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What We Are

Richie's Story

by Richie Ryan

Chapter 9: Back to School

Richie's alarm clock went off with its usual irritating buzz to remind him it was a school day, and that its message was not to be ignored. He had slept well during the night, glad that he and his brother had cleared the air. He was sure that his impending conversation with Lindy this morning would be just as effective.

After a quick shower, he brushed his teeth, then dressed for school. He went back to boxers this time, noticing just a trace of discoloration remaining from his injury. Relieved that he had to poke the area pretty hard to elicit any pain from it, he decided he would rejoin his team for practice tomorrow afternoon.

After wolfing down some toast and OJ for breakfast, he grabbed his backpack, yelled goodbye to whoever might hear him, then headed out the door to meet Lindy. As he came down the driveway past the side of the house, he saw his friend just reaching the front sidewalk. Richie waited for him to close the distance between their houses, then both boys fell into step on their way to school. The weather hadn't changed any from the day before, and the snow crunched under their feet as they walked.

Richie wasted no time getting to what was foremost on his mind.

"Lindy? About yesterday."

"Forget about yesterday, Rich. The Packers won, and there ain't nothin you can do about it."

Despite his serious mood, Richie couldn't help but laugh at Lindy's remark. Lindy's most endearing traits were his quick wit and sense of humor. He was much funnier than he ever gave himself credit for.

"Seriously, Lindy. I'm talking about what I said to you about me and Kevin."

"Oh, that. I thought we decided to forget about it."

"We did," said Richie, "but I just want to make sure you understand the whole thing. I don't want you to think I was being a prick and shutting you out or something. OK?"

"Sure. What's on your mind?"

"Well, you said it was hard to believe that the most popular junior in school would come to me for personal advice, right?"

"Well, yeah, I guess so."

"Well trust me, I felt the same way. I mean, I couldn't believe it that he would even call me in the first place, much less come over to my house. But the fact is, he did... and he came over for advice, too. Hell, I even asked him why he would want to talk to me when he had his best bud, Kyle, to ask. Now ya gotta understand that it's not my place to tell you what we talked about, because it was personal... but I can tell you that even though he and Kyle are best buds, he felt Kyle just wasn't the kind of guy to discuss this with."

Then, thinking for a minute, and deciding more clarification was in order, he continued, "He just felt that Kyle wasn't... "

Lindy cut him off mid-sentence by saying, "Sensitive enough?"

"Yeah, right, his words exactly."

"So why didn't he just ask his girlfriend? Aren't girls supposed to be naturally sensitive?"

This made Richie stop dead in his tracks with Lindy doing the same a step later as he turned to his friend for a reply.

"Man, you're really putting me on the spot here, Lindstrom."

After a moment of thought, Richie continued with a sigh.

"OK, Lindy. First of all, I don't know if all girls are sensitive or not, but in this case it doesn't matter." He paused again for a moment, then finished, "There's no way he could ask Stephanie because it was about Stephanie. Now do ya get it, Dipstick?"

Not feeling offended by being called a Dipstick, but rather feeling properly chastised instead, Lindy said, "OK, I get it, I get it."

As they continued their trek toward school, Richie spoke again.

"Now that you got me to say more than I should have, I trust that you can keep it to yourself."

"Already forgotten, Rich."

"Do you think I'm a sensitive person, Rich?" asked Lindy as they entered Columbia Park.

"Yeah, Lindy, I do. Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. I guess I just wondered if you would come to me if you had something sensitive on your mind to discuss."

Richie immediately stopped walking again. Grabbing Lindy by the arm, he stopped him so he could look him in the eyes.

"Lindy, you and I are like brothers. No, we're better than brothers. Hell, I don't even know what the word is for what we've got. Maybe, when I'm older, wiser, and have a bigger vocabulary, I will know the word for it. What I do know is that I trust you more than anybody, and I wouldn't hesitate to come to you in a heartbeat, no matter what was on my mind, and I feel the same way about you. We have no problems like that. We have always been, and always will be, each other's 'go-to' guy. No matter what it is. OK?"

Both boys looked at each other in the eye, and Richie thought he detected Lindy's begin to get misty as his voice seemed to crack just a little.

"OK," he said, smiling.

The last OK, of course, was followed by their 'slap-tap' handshake.

As they continued to walk for a while in silence, Richie wondered how much truth there was in what he had just said. He wanted it to be true, more than anything, and he hoped that when the time was right, he would come to Lindy to come out to him. It hurt him not to do it now, but he knew he couldn't. He hoped that Lindy would understand why when the time came - that the need for self preservation was his driving force right now. This path of his would be a rough one indeed.

The two boys continued to make their way toward school, talking mostly about what kind of a week they could expect with all the festivities it promised, when finally they crested the hill above the Hockey rink. At that point, Richie stopped, the memory of the last time he was here causing an involuntary grimace to cross his face. Not knowing what caused his friend to stop so suddenly, Lindy followed his gaze to the empty ice below.

"What up, Rich? You look like you've seen a ghost or somthin."

"This is where it happened, Lindy. The scene of the crime, so to speak."

Still not understanding, Lindy looked again at the ice below when suddenly it dawned on him.

"Oh, yeah, the 'Nutcracker Suite', or was it the 'Sweet Nutcracker'?"

"Funny, Lindstrom," said Richie as they started to move again. "Hey, do me a favor here, will ya? Try not to get the guys goin today. I'm sure they'll have enough of their own one-liners to spout without you feeding 'em yours."

"Oh, man, I've been working on 'em all weekend. It'd be a shame to let 'em all go to waste."

"Yeah? Well try, will ya? I'm serious."

Noticing that Richie was indeed serious, Lindy shrugged his shoulders and said, "OK, bro, but you owe me, big time."

Minutes later they joined the rest of the population of Radison High as they converged on the building in preparation for another week of classes and social activities.

As Richie had suspected, most of his teachers kept the academic workload to a tolerable level, allowing the students more time to enjoy the various 'Snow Days' related events. The student campaigning for King and Queen was already in full swing as evidenced by the many banners, posters, and campaign buttons that were everywhere. Richie couldn't help but wonder how so many signs and posters could be hung so soon since he remembered seeing no trace of them on Saturday.

With all the hustle and bustle throughout the school, the week began to move rapidly. Richie caught a fair share of static from his classmates over his injury, but he was prepared for it, shrugging off the jokes and comments until they died their own death. He rejoined his team on Tuesday, and was relieved to find that a few days off didn't hurt his form to any detectable degree. One thing was noticeably different, however.

On Richie's first day back, Coach Davies interrupted practice for a short team meeting in the pool area to remind everyone that there would be no meets until after vacation. He also cautioned them not to let up at practice because of it. The meeting itself wasn't unusual, in fact such meetings were commonplace. What was unusual was the unexpected visitor who showed up in the bleachers about half way through it.

To Richie's amazement, it was Kyle. He had quietly slipped in while the coach was talking, and remained until practice ended a half hour later. When Coach Davies blew his whistle for the final time that day, signaling the end of practice, Richie looked up just in time to see Kyle quietly leave the pool area. A short time later, as he and Lindy stripped off their Speedos while standing under the showers, Lindy began to complain about one of his teachers.

"That fucking bitch," he said, more to himself than to Richie.

"Who, Lindy? Who you talkin about, man?"

"Miss Steelsmith. You know, my English teacher. We have to write a report on a Twentieth Century American author, and it's due the week after vacation."

"So?" said Richie, "You have four weeks, man, it's cake."

"Yeah? For you, maybe, but she wants an outline by Friday. What a bitch."

Then, smiling slightly he added, "At least I don't have to do it alone. She assigned us each a partner to work with, and mine is Nancy Keller."

"Whoa, dude, she's hot, man."

"I know. I've been wanting to get close to that for a long time. Could be a fun report. Anyway, I gotta hustle and meet her in the library to do some research."

"Oh, yeah," laughed Richie. "Research is important. Ya don't wanna be late for that."

Slapping his friend on the chest at the remark, Lindy grabbed his Speedo and headed out of the showers to get dressed.

Rubbing the sting from his chest, Richie turned back to his shower. Facing the wall, he tilted his head up and let the spray pummel his face as he remembered seeing Kyle sitting in on practice. He couldn't help but wonder why he'd been there. Pretty boring stuff most of the time, even for Richie, so it seemed really odd to see an outsider there.

Lost in his thoughts, and with the relaxing feel of the shower, Richie stayed under the spray longer than usual. When finally he decided to quit, all of his teammates had long since departed, making him the last one out. As he turned the corner at the end of his locker row, his Speedo in one hand, and drying his hair with the other, he was very surprised to see Kyle waiting for him next to his locker.

"Kyle," he said. "What's goin on, man? You lost or somthin?"

"No, not at all, Rich. I just got finished with my weekly ass-chewing session from my coach, so I took a chance you might be back to practice. How ya doin?"

"Great," said Richie as he closed the distance between them. "No remaining signs of damage. Unless you look real close, that is."

The last remark was made as he spread out his arms, and comically thrust his unclad pelvic area in Kyle's direction.

"Good, but I'll take your word for the close inspection part," answered Kyle as he glanced around the room for anybody else who might have heard the remark. "So, need a ride home?"

"Sure, give me a minute to get dressed and I'll take you up on that."

"So, where's Lindy at? I thought you guys were like a matched set."

"Oh, he's in the library, hustling this chick under the guise of doing research for an English project," chuckled Richie.

"Ah," said Kyle, "The old 'we've got to study together for this project' trick, eh?"

"That's it," said Richie as he fished his bag from his locker.

Kyle was unable to tear his eyes away from Richie's body as he watched him stuff his bag with his towel, followed by his Speedo. He also couldn't control his dick as it began to stiffen in his jeans when Richie reached into his locker in search of his boxers. Needing to relieve the pressure from his growing erection, he lifted one leg and placed it on the bench, than bent over to put his elbow on his knee, resting his chin in his upturned palm.

Making conversation as he pulled his boxers from his locker, Richie asked, "So, was your coach pretty hard on you?"

"Nah, it wasn't too bad. The usual shit. How I let the team down... how I could've cost us the game. Like I said, the usual shit."

Then, as Richie pulled his boxers up to his waist, then fished his T-shirt from it's hook, Kyle said, "I take it Stephanie got you home alright Saturday."

"Yeah, she did," said Richie, as he tugged his shirt down over his head. Then, as he pulled on his jeans, he added, "She's kinda cool, ya know... and she's totally nuts about Kevin."

"Oh yeah, they're quite the pair, alright."

Detecting the unmistakable sarcasm, Richie sat down to put on his socks and shoes.

"What? You don't think so?"

"Oh, they're a pair, for sure," was the answer, really not telling Richie anything.

Now, fully clothed, Richie stood, grabbed his jacket and bag and said "OK, let's go."

Since Kyle's cock was still hard as a rock, he had to make an adjustment to it before he would be able to go anywhere. Turning his back to Richie as he stood, he made a quick grab at his dick to slide it up, therefore less strained and less visible until it went down. He could only hope that Richie didn't see the move, but with his back turned, there was no way he could tell for sure.

'Oh hell,' thought Kyle, 'Even if he did see, teenage boys are always adjusting their cocks for relief aren't they. He wouldn't think anything of it.'

Unbeknownst to Kyle, however, Richie did see it, and did wonder about it. As a matter of fact, he was snatching glances at Kyle all the time they were there, and saw the growing bulge even before he'd lifted his leg to conceal it. When he did see it, it took all of the self-control Richie could muster to keep his own dick from rising, which would have been impossible to hide.

As they emerged from the locker room, they entered the hall and began to weave their way through the throngs of students engaged in a variety of preparations for the weeks activities. Once in the parking lot, Richie looked over to Kyle.

"Do you ever get into any of that stuff?" he asked, as he tipped his head back in the direction of the school.

"Nah, not really. Just not my thing, I guess. I'll do my part by playing in the Holiday Tournament on Saturday. It's an invitational, with the top schools in the state there. We've never won it, but we should make a good show of it this year. You ought to come, man, it's a good time. Wall to wall chicks for sure, if ya know what I mean. Oh, I'm having a party that night, too, by the way, and I know you don't want to miss that."

"Well, I'll have to check my social calendar, but it sounds like a plan to me," said Richie.

"Good, and tell your buddy, Lindy about it, too. The more the merrier."

"Whoa,' thought Richie, 'An invitation to one of Kyle's parties. How cool is that?'

He had remembered Kyle telling him to come to his next party when they were in his room on Saturday, so he and Lindy made some inquiries around school. They found out that going to a Kyle Jacobson party was a 'must thing' to do. Everybody that was anybody would be there. He immediately began to wonder who he would invite.

Once they were belted into Kyle's car, Richie asked, "So, who ya taking to the dance on Friday?"

"Cindy Chambers, a chick in my class."

"I'll bet she's hot, huh?"

"Yeah, she's alright, I guess. Tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about the dance until Saturday, when Stephanie reminded me. Matter of fact, she's the one who suggested I ask Cindy. Told me the guy she's been seein is grounded for the next two weeks, so I asked her yesterday."

As they left the parking lot to head for Richie's house, Richie was staring at Kyle.

"What?" asked Kyle, noticing the stare.

"Seems to me like maybe Stephanie isn't quite the bitch you make her out to be, after all," said Richie, as he turned to the windshield with a smile on his face.

"She has her good points, I guess."

They drove on in silence for a while, and Richie took a moment to check out the interior of Kyle's car.

"I really like your car, man. It is so cool."

"Thanks, my dad gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday. Gets me around, I guess."

"Unless I get a decent job sometime soon, the bus will still be getting me around when I'm sixteen," said Richie with a grunt. "What's your dad do?"

"He's a corporate lawyer. A car like this ain't nothin for him to shell out for."

"I take it that your mom doesn't work then."

"No, Rich. My mom's dead. She died of cancer when I was eleven."

Turning full around in his seat to face Kyle, Richie said, "I'm sorry, man, I didn't know."

"That's OK, Rich. I wouldn't have expected you to know. Besides, I'm pretty much over it now anyway."

Wanting to say something to lighten the moment, but failing to think of anything, Richie sat in silence until they turned the corner at the end of his block. As they passed the Peterson house, Richie's eyes were drawn to it, and he continued to stare until they were well past it. Noticing this, Kyle followed his gaze, trying to see what Richie found so interesting.

Seeing nothing, he turned to Richie again and asked, "What ya looking at, Rich?"

"Oh, nothing. They just seem to overdo that house on the corner with Christmas lights every year, is all."

"You kidding? You should see some of the ones in my neighborhood."

"Speaking of your neighborhood, I'm gonna need directions to your house for Saturday night."

"No prob, dude, I'll get you a map before the end of the week," said Kyle as he pulled into Richie's driveway.

As he jumped out of the car, Richie thanked Kyle for the ride before heading for the house.

'Gees,' thought Richie, 'I wish I'd known about his mom. By the way he looked when he told me, he is definitely not over it, either... not by a long shot. How do you ever get over something like that, anyway?'

Entering the kitchen, he immediately went into his normal after school routine. He dropped his backpack on the table, checked the answering machine for a blinking light (none), checked the fridge for any notes (none), then built himself a snack of Oreos with a large glass of milk to wash them down.

Sitting at the table, he wondered who he would ask to Kyle's party while he munched on a cookie. When nobody came to mind, he thought about calling Lindy. A quick glance at the clock on the wall, however, told him that he would still be at the library, so he made a mental note to call him later. Besides, he wanted to ask him how he was getting on with his English project, anyway. He smiled at this, thinking it would be funny to see Lindy with a girlfriend.

Then his thoughts turned back to Kyle getting a hard-on in the locker room earlier. He wondered if he was the cause of it, or if it was just some normal hormonal thing. His dick stirred as he hoped it was his body that did the trick, but he immediately decided it was just wishful thinking. Besides, the guy is always dating some chick. And why not, with his good looks and status at school, he for sure could have anyone he wanted. Putting these thoughts out of his mind, he finished his food, cleaned up his mess, then grabbed his backpack and headed upstairs to do what little homework he had.

Sitting at his desk, he stared down at his open English book. He couldn't seem to concentrate on the text, needing to reread many paragraphs 2 and 3 times in order to comprehend their content. He had too many other things on his mind. What occupied his thoughts the most was what it would be like for him when, and if, he decided to come out. What sort of things could he expect from his family and friends. That's when he remembered his vow to do research on the subject.

Chewing on the eraser of his pencil, he looked at his alarm clock to determine how much time he would have before the rest of his family began to arrive home. Carl would be at work at Lindy's dad's shop for at least another hour. His mom wouldn't be home for at least an hour and a half from her job as shift supervisor at a local discount store, and his dad was usually the last to get home. He was the Inventory Control Manager, and part owner, of a local auto parts chain.

Deciding that an hour was enough time to get started, he tossed his pencil on top of his book and headed down the hall to his dad's office. It wasn't a large office, a converted bedroom really, but it was home to the family computer which contained, among other things, his dad's inventory software. It also had an Internet connection on a dedicated phone line, used primarily by his dad to keep his home computer and his computer at work in sync with the ever changing inventory of his business.

Although Richie didn't spend a lot of time on the computer, he was savvy enough to surf the Web as an effective research tool.

As he waited for it to boot up, he wondered where he should start. Logging on to Windows with his own user name and password, he launched the Web Browser using the same user name and password. He knew that any work he saved wasn't all that safe from prying eyes, but he also knew that nobody in his family would try to snoop around in his files. Privacy was 'word one' among the Andrews household, taught and stressed from a very early age. He did make a mental note to remember to clear the documents folder when he was done, however, just to be sure something left there wasn't opened by accident.

Once he had logged on to the server, he called up one of the major search engines, then pondered his next move. For lack of any other way to start, he typed the word 'gay' into the search box, then hit return. For a long time it seemed as though nothing was happening. It seemed as if the computer was dead in the water. Before Richie could take any action, however, the screen filled with the results. Looking to the corner of the page he was viewing, Richie's breath caught in his throat when he spotted the number of sites that were related to the word 'gay'. There were over three million hits. Chuckling to himself, he realized he would have to narrow his search down some since many of the most popular sites listed on this page appeared to be porn sites. Not that it was a bad thing to know, since he knew he would want to check some of them out later, but for now he had more important research to do.

He clicked on a URL that asked 'Are You Gay?', which narrowed the search down to about 3,000. Rather than take the time to go in depth at any particular site, he started to compile a list of bookmarks that looked to be useable resources for him. By the time he heard his brother come into the house an hour later, he had book-marked well over a hundred web sites. Satisfied for now, he logged off, cleared the documents folder, and shut down the computer. Without a doubt, he had his work cut out for him, but he was determined to see it through.

He returned to his abandoned English book where he actually managed to get some productive reading done before his mother called him to supper.

Tonight's meal was alive with lighthearted conversation as Richie filled his family in on the upcoming dance, his nearly forgotten injury status, and how Lindy was true to his word by keeping his mouth shut around the locker room. Leaving out the part about their discussion afterwards, he and Carl even told their parents about the snowball fight they had the day before.

Remembering Kyle's party invitation, Richie decided to wait for a more suitable time to bring it up since he was sure it would raise the usual questions of concern from his parents. He knew they would let him go, but he also knew he would have to reassure them that all would be fine and not to worry.

When supper was done, and Richie had the kitchen cleaned up, he wiped the last few bread crumbs from the table onto the floor, then popped the cordless phone up from its cradle and punched in Lindy's number.

After a just two rings he heard the familiar voice of his friend.


"Hey, bro, what up?" asked Richie as he sat down heavily in his chair in the kitchen.

"Hey, Rich. Not much, how bout you?"

"Nothin much. How did your research project go today?"

"Pretty good I'd have to say. She's goin to the dance with me on Friday if that's any sign."

"No shit? You don't drag your feet do ya, man?"

"Rich, I couldn't believe how easy it was. She's pretty cool, and way easy to talk to, so as we were leaving, I just asked her. Almost shit my pants when she said yes."

"She wouldn't have a girlfriend who needs a date by any chance, would she?"

"As a matter of fact, my man, she asked me if I knew anybody who would be interested in taking her cousin."

"You're shittin me! Did she really?"

"Yup, she sure did."

"So, who is this cousin of hers, anyway?"

"Her name is Andrea Michaels, and she's from out of town, visiting for the holidays. Same age as we are, and Nancy says she's real nice, too."

"Oh shit, Lindy, you know what 'real nice' means, don't ya? She snacks on dog biscuits."

"Not to worry, bro. I got a look at her when Nancy's mom picked her up at school today. She is one good lookin babe, I swear."

"You better not be lyin to me, Lindstrom, or you and me are gonna have a problem."

"I swear, Rich, you are gonna be so pleased with this chick. Trust me, man."

"Well, in that case, I've got some news for you too, bro. We're both invited to Kyle's party on Saturday night."

"No shit?" came the reply. "Are you serious?"

"As a heart attack," answered Richie, smiling as he pictured Lindy's look of surprise. "Maybe we could take Nancy and her cousin. How sweet would that be?"

"Like a dream come true, bro. I'll ask Nancy. As a matter of fact, I'm gonna call her later anyway, so I'll ask her then and let you know in the morning what she says." After a short pause he added, "We still gotta sign up for 'dance duties', too, ya know. We should see if we can't get something that the girls can do with us. Oh, man, this is turning out to be too good to be true."

"Hey, relax, man," said Richie, still smiling in full agreement with his friend, "Take a pill or somthin, will ya?"

"Oh, man, I am so pumped about this. This could be just about the best weekend of our lives, if ya catch my drift."

Richie understood alright, and was somewhat saddened by the fact that he didn't fully share Lindy's enthusiasm. He was, however, concerned that his friend might not be thinking with the right head.

"Whoa, dude. Don't let your dick do your thinking for you here. You could easily screw up a good thing before it even gets started if you're not careful. If ya catch MY drift."

"I hear ya, Rich. Don't worry about me, I'll be cool."

"I know you will, Lindy."

After a few more minutes of idle chatter, the boys hung up, and Richie's thoughts turned to the question of what he was going to wear each night. He had one nice looking combination of sport coat, Levi's cords, and a brown turtleneck that would work for the dance, but the party was another matter. He would dig through his closet, but he was pretty sure he would have to dip into his savings to buy something new.

He began to wonder if all the hassle would be worth it. As he pondered this, he realized he had very limited dating experience, all of which consisted of either a trip to the Arcade, or to the local pizza joint. This time it was a big dance with a huge party the following night, and he would probably be taking the same girl to both. At this point, his concerns weren't about his sexual preferences at all - after just two dates, he wouldn't expect to get laid anyway, even if he were a hundred percent straight. His concerns were about his social graces, and what would be expected of him on these very real dates. After thinking about it, he decided he would go into this to have fun, and do his best to make sure Nancy's cousin had fun, too. Besides, since she lived out of town, so even if he did make an ass of himself, he probably wouldn't ever see her again, anyway.

His confidence now bolstered by his resolve, Richie hung up the phone and went into the family room to join Carl and his mom as they watched TV.

At the next commercial break, his mom asked, "So, have you boys thought about what you want to get your father for Christmas."

'Oh no,' thought Richie. Since he never had much money of his own, he had always given both of his parents Christmas cards in the past. Now, the mere mention of actually buying something this year made him feel guilty about it and he suddenly wished he had a part time job.

It was Carl who spoke next.

"How about a snow blower?"

Richie's head snapped up and his mouth hung open as he looked over at his brother. His mom was the next to speak, however.

"That's a nice idea, Carl, but aren't they expensive?"

She was looking at Richie now, with an understanding look in her eyes.

"Yeah," said Carl, "if you buy a new one. But one of our customers at the shop is moving to Florida and he has a nice one that's only two years old. We could pick it up for a couple a hundred bucks. I figured if all three of us chipped in, that wouldn't be too bad. I also gave it a tune up last week, and it's like brand new."

"Oh, I don't know, Carl."

It was their mom who spoke, again looking at Richie with the telltale expression on his face.

Finally finding his voice, Richie said, "It might be a good deal for you and Mom, Carl, cause you both have jobs. Where am I gonna get that kind of money, though?"

"Well, I thought about that, too, little bro. Look, you're planning on getting a job this summer, right?"

"Yeah, as soon as I'm old enough. But that doesn't help me much now."

"Then how about I lend you your share, and you can pay me back when you start working. I know he'd love it, and so would you since it's your job to shovel the snow. Besides, it's too sweet a deal to pass up."

As Richie thought this over, his mother asked, "Are you sure you can afford it, Carl? Remember, you've got school coming up this fall, and you have to keep your car running and everything."

"No problem, Mom, I can afford it alright." Then, looking to Richie he asked, "What d'ya think, Rich. If we're gonna do this, we have move fast, or someone else is going to jump on that snow blower."

"S... Sure," said Richie, his excitement filling his voice. "If you're positive you can afford it... and I promise I'll pay you back as soon as I start working."

"I know you will, Sport, cause I'll pound your butt in the ground if you don't."

"Let's do it then, Mom. Dad'll shit his pants when he sees it."

"Richie!" said his mom sharply, "You watch you mouth, mister."

"Sorry," said Richie at the admonishment, "But you know it would be the perfect gift for him. Right?"

"Yes, you're right about that. OK, let's do it then."

"Good," said Carl, "I'll make the deal tomorrow and keep it at the shop until Sunday so Dad won't see it. Then, Rich can help me move it into the garage so we can surprise him with it on Christmas." Then looking at Richie he asked, "Sound like a plan, little bro?"

"Sounds like a plan, big bro."

That night, as Richie lay in bed, he thought about how this Christmas could be the best one ever. Although he knew he had many personal issues to deal with, they were long term ones, and he wasn't going to let them interfere with the holidays. He felt closer to Carl every day, seeming as though he was realizing for the first time that he actually had a brother - and even though he couldn't legally get a job until he was 15, he vowed to have one lined up long before that time. He actually looked forward to paying his brother back.

As he drifted off to sleep, he thought about what was happening in his life lately. He was in high school, he had some new friends, who were upper class-men, and who really liked and trusted him. He had two, real, big time dates this weekend - well one for sure, and somehow he knew the party thing would work out, too - and for the first time in his life he had real debt responsibilities. Richie Andrews wasn't such a kid anymore, he was beginning to grow up.

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[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