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By Ernesto66

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.

Chapter Nine: Heaven and Earth

What was left of the day? After that fucking amazing morning, there was nothing more for them to do. The rest of Saturday laid ahead of Michael and Jeremy like another stretch of road.

They snuggled under the covers for a while but in no time they were both restless, the boy shifting under the older man's arm to scratch or unbend, and Michael's stomach growling like a wild animal.

The times it did fall quiet, the air was punctuated by the tick of water just outside the bedroom window, dripping from the trees onto the roof, and from the roof to the deck and ground. The noise reminded Michael of the antique wind-up alarm clock he inherited from an aunt when he was ten. He'd always loved the look of its big round face and the two bells on top of it like a gold matador's hat, but when when Marian died and it became his he discovered he hated the clock's never-ending clicking, right next to his bed, all day and all night. It ended up in the basement.

The sound finally tripped Michael's last nerve and he tore the linens off them and sat up, groaning.

"God, I have got to get out of this bed," he growled, rubbing his eyes. His breath tasted like rotten eggs. "You stay in if you want. I'll make us something to eat." Remembering last night, he half smiled and added "It's my turn to cook, anyway."

"'kay. I guess I'll get up too." Jeremy slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed and perched on its edge, hanging his head. Michael reached out to touch him and with a split second's burn of guilt he saw the dried eggwhite of come and lube on the boy's back and ass. He took his hand away.

"Are you hungry?" he asked, trying his best to sound bright. "I'm starved. I think I saw something like pasta in the fridge."

Jeremy nodded and pushed a long strand of hair behind his ear. "That sounds good." He turned and looked at Michael, his sleepy blue eyes the color of snow in the shade. "I, uh, think I'm gonna shower. I feel, I don't know..." He ran his fingers up his ribcage and found some of the mess on his skin. "Bleh, itchy and sticky. Dirty. But in a good way, I guess."

He paused and seemed to be thinking of their morning.

"Can I ask a question?" He looked across the bed.


"Do you remember, when you lost your...?"

Michael thought for a second and grinned crookedly. "Popped my cherry?" The kid nodded. "Yeah, it was a mess all around. Neither of us knew what we were doing, of course, and I don't think we were quite ready to try... that. Who is? It's not like there's anything you can do, to really prepare yourself for the idea of having someone else, well, inside you. Or you in them. It's pretty mind-blowing the first time, whichever side of the fence you're on." He shook his head. "Are you alright? Anything...?"

"No, I'm fine." The boy poked at a corner of his eye. "Actually I thought it would hurt a lot more, but it doesn't really. I just feel kind of stretched. Anyway. Do you wanna go...?" He gestured toward the landing with an open palm.

Michael shook his head. "Thanks, I've still got to, uh, the polite way to put it is 'get rid of something,' but I'll do it downstairs." Jeremy made a face. "Tell me about it. You go on ahead, I'll shower and start breakfast. Brunch. What time is it?" The nightstand clock said it was just after Noon. "Lord."

The boy pulled his robe to his side but didn't put it around himself, just held it. "Oh, okay." He stood and, unselfconsciously naked, smiled stiffly and started for the door.

Michael rose off the bed and grabbed one corner of the bedclothes to gather them up, but something nagged at him. Something was off. It had been so long since he'd done anything like this, with someone as inexperienced as this anyway, he couldn't tell what exactly might be wrong here.

What do I do? he asked himself, a little panicked. This wasn't business as usual for both parties, not this time. It seemed like the moment to say something, reassure the kid somehow, but of what? Michael couldn't put anything into words. Shit, he was leaving-

"Hey, Jeremy, wait." The boy stopped and drifted back to the doorway, looking expectant. Not to mention way too young and vulnerable, clutching his robe like a child with a teddy bear.

Michael's heart shifted in his chest as his eyes met Jeremy's.

That's what was wrong. Something had changed in him.

How goddamn right he'd been last night; this was a very different person leaving the room than had walked in the door, and it was his doing. The boy did look altered, somehow. Not his hair? It was the same, falling from where he'd just pushed it, to land on his cheek. The unblemished skin, the hairy legs, his big puppy-dog feet, and - might as well admit it's there - the penis peeking out from behind the bunched white terrycloth. All outwardly the same.

It was something else then. The boy's posture, his attitude.

That had to be it. Jeremy looked uncomfortable in his skin, somehow. Michael briefly recognized himself. He remembered staring into the bathroom mirror once upon a time, looking that same way, asking himself... things.

What am I? What was that? Who is he...? Questions that words wouldn't really fit into, because they were so much larger than all you knew. Much less answer them, how could you even ask the questions to begin with?

What was it about losing your virginity that could mess with your head that way? For gay guys, anyhow. Shove you into adulthood and simultaneously make you feel so small. Fuck for the first time, they say, and then you're a man. But if you get fucked by another man, what does that make you?

He wasn't so old that he'd forgotten all that.

"This was... I don't know." He scratched his ear and struggled to say something. "Really good." Shit.

"I mean, I thought that was pretty obvious, how good," he laughed. "I don't think I've ever felt that way, ever, during. For sure never, being the bottom. And I never ever have com-" He glanced up and Jeremy smiled shyly. "I've never come that much in my whole life."

Classy. He shook his head. "Seriously. If you wanted something memorable, then I hope it was. Was for me. It meant- It means, a lot to me that we connected like that."

Now he was just making noise, talking to hear himself talk. Who was he reassuring again? Jeremy waited, balanced on one foot, while Michael wrung the sheets in his hands.

He took a moment to say the word Asshole! as loudly as he could inside his head. He might just as well be handing the kid cab fare. This was fun, can I call you? No, just give me your number and I'll call later. I promise.

He stumbled on. "I want to, uh-"

Jeremy stopped him. "Relax, man." He put his foot down and stood up straight in the doorway, maybe like how he imagined an adult would in this situation. Which put him one up on Michael.

"Ease up. Don't give yourself a hernia. I know what you're saying. It was all good." He half turned, crookedly smiling. "Great actually. I'll be down soon as I'm done." He shouldered his robe, turned the corner and was gone.

When Michael heard the door click shut across the hall and water start to run from behind it (no peep show this time), the older man dropped the sheets. Time for that later, he needed to get himself clean. He pulled a rumpled pile of clothes out of his bag and started downstairs to Kevin's bedroom.

Yeah, that had gone well. Awkward situations really brought out the poet in him, unfettered his tongue and inspired him to new heights of eloquence. Or, you know, totally not.

Which is why I get such high marks from friends as a listener. You know, listener. Not speechmaker. Shut the hell up every once in a while. Jesus.

The master bath was tucked under the corner of the A frame on the far side of the master bedroom. Michael whistled when he stepped through - Kevin had outgayed himself in there.

Why was he surprised? It was straight off of HGTV. Cobalt blue tile and copper fixtures under a tilted rectangle of skylight, with a sunken tub and a huge separate shower next to that on a step up. Towels and washcloths hung from bars on the walls and sat on little shelves around the room. Red potpourri filled a bowl on the washstand.

He reached into the stall and turned the shower's beaten metal handles. They worked perfectly, of course, unlike his own home's, and the steam began to bead up on the tile and the etched glass of the shower door.

Michael sighed heavily and sank onto the toilet to relieve the discomfort in his gut.

I'm middle-aged. I mean, fuck my ego but there's no better way of putting it, I'm fucking forty. A kid twenty years younger- Ugh...

He shut his eyes. More than twenty. Where on earth did he imagine the two of them were headed? Michael clenched the muscles in his stomach. Ugh again.

God. As great as everything else about sex could be, he'd always, always hated this part. He'd told the truth, so many years later he perfectly remembered his first time doing the deed. And not just the one but all the times after. There weren't many but still. Bottomed and then paid the price.

His face afire with embarrassment, in pain but also not, somehow, more like feeling his bowels had been rearranged inside him. Expecting to look down and see blood in the bowl or something. And Billy making jokes out in the hall, like That's my baby you're flushing! Which made it all the worse, but of course that never stopped Michael from doing the same thing to him the next time, when they'd switched places and done it again.

He unclenched and made himself breathe and relax. In and out. Out.

Okay, big picture. The two of them, he and Jeremy, had-

No, stop.

Not the two of them. Michael alone had done this. Looking no further ahead than the end of his dick, like any horny Saturday night in Indy, nothing more. Well, he'd sure gotten what he wanted: his rocks off. A break from months of celibacy. Just an run-of-the-mill trick, right?


No, he needed to put the best face on it he could. That had been a date. They'd gotten acquainted, even had dinner, talked and talked, and yes they'd gone to bed, and yes the first date was fast even for him. But he had to admit it was more or less a normal date. Excepting their ages.

Still. It had all been very one-sided, hadn't it, more or less just him telling his story. For getting acquainted there'd been almost nothing from the boy, no back-and-forth, not like a real conversation at all. So no real connection then, right?

He was back to "trick."

No! They'd talked plenty. At dinner and afterwards too. It'd even been Jeremy's idea to play Truth or Dare, and that's what had really gotten things rolling. So he'd taken up a chunk of the evening spilling his guts, so what? There was still this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow... The boy had a story of his own he might tell yet. Sure he might.

Yes, Michael had to believe this had been more. More than just the sex, and God forbid more than taking advantage of someone in a bad place. He wasn't going to talk himself out of this. He knew better. This had meant something. He had eyes, he wasn't blind. He could see-

See? What had he seen? He'd been so busy. Keeping his eyes open, watching his step, looking for warning signs. Looking...

Seen. Frowning, he voided the last of Jeremy from inside himself. Ugh, one last time. He wiped, stood and flushed. At least he hoped that was the last of it. Shower time-

Oh, sweet Jesus.

He'd seen the look on Jeremy's face.

Just now, and not paid it a bit of attention. Seen the look that said Don't let me go.

What was wrong with him? The boy hadn't been asking Michael if he wanted to go first in the bathroom. He was asking if they could go together. Covered in that crap from them fucking, he probably felt dirty, discarded...

And Michael had let him go. Pushed him away, really. Wasn't that what he'd been thinking even then? A trick. He'd treated him like a one-night stand. Used goods.

You couldn't say he hadn't seen what was right in front of him. Because he'd pushed it away, it wasn't there any more. Once it was out of sight, he didn't need excuses.

And the boy was up there, alone, right now.

Michael twisted the shower faucets off, his heel slipping on the wet blue tile. He breathed the foggy air into his lungs for a second and rested his head against the cool metal of the door frame, trying to think. Grow a pair, he mouthed to himself.

Ten seconds later he was standing naked at the door of the second floor bath, hearing the water splash inside. He knocked and heard "Yeah?" so he turned the knob and hesitantly inched in. Jeremy, obviously startled, turned under the spray to face him through the glass that separated them. His hair hung in his eyes and he flipped it back with a nod of his head. Michael did his best to keep his gaze level. God, that body.

The boy took the soap out of the dish and held it to himself, crossing his arms. He looked like he'd just been standing there, not moving. Maybe that was only Michael's imagination.

"What's wrong?" Jeremy squinted through the shower's downpour.

Michael took a breath. "I heard what you said, about easing up and relaxing and everything."

The kid shrugged and tried to smile, confused. "Yeah?"

"And how you knew what I was saying." Michael so wanted to just burn a hole in the floor and drop through it, but he couldn't. With an effort he forced himself to look up into his lover's face. His heart suddenly felt too big for his chest.

The boy shrugged again. The sound of water running in the room filled Michael's ears. Do it!

Deep breath. "Did you know, I was saying that right now I feel the best I have in my entire life, and that I want to make that last as long as I can, and the only way I know to do that is to go on making love to you the rest of the time we have together? Because I was."

He opened the shower door and stepped inside, locked his arms around Jeremy and pulled him close, skin to skin. Under the water, it was impossible to tell what was tears and what wasn't.


Jeremy and Michael eventually came downstairs at about two o'clock, both dressed in t-shirts and jeans, both of them carrying an armful of bedclothes. The sun was streaming though the sky and into the big windows in the living room, warming it. Everything looked, despite the expanse of white still visible on the ground surrounding the house, clean and bright. It gave Michael hope that the roads might be clear by the time they left tomorrow. They went through the kitchen to the laundry room. Miss Catherine, seeing the house was finally awake, was meowing for her food just inside the laundry doorway. Jeremy dropped his pile into the room's big sink and took a box down from the cabinet above her bowls.

"Do you feel like Italian?" Michael asked. Jeremy, shaking cat food into a turquoise porcelain bowl, nodded.

"Mm-hm. Actually what I feel like is a prune," he joked, holding his hand up and wiggling his wrinkled fingertips for Michael to see. Michael stuffed his sheets and mattress pad into the washer and laughed.

"Then no more water for you this weekend." He found the detergent in a lower cabinet. "I dread to think of the reaction if these don't come clean. Of course this being Kevin's house, I'm sure they've seen worse days." He measured detergent into a scoop, dumped it in and closed the lid. He looked over at the boy, squatting by the cat's area and stroking her fur as she noisily ate. Since he wasn't wearing a belt the back of his jeans rode out, exposing the top half of his pale hairy ass. No underwear either.

"Jeremy-" The boy looked up as Michael patted the top of the machine. "Jump up here a second."

He left the cat and strolled over, planting himself in front of the older man with a hop on top of the washer. He grinned.

"Ooh, the vibrations from this thing feel good. On my tailbone I mean." Michael ran a hand up each of Jeremy's long legs, moving in between them until he was only six inches from the boy's face. How long since he'd been this intimate with anyone?

Jeremy added, "I'm a little bit sore there."

Michael smiled. "Me too," he replied. "It'll fade."

The boy playfully wrapped his bare feet around Michael's thighs and pulled him even closer, bringing his basket right up against the edge of the machine. "How do hookers do it?" Jeremy asked.

"I really couldn't say." Michael cleared his throat. "Look, it's no big thing, all I wanted to say is, this has been terrific. But, it's my experience that spending time after sex can be awkward for guys." He shrugged. "Some guys. So if you don't feel like it, we don't have to talk, or-"

Jeremy leaned forward and put his lips over Michael's open mouth, shutting him up. He tilted his head and closed his eyes as they met. The older man's palms gradually came up to caress the smooth skin of the boy's neck, and his fingers twined into the hair curled around them. The two stayed connected like that for a long while, Catherine reeling around Michael's legs and sniffing the pink soles of Jeremy's feet, making him giggle behind the kiss.

They broke, two new hardons pressed together between them, a product of the washer's subtle motion. Michael wouldn't have thought his possible; when they'd quit he had honestly been kind of sore down there. Not that he was complaining. Jeremy straightened his glasses and sat back.

"So you were saying, sir?" Michael looked deep into a beautiful blue punctuated by two big black dots. He sighed.

What does a kid know about any of this stuff? Dating's games. What's expected of you, the things you get used to doing after countless times. That whole list - talking, not talking, calling, not calling... Would it be so bad, being ignorant of all that accumulated shit?

He also had to admit that being called 'Sir' while making out touched a spark to a wire somewhere below his waist.

"So. So nothing, I guess. Time for lunch. In fifteen minutes. Give me your big toe, I want to show you something neat..."


They warmed up lunch, leftover pasta in a flaming red sauce, and ate it sitting on the floor by the coffee table in the living room. Neither had the energy to do much more when they were done, so they took turns throwing out suggestions for other ways to kill the day.

Michael couldn't find anything worth watching on satellite, and the boxed games they found in the entertainment center all played better with a crowd. After turning down the Movie Game again and I Spy, Jeremy agreed to try one of the two-handers they found that both of them knew how to play.

The next hour and a half passed quietly. As they played they could feel the low rumble of the washer and dryer in the floorboards as the bedclothes laundered. Neither of them spoke more than a couple of words at a time.

They found a deck of cards imprinted with the logo of a local nursery, and played Rummy to five hundred points. Michael won. Then they played one round of Battleship, just long enough to remind Michael why he'd never liked playing it when he was a child. Jeremy won.

Finally they tried Scrabble, which was declared a tie when they couldn't find a dictionary to verify one of Michael's words, EDAMAME. It didn't help that he couldn't remember for certain what the word meant or even how to pronounce it. Late in the game Miss Cat wandered across the room, circling their good-natured argument to stand at the windows and watch sparrows outside hunting for food on the deck.

The cards came out again.

Michael dealt and leaned against the recliner behind him. Didn't they know anything else to play with cards except Rummy? He had nothing to begin with, so he drew and discarded. Jeremy drew and over the tops of his cards his face became set in concentration. Michael noticed and surreptitiously watched him consider his hand.

The boy puffed out his cheeks and cocked a dark eyebrow at his selection, pushing his hair in back of his ear for the thousandth time that day. He squinted and shifted his weight, raising his knee to give his arm a place to rest. He scratched his nose with a long finger, then tapped his cards in sequence. As he touched each one, his lips parted just enough to tell Michael he was counting, debating with himself which to play.

Michael's mouth curled. He saw that Jeremy's nails were evenly cut but getting ragged. Hardly a wonder, he thought to himself, with everything they'd been through... The boy's finger slowed, slowed and finally stopped. Michael frowned. It seemed very quiet in the room suddenly.

He glanced up an inch. Jeremy's eyes were far away and his hair had fallen across his face again, unchecked. Had he been doing that all morning?

"Hello," Michael ventured.

Jeremy's eyes focused and he smiled across the table. "Is it my turn?"

The older man was glad to see the smile, at least. "Yeah, about five minutes ago."

"God, I'm sorry." He shuffled though his cards and threw down the exact one Michael needed. The older man picked it up and played three, then discarded.

Jeremy's mistake seemed to spur him back into the game. They played more energetically until the boy held two cards and Michael only one.

"Uno." he teased, wagging it in the air. He ventured, "Are you okay?"

Jeremy shrugged and made a noise like "Hmm."

"If you're-" The boy waved him off, accidentally showing both his cards. Michael smirked and laid his single card face up on the table. Jeremy realized what he'd done and rolled his eyes, letting his cards drop.

"Forget it, I'm fine, really. It's just me. I didn't get enough sleep or something."

"I thought you might have something on your mind. No biggie."

Michael's gaze wandered up into the rafters. The wooden beams over their heads crisscrossed their own shadows inside the A frame, as the sun slowly began to set. "Nevermind. It must be close to four. You want to try the TV again? Might be some local news on."

"Sure." Jeremy stood up, yawning and stretching his legs as he started toward the hallway. "You want a snack?"

"No thanks." Michael gathered all the cards into a stack and returned them to their box, watching the retreating figure turn the corner. What was up? Maybe nothing more than what he'd said. Stop worrying.

"Hey, Jeremy?" he called after a minute.

"Yeah?" It sounded like he was in the kitchen.

"How about a nap? I could use a little rest. Like, together?"

"That sounds awesome, man." The boy came back into the room from around the fireplace, smiling through a mouthful of something crumbly. "I love that kitchen!"

Michael led them up the stairs to Jeremy's room. His things were scattered around but the bed was neatly made, and there was a square of light at the center of his undisturbed covers that the sun was still warming. They laid on top of it side by side and Michael wrapped his arms around the boy. He rested his nose in the tangles of hair at the back of Jeremy's head, and the younger man clasped one hand in both of his and pressed it to his chest. The ticking of the water outside had stopped.

They were asleep in minutes. Michael listened to the kid's breathing slow, felt the grip on his hand weaken, and then he was gone himself. He fleetingly dreamed of walking through thick fallen snow toward the Jeep, his feet dragging, the car red and square against all the white. As he got closer he could see Jeremy waiting for him inside.

Michael woke, startled, to find the boy's shaggy head buried between his legs. His fly was wide open, his cock out and being stroked and sucked, one hand kneading the backs of his legs. What the hell. He was only half hard, but already most of the way there. Ohhh...

He pushed his head back into the pillow as his hips bucked under the head in his lap. A smooth surge came out of him like a well overflowing, the easiest orgasm he could ever remember having. For lack of a better word, it was sweet.

When Jeremy disengaged and rose up to kiss him, Michael involuntarily pulled back an inch when he got a taste of his own spunk on the boy's tongue. It occurred to him that he should have stopped himself before coming, made a point of not going all the way like that. Who the hell could say for certain blow jobs were or weren't safe? But he'd been asleep, and it had felt so damn good...

He opened up and accepted it. They kissed passionately for a second. No offense meant.

Jeremy turned his back and settled against him. "I hope you don't mind, but I wanted to try that. I mean the b.j. You looked so peaceful while you were asleep. I wanted to make your dream have a happy ending."

"Best one I've had this weekend," he said honestly.

Twenty minutes later the boy had dozed off again, face down in his pillow, and the older man roused himself to return the favor. From behind he carefully unbuttoned and unzipped the boy's jeans, and slowly lowered the denim down over those furry legs. With no briefs underneath it was pretty simple.

He gently kissed the two halves of pale bare ass he uncovered, the wisps of hair that covered it tickling his lips and chin. He teased the crack with the tip of his tongue and planted soft bites onto each cheek until he knew he'd stirred his partner awake. Once he heard Jeremy start to moan in response he dived in.

Damn, he still smells great. What is it about the young? They're like self-cleaning ovens.

Michael lapped at the kid's asshole, making him whimper as he poked his tongue into the soft bump and smeared the rest of the valley of his ass with spit. Then he tangled his fists into the lowered pants and flipped Jeremy over onto his back, finally getting to enjoy the sight and taste of the boy's stiff cock close-up. It was long and lean, as impressive to eat as it had been to look at, and it easily filled Michael up to the back of his throat. While he knelt over Jeremy he used both hands to hold the boy's bare knee, trapped in the bunched jeans, against the bulge in his crotch.

It took all his stomach muscles to drive the boy as deep into him as he would go, his lips coming to rest against the curly black hairs under Jeremy's stomach. It wasn't another thirty seconds before Michael felt the body in his hands clench, hard, and his mouth suddenly overflowed with come. It was as smooth as a milkshake, much better tasting than his own.

Michael made a small deposit, only fair, when the kid leaned up to kiss him. Jeremy put his head back and downed it, laughing and using his tongue to get the drops that missed their target. Michael happily swallowed the rest.

They curled into a sleepy back-to-front shape again. It was warm enough in the room that Jeremy fell asleep without pulling his pants back up, Michael's hand across his chest again and his lips on the back of the boy's neck.


"Dinner was great," Jeremy said in a voice barely above a whisper.

The two of them were lying on the couch in the living room, in the dark. The only illumination was from the TV, set to a satellite station that played soft rock while still photos of singers and bands flashed onto the screen. The sound was turned so low as to be barely audible. The pictures shifting on the big screen threw bars of shadow and light back and forth over everything around them. Miss Catherine sat on an ottoman in a far corner, keeping one eye on the humans, occasionally distracted by a stray beam.

Michael was stretched out lengthwise on the couch, with his sock feet toward the TV, watching the images go by. Jeremy was parallel, his butt nestled in between Michael's thighs, his back covering the older man's lap and his head on a pillow on his chest. Jeremy had hold of Michael's wrists, his hands over the kid's breastbone, not far from his heart. Michael loved feeling the strength of the beats within.

They'd come downstairs and eaten, then laid out together like this, watching the sun's light die, for about an hour, hardly saying anything. The walls slowly turned gold, then a color like the bottom of the ocean, before fading out completely. The living room was now a cave around them.

The day was pretty much done with, and they'd accomplished next to nothing. Well, nothing. Not that it mattered. The silence was comfortable, which did matter, and it was the calm before tomorrow, which (at least to Michael) was the most important thing of all.

It was an excellent time to savor the moment. The older man refused to think about the coming drama, and if it even occurred to him to he leaned forward an inch and breathed in the smell of the apricot shampoo in Jeremy's hair, or stroked the nipple under his thumb until the kid giggled and made him stop by biting him. This brought him back to the present. The future didn't exist.

"It was very good, for frozen," Michael admitted. It had been the boy's suggestion to combine a couple of Kevin's gourmet frozen entrees to make a delicious meal of chicken, steak and rice. And Jeremy had persuaded Michael to have a small glass of wine with it, so they were now both buzzed a little as well as full.

They'd exchanged about fifty words since eating, probably two hundred total all day. It felt to Michael like they'd been talking all that time and there was nothing left to say.

"I like cooking, you know. My mom and me..." He got quiet for a second. "We used to do that a lot, fix dinner. It was fun. And Dad would clean up, 'cause neither of us wanted to.

"A day like today, when no one wanted to go out, we used to make a big pot of chili first thing. It would cook for hours, and we'd add stuff to it all day, and man it would smell so good in the house, and steam up the windows..."

Jeremy half-turned his head toward the fireplace, and the grip on Michael's hand tightened. "My parents, they, um," he began, but stopped.

Michael silently wondered what was happening, if this could just possibly be the beginning of the boy telling his story. The big Why. It seemed almost inevitable, if so, that it would start with the parents. He flexed his forearms and Jeremy pulled them closer around himself. "I know. When you're ready."

Truthfully Michael was glad for the distraction from his own thoughts. In the quiet and dark his mind was wide open, and what had crept in, no matter how hard he tried to stop them, was more thoughts of tomorrow. He wanted something - anything - else to listen to except the voice in his own head. The one telling him he'd soon be alone again.

Shit. He'd avoided thinking about it for long enough, right?

Jeremy is going back to Louisville. This night will end. This whole damn fucking terrific weekend is going to be over and finished, and normal life will resume. I'm probably never going to see him again.

So not normal "life." Lives.

Plural - and separate.

What will he do? Where is he going to go? North again, or maybe have me drop him off on 64 so this time he can try St. Louis or Lexington. Will I be able to just let him go when it's like this? Not that I can stop him... And surely by now he must be missing his parents, will want to call them, let them know he's okay, make apologies...

What's the difference? Whether he stays or leaves, doesn't really matter. He'll continue down his own road, regardless, like all this never happened.

Somewhere in a corner of Michael's mind he reminded himself - again - that this wasn't his drama. He needed to step back and let Jeremy do what was best for him. The body and soul in his arms didn't belong to him, and he should be grateful he'd had this brief time to hold them. The moment was there, he told himself, why couldn't he enjoy it? As often as anticipation could heighten some experiences, it ruined others.

Michael took a deep breath, and fought back the hurt he felt swelling in his chest. He swallowed and blinked away the first tears in his eyes. As bad as he wanted to feel right then, he refused to cry. Tomorrow.

Jeremy, apparently making a decision, suddenly stirred in Michael's lap. He dropped the older men's hand and started pushing himself upright. Michael forgot whatever he'd just been considering and cleared his throat.

"What's up?"

The boy rubbed at his eyes as he sat up and scooted down to the far end of the couch. "I... I want to talk about something."

Uh oh. "You hate R.E.M., I knew it." Michael queasily joked, gesturing at the TV screen. "We can change the channel. I think the next one is Monsters of Rock. Hey, I bet they play some Whitesnake."

"I'm serious, Michael, and I love R.E.M. by the way." Jeremy tossed his hair back, retrieving his glasses from the coffee table and crossing his arms. He'd put on what Michael had come to think of as his adult face. Uncertain intensity.

"I want to talk."

Unburdened, Michael drew his legs up to himself and put his arms around his knees. "Okay. You have the floor."

"Here it is. I'd like to come with you tomorrow. To the funeral, I mean, if that's okay with you." He waited for a reaction. "But there might be a problem."

Wow. Just wow. Michael had been so sure the next words out of the kid's mouth would be- What he'd just that moment been thinking. Where they were going and why, what they'd do tomorrow.

But. The last thing he'd expected to hear was that Jeremy was planning on them sticking together. What a coward he'd been to avoid this so long. Now here he was with nothing to say on a subject that meant so much. To both of them, he realized, obviously. And a problem? The boy had been giving it so much more thought there was already a problem of some kind.

Say something, you asshole, he's watching you.

"Look, you don't-" In his bedroom upstairs, Michael's phone began to ring.

He shut his eyes and groaned. Shit shit shit! He knew who it was, too. He started to apologize but Jeremy was smiling ruefully, gesturing for him to go and get it.

"I'm sorry-"

The boy waved faster. "You'll miss it. I'm alright, it can wait."

"God, hold that thought. I swear I'll be right back." He jogged up the stairs and managed to grab it one ring before it would have rolled to voicemail.

He'd been halfway expecting this call all day. He resisted the urge to answer with "Father McCarty's House for Incorrigible Boys." In earlier days, he'd have been sure it would get a laugh. Instead he just said "Hello?"

"Michael, hello." Sure enough. He sat down on the edge of his war-torn bed, winded and dizzied by the wine.

"Hey, Kevin. I was wondering how long it would be. I swear I would have called you before the night was over."

"I know you as well as you do me. No fight between us ever lasts longer than twenty-four hours. I've just been composing my thoughts all day." He paused. "To wit. I'm very sorry for the things I said to you last night. None of them were things a friend should ever say to another friend, even under duress."

"That's true, but you were more on target than not-"

"Oh I know I was right." Fucker. But it was said so matter-of-factly.

"I realized though, the second you hung up, that I'd taken everything much more personally than I intended. You have Billy Shepherd and who knows what else on your mind, and it was no time to be reading your beads like that. I could have been more sympathetic."

Michael looked out the door to the landing, only dimly illuminated by the TV below. "Well, thanks, I guess. I mean, apology accepted. I know you're stressed over work, and Lord knows I'd be going crazy if I couldn't get to my own home."


Michael took a chance. "Not to mention how hard you've had it otherwise."

"How so exactly?"

"There you are, having to think of ways to keep Ramon distracted, and interested in you, day after day... You must have a grip on that seventh veil like Mark Foley on a Senate page."

It was only a shot, but-

It paid off. Kevin chuckled, and Michael relaxed, so he added "Same bodily area, too."

Ding, fight officially over.

Kevin retorted, "True, and all I ask, Father McCarty, is that before the two of you take leave of my establishment, you disinfect the rectory thoroughly."

"Heh heh, you said 'rectory.'"

"You know what they say about cleanliness-"

Michael brogued "Oi don't know what y'could be referrin' to, me son. " He guiltily fingered the mattress, currently missing so much of its bedding, right under his butt.

"But moight I suggest when you retorn t'your home that you pray for the soul of your beloved daughter, who's been a witness to soch tarrible wickedness and sin."

"Really." Michael heard Kevin take a puff. "It will be a great comfort to me, Father, to have your company on that big 'Down' escalator in the hereafter, one day. But if you get there first - and why on earth wouldn't you - please save me a seat."

There was some muffled conversation in the background. "And another one for Ramon, whose tongue alone will get him sent straight to the tenth circle. If I have any say. Ramon says hello, and that he's sorry he'll miss you this trip. They just called us to our table."

"Hello to Ramon. Are you not coming back tonight?"

"No, we've been out Christmas shopping in his pickup since this morning. He's such a manly man, he already had his all-weather tires on. We'll make it in tomorrow about noon, probably."

"The funeral isn't until two, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time to sightsee, drive around for a while before we-" He frowned. "Before I go back home. I'll miss you, Kevin, I mean it."

His friend tsked. "Well, there's always spring. Maybe we'll see you at Easter. That's the season for hope, isn't it?"

"Oi swear to it, moi son, me hand to me hard." Michael stood up.

"Hand on your hard?" An old routine. "Oh, your heart. You Irish, always drinking and then genuflecting inappropriately."

He laughed. "Take it easy, buddy. Thanks so much for letting us use the house."

"Mm. Be careful, Michael, and make it home in one piece. In ugly times the world needs artists."

"You too." Michael clicked off, putting the phone on the nightstand and walking out to the landing. If he left it in there maybe it wouldn't ring again.

When he got to the edge of the balcony Jeremy was watching for him. He'd lit the fire and was facing it, sitting on the arm of the couch. "That was Kevin," Michael announced as he came down the stairs.

"I figured."

"So, before we were so crudely interrupted, I think you were saying something. I'm all ears." He crossed the room and settled into the couch again, patting it to clear room for Jeremy beside him.

"A good hat can hide that," the boy joked, not getting up. Michael made as if to throw a pillow at him, but instead put it under his back. "It wasn't anything important," Jeremy hedged, looking at the floor.

Oh. Michael sat up on one knee so the two of them would be closer to level. "About the call, I had to fix things with Kevin. We argued last night and I couldn't just..."

He reached out and gently brushed the hair on the kid's forehead aside, avoiding the little bruise on his temple. Like Barbra Streisand with Robert Redford. He'd been wanting to do that all day but not had the nerve. "I had to, I'm sorry."

"I know."

"Tell me what you started to." He sat.

Jeremy looked down from his perch. "S'okay, really." He chose his words while he picked at the frayed knee of his jeans. "I know I've been kind of a pain today, and I didn't want to keep being so mysterious the rest of the weekend."

"You're not-"

"I want to say I really appreciated you not making me tell you what was going on when we were playing the game yesterday. I wasn't ready. When you told me about how you'd been laughing and crying, and had this knot in you..."

"Yeah?" he prompted.

"I totally understood that." The boy fell quiet and Michael didn't say anything, just put his hand on the knee in front of him.

"But it seemed like last night and today that you, uh..." He smiled and glanced sideways at the older man. "Got some of that out. Sheila says nobody ever really has one of those movie-type catharsises-"

"'Catharses,' I think."

"Whatever. One of those one-second turnarounds like Gregory Peck has in Spellbound, you know?" He snapped his fingers. "Like, 'Oh my god, I've been so blind!'"

"I know."

"Only it seemed like you did. You've been a lot more... Relaxed or whatever, I don't know. Since we got here. I want to get some of that for myself, and telling you my story would be a good place to start, I think."

"I agree." Michael playfully poked him in the ribs. "Don't forget the sex, too, having lots of sex was a really big help, relaxation-wise."

The boy smirked again, trying not to. "Shut up, you pervert. Here's the thing." He sobered and looked over. "Answer my question first. Can I go to the funeral with you?"

The older man took a second to gather the few wits he had. "Can I ask why?"

Jeremy's eyes glittered in the cold light from the fireplace. "I don't know why. But it feels important, for some reason. I'll figure it out as I go along, if you let me come. I'm sure part of it is I just don't want to go home. You know, not yet."

What? Michael actually wondered for a second if he'd heard him correctly.

But what else could he have said? When the boy noticed his jaw hanging open it was his turn to get poked in the ribs. Michael laughed unwillingly.

"Come on, man, I'm not crazy. I've had lots of time to think about what I've done, and Chicago was just... Nuts is all I can say. My aunt would have killed me when I got there. And my parents would have killed me again when I got back. They may still," he joked without much humor.

"And I'm not a twelve-year-old girl. You and I..." He'd found Michael's hand, but he let it drop and Michael didn't try to put it back. "Things like this just don't happen. It was incredible meeting you, and I'd love to stay in touch, but life doesn't go like that. Mine doesn't, anyway."

Jeremy slid down the arm of the couch next to Michael, who moved out of his way and settled next to him. They sat, side by side, looking into the fire and not talking. For the most part not even moving.

Michael's head was spinning, he couldn't think of the first thing to say. He'd spent the better part of two days convincing himself this could never work, nothing was going on and all he wanted was to help Jeremy out of his trouble. A minute ago the last thing he would have expected to hear was that in twelve hours they'd even be in the same state.

But now...

Bullshit. All of it. He couldn't be going back home. He couldn't be staying in Louisville. Not after-

God, what a tool you are. Listen to what he just said and honestly tell me you disagree with him. It's the lawyer in you, the debater, that always wants to argue and take the opposite side. You're so used to thinking you're right and everyone else is off the mark.

So if someone else takes all the words you've been fooling yourself with, and says them back to your face, who the hell is right then?

No, he argued with himself. I was wrong then and he's wrong now. I can't let him go, I've made a friend. Maybe friend isn't the word, but-

The operative word here is "made," I think. You "made" him, all right. Friend? Try butt buddy. And what became of wanting a lover, not someone to- Someone to show the ropes. Get a clue. Every one of the others was just as dumb as he is, what's the difference?

But he's got every right to be that way, he's eighteen! He doesn't know-

The one who doesn't know anything here, is you. What to even call this stupid relationship, for example. What's going on. What you want from this world. Where the two of you will even be, come tomorrow night.

He's everything the others weren't and more, and with only half their lives. He's honest, that's for sure different. And thoughtful and sincere, not to mention as sexy as they come. So good-looking the guys at home will-

Oh yes, the boys in the band. What will they say the first time the two of you have everyone over? Can't you just hear Andrew and Stephen the first time he's out of the room. They'll call you Demi and offer to help with the cost of his Boy Scout dues. They'll never let you live it down, and neither will Kevin. Don't you care what they think? What-

"What does it matter?" He said, almost unconsciously.

Jeremy stirred and looked at him sideways. "Huh?"

Michael blinked and cleared his throat, tried his best to look like he'd meant to say that aloud. "I was thinking. You're right, this was fun, and it was what it was. A crazy weekend for us both." It hurt to say the words, but he did. "No big thing.

"Monday will get here and real life'll start again. This wasn't real. It will all seem like a dream." The first true thing he'd said, and he pushed it away before it could take root. "We hooked up, isn't that what the kids say these days?"

Jeremy laughed his single laugh, twisting Michael that much more around his little finger.

"Yeah, grampa, the rad kids. They're down with that." The boy swiped his sleeve across his face and smiled the best he could.

Michael punched him in the shoulder, lightly. "Smartass. What I started to say was... What does matter, is that you want to go. To the funeral. Of course you can." Good save, finally. What a quick thinker.

"God knows I'd love to have company. I'll tell you, there's no way of knowing what we'll find. It won't be fun. Drama, tears, who knows. But sure, we'll go, and afterwards I'll drop you at your house." He turned to face the boy. "Thank you, I don't know what else to say. If it means something-"

Jeremy turned and put his arms around Michael's neck, cutting him off and burying him in curls of sweet-smelling hair. "It does. Thank you, man." Michael didn't have the strength to resist. He relaxed and and let himself be held.

But he had a thought and gently pushed the boy back a little. "Wait, did you say there was a problem of some kind? What's wrong?"

Jeremy flopped back against the cushions. "Shit, yeah, I forgot. It's, well, okay it's two problems actually. This..." He combed a hand up through his mane and let it go, to fall piece by piece into his face. When he was done all Michael could see of him was his chin.

He had to admit the boy might have a point. Jeremy parted the tangles again and flipped them behind his ears. "And I'll be honest, it's this, too." He gestured at himself from head to toes.

"Your hair and your clothes."

The kid nodded. "It's been three or four months since I got this cut, and it's a mess. I don't want to go in there with you, looking like Davy Jones. So to let you know, I feel bad about that and I can tie it back with a rubber band or something. I don't want to be disrespectful."

Michael smiled. "And?"

"Much bigger problem. What I've got on is pretty much all I have. I was in a hurry when I left so I grabbed what I absolutely needed. Underwear, socks, jeans, shirts. I had no idea it was going to snow... Oh, and also this nice new jacket somebody got for me in Edinburgh."

Michael leaned over toward Jeremy and pinched the fabric of his t-shirt like he was testing its quality. "Both these problems I have solutions to."

"Great, like what?"

"Well, it's been a very long time since I was down here, but there's a good chance there are still stores in Louisville that sell... clothes, I think they called them back in the Eighties. I remember those." He smiled.

And held up a hand when it looked like the boy was about to protest. "Quiet, I don't want to hear it. We're getting you some parachute pants and a nice Lacoste shirt. You can pay me back somehow."

"Really?" Jeremy laughed and took hold of Michael's outstretched wrist.

The older man nodded. "Bacon's or Ayr-Way should have everything we need."

"Bacon's? Dude, that hasn't been in business since I was in grade school. You mean Dillard's." He probably thought Michael had invented the name Ayr-Way.

The boy held his wrist by one hand and used the other to straighten out Michael's ring finger. He drew it toward him until the tip was just touching his bottom lip.

Michael watched Jeremy do this and immediately started to bone up. He'd been kidding about getting paid back, but he wasn't going to say no if this was the first installment.

He wriggled his ring finger to get it closer to going inside, which worked. The boy opened his mouth and let it slip in just far enough before bringing his teeth down on it lightly.

"Ohay," he managed around the blockage. Okay. "Oou haid 'holutionh.'" All three esses wrapped Jeremy's wet tongue up and around Michael's fingertip, and after the last one it stayed there and he closed his mouth. He began to slowly suck it further in between his lips.

Before he lost his mind completely, Michael rushed out "I, I used to cut hair when I was in college to make meal money. If we can ff..." Jeremy bit into the soft skin behind the knuckle in his mouth, just hard enough to keep it in place when he let go.

With both hands free he unbuttoned Michael's pants and pulled his zipper down, then released what was just behind it. Both of them fell back against the arm of the couch together.

Michael went on, "-ffind. If we can find some scissors and a comb we're set."

Sweet fuck. He closed his eyes and saw stars, most of them as red as the glasses of wine they'd downed. Jeremy said one more thing, and Michael couldn't understand him at all that time.

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