Kyle pulled up to his small townhouse in Harrisburg. It was still early in the day so he had a couple hours until the sitter brought Matt back home. He had thought about picking him up early but opted to just go home and have a few rare moments of silence to himself without a precocious three-year-old under foot. It gave him a small sense of guilt but the solitude would do him some good to get things in order before leaving in the morning to go see his ailing father. As he walked into the house he set his briefcase on the small table next to the sofa.
It wasn’t a big house but it had everything he needed which honestly wasn’t much. He’s been renting it since shortly after he got his job with the DA’s office. A front living room and a kitchen in the back, two bedrooms upstairs and a small bathroom. Having lived on his own for years he’d grown accustomed to not having the space he used to have growing up. It was tastefully furnished if a little impersonal and littered with toys as any house with a toddler would. Dirty dishes were in the sink, waiting to be sorted and cleaned but he put it off to go upstairs to shower and change out of his suit. As he undressed in his bedroom he noticed his image in the mirror and was pleased that his body hadn’t changed much over the years. Despite his stressful job and lack of free time he’s managed to avoid putting on a lot of weight. His lean frame may lack the definition it used to have in his high school swimming days but he was still attractive with his light brown hair, smooth face and deep brown eyes. He’d stop shaving years ago which finally allowed the hair on his chest to grow. It wasn’t thick but it was present. Jason used to like it so he found no reason to change. He hasn’t noticed any flab yet, but he accepted the fact that it will happen at some point.
If anyone were to ask him if he missed the big house and acres of trees he used to spend his days in he would have avoided the question. But no one asks because he spent years not sharing his past. It used to annoy him when people talked about their childhoods growing up and insist he share his. He didn’t want to share it. He didn’t want to think about it. He wanted that old life separate from his new one. He’d managed build a thick wall around those memories and he prefered they stayed there. After law school he mostly lost contact with his college friends and all his old high school friends have their own lives separate from his. A few college friends still kept in touch on occasion but those moments were getting more and more infrequent as the years went by. He avoided social media sites which served to help widen the gulf between past and present and he liked that just fine.
He frowned as he stood in the shower when he thought about Troy calling his office. He should have called him directly. If Troy hadn’t stirred up the office he could have found more excuses to avoid having to go back there and deal with his father and… everything else. He hadn’t had a conversation with his father in over nine years now and hadn’t seen him since he graduated law school. That had been a frosty encounter that only served to cause Kyle’s jaw to clench and his heart to feel that sharp pain all over again. He managed to keep their “conversation” to a couple muttered words. He remembered the hurt in his father’s eyes as his attempts to reconnect were rebuffed and his father soon left minutes after the ceremony. Kyle had soothed the pain and hurt with the numbness he had grown accustomed to.
He couldn’t do that now, though. He kept trying to hold onto the anger but it was being slowly overtaken with other thoughts. Memories from before that horrible moment. He had only been joking when he told Steph that the kid he used to be died a long time ago. Maybe it had been half true or wishful thinking. He wanted to run again, like he did last time, but he knew he couldn’t. This time he was going to have to face his father and…
He slammed his fist hard into the shower wall, using the sting in his fist to keep that face in his memories from coming back. This time, it was only partially successful. Closing his eyes and remembering that face put the anger and the pain back in focus and shut out everything else. The past didn’t matter. He may have to deal with his father’s situation but that’s all he was going to deal with. Once it was finished he could come back home and pray he never has to step foot in that town ever again.
He had been having more frequent dreams lately. Usually they would come to him at certain times of the year. Certain memories would be connected to a certain moment or a song or something overheard in a crowd. The dreams would be so vivid and real he would wake up shaking and crying. Wandering downstairs in the middle of the night, searching for something to help him forget. Usually a stiff drink would do the trick but lately it’s been getting harder and harder and he didn’t have the time or luxury to retreat from it all with the constant demands of work and a son that he’s raising on his own.
After drying off and putting on some jeans and a t-shirt he went downstairs to start cleaning up the house. Normally he does the cleaning after Matt is asleep but he would be busy with Stephanie and trying to find ways to tell her things without telling her things. Despite himself, he knew there were clues between past and present she could pick up on and he’d rather she not. Cleaning the kitchen and front room helped relax him and he finished in quick order with a little time left before the babysitter returned with his son. Once the house was cleaned to his satisfaction and he did a final check, he sighed and decided to get the phone call over with. He plopped down on the sofa with his phone and pulled up Troy’s contact information on his phone and hit the call button.
The phone rang twice before Troy’s familiar voice answered, sounding slightly rougher than he remembered. “Hello?”
Kyle was silent for a second before he finally got the nerve to speak. “It’s me.”
“Well, it’s about time.”
“I was busy with a case,” Kyle said simply.
“What, they don’t have anyone else there to work,” Troy asked. “Kyle, you need to come home. I know you don’t want to. I know you don’t want to see any of us, but the situation is beyond our control at this point. You’re his only family. There may be decisions that need to be made that no one else can make but you.”
Kyle closed his eyes and tried to find the next clever thing to say to keep his feelings at bay but couldn’t. He didn’t think this business with his dad being in the hospital was serious. Now Troy is telling him that it could be deadly serious. “do you know anything about what’s wrong with him?”
The line was silent for a moment before Troy responded evenly, “I’m not his son, Kyle. Even if he was like an extra father to all of us. The doctors won’t tell us anything. He’s tired a lot. He’s lost some weight. I was just up there yesterday checking up on him…” Troy’s voice broke off for a moment. “Kyle, please. We need you. The team needs you.”
Kyle’s throat closed up on him. He hadn’t heard that phrase in years and a crack opened in that barrier he’d held in place for years. He pulled the phone away from his face to take a moment and clear his nose and control himself before he brought the phone back to his face and said in an even tone that took all his effort to maintain, “I’ll be there tomorrow. I promise.”
“Kyle,” Troy’s voice trembled with emotion, “there’s no shame in admitting to a mistake. And there’s no weakness in forgiving someone for a mistake. Talk to him before it’s--”
Kyle’s voice was ice cold as he replied, “you don’t know what happened.”
“Yes, I do, Kyle,” Troy’s voice raised which dumbstruck him. “They told me what happened.”
“I can’t deal with this right now. We’ll talk more about this when I get there.” The urge to run away was getting stronger.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Troy managed before he closed the line.
Kyle quickly put the cellphone down before he gave into the irrational desire to throw it as hard as he could across the room. He didn’t want to feel like this. He didn’t want to think of the father that he grew up with. The one who made him laugh and taught him how to be a good person. The talks they shared while walking through the trees. The vacations, the swimming meets. Every thought had him lurking there and one other person right behind him. He wanted to stay angry with him for ending his dream and making him lose the most important person in his life. As soon as he put it on the table next to his briefcase the doorbell rang. Kyle muttered a curse and got up to see who was there. He cursed again and tried desperately to pull himself together. Drying his eyes and clearing his nose, he tried to put on his best face before he opened the door to the babysitter and his son.
“Hi, daddy,” the little boy exclaimed with as Kyle opened the door with a big smile.
“You’re early,” Kyle said back with his son’s same enthusiasm. The boy giggled and jumped as Kyle leaned down and pulled him up into his arms. He pressed Matt close to him, finding some comfort in the small arms around his neck and shoulders.
“Sorry if we surprised you,” the sitter said apologetically. “We’re a little early. I was just gonna let myself in with the key but saw your car out front.”
“My morning meeting went better than expected,” he explained to her, hoping she didn’t notice any distress on his face.
“Well that’s good! More time with daddy for Matt,” She said with a wide smile. “Do you need me for anything else?”
“No, but thanks.” He thought about it for a second before adding, “I’m going to be out of town for a couple weeks so Steph is going to be picking him up and dropping him off before we get back into daycare.”
“Ok, well that’s no problem,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll see you later then.” She waved and made her way back to her car as Kyle shut the door, still holding tight to Matt.
Kyle carried the boy over to sit on the couch with him as he turned the TV on. An old movie was on the screen that he only half paid attention to. As they cuddled, he asked Matt about his day and the boy was all too happy to give his dad every detail. Kyle smiled and sat there with Matt on his lap. Leaning back, he held him close and listened to his voice go on about his babysitter and the other children. It was a soothing sound to him in that moment. Matt’s love was a fortifier to the barrier between Kyle and the pain in his past, even if the thought of losing his father slowly bored its way relentlessly into the core of all that pain and misery he thought he had locked away years ago. His hand stroked Matt’s soft blonde hair and he put the past aside for now, turning his full attention to the smiling, happy toddler in his arms. The innocent smile had never known heartache, pain or loss and Kyle prayed it would be a long time before any of those cold knives ever touched his son’s heart as swiftly as they had struck his.
The back door to the Howard home burst open as Troy and Andy walked in carrying arms full of junk food like two medieval warriors back from a campaign as the taller one said, “all right, boys, let’s get this night started.” Four of the five boys and one adult laughed as they converged on the chips, dips and sodas and headed into the large living room for their first summer movie night.
It had started years ago when Troy, Andy and Kyle had been in grade school that movie night had started to become a tradition among the boys and David. Once every few weeks through summer vacation the boys would stay the night at Kyle’s house and spend the night watching movies, eating junk food and drinking sodas until they all fell asleep either on the couch, the floor or some managing to make it upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms.
David couldn’t deny them the junk food after spending the rest of the year working to stay in shape for their swim team and once it was over he felt they had the right to just be young boys. He loved all of “his boys” and felt lucky that they always respected and appreciated him. Troy and Andy had been friends with Kyle for as long as he could remember and the boys had been close ever since. Even if they weren’t actually his sons, he had a sense of pride watching those small little boys grow into the young men they are now. Their own fathers each felt much the same as he did. Sooner than any of them suspected, their senior year will start and after that graduation until these times will be nothing more than a memory for them.
“Hey,” Brian said to Troy with mock ferocity, “I said I wanted BBQ, not french Onion.” David grinned at the two of them. Brian had moved to town with his family eight years ago and the others took right to him once they all found their mutual love of swimming. The three then became four and they created their own little clique separate from the other kids in their class. They were seen as jocks just like the other team sport players but they didn’t have the same close friendships with the others outside of the four of them. David always felt a little grateful since Kyle was an only child. Having these close bonds with Troy and the others could fill the void of not having any siblings in his life.
“Jacob,” Andy’s laid back tone cut through the chatter in the room, “what’re you drinking? Pepsi, Dr. Pepper or Sprite?” Andy and the others took to Jacob faster than David expected and yet he wasn’t all that surprised. It had taken a month or so for Jacob to stop flinching at the slightest touch or trying to shrink back when the boys’ focus was on him. Once in awhile he’d even laugh but it was always a small private laugh. Once Kyle had befriended Jacob, the others fell in behind him and included him or at least invited him to just about everything they did in and out of school. Towards the end of the year they managed to get him to eat lunch with them instead of alone. And since the school year ended Kyle and Jacob seemed to have become inseparable. David wondered why the boy never seemed fully comfortable around the others but maybe he just took longer to warm up than most.
The chatter quieted down once all the boys were seated on the couch, loveseat and the floor. David noticed it was Kyle and Jacob on the loveseat while the other three were spread out around the room but he understood that Jacob was most comfortable being near Kyle when he was in a group. David privately wondered just how close they were getting when he would occasionally see one of them stare at the other for a moment or two longer than one would expect or when they seemed to spend hours out in the orchard by themselves. He’d asked Kyle about Jacob but he would always just shrug and say that they were friends and that Jacob was just shy around the others. David had his theories but didn’t share them.
Kyle sat next to Jacob on the loveseat and they both stretched out to relax as his dad popped in the first DVD of the night. Kyle and his dad picked out the movies and while he had wanted to add more R rated movies, David insisted they stick to lighter stuff and he wouldn’t be swayed by much. David decided to play “Pirates of the Caribbean” first. They’d seen it in the theaters a couple years earlier and knew they’d all enjoy it. As the movie played, the boys sat back enjoying the movie with the occasional talking between one or the other and a few well placed jokes that got a few laughs from everyone in the room. Andy and Brian were, as usual, going off on their own private conversations as they laughed and snickered. Kyle tuned them out for the most part but once in awhile would just roll his eyes when one of them would say something that Kyle knew referred to a certain someone in the room. He’d gotten used to it but still, if Jacob picks up on it he’d have to say something.
Kyle tried to watch the movie but his attention started to drift to Jacob. They’d been spending a lot of time together for over a couple months now and it had started feeling comfortable. He knew Jacob felt the same due to his smile starting to show more often. He was dressed for the weather for once, Kyle noted. Normally Jacob tended to favor long sleeves and full length pants even in the late June heat but tonight he was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt. He’d always known Jacob had more muscle than he did but seeing his arms on display was a rare occasion and he couldn’t help but stare. The fabric of the shirt would part enough for Kyle’s eyes to see a hint of his chest as well. The others were wearing less as well but they’d been swimming together for so long as a team in just speedos that Kyle never thought much about it. Yet his eyes kept going back to Jacob’s arm.
Over the last couple weeks he had started forming the idea in his head that he was feeling more than just friendship for Jacob but he wasn’t sure what to do and he didn’t feel like he could talk to his dad or his friends about it. He couldn’t even understand what it was he was feeling but it felt both a little scary and exciting. He liked Jacob. He liked him a lot. Was it love? He thought so. What he knew for sure was he wanted to get closer to him and get to know him better. Even after hours spent together, Jacob would only share certain tidbits of his life. He knew his dad’s name and he knew they didn’t get along well. Some nights Jacob would call him at almost midnight and ask if he could come over. He always acted like he was fine but Kyle could see the tension in his face relax as they drove away from the trailer park. Kyle was never allowed to pick him up at his house, always opting to be picked up at the entrance to the trailer park. He was starting to get the impression that Jacob was ashamed of where he lived and his heart ached for him. He wanted to let Jacob know that those things didn’t matter to him or to the others but he didn’t know how to say it.
As the first few hours passed into movie night, the chatter in the room got quieter and less frequent. The sun had finally gone down after the first movie, leaving the room lit only by the light from the television screen. By the time David put the second movie in, everyone was ready to stretch, refill glasses and use the bathroom. Troy and the others would occasionally switch places in the room but Kyle and Jacob remained on the loveseat together. After going to the bathroom, Kyle made a stop in the kitchen to refill his glass. Standing there at the counter, he had the sense that someone was in the room with him. When he turned, Troy was leaning against the doorway to the kitchen giving him “that look.” Kyle inwardly groaned. Troy had been his best friend since before they were in kindergarten. Over the years, he had grown to be a natural leader. He was always the one to make the decisions, stop arguments between them and had a way of compelling the rest of his friends to listen no matter what the situation. As they got older and puberty kicked in, Troy grew until he towered over the rest of them. The only indication of arrogance on his part was that look. A small smirk with narrowed eyes, his body looking casual and at total ease in his surroundings. It was a look he would give all of them at one point or another when he had a feeling they were keeping something secret and he was going to pry it out of them one way or another.
“Having fun,” Troy asked casually. Both of them knew he had a double meaning to it and it annoyed Kyle and put him on the defensive immediately. If Troy had something he wanted to say he should just say it.
“Same as always,” Kyle returned with an ease he didn’t feel.
“That’s good,” Troy moved to stand next to him, helping himself to a refill in his glass. As they stood next to each other Troy muttered softly, “sure wish Stacy Peterson would look at me the way you look at Jacob.”
Kyle glared at him and said in a piercing whisper, “what the hell is that supposed to mean?” He felt his stomach turn to ice and his joints feel like they were locking up. He thought he had been careful and not draw attention to himself. He could feel a tremor begin to go through him and he did his best to fight it back and remain calm.
Troy shrugged casually. “Just saying... If you got something you wanna talk about, you should say something.”
“You’re imagining things,” Kyle retorted before walking away quickly and sitting back down in his seat. Jacob sat there watching the start of the second movie, oblivious to what was going on. Kyle’s brown eyes shot a glare across the room at Troy who just smirked privately and turned his attention to the movie as if nothing was amiss. Once he settled back in next to Jacob, Kyle could feel his body relax again.
A few hours later into their third movie, Brian was the first to drift off on the couch next to Kyle’s dad. His blonde head rolled to one side with his eyes closed, giving his normal impish face an almost childlike innocence. It wasn’t long after that David said goodnight to the boys and headed up to his room, passing the remote to Troy before stepping out of the room. Andy quickly took David’s place moving from the floor onto the couch next to Brian, leaving Troy in the recliner across the room from Kyle and Jacob.
The night wore on and Kyle glanced back at the couch only to find Andy and Brian both fast asleep. As they shifted in their sleep Brian slowly curled up against Andy’s sleeping form. Kyle grinned and looked back at Troy but his attention was on the movie. As Jacob started stretching out more next to him, their legs started brushing against each other sending tremors through Kyle’s body. Just as his eyes started feeling heavy, Jacob’s touch would jolt him awake. He glanced in Troy’s direction but he was already leaned back in the recliner with his eyes closed.
Kyle whispered to Jacob, “looks like we’re the last ones standing.”
Jacob glanced around the room and over to Kyle. His blue eyes shined in the dim light and his mouth broke into a rare smile as he said quietly, “nothing but a bunch of babies.”
Kyle laughed softly, still getting used to Jacob when his guard is down. When it’s just the two of them together Jacob was more open. He’s been trying to be more comfortable with the others and Kyle could tell he’d been making gains. But this rare moment was one that filled him with hope. “Glad you came?”
“Yeah, I’m...” he stopped himself, blushing a little before continuing, “I always have fun here.”
Kyle’s smile softened and his hand reached over to rest on that muscular arm he’d been staring at all night. The skin was warm and soft. “I told you that they like you.”
“I know,” he said, his face turning redder the longer Kyle’s hand was on his arm, “I’m just not used to being…” He frowned and looked back at the screen.
“What?” Feeling compelled to move closer, his hand went from the arm to around Jacob’s shoulders.
Jacob’s body stiffened at his touch and Kyle pulled his arm back like he had just touched something hot. He quickly moved his arm away from his friend and rested his hand on his leg. He hated making Jacob feel uncomfortable and always felt stupid for doing it. Jacob looked at Kyle with an enigmatic face and then down at the hand that was just on his shoulder. He slowly reached over and put his hand in Kyle’s, saying in a voice so soft Kyle could barely hear it, “wanted.”
Kyle felt his eyes tear up and he quickly blinked them away. He squeezed Jacob’s hand in his and said in a matching tone, “well, get used to it.” Kyle kept his eyes on Jacob’s face and watched the shy boy’s lips tilt up in a smile. The more Jacob smiled lately the more he got a sense of how comfortable he was getting. Kyle wanted nothing more than to let Jacob know he was safe with him. “Hey, I was thinking…”
Jacob arched and eyebrow, his mouth raised in a half smirk and said in a jokingly worried tone, “uh, oh.”
Kyle broke out into a grin and squeezed Jacob’s hand again. They hadn’t let go of each other and Kyle wasn’t going to be the one to break the contact. “Ass...” he said with a grin before continuing, “I was thinking next year I’d do early gym with you. I can come pick you up and take you to school every day and take you home later.”
Jacob was quiet for a moment, staring at Kyle before he said, “I’d like that.”
“Good. Then you won’t need to walk. Just make sure to call me in the morning if you’re sick or anything.”
Jacob shrugged, “easy enough.”
They looked back to the movie which was coming to an end. It wasn’t until the credits rolled that their hands reluctantly parted.
“How do you know when you love someone?”
David slowly turned his head to regard his son. They had been enjoying a gentle summer afternoon under one of their favorite trees, talking about the upcoming senior year, swimming practices and answering his questions about stuff he did when he was a kid. This question came out of the blue and left him feeling surprised and perplexed. “Exactly where did that question come from?”
Kyle shrugged. “I dunno. It just popped into my head.”
David shook his head and chuckled silently. “Well, just wanting to have sex isn’t love. Liking how someone looks isn’t love.” He was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, his tone was more thoughtful and melancholy. “When you truly love someone… you think about them all the time. Being around them makes your day better. They bring out feelings in you… you never knew you had. You want to give them the world and then some. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for them. When you love someone… you want to be a better person just for them.”
“Oh.” Kyle looked down at the ground, contemplating.
He frowned a little, feeling his cheeks redden under his beard. “Have you, ah, felt that way before?”
“I’m not sure,” he returned quietly.
David stayed silent, letting his boy sort it out in his head, not that he expected it to happen in the next few moments. He started wondering what brought that question on. They hadn’t talked about any girls. Thinking about it, Kyle’s never mentioned any girls in the past at all. He tends to just hang around his friends. David felt a chill in his gut, praying he was wrong. The only real change in his son’s social life has been Jacob. Not that if his son was inclined to be attracted to boys was a bad thing. He wanted Kyle to be happy no matter what. But, that could be a hard path to handle. “Is there anything else I should know?” He hoped his son would take the opening and maybe they could get through this quick enough.
Kyle shook his head, not meeting his father’s gaze. “Not really, no.”
He grimaced a little, scratching his beard. He’ll have to wait but be prepared in the meantime. “Well, just let me know if there ever is.”
Kyle stood up, “dinner time soon.” He smiled down at his dad as he rose up. The two slowly started to make their way back to the house.
They took a couple steps before David was compelled to stop, looking over at Kyle. “Son, I know I shouldn’t need to say this but I’m going to anyway; I love you no matter what happens in life. I will never not be proud of you or your accomplishments. I will never not love you no matter who you bring home and if they love you I will love them just the same as I do you. So, no keeping secrets from me, ok?”
Kyle smiled happily, unsure of why his eyes were watering up but he blinked it away and said in a choked voice, “I love you to, dad.” He closed his eyes and rested his head on his father’s shoulder as he felt those strong, loving arms wrap around him. No matter how old he’s been that feeling has always made him feel better. They stood there for a moment before David finally released his son from his hold and took his son’s hand and lead him back home.
It was early August and the heat was stifling in the noonday sun as Kyle sat in his dad’s beat up truck, engine running and the windows rolled down as he sat parked just outside the entrance to the trailer park waiting on Jacob. He’d been sitting there for five minutes and kept fighting the urge to pull into the trailer part and go looking for him. They’d planned this the night before and here he was running late which was unlike him. He had a good idea of which trailer Jacob and his father lived in and he started to seriously think about going in to get him. Just as he put the truck in gear he saw the dark haired figure running down the crumbling asphalt road towards the truck. Kyle sighed in a mixture of relief and frustration. Jacob had never been late before.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the boy panted as he jumped into the truck. He was dressed in a tank top and shorts with his usual ragged black shoes.
“It’s cool,” Kyle reassured him, “what took so long?”
The boy ran his hand through his hair in frustration and answered, “my dad... He was being an ass this morning.”
Kyle gave him a sidelong glance as he pulled the truck away and headed to the local gym. He was dressed nearly the same as Jacob was for their workout. The others were already there waiting for them. The plan was to start getting ready for the upcoming school year getting their first workout and swim together and to plan out their class schedules afterwards so they would have as many of the same classes together as possible. Jacob had tried to exclude himself from going but the others insisted he join them even if he wasn’t on the swim team with them.
“So, what was his deal with you today,” Kyle asked as casually as possible.
The boy frowned and his blue eyes seemed to darken a little as he muttered, “it’s not important.”
“Jacob,” he said carefully, “what is your dad’s problem with you?”
Jacob started out the window with a melancholy expression and remained silent. Kyle sighed and let it drop like he always did. Over the past few months his friend’s mood could swing from happy to sullen day to day. Any time he showed concern Jacob would withdraw into himself. Sometimes Jacob would stay away for a day or two before he heard from him again. He wished he could do more for Jacob if only he would give him some kind of hint of what was going on.
As they pulled into the parking lot of the gym Jacob asked him in a quiet voice, “would it be okay if I stayed at your place tonight?”
“Yeah, sure,” Kyle said without hesitation. While Kyle had frequently invited him to stay at his place this was the first time Jacob had ever asked to stay. Sometimes Kyle wished he never left.
Kyle shut the engine off and jumped out of the truck. He grabbed his bag and walked with Jacob into the gym. After signing in, the boys headed to the locker room to store their stuff. Kyle unzipped his bag and pulled out a pair of swimming trunks and tossed them to Jacob saying, “here. I found one of my old pairs for you.”
Jacob caught them and started to undress when he stopped and glanced over at his friend. He felt a sudden sense of unease with Kyle so physically close to him. He’s stripped in locker rooms before with other people and thought nothing of it. Now, for some reason he felt self-conscious. Deciding to turn his back to Kyle, he untied his shoes and kicked them off as fast as possible. Then he went just as quickly to get out of his shorts and boxers and pulled up the swimming trunks and hoped Kyle didn’t notice anything.
Kyle had noticed his hesitation at first and as Jacob turned his back to him he had done the same and started rummaging through his bag to give him time. He was trying to be polite even as he could feel his heart starting to beat a little faster. He felt his dick starting to stiffen in his shorts and he nearly panicked. Thinking about Jacob usually gave him a few knots in his stomach or a light feeling inside but suddenly knowing that Jacob was naked right behind him made his body feel like it was vibrating and he had never gotten a hardon just from his presence. His hands clenched into fists as he fought the urge to not look behind him. Once he heard the rustle of fabric raising up he finally turned around in time to see just the top of Jacob’s ass disappear under the trunks. He took a second to breathe before closing his locker and heading out into the workout room.
Exiting the locker room they went directly to the weight room, knowing the others would be there. They were gathered around a few weight machines, wearing tank tops and shorts. As they greeted each other Kyle moved to one of the leg press machines and started his first set of reps on an average weight before raising the weight for his next set. He focused on his movements as his legs flexed with each rep. He tried to forget what happened in the locker room but his eyes kept looking over at Jacob, watching him going through reps on a butterfly machine. He slowed his own workout slightly as he watched the muscles on Jacob’s arms and chest working as the weights behind him lifted and fell. Seeing a certain grace in Jacob’s movements, he could still remember how those arms felt when he touched them weeks ago and he wished he could find an excuse to touch him again.
It had been over a month or so that he had finally confessed to himself that this wasn’t just friendship or any other normal feeling he was having for Jacob. This was love. And he was terrified. Terrified of his friends finding out, of his dad finding out, of Jacob finding out and of everyone else finding out. None of it made any sense. Only the fact that, once he got close enough to really know him, Jacob’s soft, gentle personality gave him that warm feeling inside him. That each time he saw Jacob smile it meant everything to him. He wanted to touch him and never stop. Even more, he wanted Jacob to touch him. He wanted to share everything with him and be with him all the time. That’s why he was signing up for the early gym program at school. But how can you be with someone and not tell them how much you care about them?
The thoughts rolled over and over in his mind as he went from one routine to the next over the course of their time together in the weight room. He kept a careful eye on Jacob and managed to give a few one word answers to any questions the others posed but he was barely listening to them. His thoughts were interrupted by a tap on his shoulder. Kyle started and looked up at Troy who was standing over him with a solicitous look. “Hey, do you have a minute? I need to talk to you about something. In private.”
Kyle shrugged and stood up. “Sure,” and followed Troy out of the weight room.
Troy led him down a wide hall and into a bathroom off to the side. Once the door closed behind them and Troy looked around the bathroom to make sure they were alone before he turned to Kyle and walked right up to him with a determined look in his eyes. Kyle’s eyes widened slightly in surprise as he backed up until the wall was pressed up against his back. Troy’s face had gone from relaxed and unconcerned in the hallway to almost angry as his lips pressed into a thin line and his eyes seemed to stab right into him. Troy’s hand grabbed Kyle’s shoulder and squeezed it just enough to get his full attention and keep him in place but wasn’t uncomfortable. When he finally spoke it was with a voice tight with impatience. “Kyle, we’ve been friends forever. You’re like a brother to me and I hope you feel the same way. I wanna know what’s going on with you lately. You’ve been quiet and pre-occupied the last few times we’ve hung out together. I know you think you haven’t been but you have.”
Kyle blinked as he looked at his friend with a perplexed expression. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” he spat. He rolled his eyes and looked around for a moment to gather himself before he said in a more milder tone, “Kyle… I care about you and I want you to be happy. Now, I want to hear the truth. Don’t ignore me and please don’t lie to me. Are you gay?”
Kyle’s face flushed, his lips trembled and his eyes tried to look anywhere but at his best friend. He could barely speak with the fear squeezing his throat. “I... it... it’s not what you think…”
Troy slapped his hand against the wall in frustration and raised his voice in anger, “Goddamnit, dude. Just say it!”
Kyle jumped and he screwed his eyes shut as he choked back sobs. He’d never felt so terrified in his life. All he wanted to do was run as fast as he could away from it all. Tears of shame rolled down his face as his body shook, unable to hold it back anymore. “Please,” he begged pitifully, “please don’t say anything.”
Troy grabbed him and pulled him into a hug, sighing to himself as he rubbed his friend’s back. “It’s ok,” he said gently, “I’m not mad about it. I don’t hate you and I know the others won’t either.” He hated himself for taking it too far. He expected to coax it out of him not scare him to death.
“How,” Kyle gulped in air between sobs. “How did you know?” He felt like he was so exposed and vulnerable. He hadn’t known how to say it or what to say. Even as Troy’s voice mellowed, he still felt like he was losing his friend.
Troy chuckled, trying to calm the situation. “Because in all the years I’ve known you you’ve been oblivious to all the girls hitting on you. I thought you were just picky at first but then you met Jacob and I put two and two together.” Kyle quieted but stayed there in his friends arms. Troy sighed and went on keeping his voice low. “It’s ok, Kyle. You’re like my brother and always have been. The others will tell you the same thing when you tell them. But I couldn’t sit back any more watching you worry yourself to death every time you look at him. And you will tell the others. We don’t keep secrets from each other, remember? But you need to tell your dad first.”
“Oh God,” Kyle said with dread. Panic was overwhelming his senses and he almost felt like he was going to pass out. “He’ll flip.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Troy countered in a slightly stern voice. “He loves you no matter what. He probably has his own suspicions. I’m not saying you gotta tell him today but you do need to tell him.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he added, “and you will have to tell Jacob eventually.”
Kyle shook his head and pulled away. “No! He will definitely freak out and then I’ll never see him again.”
Troy smirked looking down into his eyes. “He might freak out at first but he’ll come back. Remember when I said I wished Stacy looked at me like you do him? He does it to you too. I noticed it on movie night when you two thought I was asleep.”
“You weren’t?” Kyle’s voice raised in alarm and then realized it was stupid to get mad about Troy finding out something he already knew.
Troy’s mouth broke into a wide grin as he said, “you two looked cute together. I think he’s wild about you, to be honest. When you’re around him he changes. He’s still kind of shy with the rest of us but I’m hoping he’ll lighten up soon. We’re gonna plan our schedules so we’re all in the same classes this year to make the work easier.” Andy’s mom worked in the school’s offices and helped set schedules for all the classes. She could set their schedules to ensure they had as many classes together as possible.
“So, you’re gonna take early gym too?”
Troy shook his head, “no and Andy and Brian won’t either.”
“Why not,” Kyle asked.
“I think...” he said slowly as his grin became more mischievous, “maybe you two should have some alone time.”
Kyle felt a small sense of relief sink in. “Thanks. For everything.”
Troy shrugged, unconcerned. “We’re a team, dude. We stick together and look out for each other.” His face softened as he added, “and I owe you from a few years ago, remember?” They stood there for another minute before he said, “come on. Let’s head to the pool. Jacob’ll probably be worried something happened to you.”
Kyle wiped his face before Troy opened the door and the two friends went to the pool. They stopped in the showers to rinse off before they entering the humid room and saw Jacob and the others were already in the water chatting together so they set their towels off with the others’ and quickly joined them. Kyle dove right into the water to make sure any puffiness in his eyes was excusable. Since his first swimming lesson with his dad, he has always loved being in the water. He was a natural swimmer and his father only encouraged him further as he got older. Once he was in junior high, he started competitive swimming with the others. They were good if not always the best team around. They had won several trophies and other awards over the years both individually and as a team. Being in the water has always been where he goes to relax and calm himself. Even when in competition it’s a comforting feeling having the water around him.
When he broke to the surface his eyes opened and Jacob was wading in the water next to him with just his head and shoulders above the water looking at him both curious and a little worried. “Are you alright,” he asked with obvious concern.
Kyle felt his body tremble as Jacob drifted closer to him. “Yeah. Why do you ask?”
“You disappeared earlier. I...” he stuttered slightly as he looked at the water’s surface. “I was just wondering if you were ok.”
Kyle grinned and asked, “were you worried about me?”
He blushed bright red, giving himself away even as he uttered flippantly, “well, you were my ride here…”
Kyle laughed and splashed some water in his face which quickly escalated into a dunking match. Soon they were chasing each other around the pool as they laughed and played. He hadn’t heard Jacob laugh like that before. Normally he’s fine with a chuckle that you can barely hear unless you’re sitting right next to him. Now, he was laughing and getting more physical in the water like a little kid.
Jacob surprised him with how nimble he could be in the water. A couple times Kyle thought he could escape, Jacob’s hands would be on an arm or leg. As they playfully struggled, Kyle attempted to escape his grasp by falling backwards, unaware of how close he was to the concrete edge of the pool. Jacob’s eyes went wide as he grabbed Kyle’s waist and pulling him against him with all his strength. The next thing he knew, his face was inches from Kyle’s and their bodies were pressed against each other under the water. Kyle stared into his eyes in confusion, “what?”
“You nearly cracked your head open,” Jacob admonished. “You gotta be more careful.” His hands were still on Kyle’s waist only now the fingers were moving over the soft skin causing Kyle to muffle a whimper in his throat. He was suddenly aware of his body against Jacob’s. He could feel the muscles in his chest down to his abs. Their groins were practically mashed together. It was the best feeling he had ever experienced and he wanted more.
Kyle’s breathing started to quicken along with his heart. He didn’t pull away from those hands or try to stop them. Slowly he brought his own hands up to Jacob’s sides. Finding himself caught staring into those pale blue eyes he managed to mutter, “thanks.”
“Sure,” Jacob smiled a little. Their faces started to move closer until their noses brushed together. Kyle could hear a low noise in the back of Jacob’s throat and was about to move closer when they were suddenly interrupted by Troy calling all of them from across the pool. Realizing they weren’t alone they pushed away from each other and swam to the other end of the pool to Andy and Brian while Troy sat on the edge with his legs in the water.
Once they were all together Andy started speaking to all of them. “We need to choose our classes for the semester next Wednesday. I told my mom all five of us would have them done Monday. The earlier we get them in, the easier they can get us placed in the same periods. The earlier the better so I figured we should all go together. I’ll make sure mom has all of our names on a list so she’ll know to add Jacob since we haven’t had him added to the group yet.”
“Wait,” Jacob asked, “what are you talking about?”
Andy looked at him with a grin, “My mom works in the office. We all sign up for the same classes and she sets us all up in the same periods so we’re all together. What, you think it was just luck all four of us had the same history class with you last year?”
“Isn’t that, like, cheating?”
“Nope,” Brian reassured him with his less than convincing grin, “nothing wrong with it, we’re just using the chance since this will be out last year and the more classes we all have together the easier it’ll be since we can work as a group on all of our homework. It won’t work for the whole school day or both semesters but it should get us all plenty of classes where there’s always at least one or two of us together. Troy sucks at english but rocks in math. He helps out with everyone’s trigonometry and we help him make big boy sentences.”
The others chuckled as Troy gave Brian a mock glare. “Asshole.” He grinned at Brian before looking over at Jacob and continuing where Brian left off. “We want to make our last year as easy as possible. Everyone working together will make it easier. And that includes you.”
Jacob looked at all of them, not sure what to do. Andy sided up to Jacob and put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and said with a lopsided grin. “Sorry to tell you this but you’re part of the team now.”
The clear blue eyes looked around at the four friends who were looking back at him with smiles. His eyes finally settled on Kyle whose smiled seemed to be brighter than the others to him. “I don’t...” he stammered as he tried to get the words out, “I don’t think I’d make a good swimmer like you guys.”
Andy and Brian laughed while Troy just smiled. “We don’t expect you to start shaving your head and everything else like us. We just call ourselves ‘the team’ in and out of the pool. We’ve all been friends for years and we stick up for each other.”
“But,” Andy added, “it would be great if you were to come to some of our swim meets this year. Last year we’ll probably be going since after we graduate we’ll be going to different schools.”
“Ah, yeah,” Jacob drifted in the water, his back coming in contact with Kyle’s chest, “I can do that.”
“Awesome,” Brian grinned. “One more person to scream at us.”
Kyle leaned forward a little so his mouth was near Jacob’s ear. As he spoke he could feel Jacob’s body press closer. “I’ll explain it all to you later tonight.”
Troy slid into the water with the others and said to the group, “before we go, let’s get some real laps in the pool so we can be a little more prepared when it comes time for practice with coach in a couple weeks. Brian, don’t push yourself like last year. I don’t wanna hear you whining about your hamstring again.” Brian grinned as he moved away for a clear lane.
Soon, the four of them were taking leisurely laps back and forth in the pool while Jacob sat on the side drying off. After a few minutes he told the others he was going to shower off and meet them in the locker room before he left the pool area. After he left the rest did a few more laps in the pool before Troy felt it was enough for one day. They all got out of the pool to dry off. As they were drying Troy made eye contact with Kyle, motioning to the other to with a questioning look. Kyle knew what he was trying to tell him but he frowned and shook his head, letting him know he wasn’t ready to tell Andy and Brian just yet. Troy shrugged and grabbed his clothes before leaving the pool area to hit the showers. Fifteen minutes later all five of them were heading out to the parking lot to their cars and headed home for the night.
Later after dinner and a movie with Kyle’s dad, the two boys headed to Kyle’s bedroom for the night. Kyle changed into a pair of old gym shorts, opting to go without a shirt since it was a little warm in the house in the summertime. He looked over at Jacob who was also changing into a pair of Kyle’s basketball shorts. Even if he was built a little wider than Kyle in the shoulders, their waists were about the same so they fit nicely. Kyle also noticed Jacob’s shoes were looking like they were going to fall apart any minute. He decided he was going to buy him some new shoes for school that will probably feel better than those old ones but kept it to himself for now.
Jacob turned and looked at Kyle, having never seen him clearly without a shirt on, he was fascinated by how defined his body was. “Dude, how did you get like that?”
Sheepishly, Kyle looked down at himself before saying, “less red meat and more white meat. No junk food and keep working out or running. Genetics helps too. Dad’s built about the same way except he’s got some fat to him around the belly if you noticed.”
“Oh,” Jacob said simply. After a moment he added, “it looks good on you, though.”
Kyle blushed and smiled to himself before he turned on the light next to his bed before shutting off the overhead light in the room. He slid into bed under the single thin sheet and was ready to lay down when he saw Jacob getting ready to lay down on the floor. “Jacob, dude, you’re gonna wake up with a sore back if you stay down there.”
Jacob looked up at him, trying to seem unconcerned. “I don’t wanna mess up another bed just for you guys to have to clean up.”
“I get that but I don’t want you getting hurt.” He thought about what he was about to say and all the hazards it could bring up. “Get up here. There’s plenty of room.”
Jacob looked uncertain but he knew Kyle was right. And, he kind of wanted to be there with Kyle anyway. He stood up and slowly crawled over Kyle to lay down in the bed with him, keeping some distance between them. There was some silence at first once Kyle turned the light off, casting the room in darkness.
After a few minutes Jacob whispered, “did you have a good time today?”
Kyle giggled, “aren’t I always the one who asks you that?”
Despite the dark, Kyle could hear the smile in his voice when he replied, “yeah. I figured I’d beat you to it this time.”
They both shared a chuckle before he said, “yeah, I had a lot of fun with you. But, I always have fun with you. Oh, thanks for keeping me from killing myself earlier too.”
He felt Jacob’s hand pat his shoulder as he said, “anytime. Hey, what did Andy mean by being part of ‘the team’ earlier?”
Kyle laughed softly and turned over to face him as he explained, “when we were kids we just started calling ourselves a team. Me, Troy and Andy. Like the Three Musketeers or something silly, really. A few years later Brian moved to the area and he joined up. When we started doing the swimming thing we just started joking around how we were ‘The Team.’ Somewhere along the way we started making up rules. Kind of stupid but we feel it’s important.”
Jacob turned toward him and said dubiously, “what kind of rules?”
“There’s only three important ones. Pretty sure none of us know any of the others. First rule is, ‘don’t stay mad at each other.’ Basically, if you have a problem with one of the others, you talk about it instead of just staying angry. Second rule is, ‘if one of us has a problem we all have a problem.’ That was from when Troy’s mom died a few years back and he took it kind of hard. He doesn’t talk about it much anymore but we were there for him.”
“Huh. just like us…” Jacob muttered softly.
“Yeah. Troy tends to not bullshit around. If he thinks you got a problem he’ll corner you and make you talk about it. He means well.” He was glad the darkness gave him the ability to hide his expression.
Jacob chortled slightly. “I don’t think I’d want him cornering me.”
“Trust me,” Kyle muttered, “it’s not fun when he does. He can have a bit of a temper.”
Jacob moved a little and came closer to him. “What’s the third rule?”
Kyle was quiet for a minute before he said softly, “No one gets left behind.”
Jacob was quiet for a long time. For a moment Kyle thought he had fallen asleep. Then he heard a small voice in the dark say, “I don’t get why they want me around.”
Kyle frowned and moved closer to him. “Because we saw a good kid who was out there alone. I got to know you. Found out you were a good guy. Even my dad liked you right away. Troy and the others did to once I told them about you. We figured you were just shy so you needed someone to take the first step.”
“I don’t do anything, though.”
Kyle could hear the sadness in his voice and it compelled him to move closer until their legs touched. He reached over carefully in the dark and moved his hand over Jacob’s face. He wasn’t surprised to feel a wet spot on his cheek. Before he thought about it he was reaching over and pulling Jacob to him. He met only a little resistance which made him smirk despite the circumstance. He remembers Troy reacting the same way years ago.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Jacob whimpered, “please don’t hate me.”
Kyle was totally confused by him, “why would I hate you?”
“Because I’m a loser and stupid,” his body shook in Kyle’s arms. The feeling was so intense Kyle couldn’t stop himself from shedding tears himself.
“You’re not a loser, Jacob. I know you heard us say that the first time in class but we didn’t know any better.” Jacob was quiet for a moment as he got control of himself. “Are you ever going to tell me what’s going on,” Kyle asked softly.
“There’s nothing going on,” he said quietly.
“You’re a really bad liar.”
Jacob made a noise between a sob and a laugh.
Kyle held onto him and rubbed his hand slowly up and down the middle of Jacob’s back. After a minute or two he could feel him relax. When he felt Jacob’s head shift and settle onto his shoulder and a tentative hand on his chest he could no longer deny how he felt about Jacob. He never wanted that moment to end. Every inch of Jacob’s body felt so soft yet solid from all the work he had put into his body. He loved how Jacob felt against him. He was laying face down with his arm and head on Kyle’s chest. Under the sheet covering them, their hips and legs pressed against each other. It felt so natural and normal to both of them. Kyle hand on his back stopped moving, not wanting to accidentally go down too far.
“Don’t stop,” Jacob said in a soft voice, his breath drifting over Kyle’s chest forcing him to bite his lower lip to prevent a noise coming out, “feels good.”
Kyle smiled softly and his hand resumed rubbing his friends back. “I know you have problems seeing things the way we see them. You’re not stupid and you’re not worthless or any of those other things you think you are. You’re awesome and you’re strong and nice and funny. There might be stuff you may not feel like telling me and that’s ok. But, if you really need to talk to someone you can talk to Troy. He’ll listen and he’ll care. And he won’t tell anyone if you ask him not to.”
Jacob sighed and relaxed in his arms, eyes closed as he whispered, “you’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Kyle. And the others are great to. I promise I’ll try and be better for all of you.”
“We’re always going to be friends,” he whispered back. He leaned his head down a little to brush his nose in Jacob’s hair, only just now realizing how good he smelled. They were quiet again and eventually he could tell Jacob had fallen asleep. Relieved, his hand came to rest on his back and soon after sleep claimed him as well.