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discovering the truth

Discovering the Truth - Part 4

After we finished eating dinner, I excused myself from the table and headed to my room.  For some reason, I felt the need to be alone for a while.  Closing the door behind me, I leaned against it and gradually slid down till I was sitting on the floor, my knees tight against my chest.  After spending over 16 years being continually forced to hide my emotions, even from those who had brought me into the world, the past few days had been overwhelming.  Throughout my life, I had felt as if I were just floating along, not really connected to anything, or anyone, around me.  It was a miserable way to live.  But now there were hands everywhere, pulling me close to people that had known me only the briefest of moments in the span of life.  Obviously, I was enjoying it.  There isn't a human on the face of the earth, and probably not any animals either, that doesn't feel a need belong, to be loved, to fit in.  I had felt this yearning all my life and because of the situation I had lived in, it had only grown stronger until the breaking point a little over a week ago. 

I had known full well that my family would have a negative reaction to the news that I had given them, and yet I had still done it.  Looking back, I thought I knew why:  this need to belong, to be loved, to be...honest to myself had led me to say those words.  But they weren't true.  They can't be.  This must have been it for him, unable to bear to have me as his son any longer.  Unable even to let me live.  "My son, the fag" he must have thought.  But it isn't true, I swear.  I was wrong!

I don't know how long I sat there, crying softly.  A half hour, an hour...more?  I wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt and started to get up when it hit me.  Where it came from, I can only guess.  Probably somewhere deep in my heart, unlocked finally with the help of the Kinneys, especially Meric.  It wasn't a lie.  It was the truth; it

I was gay.

This revelation flooded through me, leaving in its wake a whole new mix of emotions.  Delight...fear.  Delight that my true self was finally known to me, not having to hide behind anything any longer.  Fear of what that meant.  I wasn't stupid, I knew the world we lived in.  It wasn't easy to be gay, especially in high school.  But, I somehow knew that I could get through it, that I would get through it, because now, after so long, I was free.

Justin's face appeared in my mind, unbidden.  I studied it, marveled at it.  He really was absolutely beautiful.  Not just physically, but deeper than that.  He tried to hide it with anger, but those brooding eyes and constant frown on his face could not stand up to the light of truth.  I saw a new Justin then, one who smiled, who laughed...with me at his side.  I wanted desperately to meet this Justin, to do battle with the monster keeping him captive and to rescue him.  I saw in him what it had taken me so long to understand.  He had enclosed himself just as I had, lashing out at anyone that came near him, desperate to maintain his separation from everyone else.  As Meric and his parents had been the loving arms to draw me out, I would be the one to bring the real Justin to the surface.

I stood up fully this time, the tears rimming my eyes now ones of happiness.  Realizing that it was pretty late, I crawled into my bed and fell asleep promptly, a smile etched on my face.

The next morning, I woke to a banging on the door to my room.  Still bleary eyed, I glanced at the clock to see that it was a little after 6:00, over an hour before I needed to wake up.  I groaned and willed the energy necessary to get up into my legs.  I am most definitely not a morning person.  After stumbling to the door, I reached for the handle and after missing it once, managed to open it. Meric stood on the other side wearing a t-shirt, a pair of sweatpants and running shoes.

"Morning!" he said, much too cheerily.  "I'm going out to run and I just wanted to know if you would like to come.  I would have asked you last night, but you went to bed so early."  My mind was still only running in first gear and I stared blankly at him for a good five seconds before I was able to speak.

"R-run...?  Are you insane?  It's 6:00 in the morning.  What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Nah, it's good for you.  Gets the heart going early and builds up your endurance."

"I know what running is for but isn't there a better time of day to do it?  I mean, the Sun isn't even up yet."

"That's the best time, man.  Not too hot outside, yet.  And besides, you're going to need to get in shape for football.  Don't want the new quarterback to pass out at practice," he said, poking me in the stomach as he finished.  I made as if I was going to throw up all over him and he quickly jumped back out of the way, a look of mock disgust on his face.

"All right, all right...I'll come.  Give me a few minutes."  I figured he was probably right.  It had been a while since I did anything to work on my stamina and I would very likely need it.  I closed the door and walked over to the closet to get some clothes out that would be good to run in.  After changing, I headed out into the hallway to find Meric.  He was sitting on the bottom step, watching Striker excitedly chasing his tail.

"Ready to go?" he asked, looking up at me as I walked in.

"Sure am.  Just hope I don't pass out running with you."

"If you do, I'll be sure to get some help after school for you or something."

"A-after school?  You wouldn't leave me lying there all day, would you?"  I wasn't quite sure if he was joking or not.  Meric had this ability to look completely serious whenever he wanted, even if he was joking.  It made it him very hard to figure out.

"Well, I wouldn't want to be late for school," he said, walking past me and out the front door.  I headed out, joining him on the front stoop.

"I have a couple different routes I run during the week.  We'll do the easiest one today, since you're just starting out."  We spent the next 10 minutes stretching in the driveway before heading out onto the street. 

I'd hate to see what he considered a difficult run!  By the time we were finished, I felt like I was going to die, my chest heaving in and out trying to provide enough oxygen for my aching muscles.  I could only hope that football practice was not going to be difficult this afternoon.  I probably wouldn't survive if it were.  As we reached the driveway, I looked over at Meric.  He was lightly breathing, the smallest amount of sweat glistening on his forehead.  He looked over at me and smiled.  I fell over.

"Brandon?  Brandon, are you all right?"  He seemed pretty concerned and was bent over looking at me.  He reached down to poke me on the arm, probably to see if I was still alive.  I grabbed him right above the elbow and tried to pull him down next to me on the ground.  Laughing, he shrugged me off easily, but lay down next to me anyways.  I looked off to the east, watching the first few rays of the morning Sun creeping over the horizon.  The fledgling dawn seemed an appropriate time for the conversation that was taking shape in my mind.  I had only known Meric Kinney for less than a week, but already I felt that I could trust him more than anyone I knew, or had known.  Even with this assurance, my only previous experience with this had ended with a weeklong hospital stay.  I was nervous.

"Meric...there's something I need to tell you."  I could feel my heart beating faster even than it had been during our run.  I heard movement from beside me, and knew that Meric had rolled onto his side to give me his full attention.  I wasn't able to meet his gaze.  Instead, I stared straight up into the brightening sky, concentrating fully on forcing each of these words to pass through my lips.

"My parents weren't in a car accident."  I could feel the tears beginning to run down my face, mixing with the sweat already there.  "I was in the hospital because of a gunshot wound, to my chest.  My father...he...he shot me and then turned the gun on himself.  I don't know where my mother is."  The words had gained so much momentum by the end that they just tumbled out.  When I was finished, I shut my eyes tightly, trying to block out the pain of the memory I had just recalled. 

"Why?"  Meric's voice was barely audible, as if he didn't want to intrude on the memories I was so obviously reliving.  I rolled onto my side, facing away from him.  I needed a moment to collect myself and to determine if I really did want to do this...I didn't.  I sat up, still staring off into the distance.

"We...we'll be late for school," I said, realizing that I had just chickened out, big time.  I'm sure Meric realized this as well, but he said nothing as I tried to stand up.  I couldn't believe how sore I was.  I turned to walk back into the house to get ready for school.  Meric was still lying on the ground, but I didn't look at him.  If I did, I probably would have lost it.

After showering and getting dressed, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed out to the driveway, where Mrs. Kinney was waiting to drive us to school.  As I slid into the back seat, I could feel Meric's eyes on me, but I still refused to look.  It took all of my willpower not to break out into tears right there in the car.  I'm sure Mrs. Kinney noticed something was wrong, and the silence during the ride was palpable.  We pulled up to the school a little before 8:00 and I muttered a goodbye as I stepped out of the car.  My legs were still a little sore, each step sparking a dull pain that began in my thighs and shot down to my ankles.  A few people from the football team waved to me as I limped into the school and I managed a weak smile in return.  Meric walked next to me.  I could tell he desperately wanted to say something, but was being polite and not doing so.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore.  I stopped and turned to face him.

"Look, I'm sorry that I wimped out earlier in the driveway, but I just need some more time.  I promise I'll talk to you when I can." I stared into his green eyes, trying to impart to him how sincere I was.  He smiled back at me and nodded, as if he had known this all along. 

"See you in pre-calc," he said before turning to walk towards his homeroom.  I merely shook my head, still amazed at almost everything he did.  He always knew what to say and do.  I guess I was a little jealous.  I wish I were able to be, like him.  Ah well, maybe one day.

As I slid into my desk in the front row for homeroom, I became aware that I was getting quite a lot more attention than I had on my first day.  I slowly looked up from my desk and turned my head to the side, looking at the people in the room.  At least half of them were staring at me, a few pointing and talking.  I looked down, trying to figure out if I had something on my shirt.  After making sure I didn't and that no food was on my face, I started to get up.  I knew they were making fun of me for some reason and I wasn't going to sit there and just let them do it. However, as I started to stand, a girl broke free from the pack and walked over to me.  I watched her, poised to jump away at any moment like an antelope watching a lion slink through the grass.  She must have sensed my discomfort because she put out a hand to try to calm me.  No...she was offering it.  I took it.

"I'm Jennifer," she said, a big smile gracing her face.  Our joined hands shook in greeting.  I had to admit she did look nice.  Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I can't appreciate the female body.  I'm just not attracted to it.

"I'm Brandon," I said, smiling a little in return.  I still wasn't totally comfortable with what was going on, but I was slowly relaxing.  I didn't really know what else to say, but she saved me from having to think of something.

"I heard that you just transferred here a few days ago and yesterday you played with the football team at lunch and now the coach wants you to be the quarterback for our team I can't believe that I mean we haven't had a good quarterback in ages and maybe now we can finally win a few games."  Good lord woman, take a breather!  I tried desperately to follow what the hell she was saying and I know I must have looked like an idiot staring at her with such an intense look of concentration on my face.

"Are you all right?" she asked me, concern clear in her tone.  I didn't respond, still trying to figure out what she was talking about.  She waved her hand in front of my face.

"Oh...right, sorry," I said, feeling stupid.  Now she probably thinks I was starting at her tits or something.  "I'm just a little tired is all.  Did some running this morning."  Jennifer was sitting a little closer to me than I would have liked.  Nervously, I looked around the room at the other students, most of which were watching our little conversation with more than passing interest.  I turned back to Jennifer and smiled a little.  "What's yo..." I started just as the bell rang, signaling the end of homeroom and my freedom from the clutches of the predator.  Saved by the bell, indeed.  She seemed upset that our time together was over so quickly.  As she stood, she brushed a hand across my arm.  Shaking my head, I quickly gathered my things and all but ran from the room.

Math class was fairly unexciting.  My mind was focused on several different things, none of which were math.  I was sitting next to Meric, a constant reminder of what had happened earlier in the morning.  Next period I was supposed to be working with Justin.  My mind was still trying to process all the emotions related to that mess.  I had football practice this afternoon and I had no idea what to expect from that.  Add to all of that the fact that I now apparently had a girl who wanted to do unspeakable things to me and it was safe to say that pre calculus did not even enter my thoughts for the 90 minutes I sat in Mr. Fallon's room. 

Jennifer came up to Meric and I in the hall as we were heading to English.  I groaned inwardly, but tried to plaster a smile on my face.

"Hi!" she said, her blond hair bouncing as she ran up to us.  "Hi, Meric."  She gave him very little notice, her attention almost solely fixed on me.  "Brandon, I was wondering what you were doing this Friday.  I'm having a party at my house since my parents are out of town and I wanted to know if you wanted to come because it will be so much fun and we'll get to do whatever we want and you'll get to meet a lot of people and since you're the new quarterback everyone will want to meet you."  Here we go again.  I smiled as she finished talking and glanced down at her neck looking for gills.  She sure wasn't getting oxygen the normal way humans did, so it had to be coming from somewhere.

"Uh, I guess..." I said, turning my head to look at Meric.  She swatted me on the arm, laughing.

"Meric's always invited, silly.  See you there!"  And with that, she was gone as quickly as she had found us.  I started walking again, realizing that we only had a short time to get to English before the bell rang.  Meric was laughing openly beside me.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"Oh nothing.  You looked like you were about to pass out right in front of her is all.  Is your face all red for some other reason?"  We rounded the last corner before Mrs. Pierce's room.  I hit him on the shoulder but he only laughed harder.  We entered the room just as the bell rang, finding our seats.  The person sitting in Mrs. Pierce's desk was not who it should have been.  Instead of our English teacher, an older woman sat there, looking particularly grumpy.

"All right class, I'm Miss Jackson," she said, emphasizing the miss.  Yeah, like anyone would mistake you for someone's wife.  "Mrs. Pierce is sick today.  She has left instructions that you are to work on your reports that she assigned last class.  If you need to move to be with your partner, do it now."  Most of the class seemed elated at this news.  Of course, no one would really work on their assignment.  On days like these, all people did was talk, and not about what they should.  Justin once again came and set next to me, but didn't seem interested in chatting.  Big surprise there.  He had Ender's Game out again and was reading.

"That's a good book," I said to him after about 5 or so minutes had passed.  He didn't even acknowledge that I had said anything, only continued reading.  Sighing, I decided to stare at my desk for a while.  Glancing at the watch on my left arm, I saw that we still had over 80 minutes left in here.  What the hell am I going to do for that long?  I looked at Meric, but he was happily chatting with his partner for the project.  He was probably the only one in the room actually getting any work done.  I sighed again as it seemed the appropriate thing to do.

"I've read it before."  Justin's voice came out of nowhere, stunning me into disbelief.  It wasn't laced with the hatred that always simmered just under the surface.  He wasn't Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky, either.  He was somewhere in between.  It must have been because he was talking about something he liked rather than talking to something he didn't, like me.  "You've read it?" he asked.

"Yeah, a couple times," I said turning back to face him, an eager look on my face.  He must have mistaken it for something other than the happiness at having found something to do during the class, because he just grunted and went back to reading.  Okay, note to self:  don't seem excited around him, it just pisses him off.

About 10 minutes passed.  I was slowly losing my mind.  There are only so many times you can count the tiles on the ceiling, after all.

"What about the companion one?  Ender's Shadow."  He was looking at me this time.  A battle was being waged in his head; I could see it plain as day on his face.  His desire to avoid talking to anyone vs. discussing something he loved.

"Yeah, I've read all of them.  The later ones are really different from the first, but I enjoyed them in their own way."

"Cool," he said.  He seemed as if he wanted to say more, but didn't and instead looked back down to his book.  I could tell, however, that he wasn't actually reading.

"What are we going to do about this project?" I asked, hoping to keep him talking.  I liked this side of him.  I wanted more.

"I told do the research and I'll write it."  Danger, danger!  He was getting upset again.  Quick, think of something.

"Well, I don't really know anything about Fafka and I'm really not sure where to start."  He sighed and rolled his eyes, but I could tell it was, at least partially, just a front.  He was trying to make a decision.

"Fuck it, you can't even get the name right," he said.  "Can you come over to my house tomorrow afternoon?  We'll do it then."  I tried very hard to not let the excitement at this suggestion show on my face. 

"Well, I don't think I have anything to do.  I guess I could come.  What time?"

"We'll just go there after school and my mom can drive you home after we're done."

"Sounds like a plan," I said as he went back to reading.  I couldn't believe the turn of events.  I wouldn't exactly call us buddies, but I think we were certainly a lot closer than we were yesterday, and that was a good thing.  I knew that I had a long way still to go, but this was a promising start.

The rest of the class passed quickly and I was more than ready to head off to lunch when the bell rang.  It seemed as if everyone else was as antsy as I was.  Students exploded out of desks and ran out the door, leaving the substitute sputtering something about homework.  Meric and I headed outside for lunch again and sat on the same bench as the previous day.  I had been looking forward to this all morning and was glad to finally be outside, sitting next to my new best friend.  After a few minutes, a group of boys came out with a football and started to play.  They noticed me sitting nearby and a couple jogged over to me.  I recognized one as Bryce, the boy I had thrown to yesterday for the coach.  The other was someone I had yet to meet.

"Hey Brandon...want to come play with us today?"  Bryce asked, stopping a few feet in front of me.  I could tell he did a lot of running.  The muscles in his legs rippled as he walked.  The other boy just stood there staring at me.  Talk about creepy.  I turned to Meric who just shrugged.  Turning back to Bryce, I nodded and smiled.

"Be right there," I said.  The boy nodded and jogged back to the others with his friend.  I smiled at Meric.  "You sure you don't mind?"

He shook his head.  "You go have fun.  I'll just watch."

I nodded to Meric and turned to head towards where the rest of the guys stood.  The field in front of the school wasn't quite as long as a normal football field, but it suited the needs of a lunchtime game just fine.  As I got closer, Tom seemed to be splitting everyone up into teams.

"You make 15," he said as I walked up.  "You want to be all-time QB?"  I shrugged in response.  He tossed me the ball and the boys split into two teams of seven.  I didn't bother having any sort of huddle, as this wasn't a real game.  The guys seemed to know what they were doing, so I just let them run whatever patterns they wanted. 

Everything was going fine.  We scored a touchdown on the first set of downs, and the teams switched.  The boy that had glared at me yesterday after Coach Thomas invited me to join the team was assigned to guard me, to make sure that I didn't run while everyone else was downfield.  For this game, since it was tag, there wasn't an offensive or defensive line.  The other team had one blitz every four downs and could rush me after a count of 7.  Pretty standard rules that I had no problem working with.

"Down...set...hut!"  I stepped through a 5-foot drop and checked the left side of the field.  Everyone covered.  I looked right.  The same.  5...6...  I was running out of time.  I saw the boy running at me so I rolled out right, scrambling to get away from him.  Bryce noticed that I was in trouble and drifted right to stay with me.  I saw him and gunned a pass, sidearm, as I was running.  He caught it and was tagged down after a 15-yard gain.  I grinned as I saw Meric clapping for me from where he was watching the game.  He stopped and looked like he was about to shout something when my head snapped back.  Someone had slammed into me from behind, driving their shoulder into my back and dropping me to the ground.  Cursing, I tried to roll over, but the person had me pinned, my face pressing uncomfortably into the dirt.

"Everyone else seems to think you're the greatest ever, but you took my fucking spot, asshole.  This is my team, not yours."  Whoever it was had leaned down and was whispering in my ear.

"What the fuck are you doing, Jack?"  Tom had come up next to us and was trying to pull Jack off me.  Jack shrugged him off, but stood up of his own accord and walked a few feet away.  Groaning at the pain in my back and face, I rose to a kneeling position and shook my head, trying to clear it.  I felt an arm go underneath mine, pulling me upward.  I stood up and stretched my back.  I spun around and glared at the boy who had blindsided me.  He had a cocky grin on his face.  The rest of the team seemed unsure what was going to happen.  I did have a desire to beat the hell out of this jerk, but decided on something better.

"Come on, let's play." I said, picking up the ball.  Everyone else hesitated.  "Come on!"  I said again.  They complied, setting up for another play.  "Hut!" I called, snapping the ball quickly.  Jack started counting again.  I didn't even look at the guys downfield.  Instead, I stared right at Jefferson's previous quarterback.  He finished counting and started towards me once again.  When he was about 3 feet away, I swung my right arm forward, launching the ball straight at his face.  He didn't have a chance.  It slammed into the middle of his forehead and bounced back into the air.  He dropped to the ground, holding his head.  I caught the ball as it came back down and threw it downfield to an open receiver, who caught it for a score.  I stepped over Jack without looking at him and jogged down the field to the rest of the team.  A few seemed concerned about the boy who was slowly getting to his feet behind me, but most of them realized he had earned it after the cheap shot on the previous play.  Jack was very much subdued after that, but a fire still simmered behind his eyes.  I had probably made it worse, not better. He wasn't giving up; he was just biding his time.  I would need to keep an eye on him for sure.

We played for a bit longer, but lunch ended quickly and the bell called us back to the classrooms.  Meric didn't say anything about what had happened and I wondered if he approved of what I had done.  Probably not.  He didn't seem like the type of person to resort to violence to solve a situation. 

The last two classes went off without a hitch and I found myself heading down to the locker room after French.  Entering the dank room around 3:25, I saw several members of the team in various states of undressing.  Steeling my gaze straight ahead, I walked through to the office in the back where I could see Coach Thomas waiting.  It was tempting with so many good looking boys all around me, but it would be really hard to explain anything that might...arise as a result of any wayward glances.

"Ah, Brandon.  Glad you could make it," said Coach Thomas as I walked up to him and shook his hand.

"I'm looking forward to practice, Coach," I said.  He grinned. 

"Well, it won't be long for you today.  I want to get you fitted for your equipment first.  After that, the offense has a meeting and then you'll spend the rest of the practice with Kurt here, our Offensive Coordinator.  He'll be going over the playbook and our system with you.  You've got a lot to learn.  Hope you're up to it."  I nodded, turning to look at the man he had pointed out.  Kurt Robinson was in his mid-30s, but was still in very good shape.  He had probably spent many years playing football.

Coach Thomas took me back to the storeroom, where I picked out the pads, helmet, jersey and pants that fit me best.  Carrying them over my shoulder, I headed back into the main part of the locker area.  The team seemed to have split into two different groups, likely offense and defense, and were each having their own meetings.  I slipped into the back of the group of offensive players, smiling to a couple that looked at me when I walked up.

"Our first game isn't for another 2 weeks, guys, but we have a lot of work to do before then."  Coach Robinson was standing in the front, his arms crossed on his chest.  "Most of you know this already, but we have a new quarterback."  He scanned the crowd, finally spotting me.  "Brandon just started here at Jefferson yesterday, but I think he will be a good fit.  I'm going to be working with him on our system for most of practice, so Coach Smith will be with you outside.  Don't give him any shit or you'll answer to me.  Now, get to it!"  A few of the boys shouted as they headed out the door and down to the practice fields. 

I stood at the back of the room alone.  Coach Robinson walked over to me and beckoned for me to follow him to the office.  When we got there, he sat down and started rummaging through one of the filing cabinets.  I sat opposite him, laying my gear down next to me.  Finally, he sat up, holding a fairly thick book in his hand.

"This is our playbook," he said.  "Our system is pretty simple.  But, you're going to have to study hard to make sure you know all the signals and plays in and out.  Also, we probably need to do some work with you on reading defenses.  But, Coach Thomas seems to have a lot of faith in you, so we'll see how it goes."  He slid the book across the desk to me.  I opened it up and flipped through the first few pages, not seeing anything overly complicated.  "All the fun stuff is in the back, but let's cover the basics first."

We spent the next two hours going over the system the Jefferson football team used.  I was swimming in more terms and information than I could easily handle, but I tried to keep my head on straight and nodded at appropriate times when Coach Robinson asked if I was keeping up.  I'd need to spend some time at home working on this.  But, it wasn't normal homework.  I loved football, and I was actually eager to spend more time working on this.  I wanted to impress everyone, to show them I could be a good quarterback.

Mr. Kinney came to pick me up after I got out of practice.  I climbed into the passenger seat in the 4Runner and exchanged greetings with him.

"So, how was practice?" he asked, his eyes darting to me occasionally when he was able to spare them from the road.

"All right," I replied.  "I spent most of it with Coach Robinson, the Offensive Coordinator, going over the playbook and the system.  It's a lot of information, but I think I can handle it."  He nodded.

"I played some ball back in school, you know."  Oh boy, here we go.  "I wasn't QB, though.  Played linebacker.  Maybe I could give you some pointers."  I chuckled to myself.

"Sure, I'll come to you if I need help with anything."  That was probably not the exact answer he was looking for, but it would have to do.  I had this vision of him coming to practice with me and "helping" me out.  There was no way that was going to happen.

Dinner that night was meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and peas.  I love meatloaf.  Mrs. Kinney was a really good cook.  I've got to be careful, though, that I don't eat too much.  A fat quarterback gets sacked a lot.  After dinner, I played around with Striker a bit before retiring to my room to do homework and to start working on the playbook.  I didn't have practice the next day, but I wanted to get a head start on it.  I was determined that we would win our first game.

Meric woke me up the next morning again, at 6AM.  I wasn't any more prepared for this than I was the previous day, but I joined him all the same.  Out in the driveway, we began to stretch.

"I lied to you yesterday," he said as he bent over, working his hamstrings.


"Yeah, that route we took.  It was the hardest one I run."  He looked up at me, grinning.  I played like I was going to tackle him, but he easily sidestepped me, pretending to be a matador.  I stomped my foot and charged again.  He moved to the side again, but I stood up at the last second and caught him in a hug.  He seemed shocked at first, but wrapped his arms around me after a moment.  It felt great to just hug someone.  There was nothing romantic or sexual about it, it was just an embrace of friends...of brothers.  After a few moments, Meric started to pull away.  I was reluctant to let him go, but finally did, my arms dropping limply to my side.

"Can't do that too often," he said.  "Some people might get the wrong idea."  I stiffened.  "What's wrong?" He must have noticed my reaction to what he said.  I could feel tears running down my cheeks.  I turned away, not wanting him to see me like this.  Behind me, I heard him step forward.  I felt his hand on my shoulder, pulling me around to face him again.  "Tell me."

I closed my eyes and just leaned into him, needing to be supported both physically and emotionally.  Apparently this particular driveway was an area that experienced a lot of emotional breakdowns.  Coming to a decision with myself, I looked back up at him.

"My father shot me because I told him that I'm gay."  I dropped my eyes to the ground and followed an ant as it crawled along the uneven surface.  The silence was astounding.  I knew this had been a mistake.  I hadn't learned anything the first time and now I had ruined this part of my life as well.  Just because I had figured out who I was didn't mean I had to go and tell everyone else.  In that moment, I resigned myself to a life of secrecy.  I couldn't tell anyone, everyone was against me.  Everyone...except Meric.  I felt his hand on my chin, pushing my head back up till it was even with his.  Moisture rimmed his eyes.  He didn't say anything, just drew me back into our hug.  Thank God for Meric.  Without him, I likely would have gone on to live a miserable life in which I would have felt that I had to hide behind a mask all the time.  But, in those beautiful green eyes, I found the strength I needed.  I knew right then that everything was going to be fine.

"Oh Brandon..." he said.  I could feel the love emanating from him.  I basked in it, soaking it up.  It had been so long.  "I'm with you...always."  I burst into tears at this.  He pulled me back into the hug and we stood there for close to five minutes, me crying into his shoulder and he rubbing his hand soothingly on my back.  Finally, I pulled back and looked into his emerald eyes once again, reaffirming his promise.

We decided not to do our run that morning.  The moment we shared was workout enough.  But it wasn't our legs that ached; it was our hearts.  I had gained a lifelong ally that morning, but we both knew that it was not an easy path that lay ahead of us.  We would get through together, or not at all.

School that day was just a barrier to what lay in store for that afternoon.  I was very excited about going over to Justin's house to work on the project.  Of course, it never fails that when you want a day to go by quickly, it slows to a crawl.  By the time lunch came around, I felt as if an entire week had passed.  Finally, the final bell rang and I ran to meet Justin in the parking lot.

"Hey, I'm here." I said as I walked up to him.  He looked at me, a dour expression on his face.  He didn't answer.  Awkward... "So, how far away do you live?"

"Ten minutes."  I decided to spend the few minutes until his mother arrived tracing a crack in the pavement with my foot.  Finally she pulled up in a black Toyota Camry.  Justin slipped into the front seat without a word.  I sat in the back.

"Nice to meet you Mrs. Benton."  I could almost hear Justin rolling his eyes in the front seat.  His mother looked at me through the rear view mirror and smiled.  At least everyone in his family wasn't an asshole.  Shortly, we pulled up to his house.  It wasn't as big as the Kinneys' house, but was still fairly large.  The yard was neatly trimmed, a small flower garden surrounding a large tree.

We piled out of the car and I followed Justin into his house.  He kicked off his shoes at the door.  I followed suit, thinking it was something expected of those who came into the Benton household.  I waved to Mrs. Benton, who was now in the kitchen at work on dinner, as we went up the stairs to his room.  Not surprisingly, almost everything in it was black, save the walls.  He sat down in the chair at his desk and pressed the button to turn the computer on.  Not seeing any other chairs, I sank down slowly onto the edge of his bed, waiting for him to yell at me at any moment.  Luckily, he didn't.

He turned in his chair and threw a couple books at me.  "Start taking notes from those."  I looked down at them.  They were both books about Kafka, the topic of our project.  I pulled a notebook and pen out of my backpack. I looked at him and saw that he was also reading a book on the author.  Shrugging to myself, I set to work.

After about an hour, I got up to stretch.  My neck was a little sore from being craned over the book for so long, and my arm was starting to hurt from all of the writing.  He watched me as I paced a few steps back and forth. 

"May I use the bathroom?" I asked.  He didn't look too happy at the idea, but probably couldn't think of a good reason to not let me.  He pointed over my shoulder at the door on the opposite wall of his room. 

I entered his private bathroom and shut the door.  Wow, this was quite an opportunity.  Unfortunately, he didn't seem to keep much beyond the essentials in here.  Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, a comb.  Something to shave with.  I was hoping for a dirty clothes hamper, or even a towel, but there was nothing.  After using the toilet, I headed back out into his room.  He didn't seem to notice that I was finished.  He was still reading his book.  I walked towards him, my feet making little to no sound on the plush carpet. 

When I was about a foot or two away from him, the phone rang.  He turned in his chair and stood up, his nose still in the book.  He stopped when he ran into me, our chests bumping together.  Talk about temptation.  He froze.  I suspected he probably hadn't been this close to someone in a long time, probably never another guy.  Slowly, he raised his head until it was even with mine.  The book in his hand dropped to his side.  We must have stood like that for at least 15 seconds, the sound of the phone ringing reverberating around us.  As I looked into his eyes, I felt I could see straight through to his deepest thoughts.  Something about that gaze gave me the impression that it would be all right to kiss him.  It just felt...right.  I leaned in, turning my head a little to the side.  He didn't move, but I could feel his body tensing.  Our lips touched briefly.  I could feel the electricity flowing between us.  Just when I thought everything was going fine, I felt his hands against my chest, pushing me away.  When I looked back at his eyes, I was shut out once again.

"Get out of my house," he said.  But, he sounded more frightened than angry.  I nodded, gathered my things and headed downstairs, where Mrs. Benton was just finishing up with dinner.

"Uh...I'm ready to go," I said.

"All right, Brandon.  Just a moment.  You can go wait in the car if you like."  I walked out and sat in the car, depression quickly taking over.  How could I have been so stupid as to actually kiss him?  Mrs. Benton, true to her word, joined me in the car after only a minute or two.  On the ride home, our conversation was pretty strained.  I had no idea if Justin had said something to her.  The only talking we did was my telling her how to get back to the Kinneys' house.

As we pulled into the drive, I stepped out of the car with my backpack and thanked her.  She nodded and drove away, probably glad to be rid of me.  I turned to face the house, building the resolve to enter it.  I had been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I was almost on top of the car before I saw it.  It was one I hadn't seen before and was lacking a license plate.  Realizing I didn't care to whom it belonged, I trudged up the driveway and through the front door.  Striker didn't greet me at the door like normal, but I barely noticed.  All of my attention was focused instead on the person sitting in the living room with Mr. and Mrs. Kinney.

"It can't be..."