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Mathew Figures it out

Chapter Nine

Tommy's mom was kind enough to run me home. I thanked her for her fine southern hospitality and as they pulled away, Tommy waved me a sad goodbye which I returned with the same emotion.

It was only five o'clock and my mom wouldn't be home for another thirty minutes. As I unlocked the front door, I heard the phone ringing. I ran to it, but it stopped ringing just as I got there. I stood over the phone for several minutes hoping it would ring again. Was it Chris? I hadn't expected him to call so early. It didn't ring again and I fretted over whether to try and call him. He had been insistent that he call me and after the incident with his mom, I was still inclined to wait.

My mom arrived home. Still no call from Chris. We ate dinner - alone. Still no call from Chris. My dad arrived at almost eight o'clock. Still no call from Chris. Finally, at eight- thirty, the phone rang. It didn't have to ring twice and I answered a short-breathed "Hello."

"Hey Matt, it's Chris." It's a good thing he identified himself because he was speaking so softly, I wouldn't have known it was him. "I tried to call you a little earlier, but no one was home." I knew it!

"How are you feeling?" I hoped he wouldn't give me any more b.s. about having a "bug".

"I feel a little better, I guess." He didn't sound so sure.

"I was thinking about you all day." I was and I wanted him to know it.

"Matt, I hope you haven't been too worried. I'll be all right. I always am." He sounded better. I didn't ask why he was whispering. The mental image of his parents was answer enough for me. Wait a second, what did he mean "I always am."

"Matt, I gotta go. I'll see you tomorrow." The dial-tone replaced his voice. The boy I loved was a hostage in his own house, sneaking calls to me when he could only for them to end abruptly and without proper good-byes.

When I saw him the next morning before homeroom, I was relieved. He was walking up ahead of me and didn't see me approaching from the rear. I grabbed his shoulders from behind, giving him a playful and affectionate squeeze. I heard him make a short gasp and reflexively reach for some unseen injury to his upper back near the right shoulder. My smile turned to petrified concern as I saw the physical pain in his face.

"What did I do? Are you OK?" I was confused and couldn't believe I had caused him any injury. What was happening here?

"I've just got some type of pointer or something on my shoulder. It's really sore. Maybe I pulled something." It just didn't sound right and Chris looked embarrassed as he told it. I didn't know how to respond and was momentarily speechless. He was speechless as well and offered me a look that did its best to say "I'm OK" as he ducked into homeroom.

Tommy smiled big when he saw me in homeroom. I was glad to see him smile, having been concerned by his sad goodbye the day before. He went on and on about how nice his mother thought I was. Now I was the one blushing.

We all got together at lunch and Tommy continued his professorship in algebra. Chris and I were painfully quiet with each other. Tommy picked up on it too and the whole session lost its steam. The three of us sat around struggling with just our thoughts for the last ten minutes of lunch, no one sure what to say or where to begin. Chris hadn't said anything about Katie. In fact, he hadn't said much of anything at all. He didn't seem only down, he was also very distant. As lunch ended and we scattered in our different directions, Chris finally spoke up.

"Matt, I don't think I'll be up for practice today. I'm just not able." I didn't doubt this.

"Chris, you think we could just get together and talk for a while after school?" I really wanted to talk to him alone and find out what was going on. Something wasn't right about him and I didn't know for sure what or why.

"I'm supposed to ride home with dad today. He's leaving right after school. I'm sorry Matt. I can't today." His face was so sad. He was completely void of the energy I was so use to.

"What about tomorrow night? Are you going to be able to come over?" His face winced almost as badly as it had earlier when I grabbed him from behind. My eyes dropped in disappointment and his answer caught me by surprise.

"Plan on it, Matt. I'll be there." The answer didn't fit his face.

"What? Are you sure?"

"I'll be there, Matt." His face now showed determination. Still, it didn't fit the moment.

"We'll have a blast. I'm really looking forward to it." I definitely was. I desperately needed some quality time with him.

"Me too." His eyes confirmed it. I think he really needed something to look forward to.

Dad was home in time for dinner tonight. Before eating, we went down to the basement and I lavished compliments at his handy work. He beamed with pride and I just kept pouring it on. I lounged on the old couch, marveling at how relaxing it was. I sprawled out on the lower of the two bunk-beds, praising how comfortable it was. I turned on the old TV and after adjusting the rabbit-ears, I pondered how amazing it was that a TV so old could produce such a clear picture and good sound - heavy static and hissing sound not withstanding. The freshly mopped grey cement floor never looked less grey.

At dinner, I confirmed that Chris had accepted the Jordan family invitation and would be visiting with us at least for tomorrow night. My mom was delighted and dad nodded his head and smiled, "looking forward to meeting the young man."

Mom made plans for a big dinner, but I begged her into picking up pizza instead. I didn't want to plunge into a big dinner experience before I had adequate time to talk with him alone. Dad volunteered a promise of home-grilled steak dinners if Chris stayed through Saturday night.

My restless nights continued. Every time I almost dozed off, I would see the earlier painful expression on Chris's face. Even accidentally, I couldn't bear the thought of hurting him. How much pain I had caused him on purpose was still undetermined. Without his acknowledgement, I couldn't know for sure that Katie had even broken things off.

Finally, it was Friday morning and I counted the minutes away. Eventually came lunch and we largely repeated the unenthusiastic study session from the day before. Chris was still unusually quiet and detached. He still failed to mention Katie by name. I saw her briefly enter the cafeteria, but she didn't stay and he never paid her any notice. When he exited a few minutes early, Tommy and I sat alone at the table and exchanged looks of concern.

"He's really down. I haven't seen him like that since." Tommy cut himself off in mid sentence. I gave him an intense look and he didn't wait for me to ask. "Since he got back from where ever his parents checked him into a couple years ago. We were in middle school then."

Tommy's look said "I'm sorry", but he didn't need to be. None of this was his fault. He had only lived the past, he certainly didn't create it.

"Tommy, thanks." He did a double-take unsure what to claim the thanks for. "Just thanks for caring and worrying. I know that's not easy on you, believe me." I had learned a thing or two about worry, myself.

"Chris is coming over to the house tonight. I'm hoping to finally find out the full scoop on what is going on."

"Mattie, sometime soon before it gets too cold, I want us to go camping again. Just me and you, OK?"

"I thought you'd never ask. I just figured you were trying to steal away enough Jack Daniels first to get us through the trip." Tommy and I laughed at the memory of our fireside whiskey adventure. It was the first time I had laughed out loud in several days. It felt good. It did Tommy some good too.

It distressed me to see Chris in this reduced state. The stress and ongoing battle with restlessness had severely depleted my own energy and enthusiasm. We both seemed trapped in some emotional purgatory, unsure of the atonement required to release us.

As I was leaving the cafeteria, I got a welcomed confirmation of the break-up from an unwelcome source.

Sarah Boone was a blonde junior. A full-figured girl, as they say. She had her own car and her own reputation. Evidently, she also had her sights set on Chris.

"Matthew". She said my name like she knew me. She didn't. "I heard about Chris and Katie breaking up. I was wondering if he was dating somebody else yet."

For fuck's sake, the body wasn't even cold yet. There hadn't even been an official death pronouncement, and little miss `voted most likely to always be horny' was making her move.

"I think it's too soon. Check back in a month or so." She stopped chewing her gum and gave me a look like `you just don't get it'.

"Listen, you just don't get it. I'm VERY interested in him. There might be a girl in it for you too. Maybe a double- date?" She was trying to sweeten the pot a bit. Maybe if she had a brother..

I decided that indirect rejection might work better.

"Let me talk to him about it and see what he thinks. OK?"

Her gum chewing was full blast again. She gave me a light pat on the wrist and a syrupy "Thank you".

So this was how it was going to be now? What had I done?

The week had finally come to an end and I was on my way to meet Chris and load up on the bus when one last encounter with his past popped up from nowhere.

Jay Henson was crossing the courtyard on his way to his truck just as I was approaching the buses. We made eye contact and I spoke a soft "Hey" in his direction. He acknowledged me with a nod and kept walking. He was easier for me to approach now. I imagined that we had already shared the most distressing moment we would ever spend together. I couldn't possibly imagine at the time just how wrong I was.

I saw Chris and waved him toward me. He looked around behind him before making his way over, greeting me with a smile when he reached me. We boarded my bus and he knew more people on it than I did, not that I was surprised.

"Are you finally feeling better?" He looked a little happier.

"This is the best I've felt in three days." There seemed to be more to his answer than I could interpret.

Our bus trip lasted thirty minutes. When we pulled into my neighborhood, I noticed Chris's eyes widen a bit. He and I never really talked about stuff like this, but our house was definitely in one of the nicer neighborhoods in the county.

"Hey, you've got a paved basketball court. And it's got lights! Why haven't we been practicing over here?" He had to point it out to me. I had noticed it before, but never made the connection that it was something that was `mine'. It was located beside the neighborhood swimming pool and tennis courts. I would have to ask my dad the rules on who could use it. I didn't have any friends in the neighborhood and hadn't ventured very far from the friendly confines of our yard.

"Well, this is it." I felt a little awkward, worrying that Chris might look at our house the same way his dad did.

"Bud, this is a great house! Who mows your grass?"

I raised my hand. "One grass-mower present and accounted for, sir." Chris laughed. It was so good to hear it. We had only been alone for two minutes, and I already felt both of us coming back to life.

Once inside, Chris continued his excitement. He wasn't jealous or envious. He was just glad to know that I lived in a cool house. We went upstairs to my room. I wanted to show him my `wall of fame'.

"Oh, dude. You've got some great posters." He walked straight over to the full-length Michael Jordan poster and stood beside it admiringly. "Man!"

He shrugged at my Barry Bonds poster and shuddered at my Jerry Rice poster, before walking back over to the M.J. poster again and patting it softly with his full endorsement.

"You've got a really cool room, Matt. A really cool house."

"Come on. I want to show you the basement. That's where we'll be sleeping." I couldn't help but smile excitedly.

Chris looked at me like `why are we sleeping in the basement?'

As I led him down, I watched his eyes for a reaction. I didn't have to watch very close.

"Geez, your basement is nicer than our house." He was probably right, though I hated to admit it. "Oh no!" Chris had spotted the Dwight Clark touchdown poster and was holding up his fingers making a mock cross, as if warding off a vampire. "Take it down, please!"

He didn't really want me to take it down and we laughed again. He eased gingerly onto the old couch and I collapsed into the old bean-bag.

"Oh, man. This is really nice." He was struggling to keep his eyes open and I was glad to see him so relaxed and comfortable. I was plenty tired myself and felt relaxed just knowing he was here.

"Chris, how would you feel about a nap before my folks get home?"

He pulled his eyes open to answer me.

"Buddy, that would really hit the spot with me."

I smiled as his eyes slowly shut and he was out like a light. It was still a bit chilly down here and I quietly got up and draped one of the blankets over him as softly as I could. His breathing never changed rhythm and I sat back down and watched him sleep. He was quiet, peaceful, and safe. I must have sat there and watched him for a good hour before finally giving way to my own slumber.

"Matthew!" My mother's voice roused me and I saw Chris jump nervously at about the same moment. It was almost six o'clock.

"Think you could eat some pizza?" I asked him as he stretched his eyes wide open.

"Matt, you're spoiling me rotten. Cool house, cozy couch, naps, and now pizza?" He grinned widely and I reached out my hand to pull him up from the couch.

I'll never forget the first introduction of Chris Briggs to Joanna Jordan. My mom's eyes lit up and her face just radiated love. She walked right over to a somewhat startled Chris and wrapped her arms around him, giving him a big hug. Part of what I'll never forget is the wince I caught in his eye again, though he didn't let my mom see it.

"I'm so glad you came, Chris. I've really looked forward to finally meeting you." She was absolutely beaming.

Chris wasn't a shy person by nature, but he melted in front of my mom. She adopted him right then and there. There was no paperwork to prove it, but Chris was now part of the Jordan family.

At just a few minutes past six, I was more shocked than anybody when my dad came walking through the front door. I wondered if he had been fired, but in reality he had only left `on-time' so he could properly greet our guest.

I was afraid the two of them would overwhelm Chris with their enthusiasm, but quite to the contrary, you could see him soaking it up like a plant that hadn't been watered for far too long.

We ate pizza until we couldn't eat another bite. Then we ate ice cream, though there was no room in our stomachs for it. My dad was the consummate extrovert and I couldn't remember seeing him so giddy. My mom doted on Chris non-stop. Dad told old sports stories about seeing the great baseball hero from the Atlanta Braves, Hank Aaron and the great football hero from the Cowboys, Roger Staubach. Both and many more had played against the home town bay area teams and my dad had seen them play in person more than once. Chris was really soaking it all in.

It occurred to me that I hadn't heard some of these stories, but there was no jealousy in my heart. I would have been content to sit there quietly and watch them all night if it would only keep Chris happy. As far as I was concerned, anything that was mine was also his: including my parents. I sure didn't want to take his on a trade though, not even with a million dollars and a cute brother to be named later (baseball humor for those of you scoring at home).

As I sat quietly listening, my mom sought out my eyes and I gave them to her along with a huge proud smile. She returned the smile with a shake of her head in amazement.

"All right, John. The boys probably don't want to listen to us tell old stories all night." The clock had leapt forward to nearly nine o'clock. My mom was trying to move the party along and she had an accurate sense of when to do it.

Chris disappeared to the bathroom for a much needed break. I stood in front of my dad and reached out my hand for a shake. He looked me over curiously before taking my hand.

"Congratulations, Mr. Jordan. Looks like you're the proud new papa of a 165 pound boy!" That one cracked him up. My mom just shook her head and giggled. I let him laugh for a minute, but I didn't let go of his hand so quickly.

My face drew serious and I looked him deeply in the eyes and said "Thanks, dad. I love you." He pulled me tightly into him, and released me only when he heard the bathroom door open down the hall.

My mom came down to the basement to make a final inspection. There were plenty of pillows and sheets and blankets. There was certainly more of everything than two teenage boys would need for one night. She made us promise we would ask her if we needed anything else.

I strolled up to my room for a minute to change into some soft warm-up pants and a t-shirt. When I came back, Chris had changed into the same. At last, we were alone.

He stretched out on the couch. I dragged the old bean-bag right up in front of him and plopped down in it. I wanted us to be close so I wouldn't want to have to talk so loud with mom and dad upstairs.

Chris spent the first fifteen minutes just thanking me for everything and telling me how nice and great my parents were. I imagined that my parents must have impressed him as much as his parents had depressed me.

We talked about basketball and he told me that with my quickness, I would make the team with no problem. That was hard for me to believe, but he assured me it would happen. He said that Jeff and Mike were really good guys and were good players too, and that I'd like them as teammates.

He told me how much he appreciated Tommy working with him on algebra and how he thought he was ready for the test Monday. Then he started to wind down a bit and I felt like we were moving toward the topic he had been avoiding all week. He didn't seem to know how to start. I figured it might be embarrassing for him to admit that he had been dumped. I also knew from his previous conversations about Katie that it could be emotional once we finally got there. I decided to help him get started.

"Chris, I kind of know about the whole thing with Katie." I sat up and leaned forward resting my elbows against the front of the couch. He gave me a sad, embarrassed look and I continued. "Sarah Boone told me, sort of indirectly."

"Sarah Boone?" He raised his brows when he asked, seemingly in disbelief.

"Yeah. She was asking if you were seeing anybody else yet." I watched his eyes very closely, looking for clues. "She said she was VERY interested in you, to quote her exactly." His mouth had fallen open and he was shaking his head, still in disbelief.

"And she came to you with this?" He looked almost apologetically at me.

"Yeah. I'm afraid so. Anyway, that's how I know. It made sense considering how bummed out you've been this week."

He had turned on his X-ray vision and now he was the one looking for clues. His eyes narrowed slightly coolly reminding me of the similar look I had received earlier from his dad, but Chris's stare held no menace.

"Are you OK, Chris? I mean, OK with the breakup?" I was prodding him but I wanted to sort things out. I wasn't convinced that I knew the full range of his problems and I needed to make sense of it all in my head.

"Maybe it's best. She wasn't happy with me. I just couldn't make her happy. I'm not sure I can make anyone happy." I didn't consciously plan it, but I placed a comforting hand on his arm when he said this. He stopped talking and just stared into me for a moment. He had done this many times before and it didn't strike me as unusual.

"Chris, maybe it is for the best. You once told me you weren't even sure how you become boyfriend and girlfriend. People change and maybe you just grew apart." It was the best I could offer. I couldn't very well tell him the truth.

"I'm sorry, Chris." I needed to make the apology even if he didn't know the full meaning of it. My hand was now rubbing his arm.

"You've got too many great qualities to let this get you down. It's like I told you before, it's her loss. There are probably a hundred girls at our school who would kill to be with you." All of this was very true and it hurt me to say it.

"Well, there's at least one girl anyway, huh?" He wasn't smiling. "What did you tell her?" He asked flatly.

"I told her I would talk with you about it." I couldn't look him in the eyes anymore. If he was actually interested in this girl, then it was more than I could bear to know. I didn't want to know.

"I can't believe that shit has started already." As he said it, he reached his right arm far behind his head, extending his elbow out over his face. He made no attempt to move the left arm that I was tenderly stroking with my left hand. His stretch pulled the bottom of his t-shirt up several inches, revealing his bare skin and a glaring ugly black bruise just below the ribs on his right side.

I reacted out of reflex. "Oh, Chris." I leaned over him, moving my hand and placing it ever so softly down near the bruise. His first reaction was to try and hide it from me, but it was too late for that.

I took his hand and moved it aside. The look on his face showed the fear he had been so determined to hide before. My own face tightened and I told him with my eyes that I understood. I slowly slid his t-shirt back up revealing not just the first bruise, but the start to a trail of similar bruises running up his back. I couldn't believe that anyone would hurt him this way.

My imagination betrayed me and I could see his father crashing his fists into him, being methodical enough to avoid any uncovered area that would gain unwanted attention. Soon my tears betrayed me too, and pried their way through my eyes. I didn't want to cry, especially now. I wanted to be strong for Chris.

"Chris, what happened?" I whispered the question but he wouldn't answer. A terror-stricken stare was controlling his face, not allowing his lips to move. I knew the answer. He didn't have to say it. The words would only cause him more injury right now.

"Don't answer that. You don't need to say anything at all." His face had returned to the same sad regressed to the same sad stare I had seen for most of the week.

With my words, he relaxed and his eyes found mine again and offered me a silent explanation. In return, my eyes listened and absorbed the pain he couldn't speak. My left hand had joined in and had started to softly rub his side and lower belly, avoiding the tender bruises. His eyes told me how helpless he felt and how he didn't understand why his own father would treat him so. They spoke volumes of disappointment in his mother and how she failed to come to his rescue. Why didn't she love him? She couldn't possibly love him and let this happen. Why didn't he deserve her love? Even in his eyes, "deserve" was a common theme of self- doubt.

My eyes spoke back to his, assuring him that he deserved so much better. They told him that he was loved. It wasn't the first time he had received this communication from them. They told him that his mother's love had been impaired, not by him, but by her own addiction. My eyes faltered in their attempts to explain the actions of this father, because I couldn't understand them myself. This was beyond my range of experiences in life.

My hand chose to offer the comfort that my eyes couldn't provide and was now gliding freely over his stomach, stopping now and then to flick playfully at the outie belly- button it so desired, but could not enjoy on my own form. I only wanted to comfort him and was willing to do whatever that required.

Chris's eyes left mine as he stared down at the trail of my hand. I looked as well, needing to confirm that my senses hadn't also betrayed me and that my hand was in fact even there. My glance provided confirmation, and my hand began gliding ever more adventurously down his bare stomach, starting to make exploring brushes just under the band of his briefs. The glance could not avoid the reality of his arousal and my eyes trekked back up his body to rejoin his eyes in a trance that was sending new communications. What did he want from me?

My hand was growing more adventurous, now sliding well underneath the thin cotton shield, nearing a point of some final destination. My eyes stayed locked in the trance and met with no resistance there. Making broad circles, the hand continued its soft glide across his stomach still diving deeper on each motion. His eyes were soft and relaxed. I could detect a deepening of his breathing through the long contractions in his stomach. I could feel a similar change in my own pattern.

My soul had drifted off to some dreamy place it had never visited, but had always longed to see. My hand refused further directions and was guiding itself, unwilling to give up the object of its fascination. It made a low sweep finally making contact with its ultimate target for the first time. I felt him breathe in deeply and his eyes widened before narrowing, almost closing as the full force of his own senses raced through his body. The shock to his senses traveled through my hand and raced across my own body as well, ignoring any physical boundaries or limitations.

Just as my hand probed more strongly than before, his eyes widened again but this time he fell out of the deep trance and a glimmer of fear mixed in with his passion. My eyes detected this right away and retook control of my hand stopping it abruptly in mid-stroke. The fear in his eyes now deepened and he quietly and slowly moved his own hand down to my left wrist, grasping it easily and pulling it slowly back to a safer place on his stomach.

The fear spread like a fire out of control and overtook me before I even had a chance to move out of its way. My earlier deep breathes became shorter and a panic of fear now raged upon me. Where was my soul? It felt lost, unable to rejoin my body and leaving my heart and mind without its needed assurances. Embarrassment filled the void, fueled by the unchecked fire that fear had started within me. What had I done? I couldn't hold his eyes any longer. Now in a full state of panic, I stood and walked away only to realize I had nowhere to run. The walls of the basement had become a cauldron for my fears. I was breathing rapidly now, nearing a point of full combustion.

Love was watching this unfold, allowing the fires of fear to burn, but only long enough to forge the stronger metal that would be needed for the battles ahead.

"Matt." Chris was standing in front of me now. My eyes couldn't bear to meet him and I stared aimlessly at the floor. "Matt?" His voice was soft and gentle. There was no trace of anger or residue of fear. The boy I loved had arose to pull me back from the flames.

"I'm sorry. Don't hate me, Chris. I couldn't bear it if you did." I still couldn't look at him. I barely choked the words out. I was trembling badly "I don't know what I was thinking. You'd never be interested in me like that. Look at me!" The fear had offered a plausible explanation and I had believed it. Why would he be interested in me? Fear had finally answered the most basic question that had rattled around my head all week: could he be attracted to me?

"Matt, I just don't want you to get hurt." It was too late. I felt plenty hurt already.

I heard Chris sigh deeply. Through my tears, I peeked up at him hoping to find some small glimmer of understanding in his face. His face was as deep in pain as it had been deep in fear earlier. I couldn't bear the look in his eyes and I tried to drop my head. His left hand softly cupped my chin and wouldn't allow it fall any further. As I had once done for him in the old shack, he now lifted me up, raising my eyes to meet his. He was smiling through the pained look and was shaking his head in some denial of the questions in my mind.

"Oh Matt." His right hand had grasped me in the narrowest part of my waist. He then repeated my words back to me as a question: "Look at you?" He paused. "OK, let's do look at you."

His hand dropped from my chin to capture the other side of my waist. His eyes held me and would not let go. I felt his hands reach under the edge of my t-shirt, which he then lifted up over my head and then dropped it on the floor beside me. I was exposed. His hands worked motions of their own and slid softly over my skin, fueling me with the energy that had escaped my body earlier. His hands went to the back of my waist then drew to the front of my stomach, a finger gently poking its way into my belly button.

Chris smiled warmly and reassuringly. My soul finally rejoined me and with Chris's help, chased away the fears that had threatened to consume me. His hands were restless and moved up the front of my stomach, brushing my tight nipples and sending shuddering waves back down my body. His hands rested on top of my shoulders then drew inward to the back of my neck. His right hand went astray and made a free- fall back down the middle of my chest and stomach, slowing to a crawl before diving well below and making its own exploration of my young arousal. His wrist pushed down flattening the palm of his hand against me, before releasing me and returning to the side of my waist. I made an audible gasp when he touched me where no one had touched me before. Our eyes had never parted, but my lips had fallen open.

He leaned forward easily and whispered "Now we're even." The right hand on my waist pulled me into him creating a bow in my lower back. His left hand had never left my neck and it now also pulled me in and his lips closed over my still open ones. I could feel his lips pulling me in and our tongues briefly met before he released me and dropped his left hand also to my waist. We stood in a new trance for a moment before Chris removed his hands and pulled off his own t- shirt, quickly allowing his hands to resume their position on my waist. He pulled me in again and our bare bellies were warm against each other and our mutual arousals made contract through their cotton shields; his arousal overpowering mine, being the larger and stronger of the two. I didn't know where we were going next but I knew I wanted to be there.

"You know what I really want, for right now?" The question came in unison from his lips, eyes, and hands squeezing gently at my waist. My answer was a foregone conclusion. There was nothing I would deny him.

"Anything you want, Chris." I trusted him completely and wanted him in anyway he would have me. A nervous twitch ran through my stomach as I realized that I might disappoint him with my inexperience.

Chris took my hand and led me over to the couch. He sat down first and I was confused as to what he wanted me to do. He had the lead and I didn't want to make any awkward assumptions. He pulled me toward him and the confusion must have become obvious on my face. He stopped and smiled another reassuring smile and pointed behind him with his thumbs. I crawled onto the couch behind him and he stretched me out flat against the back of the old cozy frame. From this angle, I could see the full effect of his injuries and I felt a renewed desire to break into tears, but I refused them this time.

Finally, I figured out what he wanted. It was a much simpler and more innocent request than I would have ever expected. He stretched out in front of me, his back against my stomach and chest. He directed my right arm, tucking it underneath his own and pulling my right hand firmly against his chest. I was careful not to squeeze or discomfort any of the sore spots. I tucked my legs against his and nestled my face and lips into the warm spot on the back of his neck. He simply wanted to be held and to be touched in a way that communicated the love that had so far escaped his young life. His wounds had been created by a much different touch; a harsh and brutal expression of anger and loathing. Those same wounds could only be soothed and healed by the soft application of tenderness and love.

I pulled the blanket over us and then I melted into the boy I loved. Holding him like this was a deeper intimacy than I could have possibly hoped for. I had never felt so warm inside. I don't think he had ever been so loved. He was safe and secure within my arms. My restless nights came to an end, though I wish they could have lasted for just one more night. I didn't want to lose consciousness. I didn't want to miss a second of this experience. The warmth of love and acceptance made for a powerful sedative that I could finally no longer resist.

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