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Everything

A Sanitaria Springs Story

By Dabeagle

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This story was commissioned by a long-time reader. Do you have a favorite SS character you'd like to see? Do you have a favorite series of mine that you'd like to see more of? You can commission works at my Partreon page or just email me with the link above!

~E~

Declan and I were squished together on the couch, side by side, texting each other. While we were right next to each other. Yeah, we were weird. School was winding down for winter break and our relationship was growing steadily. As far as his parents were concerned, I could do no wrong. Showing up a few months ago and going to visit his grandmother with them had cemented my undeserved reputation. The fact that his grandmother loved me only added to my capital with the McLains. Since then I could pretty much pick up or hang out with Declan at my whim.

His sister, on the other hand, was a nosy twat. Ever since she made the mistake of outing her little brother, leading directly to Ryder Tipton trying to rape him, she seemed to be trying to play watchdog over the kid. He wasn't having it, but it didn't stop her. I guess she was driven by guilt, but I didn't really care what was behind it. Declan and I kept our relationship between us and left her out as much as we could.

Declan was being difficult, as seemed to be his nature, and wouldn't help me out with a clue for getting him a Christmas present. The holiday was always quiet but fun at my house. My parents never went overboard like some people, and we always had a dinner to rival Thanksgiving. Their gift giving formula was one big thing, and then some less exciting essentials, like socks and underwear.

My phone screen switched suddenly, telling me it was shutting down. “Damn. Battery is getting worse on this thing,” I said and set it aside. Declan slipped his phone onto the side table and leaned into me, the demand to be cuddled pretty clear. I slung my arm around him and pulled him that much closer.

“Leigh told me Chris has big plans for Noel this year,” he said, his fingers plucking at my shirt in an aimless fashion.

“Chris always has a big plan for Noel,” I said with a chuckle. Chris and Noel were dating, and were a really cool couple. Noel had a big bump in his dating history, but Chris was determined to heal his boyfriend and hold onto him. I could understand that. They were both good people, the kind you want to keep close. Leigh was Chris's cousin, and he amused the hell out of me. The kid was attracted to the human race, period. It was funny.

“Well, Chris's parents rented a cabin in the Adirondacks. They're going skiing.” He looked at me pointedly. “They'll have their own room.”

I rolled my eyes. “So you're telling me they're going to lock themselves in a room for a week and stay in bed?”

He snorted. “No. They'll have some nice nights, though.” He paused and then rolled on top of me, straddling my thighs and looking down on me. “We don't fool around that much.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. His unique smile, one that started on one side of his face and slowly spread to the other side, was in evidence and then he pursed his lips. “I guess I could be jealous. That's a heck of a Christmas gift.”

“You want a week in bed with me for Christmas?” I teased and tickled his sides. He laughed and leaned forward, right into my trap and I kissed him. It was true that we didn't fool around much. After that first weekend where we discovered each other, it took a couple of weeks to become official, and then we did what a lot of new couples do, I guess. We had some hand-holding, some kissing and a lot of snuggling. We spent a lot of time together watching TV, playing games and texting stupid jokes and things like that. I don't know what you call it besides just stuff.

“Spending a week in bed together, that would be a gift for you, too.” He leaned back. “Right?”

“Of course, right,” I agreed, letting my hands travel up and down his sides. It wasn't that I didn't want to aggressively cuddle with him. I did, but I was also just enjoying him for him and not just hanging around to get sex from him like I had with my ex. “You aren't being helpful about your gift, Dec. I don't think I can swing a cabin for a week. You could probably stay over for a week.”

He laughed and rolled his eyes. “Your mom takes all the fun out of it. It's weird knowing she knows what we'd get up to.” He paused and looked down at me. “And the fact she says it. I actually had to look up some of the crap she said.”

I frowned. “It's part of her evil plan to make sure I never get laid again.” I looked up at him seriously. “I told her you can't get pregnant, but she's so cautious!”

“Oh, hah, real funny,” he said and then squealed when I dug my fingers into his flanks. He flopped forward and I kissed his smiling lips again.

“How 'bout that? That funny?” I teased. He squirmed, but never tried to climb off my lap. My parents came into the apartment, my mother instantly amused to see us. My poor father just looked tired.

“Don't make babies on my couch,” my mother said with her usual tart humor.

“I keep telling you we can't,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“We can keep trying though, right?” Dec said, looking down on me with wide, waif-like eyes.

“You're not fooling me,” my mother declared. “You haven't touched the lube I got you.”

“The Daniels men prefer using spit, mom,” I said flippantly.

“I broke your father of that,” she said, waiting a beat for both Dec and I to let out a collective eww. She cackled in victory. My dad took a seat in the chair beside the couch and smiled at us as my mom left the room to get changed.

“Hi, Declan. How are you?”

“I'm good, thanks. How was your day?” he asked, sliding off me, but lying back against me so we were never actually separated. I draped an arm over him, letting my fingertips rest on his chest.

“Ugh. Long. This latest project has been pretty tough, but that's what happens when you get promoted,” he said ruefully.

“Is it worth it, Dad?” I asked. “Now that you're there, was taking that promotion worth it?”

He fixed me with a mild look. “It will be, when your first college bill comes due.”

A ripple of emotion ran through my chest. “Well, I guess Dec better do more of my homework, then. Make sure I get in.”

“What?” Dec asked, tilting his head back to look at me.

“What?” I asked innocently. I looked at my dad and he was smiling indulgently at us.

“Have you guys made any plans for winter break?” he asked.

“We were just talking about Noel and Chris. They're going on a ski trip,” Dec told him.

“They have a room to themselves, is what Declan likes about that.” I then stage whispered, “He can't ski.”

“I can too!” he protested and laughed as I dug my fingers in his sides again. He grabbed my hands while drumming his feet on the couch, pushing back into me.

“He's also not helping me with ideas for his Christmas gift, Dad. Does mom ever do that to you?”

“No,” my mother said as she re-entered the room. “He learned his lesson when I told him I wanted to be pregnant for Christmas.”

“Oy, God,” my father said and held a hand to his forehead. My mother grinned and sat on the arm of his chair, looking between him and us.

“I was a real pain in the ass, but your father wouldn't say it.” She looked at him from the side of her eye. “Still won't. Anyone that asks you for a dill pickle sandwich at two-forty-five in the morning...they are a pain in the ass.”

My dad smiled a little and looked over at us. “We were talking in August or so of that year. I wanted to do something memorable for that Christmas, and I asked her what she wanted. Anything in the world. She told me she wanted to be pregnant.” He smiled wanly. “I stopped asking what she wanted after that.”

We laughed and my mother loudly said, “You did not!” Still smiling she looked at me fondly. “It ended up pretty well, I think. Wouldn't you say so, Don?”

“Well, I don't want Corby to get a big head, but...yeah. It was worth it.”

“So, really,” Declan said in a thoughtful tone. “Corby was the cause of all that.”

“What?” I asked, my voice rising sharply.

“Well, think about it, Corb,” He said reasonably. “You were causing your mom to crave pickle sandwiches and God knows what else. I mean, it sounds a lot like you.”

“Oh really?” I asked, digging a finger into his side. “So I make you crave pickle sandwiches?”

“Or just the pickle, right Declan? You naughty thing,” my mother teased. We groaned at her humor, but she just cackled. Sometimes the joke was more for her, but it was cool that everything was out in the open. I never had to come out to my parents, and Declan had been out to his family. We were each other's first boyfriend and still feeling our way. While we hadn't rushed anything, we'd spent a little time exploring each other's parts and pieces. Not nearly enough, mind.

Declan had a lighter build than my own. He'd taken to running at the local gym with his pal Leighton, which gave him a lean look. Once we'd officially become a couple he'd resumed wanting a lot of physical contact with me, much as he had the weekend we'd first met. He was stubborn, sometimes funny, and it was pretty clear to me I was in love with him. I'd never felt like this for anyone, but hell if he didn't make it easy to do.

“So, Declan,” my mother said in a wheedling tone. “What do you want for Christmas?”

He tilted his head back to look at me. “An adventure.”

“A bus trip to New York City, maybe?” I asked.

“Nope. Let's go someplace where guys liking guys is the norm. Where we outnumber people. It would be so cool.”

I shook my head at him. “Sure. I'll figure something out. Magic is easy.”

My mother stood up. “Are you staying for dinner, Dec?”

His voice took on a note of despondency. “No. We have to celebrate my sister getting into college. She got her letter yesterday and my parents are all gung-ho to celebrate.”

“Well, on the bright side, we're getting rid of her,” I said to him.

My father got up to go get changed, saying goodbye to Declan before he left. Both my parents, if it wasn't obvious, love Declan and are always happy to have him at our apartment. I took him home and made sure I kissed the hell out of him before he got out of the car. I like leaving him a little breathless when he goes home. Plus he goofs on me and walks like he's drunk to his doorway. Got to love him.

~E~

“No way. If you guys are going to some gay resort, I want to go too. I've known you longer, Corb!” Bell said seriously as we rode over to school. I'd have given Declan a ride normally, but he had a dentist appointment that morning. “I have seniority!” he added.

“How did you get gay resort out of that? Besides, it would be a gift to my boyfriend. Hello? He gets special treatment?”

“The whole boyfriend card is crap. Just 'cause you sleep together? Hey, I can take one for the team if it means a resort,” he said definitively.

“I'm not sleeping with you, Bell. Not only that, I'm not sleeping with you and then taking you to a resort. Which, by the way, we're not going to a resort!” I said with equal parts amusement and frustration.

“I'm just saying. You go someplace where we don't see anything but gay guys, I want to go. Please?” he said, a whine entering his voice.

“Where do you even go where there are only gay guys?” I asked in exasperation.

“Must be heaven,” Bell said in a goofy voice. I snorted.

“Your heater sucks,” Bell grumbled.

“I know,” I said, frowning. “I don't know what its deal is. I keep thinking I have to talk to my dad about it, but I forget once I'm out of the car.”

“I'm so jealous, though,” Bell said petulantly. “I don't even have a boyfriend to ask impossible things of.”

“Did you and Ashley break up again?”

He groaned. “He's scared someone will find out. He's totally shutting me out now.” He glanced at me. “I feel for him, I do. At some point, though, I have to say that he's going to come out when he's ready, and I can't wait for whenever that is. I mean, I could, but I don't think we have that kind of relationship, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it. You have to have a certain level of commitment, I guess. If he can't commit to you, he can't really expect you to commit to him,” I said.

We climbed out of the car and headed toward the school, hunching in our coats from the cold. “Hey, you know who I'd like to see again?” Before I could reply he continued, “Your cousin's boyfriend. Dude was smoking.”

“You just liked his ass,” I said with a snort. My cousin, Grayson, had come for a visit. While we got to know each other, we showed each other pictures of the guys we were dating. Actually, I had still been a day away from that, but I showed him Declan's picture and he'd gotten his boyfriend, Logan, to take a selfie so he could show us. Logan, though, must have just gotten out of the shower or something, because the mirror behind him had reflected a rather nice butt. Something Bell was wont to bring up whenever he was single.

“You have to admit, it was a pretty ass. Right up there with the greatest asses of all time.” He put a hand on my shoulder to bring me to a stop and he said solemnly, “It deserves a medal. The Golden Ass award. First place, Corb.”

I snorted and started to laugh. “God, you're twisted. He's dating my cousin.”

“I can window shop!” Bell said with a laugh.

We parted once inside, but as I sat in homeroom, my thoughts turned back to the conversation. I frowned in thought, pulled my cell phone out and texted Grayson. Hey, what are you doing over winter break?

I couldn't swing a gay vacation, but maybe hanging out with my cousin and his boyfriend would count for something. Third period I had Chris to talk to. I shot him some side eye and asked, “So are you always going to create problems in my relationship?”

He looked at me quizzically. “What, now?”

I looked at him, the corners of my mouth curling. “This little week-long fuck-fest you planned? I got hit with that from Dec yesterday. Congrats, by the way, on getting Noel to yourself for a week.”

He grinned and laughed lightly. “We don't really do Christmas. My brother is still in France and my sister is going with some friend of hers from college for the break. I guess that family goes to some island every year, and she's tagging along. So my parents decided we'd go skiing and I get my own room anyway. Asking Noel to come was pretty logical.”

“Yeah. You're always asking that guy to come,” I said, emphasizing the last word and then chuckling.

“Yeah,” he said in rueful agreement. “I'm hooked. Giving myself to him was one of the best decisions I ever made.” He looked at me and grinned. “I won't even lie and say I'm not planning to do that every night. If I get my way, I'll be walking funny for a week.”

I rolled my eyes and laughed at him. The teacher passed a work packet back to us and we started on it half-heartedly.

“So. Last night, Noel and me—”

“Oh, God!” I said and rolled my eyes. “Do you really want to make me more jealous of all the sex you're having?”

He snorted out laughter, trying to keep it down. The class was all talking among themselves since the packet wasn't due 'til the end of the week. “We were at the mall, not in bed! Jeez!”

I smiled. “You guys were screwing at the mall? You really did get him out of his shell.”

He covered his mouth and leaned back in his seat, snorting with laughter. You had to know Noel. The way Chris tells it, he kind of had to convince Noel to fuck him. I know Noel is always a little reserved, but apparently more so when it comes to sex - a gift from his ex. It always made me a little angry to think of. Noel was just a kind soul. I don't understand how anyone could use that and just toss him away. The day of Chris's birthday, just a few weeks past, they had slept together for the first time. Noel was different, that was for sure. He smiled more, he laughed with people and was kind of charming.

I had teased Chris that he must be good in bed, but he deferred to his boyfriend's prowess. I'd expected some of that change to diminish, but it was still largely in place. Noel had grown outwardly in confidence and I was honestly happy to call him my friend.

“Noel might hear you, so don't suggest that,” Chris finally said. “We were actually at the mall to shop. We wandered for a while, but I don't think our hearts were in it. We ended up spotting a Carvel stand, so we both got ice cream – I know! It's the middle of winter and we're eating something frozen. That wasn't the part I wanted to tell you, though. I'm just setting the stage.”

“For?” I asked, turning toward him and resting my chin on my hand.

“So we're sitting there, right?” Chris said, turning toward me as well. “This large guy – like kind of tall, wide, and built, not fat – he turns a chair around and straddles it and gets this big, shit-eating grin on his face, okay?”

I nod, amused that Chris was so into telling the story.

“So this guy says, 'You still know how to use your tongue, Noel'.”

My eyes went wide. “He what?”

Chris was nodding, eyes just as wide. “I know, right? Right away I realize this guy must be Lyle Henderson, Noel's ex. So I turn to look at Noel, because I have no idea how he's going to take seeing this turd-bag, right?”

“Yeah, totally,” I agreed.

“But Noel is staring at Lyle, licking his ice cream cone. But,” Chris says, motioning with his hand. “His tongue is moving slowly, and he's stretching it out like he's trying to be sexy, you know? I'm just thinking, what the hell is going through his head?”

“Seriously!”

“Totally!” Chris said firmly. “So this Lyle guy makes some disgusting sound, sort of like a groan and Noel is just staring at him with huge eyes. I'm starting to think seeing this guy snapped Noel's mind, but!” he said dramatically and leaned in closer, “then Noel licked his lips, swallowed and asked Lyle, 'Like that, you mean?'”

“He did?” I asked, uncertain.

“Yeah! Then Lyle is like, 'Yeah, just like that. How about you come over and we can pick up where we left off?'” Chris narrowed his eyes. “So I'm about to tear this guy's fucking head off, when Noel says, 'I wouldn't fuck you if you paid me.'”

My jaw dropped and I started to snicker, and Chris waved a hand at me. That was completely unlike Noel.

“It gets better! So Lyle pulls back like Noel slapped him, right? Noel takes another long lick and he says, 'I hope seeing me frustrates the fuck out of you.' And Lyle gets this crappy look on his face, but before he can open his mouth I stuck my hand out – like I grabbed his hand, right? And I say 'Hi! Noel's fucking me, now. He has no time for you. You can just fuck off, now.'”

I tried not to bray with laughter. I had one hand over my mouth and one holding my stomach as I thought about that dickhead getting shut down so hard.

Between giggles, Chris continued. “So this dick bag starts telling me how Noel is a huge bottom and I start telling him how he's a banging top. Then, just to be an asshole, I told him if he's so fucking great, he can just go fuck whoever he found in college. Kind of funny,” Chris said with a grin. “He shut up and just walked away. There is some kind of story there, I'm sure.”

“Who cares, though. I can't believe Noel just sat there and baited him. Who knew he could be so bad ass?”

“I did,” Chris said smugly. “Noel is amazing, and I think he's finally beginning to realize it.”

I leaned back. “I don't think that's it,” I told him. “I think he's in a healthy relationship with someone who loves him back, and he's not going to risk any of that.”

Chris frowned at me. “Are you seriously trying to tell me my boyfriend isn't amazing? I'll kick your ass.”

I laughed and he grinned at me. “Noel's cool as fuck,” I told him.

“That's better. So, what are you getting Declan for Christmas?”

I sighed. “Not sure. He wants an adventure, he says. Where gay guys outnumber the straights. Bell thinks that means some kind of gay resort, and he's trying to get me to take him with us.”

“Gay resort? That sounds like fun. I'd say we'd go with you, but,” he got a wicked look on his face. “I'll be busy. You know, with my amazing boyfriend.”

“Yeah, yeah. Enjoy not being able to sit down,” I said with a snicker.

~E~

I checked my phone as I headed down for lunch. At some point Gray had texted me back and I'd missed it.

Hanging out, mostly. What about you?

I sighed and started to type. Not a lot, we're not big on the holiday. I was trying to figure out what to get Declan for Christmas, but he's being difficult. He says he wants a holiday where the gay guys outnumber everyone else.

“Are you making reservations to the gay resort without me?” Bell asked, sliding into place beside me. “I was serious, Corb. I'll do you if I have to.”

I snorted. “I don't think so.” My phone chimed and I checked Gray's reply.

Sounds nice. Actually, there is a group of gay guys up here that hang out. I can talk to my friend Jake, maybe you could come out for a day trip or something? Meet my boyfriend and stuff?

I smiled. I'd love to. Let's do that anyway – but watch out, Bell is still talking about Logan's ass.

That's not even his best feature. Too bad he'll never see the other side, Gray replied and added a winking face. I laughed.

“What?” Bell asked as we entered the line.

“I told Gray you still talk about Logan's ass.”

Prize winning ass,” he corrected me. “And why would you do that?”

“Eh. I was asking him what he was doing over winter break,” I said as we moved through the line. “Then I was telling him what Declan said he wanted for his gift. Gray said he actually knew about a bunch of gay guys that hang out near him or something. He's going to talk to a friend of his; maybe we'll hang out.”

“Corb! I have to be there! Are any of them single?” Bell asked dramatically.

“I don't know, and I figured you'd want to,” I told him with a laugh. “Just don't mention anything to Dec, okay?”

“Sure, sure! A whole group of gay boys, though? Damn!” Bell enthused.

~E~

As the week wore on I asked a few people for ideas for Declan's gift. Some sort of jewelry was brought up, and I liked the mental image of a small gold chain on his pale skin. Nelson pointed out that some people were allergic to the metals in jewelry, sometimes. For instance, his girlfriend couldn't wear gold or she'd break out. That set me to thinking, so that Thursday I was hanging out at Declan's place, playing video games in his room, when I asked him if he was allergic to anything.

“When I was little milk would bother me, but I guess I outgrew that,” he said. “You?”

“Nothing I know of,” I said with a shrug. “I talked to my cousin over in Sanitaria Springs. I was thinking of going to see him and his boyfriend next week while we're on break. What do you think? An adventure?”

He looked at me with curiosity. “Another couple? That would be cool. I'm not sure you ever mentioned having a gay cousin.”

“Yeah,” I said with a bob of my head. Feeling playful I said, “We don't know each other really well, but he really helped me figure out how to bag you.”

“Bag me? Wow. Like it was so difficult!” He pushed me. “I just wanted you to tell me that's what you wanted. Feelings! So hard!”

“You,” I said firmly while pushing him back, “were being stubborn and hard to get.”

“Please,” he said with a laugh.

“Anyway, he would like to meet you, too, since he's only ever seen your picture.”

“You sent him my picture?” he asked, chuffing in amusement.

“Yeah. He showed me one of his boyfriend.” I paused and added, “According to Bell, my cousin's boyfriend has a prize winning ass.”

Dec's head whipped around. “What? How did Bell...you have a picture? Let me see!”

“I don't know,” I said teasingly. “Seems rude to show him off like that, especially since it was by accident.” Dec frowned at me lightly and I explained, “He thought he was just sending his boyfriend a selfie, not sending something for everyone to see. His butt was in the mirror behind him.”

“Eh, you're probably right, then,” he said. “I'm still curious. I'm a little more curious why you still have his ass on your phone.”

“I don't, actually,” I said. “My cousin showed it to me on his phone.”

He looked at me. “How does it compare to mine?”

I chuckled. “From what I remember, you have a world class ass, Dec.”

His eyebrows bobbed in satisfaction and he set his controller down. “I'm going to grab some junk food. Want to watch something, maybe give the games a rest?”

“I'm down,” I told him. He got up from our position on the floor and padded out of the room. I stood up and stretched before moving over to lie back on his bed to wait, controller in hand to select something. Dec's room was nice, no joke. He had a queen sized bed, all kinds of stuff to do – computer, TV with game system and a tablet somewhere on his desk. He had a book-case with a few horror novels and a bunch of dust catchers. I liked his room. It felt comfortable, like he did.

“What's up?” his sister asked, leaning into the doorway. Usually this would be the opening salvo in her attempt to know everything we did, and then tell me what she thinks I should do. You might think it was nice that she cared, but it had gotten old a long time ago. Besides, I wasn't Ryder.

“Going to watch a movie or something,” I said and pulled out my phone, committing myself to ignoring her. I texted Gray, Any word from your friend? Help me give my boyfriend a gay-person day?

“Could you be more rude?” she asked.

I looked up with out putting my phone down. “I could, but then I'd be you.”

“What the fuck is your problem?” she demanded. “I'm looking out for my brother!”

“Who you put in a bad situation, that I helped get him out of. If you wanted to watch someone, you should have watched Ryder. Better yet, watch your mouth and don't spill his business.”

Her eyes darkened with every word I said. “You better watch your step. He's my family, and one word from me about you to my folks and you'll be gone.”

I set my phone down just as Gray replied. “Sure, you can do that. Then your family will be in an uproar, Declan will hate you more than he does already, and for what? For your ego? Christ, you need some dick or something,” I said and dismissed her in favor of reading the text.

Jake said all the guys are around for the break. Tuesday looks like the best day. He says a challenge was issued about football in the snow. Logan's excited to play.

I grinned. Tuesday would be perfect. Logan a football player?

It's a sport, so Logan plays. I just play with him so he knows how to play it right, he said and added a winking smiley face.

I glanced up to see Katie still in the doorway, staring daggers at me.

“You're still here?” I asked.

“Asshole,” she muttered and walked away. I really didn't like her. Yes, you could say she'd outed Declan without meaning for him to get hurt, but really? She told the school drug dealer her little brother wanted to get nailed? Or that was the way Ryder presented it, so it probably wasn't just like that. A lot of people knew Ryder was sketchy at best, and rumors about him taking advantage of – or, calling a spade a spade, raping - guys were more prevalent than I'd realized. He was caught up in a world of legal shit, though, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

Dec came back into the room with a bowl of popcorn and a bag of chips tucked under one arm and a jar of salsa under the other. “I have a bowl for the salsa under the popcorn bowl. Hey,” he said suddenly. “I wonder if anyone ever dipped popcorn in salsa before?”

“You're weird,” I said as I helped him settle stuff on the bed. “By the way, your sister is going to make up some shit to your parents to try and break us up.”

He snorted and shook his head. “My parents love you.” He paused and then scooted off the bed, “I'm going to get ahead of this, just to be safe, though.”

“Aww, you want to keep me around?” I cooed at him.

He turned and looked at me with a grin. “Of course. I heard you're easy.” He laughed as my jaw dropped and he bounced out of view and down the stairs. Shit head.

I waited for a minute, but realized things were about to go sideways when Mr. McLain's angry voice filled my ears with his eldest's name. Like, her real one.

“Katharine Marie! Get down here!”

Katie passed by the doorway without so much as a glance at me, but it seemed to me the night was spoiled. There was some yelling downstairs, which bothered me because I wasn't used to it, and if I'd kept her little threat to myself this wouldn't be happening. Jesus, was I a man or not? If I let Katie McClain come between me and Declan, did I really deserve him? I frowned as I stewed, unhappy with all the noise from downstairs. Then I heard someone ascending the stairs and I braced myself for an onslaught from Katie, or perhaps Dec's mom would suggest I head home while they finished the bloodletting in private.

It was Declan, though, and he closed the door most of the way behind him. He turned and sighed. “I used to sort of like her, but Jesus Christ she's turned into a pain in the ass,” he said with a grumble. He climbed up on the bed and flopped on me, his cheek pressed to my chest and his arm pulling me close.

“I'm sorry, Dec,” I said quietly, running my fingers through his hair. “I probably should have kept it to myself. You're right, your folks would give me the benefit of the doubt.”

He snorted. “My sister has a long history of fucked-up situations that she creates. There really isn't any telling how far she'd go in this little crusade of hers.” He rolled his head and looked at me. “She started this mess.”

I nodded. “I don't know why she'd even say something about your sexuality. I wonder what the real conversation was like? Ryder made it sound like you just wanted sex, I guess.”

“I do, just not with him,” he said, looking at me steadily.

I smiled at him. “You've been making a lot of comments about not getting any. Trying to be a little more direct?”

“I have to, with you,” he said and snorted when I poked his side. He sat up, looking down at me. “Seriously. Leigh has all this great advice about couple stuff, but he doesn't know you. It took you two weeks just to figure out I wanted you to tell me you actually wanted to date me. But Corby,” he said, his voice dropping down a little. “Since that first weekend, we really haven't done much. Sexually, I mean. Don't you want to?”

I covered one of his hands with my own. “Yeah, I do, Declan. Honestly? I've just been enjoying time with you. Dating you is so much better than...well, anyone I've ever dated.”

“I just don't want to wait, like you did with Maddy,” he said with a little frown. “I'd like to know you, you know, want me. The kissing is awesome, don't get confused, but Corby...I want more of you.”

“Well, I guess I'll have to find a time,” I said, my voice a little choked. “But if you wanted to have some sexy times, you could have just started it when we were at my apartment, you know. We've been there before when my parents were gone.”

“I want you to start it,” he said simply. “I want to feel how you're into me.”

“What about me? I asked devilishly.

“You mean, me showing I'm into you?” he asked and I nodded to him. He got a little red in the face and softly he said, “I'd do anything for you, Corby. Can't you see how much I—” He swallowed and cleared his throat, then got a determined look. “Leigh said I should wait for you to say it first, but I guess I need to listen to myself more than I do him. I'm in love with you, Corbin Daniels.”

A shiver ran through me. “I think I started falling in love with you weeks ago,” I told him honestly.

Steps could be heard pounding the stairs and someone crossed in the hallway outside the door. Likely Katie. Heavier steps ascended the steps and Declan rolled over to lie beside me, sliding the popcorn bowl between us. His father poked his head in moments later and we looked up at him, innocent as could be. He stepped fully in the room and cleared his throat.

“Corbin, I'm sorry for my daughter's actions. We really just don't know what's gotten into her. If she says anything else, please bring it to us.” He paused. “My wife and I are fond of you, and we recognize how you've respected our son and are building a relationship that seems very solid and wholesome. We can also see how happy Declan is, and it's a big change.”

“Dad,” Declan said, whining and covering his eyes.

His dad smiled and said goodnight before leaving the room.

“Were you all depressed before I got here?” I asked teasingly, lifting the popcorn bowl out of the way so I could roll to my side and look at him.

He fixed me with a look. “Shut up and kiss me.”

~E~

I had to work Saturday afternoon, which kind of sucked. I had a list of things to get done, and right then I was working in the dairy aisle stocking cheese and yogurt. It amused me that the yogurt had a stamp on it that said it had 'live culture'. I imagined the yogurt stuck to the top of the container was the smart ones; they were trying to escape.

“Hey, Corb.”

I turned and smiled. “Noel. What's up?” I asked.

“I was sent for cool whip. My parents are having some friends over tomorrow for a holiday party and they're making some cool salads to go with dinner.”

“Salad with cool whip?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.

He laughed. “Not, like, salad salad. No lettuce or anything like that,” he said. “One is this cranberry apple salad and the other is a lime jello. They both get whipped up with cool whip.”

“Oh. Well, that sounds kind of good, actually,” I said. “So hey, Chris was bragging about how you took down Lyle the other night. Way to go, brother.”

He rolled his eyes and smiled. “Chris will say anything to make me sound better than I am.”

“This is true,” I said with a grin. I shook my head. “He is so devoted to you.”

“Yeah, he is,” Noel said a little wistfully. “I'm devoted to him, too. When I saw Lyle...at first I was kind of frightened. Lots of the old emotions that used to run through me when he and I were a thing came back. Feeling small. Trapped.” He paused. “Then he looked over and saw me, and it all changed in my mind. He got this smarmy, smug, total asshole look on his face and started to stroll over like he owned me.”

“Wow.”

“No shit, right?” he said. “That's what did it, though. That look. All of a sudden I was flaming pissed, and I realized he thought he was coming over to claim me. That he wanted me. Then I realized I had control.”

I leaned back on the edge of the cooler case and listened to him. This was a continuation of his transformation from someone who'd been walked over into a battle wagon. His face was alight, and his hands moved as he spoke.

“He steps up to the table, totally ignores Chris, and sits down like a douche that owns the place, right? I just looked at him, eating my ice cream and wondering what I ever saw in the guy.” Noel shook his head slightly. “You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I wouldn't fuck him if he paid me. The shock! He never expected me to talk back or anything.” He paused and a shadow crossed his face. “I let him make me feel so bad about everything, myself most of all. It took Chris to come along and...untangle the mess Lyle made of me. It felt so good to tell him off.”

He broke out in a smile and I returned it. “I wish I could have seen it. You've been different, though, ever since Chris's birthday. I guess good sex fixes a lot of things, huh?” I teased.

He smiled slyly, a little blush in his cheeks. “It doesn't hurt, no. People talk about sex like it's the best thing ever, something everyone can't wait to have. I bought into it, but sex with Lyle was never good, not for me. It wasn't until Chris that I realized...there really is such a thing as bad sex. The right person makes everything better.”

I chuckled. “I teased him on his birthday. You were laughing, smiling, being really personable. He gave you all the credit.”

“He always does,” Noel said and his mouth pulled off to one side. “Being with Chris...it's like waking up in a strange place. At first you're confused, wondering where you are – that's kind of how I felt when he said he wanted to date. I figured he wanted something from me, but...then I slowly realized that he was telling me the truth and my whole experience with Lyle had been a lie.”

“Well, you must be doing something right to get a whole week in bed with him,” I teased.

“Well, I don't want to brag,” he said with a smile and then laughed. “We are actually going to ski. His parents are talking about renting snowmobiles and stuff. So I'm not sure who told you we'd be in bed all week, but that's not the case.”

I sighed. “Declan did. He's all jealous. He's been...” I looked around to see how close anyone else might be, and then leaned in a bit. Noel did the same and I asked, “This is kind of awkward, but he's kind of pushing for sex. Is that weird?”

“Pushing how?” he asked neutrally.

“He's making comments about how we don't do much. Brings up you and Chris, like with this trip. I don't know,” I said. I grabbed a case of cream cheese and started stocking the shelf.

“If you think somehow what happened between me and Lyle is going to happen with you and Declan, you can flush that thought,” Noel said. I glanced at him and jutted my chin in the universal gesture for him to continue. “Lyle was predatory. He used me. Did I want to? Initially, and maybe that's what Declan is feeling. The difference is, you're not Lyle. You're not looking to take from him, and give nothing in return.”

“That's true enough,” I said. I stopped all pretense of working and faced him. “We, uh,” I looked around again before continuing. “We jerked each other off. Made out. I'm not sure what he's got in mind but...that shit hurts, right?”

Noel tilted his head from side to side. “With Lyle, it always did. When Chris and I got there, he had me do things differently. There is some stretching, and there was stuff we did just to relax the muscles. If you get there, then it's kind of about being considerate, I guess. Whoever bottoms needs some prep to make things go smoothly.” He swallowed. “I'll tell you, too, that I'm putting that all to the test this week. I know Chris has wanted to and...he's going to have me over the break.”

I studied his face. I always liked Noel's face. I think he's someone who looks like an old friend. He inspires thoughts of having a brother, a buddy, but without Bell's whacked out sense of humor. There used to be an undeniable sadness in his face, too. He's conquered that. I could see the nervousness in his face, the excitement and maybe something else at sharing a secret with me, a personal secret. It made me feel good that a guy like Noel trusted me.

“That's a big step, Noel. Are you ready? I mean, not trying to...I worry for you, sometimes.”

His face relaxed into a smile. “I appreciate that, Corb. Chris deserves this, and to be honest, so do I. But getting back to you and Declan,” he said and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Don't beat yourself up. You're not taking advantage. You guys seem like you're great together, and as long as you want to hit that next level as much as he does, then you should.” He focused on me and said, “The right person, Corb...maybe you'll feel like you're waking up, too.”

After work I headed out to the mall and found a nice, thin gold rope chain for Declan. It had cuts in it to make it sparkle and I was imagining it lying against his pale skin. I smiled to myself, thinking about how silly I'd be to ask him to take off his shirt so I could admire the chain.

~E~

Monday was a regular workday for the adults. Christmas was on a Thursday this year, so they wouldn't be off until Wednesday. I'd woken early, but just lay in bed as I continued to turn over Noel's advice. You might think it would be a no-brainer to decide if you want to have sex with the guy you're in love with, but I worried. Maybe I worried because I loved him? The thing is, a guy like Noel, he's dependable. If he thought this was the wrong move, he'd have told me. I was going to trust him, since my own track record wasn't that great.

I felt some relief at having reached a decision, and then started to get excited. I'm going to have sex! I texted Declan about ten to see if he was awake and if he wanted to come hang out. It took about fifteen minutes for him to start replying.

I have to do a couple of chores before I can go out. Then a shower. Pick me up about 11:30?

Grinning to myself I told him I would. I slipped into joggers and pulled a hoodie over my tee shirt. I went out and got my hair cut, and then rushed home to, um, trim the hedges. I figure if he's going to see me naked in broad daylight, I needed all the help I could get. Then I took a long shower, making sure I was extra clean in every crack and crevice. Erm, nook and cranny. Whatever. I took my time getting a well fitting pair of jeans on and a polo shirt. I brushed my teeth, used the electric razor more from nerves than any real need, and brushed my teeth again. I combed my hair and put just a hint of gel in it, just to get it to lay right. Properly spiffed, I headed over to get Declan.

I tried to make a note to myself to ask my dad about the heat in my car. It was really weak, barely clearing the windshield and not doing much for the inside of the car outside of that. I pulled up in front of Declan's house and didn't even have to get out before he was trotting down his walkway. He'd gotten his permit for his birthday, but had yet to take his driver's test. Besides, he seemed content to ride with me. He climbed in the car and smiled widely at me.

“You look great!” he said. “I love the haircut.”

“Thank you,” I said and leaned over to kiss him in greeting. I headed back over to my apartment and he started talking about his sister. I guess she'd gone out to a party the night before and gotten wasted, then tried to cover it up by staying at a friend's. It might have worked had she not gotten up in the middle of the night, and being in a strange place, got turned around and squatted in a closet to pee around four in the morning. That prompted a call from the friend's parents.

We entered my apartment and kicked off our shoes on the mat beside the door. We hung our coats and it was then he lifted an eyebrow at me.

“You look really nice. What's going on?”

In response I placed my hands on the wall to either side of his head and started to kiss him. He quickly responded in kind, wrapping his arms around me and we settled into a nice standing make out. I had a lot more planned, though. I dropped my hands to his waist, then trailed my fingers up his sides, pulling his tee shirt as I did. He got the message and lifted his arms and I whipped his shirt off him, tossing it aside.

“What?” he asked, a little breathless. I leaned forward, attacking his neck, kissing across his clavicle and moved my lips down to a nipple. While I was totally in the moment, relishing what I was doing and hearing him react, a tiny part of my mind was analyzing things. For instance, Declan's chest versus Maddy. Maddy hadn't had the world's most impressive chest, but I think she did pretty well. The feeling, though, of the softness under her nipple compared to the firmness under Declan's only underscored that I wasn't taking my next step with a girl.

I pawed at his belt buckle, but he grabbed my shirt and started to yank in earnest, so I stood up and lifted my arms so he could remove it. He stared at my chest for a second before running his hands over my skin. He didn't go for my neck, but rather dove right for my pectoral, licking and nibbling my nipple. I let out a breathy groan. Maddy had given blow jobs, once in a while, but she wasn't much into other things. She certainly hadn't attacked me like Dec was doing. I ran my fingers down his flanks and grabbed his belt, uncinching it.

I made my boldest move, pulling him up into a kiss and turning him around so that he was propped against the arm of the couch. Then I undid his pants and knelt as I pulled them down swiftly. His briefs were cocked at an odd angle on his hips, partially caught on his erection, and without over-thinking it, I yanked them down with his pants, guiding them over his feet, one at a time. Just for the sake of being complete, I yanked his socks off, leaving him without a thread to cover him. I let my hands come up the tops of his feet, over his shins and trailing up his thighs. I moved my hands to the inside, pressing gently for him to open his legs, which he did. I looked up at him as I took him in hand and leaned in, taking his dick in my mouth.

This, too, was odd according to that little part of my brain that was making notes. Oral sex had been for me, not by me, with Maddy. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was just an extension of me being a jerk and only looking to get off with her. This time, it was about Declan. He let out a low, warbling cry as I bobbed on him, spreading his legs wider when I cupped his sack. I tugged on them a little, tightening the skin on his boner and he groaned in a really, really sexy way. It totally turned me on.

I'm not sure why it surprised me, but when he suddenly grabbed my shoulders and stiffened and his dick pulsed in my mouth, I wasn't ready. It felt like a lot, but as it hit the back of my throat I swallowed reflexively.

“Jesus...Corby!” he groaned, his fingers digging into my shoulders, and he pulsed again and again in my mouth. I ran my fingertips lightly up and down his thighs, caressing his sack and generally trying to extend his high. I moved on his dick, still hard, pressing my tongue along the underside and following it up as I tried to force every drop from him. He put a hand in my hair, running his fingers through and saying my name over and over.

I pulled off his wet dick and stood up, my knees feeling like they'd been bent for too long. He was a real sight, naked on the arm of my couch with his glistening dick wavering with his heartbeat. He stood and kissed me while his fingers nimbly worked my own fly. He turned me back toward the couch and pushed me onto the cushion while yanking on my jeans. He practically clawed my underwear off me, then he wasted no time on anything else besides getting his lips around my aching dick.

Maddy had given a decent blow job, but Declan was possessed. He started bobbing his head up and down in a blur, energetically sucking my dick. I let out a little gasp and sighed, running my hands up and down his arms. Because he was moving so quickly, I dared not try to touch his hair or shoulders. He dug his fingers past my hips and gripped my ass, lifting me to his face as he plunged forward and back. It was the most aggressive blow job I'd ever seen, and moments later I warned him I was close. I'm not sure if he was following my lead, but I think I surprised him with the amount of spend in his mouth. A little leaked from the side of his mouth and I squirmed with sensitivity when he tried to keep up his assault.

I pulled up on him and he climbed me like a mountain, straddling my lap and kissing me. Odd, said that little bit of my mind. We had both busted a nut, yet he was acting as though he were still horny. His dick poked my stomach and I reached down, pulling it up so it was trapped between us. He leaned back a bit, lips swollen and eyes glittering. His chest was heaving and a light sheen of sweat was on his chest.

“Did I do a good job?” he asked.

“That was fantastic, Dec,” I said with a smile, still breathing hard.

“Why'd you pull me off, then?” he asked, his breath starting to slow.

“My dick got sensitive after I came,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, looking down on me with lust in his eye. He pushed me over and lay atop me, and we spent the next hour and a half or so exploring every space we could reach with hand and mouth. It was pretty incredible, actually. With Maddy, I was ready to get off, but then I kind of lost interest afterward. I guess I was a real jerk, the more I think about it. But with Declan, even with my dick aching after letting my third load loose, I was still ready to keep things going.

We lay tangled together afterward, contented yet still craving the full contact of our unclothed state. It reminded me of that first night together, after we'd cleaned up the first time. I liked the feel of him, nestled tightly to me. I let my hand travel down his back, cupping his butt and kneading the enticing flesh. I tilted my lips toward his ear and whispered, “I love you, Declan.”

He groaned and nibbled my ear. “I love you, too,” he said. “I want so much more of this. My dick feels sore and – hey, isn't there a point of time where you're supposed to report an erection that lasts too long?”

I chuckled. “I think the commercial says, like, four hours.”

“Oh, okay. Like I was saying, it's sore, but my brain is totally willing to make it stand up and do more.”

I chuckled again, squeezing his butt, and he wiggled, pressing our spent sex together.

“I'm so glad you finally got the message,” he said a moment later. “You're so hot. I was thinking I'd have to molest you or something.”

I slapped his butt lightly and he giggled. Digging his elbows into the couch he raised himself up and looked down on me. “I guess I just need to be direct, huh?”

“Probably the best thing,” I agreed. “I don't want to take advantage.” I ran my fingers through his hair while continuing to caress his behind with the other. “I just like being with you, Declan. This is great, but I like doing everything else with you, too.”

“Take advantage? Hard to do that when I'm so willing,” he said with a grin. He leaned down and nibbled my neck, then trailed up to my ear with little kisses. “You know what I want next, right?”

I hummed lightly, lost in the feeling of having his naked body pressed to mine.

“I want you inside me,” he said quietly. I opened my eyes and turned my head to look at him. He bit his lower lip quickly, then released it. “It's all I can think about, Corby. I know guys are supposed to want to fuck anything that moves, but I really want you in me. I know we have to plan a little. I've looked stuff up. I know what I want, though.”

“That's...a big step. You only get that first time once, you know,” I said quietly, my heart thundering. My mind was suddenly filled with the thought of him on his back and me thrusting, both of us groaning as our skin slapped together. My aching dick stirred, tired but not defeated.

“I know. You're the one.” He hesitated and said, “I talk to Leigh a lot. He's been wrong about some things, but he's told me a lot about Noel and Chris. Chris made a choice about who he wanted that first time to be with, and I have, too. I know I could choose to wait. To see if some guy down the road was...I don't know.” He shook his head. “I know I have something good with you. I may not have a bunch of relationships to compare it to, personally, but I'm not stupid. I can see people around me. They date just to date, or like you did with Maddy, just to get laid.”

He bumped his nose with mine, pulling back just enough to see me. “I know that's not what you're doing, this time. I know I mean more to you than Maddy did. You could have been getting me to blow you practically right out of the gate, but you never even pushed for me to do something. Even today, you went first.”

“I knew you wanted some sexy times,” I said quietly. I closed my eyes and said, “I did, too.” Looking at him I continued, “But what happened to Noel has been in the back of my head, and the reasons I was with Maddy, too. You're right, Declan. I'm in love with you. I don't want you to feel...disposable or something.”

“I don't,” he said. He grinned and let out a little groan as he said, “I know I'm going to feel sore, but can we suck again? Just lying like this is turning me on so bad.”

“Whatever you want, Dec,” I said quietly as we lost ourselves to an afternoon of raw passion, letting out the emotions we'd spent the last few months building up. I felt no guilt, no doubts like I had with Maddy. You were supposed to feel good about sex with a person, and I did. Funny what love does to you, I guess.

~E~

Declan was playing little spoon while we watched a movie. We had delayed getting dressed as long as we could, and we still wanted to be close. I wasn't sure if a thing like skin-to-skin contact got old, but I hoped not. I reflected a bit on that, how different I felt with Declan versus Maddy. I guess it would be simple to say that I cared more about him than I had her, but there were other things that could be argued. For instance there were my intentions. I dated Maddy with the idea I could get laid, not because I'd liked her so much. When Declan came along, we ended up fooling around right away, but then we stopped and just did us.

In the end, with Maddy, there hadn't been an us. With Declan, all there was was us. I'm not sure how much blame I have in either case.

My parents came home and were happy to see Dec, per usual. My mom invited him to dinner and he was happy to be able to stay.

“I better talk to Bell about tomorrow,” I said. “He wanted to go – I told you he has a thing for Logan's butt.”

“He's funny,” Dec said and then wandered into the kitchen to talk to my mom. She was always telling him how cute he was; it was probably a nice ego stroking. Or weird, considering it was his boyfriend's mother. In the meantime I called Bell.

“What?” he asked, his voice scratchy.

“What's the matter with you?” I asked. He sounded off, not like he'd just woken but worse.

“I'm fucking sick,” he said miserably. “I got a fever last night. Chills. Fucking sweats. Can you believe it? I don't get this shit when school's in session, but now that I have a break – fucked!”

“Ah, shit. I'm sorry, Bell. You need anything? You got meds in the house?”

“I just need a cuddle buddy. Come over?”

“And get sick? Yeah, not doing that,” I said with a laugh.

“Well, kidnap Ashley, then. Who names their son Ashley anyway? Kidnap me someone with an appropriately masculine name. Ah, fuck. This sucks,” he said, trailing off into a cough.

I winced. “You're sure you've got meds? You're set?”

“Yeah,” he said despondently. “I really wanted to see Logan in person, though.”

“He's kind of taken, Bell,” I reminded him.

“I just wanted to look,” he said, petulance creeping into his voice. “Good looking jock, actually into guys? Fucking unicorn is what he is.” He punctuated his statement with a cough.

“Okay, well, get well for Christmas dinner, okay?”

“Not fucking missing that,” he said and snorted.

We hung up and I wandered into the kitchen. “Bell's sick, he can't go with us tomorrow,” I said.

“Sick with what? Does he need medicine?” my mother asked immediately. She could be tart and had an edgy sense of humor, but she had it where it counted.

“He says so,” I replied. “I asked him twice.”

“Give me your phone,” she said, holding her hand out. I passed it to her and she called him. “No, I'm not calling to taunt you about Logan's ass. I'm calling to ask about your ass! Ass!”

I grinned and looked over at Declan. He drifted closer to me and leaned against me, and I put an arm around him comfortably. “Bell comes to your house for Christmas?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly, listening to my mother grill him. “His folks are crap. My mother adopted him a long time ago.”

“Why are his parents so bad? I mean, they had him, why can't they take care of him?”

“I don't really know,” I said truthfully. “Maybe some people aren't cut out for it. It's like...coffee.”

“How's that?” he asked, leaning back to look at me.

“It sounds better than it is,” I said with a shrug. “A hot cup to start your day, lazing around when it's cold and wet and sipping a steaming mug of coffee sounds great. Except, I don't like coffee. Cream and sugar doesn't really do it for me, either. I think his parents, maybe, were like that. They liked the idea of a kid. You see some kids, all put together and looking good, maybe behaving and you think 'hey, I'd like one of those', but it's a lot of work in reality. I just don't think they thought it all through.”

“You say that almost like they're okay people,” he said dubiously.

“Well, I guess some people like that are decent. I mean, Bell's folks don't let him starve, he has clothes and a room. Just none of it is any good. Plus his folks don't care much about themselves, either. His mom is eating her way to diabetes and his dad is trying to kill his liver. I honestly don't know how Bell isn't more fucked up than he is.”

“He's funny, not fucked up,” Dec said in his defense.

I smiled at him. “Everyone's a little fucked up, Dec. He tries to keep it inside, but I know him. Trust me, he's got a lot of hurts and neurosis in there.”

Declan sighed. “I kind of feel bad that he's not going, but I feel bad too because I'm glad it'll just be us.”

“Okay,” my mother said. “I'm making him some chicken soup. He lied to you, by the way,” she said sourly. “All they had was some old, expired cough drops. Next time he gets sick – oh, why wait? Corby, I'm starting this soup. We're going to eat and then I need you to go to the store while you drop Declan off – don't need to risk his sweet cheeks getting sick,” she said and patted his face affectionately. “I'm running over to get him. He'll end up missing Christmas dinner with those irresponsible fuck-twaddles for parents. Don!” she hollered as she headed toward the living room. “Will you make up that bed in the little room? Bellamy's sick and I'm going to bring him here.”

My dad stood from his chair and grimaced. “Why don't we just keep him? CPS never does a damn thing,” he grumbled.

“Come on,” I said to Declan. “Let's set the table.”

Shortly we sat down to eat. My mom made all kinds of crude jokes about what we might do in a car, which pretty much guarantees I can't do it. I mean, she may screw me up for life, sexually speaking. The funny part was after she said something about road head when my dad, very quietly, said, “Like mother like son?”

The air was filled with laughter, ewwing and a little frustration that thinking of getting a blow job while driving would remind me of my mother. Jesus.

After dinner I took Dec home, kissed him lightly – a true counterpoint to the afternoon's activities. I headed over to the store and grabbed some cold medication and motored home. I had time to get cleaned up before my mom got back with Bell, and he looked like crap.

“Come on, eat some soup first,” my mother told him, pointing to a chair. He shuffled over and I patted his shoulder.

“Want a hot cup of tea, Bell?” I asked.

“Uh, no, thanks. You don't have to—”

“I'll just start the water,” I told him. I popped a cup of water into the microwave and turned to lean against the counter while my mother sat beside him, making sure he ate every spoonful.

“This is good,” he said quietly to my mother.

“My mother used to make it. It's really good for you, plus you need to push fluids. Corby? Where's that medicine?”

“Right here,” I said, dropping the bag on the table beside her.

Bell looked up at me, eyes wet and expression miserable. “Thank you.”

The microwave beeped and I dropped a tea bag into the cup before setting it and the sugar next to his bowl.

“I got the humidifier with the Vick's out of the closet and set up,” my dad said. He walked up behind Bell. “You look like shit, kiddo. We'll fix you up.”

“It'll take more than this to get me,” Bell said, rallying some of his bravado. “I would have made it.”

“You might have missed dinner on Christmas. You know how much that means to me,” my mother told him. “Stop being difficult and eat your soup.”

He colored slightly and nodded, dipping the spoon back into the broth.

“You want stuff to sleep in, Bell ?” I asked.

“His stuff is in the car - I almost forgot. Would you grab it, Corby? my mom asked.

“Sure,” I replied and took her keys. I bounded down the steps to the parking lot, a little worried for Bell. He really didn't look good. I peered into the back seat, but didn't see anything so I popped her trunk. I was a little taken aback. There was a huge black garbage bag, and a few duffels loaded to bursting. I looped the bags together over one arm, hoisted the garbage bag on my back and headed back upstairs.

I struggled through the front door, and my dad grabbed the duffel bags. I followed him back to the small third room in our house. It had a computer desk and a loveseat that folded out, and that was where Bell would stay. This was the first time he was here with all this stuff, though, so I think my mother might have actually told his parents she was keeping him. I'm not sure they'd care much, or even notice. My mother loathes Bell's parents.

The room was cramped, but we got a few things situated for the moment. I poked my head out of the room. “Bell, you going to shower? I'll get some clothes out for you.”

“Yes, he's going to shower! He smells! He's been sweating and laying on sweaty sheets for a day. Christ!” my mother grumbled.

I bobbed my head, thinking I should have known that. I pulled stuff out of the garbage bag, but realized most of those things were dirty. “Dad, any clean clothes in those duffels?”

“Um,” he muttered as he opened one after the other. “This one. The other ones have all his stuff. I think she took his room and brought it.” He paused. “A boy should have things. Bastards.”

I took the bag with clothes and dug out stuff for him to sleep in. I put it in the bathroom, then went back for the dirty clothes and started the washer. I wandered back out to the kitchen, where my mother was checking his temperature and getting the medicine ready for him.

“I put some stuff for you to change into in the bathroom, Bell,” I told him as I plopped down into a chair. “Dad made your bed. We got you covered.”

He nodded at me, thermometer bobbing as he did so. It beeped and my mother tisked as she read it. “One-oh-two. Here, take these and go get cleaned up. Corby, show him where the toothbrushes are.”

I was pretty sure he knew, but I walked back with him anyway. I pulled a new one out for him and turned to find him hovering in the bathroom door. “It's on the sink, Bell.” He looked at me, miserable expression on his face and tears standing in his eyes.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“Hey,” I said softly and put a hand on his shoulder. Tears tracked down his face and I moved beside him, shifting my arm around his shoulders. “Bell, we're here for you, man.”

He nodded and wiped at his face. “I know. I'm sorry.”

“Don't be sorry,” I chided gently. “If you'd have said you didn't have cold medicine, you know I'd have come. We'll always look out for you.”

He nodded again, still looking miserable. “It's not your...I'm sorry.”

“Bell. What is it?”

His gaze flicked toward me and then away. “I feel like such a l-loser. I'm sick, I feel like crap, and my p-parents can't e-even...why?” He looked up at me. “Why, Corb? Am I really that bad?”

My voice hardened. “No. They're just that bad, Bell. You're too good for them, if you want the truth.” I cupped his face in my hands. “They're the fucked up ones, Bell. Never doubt that.”

His face shook in my hands, perhaps as he tried to nod. I gave him a hug and waited until he wasn't shaking quite so much.

“I'm going to get you sick,” he said gently.

“Then you can take care of me,” I told him with a grin. I patted his back and let him get to his shower. I closed the bathroom door and headed back out to the living room where my parents were talking.

“Bell's crying,” I said quietly. “He's feeling pretty low.”

My mother pursed her lips. “I was just telling your father, he's not going back. I talked to his parents. His mother put up a token resistance, but then said it would be better for everyone. Can you imagine? I could maybe see it if he were horrible, but he's not. He's just as sweet as can be.”

“People are assholes,” my father said with a sigh.

“So Bell's living here, permanently?” I asked.

“Yeah. I can't live with him being over there anymore. You can't tell people how to raise their kids, but this was flat out neglect. Who knows what he might get if he's not given proper medication and stuff.” She snorted and opened her mouth to say more, but closed it instead. I nodded and headed into my room, texting Declan about developments and to expect me about nine-thirty the next morning.

I felt bad for Bell. He didn't deserve the hand he'd been dealt. At the same time, I was irritated he'd lied to me about the medicine. I heard the shower shut off, and a few minutes later the door opened. I heard him say goodnight to my parents and then he was in my doorway.

“I'm going to bed, Corb,” he said quietly.

“Bell,” I said quietly. “You're like a brother to me. If you need something, please don't ever lie to me again. If I need something, you can sure as shit expect me to lean on you. We clear?”

He rolled his lips inward and sniffed. “Yeah. We're clear.”

I got up and went to him, hugging him lightly. “I love you, Bell. Go get some rest.”

~E~

My dad stayed home the next day, using some time off he'd accumulated. He told me the office is slow anyway at this time of year, and he wanted to be there in case Bell got any worse. His temperature had broken overnight, but he still looked washed out and weak. My dad had Bell out on the couch, covered in a couple thick blankets, and had set some juice out for him along with a water bottle.

“Drink the juice,” my dad was telling him. “Then drink water. You have to stay hydrated, and you also need to push fluids.”

“Okay,” Bell replied in resignation. He saw me coming and pulled his feet up so I could plop down at the end of the couch.

“How you feeling?” I asked.

“A little better, but mostly like crap,” he said and coughed.

“You sweated a lot. Don't forget to drink,” I told him.

“Okay, Mom,” he said and looked away. “Sorry.”

I sighed, my irritation having flickered on and off like a candle. “It's okay. I'll see you tonight, okay? Maybe watch a movie if you're up for it?”

He nodded listlessly. I guess he was really taking the situation hard. I stood and moved over to him, hugging him until he finally hugged me back. He took in a ragged breath, so I stayed just so he wouldn't feel like he had to hide whatever emotions were on his face. Male pride, it's a stupid thing sometimes. Eventually I stood up and went to the door to pull on my shoes and coat.

As I drove over to Declan's I reflected that while I felt bad about the crappy situation, and for Bell in particular, I was also looking forward to spending the day with Declan on this supposed adventure. I'm not sure if that makes me a jerk or not. I left the car idling while I went in to get Dec. I hoped that the car would get more than lukewarm sitting still.

“I'm ready,” Declan called from up in his room.

“If you were ready, we'd be in my car,” I teased him.

He came thundering down the stairs, grin plastered on his face. He pulled on shoes and grabbed his coat. His parents were already gone for work, and with neither of us wanting to say anything to his sister, we departed.

It took about fifteen minutes just to reach the highway, and Dec took complete advantage.

“So, tell me all about your cousin and his boyfriend.” He paused. “Except about his butt, since that's been covered. Or should that be uncovered?”

“Nice,” I said with a snicker. “Gray and I haven't seen each other that much. In my opinion, his dad is a piece of crap. I don't know his mom, but I guess she must be cool to have him as a kid. He's smart, pretty decent at video games and you can tell we're related 'cause he looks as good as I do.” I mugged for Dec after that statement and he laughed. “He's a pretty good listener. Comfortable to be around. I think you'll like him.”

“And Logan?”

“I know even less about him. They had been together for a while when Gray was over, so...months. I forget how long. I guess he's into sports.” I paused and then said, “Gray said Logan had only dated girls before him, so I guess I have something in common with him.”

“Wait, you dated your cousin?” Declan teased.

“Hah. Brat.” I drove up the on ramp and headed east. “So you said your sister has a long history of making screwed-up situations?”

“Totally,” he said and snorted for punctuation. “Last year she got caught with one of those vape things at school. That was three days of in-school. My parents found pictures of some guy's dick on her phone. When she was eleven she tried to OD on baby aspirin.”

“Jesus, are you serious?” I asked, shaking my head and chuckling to myself.

“Completely,” he said seriously. “My parent have tried to get her counseling. They tried going to special classes and workshops. They did some strange rebirth ceremony thing with her.” He chuckled, albeit a bit sadly. “They have tried anything anyone suggested that might work.”

“They have no clue why she is the way she is?”

He shrugged. “All I know is that my mom got pregnant with me about four months after she'd had Kate. Apparently my mom had some health issues when she was pregnant with me, so she wasn't well. I think some people have said that Kate missed some important bonding time or something. After I was born, my mom really was down, not feeling well for a while, I guess.” He glanced at me. “She never told me what was going on with her health, so I didn't ask.”

“Wow. You think your sister is, like, broken or something? 'Cause I have to say, Bell's parents are the fucking worst, and he's still a pretty good guy.”

He sighed, and slowly said, “I think...that everyone grows up with their own experience. Like, maybe my sister thinks she has it so bad, but if she lived like Bell did, maybe she'd appreciate it more? I don't know. I'm just guessing.” He let out a breath. “Your heater bites.”

“Yeah, I know,” I told him. “Remind me so I can tell my dad.”

“I was thinking we could do it in your back seat, but I think your dick would shrivel like a stack of dimes,” he said and laughed at my expression.

“Is sex always on your mind?” I asked, chuckling.

“Yeah, actually,” he said, his cheeks going a bit red.

“Slight change in topic,” I said, laughing at him. “So your sister claims she's being all protective of you, now. But that Ryder douche said she'd told him you wanted to get nailed.” My mouth twisted as I said the last bit, bitter as it felt on my tongue.

“I never said shit to my sister about wanting to have sex,” he protested. “I think you can tell, we don't have that kind of relationship.”

“True,” I said, nodding my head in agreement. “Do you think she actually said it like that to him?”

He sighed. “I'm a freak,” he said quietly.

“What? No!” I protested.

“I am, though,” he said with regret. “I'm totally not normal. Just let me ask you this, Corb,” he said, not looking at me. “Did you ever, at any time, consider putting anything in your butt?”

I paused for a moment. “No, not really.”

“What do you mean 'not really'?”

“Well, as a joke Bell would talk about getting a blowjob with a finger in your ass. So the idea got brought up, but I never really thought about it.”

“Oh,” he said quietly. “Well, that's what I mean. Playing with my dick is okay, but I didn't really get that interested...bad word, but sort of true I guess.” He paused and licked his lips. “It was more interesting to me when I started putting things in me.”

“Things?”

“Corb.”

“Okay, all right,” I said, taking the hint. “Still, some guys like that. I don't think it makes you a freak.”

He glanced at me and blushed a bit more. “All I can think of is she must have found some...evidence of what I was doing. All it takes is for her to want to start some trouble and there you go. Even if she was just gossiping with that asshole, she probably implied I would like just anyone to do me. Like all that mattered was the sex.”

I thought about what he'd said. I'd never really thought about anything in my ass before, and that was the truth. Even when Bell said that weird stuff, it was as a goof, not for serious thought. I can tell you for sure that Maddy's fingers, not to mention her mouth, never got close to my butt, let alone my hole. Still, I felt bad that Declan felt out of place because he was interested in something other guys weren't or didn't think of.

“Say something, Corb.”

I glanced at him and smiled. “Sorry. I was just thinking.” Before he could say something negative I continued, “I don't think you should feel like that because you're interested in that kind of sex. It's not like you're talking about screwing livestock. If you have full on sex, someone has to fill each role, right? Who cares if you have a preference? Isn't it the same thing if you like doing the screwing instead of being screwed?”

Whatever he was going to say stayed behind his lips. He nodded slightly. “Yeah. I've thought of that before. I guess...maybe because I didn't have anyone to talk to about it, I wasn't sure if I was just trying to make myself feel better.”

“What about Leigh? You haven't talked to him about this?”

He bobbed his head from side-to-side. “Sort of yes, sort of no. I really only talk to Leigh about sex in general, not like what we both are interested in.” He paused and said, “Leigh is sort of interesting. It's almost like he likes the idea of sex and touching, without having any real-world clue what that means.”

“Not sure I follow you.”

“Like...he's a total virgin, so he has this fascination with the idea of being intimate and feeling for someone, but he has nothing to compare it to.” He shifted in his seat, turning a bit toward me. “Like, I know how it feels to spend an afternoon on the couch with you. Leigh would like the idea, but it's like...cloudy? No, like, insubstantial, right? He's never done anything close to that.”

“So...I'm confused. I mean, I get that Leigh has no practical experience, but how does that affect you talking to him about sex?”

“Well, he kind of glosses over things. Like, this,” he said, holding his hands out as if framing something. “Leigh wants to have sex, but he doesn't really know anything beyond you put the penis in one of these places, right? Me? I've gone online. I've researched how to bottom so I can enjoy what it is I want. I heard about how it hurts, and I want to make sure when I do it that there is as much pleasure involved as I can get. I mean, that's sort of the point of sex, right? Pleasure?”

I grunted as I put my signal on to change lanes. “That's a big part of it for me, yeah. But I have to say, too...the sex itself with Maddy was pleasurable, but I didn't like the idea of doing it with her again.”

“That's because it wasn't me. After we have sex, you'll just want more,” he said confidently and then laughed. I joined his laughter, but sobered quickly.

“You're right, I think, but not because of what you're implying.” I hesitated. “I didn't love Maddy. I'd never really been in love, I don't think, so when I said things like that to her it was more from her expectation of the things I should say than from any real feeling I had for her. When I say I love you, Declan, I can feel the difference inside me. So I know when we cross that line, it's going to be better because it's real.”

“God!” Declan said and swooned lightly. “I love it when you use your words!” Then he started to giggle and I smiled at him. Brat.

“I'm serious, Dec. This is a shitty example, but given what you were saying about how Leigh has nothing to compare things to...all you have to compare the idea of sex with me to is what Ryder tried.”

Declan frowned lightly. “I hate that you're right. It pisses me off, but I hate that you're right.”

“I'm sorry.”

“No,” he said with a curt wave of his hand. “I think it makes more of a point than you realize. I feel kind of...I don't know, nervous maybe? Whenever you tell me you love me, I feel like something is moving in my stomach. I know you care. Ryder just wanted to get laid.” He paused and looked at me. “I want to get laid, too. I actually get what you mean, though. It sucks, but you're right.”

I pulled my lips back, making my cheeks move outward as I berated myself. I made my point, but at the cost of reminding him how close he got to being raped. Good job, Corbin.

“Does Bell have a middle name?” Dec asked.

“Uh. Yeah. Why?”

“Bellamy seems like an odd name. Something his parents gave him, even when they couldn't be bothered to give him their time and love.” He wrinkled his nose. “Given that, if they gave him a middle name it probably isn't that great, either. We should give him a new name, for a new beginning.”

“What do you think a name for him would be?”

“Well, he's got that over-long, wavy blond hair. He could be a Viking, if it weren't for his being so thin. Maybe he could be a skater or something? What's something strong and sort of Viking we could call him? Thor? Gunnar? No, mythological is the way to go. How about Heimdall? He was awesome – did you see him in the movies? I know Bell isn't black, but if you're named after a god, what does your skin color matter, right? The guy that played Heimdall, amazing.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “I'm interpreting that as you'll only cheat on me with a Norse god?”

“Well, yeah,” he said matter-of-factly and then laughed at my expression.

“About that, sort of,” I said to him. “I'm curious because those guys you just named, they're all muscled and stuff.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, I'm not. The other day you told me I'm hot. How does that work, exactly?”

“You want to know why I think you're hot, or how I think you're hot and can think someone with a different body type is hot, too?”

“Yeah.”

“Which one?”

“Which...Declan! Brat!”

He laughed. “They're just nice to look at. I don't have one type, I guess.” He put his hand over mine. “Maybe it comes back to what you were saying about how you feel with someone. I think you're really nice looking, and I would have thought that if we hadn't ever formally met. I like the way you smile. I like the way your jeans cuddle your package. I like how me saying things like that gives you little red spots on your face.”

“Brat,” I said again, but I was smiling.

“I guess, though, what makes you hot is how you treat me, in and out of your bed.” He sighed. “I kind of thought when I got a boyfriend, he'd just want to toss me on my back and split me, you know? A few hook-ups and that would be the deal. I know a few people that had sex, sort of like you did, with the idea of getting it done and just not being a virgin anymore. I thought I wanted that, too. But...then I'd miss out on the stuff I have with you. Hanging out, actually liking each other when our clothes are on.” He paused. “I know a few people that regret their first time. I don't want that. I'm learning from others's mistakes.”

“Then you should know...I have no experience with a guy, not like that. I'm not sure if I'll be any good at it.”

“But, Corb,” he said softly. “You do want to, right?”

I cleared my throat. “Yeah. I've thought about it some, since you brought it up.”

“Yeah? Does it,” he coughed, “bring you up?”

I groaned and he giggled. I glanced at him. “Yeah. It does.”

“Then we have to talk,” he said, growing serious. “I've done a lot of reading. I know it doesn't sound sexy, but we have to plan this. Maybe we can talk about it after you ravage me on your couch next time?”

“Me?” I said indignantly. “You were attacking me!”

“Only after you opened the door!” he said with a laugh.

“Brat,” I grumbled. He took my hand and squeezed it, and I was mollified.

He sighed. “I feel bad for Bell. We should do something for him.”

“He'd probably be thrilled if we just cuddled him on the couch and watched a movie.”

“We could do that,” he said. “Or, we could see if Logan will take some naughty selfies just for Bell.”

I glanced at Dec. “No.”

He started to giggle and I kept telling him no, starting to laugh with him. Brat.

~E~

We pulled up in front of my cousin's house around eleven. We'd stopped to hit a bathroom, fill the tank, and buy a hot chocolate to warm up with as the car wasn't doing much more with its heat than keeping the windshield clear. While I wasn't made of money, I was still freezing in my own car so I decided to leave it running while we were inside. I wasn't really worried that anyone would steal it; I was willing to risk it if it warmed up a degree or two just sitting there, running. Dec and I made our way over to the little house, narrow and similar to its row-mates. I knocked and we waited for a minute before Gray opened the door, smiling at us.

“Hi! Come inside!” he said, eyes sparkling. We went in, gratefully, and quick introductions were made, little hugs were had, and we put our shoes and coats by the door. Gray escorted us to the kitchen, where his mom was seated at the table along with a handsome guy who could only be Logan. Again there were introductions, handshakes and hugs – sometimes both – and cups were brought out for coffee. I was cold enough that I'd drink it.

“I haven't seen you since you were a baby,” my aunt said with a smile. “You grew up to be so handsome. How are your parents?”

I bobbed my head. “They're doing well, thanks. Mom is still in retail – I don't know if she was when you last talked. My dad got a promotion a month or so ago, and he's settling into that.”

“Speaking of work,” she said as she gained her feet. “I have laundry to do. Did you clean your room, Grayson?”

“Yeah,” Gray replied.

“Um, who cleaned your room?” Logan asked in a teasing tone.

Gray rolled his eyes. “Please. Like you clean anything.”

My aunt looked back and forth between them in amusement. “Well, I'm going to check. I hope I don't find condoms left out.”

Dec covered his mouth to stifle a giggle, but I was unfazed, having grown up with my mother.

“Mom! We don't use them. I told you!” Gray said, pretending to be scandalized while Logan turned red, leaned forward and put a hand on his forehead.

“Uh huh,” she said, turning and walking out of the room. “Like mother, like son.” There was a low 'eww' in the room, though I wasn't sure who it came from.

“She's just like your mom, Corby!” Declan stage whispered.

“Seriously?” Logan asked, his head popping up.

I looked at him with a serious expression. “She thinks you have a nice butt, too.”

Logan laughed and said, “I know I do. Gray tells me all the time.”

Gray tilted his head to one side. “It's true. I was telling him about your friend Bell, how he's fascinated with my boyfriend's butt.”

“Prize winning ass he calls it,” I agreed.

“He did not! Did he?” Declan asked.

“Yup!” I said. Logan was remarkably unflappable as he grinned.

“Gray was telling me.” Logan shrugged. “I don't mind if someone does that. I've got a body like anyone else.”

“I disagree,” Gray said and looked at Declan. “He's the whole reason I know I'm gay.”

“I can see why,” Declan said, nodding seriously.

“Okay, ha ha,” Logan said with a little smile and bumped Gray with his shoulder.

“I know mine keeps me happy between the sheets. Yours?” Declan asked, upping the ante. I had to admit, he wasn't the shy boy I first took him to be. He's grown quite bold.

“Oh, I couldn't be happier,” Gray replied.

“All right, you two. No ganging up!” I said, pushing Declan who just laughed at me. “You're way too chummy with my cousin.”

“It's the sense of humor,” Logan said. “Considering his mother, it's a genetic thing.”

“I don't have that, but my mother does,” I replied.

With a glint in his eye, Logan said, “So yours do okay in the sack?”

“Still breaking him in,” I replied. “You?”

“Working it out,” he said, and now our boyfriends were protesting. Weird conversation. Fun, but weird.

“So this is my Christmas gift,” Declan told Gray. “I told him I wanted an adventure where the gay guys outnumber the straights. Looks like we're in the majority.”

“Well, I'm completely gay, but Logan is more on the bi spectrum somewhere,” Gray said. “He's mine now, and I won't let him go back to girls if I can help it, but that's the case.”

“God, we are so alike,” Declan said happily. It took me a second and I looked at him in amusement.

“But my cousin did tell me about your Christmas wish, so I hope you like football in the snow,” Gray continued.

“Football?” Declan asked and looked at me.

“Yeah,” Logan said, showing enthusiasm. “We're going over to the town park. A bunch of guys are getting a football game together in the snow. We'll probably hang out for a while – but pretty much everyone will be dating a guy.”

“Really?” Declan asked and then looked at me, grinning. “You do realize you look like a miracle worker now, right?” He paused and then said, “I didn't exactly dress to play in the snow.”

“I can loan you stuff,” Gray said. “Come on. Corb? You got stuff?”

“Yeah, I'm good. I have a change of stuff in the trunk for the game.”

We walked back toward the front of the house where Gray took Declan upstairs and I ran out to the car, snagging my bag from the trunk and racing back inside. The only saving grace of playing anything outside was your movement tended to warm you up, but damn, the wind was nasty. Logan showed me to a downstairs bathroom where I pulled on some sweats and a layer of underclothes to help sustain me. I knew it had been a teensy bit evil to not tell Dec about the game. He was a runner, track team mostly, but not a sports guy in general. Still, I think he'd have been apprehensive before meeting Gray, so it was probably for the best.

I took my seat back at the table with Logan and smiled. “This is cool of you guys to include us. Gray says you're a big sports fan?”

“Yeah, I love team sports,” he replied. “Don't let Gray fool you, he does too. He spent years trying to get on my radar by joining the teams I was on.”

“Really?” I asked, my lips quirking in amusement.

“Yeah. I was clueless, though,” he said, shaking his head.

“He told me about your relationship a few months ago, when I was trying to figure out how to deal with my feelings for Declan.”

“It was confusing, but in retrospect not in the way I thought.” Logan said slowly, as if tasting the words before letting them go. “At first I wondered how Seth, and later Gray, were making me feel the way I was. I'd had girls compliment me, even dated a few because they were interested, and it always felt good that they liked me. Gray is different, though. Seth told me he could see it after we'd kissed the first time, and he was right. It was something out of the ordinary in every way.”

“Oh? How did that happen?” Declan asked as he entered the room, fitted out much as I was. He looked cute, bundled like that. Soft, even, and brought on thoughts of cuddling.

“Our friend Seth played me is what happened,” Gray said and laughed as he went to the counter for more coffee. I shuddered involuntarily. “Corb, more coffee?”

“God, no,” I said, covering my cup with my hand. “Thanks anyway.”

“Oh, you hate coffee, too?” Logan asked, perking up.

“I could have made you tea or hot chocolate,” Gray said, ignoring the bait his boyfriend had thrown down.

“I'm good, thanks,” I said and looked back at Logan. “I hate coffee. I used to think I liked it, but no.”

“I used to pretend, just to be nice, but Seth and Gray took advantage,” Logan replied.

“We totally did, and it was funny as hell,” Gray said as he laughed and took a seat by Logan.

“First kiss story?” Dec prompted.

“Oh, right,” Logan said. “So Gray thought I was a bigot and Seth convinced him to go to the kissing booth I was working for a school fundraiser we had. So Gray gets up there – he was on crutches – and there were some guys that saw and started to laugh and make a joke about it.” Logan frowned and his face darkened. “It really pissed me off, and Gray thought I was pissed at him. So he took off as fast as he could, and I ran him down out in the hallway.”

“And then?” Dec prompted, completely absorbed.

“Then I got sappy and told him I'd always dreamed of dancing with him and having my first kiss,” Gray said, turning to look at Logan and smiling gently. “So he slow-danced with me right there in the hallway and gave me the sweetest kiss. If I hadn't been hooked before, I sure was then.”

“That is so romantic,” Declan said, then looked at me. “I hope you're taking notes.”

We laughed, and I poked him in the side as I teased him, asking about when I hadn't been romantic enough for him. There was a knock at the front door and Gray went to answer it. I was going to talk to Logan some more, since we seemed to have stuff in common and I liked him so far, but Gray was back quickly with two guys, one dark haired and the other blond.

“Jake, Jon – or just call them the Js,” Gray said, pointing to the blond and the dark haired kid respectively.

“Or don't,” the dark haired one said.

“This is my cousin Corbin, and his boyfriend, Declan.”

“Hi,” the blond – Jake – said warmly. The dark haired boy – Jon – raised a hand in greeting.

“So, we can head over?” Logan asked as he stood.

“Yeah. We're a little early, but we can stop for coffee, then,” Gray teased.

“Fuck that,” I said and laughed with Logan.

“Don't like a good cup?” Jake asked.

“More like I don't think there is such a thing as a good cup,” I said with a smile. Jon snorted in amusement.

We grabbed our coats and shoes and stepped outside, only to be greeted by the front of my vehicle enveloped in smoke.

“Shit! Is it on fire?” I asked as I crossed the street.

“It's steam, genius,” Jon said. I looked over my shoulder and frowned at him. Jake shot him a look and he shrugged, but looked chastened.

I shut the car off and popped the hood, which increased the flow of steam. Making sure my gloves were on tightly, I lifted the hood and dropped it as the hot steam hit my face. “Fuck!” I snarled and lifted it again, like an idiot. It wasn't as bad the second time, and I managed to get the rod in place and backed up to try and see what was going on.

“What's wrong with it?” Declan asked as he peered in the engine compartment, probably as clueless as I was.

I thought I heard someone mutter something in a crappy tone, but I couldn't be bothered at the moment.

“Shit!” I said, louder than I intended. As the steam lessened, I leaned in and started looking around for something obviously broken. It looked like the steam was coming from somewhere down low on the engine, but that's about the extent of my knowledge.

“What do we do?” Declan asked.

“Let me call Lu,” Jake said. “I heard he does a lot of car work.” Jake pulled out his phone and placed a call while I continued to look into the engine compartment as if the issue would suddenly reveal itself. In the background I heard him speaking to someone, but I was completely focused on waiting for a part to jump up, announce it was broken, and provide repair instructions.

“Lu says he's stuck at home. His parents are out getting a space heater. He has to wait for the furnace guy while they're gone because it's an emergency call. He reminded me Devyn works at a garage with his dad, though, so I'm texting him.”

“Thanks, Jake. I appreciate it,” I said. “I don't know dick about cars.”

Jon cleared his throat. “Me either, actually. Gas and driving, that's about it.”

Since he'd opened the door, I decided to try and find some common ground. “I always meant to learn some basics, but somehow I never did.”

He nodded. “I just call for roadside assistance. I mean, I'm not an idiot. I could probably figure out how to change a tire or something, but I'm not MacGyver.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” I replied.

“Okay,” Jake said. “Devyn is on the way. He'll tow it back to the garage and we can see what's what.”

I felt slightly uncomfortable. “I better call my parents. Any idea what they charge for a tow?”

“I don't,” Jake said apologetically.

I called my dad and explained the situation. He told me to call once I was at the garage, sooner if they needed a card immediately. He sounded a little worried about the cost as well. We milled about for a few minutes on the sidewalk and then someone wisely suggested we wait inside. It was sort of uncomfortable and I was nervous about what this would mean financially.

The truck showed up about fifteen minutes later. I was surprised to see a short guy who looked near my age get out of the driver's side and a middle aged man climb out from the passenger side.

“Hey, Dev,” Jake said as we approached. The short guy, head covered in a beanie that didn't let you see his hair color, smiled at us and waved. He had a baby face that felt trustworthy to me, as well as made me feel endeared to him.

“You know Logan and Grayson, right?” Jake asked and Dev nodded, smiling brightly at them. They greeted him warmly and then Jake introduced Dec and myself.

“I appreciate you coming out to help, Devyn,” I said as I let go of his hand. “I have to ask, though, how much the tow will be and...well, I don't know what's wrong with it.”

“Dev,” the man said. I looked over and the man was leaning over the engine of my car, waving the little guy over to his side. Devyn walked over and peered into the engine bay. He leaned over, then climbed on the fender to get a better look. He pulled a small flashlight from his hip pocket and shone the light down inside, then reached down to feel.

“Feel how the rubber is mushy?” he said. Devyn reached farther down and then nodded. “Now if you check out the actual end of the radiator, you'll find it's soft on the top, and there's a crack. Feel it if you press?”

A moment later Devyn nodded and grunted at the man. Why wasn't he saying anything? The man straightened and looked over at me. “This is yours?”

I grimaced at his tone. “Yeah. Um, my dad will pay with his card, but...how much will the tow be? I'm not sure about....”

He held a hand up and chuckled lightly. “This trip is what you might call a training run. My son is learning to drive the tow truck and operate the flatbed. So this tow is practice for him. No charge.”

I sighed a little harder than I intended. “That's...thank you.”

Dev smiled at me, showing a lot of teeth. Devyn got the truck set up to pull my car onto the flatbed and Gray said they'd squeeze into the back seat of Jon's car. Jon eyed them like he'd say something, perhaps since they'd invited themselves, but didn't in the end.

“Come on, happy car owner, you can ride with us.”

“You good?” I asked Declan.

“Yeah. We're just going to talk about you,” he said sweetly as he walked away with Gray and Logan. I raised an eyebrow. It seems like Dec and Gray are getting pretty chummy awfully fast. I was a little amused.

I climbed up into the cab of the tow truck, between Dev and his dad. Dev looked sort of funny since his seat was moved forward to enable him to reach the pedals. He pulled out carefully, and I admit feeling a little nervous having the little guy driving this big truck with my only way out of town swaying on the back.

“So, you didn't notice any puddles?” the guy asked.

“Puddles? No.”

“How was the heater?”

“Weak, for a bit now,” I said, looking at him. “Why?”

“The coolant in your car starts out in the radiator and passes by the hoses into the block, warms up, goes through your heater core where air passes over it to heat the interior, and then goes back to be cooled down in the radiator before starting all over again.” He paused and looked at me. “If you have weak heat, you may have low coolant levels.”

I opened my mouth and then just stopped. “You mean...all this time all I needed to do was add coolant?”

“Well, you had a leak. That needed to be fixed, but your radiator looks shot anyway. It would have been a temporary fix to add more; would have just leaked out.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling dumb.

He chuckled. “Dev will fix you up. We'll see what a radiator costs. Maybe you can assist him?”

“Uh, yeah. I don't know squat, but I'd be glad to. Um, any idea what a radiator runs?”

“Your car is older, we can probably find an aftermarket one. We'll see what the parts store has to say,” he said.

“What about the labor? What does that run?”

He leaned forward and look at Devyn. “You charging the friend and family rate?”

Devyn looked over and smiled, nodding as he drove. I looked back and forth between them.

“What's that?”

“Eh, kid's going to die penniless,” the guy grunted. “He doesn't charge friends and family, so just parts.”

My eyes widened. “The garage is okay with you doing work for free?” I asked, turning to look at Devyn. He jutted his chin at the other guy and I turned back to face him.

“My son practices at the garage in his spare time, or works with me once in a while. Summers, school breaks. We were just puttering today, anyway.” He paused. “Owner is out of town, so what he doesn't know won't hurt him.”

I felt a wave of relief. I turned back to Devyn. “You have no idea how relieved I am. Cash is always a little tight.”

Devyn gave me a thumbs up and I looked at him curiously. “Can you not...I mean, uh. Do you choose not to speak?”

“Devyn had an infection when he was about twelve, froze his vocal cords. He can't speak,” his father said.

I looked back at the little guy and felt a wave of affection, remorse and protectiveness. Here he was helping me in a huge way, yet he couldn't even say hello to me.

“I'm grateful to you, Devyn. If there's ever anything I can do, just ask,” I told him sincerely.

He grinned and nodded at me. A few minutes later we arrived at the garage. It was set up on a point where two roads came together. Used cars ringed the pointed end while the garage took up the flat, or bottom, of the pyramid. Devyn positioned the flatbed so that it was lined up with a bay and put the brake on. A few minutes later my car was off the flatbed and we were pushing it into the bay. Jon's car pulled in a few minutes behind us.

Devyn's dad looked at my registration for the year and model of my car and went to see about a new radiator. Devyn popped the hood, got the prop rod in place and hung a light over the engine. He then walked around the car, kicking something underneath into place before lifting the car a few feet off the ground. He then put an extra light under the car.

“What's going on?” Declan asked.

“Bad radiator, I guess. Um, I'm going to help him do this. He's doing the work for nothing; I kind of want to show some gratitude,” I told Declan. “I'm sorry we didn't make it to the football game.”

“We should head over,” Jon said quietly. “Is anyone else still going to the game?”

“Um,” Grayson looked over at me.

“Go ahead,” I said with a wave of my hand. “I have to see about my car before anything else. Kind of can't go home without it.”

Devyn held a finger up and typed on his phone, showing it to Jake.

“Devyn says we should go ahead. He'll drop off Corby if they don't get the car going.”

Declan looked doubtful, but I smiled at him. “Go. Have fun. I'll meet up with you after.”

“I don't really want to go without you,” he said quietly.

“Come on, Declan,” Gray said with a little whine. “He'll catch up. Come hang out with us.”

Declan looked at me and I smiled and nodded to him. “I'll be there later. Go hang out with all the gay boys,” I said and chuckled at the silly statement.

His patented smile, starting from one side of his face and growing until it reached the other side, was in evidence. “You're sure?”

“Go,” I said. He hugged me and went to join the other guys, and they all filed out to ride over in Jon's car. I looked over at Devyn, blew a breath out and widened my eyes. “Going to make a mechanic out of me?”

He chuffed, a wheezy little cough that was kind of cool. He got down and looked under the car for a minute, then climbed to his feet and walked to the wall where a tool cabinet was. He pulled a drawer open and removed two wrenches and then retrieved a small socket and ratchet. He nudged an open tray with high sides under my car with his foot. He handed me a wrench and motioned for me to join him on the floor. We lay on creepers, sliding under the front of my car.

He pointed to a bolt on a plastic housing around the fan that cooled the radiator and then held up his wrench. I glanced at the one he'd handed me and asked, “You want me to take this bolt out?”

He nodded and set to work with the ratchet, removing the clamp on the hose that connected to the bottom of the radiator. I went to work on the bolt, but the wrench slipped and I barked my knuckles against the edge of the radiator fins.

“Son of a bitch!” I snarled and looked at my knuckles, one of which had a thin line of blood welling up.

I heard Dev chuff again and he waved his finger in an 'ah, ah' gesture.

“Easy for you to say,” I told him. “That hurt.”

He grinned and showed me the back of his hand, which had a few light scars. I looked at him sheepishly, knowing he'd barked his knuckles a few times as well. He went back to the hose, removed it and started to drain what little coolant remained. Then he started on his bolt while I slowly backed mine out. Once that was done, we climbed up to look down at the engine from the top. He pulled over a milk crate to stand on and then pointed at a bolt on my side, also for the housing that went around the fan. I removed the bolt and he removed the mate on the other side.

“How's it looking?” his dad asked.

“Devyn seems to know what he's doing,” I said.

“Yeah, he's got a few things down,” his father said with pride. He looked at our progress and nodded. “That shroud won't fit over the fan. Once you break it loose, hang it on the shaft of the fan. This one has two bolts up top and then you should be able to lift the whole radiator out.” He looked over at me. “The good news is the radiator and lower hose are just a hair over two hundred bucks. The bad news is the radiator won't get here until tomorrow; they have to ship it over from the warehouse.”

“Ah, shit,” I muttered and then glanced at Devyn's dad. “Sorry.”

“Fuck it, I'd say worse, probably,” he said with a shake of his head. “If you want, pull the lower hose and yank the radiator so it can all go back together quick in the morning, but you'll need to settle a place to crash for tonight.”

“Um, I guess I can talk to Gray, see if his mom would let us stay there tonight. I'm sure she will, she seemed pretty cool.”

“Well, go ahead and get the prep work done and Devyn can drop you off.” The man nodded and headed over to the office, content to leave instructions and go on his way.

Devyn looked at the work, walked over to the tool cabinet and removed a larger socket and ratchet. Putting them together he walked over to me, handing me the tool. He went back to the cabinet and removed a can, then sprayed its contents on the bolts holding the radiator down.

He pointed to his wrist, made a circle and then showed me five fingers.

“Five...minutes?”

He nodded, smiled and slid under the car with the smaller ratchet and socket. I heard him grunt underneath, and then there was a curious wet-rubber sound followed by a hollow popping noise. He slid out from under the car with the damaged hose in hand. He stuck his tongue out, blowing a raspberry at the hose and I laughed. He grinned at me and tossed the hose in the trash.

“So Devyn,” I said as I applied the tool to the first bolt. “My cousin says there is a whole group of guys that hang out. Gay guys. Is that how he knows you?” The bolt squealed as it turned, very slowly.

Devyn stood next to me and I glanced at him as he held up his phone, showing him with his arms around a boy of similar height with light brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. The other boy had his arms around Devyn as well, and they looked pretty happy.

“You know, text me,” I said as I told him my number. He sent a hello through and I started to text back to him.

Your boyfriend? I asked.

He nodded, smiling. Griffin Douglas.

Cool name. How long you been dating?

A couple of years. Getting ready to move for college this fall.

That's so cool. My boyfriend was dying to come out here and meet more guys like him.

Like him? Not like you both?

I'm bi, I guess. Still figuring that.

My cousin is bi. He's one of the best people I know, so you're in good company.

Really? I should meet him. I guess Logan is bi, too. Might have some good talks.

Jake's boyfriend is sort of bi. I don't think you'll get much out of him. Devyn followed that up with his wheezing laugh. He pointed to the radiator and slipped his phone away, indicating we'd better get back to it I guess. Putting the socket securely on the head, I turned the bolt, and was dismayed to hear a loud snap as it broke off. “Shit!”

Devyn leaned over and looked at the bolt. He pointed to the other one and indicated I should try to remove it. I wasn't so sure, but I trusted his experience more than my own, so I did as he said. So to speak. The bolt protested, but came free much easier. Devyn removed the upper hose and we lifted the radiator out, although not easily. Once it was out we could see more of the shaft of the snapped bolt was exposed.

Devyn sprayed the bolt again and then walked over to a cart that had two tall metal cylinders on it with a red and green rubber-looking hose coiled around the cylinders. He wheeled it over to my car, uncoiled the hose and then adjusted some dials on top of the cylinders. He pulled something I didn't recognize from a bin on the cart, made an adjustment to the tool at the end of the hose, then lifted the item up, squeezing it and creating a spark. He did it once more and a flame jumped from the end of the tool.

“Devyn! You can weld?” I asked in shock.

He grinned while twisting some dials on the tool, narrowing the flame to a blue cone. He held it out to me and I took it while he went to the tool cabinet, removed a set of vice-grips, and handed them to me in exchange for the torch. He proceeded to heat the broken bolt until it glowed a bit, then motioned for me to use the vice-grips. I got them set and twisted, the bolt squealed and started to turn. I spun the vice-grips, eventually freeing the bolt from the hole. With a snapping sound Devyn turned off the feed to the torch. He coiled the hose back up and wheeled it back to its storage place.

“Devyn, I'm seriously impressed,” I told him. He grinned and shrugged. He pulled his beanie off, rubbing his head and exposing his short, dark blond hair, which was now messy. Reseating the beanie, he pulled his phone out and typed Better call for a place to crash.

“Yeah,” I said. “I'll call him now.”

I hit the button for Gray's number and was leaving him a voice message when I noticed he was calling me back.

“Hey, I was just leaving a message,” I said.

“I had to run for the phone,” he said, sounding out of breath. “I left it on a coat so I wouldn't ruin it. What's the damage?”

“Well, the part can't be gotten until tomorrow. Do you think your mom would mind putting Dec and I up for the night?”

“I'm sure it's not a problem,” he said confidently. “I'll call her and give her a heads up. That's great you can stay, though! We can watch a movie or something.”

“Great. Um, I guess Devyn will drop me off. Where are you guys anyway?”

“Tell him we're at the town park. See you soon!”

Devyn waved off my thanks and went to get his keys. I felt a little silly, but I kept telling him how impressed I was with what he knew and that he was being so generous with his time and effort.

When we got to the park he pulled his phone out and sent me a long text, which basically said welcome to the family, come visit often and asking to hang out next time without the fun of car repair. I laughed and shook his hand. “I will totally do that. Thank you.”

He nodded and I climbed out, stepping into a very cold struggle. Logan announced who I was, with respect to who I was dating and who I was related to. I'm glad no one told me who they were and that Logan didn't recite them, because there were too many guys. Logan pulled me onto his team and then it was sort of a football game, I guess, and sort of a melee where snow was thrown, people were tackled and they didn't always have the ball. There was a ton of laughing, some swearing and plenty of teasing. Declan was laughing and talking between plays. He seemed pleased with the situation, which pleased me in turn.

Eventually the wind picked up and the sun began to go down, making it too cold to play anymore. We ambled over with a group of them to a coffee shop where we had hot drinks. I called my dad and filled him in, and he was happy we were set for the night, and relieved about the bill for the car. I told him I'd call the next day when we were ready to leave. Declan also called home and gave them the run down. I spoke to his dad, explaining the car problems in greater detail, and they gave their okay. I'm sure they had a mind to drive out and get him, but I think they also trusted me to take care of him as well.

We ended up walking back to Gray's house, which was cold, but fortunately not that far away. We kicked our shoes off and hung up coats when we arrived. My aunt had a pot of chili on, and we crowded her kitchen table, warming up with the good food. Everyone took quick showers, and then Gray pulled his couch out into a bed and we piled on, snuggled under blankets with our respective halves for a movie or two. I think we were all sort of tired, because Gray didn't end up going to his own bed and Logan was sleeping before the first movie was done.

~E~

In the morning we ate together, talking easily, and I felt an impending loss at having to go home. I really liked Logan, and I liked him and Gray together. My cousin was a true find and I looked forward to coming back to visit. In fact everyone I'd met on this trip had been super cool, except for maybe Jon.

My aunt brought us to the repair shop, and Devyn and I put the radiator in. Once the hoses were in place, the coolant refilled, and the system burped, we were on our way home.

“That was an adventure,” Declan said in a satisfied tone as blistering heat from the now functioning heater filled the car.

“So I did all right for your gift?” I asked, teasing.

“That was perfect. Your cousin is the shit, and those guys were all cool to hang out with. I don't even like football and I had a good time. Can we come back?”

“Yeah, I'd love to. I owe Devyn, big time,” I replied.

“He was cute,” Declan said. “He's the kind of guy you just want to put in your pocket and keep.”

“Hey!”

“I wasn't talking, like, sex or anything,” he said, laughing. “I just thought he was sweet.”

“He was,” I agreed. “His boyfriend is a perfect match for him. Two cute guys, right about the same height.”

“There's two of them?” Declan asked, his voice getting louder. “Shit, did you meet him? I want to see!”

I laughed aloud. “We'll see them again. What's the big deal with seeing them?”

“Two short, adorable guys as boyfriends? Cuteness overload!” Declan replied, laughter bubbling from him.

“You're just silly,” I told him.

He put his hand over mine. “Thank you, Corby.”

“Anything for you,” I told him.

“Hmm. Yeah?”

“Stop. It's daylight. We're not pulling over to screw in the car,” I told him, giggling.

“But we will, right? We can plan this out?”

I glanced at him. “In the car?” I asked, disbelieving.

“Well, no,” he admitted. “I mean sex. You're going to top me, right?”

“Um. Yeah. What do you mean by planning, though? Like, a time and place?”

“That and I have to be clean. You have to stretch my muscles down there, with your fingers and plenty of lube. Oh, that means we have to get lube.”

“What's wrong with what my mother bought?” I teased.

“Do you really want her to know?” he asked dryly. “I don't. I love that she's open and stuff, but I don't want to talk to her about you screwing my lights out.”

“Screwing your...okay, weird statement,” I said, giggling. Such a strange conversation.

“Seriously, Corb,” he said, well, seriously. “I want this to happen. You have to know what we're going to do. You have to stretch me or it'll hurt, okay?”

“No. Yeah, I mean...of course. I don't want to hurt you,” I agreed, fumbling my words.

We got back into town around noon. I brought Declan home, then headed over to my own home. It felt good to walk in the door and know I had no place else to be. Bell was on the couch with a blanket, but he looked much better. My mom was in the kitchen pouring some coffee while my dad was at the table with a sandwich.

“Hey,” I said to Bell, plopping down beside him. “How you feeling?”

“Better,” he said and smiled tentatively. “How was the trip? I mean, besides the car?”

“Fantastic. You're going to love it.” I told him about the people we'd met and all the gay guys. I phrased it 'so many gay guys, I can't remember their names' and Bell smiled widely. I told him we would go to visit and he was visibly happy to hear it.

“I wish I could have gone, so I'm glad there will be a second trip,” he said. “You, um, good with the new living arrangements?”

“Having you here full time?” I asked and he nodded. “I have no complaints, Bell.” My parents entered the room and I told the story of the car, the repair, my cousin and his boyfriend and all that jazz. After a shower I got dressed down to comfortable, stay-at-home clothes and did my promised cuddle with Bell on the couch while we watched cheesy Christmas movies.

The next day we opened gifts, had a fun breakfast with pancakes and sausage – stuff we don't usually make, in other words. We hung out with each other and played a board game. I sent Merry Christmas texts to a bunch of people, some of them the ones we'd hung out with in the Springs. We had our huge dinner in the mid-afternoon and were all on the couch in the early evening when Declan showed up.

“Hey, Babe,” I said with a grin. “I didn't know you were coming over.”

“My mom brought me,” he said. “We just came back from seeing my grandmother. Do you mind bringing me home later?”

“Not at all,” I told him. We went over to the couch, and I popped over to the tree to grab the necklace I'd bought for Declan. He opened the package and smiled widely at the sight of the chain.

“Wow. This is so nice!” he said with enthusiasm. He put it on and opened the top of his shirt, asking me how it looked.

“Sexy,” I told him with a grin.

“I thought you were getting him a pearl necklace,” Bell kidded.

“I don't waste that on my neck,” Declan said quickly, causing us all to laugh. Declan held a gift out to me and I opened the small box to find a nice silver ring with two hearts stamped on it.

“A ring? That was fast,” my mom kidded.

“Well, you know how it goes,” Declan said, smiling cheekily at her. “I liked it, so I'm putting a ring on it.”

My mother leaned over, pretending to examine it. “Well, I guess it's okay if you like his finger. If that's a cock ring, though, Corby needs to get a refund on puberty.”

I covered my face. “Jesus Christ, mom!”

“Too far?” she asked and then cackled.

Declan cleared his throat and looked at my mother sweetly. “This ring is for his finger. The cock ring wouldn't fit in the box.”

“Jesus, Declan!” I cried out, blushing and covering my face again.

“Hey, Mrs. D,” Bell said slyly. “Sounds like your little boy is hung like a horse!”

“Clydesdale,” Declan deadpanned.

“When did this become pick on me day?” I whined.

“The day you were born.” My mother cackled, and kissed my forehead before heading back toward her room.

We hung out for a bit, and I took Declan home later that evening. I kissed the fuck out of him in the car, and he rewarded me with his little drunken, swooning walk to his door. Goof.

~E~

Dec and I found more time to fool around, mostly at his place since I had a full house. January 16th Declan got his way with me, and it was fucking amazing. He was fucking amazing. He had it all planned out, and I was struck again with how different everything was between him and Maddy. The certainty that you're doing the right things with the right person is...a little stunning. I was kind of gobsmacked, in a way. Maddy had felt good, but Declan...so good. So goddamn good. For his part, he claimed it was exactly what he wanted and we did it again. I'm looking forward to that new part of our relationship, no doubt.

It did remind me of a conversation I had with Bell, though. I can recall, after having lost my virginity with Maddy, telling Bell that it hadn't been enough. I wanted more. Declan was more. Declan was...everything.

Everything I'd wanted and not realized.

Everything I'd needed and hadn't known where to find.

Everything I'd been missing, I now had.

Everything.

'The End'.