This is a continuation of events that began in Rules of the Road.
Chapter Twelve --
The Bee sat on the line, reared up on her haunches, ready to leap. Next to her sat a 1969 Dodge Coronet R/T, powered by a 440 six-pack. It was stock, but that was no reason to discount the car. Brian felt he had a win coming, but nothing was a sure thing in this world. The Bee had yet to break anything during a run, but it had happened to plenty of others. Luck didn't last forever.
A week had passed since the night at the haunted house; a week since secrets had been shared, and lives touched together. It was the last Friday night before school started - the last Friday night of summer.
The night was young, but twilight had already settled upon the land. The sky had been overcast all day. No rain was called for, but the cloud cover had knocked the sun out early, and Brian squinted at McClelland Road as it stretched away before him, little pools of light from the just-activated street lamps marking the road ahead at regular intervals. The Bee's headlight beams lit the tarmac in front of the car, blending with those of the car next to him to spread out a bit into the weeds and briars of the landscape around them. This end of McClelland Road was as rural as it got in those parts: shoulders of untended brush, backed by dense walls of virgin forest.
Tim, the GTX guy, stood between the two cars and slightly ahead of them, flashlight in hand. He grinned at Brian, raised a hand, and Brian nodded. Tim looked at the other driver, a guy named Sam, a Kennedy boy who had just bought the R/T, and he nodded, too. Tim took a step back, raised the flashlight - and the lens lit.
Brian came off the brake and walked the accelerator to the floor. The Bee lunged forward, jumping a half car-length on the R/T straight from the hole. The other Dodge was no slouch, though. Brian could hear the roar of the big 440 even over the throaty scream of the Bee's 383, and it was only as he hit second gear that the sheer difference in power became truly apparent. The Super Bee moved ahead, and the distance between the two cars widened. Brian had figured the R/T might be capable of a high thirteen as she was: stock, but for a set of headers. The reviews he had read of the 440 six-pack in the old magazines he'd gotten from auto shop class seemed to agree on that number.
It looked to be correct. Far ahead, he spied Jeff's Camaro parked at the quarter-mile mark, and Jeff and Ed and a few others - Sam's witnesses - clustered around a van nearby. The Bee ate up the road and the finish line came up quickly, and as he neared it Brian took a last look in the rear view mirror. The R/T was well behind, its headlights glowing fiercely in the night. The Bee crossed the line and Brian let off the gas, still not into third gear. The Bee's top end in second gear was usually enough for a quarter-mile run.
The engine slowed the car quickly, and Brian eased onto the brakes when his speed had dropped below sixty. The car slowed, and he pulled it to the side of the road. The R/T came up beside him, and the driver shook his head, but gave Brian a thumb's up. Brian grinned, and circled the Bee to head back to the others. The R/T followed, and both cars pulled up at the quarter-mile line. Brian shut off the engine and got out.
Jeff was there then, grabbing his shoulder and grinning into his face, and Ed was right beside him.
"I knew that was coming!" Jeff said, laughing. "Ain't no stock muscle gonna take on your car!"
Brian grinned, noting the extra-fond grip that Jeff had on his shoulder. "Hey, I was hopin'! But you never know when something might happen."
"Shit," Ed said, grinning ear-to-ear, "the way you take care of that car? If something breaks on that Bee, it's gonna be from brute force, not because it wasn't right."
Sam - the driver of the R/T - came over then, looking subdued. He had been talking big before the run - most guys talked big before a run - and now he was feeling the other end of that pretty noticeably now.
"Guess I should have listened to you, Jeff."
Jeff nodded, but it was plain he didn't intend to gloat over Brian's victory. "Hey, I understand how you felt. Most guys with a 440 would feel they were set to take on a 383 - most guys with a 440 are." He shrugged. "You just found the one 383 that was different, is all." He leaned forward and dropped his voice. "I felt the same way, believe me."
Sam looked at Brian. "I can't believe how your car runs. Damn. I mean, you beat me by like five car lengths. That was a trashing, man."
Brian shook his head. "No, it wasn't. Your car runs good. But it's stock, man, and you can only expect so much from that. The factory had to be a little reasonable, or no one would insure the thing." He laughed. "Now, you build that 440 some, and I'll have to think twice about going again."
Sam grinned. "I'm thinking about that idea now, as a matter of fact."
Brian couldn't help returning the grin. Sam was slender, had lots of curly, light brown hair, striking eyes that even looked blue in the light from the van's headlights, and a smile that would melt a stick of butter.
Ed also seemed to not want to rub in the loss. "Hey, dude, it was a good run. Most guys with a stock ride need to see that built means something on the road." He leaned forward. "Bet you can take Mahowsky's goat, though. I heard him ask you to run. You oughta do it."
Sam's grin slipped. "Oh...I don't know. That car is pretty quick."
Jeff gave out an amused noise. "I told you the same thing about Brian's car."
Sam made a face. "Yeah. But I've seen Mahowsky's car go. All I knew about Brian's car was the legend." He laughed.
Ed shrugged. "Mahowsky runs a maybe mid-thirteen, when his car is at its best. Here, I think you guys would be close. Brian ran him and beat him by more than he beat you. I was there. I'll bet you'd take that goat by at least a car."
Ed was actually pretty good at judging stuff like that, and Brian nodded at Sam.
Sam smiled, "Yeah? I 'll think about it. Might be a way to get my fifty back."
They got back into their cars for the ride back to the starting line. Ed rode with Brian, while Jeff followed close behind in his Camaro.
"I dunno, Bry. You're doing too good." Ed shook his head. "No losses yet - that's bound to end sometime."
Brian understood that. The Bee had turned out to be a maximum performer - a case of everything somehow just right - and the 383 and the racing automatic behind it had proved a lethal combination on the road. But nothing lasted forever, and Brian also had the feeling that eventually a car would come along that would put him in his place.
"Most dudes don't have the cash or the expertise to do what you and your old man did," Ed pointed out. "So for now, you're king." He laughed. "Fuck - let's enjoy it, huh? If your time comes, it comes."
That was the way that Brian had been looking at it all along. He'd been amazed at what his car could do, and he had just come to accept being the quickest guy around. But he also knew that there had to be street cars out there that could take his Bee in a quarter run - they just didn't seem to be roaming the rural roads where Brian lived and traveled.
They got back to the starting line and pulled up under the streetlight. Ed got out and sidled over to where Missy and Annie stood talking to Brad and Casey, who were enjoying their first evening of slightly organized street racing. McClelland Road was abuzz this Friday night, with everyone conscious of the fact that school started on Monday and that nights like this would soon become weekend affairs again. Summer was on the wane, autumn coming along, and soon the magic that was a warm and moonlit night would be a thing of the past - until summer rolled around again.
A lot of people here were also aware of the fact that when the next summer came they would be graduates - high school over, college or a work life looming - and the days of summer dreaming would likely be over, too, as the realities of daily life took their place. Senior year was the pause before the leap - the last instance of solid footing before testing the waters of adulthood. As such, it held in the minds of many of these people a unique and special flavor: the last year of certainty, before life moved onward.
Brian looked at the life he had led to this point as a good one. His greatest anxiety just now was not about how he would perform in college, nor in the life that would come after that. He saw that adventure as a challenge, and a welcome one. His fears at this point were all about moving away; away from familiarity, away from both the life he knew now, and the people that were in it. And especially, moving away from the most important person currently in it.
That his boyfriend held a notch slightly above all of the other friends he knew and loved was something he accepted. It was simply the way things were. It did not in any way take away from how he felt about Annie, or Ed, or all of his other friends. Jeff was simply special - had become that way due entirely to the strength of his touch upon Brian's heart.
But just as the reign of the Bee as local champ would someday come to an end, so too would the place that Jeff held in Brian's heart one day be empty again. Brian had lain awake in bed more than one night, looking ahead in his life; he was not one who could not read the road before him. There was no such thing as a highway that ran forever. All of them, everywhere, eventually ended, or split, or merged with other roadways; and the maps that marked the routes of life were just the same. Jeff was currently on the same road, traveling in the same direction - but after next year, that would change. The dread that Brian felt at its approach was tempered somewhat by its inevitability; you can challenge fate, but you can seldom overcome it. That he could do nothing to change what was coming had forced acceptance upon him.
He had, quite simply, no choice but to live with it. It was like Chris moving away when he was fourteen, but somehow easier, because he had been there and done that before, and knew that there was something else after lost love. And, maybe, this time the love would not be lost. This time, he and Jeff would be adults, not kids, and much more in control of their destinies. They might be separated for a time, but the choice to get back together would always be theirs.
So in his mind he had decided that this last year of school was to be special, and that these last days of summer, what few remained, were to be spent with Jeff.
Jeff appeared at his window, and Brian grinned at him as he got out of the car. Tim came up then, waving his flashlight at Brian. "Come get your money, man."
Brian and Sam met at the other boy, and Sam stuck out his hand. "Good run."
Brian shook, and grinned. "It was. Next time you ask me to go, I'll know you've been doing things under the hood."
Sam's eyes sparkled in the glow of the streetlight. "Count on it." There was that dazzling smile again, and Brian sighed inwardly. Sam was cute, and he drove a Mopar. He'd certainly make some lucky girl - or guy - a sweet boyfriend.
Tim handed over the two twenties and the ten, and Brian simply stuffed them in his pocket, not wanting to make a show of it. Sam nodded at him, flashed the killer smile again, and headed back to his car. Two other cars - a Trans Am and a Mustang - were setting themselves in place at the starting line. The crowd surged back and forth as people prepared themselves to witness the next run.
"Well, I got work to do," Tim said, waving the light at them again. "See you guys later."
Jeff patted Brian on the back. "Don't spend it all in one place."
Brian grinned at him. "I won't. Probably spend it on someone special, like I usually do."
"Yeah? Who would that be?"
Brian looked around them. There were at least sixty or seventy people standing all about, waiting for the next run to go. Some were looking at them - as most recent winner, Brian and his car still commanded some small amount of attention. But most were not looking, and no one was really close enough to overhear them.
"You. Who else?"
Jeff moved a little closer, and Brian was sure that if he were an observer, he would notice the special attention Jeff was offering him. "What are you getting me?"
Brian couldn't help leaning a little towards Jeff, wanting so much to take him into his arms. "It's a surprise."
Jeff laughed, his eyes beautiful with reflected twilight. "That means you don't have a clue, doesn't it?"
"Pretty much. We'll wing it, okay?"
Jeff stepped close enough now that Brian would swear than anyone watching them would not fail to see the magnetism between them. "I have a surprise for you, too."
They were too close. Brian turned, walking around to the back of the Bee, and Jeff followed. Brian opened the trunk, got each of them a cold beer. "You gonna tell me?" Brian asked.
"Not just yet." Jeff seemed to be staring past Brian now, looking at something over his shoulder. Brian turned to look - and smiled.
On the other side of the road, Dave Mahowsky was standing beside his candy apple red '67 GTO, talking to Sam. The R/T guy had that smile on his face again, and Mahowsky was scowling. It was obvious that the two were swapping trash talk, and that Sam was currently on top. For just a second Brian felt a small bit of worry for the cute Dodge driver - Mahowsky wasn't one you pushed too hard against. But in the next instant Sam said something else, and Mahowsky erupted into laughter, and Brian relaxed. Sam was also obviously smart enough to know when to pull the fuse out of the dynamite, too.
"Where you guys been keeping him?" Brian asked, closing the trunk.
Jeff laughed. "Sam? He's new." He turned to look at Brian, and leaned closer again. "Cute, isn't he?"
Brian knew how to answer that one. "Well, he's about three quarters as cute as you are, which makes him drop-dead gorgeous."
Jeff's face glowed, and he looked around them, as if seeing who was watching. His body language was now obvious.
Brian took a step back, grinning, "Uh uh, hands off. People are watching." He continued to back around Jeff, while the other boy turned with him.
Jeff looked pained, but his smile remained in place. "Aw." But now his eyes went past Brian in the other direction. "Company coming."
It was the whole crew. Annie was out front, followed by Ed and Missy, with Brad and Casey bringing up the rear. All of them were laughing or smiling.
Annie came up and leaned against Brian, favoring Jeff with a mischievous look as Brian settled an arm around her shoulders. "You can't, but I can."
Jeff's eyes opened wider. "Oh, you saw that, huh?"
Annie gave a small laugh. "Run up a flag, why don't you?"
Brian sighed. "Oh, come on. You saw that because you know what to look for. I doubt any of these other people thought Jeff was going to hug me."
Annie pulled back and looked up at him. "Right. It looked like he wanted to jump your bones, not just hug you."
Brian and Jeff both laughed, but Jeff took a small step backwards, just the same.
"This place is awesome," Casey said, unconsciously bumping shoulders with his brother. Brad was just as unaware of the touch, and Brian just grinned. Those two were going to be hard to hide from the world for much longer.
"Zion is better," Brian said. "More people there, usually. But McClelland is cool, despite all the Kennedy cars present."
Jeff laughed, but didn't rise to the bait.
"Great run against that R/T," Brad said, coming closer. "How do you think I'd do here?"
Brian looked around at the cars lining both sides of the road, and clustered together under the streetlights. "Not too badly. That 455 of yours would eat a lot of these cars alive."
"What about that one?" Brad pointed across the road at Mahowsky's GTO.
Brian made a face. "Maybe not that one. It would be close, but he'd probably get you."
Brad shrugged. "He asked me if I wanted to go, but I said I was just here watching tonight. Something about that guy makes nervous."
"Good instincts," Jeff said. "That's Mahowsky. Rip-roaring asshole. Likes to fight, so watch out for him."
Brad grinned. "Oh, yeah? Well, I can handle that, probably."
Jeff looked thoughtful. "That's right - you can. Still, better not to let him swing on you. If the first one gets through, you'll have to climb up off the ground for the return. He's got a punch like the kick from a mad mule, believe me."
"I'll take your word for it and be careful." Brad looked at Brian. "I guess that means the R/T you just ran is out, too?"
Brian grinned. "What, you determined to have a run tonight?"
Casey elbowed his brother gently in the ribs, and Brad shrugged. "Just thought it might be fun."
Brian eyed him. "You lose here, you can't be going off on the other driver."
Brad instantly looked pained. "I know. I'm still sorry - I just lost it. I'm trying to do better."
Casey nodded vigorously. "He is. I'm helping him, too."
Brian looked at Jeff, and they both grinned. Brian couldn't help reaching over and giving Casey a small poke, to which the other boy's eyes crinkled in a smile. "I'll bet. If anyone can keep this guy out of trouble, it's you."
Casey looked at his brother, and they smiled some love at each other. Brad moved a little closer to Brian, glancing around before continuing. "Man, getting to know you guys has already helped. We really felt kind of alone before that, you know?"
Brian and Jeff both nodded. "Yeah," Brian acknowledged quietly. "We do know."
Annie looked up at Brian, giving him a little squeeze. Brian looked down, saw her smile, and squeezed her back.
They heard someone call, and turned to see Jim Van Pelt and Laura Littman waving at them. Jim was talking to Pete Briggs; he finished up, and then he and Laura came over.
"Hi, Brian. And crew." Jim looked around at the faces, and grinned. "Brian, every time I see you you have new people around. Your fan club is growing fast."
Brian laughed, and made introductions. "What are you doing down here tonight, Jim? Who's running the show up at Zion?"
"Dave has flashlight duty for the evening. Laura and I went to an early movie, got some eats, and then we wanted to come by here and see what was up."
Brian smiled at the 'we', and let his eyes go briefly to Laura. She smiled and nodded, and Brian was struck by the patience of the girl. She really liked Jim a lot to allow herself to be caught up in his car world, and if she was anything but utterly fascinated by it, she hid the sentiment well.
"So you're not here to run?"
Jim's eyes briefly darted to Laura. "Uh, no. We're out for an evening, you know? Don't want to mess up my date with a lot of racing."
Brian sat on the urge to laugh, but had to smile. "I see."
"What kind of car do you have?" Brad asked, eying Jim speculatively.
Brad grinned . "Yeah?"
Brian immediately shook his head. "No, Brad."
Brad looked over at him. "No?"
Brian shook his head. "No."
Brad shrugged, and looked at Jim. "The man said no."
Jim laughed. "What are you driving?"
Jim's eyes lit. "Gold one? I saw it when we came in. Really a pretty car." He looked over at Brian. "Saw the 455 badges on it. How's it run?"
"Pretty good," Brian returned. "But it's stock. Not up to taking your 'runner."
Jim looked thoughtful. "I'd pit a stock 455 Olds hi-po against most of the stuff running here tonight." He looked at Brad. "If you're looking for a run " -- he turned and pointed at the two cars lined up and ready to go -- "either one of them would be a good start. I've seen them both go before. Probably high fourteens. I think you'd smoke either one of them."
As if Jim pointing had been some sort of trigger, the Trans Am and the Mustang both launched with a squeal of tires and a roar of engines. Everyone turned to watch them vanish into taillights down the road, but it was impossible to distinguish the winner at this distance.
"I have a feeling the Trans Am won that one. It's a 400, and the Mustang is a 302. I seriously doubt either could take a 455."
Brad looked interested, but shook his head. "Thanks. I'll keep it in mind; but maybe it's better I don't race tonight." He looked over at Brian. "We're meeting JohnyG and Gary later, aren't we?"
Brian looked at his watch. It was scarcely seven-thirty - they had a half hour yet. Still, it was time to think about heading back to the shopping center at Alna. "Yeah." He looked at Jim. "We're meeting some dudes at eight o'clock. We're gonna need to roll soon."
Jim nodded, looked briefly into the evening sky. "Getting dark earlier now. Makes the night seem longer. The clouds really don't help, either."
Brian agreed. "Summer's short now. School next week."
Jim nodded vigorously. "Auto shop. I can't wait."
Even Laura laughed at that one. "You'll have a few other classes, too."
"Yeah, but they don't count. I can already speak English, and I can do the math I need to figure out which carburetor my car needs. The rest is just polish on the paint, honey."
Brian had a feeling that Jim was bound for a life revolving around cars, and that he would be quite good at whatever he chose to do. If Laura decided to stick with him, she too, would do okay.
"Well, we'll leave you guys so you can git." Jim put an arm out, and Laura took it, smiling. "What'dya wanna do now, babe?" Jim asked, grinning.
Laura looked briefly at Annie and smiled. "Whatever you want, Jimmy."
'Jimmy' rolled his eyes briefly, but grinned. "We could always roll by Zion and see what's there."
Laura nodded. "Yes, we could."
"See you guys." Jim turned, and he and Laura started away.
"Man on a mission," Ed said, smiling after the pair. "No car is safe from being tricked out, with Mad Man Van Pelt on the job."
"Laura is crazy about him," Annie said then.
Brian squeezed her. "How can you tell?"
Annie tsked him. "Any girl that hangs out with a car guy is either nuts - or in love."
Brian kept a straight face. "You don't look that nutty to me."
The girl swatted him playfully, and Brian squeezed her again, fondly. "What did I say?"
Missy turned and swatted Ed, who looked stunned. "What did I do?"
"You're his friend, aren't you?"
Ed looked at Brian. "Yeah."
Missy gave him a look. "That's enough reason, stupid."
Ed opened his mouth again, but Brian and Jeff both held up warning hands. "Quit while you're ahead," Jeff said plainly.
"I'm not ahead," Ed said, frowning.
Brian laughed. "Yeah - you are."
Ed seemed to think about it, and then smiled. He tightened his arm around Missy and squeezed her, but didn't say another thing.
* * * * * * *
The shopping center in Alna was already busy. Bailey was running back and forth to the liquor store like mad, and a stack of six-packs stood against the wall of the savings and loan that occupied the end of the shopping center main building. Mike Zurka was standing guard, with Molly Stanburn at his side.
"You guys seen Dave tonight?" Mike asked, as they stopped to wait for Bailey to come back.
Brian nodded. "Jim said Dave had starter duty at Zion tonight. But that might be ending, because Jim and Laura were heading that way. Dave may show up here later."
"Great. Me and Molly don't want to be stuck here tonight."
"Where's your car?" Brian asked, turning to look around the parking lot.
"Needs a clutch," Mike said, morosely. "I can't afford that just yet."
Mike had a project car he had been trying to get on the road - a '72 350 Chevelle - but the car had needed a lot of work when Mike had found it, and he'd exhausted his savings just getting it going. The car had spent more time in his dad's carport than on the road.
"Party at Lisa Amberly's house," Mike said hopefully. "You guys going over?"
Brian felt a pinch of guilt. He liked Mike and Molly, but adding them to the group tonight would interfere with their plans, and Brian really wanted to be free to be himself with Jeff and Annie later. "No - sorry. We're waiting to meet some people here, and then going somewhere with them."
Mike sighed. "Okay. Maybe Dave will show." His eyes went past Brian, then, and he smiled. "Shit, there's Wade." He turned to Molly, told her to watch Bailey's beer, and took off across the parking lot.
Molly sighed, and took a hit off of her bottle.
Bailey came back then, and Brian sent him right back to the store for a couple of sixes and a bag of ice. Bailey returned looking tired, and Brian and Jeff took care of the cooler while Ed took care of Bailey.
Brian was just closing the trunk lid when Annie came around to the back of the Bee. "JohnyG and Gary just drove in."
The El Camino moved sedately across the parking lot and pulled up at the rear of the Dodge. JohnyG leaned out of the window, grinning. "The entertainment is here. Let the party begin."
Brian laughed. "Great. We love stand-up." He bent a little, waved at Gary - who grinned back at him - before returning his gaze to JohnyG. "We haven't settled on anything yet. But we were considering the haunted house."
"Is there any other place to be on a gorgeous night like this?" JohnyG asked.
Brian looked up at the starless sky, but nodded. "Nope."
They piled back into the Bee, and Jeff sighed as he closed the passenger door. "One of these nights we need to cruise in my car."
Brian nodded. "We can do that. We can squeeze three in your back seat. There's only room for two in the front, though. Someone will get left out."
Annie sighed. "Gee, I wonder who that would be?"
Jeff leaned against her and then kissed her cheek. "You're a good sport, Annie."
Annie huffed, but followed it with a laugh. "I wasn't volunteering, Jeff." She sighed then. "But I do know when to bow to reality."
This time, JohnyG led the way. He was obviously in a playful mood, and did everything short of actually challenging the Bee for the road.
"That car runs," Jeff decided, after they had played tag for a while. "Might even be as good as our cars."
The Bee and Jeff's Camaro were only tenths of a second different in performance. Brian had only beaten the Chevy by slightly more than a car's length - very close, as such things went. Brian had pushed the Dodge a little to keep up with JohnyG, but not excessively. But that the El Camino was a fairly potent performer now seemed obvious.
"I'm not sure I want to know," Brian admitted. "Not tonight, anyway." He looked in the rear view mirror. "We haven't lost Brad, so we aren't going that hard, anyway."
JohnyG seemed not to want to put it to the final test, either. He settled down once they hit the winding blacktop of Route 38, and by the time they arrived at the turn off for Ridge Road, he was driving almost sedately. Soon the big plywood sign in the corn field came into view: 80 Acres.
"Maybe we should take that down?" Ed wondered aloud. "That way anyone from the first party comin' by here will not have a reason to go to the house."
Brian shrugged. "Not our property to be messing with stuff, either. What if the local cops notice it's gone and want to investigate? They must cruise by here sometimes."
"Oh. Yeah. Maybe not, then."
Annie laughed. "I can't see anyone just cruising by here, anyway. No one from the first party is coming way out here again, I'll bet. That's if they even remember where it is."
Brian smiled at that. There had to be some truth there. A lot of the cars they had seen parked at the house that night had come a long way. None of them would be back just for grins. It did seem probable that many of those people couldn't find their way back here even if they wanted to come. The haunted house was located about as close to the back of beyond as a car could get you these days.
The driveway seemed unusually creepy without the moon to light the way. JohnyG drove slowly, and the El Camino's headlights rose and fell among the corn in time to the ruts and ridges beneath its tires. The cornrows had an eerie cast to them, looking like legions of ghoulish black sentinels standing there in the night, waiting for some hapless boobs to come along and get eaten.
That would be us, Brian thought, giving a small shake to his head.
The house was dark, and nearly invisible beneath a phantom sky as they drove down the hill. It could be sensed at first, before it could be seen: a giant, dark shape at the limit of awareness. But the structure seemed to welcome them, soaking up their headlights and joyously throwing them back as they pulled up near the front porch. A people place, without people, is a lonely place.
Brian had brought his lantern as well as his flashlight, and they fired up both of them as they climbed out. JohnyG and Gary appeared, each with a light, and Gary with a small cooler and some newspapers under his arm. Brad and Casey also each had a light this time, and met them at the porch steps.
"I thought I drove crazy," Brad said to JohnyG, as they assembled into a single group.
JohnyG laughed. "Sorry. I was just feeling a little wild tonight."
Casey pointed a light at him. "You guys don't have to work tomorrow or anything, do you?"
"No," Gary said. "We get the weekends off, thank god. We know people that work the weekend, and they're all grumpy people. I would be, too, if I had to work on Saturday."
JohnyG made a face, like he didn't like being reminded. "I used to work on the weekend, before I got a real job. It sucks."
Brian opened the trunk of the Bee and they got the cooler out, as well as Brian's sleeping bag. Also a portable AM/FM radio, which belonged to Annie.
Casey made a delighted sound as he saw the sleeping bag. "Ooh, what's that for?"
Brian grinned. "I thought we'd open it up and spread it out on the floor in front of the fireplace."
Casey turned and looked at his brother. "I wish we'd thought of that."
Brad tossed him the keys to the Olds. "We did."
Casey hooted, and ran back to the car. He reappeared a few moments later with a large roll that looked like a quilt and a blanket. "Hey it's close enough." He went to his brother and bumped his hip against him, and grinned up at him. Brad looked pleased with himself, and Brian just shook his head.
Talk about broadcasting your feelings.
"Everyone with free hands grab a piece of firewood," Brian said, as they climbed the steps.
They soon had a nice fire going, and the room grew warm and cheery. Brian and Jeff opened the sleeping bag and spread it out on the floor, while Brad and Casey butted their quilt and blanket up against it. The result was enough floor cover for everyone to stretch out upon. Beers were handed out, and Ed passed the mini bong around. Annie turned on her radio, and found a station playing Back Where You Belong, by .38 Special.
"I was hoping we'd get something out here," she said, looking delighted. She turned the music lower, so that it fondled the edges of their awareness, without being intrusive in their conversation.
"This is awesome," Casey breathed, behind Brian's back.
Brian turned to look at him, just beyond Annie. "Glad you guys could come. We wanted one last really good night here before we all got busy with school."
Casey blinked at him. "What about tomorrow night?"
Brian grinned. "Nope. There's a shopping center party at the Alna lot tomorrow night. You guys can come to that, if you want." He looked past Casey at JohnyG and Gary. "You guys are invited, too. It'll be the car crowd and some of the Kennedy guys, and anyone else who shows up."
JohnyG looked at Gary, who nodded. "Sure. That sounds cool."
JohnyG sighed. "We used to do that, back in our high school days in Albany. There's a little shopping center - Stuyvesant Plaza - that's a lot like your one in Alna. We parked our cars in a corner just like you guys do, and we'd hang out." He grinned. " I had my Monte Carlo back then. Now, that was a nice running car."
Gary smiled. "Yeah, that was a pretty car, John."
Brian felt a spark of interest. "Really? What was it?"
JohnyG closed his eyes, as if remembering. "A seventy SS, with a 454 under the hood. The LS-5, 360 horse. Turbo 400 auto, factory discs - even air."
"Stock?" Jeff asked.
"Yeah. But it was a sweet ride." JohnyG sighed. "Man, I loved that car."
Brian sensed by JohnyG's obvious display of regret that he hadn't parted with the car willingly. "Uh - where is it now?"
"Oh - I sold it. Stupid thing to do. I didn't realize how much it meant to me until it was gone. " He flashed a grin then. "But I wouldn't have the El Camino if I hadn't sold the other car, so I guess it worked out. I'm pretty fond of this car, too."
"Seems to run pretty good," Jeff said, feigning disinterest.
JohnyG grinned. "It does. I wasn't pushing it much coming up here, either."
"Neither were we," Brian said, grinning back.
"Shit, even I wasn't going real hard," Brad said. "Although I wouldn't want to be chasing you guys if you were."
Brian sighed. "Doesn't matter who's quickest or fastest. Let's keep this friendly, okay?"
"Sure." JohnyG nodded. "You guys all ready for school to start?"
"I am," Missy said. "I'll be happy to be done with my last year."
"What are you going to do after?" Gary asked.
"Going to nursing school."
Ed looked stunned. "You never told me that."
Missy looked embarrassed. "I never told anyone, except my folks. And Annie."
Annabelle nodded. "Yeah. And it's not my place to be repeating it, either."
Ed grinned. "You want to be a nurse? Ooh, baby. You definitely have the hands for it."
Missy gaped at him, but then smiled and leaned against him. "You really think so?"
"Fuckinay. You've soothed my body a bunch of times."
There was a round of laughter as Missy looked embarrassed. But she tilted her head and gave Ed a kiss, and it seemed a warm enough one that Ed was smiling over it.
"No more secrets, okay?"
"Ooh," Annie said, grinning. "There's an idea. Let's play Truth or Dare."
Brian made a face. "Yeah, let's not."
Annie leaned forward, her eyes alight. "Why not?" she asked softly. "Can't tell the truth, or can't handle the dare?"
Brian was surprised by the challenge. "What ya got in mind, little girl?"
Annie shrugged. "We want to have some fun, right? Okay, let's have some fun." She looked around the room. "Anything goes, but let's be reasonable. No one gets hurt, and you can't ask someone to do something or confess something you know will hurt their feelings." She grinned. "And being embarrassed doesn't count as hurt feelings."
Oh. A light dawned, and Brian nodded. Annie was trying to spice things up, he saw. He nodded. "Okay. Who's first?"
Annie laughed. "My idea, so I get to go first." She leaned forward even more, grinning right into Brian's face. "Brian. I dare you to...kiss Ed. On the lips."
Brian gaped. "What?"
The entire group laughed, except for Brian and Ed, who looked at each other.
"Come on, Annie," Brian said. "Ed doesn't want me kissing him. He's liable to punch my lights out."
Missy poked Ed, and Ed sighed. "I'm a good sport. Come here, Brian." Ed leaned forward, closed his eyes, and puckered up. Jeff started laughing.
Brian stared at Ed, eyes wide, until Jeff gave him a small push. "Go ahead, man. The longer you wait, the harder it gets."
Brian sighed, got up on his hands and knees and moved forward, leaned over Jeff, and gave Ed a light peck on the lips. He settled back to a round of light clapping, feeling slightly embarrassed, and not sure of why.
Annie's eyes were bright when he turned back to her.
Brian nodded at her, smiling. "Wait until it's my turn. Payback's are a motherfucker."
Annie looked surprised, but then laughed. "I can take it."
Missy laughed. "Go hard, girl."
Casey was on the other side of Annie, and so it was his turn next. He scratched his head, smiling. "I don't know what to ask."
Jeff laughed. "Must be something you've wondered about someone here. Or, dare someone to do something. Have fun."
Casey smiled. He thought a moment, and then his eyes lit up. He turned to his brother, whose eyes went wide. "Brad. Who is the cutest guy in the room?"
Brad blinked, but then grinned.
"Who is not already your boyfriend," Casey finished, laughing.
Brad's face fell. "Aw. That sucks, Case."
Casey laughed. "Come on, you told me already. Now tell these guys."
Brad grinned again. "Wait. We didn't say what the penalty was for refusing to tell the truth or doing a dare."
"That's right," Annie said, "I forgot." She grinned at Brad. "Okay, anyone that refuses has to moon the whole bunch of us. It has to be for ten seconds, and you have to bend over and show some brown eye."
Brad's mouth dropped open, while everyone else gave out a stunned laugh.
"Damn, girl," Brian said, staring at Annie. "What set you off tonight?"
Annie laughed. "I want to have some fun, that's all. I mean, we all got half naked and screwed around here the other night, so it's not like we haven't seen some stuff already." She looked at Brad. "I saw your cute butt the other night. I wouldn't mind seeing it again. So don't answer, if you don't want to."
Brian and Jeff started laughing, and JohnyG hooted. "Hot dog! Shit's kickin' off 'round here tonight, y'all!"
Brad's face reddened in the firelight, and Brian wondered briefly if the boy would get angry. But he finally shrugged. "Well, I think Jeff is cute."
Jeff's eyes widened, and he grinned at Brian.
"But so is Brian," Brad finished, dropping his eyes. "They're pretty close."
It was Brian's turn to grin at Jeff. He held up his thumb and forefinger, and spaced them apart so closely that only a breath of air showed between them. "Maybe that much?"
Jeff's eyes crinkled, and he nodded. "Of course I think so."
JohnyG rubbed his hands together. " All right, now. Let me see - who will I victimize first?" His gaze settled on Brian.
Brian blew a nervous breath of air through his lips. "Isn't there some rule about picking on someone over and over?"
"No," Annie said promptly. She grinned at JohnyG. "Go ahead."
JohnyG grinned evilly, leaned forward, pointed a finger at Brian - and suddenly whipped it around at his boyfriend, who started. "Gary. Who do you think is the cutest guy in the room - besides your boyfriend?"
Gary grinned. "Shit. I ain't bashful. I think Brad's cute. I just wish he'd lose that fur on his face."
Casey grabbed his middle and fell over laughing, and Brad looked sweetly embarrassed. Brian looked at the boy, and knew that Gary was right. Brad was cute, but would be even cuter without the scrub brush growing on his chin.
"Your turn, Gary," Brian said, smiling at him.
Gary immediately looked at Annie. "Are we allowed to dare people to take their clothes off?"
Annie laughed, but nodded. "Anything goes, remember?"
JohnyG looked at his boyfriend. "Be good now, Gary. We're not at the club."
Gary smiled. "Yeah, yeah. Jeff. I dare you to take your shirt off."
Brian looked over at Jeff, who seemed surprised by the request. But he shrugged, and skinned out of his tee-shirt and dropped it on the sleeping bag. "How long does it have to be off?"
Annie held up a hand, looking at Gary. "Rule clarification. Any clothing that comes off has to stay off until we're ready to leave."
Gary nodded. "Even better."
"That's it?" Jeff asked. "Just take my shirt off?"
"That's it," Gary agreed.
It was Missy's turn next. She made a big show of looking pointedly at each person, before her gaze settled on Annie, who sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"
Missy laughed. "Annie. How many people have you had sex with in your life?"
Annie looked momentarily startled at the question, but then laughed. "That's an easy one. Three. You, Brian, and Jeff."
Missy looked surprised. "That's it?"
Annie nodded. "That's it."
"My turn," Ed said then, turning to look at Missy. "How many people have you had sex with in your life?"
"Two," Missy said, without thinking. "Annie, and you."
Ed grinned. "We're a boring bunch, but I like it that way."
Then it was Jeff's turn. He looked at Brian and smiled. "If you could have a wish for the coming year, about you and me, what would it be?"
Brian returned the smile. Jeff's eyes were soft, and there was something compelling in his smile. Brian sighed a little, leaning closer to him. "Oh - I guess, just that we can spend as much time together as possible."
Jeff's smile widened. "Your wish is granted."
Brian laughed. "What does that mean?"
Jeff leaned even closer, so that their faces were just inches apart. "Remember the surprise I said I had for you?"
Brian felt an odd quickening of his pulse. "Yeah."
Jeff nodded. "I got myself transferred to Proctor for our senior year."
Brian's jaw dropped. "What?"
Jeff laughed. "I guess we'll be spending more time together, just like you wanted."
Brian searched his boyfriend's eyes, looking for a telltale sign that he was kidding. And so he could see quite plainly that he was not.
He moved forward, gently pushing Jeff onto his back, and climbed aboard him, laid down, and started kissing him. He could hear excited talking and some laughter from the others, but it only barely registered. All Brian wanted was to kiss his boyfriend. Jeff, for his part, circled his arms around Brian and squeezed him firmly, and kissed back.
After what seemed like forever, Brian sighed and laid his face against Jeff's. "I can't believe it."
He felt Jeff laugh beneath him. "Oh, it was worth it just for that kiss."
Brian lifted his head and smiled down into Jeff's eyes. "How'd you do this?" He narrowed his eyes. "Your old man was okay with it? I thought he gave money to Kennedy and liked the place, or something."
Jeff's smile wavered. "Well - uh, he kind of doesn't know about it."
Brian pushed himself up on his arms and stared down at his boyfriend. "Your father doesn't know?"
Jeff shook his head. "Not yet."
Brian pushed himself off of Jeff and pulled the other boy to a sitting position. "Okay, now tell me."
Jeff smiled. "Well, I got myself transferred to your school."
Brian cocked his head to one side and looked expectant.
Jeff sighed, and nodded. "You and I have talked about this before. How cool it would be if we were at the same school. Well, I got to thinking about it, and I said, why not? I couldn't expect you to come to Kennedy. Everyone we hang out with are your friends from Proctor. I don't really have anyone at Kennedy that will miss me." He grinned. "Oh, Mahowsky, and Tim - those guys will call me a traitor - but fuck Mahowsky, and Tim will get over it." He shrugged. "So I had it done."
Brian nodded. "Yeah. But how?"
"It's not hard," Jeff said. "The county pretty much only cares where we go to school when we ride a bus to get there. Then you have to go to the school in your area that is serviced by a bus route where you live. But if you have a way to get to school yourself - like a nice, fast Camaro - they don't care where you go, as long as school populations are fairly balanced. They won't let 300 guys move from Kennedy to Proctor, but one here and there doesn't bother them."
"Then why doesn't your old man know?"
Jeff's shoulders did a quick rise and fall. "I didn't ask him. I'm the one going to school, not him."
"Not that I'm minding your business, bud," JohnyG broke in, "but didn't you require parental consent for this?"
Jeff scratched his head. "Uh, yeah. I went by my dad's office one day when I knew he was in court. I talked to Greg Richmond, one of the interns there that looks out for my dad's charitable stuff. My dad authorizes money to go out for certain things, one of which is the yearly gift to my school. But my dad just gives it because it's my school. He doesn't really care what school he is giving it to."
Jeff licked his lips, looking at Brian. "So I asked Greg if he knew anything about changing that, because I was going to move over to Proctor. Greg looked at the file, and said it hadn't been done, but he would be glad to do it. So I told him to go ahead. And then I asked if he knew anything about my dad getting the paperwork in to have me transferred, and he said he didn't know, but he would check. He called someone at the school board he knows, and they said it hadn't been done. So I asked if Greg could do it, and he said he could. He did all the paperwork, and said my dad needed to sign it. I said my dad was really busy, could my mom sign it? He said yes, and so I took it home and had my mom sign it."
Brian gaped at the twisting trail, a sudden uneasiness coming over him. "She signed it?"
Jeff nodded. "Sure. I told her I wanted to change schools. She asked me why, and I said all my friends went to Proctor, and I wanted to be with them for my senior year. She thought that was a perfectly good reason, Brian. Like I said, my folks don't really care where I go to school until we're talking about college."
Annie looked concerned. "What will happen when your dad finds out?"
Jeff shrugged. "Nothing. He may be annoyed I didn't ask him to do it - but, for real, I don't think he'll say anything."
Brian squinted at his boyfriend. "Then why didn't you get him to do it?"
A look of irritation crossed Jeff's face. "Because I couldn't take the chance he would say no. If he said no, I couldn't do it at all."
"If you know he wouldn't have a problem with you doing it, why would he say no?"
Jeff made a face. "Because he can. Because if he knew I wanted to do it just to be with my friends, he would laugh. He would say that was a poor reason to make a change like that, and he would just brush it off, like he does everything else." A certain look of satisfaction came across Jeff's features. "But it's a done deal now."
Brian considered that. He knew that Jeff and his dad butted heads all the time, but he was just starting to see how it had affected Jeff. At first glance, the manner in which Jeff had had the switch in schools made seemed deceptive; but given thought, he could see that Jeff only partially thought that was true. His boyfriend seemed to feel a little guilty about causing the intern in his dad's office to infer things that were not exactly correct; and yet, Jeff had done everything legally. His mom had signed the paperwork, had full knowledge of what Jeff was doing, and it had all been done properly. Jeff had simply gone around his dad in getting it done.
"What will you tell your dad when he finds out?"
Jeff sighed. "That I knew he was busy with an important case, and that I let mom take care of it."
Brian could see that what Jeff wanted was not to be cross-examined on his methods, but to be congratulated on the result. Brian smiled, leaned forward, and kissed him. "Welcome to Proctor, sweetheart."
The joy in Jeff's eyes was apparent. He put his arms around Brian and hugged him, pressing his face against Brian's. Brian sighed, and hugged him back.
"Love you," he whispered into Jeff's ear.
He felt Jeff nod. "Me, too."
JohnyG gave off a big sigh and looked over at Gary. "Oh, to be young again. Kiss me, you fool."
Gary sighed also, and the two leaned together and gave each other a quick peck on the lips.
Brian turned his head and looked at the two men, grinning. "Yeah, you old people can afford to laugh. You're done with school."
JohnyG and Gary both grinned. "Who you calling old?" JohnyG said. "Don't make me come over there."
Brian laughed, giving Jeff another fond squeeze.
"It's your turn, Brian" Annie said, and Brian let his eyes go to her. He could see just a hint of nervousness in her eyes, as if she was really thinking he might want revenge for making him kiss Ed. Brian felt too good to pursue that right now, not that he would ever do anything to really embarrass the girl, anyway.
He sat away from Jeff, looked at Annie and grinned devilishly, and rubbed his hands together. "Ah, Annie. I dare you to --" He leaned towards her, got right into her face "-- kiss me."
Annie laughed, delight appearing on her face, and she put her hands out and took his face in them, pulled him closer, and let him have it.
Whew! Brian's dick, already grinning and panting from his closeness to Jeff, rolled over in his pants and howled at the moon. Annie gave him enough tongue to polish his back teeth, and the hungry way she went about it was stirring in the extreme. Brian finally gasped and pulled way, letting his hand drop to massage his crotch. "Aw, now see? You woke WIllie."
Annie hooted, her eyes bright. "Willie?"
Brian nodded. "Yup. WIllie Getsum. My PR guy."
Annie closed her eyes, shook her head, and leaned her face against Brian's. He inhaled, got a whiff of the clean scent of her hair, and kissed her cheek. "You're really something," he whispered.
She nodded, pulling back. "I can see you're happy."
She found his hand, and squeezed it. "I am, too." She looked over at Jeff. "It's going to be great having you with us this year."
He nodded. "Thanks. I'm looking froward to it."
"And now it's your turn," Brian told her, smiling.
She nodded, and damn if her eyes didn't fill with mischief again. "Brian," she said, pulling away to a safer distance, and her grin growing. "I dare you - to kiss Brad. On the lips."
* * * * * * *
"It's ten-thirty," JohnyG said, raising his head and looking over at Brian. "Wanna think about going soon?"
Brian nodded, not disengaging himself from the pile of bodies he was in. "A little longer, okay?"
The warmth from the fire was soothing on his skin. Brian didn't have a stitch of clothing on, but neither did anyone else in the room. Brian was flat on his back, Jeff wrapped over his right side, and Annie wrapped over his left. He had an arm around each of them, and they each had a leg wrapped around one of his. Jeff had hold of Brian's dick, and was just massaging it gently. It was spent, and only half-hard, and probably wouldn't be good for anything for several days, after all it had been through this evening. What Jeff was doing to it was not really meant to be arousing - just loving. Brian appreciated that.
Annie had a hand laying on his chest, and was gently flexing her fingers against him. It, too was, amazingly soothing. With a face pressed against either side of his he could simply turn his head slightly in either direction and kiss someone, and every so often they would both lift their heads and kiss each other. It was a wonderful position for Brian to be in, and he really didn't want it to end just yet.
He smiled, recalling the rest of the Truth and Dare game. He had kissed Brad. Annie had modified her dare, requiring them to both stand up in front of everyone, embrace, and kiss for at least ten seconds. It was Brian's own fault for not calling no mods.
Brad had looked embarrassed, but had gotten to his feet quickly, and Brian had been a little amazed at detecting the interest in the other boy's attitude. That Brad wanted to kiss him was a new idea, and so when they went to do it, he let Brad lead. The other boy's embrace had been firm, and the kiss fairly passionate, with tongue, and had gone on for longer than the required ten seconds. And Brian had let it.
As they were coming up for air Brian had felt the bulge in Brad's crotch, and instead of being alarmed, had taken it for a compliment. Brad was a little taller than Brian, and Brian had smiled up at him as they parted. "I think I'll remember that one."
Brad had grinned. "Yeah."
Gary, each time his turn came around, had simply continued to undress people. Once JohnyG had caught on to what his boyfriend was doing he had assisted, and soon all the guys were sitting around in just their underwear, and the girl's in their panties. Neither Annie nor Missy were wearing bras; their shirts had come off to let it all hang out. Neither girl had so much as blinked at the dare, either.
Not to be outdone, the others had ganged up on JohnyG and Gary, until they, too, were sitting there in just their underwear.
That seemed to make everyone a little loose, and more dares to kiss were served on people. Brian got to also kiss Casey, and JohnyG, and Gary - and even Missy. That was an experience in itself, and now he understood why Ed was always smiling these days.
Things had gotten a little wild after that, when Brad had dared Brian to stand up and do a striptease in front of everyone. Brian was not really inclined to do that; but as everyone here had already seen him naked, and the alternative was to let them get a good look at his butt hole, he decided to do it properly, and with good humor, and had had Jeff make little, sexy drum sounds while Brian swayed his hips, dipped the waistband of his briefs, flashed some skin, some cheek, and finally - everything.
Some beer and some pot was consumed during this time. It had made everyone happy, and more than a little horny. The dares got even more provocative, with touching and kissing moving from the faces and lips to other parts of the body. Brian had kissed Brad's dick, and Casey's, and - well, everybody's. And laid a little tongue on both girls' nipples. And, everyone had kissed Brian's dick, too, even Ed. That last was pretty amazing: Ed wasn't even bi, but he was tolerant in the extreme, and game. Brian had been a little shocked to be standing there, naked, with a hard on, while his best-buddy-not-his-boyfriend had squatted in front of him, also naked, sighed, puckered up, and laid one on the head of his dick.
Missy had shrieked with glee over it, the act somehow driving her just nuts with arousal. And when Brian had been dared to return the favor to Ed, he had done it just as easily.
Something had changed inside Brian, and he was still trying to figure it out. These people all meant something to him, but they were not all his lovers. Jeff was his lover. Annie was - he didn't quite know. He loved her, definitely. Yet Brian had actually enjoyed doing what they had done. It somehow made each one of these people closer to him, laid down the small barriers that even friends kept between them. Yes, they were friends. But now they were quite close ones.
Tomorrow I'll be shaking my head at this, he managed to think, knowing that a little of what had happened was instigated by beer and pot. But that there had been a willingness - even an eagerness - to share this closeness, on the part of each of them, was also apparent. No one had bucked, no one had seemed reluctant. Once they got going, everyone had had fun.
We're a buncha sex-fiends. Brian sighed.
There'd been a lot of laughing, and a lot of smiling - and a lot of touching. And things. Brian again had to marvel at the ability ofhis friends to mold his reality. This night was one he'd definitely remember.
Damn if Ed hadn't gotten his orgy after all. Well, sort of.
And now - he could actually see himself and Jeff and Annie playing with any of these people. What would it be like for them to sleep with Brad and Casey? Or JohnyG and Gary? Or Ed and Missy?
He was a little shocked to understand that he would enjoy finding out. These weren't strangers, they were friends. Bonds had been forged, and somehow they went even as far as sharing the intimacy of sex. Brian wasn't fooled into thinking he was in love with anyone but Jeff. He also loved Annie; but at the same time, he knew he loved Ed as a friend and had for some time. And that all the others had somehow stepped very quickly inside the boundaries he normally kept between himself and everyone else he knew as a friend.
He sighed. This was a new way of viewing, not just friends, but the things you could do with them. The idea that he might have friendly sex with people he was close to tugged him in two directions. There was something a little perverse about it, and also something a little alluring. It mixed him up just now, and he realized that he wanted to talk about it with Jeff at a later date when it was just the two of them alone. So that they could decided on how - and if - to let this kind of stuff proceed.
The last thing he wanted was to let something get in between him and Jeff, or him and Annie. He did love both of them, and they were more important - their feelings were - than any games they might all play with the others, no matter how seemingly safe and enjoyable.
And...Jeff was the most important of all. That he had willingly participated in everything that had occurred, and looked like he was having fun doing so, seemed to say that he had gotten just as much enjoyment out of it as had Brian. Both of them seemed to understand that they had been playing, and that it was not going to affect the relationship they had that was just theirs. But...
Brian had to be sure.
He was aware that his buzz had died out, and that he still felt the same way about everyone. So it wasn't the pot, or the beer. It was Brian.
Jeff sighed, and kissed him. "Stop worrying."
"What?" Brian blinked, wondering then if he had actually said something aloud.
Jeff lifted his head and looked at him. "I can hear the wheels turning. I said, 'stop worrying'. "
Brian laughed, and kissed his boyfriend back. "Okay. You talked me into it."
He didn't want to do it, but Brian carefully disengaged himself from the other two and sat up. JohnyG lifted his head from Gary's chest and grinned at him. "We going?"
Brian nodded. "I guess we should, if we want to do anything else."
Brad and Casey looked blissful wrapped together, and so did Ed and Missy.
Ed raised a hand and waved. "Just come back in about two hours for me and Missy, okay?"
Brian laughed. "No. Get up, or get left."
Brian found his clothing, and began to dress. Soon everyone was on their feet and also drawing on clothing and donning shoes. They cleaned up the place, found spots on the shelves by the fireplace for the empty beer bottles, and put out the fire and made sure the embers were dead. The wonderful and warm glow left the room, and the cool of night immediately crept in and stole away the mood of the evening.
"Fuck," Ed said, shrugging his shoulders. "Summer's over, man."
Brian just shook his head. It was probably still close to eighty degrees, but just felt chillier because they had grown used to the warmth of the room. And each other.
They hauled their stuff outside, and loaded the cars, and then JohnyG and Brad came over to confer on a destination.
"Me and Gary could go for some eats, if you wanna," JohnyG suggested. "How about hitting the Mickey Dee's on Route Five before we go anywhere else?"
Brad nodded, and so did Brian. "Cool with me. You wanna lead the way again?"
"Sure." JohnyG grinned. "I'll play nice on the way back."
They went back to their cars, and Brian and Brad followed JohnyG up the hill and along the rutted drive. Brian noticed the silence inside the Bee, and glanced in the rear view mirror at Ed. "Everything okay back there?"
Ed grinned. "Fuckinay. Miss and I had a blast. Didn't we, Miss?"
Missy gave out one of her snorting laughs. "I sure did. I'll do that again, anytime you guys want to."
Maybe that broke the ice. In a moment everyone was laughing and saying what a good time they had had. Brian understood then that everyone was just as nervous as he about what they had all done together that evening at the haunted house.
"Did you have fun, Brian?" Annie asked.
Brian looked at her a moment, then let his eyes slide past her to Jeff's. His boyfriends eyes were full of many things, not the least of which was good humor.
"Goddamn right. It was crazy, but fun."
Somehow, that seemed to relax everyone, and soon Brian went back to watching the back of the El Camino as it bounced over the ruts, while listening to the conversation and laughter in the car.
The night was a dark one. They were close to the new moon, and even if the sky had not been overcast there would not have been much to light their way. As it was, Brian was a little relieved to get back to the main road. It was almost as if the rows of corn were watching them as they passed, commenting and speculating, and Brian wasn't sure that what they were saying was totally complimentary.
He sighed. This was not the time to be second guessing himself or his actions. Yes, they had all stepped out; and no, they could not just take those actions back. Friends had certain rules they lived by, he understood, and he saw now that what was bothering him was that they had stepped on some of the rules that evening and therefore blurred the lines which formed around them. He was teetering on the edge of being frightened at the change, and pleased that it had happened, and that explained his ambivalent feelings.
Well, rules can be changed. He looked in the rear view mirror again, at Ed smiling at Missy. Ed was still his friend. All of the others were still his friends. That was the most basic rule of friendship, that it survived things that would split strangers apart. So that rule had not changed. The rest of the rules - the smaller ones that dictated interaction, had been modified, is all. A few more evenings with his friends and the new set of rules would be just as clear, just as well-defined, as the old rules had been.
Brian realized that his shoulders were tensed, and that he was slightly hunched over the steering wheel. He took a deep breath, let it out, and sat back more comfortably against the seat.
Annie looked over at him, laid a hand on his thigh, and rubbed it affectionately. "That's better."
He grinned. "Oh, you know me so well, huh?"
She looked up at him, the faint lights from the dashboard instruments reflected in her eyes. "Yes." There was no playfulness there, no doubt.
Brian pulled his eyes from the road long enough to smile at her. He could see the caring there in her face, the quiet affection in her eyes. Nothing had changed in Annie's mind, at least with regard to Brian.
Jeff reached over and laid his hand atop Annie's, and gave them both a squeeze. He could see the same lights of affection and understanding in his boyfriend's eyes, and that he, too, was concerned.
Brian nodded, smiled, and went back to driving.
A certain peace had settled upon him by the time they reached Route 5. Traffic was light, as always seemed to be the case this far out of town, and at night. The road stretched before them, coming into view far ahead in JohnyG's headlight beams, and rolling almost instantly beneath them. The El Camino's brights were on, and they picked out both the road ahead and the wooded landscape along side of them as they covered the distance towards home.
Once, just briefly, at the very extreme of his peripheral vision, Brian witnessed a buck, momentarily surprised as the intense glow rushed down upon him, as he then leaped for safety in the underbrush. Another time, Brian could have sworn that, for just another brief instant in time, the reflective eyes of some other creature had been turned their way among the tall grasses as the cars rushed past. He could imagine then the life all about them, in the woods to each side, living those lives in the shadow of monstrous machines as they rushed by them in the dark. For the most part, that life stayed out of the road, wary of the footprints of the titans, only occasionally getting caught for one intense and final second in the lights that signaled the end of the world.
Brian smiled, and shook his head. Next time, he wouldn't smoke so much weed in a single night. It made him a little too thoughtful, too introspective, for his own good. There was something about that pot they'd gotten from the haunted house that was subtle, and that lasted. Next thing, Brian would be considering all the tiny noises the Bee made as it hurtled along the road, and imagining what mechanical djinns were at work behind each and every one of them.
He reached out and turned the radio up a little, was rewarded with some ZZ Top.
Far to their rear, a pair of headlights came into view. Brian saw them appear in the side mirror, and his eyes flicked to the speedometer. They were doing sixty - ten miles per hour over the speed limit. Brian flicked his high beams at JohnyG and backed off the accelerator, and their speed dropped quickly back to the limit. JohnyG had also slowed, and all of them were in the right lane and keeping pace now.
The lights behind them grew - whoever it was, they were rolling. The most likely suspect was a state cop - none of them seemed to think the speed limit was for them as well, and they had a tendency to rip up the road, even in the daylight.
But as he watched the lights approach, Brian began to doubt it was a cop. The spacing of the lights was wrong, and the running lights in the wrong place. This was something else entirely. The car reached a position just behind Brad, and seemed to pause there, as if inspecting the cars in front.
A suspicion began to dawn on Brian just as the car whipped over into the left lane and started forward. As it passed Brad's car it came into view in the side mirror, and Brian made a noise that stopped all conversation in the car.
"What's up?" Ed said, from the back.
"Here comes that crazy chick in the white Vette again."
Jeff tossed his head back and laughed, and everyone turned to look as the car came alongside them. Brian turned his head, and could just make out the blonde hair of the driver as the car pulled up next to them. She appeared to be laughing or grinning. The girl gunned the Corvette, made it jump forward, and then let it drift back beside him. Plainly, she was inviting him to run.
"Girl's on drugs, or something," Brian said, shaking his head.
When it seemed that Brian wasn't going to take the bait, the Corvette charged ahead to pause next to the El Camino. They could see JohnyG and Gary looking over at the car, and the El Camino surged forward a moment before backing off. The Corvette also powered ahead, but the girl driver let off as she saw that JohnyG wasn't serious about going.
"You should teach that crazy bitch a lesson," Ed said from the back seat. Brian heard rather than saw Missy slap Ed's arm. "I'm sorry," Ed continued, with humor in his voice. "Brian, you should teach that crazy young lady a lesson."
"Fuck it, Brian," Jeff said, "take her out. There's a long, straight stretch coming up. I"ll bet you could top her out there."
Brian looked down at Annie.
"Go ahead," she said, grinning.
Brian pulled out of the line and goosed the gas, and stepped on the brake just as he drew up on the Vette's ass end. The black script across the other car's tail was bold in his headlights: If you can beat me, you can eat me.
The Vette's driver saw him come, and was off. Brian dropped to second gear and nailed it, and the Bee screamed after the other car. They caught it almost immediately, and Brian went to the other lane and just pasted the accelerator to the floor. They passed the Vette like it was standing still, and as they surged ahead Brian could see the Chevy's headlights dropping back in the rear view mirror.
The speedometer hit a hundred, and Brian went to third gear, even though he didn't need it yet. The Bee so obviously outclassed the other car in acceleration that there was no reason to even push it. The Corvette continued to recede in the mirror, and the Dodge continued to accelerate. Brian could feel the weird, almost ethereal motion of the car now, as it seemed to drift over the road. The speedometer hit a hundred and twenty and continued upwards. The tach was just passing four grand - plenty left to go.
They were on the straight now, and the road was a blur in the car's headlights. The speedometer hit one-thirty, and continued to climb. The Vette was way back now, and still falling behind.
Brian was intent on the road, and on the speedometer. It hit one-forty, moved onward; this was the fastest that Brian had ever been in his life.
For a moment - just the briefest second of time - the clouds overhead gave way, and Brian saw the watery glow of distant moonlight. An instant of total clarity hit him then, as he recalled the buck standing beside the road, and in a bit of alternate reality he imagined that deer leaping out in front of them, instead of back into the brush.
For a moment he was standing again on the front porch of the haunted house, with the amiable face of Carrie before him, admonishing them to be careful on the journey home. "By day it's pretty clear where you're headin'.At night, it's never clear at all.But when the moon's up, it's in between. That's the time when the road shows you things."
And in that moment, he realized what he was doing. There were four other human beings in the car with him - four important, unique, wonderful bits of life.
His friends, and his loves.
And he was taking a chance with all four of them. Risking all four of those irreplaceable lives.
And for no good reason at all.
He gulped, and took his foot off the accelerator. The Bee immediately came down off of her surge of power, and as the engine wound down the car slowed rapidly.
"What are you doing? You got her, man!" Ed called.
Brian didn't answer, just watching the road, his eyes flicking to the speedometer as it dropped back beneath one hundred.
The Vette was coming up fast in his mirror; in a moment it passed them, going all out. The Bee continued to slow, and now Brian saw JohnyG and Brad coming up behind him. The El Camino pulled alongside, and JohnyG grinned over at them. Brian looked down at the speedometer just as it dropped back beneath sixty.
"Fuck!" Jeff said. "Look!"
Ahead of them, the road was curving, and Brian remembered now that it was a fairly sharp one as the road bore off to the left.
The Corvette's brake lights lit, and the car's back end swayed as it dove into the curve.
"She's going too fast!" Jeff said, leaning forward and placing his hand on the dash.
The Corvette's rear fishtailed; and suddenly they could see the car spinning. The headlights came around and pointed at them, and for a brief second the other car was going backwards at close to a hundred miles per hour. But then the lights whipped around forward again; the car continued to fishtail, the brake lights flashing on and off - and then the lights seemed to disappear as the car went over an embankment at the road's edge.
"Oh, fuck!" Brian yelled, hitting the brakes.
JohnyG passed him, but instantly slowed; and then all three cars were pulling over to the shoulder.
Brian put on the Bee's emergency flashers and shut off the engine. They piled out, and Brian raced around and grabbed the lantern from the trunk. They met Brad and Casey and JohnyG and Gary as they got out of their cars.
They could see the Corvette's tracks in the dirt beside the road. They led - sideways - to a drop off about thirty feet from the shoulder. The group of them trotted up to the embankment and looked over, and Brian lit the lantern and held it high.
It was a short drop - maybe eight feet. The slope was gentle, and they could see that the Corvette had slid down the hill, not flown over it. The car was at the bottom, upright and in one piece, it's lights still on. The driver's door was open and the interior lights were on, and the girl was outside with a flashlight, hunched down, looking at a front wheel. Small trees were all about the car - it was a miracle the Vette had missed them.
Brian breathed a sigh of relief, remembering the car sailing backwards at a hundred miles per hour.
That could have been us.
He started down the hill, and the others followed. The girl driver heard them coming, and straightened and turned towards them, shining her flashlight in their faces.
"You stay away!"
Brian drew up at the sound of her voice. It was strained, and sounded fearful. The girl's blonde hair was tossed all about her head, and her cute face was pinched in fright. She was wearing a pink halter top and jeans, and some kind of running shoes. Brian estimated her age at maybe a year or two older than their own.
She seemed a far cry from the bold girl who had charged up and down every road in the area, challenging every hot car in existence to a run at high speed.
"We're just here to help," he called, holding the lantern higher. They could see now that the Vette's front wheel on the driver's side was no longer straight; the bottom was canted out at an odd angle. Probably, the wheel had caught on something as it slid sideways, and broken a tie rod or something. That the car would not be driving out of here was obvious - the girl was going to need a ride, if nothing else.
Brian stepped forward again, and the girl waved the light at him. "I said stay away!"
There was an odd note to her voice, one that puzzled Brian, but which he couldn't name. The girl's fright didn't seem unusual, given the circumstances; but that it seemed to be directed at them instead of her brush with death was odd.
JohnyG moved up beside Brian. "Something's not right here."
Brian nodded. He pointed at the broken wheel, and tried to sound calm as he looked back at the girl. "Your car is damaged. We can give you a ride to the all-night Amoco down the road. You can get a tow truck to come back with you."
"No. Just stay away and let me think."
"What the fuck, girl?" Ed called. "We just want to help."
"I don't want your help. Just leave me alone."
Brian sensed JohnyG pull back and away, even as he shook his head at the Corvette's driver. "We can't just leave you here. How will you get help?"
"I don't know. Just be quiet for a minute. I need to think."
Annie came up beside Brian. "What the hell is wrong with her? She sounds like we did something to her on purpose."
Brian shrugged. Maybe the girl really was on drugs. Paranoia was company to a few of the harder drugs he had heard about - drugs he wished no part of. Some people even got very paranoid on pot - but this seemed pretty extreme for that.
Brian sighed. "Well, we can stop down at the Amoco and send the tow truck back. You want us to do that?"
The girl considered that. "Maybe that would be best."
Annie leaned closer. "Somebody should stay with her. If you want, I'll stay. Maybe Missy and Ed will stay, too."
Brian was about to answer her when he sensed motion out of the side of his eye. He squinted at it, and was shocked to see someone creeping up on the girl from behind the Corvette. It only took him a moment to identify the person as JohnyG, moving slowly, obviously trying to remain unseen.
What could he have in mind? Did he intend to grab the girl? That wouldn't be good. It might set her off, and then things might be worse. He could see them all being arrested now for assault, or some other stupid thing.
But something kept him silent. He felt Annie start next to him - she had seen JohnyG as well. And the silence that came over the rest of the group seemed to say that everyone had seen the El Camino driver now.
"We don't want to leave you here alone," Brian forced out, thinking quickly. "A couple of us will stay with you while the rest go for the tow truck." He wanted the girl's attention to stay on them. He didn't know what JohnyG intended, but hopefully it would break the stalemate they had now.
"No! All of you go. I'll be okay here until the truck comes."
JohnyG was nearly there. But at the last moment, just as JohnyG lunged forward, the girl must have sensed him; she started, and whipped the light around, pinning JohnyG in the beam just as he swooped by her.
But he didn't grab her, as Brian thought he intended to do. Instead, one hand darted out and grabbed a length of the girl's hair. JohnyG continued by her - and the hair came with him.
Brian just gaped in surprise. The hair was a wig.
The girl was a guy.
He had a brown crew cut, grown out just a bit, but just as guy as it got. His features remained in a pose of complete shock for several more moments, as he simply stood and gaped at JohnyG.
The El Camino driver stood there in the light from the Corvette girl's - or guy's - flash, looking at the wig and nodding. "Thought so," they heard him say.
"Well, fuck," the Corvette driver said then, in a voice suddenly much deeper. "Now you've ruined the whole thing."
JohnyG tossed the wig back to the other boy, who caught it, but didn't try to put it back on. Throwing caution to the wind, Brian just went on forward, and drew up next to JohnyG. The others followed.
"How'd you know?" Brian asked JohnyG.
JohnyG shrugged, and turned to grin at him. "Her hair looked funny. My Aunt Agnes wears a wig all the time, and it just struck me that it looked the same. I dunno. I just did it."
They all looked at the Corvette driver, who was gazing at the wig a little sadly. "Well, it had to end eventually, I guess."
Brian moved forward, and this time the Corvette driver looked at him with embarrassment more than fear. "I guess you'd like to know what this is about?"
Brian gave a little nod of his head. "Yeah."
There was something sad, and even forlorn, about the other guy now, and Brian was surprised to feel sympathy. This charade had apparently been important to this guy, in some fashion.
"But if you'd rather not, and just want a lift to the Amoco, that's okay, too."
The other looked at him a moment, and then smiled. He was just as cute as a guy as he had been as a girl, and Brian grinned back.
"What's this?" the other said, "A prince among the peons?"
Brian laughed, and Ed came up beside them then. "Who you calling a peon?"
Brian waved a hand at him. "This is Ed. I'm Brian. That's JohnyG, who got your wig; and Annie, and Missy, Gary, Brad, and Casey."
The new guy nodded to each, then placed a hand on his chest. "Robbie."
Ed grinned. "Nice to meet you. Now, who are you calling a peon?"
* * * * * * *
It was late by the time they got the Corvette to the Amoco. Robbie had removed his make up and changed his shirt by the time that JohnyG and Gary returned with the tow truck, and the driver never knew there was anything strange about the pick up. He did grin at the writing on the back of the Corvette as he pulled the car up onto the rollback.
"My sister's car," Robbie explained, rolling his eyes.
Later, they all sat at benches outside Mickey Dee's, munching on burgers and drinking sodas, as Robbie, now apparently comfortable with the odd mob that had rescued him, talked about himself.
"I live near Chittenango," he said, around a quarter-pounder with cheese. "Moved up here with my family just before summer started."
Brian's eyes widened - Chittenango was just down the road from Alna.
"But you used to live in Albany," JohnyG said.
Robbie looked surprised. "That's right. How did you know?"
"Me and Gary are from there. We heard of your Vette there, too."
Robbie smiled. "My fame precedes me, huh? Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. My car is a one of a kind."
"So it's not your sister's car?" Annie asked.
"No. It's mine. That was just a little camouflage for the tow driver."
"So - what is with you?" Brian finally asked. "I mean, you do know you're not winning all these races with the cars around here, don't you?"
Robbie smiled. "That's a matter of perspective. I know I don't win the quarter mile races. I've been told that before - back in Albany. I don't care about that."
"You run for top end?" Jeff asked.
"Not even that. I race for the thrill of it. Winning doesn't matter. Going fast does." He leaned forward. "Being chased does."
Brian nodded. "Well, you nearly got that fast handed to you tonight. You're lucky you didn't eat any of the trees by the road."
Robbie leaned forward, his eyes intense. "You're one to talk. That incredible car of yours - why did you let off of it?"
Brian looked around at the others. "Um - I had a full load of people. I didn't think I had the right to go that fast with them with me like that."
Robbie's eyes circled the group. "Five people in your car, and I still couldn't catch you until you let me. It's amazing."
"The Bee is a beast," Ed said, smiling. "It's quick and it's fast. You won't meet too many cars like it."
"I've never met one I couldn't run away from until now," Robbie admitted. "I've seen your car before, Brian."
"Mine, too," Jeff said. "I ran you from a light on Route 5 one day. Brian was with me. You flipped us the bird."
"Encouragement," Robbie said, laughing. "What was the car?"
"Green sixty-nine Camaro SS."
Robbie eyes lit. "Another race car. I remember you. You left me standing still until we got going fast." He leaned forward, looking at Brian. "You were in the passenger seat?"
Robbie smiled sweetly. "I remember you, too."
Brian felt his eyebrows go up. He was definitely getting some signals here.
JohnyG evidently saw it, too. He leaned forward. "So why is a guy driving around, pretending to be a girl?"
Robbie pouted a little, and nibbled on his sandwich, his eyes moving from one face to the next. "Well - I have issues."
Brian nearly laughed, but managed to control it before it came out.
Ed didn't. He laughed out loud, and then shook his head at Robbie. "You think?"
Robbie's pout grew. He looked at Ed peevishly. "I thought you were a peon."
Ed surprised everyone by shaking his head instead of flaming up. "No, dude, I'm not. I'm a liberal thinker. I just think you're playing games out in the street."
Robbie's mood lightened, and he smiled again. "I like you, after all. But I'm not playing games. I'm just having fun."
"Isn't that the same thing?" Missy asked.
"No." Robbie leaned forward. "I'm not doing anything to harm anyone. Racing is something the guys I chase around like to do already."
"But why do you have to dress as a girl?" Jeff asked.
Robbie sighed. "I said I had issues. I guess it's not enough to have them race me. I want them to chase me, too." He shrugged. "If I was just another guy in a Corvette, they'd get bored and give up." For a moment he stared off into space - and then he smiled. "They're so cute, when they pull up next to me at a light, and they hang out the windows and they wave and they smile and they laugh." He closed his eyes. "All for me. I love that."
Brian looked at JohnyG, who took a second and looked around the exterior of the restaurant. People were about, but no one was near them.
JohnyG leaned closer to Robbie. "Are you gay?"
Robbie opened his eyes, and they held pain. "I hate that word. It sounds like such a nice state to be in. It's a hell of a thing to call something that's so goddamn miserable."
No one spoke for a moment. Brian looked around, saw nothing but sympathy in the eyes he touched.
"It's not always bad," Brian said, at last.
Robbie opened his eyes. "And you would know?" he asked, contemptuously.
Brian nodded. "Yes."
Jeff also nodded. "Yes."
Robbie's eyes opened wider, and he looked around at the others.
"All my life," JohnyG said, smiling. He reached out and patted Gary's hand. Gary grinned, and nodded.
Casey waved a hand, and indicated himself and then Brad. "Us, too."
Robbie looked at Ed, who grinned. "I'm just an interested bystander. But I do get it."
Robbie closed his eyes again. "I...I just want guys to like me."
Brian nodded, reached out and touched the other boy's fingers. Robbie's eyelids bolted upwards at the contact.
"Then pretending to be a girl isn't the way to do it, man. The kind of guys that you want to like you have to know you're a guy - if you know what I mean."
Robbie looked at Brian hard. "You " -- and then his eyes moved to Jeff -- "and you?"
Brian and Jeff both nodded.
Robbie pointed at Annabelle. "And...?"
Jeff grinned. "He's a little confused."
Robbie tilted his head back and laughed. "Oh, my god." He seemed to enjoy the good humor for a moment - and then his eyes dropped back to Brian. "You know any more? Single ones, I mean?"
Jeff laughed, and clapped Brian on the shoulder. "No, he doesn't. Not yet, anyway." He leaned forward and smiled, and squeezed Brian's shoulder fondly. "But stick around. Brian's a gay magnet. Someone will show up."
Brian rolled his eyes, but Robbie just smiled. "I believe I will, if it's okay."
* * * * * * *
"Take it easy going home," Brian said, leaning in the window of the El Camino to shake hands with Gary. He pulled back, clapped JohnyG on the shoulder. "Remember - party at the shopping center tomorrow night. Starts at seven. Be there, or be...well, we'll have to come and find you."
JohnyG laughed, put a hand on Brian's arm and squeezed it. They had already exchanged hugs all around, but Brian felt the last contact a welcome one. He liked JohnyG and Gary, and was glad they had come along into his life.
"You guys put on a hell of a show, Brian," JohnyG said. "We'll be there."
Brian stepped back, grinning. "Like to see if this thing can spin a wheel when you leave. No cops around, if you know what I mean."
JohnyG laughed, and the El Camino started out to the street. Jeff came to stand beside Brian, and they watched as JohnyG pulled out onto Route 5.
The El Camino reared, and her rear tires spun into smoke. The car simply charged off into the night, laying more rubber with each gear change, until the sound of the engine faded away.
Jeff laughed. "I don't know, Brian. That's a twelve second car if I ever saw one."
Brian nodded. "Sounds like one, too." He patted Jeff's arm, and they headed over to the Oldsmobile, where Ed and Missy and Annie were talking to Brad and Casey. They had also exchanged hugs with these two, but Brian went around to the passenger side and said goodbye to Casey again, and squeezed his shoulder. "Watch out for this guy," he said, nodding at Brad.
"I will." Casey looked over at his brother. "I always will."
Brad laughed. Brian went around to the driver's side, offered his hand. "You be careful, too. And we'll see you tomorrow night?"
Brad nodded. "We'll be there." He and Brian shook, and then they all stood back as the Olds pulled out. Brad got to the road, and then smoked them up, putting on a good show, though not as impressive as had been JohnyG's run. But that was to be expected. The Olds was a good performer, but it was also stock.
"Are we ready to go?" Brian asked. They were going to run Robbie home, too, as it was only about a ten minute drive.
Annie frowned. "It's after one, Brian. I hate to ask, but can you drop me off first?"
Missy raised a hand. "Me, too. My old man will freak if I'm much later, and I don't want to be grounded on the last good night before school."
Ed sighed. "Me, too, I guess. I wanna say goodnight to Miss."
Brian nodded, and they crammed themselves into the Bee, three in front, three in back. It was a full load, and Brian was aware of it.
"Gonna light 'em up, Bry?" Ed asked, as they pulled out to the street.
Brian shook his head. "No. I've had enough speed for the night."
They drove to Annie's house, and Brian pulled up and he and Jeff got out with her and walked her to the door. They trapped her between them and all hugged, and Brian felt his first serious regret that the night was drawing to a close.
"See you tomorrow, okay?" He kissed her, and she nodded.
"I had a great time tonight. Brian. It's one for my diary, for sure."
Brian groaned. "Oh, shit. Tell me you keep that locked up somewhere safe."
"I do," Annie said. "Those dreams are just for me."
They watched her go in, and close the door. When they got back to the car, Ed and Missy were already outside. "We're gonna walk it, Bry. Only take an extra minute, and it will give us a chance to say goodnight."
Brian nodded, looking at his friend. Then he stepped forward and gave Ed a hug. "Take it easy."
He felt Ed nod, and then they stepped apart. "Yeah. You, too. Call you tomorrow, okay?"
Brian gave Missy a hug, and then she and Ed walked off up the street, hand in hand.
"Just you and me now," Jeff said, grinning. "Oh - and the new guy."
Brian laughed, and shook his head as they climbed back into the car.
Robbie sat with his arms crossed on top of the back seat. "You people have a strange existence."
Brian nodded. "You're just adding to that strangeness, I hope you realize."
He saw Robbie grin in the mirror. "You're a sweetheart, Brian." He reached out and gave Jeff a small tap. "I don't know which of you I envy more."
Brian understood that Robbie meant it as a compliment; but he was also aware of the loneliness behind it.
"You'll find someone," Brian said quietly. "But you need to be a guy to do it."
Robbie nodded, and laid his chin on his hands as the Bee pulled out. "I had a few prospects, while I was in school. But after I graduated, they all disappeared."
"What do you do now?" Jeff asked.
Robbie rolled a shoulder. "Work in a pet store. I may still go to college - someday."
Brian wondered at the vagueness of it. "Isn't there something you want to do?"
Robbie sighed. "I don't know. Hard to plan a future when the present sucks so badly."
"Don't you have friends?" Jeff asked.
"I did, back in school. A couple. Everybody else left me alone. I was the queer guy, right?"
Brian smiled at Robbie in the mirror. "You're too cute not to have a boyfriend. One will come along, if you stop pretending to be a girl."
Robbie nodded. "I guess I'm done with the charade. Most of the fun of it was the secret, anyway. Now that people know, it wouldn't be the same anymore."
"What about your car?" Jeff asked.
"It'll get fixed. I'll take it back to the same guy that put the writing on the back and ask him to paint over it."
They continued to talk as they drove Robbie home. Brian was saddened to hear how it had been for the boy. All the things he had ever worried about being gay, Robbie seemed to have encountered. He'd been outed in the ninth grade by a boy he had liked, and made the mistake of letting know that. He'd become an outsider, the friend of a couple of other outsiders. Together they had managed, and together they had been miserable.
Robbie's family had moved after school, and the boy had been lonely ever since. Not that hard a stretch to find the rationalization for zipping about in hot car dressed as a girl - although Brian had to admit that the idea would never have occurred to him. But Robbie was not him.
They told Robbie about their group of friends, and the car crowd, and where they hung out, in the shopping center at Alna.
"Get your car fixed, you can stop by," Brian offered. "We're there most evenings."
"Do they all know about you two?" Robbie asked.
"No," Brian admitted. "You have to play it cool when others are around. That's not that hard, is it?"
Robbie shook his head. "No. I can be cool when I want to."
After a few twists and turns, they finally pulled up into the driveway of an expensive home. Lights along the drive revealed a wide expanse of lawn, well-kept, and black wrought iron outdoor furniture on the wide front porch.
"Nice," Brian commented.
"It could be," Robbie said.
Brian reached over to the glove box, dug out a piece of paper and a pen. "Here's my phone number," Brian said, writing it down. "You wanna talk, I'll be there."
"Write mine on it, too," Jeff instructed. "Once you get your car back, you can hang out with our group a little."
Brian smiled at the idea. "Sure. There's always room for a like mind."
Robbie took the paper, looked at it, and nodded. "Thank you," he said quietly. "I guess this was a pretty good night after all."
They let him out, and he bent down at the window by Jeff. "You really think it will be okay for me to drop by that place you hang out? People won't wonder about it?"
Jeff shrugged. "One more guy with a hot car."
Brian nodded. "Besides, if you're with us, no one will say anything."
Robbie grinned. "Okay. I get my car fixed, I'll be by."
He stood back and waved as they drove off.
When the house was out of sight, Jeff looked over. "What do you think?"
Brian laughed. "He's a little weird, but I like him."
Jeff smiled. "You like everyone, Brian."
"Aw, that's not true. I try to get along, is all."
Jeff sighed, looking about. It was dark, the roads were dark, and the traffic non-existent. He slid over by Brian and leaned against him. Brian grinned, and put an arm around Jeff and squeezed him closer. "Just watch for cars at lights, okay?"
Jeff nodded, and was silent a minute. Then: "I love the way you rescue people, Brian."
Brian looked at him. "What do you mean?"
Jeff laughed. "Okay, maybe that's not the right way to say it. I just mean, I love the way you take people in. Even people you've been at odds with, like me."
"I was never at odds with you. I liked you from the moment we met."
Jeff sighed. "I tried to hit you, Brian. We had a fight."
Brian grinned. "Trust me - what you and I had that night was not a fight." He laughed. "I did feel like I was dancing with you, though."
Jeff leaned his head against Brian's. "You know what I mean. I was mad at you, And then I became your boyfriend."
Brian shrugged. "Stranger shit has happened."
"And look at Brad," Jeff continued. "You met him during a fight."
"That was more like a fight," Brian admitted.
"And now you're friends," Jeff said.
"And now we're friends," Brian agreed.
"And JohnyG," Jeff continued. "Passed us that night on the road, and we felt like smacking him for the crazy way he did it."
"You felt like smacking him," Brian said. "I just thought he was nuts."
Jeff gave off a frustrated noise and gripped Brian's arm.
"I need that, to shift gears. Unless you want to do it."
Jeff just shook his head. "I give up."
Brian smiled at him. "Don't do that. I'm having too much fun with you."
Jeff closed his eyes a second, but he was smiling. He opened them, leaned over, kissed Brian's cheek, then pulled back. "I love you, even when you're hard to get along with."
Brian sighed. "Come back over a second?"
Jeff leaned over again, and Brian kissed his cheek. "I love you, even when you are hard to get along with."
By the time they pulled into the driveway at Brian's house, both boys were tired. Brian looked at his watch and realized that he had just gotten in under the wire. Much later, and his dad would be asking him what was up.
They got out of the car, and locked it up. Jeff's Camaro was parked across from the Bee, but when Jeff turned to head for it, Brian grabbed his arm and pulled him into the narrow space between the house and the evergreen tree by the garage door. He wrapped his arms around him, and kissed him. Jeff relaxed, got into it, and kissed him back. For a moment after that, they just stood together with their faces touching.
"School, Monday," Jeff said then. "My first day in school with you. I'll get to watch you box."
"Not the first day," Brian returned. "I don't start knocking people out for at least a week after the new term starts."
Jeff laughed, and shook his head.
Above them, a hole appeared in the cloud cover, and a tiny stream of high moonlight struggled downward. The moon was a sliver, the last phase before becoming a New Moon.
Brian grinned at it. "Better late than never."
Jeff kissed him. "What a wild night. I had a blast."
"Me, too. Now we got one more, and then it's back to Friday and Saturday nights being the ones we wait for."
Jeff nodded, but then pushed his face against Brian's. "Every night is one to wait for, when I spend them with you."
Brian sighed. "Jeff...?"
"Yes?" The note of expectancy in his boyfriend's voice made Brian smile. Jeff was ahead of him again.
"Um...I want to talk about the stuff we did tonight, okay?"
"Yes. I knew you would." Jeff pulled back a little, and leaned his forehead against Brian's. "Not now, though. I should go, and you should go in."
Brian nodded. "You mean everything to me."
He felt Jeff nod. "I know that." He gave a small chuckle. "Even with all the crazy stuff we've done, I know that. It's the same for me."
They held each other a few more minutes, and then Brian walked Jeff to his car. Jeff unlocked it, slid into the driver's seat, and rolled the window down. He turned the key, and the engine came to life. The Camaro wasn't any louder then the Dodge, but Brian knew if the car sat here too long with the engine running, it would wake his parents. Jeff knew it, too.
"I'll call you tomorrow."
Brian smiled. "Unless I call you first." He bent, took the risk of sticking his head into the car and giving his boyfriend a last goodnight kiss.
He backed off then, and smiled as Jeff put the car into gear and let it creep from the driveway. Brian tailed it down to the road, let his eyes follow as Jeff turned and headed up the street.
And then he watched as the taillights disappeared and the night grew quiet again.
That night seemed to speak to him. Summer was almost done. School would be back soon, and with it a new direction. Brian grinned. Exciting things were coming.
There was so much to think about now. Thoughts seemed to swirl about Brian's head like fireflies in the night. The future was there, and the past. In both of those worlds, there was Jeff.
Again, Brian was simply amazed at the direction his life had taken. He turned and looked at the Dodge, sitting back in the driveway, its dark paint aglow with moonlight. The car had become part of him, a thing as much inside of him as he was inside of it as they traveled the road together. The car was a catalyst - without it, he would never have met Jeff. Brian thought back to the day he had first seen the Super Bee, sitting there beneath the trees, covered in leaves and bird crap. At first glance the car had held no promise for him. But once he had gotten inside of it, once he had started it moving, it had simply invaded his soul and taken over his life.
Just like Jeff. The two were similar, boy and machine. They both had spirit, and they both had power, and they both had a hold of Brian's heart as though they would never let go.
The sounds of the night came to him then. Brian looked the other way down the road, opposite the direction that Jeff had gone, noted the way the street disappeared into the dark beneath the trees. Nothing stirred there, nothing beckoned. Just as his life had been before he met Jeff.
Then he looked back in the direction the Camaro had gone, and smiled.
That was the direction he wanted to go now, that was the road to be taken. It was the road where his heart lay, where all those that had come to mean life and love to him stood, waiting for him. He was a traveler now, a wanderer, his feet set on a path that led only forward.
It was a journey that would be the making of him, a journey that would define him and show him forever more just who he was meant to be. It would be an exciting journey, a mysterious one and a glorious one; and, best of all, a journey that he would never, ever again, have to make alone.
Brian and Jeff and friends will be back in A Road Less Traveled.