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The Move

Chapter 13

By Doug Smith

Chris was waiting for me when I got to school the next day. He was alone which was odd. I don't think I'd ever seen him at school without Ryan except for classes. He was standing by his car and waved as I got out of my jeep.

"Morning," I said. "Where's Ryan?"

"His father is bringing him."

"Is everything okay? You didn't get in a fight over what happened yesterday did you?"

"No, I haven't talked to him yet. How are you doing today?"

"I'll be okay. I still didn't sleep well last night but it's Friday. No plans tonight although Becky wants me to go bowling with her. Tomorrow we're going to a movie."

"You two seem to be hitting it off."

"We're just friends but yeah, she's fun to hang out with."

"She's not bad looking either. What's that?"

"It's my guitar. I signed up for the talent show and Mr. Jackson wants me to play for him this afternoon. You don't look so good. Are you sure you're okay?"

"I didn't get much sleep. I'm still feeling guilty."

"For what?" I asked as we walked to the cafeteria to get something to drink.

"Ryan is my friend. He's great. It bothers me I was looking at another guy that way. Especially you. I don't want you thinking I look at you that way. I really don't. It's just that you looked pretty hot standing there naked. If you weren't straight and I didn't have Ryan I would have been all over you. I try not to perve on my straight friends but seeing you like that made it hard."

"Just pretty hot? .... I'm crushed," I laughed. "Give yourself a break. Nothing happened. I shouldn't have walked around like that. I really did think you were downstairs. Tell Ryan about it if you want. He'll understand and it might make you feel better."

"I know he would but I still feel funny. He'd probably think it's funny. He's made a comment or two that you're pretty hot too."

"I don't do threesomes," I laughed leaning closer. "But for the record you might have been perving and we are friends but you weren't perving on one of your straight friends," I said softly.

He looked at me with a confused look for a few seconds. "Huh?"

I looked at him and smiled. It was like you could see the gears turning as a smile came to his face.

"Surprise," I smiled.

"You? .... You're kidding, right? You're going out with Becky."

"I told you, Becky and I are just friends and before you say anything, she knows that's all it is too."

"And she's cool about it?"

"She makes jokes but yeah, she is. She's a good friend. It's funny, she thinks I like Josh. She says I'm always looking at him. What happened yesterday didn't help either."

"She does? Do you?"

I smiled. "That's complicated. There are reasons it wouldn't work. Besides, I assume he's straight. Becky is right about one thing. My gaydar sucks."

"Wow, I can't believe this. Are you serious? You're not just shitting me here are you? Ryan and I pretty much assumed you're straight. He'll be shocked. Can I tell him?"

"Sure but I'd like to be there. I want to see the look on his face. I'm not out to anyone here but I was to a few people back in Illinois. I never deny it if I'm asked but I try not advertise it either. It's not a big deal. It's not like I've been on any dates since I've been here."

"Maybe Ryan and I can help you with that."

"What???" I asked.

"Not like that doofus. I'm sure there are other gay guys in school who would love to go out with you. Maybe we can help you hook up." He had a mischievous look on his face.

I laughed. "I'll find my own dates thank you very much. Let's make something clear though. Nothing would have happened yesterday. It's not that I don't see you as kind of hot too but I know you're with Ryan and you're both my friends. I don't want to affect that in any way. I also think I know you well enough to know you wouldn't have done anything either. You care about Ryan too much. That's obvious. So give yourself a break."

"Just kind of hot?" he smiled.

"Alright, you are hot but remember I haven't been with anyone in a while so it wouldn't take much to excite me. My standards might be pretty low," I laughed.

"Gee thanks. I still shouldn't have looked at you like that."

"If it bothers you that much then tell Ryan. I'll tell him the same thing."

"You think he's hot too?" he laughed.

"I guess you're over it. Yea, he is pretty hot too. He also looks like he's hung not that I've checked him out .... too much," I smiled.

"He is," he laughed. "I think his uncle was a horse. I'm scared as shit to let him fuck me. I want to but he's huge. We've talked about it and have decided to wait anyway. We don't want our relationship to be based only on sex."

"I hear you there. Some guys don't think anything of it. I want to make my first time special. The guy has to be special."

"You've never been with a guy?"

I laughed. "I've never done that with a guy."

"Did you have a boyfriend in Chicago?"

Before I could answer we had to stop talking since two kids sat down at the other end of the table. I recognized them but they weren't in any of my classes. "What do you think?" I asked Chris quietly. He just laughed and said we better get to class.

"Thanks again for your help yesterday. I really do feel better today but then again I haven't seen Phil ..... or Josh yet." The kids looked up when they heard me mention Phil.

"Josh will be in English. Are you going to talk to him?"

"Not in class. It'll take a while to explain everything. I wanted to ask him to go somewhere after school yesterday but that didn't work out so well."

"I'll talk to him. Let me tell him you want to talk to him. I'll talk to him at lunch."

"Thanks, maybe that will help. Don't tell him I'm gay though."

"It wouldn't make any difference. He's okay with Ryan and me isn't he?"

The morning went by slowly. I saw Josh in class but he didn't acknowledge me. Hopefully he would listen to Chris and let me talk to him.

Gym was the first time I saw Phil. He glared while I changed into shorts and a t-shirt. When we walked out of the locker room he bumped against me and told me to watch my back. He said to watch "my boyfriend's back" too.

I tried to ignore him. He passed Josh and slapped the back of his head as he walked towards his friends. "What's with him?" Tim asked.

"He's going to do something today. Make sure Josh watches out, okay? He won't listen to me. I don't think he wants to talk to me," I said trying to laugh it off as a joke. "He'd probably tell me to fuck off."

Tim went over to talk to Josh and then they both looked at me. Josh and I made eye contact but he looked away and I went over to sit on the bleachers until the coach started class. Normally I liked physical activities but I didn't like gym class. While I could hold my own in most things it was usually just a time for the jocks to show up the kids who weren't into sports. I didn't play organized sports but I did play a lot of pick-up games back home. I wasn't that good but I didn't stink either.

We were going to play basketball. The coach had us divide into four teams so we could play two games going to the side baskets on each end of the court. Fortunately he didn't have people pick other kids to be on their team. I hated that. All kids did was pick their friends or the good players. It made most people feel like shit. Instead we just counted off by fours so it was pretty random who was on which team. Unfortunately I was on Josh's team and we got to play Phil and Ron the first game. Phil just smiled at me and it definitely wasn't a friendly smile. This was not going to be good.

The problem with playing two games simultaneously is that the coach can't be watching both games at the same time. Whenever his back was turned Phil took the opportunity to push Josh around. He made it look like he was going up for a rebound or just blocking a shot but it was obvious what he was doing. Once he pushed Josh and he fell against the bleachers. Instinctively I went over and offered him my hand to help him up. "Are you okay?" I asked.

"Leave me alone. This is all your fault."

I was pissed. Not at Josh because he was probably right but that didn't help how I felt about Phil. The next time we came down the court I got in the paint and fought Phil for the rebound. I went up hard and we collided --- hard. The next thing I knew Phil was on the floor. He got up quick and charged at me. I thought about doing a turn kick and sending him back on his ass but instead stepped aside and used his momentum to send him back to the floor. He sat up holding his knee and the coach came over yelling.

"Johnson, this is gym class. We don't play like that here."

"He's faking it coach. There's nothing wrong with him."

"I saw what you did. You pushed him and he could have been hurt. Get over there and give me thirty push-ups."

"What?? What about him? He's been playing like a jerk all period."

"I saw you. I didn't see him do anything. Now get over there."

"No," I said. Where did that come from I thought. I've never talked back to a teacher before.

"Get over there now and make it forty push-ups."

"Fuck that," I said and turned to go into the locker room.

"Sullivan, get over here," yelled the coach. "Since Johnson doesn't want to do push-ups then you can do them for him. Get over there and give me fifty push-ups."

"Coach!!! What did I do?"

"Just get over there and do them."

"NO!!!!," I yelled. "I'll do your stupid push-ups if it makes you feel good. Don't make him do them. He didn't do anything."

"Then you get over there and do them Mr. Johnson and for talking back you can do an extra twenty. Get your butt over there and give me seventy push-ups. One more word and it'll be a hundred. You get over there too Sullivan. You''ll do any he can't."

There was no way I was going to let Josh do any push-ups. He definitely wasn't happy. "You better be able to do a lot," he said obviously pissed off. "I can't do many."

"Just sit on the bleachers. You won't have to." The whole class was watching me, especially Phil. He looked especially proud of himself.

"Today Johnson," yelled the coach.

I looked at Josh and got down to do push-ups. I was tired from yesterday but wasn't going to let Josh do my punishment either. I felt it but got to seventy pretty easily. Then I did another twenty and smiled at the coach. "That's for next time," I said and walked into the locker room.

"He did it again," Josh said as he sat at the usual table.

"Who did what again?" asked Chris.

"Johnson, who else? He got into it with Phil and this time almost got me in trouble too."

"He did not," said Tim. "I was there. All he did was push Clayton into the mats when he went up for a rebound. Yeah, he didn't have to do it but I was pissed at the way he had been pushing you around all period too. Dan probably had had enough. I know I did. He just did something about it."

"Yeah, but it was me who almost had to do his push-ups."

"You did not and you know it. There was no way he was going to make you do them. That was obvious. Why do you think he came back?"

"What are you talking about?" asked Ryan.

"The coach got pissed when Dan pushed Phil. He told Dan to do thirty push-ups. Landry kept adding ten more every time Dan opened his mouth. He was up to sixty when Dan pretty much told him to fuck off. He didn't really say that. It was more like 'fuck that'. Then he started to walk away. That's when Landry told Josh to do push-ups. Josh, he only did that because he knew it was the only way to get Dan to do them. Dan wasn't going to let you do his punishment and you know it so get over it."

"How many did he do?" asked Ryan.

"The coach made him do twenty extra for mouthing off. He did all seventy plus another twenty just to piss the coach off. It looked like he could have done more if he wanted. After doing the extra twenty he got up, flipped Phil off and walked calmly to the locker room. He didn't even punch anything out. Landry is talking to him now. He's probably ripping him a new one both for going after his boy Phil and for being disrespectful. If I was him I'd watch out. Dan might go off on him."

"Oh man," said Chris. "This is getting worse. I saw him go off at the gym yesterday. Fortunately it was only a punching bag but he really lost it. Two guys from the gym were blowing whistles trying to get him to stop but he just kept punching and kicking the bag. They wouldn't go near him because they were afraid he'd turn on them. When I stepped in he almost hit me until he realized who it was. He just collapsed into me -- shaking."

"I got him out of there and took him home. We talked a little. He just said he's dealing with some issues. Something that happened a year ago back in Illinois. I don't know how it's connected to all this but he wants to explain. Josh, he said he wants to talk with you."

"He probably wants to go off on me."

"Don't be stupid. Why would he do that? It sounds like he's been trying to protect you and based on what he told me I'm sure he doesn't want you to get hurt."

"What did he say?"

"He said if Phil touches you then what he did at the gym yesterday would be nothing compared to what he would do to Phil. I saw him Josh. Be glad he's on your side. You've seen Tim fight, right? Sorry Tim but Dan would take you out in less than five seconds. You should have seen him. It was scary. There's something else too. I can't say what but you should talk to him."

"I don't know. What can he possibly say that would explain how he treats me? He's treated me like shit since the day he got here."

"I think he thinks you hate him," said Tim.

"What??" asked Josh. "I don't hate him. You know that's not true. If anyone hates someone it's him who hates me."

"Yeah, right," said Tim. "That's why he tries to protect you from Phil."

"I don't know what is going on with him," said Chris. I just know he's dealing with some stuff. I still think he's a good guy and I'm going to try to help him. Just think about talking to him. I don't know what his issue with you is. Who knows, you might be surprised."

I finished getting dressed when Coach Landry came into the locker room. "Come into my office Mr. Johnson. I want to talk to you." I had cooled off and just nodded following him to his office. I sat down as he closed the door.

"What happened out there Dan? You've never been disrespectful before and you've never done anything to another student before. I know there is something going on between you and Phil Clayton. He came and told me you did something yesterday. I think he thought he'd get sympathy since he's on the football team. I talked to Mr. Harrison and found out that he threatened you. That said you can't do anything in my class that would intentionally hurt another student. You and I both know that's what happened. Furthermore I won't tolerate any student being disrespectful. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir," I said. "I'm sorry. I know what I did was wrong but Phil had been playing dirty all period. He would do something every time you were watching the other court. I had enough."

"So he egged you on and you fell for it. You got in trouble because it was you who I saw, not him. Then your mouth got the better of you and you ended up being punished worse than if you had just shut up. Does that just about sum it up."

"Yeah, I guess so," I said realizing I had let Phil get to me. "I'm sorry. I assume you'll want to give me detention."

"No, no I don't. You already did your punishment. More than you had to. That was a very good job by the way. Have you ever thought about going out for wrestling? You look solid as a rock and you're obviously strong. You'd make a good addition to the team."

"I never gave it any thought."

"Well you should. We could use you."

I looked at him. He really seemed to care. He wasn't the asshole I thought he was earlier.

"Also, I'm glad you came back and did the push-ups. I thought you would. It would have been too bad if Josh had to do your punishment. Not only would it have been unfair but I doubt he could have done them. To be honest I didn't think you were going to be able to either. I felt guilty adding so many each time you opened your mouth but like I said, I won't tolerate disrespect in my class."

"There was no way I was going to let Josh do any push-ups. Now if you had made Phil do them I would have stayed and watched. Maybe Ron too but he isn't as bad as Phil but nobody else, especially Josh."

"Alright, why don't you go have your lunch. There is still some time left. Just remember what I said. Don't let Phil goad you into trouble. I know how he can be. He has problems too starting with his father. You wouldn't believe the pressure that man puts on him. You'd think he was playing in the NFL rather than for a Division 3 high school. There are other things too but I can't go into details. Just know he wasn't always like he is today."

"Thanks coach. I'll try to keep my emotions in check but he has a way to get under my skin. He knows what buttons to press."

I grabbed a cup of yogurt before lunch ended and went to PreCalc. I liked math so it was easier to pay attention. Unlike chemistry, Mr. Williams was actually pretty funny. He made corny math jokes while he lectured. Not many kids thought they were funny and they weren't really. They just made me laugh which seemed to make him like me. After class Tim saw me in the hall. He asked what Coach Landry said but I just said we had talked. It really had been a good talk and he gave me some things to think about.

I found Mr. Jackson in his office right after last period. It was much like you'd expect for a music teacher. The office pretty messy, stacks of music and various band instruments laying around.

"Dan, come on in. I wanted to talk to you about the talent show."

"You said you wanted to hear me play? I asked. "It isn't for another month"

"I know but I wanted to know how your song is coming. It's not that I don't think you can play but I've never heard you and wanted to see what grouping I should put you in. You see, we generally have two groups of performers. One that just does it for fun, lip syncing and stuff like that. The other takes it really seriously. I try to schedule all the 'less than serious performers' should I say before everyone else. I just wanted to talk to you and find out which group to put you in."

"I really haven't decided what song I want to play. I was thinking of doing either Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah or Satriani's Midnight. They're obviously very different. I want to play but I also like to sing. I can't really decide."

"Can you play a little bit for me?"

"I can't do the tapping Midnight needs without an electric guitar. I can do Hallelujah on the acoustic I brought."

After taking a few minutes to warm up and make sure it was in tune I started playing. Mr. Jackson just sat back and listened but stopped me after a couple of minutes.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Nothing," he smiled. "That was very good. You have a nice voice. I guess I know which group to put you in. If you play Midnight half as good you might consider doing both. They don't really go together but there is another guitar player who could go in between if he decides to play. I'm not sure he will. He's good but doesn't really like to perform."

"Who is it?" I asked.

"I shouldn't say right now. Let me talk to him and we can talk later. Who knows, maybe you two would like to play something together."

"I don't know. I don't usually play with other people."

"Well, either way you'll be a good addition to the show. I'll let you know when the dress rehearsals are but I'm sorry, right now I have to run."

"OK, thanks. I should be going too. I'm looking forward to the show." I had to hurry to make my appointment with Dr. Medford.

I felt good as I walked to my jeep. I had been a little nervous about meeting with Mr. Jackson but it had gone okay. I thought about what he said about playing with someone and wondered who he meant.

I quickly stopped thinking about the talent show when I saw Josh standing by the curb talking on his cell phone. I still wanted to talk to him and wondered if Chris had talked to him. I was sure he had but I didn't know what he had said.

What I didn't like was seeing Phil Clayton and Ron Moore walk towards him. I knew there was going to be trouble. There always was when those two were involved. Josh didn't see them coming since his back was turned and he was obviously upset with whoever he was talking too. Phil jumped on the opportunity to get in his face. First grabbing his phone and then pushing him to the ground.

I pulled the jeep next to them and got out. "Give it back to him Phil. What are you, a two year-old? You always have to be a jerk?"

"Fuck off Johnson. I've had just about enough of you. Get back in your jeep and get out of here or else we'll give you the same thing this little fag is going to get."

I looked at Josh. I'd had enough of this. Seeing Aaron's face every time I looked at him was one thing. Seeing Aaron's face messed up was something that wasn't going to happen. I offered Josh my hand and helped him up. Surprisingly he took it. I then got between him and Phil.

"I'm not telling you again Clayton, give it back.... NOW"

I took a defensive stance knowing he was going to attack. After what happened in gym I was sure of it and he didn't disappoint me.

"Alright," he said. "It's time for a lesson." He cocked his arm back and lunged forward. I quickly moved to my left and his fist went over my shoulder. While he was off balance I did a combination move, first a quick left jab to the face followed by a right cross to the other side of his face. I ducked knowing he would throw a punch to my head and then came back up with an upper cut to his chin. I tried not to hit him too hard but he fell back on the ground holding his jaw.

"You asshole. You broke my jaw."

I turned to Ron who was standing there with a stunned look on his face. "Don't even think about it."

He held his hands up and backed away indicating he wasn't going to fight. "Smart move, now get the phone." I lowered my hands slightly keeping an eye on both of them.

Ron turned to Phil and told him to give us the cell phone. He didn't want to get his ass kicked too.

Phil glared at me. "This isn't over Johnson. I'll get even. That little fag over there better watch his back. You won't always be around to protect him."

I leaned down and looked directly into his eyes. "I told you Clayton. If you or any of your friends touch him you'll be sorry. I promise you that. If you think your jaw hurts now then what I'll do to the rest of you will make your jaw feel like you just got kissed by your girlfriend. You understand me?"

He looked at me. I knew he was too stupid to believe me and that sooner or later he would try something. I turned to Ron and asked if he understood because he'd get the same thing. He just nodded and handed Josh the cell phone.

"We're done here," I said. "You two should leave."

Ron helped Phil up and pulled him towards his car. "Come on Phil. It's not worth it. Let's go."

Phil tried to pull away and come back for more but Ron held him. "Let's go Phil. It's over."

"It's not over," Phil said. "You better watch your back Johnson."

Ron just pulled him into their car. We glared at each other as Ron got in the driver's seat and started the car. 'Shit,' I thought. 'I don't need this.'

"Josh, get in the jeep. I'll give you a ride home." I know he heard me but he just stood by the passenger door looking at me. "Come on. They could change their minds and come back. Do you want to be here if they do? Get in. I'm not going to leave you here by yourself."

Josh was reluctant but climbed into the passenger seat. I put the jeep in gear and drove out of the parking lot. He didn't say a word and the silence was awkward. He just looked out the window and ignored me. Finally I couldn't take it any more. I knew I had to say something.

"I'm sorry Josh. Are you okay?"

He looked at me and shook his head. "What's with you anyway? One minute you act like you hate me and the next you jump in thinking you're helping me. I don't get it. All you've done is make things worse. Phil is going to kill me."

"I'll kill him if he hurts you."

"And what's with that? You keep saying stuff like that. What do you care? You don't know me. You've made it obvious you don't like me."

It hurt hearing him say that. I understood why he felt that way but it still hurt. "That's not true. I know it seems that way but it really isn't. I wish you'd let me explain. I tried after class yesterday but it really wasn't the time or the place. I had wanted to catch you alone."

"What's there to explain? You going to give me some bullshit why you treat me like ... well, I don't know how you treat me - besides like shit? You don't talk to me. You avoid me. You get up and leave as soon as I show up. It's been like that since the first day you got here. I tried being nice. You're friendly with everyone else but me. Why do you hate me? What's wrong with me? You never gave me a chance. I may not be the most popular guy around but I'm not a dweeb."

Listening to him made me realize how much I'd hurt him. Even though I never meant to I had . Realizing it made me feel sick to my stomach. I don't like hurting people. I felt really bad hurting Josh given the circumstances.

"Josh .... Please ..... I don't hate you. It's not like that."

"Then what is it? What did I do?"

It hurt looking at him. His face was angry but his eyes showed he was hurting. I knew Phil will probably take it out on him sooner or later. Then he'd be hurt physically as well as emotionally. hurt I need to fix this and I need to do it now.

"It's not you and there is nothing wrong with you. You haven't done anything. It's me. It's complicated but I'm the one who is fucked up."

"Complicated? What's so fucking complicated? You decided you didn't like me the first time you saw me. You didn't even know anything about me. That's not complicated. It's just dumb. The sad thing is I liked you. I don't know why but I did. Well, I do but you'll just freak."

I looked over at him, his eyes meeting mine expecting a response. "You liked me? Past tense?"

"Look," he said. "It's no big deal, okay. It's just usually when people don't like me I know why. With you I don't have a clue."

I gripped the steering wheel tighter. "Okay ... Give me an hour and I'll try to explain. That's all I ask. .... Can you come to my house? Nobody will be there. Please believe me I never meant to hurt you or to cause you any trouble. I'm sorry about Phil. I've tried to avoid fighting him but I will if it shows him I'm serious. I will kill him if he hurts you. I wish I knew you were paying him. I would have beat the shit out of him a long time ago."

"He threatened me. I know what he's capable of. You still haven't told me why you give a shit."

"Let me explain and hopefully you'll understand. I don't understand though, you're a smart guy, you have to know paying him is a bad idea. He'll just want more and more."

"I know but I don't have a choice. Everyone knows what he did to that kid last year."

"Yes you do Josh. At least you do now. Let me help you. Like it or not I'm already involved."

"Why would you want to do that? You really are tough to figure out.. Yesterday you said you couldn't let me get hurt again. I've been trying to figure out what you meant. I could maybe understand if you said you couldn't let me get hurt but you said 'again'. What did you mean by that? Then you said to trust you. With how you've treated me how can I trust you?"

"I give you my word that you can trust me. I know what I said yesterday sounds strange but if you come with me I'll try to explain. At least then you might understand a little. If you still hate me I'll take you home and leave you alone."

"What the hell," he said. "I've got time but just for the record I've never hated you. I might have been pissed off. I've definitely felt hurt but I never hated you."

The awkward silence returned until we got to my house. Pulling into the driveway I was relieved no other cars were there. Nobody was home. It would be my luck for someone to come home early.

"Come on in. ... You want something to drink? I don't drink much soda but once in a while I'll have a Dr. Pepper when I get home."

"That sounds good, thanks. I like Dr. Pepper."

"It's the only soda I drink. Let me grab a couple and we'll go upstairs to talk."

Josh looked around as we went into the kitchen. I knew what he was thinking. It was the same thing Chris and Ryan thought the first time they came over. It made me uncomfortable but I didn't say anything except 'shit' when I saw there weren't any cold cans of soda in the refrigerator.

"There aren't any here. I'll get some from the refrigerator in the family room. Wait here. I'll be right back."

I took my time going downstairs to get drinks. I needed to think what I was going to tell him and more importantly decide how I felt about him. It was probably a little late to decide. Could he and I really be friends? At first I didn't think there was anyway that could happen. Now I wasn't so sure. He really is a good guy. That's what has made this so difficult. What did Ms. Washington call him? ... Loving? .... Don't even go there I told myself. One, he's straight and two, even if he is gay how could we ever have a relationship. It would be too weird wouldn't it? I doubt he'd even want that given how I've treated him. Man, am I getting ahead of myself.

The sound of Scott's voice coming from the kitchen snapped me out of my trance.


'Shit,' I said running upstairs. When I got there I found Scott with his arms wrapped around Josh's legs. I did feel bad for him. He really liked Aaron. Maybe that's why he and I had become so close since the accident. He knew I was hurting and he always tried to make me feel better.

Seeing him hugging Josh was kind of cute. It also was a good thing he'd grown the last year because his head was pushed against Josh's stomach. I looked at Josh who obviously didn't have a clue what was going on.

"Scott, let him go," I said pulling him away from Josh and picking him up. "This is Josh. He's ..... a friend of mine from school."

Scott put his arms around my neck as I was holding him.

"But, ..."

I put my hand over his mouth before he could say anything. He held on tight and looked at Josh.

"Scott, be quiet. We'll talk about it later."

"I'm sorry Dan," he cried. "I thought ..."

That's all he got out before he buried his head on my shoulder and started crying. There were tears in my eyes too.

"It's okay Scott. We'll talk later, okay? Right now I need to talk to Josh. Can you go downstairs and play Nintendo while he and I go upstairs?"

"Okay," he nodded. There were still tears in his eyes as he looked at Josh.

"What are you doing here anyway? You're supposed to be at school. Mom is expecting to pick you up."

"I took the bus," he said proudly still looking up at Josh.

"You know you're supposed to stay there until Mom picks you up. She'll be worried. I'll call her and tell her you're here. She's going to be upset with you. You go downstairs and play Nintendo. I really need to talk to Josh."

Josh stood there looking confused. I tried to smile. "This is Scott, my little brother. He's almost eight. He's a little whacked at times but I love him," I said trying to laugh and playfully rubbing Scott's hair. "Now get downstairs buddy, please."

"Alright," he said and slowly walked to the stairs. "I'm sorry. It's just ..."

"Not now Scott. We'll talk later."

I watched Scott as he walked downstairs and shook my head. I knew I'd have to talk to him later but that was the least of my problems. Josh was looking at me waiting for an explanation. "Here," I said handing him the two cans of Dr. Pepper. Can you wait by the stairs. We'll go up to my room to talk. I need to call my mother to let her know the little shit is home," I said trying to laugh. "He's really a good kid. I just wish he picked another day to pull this shit."

I called my mother while Josh stood by the stairs. He looked both apprehensive and confused not that I blamed him on either account. I couldn't get through to my mother since she was with a patient. I left a message telling her Scott was home and not to go by the school. She was going to be pissed when she got here.

"Let's go, he'll be okay for a while."

"What was that all about? Is he okay? Who is Aaron? Why would he think I'm him and why did he hug me?"

I looked at him and smiled. "He's fine. I'll explain everything."

We got upstairs and I asked Josh to wait by my door. I told him I wanted to make sure I didn't leave anything laying around but I really needed to move my pictures of Aaron. It might be interesting just to let him see them when he looked around but I wanted to control things more than that. I think he was taken aback when I shut the door on him.

"Sorry," I said when I opened the door. "All clear," I smiled. "Have a seat."

My room was actually pretty clean which caused him to give me a funny look. He took a seat on the edge of my bed. Seeing him like that definitely brought back memories.

I leaned against my desk and opened my Dr. Pepper. I stood there for a few seconds looking at him. He looked so beautiful sitting on my bed; just like old times. Maybe not everyone would think he was beautiful but I sure did. I had to resist the urge to put my arms around him.

"I bet you didn't think you'd be sitting on my bed when you woke up this morning any more than I thought you would be here, Tell me, on a scale of one to ten, how confused are you?"

He actually smiled which caused me to smile. "Is your brother okay?"

"He will be. I'm sure he's as confused as you are."

"Why did he say that? He obviously thought I was someone else."

"You could say that. I guess that's what a seven year old does when he sees a ghost. Some people just faint."

"What are you talking about? What do you mean see a ghost?"

"This is hard. I should have done it a long time ago. Your aunt told me I should talk to you but I didn't know how. Maybe part of me didn't want to, I don't know."

"Talk to me about what? What does my aunt have to do with this?"

"Your aunt knows what's going on. I told her the first day of school. She's been waiting for me to tell you. Only a couple other people know what I'm going to tell you. One is a good friend from back home. The other is Aaron but that's harder to explain.

"Who is he and what does he have to do with me?"

I opened my desk drawer and took out the picture I had just put there It was the picture of Aaron and me in shorts with our arms on each other's shoulders. I looked at it for a couple seconds and then handed it to Josh. "This is Aaron," I said nodding at the picture. My eyes filled with tears as soon as he took it.

He just stared at it for a few seconds. Then he looked at me and then back at the picture. I wish I had a picture of the expression on his face when he saw it.

"Who is this guy? He looks just like me."

"He's .... He was my best friend. We grew up together."

"Was? You mean before you moved here?"

I looked at him and sat down on the bed. "He's dead. He died a little over a year ago. There was an accident and he ...... I couldn't do anything .... He died in my arms. It was my fault." I couldn't help it. Tears started flowing down my cheeks.

"I'm sorry Josh. Seeing you that first day when you sat down ... I just lost it."

"Wow At least I know why you don't like me."

"Please stop saying that. Believe it or not I do like you. I've been miserable the way things are between us. I see you with people, especially Randy or Chris and Ryan. You're a good guy. I just couldn't figure out how to deal with you. I'm sorry."

"You like me?"

I smiled. "Yeah, I do. I didn't think I could that first day. I made a decision to ignore you but I couldn't. I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant to. I was just fucked up. We had just moved here and I didn't want to move. I started a new school and didn't know anyone. I got off on the wrong foot with Chris and Ryan and was just straightening things out with them when you sat down."

"I can't believe we look so much alike. It's amazing."

"You look alike. You sound alike. You even have the same mannerisms. Here, I'll show you."

I powered up my computer and brought up a video of Aaron performing at a talent show. He was playing the piano and singing. I remembered the night I was sitting in the front row. He was playing but every once in a while looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.

"Wow!! That's incredible. I play the guitar and sing some. He's really good. He does sound just like me. Other than the accent of course"

"I play the guitar too. That's why I stayed after school. I signed up for the talent show and Mr. Jackson wanted to hear me play."

"He's been after me to play too. I don't like to play in front of people."

"He said there was someone who was really good who he's been trying to convince to sign up. Is that you?"

"I guess. He's been after me to play for a while."

"Maybe you should."

"It's complicated," he smiled.

I smiled. "You do have a sense of humor."

"He obviously meant a lot to you."

"He was the best friend you could imagine. I couldn't believe it when I saw you. We moved here so I wouldn't have to deal with all the memories. My parents won't admit it but I know it's true. I just freaked when I saw you. The room started to spin and the next thing I knew I was on the floor looking up at everyone. Great way for the new kid to make a good impression"

"I thought I was the only one who embarrassed themselves like that."

I laughed. "I guess we have some things in common too. .... My shrink says I've been depressed. I tried to kill myself when he died. I wished it had been me. He was such a good person."

"Your shrink? "

I laughed. "Don't worry. I'm not psycho and I'm not suicidal any more. I'm just depressed. I feel like I'm going through life on auto-pilot. I understand that killing myself won't help. All it will do is hurt my family. I never want to see the look on Scott's face when I woke up in the hospital again. I didn't think how much it would hurt him."

"You sure you mean that? You aren't suicidal, right?"

I smiled. "No, I'm not. Don't worry about that."

"You loved him didn't you?"

"We loved each other. Everyone liked Aaron but he and I had a special friendship. He was like a brother. Actually he was more than a brother. We were two halves that made a whole. I became physically ill if we weren't together for any period of time. Fortunately, that wasn't often. I'm sure it was psychological but I was a different person when he wasn't around. I remember once he and his family went on vacation. I was eight. They were supposed to be home at noon. I sat on their front porch for six hours before they finally got there. They had car trouble."

"You don't have to tell me this. I understand. I'm not surprised you don't like me."

"Please stop saying that. I want to tell you. It's just hard. It was just that when I saw you I couldn't help but think of him. I resented you. I didn't think it was fair that you looked like him and he was dead. I promise you though, I don't do that any more. I know you've seen me watching you. I really do think you're a good guy."

He smiled.

"You have to understand, Aaron and I were friends all our lives. It was always 'Aaron and Dan' or 'Dan and Aaron'. We were born one day apart. He was born June 21st and I was born June 20th. My parents said we bonded in the hospital."

"What did you say?"

"My parents said we bonded in the hospital."

"No, before that. You said his birthday was June 21st?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Because my birthday is June 21st."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I'll show you. It's on my drivers license."

I laughed. "I believe you. It's just weird. .... Things have been so screwed up. We started down this path where I couldn't talk to you and I didn't know how to fix it. It's been driving me crazy. Now it's probably too late. I'm sure you think I'm an asshole."

"That thought has crossed my mind a few times," he smiled. You're right. I've seen you watching me and didn't understand why. It kind of creeped me out. I tried talking to you but you made it clear you didn't want anything to do with me so I gave up. I don't think it's too late though. Maybe we can still be friends. We're talking okay now."

I smiled. "You mean you'd be willing to give me a chance."

"Of course. I know what it's like to lose someone you love. It might not be the same but it's close. I lost my mother in an accident. You lost your best friend. My life hasn't been the same since. I didn't move across country and find her double though. I can't imagine how that felt. I can't get over how much we look alike."

"It's not just that you look alike. You sound alike and you act alike. You even have the same birthmark on your lower back."

Josh gave me a surprised look. "That mark is on my butt. How do you know about that?"

I smiled. "I'm sorry, I wasn't perving on you. I couldn't help it. It was the first time we had gym together. I was only looking for some differences."

"I can't believe you checked me out in the shower."

"Don't be mad. I wasn't going to jump you or anything."

He smiled. "I'm not mad. I'm just surprised. I usually just want to get out of there before Phil decides to do something."

"I meant it when I said I'll do whatever I can so he won't bother you. I'll fucking kill him if he hurts you."

"I hope you don't mean that literally."

I smiled. "All right, I'll just fuck him up bad. Even if you said we couldn't be friends I still couldn't let anything happen to you. It would be like seeing Aaron get hurt. I'm sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable but it's how I feel."

"At least now I understand what you meant yesterday. I'm sorry for what I said."

"It's okay. I don't blame you. Yesterday was bizarre."

"I heard about some of it. You sure you aren't psycho?" he asked with a grin.

I laughed. "Did you see the partition in the bathroom?"

"Yeah, Tim told us about it."

"I wish it had been Phil's face."

He laughed. "As long as it wasn't mine. Tell me, did you find any differences?"

"One, I'll tell you later. ... I'm sorry for how I've treated you. You're right that I never gave you a chance. I wish we could start over and forget the last month. I'm sure you thought I was a total asshole. You probably don't believe it when I say I think you're a good guy but I do. You obviously have a different personality than he did but I like it."


"I wouldn't say it if I didn't."

"It's not too late Dan. We can still be friends. We probably won't be the type of friends you and he were but we don't have to avoid each other either."

"You don't think it's too late?"

He laughed. "It's only been a month. We should be able to undo any damage. I do have a question though."


"Don't take this the wrong way but I need to know. When you look at me do you see me or do you see him?"

"Don't worry about asking stuff like that. That's a fair question. I guess it depends on the circumstances. When I first saw you I obviously kept thinking of him. I knew you weren't him but it was hard not to see you as him. I don't do that as much any more. I won't say never because it still happens occasionally. You'll move in some way or say something. It'll remind me of him. That hasn't happened as much lately. Maybe I'm getting used to things here."

"That's good. I'm not sure I could deal with that. It would be like being a proxy friend. You wouldn't be friends with me. It would be like you're friends with him through me. That would be weird."

"A friend from back home, ah, where I used to live asked me something similar. He looked right at me and asked if I was thinking of you as a replacement for Aaron. He was just being a friend but it kind of pissed me off. Aaron's friendship meant far too much to me."

"You're not going to keep staring at me are you? That kind of creeps me out."

At least he was smiling. "Probably," I smiled. "It won't be the same though. I've been so worried about telling you all this that I've blown things out of proportion in my mind. Now at least you'll see me smiling. Besides, you have nice eyes. .... Sorry, I shouldn't have said that."

He smiled. "It's okay. I like your eyes too. That was one of the benefits of you watching me. Sometimes we'd make eye contact before you looked away and I'd see your eyes. They intrigued me. That probably sounds pretty gay."

I laughed. "I won't tell anyone. You can blame it on hanging around with Chris and Ryan."

"You know about them?"

"They haven't said anything but they're kind of obvious."

"And it doesn't bother you?"

"Why should it? They're great guys."

"Yeah, they are. My life has kind of sucked since my mother died. Chris and Ryan, along with Randy, are the only ones who stuck with me."

"Well .. now you've got someone else who will stick with you if you'll let me."

"Do you really mean that? You may not after you get to know me."

"That's not how I am. Tell you what. I'll say yes but that's just a word. Give me some time and let me prove it to you. .... In the meantime we should go downstairs to check on the munch. It's not a good idea to leave him alone too long. He loved Aaron too. I'm sure he's pretty wound up. ... Can you stay for a while. We have Wii downstairs. I can take you home later."

"Sure, for a while. I do need to get home before dinner or my father will be pissed."

"No problem. We have at least an hour. Let's play some Nintendo and then I'll take you home"

When we got to the top of the stairs I turned to look at Josh.

"Josh, thank you. You don't know how bad things have been for me. I really do want to be your friend. I'll try okay. Just be patient."

"We'll make it. We can talk more later. Besides, I'm going to need a bodyguard now that Phil is going to kick my ass."

"He better not if he knows what's good for him. Next time I won't hold back."

"Remind me never to get you pissed at me. I can't believe you ripped the partition off the wall with one punch. You scared the shit out of Tim .... literally," he smiled.

"That's what Chris said," I laughed. "You don't have to worry. I couldn't hurt you. At least not intentionally and I'm really sorry for how I acted."

"You're forgiven Dan. I won't say it's okay since it hurt but I do forgive you. Now let's go find your brother."

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