This is a mobile proxy. It is intended to visit the IOMfAtS Story Shelf on devices that would otherwise not correctly display the site. Please direct all your feedback to the friendly guy over at IOMfAtS!

Star Light, Star Bright

by Geron Kees

© Geron Kees 2017-2019 All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction and depicts sexual situations between minors. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation. Please observe the laws of your jurisdiction with regards to reading this material.

If you are not 18, you shouldn't be reading this at all. Go find a boyfriend and talk stuff over with him.

Much thanks to Brendan for the last-minute proof, and for pointing out several stars that were not so bright.

My first day of eighth grade was like my first day of seventh grade. Ride the bus to school, always a little harrowing. Smile at all the familiar faces, each now a year older, but apparently no wiser. Talk to a few of them that had managed to get on a first name basis with me the year before, though none of which I could really think of as a friend. And then find my homeroom class, and then follow through with each class that came after. It was a routine I knew, and I expected it to be the same as it had been the year before.

And it was, all the way up to fifth period, which was gym class. There was a small classroom by the gym proper, that hardly ever got used except for roll call - attendance, to you. I filed in with a few other boys, found a seat, and waited for the room to fill and the teacher to show. A lot of the guys there I knew from the year before. Maybe half the class. But there were a lot of new faces, some of them interesting, some of them even cute.

I am, by the way, quite gay. I've known who I was for a couple of years now, and I have arrived at the fatalist's viewpoint that there is nothing to be done about it. I'm not even sure I would do something about it, even if I could. I like boys, and the idea of somehow switching that perspective to seeing girls as my choice for primary companionship is just beyond me. What appeals to you is not a choice. The female mind works on a different plane from the male mind, and the female anatomy is just not as interesting to my eye as is the male anatomy. Girls are nice, and they have their place; but they lack the wonderful attraction that somehow makes boys special. Boys are often beautiful and appealing, in a mysterious way that girls just cannot match.

No, I am gay to stay.

Eighth grade, the very first day. Everything is going according to plan, right up until the moment I sat down in the gym classroom for attendance to be taken. Guys are coming in, singly and in groups, and I'm only paying half a mind to it all.

Until he came into the room. A face I had never seen before, not familiar in any way. Not stunning, not beautiful beyond belief - just nice. Brown hair, blue eyes, just like me. Likeable features, clear, intelligent eyes. He was maybe an inch or so taller than me, his hair was cut a lot like mine, and he was, actually, kind of average-looking. Also like me.

Until he smiled. He did that, as someone already seated poked a finger at him as he was going by, causing him to laugh and dance away. In that single, small second, I fell in love. Or lust. I didn't know enough at that point to differentiate the two, and a small voice within my head said we could determine the actual result later, and not to worry about it now. Not that I could have, anyway.

I felt my body freeze up as I tried to look at this boy without openly staring. He found a seat, continued to grin at the guy that had poked at him. I continued to watch, shuffling my books in front of me so as to not be obvious about it.

He apparently knew the boy who had poked at him, and that guy now leaned over and whispered something at the new boy - at the boy I was watching. Once again his face broke into a smile, and he laughed, and I thought I would melt and flow out of my chair to the floor.

When he smiled...when he laughed...he was beautiful.

I've read about love. It usually comes on slowly, and builds, and has time for the person that is doing the loving to both accept it and understand it a little. That's why they call it falling in love. You never start to take a tumble, and then arrive upon the floor without the passage of time. There is always that small interval between the loss of balance and striking the floor, when you realize what is happening, and at least get to yell, "Oh, shit!"

But that did not happen here. Quite suddenly, I was spread-eagle upon the floor, with no idea how I had gotten there. Even gravity is not that quick. But maybe love is? Or lust?

I love my parents, but even I cannot recall if that was true the first day I came into the world. The concept of love had to wait a brief period, while my cognitive skills developed into something that could approach order, and my language skills into something that could speak of love.

I've had a definition of love all along, I suppose, although it was untested outside of the type of love I had for my parents. And that love is non-sexual in nature, which, oddly enough, makes it a benchmark for the real thing. Love needs to be separated from lust, which is less intellectual in nature, less emotional, and which seems to derive from whispered comments made to one's brain from one's gonads. So I sat there a moment longer, trying to determine if this was actually love I was feeling, or just some very blatant hoots and hollers from my testicles announcing that the target was now in sight.

If this new boy simply spoke to me, and smiled at me, would this be enough? Or, would I feel the need to jump into his jeans with him, and feel the warmth of his bare flesh against mine?

Oh. Maybe I shouldn't have put it that way. I instantly felt an erection occurring within my own jeans, and took that as proof that I did feel some lust for this guy. Oh...yes. The very idea of my skin against his was unbelievably thrilling! What would it be like to kiss him? Touch his hair? Close my eyes and rub my face against his...?

"Griffin Ballard?"

What? I focused, and realized that the teacher, Coach Edwards, had not only come in and sat himself at the barren desk at the front of the room, but also was reading down a list of names on a clipboard he held before him.

He was gazing about the room expectantly...and then in annoyance.

That was my name!

I stuck my hand up, but just nodded, because my tongue was still wrapped around my teeth with thoughts of the new boy. My eyes were still on him, surreptitiously is the word, and I was trying to see the coach and nod my head and act normal while my eyes were caressing this boy's cheek and my heart was swimming around in my shoes.

Coach Edwards frowned at me, which immediately clued me in to the fact that I was not acting in the accepted manner for roll call. "Do you have a voice, Mr. Ballard?"

"Yedthirt," I managed, around that stupid, obsessed tongue.

Some of the other guys snickered at me, and I worked some spit into my mouth and swallowed. "Sorry. Yes, sir."

"Are you feeling okay, son?"

Again, the snickering.

"Yes, sir. My mouth was just really dry there for a moment."

Coach Edwards looked at the class and gave a small, professional smile. "I require a verbal acknowledgement when I call roll, so anyone with a dry mouth, please stop at the water fountain on the way in. Is that clear to everyone?" His eyes came back to me for a moment, and I nodded and mumbled yessir just like everyone else.

And then I went back to watching the new boy, because by then I really wanted to know his name.

Names have power, you know. If you see a pretty face in public somewhere, one that touches your heart, but that person just goes on by, into and back out of your existence all at one time, all you can ever think of him as is "that cute guy at the mall". Or, maybe more fondly, as "mallboy". Even that has no personal touch to it, not like knowing someone's name. Know their name, and you own a very small, very personal part of them, something you can remember that instant of contact by, which is better than nothing at all.

So I watched, and listened, as Coach Edwards went down his class list.

"Benny Cooper?"

The new boy, the cute and sweet and beautiful boy that now had my heart - or my nuts - in his hand, nodded and raised his hand. "Here."

Benny Cooper.

So now I knew. I was in love with a guy named Benny Cooper. Um, or lust. Final determination to be made later.

I hadn't noticed him in any of my other classes, and I sure would have remembered. And he turned out not to be in any of my other classes the rest of the day, just one of those things that can happen in the odd world of student scheduling. But it was still disappointing in the extreme. Were it not for gym, I would not have the pleasure of being around Benny at all!

So gym class became my new favorite class, even though I was not really a gym kind of guy. A couple of weeks went by, and I managed to be around Benny enough to see his face, his smile, and to hear the sound of his voice. I was a little upset by my inability to talk to him, though. Normally, I was very good with people. But somehow, all I could do was watch Benny, admire him, desire him...and remain quiet about all of it. Like if I said something to him, something would break, come apart, or otherwise ruin my place in the cheering section of Benny Cooper's life.

Our eyes touched a few times, just in passing, and he always seemed to smile. I would smile back, unable not to, but also unable to do more. Like something inside me had frozen at the first sight of this boy, and showed no sign of thawing out as time went by. Gym class afforded me more than an occasional eyeful of "my Benny", as I had come to think of him. I thought I would die the first time we went shirts and skins for basketball, and Benny wound up in his skin. I could see the muscles move under his skin as he ran and jumped, and laughed and smiled. He was gorgeous all over, and because he was not bashful about his body, I soon got to see even more of him in the locker room each day.

The class was about evenly divided between guys that showered after class and guys that didn't. It wasn't required, and a lot of guys just didn't want to do it. I was one of those guys, until I found out that Benny was one of the ones that did shower. He didn't shower at first, but then one day, he did. And so I did, too, because it meant having a legitimate reason to remain in the locker room after class and observe. By some miracle of fate, his locker was in my row, just three doors down from me, and so then I got to see him without his clothes just about every day.

And that created new problems for me.

Just looking at Benny was enough to make me dreamy. On the odd occasion when he would look up and we'd touch eyes, he would smile - just a polite thing to do when something like that happens - and I would get weak in the knees. But when he would sit on the bench just six feet away from me and start undressing, I was alarmed to find that I was getting an erection - um, a boner. I'd try not to look, but I just couldn't. Even hiding my interest, I'd still get hard.

And that would usually lead to trouble.

I can't help it. My penis knows my secret heart. Nature apparently built that item into us, from the first day, so that one human being could be peeling an apple while reading War and Peace, and still be able to let another human being know that they wanted to get horny-dog with them, without ever saying a word. Boner's are nature's flagpoles, and brother, when you run something up one, people take notice!

In the locker room, if you are careless enough to display one, most guys just grin, maybe, or look the other way, or pretend not to notice. I would try to keep mine covered when Benny was near, which just wasn't all that easy. Most guys showered in their underwear, and wrapped a towel around themselves when they were done. A lot of guys returned to their lockers, pulled their underwear off from beneath their towels, patted themselves dry, and then pulled a clean pair of underwear up under the towel. You didn't see much that way.

Others simply came back, sat down, pulled the towel off, then their underwear, and then dried themselves in full view. No fear whatsoever. Benny turned out to be one of those, and it created an instant problem for me.

Not just a little wood, but a full-fledged hard-on, one that stood straight out from my body, and which no towel in existence couldn't somehow manage to show off to everyone.

The only thing that saved me was that I wasn't the only guy to ever get hard. There were others, most of whom were just as panicked about it as I was. Especially as boners are contagious: one guy sees another guy with one, and there he goes! So like I say, most guys just pretended not to notice. There are always a few, though, that not only notice, but let you know that they have, too, and loudly.

That would be Gary Spain. </;p>

Gary is my arch enemy, the Joker to my Batman. His locker is in the next row over, but he has a friend, Jerry Creed, whose locker is in our row, and Gary always seems to be hanging about, wrapped in a towel, talking to Jerry and watching me, so that he can give me hell if he sees something he thinks is funny.

Like today.

"Hah! Look at Griffin! He's got a pooch between his legs! Wiener dog! Wiener dog!"

That was Gary, god's gift to ignorance.

I put my gym shorts in my lap to cover my boner and just ignored him. It wasn't the first time he'd pointed me out, and wouldn't be the last, I was sure. Everybody else sitting around just ignored him, too, because no one wanted Gary's attention to shift to them. That's the thing about most hecklers - any target will do.

My wood just seemed to get harder for having been noticed. Damn that thing! What good is having the world's best secret in your head, when you have a dumb sign hanging around your neck - or your crotch, rather - that says, in big red letters, "I've got the hots for Benny Cooper!"

It would be different, if Benny was a girl. You get caught mooning over the opposite sex, everybody wants in. They smile. Guys will punch you on the shoulder and grin, and wink, and ask you if you've tagged that yet. Like you're joining a club where everybody says they have, but none of them really have at all. And adults love it when two young people are in love, because it reminds them of when they were young. If the two people in love are a boy and a girl, that is.

But Benny is a guy, thirteen like me, and totally unaware that I am in love with him. Or lust. Even when we're in gym class, and my flag is up the pole, and waving in the breeze with a big smile on its face.

"Grow up!" I finally said, disgustedly, after Gary continued to leer at me, trying to cover my embarrassment with the very real irritation I had at being discovered again. "What are you doing watching my wanker, anyway?"

"It's not like you can hide that thing, sticking out like that," Gary went on, a big grin on his freckled face. He had red hair, and red eyelashes around his green eyes, which made him look slightly like an alien in a Luc Besson science fiction movie. "All I can say is that it shouldn't be doing what it's doing with nothing but guys around!"

I became aware that Benny, who had the locker three down from mine, had taken the towel he was drying himself with and laid it across his thighs. Up until now, he had minded his own business when Gary went off at me. But this time, he was frowning, his eyes following the conversation back and forth between me and Gary.

"Hey, Spain," he suddenly said. "Why don't you go jerk off in the towel closet again, and leave this guy alone?"

I felt my eyes bug out at that, and my mouth drop open.

Gary's eyes also got big, and his face got very, very red. As red as his hair, even. "What?"

"You heard me," Benny said quietly. "Or maybe you didn't. I can say it louder. A lot louder, if you like."

Gary's face clouded instantly. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Benny suddenly looked very serious. "I'm the guy that's going to tell the whole damn school about you getting caught wanking in the towel closet, if you don't shut your mouth and go away." He suddenly smiled. "Your locker is in the next row, isn't it? You shouldn't be over here spying on Griffin's peter, anyway, no matter how much you want it. This is a no-homo zone, dude, and you're polluting the atmosphere with all this dick-talk."

Jerry Creed laughed out loud, looking like he thought it was all a joke. But Gary sputtered, looked embarrassed first and scared second, and then went away without another word. That told me that he really had been caught wanking in the towel closet. could Benny know?

Jerry Creed shook his head, looking surprised, finished tying his shoes, closed his locker, and took off after Gary. Now it was just Benny and I, alone.

I was embarrassed about my wood, and embarrassed that the invisible barrier between Benny and I had so suddenly been taken down. I was used to that barrier, behind which I hid in plain sight and watched him, and adored him, and/or lusted after his super fine body, actual result to be determined later. All this, while he didn't notice me at all.

But he was noticing me now.

Benny grinned at Gary's retreating back, and then slid closer, his bare butt cheeks making cute little squeaky noises on the polished wood of the bench. Oh, I thought I'd die!

"That guy's a dickhead. I'm surprised you haven't messed him up yet."

I momentarily froze, aware that Benny was naked under the towel draped across his lap, and the fact that he was closer to me now than he had ever been before. And that I was naked under what I had in my lap. We were naked together!

Benny watched me quietly. He had just the clearest blue eyes, too. They simply oozed a bright inquisitiveness that made my dick even harder, and I pushed down gently on my gym shorts, afraid that if I didn't, my pud would stand straight up and then we'd both be aware that I had the hots for Benny.

"Yeah, he is a prick," I finally forced out, reaching back for my own towel. My hair was still wet from the shower, and I figured if I dried it one more time I could then lay the towel in my lap for some extra protection.

"I was kidding about that no-homo zone," Benny whispered then, smiling. "I just wanted that asshole to go away. No offense, okay?"

I froze up all over again. What was he saying?

"I'm Ben Cooper," he said then, sticking out a hand.

I looked at it, Benny's hand, wanting to touch mine. Even if my head was frozen, my hand wasn't. It stuck out, grabbed his, and shook.

It was kind of like when you shuffle across a wool rug in the dead of winter and then touch something metal that's grounded. My hand crackled with sparks at his touch, but I simply couldn't let go until he did.

"Griffin Ballard," I managed. "I thought your name was 'Benny'?"

I just said it, without thinking. I'd heard Coach Edwards call him by that name since the first day of gym.

He laughed. "Just Mr. Edwards calls me that. He and my dad go to the same gym." He waved a hand at the world. "You know - an out there gym." He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "That's how I know about Spain getting caught wanking in the towel closet."

I couldn't help it, I grinned. In all my imaginings about the first time I talked to Benny, I'd never quite imagined this. Us sitting naked, two feet apart, talking about Gary Spain beating his meat in the towel closet. I laughed. "That really happened?"

"Damn straight. Mr. Edwards opened the door and caught him dead to rights, right in mid-pull."

The look on Benny's face was wonderfully amused, and I couldn't help laughing. Too hard, maybe, but I couldn't help it. I was talking to Benny!

He looked quickly around, and then nodded at me. "He likes you, you know."

I stared at him a moment, not quite getting it. "Who? Gary?"

Benny seemed surprised at my reaction. "Well...yeah. Why do you think he's always over here watching you?"

I couldn't help but to frown. "I thought he hated me, and just wanted to make every day of my life miserable."

Benny laughed. His eyes reflected the light from the fluorescents hanging overhead, just all these wonderful little sparkles that made my heart pound like mad.

"Nah. He's got the hots for you, dude."

I felt my face get warm. Gary liked me? "How do you know that?"

"You didn't know?" Benny watched me, and I had the weirdest feeling that this guy somehow knew some things I didn't.

I shook my head. "No. And I kind of wish I still didn't know."

He laughed again. And then he did it: he reached over and pressed his fingertips into my upper arm. There was something close and personal about that, not something a stranger would do. "Oh, come on. How could you miss it?"

"I didn't know," I said again, still feeling his touch on my skin. "He makes me miserable. I never saw that as a positive form of contact."

Benny blinked, and cocked his head at me, maybe at the way I'd just said what I'd said. "Wow. I just thought he wasn't your type or something."

Again I felt stunned. Benny was acting as if he knew I was gay!

For just a moment all the sweet things I felt for this guy went on hold. He had just walked up to what I considered my most closely held defenses, and calmly took a swing at them.

I felt my eyes narrow all on their own. "What are you trying to say?"

I couldn't help it, but the tone of my voice sounded threatening, even to me. It must not have been the reaction he was expecting. Suddenly, a nervous note crept into his eyes, and I could almost feel him backing away. "I'm sorry. Maybe I made a mistake."

And then he did back away. No sliding his butt cheeks this time. He stood, and walked back to his locker. Even the cute shot of his butt I got didn't seem to filter through my sudden bout of confusion.

In that instant, I felt like the world had just fallen down around me. What had I done wrong?

But...I already knew. Intuition, backed up with unusually slow reasoning on my part, had finally arrived in my forebrain.

I had just been approached about the possibility of being gay, and had basically denied it outright. It was purely a reflexive move on my part, the first time that I had ever even suspected that anyone might know I liked guys. It had been a shock, and I had reacted without thinking. Reacted wrongly.

Benny cast a quick look my way, and it seemed somehow filled with disappointment. At that moment, I think something in my heart broke.

I stood, went to him, and sat down next to him. "I'm sorry," I said immediately.

He had gone back to drying himself, and had lifted the towel from his lap. I had a clear look at his penis, which was just as beautiful as could be. And...wonder of wonders, it did not look like it was completely flaccid, either!

But it was just a glimpse, and then he put the towel back down. His eyes widened a little, and I realized then that he had seen me checking out his crotch. I watched him, waiting to see what would happen next.

He smiled at me. "I heard you were kind of an Einstein or something. Is that true?"

Again, I was astonished. For the first time ever I was faced with the idea that maybe I had been fooling myself on the effectiveness of my disguise. I mean, I try not to broadcast the fact that I have a little more going on upstairs than a lot of kids my age, but dumbing down is a conscious act. What about all the unconscious things I did? Was I somehow showing more to others than I had ever dreamed?

"No," I said, trying not to grin. "I just like to read."

That much was true. Most of what I knew had entered my skull through my eyes.

He leaned forward. "I also heard you were interested in astronomy."

It wasn't a question, so much. "Yes." I was, and had to agree to that one. And now I wondered how that bit of knowledge about me had gotten around. The only time...oh, wait. Jennie Bailey and Kat Hunter had seen me in the park last week with my telescope, skywatching. But...they had just been walking by, and hadn't even said hello. Had that little bit been enough to start a rumor?

Man! Don't people have anything better to do than talk about others?

Benny sat back, his smile expanding. "Well, so am I." He looked around the locker room, and waved a hand. "That makes two of us, in this whole gym. I've waited a long time to find someone to talk to about that kind of stuff."

I felt something go through my body that I just knew had to be a thrill. Unless you've ever experienced one, it cannot be explained. Up until that point, I had never been thrilled. Not like that anyway.

I cleared my throat and moved my tongue around inside my mouth. It was trying to get dry in there again, and I wasn't having that just now. "Well, would you like to get together after school to talk? We, we could go by my house, and you can see my telescope."

Benny watched me, his eyes moving back and forth as he seemed to be studying my face for hidden pitfalls. I suddenly realized I was not so good at this as I had thought. I tend to think I have a handle on everything, and I am always surprised when I see I don't. My dad once warned me that my observance of my surroundings was somewhat narrow at times, especially when it came to people. Discounting the intelligence of my physical age group has always been a problem for me. Preconceptions are a killer for a reasoning thinker.

"I promise I won't bite," I added, hopefully.

It made him smile. "Okay." He picked up his towel from his lap, watching my face, and I suddenly realized he was deliberately showing himself to me. I couldn't stop my eyes from glancing down, and I could see then that his penis had become harder. Benny was getting an erection!

I don't know what made me do it. But I picked up the stuff in my lap, and let Benny see my penis. It wasn't hard for him to spot...or rather, it most certainly was. When I get erect, my penis stands straight out.

His eyes flicked down, and his cheeks reddened just the tiniest bit. But he didn't look away, and he didn't look upset with me. I came to the conclusion that Benny liked having a look at my equipment, and that, wonder of wonders, I was having my first legitimate homosexual encounter. And it felt...pretty wonderful. There's probably a better word for it, but I just couldn't think of it at that moment.

For a full minute or so, neither of us said a word. We each dried ourselves, and I watched Benny watch my penis, and I also watched Benny's penis rapidly getting harder as he watched. He also had a beautiful set of nuts. Not too big, not too small. Just right. It made me wonder what he thought of my testicles, as we were roughly the same size and coloration. Did he like my junk?

I was certain, then, that what we were doing had about as much to do with astronomy as a box of cat litter had to do with French cuisine.

I licked my lips then, not wanting the moment to end, but afraid that Jerry would return, or someone else would see us eyeballing each other's dongs.

"We should get dressed," I said, quietly.

He nodded, lifting his eyes to meet mine. "Um, yeah. We can talk more about this later."

To any listener it sounded like he meant talk about astronomy later. But somehow I knew - and I knew that Benny knew - we were talking about the attraction it now seemed apparent that we seemed to be feeling for each other.

I nodded, feeling a little numb, and a little elated, and just a little unreal, and got up and went back to sit in front of my locker. As I sat I quickly glanced back at Benny, and caught his look, and realized he had been examining my bare butt as I walked away.

I was sure then, that I was not the only gay guy present at that moment.

Love, or lust?

Maybe that's what we would find out about, later.

We met out in front of the school at the end of the day. Benny did not ride my bus, but it turned out that he lived fairly close to me, anyway. The park where I sometimes used my telescope was about exactly between us, which meant our houses were in easy walking distance of each other. That made getting together later easy to work out.

Benny could not just hop aboard my bus, nor I his. There were rules, and for someone to ride a bus other than their regular one, there needed to be something set up beforehand. My bus driver, Mr. Confort, was not the sort to let a strange kid ride his bus without a note from a parent with a phone number attached. But, as it turned out, it was not necessary.

"It takes me maybe five minutes to walk to the park," Benny said, nodding. "When I get home, I'll change, and meet you there, okay?"

"That sounds amenable to me," I returned, and then grimaced. "I mean, uh, cool."

He tossed a laugh at me, but there wasn't a mean bone in its body. "You sure got a way about you, Griff."

I felt my eyes widen at this new and personal interpretation of my name. "Okay...Benny."

He made a small face. "I told you, only Mr. Edwards calls me that."

"And now me," I returned, grinning.

He watched me a moment, then smiled when he saw I was serious. He nodded, and turned to head for his bus. "See you in about a half hour. Meet you by the baseball field, okay?"

I smiled and nodded, feeling little tingly pulses at the idea, and turned to get onto my bus.

The trip home was kind of a blur. I had not only spoken to the boy of my dreams, but I now strongly suspected that he was both gay and interested in me. Me! The pure beauty of the idea warred with the ultimate strangeness of it. Was this really how relationships were formed? Was this how love happened, and progressed, and became a special thing between two people?

I already knew I liked Benny, besides the love/lust - to be determined later - thing that had already been going on up until now. I found I could close my eyes and see him in my mind, sitting there on the bench in the school locker room, his towel lifted, his penis visible, and his eyes watching me to see how I was taking it. Benny had showed me his junk, to use the native term, and had done so deliberately. Was it an offering? Or a tease?

Or, maybe a bit of both? I knew one thing: I wanted to find out. That I was prepared to offer my body to Benny if he offered his, was just this absolute surprise to me. I had envisioned such a thing, but the actuality of the way it felt in my mind was still a little shocking. I had never felt such a strong impulse to touch and be touched by another person, ever.

I got off at my stop, stumbled down the block to the house. My parents are chemists, and commute to the city each day. They would not be home for several hours. I left a note on the kitchen table telling them where I was going, just in case they got home before me. And then I ran up the stairs to my room.

October is the glory month, for many reasons. Fall sets in hard, the leaves become brilliantly ablaze with color and began to fall in earnest, and the sky is full of things to see and marvel at. I had already viewed Neptune at opposition, during its closest approach to Earth, back in September, and Mercury at its greatest western elongation, when it is at its highest point above the horizon. The Equinox had come and gone, and now we were entering a period of great sky activity, which would last through the Christmas season.

The perfect time of year to be skywatching with a new friend.

And, the weather had been cooperating this year, an Indian Summer languishing about, leaving it warm enough most days for shorts and a tee-shirt. The evenings were chilly, maybe, but that offered up the possibility of some snuggling with a certain someone beneath a darkened and never judgmental sky. I felt light-headed at that thought of it!

Tonight held a full moon, the Hunter's Moon, the Blood Moon. It was also the night before the start of the Draconids meteor shower, kind of an unfortunate coincidence, because the bright moon would diminish the shower greatly, and it was already a minor shower to begin with. But...would I really be focused on the sky, anyway?

I changed into shorts and a dark tee-shirt, winked at my telescope standing on its tripod in the corner. You, and me, and Benny. It's a date!

I grabbed my door key and hung it around my neck, and headed downstairs and out, locking the front door. The afternoon sunshine looked brighter than usual, the sky bluer, and the world just better in general. A warm breeze washed over me as I headed down the street for the park, and I don't think I had ever felt more anxious - or expectant - in my life.

It was a five-minute walk, and as soon as the great open area that held the baseball diamond came into view I stepped up my pace to a jog. I wanted to see Benny again - I needed to see Benny again. That everything that had happened earlier was some kind of imaginative dream seemed unlikely, but the sense of unreality I was feeling just then at the idea of Benny and I getting closer was distressing.

I need not have worried. Even as I drew up by the backstop, there was Benny, leaning against the chain link insert, one foot drawn up on the rail that ran around its base. He was wearing shorts and a tank top, and he looked just gorgeous to my eyes. I bounced up to him, grinning, and his eyes lit up as he saw me.

"There you are."

I nodded. "Been here long?"

"Nope. I just got here. Maybe two minutes." He grinned. "You're punctual, anyway."

I laughed. "Well, I really wanted to get here. I mean, you know, so that we can talk about astronomy."

He pushed away from the backstop and came towards me, and put an arm around my shoulders and turned me around. "Let's walk back towards your house and talk on the way."

I wanted to giggle at that, I felt so stupid just then. "Any reason we're going to my house?"

"You said you had a telescope, right?"

I nodded, and he pulled his arm away and we walked along silently a moment. Finally, he sighed. "Um, what kind of scope is it?"

I blinked, because for just a second I couldn't remember! Oh...there it was!

"Um, it's a Celestron. An eight-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain."

Benny stopped suddenly, and when I turned to look at him, he was staring. "No shit?"

I nodded. "No shit."

He blew out a little burst of air. "Wow! I've seen them online, but I never...they cost a fortune!"

I shrugged. "It's my dad's and mine, although I'm the one that uses it the most." I grinned. "I have a thing for planets."

Benny smiled, and started walking again. "Wow. I have a little refractor, and it's great for looking at the moon, and planets like Saturn." He moved closer. "You see any of the outer planets with yours?"

"Yes. I just observed Neptune the other evening, when it was at opposition."

Benny squinted. "That's when it's nearest to us?"

"Right. I imaged it, if you'd like to see the pictures."

He stopped again. "You can take pictures through your scope?"

I knew that smaller telescopes, and especially if they were refractors, were not usually equipped to do this. "Sure. We have an Orion StarShoot."

Benny laughed. "I don't know what that is, but I'll bet it's cool."

I felt a warm glow inside, that I had something of interest to offer to Benny. "You have an image prism for your refractor?"

"Uh-huh. Otherwise everything is upside-down."

"Yeah, well, Schmidt-Cassegrains are catadioptric, meaning they use both refraction and reflection to obtain their images, and they require image correction, too. We have an image erector prism for normal viewing, but we mostly use an imager and look at things on a laptop. Our scope has a Nextstar computer, which uses GPS to find where it is located on the surface of the Earth. You enter the heavenly object you wish to observe, and the scope finds it in the sky for you."

"That sounds so cool!" Benny gushed, and I could sense his excitement.

I slowed, watching him. "Come over one night, and we can look at the sky together."

His eyes sparkled at me. "Okay."

We went on, quiet for the moment, just enjoying the day, and the walk. And the company.

Again, I was struck by the strangeness of how everything felt. It had been just amazingly fast, going from worshipping Benny from afar to knowing him and being with him. Just like that, it seemed. I still couldn't quite believe I was walking with him now. It really was an example of a dream coming true.

"I've wanted to meet you for a while," I suddenly blurted...and then felt stupid. Now, why had I gone and said that?

But Benny just smiled at me. "I've been noticing you, too."

The way he smiled carried me right out of my embarrassing moment. "Really?"

"Uh huh."

I examined the tips of my shoes as my feet moved beneath me. "Because I'm into astronomy?"

Benny laughed. "I only learned that yesterday. But that was the thing that finally pushed me over, I guess." He shrugged. "I noticed you at first because you...seem interesting."

I looked over, and now Benny seemed to be examining his shoes. Was that just a little bit of embarrassment there?

I reached over and gave him a little push, and he looked up and smiled at me. And then he gave me a little push, and we both laughed, and kept on going.

"I can't believe we live so close together and didn't know it," he said, as we walked up to my house.

"Yeah. If I lived one street closer to you, I'd ride your bus to school."

We scaled the front steps, and I pulled my key from my shirt and stuck it in the lock.

"Who am I going to see?" Benny asked then. "Your mom or your pop?"

"Neither. They both work at the same company in town, and they won't be home until about six."

Benny's eyebrows went up, and he gave the house another look. "We're alone?"

"Yeah. Is that okay?"

He laughed. "Doesn't bother me."

We went inside, and I took him straight up to my room to see the scope. His eyes got big, and he made slightly worshipful sounds as I explained how the mount operated to find and track objects in the sky.

"I'd love to see it work," he finally said, giving me an almost puppy dog look that just melted my heart.

"Can you come over on the nineteenth?" I asked, grinning. "Uranus will be in opposition that night, and there is also a new moon, so it will be dark. We can take the scope out and look at the seventh planet together." I shrugged. "It's mostly a blue-green dot, but at least you can say you saw it."

Benny nodded vigorously. "Count me in. Is that a school night?"

I had already checked, and so I knew the answer. "Yep. It's a Thursday night. Does that matter?"

"No. I just have to be in at eleven on a school night." He gave a small grunt. "And that's not start home at eleven, that's be inside the house at eleven."

I nodded slowly. "That's plenty of time. The viewing will be good all night, as long as the weather cooperates."

He gave me a little smile, and then walked around my room, examining my Mars and moon globes, my little model of the solar system, and the bookcase full of books I had, only a couple of dozen of which pertained to astronomical subjects. The rest were all history, other sciences, and literature. He took in the posters I had of the Martian surface, and the big black and white pic of Richard Feynman, smiling.

"Who's that?"

I rolled a shoulder, explaining that Feynman had been a theoretical physicist, and the mind behind quantum computing and nanotechnology, among many other things. "He was also an influential contributor to the studies of the four forces of nature: the electromagnetic, the weak force, the strong force, and gravity."

Benny stared at me. "You really are a brain, aren't you?"

For just a moment I froze, mostly at the way he was looking at me. I didn't know how to take what he had just said, feeling it almost a put-down of some kind.

It must have shown on my face. He frowned, and came over to me. "I didn't mean it to sound like I was riding you. It's make me feel dumb."

He was just a foot away from me, looking into my eyes, and I could see then he had not meant to insult me. I smiled weakly. "I like to read, and I find everything interesting, and I have a good memory. That's all."

He nodded, still looking at me, and I stood there and looked back. Benny's face was a mystery-mix of emotions, coming and going. His eyes roved over my face, and I could see him working up to something.

"Do you like me?" he asked softly.

My breath caught, and my eyes searched his face again; but all I saw there was openness. Yet what Benny was asking and what he was meaning seemed different, somehow. In that short second I watched him, I understood that what he was really asking was whether or not I needed him. Whether or not I wanted him.

"Yes," I returned, just as softly.

He bit at his lip. "How much?"

I had to laugh at that. "A lot."

He smiled, looking pleased, and nodded. "Me, too. Like you a lot, I mean."

That filled me with warmth, because I got that he was saying he needed me, too. I scratched the side of my head. "Considering that we just met, that's pretty good, huh?"

He sighed, sounding pleased, and sat down on the edge of my bed. "Can I take my shoes off?"

"Sure." I immediately stepped on the heel of one of mine and popped it off, followed by the other. He followed suit, and then I sat down next to him. "What do you want to do?"

He sighed again, and laid back onto my mattress, laying his hands down on either side of his head. He watched me, but didn't say anything. I could not help letting my eyes run over him, seeing what I could of his body outlined through his clothing. It looked to me like he had half an erection already, the crotch of his shorts arched in a fashion that suggested some small bit of stress placed from the inside. He was beautiful, laying there, and I wanted to lay with him.

"I don't know," he finally said, looking up at me. "What do you want to do?"

Brother. I couldn't say what I really wanted to do. I laid down on my side next to him and propped my head up on my hand. I felt my penis coming up, and despite trying to think about other things, Benny was just too close, too achingly appealing, for me to have any other reaction. I thought about crossing my legs, and then decided I would just wait and see what happened.

He noticed pretty quickly, and laughed, and rolled onto his side to face me and propped his head up, too. He fixed his eyes on my crotch, which made my erection stand straight up and press painfully against the inside of my shorts.

I just watched him though, waiting, until...

His shorts, already mildly stressed, now started to tent up in the front. In fact, they came up rapidly, until he and I looked pretty much the same.

"I see some wood," Benny said, sounding playful.

"Me, too," I felt kind of dumb, like we were playing some really childish game...but at the same time, I was just delighted right down to my core.

"You did that in the locker room today," Benny noted, his eyes bright.

"Seems I wasn't the only one," I returned, raising my eyebrows pointedly.

He nodded. "I wonder why that happens?"

I gave a little laugh, because I knew full well why it happened. I could see that Benny was having fun with me. I wanted to have fun, too.

"Well, mine stands up when it sees someone it likes," I dared.

Benny looked surprised, and then delighted. "So it sees someone it likes now?"

"I'll say," I admitted, pulling no punches.

He leaned a little closer. "I think mine see someone it likes, too."

For a long moment we just smiled at each other. I felt my throat getting dry, and my heart pacing along at a gallop. That we were playing a most special game here was apparent to me now.

"What do we do next?" I breathed.

Benny licked his lips, and reached towards me with his free hand, watching my eyes to see how I would react. I just remained still, watching him back. His hand continued forward...and suddenly his fingertips brushed the head of my penis.

Oh! My hips jerked backwards in reflex. I had never been touched there by anyone else, and the feeling was nothing like what it was like when I touched myself. The disconnect to the touch was intense.

Benny grinned at me, and I grinned back. That must have been the signal to proceed, because Benny let his hand drift forward, and he slowly rubbed my penis through the material of my shorts. I closed my eyes and felt that...that most amazing of things. Being touched there, by someone else.

Someone else I loved. Or lusted after, still to be determined.

Benny let his fingers slide down the shaft of my penis, and then they pushed beneath and he gently inspected my testicles, which was just as thrilling to experience. I opened my eyes then, knowing what needed to occur next.

I reached out, and touched the shape of Benny's penis through his shorts. His eyes widened, and he made a small, very sexy noise, that only encouraged me to explore farther. I slid myself closer to him, and began a full-scale exploration of his crotch, while he performed the same for me. It was an exquisite thing, causing the entire middle of my body to throb with an inner joy. Benny's eyes were slitted, and I could hear him breathing quickly. He was aroused, which was incredibly arousing for me to know, and I closed my eyes and tried to slow my heart...but couldn't.

I felt his hand slide up to the waistband of my shorts, and then his fingers were inside...inside my shorts and inside my underwear. His hand pulled down, pulling my shorts down in the front. His fingertips pressed against me, gently exploring the thin patch of my pubes. It was a delicate touch, carrying both interest and a plain desire not to push me too hard or too quickly, to not worry me or make me draw away. Not that I could, or would.

I sighed, and went for the waistband of his shorts, and was soon running my own fingertips through the soft, sparse patch of his pubes. It was excruciatingly personal, the most personal thing I had ever done with another. The idea of suddenly being so close to him, so personal with him, made me want to be even closer to him.

I leaned my head forward, and pressed my cheek against his. He made a small, moaning sound, and then his hand sank down into my underwear, and he was holding my penis in his fingers. I felt a neural surge of intense pleasure shoot up my middle, and gasped. But I immediately responded by pushing my hand further down into his underwear, and finally curled my fingers around the beautiful penis I had seen earlier that day in the locker room at school. I had wanted it then, and I wanted it now, even more so.

We gently rolled our cheeks together, feeling the warmth of each other's faces, while gently feeling and squeezing each other's organs.

And then, Benny began to masturbate me. I gasped again, at the just unbelievably pleasing feel of that act, and moved my hand to respond in kind. We stroked each other, gasping and pushing our faces together, huffing and moaning, and enjoying the hell out of it.

I realized then where this was going, that he was going to bring me to orgasm...and I him. It somehow made me stroke him faster, which made him stroke me faster, and we both huffed and rocked and felt the warm breath of the other upon our faces.

It didn't take long. Benny gave a sweet, small moan, pressed closer to me...and then I felt the warmth of his semen as it jetted out inside his underwear. It had no place to go but back onto my hand, and the warm, body-temperature feel of it as it ran between my fingers was just so thrilling that my buttocks suddenly squeezed together, and I was ejaculating myself. It was the best orgasm I had ever felt, and the first one I had ever shared with anyone.

It was over then, though the aftermath of it went on a bit. We rubbed our faces together for a bit after, and then finally pulled apart and opened our eyes. Benny looked over at me, and pulled his hand out of my underwear. I smiled as it emerged, with thin streaks of my ejaculate running down his fingers. He laughed, turning his hand to look at it.

I pulled my hand out of his underwear and stared at it, saw the glistening streaks on my own fingers. Benny's cum!

Benny brought his hand back carefully and sniffed at his fingers, and then grinned at me. "Smells familiar."

And then he did something I just could not believe: he brought one coated finger to his mouth, darted out the tip of his tongue, and tasted my cum!

My mouth just dropped open. I'm no neophyte. I have seen quite a bit of gay sex online, including plenty of oral. But...seeing sex online and having someone taste your sperm...that isn't the same thing, not at all.

He grinned at me, rubbing his tongue around inside his mouth. "Mmm. Tastes familiar, too."

I closed my mouth, and daintily brought my hand back and sniffed it. The nutty, ocean salt smell was quite familiar. I had tasted my semen before...and now, I realized, I wanted to taste Benny's. I stuck out my tongue, and rubbed the tip of it along the glistening streak on my finger.

Benny hooted in delight, rocking back and forth, looking ecstatic. "How is it, Griffin?"

I smiled. It tasted like my cum, and it didn't. But I halfway suspected that the didn't part was simply due to knowing that it wasn't mine. "Not bad," I said, smiling. "Not bad at all."

That seemed to delight Benny even more. "Oh, man, I've wanted to do that with someone for so long! I knew it would be you, the first time I saw you!"

That kind of shocked me. "You did?"

He nodded. "I wanted you to like me so much. But you seemed like you didn't...until I realized that you were shy, and that you were watching me after all."

I blinked at that. Had Benny been secretly lusting after me, just as I had been secretly lusting after him? The idea was incredibly novel, but also incredibly stirring. I opened my mouth to pursue that...but then stopped. It was not important, and I could see such a conversation perhaps even causing some misunderstandings if taken too far.

So I just smiled at him. "I liked you the first time I laid eyes on you."

He sighed at that. "So we're friends now, right?"

I laughed, feeling that that was not quite the right description of where I hoped we were heading...but it would do, for now. "Yep. Most definitely."

Benny looked happy to hear that.

I did frown then. "How did you know? That I was gay?"

Benny continued to smile. "I just did. I don't know how. I looked up in the locker room one day, and you were looking at me, and I just knew."

I nodded. "I didn't suspect that you were until today."

He laughed. "I don't usually wear my, 'Hi! I'm gay!' shirt to school."

That made me laugh. "This feels so good, doesn't it? To be able to talk about this?"

He nodded, and suddenly leaned closer, and kissed me, right on the lips.

Then he jerked back, looking almost scared. "Was that okay?" The innocent fright at what he had just dared almost melted my heart.

I probably grinned like a total fool. But I leaned closer, and gave a little pucker. "Can we do it again?"

The fear evaporated from Benny's eyes, and he nodded so vigorously that my heart just spasmed inside my chest. He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and puckered.

This time I kissed him. And not just the quick peck he had given me, either. A warm affection surged throughout my body, and I kissed Benny several times, as gently as I possibly could, and nuzzled his face with mine. It was absolutely delightful, warm and just so personal, so intimate. Exactly what I had been craving, exactly what I wanted to share so much with Benny.

I pulled back, just a little, and he opened his eyes and looked at me. "Wow. That"

I couldn't help smiling. "Like it?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Can we do it some more?'

This time, he took the initiative again, and kissed me as I had kissed him, exploring, learning, every touch bright and new. He stuck the tip of his tongue between my lips, and I gasped at that, but immediately touched the tip of my tongue against his. He tasted warm and sweet, and I was sure I could detect apple juice on his breath then. It made me laugh, and he pulled back and grinned at me.


"Did you drink apple juice before you came to the park?"

His eyes widened, and he laughed. "Yeah! Ohmigod, you can taste it?"

I nodded. "You taste really sweet, Benny."

He smiled at that, perhaps sensing that I meant it wasn't just the apple juice that tasted sweet. "I'm so glad I talked to you today."

"Me, too. I wanted to talk to you...but I was kind of scared."

"Of me? Really?" He shook his head, looking mildly upset, and gave me a sweet little pout. "Never be scared of me, Griff."

"I'm not, now." I confessed. I leaned in and kissed him again, and he put a hand behind my neck and held our faces together for the longest of times. He learned fast, I'll have to give him that. But so do I, and what I was learning now was the warm pleasure of another's touch. It worked its way inside me, compared notes with that as yet unsolved formula I had been carrying around with me - the one that defined what I was looking for in a companion. There was a fleeting sense of numbers mixing on an awesome scale as formulae too tough even for Richard Feynman to understand suddenly solved; and then a small, internal, ding!, and a sign popped up on my side of my eyes that said, "We have a winner!"

Most definitely, I did.

I taught Benny how to use my 'scope, and we became a team on dark nights, observing the skies above the small patch of planet we shared together. The great thing about skywatching is that you can live just east of total obscurity, and still have a magnificent view of the sky. We scanned the neighboring moon, the craters and mountain ranges seeming incredibly close to our eyes under the powerful lenses of the telescope. It's easy to take the moon for granted when it just hangs in the sky; but once you see it close up, once you can view it as a place, it takes on a certain magic that never quite leaves you.

We caught the Draconids meteor shower together, which would have been a disappointment for me, alone, because the full moon was so bright that night that it washed out the sky. But shared with Benny, it was simply awesome in the extreme. I explained that what we were seeing occasionally tracking dimly across the sky were dust grains left behind by the last visit of comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which radiated from the constellation of Draco, the Dragon, one of the original 48 constellations defined by Ptolemy so long ago. Draco is easy to see, being a circumpolar constellation that is visible all year round, and despite the omnipotent moon that evening, we saw more than a few tracks in the sky.

Benny's delight was my delight. Every smile he offered, every time he pointed at a new track in the sky and oohed in wonder, filled me with warmth and affection. I found that Benny had a far less scientific approach to viewing the sky than did I. I could see the raw beauty, yes. But everything I saw also had an explanation, one tested and retested rigorously by many a mind before mine. I understood the sky in the scientific terms of the day, that being the best explanations that science had been able to come up with thus far to describe what we saw there above.

Benny's idea of the sky was less reasoned, less studied, formed more from reading science fiction novels, comic books, and seeing the popular movies of the times. He had far more romance in him than reason, more imagination than fact. He had read quite a bit about the science of the sky, but it was the part he imagined that held his attention, rather than the part that he knew to be true. But I could see he was learning from me, and enjoying our shared experience. And I could see that I was learning from him, in more ways than one.

I had discovered that caring about someone was a potent force, and that seeing them happy, and amazed, and having a good time, did far more to boost the heart and soul than any textbook ever could manage to do. Being with Benny changed my outlook, and started me along new trails of thought. I smiled a lot, I guess, and hummed and sang sometimes, and was generally ridiculously happy with the state of the world.

My parents commented on my apparent new happiness, and boldly asked if my new friend had anything to do with it. I told them it did, that he did, and they smiled at me, happy for my happiness. They made an effort to get to know Benny's parents, making it easier for Benny and I to be together, because there seems to be a rule that if one set of parents are good with a friendship, then the others are content, too. My folks new that my relationship with Benny was gay, but Benny's parents did not, being a little overwhelmed with four kids, while my parents only had to deal with one.

In this respect I was nervous, but Benny seemed to think that if his parents found out, they would deal with it without disturbing our friendship. Benny kept saying he wanted to tell them, but I think he was just as scared as I was that they might separate us, and that was something neither of us could handle. His parents seemed to like me, and my parents, and so we just placed them finding out on a back burner and chose to worry about it only when it happened.

School became a more interesting place for me, too. I loved gym class now, because I got to be with Benny. He worked with me, and I went from average, geek-level performances in basketball and baseball to being sought after as a team mate. I had never really viewed these games as a competition done under a set of rules, and once I understood how everything worked, and how skill and the element of chance were involved, I got so I actually enjoyed the sporting element of it all. My body toughened up, and I felt wonderfully healthy.

I even developed an odd friendship with Gary Spain, having decided after finding Benny that mooning after someone who didn't moon back was probably painful, and feeling for Gary if that was the case. He was surprised the first time I talked to him in the locker room, having maintained his distance ever since Benny had threatened to expose him for the great wanking-in-the-towel-closet event.

"Haven't seen you around much," I commented one day, as I went by him at the end of his row of lockers. I was wrapped in a towel, coming back from the showers. Gary was also wrapped in a towel, but looked dry save for his hair. He had been just standing there, doing nothing, save looking. I was coming to think now that he got some sort of charge out of hanging around after his shower, just wrapped in a towel, while all these nearly-naked guys ambled past. I had never seen Gary displaying any wood, but I had never really been looking for it, either.

I went back to my locker, spun open the lock, opened the door and sat down. Benny wasn't back from the showers yet, so my dick (as I was coming to call it, as Benny thought the word 'penis' just too ridiculous for words) was at half-mast. I started drying myself, and only a moment later became aware that someone was standing nearby. I looked up, and it was Gary, watching me.

He blinked at me as our eyes made contact. "Did you say something to me?"

I nodded. "I said, 'I haven't seen you around much', because I haven't."

He looked around nervously. "Ben isn't back yet?"

"Nope. Still getting wet." I smiled then, causing Gary's eyebrows to raise sharply. "Don't worry about him. He won't bother you."

Gary came a little closer. "Did you want something?"

"Not particularly. I just wanted to say I don't have a problem with you coming here to talk to Jerry, as long as you don't say ignorant shit to me."

He winced at that, and scratched his head. "I was just playing."

I shook my head. "It wasn't funny. I got so I hated to see you. Is that what you wanted?"

Gary looked shocked. "No! No, man." He looked crestfallen. "That wasn't what I wanted."

I felt some sympathy for him then. Maybe Benny had been right. I could imagine what it would have been like to feel something for Benny, but to never see that realized.

How lonely it would have been.

"Where's Jerry today?" I asked. I had come to understand that Jerry Creed was Gary's one true friend. And one friend is always better than none at all, I had also come to understand.

"He left early. He had to go to the dentist."

"Oh." I smiled. "Jerry's cool."

He was, too. He was a bit of a jock, but he had paid attention when Benny had started training me, and had made positive comments whenever I did something right. I had gotten so that I smiled at him when I saw him, and he would nod and give me the thumbs up. I had Jerry pegged as a fairly simple guy that enjoyed the world as he saw it.

That he liked Gary had come to count as something, and I was aware that Jerry missed having Gary come by after his shower to talk. They seemed so different to me that there had to be some dynamic going on there that I had missed. Jerry had always laughed at Gary's comments to me, which made me think he saw them as something quite different than the harassment that I was feeling by them. That implied to me a more intimate knowledge of Gary as a person; if Jerry didn't see Gary as being mean, then he probably wasn't trying to be. But whatever the case, having Gary afraid to come around was gnawing at my conscience.

Gary brightened at that. "Jerry's my best bud."

The light that had appeared in Gary's face with that one comment shone with layered meaning. That Gary was a loyal friend to Jerry was apparent, and that he placed a lot of value on that friendship, paramount. That I had seen everything Gary did and said as a merciless attack now seemed to have been more my fault than his. What that said about my own emotional development before I had met Benny suddenly struck home.

And, what it said about my emotional development now.

I sighed. "Look. I know Jerry misses having you come around to talk. I don't mind if you do it, just as long as you lay off the comments. Okay?"

Gary suddenly smiled, and it actually made him very appealing. "Okay."

I heard footsteps, and Benny came around the end of the lockers. Like everyone else, he was wrapped in a towel. He grinned at me...and then spied Gary.

The speed with which his grin vanished was alarming. He glared, and took a step towards Gary, whose eye's widened. Gary stepped back, until his back came up against a locker door.

"What did I tell you..!" Benny began angrily, his eyes narrowing down.

"It's okay," I interjected.

Benny froze, his eyes darting to me. "What?"

"I said that it was okay," I repeated. "Gary and I were just talking."

Benny's eyes went back to Gary, who just nodded.

"Talking," Benny repeated, like he didn't get it. His eyes came back to touch mine. "Talking?"

I nodded. "Yeah. I was explaining to him how I didn't like the way he talked to me, and he said he was sorry." I looked up at Gary. "Right?"

Gary nodded vigorously. "Like he said."

Benny crossed his arms a moment, staring at me. "You're okay?"

I nodded. "I told Gary that it was cool if he came around to talk to Jerry as long as he laid off the stupid comments. He said he would."

Benny gave a small laugh, and uncrossed his arms. He stepped over the bench and came to sit by me. "You serious?"

"Sure. It was mostly a misunderstanding."

Benny shook his head at me, but his eyes held warmth again. He sighed, and looked over at Gary. "Come around here a minute."

Gary looked unhappy, but nodded and came around to our side of the bench.

"Right here," Benny said, pointing at the floor two feet away from him.

Gary moved closer, looking extremely nervous now. "Maybe I should go," he said then.

"In a second," Benny agreed. He pointed at Gary's middle. "But first - open your towel."

"What?" Gary and I said it at the same time.

"No, Benny," I said then. "Don't make him do that."

Benny looked up at Gary. "You want to be free of the towel closet curse? I promise never to mention it to a soul...if you just open your towel."

So far it was just the three of us in our row. But others would be coming back any minute.

Gary stared. "You promise never to tell anyone about the closet?"

Benny whipped a finger back and forth across his chest. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

Gary looked about nervously, but his hands went to where the towel was folded over itself at his side.

"You don't have to," I said sharply. "Come on, Benny."

"Wait," Gary said. He tugged at the fold, and then opened his towel to display what was underneath.

I gaped, I guess.

Gary was wearing a jock strap, the heavy waistband of which was restraining an erection about the size of Benny's and my own when they were full blown hungry. Gary's dick was pinned against his abdomen, and I saw now that when the towel was cinched around Gary's waist, very little trace of the boner would show.

Briefly, I did note that the visible head of Gary's dick was quite cute, but the thought came and went just as I gave forth a startled laugh.

"Close up!" Benny ordered quickly, as we heard voices coming closer.

Gary refastened his towel and stepped back, just as two guys in towels went past the end of our row of lockers, laughing and carrying on. They didn't even spare us a glance, though, and then were gone.

Benny turned to look at me. "The whole time this guy was making fun of you having a boner, he was hiding his own."

Gary's face reddened, and his eyes dropped to the floor. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

I understood then, that Gary likely was gay, just as Benny had told me. And that Gary had liked me, and that was why he was always around, checking me out. And that he was dreadfully scared that someone might find out about what he liked, even though he had so boldly stepped out in pointing out what he considered to be similar traits in others.

The complex angles of such a psyche were fascinating, but I wasn't about to try to understand them all now. Gary was plainly distraught at knowing that his secret was out, and the look on his face was something to be pitied.

"It's okay," I said, quietly. "It's okay, Gary."

He looked at me, shock apparent in his eyes. "Really?"

I nodded, and pulled my fingers across my lips as if sealing a zipper. "Won't go any farther."

Benny raised a finger and pointed it at Gary. "As long as you be cool," he qualified my statement. "You leave my boyfriend alone, you got me?" he finished, in a whisper.

It was touch and go whose eyebrows hit the ceiling first: mine or Gary's.

Gary's jaw dropped, and his eyes went back and forth between us, demanding to know if he was being kidded. "Serious?"

Benny looked at me questioningly. I gnawed at my lip a moment, but I could see that this was somehow important to Benny. So I looked up at Gary and nodded. "Yup."

Gary shook his head slowly, and then closed his mouth. And then he grinned. "That is so cool," he whispered. He simply looked delighted, like we were some fabulous new toy he had been presented with. But then he sighed, and his expression grew wistful. "You guys are so lucky," he said softly.

Benny smiled at me at that, and I smiled back. "That would be true," Benny said. He looked back up at Gary. "See? Now you know our secret, and we know three of yours. That makes us even, and safe from each other."

I couldn't help laughing at the asymmetry of that statement, but I nodded at Gary. "You be cool, and so will we."

Gary grinned. But the bell suddenly rang, signaling five minutes to our next classes, and a horde of guys in towels came running back to their lockers then.

"We'll talk some more later, okay?" I said to Gary. He grinned, nodded, and hurried off.

I smiled at Benny, and leaned close to him. "You're a sweetie, you know that?"

He beamed at me. "I do try."

"You were protecting me," I pointed out.

He looked pleased with himself. "You're worth it."

I nodded. "And you're going to tell me how you knew about what Gary had under his towel, right?"

His smile grew crooked, and then slid away. "Um...okay. Not now, though?"

I nodded, and we both hurried to get dressed. I had already decided I would not press him on how he knew about Gary's jock strap, because whatever it was, it just didn't matter to us.

But I was kind of enjoying the slightly worried look on Benny's face, and let him stew until we were out in the hall and on our way to our next classes.

As we went to take separate hallways, I grabbed his arm and pulled him up. "Stop worrying. It doesn't matter."

He stared at me, and then smiled. "Oh, you're going to know. I intend to tell you. Later."

He quirked his lips at me, not a kiss by any means, but enough of a suggestion of one to convey the message quite clearly. And then he pulled away from me and hustled up the other hallway. I stood there at the junction, watching him, knowing I would probably be late to class, but not caring. My Benny.

He got to the door of his next class, and turned back my way, just as if he somehow knew that I would still be there. He smiled, and held a hand up to the side of his mouth to call to me.

"Just as soon as I figure out what to say!"

My mom and dad had already told me that Benny could sleep over one night. We had already been to bed together countless times in the afternoons after school at my house, but so far we had not slept all night together, and both of us really wanted to do that.

Oddly enough, the first chance to do just that came at Benny's house, not mine. Benny's parents wanted to go to Boston to see an ailing aunt, and had resigned themselves to dragging along the two youngest kids, but had decided that the two oldest - Benny and his sister, Angelica, could stay home. Angelica was assigned the role of house-sitter, one that she was less-than-thrilled to assume. She was sixteen, popular, and thought the idea of sitting at home with her little brother a repulsive way to spend the weekend.

Benny had worked a deal with her, where Angelica could go out on Saturday evening and stay out until all hours, in exchange for Benny being allowed to have me over for the night, unreported. It made me uneasy to join in with what I considered an unholy alliance at best...but Benny really wanted me to stay over, and I really wanted to be with him. So I told my folks I had been asked, and they said I could go. What was left unsaid was not a lie, although I doubt my parents would have let me go if they knew that no one would be at Benny's house Saturday night but him and me.

Sometimes, having a more mature perspective on the world is a curse, not a joy. My parents gave me a great deal of freedom, because they were convinced I was both smart enough and mature enough not to do stupid things with it. Generally, I was. This seemed a small crime against that trust, and it really was. But it didn't stop me from realizing that I had a conscience, and that I was ever so slightly abusing it in this case.

But once decided, I was all for it. Being with Benny easily overcame all the side issues. My folks drove me over in the early afternoon and left me at the door with Benny and Angelica, toting my little overnight bag. Benny's eyes were joyful, which was enough for me to decide that I had made the right choice. His sister was nice enough to me, but obviously in a hurry to get going, and, after extracting one further promise from Benny to not leave the house and not to destroy anything important, she was gone.

Benny stuck his tongue out after her, and shut the front door. "Is this great, or what?"

I shrugged. "As long as your folks don't call tonight and ask to talk to Angelica."

Benny frowned. "You have to think of that?" But then he brightened. "They'll call her phone, and she's got it with her. As long as the party noises aren't too loud, she'll be fine." He reached out and gave my shoulder a little push. "No more negative waves, okay?"

I grinned. "Okay."

We went to his room, which was filled with afternoon sunshine. There we changed into knee-length shorts, already knowing that a relaxed evening was in store. We left our shirts and shoes off, the better to see you by, my dear.

Benny's room was kind of the antithesis of mine, an ode to pop culture of all kinds. The walls were covered with pictures: bands I did not know, race car drivers, sports figures, and cut-outs of some Japanese girl-band. Among the pics were a few of cute guys, hidden in plain sight among the others.

The carpeted floor was littered with sports equipment, and Benny's bicycle stood against the wall beneath the room's single window. A big bookcase full of books - mostly science fiction novels, but a few real texts on the heavens - stood near the bed, beside a flat screen TV on a small stand. Benny also had an Xbox, something he had tried to interest me in, but which seemed to me to be too much like mindless entertainment for people with too much free time on their hands.

We laughed about that, Benny saying that his 'airhead' was much lighter and easier to carry around than my 'deadhead', which was so stuffed full of junk that I couldn't seem to find space in it to have fun with.

We weren't serious, though. Benny and I complemented each other pretty well, with me pushing his intellect a little, and he pushing my imagination back in return.

We looked at some of his astronomy books, a couple of which were borderline science at best. My first glimpses of some of the titles he had had induced horror; they were more than fifty years old, which in scientific terms was equivalent to stone age knives and axes. But I had since become a little charmed with Benny's ideas on science, realizing that even the ridiculous things he sometimes thought about the universe showed a striking curiosity and a real desire to understand. Allowing for the whimsical side of his thinking had become second nature to me by now.

He had a genuine interest in what lay beyond Earth's atmosphere, yes. But where I was concerned with things like spectroscopic studies of planetary atmospheres, he was much more concerned as to whether Ewoks lived on the surface below. Ewoks were a species of furry aliens that lived upon the forest moon of Endor. Had I seen the Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, before meeting Benny, I would have known this. I hadn't, so I didn't.

Benny remedied that for me. I became acquainted with Star Wars, Star Trek, Riddick, and Ripley, among others, and I in turn acquainted him with Hubble, Drake, Sagan, and Hawking, among others. Out of that group, Benny most liked Drake and Sagan, who both held out positive hopes that there was other life 'out there'. He was an eager explorer, my Benny was, but he didn't always know scientific fact from fantasy, and it was a little duel and dance we sometimes played on our nights out skywatching, while I tried to explain the way that something worked, while he wondered if there was anyone living out there that knew what I was talking about.

When we went to his house we mostly watched movies, and, on the odd occasion when we chanced to be there alone, kissed each other until bruises threatened, and sucked each other's dicks. Both were forms of entertainment that left me feeling good after it was over. Benny's house was the opposite of mine. My house was safe to have sex in, and therefore kind of dull. Benny's house, you never knew who might walk in, and so it was both thrilling and a little dangerous. Even though we locked the door of his room when we played, there was always the chance of being caught doing the nasty, and so we both kind of looked forward to the times when we were alone there and knew that we likely could play.

Like now.

There we were, standing in Benny's room, just wearing shorts, the house totally empty. Benny grinned at me, his thoughts not hard to read at all. But when I approached him, he grabbed a soccer ball off the floor and held it between us, keeping me at arm's length. I backed him up to the wall by the window, and reached across the ball and rubbed his nipples playfully. He laughed, but tried to cover it, and pressed back against me with the ball. "Is that all you ever think about?" he asked, pretending scorn.

"Mostly," I returned, nodding, and pinched his nipples again. "You make my horns grow."

"What about tonight?" he asked, a small pout forming on his lips. "If you suck out all my cum now, I won't have any for tonight, and I want to have some to give you when we're in bed."

I laughed at the idea. "Yeah, right. I've seen you shoot four times in one day. I don't think you not having any semen left to share is going to be a problem."

He wrinkled his nose at me. "There you go again, sounding like some biologist. 'Penis'. 'Testicles'. 'Semen'." He shook his head. "You make it sound yucky when you use those words."

I nodded. "Okay. I'm sorry. I'll try to watch that." I sighed. "What's really going on?"

He held the ball against his chest and watched me, while I watched him back.

"Do you love me?" he blurted then, looking anything but happy.

I had quietly resolved the love or lust - results to be determined later - problem in my own mind. I did lust after Benny, yes. He was very sexy, very appealing, and his body satisfied something inside me that I now thought of as desire. Desire and lust were synonymous in most dictionaries, even.

But I also loved Benny, and very, very much. I could no longer imagine a day without him at my side.

"Yes," I answered, nodding. "I love you."

Benny frowned. "Well, how come you never say it?"

I smiled. "How come you never say you love me?"

The pout returned. "I was waiting for you."

The thing is, I really had no excuse for not telling Benny I loved him. The fact that he never said it to me had made me think he was uncomfortable with putting a name to what we were doing together. I had again underestimated him, thinking in my mind that boys of thirteen might not be mature enough to go around saying they loved each other. I had not wanted to push him into anything before he was ready for it.

And besides, I could tell that Benny loved me, in the way he kissed me, and touched me, and made love to me. I just had assumed that the reverse was also true.

I reached out, and gently took the ball from him, and dropped it on the floor. I stepped closer, put my hands on his waist, and drew him to me, slid my arms around him, and kissed him like there was no tomorrow. He was a little stiff at first, but I just put as much passion into my kiss as I could, and soon he was snuggled against me, his hands around my back on the waistband of my shorts, pulling me against him.

I laid my lips against his ear, and whispered, "I love you more than anything."

I felt him tense, and then relax against me, and then he hugged me even harder. "I love you, Griff."

We held each other for a time, standing in the warmth of the afternoon sun as it came in through the window and painted the carpet beneath our feet in vivid colors. I could feel Benny's dick, hard against me, just as mine was pressed against him. I could hear the little rasp in his breathing that signaled his arousal, and I could feel the touch of his hands, gentle against my skin, wanting more.

I pushed my face into the crook of his neck and rubbed and kissed his shoulder, and he laid his head back against the wall and sighed. I felt his hands flex on my back, and then they were sliding down, pushing my shorts and underwear down in back. He came off the wall and leaned into me, nuzzling his face into my neck, his hands cupping my buns and his fingers squeezing them gently.

That he had been worried that I didn't love him was troubling. I was familiar with insecurities, but my reasoning powers were usually enough to steer me around most of them. That it might not be as true for Benny was something I had failed to consider. I held him, thinking how much he had come to be centered in my life, and realized I needed to take more care to notice the state of his feelings.

And, at the same time, I had the thought that Benny was my first love, but likely not my last. We were thirteen, just starting out in life. The road ahead was long.

It was sad to consider that Benny might be a fleeting moment in my life. I loved him so much now, it was hard to believe that that would not last forever. But reason told me that, like childhood, this too, must someday end.

But not now, surely. For now Benny was everything, and I decided that I would go with that premise until the day arrived that it no longer worked.

I smiled. "If I dragged you to the bed and ripped your clothes off, would you be mad?"

He giggled. "Just take them off. My mom'll get mad if you rip them."

It sounded like a deal to me. Still holding him, I began to move to the bed, and he went right along with me, still giggling. We arrived, and I toppled us onto the mattress. He laughed again as I scrambled upright and pulled his clothing down and off, and then again as I lifted his legs, lay down between them, and let them drape over my shoulders. I pushed my face right up to his crotch, and blew gently upon his equipment. He raised his head, and grinned down at me. "I feel a draft!"

I laughed then, too, at his playfulness. I lowered my head, gently rubbed my lips up the underneath of his shaft, kissed his balls, and then the insides of his thighs. He shuddered, and sighed, and smiled, and was so obviously happy that everything else just faded away. I took him into my mouth and spent the next twenty minutes trying to please his body in ways it had never been pleased before. His skin smelled clean, faintly of soap, and with a hint of musk about it that was just as sexy as could be. The warmth and softness of his skin had me breathing rapidly with desire, and when he finally gave a small gasp and shot off, I drank it straight down without even opening my eyes.

The science of biology has always fascinated me, and my understanding of how it works is considerable for someone my age.

But I am still learning about the magic of it, divorced from fact, expressed in the wonder and joy that can be felt when making love to someone truly loved. The books cannot capture that, not ever.

That's the way it should be, I think. There really is no lightning in a bottle, and I don't think there ever will be. Some forces are far too potent ever to be captured. They can only be enjoyed, briefly, and then put away...until the next time they are called forth.

We ordered pizza for dinner, and paid for it out of the funds that Benny's parents had left expressly for that purpose. We watched the latest Star Trek movie while we ate, the premise of which was pretty ridiculous, but which still managed to stir me and pique my sense of wonder. We had seen it before, but Benny liked it, and so we watched it again. That our universe might be home to such shenanigans between races was entirely without basis in scientific fact...yet the idea still pulled at something inside me.

Even Richard Feynman, one of the better scientific minds ever to grace our world, had known of wonder. While at MIT he had considered the philosophical question, how does the stream of consciousness end when you go to sleep?

To try to answer that question, he had begun observing himself each night as he drifted off, and then would record his observations in the morning when he awoke. He performed the same process for his afternoon naps. After a month of observations, he submitted his theme.

The first thing he had understood was that the experiment could never be a valid one, because he could not be both subject and observer. That fact aside, even the act of observing upset the normal flow that would lead to sleep, interfering with the results. And who could record the moment when consciousness ended, after that same conscious stream resumed hours later, with the great unknown that was sleep wedged so firmly in between?

The answer was simple. No one could. Feynman had viewed the entire experiment as a simple thought game, and had recorded the results merely to demonstrate what his conscious mind came up with in the way of answers about the moment between waking thought and the sleeping mind.

The paper he turned in contained a small poem, surely not the finest poem, but one that illustrated his genuine muse at the idea of conscious thought itself:

"I wonder why. I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.
I wonder why I wonder why
I wonder why I wonder!"

That simple verse expressed so many things, and I had always liked it. And now I saw that it was a common theme in human thinking, to question the why of things, and to imagine the answers. Much of the science of yesterday can be viewed as pure superstition today; and yet, in its time, those ideas seemed to fit the criteria as the minds in existence then saw things. Back then, those were the answers. Only time, and experience, and observation, and the rise of technology, and therefore an increase in our ability to measure and examine and know, had put the lie to those facts, and relegated them to the world of superstition.

So what about the science of now? Benny had gotten me thinking, and I had been surprised at the answers I had come up with. Science was science in its time, and remained science in later times only if proved to be valid. And every day of the year, every year, ideas that had once been viewed as facts were being found to be untrue. Or invalid, which amounted to the same thing.

Imagination was the great tool. It had been imagination that had created mathematics, rules by which imagination could be governed, and checked for validity. And it was imagination that created the theories that those same mathematics could eventually prove or disprove. Sometimes that process was lengthy, and turbid, and even not always solved to the liking of everyone involved. Because even mathematics evolved, sometimes purely of necessity, to explain newly observed data. Science was always at war against wonder, even as it was inspired by it time and again. Perspective, that mainstay of each human pixel in the grand picture of everything, often reared its ugly head, which gave fuel to preconception, which in science could be the seeds that ended great careers.

The bottom line was, who was I to read books on science, and then discount all those imaginative scenarios that appeared in the realm of science fiction now, but which could just as easily be the science of tomorrow? The answer: I was no one. Or, surely, at least not someone qualified to judge.

Benny loved those views of the universe above and around us, peopled with strange lifeforms flitting about in star ships, traveling between worlds equally strange in nature. And I was finding that, because I loved Benny, I was now allowing myself to give those heretofore fictional worlds some play in my own imagination.

And finding that I enjoyed them, too.

So I could snuggle with Benny on the bed and watch Star Trek, and laugh along with Benny at the parts that were funny, and ooh along with Benny at the parts that were wondrous, and reach the end of the movie with a sense of satisfaction at the idea that I had briefly explored the stars above - or one such possible scenario - even if only through my eyes and ears, and inside my own imagination.

That was one of the gifts I received from Benny.

Just one of many, as it turned out.

After the movie, we went out into Benny's backyard to look at the sky. It was a chilly night, but there was no wind. The Taurids meteor shower was to peak this evening, but again we were saddled with a full moon, which would limit viewing of the traces. The Taurids was a composite meteor shower, composed of remnant dust grains left behind from the visits of both asteroid 2004 TG10, and comet 2P Encke. The shower had been running since September, but this night was the peak, the night that the most traces could be seen.

We laid in the leaf-strewn grass and put our heads together, and stared upwards into the glow of the moon. There were stars well away from that glow, but the sky around the moon had been swept nearly clean of them by our satellite's reflected sunlight.

"Darn moon," Benny objected. "That's twice now it's messed up a shower for us."

I laughed. "It happens. No one can control the orbits of moons." I leaned my head over and kissed his cheek. "Just wait until the Geminids shower next month. The moon will be be waning, just a small crescent on that night, and the show will be pretty good. The Geminids is the best show of the year."

Benny sighed. "I can't wait for that."

I nodded. "There's still plenty to see." I pointed out Sirius, and Arcturus, and Vega, the three brightest stars.

Benny nodded, snuggling closer. "I love stars. I always wonder what planets might be around them, and who might live on them."

"I know." I grinned. "Ewoks, right?"

He laughed. "And others. They might be beyond our imaginations, really."

I agreed. The stars were beautiful, and mysterious, and probably unknowable, at least in our lifetimes.

"Wanna wish?" Benny asked, rubbing the side of his head against mine.


"Yeah. You know: Star Light, Star Bright?"

I laughed, vaguely remembering the old verse. "What do we wish for?"

Benny tsked me. "Dummy. That's the secret part. You wish for something, and I'll wish for something. It gets spoiled if you tell."

"Oh." I nodded. "Okay. You say it, and I'll wish with you."

He sighed, and snuggled even closer, and recited the verse:

"Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
have the wish I wish tonight."

He nodded. "Now make a wish!"

I did just that, getting into the spirit of the moment. I wished, and I wished hard.

After a further moment of silence, Benny gave another sigh. "I love you." He nodded. "Always remember: wishes count."

I turned my head and closed my eyes, and pressed my lips into Benny's cheek. "I know they do. And I love you, too."

It was a night we both would remember, in times to come.

Gary Spain was gay, and a lonely gay at that. He had resumed visiting with Jerry Creed in our row of lockers, and he was both civil and quite companionable at all times. I got so I liked him, at first a little, and then a lot. He had issues, but who doesn't? The main thing was that he tried to work around them, even if he didn't always make it without a stumble.

Benny and I started to invite him over after school. He came eagerly, his desire to spend more time with guys that thought like he did readily apparent. Gary turned out to have a lot more going on upstairs than I had ever imagined, some of which was pretty impressive, once you realized it was somewhat filtered through an immature view of the world. But the guy was thirteen, right? Maturity, like most things of perspective, is all relative.

"We need to find you a guy," I said one late winter day, as the three of us were hanging out in the park. The park was central to all our homes, it had turned out, and we often met there to plan our Saturdays.

"Good luck with that," Gary said, despondently.

"Why?" Benny said, grinning. "It's not like you aren't cute or anything."

Gary's mouth dropped open. "Me?"

I nodded. "Sure. Got a nice head on your dick, too."

Benny hooted and slapped his thigh, while Gary's face slowly reddened. He smiled, though, not in the least put off by my casual evaluation of his equipment.

I still had not been told how Benny knew that Gary strapped his boner up out of the way so that he could guy-watch without showing a lot of wood. I had decided that it wasn't important, as whatever had happened, it had occurred before I had met Benny. And I was a firm believer in not meddling in other people's histories.

Benny's cute smile faded to a frown. "There must to be some other gay guys looking for a nice boyfriend. The problem would seem to be how to locate them."

I smiled at that. Benny sometimes lapsed into speaking like I spoke when I lapsed from speaking like a kid. I still maintained my small disguise, but often let my guard down and spoke more formally around him. He got a kick out of it a first, and then I noticed an unconscious tendency on his part to emulate me. As his grades in English were also on the rise, I let it be. A habit that increases one's grade point average cannot be all bad!

"It's not like I ain't been looking," Gary said.

"What about Jerry?" I asked.

"I wish," Gary said. "But he's not gay."

I shook my head. "No. I mean, does he know you're gay?"

Gary nodded. "I never said so, but he knows."

"And he's okay with it?"

"Sure. Most people at school don't care about that stuff anymore."

Benny and I were reasonably certain that more than one person at school at least suspected that we were boyfriends. You just cannot hide that kind of affection from people. Yet no one had said anything, and life had continued on as usual. Times had changed.

I scratched my head. "You like to watch guys, Gary. Any suspects?"

He squinted. "You mean, do I think anyone else is gay?"

I nodded.

"Mark Devereaux," he said immediately. "Casey Washabaugh. Clint Culpepper."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Benny said, leaning quickly forward. "Clint Culpepper, the cowboy?"

Gary nodded. "Yeah."

"No way," Benny said, shaking his head. "The girls are all over him."

Gary looked at Benny like he was not too bright. "Yeah? Girls chase you and Griffin, both. Some of them even like me. That don't mean nothing."

Benny's mouth formed a little 'O' of surprise. "Really? Clint Culpepper?" Benny leaped to his feet and stuck his thumbs into his belt, and kicked at the frozen ground like he was kicking cow pies. "You mean Mr., 'Yup, my family had a spread near Billings'?"

Gary and I both laughed at Benny's spot-on impersonation. Clint had arrived at school mid-term, from the great American northwest. He wore boots and jeans and even a white Stetson, until a couple of guys had knocked it off his head one day on the football field at school and dared him to pick it up. Clint had not only dared, he had prevailed, knocking both aggressors to the ground and telling them if they got up, they'd 'sure as snake-spit' regret it. Neither boy had.

Unfortunately, the nice Stetson had been somewhat mauled in the melee, and an annoyed Clint had not worn it back to school again.

Clint was good with the girls, but had made a point of 'not bein' roped in' by one just yet. Both Benny and I had acknowledged that Clint was nice looking in an outdoorsy way, and had spoken to him on several occasions around school. He was in my math class along with Gary, and it was apparent to me that Clint and algebra were not friends. He struggled with the subject, and the teacher, Mrs. Myson, had been helping him on the side.

"Are you sure?" Benny asked, shaking his head. "I would have never expected Clint to be a guy-lover."

Gary bobbed his head up and down. "Yeah, I'm sure. My gaydar says so."

I laughed at that. "Your gaydar didn't tell you about Benny and me. Benny had to do that."

Gary sighed. "I can tell by the way he looks at me, okay?" He shook his head. "If either of you ever looked at me that way, I would have known about you, too."

I turned to Benny, who shrugged, then back to Gary. "Have you tried approaching him? Talking to him?"

"A couple of times," Gary replied. "He always just mumbles and says he has to go. If it wasn't for the way he looked at me sometimes, I'd think he didn't like me at all."

What? The times that Benny and I had spoken with the new boy, he had seemed totally at ease.

A light came on inside my head. Oh. Hmm. If it was true, and Clint was really gay, then he was either very scared of the fact, or just so painfully shy with guys he felt an interest in that he couldn't function with them.

On second thought, it was probably a combination of both. Billings, Montana was scarcely the center of the gay universe. A gay boy there would have to have all sorts of extra defenses in order to get along with the rugged crowd and the cowboy culture that lived there.

"Do you like Clint?" I asked Gary.

He smiled. "Are you kidding? He's so cute even my strap won't keep my dick from sticking out!"

Benny and I laughed at that a moment, until the sudden look of interest on Gary's face caught our attention.

"You have a plan?" Gary asked.

I smiled. "You're not half bad at algebra. Why don't you offer to help him with it? He probably would like an excuse to be around you, if he really likes you."

Gary blinked. "Now...why didn't I think of that!"

"'Cause you aren't the finest mind ever to grace the halls of Anson MacDonald Middle School, that's why!" Benny said, reaching out and squeezing my shoulder.

I felt my face get warm, and would have loved to call Benny on that remark, but couldn't manage to work up the angst needed to do it. His gaze was too fond, too well-meaning, for me to take the remark as anything but heartfelt. So I did the next best thing.

"Oh, shut up," I said softly.

Benny and Gary both grinned.

We started to leave the park, the plan settled upon, and were nearly to the street when Benny suddenly stopped and turned to Gary. "Mark Devereaux?"

Gary and I just laughed.

Monday arrived, and the plan was set into motion. Math class was second period, and Gary and I met outside the doorway and compared last minute notes. I would be handy to help get the conversation going if Gary couldn't do it, but otherwise this was mostly Gary's gig.

We filed into the room, found seats near Clint, and let nature take its course.

Gary sat at the desk right next to the one where Clint had seated himself, and I chose the seat behind Gary, where I could get a good view of Clint. Briefly, I wished that Benny could be here to assist, but other than gym, he and I had the misfortune not to share a single other class.

The bell rang and Mrs. Myson got the class rolling. We were working on solving equations with variables on both sides, using the distributive property. Math is basically a language, and a foreign one to anyone without a golden tongue. Mrs. Myson drew an equation on the board, and demonstrated how to get rid of the parentheses on both sides, then to combine like terms, get all the constants on one side of the equation, simplify, and solve.

I watched Clint watch Mrs. Myson. He seemed to follow her moves, but at the end shook his head and blew a frustrated little burst of air through his lips. Clearly, he didn't understand.

He looked around the room, trying to see if anyone else looked as baffled as he was feeling, and for a brief second our eyes met. He shook his head helplessly, and I felt sorry for him. Nothing worse than not understanding how something works, and not knowing how to learn to do it properly.

Gary looked over at Clint and offered a sympathetic smile, and I did not miss how Clint's eyes kind of slid around that. That Clint was afraid of Gary in some way seemed clear to me. And as Gary was scarcely a formidable type of guy, and Clint was, that fear had to have some other basis than simply the physical. Or, maybe there was a physical attribute to Clint's fear - fear of physical attraction.

After class, Gary and I followed Clint into the hallway, and called for him to wait up. He stopped, watching us, frustration plain in his eyes. "Howdy, fellas."

I nodded. "Rough class today, huh?"

Clint groaned, nodding. "I just don't get this numbers and exes stuff."

I looked at Gary, waiting for him to start talking, but clearly he had frozen in place.

I sighed, and took Clint gently by one arm and began guiding him down the hallway. "Want some help?"

Clint looked at me like I'd just thrown a rope to him as he was about to go under in a quicksand pit. "Really?"

I nodded. "Gary and I are pretty good with this stuff. We'll both help you."

That was the plan. On the chance that Clint was too afraid of being alone with Gary and would refuse if Gary alone offered to assist, we had decided we would both offer our help, giving Clint the backstop of safety in numbers.

Clint's eyes widened, and he looked briefly at Gary, who smiled encouragingly. "Both y'all?" Clint asked.

I nodded. "Sure. You can come by my house after school. Know where the park is?"

Clint nodded. "Yeah. Pretty good clip from my place. I can ride my bike there, I s'pose."

I gave his arm a friendly squeeze. "Good job. We'll meet you there after school, okay?"

And it was as simple as that.

It was a chilly day, and the park was not crowded when we got there after school. Some diehards playing football on the big field, a few strollers, and a couple of older fellas sitting on a bench, talking.

Clint, when he arrived, did so noisily. His 'bike' turned out to be a small dirt bike, upon which he calmly rode into the park and drew up beside Benny, Gary and me. He wasn't wearing a helmet, just a pair of dark glasses, which, along with his cowboy boots, jeans, and jean jacket, gave him a kind of home-on-the-range appeal of some sort, almost as if he had been riding a horse.

He shut the engine off, and grinned at us. "Hey, y'all."

We crowded around him. I put a finger out and tapped the handlebars, and shook my head. "You ride this thing over on the roads?"

He laughed. "Tried not to, but had to here and there."

Benny shook his head. "That's illegal."

Clint just shrugged. "Gotta catch me first."

Gary grinned at me, as if silently saying, Isn't he great!

"You know Benny Cooper?" I asked, introducing my boyfriend - but not as my boyfriend.

"Seen you 'round," Clint said, smiling. "What's up?"

"Not much." Benny smiled. "Going to help you with a little algebra, is all."

Clint gave a little roll of his eyes. "I sure do need that. Can't thank you fellas enough."

We walked it to my house, Clint pushing his bike alongside of us. We just chatted about school, people, and things in general. Gary spoke to Clint as much as the conversation allowed, and after a few initial grunted responses, Clint seemed to warm to Gary and began using whole sentences to answer him.

"The ranch is my granpap's," Clint said, in answer to one of Gary's questions. "My granpap is a pretty stubborn fella. My dad was running the place for him, but granpap wanted to do some new things. My dad an' him couldn't see eye-to-eye, so we left."

"You just walked out?" Gary said, incredulously.

Clint gave a small, slightly bitter-sounding laugh. "Near enough. My dad started looking for a way out. He's a really good machinist. Learned it in the Navy when he was a young fella. He and another fella he was in the service with made up some new kind of tool, and they sold it to some company in the city near here. Part of the sale was that my dad had to come east and manage production. So we're here for five years, at least." He did not sound at all thrilled at that, either.

"You grew up there in Montana?" Gary asked, his interest in the other boy now obvious.

"Yep. I was born in the back bedroom of my granpap's house, in fact." Clint sighed. "Never been anywhere else."

I could feel the boy's sense of loss in those words. Not just for a place, but for a lifestyle. And a life.

Our first study session went well. Our chief aim was to get Clint to relax, not to teach him math. It seemed to work, and while we did go over some basics, we had more fun than work.

The sessions that followed, only about twice a week, because Clint helped his father some afternoons, also went well, and we all begin to look forward to them. Winter eased away and spring came in, and the world warmed and the trees started to bud. Clint was managing algebra fairly well by that point, but we still got together anyway, because it was so much fun.

And, Clint and Gary became friends. The attraction between them was plain, although so was the fact that Clint was terrified to act upon it. Benny and I played things loose, like very good friends would do, setting an example of ease around each other that Clint and Gary could emulate. I often noticed Clint watching Benny and I, absorbing the way we so causally and easily interacted. Benny and I wrestled around, played, and never worried about how much space was between us. We just painted a picture of total ease with each other that we hoped would demonstrate to Clint on some level that he was safe with his feelings about Gary.

And then one day, Benny and I waited after school in the park, just like always. Only this time, neither Gary nor Clint showed up. We waited an extra half-hour, but the guys did not appear. I called both of them on my cell, and neither answered their phones.

"Wonder what happened?" Benny asked, as he and I walked back to my house. It was a pleasant spring day, even warmer than usual.

"I can't imagine," I answered. Gary and Clint had seemed fine at school that day. Better than fine. They were best friends now, and I couldn't imagine something happening to disturb that.

We sat down on my front steps, feeling a little let down. Something had happened, to keep both boys from showing. They both came from the same direction, and usually Gary would wait at the corner of his street for Clint to come by and pick him up on the dirt bike.

"Man, I hope they didn't have an accident," Benny said then. "Or maybe the cops finally got them." He shook his head. "I was so wishing those two would get together."

Clint had been chased a couple of times by county cops out to stop the tagless bike; but he had always ducked into the woods and eluded them. He was kind of proud of it, and laughed when the rest of us just shook our heads.

I dug my cell out once more, with the intention of trying Gary's phone again, when I heard the sound of the bike down the street. Benny looked at me, his eyes wide, and we both stood and watched as the dirt bike came into view. Clint and Gary were both aboard, and Gary waved as the bike pulled up onto the curb and stopped by the steps.

Both boys were tanned, their hair wind-blown, and both were grinning. A very appealing picture, if I do say so myself. And not a sign of anything wrong at all.

"Where you guys been?" Benny demanded, as the two climbed off the bike.

Clint winced, and looked at Gary. "Told ya they'd be worried."

Gary nodded. "It's okay, guys. I'll explain." He looked at me pointedly. "In your room."

I felt a little surprised by that, but just nodded. "Come on in." I unlocked the door and let the four of us inside. Gary immediately bounded up the stairs to the second floor, with Clint right behind him.

Benny stared at me. "What do you think is going on?"

I had no idea, and said so. We followed the other two upstairs to my room, and found them standing by the bed, waiting for us.

"Close the door," Gary said.

Benny huffed. "What the hell is the big mystery?"

Clint gave a nervous laugh, and Gary just smiled. "Watch."

Gary stepped away from Clint, and looked him up and down. Like Gary, Clint was dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, and running shoes with no socks.

Then Gary walked slowly around Clint in a circle, so obviously checking him out all over that it was slightly embarrassing. Yet Clint just stood there, a small, nervous smile on his face.

Gary came back around front, grinned at Benny and me, and started around again. Benny put his hands on his hips and looked at me, his face plainly set in a what the fuck? expression.

Gary went behind Clint and stopped. He turned to face Clint's backside, and slowly came forward, until he bumped into him. I felt my eyes getting wider as I just watched in astonishment. Gary's hands came up, slid between Clint's arms and his body, wrapped slowly around Clint's belly, until he was holding him. Then Gary laid his chin on Clint's shoulder, turned his face slightly, and kissed Clint on the side of his neck!

And then Gary sighed, laid his chin back on Clint's shoulder, and grinned at us. "Isn't he gorgeous?"

Benny and I just stared at the nervous smile on Clint's face, until Gary started laughing. He pulled back and came around Clint, leaned in and kissed him again on the lips. This time, Clint's hands came up to lay upon Gary's waist, clearly demonstrating that both of them were involved in this display.

Gary turned back to us, still wrapped in Clint's arm, and smiled. "I got me a boyfriend!"

Clint nodded, still looking slightly petrified.

And then Benny and I were there with them, clapping them on their backs and congratulating them.

"How did this happen?" Benny asked, just before I could myself.

Gary gave a little pout, and looked embarrassed. "I delivered an ultimatum, that's how!"

"I'll say," Clint said, finally speaking.

"Ultimatum?" I asked, looking at Gary. "What kind of ultimatum?"

Gary gave Clint another hug, and then disengaged from him. "I told him I loved him, and if he didn't unfreeze and love me back, I was leaving forever!"

Benny and I both gaped. "What?" Benny gasped.

Clint nodded. "He said he knew I loved him, but that I was scared, and I'd better get unscared in a hurry, or I'd find myself alone!"

Gary reached over and grasped Clint's hand, laced their fingers together, and gave Clint an obvious squeeze. "Well, he unfroze, and here we are!"

Clint licked his lips. "Is it true? That you two know?"

Benny grabbed me, whirled me around, bent me backwards, and laid one on me. I gasped as I nearly swallowed his tongue, and as his hand gently felt me between the legs. And then he straightened, let me go, and smiled sweetly at Clint. "Is what true?"

Clint tossed his head back and laughed, so obviously relieving himself of tension that Benny and I grinned at each other. Gary smiled, and pulled up Clint's hand and kissed the back of it.

Clint stopped laughing and gasped a moment, catching his breath. "I can't believe I'm doing this."

"It's what you want...isn't it?" Gary asked, suddenly looking serious.

Clint turned to look at him, and I could see his heart melt. He reached out and pulled Gary closer. "Yeah. It's what I want."

Benny came to me and grabbed me into a hug. I could feel his delight for Gary and Clint just radiating from his body as he squeezed me close. "See?" He whispered into my ear. "Wishes do count."

I just laughed, and held him close, and loved him with all of my heart.

"Is that you, Griffin?"

I stuck my head around the corner from the kitchen, to see my mother seated on the living room sofa, reading. "Yes, it's me. What are you reading?"

"Fiction. Michael Crichton."

I nodded. "Isn't he dead?"

She smiled. "Yes. But his physical condition hasn't spoiled his fiction." Her eyes twinkled at me. "What are you doing?"

"I finished my homework, and I was hungry. I thought I'd get a slice of leftover pizza."

She nodded, placing a finger in her book. "Well, get it, and come here a moment, okay?"


I went back to the refrigerator and selected a slice of pepperoni pizza from the box, grabbed a napkin to hold it over, and returned to the living room.

Her eyebrows went up. "Cold?"

"I like it that way."

"There are some interesting chemical reactions that take place when pizza is heated, that add to the flavor."

I rolled my eyes. "You asked me back to discuss the thermal interactions of the acids in tomato sauce with animal fats and baked bread flour?"

She smiled. "Come sit for a moment, Griffin."

I sighed, but went and sat down by her on the sofa. She immediately extended a hand and gently rubbed the back of my neck. "You've been on the go a lot lately. You're not tiring yourself out, are you?"

"No." I shook my head, and accented my denial with a smile. "Actually, I have been having a lot of fun."

She tilted her head to one side. "Fun? Is this my little astronomical theorist talking?"

I felt my cheeks grow warm. "Mom."

She smiled, and her fingers gently squeezed my neck. "I like Benny. He's a very sweet boy. And he has done wonders, pulling you out of your shell."

I stopped in mid-chew, blinking at her. "My shell?"

She pursed her lips momentarily, but then went back to the smile. "Yes, Griffin. Shell. An encasement or enclosure designed to protect its contents from harm."

It was my turn to cock my head. "Are you saying that before I met Benny, I was...isolated?"

"Somewhat." She nodded. "Yes. That's a fair assessment."

I stared at her, even then knowing she spoke the truth. I was already aware, on some level, that my ideas about a lot of things had changed since meeting Benny. Some I had accepted with sighs...but most I had embraced with smiles. I loved Benny, and I loved being with Benny. His view of the world, when added to my own, had more than doubled the distance to my horizons.

"I agree," I said, quietly. "I have learned a lot from Benny." I smiled. "And I've certainly been enjoying it."

She looked happy. "I'm so glad, Griffin. Do you see your relationship with Benny as something...long-term?"

That stunned me. Life without Benny? "Yes," I said immediately. "Is that a problem?"

"Not at all," she said, with great certainty. "Your father and I both think he's good for you. And that you are good for him. You've been seeing him...what? A year or more now?"

I nodded. "More. It doesn't seem that long, but...yes."

She touched a forefinger to one of my eyebrows and smoothed it gently. "It's been a good year for all of us."

She raised her book and opened it again, which I took as a signal that she thought she had satisfied her part of the conversation.

I laughed. "Has this been a heart-to-heart conversation, like I've read about?"

She nodded. "I think so. Do you?"

I did, and nodded. "Can we have another sometime?"

Her smile was definitely a pleased one. "Yes. I would like that very much. I think your father would enjoy one now and then, as well."

"Okay. I think I'd like that." I looked around. "Where is"

She gave a very small, very sweet laugh. "In the den. He's doing the taxes."

I rolled my eyes. I knew that my father disliked doing the taxes. "Maybe he could use a short break?" I raised the remainder of my slice of pizza. "And a snack? I'll take him a slice, okay?"

She nodded. "He'd like that."

I jumped up, and she reached out and stopped me. "Hot, though...okay?"

I laughed. "Okay. And I'll ask him why it's better that way, too."

She sighed, looking happy. That kind of amazed me, because to look happy like that, you needed to have been somewhat unhappy about something before. I decided I'd discuss it with Benny, who seemed to have a very good handle on dealing with his parents.

Among other things.

"Bet it won't even start," Clint said, kicking the front tire of the big Dodge Ram pick up.

The owner, who had introduced himself as Larry, laughed. "It's dirty as hell, but what do you expect from a real off-road vehicle? Flowers in the ashtrays?"

Benny wrinkled his nose, which made the fine, newborn mustache beneath it twitch. I grinned, knowing what he was thinking.

"You don't smoke in this truck, do you?" I asked, for Benny. "That leaves a real funk behind that's tough to get rid of. I don't know if I could drive something every day that reeked of cigarette smoke."

Larry let one eyebrow rise. "I don't smoke." He winked at me then. "Not tobacco, anyway." He patted the front fender of the red Dodge with no small amount of affection. "And not inside the beast, ever."

Clint laughed, causing Gary to grin. Gary had a thing about the way his boyfriend laughed, and it always brought a smile to his face to hear it.

"You call this truck the beast?" Clint asked, shaking his head. His tone was a bit mocking, and Larry frowned at hearing it.

He leaned forward to look at Clint. Larry was in his early twenties, maybe, and bigger even than Clint. "How old are you, kid?"

Clint bristled a little at that, but then smiled. "Sixteen." He waved a hand around. "We're all sixteen."

Larry smiled. "You boys may not even be experienced enough to handle something like the beast. This is a Dodge Rebel, kid. There's a 396 horsepower, hemi vee-eight under those two scoops on the hood." Larry looked self-satisfied. "Takes a man to drive one of these."

Clint wasn't having it. "I'm not the one that wants to buy it," he returned, pointing at me. "He does. So bluster to that fellow, not to me."

To his credit, Larry laughed. "Okay. You called me. I was having fun at your expense. I'm sorry." He patted the fender of the Dodge. "This is really a great truck, no kidding. You're looking for something that will go off road?"

I nodded. "I need something that will climb some of the hills around here. I need a good field of view from the top."

"Oh." Larry nodded. "Photographer?"

"Telescope," Benny said, finally adding his voice. "We're skywatchers."

Larry looked mildly impressed. "Is that like weather watchers? Looking for tornadoes?"

Gary frowned. "They don't have tornadoes around here."

"Skywatching, as in the stars and planets," I corrected, feeling that Larry was a wit, and having way too much fun with us. "Astronomy."

Larry actually looked interested this time. "That's pretty cool stuff." He smiled then, and patted the truck's fender again. "Well, the evidence is right here. Mud from every decent climbing hill for miles around, right here for you to see with your own eyes."

"How much were you asking?" I said. I had taken the truck's mileage, which was low, and figured its blue book value, and arrived at a dollar amount that I found acceptable. That is, if there weren't any scrapes, dents, or other body imperfections hiding underneath all that mud.

"She's only two years old, and you already saw she only has twenty-two thousand miles on her."

I nodded. "There could be a dead tree stuck through a fender, too, and hidden by all this mud and crud."

Larry laughed. "She's clean."

"Can't tell by looking," Clint said, drily.

Benny pulled me aside. "You sure you want this thing, Griff? It's really a lot of money."

It was to be a graduation present - a little early - from my parents. Money was not an issue for me other than to get a fair price.

I looked back at the truck, dirty as hell, but sitting proudly and solidly on its over-sized tires. "Yes. I want it." I grinned at him. "Can you imagine us climbing that big hill in the woods over by the reservoir? And getting an eyeful of the sky above that spot?" I leaned closer and lowered my voice. "It's really away from everything there. Secluded. No people at all. We could take a sleeping bag and get comfortable."

Benny's eyebrows went up at that, and a smile spread across his face. He immediately turned back to Larry and pointed at the truck. "How much did you say?"

"That's really good," I said, leaning over Benny's shoulder to stare at the screen of his laptop. On it was an image, one that spoke to me at many levels. It was a mix, expertly done, of smaller images, that blended in such a way to create a montage that was not only striking, but evocative of several different emotions. "In fact, it's great!"

Benny looked up at me, obviously pleased with my assessment. "Think I have a chance?"

"Yes. I think you'll win, actually. You've done some amazing work here, Ben."

He looked startled, and then laughed. "You haven't called me Ben, ever."

I smiled. "I just think that, once your career as a graphic artist gets going, it would sound better for you to be known as 'Ben Cooper', rather than 'Benny Cooper'".

Benny stood, turned, and took me into his arms. "My career? Isn't that premature?"

I shook my head. "No. You've been doing this stuff since you were a kid, Benny. You've become awesome at it." I looked into his eyes. "You love it, don't you?"

He swallowed hard, and then nodded. "Yes. I really do. It's just..." he frowned, then shook his head. "It just feels so early to be planning the rest of my life."

I sighed, and hugged him. "I already told you what I wanted to do. Study to be a professional astronomer. With my GPA I know that Cornell will take me. I'm going to move to Ithaca and take that little apartment that my mom's sister owns." It was my turn to swallow hard. "I'd love for you to come with me."

Benny looked into my eyes, and smiled. "If I was employed and had a career, it would be easy."

"That's what I was thinking."

He turned and looked back at the artwork on the screen. "National First Responders is a big outfit. If I win the competition, they'll use my artwork nationally. The fifty thousand dollar prize would keep me going until I could get some other customers."

I pulled him closer, and laid my cheek against his. "I want to stay with you, Benny. But I want to go to school, too. I don't...I don't know what to do."

Benny kissed me, and it still held all the spark of the very first time. "You'll go to school," he said, simply. "And I'll go to Ithaca with you. I'll win the contest, become famous, and that will be that. An artist doesn't need a fixed location to operate. Just an email address and a website."

I kissed him. "I sure love you."

"I know." He nodded at me, and smiled. "I know that more than anything else, Griff. My whole existence is wrapped in that love."

He sighed, and tightened his grip about me while I nuzzled his cheek. "I've never loved anybody but you," he said, softly. "And I never will."

The lantern cast small shadows about the hilltop, illuminating the sleeping bags, the cooler, and the Celestron's tripod. A little farther away, the bright red side of the Dodge truck showed, spotless save for a lean spattering of mud about the fender wells. The truck had never again been as dirty as the day I'd first laid eyes on her, but it was nearly impossible to take all that power off the road and onto mere earth and not expect the truck to wear at least a little bit of it as a badge of accomplishment. In the year I had owned the truck, it had taken the four of us to just about every decent viewing spot in the state. Dark sky areas where the light pollution was minimal, and the viewing spectacular.

We had spent the early evening looking at Saturn, its massive, varied rings displaying clearly on the laptop screen courtesy of the telescope's imager. I'd eventually pulled the imager and gone to a prism and a lens, just so everyone could really say they'd actually viewed the great planet through a telescope. Sometimes, even though the Celestron was the source for the sky object we were viewing, watching it via the imager on a laptop screen was too much like watching it on TV. The little thrill that came with knowing you were looking directly at a planet that was 800 million miles away was somehow missing.

After that we'd gone to our sleeping bags; Clint and Gary to theirs, and Benny and I to ours. Benny and I made love under the new moon, the dark sky above filled with stars, and the soft sounds of Clint and Gary doing the same thing causing us to smile. I never ceased to be amazed how close the four of us had become, at the iron that had been forged to bind us. In the small world of love I lived in, Clint and Gary were responsible for everything that didn't come from Benny or my parents.

Benny was extremely energetic, having had a day full of experiences that had charged him to the limit. The National First Responders artwork competition had been judged that day, and Benny had not won. He had taken an honorable mention only. I thought his entry was the best, no matter what the judges said; but Benny seemed to agree that the woman that had won had deserved to do so. Benny received a two-thousand dollar runner-up prize - something, but not enough for him to live on if he moved with me to Ithaca.

However, it didn't end there. One of the judges was the retired CEO of a national graphic design firm, and he had thought that Benny's work was outstanding. He had called Benny personally, and offered to connect him with people that would also appreciate his talents. A meeting was set up, and it looked like Benny might get his wish to eventually go pro with his talent. Benny had been smiling and talking non-stop all evening, and it was a little bit of a relief for me to get him down on his back and occupy his mind with something else for a time.

It was nearing midnight when the two of us relaxed together, flat on our backs. I had an arm under Benny, around his shoulders, and his head was laying atop my shoulder where it was in range of my lips - precisely my favorite place for him to be. The sky was massively beautiful without the moon to wash it out, the stars crowding around to gaze back at us, and wonder about us, even as we wondered about them.

"God, it's gorgeous out here tonight!" Benny breathed softly, snuggling against me. His skin was warm, and slightly damp in the late summer humidity, his thick hair soft against the side of my face. One of his legs was draped over mine, and one of his hands gently rubbing against my ribs. It was absolutely perfect.

I smiled, turned my head and whispered into his ear, "It's gorgeous anywhere you are."

He laughed, a pleasant sound that made me sigh with delight. I'd meant what I'd said, but he always thought I was playing when I told him such things.

There was a grunt from nearby, and then Clint and Gary walked over, totally naked, dragging their own sleeping bag, their clothing spread out atop it. They arranged their bag next to ours, moved the clothing around until it formed a fair pillow, and then plunked themselves down in a comfortable position, arms and legs happily entangled.

"This place is great," Gary said dreamily, making kissing sounds to Clint. I could hear Clint sigh; but he raised up and found Gary's lips, and wasted no time pressing his own against them.

I could feel Benny give a tiny, silent laugh, his delight at the antics of the others apparent. He still felt that getting Gary and Clint together had been one of the finest things we had ever done, and he always was ready to bask in the broadcast glow of their affection for each other. I understood how Benny felt. Gary and Clint were our best friends, and friends like these came along only once in a lifetime.

Their kissing done, Clint laid his head back on the pile of clothing. Gary turned on his side and threw an arm over Clint's belly and a leg over Clint's thigh, and laid his head on Clint's chest and grinned at us. "Do I look like a happy camper?"

Benny and I both laughed. "I would say so," Benny agreed. He rolled onto his side and mimicked Gary's position, but in mirror form, so that he could gaze across my chest at the others. "How about us?"

"Delirious! Stupendous! Amazing! Colossal!" Gary returned, as if he was barking a carnival sideshow. But then he sighed. "I can't believe you two are going away next month."

I shook my head, because this was like the tenth time that Gary had said this.

"We'll be an hour and forty minutes away," I said again. "It's Ithaca, not Thailand. You guys can come up to see us, and we will definitely come down to see you. We'll be home for holidays, and we will always have time for the two of you."

"Yeah," Benny added. "And there's this thing called a phone they invented, where you can actually talk to us every day!"

Gary pouted. "I can't see you on a phone."

Clint laughed, but didn't say anything.

"Well, I can't," Gary insisted.

"We'll Skype you," Benny offered. "How's that?"

Gary nodded. "Maybe that will help." He sighed. "I love you guys. I'm going to miss you."

Clint looked over then, and nodded. "Amen to that."

I was touched, and I could feel that Benny was, too. "It'll work out. You'll see," Benny said. "We aren't ever going to abandon you guys, okay?"

Gary nodded, and Clint squeezed him reassuringly.

One thing about Gary, he healed quickly. He pouted a moment longer, and then sighed and kissed Clint, who gave him a reassuring squeeze.

"I guess everyone is going away now, and it will be just me and Clint for a while," Gary said. "I talked to Jerry the other day, and he's going off to law school."

Benny grunted. "Really? Somehow I never saw Jerry Creed as a lawyer."

"Oh, no, he's a scrapper when he thinks he's right," Gary said. "I think he'll be a great attorney."

"So do I," I said. Jerry was a straight-up kind of guy, and one with a real sense of right and wrong in him. The world of law and order was a slippery place, and needed more people in there that had a sense of what real justice might entail. "He'll stay in touch with you, Gary. He's one of your best friends."

"I know. He said he would, and I believe him. It's just...everything's changing."

I nodded, understanding him completely. Change was inevitable in life, especially at the juncture with the future that our age group had reached. But...change was not an end, only a new direction. "Stop worrying, Gary. We aren't leaving you. We're just evolving a little. You'll be okay."

He sighed. "Yeah, I know. Well, it's a nice night, anyway," He laughed then. "Nothing like being naked out under the stars."

There was something to that. "I'll bet we won't get to do this in Ithaca," I said to Benny. "Maybe they have some wilds nearby, but we'll have to find them. But I won't be surprised if we have to confine our nakedness to our apartment once we get there."

Benny huffed in annoyance. "I always heard that city life sucked. Now I know why."

I smiled. It >was going to be a big change for us, but not something we couldn't handle. My only fear, ever, had been about going out into the world without Benny. Now that I knew I was not leaving him, I was looking forward to what came next. I had what I wanted to do in life, and now it looked like Benny had what he wanted to do, too. Together, we would be unstoppable.

Nothing like planning one's future to insure that everything comes off smoothly.

"I like the apartment," Gary said, nodding as he and Clint walked through. "Not huge, but it's comfy...for two people in love." He turned and smiled at Clint, who grinned and pretended he didn't get it.

"The rest of the furniture will be here tomorrow," I said, smiling. "Our first place was way small, and having the extra room here and the bigger living room and bedroom kind of cried out for more."

Gary sighed. "Three years you two have been away from us. We miss you."

Benny laughed, and nudged me gently with his elbow. "We see you guys nearly every weekend. How can you miss us?"

Gary made a little pout. "Well, we do. It's a long way to come up here, and seeing you guys for a few hours here and there isn't the same as what we used to have."

Clint sighed then. "He's right, actually. It isn't the same." He'd lost a bit of his drawl over the past few years, and sounded a little more like an easterner these days.

Benny looked over at me and frowned, and I nodded. "It's not, I agree. But what's to be done about it? I'm in my third year here at Cornell, with one more before I get my BS. And you have a pretty decent business going, and we both have some ties here now." I looked back at Clint and Gary, who had joined hands and were watching us. "We miss you guys, too."

Benny nodded then. "Yeah, we do. And this isn't permanent. The hard part is nearly over. Once Griff gets his degree, we'll stop and take a breath and look around a bit." He smiled at me. "You said you might want to take a year off before going after your Masters, right?"

I nodded. "A lot of people do that. Kind of take a year to rest and see what comes next. I have several options for my post-grad phase, and I want time to think about it."

"What will you do if you take off for a year?" Gary asked, shaking his head. "How will you live?"

"I make enough to support us," Benny said, his eyes twinkling at me. "We don't live high on the hog." He smiled at Gary and Clint. "We'll probably come back down your way and get a place, while we figure out what's next."

Gary's eyebrows jumped upwards, and his eyes came to me. I nodded, grinning. "That's what we were thinking. At least for the year, while I decide what comes next."

"Well, that's okay, then. Anything that gets you two back home is okay in my book."

Benny laughed. "And we thought you'd be hard to convince."

Clint simply shook his head. "There's still a year to go. A lot can happen in a year's time."

I shook my head at him. "Don't get your guy riled up, Clint. After all, you're the one that will have to live with it."

Clint looked at Gary, who smiled sweetly back at him and nodded. "Don't start none, won't be none."

"Okay." Clint smiled brightly. "This all sounds wonderful. I'm sure everythin' will work out just fine."

I got my degree, and we moved back home. We found a small apartment five minutes from where Gary and Clint had theirs, and everyone was delighted. Benny and I got to see them every day, and our families, too. It was great!

For about two months, that is. And then, I started to feel the weight of unused time on my hands.

Benny worked from home, but he needed time and peace to concentrate and create. He had developed a solid, faithful core clientele, and he was on his way to making some serious money with his talent for design. I loved that for him - for us; but at the same time I kind of felt left out, with the knowledge that I really should be doing something productive gnawing at me a little more with each passing day. I couldn't just hang out at the apartment - Benny needed time to work. So I took to going out a little each afternoon to walk and get some exercise, and mull over what I wanted to do next.

My parents still kept the same hours, so they were at the lab most of the day. But one Saturday my dad sprained his ankle while running with my mom, and took the following week off to recuperate. I asked him if he'd like some company, and he said that would be fine. My dad was delighted to have me around to spar with again, and we got together all week and talked science.

"I'm pleased to see that my DNA is being used for something productive," he said to me one afternoon, after I had explained to him about the initial mass function in star formation, and how it seemed to favor small stars.

"I guess. The stars seem a long way off just now, dad."

He smiled, as he always did since I had started calling him dad instead of father. That was Benny's influence showing. "Aren't you enjoying your time off? You've earned it."

"I'm bored," I admitted. "It's been hard going from a rigorous study and lab schedule to doing nothing at all." I shrugged. "I feel like I have all this energy, and no place to utilize it."

His smile faded, and he nodded. "I know how you feel. Your mom is one of the few people I know that went straight from completing her Bachelor's into study for her Master's. I took a year off, just like you're doing, and I was also bored silly."

"What did you do about it?"

"I got a job."

I stared at him in disbelief. "Isn't that counter to the idea of rest and recovery from four years of intense study?"

"No. Not if you get the right job. I worked in a bakery, making donuts."

I couldn't help it - I laughed. "You're not serious."

"I am." He sighed. "I'm a chemist, son. What better way to study the interaction of elements with different properties in a thermal environment...than baking?"

I leaned forward, and propped my chin on a hand. "You studied the making of donuts? You performed tests, kept notes, studied donuts?"

He rolled his eyes. "Well...not exactly. I performed...well, I did taste tests."

I gaped a little. This was my father talking? "Are you going to tell me about it?"

He laughed. "It's very simple. I got a job in a bakery, baking donuts. It was close by, and I could walk to work. The owner was a very laid back sort, older, and already set for life, and still running his business just for the fun of it. He did a lot of things the old fashioned way. No assembly line baking for that man. He had a daughter that was in the business with him, who really knew how to bake. Everything was done in several different ovens, and he and his daughter put a lot of love into the things they made."

"You baked donuts," I stated again, still trying to get my mind around it.

"Yes. They had about a dozen house recipes for donuts. They were good, and I quickly learned to make them, but there wasn't any leeway for originality. So I asked if I could experiment a little, try some new things, and was given the go ahead, so long as I kept up with demand for the regular flavors."

"You're not going to tell me you invented a bunch of new donut recipes, are you?"

"About a dozen," he returned proudly. "The chemistry behind taste is most interesting, son. Not everyone seems to have the exact same reactions to different foods. I experimented with that for the best part of that year, and attained some positive results. And...I had some fun."

I still could not see my dad baking donuts. "Does mom know about this?"

His eyes were merry now. "Of course. It was her Uncle Bill's bakery."

A light went on. "Oh! So the daughter was...Aunt Kate?"

"Yes. And she turned out to have a very lovely, very wonderful wonderful that I married her."

I couldn't help smiling. This was a side of my dad I had never knew existed. "That's just great, dad." I frowned then, considering. "I guess I can look for a job. But there aren't exactly any around here that would need the kinds of things I know. No one bakes with star stuff, that I've heard of."

He nodded. "You have many talents, son. Just look around. I think the job that will appeal to you is something you aren't even considering now."

"Maybe." It was certainly worth thinking about.

So I did look around. For the next two weeks, I checked the job sites with listings in our area, and even went to interview for a few. Nothing clicked.

And then, one afternoon I came back to the house, and when I checked in on Benny at his computer, he glanced up at me and smiled. "Mike Shannon called. He said to call him back."

Huh? Mike and I had been study partners at Cornell. He came from a very wealthy family in New York City, was kind of used to having things his way, but had proved to be a hard worker, and very trustworthy. And good with stars and planets, which he loved almost as much as I did. Once I got past his somewhat boastful facade, I'd liked him.

"Did he say why he was calling?" Mike had taken a year off, too, and had talked about touring Europe to relax. He was the last one I expected to hear from now.

"No. Just said to call him. I captured the number on my cell." Benny handed his phone to me, and smiled again. "Sounded like he really wanted to talk to you, love."

I laughed. "Oh, well, when you say it like that..."

I bent and kissed him, then took his phone and went to the kitchen, and put some coffee on. Then I sat at the table and called Mike.

"Griffie boy, is that you?"

I winced at that, but couldn't help smiling. "Mike. How have you been?"

"Fantastic. How about you?"

"Not bad. Enjoying my rest. More or less."

"Yeah, right. You can't fool me, man. I'll bet you're climbing the walls by now." He laughed. "That's exactly why I called."

I couldn't help but to be interested. Mike was a no-bullshit kind of guy - when it came to certain things, anyway. "What's on your mind?"

"You want a job?"

I couldn't help giving a little gasp of surprise. "What, do you read minds now, too?"

"No. I just know you. Sitting around isn't your thing. So I repeat: do you want a job?"

"Well...what are we talking about?"

Mike laughed, as if that was exactly the answer he'd expected. "I've been working for two months now at my dad's ad agency in the city. Writing ad copy for the automotive industry."

"You? Writing ads?" I had to laugh, myself. "I just can't see that, Mike."

"Why not? It's not hard. You just have say nice things about leather seats, cool gadgets, and safety features, and make it sound like any clown can afford it all."

Now, that sounded like the Mike I knew. "That sounds kind of cynical. Are they even good cars?"

"Some of the best, Griffie boy. Our agency has some high-dollar clients, and all they want are people that can sell their products for them."

"Uh huh. So why are you calling me?"

Mike made a sound like I'd said something really stupid. "Because you can write, boy. You've written some of the clearest, most detailed tech papers I've ever seen. You remember what the prof said, right? That if you ever tired of the academic side of star watching, you had a second career ahead of you, engaging the public in it. You're a natural when it comes to explaining things and making people like it."

I made a rude noise. "Yeah, well, explaining the life cycle of a star is a far cry from touting the merits of some luxury car. What do I know about cars?"

"You drive one, don't you? Most people only want the basic specs of what's under the hood, Griffin. Some want to race around, yes. But most people want good gas mileage, and comfort and safety for themselves and their families. And they want to know that they'll be happy driving the thing, and that they'll look very cool while doing it. You can sell that, I know you can."

I huffed, not about to be willing to be talked into something nutty. "And where would I have to go to do this work?"

Mike cleared his throat, and I could see it coming. "Well, of course you'd have to be here in the city, Griffie boy."

Hah! "No way. Benny and I just got this place. And I only have nine months until the fall semester starts. And I would hate living in New York City. I'm a country boy, and you know it."

"Okay, okay. Just thought I'd ask. I just didn't want to see a job that pays fifteen hundred a week go to some bonehead that can't write his way out of a paper bag."

I laughed. "Yeah, right."

"I'm serious, Griffin. The job starts at fifteen hundred a week, with a review in a month's time. The way you write, you'll be hauling down twenty-five hundred a week by then."

I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it. "You have to be kidding, Mike. What kind of idiot would pay that kind of money to someone with no resume and no experience in the field?"

I heard a mumble from the phone, and brought it back to my ear.

" my dad gave me carte blanche to rake in some new talent. He's been trying to get me into the business for years, saying that all that 'outer space stuff' wouldn't pay me a dime in my old age. I agreed to work for him for a year on the condition that I get to surround myself with a few good people I know can do the job. You were the first one I thought of." Mike sounded exasperated now. "Griffin, this is a golden opportunity to get into something that can make you some big money. Tell me you'll at least think about it!"

I was already thinking about it. Fifteen hundred a week - six grand a month - in nine months time I'd make fifty-four thousand dollars. Not a huge amount of money...but better than I was doing now. Of course there would be expenses drawn from that - an apartment in the city was expensive. Still, it would be enough to support Benny and myself, with maybe even some left over. And that meant we could save all of Benny's income, which would be a windfall for our future financial situation.

And...I would be doing something again to contribute.

"You're thinking about it," Mike said, and I could hear the grin on his face in his voice.

"Maybe. When would you want me to start?"

"I'd take you tomorrow, if you could get there by then. But as soon as you can come will do."

I licked my lips, and nodded to myself. "Let me talk to Benny about it. I'll call you back later."

"No hurry, Griffie boy. Talk to Benny, then the two of you sleep on it. Give me a call tomorrow."

"Okay. Okay, I'll do that."

"You could be a great one, Griffin. I'm telling you."

I nodded, not needing further coercion to consider the offer. "Thanks for thinking of me, Mike. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Great! I'll be waiting."

After I had disconnected, I sat the phone on the table before me and stared at it. Moving to the city would not be fun. I knew that Benny was happy here, back with his family, and being able to see Gary and Clint daily. The truth was, I was happy here, too. Leaving was not something I wanted to do.

But...the money was something I felt that Benny and I should at least talk about. Discuss. It was only for nine months, but the benefit to our savings could be substantial. I stood up and retrieved Benny's phone, and took it back to him.

"How's Mike?"

"He's good. He had a proposition for me."

Benny shot me a look. "Hey! Only I get to proposition you!"

I bent down and kissed him. "There will never be anyone else but you." I straightened, and patted his shoulder. "You're busy. Get back to work, and we'll talk at dinner. What do you feel like?"

He gazed at me speculatively. "Something Italian?"

I frowned. "Italian's for special occasions."

"Isn't this special?"

I stared at him. "What do you know?" And then I had a thought. "What did Mike say to you?"

He sighed, stood up, and took me into his arms. "Nothing that upset me." He looked into my eyes, and nodded. "We'll talk at dinner, okay?" He smiled. "I think Italian is appropriate. So be creative."

I could see the decision in his eyes, and knew there was no turning back. I stared at him a moment longer, and then nodded. "Okay. I'll surprise you."

Benny laughed. "You usually do."

The elevator creaked and groaned as it ascended, and I looked once again at the inspection certificate in its little frame on the wall. We'd gotten used to the minor ticks and taps the elevator made coming up from street level to our apartment, but the complaints it made going on up to the roof were another thing altogether. The city had a different idea of what was safe than us country boys had grown up with, and I only hoped the urban tendency to accept crazy things as normal did not extend to elevator inspections.

"It sounds like gremlins, gnawing through the cables," I decided, looking about the interior of the car. I'd never been claustrophobic a day in my life, but something about the noises we heard seemed threatening.

"Relax, Griff," Benny said, gripping my arm. "It's just a squeaky pulley or something."

I nodded. "Okay, but if we plummet thirty floors to our deaths, I want you to remember you said that."

He laughed. "I like the apartment. It's small, but it's fine for two. And that little back bedroom will be great for when Gary and Clint come to see us."

"If they come to see us," I amended. "It's a three-hour drive from back home. I don't see them making that trip very often."

"So we'll go and see them sometimes, too."

"How? We left the truck back at my dad's house. Owning a car in the city is for crazies."

Benny sighed. "Will you stop it? This is what you wanted, right?" He squeezed my arm again. "This is what we wanted. It's a little late to be second-guessing yourself."

I nodded - a little stiffly, but I couldn't help it. "I'm sorry I pulled you away from home. You were doing so well there."

"And I'll do just as well here. I don't have an office, and location doesn't mean a thing. My clients will be just as happy with the work I send them from here as they were with what I sent them from back home. Now shut up, or I may just find a way to break the elevator myself."

I had to laugh at that. "I'm sorry. I just --"

Benny reached out a finger and pressed it against my lips. "I love you."

I closed my eyes, and nodded. "I love you, too, Ben. More than I can say."

"Then relax. I'm happy wherever we are, as long as I'm with you."

There was a ding, and the elevator lurched to a stop. The doors opened, and Benny pulled me out onto the roof.

There was a pool here, and a clubhouse with a gym, only for residents of the building. We could see a few people inside the gym through the windows, but it was too cold for the pool, and the rest of the rooftop area was empty. It was a lonely looking kind of spot, but the sounds of the city all around us removed any sense of privacy, any sense that we were really alone together.

"Why are we here again?" I asked, as Benny pulled me around to the darker area to the side of the gym. "We were up here just the other morning."

"I told you: I want to see what the night sky looks like from here."

I sighed. "I could have told you that without coming all the way up here. It sucks. The light pollution is terrible in the city." I looked up. "You can't even make out the constellations."

"I only need one star," Benny said, humming softly to himself. His eyes scanned the sky above, and he nodded. "Okay. That will do." He took my arm again, and turned me around towards the elevator.

"What? We're done already?"

"Uh huh. I've seen enough." Benny led me past the gym windows, and smiled. "Look, they have treadmills. We can go for a walk without getting mugged."

I did have to laugh at that. Battery Park City was one of the safest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Mike had directed me to a friend that owned an apartment building there, and we had gotten the second one we had looked at - which was good, as there were only two units available. The rent was exorbitant, but well within the bounds of my new pay. And the crime rate was more like that of some Midwestern town than that of the largest city in the country.

The best thing about it was that my trip to and from work each day would be an easy one. The ad agency was located uptown on Lexington Avenue, and was a large one that specialized in commercial advertising with a digital flair. All I had to do each morning was take the elevator to the sub-basement of our apartment building, walk down a long hallway, and there I was on a subway platform. The Line 4 train got me to Lexington Avenue in fifteen minutes, and I got off on a platform, walked down another long hallway, took an elevator up, and was at work. The possibilities of getting mugged were slim to none going both ways, as there were security guards on both platforms, and in both building sub-basements. Even had I walked to work on the sidewalks, the possibilities of being a victim of crime were pretty slim in this part of town.

The local park was just minutes away, there was great shopping all around, and the restaurants in the area were numerous, and eclectic in their offerings. There were bookstores aplenty, theaters and shows, and we could see the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis and Governor's Islands, from our living room window. All the comforts of home - except, it was not home.

We reached the elevator, and Benny pushed the button. "I think we'll do okay here, Griff. So stop worrying, and let's get back to the apartment." He grinned. "I want to call Gary and Clint."

Evidently the elevator car had not moved since we'd gotten off it, and the door immediately opened. I swear the light within the car blinked off for a fraction of a second then, and Benny had to take my arm and pull me inside. "Come on," he said patiently, with just a trace of humor in his voice.

We made it back to our floor. When the door opened, there was Mr. Moffet, our neighbor, a retired police lieutenant, dressed in sweats, with a towel around his neck.

He smiled as he passed us and got into the car. "Gym busy tonight?"

Benny shook his head. "Didn't look like it. We were just outside, looking at the sky."

Mr. Moffet extended a hand and laid it on the edge of one door, keeping them from closing. "The sky? What's in the sky?"

Benny grinned. "Stars."

The older man blinked, and the suggestion of a nutty kids thought crossed his face. "Oh."

I pointed at the elevator. "That thing sounds like it's ready to drop."

Mr. Moffet took his hand off the door and laughed. "It's sounded that way for the entire twelve years I've lived here, and it hasn't dropped yet."

The doors closed on his smile, and I nodded my head. "Always a first time for everything."

Mike Shannon came in and sat on the corner of my desk. He was smiling, and Mike with a smile always meant good news. "They loved it, Griffie boy. It's a done deal."

My nerves, which had felt like a frayed extension cord all morning, quieted. "They did?"

"I knew they would. It was awesome. Mr. Clarefield told my dad it was some of the best work he's ever seen."

I had to sit back in my chair, still not fully believing it. "I just explained it as clearly as I could."

Mike shook his head. "Griffin, you don't seem to understand how well you present things. It's not just a cold summation of the facts. There's a warmth to the way you write that people like. It makes them smile, and feel like they're with a friend. You have no idea how well that goes over with the buying public. They'd much rather buy a car from a friend than some fast-talking slob of an ad-man."

I laughed at that. "We have slobs working here, and no one told me?"

Mike grinned, and shook his head. "Sure, make light of it." He lifted a hand, waggled his fingers at me, like he was about to perform a magic trick. He looked at his hand, and then at me, and then watched his hand move slowly towards the pocket of his jacket, where a long white envelope protruded from within. "Magic time, Griffie boy."

He withdrew the envelope and offered it to me.

I just stared at it, my mouth feeling dry. "What's this? Fired already?"

He rolled his eyes at me, and gently waved the envelope. "It's your first month's review. Take it."

Oh. I cleared my throat, took a breath, and reached for the envelope. And then I just stared at it. Written in the careful handwriting of Mike's dad, CEO of the company, was my name: Griffin Ballard.

And that was all.

Mike watched me a moment, and then laughed. "It works better if you open it."

I nodded, used my forefinger to slit the flap. Inside was a single sheet of paper, covered with neatly-typed paragraphs. I scanned them, my eyes just catching phrases here and there: ...exemplary unusually acute ability to discern what the client needs...careful and effective use of language that conveys both mood and emotion to the reader..."

I swallowed hard as I got to the end, and the line that said hereby authorize a salary increase of 65%.

Sixty-five percent.

I gasped, and looked up at Mike. "Is this right? This raise?"

He scratched his chin, and smiled at me. "Yes. I told you you'd be making twenty-five hundred a week after your first month."

"I know, but...I thought..." I swallowed hard. "Mike, who gives out raises like this?"

He frowned, and cocked his head at me. "Griffin, this is the big leagues. This is the salary you would have started at if you'd had credentials. I talked my dad into letting me hire a few people, but he wouldn't let me start someone with no experience at a journeyman's salary. He said if I got someone that could show him something in a month's time, he'd overlook the fact that he didn't have a resume. You've done that, and now you're in."

I nodded slowly. "It''s wonderful. But...the fall semester starts in just under eight months."

Mike stood, and thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "Maybe. I've been thinking I might take two years before I go back. Sock away some money for expenses, first. You know?"

Two years?

In another eighteen months, at this salary, I would make one hundred and eighty thousand dollars. The figure was staggering. I could probably save as much as half of it, and with us saving Benny's earnings, too...holy shit.

I licked my lips. Mike was watching me, quiet now. "I'd have to think about it," I finally said.

"I know." He nodded. "Believe me, I do know." He came around the desk and patted my shoulder. "You and Benny talk about it, okay? There's time."

I nodded. Yes. It was just a matter of time, wasn't it?

* * * * * * *

But where does time go, when it's gone?

The day had seemed so short...but then, most days seemed shorter now. I rode the creaky elevator up to the apartment, wondering how I was going to tell Benny what I had done. What I had done, but which would affect both of us. My heart felt fluttery thinking about the coming talk we were going to have, as I wondered how he would take it. I could deal with anger, and I could deal with blame. What I could not deal with was the idea that Benny would not want to come with me.

My life had seemed so clear, once. The stars called, and I so much wanted to answer. But I'd let myself get sidetracked, first by a fat paycheck, and then by a growing joy I was feeling at writing for a living. I had come to feel a sense of purpose in writing, and I had let it dim my vision on the future I had once so fervently desired.

I could vividly recall the day I had received that first raise, and the suggestion that came with it that I take yet another year away from my education, to stay in the city and write. I'd gone back to our city apartment that day with my head in a spin. I'd sat down with Benny, and we'd talked about it. I did want to go back to school...but the firm was offering so much money!

Benny had watched me, and listened to me, and smiled at me, and kissed me. And then he'd said we could do another year in New York City standing on our heads, and that I should go back to work and earn that raise. So I did that.

Only one year turned into two, and then three...and then six. Every year when I announced I was leaving, I was offered more money to stay. But after six years in the city, I was getting restless. I was almost twenty eight now, and I either had to move on with my life or stay forever chained to a desk in a city that both Benny and I pretended to love, but which neither of us really even liked.

But Benny's career had prospered greatly while here in the city. Could I rightfully ask him to leave? Especially as I didn't even know quite what to do with myself if we did?

I had an idea, and that was all. I wanted to keep writing, but not in the city. I was sitting on an enormous pile of money now, enough to easily start my own business. The lure of school had faded for me, the stars overhead dimmed by time. I still loved them, still wanted them. But I was older, and perhaps a little more realistic about life.

And I had come to love writing, and I really didn't want to give that up. I had an idea that I would go back upstate, to one of the cities near home, and open my own business as a writer. Some of my clients at the ad agency had suggested to me that if I ever left, they would be interested in going along. So I could work for myself, pick the clientele I wanted to write happy. But even that plan was only partially formed, because it most of all depended on what Benny was willing to do.

It wound up not mattering. This time, on the day I announced I was leaving, my employer offered me another raise. To my own surprise, I didn't even consider it. I said no, and thanked them, but said that I was moving on. I gave my notice, and that was that.

And all I had to do now was tell Benny. Oh my god.

The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and I got off. I walked the short distance down the hall, and let myself into our apartment.

I could hear soft music coming from the little stereo in the extra bedroom in the back of the apartment, and dishes clattering in the kitchen. I set down my briefcase, took off my overcoat, and laid it across a chair, and went down the short hall. I could hear Benny humming, and despite everything, it made me smile.

He was in the miniscule dining area, laying out plates and silverware. He looked up as I came into the doorway, and smiled. "Hi!"

He came to me, gathered me in his arms, and kissed me. I closed my eyes and held onto him, hoping that this would not be the last moment that we would be happy together.

He pulled back and looked at me, his eyes shining. "I know. You quit."

I was so shocked I couldn't speak for a moment, and when I could, I nearly shouted. "You know!"

"Uh huh. Mike Shannon called and asked if you'd gone nuts. He said you got offered a huge raise, but turned it down and said you were leaving." He smiled. "Going back to 'the sticks', as he put it, to work for yourself." Benny winked at me. "He asked me to try to change your mind."

I shook my head. "Really?"

"Yes. I told him no thank you, that I was going back to the sticks with you."

I thought I might cry. Instead, I yanked Benny close and simply held him, and kissed him, and told him how much I loved him.

He finally drew back, and wiped at his eyes, and then used his fingertip to dry my cheeks. "You thought I wouldn't want to go, didn't you?"

I shrugged helplessly. "You're doing so well here, Benny. How could I ask you to leave?"

He laughed, and wiped at his eyes again. "I told you once before, sweetheart, that my career is not rooted in any one spot. Moving won't change a thing for me. At the most it means distributing a new email address to my clients." He smiled. "When are we leaving?"

"I gave them thirty days notice," I said. "After all, they've done a lot for me."

Benny smiled, nodded, and waved a hand at the kitchen table. "I ordered out. Italian. To celebrate." He shook his head. "I cannot wait to get out of this freakin' city."

I stared at him. "I thought you liked it here."

Benny sighed. "Only because you're here. Understand?" He licked his lips. "Want to know a secret? I was up on the roof the other night. I wanted to see the stars."

Benny and I grown fond of the roof, with its cool swimming pool in the summer, and heated gym in the winter. Sometimes we went just to skywatch, even though the light pollution was horrendous. You could still see a smattering of bright stars, and we'd take a sleeping bag up and lay in the dark to the side of the gym, and it was almost like being on one of the hills at night back home. Almost.

"That's where you went? It's not the best place to see stars."

Benny smiled at me. "I could see one star, and one was all I needed. I was wishing."


"Yes. I knew your contract was coming up for consideration...again. I was wishing...that you would not accept it."

I stared at him, unable to grasp what he was saying. I had been thinking of leaving the agency for some time, but it was only in the last few days that the idea had crystallized into a decision to actually do it.

Benny watched me, and then smiled again. "I told you wishing counted."

I just nodded.

There was a beep from the other room, and Benny immediately patted his pockets. "Darn it. I left my cell on the coffee table." He squeezed me one more time, and then pushed around me, going for the living room. "I'll bet it's them. They'll be excited."

I turned to follow him, feeling a slightly surreal sense about everything that was going on. "Who will be excited?"

He went to the coffee table and grabbed up his phone, looked at the screen, and grinned. He waved the phone at me. "Gary and Clint. I called them earlier, but just got their voicemail. But I did leave a message." He grinned again, and his eyes held the lights of the stars. "I told them we were coming home."

Annie came into my office just before closing and laid another holo tab on my desk. "You don't have to even look at that until Monday, okay?"

I nodded absently, smiling at the text floating in the display atop my desk. "You mean it's not important?"

She shrugged. "It's from Warren, at Tel-Canter. He said it was important, but I know better. I told him you had already gone home for the day." She leaned forward and patted my shoulder. "Don't make a liar out of me, okay? Go home."

I looked at the clock and nodded, waved a hand at my screen to save my file. The display folded in on itself, and was gone.

Annie grinned, produced a small package out of thin air, and laid it on my desk. "Happy birthday, Mr. Ballard."

"Aw." I looked up at her and smiled. "Thanks, Annie. Do I need to give you a raise to pay for this?"

She shook her head, and leaned closer. "Discount website," she whispered. "Cheap."

I laughed, getting to my feet. I knew better. Whatever it was, it would be thoughtful and useful, or beautiful and necessary. Annie's good sense and good taste were not to be trifled with.

She laughed, and went back out to the front office. I stretched, glad to be up from the desk. I had been working all day on a project for one of the private orbital services, making the harrowing boost to geosync sound both affordable and exciting to those upper-level earners that might want to make the trip up to one of the orbiting hotels. I'd never made the trip myself, but I had heard from reliable sources that it was less than fun.

I picked up the package Annie had left behind, could immediately tell by its heft that it was something expensive. I shook my head. That girl!

For just a second I looked around my office, and then out through the corner windows at the city below. It had grown in the years I had been located here, but was still a small city by world standards. Still comfortable, still reasonably safe.

I let my eyes travel about the office, which was actually a suite, and which was large and comfortable, and suitably impressive for my clients that still chose to visit and do business in person.

Successful, I thought, smiling to myself. And happy.

Annie and I rode the elevator down to the garage and parted. I thanked her again for the gift, and told her I would see her on Monday.

I climbed into my Lex and lay back into the seat. "Home, James."

The car started, and pulled out of its slot. "We'll be taking route thirty this evening," it said. "There is construction going on along route eight."

I nodded. "Doesn't matter. Just get me there."

It was nearly dark already. Winter was slightly depressing for me, because the days were short and sweet, and not friendly for those that loved the outdoors. Here it was, scarcely December, and I was already pining for the soft breezes of spring.

Fifty, the thought came to mind. Tomorrow I'll be fifty.

I shook my head. Where did the time get to?

But then I smiled again. It didn't matter. Fifty was an arbitrary number, really. I still had many years left, twenty or more, even, before I would even consider retirement.

Twenty or more working years, each spent with Benny. And then many more years, after that. All of them spent with Benny.

I didn't pay much attention to the ride, and so was surprised when the Lex turned up our driveway to the garage. The house was well-lit, aglow with some small wonder there among the trees. That we had stayed so rural all these years was a sign of our total retreat from the city. Benny and I had had the house built here at the edge of a wildlife preserve because we knew that the land would never be developed, never be more than it had been the day we moved in. And it had stayed the same all these years, far away from the world, nestled among the ancient trees, out beneath the stars.

There was another car in the driveway, and I smiled. I had told Benny I didn't want any big get-togethers for my birthday, that I wanted to spend it with him and family and maybe a few special friends.

These would be the special friends. I recognized Clint's big SUV, and smiled. They had been invited to spend the weekend.

The garage door opened, the car pulled in, and said good night to me as I climbed out.

"Thanks for the ride," I said, as the door closed behind me. Always be polite to your machines, because you never know what they're thinking.

I entered the kitchen, and smiled at the three sitting around the dining room table. Benny hopped to his feet and came over, smiling, and gave me a quick hug. "You look a little beat. Tough day?"

"No, not really. know."

He nodded. "Yeah. Winter blahs."

I laughed, and so did he. He helped me off with my coat, and then frowned at it, and felt in the right-hand pocket. He pulled out the small, heavy, wrapped box and looked at it, smiling. "I see Annie has struck again."

I nodded. "I can't open it until tomorrow, though. You know Annie's rule. It has to be done on the actual birthday."

Benny kissed me, and went and laid the coat over a chair, and placed Annie's gift atop the little cabinet near the dining room table.

The other two got up then from their seats at the table and came to trade hugs with me. Clint was the tallest of us, large and powerful, and he gave me a squeeze that would have tested the ribs of a lesser man. He was followed by Gary, still red-haired, who hugged me and pulled back to gaze at me critically. "Is that a gray hair I see?"

I nodded. "There are three. I have executed all of them, but they persist in returning. The prognosis is not good for a full recovery." I stepped back and looked him over. "Have you gained a couple of pounds?"

He sighed. "Kind of you to notice. My metabolism has slowed down a bit."

I grinned, and leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "You still look good enough to eat, so don't sweat it, okay?"

He laughed, and we went to sit at the table. There were places set, but I couldn't smell anything cooking. At my questioning look, Benny grinned. "I ordered out. Italian. It should be here in a minute."

I smiled at that. Italian was reserved for special events, and having the guys over was definitely that.

Clint sat back in his chair and took a sip of wine from the glass before him. "Benny was just telling us about the day when he came out to his folks, how his mom threw up her hands and yelled, 'Oh, what else can happen!', and his dad just laughed and said, 'Honey, it could be a hell of lot worse! It could be Angelica, and she could be pregnant!'."

I laughed, remembering. "Yeah. We thought it would be the other way around, with his mom accepting it and his dad going off about it. But his dad shook Benny's hand, asked if I was the lucky guy, and then gave Benny twenty bucks to take me out for pizza!"

Benny rocked back and forth in his chair, smiling. "That's right. And every year at Christmas, I get a card from my dad with a twenty dollar gift card inside, and a note to take Griff out for pizza!"

We all laughed.

"At least your pop didn't chase you with a branding iron when you told him," Clint said, looking dead serious.

Benny's mouth dropped open. "Your dad was going to brand you?"

Clint grinned, his green eyes merry. "Oh, heck no. He was gonna hit me with that sucker. Fortunately, my mom grabbed a shotgun and shot that iron clean out of his hands!"

Gary tossed his head back and howled. "Don't listen to him. That story gets bigger every time I hear it."

I grinned at Clint, and he smiled. I remembered the last time he had told us the story about when he had told his parents he was in love with a boy. His mother had reputedly hugged him and said she would still darn his socks, and his father had just been silent for the rest of the day. Along about the time Clint had decided that his daddy was never going to speak to him again, the man had come and poked his head into Clint's room and asked if his boyfriend was a Republican or a Democrat.

"Dad, he's fourteen," Clint had said. "I don't think he's either."

The man had nodded then, and smiled. "Well, good then. There's some hope left!"

I don't think we know the true story to this day.

The kitchen holo popped up and announced that a drone was inbound, and broadcasting the ID signal of the Italian restaurant in town. Benny gave it permission to land on the roof, and a few moments later the door to the kitchen dumbwaiter opened, revealing several large thermopaks inside. We got up and doled out the food, and the room hissed to the sounds of the vacuum seals being broken. The air was immediately filled with the steamy, hot smells of lasagna and Fettuccine Bolognese, and the more muted tones of Broccoli Pesto Pasta.

The dinner was excellent. Some more wine went down with it, but not enough to really notice.

After that, the four of us sat around the living room, rehashing old times. Clint was persuaded to retell the story about the time the county cop finally caught up to him on his dirt bike, and Gary rolled his eyes the whole time, and squeezed Clint's hand. "I thought they were going to arrest him and take him away from me," he said, remembering.

Gary said he had heard from Jerry Creed, now a prominent attorney in the city. Jerry had said that he had had one too many days in a New York City courtroom, and that he and his wife were packing it in and moving back to our area. Benny and I smiled at that, recalling our own move back to the sticks more than twenty years past now, and admitted that Jerry must be one tough dude to have made it in the city for so long.

"His wife went nuts when she heard," Clint said, smiling. "She tried to give their apartment to the mailman so that she and Jerry could get out of town quicker."

Gary reached over and slapped his boyfriend's knee. "That story-telling of yours is going to get you in trouble some day!"

We all just laughed.

Benny and I rehashed some of our science fiction tales, and we got onto the one about going to our first science fiction convention in the city, dressed as Dweedles from the planet Albacore. We were seventeen then, and it was our first road trip, too. It had been Benny's idea, and I had never even contemplated such a thing. The costumes were hideously outlandish, and after several hours of clomping around the hotel in more hair and leather than the average motorcycle gang could boast, I was more than ready to head home. But as we were on our way out, we had been stopped and pulled into the con room by two guys dressed as Klingons, and handed the second place award for best costumes. It had been totally unexpected, and Benny and I had laughed ourselves silly all the way home.

"You guys have done a lot of crazy things like that," Gary said, giving me the eye. "Considering how serious you were when I first met you, Griff, I was pretty surprised how nutty you turned out later on."

I smiled, looking at Benny. "It was the company I was keeping. Someone taught me to dare to have fun." I shook my head. "I wouldn't trade those memories for ten sacks of gold."

Benny laughed, but snuggled that much closer to my side.

Clint smiled then, and leaned forward. He held up Gary's hand, and then dropped his head and kissed it. "Gary told me it was the two of you that hatched the plan to get the two of us together. I never thanked you for that. It's long overdue."

Gary sighed. "Amen to that."

Knowing how happy the two of them had been together all these years made it more than worth the effort, and Benny and I said so. "That's what friends do," Benny said, smiling.

We talked until the mantel clock struck midnight, at which point Benny dragged me to my feet and hugged me and kissed me. "Happy birthday, sweetheart."

I then had to endure a crushing hug from Clint, and a very sweet kiss from Gary. And then the two of them said they were heading up to bed, because they knew we'd like some time alone.

Benny and I both grinned at that, knowing full well who it was that wanted some time together.

But then, Benny and I were alone. He squeezed my hand a moment, and then went to the closet and returned with both of our coats. "Come with me, Griff."

I looked at him questioningly, but knew better than to argue. The look on Benny's face said that he had something special in mind, something he wanted to share with me.

He led me outside, and down the driveway to the street. There was a strip of lawn there, brown with winter sleep and covered in dried leaves. He drew me out to the middle of it, and then sank down to his knees, pulling me with him. "Lay down, Griff."

He stretched out, and I stretched out with him. The ground was cold, and hard, but Benny snuggled against me.

Above us, the stars stretched away into the night in every direction. The house was surrounded by woods, and the only place to properly see the stars just by eye was by the open road.

"Why are we here?" I whispered. "We can skywatch by holo with the rooftop scope."

"Not for this," Benny said. He turned his head and kissed me. "We're here to wish."

I stared at him. "You're kidding."

"No." He seemed disappointed that I didn't feel the same way about it, and I immediately felt contrite. "I'm sorry. Are we wishing for something in particular?"

Benny laughed. "Every wish is for something in particular."

He was quiet a moment, and then squeezed my hand. "Do you remember that last time we did this?"

I did. All those years ago, Benny had taught me about wishing. I remembered then what I had wished for, and smiled. "Yes."

Benny sighed. "You not supposed to reveal a wish, at least, not for a long time after it's made. Or until it comes true. But it's been a long time since we made those first wishes." He looked over at me, and I could see his eyes full of starlight. "You know what I wished for that night?"

I shook my head. "No."

Benny squeezed my hand. "I wished that you and me would be happy together, forever."

For a moment, I didn't know what to say. Wishing ran against everything I knew about science, and even after all these years of allowing imagination to temper my reality, my first thought was to rebel at the idea that Benny wishing for us to be happy had made it so. But...what about my wish, the one I had made that night? As much as Benny's wish had come true, so had mine.

"That's happened," I said quietly. "Nothing could have made me happier than my life with you."

Benny nodded. "Me, too. As far as I am concerned, I got the wish I wished for."

"Then why are we here tonight? Isn't it tempting fate to ask for something else?"

Benny laughed. "Maybe. But we have a lot of life left in us, Griff. A lot of years. And I don't want to ask for something else. I want to ask for the same wish, just to reinforce the old one."

I smiled at that. "I don't think it can hurt."

He nodded. "Just to be safe, you should wish for the same thing you wished for, back then. That way neither of us will be asking for something new."

What Benny had just said was not borderline superstition, it was right in there with the rattles and the shrunken heads. But...I could tell it was important to him.

And, again, I had to remember that the universe held far more that is unknown than known, and that wishing, somewhere, somewhen, might even be the accepted way of doing things. What could it hurt to try?

"Okay, let's do it."

Benny snuggled closer, squeezing my hand. For a moment I was transported back to that starry night so long ago when we had laid in the grass behind Benny's house and made that first wish, and how not only Benny's wish, but also mine, had come true.

I looked over at Benny's face, tilted up to the stars, and just loved him so much.

And then his quiet voice reached out into the night:

"Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
have the wish I wish tonight."

Superstition, science - none of it mattered just then. All that mattered was Benny's wish, and his happiness, and my love for him, and his for me.

Yes, Benny's wish had come true. But so had mine, and I remembered that as I made the same wish again, and then cast it towards the heavens.

It sailed away into the night, right along side of Benny's wish, finding the zenith and points beyond. I squeezed Benny's hand, feeling a deep and personal satisfaction.

The wish I had just wished now, the same wish that I had wished that very special night so long ago...was that all of Benny's wishes would come true.


This story is part of the 2017 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: In His Room". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 26 September to 17 October 2017 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

In His Room
Please rate Star Light, Star Bright with the impressions it left you with

Either while reading this story, or afterwards, I found it to be/had/made me (Tick all that apply)

An emotional read
Written with rhythm and pace
Thought provoking
Technically well written
Written with good use of grammar and syntax (this does not mean pedantic use)
Easy to read
It invited me in
I could not put it down
It felt like it was about me. I know it wasn't, but it felt like it
There could be spelling/grammar/punctuation improvements
Interpreted the picture well
Took me somewhere I never expected to go

Current Results

Read More Stories by this Author
Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead