You Don't Know Me

Chapter 7

By Dabeagle

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Sunday came and went much as Saturday had, with less Kyle. Maybe since I'd been there for more than twenty-four hours the twins interest in me had flagged into normalcy; I was just another person in their home. The morning was dominated by chores and, since the room I was in was pretty clean, I helped each of the twins with their room. The adults seemed to approve, perhaps because they could focus on what they wanted to get done instead of prodding their progeny along. Rain settled in by mid-afternoon. I sat on the couch with Ramses and read my book while normal household things went on around me.

We had a nice dinner, although the twins got into a name-calling fight and got sent to bed early. Once again I slept well, with Ramses deciding to join me. Monday I was awoken by Ramses needing to go out, so I pulled on my shorts and tee shirt and let him out into the yard. It was seven so I started the coffee pot, let him back in and took a quick shower before getting ready for school. I'd always been a morning shower kind of guy and enjoyed getting the day off to a good start.

The following Thursday found me over at Kyle's house. Giles arrived shortly afterward and Mr. Winters looked pleased to see us.

"Guys, thanks for the help," he said with a nod to each of us. "With my mother-in-law having had that accident we thought it was best to move her here with us. This room needs some clearing out, though."

"Glad to help," Giles said and I nodded in agreement. Kyle had been kind of down about how hurt his grandmother was and he'd told me she'd always been a favorite of his. Giles and I said we'd come help move furniture in the spare bedroom to lend our support and my heart broke a little as Kyle got a little misty eyed.

We worked steadily to pack and move the spare room. Mr. Winters had used it as an office while Mrs. Winters had used it as a project room. Unfortunately they had accumulated enough things in the space that the room couldn't actually be used as either. We brought labeled boxes down to the basement and Mrs. Winters was organizing it all so they could use it later or set it aside for donation or disposal, whether that be sale or just throwing it out.

We ended up carrying out some of the more beat up furniture items we uncovered and carried them to the curb. As we worked I was interested to try and get a look at Kyle's room, just down the hall from the room we were cleaning, but didn't get the chance. Around seven we broke for pizza and gathered around the Winters' dining room table.

"Looking forward to those waffles, Kyle?" his mother asked as she placed a bottle of soda on the table.

"Oh." Kyle sported an expression that looked like he was thinking of something divine. He glanced at Giles and me and grinned. "My grandma makes these super waffles for me. She takes bacon and puts it on the griddle and then pours the batter over it and cooks the bacon right into the waffle. They are the best!"

His mom smiled at him and shook her head. "My mom thinks the sun rises and sets on her grandson. Just don't forget, she's supposed to be recovering. Don't let her jump into grandma mode."

"Grandma mode?" I asked, thinking back to my own experiences.

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Grandma mode means my grandma is spoiling me."

"Which is just about every second she's around him," his dad chimed in and Kyle chuckled.

"I'd argue, but it's true."

After we ate we headed back up to finish clearing things, but we didn't have the same amount of effort. I can remember a similar feeling when moving to a new home. Once you fed your friends beer and pizza you were on your own. At nine Giles and I departed. We said goodnight to the Winters and Kyle's dad slipped each of us a twenty for the work. I opened my mouth to protest and he just put his hand up to stop me.

"It was worth it. I know you guys would have helped out anyway which is just another reason why you deserve some recognition. Don't spend it on hookers, okay?" he said with a little grin and muttered about going to find a beer.

Giles and I walked up the street in companionable silence. Giles had been friends with Kyle for a while, I guessed, and I could see why they liked each other. Kyle was empathetic and kind of sweet while still being very normal. Giles was a bit short on the self-worth scale, but his recent forays into dating had boosted him up a little and I was enjoying getting to know him.

As we walked toward my home I decided I'd be squandering a golden opportunity to learn more about Giles and Kyle.

"So how long have you and Kyle been friends?" I asked.

"Probably about four years," he replied. "We met in middle school. The elementary schools all send their kids to Humbolt Middle and we met there."

"Was there some epic event that made you guys friends or something else?"

"We just had some classes together. Hung out on the weekends and stuff. He's just a good guy, you know?"

"Yeah, I get that feeling," I agreed. "So, I know it might be weird to ask, but you feeling a little better about you and me?"

He glanced at me. "Like, being friends?"

"Yeah."

"It sounds weird to say out loud," he mused. "If you'd asked me before I'd have said there was no way. I mean, you were really a horrible person. Like, the new you would totally not put up with the old you and his crap."

"I'm glad you approve," I said with a smile.

He shook his head and stopped dead. He stared at me for a moment, just enough for me to open my mouth to ask what was wrong, but he spoke in that heartbeat between me asking and not.

"You don't know what it's like to be the smallest guy in the class. It didn't used to matter so much, but more than ever being short and wimpy just makes me feel like shit. So for you, someone with a definite place on the pecking order, to treat me like an equal? It's changed a lot for me."

"But, Giles...I mean, you're cool. I'm sorry shit happened beforeó"

"Please. No more apologies. I think it's nice you feel some empathy, maybe even some responsibility but you don't even know the things you said and did. I get that you mean you're sorry when you say it and I really do appreciate it. But you can't truly be sorry for shit you can't even remember. You get me? So we're good, it's all past and can we just drop that part of whatever this friendship is shaping up to be?"

I nodded and sighed. "Yeah. I can understand what you're saying. Just so we're clear, though, I value you as a person. I appreciate you trying to let my past go. I wish more people were like you."

He frowned lightly and we started to walk again. "No one's ever said anything like that to me."

"Said what?"

"That they wished other people would be like me."

"Yeah. Tough to be cool, isn't it?" I said with a chuckle.

~YDKM~

Friday afternoon the Winters drove out to pick up Kyle's grandma and get her bedroom furniture. I offered to go but there were issues because I was still in the system and needed permission for long trips or something. Besides it would be overnight. Kyle sent me a few selfies of he and his Gram and she looked like fun, even though she was kind of beat up. He got her to hold her fingers up in a V for victory sign and she looked at him with obvious indulgence.

They came home Saturday morning and Giles and I met them to help carrying the furniture in and get it set up. Mrs. Miller, Kyle's grandma, was already offering to cook for us and had to be told no by the elder Winters.

"Breakfast tomorrow, right boys?" she asked and winked. I couldn't help but smile at her. She got around pretty well, considering her injuries. We got all her furniture in place and I took the liberty of making her bed. It was unfortunate that all the bedrooms were on the second floor as she had a hard time with stairs, but it was still vastly safer for her to have people around both to help her now and if she had any future health concerns.

Giles and Kyle were carrying the last two boxes upstairs when Mrs. Miller latched onto my arm. "I'm sorry, what's your name again, handsome?" she asked.

I grinned at her. "Drake, Mrs. Miller."

"What a devilish name for such a handsome boy," she said with a grin. "Now tell me, how long have you known my grandson?"

"A few months," I replied honestly. I tapped my head. "Technically I've known of him longer, but I had an accident and my memory is gone."

"Oh, honey," she said sympathetically. "Wait till you get to be my age - you won't need an accident. I can't remember what I had for breakfast!" She broke out in to a laugh and I joined her. "But you and he are friends, now?"

"Yeah. He's my best friend," I told her truthfully.

"Oh, isn't that a wonderful thing?" she asked, beaming. "My Harold was my best friend. It's such a joy to marry someone with whom you can share secrets and the everyday joys of being in love. I always recommend marrying one's best friend." She paused and glanced at me, her expression fraught with meaning. "Don't you think?"

"Marrying someone like that sounds perfect to me," I told her honestly.

"That's the real trick, isn't it? The perfect one? Harold and I agreed on most things, but we did have a few hobbies away from each other as well. It doesn't do to spend all one's time with one person. Would you agree?"

I thought for a moment. "Well, in theory spending your life with just one person who is perfect for you sounds great. But eventually you'd run out of things to talk about and to do with out the input of other good people, I guess. It's sort of like eating pizza every night - it sounds good in theory, but you need some variety in reality."

She pursed her lips. "I was going to tell you I like it better when people don't agree with me all the time. But you make sense which stymies my thought to tell you to disagree once in a while."

"I promise to disagree once you say something disagreeable," I promised and she smiled at me toothily before laughing.

"Is this guy bothering you, Gram?" Kyle asked as he descended the stairs. He was smiling but also puffing his chest a bit to play his part.

"Not in the slightest. You'd better keep this one, sweetheart." She leaned in close and said in a stage whisper. "I'd watch him, too. Entirely too smart, that one."

The next week and a half was more of the same. I spent most weekday evenings with the Benoits and stayed overnight for the weekend. Kyle was a regular presence, and as I grew more comfortable with the Benoits I began to spend some of the time out of the house and hanging out with Kyle at his home. Mrs. Miller was enjoying watching us play hoop and trying to feed us silly. Jeremy seemed to be avoiding me, and I could only hope that would continue. Giles had completely turned a corner with me and spent some time joining Kyle and me. I hadn't seen much of Stacy, except for bumping into her in the hallways.

Two weeks later on Wednesday I was talking to Kyle next to his locker as we got ready to leave for the day. He was complaining about his math work and, though I had an unfair advantage given my former job history in an accounting department, I offered to help him.

"If you think you can explain it better, sure," he said with a dejected shrug. "I have a test on Friday, and if I fail I'm going to get grounded."

"Won't let it happen, Ky," I told him confidently.

We started to walk down the hallway and Kyle hesitated and then said, "Well, see you later then? Come over after dinner or do you want me to come to your house?"

"Um, your house, I think. Your parents might not believe we're studying otherwise," I said with a snicker. "And why are you saying goodbye now? Aren't we walking home?"

He slowed and seemed to have some sort of inner debate. I'd learned to close my mouth when he did that; pushing him usually shut him down and then he wouldn't say whatever was on his mind. Sometimes I couldn't help but ask, but this time I did. His cheeks colored slightly and he turned toward me.

"School clubs are starting up. I have a club meeting today."

"Oh? Can I go?" I asked and hitched up my bag as it tried to slide off my shoulder.

"Uh." He paused and then let out a long breath. "It's the GSA, Drake. I don't think it's your kind of place."

"What's a GSA and why isn't it my kind of place?" I asked in curiosity. The initials tickled something at the back of my mind, but the meaning eluded me.

He pursed his lips and said, "Gay-Straight Alliance. It's not someplace Drake Mathews goes. And," he said and wet his lips, "I'm not sure how many people will want you there."

Nodding in understanding I said, "Well, let's go then."

Frowning he asked, "Didn't you hear me?"

"Yeah. You go to a club that's important to you. I'm going too, then." I left out that my heart was beating about sixteen times its normal pace as the possibility of Kyle being gay blew my mind.

"People may not be friendly toward you," he said in warning.

"You'll protect me," I said with a wink. He shook his head and smiled, and we set off side by side.

The classroom had about fifteen people in it when we arrived. Mrs. Kilmeade, the Biology teacher, sat behind a desk and nodded as we entered. There were several sets of curious eyes that noticed me, but no one made a move to say anything.

"Kyle! I made it," Giles said as he entered the room, breathing heavily. "My last class is on the other side of the school. Anna said she'd be here, too."

"Cool. Thanks, Giles," Kyle said to him. Giles nodded at me in greeting, a given that he expected me to be there. A few others filtered in before a gaggle of girls entered, one of whom was Anna; the rest seemed to be her friends.

Mrs. Kilmeade called the group to order. "I'd like to thank everyone for coming this afternoon. Marissa Gordon, last year's president, will get us started."

A curvy black girl with long hair took her place behind the podium and placed a paper upon it to read from. "The first order of business will be elections. We will have votes for president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. The president will run meetings and keep the meetings following an agenda. The vice-president will assume those duties if the president is absent, but will normally arrange fundraisers and club visibility efforts.

"The secretary will keep meeting minutes and advise the group of upcoming school events that we might join, individually and as a club. The treasurer will keep track of club funds and expenses. We will need to have a person nominated for office and a second to place them on the ballot. I nominate myself for a second term as president. Is there a second?"

There was a small chorus of yeses and seconded mixed together. She put her name on the blackboard under the heading 'President' and then asked for other candidates. One more asked to run and was seconded and their name appeared on the board.

"Vice-President candidates?" she asked. I put my hand up and she nodded at me.

"Can you nominate someone else?"

"Sure," she replied.

"I nominate Kyle Winters as VP," I said.

"Seconded!" Giles called out.

"What? What are you guys doing?" Kyle whispered, looking between us. "Giles, did you plan this?"

All of that was buried in the discussion as candidates were fielded for the other positions. Kyle was running unopposed and, as such, was the new VP for the club. I beamed at him and he looked nervous as he joined the other club officers. Snacks were then provided, followed by a discussion about what sort of fundraiser we could have in order to pay for any club expenses we might incur. As he fell into the discussions I wondered again if Kyle could possibly be gay. Clearly being present at this meeting didn't signify anything definitive since Giles and Anna were here representing the 'straight' side of the alliance.

Even though he'd been sort of railroaded, Kyle set about his new job with purpose. Homecoming was two days away, and he suggested we bake cookies and sell them at the game. "I'll make some," he said and pointed at me. "And that jerk will help me."

Laughter raced around the room, and two others volunteered to bring in cookies for the sale. As the VP, Kyle had to be on hand for the event. Giles and I volunteered to accompany him. Two others volunteered to take a shift and that was settled.

"Never thought I'd see you here," a voice said beside me. I turned toward the sound, a voice that was reproachful and somewhat stereotypical. It belonged to a dark haired boy with attractive hazel eyes and a caramel complexion. His face wore a slightly sour expression, as if he wanted to express disdain but not so much that I'd take offense. A passive-aggressive facial expression if I'd ever seen one.

"Well, here I am. Your illusions of me are shattered," I said with a smile and held my hand out. "Drake Mathews."

"Everyone knows you," he said sullenly, yet shook my hand. "Why are you here?"

I nodded my head toward Kyle, though I was beginning to get irritated with this fellow. "I'm here for Kyle and my buddy Giles, there."

His eyes swept the room, but I'm not sure he really saw anything. "So now you want people to think you're okay with the gay?"

I frowned lightly. "I am."

"Could have fooled me," he said with a snort for punctuation.

I sighed lightly. "What did I do?"

He studied me for a moment. "Is this where you claim to have no memory again?"

I decided not to fight with him. I wasn't yet sure if he was someone who was just hurting or if he was the sort that couldn't be made happy and who simply wanted to bitch. So I waited, patiently looking at him and giving him time to consider how he wanted to play this.

He shook his head and let out a mirthless chuckle. "I dreamed of getting even with you. When I'd heard you were in an accident I...wanted to wish you'd be hurt. But it felt wrong. Made me angrier. I can't even be angry at someone the right way."

I cleared my throat. "Sometimes getting what you thought you wanted...doesn't turn out the way you'd like."

"Yeah," he said in a small voice. "You did morning announcements last year. Told the whole school I was looking at you in the locker room and that I hit on you." He closed his eyes and his lip trembled.

There was no way I couldn't feel bad about this. He was hurting and Drake had caused it, but the mess was in my lap. This world would see this, too, as my fault.

"I'm sorry. I know it's not enough, and I don't remember any of that but...I'm so sorry," I told him earnestly.

He wiped an eyes and sniffed and crossed his legs in the feminine style and tried to salvage some pride. He looked at me and then away. "I was, you know. Looking."

"Why shouldn't you? Don't you think straight guys would look if they changed in a room with girls in it?" I asked.

He glanced at me quickly and looked away, a nervous smile running across his face.

"Listen - I'm sorry, you haven't told me your name," I said apologetically.

His lip quivered as though a nervous smile were trying to escape his control. "James. James Murphy."

"James, it's nice to meet you. I'm sorry for what I did. I wish I could say I hadn't done a lot of crappy things I've been told I did. I can't erase it, but if I can help you or make this any better, please ask. Or tell me. Really."

He seemed dumbfounded for a moment and then lifted his chin high, perhaps gathering strength to call me on my statement.

"If you really want to make things better, say hello to me."

I frowned and tilted my head to the side in confusion. "Hello? Like, now? Hello, James?"

"No," he said with a short bark of a laugh and wiping another stray tear. "If you see me in the hall, say hello to me. If you see me out somewhere, say hello to me. I'm sick of being invisible. I want someone to acknowledge that I...I'm more than...."

I reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "I will. I'll get to know you. I'll do my best to ease that hurt, James. You have my word."

He nodded, seemingly dazed. I suppose confronting a bully can be done in many ways, and he'd used up all his reserves approaching me. I knew how much bravery that took. I made sure to say goodbye to him and that I'd see him tomorrow.

After the meeting Giles said goodbye and headed for home. Kyle and I walked toward his house, though I'd have to break off and head to the group home at some point.

"Okay, so, why'd you do that? And did you and Giles plan that out?" Kyle asked finally.

"Been holding onto that one for a bit have you?" I asked with a laugh, and he bumped into me. "Well, you stopped thinking about math, right?"

"Seriously? You nominated me so I'd stop thinking about math?" he asked with a frown and a smile wrapped into one weird expression.

"Not entirely. You'll be a good VP. You're just too modest to run."

He grumbled lightly about being a better choice than I'd have been. We parted ways and met at his house after dinner to work on math. Part of the problem was that a new method for teaching math had swept the country, and it was hard to understand unless you were a math person. Numbers can be computed several ways and still give the correct answer. So we sat down and I explained the numbers to Kyle in a few different ways until it clicked, and then we applied that to our homework. By the time we got done he was feeling more optimistic about his chances of passing the math test. I promised we'd work the next night as well.

"Oh, you're working tomorrow night, all right," he told me sternly. "You roped me into VP and now I have to bake and decorate a bunch of cookies. Mom already said she'd buy me ingredients but she wasn't baking all those cookies for me, so you, my friend, are baking tomorrow night."

I grinned at him affectionately and told him I'd let the Benoits know.

~YDKM~

We baked a few different kinds of cookies - batches of chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin. We both had flour on us and fooled around a little, but we'd gotten the work done. The final batch was sugar cookies; we were going to decorate them by hand. Even though his mom had said she wouldn't bake all the cookies her son had committed himself to, she did help. We baked for a few hours and at last the sugar cookies were cooling on a rack. We washed our hands in the sink, and Kyle invited me up to his room while we killed time.

I'd never been to Kyle's room before. Previously we'd hung out in his TV room or down in the basement, which had a few games set up. His dad loved foosball for some reason and had a table down there, along with a wet bar and a TV for game days. I think the TV mostly got used by Kyle when he wanted to watch Netflix or something.

I have an idea that looking at someone's bedroom gives an insight into the true self. For instance, getting my clothes in the vicinity of the hamper was good enough for me, and I had no problem laying a pair of pants on the back of a chair to be used again another day. Peggy, by contrast, needed all soiled clothes in the hamper and the top shut so that the offending clothes couldn't be seen. I would make the bed, while Peggy would leave it messy - although she insisted the sheets be washed every Sunday. The top of the lowboy dresser was her domain, and it was cluttered with items she'd remove at the end of the day - a watch, perhaps a bracelet or a set of earrings. Those things could be put away properly later, she reasoned, but they rarely were. I had just a few things on my nightstand, like my watch and wallet. The drawer, though, was stuffed with all sorts of things from my pockets. It was with this sort of thinking in mind that I approached Kyle's room, curious as to what it might tell me about its occupant.

Kyle's room was at the end of the hall and had a window facing the front yard and another facing the side of the house. He had a Dr. Who poster on the wall and a Warriors championship team poster, complete with fake signatures. His full-sized bed was unmade, and his hamper was overflowing. A small desk was against one wall with a laptop on it, currently closed. He had shelving with a few books, trophies and a few other baubles. A tall shelving unit contained books and models, with sports equipment on the bottom. His dresser was tall. Several drawers were partially open with clothes sticking out. His closet doors were the type with wheels on the top; the bottom edges were pushed out, indicating things stuffed behind them. He took a seat at his desk, turning to face me as I checked out his personal space.

"What are you looking for?" he asked with amusement.

I smiled and shrugged. "Never been in your room. You can tell a lot about a person by their personal space."

"Yeah? Like what?" he said with a snort.

I looked at his hamper. "That you're a slob for starters."

"You're only saying that because I can't see your room. Ah, shit," he said and hit his leg with his palm. "Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. If you saw my room at the group home, you'd be disgusted. Actually, come to think of it," I said and pretended to look critically at his room, "you might feel right at home."

"Screw you, Draco," he said and laughed at me.

"Hey," I said with interest as I spotted a guitar on a stand. "You play guitar?"

"A little. I have lessons a few nights a week. Do you play?"

I paused. "I don't know. Maybe you can teach me something some time?"

"I could try," he said with a little nod. He leaned over and picked up the instrument and begun plucking the strings to tune it.

"You can tune by ear?" I asked, impressed.

"Yeah. My teacher taught me. It's not a big deal," he said with a slight blush.

"I'm impressed anyway," I told him. His lips curved upward slightly but he said nothing. A minute later the guitar was tuned to his satisfaction and he placed his fingers carefully on the fret board. He let out a breath and began to play. I recognized the tune, which said something for his skill though I'd not classify him as ready for a stage or anything.

"Free falling now I'm free falling," he sang softly under his breath.

"Tom Petty?" I asked.

He nodded as his singing trailed off and he just strummed the chords. "My dad is a big fan. I asked my teacher to show me how to play something by him after he'd died. I think my dad liked that."

"Yeah. I bet he did." I paused. "Is that hard to learn?"

"No," he said and then stood up. "Sit down, I'll show you."

I eagerly sat in his chair and he handed me the guitar. I settled it on my thigh and looked up at him expectantly.

"Do you know how to make any of the chords?" he asked.

"No clue."

He grinned. "Something I know that you don't? Now I get even for math," he said and laughed. He pulled my wrist out and explained how I wanted my fingers to come down straight on the strings so I had to bend my hand like a claw, basically. He placed my fingers on the strings and told me the names of the chords as he moved my fingers along with each new chord. My pulse sped up embarrassingly as our fingers touched and it was weird but kind of awesome all at once. I started to strum and it sounded about as bad as you'd expect. Kyle coached me and I focused intently on trying to nail the chords if not quite yet the rhythm.

"Hey, I think you kind of got it," Kyle said with a little hint of pride in his voice.

"I smiled crookedly at him. "Good teacher." I handed the instrument back to him. "My fingers hurt. Play something for me?"

"Fingers hurt," he muttered. "You need to practice," he said as he retook the chair. I stood a few feet away and considered him while he adjusted his grip on the guitar. He looked good with an instrument in his hands.

"Did I play?" I asked.

He frowned lightly and looked up at me. "I don't know. I don't think you were part of band at school. We didn't hang around before your accident so I guess you could have played at home."

"I wish I could remember you." It was stupid to say and maybe a little manipulative but also, oddly, true.

The corner of his mouth curled up and he set his guitar back on the stand. "Hey, did Giles tell you he's got a third date with that Anna girl? Looks like she really likes him."

"I know!" I exclaimed as I sat on his bed. "You should have seen his texts about getting his first kiss. I was like, go G-man!"

Kyle's smile faltered and he glanced out the window. I hated that look on him. While it normally was my best course to let him decide when or if he'd speak, sometimes I couldn't help myself.

"What is it, Ky?" I asked gently.

His gaze flickered to me and away and his lips twitched, unsure what emotion to express. With a sigh he threw a hand in the air. "It's stupid. I just thought, you know, between me and Giles that I'd...get that first kiss out of the way...first. It feels weird to say it out loud. Kind of shallow."

I pulled a leg up and wrapped my hands around my shin. "Not really. Giles wasn't making the right effort. I'd have given odds that you'd be first, too."

He smiled wanly. "You're just saying that to make me feel better." He took in a breath and let it out very slowly and then closed his eyes.

"No, seriously," I told him. "You're a nice looking guy. I'm actually - are you bullshitting me? Someone has to have kissed you."

He shook his head slowly, his face locked into that pensive, decision making face. All at once the tension flowed out as his face relaxed and he opened those soft eyes and looked at me. "Drake, I'm gay."

My heart nearly exploded. A part of me screamed to come out to him, but I barely reminded myself that this was about him, not me. There would be time for me to confess that I was interested in him - I'd be sure of that. Right now, he was feeling low.

"Thanks for telling me. I did wonder, since we went to the meeting. " I cleared my throat. My heart quaked and my voice was a little unsteady as I said, "It means the world to me that you trust me with that."

He waved a hand at me. "I'm pretty much out, I think. I was more telling you...well, yeah, I wanted to tell you personally. But, you know, it's harder to find someone when you're part of a minority, you know?"

Oh boy, did I. I didn't want to tell him about Jim Murphy for two good reasons, only one of which was selfish. Firstly, he had to know about Jim already. They were in the same club, so there had to be a reason that hadn't materialized. Second...I wanted Kyle for myself. I decided to lighten the mood as well as send up a test balloon to gauge where Kyle's heart might lay.

"Yeah, I hear you," I replied but got no farther.

"I mean, I'm not a total loser, if that's what you're thinking," he said, his voice firming up. "There's just not that many guys around. I did date once. For about twenty minutes, but it counts." He looked at me with a stubborn look, challenging me to disagree with him.

"Who was dumb enough to walk away from you?" I asked instead of trying to be funny. He looked slightly off balance and looked away for a moment.

"There's a guy at school. He was at the meeting. He's very feminine. I don't really care about that one way or another," he said as he turned his gaze back to me, "but it's one of those things that stands out, you know?"

"Sure. What happened?"

His head wavered from side to side and he looked down. "His personality. He's kind of passive-aggressive. It made me feel uncomfortable. Unbalanced. We, uh, never made it as far as kissing. Or anything."

"Well, you know," I said and pretended to buff my fingernails on my shirt, "as a matter of a convenience there happens to be a guy that has been called pretty cute sitting on your bed. Just saying."

He chuckled. "Yeah, right. Me and Drake Mathews, making Valentine's plans."

"Whoa, easy. That's a lot of commitment. I was talking a kiss," I said and grinned at him. He blushed and told me to shut up. I flopped back onto his bed and sighed deeply as I thought on that. He'd blushed, but smiled. That definitely wasn't a no. I sighed again.

"What was that for?"

"Your bed is awesome," I told him. "The group home gave me a single bed with a stained mattress. There is this metal suspension thing under the mattress. It's got a few broken links and squeaks if you look at it wrong. Now, this?" I said and wiggled on his bed. "Has a box spring and nice support - and it's quiet."

I rolled my head and looked over at Kyle. He was sitting in the chair, slowly turning from side to side and watching me. I wondered what he was thinking. Could he be turning over how much of my comment about a first kiss was a joke? Was he wondering if there was a possibility of it being a real offer? I patted the space next to me, and he blushed a bit but got up and flopped on his back beside me.

"You should put a poster right there," I said, pointing to the ceiling.

"Why? So people know what I jack off to?" he asked and snickered. I laughed with him and wiggled a bit more.

"Did you set the timer so we'd know when the cookies were ready to frost?" I asked.

"Yeah. If we don't hear it, my mom will hear it. Trust me, she's not frosting those cookies," he said with a chuckle. From the corner of my eye I gauged the distance between us and started moving my right hand toward his left.

"What do you want to do for designs on the cookies? Are you artistic?" I moved my hand subtly closer to his. While this was in direct contradiction to my earlier thought about this not being about me, it also seemed stupid to waste a chance to open the door to something between us.

"Not really. Mom got some rainbow decorations, made from sugar or something. I figured we could write GSA on them with ah - what are you doing?" He jumped as my hand made contact with his, just two fingers settling over two of his.

I lay still with my gaze on the ceiling, except to turn my hand over and leave it as an invitation to him. After a moment I shifted my eyes toward him, but kept my head steady. He blinked, a confused look on his pretty features.

"Drake?" he asked. I turned slightly and smiled affectionately back at him. He studied me for a moment and then hesitantly lay his head back down and looked up at the ceiling. "Um, so I was thinking about...letters...um, GSA. Maybe...each letter a different...." His hand landed on mine, fingers between my own. Gently I closed my hand around his and he copied me. "Color," he finished, his voice no more than a whisper.

I could relate. My chest was sore with the beating of my heart. In my entire life I'd never held hands with a guy and rarely had done so with a woman. It had always been more pedestrian with a woman, more a formality than any expression of affection. The experience right now was unparalleled, and I'd never have imagined that the simple act of holding hands would feel so freeing and so frightening all in one. Lightly I let my thumb stroke the skin of his thumb, luxuriating in a first for us both.

"Kyle? The timer went off five minutes ago!" his mother called out from downstairs. Kyle jerked his hand free and sat up as his grandmother hobbled into view.

"Didn't you hear me calling you?" she asked with a smile on her face.

"Uh, no. Sorry. We, uh," Kyle stammered and his mother laughed.

"Did I interrupt you guys telling secrets or something?" she asked with a laugh. "Best friends are wonderful for secrets and more. Come on, boys. Finish up those cookies."

Kyle shot me odd looks for the rest of the time we worked. With his mother present, we didn't have an opportunity to say anything more. But I felt like the hand holding had been kind of declarative. He was curious, maybe interested in me. I knew already I wanted him. As I lay on my squeaky bed that night, all I could think of was the feeling of his hand descending onto mine and the current that passed between us as our fingers moved to not let the other go.

Goddamn. This must be what falling in love feels like.

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