Flicking ash from the tip of his cigarette, Brian replied, "I don't know," to Mikey's question. "I've just been thinking about it, that's all." Crossed his legs. "Not like I’m doing anything else." In fact, since graduating last June, he'd gotten a job down at the plant, just like his old man. "Going nowhere fast," he confessed, bitterness marring his handsome features.

"Yeah, but working in the plant is definitely better than going to fuckin' Vietnam." Of course, he hadn't gotten a job at the plant, preferring to work retail; not that slaving away in the Men's Department at Kaufmann's didn't have its downside too.

Brian raised a brow. "Who knows? Maybe I'd figure out what the hell all of this is about."

"The war?"

He waved his cigarette in the air. "Life."

"You think running around in the jungle and getting shot at is gonna teach you about life?" Michael asked in disbelief.

"Or death one." He stubbed out his cigarette and finished his beer before getting up. "I gotta go. I’m pulling an extra shift tomorrow and I need some sleep."

"Get together on Friday?"

Brian waved. "Yeah. Later, Mikey." Pushing through the door of the bar, Brian flipped up the collar of his jacket as protection against the October evening. Fuckin' Pitts. Least it'd be warmer in Southeast Asia. Thin as he was, he felt cold all the time. Should have gotten a Beam before leaving the bar. He'd have to hope there was a little left in the bottle at home. If the old man hadn't found it first. Not that he hadn't been intimate with the booze before, but since Joanie had passed away, Jack had been hitting the sauce pretty regularly. Every night, as a matter of fact. Brian figured it made sleeping alone easier. Definitely made him feel better about his cold bed. Or, rather, it made him feel nothing which was what he wanted. To feel nothing.

The house was dark. Jack was either asleep or out. As it was still early, Brian put his money on Jack being out. Probably getting drunk. So he could stumble home late at night and wake him up with his bumbling. Fuck.

Brian searched the liquor cabinet and found the bottle of Beam. Shook it with a grin. Just enough to put him out. He hoped. He was tired of lying awake at night thinking about shit that didn't do anything but keep him up and anxious.

With the last of the bourbon poured into a heavy-bottomed glass, Brian climbed into bed and knocked it back. Closed his eyes against the burn. Maybe tonight he'd fall straightaway to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, he knew that he'd be wide awake for a while. It was like this most nights. He knew the reason why and he knew what he needed to do. He just couldn't find the courage, the nerve to do it. People who knew him would have found it hard to believe that he lacked the balls to do anything. But they would have been wrong. He'd given up on his dream of going to college because there hadn't been any money and he hadn't wanted to leave his mom to depend on his old man alone. Of course, she'd died and his sacrifice had been for nothing but by the time she'd passed, he'd ceased to care about college. His future had loomed before him as tall as a smoke stack down at the plant. But that wasn't the worst of it. The worse was dealing with the loneliness.

Again, most people would have laughed at the idea of Brian being lonely, lacking for companionship. After all, he was quite handsome, beautiful most would have called him. He'd inherited his father's height and hair color, chestnut with auburn highlights; his mother's delicate bone structure; and his grandmother's hazel eyes and red lips. Girls had swarmed around him since he was thirteen and he'd ignored them all except for one or two that he'd dated to maintain the status quo. But his heart really hadn't been in the sweaty make-out sessions in the back of some movie theatre. It hadn't been what he'd wanted. Since graduation, he hadn't gone out with anyone but Mikey and the guys. He'd used his mother's death as an excuse but that hadn't been the real reason.

The real reason kept him up nights thinking, wondering, berating himself for being such a coward. It haunted him whenever he saw a beautiful boy or handsome man on the street and it kept his eyes down at the plant for fear of being discovered. It angered him as well. Enraged him when he thought about what his life might have been like if only he'd been born… different. No, not different, the same as everyone else. Michael loved women but he couldn’t talk to them, they intimidated him; Ted managed to fade into the woodwork even when he was the center of attention; and Emmett didn't believe he'd ever find a woman who was more fabulous than himself. He was probably right. Brian suspected that Emmett was like him: gay.

Even in the dark, even just thinking the word made him tremble. He whispered to himself to prove that he could say it, "I'm gay." He heard a noise and jumped and his heart began to race. When his pop didn't come lumbering by, he settled back down. Covered his face. How much longer could he live like this?


Michael was late. He was always late. Most of the time it wasn't his fault but on evenings like this Brian wasn't inclined to be generous: he felt like he was about to come out of his skin. He'd pulled a double shift the day before and worked eight hours today and all he wanted was to tie one on and forget about the entire fuckin' world. And to top it off, Mikey had wanted to come to this goddamn restaurant and he wasn't even here. And it wasn't one of their usual haunts. And he felt like he was on display in a fuckin' zoo. Too close to Carnegie-Mellon. Too close to coeds and a dream of college that he would never attain because he was too fuckin' cowardly. It was crowded as hell in the restaurant and he felt like he was suffocating. Pissed off at Mikey and himself, he started to leave. Pushed back in his chair and hit the person behind him. "Shit," he mumbled beneath his breath and then turned around to apologize. "Look, I'm…" A pair of blue eyes locked on his face and he forgot what he was about to say. Crinkles appeared at the corner of the eyes.

"You're sorry?" the guy asked.

Brian felt his chest tighten but he managed to nod. "Yeah, I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted."

He continued to stare at the guy, taking in his features: the soft blond hair, pouty lips, slightly upturned nose, and pale skin. And the smile: not too bright, not too wide, showing just the right amount of amusement. Never had he ever seen a more beautiful man. Boy, really. He looked maybe eighteen, if you were being generous. In any case, Brian assumed he was at least eighteen since he was out with the rest of the college crowd. Aware that he was staring, Brian looked away and muttered, "Excuse me." Started out of the restaurant.

"Hey." Michael crossed the threshold and grabbed his arm. "Where are you going?" Brian looked like he was sleepwalking.

He didn't say anything, just kept on moving. He had to get out of there, away from that guy before he did something stupid.

Like fall in love.

With Michael calling after him, he hurried down the street, hands jammed in his coat pocket. Finally catching up with him, Mikey jerked him to a halt. "What the fuck is the matter with you?"

"You were late."

"Fifteen minutes. You know how Carl is on Friday's."

"I got tired of waiting."

"I'm sorry. Okay? Let's go eat."

He shook his head. "I'm not hungry."

"Brian?" Michael watched as he shuffled off.

Coming to an alley, Brian slipped inside and leaned against a wall. God, he'd wanted to touch him, to see if his skin was as soft as it seemed, his hair too. He'd never seen hair so fine, like strands of gold. He'd wanted to feel it against his face, smell it. Shivering, he wrapped his arms around his middle.


It had been three days since he'd last seen Michael and since he'd bumped into the man of his dreams. He fantasized about him every night, waking up hard and hungry and wanting him so badly it brought tears to his eyes. He'd jack off and then lie there with cum on his belly, too depressed to clean up. His sleep disrupted, he found no relief at work. At odd times during the day he'd think about the guy, about his eyes, his lips, his beautiful face. More than once his supervisor had yelled at him to pay attention to what he was doing if he wanted to keep his job. Which was ironic since he didn't really care one way or the other except that it brought home a paycheck and helped pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Food he didn't eat. Even his dad commented on his lack of appetite and nothing seemed to penetrate the fog of drunkenness that surrounded Jack these days.

When he and the guys finally got together, they all mentioned that he looked as if he'd lost weight.

"And you didn't have any ass to spare in the first place," Emmett told him.

"Would you leave me the fuck alone?" he growled and hunched over his beer, not daring to meet any of their eyes.

"Hey, what's wrong?" asked Michael.

"Nothing's wrong." He took a deep breath. "I'm tired… that's all." He pressed his lips together to keep from sobbing. A tear slipped from beneath his eyelid. Embarrassed, he wiped it away and pretended not to have done so. But they had all seen.

Even Ted seemed concerned. "You wanna talk about it?"

"No," he replied. What was the point?

Michael wouldn’t give up. "Is it your dad?" Despite their disagreements, Brian and his dad loved one another, especially now that each was all the other had.

Brian chuckled. "Jack is gonna outlive us all. He's well-preserved. Pickled, in fact."

"Then what is it?" asked Emmett.

"I gotta take a leak." Leaving his beer on the table, Brian got up and escaped to the restroom.

Silently conferring amongst themselves, it was decided that Emmett would go after him. He found Brian staring in a mirror. Standing behind him and watching him for a while, Emmett said, "So you've finally admitted the truth to yourself, huh?"

"What do you mean?" Brian turned on the water and splashed his face.

"That you're gay."

"I’m not…" He couldn't finish the denial, didn't need a third cock's crow to convince him of the futility of denying what he knew to be true. His shoulders slumped beneath the burden of truth.

"So who is he?" Em asked. "This guy you've fallen for."

Brian turned to him in surprise. "How did you know?"

"You're a wreck. You look like you haven't slept in a week. That's either love or heartburn. Or both."

Brian laughed at the pun. Then sobered. "Are you…?"

Em gestured to his outfit which consisted of a pair of rust-colored trousers and a gold shirt. "Honey, what do you think?"

"Why didn't you ever say anything?"

"It didn't seem to matter. You guys accepted me for who I was so why rock the boat?" He gingerly touched Brian's shoulder, aware that he might be a bit jumpy after their mutual confessions. "Who is he?"

"I don't even know his name," Brian answered miserably. "I bumped into him in a restaurant and I can't get him out of my head." He sniffled. "I just want… someone."

Em shook his head. "Not someone. Him."

It was so easy to say and impossible to do. "I can't."

"You can do anything you want. You can have anyone you want. Brian," he said with a huge grin on his face, "all you have to do is take the first step." He opened the door and waited.


For two nights he'd frequented the area around the restaurant where he'd seen him hoping to run into him again. Feeling a little silly, he nevertheless scouted the streets, shaking off disappointment each time he glimpsed a blond head that turned out to be the wrong one. On the verge of giving up his foolish dreams, he spied yet another blond. Despite the fact that he'd been ready to go home, he pursued the young man waiting for confirmation of his identity. Finally, the guy turned to the side and Brian smiled. It was him. Then he panicked. Now that he'd found him, now what? Emmett had given him lots of excellent advice and he couldn’t remember a word of it. Resigning himself to a monastic life, he started to go when the guy spoke.

"Hey, it's you. From the restaurant, right?"

Brian nodded. "Yeah."

He held out his hand. "I'm Justin."

"Brian." They shook hands. Now that they were both standing, Brian realized how small the young man was compared to himself. He had, at least, six inches in height on him and probably ten or fifteen pounds.

Justin smiled and looked up at Brian through thick lashes. "I have to confess, I was hoping to run into you again."

"Why?" asked Brian, confused to say the least.

Justin's cheeks reddened. "Maybe I shouldn't say."

"Why not?"

"You might be offended."

He shrugged. "Try me."

"You promise you won't get mad?"

Brian smiled. "I promise." He didn't care what Justin had to say just as long as it kept him there, talking to him.

"I was kinda… taken with you," Justin confessed, the blush in his cheeks extending to his forehead as well.

Brian laughed. Hallelujah!

"I knew I shouldn’t have said—"

"No, wait." Justin had been about to walk away. "You don’t understand." He smiled, helpless to do otherwise. "I've been looking for you."

Gazing into Brian's eyes, Justin searched for the truth. "You mean it?"

He pointed to the buildings around them. "They probably think I'm casing the street." He felt his smile vanish and glanced around to see if anyone else was within earshot. "I'd really like to go somewhere else, just the two of us."

Justin gestured up the street. "My place is right around the corner. If we're lucky, my roommates won't be home."


As Justin led the way to his apartment, Brian reflected on the sudden change in his fortunes. He had found Justin, had connected, and they were going to Justin's apartment. But to do what? What did Justin expect of him? He didn't have a clue about having sex with another guy. What if Justin wanted to do it? Then what? How would he explain that he was a virgin, that he'd never even been with a woman? Stomach feeling a little queasy, he followed Justin up the stairs to a third floor apartment in an old brick building.

Justin flipped on the lights. "Here we are. It's not much but it's home." Actually, it was a fairly large place that reminded Brian of the apartments he'd seen in the movies. It was, to use one of Emmett's words, scrumptious. Justin told him that he occupied one of the more modest bedrooms by himself and the other two shared the master bedroom. "They're a couple," he explained. They had three bedrooms but one was for show in case they had company that didn't understand about their lifestyle.

"They're gay too?"

"Total queens," he said, giggling. "They kinda raised me. One's my uncle."

"Your uncle is gay?"

"I hope so. Or else Roger's in for a big surprise."

"That's his boyfriend?"

"He and Uncle Jay have been together for a long, long time. My folks died eight years ago and Uncle Jay took me in."

"How long have you known… that you were gay?"

"Since I was twelve."

Taking a seat, Brian felt as if he'd fallen into a rabbit hole and come out in Wonderland.

"You want something to drink?"

"No. Thanks." Seated on a white sofa, Brian felt distinctly out of place. He didn't belong here. He rose, intending to make excuses and leave, when Justin walked over to him and held out his hand.

"I want you to stay," he said, staring Brian directly in the eyes. "I know this place is kinda silly but…"

"It's beautiful." He lowered his eyes. "You're beautiful." He looked down at his hands, rough and callused. "I work in a steel mill and you go to college and you live in this place and my house is, is nothing like this."

"I don’t want your house. I want you," Justin confessed. "I think you're amazing. I think you're beautiful."

Ashamed to admit it, he did. "I've never…"

"We don’t have to do anything."

"I want to. I want you. I've wanted you ever since I saw you in that restaurant. I…" He blinked rapidly and Justin embraced him, held him as he shook.

"It's okay. It's okay to be scared," Justin said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. "It's a lot to take in. I know."

Brian pulled away and dried his eyes. "I'm sorry."

Justin cupped his face. "You want to see my room?"

He laughed. "Yeah. I'd love to."

Seeing Justin's room made him feel better. It was just an ordinary room, a lot like his own, except the furniture was of higher quality. Not by much though.

"See? I'm just a regular guy," he boasted.

Wandering around the room, Brian picked up a sketch pad. "Did you do this?" It was a drawing of a middle-aged man, handsome, with fair hair.

"That's my Uncle Jay."

"You drew this?"


Looking at the sketch, it was almost as if he knew the man. "This is incredible." He laid the pad down reverently. "I can't do anything like that."

"I'd love to draw you," Justin told him, moving to stand next to him. He drew Brian's head down and kissed him softly, their lips barely touching. "You want to go on?" Brian nodded, too full of emotion to speak. Justin caught Brian's lip between his own and kissed him harder. Felt Brian press back. When they parted, he asked, "More?"

"Yes," Brian replied and they came together again. He could feel Justin's tongue inside his mouth, searching for what he didn't know, but he didn't care, Justin could take forever to find it as far as he was concerned.

Justin leaned back and looked up into his beautiful eyes. "You want to go any further?" When Brian hesitated, he stroked his cheek. "We don't have to."

"I want to. Just… not yet." He turned his head and kissed Justin's hand.

"Wanna stay the night?" He pointed to the bed. "It's big enough for the both of us." Smiled. "I promise I won't try anything."

"I should get home. My dad… he'll…" Brian shook his head.


"I was about to say he'll be worried about me. What a laugh. Probably wouldn't even miss me. The only thing Pop would miss is a liquor bottle."

Pressing his advantage, Justin asked, "Then you'll stay?"

The bed was rather large, they'd have no problem at all sharing it, slender as they each were. And he wanted to. Badly. "I'll stay."

As they undressed, Justin kept sneaking glances at Brian's body. Long, lean, hard. There wasn't a spare ounce of fat anywhere on him. Each muscle seemed etched in his flesh. His legs stretched on forever. Justin could only imagine having them wrapped around his waist.

Brian's resolve was faltering. The sight of Justin's naked body was beginning to erode the barriers he'd erected around himself. The more he tried to look away, the more he wanted to see. And to touch. To touch Justin's flat belly and his round buttocks. He closed his eyes.

They kept on their underwear and slipped beneath the covers, lying as close to the edge on either side as they could. A chasm yawned between them. Justin chuckled a little, then smiled. "Goodnight."



Waking, he knew immediately that he wasn't in his bed. For one thing, he always slept alone and there was someone lying next to him, lying with his arm around his waist and he could feel the other man's crotch against his cotton-covered ass. Could feel his cock. Firm like his own. Morning hard-ons. All he had to do was to turn over. So easy, to just turn over…

He didn't. Instead he eased the arm from around him and threw back the covers. The cool air woke his companion.

"Brian," he said sleepily, "why are you up?"

He glanced at the clock. "Shit! I have to go."

"What?" Justin sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.

"I have to go to work. I'm gonna be late. Shit." He hunted for his clothes, found them and began dressing.

"I can fix you something to eat."

"No time." He sat on the bed to put on his socks and shoes. Felt Justin's hand in the middle of his back.

"You'll come back? Tonight?"

Without hesitation, he replied, "Yeah. Tonight." Got up and grabbed his jacket. "See ya." He rushed from the room without another word.

Justin's guardians were still asleep, he hoped, so he sneaked from the apartment and headed for the plant, hoping no one would notice that he was wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

Of course, they noticed. And, miracle of miracles, his dad was actually aware that he hadn't slept at home last night. During their break, the guys ribbed him mercilessly after Jack bragged that the boy had been out all night.

"Out carousing," Tony said.

"Just like your old man," laughed Johnny.

"A real alley cat."

Johnny got close to him and pretended to smell him. "Don't smell like pussy to me," he told the guys. "Maybe he just passed out in some alley by himself," and the guys howled with laughter.

Brian jerked away from him, irrationally afraid that Johnny would smell the truth: that he'd been with another man. Even though he hadn't been, not in the Biblical sense. They'd been as chaste as Boy Scouts. Except for a few deep kisses before climbing into bed. Brian felt hot all of a sudden.

"Chasing tail's good for him," Jack was saying. "Just as long as he doesn't bring home any brats."

No chance of that, Brian thought to himself. Unless you counted Justin who was eighteen going on thirty. Compared to him, Brian felt like a child.

"Least not until after they're married," his father added, winking.

The rest of the day passed in a haze of smoke and fire and fear. What was he going to do? At no point could he ever see bringing Justin home and introducing him to his dad as his boyfriend. So what was left? Building a life together as roommates with a spare bedroom for appearances? But what was the alternative? Being alone.

Splitting at the plant gates from his dad, who was going out drinking with the boys, Brian went home alone. Sat in the dark. He didn't feel like eating, didn't feel like calling Mikey, and he couldn't face Justin. Not like this. Not feeling the way he did: confused and frightened. He wanted to see Justin, wanted to pick up where they'd left off but it was just so easy to sit on his bed in the dark and do nothing. Only it wasn't easy, not really. Not when he ached to touch Justin, to kiss him again, to feel him pressed against his body.

He tracked the clock's progress for an hour before making up his mind.

The door was opened by the man in the sketch. He studied Brian for a moment, then seemed to remember something important. "You must be Brian. Come in. Come in." Stepping out of the way, he gestured for Brian to take a seat. "Justin's out with his friends. He thought you weren't coming. And Roger's… out playing 'bridge,' " he said curving his fingers like quotation marks.

Amused despite finding out that Justin wasn't there, Brian asked, "What does that mean?"

"It means he's probably out chasing someone who looks suspiciously like you." He paused by a drink cart. "Would you care for something?"

"No, thanks. I should go if Justin's not here."

"Stay. He'll be back soon. I sent him out, if you must know. He was starting to get on my nerves. All the pacing and the drama. Such a princess," he said with an arched brow. Jay perched on an ottoman. Crossed his legs and took a sip of his drink. Sighed dramatically. "Perfect. So, you're the one who's going to break my nephew's heart."


"Don’t deny it. I know your type. You've been pretending to be straight, you've been conflicted, confused, and now you think you've seen the light because Justin has a great ass." Another sip. "Well, it ain't that easy."

"I almost didn't come," he confessed.

"Why not?"

"Because I don't know…" Brian pressed his lips together for a moment, then started again. "I don't know what to do." He felt the first tear fall and then another but he made no move to wipe them away. "I don't want to hurt him."

Jay moved over next to Brian and slipped an arm around his shoulders. "Don't listen to me. Justin can take care of himself. You're the one who needs watching over." He squeezed Brian in an one-armed hug. "Come on, let me fix you a drink and we can talk until Justin gets back. I'll regale you with tales of my wayward youth and you'll forget all about your problems." Giving Brian a final squeeze, he went back to the drink cart. "What's your poison?"

Before he could answer, they heard a key in the door and Justin came in. His face lit up immediately when he saw Brian. Then he frowned. "Uncle Jay, are you trying to get him drunk?"

"Why I've never—"

"Roger says that's how you met him."

"Roger is exhibiting signs of advanced senility. He was the one who chased me."

Crossing to Brian, Justin laid a hand upon his arm and smiled. "I've been wanting to talk to you all day."

"Me too."

Jay sighed dramatically. "I guess that's my cue to exit stage left." He waved. "Just remember, some of us need to get some sleep tonight. So keep it down," he said before disappearing down the hall.

Brian blushed but Justin laughed. "Please, he'll have a glass to the wall. Which won't do him any good cause there's a room between his and mine." He touched Brian's face tentatively. "That's if you're staying."

"I'm staying," he said softly.

Justin held out his hand as he had the night before and Brian took it and followed him into his room. Closed the door himself. "I thought about you all day," he told Justin. "I'm scared," he said.

"It'll be okay. We'll go slow."

"I'm not talking about sex," Brian explained. "I'm talking about everything after."

"So am I." He gripped Brian's arms. "I'm scared too."


"Because…" He laughed ruefully. "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I think I'm falling in love with you."

"Why's that crazy?"

"Because I don't know anything about you."

"That's why," Brian said. "If you knew me, you wouldn't want me at all." He pulled away and sat at Justin's desk.

Justin slipped his arms around Brian's neck. "I'd only want you more." Brian closed his hand about Justin's, held it in place over his heart.

If his inhibitions could have been shed as easily as his clothes, he would have been deliriously happy. As is, he still felt but the slightest twinge of guilt as Justin unbuttoned his shirt and drew it down over his shoulders. He'd waited all of his life for this moment and nothing, not even his own fears, would spoil it.

Justin followed the shirt with his lips, kissing his way across Brian's shoulders and along his arms. Kissed his fingers. As fine as Brian had looked the night before, he felt even better now that Justin could touch him without fear of rejection. Last night, he'd worked his way across the bed and woke with his arm around Brian's waist. Tonight, he would go to sleep curled around him. That was a promise he made to himself.

With a sigh, he surrendered completely to Justin. Whatever he wanted, he would have. As Justin licked up his neck, searching for his lips, Brian wrapped his arms around the younger boy, holding him so tightly Justin could feel Brian's heart racing. While they kissed, Justin unbuttoned Brian's jeans, working them down around his hips. He cupped Brian's groin, felt his cock stir as each devoured the other's mouth. Inhaling Brian's breath, Justin gave him his own in return, warm and scented with spices from the meal he'd eaten earlier. Kneeling at Brian's feet, Justin unlaced his boots and pulled them off. They were followed by his jeans and then his socks. He reached for Brian's underwear, paused, looking Brian's eyes for permission. With a smile, Brian granted it and Justin slipped the white briefs free of his body. Before discarding them though, he buried his nose in the crotch and inhaled.

Watching Justin, Brian felt his cock twitch. He would never have guessed seeing someone do that would be so erotic. Of course, part of his arousal came from the fact that he was lying naked on Justin's bed. Far from being frightened, he now felt empowered. He could see the desire in Justin's eyes. Justin wanted him.

He echoed Brian's thoughts. "I want you," he confessed, voice already husky with lust.

"I want to see you," Brian told him.

So Justin undressed for him, Brian's eyes never leaving his body as he dropped off his clothes piece by piece. When he was done, he turned around slowly to give Brian a look at all sides.

He licked his lips and remembered what Jay had said about Justin having a great ass. He did. Pert and voluptuous, it enticed you to touch it, to hold it in your hands, to kiss it. He blushed at his thoughts and the way his cock stiffened against his thigh.

"Tell me," Justin said.

"I want to kiss you." His blush deepened.

Justin climbed onto the bed and waited. When Brian rolled him over onto his belly, he was a bit surprised but he quickly joined in the game. He lay on his stomach, presenting the round globes of his ass, which were but a shade lighter than the rest of him. "Kiss me," he said, tightening the muscles in his behind.

Faced with what he wanted, Brian found his courage. He leaned over and kissed the tops of Justin's buttocks, one hand cupping his hip. Justin's scent enflamed him and he hungered for more of his flesh. He kissed along the divide between Justin's cheeks, parting them so he could bury his face in the lightly furred valley. Coming to Justin's hole, Brian paused.

Softly, Justin said, "There's no rush."

Justin's words gave him permission to retreat. He lay next to him and caught his breath. He was so hard, he couldn't believe how hard he was just from kissing another man's ass.

"I want to kiss you," Justin told him and Brian smiled. His smile became a gasp as Justin kissed the tip of his cock. Not only kissed it but dragged his tongue across his pisshole too. He shivered as Justin kissed the head again, this time closing his lips completely around it and sucking hard. "Justin," he moaned. "I can't…"

"It's okay," he reassured Brian. "Whatever happens, it's okay."

A series of butterfly kisses to the shaft had Brian's shoulders and feet pushing down into the bed as he raised his hips, wanting to be back inside Justin's mouth. His lover soon obliged him, Justin's tongue revolving around his hard flesh as his lips sucked their way down to the root.

Brian squeezed his eyes shut and fought the urge to scream. Jacking off had never felt like this. It was as if he'd been touching someone else's cock all these years and had never known what it was like to be touched himself. Justin somehow ferreted out a dozen places that gave him such pleasure when licked, when sucked that he saw colors swirling behind his closed lids. He buried his fingers in Justin's hair and held on as Justin worked up and down his cock, leaving no spot unexplored in his quest to please him.

Eyes fixed on Brian's face, Justin gauged him close to coming and released him. Then, with Brian watching him, eyes dark and glazed over, he began jacking his shaft as he sucked his balls.

The moment Justin's lips touched his sac, he cried out and came, jizz falling on his heaving chest and hard belly.

Justin continued to stroke him as he emptied his balls, then lay down next to him and kissed him gently while running his fingers through the cum on his skin. Kissed his cheek. "Was that good?"

Unable to speak, he nodded and entwined his fingers with Justin's. Then he turned away from his lover. "I don't know… how," he confessed, a tear falling. "How to," he began again but he couldn't complete the sentence, he was too ashamed, humiliated by his ignorance.

"I'm a good teacher," Justin bragged, getting the tiny laugh he'd been hoping to get. He brushed away the tear and kissed Brian's mouth. Slipped his tongue inside and, at the same time, moved Brian's hand to his cock. He was rock hard. "See what you do to me?" he said. Brian stroked him and Justin moaned, precum gushing from his dick. He moved over onto his back and shut his eyes as Brian brought him off. He loved the feel of Brian's strong hand around his cock, squeezing the shaft firmly, pulling just so, just enough to make his balls jiggle. And as Brian worked his cock, he kissed him, slipping his tongue inside Justin's mouth to slide against his tongue, the two muscles snaking about one another in a sinuous, sensual dance.

Brian could feel Justin's cock swelling again. Tightening his grip, he tugged even harder until Justin groaned inside his mouth and shot his load on his belly, muscles jerking as cum splattered his skin. Bringing his wet fingers to his mouth, Brian licked the spooge from them and then kissed Justin again, sharing the taste of his jizz.

Around Brian's tongue, Justin whispered, "Where have you been?"

Brian had no answer, he'd been thinking much the same.


Over the next few weeks he saw much of Justin and very little of his father or his friends, checking in with them enough to let them know that he was okay but not spending enough time with them to have to answer any questions. Only Emmett seemed really aware of what was happening and he kept silent.

Brian was in heaven. For the first time in his life he felt complete, felt as if he understood the world and his place in it. Justin circumscribed his world and as long as he could be by Justin's side, he was happy. As much as he wanted to forget, he remembered what his life had been like before Justin and he never wanted it to be that way again. To be able to confide in someone about your innermost feelings, to have a supportive shoulder to lean on when you were afraid or feeling weak, it was more than he ever thought he'd have. The only thing that bothered him was the thought that he wasn't enough for Justin. Justin deserved better, deserved someone who could take care of him, who was smart like he was and talented, someone who didn't have oil under their fingernails and the smell of smoke in their clothes. Sometimes he felt as if he didn't have the right to be with Justin, to touch him, he was so fine, so perfect, but he loved Justin and he didn't think he could give him up, no matter what. And each night he prayed that he'd never have to.

The household was in an uproar when he got there, the subject of their debate the same as in most other families: the war. Brian had learned a long time ago not to mention the war at his house unless he wanted a lecture about how in WWII men stood up for their country and for the rights of the oppressed and did America proud. He knew that his old man was waiting for him to enlist and, once upon a time, he would have obliged him but not now, not that he had Justin.

Justin paused long enough to answer the door and kiss Brian hello, then he yelled back at his uncle, "You wouldn't feel that way if I were in Vietnam."

Waving a hand in the air, cigarette smoke forming circles, Jack said, "But why would you be? You're an artist."

"And artists don't fight?" asked Justin.

"You're more important than that. You're going to be someone someday. Not spend your life slaving away in some factory like a mindless drone."

Jay's words, although not directed at him intentionally, felt like a slap in the face. Brian averted his eyes, hoping the moment would pass without anyone acknowledging Jay's faux pas. Actually, he was hoping that Justin would defend him, make him feel as if he mattered.

Justin said nothing. Only tugged on his arm, his signal for them to retire to his room.

Beyond hurt, Brian resisted. He exchanged a glance with Justin, then turned and left the apartment. He heard Justin running behind him as he took the stairs.

"Brian! Brian, wait!"

At a landing, he paused. When Justin went to touch him, he jerked away. "You don't want it to rub off on you. My mindlessness."

"Brian, I didn't say that."

"No, you didn't say anything." His eyes shone even as they accused. "Which said everything." He started down and paused on the next step. "I thought, for one moment, that I was important too." His voice lowered. "But I'm not. I'm not important at all."

Justin watched him leave, head bowed, shoulders slumped. Defeated.

He held it in until he got home. Walked without a word past his pop who was watching the news. Closed the door to his room and sat on his bed. Then, seated in the dark, silently, he began to cry. He should have known better, people like him didn't belong with people like Justin. His dad could have told him that, had told him that more than once. "Stick to your own kind," he'd say. He was right. He should have known that it would never work out, that Justin would tire of him, that the allure would wear off, much the same as the allure of the rough, young men Roger dallied with wore off. After a few hours of playing, Roger would come home to Jay, where he belonged.

Brian didn't belong with Justin in an apartment that looked like it should be on the cover of a magazine. He belonged here with his second-hand furniture and hand-me-down rugs and curtains.

Yet even that was a lie. His recent experiences with Justin had given voice to the lie. He didn't belong here either.

But he knew where he did belong. And maybe once he was there, in the midst of the confusion of war, maybe it would suddenly become as clear as a bullet and, before he died, he'd finally understand what it all meant.


Someone was at the door and his pop had already left for the night. Brian was supposed to meet the guys at their favorite bar to tie one on before he went down to the Army recruiting center tomorrow. Even though it'd be a while after he enlisted before he had to show up for boot camp, he'd promised himself that once he signed on the dotted line, he'd tread the straight and narrow. So this was his last opportunity to get shit-faced before he became Uncle Sam's property.

He'd just been on his way up to change when someone knocked. "Shit," he grumbled, thinking it was probably one of Jack's cronies come to see if the old man was up to gallavanting around tonight. Well, they were too late. He'd already gone.

Turning around on the stairs, Brian went back down and threw open the door.


He started to close it again but Justin held out a hand to stop him. "Please. Can we talk?"

"Nothing to talk about."

"Brian, I'm sorry. I’m sorry I didn't say anything that night—"

"You were right not to. Your uncle hit it right on the head."

"He's a stupid old fairy who's had it easy all of his life. He doesn't know shit!"

"It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me. I love you," Justin told him. "Please, Brian…"

"It doesn't matter."

"Stop saying that!"

"It doesn't. I'm enlisting tomorrow," he explained. "I'm going to Vietnam."

Justin felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. "No…"

"And I'm meeting my friends tonight so I need to change." He fixed his eyes on Justin's face. "And you need to go."

Instead of leaving, though, Justin pushed past Brian and stood in the foyer with his arms folded.

"Fine." Brian went upstairs leaving his unwanted guest in the livingroom. He was seething. He didn't give a fuck what Justin wanted, not anymore. He didn't intend to get his heart broken twice. Pulling off his shirt, he reached for a clean one. Fuck Justin. Fuck him.

Justin came inside his room and Brian froze in the act of buttoning his shirt.

"Go away."

"Make me."

Brian turned and reached for Justin, to toss him out, but Justin caught his hand and held it in his. Then softly kissed his knuckles.

"I love you."

"I don't care."

"I miss you."

"I don't… care." But it was hard not to care when Justin was holding his hand and kissing his fingers.

"I don't want you to go."

Brian looked away.

"I don't want you to die."

"People die all the time. I'm nobody special; remember?"

"Then I'll die too. I'll go with you. I'll quit school and I'll sign up too."

"This isn't a fuckin' political statement!" Brian yelled, seeing red and wanting to deck Justin.

"No, it's my life," he said quietly. "You're my life." He swallowed. "And if something happened to you, it wouldn’t mean shit." Brian tried to pull away from Justin but the young man held on to him. "You want to throw your life away, kill yourself, there are easier ways. I'll find you a fuckin' gun and you can do us both, put us both out of our misery."

"Why didn't you say something!" Brian shouted, all of the hurt he'd been feeling suddenly come to the surface. A tear ran down his face. "You just stood there and said nothing. I felt… like a fool for ever believing anything you said to me."

"I'm sorry. Brian, I'm so sorry. Please," he squeezed Brian's hand, "forgive me. I guess, my only excuse is that he's my uncle and I know him, I know he says things and he doesn't mean them, and I wanted to take you into my room and explain but you left. I'm sorry."

Brian sniffled. He wanted to believe Justin, wanted to trust him again but it had really hurt: Justin's apparent abandonment of him, and he was hesitant to take a chance on him again.

"I love you," Justin said again. He released Brian's hand. "But I'll understand if…" his lip trembled, "…if you don't want to be with me." By now they were both crying.

For the first time in his life, his father had been proud of him, because he planned to enlist. What would Jack say if he changed his mind? Taking Justin in his arms, Brian sighed with relief. He didn't care what Jack said, this was where he belonged. This was his life.

Their lips met in a kiss. It had been so long since they'd last been together. "I love you," Brian whispered. "Stay with me."

Justin nodded. "What about your friends?"

Having forgotten about them, Brian grinned. "I'll be right back."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Me neither," he assured his lover.

His lips pressed to Justin's face, Brian said, "I want us to be together."

"We are."

"No, I mean… you know." So far over their month-long relationship, they had skirted that issue.

"You want me—"

"I want to feel you." Brian held Justin's gaze. "Inside me."

"You sure? We don't have to do this."

"I want to." He smiled softly. "I love you."

Justin swallowed around the lump in his throat. "I love you."

Brian pulled Justin over on top of him and kissed him.

Since it was Brian's first time, Justin took extra care to relax him, to make him feel comfortable. They kissed for a while, just kissed and then, gradually, Justin began touching him, stroking him, kissing him all over his body until Brian ended up on his belly with Justin's head between his thighs. He moaned as Justin kissed up from his sac along the divide separating his buttocks and then gave a small cry. Justin's tongue flickered around his hole. His body seemed to go all wavy like it did in a carnival fun house mirror.

Not having the proper items on hand, they made do with what they had: a small jar of petroleum jelly that Brian had pilfered from the medicine cabinet. Poking his finger into it, Justin made sure the entire length was coated, then ran his finger between Brian's cheeks, pausing at his hole. He rotated the tip over the knotted opening until he felt it relax just a bit. Kept plying the wrinkled edges, increasing the pressure but remaining outside of Brian, building the anticipation, making Brian want to take things further. And he did. Justin could hear his breathing grow heavier, hear him panting almost until Brian said breathlessly, "Please." Justin pushed his finger in past the tight opening and waited.

The room spun off its axis. Brian wriggled, impaled on Justin's finger. Justin worked it in and out of him, slowly, listening, watching for any sign of discomfort. "How does it feel?" he asked but Brian couldn't answer, he was too busy enjoying the sensation. Although Brian had adapted to the intrusion well enough, Justin knew that a finger did not begin to compare to a man's cock. He didn't know how Brian would react but he was determined to make the experience as pleasurable as he could.

Sliding his finger free, he had Brian turn over on his back. Maintaining eye contact, he used the Vaseline to lube his cock and smiled as Brian's eyes seemed to glaze over at the sight. Justin knew he had a beautiful cock, knew how good it would feel once Brian adjusted to the new sensation. He lifted Brian's legs and let them hang over his shoulders. "Ready?" he asked and Brian nodded. Softly, Justin said, "I want you to relax. Okay?"

Swallowing, Brian said, "Okay."

"It's gonna hurt a little bit—okay, a lot—but then it's gonna feel so good. I promise."

"I trust you."

Touched by Brian's simple faith in him, Justin positioned himself over Brian, supporting his weight on his hands. His cock nudged apart Brian's cheeks. "I love you," he said and then he pushed.

Brian groaned, then clamped down on the sound. Unfortunately, he also tightened every muscle in his body and Justin was effectively blocked.

"Baby, you gotta relax. Come on. I want you to relax," he whispered, a chant almost. "Relax," he told him. "Relax…" He watched Brian's muscles unclench the tiniest fraction and he pushed again. "That's it, that's it, just relax."

"It hurts," Brian gasped, head curled towards his belly.

"Just breathe," Justin told him. "Breathe, baby. Breathe." Brian tried to calm down, to focus on something other than the pain. He laid his head back on the pillow and took a deep breath. "That's it. That's it. God, you feel so good. You feel so good." He continued the apply pressure, opening Brian up, stretching him wider. To Justin, it was just as much his first time as Brian's. He'd never felt this way before, that what they were doing was special. Sex, before Brian, had been fun, been pleasurable, enjoyable, but never more than a distraction. Everything had changed with Brian. He thought he'd never forget tonight, each detail was etched in his memory. He saw a tear form at the corner of Brian's eye and hang there, suspended by a lash. He felt his cock bump into Brian's prostate and listened as the other man cried out, body trembling from the pleasure and pain, each motion spreading outwards like ripples on water to engulf him as well. He shook with Brian. When he had buried himself inside Brian to the hilt, he stopped. Tenderly smiled down at his lover. "You okay?"

"That was a bitch," Brian replied, returning a crooked smile. The tear had finally fallen.

"You wanna stop?"

"Hell no," Brian answered. "Go on," he said, a hint of bravado peeking through, "fuck me."

The words sent chills down Justin's back and he withdrew just a bit. Brian cried out and tightened up on him, his muscles squeezing Justin's cock. Justin knew it'd be sore after this. But he also knew that the pleasure would be worth the discomfort. When he reached the end of his stroke, he paused a moment before plunging back inside.

Brian arched his back as his lover penetrated him again. He was still tight, still in some pain, but he could imagine that the pain would soon ease as each time Justin's cock hit his prostate, flashes of light went off behind his eyelids.

Slowly, patiently, Justin worked to loosen him up, talking to him as they fucked to help relax him, the bedsprings providing appropriate background noise for his monologue. Finally, the moment came when the muscles in Brian's belly seemed to unknot and the grimace on his face was transformed into something close to a smile. And then the smile yawned and became a moan.

Moaning as Justin fucked his ass, Brian wondered why they'd waited so long to do this. It felt like his belly was filled with bees. He couldn't stop moving, jerking, shaking. Every time Justin entered him, his awareness of the world outside them slipped another notch. There was nothing else but this bed, this body moving inside him. The tip of his cock dripped precum on his belly, providing lube for his dick as it slid against his skin, propelled by the force of Justin's thrusts. He could feel the cum churning in his balls, knew that it wouldn't take much longer before he'd be wet and sticky.

Listening to his lover's cries, Justin speeded up. He had no more control over his actions. Having reined in his motions for so long to make sure he didn't hurt Brian, he released the restraints he'd placed on himself and let go. His ass was a blur as he pounded Brian's hole. Sweat dripped from his body to Brian's, to soak into his skin much like his cum would be absorbed by Brian's body. Justin groaned. Just thinking about coming seemed to trigger a response in him. It felt as if someone had tapped him in the small of his back with a cattle prod. Jerking hard two, three, four times, he dropped his load, cock sliding through cum as he continued to thrust.

Feeling Justin's cock swell impossibly, Brian tightened around his lover and came. Cream spilled over his belly in a pearly stream. He jerked his hips upwards as he ejaculated, meeting Justin's motions with his own.

After they'd both finished, Justin waited a moment before pulling out. Brian uttered a tiny cry as Justin slipped free. Although their coupling had begun with pain, it had definitely ended with pleasure and he didn't want to part.

Justin laid down upon Brian's belly, sticky with cum, and kissed his chest. Now they were no longer alone; they were one.


He dreamt that someone was calling his name and woke to realize it was true a second before the door opened and his father yelled, "Brian! You're gonna be… late… for work," the last two words almost inaudible. He'd seen.

The two of them snug in bed, Justin's arm around Brian's waist, Brian trying sleepily to extricate himself before his dad saw but it was too late.

Jack's expression, at first one of annoyance that Brian was still asleep when he only had about a half hour to get to work, changed to that of confusion and then anger. "What the fuck…?" He stared at them in disbelief, then shut the door.

Grabbing his jeans, Brian slipped them on and ran out of the room still zipping them up. "Pop! Pop, wait!" He caught up with him downstairs.

"I gotta go to work," Jack muttered, reaching for the knob to the front door.

"Pop, please, let me explain—"

"Explain what? How I found you…" Jack rubbed his head. "I can't even say it."

"Pop…" It was so hard to say but he had to, he had to be able to say it to Jack. "Pop, I'm gay."

"Don’t! Don't you fuckin' say that."

"Won't make it any less true."

Jack started towards Brian, anger suffusing his features. "Don't you smart off at me, you hear?"

"What do you want me to say?" Brian took a tentative step towards his father. "You want me to lie? Tell you we're just friends who had too much to drink and fell asleep in the same bed? Is that what you want to hear?"

"I don’t want to hear any of this."

"Pop, listen to me. I love him and we made love."

Jack lashed out at his son, slapping him so hard Brian fell back against the wall. "I won't have it! Not in my house." He took a deep breath and wanted to retch: he could still smell the aroma of cum that had assaulted him when he'd opened the door to Brian's room. It clung to his clothes like cigarette smoke. "Least you'll be away from him soon enough." Vietnam.

"I’m not going." Despite his stinging face, he risked being struck again.


Brian gathered his courage. "I’m not enlisting. I'm staying here. With Justin." He saw his father start towards him again but stood his ground. Nothing Jack could do to him would change his mind. But Jack didn't hit him again. Instead, he nodded as if it had suddenly become clear to him.

"Not only are you a pervert, you're a fuckin' coward too."

"Why should I die for something I don't believe in?"

"What exactly do you believe in?" He gestured blindly upstairs. "You think fuckin' another man is something to be proud of?"

"I'm not ashamed of that," Brian replied. "Besides, you think if I went in and told the Army I was sleeping with another man, they'd let me in?"

"You don't have to tell them anything."

"I'm not going to lie. Not about this. Not about us. I love him too much."

"I said, I don't want to hear it!" Jack looked around at the livingroom, anywhere but at his son. "We had one child, one. You. And then Joanie couldn't have anymore. She used to watch over you like a hawk, always afraid something was going to happen to you. You were her only hope, if you didn't do something, it wouldn't get done cause that was it, no more babies for her. And what did you do? Thank God your mother died before this day came. You would have broken her heart."

That hurt. Of all the people who might have understood, Brian thought Joanie might have. Despite her religious beliefs, her devotion to Catholicism, he thought she might have been able to see past the surface to the love beneath. The love he and Justin shared. A tear rolled down his cheek. "I wish you could understand," he said softly.

"I want you out of my house."

Brian couldn't help it, he just had to try once more to reach is father. "Pop, please... it's me, it's Brian. Pop--" But Jack wasn't listening, he'd stopped listening the moment he'd closed Brian's bedroom door.

Justin had come partway down the stairs. He stood and watched the drama reach its denouement.

Knowing this was where it was going to end even as he'd first gotten up from his bed, Brian said resignedly, "I'll pick up my stuff after work."

"I want you gone. You understand?"

Angrily, Brian shouted, "I said I'd do it after work!"

"Don't you raise your voice to me!" Jack stared at him and Brian could see the pain in his eyes. "I loved you, boy, even though I might not have done all the things you wanted me to do. And, now, I just feel... sick. You make me sick."

Brian heard the hatred in his voice and it hurt, God, it hurt to know that he had done that, he'd made his father hate him.

"You know what, you get your shit and you leave now. I'll tell 'em you're under the weather. That way I don't have to look at you any more than I have to." He glanced up the stairs at Justin and then back down at his son. "I never want to see your face in this house again. Understand? Either of you." With that, he left for work.

Aware that Justin was waiting for some word from him, he said, "Guess that saves me having to find a way to tell him." Chuckled and then covered his face, sobbing. When Justin came to him, he embraced him, sharing the other man's strength.

"I'm proud of you."

"For what?" Brian said, face pressed against Justin's shoulder.

"For standing up for yourself. For standing up for us." He kissed Brian's cheek tenderly. "Where will you go?"

Pulling away, Brian sniffled. "Mikey's mom will let me stay with them for a few days, I guess. After that, I don't know."

"Come stay with me."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Your uncle, for one thing."

"He didn't mean what he said."

"Yes, he did. He just didn't mean to say it in front of me. Or maybe he did. I know he doesn't think much of me, because I work at the mill and I'm not in college. I don't blame him." He lowered his head. "Pop was right about one thing. I am a coward."


"I could have gone to college if I tried. But I was scared. High school was bad enough but I didn't want to be someplace where I had to prove myself all the time. Down at the mill, I do my job and people respect that. They respect me. Mostly cause of my old man but some because of me too. I used my mom being sick as an excuse to stay home and work instead of going to school but I could have gone. I could have gone to school here, gone part-time or something, but I was afraid. Now, it's too late."

"It's not too late," Justin told him. "Come stay with us."

"I can't accept charity."

"It won't be. You can work part-time and take classes. Pay my uncle rent if you want. And we can be together." He cupped Brian's face. "I need you." Kissed him. "Please?"

Brian relented. After so much rejection today, it felt good to be wanted, even if that need was the cause of him losing so much else. "You call your uncle, see if it's okay. I'll be upstairs." Before he left, he kissed Justin and whispered, "I love you. No matter what."


"So," said Emmett, looking very self-satisfied, "this is Justin." He had convinced Brian that he couldn’t hide his new beau any longer especially since they were "living in sin" and that a proper "Meet the Friends" dinner was in order. Jay and Roger had agreed to vacate the premises for one evening while Brian and Justin hosted their first formal/informal dinner party. Emmett held out his hand. "I’m Emmett, the flamboyant one."

Justin grinned. "Is that a synonym for gay?"

"As a goose," he replied to Ted and Michael's dismay.

"We're outnumbered," said Ted.

"Call the Calvary," Michael suggested.

"Sorry," said Brian, "no women allowed." He'd been afraid to come out to his friends--Em excepted--but they'd surprised him by being almost nonchalant about it. Michael had even put a positive spin on it saying at least he and Ted wouldn't have to compete with Brian anymore for attention from the ladies.

As they settled down and Brian and Justin handed out the beer and wine--beer for Brian, Ted, and Mikey, and wine for Justin and Em--Justin asked, "So you guys have known each other for how long?"

"Since high school," replied Mikey. "Actually, Brian and me, I met in junior high."

"I'm not a grammar teacher," teased Justin.

Michael looked around the swank apartment which was like nothing he'd ever seen. "This place reminds me of the ladies who come to shop at Kaufmann's."

"My Uncle Jay and his boyfriend Roger are two of the ladies who shop at Kaufmann's," Justin joked. "They are beyond queenie."

"Uber queens," suggested Em.

"Exactly." He and Emmett clicked glasses. "I love 'em though."

"I can't believe you live here," Michael told Brian.

"Me neither." He smiled shyly. "I'm just glad I have somewhere to live. Other than the streets." It had been a week since he had left home and although he still felt bitter about his father's reaction, it no longer hurt as much.

"You could have stayed with us," Michael said. "My mom would love to have you around."

"She just likes to cook."

"She likes you." They'd both gotten slapped upside the head more than once by Deb but they both knew that her slaps were signs of affection.

"Yeah," he said with a wide grin, "but Justin loves me." The aforementioned person turned and smiled at his lover, then returned to his conversation with Ted and Emmett.

"So," Michael asked, "I guess you've figured it all out then. What it all means."

And Brian nodded. For the first time in his life, he thought he had.

After the guys had gone, Brian and Justin cleaned up and retired to their room. It was really still Justin's room with a few of Brian's things scattered around but Justin had promised him that they would redo the room to reflect both their tastes. Brian still wasn't sure he had any.

They slipped into bed and lay together talking about the evening and the success of their party. Made plans to have another dinner for Brian to meet Justin's friends even though Brian was less than excited. He still felt a little intimidated even by Jay and Roger and they had made every effort to make up for Jay's thoughtless remarks and to make Brian feel welcome. He couldn't imagine that Justin's artsy friends would do the same. But he owed it to Justin to try.

"What are you thinking about?" Justin asked him and he laughed.

"I bet you watch me even when I'm asleep," Brian said.

"I do," confessed Justin. Then he got up and retrieved a framed sketch from behind his dresser.

"What's that?" He'd never even seen it back there.

"A surprise." Justin held it behind his back, then extended it towards Brian. "For you."

Sitting up, Brian took the picture. Anything he was about to say got stuck in his throat. Ambushed by his emotions. It was a sketch of him. Asleep. It was amazing. Justin had captured a gracefulness that he felt he rarely displayed in his waking life. He seemed to be at ease, sleeping peacefully; strong and capable yet sensuous, content to be beautiful. "It's incredible," he said at last to put Justin's mind at ease. "When…?"

"Mmm, maybe the fourth night you spent over here. When you were still living at home."

"You mean my pop's place." Brian set the drawing on the floor, next to the bed, and drew Justin down into his arms. "This is mine."

Challenge Scenario:

O.K. I really don't have a story line to suggest. I'm really just a hopeless romantic and I would love to have you write a story that's really romantic and full of drama. Things along the line of "Justin Taylor," "Wunderkind," "Perspective," and "A Shaft of Moonlight" are great. I'm really sorry I don't have a real story to suggest to you but I'm hoping you can come up with something that is really romantic, sweet, dramatic, and of course a tearjerker. Thanks!

Author's note:
I decided to make Brian and Justin contemporaries, Brian is only a year older than Justin in the fic and, for a change, Justin is the one who's experienced and Brian is the one who's just starting out.

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