"Then look at it this way," Kenny said, picking up the thought. "What you know now is only more about Jack. It doesn't take away from him. It only adds what you know and love about him."

"But if he's a computer," I said, my mind wandering a bit. "If that's true, then how can he have emotions? Even if I love him, can he even love me back?"

"It's a scary thought," Robby said.

"But one that only you and he can figure out. He's not entirely all Pentium under the scalp, you know. My guess is he's machine enhanced, but the biological stuff he was born with is pretty much the same as you and me. As any of us."

I must have stared at Kenny for a long moment before nodding, because out the corner of my eye I could see, Robby looking back and forth a few times, absently stuffing something into his own mouth. I looked down at my own plate, thinking.

"We're all of us unique," Robby said. "So far, no one in this town has turned up to be completely normal," he finished, emphasizing the 'normal' with hooked fingers making quotation marks in the air. "There are things about you that don't fit the standard mold either, I'd bet."

"Like what?" I said out loud, even though I only thought I'd thought it. I mean, the boy I was hoping would get to be, Idunno, maybe a boyfriend, maybe just someone that I get to fool around with, I wasn't even sure what I wanted from or with Jack yet, but like, he was a human computer. What could I possibly be that might even come close to that? Unique , they'd said. Isn't that just a synonym for weird. One of those politically correct things that people say to make the outcasts feel not-so lost.

"Well, hell, we just met," Robby grinned up at me. "Give a guy a chance to learn stuff about his friends, huh?"

I couldn't help but grin back. That moment of acceptance, without guilt, without condition, it's kind of an infectious thing.

"Almost done, boys?" Kenny's dad called across from the booth table he and my aunt were at. Their plates were all stacked neatly on the end, and a tip stuck under a coffee cup's saucer. Just like an adult to do half the work they were paying the waitress for anyways.

"Coming, Poppa," Kenny said, suddenly sounding much younger than he had seemed when talking to me about love, boys and secrets. Robby was draining the last bits from his orange juice, the fifth refill of it he'd had since our plates had arrived. I realized suddenly that there were things about the two of them that defied that first glance, as well. Things below the surface. It made me kinda happy that my new friends weren't just one dimensional like that. That there were still things I could discover about them.

Kenny, Robby and I exchanged phone numbers and E-mail addys, and IM screen names, all that social media stuff. They promised to help me anyway they could, but I had to find out for myself if this was all true. But they were okay guys and, well, Jack had been my whole world to this point. It would be good to have more friends, too. Especially friends that were so good at knowing, sharing and keeping secrets. It's good to know that such people are still around.

I mean, I was still kinda nervous about them. And nervous about me, for that matter. But the situation had shifted slightly. Now I could at least see what was happening with me and Jack. Hopefully that shift would be enough to let me figure out the rest. One thing is for certain, though. I wasn't about to give up on him. He had never given up on me. There's a kind of love in that loyalty alone. And I was beginning to realize just how much I loved Jack.

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