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By Ernesto66

Chapter Five: I Spy

I gratefully thank the many authors online who have inspired me by posting their work. In trying to emulate their stories I started "Homecoming," which helped me through the hardest period of my life.

"Homecoming" is dedicated to my husband David; I began writing it before I even knew him but with his love and support he greatly influenced its direction.

Kevin's home was a showplace, there was no other word for it. If Michael had regretted not bothering to see the grounds at their best before, by the time they'd walked through the entire house he was kicking himself like a prize mule. A weekend here would be like staying at a luxury spa, with the added attraction of being - literally - out in the middle of nowhere. Just you, the birds, the trees, and Kevin's very entertaining company.

He almost lost count of all the rooms as they wandered through. Each of the four wings ended in its own bright wall of windows: on the first floor was the two-story living room, next to it the kitchen and dining room, then Kevin's office slash library, and the master bedroom. Poking his head into the bedroom, it had been very hard not to picture himself sinking into the waterbed and sleeping nonstop until Sunday morning. But he somehow managed.

Up the stairs, the second floor was three more wings off a central landing, basically two big guest bedrooms and a room neatly filled with crafts-y things: a sewing machine, drawing table, canvas, soldering irons, stained glass, frames, bolts of material and skeins of thread and yarn. There was a full bathroom off the landing, and each bedroom had its own half-bath. All the rooms up there again had spectacular views of the woods outside.

Michael dropped his suitcase in the bedroom on the right, Jeremy's bag in the one to the left, and then decided he had to go to the bathroom. When he came back out he could hear the boy's voice murmuring somewhere below. The landing ended in the balcony beside the fireplace, overlooking the living room. He looked over the side at Jeremy sweetly talking to Miss Cat as she lay on her back. He'd turned on a couple of table lamps and the room was warm with light.


Both of them looked up, curious. The boy pushed his hair aside and smiled. "Hey."

"Our bedrooms are up here, and oh my god you should see the soaps in the bathroom. Much as I'd love to crash and burn right now I think I'll try to stay awake until tonight. Are you hungry?"

"Kind of, yeah. Actually very."

"I think maybe one reason she likes you so much is because of how you smell, you know? Why don't we wash your clothes and you take a shower, and I'll make us something to eat."

"Oh, yeah, I just about forgot... I guess I got used to it. Okay." Jeremy rose and trotted up the stairs, Cat following close behind.

"Yours is that one." Michael watched as the kid passed him and went into his room. He was careful to close the door behind, and not on, his new friend, but then didn't push it all the way to. The lock didn't catch and it remained open half an inch. Michael saw this and started to say something but didn't.

He knew he needed to get back downstairs but for whatever reason he lingered at the top of the stairs instead. Listening. After a few seconds he could hear cloth rustling and the tinkle of a belt buckle, what sounded like bedsprings bouncing and then shoes hitting the floor behind the door.

He'll be out here in a second, you pervert, and the towels will all be over there in the bathroom. He'll have to come out and walk across to get one. You're gonna get caught.

Michael took the stairs down two at a time, calling over his shoulder, "Jeremy, leave your clothes on your bed. I'll come back and get them in a minute."

"Okay!" was the boy's response from above.

Downstairs he went into the big kitchen, marveling at the glass-fronted cabinets and the array of small appliances lining the marble counters like soldiers. The refrigerator was at the far end, a side-by-side beauty with a brushed steel finish.

Let's see what we have here.

He opened both doors and started pushing through everything inside. There were leftovers galore but also fresh fruit and vegetables, packaged meats, entrees and desserts in the freezer, more than enough food to throw a good-sized party. He imagined that being so far out in the woods Kevin wanted to be prepared for anything. Michael decided what he wanted to try and calculated if he had what he needed on hand to make it.

He went over to what would logically be a utensil drawer and slid it open. Sure enough. He lifted out the first thing he came to, a paring knife, and started to lay it on the counter. It wobbled a little as he held it by its handle.

Why is it shaking like that? Your hand is shaking, stupid. I really need something in my stomach. I've already burned off everything I've eaten today. Driving, running through the snow, nothing but nervous energy all morning. Need some carbs. Was that a pizza in-

No, you turd, just admit it. It was the idea of him walking bare-assed out the door and catching you listening to him undress, like some dirty old man. What would you have done if he'd faced you down? Fallen to your knees and begged his forgiveness? Fallen to your knees and begged for something else? Get real.

After that speech about how everybody doesn't want something in return. He doesn't owe you anything. And he's a kid! You don't even know how old he is, not that that's even a consideration, because what you were thinking was wrong. Wrong.

Fucking yes, wrong. But he so needed... Something. Anything!

Mental note: Ask Kevin how easy it is to hook up at Louisville's clubs. He'll know. It's been so long, and I need to get laid like no one ever has. He's always talking about that one bar, The Connection, I think he said it even had a back room. Imagine that, in backwater Louisville. Kevin might be paired up himself now, but he can surely point me in the right direction, maybe tomorrow night if I can get into town. Picture walking into the funeral home, coming straight from a trick's house. Hell, bring the trick with you-

Oh God damn, I need to get off!

Off. Speaking of off the boy is off limits. Period. Forget it.

He took a deep, deep breath and went back into the hall, noticing again how eerily quiet the house was, the snow outside a thick layer of natural insulation. It struck him for the first time that realistically there might not be any neighbors for miles around. He had no idea where the closest would be. The two of them might just as well be alone in the world.

Alone. All alone. If something went wrong and they needed help, what would they do? Fire, police, ambulance. Alone...

Michael came to the bottom of the stairs and listened for the sound of the shower. He could plainly hear the water hissing from there so he started up. The coast was clear. He'd grab the kid's clothes, toss them in, fix dinner and everything would be fine. They could watch TV, play cards, shoot the breeze, or just go to bed. He was halfway to the second floor when he realized why the sound was so clear.

Jeremy hadn't closed the bathroom door, not at all. Michael ducked back below the level of the landing carpet, squeezed his eyes shut and stood stock still. Shit! Fucking terrific. Had he seen him? What would happen next?

He waited but nothing happened. The sound of running water just continued and maybe under that Jeremy humming to himself.

I need to tell him it was a mistake, I didn't mean to see anything. Wait, I really didn't see anything! There may not even be anything to see. Therefore nothing to confess. Confess? You confess sins, not accidents.

Open your eyes. If he didn't see you, there's no harm and no foul. You have to make sure. Have to. I dare you. Open them.

He slowly opened his eyes, thinking all the time This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong... Regardless, he opened them anyway and stealthily looked through the railing at the top of the stairs.

It was pretty good cover for spying, if that's what your aim was. The door wasn't even partly closed but wide open. There was steam rolling out of the room and up to the ceiling but his view of the shower stall was clear. It was glass, not the pebbled or wavy kind, but perfectly clear. Water spray ran in sheets down its sides, moving this way and that as the body inside changed position. The pale boy's body, thin but not skinny, all hands and big feet, impossibly young and smooth, under all that water.

No harm, he didn't see you. Quit looking. He's gonna see you now, you made your point so quit looking!

Fat damn chance.

Jeremy was buck naked, swaying to the rhythm of whatever he was humming and obviously enjoying the hot water, his feet squeaking on the shower's floor and his elbows knocking the walls. He was smiling to himself, his eyes closed, thank God, his dark hair plastered to his forehead and neck. As Michael watched he turned away, toward the shower head.

The kid's shoulders and legs were more muscular than he'd have guessed, under those clothes. His shoulderblades worked underneath his skin as his arms slid up and down his front. His hips were wide compared to his little waist, the square muscles of his butt flexing and releasing as he shifted his weight back and forth.

As Michael watched, he massaged shampoo into his scalp with both hands, craning his head and digging his fingers in. He twisted around to get the soap from the shower tray, giving Michael a good view of his bare white backside. Most surprising. Except for a little around his arms, he was almost hairless from his neck down to the small of his back. Below his waist he was covered in dark fur.

Like a faun, Michael thought, his thoughts out of control. He's like a faun, half boy half something else.

Man. Half boy, half man.

You are so going to hell.

Jeremy rubbed soap under his arms, his hands cupping the bar of soap and smearing the lather under his armpits. The greenish foam ran down his ribcage to dissolve in the spray. He bent as far over as he could and raked the bar up and down his legs, starting at his toes and working up. His hair hung over his face and curled toward the floor, dripping and swaying. Michael watched the soap smooth the swirls of brunette hair running up his calves and thighs north toward his ass. Which by the way was spread wide open - only a couple of feet closer and the prize inside would have been in sight, even if it was covered in soap. The hair gathered and disappeared into that narrow valley, while Jeremy used both hands to erase its pattern. He straightened up, flipping his hair back, and mashed the bar between his cheeks of his ass and rubbed it up and down vigorously for a heartbeat, before following that by poking his fingers inside and swabbing them around too. Then he turned back around toward Michael again.

Yes damn it thank you Jesus no damn it.

The water glistened as it conformed to the shapes of the front of his body. Over his closed eyes and lips, the little oval nipples wide apart on his boy's chest, over the little bit of hair sprinkling his breastbone, down his tummy, into the hollow of his belly button, over that rise below, and into-

The man in the hallway did his best not to look where he most wanted to. He'd been raised knowing the dangers older men could hold, so he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he was doing right now made him a dangerous old man. Stories about guys with their hands down little kids' pants, and their own, on the playground and behind the school. Strangers who picked up children in their cars, relatives kidnapping nieces and nephews, all on the news. And now here he was himself, breathing like a dirty phone caller, his perverted chest thumping like mad, his hand tight over the front of his corduroys, trying to hold it down and only making the painful pressure worse.

But he'd been telling himself to move for five minutes and nothing had happened yet; his feet were glued in place. Where was the harm? Who was getting hurt? And who in his place could resist this chance?

He's right there, naked and wet. It has nothing to do with me. He'd be taking a shower and naked even if I wasn't standing here.

I'm not even touching him, I'm sure the hell not molesting him, just looking. If (if!) I jerk off over this later, then this picture in my mind is all I'll ever need. Anything else will be the furthest thing from- No harm done. That'll be enough, right? Right? So look. Look!

He looked. Oh, yeah. Jesus, yeah. Yeah.

The water spilled over the little mound under Jeremy's stomach, soaked into his dark pubes, clung to his teenager's dick down to its end where it ran off like he was peeing it. To be not full-grown and soft, his cock was fairly long, five inches or so, thin like him and cut. Most of it was as pale as the rest of his skin but the head was reddish, from the heat or maybe naturally. The falling water made it bob, hitting his testicles and making them bounce and sway. His balls were long too, actually maybe bigger than Michael's, and sitting in a bush of dark curly hair spongy with soap and water. His hand grazed past with the soap, then rubbed it in harder, foaming over his tummy and down the shaft of his dick to around the head. He used both hands, holding it and stroking the soap up and down the length of it, working the lather over it and his sack both. Then a couple of foamy fingers went backward up between his legs, past his balls...

And he was done. Michael came out of his trance and saw the soap back in its dish and Jeremy scrubbing under his arms to rinse everything off. In a second more he would shut off the tap and be out in the bathroom.

Michael ducked again and crept to the first floor. He waited a moment until he heard the shower door open, and called "Jeremy!"

The boy's voice echoed a little. "Yeah?"

"How would you, uh, like an omelette? With cheese and onions, ham, toast and um juice?"

"That sounds awesome."

"I thought we could use a good breakfast, you know, since I don't think either of us got one earlier."

"Great! Here's my clothes."

After a second Jeremy appeared at the top of the stairs with a thick towel around his waist and his clothes in a neat pile over his arm. Michael met him halfway up and took the smelly clothes, averting his gaze from the pale bare arms and chest only to look and see the dripping ankles and bare feet on the carpet in front of him. A bead of water from Jeremy's shaggy head fell and landed in Michael's eye.

"Oops, sorry." The boy leaned over and lifted one corner of the towel toward his wet mane, exposing his hairy thigh up to- Michael turned on his heel and started back downstairs.

At the bottom he said "It should only be about forty-five minutes till these are done, and I'll fix the food in the meantime. Why don't you lie down? If you feel anything like I do you could use a nap. I'll call you when everything's done, in about-" His eye fell on a square clock beside the foyer entry. It couldn't be.

The sky outside all the windows, even obscured by frost and snow, was a color you'd normally see in early evening. "Christ on a bus, it's only one!" At least the snow seemed to have lightened up since the last time he looked.

Jeremy agreed. "Jeez, it feels a whole lot later, doesn't it? No onions in my eggs if you don't mind." He hugged his arms to his sides. "You think there might be -"

"Like a robe or something to wear? Why don't you dig in the closets, I'm sure there's something."

"Okay." Jeremy turned and went back up and around the railing. "Don't let me sleep too long."

"I won't." Michael slowly wandered into the kitchen, his mom's recipe for scrambled eggs pushing whatever other thoughts were spinning around in there completely out of his head.


The refrigerator had been full of different foods and condiments Michael couldn't even pronounce, so it was some kind of miracle that dinner came together as well as it did. The eggs had been brown ones, probably from a farm nearby, and the ham had a name illegibly scribbled on its deli paper. The cheese was a mystery he never did figure out, though it complimented everything else perfectly.

They ate lunch under the dining room's little chandalier, the new Stravinsky playing softly in the background. Michael was finally breathing easily again. The shower thing... A fluke. It wouldn't - would not - happen a second time.

Regardless, the meal was going well so far. The more Michael got to know Jeremy, the longer they spent together and talked, the more both of them relaxed. Once awake, the kid had helped him set the table, blabbing about the weather, and they'd sat talking about really nothing for another twenty minutes. Like any other time you'd meet somebody. It felt almost normal.

"What's this bread called?"

"Sourdough." Michael looked across the table at Jeremy, once again safely inside his laundered sweatshirt and jeans. "Do they not have this in Beechmont?"

"You don't even know. Beechmont is very, um, worldly now. It's famous for having the only like really international grocery in the city. There are a ton of Vietnamese people, and Laotians, and Central Americans too living there now. Weren't they there back in the day?"

"It was almost all rednecks back then, and I hate that expression. People use it to make it sound like... 'Back in the day, before all the important stuff happened.' Give me dollar gas and Jimmy Carter any day."

Jeremy took another bite of his toast. "Who's Jimmy Carter?" he said with an innocent expression.

Michael's jaw dropped. "You can't be ser-" But only for a second, as the kid couldn't stop the corner of his mouth from curling up. At the sight of his incredulous expression Jeremy gave another one of his hiccuping laughs and slapped the table with his hand hard enough to rattle the dinnerware.

"God, you really think they don't teach who the presidents are any more? Even if they didn't, don't you think I'd still know the most recent ones?"

The boy sat up straight and dropped the smile, picking at his toast. "God, I'm not just some dumb asshole, you know." From the tone of his voice it sounded like his feelings might really be hurt, but Michael couldn't be sure. Once bitten... He watched for even a hint of a smile. He hated not being able to read other people like they always did him.

"I'm really sorry, Jeremy. You're right, you're not a dumb asshole."

But... Grr. The boy covered his mouth, then practically stuffed his napkin into it, and Michael finally realized there was another damn smile under there.

"So... Tell me, if you're not the dumb kind, then exactly which kind of asshole are you?"

Jeremy burst into laughter again, the napkin muffling most of it but he kept going, ha ha ha ha ha. Michael realized that this was the longest he'd heard him laugh all day, more than the other times put together. As much as he hated getting his cards read he felt, again, that to make this boy laugh should be someone's life work. He'd been so deadly serious that to hear him so uncomplicatedly happy filled Michael's heart. Had it been so long since he'd been a teenager himself that he couldn't remember what being that age made you act like? He supposed maybe so. Completely against his will he smiled.

"Help me clean the table, funny boy." Michael stood and began stacking the dishes. Jeremy handed him what he could carry and then made his own stack.

"Sorry, man, I couldn't resist. You're such a sucker for believing everything you hear. It's funny to see somebody else be that way for a change. I thought I was the worst."

They passed into the kitchen and headed for the dishwasher. Michael frowned. "I like to think of myself as tough and cynical, but you're right, I pretty much fall for anything. News stories about puppies, any guy, um, anyone with a hard luck story to sell... I'm too trusting. You'd think I'd have a thicker skin by now." Wasn't that exactly what he'd been thinking back at the mall? But it had happened to him again anyway, and this was a kid he hadn't known six hours.

They loaded the dishwasher in silence, Jeremy reading his mood and falling quiet along with him. Michael ran hot water into the sink while the boy rearranged everything neatly back on the counter. Catherine showed up and sat by their ankles as they washed the pans. Even she stayed to herself, only her purring making her presence known.

When Kevin's kitchen was tidy again Michael led the little group out to the living room and they each claimed a seat. Michael sat at one end of the couch, while Jeremy and Cat claimed one plush recliner for themselves. "Hey, lookit that," Jeremy exclaimed. Michael looked up and saw that the snow had stopped falling. It was about three, and almost as dark as night outside, but in here the colorful Tiffany lamps on their endtables kept the cold away. "How about-" the kid started.

"What? Go ahead."

"Sorry, I thought maybe you wanted some quiet."

"No, I was just thinking." Not exactly true. More like he was doing his best to not think. About anything. Just going through the motions of making dinner, washing up, settling down for the night. Afternoon, whatever. It felt good to slow down and not be thinking a million things all at once. He was ready to fall into bed and digest his meal, but he knew if he did he'd be up again by midnight and never able get back to sleep. He'd be cranky tomorrow. Michael blew through his lips. He'd turned into his grandfather.

"Okay. I was gonna say how about a fire?"

"That's a great idea," Michael admitted. The remote was in reach on the coffee table, and it only had one button and a rocker switch on it, so how hard could that be? He pushed the button and in a second flames sprang to life around the logs inside the hearth, instantly warming them and pushing the shadows in the corners of the room further back. With the help of the switch he got the fire's height adjusted until they both approved.

"Man, that feels good." Jeremy stretched out on the recliner, his sock feet toward the fire and his shaggy head deep in the chair's cushions. He folded his arms under his head like a cowboy under the stars. "Tonight'll be different from sleeping in the middle of a store, that's for sure."

"I'll bet. Anything you want to do to kill some time? There's probably board games stuck away somewhere, and Kevin said he might not be home till midnight." Michael traded remotes and aimed the other at the TV to turn it on. He killed the sound and watched as a local news update ended and led into an ad for one of the candidates for Louisville mayor.

Images went by, so generic they could have been for a car dealership or a retirement community. Things hadn't changed here at all. Democrats, Republicans... In Kentucky - hell, all over the midwest - they were practically the same. He'd kept up with local politics a little, so he knew this was the incumbent, the city's infamous mayor-for-life, the starchy helmet-haired gasbag who'd been on the throne downtown since 1985.

"God, he's never going away, is he? He's queen of this town, and he knows he'll never get any further, so he just keeps running and winning."

Jeremy drawled, "You rant a lot, did you know?"

Michael looked across the room. "Hah, sorry. It's a bad habit I picked up from my dad years ago. I'm trying to quit. Before I die I should have it kicked. Do you want to watch TV?"

"I don't watch a lot of TV, to tell the truth."

"That officially makes you the weirdest teenager I've ever met," Michael chuckled. "No offense." He turned the set off.

"None taken. I hear my friends at school talking about watching 'American Idol' and 'The Hills' and I feel sorry for them. How boring are their lives that stuff like that is interesting to them? I watch Bill Maher, and 'The Soup,' because it makes fun of all that other crap. And movies, I see tons of movies."

Michael put his hands behind his own head, matching the kid's posture. "What's your favorite movie?"

"I saw V for Vendetta last month and really really loved it, and, um, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang... Oh, and I finally saw Brokeback Mountain. My folks wouldn't let me-" He paused. "So not important."

As he'd just been comparing them both to cowboys in his mind, Michael considered making a joke but stopped himself; it would probably sound condescending. For whatever reason Jeremy was letting a lot of things go unsaid today. But even if the boy was gay, like he'd said to Kevin, it really wasn't any of Michael's business unless he chose to say it out loud. Was he naturally reticent like this with everyone, or was it only him?

"But you digress."

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess my favorite movie of all time is The Empire Strikes Back."

Michael's head popped up. "Shut up! That's always been my favorite too. I saw it ten times when it first came out, and bought every version of it on video and DVD."

"Wow... You mean you actually saw it at the theater? In like, what...? God, that was in the last millennium, hmmm... nineteen..."

"Eighty, and screw y-" He caught himself. "I mean, get lost. Ten times, kid. I'm sure I saw it with your grandfather. We drove to Showcase Cinemas in our model T's. Admission was a nickel and all they had to eat at the concession stand was dirt. It was the Depression, you know."

Michael didn't have the energy to really sell being crochety. And he had to admit that to this boy, that story probably was ancient history - like someone his own age hearing about seeing the Beatles perform live. It had been a quarter of a century, after all. More. Jesus.

"See? You didn't fall for my joke that time," Jeremy retorted. "No offense." In a more sincere voice he added, "I really do think that's cool, though. It's only played at the theater here like once, when I was like nine. I barely remember going."

"You're right, it was very cool. Kids today... Here I go, sounding just like Pop, but kids don't have any idea how awful entertainment today is or what used to make stuff so special. 'Back in the day.' They're used to thinking crap is all there is, so they grow up liking crap. Did you know Star Wars played for over a year at Showcase Cinemas? And that was only the first run. It had to be in theaters in Louisville for two years or more. Imagine that happening today."

End of rant, shut up. You get his confidence back and you want to make him think you're crazy again?

"Wow. I can't even. Before videos came along, I guess that's how studios made money. But seriously, man, don't lump me in with all those other kids. I watch old movies all the time, and by old I mean even pre-1966."

"Ha ha."

"My favorite old movies are All About Eve and Auntie Mame. I could watch both of them every week. Those are classics."

Wow. Michael bit his lip. Was the boy's score ten for ten now? Maybe he should ask if he preferred Davis or Crawford, or which was the most fabulous MGM musical.

But he still had to agree. "You're right, I love both of those too. Incredible scripts and acting."

"I know. Anyway, I don't want to watch anything. You watch what you want."

"Nah, I agree, there's nothing on. Maybe look at the Weather Channel later. Board game?" They were likely somewhere in the entertainment center, if Kevin had any.

After a second of thought Jeremy leaned up on one elbow and looked over at Michael. "Nothing's much fun with just two players. How about a different game?"

He lifted his head. Uh oh. "Such as?"

"How about... Truth or Dare? I've always wanted to play but never had the nerve. I'm always afraid of what people will ask me. I mean, to do."

Uh huh. "I've, uh, never actually played it myself, for pretty much the same reason." For exactly the same reason. Even before the days of star sixty-nine and caller ID, that had been one thing you couldn't have pointed a gun at Michael to make him play. Dares were nothing, he could be as fearless as anybody else. Telling the truth, that was a different matter.

"How about Twenty Questions, or I'll bet you'd be great at the Movie Game?" He flopped back to the arm of the couch.

"I don't know that one. Come on, I trust you to play by the rules, and it's not like you can even make prank calls or anything these days."

"How'd you know what I was thinking?"

"Simple things, nothing complicated. Just the two of us, nothing to be embarrassed about." He looked so excited by the idea that Michael hated to shoot it down. "Come on, man, please?"

"Oh, hell, okay." Jeremy put his fist in the air and woo-hooed like he'd scored a goal. Maybe he had.

"But you're gonna have to give me a while. Seeing as how I'm channelling Pop more and more these days." Michael stretched even further out on the couch, stuffing a throw pillow under his head and closing his eyes. The combination of the food in his stomach and the warmth of the room was too much to resist. "Let me lay down for half an hour and we'll play when I get up." He squinted across the room at the kid. "Can you find something to do for half an hour?"

"Sure! Would your friend mind if I got into the craft room upstairs?"

"I don't think so. He's into the stuff at my house all the time. Him, and his guests too." That damn ugly paperweight.

Michael said "If you find anything marked 'Private' or 'Do not open,' bring it to me and we'll open it together."

From behind his eyelids Michael heard the kid's tread move over the carpet and up to the second floor. A light switch clicked and a door faintly creaked closed overhead. In a second the additional pad-pad-pad of Miss Cat followed, the door creaked again, and everything fell quiet. If he listened carefully Michael could just make out Jeremy's voice baby-talking. He sighed. As he slid toward sleep he felt, more than anything else, contented for the first time all week.

Gradually the sound of the snow hissing restlessly outside seeped into his consciousness. He supposed there must be a little wind blowing outside, which would be good if it helped clear the road some before they had to be in Louisville. Which reminded him of tomorrow. They still had another day to kill - more, really - before Sunday. He should start planning how to occupy their time. What could-?



Obviously being "contented" doesn't ever work for you, not ever, not even now. There are still a ton of things to be resolved here, lots to think about. Make that "overthink."

And you know how you love to overthink any situation. It's a failing, and a bad one, but at least it gets things done. Go on, get to work.

So? Well, take stock. You wanted to make friends, you wanted his confidence, and now you've pretty much got what you wanted. What will you do now? You've been thinking about yourself all day, what you want. Ask yourself what this guy wants. What would you do in his place?

Say it's like this. You're in the middle of nowhere with someone you don't even know... but may just have something in common with. Or maybe not. Even if not, you're obviously still in some sort of trouble, don't forget that. He's been pretty calm since we got here, but whatever made him run in the first place still has to be in the back of his mind. So...

Logically, he wants to share what that was. I mean, come on, Truth or Dare?

The feeling of being a first-time crisis counselor came over him again. Clumsy and liable to say the exact thing that would leave him looking at an abandoned windowsill.

Except really, this wasn't his first time, was it? Not at all.

Friends spill their guts to me about relationships, problems with their parents, how much they hate their jobs, constantly. What is a teenager going to say I haven't heard already, that I can't deal with? Nothing. I could fill a book with just the whoppers Kevin has told me, and he always says what a good listener I am.

Michael rolled onto his side, hugging a second pillow close to his chest.

There's more to listening than just listening; the only way it works is to give up as much as you're getting, so the talker knows he's being understood. Without that investment he might as well be talking to himself or watching Dr. Phil. How honest are you ready to be with him, if it comes to that?

Suppose this is my chance, a way to repair the gaping hole I wrecked in my life once, the horrible way I treated Billy? It might not, who knows how karma works? I may have fucked things up so far but I can do my damn best from here on. Maybe (hopefully) I can do something, now, that no one could do for me then. It makes more sense to try and fix something that can still be fixed, rather than worry about something you broke twenty years ago that can't, ever. I may owe it to Billy. More than that I owe it to Jeremy, if that's what he needs.

Michael drifted off. The closest table lamp shined down in his face, but closing his eyes tighter he shut it out until it wasn't there any more.

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