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What We Are

Richie's Story

by Richie Ryan

Chapter 8: Sunday

Sunday morning arrived crisp and clear. The predicted snow flurries during the night failed to materialize, but the temperature had dropped into the negative numbers. As the sun cast its bright warmth through Richie's bedroom window, the teen slept on, content and dreamless.

At around 9:30 he began to stir slightly, shifting position as his body began to awaken, slowly and naturally. When finally he opened his eyes, he smiled as he stretched his body out full length under the covers. Through force of habit more than anything else, he slipped his hand into his briefs, found his morning hard-on, and stroked it slowly. Pleasantly surprised that he felt no pain, he squeezed his dick tighter in his fist, deciding to try a leisurely jack off. Unfortunately it was not to be as he heard a loud knock on his door, quickly followed by the sound of his brother's voice.

"Get your lazy butt up, little bro, Lindy's on the phone."

"OK, Carl. Be right down," he called out, uncaring that he couldn't keep the irritation from his voice at being interrupted from a few minutes on self-induced pleasure.

'Lindstrom, your timing really sucks,' he thought as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Giving himself a moment for his cock to deflate, he blinked the last of the sleep from his eyes. Then, snatching yesterday's jeans up from the floor where he had dropped them the previous night, he pulled them to his waist as he stumbled for his door. He managed only to zip them up without buttoning them before he burst through the door, charging into a surprised Carl on the other side.

"Whoa, sport, take it easy," said Carl, almost falling down from the collision. Then, holding out the cordless phone for his brother he added, "Here, knock yourself out."

Surprised as Carl was at their encounter, Richie thanked him, took the phone, then returned to his bed, closing the door behind him. It was nice that the cordless could go anywhere in the house, but he really wished he had an extension in his bedroom. He had been dropping hints about wanting one for Christmas, and was confident that it would happen. Sitting down on his bed again, he adjusted his slightly sensitive crotch, then spoke into the handset.

"Yo, Lindy, what up?"

"What d'ya mean, Rich? The game's up, that's what."

"Well, yeah... in two and a half hours it is."

"I know, but you said you'd call me this morning, and you know how nervous I get before these games."

Laughing at Lindy's anxiety, Richie said, "I'd be nervous, too, if I knew my team didn't have a chance of winning."

"Yeah? Well we'll see, smart-ass. So, you comin over here, or am I comin over there?"

"How bout your place? Your mom's got your tree up and everything, right?"

"Yeah, only since Thanksgiving weekend. You know how nuts she is about that stuff."

"Well, mine's doin it today, so it's gonna to be a zoo around here with all the stuff spread out... easier to watch the game at your house."

"Great, man. Remember, pre-game starts at eleven. Don't be late."

"Chill, bro, I'll be there. Bye."

Smiling, Richie pushed the off button on the phone and tossed it on the bed beside him. Wondering briefly if he should go back to jacking off, he decided the impromptu mood had passed, opting instead to use his time to take a relaxing shower and eat some breakfast before heading over to Lindy's.

Although he much preferred to wear boxers, he decided that Kyle was right, briefs did help support his injured parts better. They were healing fast, so one more day in them should do the trick. Rummaging through his drawer, he finally pulled out an old pair of Jockey's. It had been quite a while since he had worn them, so he hoped they would still fit.

After stepping out of his jeans, he kicked them in the direction of his clothes hamper. Then, clean underwear in hand, he headed into the hallway, clad only in the briefs he had slept in. Snatching a clean towel from the linen closet as he passed, he draped it over his shoulder while he continued down the hall to the bathroom.

Once inside, the door closed behind him, he kicked off his day old underwear and stood over the toilet to take his morning piss. When he was finished, he lowered the lid and dropped his clean towel and underwear on top. Turning to face the full length mirror that hung on the door, he smiled at what he saw.

'Not bad, Andrews,' he thought as he checked himself out. Even the fading bruises didn't detract from the lithe athletic swimmer's body that was reflected back at him.

Stepping closer to the mirror for a better look, he examined his dick and balls. Moving his package from side to side to better see his bruises, then poking at the area with his finger, he was pleased with the fact that the tenderness was fading quickly. Satisfied that he would, indeed, recover completely, he gave his circumcised dick a few tugs between his thumb and fingers. As he watched himself do this in the mirror, he remembered what Lindy had said about his cousin Ronnie - about how his dick wasn't cut, and how the foreskin felt so soft as it slid easily over his member.

By now Richie's five incher was standing tall, hard, and hot. As he continued to stroke himself, Richie wondered how it would feel to hold a monster, 7-inch, uncut cock in his hands - to press the hot soft foreskin against his face. His hand action increased as he wondered how much of seven inches he could fit into his mouth. He thought about how it would feel, and how it would taste when he rolled his tongue around on the glans. As he picked up the pace of his stroking, he tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

The first image to enter his mind was that of Kyle in the dressing room. He pictured his beautiful, soft, cut penis, as it hung down over his large, almost hairless balls. Then he pictured Kyle and Kevin together, smiling at how similar the two sets of genitals looked with their cocks in their flaccid state. As he reached his orgasm, he pictured both dicks, hard, hot, and throbbing - one in each of his hands, wondering if they would feel as good as Lindy's did. Finally, he wondered if their hand on his dick would feel as soft and strong as his best friend's hand felt when he sent him over the edge. He groaned as he began to shoot his load against the bathroom mirror. Shot after shot of boy spunk splashed against the glass as Richie caressed and pinched his nipples with his free hand.

Feeling exhausted as he began to come down from his orgasm, Richie put his free hand on the door, leaning against it to steady himself. When he'd regained most his strength, he stood back to check out the results of his work. Large globs of creamy white boy juice were just beginning to make their way down the surface of the mirror on their way to the floor. He smiled to himself as he wiped his cum soaked hand across his chest and stomach.

Wanting to clean up his mess before it got to the floor, he looked toward the end of the tub where he'd hung his wet boxers the morning before. They were gone. Guessing that his mother had straightened up the bathroom since then, he decided she must have put them in the wash already. He wondered briefly what she might have thought when she found them there. Since she hadn't mentioned it to him, he put it out of his mind and a grabbed handful of toilet tissue to mop up his sperm. After tossing the spent paper into the toilet, he adjusted the water temperature for his shower before stepping under the spray.

When he finished showering, he toweled himself off, ran a comb through his 'don't-bother-I'll-do-what-I-want-to-anyway' black hair, and pulled on his fresh pair of briefs. They fit a little snug, but he thought not too bad, so he could deal with it for one day. Then he picked up his wet towel and tossed it, along with his dirty underwear, into the hamper against the wall. After checking himself out once more in the mirror, he returned to his room, deciding that he would brush his teeth after he ate breakfast.

Soon he was dressed in a clean pair of Levi's, his favorite Vikings T-shirt, and white athletic socks. After picking his Vikings ball cap up from its place on his desk and adjusting it to his head, he was ready for the game and whatever else the day had in store for him.

Bounding down the stairs into the living room, his suspicions about 'tree trimming day' were confirmed. There were boxes piled everywhere, with ornaments, garland, and packages of tinsel lying all over the place. The chaos extended into the dining room, some of it even spilling into the family room. As bad is it looked, though, he knew his mother enjoyed this yearly ritual very much, and that she would have everything cleaned up again by evening.

Entering the kitchen, he spotted Carl sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee while he read the morning paper.

Returning the phone to its home, he said, "What d'ya think, Carl. Is Mom out of control, or what?"

"You kidding, Richie? She's in heaven."

"Yeah, I know." Then adding, "Say, big bro, you wanna come over to Lindy's with me to watch the game? Sure be a lot fewer distractions over there today."

"Nah, but thanks anyway. I'll be all right here. Besides, Dad's working on some project for work today, and Mom might need some help with some of this stuff."

Richie was a little disappointed that his brother declined his invitation. It wasn't that he would miss his company so much, it was the fact that he was a fellow Viking fan. Since Lindy's dad was a Packers fan, Carl's presence would help to lend support, especially if the game went in the Packers' favor.

"Your choice," said Richie. "I suppose we should be thankful she isn't into stringing lights all over the outside of the house like so many of the neighbors do. We'd have to get her into therapy for sure, if that happened."

What Richie said about his mom decorating the outside of the house was true. As crazy as she was about the inside, she left the outside relatively sparse. The only decorations placed there were two, four-foot lighted Santa's, one on either side of the front steps, and a wreath that hung from the front door.

As he busied himself preparing his breakfast of Frosted Mini Wheat's and OJ, he wondered if Kyle and Kevin liked football. 'Shit,' he thought, 'I should have asked Kevin last night. If they did, maybe we could've all gotten together today.'

Richie knew he was obsessing over these two boys, but he couldn't seem to help himself. He knew that the chances of even one of them being gay was one in a million - no, even less than that, much less. As far as he could tell, they were both straight as arrows. Still, he hoped to get a chance to find out what their true feelings about gays were. After all, gay or not, he liked them, and wanted to know how they would feel in case he ever decided to come out.

Not feeling pressured for time, Richie ate a relaxed breakfast, casually thumbing through the sports section of the paper as he did. When he finished, he cleaned up his dishes, then returned to the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he got back downstairs, he noticed Carl in the family room, clearing a path through the boxes of decorations for a clear view of the TV.

Minutes later, he was headed out the door and down the street to Lindy's. Although the temperature was below zero, there was almost no wind blowing, so with the sun shining brightly, he felt quite warm in just his jacket with his ungloved hands shoved into the pockets.

Bounding up to Lindy's back door, he punched the doorbell before charging inside. Both of their houses had very similar floor plans since they were built by the same contractor at about the same time. Lindy's parents were sitting at the kitchen table with Brad, Lindy's younger brother, and it appeared as though they had just finished breakfast.

"Hey, Mr. and Mrs. L. Hey, Brad," said Richie as he kicked off his shoes.

"Morning, Richie," answered Mrs. Lindstrom.

Frank Lindstrom waved hello from behind his paper while Brad just looked up briefly, sneered at Richie, then went beck to reading the comics.

"How are you feeling this morning, Richie?" asked Mrs. Lindstrom.

"Pretty good. Thanks again for your help the other night."

"Think nothing of it, Richie, that's what I do." Then she added, "Kenny's downstairs getting pumped up for the game I would imagine... and there's plenty of snacks up here if you boys get hungry later."

"Oh, I'm sure we will, thanks."

"And no deep pass plays or quarter-back sneakers on my new carpet either, you two."

The word 'sneakers' made Richie smile at her lack of football understanding.

"No prob, Mrs. L, we'll keep it down."

Once Richie's jacket was hung on the hook behind the door, he headed down the stairs to basement, and the recently remodeled family room it contained. Bursting in through the open door, Richie saw his best friend stretched out on the couch, dressed in his Packers sweat pants, his Bret Favre jersey, and Packers ball cap. He was a real fan.

Dropping himself into the overstuffed chair at Lindy's feet, he asked, "What up, bro?"

"Pre-game show's just starting. I hope you and your 'Vi-Queens' are ready to go down in total defeat today."

"You are either dreaming or on drugs, man," laughed Richie.

And so the friendly rivalry was rekindled.

The game was an exciting one as both teams were fairly evenly matched, a slight advantage going to Green Bay since it was being played on their home field. Lindy's dad had joined them about 10 minutes into the first quarter. Much to Richie's appreciation, he was kind, however, and stayed out of the boys constant gibes at each other's teams.

Half time came with the score, Green Bay 17, Minnesota 14, and all three went up to the kitchen for some snacks. Richie and Lindy loaded up on chips and sodas, then immediately went back downstairs to wait for the second half to start. Lindy's dad, however, decided to use the time to do some shop related paperwork.

As the two boys settled back into their viewing positions, Richie asked, "So, bro, did ya talk to the rents about your having to watch Brad all the time yet?"

"Yeah, I did, as a matter of fact. They said they would let him stay by himself the next time to see how he does."

"Alright, Lindy!" exclaimed Richie, "Free at last. Free at last. Oh Lord, he's free at last."

Both boys laughed hysterically.

"So, what did you and Kevin do last night?" asked Lindy.

"Oh, not much really, just listened to Jonny Lang, mostly."

"Really," said Lindy. "He was there pretty late just to be listening to three CDs."

"How do you know how late he was there?"

"I saw him leave just before I went to bed."

"What were ya doin, Lindy? Spying on me now?" asked Richie, a slight irritation in his voice.

"No. I just happen to see him leave, is all."

After a short pause Lindy asked, "So what did you two talk about?"

"If you must know, he had some personal problems he wanted to talk to me about."

"Yeah, right... One of the most popular juniors in school comes to you with his personal problems. Come on, Rich, you can do better'n that."

Richie was getting pissed now, and he let Lindy know it.

"What's that supposed to mean. You think I'm lying to you? What the hell do you think we were doing?"

"I don't know. I was just askin, is all. Gees, Rich, don't get your panties in a bunch, man."

Both boys fell silent and sullen as the third quarter of the football game began. As a matter of fact, they said very little to each other for the entire remainder of the game. When it was over, the Packers had won by a score of 31 to 24.

Still angry over his friend's nosy questions earlier, Richie stood and said, "I gotta go see if my mom needs any help with the decorating, Lindy. I'll talk to ya later."

As Richie started for the door, Lindy quickly moved to block his path.

"Look, Rich, I know you're pissed at me, and I'm sorry for buggin you like I did. I was just giving you shit is all, I didn't mean anything by it."

"Yeah? Well it pisses me off that you didn't believe me. I mean, like why would I lie to you?"

"You wouldn't, and I do believe you. I'm sorry I said what I did, OK?"

"OK," said Richie, unconvinced.

"Friends?" asked Lindy with a smile.

"Yeah, sure, friends," said Richie.

This, of course, was followed by their slap-tap handshake.

"I still think I better go see if Mom needs any help, though. Even if she doesn't, I've got a little bit of reading for English I should do. Man, I am so ready for Christmas vacation."

"Me too, bro. Me too," said Lindy. "See you in the morning?"

"Wouldn't miss it," answered Richie. They always walked to school together.

Kicking up snow as he cut through the neighbors' yards on his way home, Richie thought about how Lindy seemed unusually nosy about Kevin's visit last night. Why was he so interested? If he didn't believe Richie's answer, what did he think the real reason was? What did he think they were really doing?

'I'm probably just being paranoid.' Thought Richie, as he stepped onto the front walk, then headed for the back door. 'After all, I spose it would seem strange that the coolest junior at school would come over to my house to ask for personal advice.'

It seemed strange to Richie as well, but that's exactly what happened, and that's all that happened, much to Richie's disappointment. At that moment, Richie decided he would try to reassure Lindy tomorrow that he was just as surprised as he was about it. As a matter of fact, he would tell him how he had even asked Kevin about it before he left. He hoped his explanation would satisfy Lindy without going into any specifics about the advice itself.

When he stepped into the house, he noticed that his mother was nearly finished with the decorations and was in the process of cleaning up the remaining mess. Not really interested in doing homework, he looked around to see how he could give her a hand.

Spotting the two Santas, and the wreath by the front door, he realized that these were what Carl was referring to earlier when he said their mom might need some help. From the sounds that came from the family room, he knew his brother was totally absorbed in the Oakland/Kansas City game, the second game of the day's double header, so he decided to set up these outside items himself. It didn't involve a lot of work, but he felt that it would, in some small way, help to repay Carl for shoveling the snow for him.

Running his plan by his mom, she told him she was grateful for the help, but cautioned him not to over-exert himself in his condition. Rather than complain again about her overprotection, he simply said he'd be careful, then headed outside with the wreath in his hand and a Santa under each arm.

The sun hung low in the cold December sky, and the wind had picked up a bit, making it necessary for Richie to wear his gloves while he worked. He had been at it for about twenty minutes, and nearly half done, when he heard a noise coming from the yard behind him.

Much like a wild deer hearing a twig snap in the quiet forest, Richie's danger sensors went on full alert. Unlike the deer, however, Richie never had a chance as he felt the snowball hit him in the back of the head. It didn't hurt, since it wasn't thrown with malice, but the unexpected surprise caused a shot of adrenaline to course through his body. Stunned and irritated as the snow began to melt and run down his neck into his jacket, he turned quickly to face his attacker. His quickness proved fortunate for him as he caught sight of a second missile just in time to move out of its path. He also had time to identify his attacker. It was Carl, already scooping up more snow to continue his assault.

"You fucker," he said as he leaped from the porch.

Grabbing his own supply of snow, Richie squared off with his brother, and a short but friendly snowball fight ensued.

Eventually tiring of the game, and deciding that the snow wasn't very good for making snowballs, anyway, they called a truce and sat down on the steps to catch their breath. It was Carl who spoke first.

"Man, we haven't done that in a long time, huh, little bro?"

"No, we haven't. Kinda brings back memories of simpler times, ya know?"

"So, are you saying that your life is complicated now that your all of 14?"

"No," said Richie, "not exactly. It's just that sometimes things come up that I'm not all too sure I'm ready for."

"Well, you'd better get used to that happening, Richie, cause it's going to keep on happening till the day you die. It's called growing up."

"Whoa, aren't you the 'family philosopher'."

"Yeah? Well just don't forget that this 'family philosopher' can still put his boot in your ass if you ever give him a reason to."

Both brothers smiled at each other before Carl looked around at the unfinished work. "C'mon, I'll help ya finish this. Mom's almost done inside."

When they had power hooked up to the Santa's a short time later, the wreath already in place on the door, they stepped out on the front walk to check out their work, both grunting their satisfaction.

As he stood next to his brother, Richie looked up and down the street at some of their neighbor's houses, the ones that went all out with lights for the holidays. When he looked in the direction of the park, one house in particular caught his attention. It was the large house on the corner across the street, the last one before the park, that seemed to Richie to be the most overdone.

"Man, the Petersons don't know when to quit, do they?"

"They do seem to get carried away, alright?" said Carl as he turned to follow his brothers gaze.

"Wasn't Phil Peterson in your class?" asked Richie, making idle conversation.

"You mean the neighborhood fag? Yeah, he was in my class."

If Richie's jaw could have actually reached the ground, it would have been lying there right now. Not sure he could believe what he just heard, he turned to look at Carl.

"What did you just say?"

"I said yeah, he was."

"Yeah, but you also called him a fag."

"Yeah? So? He is a fag. Queer as a three dollar bill. You didn't know that?"

"No, I didn't," said Richie, his gaze returning to the Peterson house.

"I thought everybody knew that. Then, I guess with him being 4 years older than you, it's not too surprising that you wouldn't know."

Richie was completely dumbfounded, beginning with the fact that he had no idea a gay person, another gay person, lived on his block. He only knew of the family as neighbors, really, and rarely saw Phil except in passing, so it never occurred to him that he might be gay.

'He certainly doesn't look or act gay,' thought Richie as he stood staring at the house. 'Holy shit, how fucked up is that kind of thinking,' he asked himself as his mind began to spin, 'How gay do I look or act?'

Then he immediately thought about the second thing that had his mind doing cartwheels. His brother had referred to him as a 'fag' and a 'queer'. Richie had never heard Carl use those words before in his life, and it both surprised and angered him at the same time. It sounded so cruel and hurtful, two things he couldn't believe his brother would feel toward anybody, and since coming out to himself, he was very sensitive to it on a personal level. What would Carl think of him, his own brother, if he knew he was gay.

"Yo, bro, you alright? You look like a deer caught in the headlights," asked Carl, interrupting Richie's thoughts.

"Um, yeah, I'm alright."

Then he quickly changed his mind, and his tone.

Looking directly into his brother's face again, and with more contempt than he wanted to feel, he said, "No, on second thought I'm not alright, Carl! That was a shitty thing to say about him. I mean, calling him a fag and a queer. Wouldn't the word 'gay' work for you to get your message across."

Richie could no longer look his brother in the face, so he turned away, looking at nothing in particular.

"C'mon, Richie? That's what everybody calls them. What's the big deal, anyway?"

Richie was beginning to shake with anger and fear, and he wasn't sure which emotion was the stronger. All he knew for sure was that if he allowed this conversation to continue right now, he might say something that he may well regret for the rest of his life.

Taking a deep breath as quietly and controlled as he could, he simply said, "Nothin, Carl, just forget it. It's cold out here. I'm goin in."

Richie quickly turned on his heels to head for the house, keeping his back to his brother as he as he did to make sure that he wouldn't see the tears that were beginning to fill his eyes. So upset was Richie that he didn't bother to go to the back door, but charged through the front door instead, nearly tripping over some empty boxes as he ran up the stairs to his room.

Practically slamming his door shut behind him, he leaned his back against it, his tears beginning to flow freely now, staining his cheeks as they fell. His legs, becoming weak and unable to support his weight any longer, finally gave out and he slumped, crying, to the floor.

He had no idea how long he sat there on the floor in front of his door, but it wasn't until he heard his mother call up to him to tell him supper was on the table that he began to move.

He had stopped crying long ago, and had regained control of his emotions as well as his ability to think clearly. He thought about how he had wrestled for so long with his sexual feelings, and how he had finally come out to himself last night. Then he thought about his conversation with Carl, his brother, who had so casually referred to gay people as 'fags' and 'queers'. As hard as he tried, he couldn't remember a time when Carl had used an unkind word about anybody. Although they shared few common interests, and fought a lot when they were younger, Richie had always admired and looked up to his brother. Now, however, he was frightened at the possibility that he didn't really know him at all.

He also knew that his conversation with Carl wasn't over yet. He had to find out exactly where his brother was coming from, and he was sure that his brother would want to know why his comments had bothered Richie so much. He decided he would approach him later that night to clear the air for them both.

Standing up, he opened his door and called back to his mom that he'd be right down, then went into the bathroom to wash up. As he looked into the face of the troubled teen that filled the mirror above the sink, he saw himself as being cursed. After all, he didn't ask to be what he was, he didn't ask to be attracted to boys. He didn't even want it when he saw it start to happen, and more than ever, he didn't want it now. The path through life that he knew he had to travel had already begun to take its toll. It would be a very tough path, and he wasn't at all sure that he was strong enough to follow it.

Dinner was unusually quiet that night. Neither Richie nor Carl mentioned anything about the time they had spent outside earlier. They didn't even bring up the snowball fight, which normally would have been discussed thoroughly with good humor.

After dinner, and the kitchen was placed back in order, all four family members went off to do their own thing. Richie went back to his room and tried, unsuccessfully, to read some assigned material for English class. His mind was occupied with more important issues.

At about 10:30, Richie heard his parents come upstairs on their way to bed. A short time later, Carl came up and closed himself in his room. He knew Carl well enough to be certain that he wouldn't go directly to bed, so after a few minutes, Richie made his way to his brother's room and knocked softly on the door.

"Come in," came the voice from the other side.

Taking a deep breath, Richie turned the handle and entered.

"Carl, you got a minute?"

His brother was sitting on the edge of his bed, his hands clasped together between his knees.

"Sure, Richie, c'mon in."

"Carl, about earlier today, I just... "

His brother's voice cut him off in mid-sentence.

"Richie, before you say anything, I want to apologize to you. As a matter of fact, if you hadn't beat me to it, we'd be having this conversation in your room right now."

Then, after a short pause.

"I'm sorry for what I said, and how I said it earlier. Sometimes I forget what a sensitive person you are. When you asked me about Phil Peterson, I guess it was a knee-jerk kind of answer and the words just came out that way. And because of my choice of words, I know it's hard for you to believe, but I didn't mean it in a cruel way.

You were absolutely right, though, it was a shitty thing to say, real shitty. It's like calling a black person a 'Nigger', or a Jewish person a 'Kike', and I'm sorry it happened."

It was Richie's turn to interrupt.

"That's just it, Carl. You said it... those words came out of your mouth. I have never, in my whole life, heard you use words like that. Then, all of a sudden, there they are... and all of a sudden my brother is a different person... a person I don't know. It just surprised me, and scared me some, too."

Neither brother spoke for a long time, each occupied with his own thoughts. It was Richie who finally broke the stalemate.

"Maybe I'm being over sensitive because we've just started going over this same thing in Civics class at school."

What he said was true. Although they had barely touched on the topic of gay rights, they had studied the civil rights movement extensively.

"You know, intolerance, prejudices, sexism, all that shit. Most of society is made up of people who live their lives feeling this way toward others, many in extremely cruel ways. Then, to hear my own brother spout those words as casually as you did... well, it kinda knocked the wind out of me is all."

After another silence, it was Carl's turn to speak.

"I said the words, Richie, and I can't take them back. All I can ask is that you try to forgive me, and believe me when I say that I don't really feel that way at all. You said it, yourself... you said you never heard me talk that way before. Well, I haven't talked that way before, because I don't feel that way, it's as simple as that. I made a mistake, and trust me, it won't happen again. I have always judged people for what they do, not for what they are, and that is not going to change, ever."

Richie didn't know exactly why, maybe it was the sound of his voice, or his explanation, but he believed his brother, believed that he was sincere in what he said. Then he realized, that deep down in his heart, he never believed anything else. Their conversation was just a confirmation of that belief. After a moment, he smiled at him.

"OK, bro, I believe you. I'm sorry I ever doubted you."

As Richie turned to leave, his brother's voice stopped him again.

"And, Rich, I've got nothing personal against Phil Peterson, either. Just because he happens to have a different lifestyle than me, doesn't make him any less of a person to me. OK?"


Then one last thought struck Richie as he stopped halfway through the door.

"Carl? How do you know Phil Peterson is gay? How did you find out?"

"Oh, jeez, Rich. I guess it started with rumors and innuendoes at school. Poor guy used to get taunted all the time. I mean, there wasn't any hard evidence, no joke meant here by the way, but the rumors were enough to set a lot of kids off. Then, after about a year or so, I guess he probably couldn't take it anymore, so he came out. I think it was our junior year if I remember right."

"OK, thanks. Night, bro."

"Night, Rich."

Pulling his brother's door closed behind him, a strange thought occurred to Richie as he stood in the darkened hallway. 'He just called me Rich. Not Richie, but Rich.' Smiling as he made his way through the dark to his own room, he thought, 'Maybe life won't be so bad after all.' At that moment, Richie felt just a little closer to his brother, and he liked the feeling.

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