Setting his can of pop on the slightly crowded night-stand, Richie's eyes immediately fell on the magic skipper that was still sitting next to the purple envelope, exactly where he'd left it the night before. Knowing that it couldn't possibly be the same rock he'd hit with the lawnmower, he still picked it up to examine it for any nicks or marks that may have been left by the blade. Finding none, he returned it to his night-stand and picked up his phone. While he continued to puzzle over the mystery of the rock, he punched in TJ's number. Three rings later, TJ's voice came on the line.
"Yo, TJ. What up, man?"
"Rich, dude, where you at, man?"
"I'm at home. Sorry I didn't make it over this afternoon, but it's been one of those days. You know what I mean? One where nothing goes right?"
"Oh yeah, I know what ya mean. So, what happened?"
"Long story, dude. Look, you gonna be home tonight?"
"Sure, I got no plans. You wanna come over?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods... or chase people off cliffs? Yeah, I'd love to come over. Tell ya what, though. I still gotta eat supper, first, so how bout you give me directions now and I'll come over right after. If something else happens, and I still can't make it, I'll give you a call. OK?"
"Sure, that's cool," said TJ.
For the rest of their conversation, while using Columbia Park as a starting point known to both boys, TJ gave Richie detailed directions to his house. When they were done, and Richie had his phone back in its cradle on his night-stand, he laid back on his bed. Although he hadn't thought about it when he came into his room, the muffled sound of the shower falling silent reminded him of where his brother was. 'Perfect', he thought as he jumped to his feet and began stripping out of his clothes, 'Just enough time to shower before Dad gets home.'
Dressed only in his boxers, he stopped at the linen closet for a clean towel just as Carl came out of the bathroom.
"Hope ya left me some hot water, bro," said Richie over his shoulder.
"Course I did. You know I'm always thinkin of my little bro, don't ya?" said Carl with a smile as he ruffled Richie's hair.
"Yeah, right. In other words, I won't plan on staying in there too long," answered Richie with a roll of his eyes.
Quickly adjusting the water temperature, Richie wasted no time in washing his hair, then lathering-up his body. As he stood under the refreshing spray to rinse himself off, his mind kept coming back to the mystery of the rock. It couldn't have been the one that Lindy gave him, of that he was sure, but it was, without a doubt, a close twin. What bothered him the most was that, whatever it was, he couldn't find it. Just as the water began to get cold, he smiled when he thought about what Lindy would say to all of this. Whereas Richie had a logical, cause and effect way of thinking, Lindy was more apt to believe in the magic of the skipper. As he turned the water off, he was almost grinning with anticipation when he thought about what his best friend would have in the way of an explanation.
After drying himself off, he ran a comb through his hair, then wrapped his towel around his waist before returning to his bedroom. The last thing he heard before closing his door was the sound of his father coming into to the house. 'Whoa, some more perfect timing,' he thought as he dropped the towel onto his overflowing hamper.
Five minutes later, dressed in a clean pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt, he joined the rest of his family in the kitchen. His parents were seated at the table, while Carl was just finishing his call to Domino's.
"Hi, Richie. Thanks for cutting the grass today, son. It looks good."
"Thanks. You can thank Lindy's dad, too. If it wasn't for him it might not have gotten done."
"Really? What happened?"
"The mower crapped out on me. The air filter was all clogged up, and after I hit a rock, which killed it, it wouldn't start again. Luckily, Lindy's dad just happened to stop at home on is way to Home Depot and gave me a ride over there to pick up a new filter. I got a new spark plug, too, just to be sure. It's running good now, but Mr. L. is gonna hit you up for the price of the parts."
"Aw, nuts. I was going to replace that last spring but I forgot all about it. I suppose he'll be giving me a ration for the oversight, too."
"Oh yeah. He said somethin about giving you a hard time for not properly maintaining your lawnmower."
They continued with their idle chatter while the waited for their pizza to arrive.
"Oh, by the way, guess who I saw at the store today, Richie?" asked his mom.
"Gee, I don't know, Mom. Elvis?"
"OK, Mr. Smarty-pants, it was that nice girl, Nancy, that Lindy's been seeing."
"Really? So did you just see her there, or did you like talk to her?"
"I talked to her. Actually, I wasn't sure if she would remember me since we've only met twice, so I reintroduced myself. She remembered me, though. She really is a nice girl, you know, and probably just what Lindy needs."
"Yeah, she's OK, I guess," said Richie with a shrug of his shoulders. "So, what did ya talk about?"
"Nothing much, really, but she asked about you."
"She did? So, like what did she ask about?'
"She wanted to know how you were doing and if you had a good time at the lake. You went out with her cousin last winter, didn't you? What was her name... Andrea something?"
"Yeah, Mom, it's Andrea Michaels, and I almost went to the Snow Ball with her until the school canceled it."
"Oh yes, now I remember. What a tragic thing to have happened." After a moment of thoughtful silence, Richie's mom brightened a bit when she said, "Well, once you start your job at the Rialto next week, I'm sure you'll have the opportunity to meet lots of nice girls."
"Yeah, I spose you're right," answered Richie without enthusiasm.
"Why so glum? I'd think a boy your age would be excited about the prospect."
"I guess most guys probably would. I'm just not that interested."
Without any previous planning, Richie suddenly found himself on the path to coming out, and even as the anxiety within him began to grow, he was determined to follow through. His mother had given him an unexpected window of opportunity that he wasn't going to let slip by.
"What a strange thing to say," said his mother as she looked at her son with puzzlement. When Richie remained thoughtfully silent, she sighed, then stood to retrieve some clean plates for their pizza.
With her back to the rest of the family, she continued with a motherly observation while she gathered together a collection of plates, glasses and napkins. "I swear, I'll never be able to figure out how you teenagers think. Only last winter you were beside yourself with excitement over the prospect of going out with Andrea, and now you're not interested."
"A lot of things have happened since then, Mom."
Her back still turned to him, Richie's mother could not read the somber look on her son's face, nor pick up on the serious implication of his words. This, however, was not the case with his brother and father. Seeing the look on Richie's face as he spoke, they began to think there was much more to what he was saying than his words alone might imply. Still, unsure of where he was going, they continued to listen without comment.
"Things happen all the time, sweetheart," said Mrs. Andrews as she stacked the dishes on the counter in front of her, "but certainly not a young man's fancy for the opposite sex."
"That's just it, Mom. I don't have a fancy for the opposite sex."
That was it. Richie had finally said it. Both his father and his brother, being totally tuned in to what he'd been alluding to, suddenly understood. His mother, on the other hand, was still clueless. Before she had a chance to respond this time, however, her husband quickly spoke up to save her from any further misunderstanding.
"I think what our son is trying to tell us, Susan, it that he's gay."
The silence in the Andrews' kitchen at that point was beyond description. No one spoke, no one moved, and for the next long awkward moment it was as if time itself stood still. When Richie's mother finally turned to face the others, the expression on her face was unreadable, but her eyes were moist with tears. When she spoke, her voice was fraught with guilt.
"Oh, Richie, sweetheart, I'm so sorry. How could I have been so..."
When Richie heard this, and saw the tears in her eyes, it was all he could do to keep from breaking down. What Frank Lindstrom had said to him earlier, however, not only enabled him to avoid the trap of misunderstanding, but actually provided him with the strength he needed to reassure his mother that he understood what she was experiencing.
"It's OK, Mom. You couldn't have known. I'm probably the one who should apologize for breaking it to you like this. I just didn't know any other way to tell you."
Her eyes never leaving Richie's, his mother moved to join the others where she sat next to her husband. Unable to read the look on her face, Richie found that he could no longer maintain eye contact. Focusing his attention on his hands, his fingers interlaced on top of the table, he began to fidget nervously. He could feel his family staring at him, and even with Frank Lindstrom's words still fresh in his mind, his growing anxiety threatened to take control of his emotions. The silence began to draw out, and with each passing moment Richie became increasingly uncomfortable. Finally, his mother spoke again, and the sound of her voice when she asked her question was enough to ease some of the tension that was affecting them all.
"Are you sure, Richie?"
"Yes, Mom, I am. There's no doubt about it."
Again there was silence, and like the silence before, it served to refuel Richie's feeling of uneasiness. He needed somebody, anybody, to say something to keep the dialogue going. Sensing that his family was having at least as much difficulty as he was, he decided he would have to take it upon himself to prod them into an ongoing conversation.
Despite what Lindy's dad had said, that they would accept this news without changing the way they felt about him, he still needed a verbal confirmation. Unable to think of anything else to say, without looking up he asked the question.
"You guys are OK with it, aren't you?"
It was his dad who answered, and when he did, he spoke with confidence that his words echoed how the rest of the family felt. Reaching across the table, he placed his hand under Richie's chin, then gently lifted his head until they were looking at each other squarely in the eyes.
"Of course we are, son. Your sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with how we feel about you. We're your family, Richie, and we've always loved you and we always will." Then, with an easy smile forming at the corners of his mouth in an attempt to lighten the general mood, he added, "That's what I believe you boys call a no-brainer." While he continued to look his son in the eyes, he became serious again. "My biggest concern is how you feel about it, Richie. Are you OK with it?"
"Yeah, I am," said Richie, beginning to feel more at ease as he looked around the table. "I've had quite a while to think about it, so yeah, I'm good."
"How long have you known, Richie?" asked his mom, sounding much more comfortable now that the initial shock was beginning to wear off.
"Since around the middle of December." Still unable to gauge their reaction, he did his best to anticipate what might be foremost in their mind as he went on to elaborate. "I probably should have told you much sooner, but I just couldn't. I had to find out as much as I could about what I was... about what my feelings meant... I had to be sure that I understood as much as I could before I could tell you about it."
"Six months is a long time to keep something like that bottled up, son. It must have been a very difficult time for you," said Richie's dad.
The conversation was beginning to pick up momentum now and, with each new word spoken, the tension that surrounded the Andrews family continued to ease.
"It was, at first, when I was wrestling with it by myself."
Immediately after saying this, Richie instinctively knew what his family was now wondering. Deciding to get it all out in the open, to bring them up to date as to who knew he was gay, he proceeded with caution so as not to inadvertently out any of his friends.
"When I began to realize that I was attracted to guys instead of girls, I was sure there was something wrong with me... that what I felt wasn't natural. I knew I should have come to you guys, then, but I just couldn't... so I started to do some research on the Internet. That's when I began to find out what I was and what it was going to mean for me. It helped me a lot, too. It helped me to understand that I wasn't some kind of freak... that my feelings were part of who I was and that they were as natural for me as a straight person's are for him."
Looking down at his hands again, he continued, determined to tell them as much as he could.
"As soon as I began to understand it, I started to worry about how my friends would take it, and how you guys would feel about it. I still didn't feel comfortable enough to talk to you, but I had to talk to someone, so I told Lindy about it. He's been great, too. Right from the time I told him he's never judged me, ya know? As far as he was concerned, it didn't change anything between us, and just knowing that made me feel even better. Matter of fact, he's a big reason that I'm telling you, now."
As he spoke, Richie began to feel ashamed that he wasn't able to tell his parents first. Afraid that they would be disappointed in him for not trusting them enough, tears welled up in his eyes as he glanced around the table.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you first, and I hope you're not mad or disappointed in me, but I just didn't have the guts to do it back then."
Seeing the troubled look on his face and the tears in his eyes, like all caring mothers, Richie's knew her son needed more than just words right now to comfort him. With tears in her own eyes, she stood and walked to Richie's side of the table. Wrapping her arms around him from behind in a huge motherly hug, she spoke softly into his ear.
"Oh, sweetheart, of course we're not mad at you... or disappointed."
When she said this, the emotional tension that had been building in Richie since last Christmas came out in a sudden rush of sobs as he clung to his mother's arms. Seeing this, his father's heart went out to him as he reached across the table to take one of his hands firmly in his own.
"That's OK, Richie. Let it all out, son. We're all here for you."
The relief Richie felt at that moment would have been impossible to describe. He knew everything would be alright from now on, no matter what happened down the road, yet he couldn't stop himself from crying. It was as if six months of uncertainty and fear was finally being washed away with his tears. Just then, the front doorbell rang to announce the arrival of their pizza.
Feeling a little left out while his parents comforted his brother, Carl stood and said, "I'll get that." On his way out of the kitchen, he reached down to give Richie's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
By the time Carl returned with the large pepperoni pizza, Richie had recovered. He was washing his hands and face at the kitchen sink while his mother set the plates and napkins out on the table. Sensing some residual tension in the air, Carl tried to think of something to say that would help to lighten things up even more, and bring back the feeling of normalcy to the family.
"So, bro, you got a boyfriend, yet?" he asked as he set the pizza on the table.
The casual way he asked this actually caused Richie to laugh as he dried his hands and face on a paper towel.
"No, Carl, I don't have a boyfriend, yet," said Richie, surprising himself with how easy it was to say. "It's not as if I'm exactly out there yet, if ya know what I mean... but I'll be sure to let you know when I do."
"Hey, that's cool, little bro. I was just gonna say you should check out the pizza delivery kid. He looked pretty hot to me."
"Yeah? And like how would you know?" asked Richie, the relaxed humor of his question evident in his voice.
Although the conversation between Richie and his brother sounded as normal to them as any they'd ever had in the past, the first of many questions that his parents would have began to form in their minds as they listened.
"I might not be gay, sport, but I think I can tell if another guy is good looking or not," said Carl with a smile as he squeezed past Richie to wash his hands.
Returning to his chair while his mother began to distribute the pizza, Richie made another lighthearted comment. "He must be new, then, cause the last time I ordered a pizza, he was definitely not my type. If he's as hot as you say he is, though, I'll just have to crank up my gaydar the next time he comes around and check him out."
"Gaydar?" asked his mother, looking at Richie with genuine curiosity when she heard this new term.
"Yeah, Mom," said Richie with a chuckle. "It's more myth than fact, I guess, but it's like sort of sixth sense that a lot of gays believe tells you if another guy is gay or not, just by looking at him."
The mood of the conversation as they ate their pizza continued to be light. The questions Richie's family had for him were of a general nature, never broaching the more sensitive subjects such as sex, relationships, or Richie's plans for coming out to anyone else.
Remembering how Lindy's dad had stressed the fact that his parents would have many questions for him as they became more comfortable with his revelation, Richie watched them intently. Paying particular attention to the expression on their faces while they talked, he could tell that these questions were already beginning to form in their minds. Feeling totally at ease, now, Richie decided to take the initiative to address at least one of the less sensitive issues he was sure they were wondering about. When they were finished eating, and a single slice of cold pizza was all that remained amongst a few pieces of discarded crust, he spoke about his coming-out process.
"By the way, Lindy isn't the only one that I've told. Kyle and Kevin know, too. Oh yeah, and Lindy's dad knows."
Although there was little, if any, reaction when he mentioned his other close friends, when he said that his best friend's dad also knew, he could see a pained expression cloud the faces of his parents. Before either one could respond, however, he went quickly ahead.
"Now I know what you're probably thinking right now," he said as he looked from his mother to his father. "You're probably wondering why I told Lindy's dad before I told you. Truth is, I hadn't planned on it at all. I mean, yeah, I wanted to tell Lindy's whole family, but not until after I told you."
Richie then went on to explain how the unexpected talk between him and Frank Lindstrom came about. Not wanting to offer up any of the details of their conversation, he told them only that because of their brief discussion he felt strong enough to be talking to them now.
When he was finished, and convinced that they understood, he began to think that maybe enough was enough for the time being - that his family now had enough information to digest for one night. Just then, as if it were scripted, the doorbell rang followed immediately by the sight and sound of his best friend bursting through the back door.
Seeing the entire Andrews family seated around the kitchen table, the expressions on their faces told Lindy that he'd interrupted a family meeting - not only that, but he had a pretty good idea as to what they were discussing. This knowledge caused the signature 'Lindy' grin - a grin that was so much a part of who he was - to be instantly replaced with a look of embarrassment.
"Oops," he said, apologetically. "Sorry. I, um, didn't know you guys were busy," he continued as he began to back his way out the door. "I'll call ya later, Rich."
"No, man," said Richie, thankful for the interruption. Then, glancing around the table for confirmation, he added, "I think we're done here, right? At least for now?"
"Sure," said Richie's mom. "C'mon in, Lindy, and eat this last piece of pizza, would you? It's hardly enough to save, and I'd hate to throw it out."
Looking to Richie for final confirmation that he wasn't intruding, Lindy pushed the door closed behind him before moving into the kitchen.
"Well, I just finished eating supper, Mrs. A., but if no one else wants it, I'll squeeze it in somehow. Thanks," he said as he scooped up the last slice, his broad grin once again stretching across his face.
"C'mon, bro, let's go up to my room. I gotta call Kyle," said Richie.
"Don't forget you have an appointment with the DMV on Thursday, Richie. So make sure you give yourself enough time to study your manual," came the reminder from his dad as the boys left the kitchen.
"No prob, Dad. I wouldn't miss that for anything," answered Richie over his shoulder as they bounded up the stairs.
When they got to his room, Richie went directly to his desk where he dug out his Driver's Manual while Lindy sat on the bed to finish his pizza. Wanting to put the manual somewhere in plain sight so he wouldn't forget to review it, Richie looked down at his crowded night-stand. After moving the tickets to the top of his desk, he dropped the manual onto the night-stand, then took a seat next to Lindy.
"Mmm," said Lindy, licking the last of the tomato sauce from his fingers. "Good pizza." Then, leaning closer to his friend, barely able to contain his excited anticipation of the answer he knew he'd get, he asked, "So, did ya tell 'em?"
"Yup," said Richie as he looked over at Lindy through the corner of his eye, a sly smile stretched across his beaming face.
"Alright, dude!!" exclaimed Lindy while giving Richie friendly shove that nearly knocked him off the bed. This, of course, sent them into their patented slap-tap.
"So give, man, how'd it go?"
"It went well, bro. Thanks to your dad."
"My dad?! What did he have to do with it?"
Richie went on to explain everything that had happened to him during the course of the day. When he mentioned hitting the rock with the lawnmower, Lindy picked up the skipper from Richie's night-stand and examined it with a critical eye while Richie finished his rather bizarre story. When he was done, feeling compelled to look at the rock again, himself, he took it from Lindy.
"That puppy's smooth as a baby's butt, bro," said Lindy. "Hard to believe you could have hit that with a lawnmower."
"Well, duh. This was up here all day, Lindy. There's no way I could've hit it."
"Yeah, unless it's magic," said Lindy with all the conviction Richie expected from him.
Seeing the look on his friend's face, Richie just smiled as he returned the rock to his night-stand. There was a brief moment of thoughtful silence before Lindy spoke again.
"Why the hell do you think my dad knows so much about gays?"
"Beats me, but if you promise not to say anything, I'll tell you what he told me, cause I asked him the same question."
"Hey, my lips are sealed, dude. So what did he say?"
"He said he knew somebody else who came out to their parents, but he couldn't tell me who because he wasn't out to anyone else, yet. What d'ya think, bro? Think maybe you might have a gay cousin or somethin?"
"Whoa! I don't have a clue, but you can bet I'll do some poking around to see if I can't find out." When he saw the cautionary look on Richie's face, Lindy assured him that he wouldn't do or say anything to betray his confidence. "Don't worry, bro, I won't tip my hand."
"I know you won't. Just make sure you tell me what you find out. Oh, and by the way, I told your dad what you told me about Brad."
"Hey, chill, bro. He agreed with you. He even told me once I came out to my family, he'd tell your mom so I wouldn't have to. Then he said he'd talk to Brad again to make sure he understood it all."
Seeing a look of uncertainty on his best friend's face, he elaborated. "I'd still appreciate it if you'd talk to Brad, too, though. You know, just to make sure. OK?"
"Sure. No problem, man. I know my dad'll give him the all the facts and stuff, but I know Brad, too, and I know he's gonna have some questions that he'd never be able ask my dad."
"Cool, then you can fill in the gaps. Just don't tell him too much, if you know what I mean. You know, like the personal shit."
During a lull in their conversation, Richie remembered his promise to call Kyle with the news of his coming-out. Picking up his phone, he punched in Kyle's number. After three rings, Kyle's dad answered.
"Mr. Jacobson, this is Rich Andrews. Is Kyle home?"
"Hi, Rich. Um, no, he's not. Last time I saw him he was heading out somewhere with one of his teammates. That was a couple of hours ago, though, so I don't know where he is."
"OK, thanks," said Richie. "I'll try him on his cell."
After breaking the connection, he felt just a twinge of jealousy as he punched in the code for Kyle's cell. Two rings later, Kyle's voice came on the line.
"Yo, Guppy, what up, dude?"
"Hey, big guy," answered Richie, his small feeling of jealousy melting away at the sound of Kyle's voice. "Where you at, dude?"
"Well, unless I'm like really lost, and there's another house that looks exactly like yours, I'd have to say I'm just pulling into your driveway."
"Awesome, man!" exclaimed Richie. "I'll be right down."
"What up?" asked Lindy.
Dropping his phone onto his bed, Richie jumped to his feet. "C'mon, Kyle's right outside."
In his excitement to tell Kyle everything that happened, Richie led Lindy down the stairs at breakneck speed, bursting through the front door just as Kyle was getting out of his car. Leaping over the front steps to the sidewalk below, it was all Richie could do to keep from wrapping Kyle in his arms to share the good news. The look on his face, however, was all Kyle needed to know what had happened, and despite the risk of a public display of affection, he pulled Richie into a huge hug. No one spoke as they held each other - words were unnecessary to convey the joy they felt at that moment. Smiling at the sight of his friends as they hugged, Lindy quickly glanced back at the house, then around the immediate vicinity before quietly clearing his throat.
"Ah hem," he said, just loud enough to get their attention. "You guys might want to break this up now, unless Kyle wants to come out, too."
Stepping away from their embrace, both boys looked quickly around, then grinned broadly at each other.
"I'm guessing it went well," said Kyle, an unnecessary statement to be sure.
"Yeah, it did. And if you got some time later tonight, I'll tell you all about it," said Richie, his grin now accompanied by a seductive twinkle in his eyes.
"Um, sure, maybe I could squeeze you into my schedule somewhere," answered Kyle with a more tentative smile.
"Jeez, are you two gonna get a room, now, or what?" asked Lindy feeling a little left out.
"I wish," said Kyle, his eyes never leaving Richie's. "But I gotta get home to change clothes, then get back to Tom's house. We're going to a movie, later."
At first Kyle's words touched Richie's jealousy nerve, but remembering Kevin's advice to get over it, he managed to keep his feelings from showing.
"That's cool," he said, "cause I gotta get over to TJ's. He's gonna start thinkin I don't want to see his pool if I keep blowing him off."
"Well I got a date with Nancy, tonight," said Lindy. "And if things go like I think they will, this'll be our best date, yet," he added as he flashed Richie a sly grin.
Picking up on Lindy's look, Richie was about to say something when Kevin's car pulled in behind Kyle's.
"Hmm, Hatch must be on his break," observed Kyle when he saw that his best friend was still wearing his orange work-shirt.
"Whoa! Where are my sunglasses?" exclaimed Lindy when Kevin stepped out of his car, his shirt taking on an almost fluorescent glow in the setting sun.
"Funny, Lindstrom," said Kevin in good humor as he joined them. "So, what're you three up to?"
"Me and Lindy were just congratulating Rich," said Kyle.
"Yeah?" said Kevin with a shrug while he scoped out the freshly cut grass. "Looks nice, I spose, but nothin to get excited about. Besides, I should get some of the credit for selling him the right parts for the lawnmower."
Kyle and Lindy knew he was joking, but Richie wasn't so sure. "It's not the grass they're talking about, Kevin."
"No? Then what else could it be?" he asked with a huge grin on his face when he turned to face Richie.
"You fucker," said Richie as Kevin pulled him into an affectionate hug.
"So how'd it go, Guppy?" he asked when they stepped apart.
"Good, man. Real good. I'd like to give you guys all the details, but it looks like everyone has plans tonight." When he said this, it was intended for Kyle more than the others, and the expression on Kyle's face plainly showed that he understood.
"Well I'd love to hear it, Rich, but it'll have to wait. I gotta hit Mickey D's and then get back to work. I just wanted to stop by to see if you did it yet. I'll give you a call later so you can give me the whole story."
"Mind if I tag along with ya, Kevin?" asked Lindy.
"Sure, I don't mind. What's the deal, didn't your mom feed you tonight?"
"Oh, for sure she did. I'm not hungry, I just wanna pick your brain about somethin," said Lindy as he gave Richie a conspiratorial sideway glance.
"OK," said Kevin with a shrug of his shoulders. "Then let's pony-up, dude, times a-wastin."
When Kevin and Lindy moved to leave, Richie had a last minute thought. "Yo, Lindy, I'll get the skipper back to you tomorrow, OK?"
"Nah, you hang on to it for now. I can always get it from you later if I need it," answered Lindy as he climbed into Kevin's car.
"What was that all about?" asked Kyle as they watched Kevin pull out of the driveway.
"C'mon upstairs while I change into some shorts and I'll tell ya about it. If ya have time, that is."
"Lead the way, bro, I got time."
When they got to his room, Richie handed Kyle the magic skipper. Curiously turning it over in his fingers, Kyle sat on the edge of the bed and listened as Richie began to relate the tale of the rock and the part it played in his rather bizarre day. Near the end, Richie stripped out of his blue jeans. After retrieving his last pair of clean cargo shorts from his drawer, he stood in front of Kyle to finish his story.
"Course, you know Lindy," he said after taking the rock back from Kyle. "He's convinced it's magic and somehow found its way into the back yard just in time to stop the mower."
"Whoa, that's a helluva stretch. Even for Lindy, don't ya think?" said Kyle.
"Yeah, I spose," said Richie while examining the rock for the bazillionth time. Even though his logic told him that it couldn't be true, the lack of any evidence to contradict Lindy's theory had him wondering if there wasn't some sort of magic going on.
With Richie standing in his boxers, only inches away from his face, Kyle couldn't resist the temptation. After placing the palm of his hand on Richie's thigh, just above the knee, he slowly slid it up and under the leg opening of his boxers till he reached his balls. As he began to roll them around in his fingers, he spoke in a quiet, seductive voice.
"I don't know about the rock, but there's plenty of magic here."
Before either Richie or his dick could respond, there was a knock at the door.
"Um, just a minute," he said as he scrambled to get into his shorts. Zipping them up as he moved, he went to the door, pulling it open to reveal his brother on the other side.
"Carl! What up, bro?" he asked as he buttoned his shorts before picking up his discarded blue jeans to retrieve his wallet.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't know you had company."
"Who? This guy? Nah, he ain't company. He's just waiting for me to change clothes. So what up?"
"I just wanted to say 'good job', bro. That must've been kind of scary for you to come out like that."
"Thanks, Carl. And yeah, it was... at first, anyway. I am like so glad it's done, though."
"Yeah, I bet. I was beginning to wonder when you were gonna get around to doing it."
This statement hit both Kyle and Richie like a ton of bricks. "You knew?!"
"Well, let's just say I had my suspicions. You got kind of careless with some of your research files last week and left them in the documents folder. I was pretty sure you didn't want Mom or Dad to see them, especially some of the pictures, so I took the liberty of deleting them for you."
Embarrassed to the point of being speechless, all Richie could do is stare, opened mouthed, at his grinning brother.
"Hey, don't worry, bro," said Carl, obviously amused. "I've been known to look at a little porn, myself, from time to time. Just be a little more careful from now on is all I'm saying, OK?"
"Um, yeah, right. I will. Thanks, Carl."
With that, Carl retreated back into the hall and closed the door behind him. A few moments later, after Richie had recovered from the shock and embarrassment at Carl's revelation, he sat, smiling, next to Kyle on the bed.
"Your bro is pretty cool, don't ya think?" asked Kyle.
"Yeah, he is... and to think I used to think he was such a dick." After a short pause, Richie chuckled. "Man, can you imagine him doin the one-handed slam dance in front of the computer?"
"Yeah... and like you haven't?"
"Well, maybe, once or twice, I guess." There was another moment in which neither boy spoke. It was Richie who broke the silence. "So, what movie you guys gonna see?"
"Don't know. We thought we'd just wander over to the mall and see what's playin. Why? You wanna come with?"
"Nah. I mean I would, but I really gotta go over to TJ's." After another moment, Richie spoke again. "Kyle?"
"Is Tom gay?"
"Tom?! Hell no! At least I don't think he is. Why?" When Richie remained silent, Kyle pressed on. "You don't have a problem with me goin to the movies with him, do ya?"
"No, I guess not. It's just that when I saw you guys at Mickey D's today, I felt the same thing that I felt when I saw you with Steve at the lake. I know I don't have any right to be jealous, but I just can't seem to help it."
"I know exactly what you mean, Rich."
"You do?" asked Richie as he looked up in surprise.
"Hell yes. How the hell do you think I felt when you spent half the day with TJ at the pond?" Noticing the look of guilt on Richie's face, Kyle continued. "But ya know what? It doesn't bother me anymore... hasn't since Saturday night. Ya see, Rich, whatever we do with other guys, I know there's one thing we'll only do with each other. That's special... that's ours to give to each other and nobody else... and as long as I know that, nothing else matters." Reaching up to give Richie's shoulder a gentle squeeze, he added, "See what I'm sayin?"
Lifting his head to look Kyle in the eyes, his own eyes moist with tears of relief and understanding, Richie smiled a gentle smile before throwing his arms around his friend and lover's neck.
"You're the best, hockey player," he said softly into Kyle's ear. "Don't ever change, OK?"
"Never happen, Guppy. Never happen," said Kyle as he returned Richie's hug. A moment later, he gently pushed them apart. "Now you better get your ass over to TJ's while I get home to change. I'll call you later, OK? And tomorrow I'll take you over to Tom's house to show you the street sign. You won't believe how cool it's gonna look."
"Thanks, man," said Richie as he dried his tears on the front of his shirt.
Ten minutes later, with Kyle on his way home, Richie angled his bike toward Columbia Park on his way to TJ's. It was almost dark now, the last signs of a cloudless sunset barely tinting the edge of the western horizon. As he rode, pondering all that had happened to him in the past six days, a gentle cooling breeze ruffled through Richie's hair. Like the final piece of a puzzle, or the final stroke of an artist's brush that would make everything complete, the heat-wave that gripped the entire state for over a week had finally broken. Racing down the middle of the street, happier than he'd been in a long time, Richie threw up his arms and tipped back his head in a classic portrayal of Leonardo Dicaprio in James Cameron's Titanic, and screamed at the top of his lungs.
"I'm King of the World!!"
From the author
I hope all of you have enjoyed following the boys as they laughed and cried, loved and played, and generally did what boys do during this small slice of their lives. If you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed bringing it to you, then for me it doesn't get any better.
At this time I would like to thank all my readers without whom there would have been no point in writing my story. A double thanks to all of you who have responded via email to express your thoughts and opinions. Your encouraging comments have been invaluable to me.
Many thanks also, to The Nifty Archives for hosting the What We Are series. And to Dave at dabeagle, and Robb at CRVBOY, a huge thanks and a cyber-hug for not only hosting the series, but for finding more than a few errors in time to get them corrected. You guys are the best.
Last, but certainly not least, a very special thanks to Richard Lyon for wearing the many hats of editor, proof reader, and literary midwife to What We Are II - Summer Heat. Through his friendship, insight, and understanding, he has accomplished the not always easy task of keeping me reigned in and on track throughout the entire project.
Always take care,
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