SHOW ME YOURS By Kaje Harper


SHOW ME YOURS
by Kaje Harper

CHAPTER 1


SHOW ME YOURS
SHOW ME YOURS  By Kaje Harper 


The doorbell rang as Trey was lifting a batch of cookies out of the oven. He jumped and caught at the cookie sheet with his unprotected free hand as it tipped. Ouch! Fuck! He set the tray on the stovetop, pushed the oven shut with his knee, and slammed on the cold water in the sink for his burned fingers. Damn, that hurt! He tossed the potholder on the counter and let the blessed coolness sluice over his reddened fingertips.

The bell rang again, longer. Whoever was out there was getting impatient. Trey sighed, turned off the water, and headed for the front hallway. The tip of his thumb throbbed and he absently stuck it in his mouth as he pulled the door open. And then just about bit it off.

Josh. On his front porch. Grinning at him with that wide, little-boy grin as if it hadn't been eight years since they'd last met. As if Trey hadn't done everything in his power to keep it that way.
There was laughter in Josh's grey eyes. "Hey, Trey, still sucking your thumb?" Trey yanked his hand out of his mouth. For a moment he fought the impulse to
slam the door shut – to just pretend he hadn't opened it and rewind to that last
moment before the bell rang, when the worst thing that had happened today was a burned thumb. Not possible. He coughed and found his voice.

"Josh! You?" Jesus, that was smooth. Josh's grin was fading, and Trey realized he was standing planted in his own doorway, staring at Josh like he was some kind of alien. "I mean, wow, come on in! So... what brings you to my neck of the woods?" Without warning me first. Trey stepped back, pulling the door wide, and Josh came inside, brushing past him, the grin restored.

"You mean you don't think I came just to catch up on old times?"

"Yeah, right, you spent good money on a plane ticket just for that." Suddenly Trey didn't care. It was Josh, here, in his house, after all these years. Trey grabbed Josh in a quick rough hug, and Josh pounded his back and finished up with a noogie, the years falling away.

"It's not the first time I've been back in town, you know. You've just never been around. You travel too damned much, and never out my way either."

Deliberately. Trey did have some traveling to do for his job, but the panic with



which he'd lined up a trip every time Josh announced an impending visit had nothing to do with the urgency of work. And everything to do with this man whom Trey'd had a hopeless crush on for years. Who, judging by the pounding of Trey's heart and the way he could hardly breathe for the sheer presence of the man, he
still had a crush on. They were twenty-five instead of seventeen, and of Trey's half dozen boyfriends in the last eight years, a couple had been really nice guys, but apparently it didn't matter. It was still Josh Campbell who could make him crazy just by walking in his front door.

"Yeah, that's the job," he lied. "But you're here now. Come on and sit down. We'll grab a couple of beers. You can tell me what's up with you."

"Sure." Josh sniffed the air. "Wow, what's that I smell? Don't tell me you still make those chocolate-chip orange-peel cookies?"

"Want one?" Trey led the way toward the kitchen, wondering what weird coincidence had made him bake Josh's favorite on the day he showed up at the door.

"One?" Josh laughed, deeper and richer than Trey remembered. "What makes you think I want just one?"

"The fact that you're still just as skinny as you were in high-school?" Josh wasn't skinny. He had a strong lean build under his T-shirt and cutoffs. His dark hair was cut shorter than it used to be back in school, he had more hair on his arms and legs, and better muscle definition in his calves and arms. And thighs. Where Trey hadn't been looking. Really. "Sit down at the table, I'll grab the brews."

Trey stuck his head in the fridge, pretending to choose between Corona and Dos Equis, to give himself time to cool down. He heard Josh shove a chair back and sit at the kitchen table. Trey grabbed two Dos Equis darks and turned around. Josh was sprawled at ease in the bigger chair, legs akimbo, elbows on the wooden arms, grinning at him.

"Jesus," Josh said happily. "I'm finally here. You look great. I've missed you, all these years. I know we email and all, but I've really missed just talking to you. I'll have to buy a new laptop with a fucking web cam so we can Skype from now on.
To hell with the cost."

Trey forced a laugh. "Wow, I never thought I'd hear you say that. Aren't you the guy who still uses scotch tape for band-aids like your dad taught you to?"

"I do not!" Josh sobered a little as Trey reached out to hand over his beer. He took the cold bottle from Trey's fingers, gave him a little salute with it, and then took a long pull with his dark eyes fixed on Trey's. "I missed you," he repeated



more softly.

Trey turned away, staring out the window. Every part of him was reacting to Josh like iron filings to a magnet. Josh's voice, Josh's eyes. It was too fucking dangerous. There was a good reason he'd tried so hard to avoid this. He leaned his hips against the counter so Josh couldn't see the happy reaction of his treacherous body. "I missed you too," Trey said lightly. "No one here is likely to repeatedly hold me down and scrub mud in my hair."

"I only did that once." Josh's tone was mock-indignation. "Twice. At least."
Josh laughed. "God. This feels like coming home. I have friends in Connecticut, but no one like you. You have to come visit me there soon. I'll show you around, introduce you to everyone."

Including Stephanie? No, that had been college. Maybe Danielle? Or was Linda the latest? Trey couldn't keep track of Josh's girlfriends. He didn't want to. "Sure. Sometime. So what does bring you back to LA this time?"

"Besides a craving for your cookies? Which you haven't offered me yet?"

Trey's libido tried to make something suggestive out of that, but he beat it back. He grabbed a plate, put a half-dozen of the still warm cookies on it and slapped it down on the table in front of Josh. "Yeah. Besides that."

Josh took a big bite and grinned at Trey with melted chocolate on his lip. "I
need your help. It's for Aunt Julie and Uncle Ted."

"Are they okay?" Trey didn't think he'd be grinning like that if there was a serious problem. Josh's aunt and uncle had been there for him through some difficult times, and he adored them.

"They're fine. They opened that antique store Aunt Julie always wanted in
Craneshore."

"And...?" Trey pulled out his own chair and sat, sliding under the concealment of the table and not looking at Josh, not at his sparkling eyes, not at his chocolate- smeared mouth.

"This weekend is their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Uncle Ted bought them tickets for a one-week luxury cruise with all the trimmings. The shop assistant was supposed to run the place. But yesterday, not twelve hours after they sailed, the guy got in a serious car accident. He's going to be in hospital for weeks. Aunt Julie called me in a panic, begging me to go watch the place until they could
arrange to get back. Uncle Ted called me ten minutes later begging me to call Aunt



Julie back and offer to watch the place for the whole week, so her dream trip wouldn't have to be cut short."

"What did you say?" As if Trey had any doubts. Josh would do anything for
Aunt Julie.

"I said yes, of course. I had vacation saved up and this isn't a busy time for us. Summer session is slow and half the profs are off for the Fourth anyway. The lab is coasting right now. I can take a week off for Aunt Julie"

"So I still don't see where I come in." Other than living close enough for Josh
to show up on his doorstep for a visit and in ten seconds wreck eight years of hard- won indifference.

Josh leaned toward Trey and gave him the big, pleading eyes that had gotten Trey in trouble so many times. "Please, Trey, you have to help me. I can't do it by myself. There's the store, with customers and selling things that I have no clue
what they even are, and it's the holiday weekend so they'll be busy. Then they have a freaking hobby farm, even bigger than the old one. They have a big vegetable garden and chickens and goats for chrissake. And a pony that has hated me for years. C'mon Trey. I need you."

Crap. No. "I can't. I... I can't get away right now."

"Please? Last week you told me your boss was threatening to take away your accrued vacation if you didn't take some of it. You said things were slow. It's just for a week."

Trey cursed himself. Damn his big mouth. "Something has come up." Like my dick. "I really can't."

Josh stared at him with hurt surprise. Trey was surprised too. When had he ever had the strength to say no to Josh when he begged for something? Not since they were about thirteen anyway. But he had to. Because Trey knew that if he spent a week with Josh now, he would tell him. He would admit to Josh Campbell that he was gay, that he'd always been gay, and that no one else had ever made him feel the way he felt looking at Josh. That would kill even their tenuous long-distance friendship dead right there. No hope in hell of getting past it with their history.

"Look, Josh. You'll be fine. You can cope for a week, I'm sure. I have a lot to do here with work and all. I'm sorry."

Josh looked at him, slowly drinking his beer. Trey saw his friend's eyes go dull and disappointed. "Okay, of course you're right. I'll figure something out. Maybe hire one of the locals. I just thought it would be fun, you and me. It was a dumb idea."



"No, man, it wasn't dumb. I just... I can't right now."

Josh gave him that familiar, crooked shrug. "Oblivious then. Assuming I could just walk into your life after eight years and expect you to drop everything for me, like we were still best friends." He sat back in his chair, picked up a cookie, and bit into it decisively. "Mm. At least these are still good," he mumbled around the crumbs. "So, I wanted to take a break between the flight and driving out there anyway. I've got some time. Tell me about your nursing home project, the one you were obsessing over. How did it go? Did you figure out how to get your peeping- Tom sensors to tell you when Grandma's shower has been too long?"

"Hey, it's valuable stuff. If we can catch even one senior with a health crisis through our monitoring system..."

"I know. I really am interested. It was just the image of you recording octogenarians in the bathroom." Josh kicked his ankle. "We've barely even IM'd in ages. I figured maybe you'd developed a new kink."

"Senior citizens? Um, no." You don't want to know about my real kinks.

They chatted casually for the next half hour, about things that hadn't made it into emails. Trey complained about the fact that the sensor manufacturers he worked with all seemed to be based in boring cities like Pittsburgh. Josh talked about how no one else in the lab seemed to clean up after their damned selves and how it was always the most expensive culture ingredients that had the shortest shelf life. They both bitched about traffic and long commutes. Trey won that one just by virtue of living in LA, where ten miles could take an hour, if they were the wrong ten miles. He made it sound amusing, watching Josh's face.

"I haven't forgotten," Josh said. "Remember the time the school had that field trip to the MOCA and the bus got so stuck in traffic they had to give it up? Not that any of us was devastated that we didn't get to spend the day with contemporary
art."

"I remember." Three hours stuck on the bus, slouched in the seat next to Josh, vividly aware of their bare sweaty thighs side-by-side on the sticky vinyl... all his memories seemed to be filtered though a haze of Josh. It was a fucked up kind of pain and pleasure to hear them dragged to light in this new deeper Josh-voice. He shifted restlessly.

"Hey, want to see the upstairs floors I refinished? That was a hell of a job." No more reminiscing.

Trey liked his place. It was just a rental, but the landlord was easygoing and after three years Trey had it pretty much fixed up, with colorful walls, the stained



carpet taken up to expose wood floors that he'd finished on his own time, the heavy drapes replaced with light fabric shades. Trey skipped the bedroom. Not only didn't he want Josh standing next to his bed, but the pictures on the walls, although artistic, would leave no need to verbally come out of the closet.

They ended up in the front entry. Now that Josh was thinking about leaving, Trey suddenly desperately wanted to prolong the visit. He said, "How about dinner? It's past four now. Do you want to stick around for an hour or two, maybe go to Grady's Bar and Grill?" Josh had loved Grady's BBQ ribs, back when he lived here. It had been a rare treat, since they'd been too young to set foot in the place. Sometimes Trey's dad had brought some home for takeout.

Josh looked tempted but then shook his head. "I shouldn't. I haven't been to Aunt Julie's new place since they bought it. I'd really rather make the drive in the daylight."

"Okay." It was for the best. Really it was.

Josh looked at Trey for a minute, his eyes dark and a little sad. "So can I maybe stop by when the week's over? See you before I hop back on the plane and go home?"

Christ. A sad Josh just hit Trey where he lived, even after all this time. Trey wanted to hug him and didn't dare. "Of course. I'd be sorry if you didn't. You know I'd like to help you out with your aunt and uncle's place. I just can't."

"It's okay. No worries." He held out a hand.

Trey took it slowly. He was freaking shaking hands with Josh, like they were business acquaintances. He let go of their grip and stepped back.

"Come on out next weekend, maybe, if you want to see the store." Josh gave Trey a wry smile. "And the goats and the Josh-eating pony. You're welcome any time. It's only a couple of hours away. I'll email you directions."

And then he was gone.

Trey wandered back into the suddenly-empty kitchen. Damn the man. How dare Josh come walking back into his life with his grin and his energy, and the familiar smell of his skin when Trey hugged him, and the way he moved so balanced and easy... How dare he drop by for one measly hour and suddenly make the rest of Trey's life feel pointless and empty?

Trey picked the empty plate and the beer bottles off the table and stuck them in the sink. There were still a dozen cookies on the tray.

He'd eaten five of them, standing and staring out the kitchen window, before he



realized what he was doing. Shit. He got a Tupperware and put the rest away before he could finish the lot. Unlike Josh, he had to work to keep the weight off. He was proud of his body and he wasn't going to mess that up just because...

Exercise. Exercise would be good.

****

Josh drove about three blocks from Trey's condo before he pulled over into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. He sat there, staring blankly out of the windshield. That had gone nothing like the reunion he'd expected. And yet, why the hell was he so surprised? Sure, he and Trey had never completely lost touch. They'd kept up an email correspondence since Josh's family had left town in junior year of high school. But over time the phone calls and the IMs had dwindled. In college they'd only touched base every few days or so, and since then there had been gaps of a week or more, especially when Trey was traveling. And lately their emails had become superficial, a note about a screw-up on the job or a bitch about the weather. How the hell had he not noticed that he and Trey had descended to discussing dew points?

Josh had somehow kept this illusion in his brain that things hadn't changed. That Trey was still his best friend, at his back, always there for him, the one guy who would never ask why if he needed help. And now he'd asked, and Trey had said no.

Not that this was life or death. Josh's mouth might feel like dryer lint at the thought of working a sales counter, but he was a big boy. He could do it. It just felt like he was standing in an elevator and the bottom had dropped out. Like gravity had quit working right. All out of proportion to the real issue of whether Trey was available to help keep Aunt Julie's customers in line.

Josh wanted to fix this. He needed to. He pulled out his smart phone and got into his email. It took five attempts before he was happy with the message. Not too apologetic, because after all he hadn't done a fucking thing wrong. And yet there seemed to be some apology needed for that appalled expression on Trey's face when he'd opened the door.

Josh realized that was the part that hurt the worst. He'd been looking forward to that moment since he got on the plane. He'd practically hugged himself realizing that for once he was going to LA when Trey was in town. He'd pictured himself showing up on Trey's doorstep and just jumping into a brotherly hug like he hadn't had in years. And they'd done the hug. But first he'd seen Trey's brown eyes widen with shock and dismay at the sight of Josh, and it had felt like his gut was being ripped out.



Josh wondered what he'd done wrong. Had he missed something in their years of correspondence? His stomach twisted uncomfortably. Had Trey somehow picked up on the fact that Josh was bi?

He was well aware that Trey was kind of homophobic. Not that they didn't both have a reason, but Josh had put his prejudices behind him in college. He'd realized that the attraction he felt towards women was sometimes eclipsed by his attraction to a man. And after fighting it for two years and dating only women, he'd finally found a guy he couldn't resist. Stefan had been an amazing lover, and Josh finally had to admit that what he felt wasn't just physical availability or some kind of tepid bromance thing. He'd had a full-blown pull out all the stops affair with Stefan.
Only the fact that Stef wanted different things from the relationship, and from the sex, had kept Josh from completely falling in love. And since then he'd dated a couple of guys as well as all the girls.

He'd only told Trey about the girls though. At least as far as he could remember. He thought he'd been careful, using girl names if he did mention a guy. But maybe Trey had seen something or sensed something that made him reluctant to spend a week in the same house with Josh. It made Josh feel a little sick to think Trey might be looking at him and thinking faggot and queer.

Maybe he was imagining things. Josh clicked on "send" before he could rewrite his email yet again.

Traffic out of town was miraculously smooth. Josh kept an eye on the road signs, but it wasn't that difficult of a route. Two and a half hours later found him pulling into the driveway past the cursive sign for Believe in Yesterday. The store itself was in a big round barn with board sides newly-painted red and classic white trim. Behind the barn stood the farmhouse, and off to the left Josh could see fences and pasture. He parked in front of the barn door.

As he switched off the engine and got out, a thin dark-haired woman stuck her head out the door and then came toward him. "I'm sorry, sir. We're closed today, due to unforeseen problems."

"No, sorry, I'm not a customer. I mean, I'm Josh, Julie's nephew. I'm here to look after the place."

"Oh, thank God, I'm glad you made good time," the woman said. "I don't mind doing Julie a favor, after all she's a good friend. But I have three kids at home and the oldest is twelve, and I dread to think what they may be getting up to while I've been here. Let me show you the keys and the alarm and give you a quick tour. Then I really have to go."

Ten minutes later the woman pulled out of the driveway. Josh sighed, locked



the store and headed to the house. The front door resisted his key just long enough to make him sweat and then finally opened. He stepped inside and collapsed into a chair.

There were a dozen things he should do right now. He needed to bring his stuff inside. The animals no doubt needed tending. The neighbor had said Uncle Ted had posted a detailed chart in the feed shed. He should probably water the garden,
given the heat of the day. Much as he didn't want to, he really should eat something too. And he had the store brochure clutched in his fingers, waiting for him to open
it and read the secrets of Aunt Julie's empire. But before all of that, he couldn't help pulling out his phone, and checking his email.

****

By the time Trey was done with stretching, sit-ups, pull-ups, and weights he was sweating heavily. He thought he should really go for a run too, to work off those calories, but even at five in the afternoon it was too hot outside to make the idea appealing. He opted for a shower instead.

Trey set the water cool and just let it run over him. He didn't think about anything, didn't try for coherence, just let images of Josh run through his mind. Josh at ten, tossing back a stray soccer ball; "Hey, we just moved in next door, wanna play?" Josh at thirteen, his dark hair sweaty and tousled from rollerblading to the park, laughing at Trey as Trey ran off the pavement onto the grass slope to stop his runaway skates. "Jeeze, Trey, you suck at that. Here, let me show you again, okay?" Josh at seventeen, almost crying. "We're moving. My dad got
transferred to New York. It sucks, Trey, it really sucks. All my friends are here; you and Brad and Craig, and Hannah too. We've only been dating for a month. She's
not gonna wait for me to come back." And Trey, biting back the impulse to say, "I'd
wait forever." Giving Josh a guy-hug and all the comfort Trey could muster.

Slowly, inexorably, the images darkened down to the one that almost killed
Trey. Josh at fifteen...

Trey tapped his fingers on his knee, waiting for Josh to show up. This was their place, down in the ravine on this big block of old concrete from some long- forgotten project. All Josh had to say on the phone was "Trey, meet me!" and Trey knew where. But he shivered a little despite the heat, because he'd never heard that tone in Josh's voice before. Not when he'd taken a week getting the nerve to ask Meghan for a date and she'd laughed at him. Not when his mother skipped their Little League championship game to take Josh's brother Felix on a play-date. Not even when Josh's dad had refused to let him go on the seventh grade class camping trip because it cost too much.



If this was worse, Trey wasn't sure he wanted to hear it. It was getting harder and harder to keep his distance from Josh. At night, he sometimes dreamed about Josh having a crisis and coming to his arms for comfort. Time after time he held dream-Josh as he cried for his dead mother or cradled a broken arm or sobbed out the hurt of being beat by some hulking senior. In his dreams, Josh would soften in his hold. He would gradually turn and look at Trey, those gorgeous grey eyes
awash with tears, and then Trey would bend slowly and kiss him. But the real sound of tears in Josh's voice had been like ice-water on those dreams. Josh dated girls. Josh was straight. Josh in pain wasn't going to be some kind of fantasy.

There was a rustling in the brush on the lip of the ravine, and then Josh appeared. He scrambled down the sandy slope obliviously, not even pausing when the hem of his shirt snagged on a bramble. He reached the slab and hoisted himself up near Trey. They stared at each other.

Josh was breathing hard, his chest heaving. His T-shirt clung to him, damp with sweat. Trey forced his eyes up to Josh's face. That wasn't much better. Josh's mouth was half-open as he panted, his eyes glazed and dark. Trey clenched his fists against his thighs and waited.

Eventually Josh closed his mouth and swallowed hard. He moved next to Trey, sitting close with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them. Josh stared out at the dry weeds, at the shaggy bark of the summer holly on the slopes, the wash of pale blue sky. Sitting so close, Trey could feel fine shudders passing through Josh, and hear him breathe. Trey leaned just enough to bump their shoulders.

Josh said, "You know I told you my folks were weird yesterday? Gone all day with Felix, and they actually had Mrs. Grinnel come stay with me for the evening like I was a kid who needed a babysitter?"

"Yeah." Trey thought Josh's parents were weird a lot, actually. One minute they would ignore Josh like he didn't mean anything, the next they would come down on him for some small flaw as if he was responsible for the status of the whole family.

"Well, I heard..." Josh stopped, pulling breath through clenched teeth. Trey waited, because whatever was coming he was in no hurry to know about.

"Mom was on the phone to a lawyer. She said, oh Jesus, Trey, she was asking what would happen to Coach Lindgrom for getting caught... caught..." Josh stopped and buried his face in his knees. Through his sobs, Trey made out the words, "He raped Felix."

"He what??" Trey grabbed Josh's shoulders and forced him up away from his knees, bending to fix his gaze on Josh's eyes. "Coach did what?"



Josh stared back at him. He was really crying. "How could someone do that to a kid? Felix is ten! Jesus, Trey, he's just ten. And that guy hurt him, hurt my little brother. Fucking fag hurt my brother, and it's never going to be okay. I hate him. I hate that damned faggot!"

"Are you sure?" Trey realized he was shaking Josh hard. He snatched his hands away, rubbing his palms together, as if to scrub off the touch. "Maybe you heard wrong. Maybe there's been a mistake. Coach wouldn't do that, you know he wouldn't." He shook his head, trying to breathe over the pounding of his heart. Not Coach, with his strong body and his firm voice and his big hands, that Trey had looked at over and over their own last summer... "We had Lindgrom for years ourselves, every summer. He didn't... you know he wouldn't..."

Josh glared at him. "I'm not wrong! I heard Mom! She said it was going on for months. She told the lawyer Felix was, was abused for months and then that bastard, they caught him. She said Felix was bleeding, was in hospital... Oh, God, Trey!" Josh fell toward him and Trey caught him in a rough embrace. As Josh's tears soaked into Trey's T-shirt he rocked them together, rubbing Josh's shoulders with one hand. Josh whispered, "I hate that cock-sucking faggot son-of-a-bitch." And Trey, already knowing what his own body wanted, said over and over, "Me too. I hate that faggot too." Holy Christ, how true that had been.

The memory did its work, taking the heat out of those thoughts of Josh, leaving Trey sick and cold. Felix had recovered from his months of escalating abuse at the hands of a baseball coach, although even when the Campbells left town two years later he'd been quiet and withdrawn and not the ebullient little boy Trey remembered. And for those two years Trey had never, ever done anything to let Josh know he was one of them. One of the faggots who robbed Felix of his childhood, and left Josh mired in hate.

Trey sighed. It had taken him long enough to get over hating himself for being gay. He hadn't dated in high-school. He couldn't be straight, he wouldn't be gay. Josh thought Trey was a romantic, mooning around waiting for the right girl. He kept trying to fix Trey up and Trey kept dodging. The one double date Josh blackmailed him into was an odd form of torture, watching Josh and his girl-du- jour necking in the backseat of the car while Trey used the fact he was driving as an excuse to barely look at his own date. Come to think of it, the one thing Trey had refused to give Josh in high-school was any repeat of that little disaster.

It had taken the wider world of college, and a man with gentle hands and a patient nature, to persuade Trey that being gay and being a pedophile had nothing to do with one another. Charlie had told Trey those were lies, perpetrated by bigots who feared what they didn't understand. Told him that again and again, with soft



touches and simple kisses, until Trey began to believe it. Charlie had opened Trey's eyes, and eventually his body, but even Charlie never touched his heart.

Trey had almost convinced himself he was just looking for the right guy. He'd had fun with guys. He liked sex. And twice since then he'd dated an attractive man more than a couple of times, and almost convinced himself it could work. But somewhere deep inside Trey knew better. He wasn't waiting for the right man. He'd already found him. It was some kind of cruel cosmic joke that Josh was Felix's brother, straight, homophobic, and the one man Trey could never have.

Trey realized he was shivering and turned the water hot. It ran near-scalding over his scalp and stung on his burned fingertips. He sighed, cranked it off, and stepped out. The evening stretched before him. He'd planned to get online, IM with a few friends, check out an online serial for a new episode. And email Josh. Shit.

He dried off, pulled on a pair of silk boxers, and wandered down to the kitchen. He didn't want another beer, but he got out a glass of grapefruit juice and put some tonic water in it. The lovely sour astringence was wonderful. He sipped for a bit, wondering if he should think about dinner. But food had no appeal.

Eventually Trey refilled his glass, took it upstairs, and stretched out on his bed with the laptop. As he got online, his email pinged with new messages. Most of them were spam or work-related. But there was one from Josh. He clicked it open.

<blockquote>Hey Trey, so sorry about showing up unannounced like that. I didn't think you'd mind. We used to practically live in each other's pockets. I should have called first.

Anyway, if you do want to swing by on the weekend, here's the place. (He'd attached a little Google map.) Come by anytime. Otherwise I guess I'll see you on the way home. I'll call and check before I drop in this time.

Don't worry – the pony and I have an arrangement. I don't touch him and he doesn't kick the shit out of me. It works. And how hard can selling knickknacks be, right? I assume they'll all have prices on them. If people want to bargain I'll just tell them no. There must be some teenager around who wants to earn a few bucks helping with the farm. I can do this.

Have a good week, Josh </blockquote>
Damn. Damn, fuck, shit, damn. Josh hated selling stuff. It was almost a phobia for him. When they used to have to sell chocolate bars for the baseball team in middle school, Josh would trade Trey just about anything if he would take on Josh's allotment as well as his own. Tending a store was the last thing Josh would



want to do, given a choice. But he loved his aunt and uncle. After his parents found out about Felix, Josh had lived on the old hobby farm for a couple of months,
while his parents concentrated on his brother. His Aunt Julie had realized how hard
Josh was taking it and she'd really been there for him. He would never say no to her about anything.

It was the holiday week coming up; Fourth of July. How likely was Josh to find help? His email smacked of false optimism. But what really stung was that Josh thought Trey had minded him showing up at his door. Well, he had, but not the way Josh thought, not like they weren't friends any more. Trey suddenly couldn't stand the thought that Josh was apologizing for coming to see him. He looked at the time on the message. 4:10. Josh must have sat in the rental car outside the townhouse
and drafted that before even driving away. Or worse yet, pulled over out of sight down the road to say he was sorry.

Before Trey could rethink it, he began typing.

<blockquote>Josh, you dummy, of course I didn't mind. I was surprised, but in a good way. I've missed your ugly face around here. Anyhow, I rethought my work schedule and managed to clear my plate for the week. I should be out there in the morning. I assume you'll be the one sleeping on the couch, right? I'll help sell crap, but you're on your own with the vicious pony.

-Trey</blockquote>

He hit send, without even rereading it. And sat staring at the screen. What had he just done?

After a few minutes his email pinged.

<blockquote>Trey, You know you don't have to, right? I'll probably hug you to death if you do, but you don't have to. J</blockquote>

He sent back,

<blockquote>J, keep your hands to yourself and we'll be fine. See you in the morning. T</blockquote>

And then Trey felt a little sick and wanted to call it back. Not just because he'd promised to spend the week with Josh, but for the little crack about his hands. Trey didn't want Josh to touch him, that was for sure, for fear of pretty much going up in flames. But that line made it sound homophobic. And they'd been getting better about that. For a while, they'd made a thing of not touching beyond a manly slap
on the back. When Josh's tears had dried, on that hot concrete slab under the bright sky, he'd pulled out of Trey's hold. And Trey had let him go. They'd talked, and



cursed, and gone round in homophobic circles for hours, and after that for months they'd rejected anything that could even remotely be considered gay. But even before Josh left town back in high school, that had eased just a little, like they'd both agreed silently never to bring up the topic again. Trey wondered what the hell had prompted him to make a comment like that now. If it would have been hard to confess his orientation to Josh before, Trey figured he'd just made it pretty much impossible.

And he was obsessing again. Trey sighed and logged out without even checking his other email. He called his boss at home and told him he needed the week off, starting Monday. Trey's boss was surprised, but with the Fourth on the Wednesday, the week was pretty much shot for doing business anyway. He said the timing was good and told Trey to go the hell away and get rested up for a change. He wished Trey a fun vacation. Oh yeah, lots of fun. Trey hauled himself out of bed and pulled on some khaki shorts.

It was kind of hard to pack. On the one hand there was the farm, which meant old jeans and T-shirts. And they'd get dirty, which meant he needed a bunch of them. On the other there was the store, and it would be good to have some nicer clothes to work in. The map had shown the town to be right on the coast, and Trey figured he should pack swim trunks. He spent an unconscionable amount of time hovering between board shorts and his Speedo, thinking about the beach and Josh, before packing both.

And then there were his good clothes. Not suits or club clothes, obviously; he wasn't crazy. But there were a couple of things in Trey's closet he only now realized he'd bought because he wanted to imagine Josh seeing him in them. It felt incredibly stupid but nonetheless Trey packed the blue silk shirt that brought out
his eyes and the expensive jeans that hugged his ass perfectly. He might never wear them on this trip. Probably wouldn't. Still, he'd have them. He ended up with three suitcases, for a one-week trip.

Trey hauled the cases downstairs, outside, and loaded them into the trunk of the car. He checked the oil and washer fluid. Back inside, he took a look around the condo. The kitchen was pretty clean but he scrubbed the sink and ran the disposal. He gave all the plants a good soaking and covered the pots with plastic to keep
them moist. He pulled the milk and perishables out of the fridge and took the trash out. Then he realized it would have been smart to wait with those things until after breakfast. Or even after dinner. Trey stood in the carport next to the trash can and leaned his forehead against the post. He was too queasy to eat dinner anyway.
Jesus, I'm a mess.

He got into bed and found himself wishing he could call Charlie. It had been



years since they'd been that close, but Trey suddenly needed that deep slow voice telling him that he was fine and normal and beautiful. He pulled out his phone, and scrolled up his contacts list, and then stopped. Charlie was off in France for the summer, on some kind of book tour. It was some ungodly hour over there. Trey's insecurities weren't Charlie's problem anymore. He checked his email, actually thought about calling his goddamn mother, before he decided her being innocently thrilled that he'd have time with Josh wouldn't help. He stuck the phone in the charger and turned out the light. It was a long, sleepless night.

The next morning Trey didn't bother to brew coffee, since he'd already ditched the milk. He just threw his laptop bag into the passenger seat and pulled out. The roads were quiet, well quiet for LA anyway, at five thirty AM on a Sunday morning, because only obsessed fools were on the road at that hour. Although
apparently there were more obsessed fools than you'd think. Trey hit the brakes fast to avoid rear-ending one of them, and decided he needed to be more alert than he was. He pulled through a Starbucks for a Venti fix of caffeine and dairy, before heading out of town.

**** CHAPTER 2
Josh winced as yet another car pulled up in the parking area in front of the round barn. The sign on Aunt Julie's door said the store opened at ten AM on Sundays. And yet there had already been half a dozen people who had showed up, knocking on the door and peering in the windows, and then stomping off to their shiny SUVs as if it was an insult for him not to have opened up by eight in the morning just for them.

This car was smaller and more battered than the last few behemoths. Josh took another look and saw that it was Trey unfolding himself from behind the wheel. For a moment he froze, just watching Trey move, watching him stretch in the sunshine and look around. Dammit, he looks good. And that was a very dangerous thought to be having. Josh hurried out, looking anxiously down the driveway for the next Hulk-mobile as he did so.

"Trey. You're here!" At the last minute Josh turned a hug into a pat on the shoulder. That last comment of Trey's about keeping his hands to himself had
really stung, but Josh was happy to have his friend there even if it meant keeping a rigid distance. "Come on. Get your ass in here before someone arrives and sees the door open."

"What?" Trey reached in the car for a computer bag and then let Josh herd him inside. Josh locked the door gratefully behind them.



"Hey, this is pretty cool." Trey turned in a circle, looking around the space.

Josh had to admit it was impressive. The hayloft floor, if there had ever been one, had been removed so the whole barn was open overhead to the full height of the cone-shaped roof, pierced with new skylights. That airy open feel was different from other dark little antique stores he'd been dragged through by Aunt Julie, back in the day. Staying with her as a kid had always included going to garage sales and at least one Saturday trip through some Ye Olde Stuff place, long before she
opened her own. Hers was a definite step up.

"Aunt Julie told me when she found the place it was just a big empty barn but she had a 'vision' and made Uncle Ted agree to put in a bid the next day."

At floor level, enough of the old wooden aisles and stalls had been left in place to create rooms and nooks, which were now lined with shelves. The array of items on display ran from trays of old jewelry, locked under glass near the register, to old horse collars, stained glass windows, faded vintage draperies and shelves of tin soldiers. Josh grinned. "Uncle Ted says her vision has dragged them all over the state for the last two years stocking this place."

"She found some cool things." Trey went to the nearest alcove and ran a hand over an old horsehide-covered rocking horse. "I'd have loved this as a kid, although..." He checked the price tag. "whoo, boy, yeah, not at that price. I guess it's more for decoration."

He turned in another slow circle. Josh couldn't help smiling at the stunned look on Trey's face as he stared at the glorious array of stuff. Children's toys in wood
and tin lay next to old mixing bowls. Glass inkwells shared shelf-space with
miniature collectible spoons. Furniture of every description and condition filled the corners and old rugs and paintings hung on every free wall. It was a fascinating, mind-boggling jumble.

Eventually Trey looked back at Josh, frowning slightly. "Do you have some kind of key for where things are?"

"Not a clue," Josh admitted. "If a map exists somewhere other than Aunt Julie's head I haven't found it yet."

"I guess she thought her assistant would be around. Maybe we could go talk to him?"

Josh shook his head. "The guy had a bad concussion. No visitors, at least until Tuesday. I checked." Last night, seeing all this stuff, he'd just about had a panic attack and had called the hospital in desperation. No luck though. "I'm damned glad you're here," he admitted.



Trey gave him an odd sideways look, but said, "I'm beginning to think this place is not to be missed. And I haven't even seen the goats yet."

Josh laughed. "They're actually mini goats. They're pretty cute for being livestock. It's the pony that will get you if you don't watch out. He's nasty. But they're all fed and watered for the morning." At least Uncle Ted's instructions had been clear enough.

Trey nodded. "So what do you need from me right now?"

Josh looked at him. The skylights let the morning sun stream down. Trey was standing in a puddle of mellow light, his dark hair highlighted with red streaks, every muscle under the tight T-shirt picked out in brightness and shadows. What do I need? For Trey to really see him, to accept all of Josh, the straight and the gay,
and be that friend he'd missed for so long. For Trey to finally move on from the kids they'd been to a different adult relationship. Josh shied away from thinking about what that relationship should look like. "Maybe you could see if you can figure out the register before we have to open up? You're better than me with computers. I'll walk around and see if there's any actual organization to the place."

"Sounds good." Trey jumped as there was a series of loud thumps on the front door. "Fuck, who's that?"

"It seems as if antique hunters either can't read or assume the posted hours don't apply to someone who can knock loudly enough. Just ignore them. Being open from ten to five will be more than long enough."

Trey took another wide-eyed look around him. "Oh, yeah."

By ten a.m. they had each wandered the store enough to know they would need about a month to become familiar with the stock. "I give up," Josh sighed. "We'll just let people browse and they get whatever they find."

"What if they want to bargain for prices? What if the price stickers have fallen off? Do we just wing it?"

Josh stared at Trey. "Are you trying to make me crazy?"

Trey gave him that familiar wry grin, the one that had been getting Josh in and out of trouble since they were both ten. "Only a little. Look, you walk around, help people search and keep an eye on the stuff. I'll take the register and do the actual selling."

"You're a prince."

"I know." Trey looked so good, smiling at Josh like he was enjoying having the upper hand for once. It had been like that when they were kids too. Mostly Josh



was the one with the ideas and the ability to pull them off, but once in a while he'd hit one of his blocks. Then Trey would give him just that exact look as he took over. For a moment Josh was so homesick his breath caught and his vision blurred.

"I'll open the door." He turned away, walking slowly toward the door to give himself a moment. What the hell was that? He hadn't been homesick like that since the first month his family had left LA. That had been bad. He'd spent a lot of nights curled up on his bed, eyes watering, missing his friends and his life and Trey most of all. But it was years since he'd been that seventeen-year-old kid, and anyway Trey was right here. That was almost like some kind of flashback. Stupid brain.

Once the door was open, he didn't have any more time to think about it. Either Aunt Julie was a whiz at marketing or the big round barn looked really enticing from the main road, or both. There was a steady stream of customers. Josh walked around keeping an eye on things. He found he didn't mind helping people look for a coveted item. It was almost like a treasure hunt to wander through the rooms full of displays, trying to locate the case that had the World War I memorabilia, or the tin I-Love-Lucy lunchboxes.

Around two, he realized that his feet were starting to hurt and his stomach was unhappy about working through the day on nothing more than yesterday's lunch.
He headed for the front counter, intending to give Trey a break if the man would go and find takeout in town. But as he got close he heard Trey saying in a frazzled tone, "I'm sorry, ma'am. That rim was already chipped when the item was priced. I
can't knock the price down more for you."

Josh winced. He stepped up behind Trey and said quietly, "I'm going to go hunt down some food." Guilt made him ask, "Are you okay on your own for a bit?" Say yes.

Trey ran a hand over his head and sighed, but nodded. "Just find me coffee, okay? A fu... freaking gallon of it."

"Any particular type of food?"

"Something I can eat and not drip bits of all over the merchandise?" "Sure."
It was a relief to get out of the busy building and into the sunshine. Josh
crossed the yard toward the house where his car was parked and then reconsidered. Driving into town to get food would mean leaving Trey alone with the store for at least thirty minutes. Not that Trey couldn't handle it, but it didn't seem fair. Josh unlocked the house and went into the kitchen.

Aunt Julie had left the fridge pretty empty. Josh found some ham in an



unopened package, a jar of mustard and some bread in the freezer. He started the coffee maker and began toasting the bread. The coffee hissed quietly in the sunny kitchen. Josh had a sudden memory of Aunt Julie showing him how to run the thing. Your uncle likes it pretty strong, so I add an extra scoop. This new kitchen was nothing like the old one on the farm of his childhood, but he could almost feel her presence. Yes, you and your friend can have some. Put plenty of milk in it though. You'll like it better that way. And him teasing Trey for years afterward about liking lait-au-cafe instead of the other way around.

He dug through the shelves, found a couple of travel mugs, and filled them. He wondered if Trey still liked a ton of milk in his. If he did, the man was out of luck since milk was one of the perishables that had been cleaned out of the fridge. A quick search didn't find any adequate substitute. Trey would have to lump it.

Josh crossed the yard carefully, two cups and two paper-towel wrapped sandwiches in hand. As he neared the door a woman came out and headed toward him. "It's just great!" she said enthusiastically. "The biggest selection I've ever seen. You'll love it."

Realizing she'd taken him for a fellow customer, Josh just smiled.

"I'm going to tell all my friends. Maybe we'll make a trip back up next weekend."

"Great," Josh muttered, halfway between pleasure and sarcasm. It was nice if Aunt Julie's business was doing well, but according to the cruise schedule, he and Trey would still be filling in next weekend. If Trey could stay. He realized he'd never asked Trey how long he could stick around.

He stepped back inside and made his way to Trey's elbow. "Here. Coffee."

Trey took the cup, downed a big gulp and then glared at him. "It's been so long that you forgot I take milk in it?"

Josh grinned. "Not forgot. There is none. We need to make a shopping trip. That is, if you're staying more than a day or two." He wouldn't admit that he was holding his breath, waiting for the answer.
"Of course. I told you I took vacation time. I have to head back next Sunday." The sigh of relief Josh let out was maybe a little too loud. Trey frowned at him.
"Hey, we may not be best buds any more, but I wouldn't leave you in the lurch with
this." He gestured around the store with the lidded cup and then took another sip. "Damn, that'll put hair on my chest." A sudden dark expression flitted across his face, but he added, "I guess caffeine is caffeine," and turned to help a customer.

Josh put Trey's sandwich on the glass countertop well out of elbow range and



retreated to a corner to eat his own. His emotions were in an unfamiliar turmoil. Trey was staying. That was the main thing. But man, that line about "not best buds any more" hurt more than he'd expected. Why was Trey pretty obviously pushing him away? The easy familiarity they'd had was missing, and without it Josh wondered if he was reading too much into every word and expression of Trey's. That crack about hair on his chest. Was there some kind of message about masculinity there? He watched Trey bantering cheerfully with a woman who was trying to decide about a ring in the glass case. Trey smiled and bent his head next to her blond one. Were they flirting? She was pretty enough, in a cheap kind of way.

Josh gritted his teeth. It wasn't as though Josh himself hadn't dated plenty of blond bimbo types in his day. He should just shut down the bi half of his nature and play straight like Trey for a week. Admire the pretty girls. He could make some kind of joking comment about the woman later, about the way she brushed her tits not too subtly against Trey's arm.

Trey was looking good, pretty damned fit. That arm of his had plenty of muscle. In fact Trey had grown up to be fucking hot, and even better-looking than at seventeen. No wonder that bitch in heat wanted to rub up against him and...

Josh choked on the last bite of his sandwich and turned away. No, no, no, no. He was absolutely not going to start noticing Trey that way. He never had before and damned if he would start now. A little voice inside him reminded Josh that the last time he saw Trey, Josh didn't know he was bi. He wasn't noticing any boys that way. Now he was free to notice.

He squashed that voice with the fact that he of all people knew why Trey would never welcome any kind of sexual advance from a guy. What happened to Felix had been awful for Josh, but for some reason it had completely devastated Trey. He remembered the day they found out about it. Josh had cried himself out, but it had been Trey who had been sheet white, Trey who, when Josh finally manned up enough to stop sobbing on his shoulder, had walked to the edge of the old slab and puked his guts up. Trey had become stiff and cold for months, rejecting anything even marginally gay with fierce finality. He'd been a different
person from then on. Josh had wondered, in his darker moments, if Felix wasn't the first boy Coach had put his hands on. But he'd never dared ask Trey about it.

Josh's eyes involuntarily tracked to the glass front of a nearby china cabinet.
He could see Trey in the wavery reflection, laughing with the woman as he rung up her purchases. The blonde was working it, tossing her hair, laying a hand on Trey's
arm. She had all the moves.

It took a moment for Josh to realize Trey was calling to him.



"Yeah? What do you need?"

"This gorgeous lady," Trey tipped his head toward the blonde, "has just about bought out the store and she needs help carrying things out to her car. Do you want to do that, or take over the register and let me be the pack mule for her?"

Oh no, she doesn't get Trey hanging around her. "I'll do it," he said hastily. "Even if you do look more like a mule."

It turned out the woman was an equal opportunity flirt. She took her time pointing out her purchases to Josh, taking his elbow to guide him over to the little desk and the rocking chair. Getting things loaded into her SUV seemed to involve a lot of random body contact. On another day, Josh might have been flattered, even interested. She was all the things he used to go for; long gold hair, pert nose, great smile, big tits and anything but shy. Today Josh just wanted her out of there.

Finally her purchases were all fitted in. She tossed her hair out of her eyes and grinned at him. "Thanks. I'd never have managed loading all that on my own. This is a great place and I spent way too much, most of it on things I can hardly lift." She gave a little laugh.
"Do you have someone at home to help you unload?" Not that Josh cared. "I'll find someone. Or I could hang around until you get off work. You could
come help me out and I could buy you dinner to repay you. Or something." She ran
a hand down his arm.

Josh stepped away. "You've already paid us for the stuff. No other payment's necessary."

She pouted prettily and then shrugged. "Hey, what about the other guy? Is he single? Maybe he'd like to help me out."

"He's not single," Josh snapped before he could stop himself.

The woman's eyes widened. "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't realize you two were together. I should have guessed. The really cute ones are always gay. Well, good luck with the store. You two have a great place here." She got into the SUV and pulled out, leaving Josh standing there with his mouth open.

For a moment he had the impulse to run after her and make sure she knew Trey wasn't gay. But he was pinned in place by the incredible rush of wanting that came over him. God, he wished it were true. He wished that he and Trey were together and running a business and having a life together. Teasing and laughing and talking about stuff like they used to. A life that would also include sex, because he could
no longer deny that one look at the hot man his best friend had become had just flat-out done it for him. Josh turned, took five steps toward the side of the barn,



and softly, repeatedly, banged his head against the newly-painted boards.

A small hand tugged on his pant leg and he looked down at the worried face of a little girl. Her mother behind her had paused, arms full of vintage clothes. The girl said, "Are you okay?"

From somewhere Josh dredged up a smile. "Sure, honey. I did something stupid, you know, but I'm fine."

She smiled. "Oh good." The kid skipped off towards her mom's car with the woman hurrying behind.

Josh stared after her bemusedly. That had to be one of the biggest damned lies of his life. He wasn't fine. He was totally, completely and absolutely fucked.

****

Trey finally rang up the last sale of the day and escorted the woman to the door with her purchases. If she'd changed her mind one more time, he might have had to strangle her or fake an epileptic fit or something. Josh stood there waiting to let them out. They'd already been closed for twenty minutes but short of picking her
up and carrying her, there'd been no way to get the woman out until she'd made up her mind between the cow milk pitcher and the rabbit.

Josh gave the woman an insincere smile, held the door for all of them and then set the alarm, shut, and relocked it behind them. The woman walked across the gravel and got in her car. As she pulled out of the lot, Trey and Josh both heaved a deep sigh at the same moment. Trey laughed.
"Yeah, I feel like I ran a marathon and I was just standing at the counter." Josh muttered, "My feet are killing me. And here I thought I was in good
shape."

Trey barely managed to hold back a quip about the shape Josh was in. Damn. He was going to have to be so careful. That was one of the reasons he'd let his conversations with Josh move to email and IM. In writing you could always do a quick check before you hit send. Face to face was going to be like walking in a minefield. He could only hope that Josh was still as oblivious to gay innuendo as he had been as a teen. There had been a dozen times when they were young that Trey thought he'd inadvertently outed himself to Josh, but each time Josh hadn't caught the reference. Hopefully his luck would continue to hold.
"I want a shower, beer, and food," Trey said. "Not necessarily in that order." "I think we have beer and I know there's a shower. Food may be a problem.
That grocery run might have to be tonight."



"After the shower. But yeah, I want milk for my morning coffee."

Josh had been heading for the house but he stopped so abruptly that Trey ran into him.

"What?"

"The livestock. We have to do chores. Before the shower."

"You have to do chores," Trey teased him. "I'm a guest and I'm wearing my good jeans. I don't muck out."

He expected an equally rude comeback from Josh, but his friend just nodded. "Okay. Save me some hot water."

Trey caught Josh's arm as he turned away. "Wait. That was a joke. Of course I'll help."

"Really?" Josh's smile was tired but sweet. He looked at Trey with gratitude in his eyes, and his arm was warm and solid under Trey's hand.

Trey let go immediately. "Yeah. Sure. Just tell me what to do."

"There's not too much, luckily." Josh turned for the barn. "Uncle Ted wrote it up. The pony and the goats need some hay tossed out, but they're in pastures so there's no actual mucking. The cats get kibble, the chickens get grain. He said we can just leave the eggs if we don't want to bother, but we might as well gather them. The rabbits get fed and fresh shavings every couple of days."

"Rabbits?"

"And the camel..."

Trey stopped short. "Tell me you're kidding."

Josh smiled. "I'm kidding. No camel. There's an alpaca though. It's in with the pony. Uncle Ted claims the pony is calmer since he got a buddy, but I'm not pushing my luck." Josh paused and glanced toward the house. "You really want to get changed first?"

"Are you going to?"

"Nah, not worth it. The store was dusty enough, these are going in the wash anyway."

Trey looked ruefully at his favorite jeans but said, "Mine too."

Chores were actually a kind of pleasure. The three barn cats came hurrying over as they approached, demanding their due. They stropped themselves around Trey's ankles, giving little questioning burbles and the occasional loud meow. Josh



measured out kibble while Trey stroked ears and scratched backs. Of course as
soon as food was down, they abandoned him for the real attraction. Dumped again.
But he smiled, watching them dig into the kibble with single-minded attention.

Josh said, "Quit flirting with the cats and help me feed." The bigger animals also came hurrying over when they approached with scoops and flakes of hay. Trey pulled the flakes apart for easier eating, feeling the scratch of the stalks on his hands, smelling that sweet dried-grass scent. That smell always took him back to another hobby farm, that old place of Aunt Julie's, home for a couple of months each summer to a younger Josh, and for those months the center of Trey's world.

This was almost the same. Him and Josh in a barn, tending to a new motley crew of creatures, this time laughing at the antics of mini-goats and the snooty arrogance of the alpaca. There was the familiar crunch of teeth on grain, the clucking of the hens, and the sun barely touching the tops of the trees across the pasture. Warm summer air and the occasional buzz of an insect, and Josh almost giggling as one little goat jumped clear over another. For a moment Trey felt an almost dizzy d&#232;j&#225; vu, remembering standing back watching a fifteen- year-old Josh laugh at a curious calf. He'd been so glad his friend was healing and laughing again, and yet so unable to control the way a smile on that boy's face made him feel. And damn it all to hell, I still can't.

But he was an adult now, and even if he felt it, he didn't have to show it. "Hey, who braves the hens to get those eggs?"

In the end, they both cradled eggs in their scratched fingers as they strolled back toward the house. Trey asked, "Why does your aunt always have the most aggressive chickens known to man? I remember when we were kids they were just as bad, but these can't possibly be the same chickens."

Josh shrugged. "I don't know, what's the lifespan of a chicken?"

For some reason that made Trey snicker. "About two minutes, from coop to stew-pot, if I had my way."

"Aunt Julie would disown you."

They put the eggs in the fridge, and Trey headed to his car for his bags while Josh grabbed the first shower. Trey lingered, taking a couple of trips to transfer his things to the house and then going back into the store for his forgotten computer bag, staying away from any risk of encountering a wet Josh. By the time he had everything inside the front door, Josh was safely out of the shower and dressed.

Trey grabbed a T-shirt and shorts and headed into the bathroom. He locked the door, stripped off his clothes, and peered at himself in the already foggy mirror. In



that dream world where Josh turned gay overnight, would he like what he saw? Enough guys had. Trey was lean and muscled; he put in the gym time to stay that way. His chest was waxed, because he'd come to enjoy the way that looked, and the way guys touched him there. Hopefully Josh wouldn't remember the stupid crack about the coffee and hair on my chest. Hopefully he'll think I'm naturally bare, or maybe metrosexual. Trey ran a hand across his smooth chest and then up over his head. His dark hair was maybe a touch longer than usual, certainly longer than Josh's, but some guys liked that. He was a little taller than Josh, a little bigger
now. And a hell of a lot gayer. Trey turned away abruptly and cranked on the water.

They headed to town in the rental car, with the windows down and the radio cranked. The station was some kind of stupid top-forty, and Trey was appalled at how many of the songs he actually knew, and how willing he apparently was to belt them out once Josh got them started. The years rolled back. It was him and Josh and a car and a road and nothing vital to do before morning. The center of town was a fifteen-minute ride. It wasn't even seven when they arrived, but they found to their dismay that all the stores were closed.

"Damn." Josh pulled over in the supermarket parking lot and rested his wrists on the wheel. "Small town Sunday night. I wasn't thinking. One of us should have come down here sooner."

"I guess we could drive to the nearest big box store. I'm sure there's a twenty- four hour supermarket in Lompoc."

"That's another twenty minutes." Josh sounded as reluctant as Trey felt.

Trey glanced around. "Hey, isn't that a diner? There's cars parked out front. I'd be happy to just get dinner. We have eggs and bread for breakfast. We can shop tomorrow."
"Good thought." Josh pulled through the lot and down the street to the diner. The door was open and they headed inside. The place was brightly lit and
clean, with half a dozen tables occupied. Trey looked at the red vinyl booths, the
hanging lights, the grey linoleum floor. "Hey, Josh, it's just like Curly Joe's back home."

"Not too far off."

The waitress paused to glance at them and waved casually. "Sit anywhere. I'll be with you in a minute."

Without discussion they automatically headed for the last booth in the back. They'd barely slid into the benches, the vinyl sticky against the back of Trey's knees, when the waitress appeared with menus. "We're out of the fish," she said,



"But it wasn't the greatest anyway. Can I get you guys some cokes or some coffee to start with?"

Josh said, "Coke."

Trey almost seconded it out of habit and then hesitated. "Do you have cream for the coffee?"

"Sure. Milk, cream, non-fat creamer."

"Coffee, with lots of real cream." As the waitress headed off Trey leaned back
in the booth and looked at Josh. Just like the old days. He could do this. Think back to being seventeen. No, better not. Think fourteen. "So," he said easily, "Tell me what else is new with you."

**** CHAPTER 3
Josh woke in the early hours of Tuesday gasping for breath. The sheets were glued to his body with a slick of fear-sweat, his heart was pounding and his muscles twitched in inhibited fight-or-flight. Damn, that was fucked up.

He shoved the covers down and lay there, trying to will himself to calm. The worst part was he was still half-hard, his body caught between dream and nightmare, and each was as messed up as the other. He took deliberate steadying breaths, trying to remember what that therapist had said back in college. He'd had nightmares then, repeatedly, until he'd gone looking for help. They'd faded after a while. But this had been back to full blown panic.

There was a sound from his doorway and he sat bolt upright. Trey stood there, half-hidden by the door frame, peering in. "Are you okay? You... yelled."

Oh. Damn. "I'm fine. Sorry if I woke you."

Trey gave him a sleepy smile. "No problem, as long as you're good." He vanished into the dark hallway, closing the door softly as he left.

Josh eased down onto the bed and blew a breath out through his teeth. He'd been a bad roommate for a while in college, round about the time his first semester exams had made him sleep-deprived. His roommate had practically chased him to
a therapist with the comment that if Josh didn't care about spending half the night hyperventilating, he could at least have pity on a fellow freshman. He'd done some talk therapy and meditation and some attempts at lucid dreaming, and something had worked. Although he still sometimes wondered if his roommate had quickly found a girlfriend with an apartment out of romance or practicality.

But it had been a long time since he'd needed to work through a dream like



that. It had started innocently enough as a dream about Stefan giving him a blowjob. Stefan had been very talented and in the dream, Josh had been massively aroused by the wet touch of lips and tongue. He'd wrapped his hands in Stefan's hair and looked down, seeing without surprise in the way of dreams that Stefan's hazel eyes had become chocolate brown. Stefan's mouth became Trey's, that hair between his fingers thickened and softened. Josh moaned in astonished pleasure at the rightness of this. And then something had banged on their door. He'd pulled out of Trey's mouth, startled and suddenly afraid. Trey seemed oblivious of the noise, trying to recapture Josh's dick, Trey's hands reaching for him.

Louder banging, and dream-Josh had grabbed Trey's wrists and pulled him up, pulled him out of what apparently was a classroom and down a hallway, their sneakers squeaking on the polished floor. They had to hide. He was coming. At the end of the hall, a door stood ajar. Josh dragged Trey inside and under the big wooden desk. They huddled together in the knee-hole, panting from their flight, trying to muffle the sound.

Then slow footsteps approached. Josh grabbed dream-Trey, who was now inexplicably younger, the slender, shy Trey of their early friendship, even though Josh was still an adult. He pushed Trey deeper into the desk space, trying to put his body between Trey and the approaching sound.

Suddenly Josh felt all his muscles freeze up. He couldn't move, wasn't sure he was breathing. The footsteps came nearer erratically, as if the walker was searching for them, stopping and looking now here, now there. Then their pursuer
approached the other side of the desk. Under the knee-shield Josh spotted a pair of
adult male feet, banally clad in black Nikes. The feet stopped in front of the desk. For a long moment there was silence, broken only by the pounding of Josh's pulse in his own ears.

Then Trey, beautiful Trey of sixteen or seventeen, with his hair cropped short and his dark eyes intense, kissed Josh under the desk. It was a long, deep kiss that started out so hot Josh saw stars. His flagging erection was suddenly rock-hard despite the looming man on the other side of a quarter-inch of veneer panel. And then for a just moment the kiss changed, became poignant and sweet, before Trey slid back, and without another look stood up out of the knee-hole and walked around the desk to that waiting man. Josh huddled, paralyzed, unable to cry out, as Trey's familiar Reeboks moved into his line of sight, paused and then silently followed the black Nikes out of the room. Josh had woken himself in a panic shouting, "No!"

He lay in bed, wondering if he'd said anything else out loud before he was aware. Had he called Trey's name? He wasn't going to try to psychoanalyze



himself, but that dream echoed so many of his past fears, where it was Trey and not Felix or even himself who was taken and abused and changed. He'd tried and failed to protect his brother Felix in a dozen different dreams over the years. He'd failed
to protect Trey in hundreds. He'd always told himself that it was because Trey wasn't around anymore that he seemed more at risk. The pattern had been set in
that senior year of school when he saw Felix daily and Trey never. But now,
shaking, oscillating between the fear and the kiss, he had to admit that there was a completely different reason.

Josh slammed a fist into his pillow. He was an idiot. A futile, deluded, pathetic idiot. He was never going to look down and see Trey with his mouth stretched around Josh's erection, never going to look into Trey's eyes and find that kind of heat echoed back. The most Josh could hope for was for Trey to slowly lose his prejudices and become tolerant. So that someday, in the far future, when Josh found a guy who was enough like Trey, or maybe enough different from Trey to love for himself, the three of them could be friends.

Trey would need that tolerance, because even two days of reacting to Trey's hard, muscular presence made Josh realize he'd never felt arousal like this before. And somehow he suspected that if he ever did again, it would be with a man and not a woman. Unfortunately not this man. Josh yanked his pillow out from under his head, wrapped it over his ears, and tried to find sleep again.

Late that afternoon, Josh straightened his aching back and stepped away from the loaded station wagon. "There you are ma'am. I think you should be able to close the door now."

"Thank you, young man." The tiny grandmotherly woman gave his arm a pat and slammed her tailgate shut. "It does fit. I knew it would."

Josh stared after her as she got in the driver's seat and headed toward the road, peering out of the windshield through the steering wheel, if he was any judge. He jumped as Trey's voice came from behind him.
"One wonders exactly what she's going to do with an antique bicycle." "She said she's making a lawn ornament out of it," Josh told him. "She's
planning to plant flowers in the basket." He casually moved toward the house,
putting more distance between his body and Trey's.

In the past two days they'd found their balance, and much of their old ease together. Sunday night they'd collapsed in their respective beds as soon as they made it home, but Monday evening they'd invested in some good beer in addition to food, and spent a nice hour on the big front porch talking and watching the sun go down. Neither of them had mentioned anything emotional, but in the easy



conversation about baseball and jobs and the difficulty of finding a good mechanic, a lot of the strangeness seemed like it had gone away. They'd even touched on college, and roommates good and bad. Josh had changed the topic when some comment of Trey's and the way Trey tipped his head back to swallow the last of his beer made Josh flush with unwelcome heat. College included the memory of Josh's first experience with male lips, male hands.

It was stupid. He'd always liked girls as much as guys, sometimes more. Why he couldn't seem to turn off his awareness of Trey's physical presence was a mystery. But as long as he kept a foot of space between them it wasn't too bad. Trey was even more fun to hang with than Josh remembered from their teens. And he seemed pretty oblivious to any hint of Josh's attraction, so it was all good.

"Hey, Trey," he said. "What do you want to do for the Fourth tomorrow?" "Besides convince more little old ladies that they really need to buy a bicycle?" "We're going to close the store," Josh said firmly.
"We are? What would Aunt Julie say?"

"She already planned to be closed. Mario was supposed to be here running things by himself. I guess she thought he would need the day off. It's posted on the website and everything. Closed on the Fourth."

"Wow." Trey stretched painfully, working his shoulders. "That sounds great. I don't know. I'd love to go to the beach, but it's probably going to be a zoo on the holiday."
"Maybe we can go early, get some water and sun before the crowds are out." "You. Getting up early? I remember having to dump cold water on you to get
you out of bed before noon on a weekend."

Josh said with dignity, "I'm not sixteen any more. I can get up if I need to." "Five forty-five AM? For the sunrise?"
Trey had a teasing look on his face, so Josh couldn't resist saying, "It's a deal."

He grinned with satisfaction at the expression of dismay as Trey realized that he would have to get up that early too, and hid his own pain at the hour he'd just agreed to.

"Maybe seven?" Trey countered.

"Wuss," Josh replied, hiding his relief. "Sure, seven."

The Fourth of July dawned clear and warm. Josh rolled out of bed at six-forty- five, just for the fun of waking Trey up with a drip of cold water. He filled a glass



in the bathroom and snuck into Trey's room. But at the bedside he paused.

Trey had shoved down the sheets in the night. He lay face-down on the mattress, wearing only boxers. His skin was smooth and tanned, his shoulders tightly muscular, the long smooth planes of his back leading down to the low elastic waistband. Under the boxers, there was obviously a world-class ass. Josh paused, feeling his body react. He wondered if he should just back out and knock on Trey's door. But he'd been trying hard to get back to their old easy relationship, and the old Josh would definitely have poured the water.

He took the last step and upended the glass over Trey's bare back. "Rise and shine, you lazy bum!"

Trey yelped and rolled over fast. He glared up at Josh, dark eyes narrowed in indignation, his chest heaving with the shock of awakening. Which made his whole body move. Which made his very impressive morning wood bob up and down in those loose boxers and holy crap, Josh was so out of there.

He sprinted out the door, calling back over his shoulder, "Last one to the kitchen makes the coffee."

Despite that, he had the pot dripping when Trey appeared in the doorway. He saluted Trey with his bagel. "I decided not to wait."

"Smart man." Trey rubbed his eyes and wandered over to the fridge, digging out an apple. "We could still go back to bed. I mean sleep in."

"I want to hit the beach," Josh said. Except... "Damn." "What?"
"Well, I packed in a hurry. All I brought was my Speedo." The old ugly one that also hid absolutely nothing. Maybe the beach was a bad idea.

"So? You always did take swimming kind of seriously."

He had. He'd taken all sports seriously. But he wasn't sure he wanted to hang around Trey in something that revealing.

"Anyway, you're not some fat slob like half the folks out there on the beach. You'd actually look good in a Speedo." Trey bit into his apple and choked, coughing. After a moment, he added, "Damned fruit is trying to kill me. Tell you what, I brought a Speedo as well as board shorts so I'll just wear mine too. We'll be the two hottest guys on the beach. The girls won't be able to stay away."

"Right." Josh wavered, but despite what a horrible idea it almost certainly was, the thought of spending a morning watching Trey running around almost naked on the beach was too appealing to pass up. "Okay, sounds good."



They poured the coffee in travel mugs, pulled on cut-offs, T-shirts and sneakers, and after tossing a quick breakfast to the various critters, headed out in Josh's car. Despite being just shortly after seven, the sun was already well up and the air was warming quickly. Josh rolled down the window and cranked the radio. He headed away from town, on the theory that sunbather density should decrease. The first two beaches they passed already had a bunch of people setting up towels and picnics. The third was more deserted, probably because the strip of sand was narrow and dotted with large jagged clusters of rocks. Josh pulled the car into the parking area, and squinted at the scrubby trees around the edge, trying to figure out whether there was a space that might hold a little shade through the morning.

"Forget it," Trey said. "That's what AC is for."

"Yeah." Josh pulled into a spot. "Sometimes I forget this is a rental. The beater
I'm driving now has pretty crappy AC."

Trey reached in the back seat for his towel and climbed out. He glanced at Josh over the car, as they locked up. "Why are you driving a beater? I thought you made good money."

"Oh well, you know." Josh turned for the wooden steps down the sandstone bluff to the beach.

He felt Trey's hand warm on the back of his T-shirt. "Your dad really messed you up about money, didn't he? Still? I thought I was joking when I kidded you about scotch-tape band aids."

"Nah, I'm past that." Josh started down, hearing Trey's feet clattering behind him. It was somehow easier to talk over the noise. "Well, maybe. I still have a hard time spending much."

"Or asking other people to spend money."

"Maybe. But I live okay, it's not like I don't have a decent apartment and whatever I need. I just don't go for luxuries."

"How many bedrooms?"

Josh hit the bottom of the stairs and turned to glance at Trey. "What do you mean?"

"Your place. How many bedrooms?"

Josh knew he'd colored slightly. "It's a studio. I'm just one guy. I don't need a lot of room. I'll move when I find someplace I really want."

"What does Linda think of it?" "Who?"



"Linda? The girl you were practically writing poems about?"

"Oh, her. Yeah, no, we broke up long ago." He'd forgotten he'd mentioned
Linda to Trey.

"I'm sorry." Trey's eyes were compassionate.

"It's okay. It was good but not that intense, not like a forever thing. I knew that pretty fast." No matter if he'd wished otherwise for a while. "Don't worry about it. We've both moved on."

"Great."

Josh braced himself for the inevitable question of who he'd moved on to, although the truthful answer was no-one special, just hook-ups, and most of them girls. But Trey just glanced around and said, "How about a swim first, before it gets crowded?"

"Sure."

Growing up in LA had given both of them an easy familiarity with the ocean. Josh figured this beach would have some rocks to watch out for, but probably not much undertow unless you got out beyond the point of the headland. You could never be sure, though. He would keep an eye on Trey. They tucked their towels in a crevice in one of the rocks. Josh stripped off sneakers, T-shirt and shorts without looking at Trey. He mentally dammed his own over-careful spending habits. The Speedo he wore was not only old and getting a little thin, but white with an ugly
red floral design. Would it have killed him to have bought something new? The moment his shorts cleared his feet he kicked them off and headed for the water.

The ocean was cold enough to jolt him as he ran into the breakers. The salt tang filled the air, and the sand sucked the bottoms of his feet as he moved deeper. The sky was a clear blue with the faint haze that promised real heat later. He breathed it in. He'd missed this. God, had he missed this.

There was a shove on his shoulder and he glanced over. Trey's eyes were sparkling and the light breeze ruffled his hair. He wore a dark Speedo and it fit him sinfully well, but then Trey threw his head back and laughed, and time rolled back. This was Trey, who had been his shadow and his support for so many years. Suddenly Josh felt whole again. Whole and happy and alive. "Come on!" he cried. "Race you!" He ran three steps deeper and launched himself forward into the water.

It was a magical morning. Nothing else mattered, nothing needed to be done. He was on holiday and whenever he turned there was Trey. Trey was three strokes behind him when they raced out to the level of the point. Trey laughed his ass off when a big wave tried to drown Josh as he looked up at a circling cormorant. Josh



kept his wits about him enough to keep his hands off Trey's wet, muscular body. He managed not to give in to the temptation to wrestle with Trey or grab him and try to dunk him. By some miracle, Trey also kept his attacks to splashing and occasionally grabbing Josh's feet to pull him under. For two hours they were fifteen again.

Eventually they staggered out onto the sand. The air was warm enough that Josh could feel the moisture quickly evaporating off his skin. He slowed down and ran his hands over his short hair. It was already almost dry. Trey danced backward ahead of him. "Tired, old man? I could do this all day. Come on, race me. You always did swim better but I run faster."

"It's too hot," Josh complained. "Let's walk back to the towels like two sane people."

"Two boring old people." Trey tagged his shoulder with a slap and turned to run.

Josh grabbed for him and snagged Trey's waistband. Trey shoved him away, laughing, with a hand planted on his head. For a moment they struggled, and then Josh noticed just how much of Trey's perfect, firm ass was being exposed to view by the elastic stretch of the fabric. He let go abruptly.

Trey yelped and staggered, off balance. Josh smirked at him, despite the way his pulse was pounding in his throat. "Race you!" He set off across the sand, sprinting for all he was worth. Trey was beside him in a minute, and beat him to the towels by three strides. They both stopped, grinning and Josh bent with his hands on his knees to suck air.

"Coach would tell you to stand up before you pass out." Trey's voice caught on the last word and they both sobered.

"How's Felix?" Trey asked abruptly. He picked up his towel and began rubbing his hair, as if he couldn't ask and look at Josh at the same time. "We've talked about everything but him. I really want to know."

Not even close to everything. Which didn't mean that Felix was an easy topic. "He's good. He's in pre-law. He did some therapy again his first year in college and it helped. He has a serious girlfriend now."
Trey looked at Josh with one eye from under the towel. "So he's not gay?" Josh took a step back and glared at him. "No, dammit, he's not gay. Being
abused by a man has nothing to do with whether a kid is gay or not. Before or after
it happens. What the hell kind of question was that?"

****



Trey was wondering the same thing. He felt sick. What on earth had made him ask that question? He tried to listen as Josh said angrily, "Coach Lindgrom was like a father to Felix. It was just so fucking wrong." And then Josh said more softly,
"He was like a damned father to me too, once."

Abruptly Trey realized where his own question must have come from. Not a new revelation, just one of a dozen festering sores left over from what happened to Felix. Because their young coach hadn't been like a father to Trey. Trey'd had his own loving dad. Instead he'd had one hell of a crush on the coach. It hadn't been like his feelings for Josh, but a pure physical want that went with the guy's height and muscles and air of authority. To Trey's everlasting shame, when he heard about Felix, for just one moment before he buried the thought deep he'd wondered, What does Felix have that I don't?

And how sick was that? But he'd been fifteen then, and the image of being bent over and fucked by the coach had been invading his fantasies for a while. He couldn't imagine Josh when he was jerking off. That felt too personal. So the coach had been the skin and touch and voice of his erotic dreams. Finding out that the man had done that to Felix had been gut-wrenching on so many levels, not all of them acceptable ones. Now apparently some little corner of his mind was still wondering why the coach had passed Trey by. Jesus, would he never be free of that?

Trey turned away, pulling on his cut-offs over his damp swimsuit. "I'm glad Felix is better," he said softly, trying to pull the conversation back. It had been a wonderful morning, the best he could remember. "Are you better too?"

"I guess." Josh sighed. "It's kind of old history, you know. Just every once in a while something reminds me."

"Yeah," Trey agreed. "Me too." He wanted to ask more, now that the subject was open. He wanted to know if Josh had met any gay guys in college. Whether he'd become comfortable enough to hang around with them. Whether maybe, just maybe, he could accept a gay friend. But what if the answer was no? Instead he said, "Any plans for the afternoon? Should we head back or try to find somewhere open for lunch?"

"Let's head back. You know, I have the perfect project for the afternoon. When Aunt Julie called last night, she said we needed to at least try to groom the pony and pick out his hooves."

"Did you tell her little snowballs would be raining on Satan's head first?" "She was worried about him. I told her we'd try."



"You are such a soft touch. I suppose you just assumed I'd help you?" Josh made his eyes all big and round. "You will help, won't you?"
Trey snorted. "There's something really wrong about Bambi eyes on a guy, you know that?"

Josh choked and bent for his T-shirt.

Trey sighed theatrically. "What kind of friend would I be if I refused to get kicked in the nuts for you? Bring it on. How bad can one pony be?"

Through the cotton over his face, Josh said, "You'll find out."

A couple of hours later, Trey decided the answer was, really bad. Trey had spent part of his summers on Aunt Julie's farm for several years. She'd always rescued the downtrodden and abused of the animal kingdom. Trey could remember a couple of pretty spooky, nervous horses, and a ram that you couldn't turn your back on, but this pony was downright evil. Josh had a death-grip on the halter. Trey had managed a few swipes of a brush while dodging hooves before they decided picking out feet was more essential. Trey sidled up at the pony's shoulder with a wary eye on its hindquarters. He managed to get one front foot up off the ground and put in a single dig with the hoof-pick, before the beast cow-kicked at him and almost yanked Josh off his feet with a toss of its head.

Josh wrestled the pony back under control and grabbed its upper lip in a makeshift twitch. "Try again," he grated.

Trey stepped back. "No way, no how."

"I don't want it to get thrush from dirty hooves." "I don't want either of us to lose our teeth."
"It's just a fucking little pony. How come the bugger is so strong?" "It still outweighs the both of us by about three hundred pounds."
Josh growled wordlessly at the pony as it took advantage of his distraction to jerk away from his hand and snap at his fingers. "You have a point." Josh gestured at Trey to move away and slipped the halter off the pony. He dodged as the pony whirled, aimed a kick in their general direction and then bucked its way down the field toward the patiently waiting alpaca under the trees.

Trey stared after it, as it gave the alpaca a nuzzle and then settled in to crop grass. "And supposedly that little display was the pony acting better than before it had a stablemate."

Josh dusted his palms on his thighs. "I think it is better. Fractionally. I



remember when Aunt Julie got it four years ago. No one could get near the thing for a week. It warmed up to her eventually but it never liked me. I think it hates men."

"Well, I'm not cross-dressing for a damned pony," Trey grumbled, and then bit his tongue.

Josh just laughed, and Trey took a quick breath of relief. He glanced around the quiet pasture, and then raised an eyebrow at Josh. "Time for beer?"

"We should get some hay down from the loft for later; might as well do it while we're wearing jeans and not shorts."

"K."

They headed into the little barn that was actually in use for its intended purpose, rather than as a warehouse for everything American culture had come up with in the last two hundred years. There was a ladder in one corner, leading upward.

"I'll go throw down a couple of bales," Josh said.

"I'm gonna come take a look." Trey followed him up into the shadowed heat of the hayloft. The smell of the alfalfa was intense, and he sneezed as their feet stirred up the dust. A thin ray of light came in around the bottom of the loft doors, but otherwise it was dark up there.

Josh stopped near the top of the ladder, presumably waiting for his eyes to adjust. "There must be a light somewhere."

"We could open the loft door. It's damned hot anyway." Trey made his way toward that finger of sunshine, climbing over half-seen stacked bales. He reached the doors, lifted the heavy latch, and swung one side out wide. Cooler fresher air and bright sunlight streamed in and he blinked, standing in the opening and holding onto the frame as he looked out.

"Be careful," Josh said.

Trey glanced back. "Oh come on. How much time did we spend in the loft those couple of summers? I'm not about to fall out."

"A lot of time." Josh's voice was soft. He sat on the lopsided castle of stacked bales near the opening and drew his feet up, staring out at the pasture beyond.

Trey felt a rush of affection. How often had he come up to the big loft in the old barn to find Josh just like that, staring out into space? Probably about as often
as Josh had found him up there. It had become a refuge for both of them when they were fifteen, their place on Aunt Julie's farm the way the concrete slab was at



home. Trey dropped to sit on the dusty floor of the opening, his legs hanging out over the edge. This loft was smaller and hotter, but still... sitting in the doorway high above the ground, the heat at his back, the cooler air brushing his face... it was so familiar.

"Do you remember that summer?" Josh said softly from behind him. "Honest to God, I don't think I would have made it without you."

"I remember." Trey didn't look back. He remembered the pain and the self- loathing, his determination to take care of his friend and do nothing, absolutely nothing, to make Josh aware Trey wanted more than friendship. Hell, he'd spent most of that summer trying to make himself not actually want anything more, trying to lock the gay part of himself in some airtight box and lose it deep inside. It
was a battle he'd fought and lost, and despised himself for losing, until the very day
Josh and his father pulled out of their driveway in the U-Haul truck.

"The smell of hay still makes me think of you sometimes," Josh said. "I'll be somewhere completely unrelated, and go past a field where they'd been cutting hay, and I remember that summer and the loft and you."

"Me too." Trey knew Josh meant it simply of course. Those were intense but innocent memories. He couldn't know that the smell of hay could make Trey achingly, impossibly hard, without warning, without wanting it. He'd dated a guy who fancied himself a cowboy for a while, until he realized that the attraction was pure physical response to the man's scent when he'd been around the barn.

After Felix's abuse had come to light, Josh's parents had barely been able to cope with Felix and all the demands of officialdom. They'd sent Josh away to
Julie's farm without delay. And then not visited for weeks. Josh had begged to have Trey go with him, and since it was summer vacation, Trey's parents had agreed. In retrospect, they'd probably figured it was the best thing for Trey too, since he'd also spent four years of Little League under Coach Lindgrom. He remembered his mother's careful inquiry about whether Coach had ever done anything to him, anything he didn't want. And his vehement denial, with the sick undercurrent of
knowing he would have said yes if Coach had asked. At least, if he'd been asked at fifteen, not when he was ten, not when he was little like Felix. Aunt Julie's farm
had been a welcome refuge.

"I remember you used to dare me to jump out the hatch." Trey mused.

"I remember I had to grab you to keep you from doing it that one time." "I could never refuse a dare." I wanted you to admire me.
"We were both idiots."



"Isn't that one definition of fifteen year old boys?"

"I guess." Josh got up, came and sat beside him in the doorway, pushing open the other half of the door so they could share the space without touching. "That's better. It's fucking hot up here."

For a while they were quiet, sitting there in the shade of the overhang, watching the goats wander around their bit of pasture below. Eventually Josh said, "Did you ever wonder what would have happened if Coach had picked some other kid who wasn't my little brother?"

"Sure." Only every day for years. Trey made his voice light and amused. "Maybe you'd have married Hannah."

"No way," Josh said seriously. "I liked her, but she was way too earth-mother for me. She'd have had me turning vegetarian and marching in protests."

"Heaven forbid."

"Hey, I like meat." Josh hesitated. "Anyway, when I wondered about how things would've been different, I wasn't thinking about Hannah, I was thinking about you. You were the best friend I had in the whole world. The only one who really knew me and stuck with me and didn't laugh at my ideas and shit."

"Your ideas were shit. I was just too polite to laugh."

Josh punched his arm. "You know what I mean. When Dad said we were moving, I threw a major fit. But there was no changing his mind. He was tired of being the family whose kid got Coach Lindgrom sent to prison. Or the parent of "that poor boy". Once the new job offered him a little more money moving was a done deal."

"I remember."

"I tried not to go." Josh frowned to himself. "I suggested that I could stay with you to finish high-school. Or become emancipated since I was seventeen. I even pointed out how much money he could save by leaving me behind. But Mom said my brother needed me and..." Josh hesitated.

"You couldn't fight that."

"No. I didn't know if it was true. Felix didn't seem to pay much attention to me. But if there was a chance... I had to go. But damn, I missed having you around.
And you didn't call me much or email or anything."

Trey wasn't up to remembering the reasons for that. "Sorry."

"I wasn't sure if you were getting bored with me hanging around you."



"Jesus, no. It was the other way round, remember? You were the one who knew people and thought of things to do. I hung around you."

"So why?"

Trey went the easy route. "Because I was lazy and self-centered and..." "Bullshit."
He sighed. "Because it was too damned hard. Because I figured the less we talked the quicker we'd move on, find someone new to hang out with." He stopped there, unsure whether that sounded cold or emo or a bit of both.

Josh nodded slowly. "Which we did. I just wish you hadn't cut me off like that. But I guess it worked out okay." He pushed to his feet. "Even with this door open it's too hot to hang around up here right now. Come on, help me grab some bales and finish up. I really, really want a shower."

"I'm the guest. I get first dibs." But Trey sat for a moment longer, looking out the loft door, caught back in time, in a moment when life had seemed infinitely hard and yet had held a center to his orbit in the person of his best friend. The heat and the darkness of the loft and the scent of hay and Josh moving behind him blurred the past and the present. And for just a moment as he stood and turned, he expected to see the skinny boy with shaggy, dark hair and big, shadowed eyes waiting for him there by the top of the ladder.

**** CHAPTER 4
By Thursday, Josh decided he was so ready for Aunt Julie to get back. The store had been quieter on Monday and Tuesday than on the weekend, and he'd thought he was getting the hang of things. But apparently the day after Fourth of July was Let's-All-Go-Buy-Antiques Day. It was only mid-afternoon, but already he was catching himself hiding between the stacks instead of stepping up to the challenge of finding a customer the die-cast toy milk truck or rooster salt-and- pepper shakers they were searching for.

At the register, Trey somehow still had his customer-service smile intact. Trey used to be the shy one, but somewhere along the line that had changed. It bothered Josh that he didn't know when. He should have made more effort to keep in touch himself, maybe made sure he applied to the same colleges as Trey senior year instead of just indifferently taking the recommendations of his new guidance counselor in New York. But by then their friendship had been withering for four months, and nothing had seemed worth the effort.

Well, things would change now. Josh was determined. He would call Trey



again, not just IM him. Hearing Trey's voice was important. He'd visit, and drag Trey out here to Aunt Julie's, and play on the guy's nostalgia. Because despite having a couple of good friends in Hartford, Josh realized that no one had ever taken the place that was Trey's. He might not be Trey's "best bud" anymore, but dammit, Trey was still his.

He would take his time introducing the bisexual thing. There was no rush. It wasn't as if Josh was with anyone right now, girl or guy. He could just let it wait until he met someone special. That might even be quite a while. He couldn't imagine making the effort to start dating again any time soon.

Another blonde was at the register hanging on Trey's smile today, but this woman was heavy, obviously bleached, and in her forties. As she tried to haggle Trey down in price for a Mickey-Mouse clock, she was joined by a very young teenage boy. The kid wore a bright blue jacket with wide lapels, and as he reached the woman's side he gave a little spin to show it off. "Look at this, Aunt Mary! Isn't it cool? So retro. And look!" He held up a little half-skirt apron with a ruffle. "This is so fifties, just like the one Lucy wears." He wrapped it around his waist for a moment. "Cute, huh?"

The woman stared at him, and then her expression became a glare. "Emmet, you take that apron off right now! And the jacket. Those are girl clothes! What are you thinking? Do you want to look like a fag? Do you? What would your mother think?"

The boy's bright expression fell. His hands clutched the apron. "Mom wouldn't care..."

"Your mother would say the same thing. It's disgusting! How dare you shame me in public like that? Put those clothes back this instant!"

The boy froze, and then whirled and ran toward the back of the barn where the vintage clothing was kept. Josh turned quickly, heading back there by a different route. He wanted to have a quick word with the boy, but it would be better if the aunt didn't overhear him. As he rounded the last display he saw that Trey must
have followed the kid too. Trey was already on one knee beside the boy, taking the apron from his shaking hands.

"Don't let her get to you," Trey said quietly but clearly. "There's nothing wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with liking women's clothes, and if you are gay, there's nothing wrong with being gay."

Josh froze, stunned to hear that coming from Trey.

The boy's shaky voice said, "She said it was disgusting."



Trey reached out to help the boy shrug out of the jacket, saying firmly as he did so, "Lots of people are gay. Hell, I'm gay."

At that moment the boy's aunt came round the divider and strode up to them. Her face showed that Trey's words had reached her too. With a muffled shriek she whacked Trey on the head with her purse. "Get your hands off him," she yelled. "Don't you touch him, you pervert! You're disgusting. Get your faggy hands off the boy!"

Trey yanked his hands back and stood, looking as if he might retort. But then his gaze shifted and he caught sight of Josh standing frozen against the display case. Trey's face went white. For a moment he glanced from the sputtering woman
to the boy, and then he looked up at Josh again. He looked almost sick. Before Josh could hold out a hand or say anything, Trey turned and ran.

Josh stared after Trey as Trey stumbled around a shelf and out of sight. Josh felt as if the world had just come apart. His heart was pounding and his throat was dry. The blonde woman turned her attention to him, demanding what he was thinking of to have a pervert serving customers in his store, putting filthy hands on children and...

"Shut up." Josh snapped.

She stared at him, he mouth open. "What did you say?"

"I said, shut up." Josh dragged his gaze from the spot where Trey had disappeared to look her in the face. "I don't want to hear another word."

"He's a pervert. A child molester."

"Helping a kid take off a jacket in a crowded store isn't perverted. Your mind must be pretty sick if you think it is." But he turned away from her sputtering reply. He didn't have time for this, for her. Because his whole world had just done a
ninety degree tilt, and he needed to go find the one person who would tell him what it meant. And he was scared to death that the look on Trey's face meant he was about to run from Josh far and fast. Not this time.

If Trey was really gay, had been gay... questions and speculations bubbled up in
Josh. He needed to chase after Trey and find him. Right the fuck now.

Josh said in a loud clear voice, "The store is closing, due to a family emergency. Please come back another time. You can have a... a ten percent discount on anything you like, if you leave quickly now."

Of course it couldn't be that easy. Some customers wanted to just ring up the items they already had. A couple wanted that ten percent discount in writing. He scribbled a few notes, tried to remember how Trey said the register worked, took



cash and declined credit cards. Another customer tried to argue about that and he shut her down harshly, without thinking. It was all taking too long. It was almost fifteen minutes before he ushered the last customer out the door. The blond woman had left in a huff, dragging the boy behind her. Josh had felt bad for the kid, but the eye roll the boy gave Josh as he left suggested he wasn't completely cowed by his aunt. There was nothing Josh could do but hope there were more understanding family members around the boy.

Finally Josh was able to pull the door shut, tape a makeshift "back tomorrow" sign to the plaque with their hours and look around. He'd pretty much expected to see Trey's car gone and to have to chase him back to the city, but the car was still parked by the house.

The farmhouse was silent when he slammed in through the front door. No sound of movement, no running shower. He did a quick check of the bathrooms and bedrooms anyway, but Trey was nowhere to be found. Which left the rest of the property, and really it was pretty obvious where he should go look.

The inside of the barn was cooler than the day before, with the overcast sky easing some of the heat, but the air was still close and still. Josh paused at the bottom of the ladder to the loft, listening. For a moment he heard nothing, but then there was the faint sound of a harsh breath from overhead. Slowly, making enough noise to be heard, he climbed the ladder.

Trey was barely visible in the dark loft. He sat amid the hay bales, drawn up in a tight ball so his body was just a formless shadow. Josh walked around him to the doors and cracked one open. In the dull light that came in, Trey raised his pale, drawn face. "I'm sorry," he said, in a voice that wavered despite his set jaw. "So sorry but...I didn't think I should drive. I promise I'll be out of here as soon as I can."

Josh stared at him. He took two steps away from the door and lowered himself to sit on the floor at arm's length from Trey. "Why the hell would you think I want you gone?"

Trey clenched his teeth and then said slowly and clearly, "You heard me right the first time. I'm gay."

"So what?" Josh shook his head impatiently. "I mean, yeah, that changes things but you're still my best friend."

For a long minute, Trey just stared at him his eyes dilated in his stunned face.

****

What the hell! Trey's mind flashed back through a summer of evenings in a loft



much like this one, with the air lingeringly hot and the sun long gone, to memories of tearful rants and hate. Then later there'd been emails, full of casual slurs and distaste and loathing. He'd read each one, sitting on his bed in his parents' house missing his best friend, knowing that he hadn't managed to change himself straight, feeling each blow land. "You hate gay men."

"The hell I do!" Josh stared at him. "Maybe for a while, yeah, I did. But I figured out eventually that you couldn't judge the whole world of gay men by one pedophile. There's no connection. You're the one who was really homophobic."

"Shit." Trey wrapped his arms tighter around his legs, rocking himself on the dusty floor. His stomach hurt. His head hurt. His heart hurt. Josh didn't hate him for being gay. He realized just how much of how he'd lived the last ten years had been predicated on the fact that he couldn't let Josh ever know about him. Except apparently that was more stupid, mistaken theory than fact. He put his head down on his knees and rocked.

After a while, Josh asked quietly, "When did you know? When did you realize you were gay?"

Trey dredged up a laugh from somewhere, but it didn't come out sounding like amusement. "Around the time I figured out what the word meant. Not too long after we met."

"When we were ten?" There was an indrawn breath. "Trey! Coach didn't... do something to you too?"

"No. Hell no. Weren't you the one who said that had nothing to do with being gay?"

"I know, and I mean it. I just thought, if something made you realize at the age of ten..."

"It wasn't anything dramatic like that. I just realized that when everyone said girls were pretty or hot, or smelled good, for me it was always boys. Boys and men. I was pretty confused about things for a long time, but I never doubted that it was guys I was attracted to, even when I wished it wasn't."

"But you never told me."

Josh actually sounded hurt about that. Motherfucker. Like he couldn't see it had been impossible? Although to be fair, before Felix, Trey had been close to telling him a hundred times. Except that always led to the other confession, the one about who he wanted to be gay with. No way to explain now without letting out that little bit of idiocy. Trey just shook his head against his knees.

"Did your parents know?"



"They still don't."

"You mean you're not out?"

"I am around my place. I came out in college. I've dated." Guys who never meant enough because they never measured up to that unrealistic image I had of you. Although five days back in contact with Josh hadn't managed to rub the shine off that damned image yet. "I just never told my folks."

"Why not? Your parents are great."

Trey knew Josh had always envied him the laid-back family life Trey'd enjoyed. Josh was right, they would probably have been fine with it, at least after the initial surprise. "It wasn't important. They didn't need to know."

"That's bullshit."

The loft was hot and dim and smelled of cut alfalfa, and it was so familiar, being here with Josh and just letting things out. Before he could stop himself he said, "They still talk to your parents."
"So? I didn't think you cared a rat's ass what my parents thought of you." "That's not true." Trey had cared in a way, mainly because they controlled how
much time he got to spend with Josh. It was true that after watching them focus on
Felix and act completely unconcerned about Josh's feelings, he'd moved from wariness to disdain. And, yeah, it wasn't like he still cared at this late date what Mr. and Mrs. Campbell thought of him. He sighed and just said it. "You talk to them every week. If they heard I was gay, it would be the first thing out of their mouths the next time you called." And not in any good way. He and Josh had been hot and angry in their bigotry at the time, but Felix's parents had been icily furious with a loathing that would never fade.

Josh said slowly, "You were afraid they would tell me you were gay and I
would...what?"

Hate me. Stop emailing, stop IMing, take away the last little scraps of contact I had with you. He hadn't realized until this week just how deep his neediness went. He'd thought he'd whittled down his contacts with Josh so he could move on, but he'd been fooling himself. He'd cut them back to a level he thought Josh would let him keep. Forever. No wonder his last boyfriend had accused Trey of not being fully invested in their relationship. He'd called the guy delusional, but it was becoming pretty damned clear where the delusions really lay.

He realized Josh was probably still waiting for an answer, but he'd forgotten the question. He just shook his head again.



"Trey, I wouldn't have minded. You should have told me."

"Oh really?" He felt his anger rise and welcomed it. Anger was better than the complete desolation of waiting for Josh to tell him how some of his best friends were gay. "So I should have told you? When? When did gay guys stop all being disgusting ass-fuckers and perverted baby rapers? When could I have told you and not had you spit in my face? The day after Felix was raped? A week later?"

"No, I..." Josh stopped short and then said painfully, "College, I guess." "Yeah. Which was three years after Felix."
"But you knew, back then, the whole time we were talking about gay bastards..." Josh's voice trailed off.

"Mm."

"That's... not good."

That was such an understatement, this time Trey's laugh actually held some genuine amusement.

Josh said in a careful voice, "You're okay with it now? Did you, um, see someone?"

"Like a therapist? I wasn't that broken." Trey ignored the little voice that said, Yeah, you were. He was over it now anyway. "I got lucky with my first boyfriend." He had a sudden impulse to overwhelm Josh, to prove that the reality of Trey's life would make the man recoil. He lifted his head off his knees to look at Josh's shadowy form. "It turns out a big, hard dick up my ass was a good way to convince me I was always going to be gay."

He watched closely, but Josh didn't move. He just said quietly, "Trey, if you're trying to weird me out with that shit it won't work. Remember Stef?"

"Your girlfriend Stephanie?"

"My boyfriend Stefan. I'm bi. There've been times I liked a dick in my mouth too. Or vice versa."

Trey was on his feet before he even realized he'd moved. "What about Linda?" He could hear the acid in his own voice. "Let me guess. Luke, right?"

"No," Josh said steadily. "She was Linda. Like I said, I'm bi. I like girls and guys. Although Stefan was perhaps the closest I've ever been to getting serious, if I hadn't kind of realized that the guy was willing and eager to fuck every man who walked by."

"I have to go." Trey whirled to put his back to Josh.



"Trey?"

"I have to go," he repeated. He needed to get down out of this dark airless loft and go... go somewhere. Somewhere the ground would feel solid under his feet again. "Back," he muttered. "Okay." He gritted his teeth. Fucking ironic that he'd got As in every English class, but when it counted he couldn't string two words together. "I'll be back." Somehow his hands found the top of the ladder, his feet fumbled their way onto the rungs. He went down in almost a controlled fall, hitting the floor of the barn below hard enough to jolt his knees. He was startled by the force of it, unexpectedly real when the world around him felt tenuous and disconnected. It was good, though. This at least was solid - this floor and the afternoon sun and the alpaca outside the window staring in at him through the smudged panes of glass with that perfect look of disdain.

Trey dusted himself off with rough movements of his hands. He took a deep breath and patted his pockets. Wallet, yes. Keys, thank God. And he was no longer crying too hard to drive. He stepped out of the barn door into the sunshine.

****

Josh stared across the shadowed loft after Trey. What the hell had just happened? He heard a car start and held his breath as it drove away. At least there hadn't been time for Trey to pack up his stuff before peeling out like his ass was on fire. He'd have to come back for his clothes. Unless he just asked Josh to ship them to him.

Josh restrained his immediate impulse to leap up and go after Trey again. Even he wasn't crazy enough to think that was a good idea. What he didn't get was why Trey had run. When he'd heard Trey say he was gay, Josh's heart had fucking leapt in his chest. Sure, they'd had to clear up the old misunderstanding, but as he'd approached the barn he'd imagined telling Trey he was bi himself and then... Well, he wasn't sure what he'd thought came next but it had been more like a hug or maybe kisses than the bludgeoned look he'd seen on Trey's face.

Josh began to feel a little pissed. Trey wasn't the only one outing himself here, after all. And Trey's family would be okay with it whereas his own... he shuddered at the thought. Whatever the exact opposite of okay was, that would be his parents. But he would do it. After these few days with Trey, he knew he would do it in a heartbeat, if it meant keeping Trey close.

So why had Trey reacted like Josh being bi was some kind of slap in the face? It wasn't like Trey hadn't censored things too, in their sporadic emails. Josh distinctly remembered the man rhapsodizing over an Amy and a Christine, and now he was betting those had been Adam and Chris, or Andrew and Charles. Josh



remembered having spent what in retrospect seemed like an awful lot of time wondering about those apparently mythical girls, and what they were like, and if they were good enough for Trey.

So Trey had no fucking right to get huffy about Stefan. Or any of it.

Josh scooted closer to the crack of the loft door, hoping for a little breeze to cool his overheated face. Maybe his overheated brain. He checked his cell phone but there was no text waiting, no missed calls. He leaned his head against the frame and pushed the door wider. The faded green of the pasture below him stretched to the scraggly trees that framed it. The goats were little heaps of white and brown, sprawled out snoozing in the heat under the one big maple. The whole scene had a nagging familiarity, pulling him in, making him feel like he belonged here in this dry and pastoral landscape instead of the green and bustling city where he really lived.

One of the barn cats came up the ladder, her paws almost silent on the rungs. She made her way over to him, walking a circuitous route and sniffing here and there, so as to maintain her dignity and not seem eager. But when she reached him she rubbed up against his knee with little burbles of affection. He patted her absently, running his hand over her soft fur. She arched under his hand, seeming starved for touch.

Was that his problem too? It had been a year since he'd actually dated anyone, of either gender. His anonymous hook-ups had left him cold as soon as they were over. Was he just so starved for real affection that he'd glommed onto Trey as the answer to his loneliness? And when the hell had he decided he was lonely?

The question answered itself, he decided. He decided he was lonely when he realized how much it meant to have Trey around. So no, he hadn't picked Trey as some sort of all-purpose space-filler. He'd simply realized that Trey was the piece that had been missing from his life, the person all the others had been space-fillers for.

So what am I going to do about it?

That was the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Not that he could do a
fucking thing if Trey didn't come back. The cat squeaked as his fingers tightened in her fur. She jumped away, gave him an offended look, and disappeared down the ladder. Just like Trey had.

What if that look hadn't meant Trey was just mad right now? What if it meant he was disgusted and wasn't ever going to be interested? Josh had worried for so long about telling Trey he was bi, and then that problem had solved itself. But what if instead of opening up wonderful possibilities, the real problem was that Trey



thought he was a liar and a sleaze and a waste of time. No amount of telling himself Trey had been just as sneaky and untruthful seemed to shake that worry from Josh's mind. He stared out at the peaceful landscape and felt anything but at peace.

Eventually he decided he was sticky and sweaty and tired of his damned brain going around in circles. The sun had progressed enough that the shade of the maple had moved off the roof, and the loft was becoming an oven. He pulled the door
shut and made his way down into the barn. It seemed odd having the store closed at this hour, so there was nothing immediately demanding attention. Well, other than
a skinny male cat now taking its turn winding around Josh's ankles. He stooped to
rub its ears, wondering briefly if he should reopen the store. But he still was inept with the register, and the thought of trying to run the thing without Trey there made him feel ill. Business had been good all morning. His aunt's bank account would just have to take the hit.

Eventually he wandered back into the house. The breakfast dishes were still in the sink, along with the sandwich-making detritus from lunch. He cleaned those up, and then went on to scrub the counters and wipe out the sink. He could do laundry, he supposed. He wandered into his room and picked through the heap of dirty clothes in the corner. He hadn't brought much along, so it was probably time. His jeans and shirts and underwear were mostly dark colors, and he scooped them up and made the trek to the laundry room. The washer wasn't full, and he briefly thought about going into Trey's room and adding a few of his things. That was thoughtful, right?

Although what would Trey think if he came back and found Josh had been picking through his underwear? Not a good plan. It was some measure of how off balance Josh was to even think about it. He'd never washed a lover's clothes, not even Linda's, although she'd sometimes thrown a shirt or two of his in with her own. Sharing laundry was a sappy living-together thing to do, and he and Trey were nothing like that. Not yet. Unfortunately.

He slammed the lid of the washer down and started it, realized he'd forgotten the soap, jerked the lid back up and poured in enough to probably make bubbles explode out of the machine, yanked out the most soap-coated T-shirt and rinsed some of it off in the sink, and sat down hard on the floor. Damn. Just damn Trey for making Josh's brain turn to mush. And damn the man for having been gone an hour and - he checked his cell – an hour and fifty-six minutes without calling. Not that he wasn't a grown man and entitled to... Damn.

The afternoon dragged into evening. Josh had thought he might keep himself busy cleaning but his enthusiasm for that faded pretty fast. He took a six-pack of



beers onto the porch, drank one and then decided if Trey did come home, he wanted to be sober for the fight. Or the making up or whatever was going to happen. When the bastard finally did come home.

Evening chores lost their charm when he was doing them alone. The cats ate with single-minded appetite and then vanished into the gloom without looking back. He couldn't find a single egg in the hen-house, as if the hens had gone on strike. Even the pony just wandered over to pick at the fresh hay without an eye- roll or a kick his way, like it was too much trouble to mess with Josh if Trey wasn't around to enjoy it. Realistically Josh knew it was probably the heat, but the world felt empty.

He retreated to the air-conditioned living room and his laptop, but even that couldn't hold his interest. He set it aside and curled up on the couch, letting his thoughts wander. He needed to do something about Trey, but he had to get it right. Just realizing how completely Trey fit the I-want-him slot in Josh's heart wasn't good enough. Until now Josh had mostly done casual and fun and this wasn't going to be casual, if it got to be anything at all. He wanted to prove that. He pulled out his cell phone. Still no messages.

Slowly he scrolled through his contacts list, and chose one.
"Josh?" His brother's voice was cautious. "What's up? You never just call me." It was true, they mostly did IM and then met up when they happened to be in
the same town at the same time. But this wasn't something to do at second hand. "Felix, can we talk for a bit?"
"Um, sure. Is something wrong?"

"Not wrong but..." Josh took a breath. This was the trial run, preparation for the harder ones to come. "What would you say if I told you I was dating a man?"

There was a long silence. Then just when Josh was wondering if he should hang up, Felix said tentatively, "You're gay?"

"Bi, really. But the person I'm, um, interested in is a guy." "Have you told Mom?"
"What do you think?"

"I think if you had, she would have been on the phone to me a second later telling me to delete you from my contacts list and spit on your picture."

Josh's stomach lurched, because that was what he'd figured too, although it had been years since the topic had come up between them. "You think she's still like that?"



"Yeah. Dad too."

"Fuck." He took a deep breath. "What about you?"

"I'm not sure. I mean, I don't hate gays, not anymore. I even have a couple of friends who are gay. But you're my brother and you were around back then."

The words, I'm not gay, hovered on Josh's lips, but that was a cop-out. "So am I
still your brother if I want to be with a man?"

Felix grunted irritably. "Yeah, you are. But this will be one fucking ugly fight if you tell Mom and Dad. I really don't want to get caught up in that. If you're bi, couldn't you just stick with girls?"

"No," was the simple answer.

"So this is someone special? Enough to stand up to the 'rents for? Are you sure the guy is worth it? You don't have to tell them everything about you, you know."

"Believe me, I haven't. But this time, yeah, he's worth it. I think I have to prove I'm not going to hide him." Even if Trey wasn't his yet. Even if he might never be, telling Trey that Josh had come out to his folks would be worth something, surely. Josh rubbed his eyes. Maybe he was just being a complete fool.

"Well, you'll have to wait anyway. They're on the annual camping trip. No cell service."

"Oh, yeah. Fuck." Although Josh felt mostly relief that his dad's fondness for low-cost vacations meant his parents were in the wilderness and out of contact. He might have screwed up his courage for the call, but it didn't mean he didn't feel enormous relief at a good excuse to put it off. He could tell Trey he'd tried and maybe get the credit without actually having to make the call. And wasn't that a chickenshit realization.

"So. What's this man's name?"

"Um, I don't... He's not out yet either. We're kind of stumbling into this together." God, he hoped they would do it together. "I'll let you know, if you're really going to be okay with it."

"It sure changes the way I think of you. It'll take some getting used to. But if this guy can make you even consider calling Mom and Dad and saying you're gay, he must be something else."

"Yeah," Josh said helplessly. "He is."

**** CHAPTER 5



Trey came in as quietly as he could. The house was dark and silent. It was still warm outside, and the entry felt chilly with the AC cranked high. Trey closed and locked the door and headed for the stairs. There was a creaking sound from the living room and he froze. As his eyes adapted to the low light, he realized that the dark shape on one end of the couch was Josh.

Trey sighed and headed over there instead. He'd hoped for more time, for some sleep and the chance to get his head back together, although he wasn't really sure any amount of delay would be enough. So perhaps this was as good a time as any. He seated himself in the recliner. Josh was looking at him, eyes open and tinted blue in the light from the glowing numbers of the digital clock on the DVD player, but he said nothing.

The silence had stretched for a while before Trey muttered, "I figured you'd be in bed by now."

"Couldn't sleep. It's pretty late for you to be getting back."

Trey glanced at his watch, even though he knew perfectly well it was after midnight. "I guess."

"I was worried. A bit."

"Sorry." A dozen times he'd pulled his phone out to call Josh or at least text him, and a dozen times he'd stared at the blank screen and put it away.

Josh shook his head. "You don't really have to check in with me." "I was driving around mostly. For hours."
"Wastes a lot of gas." Josh bit the words off short. Trey could hear the strain in his voice. "Jesus, I don't know what scares me more, still hearing my father's words come out of my own mouth after all these years, or having to call Dad and tell him I'm bi."

Having to do what? Trey shook his head irritably. "You're not your dad, even if you are a cheap bastard too. And why would you tell him? If the person you eventually fall in love with happens to be a girl you'll never even have to mention it."

"I didn't fall in love with a girl, though."

Trey froze. That couldn't mean what it sounded like. It was just stupid unquenchable hope on his part, that bit that had survived his anger and bitterness and frustration and all the hours of driving around convincing himself Josh was still just a friend. The silence dragged out.

"Trey?" Josh's voice was thin.



"I'm going to bed," Trey said, standing abruptly. Because he couldn't handle what was coming. He didn't want to hear about Stef or whomever Josh thought he loved. And just as certainly he didn't want to hear Josh suggest they try each other out, for the three days they had left.

"Wait." Josh's voice held a snap of command, and Trey froze obediently as he had in the past.

Josh stood slowly and took two steps toward him, close enough that Trey could feel the heat of his body in the chill of the room. He closed his eyes.

"Trey, I told Felix I was gay."

"I bet you said bi," Trey snapped without opening his eyes, and then the words sank in. "Shit. You didn't. What did he say? Will he tell your folks?"

"Okay, yeah, I said bi, but I told him I was involved with a man. And he's okay with it I think."

Trey felt like he was always a sentence behind in this conversation. "Involved with what man?"

"I didn't say a name." "No, I mean who...?"
"Jesus, Trey, don't you know? You. I want you. If there's any chance at all."

Trey just stood there and heard those impossible words echo in his head. For
ten years he'd imagined hearing that from Josh, and now he didn't think he believed it. "You never said anything."

"How could I? Until this afternoon, I figured you would hit the road two minutes after I made a pass at you. If you didn't punch my face in first."
Okay, maybe that was true, but - "You didn't say it in the loft either." "Because you ran away before I got to that part." Josh's voice sharpened.
"Dammit, Trey, I barely got through telling you I'd already had a boyfriend and you
looked at me like you hated me and ran. When was I supposed to find the right moment to ask you out?"

"I didn't hate you." That had been pure blinding jealousy. Okay, maybe with some anger because Trey's painful decade-long secret had been dragged out into the light only to find that the drama of the moment had become a farce.

"Whatever. You glared and you ran. And I've been waiting fucking hours for you to come home."

"I'm here now." Trey's voice cracked on the last word.



"Yeah. Look at me though?"

He forced his eyes open and looked. It was blessedly dim. Josh was just a shadowy bulk, with what light there was behind him. Josh took a half step closer, until they almost touched.

"Trey, I've missed you so fucking much, for so long. I never said it but... those first months after we moved, I used to cry at night. I pretended I was missing Hannah and home and all. But mainly it was you."

"I'm sorry." Trey reached out and put a hand on Josh's arm. The heat of solid muscle warmed his palm. "I missed you too." Major understatement. At first his teenage grief and loss had been tempered with a touch of relief. The one good thing about Josh's absence was that Trey could stop pretending and hiding, stop stepping back and shoving his feelings out of sight with Josh inches away and yet
completely out of reach. When Josh moved and really was too far away to touch, Trey had thought that would make things easier. It turned out to just be a different kind of hard.

"I didn't realize back then," Josh said. "I was so blind. I didn't see it even when I was dating Stefan who was dark-haired and a couple of inches taller and smarter than me and almost had me hooked. I didn't realize that I was glad he had a fatal flaw, because then I didn't have to think about why he wasn't enough. He was never going to measure up, because he wasn't you."

"Bullshit." Trey couldn't believe this, didn't dare. "You never once looked at me like that. Believe me, I'd have known."

"Not back then, no. I told you, it was buried pretty deep. We were both damned certain we weren't gay." Josh faltered. "Or I was oblivious, and you were forced to lie through your teeth. I'm sorry about that too."

"Not your fault. Not your doing, that was all me."
"Tell me that if I hadn't been such a bigot you'd still have stayed in the closet." "I still might have." Trey was never sure what had driven him to act like a red-
necked straight boy, but the self-loathing had been deep. That was not something he was going to let Josh see tonight. Or maybe ever. "Anyway I can't believe..."

His words were cut short as Josh reached out and laid a hand against Trey's face. Just the touch of that warm palm on his cheek caught him up short. Very slowly, Josh slid his fingers back into Trey's hair, cupping his skull. Then Josh leaned forward and kissed him.

Trey closed his eyes and let it happen. If he was dreaming and he was
somehow going to pay for this in the aftermath of cold morning light, then so be it;



he could no more deny Josh his mouth than he could stop breathing. But Josh didn't demand anything. He brushed Trey's lips softly, followed by light dry kisses that tickled along Trey's jaw and then landed again on his waiting mouth without opening it.

Trey said roughly, "Is that all you've got?"

He heard Josh's intake of breath. "No." And then Trey was being taken, aggressively, finally. Josh's hand behind his head clamped to his skull like a vise, and Josh's other arm yanked him in close. Trey's mouth was spread and filled with Josh's tongue. He opened his eyes, because he needed to see Josh too, needed all his senses filled with Josh.

At this range in the dim light, there was only a blur of tanned skin and dark eyebrow, and the gleam of Josh's grey eyes. Trey wanted to laugh at himself for finding that so wonderful, but he had no breath for laughing and no room in the escalating heat of his body for regret. Josh kissed him as if he was starving, and the hardness of his body pressed to Trey's made the same claim.

Trey wrenched free and backed up a step.

Josh stood blinking at him. "What? I'm sorry. You said... I thought you wanted..."

"I did. I do. Too much." Trey backed up another step so he wouldn't reach for
Josh. "So, if it's true confession time. My turn."

"You don't have to say anything."

"Shut up." Trey strode over to the window and yanked back the curtain further. The moonlight brightened the room, but he stared out into the yard and didn't look toward Josh. Hard enough to say this without looking at the man. "I can't do this if you're just trying us out. If it's because you haven't got laid in a while and you
think a three day fuck with someone handy might scratch the itch." Sure Josh had said the word 'love' that Trey had waited ten years to hear, but Trey didn't dare let himself believe it. This was too close to fantasy, too deep into the aching decade- long desires of his heart. If it went wrong... How many lovers had Josh had in
those ten years? How many of them had he said 'love' to? Trey was damned if he was going to be one of them.

"I don't think of you like that. Dammit, Trey!"

"But I know you. Well, I thought I did. I guess you're more complicated than I realized, but you like sex. You've had a dozen girls...people who you were fucking that you mentioned in your emails over the years, and probably another dozen I never heard about."



"Or more. You're not one of them." "Not yet. And I won't be. I can't." "Trey."
He took a deep breath and said it in one fast rush. "Josh, damn you, I've been in love with you since we were both thirteen and I can't just be a quick fuck buddy you'll walk away from three days from now."

Josh's voice shook when he said, "You love me?"

"I said I'm in love with you, always have been. That's a different thing. I haven't been around you enough in the last eight years to love you right. It's been years since I really knew you, but I could never let you go."

"I don't want you to let go."

Trey turned to look at him then. The hopeful, happy look on Josh's face almost hurt. "What do you think this is, Josh? You live on the east coast, I live on the west. We have three more days here on Aunt Julie's farm and then we're going to be three thousand miles apart. This has to be just a summer fling for you." His voice shook on the last words, because despite himself hope was rising like a tide of warmth in him.

"I'll move," Josh said quickly. "No, really," he plowed on over Trey's snort of disbelief. "I've realized I hate the east coast anyway. Too busy, too loud, too cold in the winter. This is home."

"You would move back out here just for me?" The last word was a squeak, and
Trey was glad the darkness hid his blush. He sounded like a fucking teenage girl.

"Sure. Hell, I was, I am going to come out to my parents for you. Moving is nothing. Providing I have you. I don't know what to do to convince you of that."

Trey knew just how bad an idea it was but he said it anyway. "You could kiss me some more."

"No." Josh's voice was low but firm. "This time you have to kiss me."

There were eight feet of space between them. Trey had time to change his mind twice as he slowly crossed the distance. But in the end he stood in front of Josh, his Josh, and took his face between both hands and kissed him. This kiss was hot but not as hungry. They took turns with the play of tongues, with tiny nips to lips and neck before meeting again in the kiss. This time when they broke it, Trey leaned against Josh, his head lowered to the curve of Josh's neck. Josh wrapped strong arms around him and they stood there, rocking together slowly.

Trey could feel Josh's cock hard against his. He breathed in the scent of Josh's



neck, moving his lips gently against smooth skin and up to where he could claim the scrape of stubble across his mouth. Josh made a soft sound and pulled him in closer. "Trey? Can we go upstairs?"

"Don't get mad."

"What?" Josh sounded wary.

Trey thought that question should have been What now? and he wouldn't have blamed Josh. But Trey felt like he was way more invested than Josh, invested in all the years and the hiding and lies to his parents and all the world, just to hold onto some scrap of Josh through all that time. He felt like his whole life was hanging on this, where Josh might be just playing with something new. Although if Josh really was coming out to his family that was probably unfair. Definitely unfair, but still Trey couldn't help how he felt. "I want to hold you and kiss you for as long as I can stand it, but I don't want to sleep with you tonight."

"Why not?" Josh hesitated and then said, "You don't trust me?"

"I don't trust myself." Trey didn't feel like he could explain it. He just felt a familiar darkness looming, that companion of all the long years when he wanted Josh with a ferocity that was terrifying, and loathed that wanting with equal intensity. He should have been ecstatic right now. Josh was in his arms, asking to take him to bed. It was the stuff of a thousand fantasies. But Trey felt weak and shaken. If this somehow didn't work, if it didn't last, he wasn't sure he would survive giving up his hopes again. "I need a little time. Not because I don't want you." He took Josh's hand off his ass and pressed it over the hard, erect proof of how much he did want the man. "But I need a little time."

"Okay." Josh seemed to be working hard to hide his disappointment, but it echoed in his voice.

Trey grabbed him in a tight hug and laid a bruising kiss on his mouth. "Just a little time, I swear." Another hard kiss. "When we finally fuck," and okay, his voice broke on that one too, dammit. "When I have you in my bed I want it to be right. I want to be able to concentrate on you and not be tired and wrung out and dirty and messed up in my head."

"I don't mind dirty." Trust Josh to fasten on the least important thing. But at least his voice sounded more indulgent now than hurt.

Trey pulled him into another kiss. They took their time. Josh was clearly trying to convince Trey, with mouth and body and skillful touches of his hands, that his scruples were unnecessary. And the man had accumulated some serious skills in that department. Trey responded in kind, but didn't quite let himself drown in it.



Eventually he pulled loose again.

"Okay. Bed." At the rakish look Josh gave him he emphasized, "Separately. And I want a shower first."

Josh's eyes tracked down to where Trey's erection was straining painfully against his jeans. "Tell me you're not going to take care of that in the shower. I don't see why you won't let me get on my knees and do it for you."

Trey's eyes almost crossed at that picture, but he shook his head. "Not yet. Please, Josh."

He hadn't meant to beg, but it was clearly the right thing, because Josh stopped reaching for him and nodded. "And tomorrow?"

"What happens, happens."
Josh's grin was feral in the moonlight. "That sounds like a challenge." Trey said tiredly, "It's not meant to be." An acknowledgment of surrender,
maybe.

"I'm sorry." Now Josh did grab him but it was a brusque guy-hug, bracing and comforting. "I'm a selfish bastard with no patience, you know that. Go have your shower. But maybe save me some hot water?"

"I can do that." Not like it was going to take him more than a couple of minutes to jerk off, once he let himself go.

The water streamed over Trey's head in a comforting rush. His body throbbed with tension. He was as hard as he'd ever been, and a couple of rough pulls with the image of Josh dropping to his knees was more than enough to make him spill over his fist. Afterward he leaned against the tiles and wondered why the hell he'd opted for that instead of the real thing. Clearly his head was still more screwed up than he thought. He stepped out, dried off, and knocked on Josh's door on the way to his room. "Bathroom's yours."

Josh called thanks, but didn't open his door until after Trey's was closed. Trey tossed the towel over his pillow for his still-wet hair, and climbed into bed in his boxers. Down the hall he heard the shower come on. He was exhausted and confused, and under that was a terrified elation he was trying not to acknowledge. He lay on the soft sheets, counting his breaths and not letting his thoughts wander, until the water shut off, doors clicked, and the house was still. He stopped counting then, but for a long time afterwards his mind chased the elusive edges of sleep with images of Josh cycling in an endless slideshow through his brain.

****



Josh woke to the early light streaming in his window. He felt unaccountably logy and tired, until a glance at his bedside clock told him it was only six AM. He was about to drift back to sleep when his memory caught up with him. He sat up abruptly, unsure whether to cheer, scream or throw up. Had he really outed himself to Felix? And declared his love to Trey? He wasn't sure which one was scarier. No, that was a lie. Trey was definitely scarier, especially if it turned out he really didn't return the feeling. But Trey had said he'd been in love with Josh for years. So
surely they could work it out?

Josh wondered what would happen if he just marched into Trey's room and climbed into bed with him. His dick was very optimistic about that scenario, but
his head reminded him he'd promised to give Trey space. That idea seemed dumber than ever in the morning light, especially because their remaining few days
together here were getting shorter by the hour. But he'd promised.

He lay down slowly and deliberately, pulling up the covers. He'd almost managed to find oblivion when his door clicked. He jerked his head up and saw the door gradually swing open. For a long minute Trey just stood in the doorway and they looked at each other. Josh held his breath and let his eyes roam over Trey's body. He'd seen the man almost naked yesterday, wearing nothing but a Speedo
and salt water. Yet that was somehow different from having Trey standing in his bedroom door with his dark hair tousled and a pair of blue boxers sagging low on his hips.

For a minute, Josh was almost intimidated by the perfection of his best friend's body. As teenagers they'd both been skinny and wiry, although fit enough from baseball and swimming and generally horsing around outside. But while Josh had stayed lean, Trey's body showed the effect of some serious gym time. His biceps were rounded, his stomach had the ripples of a six-pack, his thighs were thicker
and stronger than Josh's. Trey's pecs were flat and sculpted, his nipples tight brown nubs, and oh, yeah, feeling intimidated was fading fast in a wave of pure unadulterated lust.

Josh fought it down enough to say, "Trey? Everything okay?"

Trey stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Silently he walked to the bed and stood looking down at Josh. Josh's eyes couldn't help tracking down to the hard cock tenting those blue boxers but he forced them up to meet Trey's again. Trey said roughly, "Do you still want me?"

Josh was going to ask what kind of question that was, but Trey's eyes were serious so he said simply, "Yes. Always."

"Okay." Trey put his hands to his hips and shucked the boxers. His long slender



cock bobbed free of its fabric prison. Josh swallowed hard and scooted over to make room in the bed. He flipped the covers back. Trey crawled in and lay on his side looking at Josh, and then leaned forward for a kiss.

Josh broke all previous self-control records by keeping it short and dry and then backing away enough to say, "Maybe we should talk."

Trey grinned at him, but the sexy twist of his lips didn't quite match his eyes. "You have me naked and hard in your bed and you want to talk? Are you sure you're gay? I mean, bi?"

"Oh, I'm sure." Josh slid his hand over that jutting erection, feeling Trey's silky skin, Trey's dick, under his palm. But after one stroke that made Trey shudder he let go again. "I just want to make sure you're not, like, doing this just because I want to."

Trey took Josh's wrist and lifted his hand back where it had been. "Does that feel like I don't want it?"

Josh slid his hand slowly up and over. "So what changed since last night?"

Trey shrugged uncomfortably. "I'm not sure. I guess, I tried to figure out what I was waiting for, what you could do to make me really believe this would work out long term. And I couldn't come up with anything. So I thought, if I was waiting for you to make some gesture even I hadn't thought of, then that was pretty much cutting off my nose to spite my face. Somewhere around four AM I decided that
the only way I was going to get any sleep was if I just made up my mind to jump your bones in the morning and let whatever happens happen."

Josh rolled a little further to get both hands into play, stroking Trey's soft furry balls as he pumped him lightly. Trey grunted and spread his legs wider. Josh bent over and kissed him and this time he nudged Trey's mouth open and invaded with his tongue. Josh kissed slowly, making it hot and wet, until Trey was panting. Then Josh looked down at him. He reached across Trey to the nightstand and came back with his cell phone.

Trey blinked at him. "That's not a condom."

Josh just smiled and hit send a couple of times. His brother's voice was irritated. "Do you know what time it is?"

Josh glanced at the clock. "It's eight in the morning in Chicago. What kind of slug are you?"

"The kind that has the week off and was planning to sleep in every single day." Josh hit the speaker button and said, "Hey Felix, remember what I told you



yesterday?" "About..."
"About being bi and falling for a man, yeah." "Hard to forget," Felix grunted.
Josh looked over at Trey, whose face was a stunned blank. Josh raised his eyebrows, and said, "It's pretty serious."

"Well I figured," Felix returned. "Or you wouldn't have even brought up the subject. What do you need? I told you, I'm not gonna help you tell Mom and Dad."

"Do you want to know who he is?"

Trey went pale and shook his head violently. On the phone Felix said, "Do I
know him?"

"Yeah, never mind," Josh said. "I really called to find out if you know when
Mom and Dad get back to civilization."

"Saturday afternoon. You're seriously going to tell them?"

Josh couldn't help the stutter of panic in his chest but he said, "Yeah. First chance I get."

"Better go home first and get anything you don't want to see on a bonfire." Josh sighed. "I don't think there's anything I can't live without."
"Well, I get dibs on your snowboards then."

"Shit, are those still there?" Well, it wasn't as if he was going to do a lot of boarding if he moved to LA. "Hell, yeah, knock yourself out."

"Josh." Felix's voice got slow and serious. "Are you sure this guy is worth it? You can't take this back once you tell Mom."

"I'm sure," Josh said, his eyes on Trey. "I'd tell the whole world about him." So there, Trey, your turn to ante up.

Even with that thought, he was startled when Trey reached out and took the phone from his hand. Trey's voice was so unlike himself that even Josh would have had a hard time identifying his shaky, "Hello, Felix."

"Um, who is this?"

Josh could almost see the thought of one last chance to back out flash across
Trey's face before he said, "It's Trey. Holgersen."

"Trey? Holy shit, Trey? You mean, you and Josh...?"



"Yeah. Me and Josh."

"Wow. Shit. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm just surprised." "I'm sorry. I'll understand if you don't like it."
"I didn't say that." Josh heard Felix's voice get that little drawl he used to cover emotions. "It's just unexpected. But if Josh can be gay, I don't see why you can't. You do know our mom will hit the roof though? Maybe you can persuade Josh to keep quiet for a while."

Trey's eyes met his and Josh shook his head firmly. "I don't think I can do that," Trey said.
"Damn." There was a moment of silence. "You'll be around for him afterward?" "As long as he wants me."
"Okay. Okay, give me back to Josh again."

Trey handed the phone back. Josh left the speaker on. No secrets here. Felix said, "Hey, big brother."
"Hey."

"So, you really love him?" "I really do."
"I didn't even know you guys were spending time together again. You used to be inseparable but... were you, you know, back then?"
"This is new," Josh said steadily. "Or at least, I didn't know it back then." "Mm. Well, I don't really want to get involved, but if you need to talk to
someone after Dad stabs you in the gut and Mom burns you in effigy you can call
me."
"Thanks." He meant that sincerely. "Really, thanks, Felix. It means a lot." "Yeah, well, it's a weird fucking world. If you take up decorating or ballroom
dancing I don't want to hear about it."

"No problem. Thanks again. Go back to sleep."

"Like that's happening. Bastard." Felix's voice cut off and the phone went silent.

Josh set it on the bedside table and raised an eyebrow at Trey. Trey's erection had dropped to half-mast during the phone call but as Josh looked him over that pretty dick began to revive. Josh smiled. Trey said, "You actually have condoms



somewhere?"

"I'm sure there's a couple in my bag."

"Why don't you go get one and then come here and fuck me?"

Josh bit his lip because there was his other elephant, tap dancing around the room. Instead of saying no, he said, "Why rush? I want to taste every inch of you."

"Or maybe you could taste every inch of me," Trey agreed. He ran a finger up his cock, which hardened more at his touch. "Especially these seven inches."

"Don't tell me you measured." Josh laid a palm on Trey's chest over his nipple and felt the nub tighten under his hand.

"Doesn't every guy?" Trey's breath caught as Josh kneaded his chest, bringing his second hand to join the first, pinching at both nipples. "Oh yeah, nice."

Josh gave him a light shove. "Lie down flat. I was serious. I want to lick you all over."

"An offer I can't...ah...refuse." Trey gasped as Josh slid his hands up to pin his shoulders to the bed and leaned in to lick slowly up Trey's neck.

"Mm." Josh hummed against Trey's skin, brushing his lips over the textures of Trey, interspersed with little flicks of his tongue. He took his time, mapping this new, mature body of his best friend. A couple of times, he had a moment of disbelief, a moment when he brushed his cheek against Trey's hair, or looked up from biting his lover's chest to meet his eyes, and thought, Wait, this is Trey! But as he became immersed in the smells and textures of the man, the strangeness vanished. This was Trey, and this was home.

He was only half-hard himself. His whole attention was on this odd warmth building in him, affection, completion, and the near-desperate need to please and satisfy Trey. He slid lower, straddling Trey's thighs and took Trey's cock in his mouth, sucking hard to make a tight space for that sweet invasion. Slowly, bobbing wetly up and down, he relaxed his mouth and throat and let Trey in.

Trey's hands landed on his head as Josh began to suck him off in earnest. "Wait." Trey's voice was hoarse. "Gonna come if you don't slow down."

"Good," Josh mumbled around a mouth wonderfully full. "But you..."
Nope. Josh put everything he had into it, using his tongue and mouth with wild abandon to the job of getting Trey Holgersen to lose his mind. Trey was whimpering continuously and shoving his cock almost violently into Josh's mouth by the time Josh was ready to change positions.



He pulled off, ignoring Trey's gasp of, "Fuck, don't stop." Grabbing Trey's legs he pulled him to the edge of the bed, spread him wide and dropped to his knees at the bedside. In this position he had access to every inch of Trey. He forced those hard thighs wider and used his fingers to stroke Trey's balls and press against his perineum while he licked and nipped and finally sucked Trey back in deep. He found a rhythm, of hands and mouth and breath, in low moans and firm touches and the wet, sloppy slide of lips on hard flesh.

He'd meant this to be just about Trey, but kneeling here, immersed in the man, Josh was suddenly more aroused than he'd ever been in his life. He thrust his hips helplessly forward, humping the nubby fabric of the dangling bedspread as he began deep fast strokes that had them both grunting in rhythm. Josh could feel his climax already close, and he held his breath, determined to force it back. He'd had lots of girls and not a few guys, and none of then had done this to them. Not one of those pretty, agile, talented lovers had made him almost lose himself so fast with almost no touch. It was the sight of Trey, his Trey, that was pulling him to the
brink. His Trey naked and gasping, his body curled for Josh to take, his face open and needy and flushed with wanting Josh.

Josh's sounds matched Trey's shortening breath, climbing fast. Trey gave a whimper and spread his legs wider, stretching down to clamp his fingers on Josh's head, demanding still more speed. Josh suddenly needed to look at Trey, almost more than he needed to come. He jerked out of Trey's grasp, pulling his mouth up and off, with as much suction as he could get, and closed his fingers around Trey instead in frantic rhythm. Kneeling higher, he dropped his other hand to his own cock, as he stared at Trey's flushed face, rolling side to side on the pillow.

Trey's eyes snapped open, staring right into Josh's. Then he cried out softly, almost in wonder, and spilled into Josh's hand and over his own chest in pulses of milky cum. Josh managed three more hard pulls on his cock before the sight and sound of Trey's pleasure did him in, and he felt the sizzling fire of his own release. He shook, gasping, hips shuddering in against the edge of the bed, pinned in place by the intensity of his pleasure. He dropped his face to the hollow of Trey's hip, nuzzling into the silky, sticky skin there. Vaguely he was aware of Trey's hands rubbing over his head and Trey's voice murmuring his name over and over.

Slowly the spasms left Josh and he sagged, sliding to sit on the floor. Trey's thighs eased down too. After a moment, Josh hauled himself up on the bed to stretch out, draped along the length of Trey's body. Trey wrapped his arms around Josh and gathered him in. Josh lowered his face to the crook of Trey's neck and let himself lie there, held and surrounded by Trey, with the man's hair in his face and the smell of sweaty male skin in his nose and the sound of Trey's rough breaths



slowly steadying down beside his ear. A week ago he could not have imagined this. Now it was all he wanted.

"Wow," Trey eventually whispered. "Oh, yeah."
"That was incredible. You are bar none the most talented guy to have ever sucked me into oblivion."

Josh hoped that was true, but he said, "Maybe it's just been a while for you." He didn't want to know, except dammit he did. He kept his face against Trey's neck.

"More than a year. But I still have to say, no one has ever made it feel like that. Holy God. If I didn't want to rip them limb from limb for touching you, I would thank your previous lovers."

"Mm." Josh would have liked to have left it there. But he could hear the question lurking behind the little rise in Trey's voice, and he was determined to play fair. "Only about three weeks for me. But she was just a one-night stand. There's been no one special for a long time, at least a year. And no guys for almost two years."

"So the last serious one was a girl?"

"Yeah. Linda. I told you about her. And she wasn't really serious. More like comfortable." Josh had never taken her home to his parents. He'd never taken any of them home. He felt a little pain in his chest to realize that the one person he did
want to bring with him would never be allowed in the door unless they lied through their teeth about what they were to each other.

"But you're really sure you don't want to go the easy route, have a wife, maybe kids someday."

"Jesus. No. As soon as I get my breath back I'll prove it to you some more, if you want me too."

"I'm not sure I can take more right now." Trey squirmed onto his side and reached for the box of tissues. They each managed a half-hearted mop up. Then Trey tossed his handful over his shoulder and doubled a pillow up under his head. Josh rolled up next to him so they could talk face to face. Trey threw a leg over Josh's thigh and laced their fingers together, pulling Josh's hand against his chest. Trey met Josh's eyes and then dropped his gaze to their linked hands. He raised Josh's fingers to his lips and pressed a kiss home. He took a deep breath. "This still doesn't feel real, you know. I've imagined it for so long, it's like some kind of delusional fantasy."



Josh tried to keep it light. "I've always thought you were kind of deluded."

"If I'm deluded, then I'm going to wake up back in my condo, eating two dozen cookies all by myself while you run Aunt Julie's store here on your own."

"Not a chance." Josh shuddered at the thought. "You're sane, completely sane, and you'll be manning the cash register in a couple of hours."

Trey chuckled, He moved a little closer and let go of Josh's hand to trace lightly over his shoulder and arm. "Now what?"

"Before or after I make you pass out from the next best blow job of your life?" "Boasting much?"
"Try me."

"Ngh." Josh noticed that little grunt of Trey's was accompanied by a definite twitch of renewed interest. But Trey added, "I meant later."

"Today's Friday. Aunt Julie and Uncle Ted get back Sunday morning. My flight out of LA is Sunday evening."

"Doesn't give us much time."

"So we won't waste it. And then we'll figure something long-term out. I swear, this won't be all there is."

Trey nodded slowly. Josh wasn't sure the man was convinced they were in this to stay. For all Trey's talk of loving Josh since they were kids, Trey kept backing off. Josh needed to convince him that this was it. This wasn't some whim or new attraction but a kind of coming home for Josh too. It had to be, to make him feel like nothing else in the world mattered. Sure they had differences, sure there would be obstacles, but since he'd said those words to Trey that he'd never said to anyone else, even Stef, Josh had been certain. Loving Trey, knowing this was it, had centered Josh right in the heart of the universe. Now he just needed Trey to be as sure.

He didn't know what else he could say, or do. Coming out to his parents would no doubt help, but he felt a little ill at the thought. He would do it, but he was so,
so glad they would have a couple of days of peace first. For right now, all he could
think of was to slide down in the bed and lay a kiss on the sticky head of Trey's dick where it lay against his thigh. Trey made a quiet sound and laid his hands lightly back on Josh's head. Trey's dick wasn't hard, and that was good. Josh took the whole of it in his mouth, rolling warm soft flesh over his tongue. But it wasn't long before Trey responded to that touch and Josh had to come up for air. He
kissed Trey's wrist and then the fuzzy curve of his thigh. Then Josh reached back in



memory for all the other things Stefan had taught him in almost a year together, to make good on his boast about the second blowjob.

**** CHAPTER 6
Trey looked around and caught sight of Josh over by the china cabinets, showing a customer the clever inserts in a silverware drawer. Josh looked so damned good. They'd managed two rounds of hot hungry-mouthed sex, the second a long, slow exchange of pleasure that finished up even more explosive than the first time, and yet all that hadn't done anything to assuage the heat he felt every time he looked at Josh. Even in a pair of cheap slacks and a basic button-down, Josh pulled Trey's attention like a magnet. The way he was standing, bent over just enough to outline the curve of his ass through the khaki – damn. Trey tried to adjust himself unobtrusively. As if drawn by Trey's gaze, Josh looked up and their
eyes met. That teasing little smile said Josh had noticed the awkward way Trey was sitting. And liked it. Damn.

Trey got back to his feet. The store had been busy all day. There weren't a lot of customers but the ones who were there seemed to be in search of their personal
holy grails, and then determined to bargain until the cows came home to get a few pennies off the price. When you were buying a chipped enamel pot for two dollars, why it was worth ten minutes to try to get fifty cents knocked off was beyond him. Maybe it was the entertainment value, or the rush of getting the better of the young
whippersnapper behind the counter. It was their loss that this whippersnapper didn't actually care whether the pot got sold, and could just hold the line. He'd found
most of them eventually made the purchase at the full price anyway.

The afternoon was dragging on. He and Josh hadn't had a real private moment since they had sucked each other crazy and then rushed through separate showers. Josh hadn't been lying about his oral skills. He might not have been the most technically skilled lover Trey had ever had, but he came close. The fact that this was Josh, paying sweet, rapt attention that said Trey's pleasure was the most vital thing to him – that was infinitely sexier than any other guy with an agile tongue and no gag reflex. Trey had finally come so hard he'd almost passed out. And then it had been his turn to see how hard he could make Josh finish. At the end, when
Josh had been begging and shaking, Josh had reached down and tried to pull Trey's mouth off him to come. But Trey had just swallowed him down, loving the tastes and sound and smells of Josh coming deep in his throat.

Josh got all worried and insisted he would get tested again the instant he got home. Trey'd pointed out the tiny amount of risk, promised to test again too even if he hadn't fucked around the way Josh had, and shut him up with a kiss. They'd lain



there, their bodies twined in a tight embrace. Trey had felt loved and taken and filled with Josh's cum, and nothing was going to spoil that moment. They'd drifted, getting close to sleep together, until the pony's whinny from the field reminded them that chores and work awaited.

Trey sighed and stepped closer to the display counter. Just thinking about being in bed with Josh was making him hard again. He'd been very glad of the concealment of the waist-high wooden case all day. But despite the sweetness of their morning together, and that undeniable heat, he was also still floating on an air of unreality. This was his fantasy from high-school and college and all the years afterward. I meet Josh somewhere, and he reveals to me that he's gay too, and he's really always loved me. He kisses me and says we'll be together forever. After tenth grade he'd added the sucks me until I explode part, and hey, they'd done that too. But Trey still couldn't make himself quite believe it.

He turned to the customer who was tapping on the case, asking about the amethyst rings. Trey didn't know amethyst from coal, but he pulled out the tray and let her look through it. Amethyst appeared to be purple. Lavender even. Who knew. Should he pick out an amethyst ring for Josh and ask the man to wear it? Would
that make it sink in?

He snorted at himself, and the customer looked up at him in surprise, then hastily put back the ring she'd been inspecting and picked up the previous one. Oops, sorry lady. It's not you, it's me. He held back another snort. Don't scare off the customers.

By the time they closed the doors he was exhausted and restless, which wasn't a good combination. He stepped out into the cooling daylight and waited for Josh to set the alarm and lock up behind them. Clouds had moved in but there were still a couple of hours before sundown. "We should go somewhere," he said.

Josh stared at him. "I was thinking chores, grabbing a bite, and flipping a coin between your bed and mine."

That sounded good too, but Trey shook his head. "I don't want to just head back to bed with you."

"I don't get it." Josh tentatively touched his arm. "I thought after this morning, we were good."

Trey caught Josh's fingers in a firm grip, glanced around the empty parking area, and then moved that warm strong hand to his ass. He put his hand flat over Josh's to keep it there. "We are. I do want you. Hell, you know that, you've been laughing at me popping a boner all day. But I don't want this to be about sex, or at least not just about sex. We have two days and I feel like I hardly know you."



"We've been together almost a week. We've talked about a lot of shit."

"The unimportant stuff, yeah." Trey shrugged. "Or maybe it is important to know that you love the Mets and you still drink your coffee black and that you are still cheaper than dirt even though you don't agree with your father about much of anything else. But that's not all I want to know."
Josh rubbed Trey's ass with gentle circles and moved in closer. "Ask me then." "Not here. Not now. Fuck." Trey turned away. "I'm turning into such a girl. I
don't know what I want. All I know is you still seem like the guy in my fantasies,
the one who will give me that happy ever after with rainbows and balloons. It can't be real. I don't know how to make it feel real."

Josh let go of his ass and ran a hand over his own short hair. "I don't either. It feels real enough to me. I could suck you again; I guarantee it wouldn't feel like rainbows."

Trey shook his head even as his cock hardened optimistically at the thought. "I'm not sure that would help. My dick already believes in you. It's the rest of me that isn't sure."

"Maybe your first idea was right. We should pack a couple of sandwiches and go somewhere and talk. Or do you want to go eat in a restaurant, and be out together? I could kiss you in front of the waitresses. Would that help?"

Trey punched him in the ribs lightly. "Get serious."

"I was. I want to know what you need. I came out to Felix. I'll come out to my folks as soon as they get back. I'll come out to the world for you."

"Holy shit." Trey suddenly couldn't get his breath. All kinds of images were flashing through his imagination and none of them were good.

"What?" Josh took his arm. "What did I say?" "You're really going to come out to your parents?" "Did you think I was lying to Felix?"
"I thought... I don't know, I figured you'd want more time, maybe see how things worked out, before taking that kind of step."

"I don't need more time to be sure about us," Josh said, and then his expression got closed and rigid. "Unless you do."

"No. God no." Trey turned back and leaned down to hide his face against Josh's shoulder. Josh's arms came round him comfortingly. Trey whispered, "For ten years the thing I was most afraid of in all the world was you finding out I was gay and



had a crush on you. I took three fucking unnecessary trips to Pittsburgh so as not to be in town when you were, because I didn't dare be around you. I stopped calling you because I couldn't control my voice, I reread my emails three times before sending, I invented blond girls with big tits..."

"You intentionally went to Pittsburgh?" Josh interrupted. "We have a supplier there. It was believable."
"You couldn't go to, like, Vegas, and just tell me you were in Pittsburgh?" "No." Trey closed his eyes and pressed his face harder against Josh's skin.
Josh rubbed his cheek up and down against Trey's hair. "We have been fucked up, haven't we?"

"Mostly me."

"Only because I didn't realize what I was missing. You were ahead of me. Anyway I was fucked up in other ways."

Trey choked a laugh. It wasn't funny, but it felt that way.

Josh pushed him gently upright. "Look. I'll feed the critters. You make some sandwiches, because yours are better. Pack some beer and stuff and we'll go to the beach."
"Okay." That was damned familiar too, following Josh's lead, and it felt right. Josh drove them back to the beach they had found on the Fourth. There were
still a few cars in the lot, but the cloud cover and rising wind had chased off most
of the swimmers. Josh grabbed the fabric cooler with the beer, slung the strap over his shoulder, and headed for the steps down to the sand, leaving Trey to come along behind him with the food. Josh waited at the foot of the stairs for Trey to
catch up. As Trey stepped down onto the beach, Josh cupped Trey's head in one hand and drew him in for a kiss. Trey couldn't help stiffening for a moment, but then he relaxed into it. So good.

Josh slipped off his sneakers and tied the laces to the cooler. He hefted it in invitation for Trey to do the same thing. The sand was cool against Trey's bare feet and the waves on the rocks crashed and drained with rhythmic voices as they walked along. Their sneakers bumped against each other, dangling from the cooler above Josh's hip. Bumping uglies. Trey wasn't sure where the phrase came from but it was oddly reassuring to see his new shoes next to Josh's battered ones. He leaned in until their arms brushed together too.

There were still several couples sitting on the beach, hanging out on sandy towels waiting for the sunset. A woman jogged easily along the water, her yellow



Lab panting happily at her side. A family with three young boys was trying vainly to corral children, toys, towels and cooler for the trip back up the stairs. Josh said, "Let's walk further down past the rocks."

The curve of sandy shore petered out into tumbled fingers of stone and scrub. Josh handed Trey his sneakers and they put shoes back on and then climbed over the barriers. It was rough going, with the rounded sandstone ridged and furrowed
by sharper slabs. Trey stumbled as his foot caught in a crevice, and swore as he felt the rasp of stone against his ankle. Josh caught his arm and steadied him. "Go back?"

"Not yet," Trey grunted. A dozen steps later it was his turn to catch Josh and he almost reconsidered. Then the boulders spaced out enough to cradle a tiny arc of beach. Between the rough fingers of rock extending into the waves, the little bay
sat calm and deserted, just fifteen feet of dry sand lying between wiry weeds and the rolling crash and ebb of the breakers.

"Wow, not bad." Josh lowered the cooler. "Did you know this was here?"
"Nope, I just hoped for something more private."

Trey kicked off his sneakers and walked into the water until it hissed and curled around his feet. The ebbing waves tugged the sand out from under his toes as if trying to pull him off balance. The salt stung in the scrape on his ankle. He bent and inspected the damage. It was superficial, and he splashed water on it to get rid of the blood, ignoring the little jolt of pain.

He turned back to the beach. Josh had pulled a thin towel out of the top of the cooler and spread it out above the highest reach of the waves. He took a beer from the cooler and held it out toward Trey. Trey paused in the shallow water to just
look at the man and the beach, the smooth sand at his feet, the scrubby trees behind him moving in the strengthening breeze, the mellow light of evening on Josh's
face.

"What?"

"Nothing." Trey took the few steps back and accepted the beer. He glanced down at the towel. "That's a pretty poor excuse for a beach towel."

"It fit in the cooler. I figured we'd want to sit close together anyway."

Trey laughed, popped his beer can and took a long draught, before lowering himself onto the thin terrycloth. Josh sat beside him, their hips a scant inch from touching. Trey opened the paper bag with the sandwiches. They were only a little battered from being smacked against the rocks in the scramble. He handed one to



Josh and they ate silently, in appropriate appreciation for the locally-baked dense chewy bread, the salty ham, sharp cheddar, and good mustard. Each bite grounded Trey, making him feel a little less hollow and off balance. Eventually he finished the last crust, crumpled the bag into his pocket and wrapped his fingers around his
beer. Beside him Josh licked his fingers, but it seemed unconscious, not a come-on. Didn't stop it from being sexy though. Trey bumped their shoulders together, and Josh glanced at him, then smiled and picked up his own beer.

They both looked out over the water, drinking the smooth bitter brew. The clouds were thick and grey, but suddenly a line of gold peeked through, catching the tops of the waves to fire. Then with another gust of the breeze it was gone again. Trey shivered, and Josh's arm came around his shoulders. Trey leaned into Josh's side.

"Remember tenth grade, September?" Josh's voice was almost too low to be heard. "We used to come down to the beach and drink beer then."

"I remember." They'd come back from Aunt Julie's farm with some of the mad and sad worked out of them, but school had been hard. Everyone knew about Felix, and there were some of the guys who were angry on Coach's behalf, claiming the whole story was made up or that Felix had asked for it. Others who were just assholes threw the words "fag" and "cocksucker" around to stir up shit and get Josh mad. Felix ended up having to be driven to a new middle school across town, but Trey and Josh still had to go back to their old high school. Almost every week they got into a fight with someone who called Felix a faggot or a liar or both. It had
been a long, long year.

"I was so glad it was the two of us together. I don't think I'd have survived without you."

"Not if you'd jumped Donny O'Reilly by yourself, you wouldn't have." "Yeah." Josh took another sip of beer. Trey could hear him swallow.
Josh drained his can and took another, without moving his arm from around
Trey's shoulders. "How did you do it, Trey?"

"Do what?"

"How could you stand to be with me while I called people like you every bad name under the sun? When I didn't fight Donny because he called gay people faggots but because he dared to suggest my brother was one of them?"

Trey shifted uncomfortably. "I guess I just put things in separate boxes. I
locked the gay part of me up pretty tight. I decided I would just not be gay."

"You can't just decide..."



"I fucking know that, right? But mostly it worked. Until I got alone with you, I would fool myself and pretend I wanted to be best buds, when all the time I was dying for you to touch me. Being alone with you was wonderful but it was damned hard."

"Shit." Josh hugged him closer and drank the rest of his beer in one long swallow. He reached for the cooler again.

"You chug too many of those and you'll have to put up with me driving home. And you know how much you love letting me behind the wheel."

"Maybe I'll be too drunk to care." "Something to look forward to."
Josh shook his head and opened a third beer but he only took a small sip. "You said you had questions, things you wanted to know. So ask."

Trey let his questions run through his head. His own beer was getting warm and he finished it. Josh quietly handed him another. Questions. What did I used to wish I could ask in college, wish I could climb through the computer screen and find out on the other end?

He'd wanted to know everything really. He'd wanted to know about every girl who'd smiled Josh's way and every guy he'd tossed a baseball around with and every time Josh was homesick and thought about his old friends. He'd once done a computer search with Josh's name and the name of that New York high-school, looking for him. He'd spent hours staring at the class picture someone had posted, wondering which of those smiling guys had replaced him in Josh's life. But that was back when he was a teenager and obsessed. He hadn't been that much of a stalker in... well, okay he'd been still something of a stalker. Just one who didn't give in to the temptation as often. So what did he want to know now?

"How did you find out you were bi? You always liked girls, a lot. I have a hard time figuring out how you started letting yourself look at guys." He'd wanted to be Josh's first guy, dammit. Of course that was stupid, because if Josh hadn't already known he was bi before yesterday, they would never have made it this far. But imagining college-age Josh with another guy, having man-on-man sex while all that time Trey had been so resolutely pretending to be straight whenever they talked - that was hard.

Josh sighed. "You won't get jealous?"

"No promises." Trey moved out of the circle of Josh's arms and stretched out on his stomach on the sand, chin in his hands, looking at Josh. "Although my body believes I'm yours now."



"You are." Josh's intensity was almost comical. He leaned over to kiss Trey hard.

It was a very good kiss, but Trey resisted the impulse to get distracted. He shoved Josh back gently. "Talk to me."

"Um. So, being bi. It was in college, junior year. I'd had a girlfriend off and on through sophomore year."

"Claire," Trey supplied, and then blushed.

But Josh looked delighted. "You remember! Yeah, Claire. Man, she was work. Hot as hell though." He paused. "Sorry. Not as hot as you."

"Just get on with it Mr. Bi-guy."

"Yeah, well, I had fun with Claire but everything was a drama. If I brought her flowers I was trying to bribe her and if I didn't I was ignoring her. If I so much as looked at her roommate I was thinking about cheating on her, but if I didn't then I was dissing her best friend. The sex was about all that kept us together. Every time I'd try to break up she would cry and panic and tell me how much she loved me. I got a job out of state that summer mostly to make it easy to leave her behind. I just stopped answering her emails, let us drift apart."

"Poor girl." "Say what?"
"Never mind. So you dumped the girl."

"Yeah. When I came back in the fall, I moved into a house with four other guys. I knew one of them already from class, but the others were seniors. One of them was Stefan."

"Your Stef." Trey was no longer so sure he wanted to hear this but he had asked.

"Yeah. Long story short..." "Good plan," Trey growled.
Josh laughed. "Anyway, we got drunk together one night and ended up with him sucking me off. And I have never come as hard as I did looking down at Stef with his mouth around my cock."

"Never?" Trey faked a hurt look. "At the time. Until now. Fuck you."
"Sounds like a plan." They stared at each other in the deepening twilight. The



heat of expectation seemed to pull Trey forward. Those were the mouth and the hands and the body of his polar north and he was dragged toward Josh. Only the fact that he was lying prone and it would be an effort to get up kept him from closing the distance. Instead he said, "Go on."

"The next day I freaked. I pretended it never happened. But by then I already knew a couple of other gay guys. I'd known Stef was gay. It wasn't this horrible idea. And a couple of weeks later we got drunk again. By the end of the term I was spending a lot of time with Stef without having to be drunk, and I wasn't even looking for a girl. He was fun and smart and totally crazy in bed. But he told me up front he was never going to be a one-man kind of guy."

"Did you want him to be?" Trey held his breath, because this was the question he'd wanted to ask. Are you settling for me? Am I just conveniently here instead of some other lover you couldn't have?

Josh shook his head slowly. "At the time I thought so. We were together for almost a year, and for half of it I was exclusive. But in retrospect I wasn't as
jealous of his other guys as I should have been. I was mad that they were taking up his time when he could have been with me, but it didn't bother me to think about
them fucking him."

"And Linda?" Was it better or worse to think about Josh with a girl? Trey wasn't sure.

"She was sweet and nice. She was as close to the girl I could take home to mother as I was ever going to get. But I got bored. In bed and out. I was never going to have to keep her from jumping out of a hayloft."

"I'm not sure that's the best example to use." "Climbing the water tower then."
Trey couldn't help grinning. "The whole town read about Donny O'Reilly wetting his bed in glorious six-foot letters."

"You were a maniac." Josh leaned his chin on his knees and looked at Trey. His smoke-grey eyes looked dark in the fading light. "I wasn't really jealous with Stef or Linda. But I'm finding I'm jealous of every man who ever touched you. But I
still want to know. After all that shit we went through, how did you manage to come out okay? Was it counseling, or really just a guy?"

Trey hesitated, watching the shifting of the filtered sunset light flickering in
Josh's eyes. "I thought you brought us out here so I could ask my questions."

"I don't think getting to know each other goes just one way."



"Yeah, but your crap sounds like it was easy." It was a good thing Trey had his eyes fixed on Josh, or he might have missed the flinch. Trey said slowly, "It wasn't really that easy, was it?"

Josh's head shake was just one millimeter past nothing. "Linda or Stef? Or someone else?"
"Stef. I might have condensed things a bit." "You want to uncondense them?"
"Hell no. When did we become the kind of guys who needed to talk about our feelings anyway?"

"About the time you decided to say you loved me forever with two days left in our vacation."

"Some vacation." Josh closed his eyes for a moment and then turned away from Trey to look out to sea. Trey rolled to his knees to look too.

The last moments of light played their way out between the layers of cloud. A hint of rose or a wash of crimson would just brush the edge of the sky for a moment and then fade, as if the sunset was trying to give them one last show before the dusk closed down. Now and then the darkening waves tossed back the color as they rolled in. The wind pulled foam off the breakers in ribbons of white, dimming to grey as the light died.

Trey moved behind Josh, sitting back on his heels with his legs spread to enclose Josh between his thighs. He wrapped both arms across Josh's chest. After a second of tension, Josh leaned back into his hold and tipped his head against Trey's shoulder.

Trey said, "Stef?"

"What I told you was true, about the beginning and the end. I might have left stuff out of the middle." Trey stayed quiet and Josh put a hand over Trey's arm where it crossed his pecs, and took a breath. "There was a bit in there when I thought maybe I was really in love and for a while he did try to be only with me."

"What happened?"

Josh shifted against him. "It's embarrassing, okay?" "You don't have to tell me."
"I didn't like it."

After the silence had dragged on more than long enough Trey prompted him, "Like what?"



"Some of the sex he wanted. This was before Felix was in college, when my little brother was still pretty messed up. Mom would tell me about his nightmares and how he'd gained a whole ton of weight and stuff. Anyway, maybe it's an excuse but what happened to him kind of screwed me up too."
"It's not an excuse. It messed up all of us," Trey breathed in his ear. "Go on." "So it wasn't this big thing but we wanted different stuff in bed because he
loved to bottom and he got mad that I didn't really like to fuck him, that it didn't make me hard, and Stef started looking elsewhere again and this is so fucking embarrassing I can't believe I'm willing to tell you this except it must prove that I love you..."

Trey leaned forward awkwardly and caught enough of the corner of Josh's mouth in a kiss to shut him up. Then he said into Josh's ear, "The first time Charlie deep-throated me, I almost threw up."

Josh turned so abruptly their cheeks came together with a painful thump. Trey winced back, loosening his hold, but Josh's hands clamped over his arms, holding them in place. Josh settled again, carefully looking away from Trey and said, "Charlie?"

"He was kind of my Stef. Well, not really, because I never came that close to falling in love with him. But he was a great guy. He was older than me. He worked as a mechanic for ten years before he got his GED and started working himself through college, where I met him. He picked me up over a lunch in the student union; he knew somehow I was gay when I still wasn't owning it. God, he was patient. We went out for months before we got beyond hand jobs and some
frotting. And like I said, on that first blow job, I looked down at him with my dick stuffed way down his throat and it was a disaster. The second one was pretty awesome though."

"But you never fell for him?"

"Not all the way. I think I was too young for him. He healed me and took care of me, but I wasn't ready to be a real partner to him." And he wasn't you. It was somewhere around the one year mark with Charlie that Trey had let himself admit how much each tiny contact with Josh meant. Acknowledged the fact that he spent twice as long composing a weekly email to Josh as he did writing a term paper or making love with Charlie. He'd thought it was futile and idiotic, but he'd admitted it.

It was getting cool now, with the wind gusting and the sun lost over the edge of the world. But Josh just settled back against Trey, and Trey eased down onto the sand more comfortably, completely willing to just stay there and share body heat.



Josh grabbed another beer and popped the top. Trey said mildly, "I guess I'm driving."

"I can handle four beers."

"You might still blow over the limit if we get pulled over." Josh grunted and took a long drink.
Trey said carefully, "What about the other guys after Stef? Did things get better? In bed, I mean."

"There weren't any for a couple of years." Josh ran his tongue around the opening of the beer can. Trey wondered if the sexy move was deliberate or unconscious; whichever, it was making his pants tighter. He shifted slightly behind Josh.

"The next guy I was with was Bran," Josh continued reflectively. "By the time I met him Felix was a freshman and had a girlfriend and was coming out of his shell. His last therapist was good, or maybe it was just the effects of time. Felix had even told me about this guy on his dorm floor who was gay and how no one cared, including him. So I was in a good place when I met Bran. And he was all about the oral, didn't care if we never did anything else. He was a sweet guy, if not all that bright. Just easy to be with. We had fun for a few months, until he got transferred
to Albuquerque. And there have been a few since then. A lot more girls, though."

Trey decided that was probably quite enough. He'd wanted to know, but
hearing Josh talk casually about the guys he'd fucked was either revving Trey up or making him mad, or maybe both. His heart rate was up and he felt warm despite
the breeze. He bent to nip at the rim of Josh's ear. "I think I need a demonstration
that you're over your anxiety."

Josh twisted to turn the move into an open-mouthed kiss. For uncounted moments Trey tried to show Josh with his lips and tongue and breath how close he wanted to be. Josh was panting hard by the time they separated.

"Home," Josh said. "Bed. Where I can show you better."

"So...how relaxed about things are you? Do you want to have my ass or does that still bother you?"

"It doesn't bother me, really, but I think...I'd rather have you fuck me."

Trey had been leaning away, reaching to zip up the cooler, but at that he froze. After a moment he finished stowing the empties and zipping up the lid. He stood and nudged Josh's hip with his foot. "Get off the towel. I want to shake the sand out of it."



Josh stood too and stepped back. Trey bent and picked up the towel. The wind caught it, swirling the fabric in his hands. He snapped it a couple of times to clean it, and then grabbed one corner and popped Josh's butt with it. Josh jumped in surprise and then glared at him. "What the hell was that?"

Trey shrugged. He was caught between wanting and not being sure what that offer of Josh's meant. He really, really wouldn't object to fucking Josh. He was iron hard just at the thought. But Josh said, I think, and there had been no hint in all that back-story whether Josh had ever spread his ass for anyone before. Trey couldn't read his voice, but there had been an odd quality to it, and he didn't want to be handed the chance to top because Josh was making some kind of sacrifice. If Trey was smart he would just ask out loud, Are you sure you want to bottom for me? But right now the question stuck in his throat. There were still a lot of unknowns between them, to top off the old painful history. Trey decided he wanted to have
this discussion behind a locked door on semi-clean sheets, when he could do something about all the ways it made him feel.

"Come on," he said. "We should head back before it gets really dark or one of us will end up carrying the other home with a sprained ankle."

Trey slung the cooler over his own shoulder and led the way back towards the rocky scramble that lay between them and the car.

**** CHAPTER 7
Josh sat in the passenger seat as Trey drove them quite competently along the shoreline road. Of course it had been ten years since Trey had driven over the curb in Josh's father's car, prompting their law of Josh always drives. Right now Josh could feel just a little buzz from the beers winding round his brain, making this the wise choice. Nonetheless, it felt odd to sit there and let Trey get them home.

Trey had been silent since Josh had asked him to top. In fact, Josh wasn't sure if he hadn't got the message, or didn't like the idea, or was so pleased he didn't want to talk about it before they could actually do it. Trey wasn't meeting his eyes, so there were no good clues. Josh shivered once in mixed anticipation and anxiety.

As they turned into the drive, Josh sat up straighter. Just a few minutes and he would have Trey back in a bed, and the man would damned well be making noises. And if Josh's stomach was churning a bit at the offer he could hardly believe he'd made, well, maybe it would be okay. Maybe with Trey things would be different. He loved Trey. Letting a man fuck him had to be easier if it was someone he truly loved, right? Or maybe he could get Trey so revved up with hands and mouth that the issue of real fucking could still be postponed for a while. Then he saw the



lights on in the house, and not one but two unfamiliar cars parked out front. He stared, both the anticipation and the buzz falling away.

Trey's startled gaze met his. "Maybe that assistant Mario got out of hospital and
Aunt Julie invited him to stay here?"

"Without warning us?" Josh shook his head.
"Someone saw a problem and called the cops to come check it out?" "Those aren't cop cars." Although Josh guessed that hadn't been a serious
suggestion, just a way to dodge for one more second the awareness that the bed and the noises were going to be on indefinite hold.

As Trey pulled the rental car in beside the others, the front door opened. Aunt Julie stood in the lighted doorway. When they got out, she gave a little yelp of pleasure and hurried down the step to meet them. "Josh!" He was enfolded in a soft, fragrant embrace and despite the cock-blocking he hugged her back happily.

"Aunt Julie, it's so good to see you. I thought you weren't coming back until
Sunday."

"I changed my mind." She kissed his cheek and then looked over at Trey, standing uncertainly beside the car. "Oh my goodness, Trey! Look at you! You've grown up."

Trey eyed Josh in bemusement over Aunt Julie's shoulder as he got the same treatment. Josh noticed that he returned the long hug, though. Maybe even got a little misty-eyed, although it was hard to tell in the uncertain light. Aunt Julie stepped back and gave Trey's arm a little punch. "And where have you been for eight years? Josh moved away but we were still close by. All this time and a few measly Christmas cards."

Trey shrugged, and changed the subject. "Why are you here? I hope you didn't have a bad reason to cut your cruise short. I didn't know you could even do that once you were on a ship out at sea."

"Of course you can," Aunt Julie said, turning to slip her arm through Josh's and tugging him toward the steps. Trey reached in for the cooler and tagged along behind.

As they reached the porch Uncle Ted appeared in the open doorway.

"I bought the woman the anniversary cruise she always wanted, and three days into it she was as antsy as a cat in a henhouse. She finally decided what she really wanted was time with family, especially since Trey was here with you, so we hopped a plane back." He stepped past Josh with a pat on the arm and held his



hand outstretched to Trey. "Welcome, son. It's been too long. Glad you could make it here with Josh."

Trey hesitated, and Josh saw tension cross his face, but he juggled the cooler as if that had been the problem, and reached out to take Uncle Ted's hand. "Thanks,
it's been... nice."

"The damned pony didn't kill you yet, I take it?" Trey's frozen expression eased a bit. "Nossir." "You must be fast on your feet."
Aunt Julie pulled Josh inside, saying back over her shoulder to Uncle Ted, "You lay off the damned pony. I mean the poor pony. He's not that bad. I told you the boys would be fine."

Then Josh quit listening to their banter, and almost quit breathing. Because there on the couch were his mother and father. Here. On the couch where he'd been considering throwing Trey down the minute they walked through the door, back a lifetime ago when sucking the hell out of Trey or vice versa had been at the top of his list. Instead of completely panicking. "Mom. Dad. You're supposed to be camping!"

"Well, that's a nice greeting." His mother stood gracefully and came to him to have her cheek kissed. "You're looking well, Josh. Although those shorts are rather ragged, aren't they?"

"We were at the beach," Josh muttered. "Mom, what are you doing here? I
mean, yes, it's nice to see you but how...?"

"That was your aunt's doing," his father said from where he sat. "We came back home early from the mountains, because your mother picked up some kind of stomach bug. But she was fine by Thursday morning and we were just deciding whether to take a weekend trip with the camper when your aunt called to invite us here instead. She bought the tickets and everything."

Of course, that would have cinched the matter, right Dad? A free holiday versus the cost of gas for the camper? No brainer.

"Isn't it lovely?" Aunt Julie continued blithely. "And we have plenty of room,
as long as you boys are willing to share the bigger guest room for the weekend. We can move in the folding bed."

Josh glanced behind him and met Trey's panicked gaze. "Um, Aunt Julie, I
don't know, Trey might have stuff to do..."

"Nonsense," his father said firmly. "Your aunt has gone to a lot of trouble to get



us all here for the weekend and we're going to enjoy it. It takes me back ten years to see you two boys together."

Really seeing us together is more likely to take ten years off your life.

Aunt Julie said, "Did you boys have any dinner? We've had ours, but I could throw something together for you."

Josh stepped away from her and paced over to the window. He turned and put his back to the curtains, not sure if he wanted an escape route or just to know his parents weren't sneaking up behind him.

Trey said, "No, thanks, we already ate." He came over to stand next to Josh, the fabric beer-cooler still dangling from one hand. He set it on the floor and the cans clinked.
Josh's dad frowned at them. "I hope you weren't driving after drinking." Josh's mind was spinning in circles, and he couldn't blame the beer. He
wondered if his expression looked as gobsmacked as Trey's. Probably worse. His
mother was following Aunt Julie toward the kitchen, talking about making coffee. Uncle Ted joked to Josh's dad about the sunburn on his bald spot. All very normal and familial and suddenly Josh couldn't stand it anymore. He said loudly, cutting
over the conversations, "I'm gay."

There was a moment of stunned silence as everyone turned to him. In that moment, Trey spoke up in a drawl that only shook a little. "Nah, you're bi. You dated Claire and Linda in addition to Stefan. That makes you bi. I'm gay."

There was another suffused moment where Josh's family members neither moved nor spoke. Then his dad said uneasily, "That's not a very funny joke."

"It's not a joke." Josh turned to Trey, trying desperately to read how far Trey wanted to take this. I'm gay was huge enough. I'm in love with my childhood best friend might be something for the next fight. But Trey held out a hand, and Josh took it, winding their fingers together and pulling Trey closer.

Aunt Julie smiled widely, although the way her eyes cut towards Josh's mom showed she was anticipating the explosion. "Oh, you two are together. How nice! I did wonder once if you would be, remember Ted? But then it didn't seem to work out."

Josh's father rose slowly from the couch. "I am not amused, Joshua."

The temptation to assume a mocking British-monarch accent came and went. "You aren't supposed to be. I'm gay, well, bi, but I'm with Trey so effectively I'm gay. We're gay. It's not a joke or some kind of temporary thing. This is us..."



"Stop!" His mother had her hands over her ears. "You stop right now, Joshua Campbell! I won't have you upsetting your father and insulting your brother's memory this way."

Josh felt Trey squeeze his hand but Trey kept silent. Josh said urgently, "Mom, Felix isn't dead. In fact, I told him already and he's fine with it."

"You see?" Aunt Julie's voice was determinedly cheerful. "If Felix doesn't mind then why should we. Can't we just be glad Josh found somebody?"

"Him?" Josh's mom pointed at Trey. Josh noticed that her finger was actually trembling. "That, that trashy boy." She glared at Trey. "You did this, didn't you? You made him gay. Always hanging around him, touching him. Don't think I didn't notice. Oh no. You tried to pretend you were just being friendly and all the time you were trying to seduce him. Well it won't work."

"Mom! Dammit!" Josh knew his face was flaming red. "It's not Trey's fault I'm gay." Trey's elbow in his ribs caught him mid-word and he choked and then rethought what he'd said. "I mean there is no fault. It's not... it's how I am. I always have been. I had a boyfriend back in college."

"Because he turned you." His mother was staring at Trey with loathing. "Hanging about, touching you."

"Well, someone had to touch Josh," Trey snapped. "God knows you never did. Never hugged him, never gave him a tenth the attention you gave Felix."

"Felix needed me. Especially after..."

"After he was raped. I know." The word fell heavily into the room. Everyone stilled in its wake. Trey went on, "I do know that. But you sent Josh away to the farm and then you left him there. Aunt Julie and Uncle Ted were great, but they weren't Josh's parents. Where were you? Two months we were there, and neither of you visited even once. You could have taken the time, just one of you, to visit your other son, give him a hug, see how he was doing. Because for a while he really wasn't doing too good."

Josh held his breath as his mother's eyes met Trey's. For a second he had hope as the righteous anger on Trey's face drew a hint of guilt in hers. But then she shook her head and hardened. "Who the hell do you think you are to tell me how I should have raised my son?"

Trey looked at Josh, and his eyes softened. He moved up behind Josh, their hands still clasped, his chest against Josh's shoulder. He looked around the room. "I'm the guy who loves him. Did then, do now."

"Bullshit." Josh's father's tones were icy. "I want you out of here. Out of this



house, out of Josh's life. Do you hear me? Or I will make your life miserable."

"Now just a minute. Everyone just calm down." Uncle Ted was a big, burly
man and his voice could drop to a pretty low register, but Josh had rarely heard that note of command in it.
Josh's parents stared at Uncle Ted with matching expressions of disbelief. "This is my house. And I have no objection at all to Trey staying here for as
long as Josh wants him."

Forever. I want him forever. It was too soon to say that, and not the place, but
Josh had to bite his tongue until it hurt not to let the words out.

Josh's mother turned on Uncle Ted as if glad to have another target for her anger. "How dare you? Josh is my son. Our son. And he's not gay. It's some kind of lie that Trey is making him believe. My son is not gay."

Well, that was easy. "Yeah, Mom, I am." The subtleties of being bi had no place here. "I'm gay and I always have been, no matter how much I used to ignore it or hide it. Trey isn't my first guy, just my last and only." He leaned back a little,
feeling Trey solid behind him. "I've loved him since we were kids."

"Like kids do, like a brother." His mother actually looked more pained than angry. "You don't understand, it's natural to love a friend like that. But this, this other thing, it's disgusting, an abomination. If God had meant..."

Josh could feel himself shrinking. He'd known this was going to be bad. For a moment he wondered if he should encourage Trey to leave, to get him out of the clusterfuck that this family reunion was turning into. Trey might think he loved Josh, but that last untested lie still lay between them. What if Josh couldn't do real sex with Trey either? Trey might come to regret all of this public declaration stuff soon. Josh tried to move away from Trey, but Trey's hand clamped on his other arm above the elbow, pinning them together.

At the same time, Aunt Julie said, "Oh hell, Nan! Stop with the God stuff. I know for a fact you haven't been in a church since Felix was christened. You can't pretend you care about it now."

"It's true though." His mom's face was getting red. "It doesn't matter whether you call it God or nature or whatever. It's just wrong."

Uncle Ted said tentatively, "You know, what happened to Felix..."

Josh's dad interrupted, "That has no bearing on this. We know most gays aren't pedophiles..."

"The two aren't even related," Trey snapped.



Josh's dad glared at him. "We're not stupid. I paid more than enough money for that therapist of Felix's to explain things to us, about that man and what he did. Felix has nothing to do with this. I still don't like gays, it's revolting and I don't want to know any of them or be around them, and I certainly don't want one in the same house with me." He glared over Josh's shoulder at Trey.

"Or in the same family?" Josh demanded. "What about that, Dad? Are you kicking me out too? Because I'm just as gay as he is."

"No one's kicking anyone out," Uncle Ted snapped, scrubbing at his hair with one big hand.

"Speak for yourself," Josh's dad retorted. "If you let that freak of nature stay in your house, Ted, then I won't."

"Are you talking about me or Trey?" Josh could feel his pulse pounding in his throat.

"Both of us, I guess," Trey muttered.

"Okay, that's it, we're leaving." Josh's dad yanked his car keys out of his pocket and grabbed a bag up from the floor beside the couch. "Come along Nan. Julie and Ted aren't thinking straight and Josh is clearly drunk. We'll find a hotel for the night."

"I'm not drunk!" Josh protested.

Aunt Julie said, "Please. Don't walk out. Let's talk about this."

"Nothing to talk about," Josh's father said harshly. "You've all taken leave of your senses. I blame it on fatigue. Nan and I will find a nice, clean hotel. We'll come back in the morning and I expect by then that faggot will be gone and we can have our family weekend without all this bullshit."

"You're the one who's talking bullshit..." Josh began, but Trey hugged him in a hard embrace.

"Let it go. Let them go," he muttered in Josh's ear.

Josh stood, fuming, as his parents picked up a couple of suitcases and swept
out of the room. Their footsteps were loud on the front porch and then the sound of the car swept away down the drive. Josh slumped back against Trey. He wanted to say, So, that went well, in an insouciant tone. But the first word came out like a sob and he stopped.
Without letting him go, Trey said over his shoulder, "Aunt Julie, I'm so sorry." Her attention snapped from the closed door back to them. "Oh no you don't.
Don't apologize for that. You boys didn't do anything wrong."



Josh managed to say, "I could have just not told them."

Aunt Julie's voice was soft. "Josh, honey, it should have been a good thing. You and Trey finding each other after all this time is a truly good thing."

"You really think so?" God, he sounded pathetic. "You're okay with this? With us?"

"Heavens, yes." Aunt Julie came over and wrapped her arms around both of them. "More than okay. And you've won me a bet."

"Huh?" He kissed her sweet-smelling cheek and she stepped back, smiling at them.

"I used to tell Ted, 'I think Trey is gay. The way he looks at Josh sometimes, I
think he loves him.' But Ted wasn't so sure."

Trey said, "And you didn't care? You never asked me?"

"It wasn't what I wanted for either of you at first. But mainly because it's still a hard road and you boys had things hard enough. But the way you smiled when you were around Josh? That was lovely. How could I be unhappy about that? As for deciding whether to tell anyone, that was your choice."

Josh felt Trey shudder against him. "I didn't think anyone knew. I didn't want them to."

"Even I wasn't sure, honey. Just sometimes... And now here you are. Together." "Yeah," Josh sighed.
She looked at him. "Trey makes you happy? He makes you feel like a better person when you're with him?"

"Oh yes." Although whether he could be good enough for Trey was still an open question.

"And you Trey? You still light up like the sun when you look at Josh?" "Always have," Trey said quietly.
"Then it's good." Aunt Julie nodded decisively. "Now Ted's going to fetch a
beer for each of us, because we need them. You two can sit down on that couch and tell me how my animals are doing and what you sold from my store this week and how badly you let little old Mrs. I-didn't-bring-my-credit-cards-today Gluckeen rip me off this time." She plunked herself down decisively in the upholstered rocker and cocked her head inquisitively at them.

Uncle Ted reappeared with four bottles of brew, and somehow Josh found himself sitting on the couch, his leg pressed up against Trey's from knee to hip,



explaining to Aunt Julie why they unfortunately hadn't managed to pick out the damned pony's feet.

****

Trey finally called it quits close to midnight. It had been wonderful, healing, to hang out with Josh and chat with his aunt and uncle. At some point he and Josh had changed positions, almost reclining on the couch against each other with Josh's arm tightly around him. Uncle Ted and Aunt Julie had just nodded and asked about Trey's townhouse and Josh's job. It had been slow and sweet and normal. At least
as long as they all avoided any mention of Josh's parents off fuming in some hotel room.

But Trey was already short of sleep, and he'd started nodding off twice. Both times he'd found his hand unconsciously heading for Josh's crotch like a kid looking for his teddy-bear. Or something. He shook his head. Maybe not the best comparison. Either way, he was pretty sure Uncle Ted didn't want to see him
jerking Josh off, and he was damned sure he didn't want to be seen. He sat up away from Josh's encircling arm. "I'm losing it. Bed?"

"Sure, honey," Aunt Julie said. "I should have sent you off earlier, but it was so nice to chat."

Josh snorted. "You don't have to send us off to bed any more. In fact, I really like going to bed lately." Trey stared at him and he blushed. "Sorry."
Uncle Ted laughed. "That's okay. Which guest room are you boys using?" Trey blinked, amazed it could be that easy. Josh said, "Well, both of them
actually, but we're sleeping in the blue room."

We are? Well, if one night set the trend then he guessed they were.

"Will you want breakfast in the morning?" Aunt Julie asked. "You don't have to get up for chores or anything. I'm actually eager to go see my critters."

Trey said slowly, because he'd been thinking about this in the background as they chatted, "I think I should leave early tomorrow."

"No way." Josh glared at him. "I'm not letting my parents' bigoted attitudes drive you away."

"Maybe we should both leave, but at least I should," Trey said. "Listen." He put a hand on Josh's mouth to silence a protest. "You know your parents are going to come back here in the morning ready for round two, right? Nothing will have changed."

"Mph."



"So why should we be here for that bullshit? We can get an early start and be on the road before they arrive. If Aunt Julie doesn't need our help?" He glanced at her and she shook her head. "Then why start the fight again? Let's give them some distance and some time. Aunt Julie can have the rest of her family weekend without World War Three. We have less than two days before you have to fly home. Why should we waste them on this?"

He lifted his fingers off Josh's lips. Josh blinked at him, seemed about to speak and then paused.

"Trey's right, son," Uncle Ted said sadly. "I know you want to stay and make things right with your parents but I think Trey's being smart here. It's going to take more than a good night's sleep to make your mother okay with this. Or your father for that matter. Go somewhere else, have a couple of nice days together. Believe me, this fight will still be here."

"I hate to run away," Josh grumbled.

"You're not running away. You're making things easier for Julie. Your parents will be back here, and if they don't have a reason to yell and run around in circles we'll all be happier."

"It's not funny."

"I know that. I'm trying to keep it light. We don't want the two of you to go. Frankly, Julie was even more eager to have time with you boys than with her sister. But we've had a nice long chat tonight, and maybe you'll come back here sometime soon. For now, you leaving might keep me from wanting to give your mother a good shaking."

"I'll still want to shake her," Julie muttered. "I don't know how we ended up being sisters. But I'm thirding the motion. You and Trey should hit the road in the morning and go have some fun."

Trey raised an eyebrow at Josh, trying to look winsome. Whatever effect he managed, it was enough to make Josh smile wryly. "Okay. I guess that makes sense. Although if we're really going to hit the road before Mom shows up in the morning we should definitely turn in now."

Trey struggled to his feet and looked at Aunt Julie and Uncle Ted. "We'll see you guys in the morning then." He hesitated, looking from one to the other of these people who had chosen him and Josh over Josh's parents. He wasn't sure how to
say it. "Thank you both, so much..."

"No thanks necessary," Uncle Ted told him. "You and Josh are like our own kids, and nobody talks trash about our kids, not even Nan and Gerry."



That was sweet, and yet it stung too, because he'd cut them off at the same time he'd cut off Josh, and never thought about the cost to anyone except himself. "I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch more. I did miss you guys."

Uncle Ted waved a hand. "You were busy. We understood. We'll be happy if you start visiting more though."

"Definitely." He held down a hand to brace Josh up off the couch.

Josh took his hand up and then let go. He went and bent to hug his aunt in her chair. "You're the best, you know that? You too, Uncle Ted. The two of you. I don't have words."

"Off to bed with you." Aunt Julie gave him a little shove.

As Trey climbed the stairs with Josh trailing along behind him, he heard the older couple's voices resume in the living room. He wished he knew what they were saying, but the tone was regretful. He wanted to believe that they were only sorry about Nan and Gerry's attitude, and not also mourning the straight version of Josh that they had known. Josh pressed a little closer behind him. "You are sleeping in my bed?"

"After you announced it, how could I not?" "But you want to?"
He bumped Josh's hip as they passed the bathroom. "Of course I do. Moron. Although... I'm pretty tired and your aunt and uncle will be just down the hall." What he'd planned in the car driving back from the beach was not likely to be quiet and undetectable.

Josh bumped him back. "So we'll keep the noise down. I'll stuff something in your mouth if you get loud."

Trey snorted, a little giddy with lack of sleep. "Maybe we should make it mutual mouth stuffing."

"Oh yeah." Even in the dim hall way he could see Josh's eyes light up at the suggestion.

"Shower first though. I have sand in uncomfortable places." "I could help you wash them."
"When we're somewhere with a real shower and not just a tub with a curtain around it I'll take you up on that."

Josh looked puzzled. "The door locks."

"Yeah. But I know what happens when a guy grabs one of those shower curtain



thingies for support and it's not pretty."

Josh frowned. "I don't ever want to hear that story." "I wasn't planning to tell you."
"Wait. Now I do want to."

Josh looked so cute with his forehead scrunched up like that. Trey kissed him on the temple. "Shower and then bed. I have first dibs on the hot water."

Standing in the tub with the water running over his back, Trey let himself drift. He was kind of glad they would head home tomorrow, and kind of scared at the same time. So much had changed. If he looked back a week, he could barely recognize himself. And to be honest, he was scared that he would get back to his regular life and find that the sucking daily grind and loneliness were just waiting there. It still felt like this week was some kind of mirage that would shine in memory but never be reached again.

He slid a hand down to stroke himself, deliberately remembering that morning. That hadn't been his imagination, it had been the hottest thing he'd ever done. He pictured Josh's mouth on him, Josh's strong hands. His dick decided that two hours of sleep might be plenty under the circumstances and perked up slightly. Trey washed carefully, everywhere, imagining Josh tongue finding those hidden places. By the time he shut the water off, he was half-hard.

Josh was leaning against the wall outside the bathroom when he stepped out, and pulled him in for a kiss that started quick but morphed into pretty damned hungry. Josh was smiling when he stepped back. "Wow. I was standing there so I wouldn't fall asleep before I got to the shower but that just woke me right up. Hold that thought."

"Don't be too long." Trey tried for a soft but husky whisper. He still heard the faint murmur of voices from downstairs.

"Five minutes."

By the time Trey had gone to his room for fresh boxers and T-shirt for the morning, and then puttered around with tossing a few things back in his suitcase, the shower had cut off. He met Josh in the hallway and they walked into Josh's guest room together. Trey bumped the door shut with his hip and their hands met on the latch.

They moved into a kiss. This time it was less frantic, more exploration, a collaboration of soft motions of lips pressing together, light touches of tongues, breath that was a murmur of pleasure. Trey wrapped his arms around Josh and let his towel slide to the floor. So good.



Josh said, "Bed?" "Sure."
They slipped in together and turned to each other, legs twining, pressing tightly to each other along hip and chest and groin. Kissing was everything. Trey let his eyes drift shut and gave his mouth and his attention to an exploration of Josh's
skin, stubbled jaw and smooth neck, soft temple and short-cropped hair. He brushed his lips over the hollow at Josh's throat and heard Josh moan in appreciation. Josh moved against him doing the same, kissing and licking and nipping wherever he could reach on Trey. Trey tucked his head into the curve of Josh's shoulder, buried his face against Josh's warm firm bulk, and felt the world
fade just a little. Josh's hands stroked over Trey's back and then pressed just above his ass.

Trey only realized he'd softened when his cock responded to that pressure with renewed interest. He arched against Josh's hands and wrapped his arms around
Josh tightly. They rubbed together in sweet warmth. Josh was hard along Trey's hip. Trey moved against him languidly, feeling the slide of skin on skin, the slow supple flex of Josh's back under Trey's fingers, the puff of Josh's breath in his hair.

Josh pushed him back enough to slide down and began to run his tongue over the rippled muscles of Trey's abdomen. Trey moved his hands to Josh's head. That short-cropped hair slipped under his palms like napped fabric, rough and soft at once. He didn't try to guide Josh's explorations, just let his hands ride on that sweet journey. Josh's tongue dipped lower, and then he murmured against Trey's hip,
"Am I doing this wrong? You don't seem interested."

Trey blinked his drooping eyelids hard. "No, that's great. Wonderful. I can't believe I have you here. It's just been a long day."

"Tell me about it." Josh kissed his stomach and then worked his way up over one nipple and up to Trey's neck. Trey cupped his head in close, just breathing the scent of him. Odd how familiar that was. Surely a person's smell would change
over eleven years, but he fell into a vivid scent-memory of holding Josh in mingled
surprise and wonder, as their fourteen-year-old selves hugged after a baseball win, back in the days of innocence. Josh...

Josh nipped at his ear, pulling the lobe through his teeth. Trey laughed and forced his eyes open again. Josh's hands were roaming down to stroke Trey's balls.

Trey sighed in pleasure tinged with reluctance. "Josh?" Josh murmured in his ear, "Yeah?"
"Would you hate me if I say I'm too damned tired to get it up right now?"



Josh's laughter buzzed against his temple. "Are you?" "Maybe."
"Poor baby." Josh's hands slid onto his ass. "You sure I can't fix that?"

"You got more sleep than I did." Trey ground against Josh's hip and his body responded but he could feel the fatigue underneath it. Damn, this was stupid. Josh was in his bed for a second-time-only re-run of his favorite fantasy. He should be all over that, but all he really wanted was to sleep like this, with his thigh between Josh's, his chest against Josh's lean bulk, his face buried against Josh's skin. "I've been wanting you so bad, but right now mostly I need to hold you. Can we sleep for a bit and then get back to this?"

Josh kissed his cheek lightly. "Sure."

"You're not going to dump me for being a defective lover?" Josh snorted softly. "I haven't found a defect yet."
"Not getting it up is sometimes considered a flaw." His eyes were drifting shut again.

"Are you planning on making it a habit?" Josh pulled him in closer, rearranging them so his weight wasn't crushing Trey's arm.

"No way..." "Then I'm good."
"You're better than good...awesome...sexy..." Trey was drifting, his fuzzy brain losing the things he wanted to say. Vaguely he realized that the most critical thing about Josh was that he was here, at last. Trey was never sure if he said that, before he fell asleep.

**** CHAPTER 8
Early the next morning, Josh helped Trey lift the last of his suitcases into the back of his car and slammed the trunk. He pretended to have to shake out his arms, laughing at Trey's little glare. "How many months did you pack for again?"

Trey kicked his ankle. "F-you."

"Now boys," Aunt Julie scolded from the steps. "Play nice."

Josh went to give her a hug. For a moment he rocked her, reluctant to let go. "I
love you Aunt Jules, you know that, right?"

"I know." She kissed his cheek and stepped back.



From the porch, Uncle Ted said, "You boys drive carefully, and come back soon. Remember you're always welcome here. I'm sorry about your parents, Josh. Give them time."

Josh looked at him. "You really think they'll come around?" He wasn't sure if that was sarcasm or hope in his voice.

Uncle Ted shrugged one big shoulder. "Not soon. Maybe eventually. Especially if Felix is really okay with it. The sun rises and sets with that boy for your mother." He winced at his own words.

Josh held up a hand to forestall some kind of lame apology. "I know. I
understand it."

"Well, you shouldn't," Aunt Julie said tartly. "But there's nothing you can do about it. Call us when you get home, both of you. And keep in touch."

"I will."

"You too, Trey," she added.

Trey ducked his head. "Yes, ma'am."

Aunt Julie laughed. "Get along with you now, before Nan gets here and we have a scene."

Josh waited until Trey had pulled out down the driveway and turned onto the main road before turning to his own car. They had to make the drive to LA separately, and he wanted enough space between them that he didn't do something stupid like tail-gate the guy all the way home. Uncle Ted came down the steps to shake his hand again. "You're sure this is what you want, Josh?"

"This?"

"Trey. Being gay." "It's not a choice."
"Maybe not for him, but for you it is, right? You like girls. You could choose to only date women."

"Not since I saw Trey again." Josh felt himself getting irritated, and tried to tamp it down. He'd better get used to this second-guessing even from someone who seemed like a supporter. "This is it for me."

Aunt Julie put her arm around Uncle Ted. "I've seen how Trey's looked at you, Josh, ever since you were fourteen. I'm certain this is it for him too. I used to hope that you would find a wife who could make friends with your parents and give you kids, but I can't be sorry you were finally able to love Trey back."



Uncle Ted sighed. "Yeah. Me too. But your folks are going to make it hard."

"Let them," Josh muttered. Not that he was looking forward to more of that shit. But he'd made his choice when he'd opened his big mouth last night. No, he'd made it the first time he touched Trey. And he wouldn't change it. "I'll call you."

The rental car rode almost silently once he turned out onto the pavement. The day was sunny with just a little haze promising later heat. At least he had AC. His old car back home had deteriorated to where any cooling was probably psychological at best. For now, he cranked the window down, feeling the rush of soft morning air past his face.

It was supposed to be less than a three hour drive. On a Saturday, the trip into the city might not be too bad. Although who was he kidding - this was LA. Figure four hours. And then... He'd promised to go to Trey's condo. Not that he didn't want to, but he was still working things out. Not least of which was what he really wanted to do about the sex. Last night he'd offered to bottom, in a fit of affection and a desperate desire to get it over with and seal the bargain. And he could do it,
he was sure he could. He might not find it very exciting, but he'd seen porn guys bottom without getting hard, so Trey probably wouldn't mind. But he'd felt some
relief last night mixed in with the frustration when Trey had been too crashed out to take him up on it. Because what if Trey liked it and wanted to do it a lot? What if Trey really wanted to switch?

Sex with Trey was amazing. That morning, with both of them waking to the early dawn light, it hadn't taken more than a minute for them to be frantic for each other. Trey's skillful mouth had made Josh come so hard he felt it echo through his bones, and returning the favor had been just as awesome. And when they had tried to get out of bed, after an unmeasured time spent dozing in the aftermath, just the closeness of each other's body had led to a frantic session of wrestling and touching that had made him spill again on Trey's hip, while Trey's cum soaked the sheets. Josh could live forever with that. He would feel like he'd died and gone to heaven to have that in his life. But what if it wasn't enough for Trey?

Josh wasn't scared of fucking. At least, he didn't think he was. It wasn't like he could claim some kind of psychological trauma to be overcome by therapy and true love. He just wasn't turned on by it. For Stef, he hadn't been willing to really try to get past that. For Trey he would. But could you make yourself like something? If
he put a woman's shoe next to Trey's dick and fondled it through every blow job, could he create a shoe fetish? Was he maybe overthinking this?

He almost missed his freeway exit in the image of a spiked heel standing on Trey's taut stomach. Damn. Was there something wrong with him that he was beginning to think it would be easier to develop a shoe fetish than to like ass sex?



Not that he didn't like Trey's ass. Because that was one of the seven wonders of nature. He just didn't want to fuck it. But maybe he would, alone with Trey and naked. Maybe things would change, when it was Trey. He really, really hoped they would.

He remembered Stef's light voice in the night. "Josh, baby, you know we're not really exclusive, right? We never actually promised that. I like you a lot; you're my guy. But sometimes I want to just get fucked into the mattress by a big hard man, you know? Or come inside some hot, tight ass. Just real, raunchy sex. It's not like I'm going to fall for the guy, okay? I just love to fuck."

But it hadn't been okay. In the end it had split them up. Josh wondered with a touch of desperation how far he would go to prevent that with Trey. Not just to keep Trey from leaving but to keep him satisfied. For a moment he envied women for being able to fake it.

He checked the GPS on the dashboard. He was getting close. And stupidly obsessing over sex when all the other obstacles they might face were far more relevant. He stepped on the gas, suddenly needing to see Trey again. It would all seem much more possible if he was actually holding Trey.

Trey's car was in the carport when he pulled up. Josh put his rental in the driveway and got out, stretching his cramped legs. Next time maybe he'd even upgrade from the economy model and get the fucking cruise control. Trey opened the front door as Josh was getting his bag out of the back.

Then the damned man just stood there, already changed into running shorts and a tight T-shirt, and made Josh look at him for the whole ten-yard walk from the drive to the door. By the time Josh made it to the front porch his jeans already felt tight. Trey grabbed Josh's shirtfront and wrangled them both back into the dim hallway. Josh kicked at the door, staggering under the impact of Trey's body on his. The front door slammed behind them. Good enough. Josh dropped his bag to free his arms for a hug, and lost himself in a kiss. Trey pushed him up against the wall, and Josh gave up all attempts at planning. He opened his mouth and let Trey take anything he wanted.

Somehow they made it to the bedroom, with both T-shirts discarded along their path. Trey had his tongue in Josh's mouth whenever their lips met, and between those moments his teeth would graze Josh's collarbone or he would plant a wet kiss on Josh's neck. His hands were everywhere, tuning every nerve ending in Josh's body to high alert. Josh tried to give the same back, in breathless kisses to Trey's jaw and fingers digging into the expanse of hard toned flesh that was Trey's chest.

Beside the bed they paused, panting. Trey muttered, "Naked. Now. Slow some



other time." "Yeah."
Trey was apparently not wearing anything under those shorts, because he shucked them with an impatient shove of his hands, and a wriggle that dropped the silky fabric to the floor and left him naked in front of Josh. For a moment all Josh could do was look and wonder. All of that, just for me.

Trey reached impatiently for Josh's belt. "Come on; less clothes." Josh batted his hands away and stripped fast. There was that awkward moment peeling off his socks, bent over otherwise naked. Then he straightened and looked at Trey. Trey didn't give him time to worry, or even catch his breath, before Josh was being grabbed and borne down to the bed. He laughed in pleasure, locking Trey in a kiss and pulling him on top. They squirmed their way fully onto the mattress without breaking that kiss. Trey's weight was so right, pinning Josh to the sheets. They rubbed together, too close to do more than arch and grunt against each other. Then Trey broke loose and arched back. He reached between them and wrapped his hand around Josh's straining cock, shifting position so his own erection slid into play
too. His long fingers held them together, satin skin against skin, firm lengths trapped in his hand. Josh bucked and thrust into that welcome pressure. Trey
matched him, moaning as a seep of precum slicked their motion. Josh closed his
own hands around Trey's, increasing the friction.

Trey pulled back and Josh whimpered at the loss. But only for an instant before Trey bent to put his mouth where his hand had been. Josh wasn't sure what was hotter, Trey's lips around Josh's cock, or Trey's hand going down to his own length, pulling in fast swirling strokes. Or both. Definitely both. He spread his legs as
much as Trey's knees allowed and arched his hips up to give Trey full access.

Trey stopped jacking himself, although his mouth kept up its mind-blowing motions. The next thing Josh knew, Trey's finger was swirling around Josh's hole. Josh could feel a little slipperiness that had to be Trey's own precum on his finger. That was sexy, right? Trey stroked, applying gentle pressure, not really opening Josh up yet. After a moment Trey lifted his head to ask, "Okay? Yes?"

Josh said, "Yes, absolutely, but wait. Get the lube and take a second. I don't want to come in your mouth." Liar. Except Stef had told him it was harder to take a man's dick after an orgasm than before, so maybe he really didn't want to come yet. As Trey straightened up and reached for the bedside drawer, Josh wriggled under him and turned over onto his stomach.

Josh put his face on his crossed arms and rubbed his groin into the sheets. Already he wasn't as hard as he had been. But he could do this. He would do this,



and it was Trey so there was a good chance he would even like it.

Trey dropped a bottle of lube on the bed and straddled Josh's thighs. "Like this?" Trey's voice was hoarse. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Just go slow."

"How long since you've done this?"

Never. "A while."

Josh felt Trey's mouth on his back between his shoulder blades. Trey pressed kisses down Josh's spine. At his tailbone, just as Josh began to tense up, Trey shifted to lick and kiss his ass-cheeks. "You have dimples," Trey muttered. "That's so fucking hot."

Josh moaned in response, pumping his hips into the bed under the heat of Trey's tongue. He was hard again and the sheet rubbed across his erection with wonderful friction. Even Trey's hands sliding up his thighs was exciting and he opened his legs for those demanding fingers. Trey stroked his scrotum, rubbing over his balls until Josh was squirming and whimpering.

"God, want that," Trey said fiercely.

Josh heard the top of the lube click, and then Trey's fingers returned. There was slick coolness across his heated ass, as Trey began short strokes from his perineum to his anus. It should have been hot. It was hot, but Josh fought the inclination to move away from that intimate touch.

Trey repeated, "Okay?"

"Yeah." Josh gasped a breath as he was breached by Trey's fingers. He didn't know if it was one finger or two, just that it was stretch and pressure where it didn't belong, forcing him open. He controlled his response and lay still, soundless after that first intake of breath.

"Good?" Trey asked, his fingers moving deeper. "Stop? More?"

"More," Josh managed. Get it over with. It didn't hurt, not really. It almost felt good but he just couldn't get into the image of Trey's fingers up there. But Trey was groaning softly, muttering how hot Josh looked as he pressed deeper and wider.

"Yeah, let me..." Trey grabbed a pillow and stuffed it under Josh's hips to raise his ass. Josh batted his hand away as Trey went to adjust it and folded the thing into place. He didn't want Trey to touch him and feel his cock softening again.

This was Trey, dammit. The man he was certain he loved. There was nothing sexier or more beautiful than a naked Trey Holgersen touching Josh with love and passion. Josh thrust with his hips into the pillow, seeking stimulation. Trey's fingers



moved deeper and touched his prostate. The touch was electric, like a jolt to the balls. He couldn't help crying out, arousal and protest together. Hopefully all Trey would hear was the arousal.

"Fuck me," Josh growled. "Quit messing around. Do it." Now while I'm still half hard and think maybe I do want it.

"You're sure?" "Dammit, Trey, now!"
Trey's fingers slipped out of him and Josh moaned in relief. He heard the rip of a condom and then pressure returned, broader and softer and yet inexorable. Josh bit his lip hard and held rock steady as Trey worked his cockhead inside. That did hurt, but not unbearably. The hurt eased off rapidly to an odd uncomfortable fullness and a heated stretch. Josh grunted, "More."

Trey took Josh's hips in his hands, nudged Josh's right leg higher on the bed and began to thrust in small, circling strokes that moved him gradually deeper. It wasn't bad. It wasn't good though. Josh eased off his lip before he bit through it and set himself to endure it. He grunted as Trey deepened his strokes slightly. Then
Trey stopped. Josh thrust back hard, impaling himself more. He wanted this for
Trey, wanted everything for Trey, but he needed it done soon. "Don't fucking stop."

Trey's fingers dug into his hips, pinning him down. Trey said in an odd voice, "Josh? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I swear. You're not hurting me."

Trey still didn't move. Josh tried to fight that rigid grip and couldn't. "Trey,
fuck, don't drag it out. Fuck me." He hoped the roughness in his voice would sound like need.

But Trey said quietly, "You're not into this, are you?"

Josh opened his mouth for the lie, and then pressed his lips together tightly. Trey reached between them for the rim of the condom and pulled out. Josh jerked as his body was released. He squeezed his eyes shut. I tried, dammit. I was doing
it. What else can I do? I don't know what else to do. He waited for Trey to laugh, or
get mad, or maybe change his mind and fuck him after all. That wouldn't be the worst thing. He managed to say, "I don't mind, if you like it."

"Jesus Christ, Josh!" He flinched.
Gentle fingers stroked from his shoulders down his spine, no lower than his waist. Then Trey's palms began rubbing his back in firm, smooth circles. Just



rubbing and stroking with no anger, no agenda. It wasn't a sexual touch, just comfort. Long minutes passed before Josh got up the nerve to roll his head and look back at Trey.

Trey gave him a tentative smile and then stopped massaging long enough to get off him and pull the condom off his own still-hard dick. Josh rolled over and reached toward Trey's groin. It seemed like the least he could do, to give Trey a hand job or blow him, before Trey left in disgust. But Trey captured his hands, weaving their fingers together. He scooted down the bed with a wiggle, until he
was lying beside Josh.

Josh said, "Let me finish you."

Trey raised their clasped hands and kissed Josh's fingers. "Oh yeah, we're gonna finish each other in a minute. But we need to talk first."

Josh quipped, "What kind of guy talks when he could be fucking?" His throat hurt. His chest hurt.

"The kind of guy who wants to be making love, not just fucking." That silenced Josh.
Trey let go of his hands and gathered him into a loose hug, their bodies touching in random places, shoulder to chest, knee to thigh. Trey laid his head beside Josh's on the pillow, close enough that he blurred in Josh's cross-eyed view.

"So, Josh, I'm guessing you don't actually like to bottom." "I thought I might. With you."
Trey's body got tenser. "Had you ever tried to before?" "Not really."
"Would you rather top? 'Cause I'm seriously okay with bottoming."

Josh swallowed hard. Here it came, and he wasn't ready to explain to Trey that he was some kind of freak, the kind of guy who was never going to be enough in bed. He blinked hard and pressed his face into Trey's neck. Trey smelled like sunshine.

Trey's hand rubbed the back of his head. "Joshie?" The old childhood nickname. "Talk to me."

"I didn't mind bottoming, really. I'm just not used to it. No one else mattered enough to try." Surely it was better than watching Trey turn to other men. "We can do that when you want to. And I really don't need to have turns topping. Jesus, can we stop talking about it?"



"Nope." Trey kissed his hair, and hugged him tighter. "You're not some kind of get-off-quick one night stand to me. Sex is supposed to be fun for both of us. So can you get your head out of your ass and tell me what you actually do and don't want in there?"

This was the most embarrassing conversation of Josh's life. Well other than the time his dad tried to have that talk with him when Josh was fourteen. That actually put this in perspective on a scale of epic failures. But he shook his head against Trey's neck. Here Josh was, the guy who'd fucked plenty of women, and sucked off a dozen guys, and he was too embarrassed to talk about sex with the love of his
life. He was pathetic. But after Stef, he'd mostly stuck to one night stands with
guys so he'd never have to actually talk to anyone about this.

Trey's laugh was soft and indulgent, not mocking. "Okay, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to talk about sex stuff, things we can do. And you're going to rate
it on a scale from zero-I-hate-that to ten-gives-me-a-woody-even-with-my-mother- in-the-room."

"I'm not sure a ten exists."

"Ah, that will be part of the fun. We're going to find your ten."

"Okay," Josh agreed slowly. "Are you sure you don't just want a blowjob?" He flinched a little at the ass-to-mouth of that, but told himself firmly to stop being such a biology geek. They'd barely started fucking - surely taking off the condom was clean enough. He didn't care, he wouldn't care, he just wanted to make Trey happy.

Trey said, "Later. And not until I get clean for you. But that's a good place to start. A regular blowjob from a guy with you flat on your back? Six? Eight?"

"Eight. Maybe nine if it's you?"

"Excellent. I'd go seven, 'cause I like to vary the position, but nine if it's a
sixty-nine version. So, a sixty-nine? Me sucking your hard dick while I pump mine into your hot, wet mouth?"

Josh squirmed against Trey's thigh. "Nine. Definitely nine, although I still wouldn't get hard for it in front of my mother."

"Okay. Nipple play?" "Um, seven."
"Three for me. I like it okay, I'm just not very sensitive. Now if you want to get me going, kiss my neck. I love that."

"Necks are good," Josh agreed.



"So, anal sex, you topping?"

Josh sighed. "Maybe one? I can't. Or at least I couldn't stay hard for that when
Stef wanted me to. It was kind of a disaster."

"Anal sex, you bottoming?" Josh bit his lip.
"Josh, babe, if you don't tell me the truth I swear I'm going to go get an ice cube and shove that up your ass. You, bottoming? Zero?"

"No! At least a two. Really, it's okay, especially if it's you."

Trey hugged him and then shook him hard. "You maniac, why didn't you say so? Why pretend you were into it?"

Josh jerked free of Trey's hold and sat up, wrapping his arms around his knees. "So you would be happy? So you would get what you wanted and feel really good and stay with me and not go find someone better?"

Trey sat up too, staring at him. "You think you have to bottom so I'll stick around?"

"Well I know I can't fucking top!" "Then why do anal at all?"
"Because it's sex? Because I want to do real sex with you sometimes, and that's the only way I can do it."

"Shit." Trey reached out to touch Josh's hair. Josh smacked his hand away angrily.

"Josh, babe, it's all real sex." Trey's eyes were bright. "If you'll suck me off, or let me suck you, or exchange hand jobs, or freaking hump your perfect body now and then, I don't need to be inside you."

"Oh, right. Tell me you don't like it. You were really into my ass back there, before you got all touchy-feely."

"Yeah, I like it. I don't need it though. I like rimming too, but I can live without that. By the way, rimming, my tongue, your ass. Two? Five?"

Josh blinked and tried to think. "I don't know."

"We'll try it out sometime when we're in the shower. Spanking, your hand, my ass?"

"Um, five? I don't know. Trey, really..."

Trey grinned. "I think some of this will take research. I may have to make



charts. There's all the bondage stuff. And then fetishes. Do you have any? Feathers? Leather? Birthday cakes?"

"What?" Josh was half-laughing, lost in the turns of Trey's words.

"Dan Savage knew this kid who got off on having birthday cakes smashed on his face. It sounded weird when I read it, but a couple of times I've thought, 'What if that kid was onto something?' You, me, a sheet cake with chocolate icing? Six?"

"Trey."

This time when Trey reached for him, Josh let himself be pulled into a kiss. Trey murmured against his mouth, "I love you Josh. I want you in bed in a dozen ways, but none of them have to be anal."

"Okay."

"As long as you simply don't like it then it's okay. It's not like it really freaks you or gives you flashbacks or something I should worry about?"

Josh sighed against Trey's perfect mouth. "I just don't like it."

"Sucks to be you. Although you'll get more of my highly-acclaimed blowjobs, so maybe you're not losing out." Trey moved his kisses to Josh's neck and Josh tipped his chin up to invite more. His own neck really was a damned sensitive spot too. Josh whimpered as Trey nibbled under his jaw.

"There are things I hate, you know," Trey added. "Like spitting. I don't care how hot you think it is in pornos, you spit in my ass and I will kick you where it hurts."

"That doesn't count. That's just gross."

"A dozen really hunky porn stars with ten inch dicks don't seem to think so. But anyway, we have more than enough good stuff, we won't miss the things that don't turn us both on." Trey scraped the line of Josh's jaw with his teeth.

"You're sure?" Josh whispered, cupping Trey's head in his hands, the dark soft hair slipping under his fingers. "Mm, yeah, nice. But Trey, are you sure you won't miss it?"

"I had one boyfriend who didn't blow me, hated the taste and the feel, but he fucked like a god. No one is everything."

Josh kissed Trey's forehead and then tipped the man's face up for a real kiss. "I
want to be your everything."

"Baby, you can't be. No one can. Right now I'm going to go get cleaned up, though, because I really want you to scoot yourself around here and we'll see if a



sixty-nine between you and me can hit the ten mark."

Josh grunted as his body got really happy with that suggestion. He turned in the bed to lie on his side, watching as Trey made a quick trip to the can. Trey came
back in naked and rampantly erect. He gave Josh a grin and lay down reversed
with his head at Josh's hips. Trey slid a hand from his own smooth chest down over his abs to his groin and then waved his dick at Josh's mouth. "See something you like?"

"Oh yeah." Josh licked his lips. "Want to taste you." "Good thing I had the sense to get clean, huh?" "What? Oh, ick."
"Don't look at my dick and say ick." "What should I say?"
"Come here, you luscious piece of man meat?"

Josh laughed hopelessly. Trey's beautiful cock was hard and close, and Josh reached out and guided it between his lips.

"Ah. The man meat thanks you."

His chuckle rippled along Trey's silky skin as Josh tried to get coordinated enough to suck the man, and Trey moaned. "Fuck, that's nice. But you started without me. Gotta catch up."

As Trey licked along Josh's erect cock, kneading Josh's balls gently with one hand, Josh struggled to stay on task. Trey's touch and his smell and the taste and heft of him came together in a climbing rush that was nearly overwhelming. Trey's mouth on Josh was perfect in its wet tightness. The way Trey combined hand and lips and tongue, with soft moans that buzzed against Josh's sensitized skin, was pure heat. Trey's erect cock filled Josh's mouth perfectly, pulsing with life, with the salty-musk flavor that was Trey's own. They sped up the rhythm, each sucking deep, stroking, lost in the moment. As Josh came in a blinding rush, spilling down Trey's throat at the same moment that Trey filled Josh's mouth with his climax,
Josh thought he might just rate this a damned ten.

Trey reached down to turn him around and pulled him back up in the bed, putting an arm around him. Josh settled in gratefully against Trey. He suddenly felt safe, cradled against Trey. Safe and cherished and like he just might finally be enough for a man to consider worth keeping. But he couldn't prevent himself from saying, "You're sure? You won't get tired of just this, for years?"

"You blowing me into unconsciousness for years? Getting off by rubbing on



you, with your hands on me and your mouth? For years and years? Nope. Not a problem." Trey kissed him, and their tastes mingled in their mated mouths. "After you no other guy would ever be enough, no matter how versatile they were. This was my ten. And if you don't believe me, the next time we're around my mother you can whisper, 'Remember our sixty-nine' in my ear and get proof positive."
Josh laughed against his mouth. "Only if you promise never to do that to me." They both sobered. Trey gently stroked along Josh's arm. "I'm so sorry about
your folks."

"Not your fault. And it's more than worth it."
"Are you sure? You might still make it up with them, if you ditch me." Josh kissed him hard, almost angrily, over and over. Between kisses he
muttered. "Worth it. More than. Love you. So much. You. Mine. That's all I need."

Trey caught his face between firm hands to hold him steady. "I love you too." He stared into Josh's eyes, until Josh stilled. There was no room for the anger or the hurt when he was filled with the sight of Trey's intent gaze.

Josh sighed and relaxed, spooning in against Trey's side. "With you I can just be me. I'm home." And it felt like truth down to the center of his being. He was finally where he belonged.

**** EPILOGUE
The goddamned plane was late. Trey paced, walking an arc to avoid the squealing girls who were bent over a smart phone in some kind of a group orgy of giggles. An old woman in a wheelchair gave him a look of annoyance as he pivoted on his heel for the forty-seventh time. He shrugged in rueful apology.

Another glance at the monitor showed that the plane was now supposedly on the ground. Finally. His imagination followed it. Landing, taxiing in, deplaning, jetway, hiking through the fucking terminal, escalators. At least another fifteen minutes. Maybe more, because knowing Josh, he'd probably bought the cheapest ticket available and was practically seated in the rear bathroom where it would take half an hour just to get off the plane. More than half an hour. Trey figured he really should just take a walk over to the snack bar and come back. But he couldn't get himself to move away from carousel number three.

He touched his pocket, feeling the folded paper in there crinkle slightly. That was his contribution to moving them forward. A signed lease on the bigger condo at the other end of the complex, with a second spare room for a study for Josh, and



a bathroom with a walk-in shower and Jacuzzi. It was out of Trey's budget if he were renting alone, but if the biotech interview Josh had lined up panned out... This was Trey's declaration of faith.

He turned back to the monitor again. Flight at the gate. But it had said that before and then gone back to delayed. He wasn't sure what to believe. He pivoted irritably and rocked back hard on his heels. Because there was Josh, standing in front of him.

For a moment Trey just stared. They'd managed two visits in the last three months, most recently an intense week crammed into Josh's little studio, and they'd done a ton of Skyping since then so it wasn't as if they hadn't seen each other. But somehow he'd forgotten just how gorgeous Josh was. His hair had grown out a
little from the summer's close crop, and it showed gold highlights under the terminal fluorescents. He was still slim, but in a jacket over a button-down shirt his shoulders seemed broader. His dark eyes shone as he looked back at Trey.

Trey took one step to close the distance and then hesitated, not sure what Josh would be comfortable with in public. Josh set down his carry-on bag, reached out and pulled Trey into a tight hug. They swayed together. Trey rubbed his cheek against Josh's hair, softer now that it had some length but still smelling of Josh's drugstore shampoo and familiar man.

They separated enough to look at each other in satisfaction. Josh firmly clasped Trey's arms with both hands, shaking him back and forth slowly. Trey smiled. Suddenly Josh leaned in and kissed him, quick and dry but sweet and completely public. Trey thought his grin might crack his face. "So how many bags did you bring? Should I get a cart?"

"Not unless you've quit working out. There's just one."

Trey hesitated. "I thought you were moving all your stuff here, regardless of how this job works out."

"I am. But I found a college student who's transferring schools and he's driving a truck out here, and had some room in it. It was way cheaper. The airline charges twenty-five bucks for every damned bag. I brought enough for a few weeks."

"In one bag?"

"Just because you're a clothes freak doesn't mean I have to be."

"Heaven forbid." Trey looked Josh up and down. His jacket was threadbare and old, his shirt was a plain white, his jeans were loose-fitting and probably from Target, and he still looked hotter than any man had a right to. Trey smiled. "We can always buy you a few things."



"Maybe," Josh said warily. "After I land the job."

Trey raised one eyebrow, because they'd had this talk about how different they were with regard to spending money. Josh had claimed he wanted to break out of his father's parsimonious habits. At least a little bit. Slowly.

Josh's lips curved in a reluctant smile. "Maybe I could buy a few things right away."

Trey's laugh broke free, in pure appreciation of the moment and having Josh here at last, loudly enough that people turned to look. Most of them smiled, and only the one businessman in a tailored suit sniffed and moved away pointedly. Trey hugged Josh again and stepped over to the carousel. "So I'll recognize this bag
how? Soft-side vintage nineteen-eighty-three? Held together with duct tape?"

"Um, that one." Josh pointed at a battered bag that was held together by a rainbow luggage strap.

"Embracing the stereotypes?"

"Screw you. The zipper broke in the airport and it was the only strap I could find."

Trey bumped Josh away with his shoulder and reached for the bag. It jolted his arm as he yanked it off the belt. "Holy hell, what's in here?"

"Books, DVDs. I should have warned you."

"You think?" Trey set it down and pretended to rub his shoulder. "I would have got it." Josh reached to pick it up.
"Let me. You've got the carry-on."

"I can carry both my own damned bags. It doesn't have good wheels."

"I think I can manage." Trey hefted it. "Anyway, you really want to walk through an airport with a rainbow-striped bag?"

"I chose it," Josh said tartly. "And if I can come out to my folks, I figure I can be out to the rest of the world."

Trey sighed at that bit of truth. "The car is this way. Anything new from your parents?"

"Nope."

Trey knew Josh's parents had been shunning him. His phone calls went to voicemail, his weekly emails were unanswered. They hadn't changed their own email or number, which was perhaps hopeful, but Felix said when he called home



any mention of Josh got shut down immediately. Trey shifted the bag to his other hand and gave Josh's arm a comforting rub. It was clearly going to be a long road at best.

Josh glanced at him. "Aunt Julie and Uncle Ted have already invited us out for
Thanksgiving though."

"Maybe we'll visit them, but we have to have the meal with my parents. My mother would kill me if we missed it."

"They're really okay with us?" Josh asked, for about the thirteenth time.

Trey gave the same answer he'd given the last dozen times. "They're fine." It had been a little rocky at first, coming out to them, but that hadn't lasted long.

"I wish I could have gone with you when you told them. We could have taken the time that last morning."

Trey dropped his voice. "Are you kidding? The choice of your company for coming out to my liberal, greener parents or having two more hours to suck you into a coma? It was no contest." He smiled at Josh's blush.

It hadn't been quite that easy at home. Under other circumstances it might have been amusing to watch his parents fighting the twin impulses to say being gay was fine and to protest that they didn't want their son to be gay. His mom had shed a couple of tears over the grandkids issue. But once they knew it was Josh he was seeing, they'd both realized where the real angst should be. His mom's reaction of, "Oh, the poor boy," was happily aimed at the issue of Josh's parents and not his misfortune at hooking up with Trey. Trey's parents knew the other couple well enough to know Josh being gay would not go over well. They'd tried to talk to Nan and Gerry more than once since then, and were now receiving the same silent treatment.

Trey said, "Mom can't wait to mother you. Although she's not picking out china patterns and if you french me in front of her she might faint. She likes us better in the abstract than in the concrete."

"No frenching at Thanksgiving, check."

"Well, maybe she'll be more used to us by then."

Trey led them to the car and heaved the suitcase into the trunk. Judging by that weight, Josh had brought even more books and fewer clothes than Trey'd thought
at first. He was definitely going to take the man shopping. His eyes crossed at the thought of watching Josh buying some really nice clothes, marching the man in and out of the changing room to show them off. He would look amazing. On
second thought, maybe he'd let the man stick to baggy and only reveal the smoking



hot that was the hidden Josh in the privacy of their bedroom.

Josh reached out and touched his hand as he was about to turn the key. "Wait. Don't start the car."

"Huh?"

"It's my turn for a question of the day. I told you I'd wait until we were together."

"Don't you want to hold that thought until we're naked?" Josh shook his head with a faint smile.
Trey felt humor and anticipation battle for ascendancy. Ever since the first time, they'd made a game out of rate-the-sexual-kink. They'd sent emails back and forth, some serious, some very much not, asking "Me naked in fuzzy bunny ears – one or ten?" "You locked to the bed with fur-lined handcuffs – three? Six?" "Mirror on the ceiling? Eight? Or holy-shit-I-hope-it-doesn't-fall?"

They'd figured out along the way that neither found anything sexy about water sports, both could see trying a little light bondage play, and Josh had a surprising kink for looking at guys in women's underwear. Trey held back a smile, thinking of the lace he was wearing under his jeans, ready for Josh to discover when they got home in another hour or so.

But the last completed question two days ago had been Trey's, a joke about sheep, and Josh had delayed his own turn in the mechanics of moving.

Josh reached into his jacket and pulled an envelope out of his pocket. He passed it to Trey. "Here, I wrote it down with a visual."

Trey opened the envelope slowly, prolonging the moment, loving the thought that he had Josh handy to either kiss or tickle unmercifully, depending. The question thing was definitely going to be more fun face to face.

The question was on one sheet of paper, words and a printed picture:

"My ring on your finger? Yes? No?" The picture was two male hands, clasped tight, with a gold ring on the fourth finger of each strong hand.

Trey dragged his eyes up slowly from the picture to Josh's face. What he saw there almost took his breath away: love, need, anxiety, a question.

"And my ring on yours?" Trey asked softly. "Yes."
"Eleven," Trey said. "Definitely an eleven."



They leaned in together and met in the middle for a kiss, and it was a long, sweet, building-forever time before they reluctantly moved apart. In the end it was closer to two hours before Josh got to see the underwear.

THE END

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