Castle Roland

Wearing the Inside Out

by D'Artagnon


Chapter 2

Posted: 1 Jan 15

Jack and Me

Jack is perhaps the weirdest kid I have ever met. He's not weird like that kid that can only talk about Star Wars, or doesn't know squat in class but can quote baseball stats from a hundred years back. No, he's weird in that I've never seen him smile, cry, laugh, frown or get angry at anything. Even something that did get a rise out of him seemed to only get a mild rebuke at best.

Well that's not exactly correct. He did have emotions and expressions. He even had moments when his accent took more control of his vocabulary than his super smarts would probably like to admit. He was just so careful in how he said or did anything. I mean, I could confuse him, or startle him, but even those events got like very minor reactions.

I should say that he did have facial expressions. Like, when I say he didn't smile, he did, but usually only after I did. I got the feeling that he was copying me to a degree, maybe looking for validation for his expressions matching how he felt. Not having friends, I guess you miss some things, like socially.

He had a real knack for gardening. That day after my skating accident, which he came to call "the incident at Mill Creek," he showed me the garden in his brother's back yard. I was blown away. He had corn stalks taller than him standing on my shoulders, like an obscuring screen of bamboo, almost. He had sunflowers, and wild grapes, a few small apple trees, string beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and three small bonsai trees all planted on a very narrow strip of land up against the stream. There was even a long drape of parachute cord netting arching over the entire backyard to keep birds out but let the sun through.

He had it landscaped in layers, snaking down so that one water source fed all of the greenery, and even that only used water drawn from the stream through a hand pump that looked like it was built back before telephones. The pump fed a shallow trough leading into a series of PVC tubes that he had arranged throughout the back yard. They dripped water down over some plants, flooded the rows in other places, spilled into pots and fed into small hoses with tiny pin holes for equally tiny fountains. Every plant got the right amount of water. It was his genius and his passion.

We were a perfect mismatch that somehow worked, as friends. He could see right to the heart of most issues with an almost clinical detachment. I was more in tune with the emotions side of things. He used to say I was the artist and he was the scientist. I was the free spirit under repression and that he was the calm of the hurricane.

Okay, so we're weird. Who at 15 can be completely sure that they are normal anyways?

Thing was, he embraced his weirdness. It wasn't just a personality quirk. That's who he was. There were times when I could actually predict his moods and see through the screen of his quiet, observant and passive ways, to see what he was actually feeling and was shocked.

He felt things probably deeper than I did. He just kept it all inside. I don't know how he could stand it, all the anger, all the joy, all the sadness, all the little emotions that I live through everyday, expressing as I feel them. He kept it all inside.

Which isn't to say he was cold, emotionless and distant. With me, anyways, he was affectionate, giving and showing a wisdom far beyond his years. I couldn't figure out how he could be that way. It just didn't make much sense to me, but there it was.

For the next two weeks we were practically inseparable. He would be downstairs waiting when I went outside to skate in the morning. He showed me his secret path across the Mill Creek, nearly walking across water by using a set of submerged rocks and tree stumps. And he made it look easy every time he crossed there. We'd work in the garden and he'd teach me things about plants and we'd discuss stuff that was happening in the news. I know, it sounds boring, but he had some really powerful insights. Things I hadn't thought would be interesting he found ways to get my attention with.

He also taught me a few other things. Like how he knew how to pop my shoulder back in place. He read voraciously. He went through four books a night before getting his two hours sleep. Yeah, only two hours, fer cryin' out loud. He hadn't made a grade below 98 since second grade. He was almost a pure brain, intellect distilled.

I added to our relationship by being able to help him understand pop culture, art, music and the few fuzzy subjects he couldn't just get through on pure brain power. I know I frustrated him a lot by being so boisterous and emotional at times. But I think it was something he was missing in his own life, so he had to trust some one enough to explain it all.

We were both oddballs, stuck in an environment that wasn't exactly ideal for either of us. Mismatched parts in some cross patched machine. For some reason, we clicked.

In afternoons, I'd take him out skating. He had this old like 1970's plastic, narrow deck skateboard, older than both of us put together. He said he found it "down cellar" of his brother's house. We'd trade off between using my blades and the "relic" as we called it. He had to double up on socks to fit my rollerblades, due to the difference in our leg sizes.

He picked it up quickly and was soon doing tricks that took me forever to learn. He was still stiff when he did the tricks though. He was mechanical, technically accurate, whereas when I skate, it's an experience of the senses, a moment of just letting go and enjoying the ride. He was technically proficient and even gave me pointers, but he didn't get the point of skating for skating's sake, not to please some judges or nail a trick perfectly.

I guess it was about five weeks into our friendship when I began noticing several other odd things about his behavior. I would wake up at night and look out my window towards his window. More times than I can remember, I saw him staring back at me. Just standing there in his PJ's, passive, his face not reacting at all. No motion, no emotion. Just watching over me from across the emptiness of our back yards.

Other times, when he was with the plants in his brother's back yard, I would go in for a drink and come back out and I'd see him staring up at the sun. Not just the sky, but the sun itself. No sunglasses.

He also started imitating me more. He let his hair grow out, like mine. He tried to dress cool, with his boxers showing, but he never got the hang of it, and said he wasn't comfortable with it. He even kept trying to use my accent. When you live on Air Force bases, you kinda pick up a generic way of talking. It's really a non-accent. Dad used to call it the government-issue accent. Jack tried to use it instead of his native New England voice. And he could do it, but he just kept going back to changing the "r" sound to an "a" sound at the end of some words. Go figure.

His questions got weirder too. He would ask things like "How can you have a favorite color?" or "Why do you need to move so fast all of the time?" or even "Why are there so many flavors of ice cream?" A lot of times I thought he was putting me on, or just having a question to try and keep my mind sharp. Like he was testing me to make me better. I kept seeing him as more than just my friend. He was rapidly becoming a teacher as well.

So, this is how it happened. His older brother was a confirmed bachelor. Practically had a new girlfriend every five days. Well, he and "flavor of the week" were going up to the lakes region of New Hampshire for the weekend. Jack got shouldered with the job of keeping an eye on the house while the brother was away. Mom had been having a particularly bad time of it, and it seemed like her medications weren't working anymore. She had me crying with Jack about twice a week again, after I had thought I was over all of that.

So it was a natural reaction for me to say yes when Jack asked if I'd stay with him out at his brother's house. I didn't even have to think twice. We had never had a sleep over together and he was my only friend. Weird, huh? You'd think I'd be kickin' it with the skater elite in the city by now. But I just spent time with Jack. We were each others whole social clique.

I also better explain about Jack's father. His mother wasn't in the picture for some reason. Jack never talked about it, and his brother only talked about himself, so I never figured anything out about her. To be honest, I never really liked Jack's brother. They looked nothing alike. They certainly acted nothing alike. I don't think they liked each other much. He saw Jack as a means to certain ends and tended to treat him like the only time he wanted Jack around was when he needed something done. Like Jack could just be stuffed in a closet and left until the next time he was useful.

But Jack's father was probably the strangest old guy I've ever seen. First of all, he's in his late 60's. That's just a guess but that's the impression that I get. Jack is only weeks away from 15 at this point, so that means that Jack was born when his father was in his fifties, if you do the math right. He was a little bit loony. Like a lot little bit loony.

Lemme give you an image here. He's about 5'6", probably much taller originally, but he's stooped over all the time, like time is trying to wear him down, literally. I have no idea what color his hair or eyes once were. His glasses were so thick that you couldn't accurately tell what his eye color was without staring. His hair was wispy at best, shocking white and like mostly gone, just like a bald spot on top with the ring above the ears all that he had left. His hands were big, but strangely twisted, like lumpy. I've seen him a few times and each time I get this weird feeling that he's more skeleton than living man.

He worked at one of the technology places out at the industrial parks just south of town. Whenever we'd collapse at Jack's house after trickin' and jammin' all over the south side of town, and his father would actually be home, he's ask weird questions too. Like "What have we learned today, my son?" or "How did that affect you?" It was like the only way he could relate to Jack was some sort of science experiment or something. All clinical, analytical, really creepy. I got the sense from him that I wasn't exactly welcome around Jack's house when his father was home. I also got the sense that when Jack was asked a question, chances are the answers were going to go on some kind of log sheet or something. Like a worksheet for single parents or some crazy shit like that.

Like I said, really creepy.

Anyways, I packed a few things, trying not to hear as Mom is spouting off about how I'm a lousy son and how she's sorry she ever had me, you know, the kind of top of the lungs screaming that brings me to tears as I run out some days. She's started calling me a spoiled brat who only eats and shits and takes up space. You know, that I kinda ruined her life. That's a change from being a worthless fuckin' mistake that should never have lived. Almost a step up. It's gotten really hard to live in that house with her. I can't even say "I love you, Mom," without some kind of outburst from her.

Or worse, those silences. Where she's shaking, staring at me from under her bangs like she could just reach out and strangle me. Like just the sight of me triggered such rage and sadness she didn't know if she wanted me to live or die or just get out of her sight.

Worse still, when she and I come near each other, like at a doorway or at the foot of the stairs, and she steps back from me, her fists clenched by her sides, eyes closed, shifting her weight from side to side. The almost pained breathing. Yeah, those are almost worse than the screaming.

Like I said above, Love SUCKS!

I made it across the Mill Creek and to the garden. Jack was in there cooking dinner for us. The garden's first crop of corn had come in and there was a fish market not far from his brother's house. We had bought some decent lobster tails earlier that day and Jack was going to make a traditional lobster feast for us. He was a whiz in the kitchen, almost had a sixth sense about when something was done right. Better than the timer on the microwave!

I popped in the back door and sat down at the kitchen table. Jack had just finished putting a loaf of bread in the oven when I came in. He immediately noticed my mood and sat down near me, taking a corner seat at the table.

"Mom again?"

"Yeah," I replied, trying hard not to let the tears out. I should be used to this by now, I thought. I should expect it.

He stood at once, not even needed to ask me if I needed or wanted it, and he walked to me and hugged me, just the presence of his arms and chest. Naturally, I just pressed myself against him and let the tears out. Even though I had been crying to him for a while now, and hated myself for not being strong enough to get over the tears, this time was different. Somehow, instead of him just holding me steady, being a rock while I was being a willow in a thunderstorm, he changed the pattern. He put his hand on my head and held me tight to his shoulder, his own head coming down to rest on mine.

At the time, I didn't much care. I hadn't needed to let it out like that in a long time, almost since the first day I met Jack. He ran his fingers through my hair and held me, and quietly "shh"-ed me. I finished my cry fest just seconds before the bake timer went off. He looked down at me and nodded, seeing that I had finished crying. The tear stains on his shirt were still very wet as he took the bread out of the oven. Like I said, at the time, I didn't see the change, nor the difference in his behavior from before. All I knew then was he had helped me like he always did, never asking for anything in return.

He set the bread on the stove top to cool and went back to me. I smiled as he came closer and, whether I needed it or not this time, he hugged me again. This time, I noticed the difference. He wasn't hugging for my sake. He had a need and was filling it. Of course, I didn't mind. His hugs had kinda become a home for me. The one place I could feel totally loved and relaxed and let all the guilt and pain out without feeling like I was admitting anything was wrong.

"I never tell you thanks for when you do this for me," I said, trying to come up with the right words. "I guess I really owe you big time for always putting up with me when I turn pussy like this."

"No," he said. Behind that one word I felt so much more though. It was just the way Jack was. He always said as little as was needed and meant every bit of it. "Besides, I have begun noticing that I have certain needs of my own. Helping you helps me."

"Oh," was all I could hope to say and I brought my arms around his narrow waist. "You know, if anyone caught us like this we'd have a hard time explaining it."

"Not really. You needed me, I needed you. What more could be said?" Another timer rang out, but before it did he released me and went back to cooking. Several things all at once popped into my head and I needed a little distance to figure them out. Physical distance.

"Uh, where am I sleeping?"

"My brother insisted that I do not use his bedroom. The other bedroom upstairs has his Bowflex and Nordic-Trac in it. He said that I could sleep on the couch, since it is cooler down here anyways. We will have to share the couch I guess."

"Okay, I'll just go put this stuff in the bathroom then."



"I'm… I'm sorry I'm not very vocal about it, but I am very glad you're my friend. It's been very lonely without one."

"You've never had a friend before?"

"Not ever. Father was afraid it'd have a bad influence on me, like my brother's friends were on him."

"Yeah, well, consider the source."

"I often have."

"Heheh, Right! I'll be back in a sec. Gottah drain the lizard," I said, cupping my balls through my shorts. I winked and left, hoping he'd catch the joke.

Somehow, I felt he had something other than humor on his mind. He was almost distracted, which was a new one by me, because Jack always knew exactly what was going on at all times. It was his nature. Perhaps that was what was bugging him; that something could enter his life that he couldn't figure or explain.

I spent my time in the bathroom wisely, trying to pull myself back together. He had said it plainly, without the emotional back text stuff that you get in any normal person's voice. "You needed me, I needed you." And as simple as that felt, sounded and, I dunno, actually made sense to me, part of it scared me a little too.

You see, Jack isn't like that normally. When he hugs me while I'm crying like a little bitch, he just holds me and talks to me calmly. When I'm done, he just lets me go and we get back to doing what we were before. Some people might consider that cold, but that's just Jack. Efficient and direct.

This time was different though. This time, while I did need to be held so I could let it out, he needed to hold me. I could feel the difference in how his arms tightened behind my head. In how he laid his head down on mine and let his fingers roam through my hair. I daresay I even felt, or maybe heard, a tremble in his chest as he touched me. And, well, I felt myself melt a little deeper against him because of it, not even realizing it at the time.

Thinking back on it while in the bathroom, I started to get the sweats. Jack did have emotions; I knew it even if other people looked on him like he was weird for being so quiet all the time. He just kept them very close to his chest. And, well, I kinda had accepted that as just who he was.

So why did it make my heart beat faster when he did that? Why did the touch of his hands so freak me out this one time. I mean, in the bathroom, when I dropped trou to do my business… I was hard as a rock. And the only one around was Jack.

My body's confusion only kept my mind running in circles. Was Jack gay? What if he was? He was my best, no, my only friend. Oh god, no. What if I was gay?!

I put the lid down and sat as I contemplated these things. My erection was starting to go down as the serious side of me took control and I began to worry. The "what if's," started pouring out of me. Highest on that list was the one that goes, "What if I liked it when he touched me like that?" And I had to answer myself that I did like it. I liked it a lot. But maybe I was reading too much into all of this. He's Jack! I'd tell myself. He's the one person I know that is absolutely sure of everything about himself. He does that to help me because we're friends. Right?

I composed myself. Splashed some water on my face, made sure the zipper was back up on my cargo shorts and then took that final look in the mirror. You know the look. Just a quick check to make sure there's no new acne breakouts. I stared deep into my own eyes instead and just stood there, staring.

"If you are hungry," Jack said from the open bathroom doorway. He startled the hell out of me and I went "Gah!" and snapped out of my self staring contest. I should say that we never close doors when at his brother's house. Too often we're talking and a closed door really kills sound. "Dinner is ready," he finished, with his curious look on his face as I recovered from my fright.

"Don't do that!"

"I'm sorry. I thought you knew I was here."

"How long were you standing there?"

"About four minutes." I must have been doing some serious staring if I'd been looking myself in the eye for four minutes. I tried to recall every detail of that time, but the threads of my thoughts seemed to unwind and drop away, sailing into the deep abyss of my lost memories, my forgotten thoughts. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just… why were you looking at your own eyes so long?"

"I was thinking. Sometimes it's best to just think with your eyes."

"But eyes don't think."

"Neither do I, sometimes. I can't even remember what I was thinking about."

"Hmmm, odd."

"Yeah, I guess I am," I admitted, feeling a smile crease my face. I looked over to him and noticed that he had a small grin on his face as well. "You feeling alright, Jack?"

"Just… hunger. I haven't eaten all day."

"You shouldn't do that, you know," I said, rising from where I had seated myself on the edge of the tub when he scared me shitless. I tried to take a step forward, but he either didn't see me moving or didn't get the hint and stayed perfectly still himself. "Uh, Jack?"


"Unless you want to eat in the bathroom…"

"Oh," he replied and turned back to the dining room. He took several steps before I started after him, and my mind was coursing, now with worried thoughts. The "What if's" were taking over again.

Later that night, while I was flipping through the few cable channels the small old style TV got and trying to find something decent on to watch, Jack sat at his end of the couch and read. I should say that the couch was huge. A four cushion monster instead of the normal two or three cushion job. The furniture was still all a Frankenstein mix of stuff, but that couch, god, it was paradise. Soft yet firm, large and thick cushions, high back, overstuffed arms that worked fine as pillows. I'd have taken it home with me if I could carry the thing across the creek back to my aunt's house.

Jack suddenly turned off the lamp beside his side of the couch and put his third book of the night down. He started his normal reading schedule early, wanting to be able to talk with me long into the night. You know those kinda talks, too. Like when you just can't seem to sleep and need that communication, that intimacy that only a good friend chatting with you in the darkness can give. I guess that's also the appeal of the internet, sometimes. You can be totally in the dark on your end and get the same feeling chatting with a friend, and the most amazing things pop into your brain to talk about.

Safety of the dark, Jack calls it. We've had a few talks about that too.

But I'm losing my focus here. Anyhow, he puts down book three, about halfway through it. It's some kind of medical book or something. Lately he's been going on a steady diet of two medicine books, one engineering or science book and one of literature. He's even gone so far as to write his next seven book reports out for school and we haven't even gotten our fall schedules yet. Weird, no? Incidentally, the literature book was something in Italian. He speaks and reads like five languages, aside from English.

So, he puts down the book, fully closed and without any kind of marker or folding a page corner back to remember where he was, he reaches towards the ancient, beat-up rotary phone and, no word of a lie, the damned thing rings just as he touches it.

Now I only hear one half of the conversation, but it went like this:

"Hello… Yes, father… The sucrose levels were much higher than the last crop, yes… We enjoyed them, thank you… Yes, he is spending the night here with me… Perhaps… Almost done, approximately 240 pages remain between the two volumes… No, I haven't yet… In a short while… Watching television at the moment… That is good to hear… Yes, father… I do not know… When appropriate… Understood… Shall I bring you some home tomorrow? Yes, several dozen ears… Yes, probably the beans, next. And the tomatoes are coming in nicely as well… The cucumbers will be done in a week… Yes, well most are about 27 centimeters long and about 6 centimeters across… Yes, father, I will try to see about proper sizes… Good Night."

"Dad's okay?" I asked as he cradled the phone. He nodded. Since we were both minus a parent, it was easy for us to just drop into the habit of just calling my mother Mom and his father Dad. These things just happen, you know?

"Yes. We'll have to bring some corn over to him tomorrow after he gets home from the laboratory. I think he'll be quite pleased with the results."

"I know I was. That was some really sweet corn. What's your secret?"

"Careful monitoring of solar input and proper use of water while maintaining a high balance of soil nutrients, primarily fish entrails and dried herbivore dung."

"Err, right. In English?"

His slight smile returned, the same one from the bathroom earlier. "Keep the soil rich, use water to offset extreme heat and regulate the soil moisture. It keeps the corn stalk healthy and encourages more photosynthesis of sucrose which is stored in the corn."

"So basically, you fine tune the soil to match the weather?"

"That's very accurate," Jack said, looking over at me in the darkness. The light from the TV was playing over his face and I saw him smile as if he finally had understood a joke.

"You're in a good mood," I said, noticing.

He kinda shrugged, a habit he picked up from me, but his smile stayed the same.

"Okay, you are officially creeping me out here, Jack. What's got you all smiles today?"

"I'm just… happy, is all. I think it took me a while to realize that I am happy with you. I've never been happy before."

I completely forgot about the TV and looked over at him. "Never?"

"No, never. I must never have had a reason to be happy."

"What about when you are with your Dad? You and he get along okay, right?"

"Father is good to me. He is pleasant company and he is a good parent. But I can't think of a time I have been happy with him."

"That's so weird, man."

"Perhaps in your experience. But mine has been rather limited and sheltered."

I sat up more on the couch, arms going around my knees to stare at him more intently. Something was going on with my best friend and I needed to find out what that might be.

"So I make you happy?"

"Sometimes," he said, mirroring my posture. Like I said, big couch. "Sometimes you actually make me sad. Like when you come over and are upset because of Mom's difficulties."

"I know."

"But I feel better knowing you feel better after I help you." He tilted his head sideways, and I felt my own breath kinda catch. The light was playing over his face and flickering with the action on the TV screen. Some buddy movie I'd seen half a hundred times already. I was suddenly, in that moment, captivated by his face, how he looked so much nicer with a smile on. I decided to press the issue a bit, maybe find out what's going on in his head so that I could work out what's going on in mine.

"We never really talk about that, do we?"


"Does that bother you?"

"Not really. I have questions, of course. I decided that you would tell me things when you wanted to."

"What questions?" Now I was curious. The answer man didn't know something for once. I was also kinda scared. Here it was, a chance to not only figure out my buddy a little more, but to see if I was actually a good friend to him as well. To see if I was feeling, I dunno, something that he was too. Maybe I didn't want to know. But Jack had always been there for me. I at least owed him that much in return. Real friends don't demand it, but real friendship does.

About that time, I noticed that his bare toes were resting on my bare toes. And that bare foot coldness was both comfortable and strangely warm to me. I kinda wiggled my toes a little deeper under his and he adjusted to let me.

"Well, I am not sure if I want to ask them. The answers might have a negative affect on our relationship."

"Or a positive one. To be honest, Jack, I kinda wish I knew what goes on between your ears while you're, umm, helping me."

"I worry about you," he said after some silence. He changed his head position back up to face me levelly. The light from the TV continued to play over his face and I thought I saw his eyes getting wetter, like he was on the verge of tears.

"I worry about you too, you toothpick," I said, reaching out to muss his hair about. I sat back quickly expecting him to lunge at me and start a wrestling match. I'm not sure why I expected it, because we never wrestled before. I looked back at him and he just stared at me blankly.

"Why did you stop touching me? Did I do something wrong?"

"Huh? No. I just thought that, well, that you might jump me, you know? Start a play fight."

"Oh, should I do that now?"

"Well, that moment has kinda passed, Jack. It's sorta something you do spontaneously."

"Oh. Was that the only reason you stopped touching me? I was enjoying it."

I sat back up, this time rocking forwards to my knees in front of him. He was so honest about it, so unconcerned with his "image" and so, well, I guess innocent is the best word to describe it. My own breathing was becoming deeper, my heart started pounding harder in my chest. My own questions were starting to come through as well, seeking answers.

And I hadn't realized it at the time, but his toes were just inches from my crotch.

"You like it when I… when we're touching?"

"Yes. Not many people touch me at all. They think I'm weird."

"But doesn't Dad like rub your head or pat you on the back from time to time?" I remembered all the times my Pops had his hands on me. Wrestling, playing football, coaching me in Little League, the times I was hurt or scared and he was there for me. I also remembered the other times he touched me, when I'd stepped out of line and needed to be reminded of my place. "He never smacked you on the ass when you acted up?"

"Not really. He discourages physical contact." It's such a simple thing touch, yet it can mean so much to you. And my best friend was apparently deprived of it at home. No wonder he is so willing to help me through my crying spells. I never realized that he needed that as much as I did at times. And as skin hungry as I am most of the time, poor Jack must be going half nuts from it.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Jack. I just, well… see there's kinda signals and stuff you look for when touching other people. Some people don't like to be touched much, others need a lot of touching." His posture changed, like he was settling in to listen to an important lecture and wanted to catch all the details and nuances of the subject. "Some people even think it's wrong for certain people to touch others in certain ways."

"Sexual deviants," Jack said, nodding sagely. "I've read about such behaviors in the newspaper."

"Well, I guess that qualifies too, but I was talking more about, well, boys usually don't hug other boys. At least not in most situations."

"What situations qualify for hugging dependency?"

"Are you making fun of me?" I asked, suddenly seeing his smile come back. He wasn't known for his humor, but he did have a sense of humor. If that's what this was, he chose a lousy time to bring it out.

"No. I just wonder if our hugging… I mean, if my helping you qualifies as one of those times."

"Well, comforting a friend is always acceptable, usually in times of great loss or sadness. Of course hugging when there's a great happiness is also acceptable, like if you and your teammates win a tough game, especially a championship."

"So sadness and sports victory constitute appropriate moments for boys to hug one another?"

"There's a little more to it than that."

"What about just being happy with someone? Would that be appropriate?"

"Maybe in a one-on-one situation. You know, privacy and all that. No one else around. Then, well, I guess the rules of society don't matter, as long as you and the person you hug don't mind."

"So it must be consensual?"

"Well, yeah, usually."

"Paul, would you… can you hug me?"

"I dunno if I should." He normally called me Carver, like everyone else except Aunt Sarah and Mom did. Hearing him use my first name made the short hairs on the back of my neck stand out. Was I actually shaking?

"Oh. What did I do wrong?"

"It's not that, Jack. Really it's not. It's just that… well," and I felt myself blush. Thankfully, in the dark, only lit by the TV and lights from the street, I doubt he noticed.

"Yes?" he prompted.

"I might want to do more than hug. I'm having a lot of really strange feelings right now and I kinda take too much from you as it is."

"Then you cannot give me a hug back?"

I thought about it for a second. I mean, just talking about it like this, or rather talking around something else while talking about this, had kinda given me a semi. When he asked me to hug him… I went steel bone solid. I really did want to hug him. And as repulsed as I was at first, the idea of doing more than just hug did appeal to me. A lot.

I had to face it. I was falling in love with my best friend, and I couldn't hide that fact from him any longer. He had always been honest and giving to me. I should be just the same back. I just had no idea what falling in love with another boy meant. What I did know was that for some reason, it felt like I was going in the right direction. Woulda helped me enormously if I knew what was at the other end of the map, though, and all the stuff in between.

I smiled at him, put one hand on his raised knee and moved forwards over him. His smile returned and he wrapped his arms around my shoulders as I came down on top of him with my whole weight. Mind you, I was still raging hard, but we both had our clothes on. Nothing was gonna happen. Just a simple, honest, and good natured hug.

Good God what that smile does to me!

But as I wrapped him in my arms, something subtle passed between us. And instead of it just being a hug, I know I felt a change. I wanted as much of me as possible touching as much of him as possible. And Jack seemed to be the same way. He moaned in my ear as I just held him, trapped him against the couch really, his legs wide about my hips. I pressed my chest against him tighter and felt his body-heat sink upwards, filtered through our tee-shirts. He shifted his weight under me slightly and then I felt it.

I wasn't the only one rock hard. His groin made contact with mine and our hard dicks were practically rubbing against each other, but you know, through clothes. I felt my heart go from horse race to Formula One speed and just held on tighter. His calves closed over the back of my knees as I lay on top of him. I musta been squishing him terribly, but he didn't complain. In fact, I know he was enjoying it as much as I was.

His hands clamped around the center of my back and I arched inwards as he pulled against me. Our zippers actually rubbed, if you can believe it, and I arched my back up, bringing my head away from the side of his neck for a moment. As I brought my head back down, looking to just bury my face beside his ear, something really weird happened.

He kissed me. Full on the mouth. Like a movie kiss, you know, noses turned sideways. And I kissed back.

And again.

And again.

And yet again.

I don't know what came over me, but we were making out, on his brother's huge couch, in the darkness. Two boys, alone, just suddenly giving each other a tongue tour of the tonsils. A thousand thoughts raced in my head, mostly centered around things like "why didn't we do this a while back?" and "God, he's such a good kisser!" and "This is great, but I think we both want more… God, I hope he wants more!"

Just as we were beginning to discover where this was going, the phone rang, again. It rang four times before we mutually broke our kiss and I sat back from him. The bell tone rang out again on the old dial faced phone as Jack looked at me, his face going back to its neutral expression. A tick passed though the muscles around his mouth and he sighed loudly. I kinda self consciously brought my hand up to the hair at the back of my head, sorta embarrassed, sorta wondering if the phone would stop ringing. Its plaintive tone rang out a sixth time and Jack rolled his eyes, one of the few expressions he uses regularly.

"Yeah, I guess," Jack said, sitting up and reaching for the phone. Almost instantly he answered it, not waiting to hear anyone on the other end say hello. It was like he knew who would be calling. I suppose, logically thinking, the list of those that would call his brother's number that late at night was understandably short. But to be able to pick it out with just one guess, well, that's more mental gymnastics than I normally get accused of.

"Hello Father… No, there is no danger… The movie is quite exciting, and…" He flicked his eyes at me a moment, and then shifted his position on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, kinda hunched over. "Yes, actually… Only Carver is here with me… Yes, Father… If that is what you wish… Yes sir." He hung the phone up and licked his lips. But he couldn't bring himself to look at me. His head hung low, the screen of his hair partly obscuring his face.

"Hey, you okay, Jack?"

"You should probably go, Paul. Father… father has something for me to do early tomorrow and he insists I get some sleep."

"Okay," I said, reaching out to touch his shoulder. He shied away from me, drawing his shoulders together, almost cringing. "Jack?"

"Please, Paul… just, just go. Please."

I could tell something was bothering him greatly. No brainer, huh? I mean, just a minute ago we were getting hot and bothered and had no idea what to do or even where it was all going. Now, after that phone call, he was pulling away from me like I'd hurt him. I musta stood there looking at him, my hand half stretched out to him as he huddled against the farther side of the couch for about ten seconds. I could count my pulse in my temples, my wrist.

"Alright, Jack. Talk to you tomorrow?"

"I… idunno. Father has a lot for me to do."

"Jack, I… I want to tell you, that what we were doing before, I mean, I felt…"

"Just get out, Carver!" he shouted, and turned his back fully on me, burying his face on the arm of the couch. "Just… please, go." He was sobbing, softly. I could hear it. More to the point, I could feel it. Not his actual sobs, mind you, but the deep, falling, empty, achy feeling that my friend, the one that had helped me through so many of my own emotional moments, was drowning in his own. Just seconds ago we had been excited and alive and happy. Now, he was hurt and sending me away. And I had no idea why.

So naturally I had to do something for him.

I sat behind him on the couch and reached out, laying my chest to his back, hugging him from behind. He curled tighter at first but then relaxed and pressed himself back against me. I squeezed his shoulders and kept my head near his, his hair dancing in my breath.

After a while, he quieted down, his hand coming up to rest against my arm. I'm not sure how long we stayed like that. Just holding, just being with each other, our roles reversed this time.

"Better?" I asked, quietly. It just felt like a time for whispering.

"Much. You'd better go, Paul. Father will be upset if you are here in the morning."

"Okay. But this isn't over. Okay? I want you to tell me what upset you."

"I don't know that I can."

I nodded, understanding without knowing. I got up and gathered my shoes, slipping them on and using my finger to pull the back ends up over my heels. As I headed for the back door to take the sunken path across the creek, he sat up suddenly, his eyes seeking mine. I turned as I heard him move and our gazes locked again.

"Paul, I… thank you."

"Thank you too, Jack." I grinned at him, still feeling kinda churned up inside myself. It wasn't an easy smile for me to force, let me tell you. And I saw it mirrored in his eyes, even though his expression was far from neutral. He was the saddest I had ever seen him. I felt like there was so much to say, so much I wanted to hear. We both kinda looked at each other, jaws half starting to say something, neither one knowing what TO say. I just finally turned and stepped out the back door, mumbling a "Seeya," as I went.

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