Flickering images on the screen turned Michael's face blue, then red, then orange, as he giggled and leaned over to grab another handful of popcorn from the box on Brian's lap. Brian twisted his head left and right, checking to see if that old-fart usher was gone, then flipped around the joint cupped in his hand and took a quick drag, and held it out to Mikey.
Michael closed his eyes and giggled again. "I'm too dizzy!" he loudly whispered.
"Shh! You are so lame, you know that?" Brian slumped further down in the theater seat, took a final drag off the end of the joint, and squashed it out under his shoe. He handed over the half-empty popcorn box. He was thinking about not eating popcorn any more; he'd read somewhere that popcorn made you fat. Or anyway, butter did, and what good was popcorn without butter?
With an appreciative sigh, Brian refocused on the theatre screen, watching Patrick Swayze twirling Jennifer Grey in circles on the dance floor. They'd seen the movie twice already, but neither was tired of it. And there was no better time to see a movie than during a weekday, when the audience was sparse and the only other people in the balcony were one or two couples sitting in the highest, darkest corner seats, making out. Brian wished he could talk Mikey into skipping school more often.
Hands held loosely in his lap, Brian fought the urge to touch his dick. It was already tingling, waiting for the scene where Patrick Swayze removes his shirt; it wouldn't take much encouragement to sprout a full-blown woody. He'd remember the scene, later tonite, alone in his bed; it wouldn't be the first time he'd used that image. Without turning his head, he rolled his eyes and sneaked a peek at Mikey's lap. He was pretty sure Michael had a woody, too, though his baggie cords gave nothing away.
They hadn't exactly told each other about. . .those thoughts, and what they meant. Not in so many words. After last week, Brian thought they would talk about it, but every time he tried to sneak it into the conversation, Michael changed the subject. He remembered sitting close to Michael on the bed, peering over his shoulder at photos of Patrick Swayze in the movie magazine. He'd held his breath, scared, so scared, but daring himself to reach out his hand, touch Michael. He'd leaned back on the bed, pulling Mikey with him, slipped his hand inside and popped it out. Michael let him, Michael didn't say a word, just breathed hard, gasping and moaning. Brian had wanted to touch him like that for as long as he could remember.
When the door flew open and Mrs. Novotny burst in, they both bounced upright on the bed like twin jack-in-the-boxes. Frantically Brian had shoved Mikey's fat, slippery dick back inside his pants and jumped up, off the bed, turned to face the wall and stuck his hands in his pockets. Mikey had sat stock-still, his cheeks flushed red with guilt. But somehow, somehow, Mrs. Novotny hadn't noticed what they were doing. She was chattering loudly about what to fix for dinner, and invited Brian to stay.
"Okay," Brian agreed quickly. He loved staying for dinner. Mrs. Novotny was a great cook, and served plates heaping with food, always urging Brian to have another helping. She never called him a greedy pig, or told him how much his dinner cost.
A long time ago, when he was still a child - maybe twelve or thirteen, Brian had felt guilty for all the cooking and cleaning his mom always complained about, and offered to help her one night. He'd never forget his dad's rage, when he came stumbling home from the bar later that evening to find Brian in the kitchen washing dishes, wearing an apron his mom had tied on him. Pop had pulled Brian away from the sink so hard, he'd slammed into the refrigerator and slid to the floor. Pop screamed that Brian was a sissy! a sissy! - then ripped off the apron with one hand and started taking off his belt with the other. And then, and then. . .
FORGET IT, Brian ordered himself. FORGET IT. Pop couldn't hurt him any more. He was too big now. Almost sixteen and nearly as tall as the old man. Brian knew that if his dad tried to beat him again, he was going to fight back. Maybe Pop knew it, too, because he hadn't tried anything like that for the past few months.
Suddenly Michael gasped and grabbed Brian's arm. Here it was! Patrick Swayze was removing his shirt. Brian knew that Mikey was holding his breath, and he felt that familiar tightness in his chest, the shortness of breath, the tingling. Both exhaled loud sighs, of desire, of lust, of longing. Brian knew what he wanted to do with Patrick Swayze. And no matter if Michael wouldn't talk about it, Brian was sure he felt exactly the same. Michael liked to be kissed, he liked to be hugged, but every time Brian's hands tried to do other things, sexy things, Michael giggled nervously and pulled away.
Brian let his mind wander from the flickering movie screen. He wondered what Mikey would think, if he knew about the stuff Brian was getting up to. Would he be shocked? Would he be mad? Would he stop being Brian's best friend? He couldn't tell Michael about the men he'd been with. First there'd been the invisible men, the men in cars parked in the darkness behind the dirty-book store on Wickmore. Brian didn't know how he found the place, he'd been scared, so scared the first time. Guys sat in their cars and you went over and if they nodded, you got in, and they sucked you off. He'd done that lots of times. At least six times. And twice Brian had dared himself to walk down Liberty Avenue, the queer part of town. Guys looked at him, their eyes saying all the nasty things they wanted to do to him. The first time, he'd walked the length of Liberty Avenue and back again, with the biggest hard-on he'd ever had in his whole life. And then, when a gorgeous tall man dressed all in leather smiled and reached out a hand, touched his shoulder, Brian had turned and run, run away, run hard, all the way home.
One of the invisible parking lot men had given Brian a magazine, with pictures of naked guys doing amazing things to each other. Despite his vague daydreams, Brian really had had no idea you could do things like that. He'd hidden the magazine under his mattress; his mom would never find it, Brian stripped and remade his own bed every Saturday morning. What would Mikey say, if he showed him that magazine? Brian was afraid to find out.
The second time Brian had walked down Liberty Avenue, he was braver. He enjoyed the looks he was getting, though he avoided anyone who tried to approach him; instead, he took himself and his hard-on to the familiar darkness of the bookstore parking lot. He lounged under a pale street lamp for a few minutes, and then, answering the beckoning fingers of an invisible man in a parked car, Brian pulled open the car door and got in. His breathing quickened as he waited for the fumbling hands on his zipper.
Brian hadn't seen the second man, the man in the backseat; hadn't even realized someone else was in the car, until a hand snaked around his head from behind and clamped over his mouth. The man's other arm reached around the other side, clamped around his chest, pinioning him to the seat. He struggled, but the man was strong, strong, and held him paralyzed and helpless. "Drive!" he heard the backseat man growl, and the car lurched forward, spun its tires in the gravel of the bookstore parking lot, and pulled out onto the street.
Trying to get leverage, Brian pushed his feet against the floorboards, tried to buck his body upward, to twist away from the imprisoning hands, but he stopped cold when the backseat man theatened, "Sit still or I'll break your neck." The hand on his mouth held his jaw locked tight, he couldn't break free to bite the fingers, then the hand slipped to his neck and Brian froze, suddenly terrified. He sat still, stopped struggling. Maybe they wouldn't hurt him, if he just sat still.
"Be good and we won't hurt you," the driver said, confirming Brian's hope. Brian nodded, but then suddenly he knew, absolutely-for-sure, that they were going to kill him. Through the haze of fear clouding his brain, Brian gradually became aware that warm wet liquid was running down the inside of his jeans; he was pissing himself.
The car screeched fast through the late-night streets, turning right, then left, then right; through empty warehouse streets, then back into neighborhood streets, till Brian was totally lost.
If they didn't kill him, if they did release him, how would he ever find his way home? The car pulled into an alley, then into a driveway, and suddenly stopped with a jolt. The backseat man put his hand over Brian's mouth once more, and growled threateningly into his ear, "One word and you're a dead man, understand?"
Brian nodded. His whole body was shaking now, when the driver got out and came around, opened the passenger door, Brian could hardly scoot out of the car. When he stood up, his knees buckled, he almost fell to the ground. Backseat man grabbed him from behind and hustled him across an expanse of grassy lawn, up some steps and through the backdoor of a house. The driver preceded them, and the two men led and pushed him through the darkened building and into a living room, where a small table lamp threw shadows on the carpet.
Still holding Brian in a tight grip from behind, backseat man growled in his ear, "Are you scared? Are you scared now?"
"Y-yes," Brian agreed; he wanted to be tough, he didn't want to be a coward, but he couldn't stop shaking.
Driver turned on an overhead light, and backseat man suddenly whipped Brian around to face him.
"V-Vic!" Brian exclaimed hoarsely, "Vic!"
Vic let go and Brian's knees gave out again, he crumpled to the floor.
"It's okay, you're okay," Vic said soothingly, putting his arms around Brian and raising him to his feet. He led Brian to a chair, gently pushed him down on it, and said, "Charlie, get the boy a glass of water, would you?"
Charlie, the driver, disappeared. Brian could only stare up at Michael's uncle Vic, speechless. When Charlie returned a moment later with a glass, Brian tried to take it from his hand, but he was shaking too hard to hold it. Vic stepped forward and held the glass to his lips, while Brian gratefully gulped a big mouthful, then almost choked swallowing it.
"You're okay," Vic told him. "Nobody's going to hurt you."
Brian found his voice at last. "W-W-Why?"
Vic pulled a stool over and sat down close to Brian. "You knew I was visiting Deb this week, right?" Brian nodded; Michael had told him. Mikey loved his uncle Vic's visits.
"Charlie and I saw you tonight, strolling down Liberty Avenue, strutting like a peacock," Vic continued. "We were outside the Anvil, talking to friends. Charlie told me he'd seen you before, hanging around outside the adult bookstore parking lot. You do that a lot?"
Brian felt himself blushing but answered defiantly, "So what if I do?"
"Cocky, ain't he?" chuckled Charlie.
"Too damned cocky," Vic agreed. "You're too young for that game, Brian Kinney."
Brian sputtered, "I am not! I've done it a lot! I can take care of myself."
Vic nodded. "Like you did tonight?"
There was no answer for that. Then a thought struck Brian, and he exclaimed, "But gay guys wouldn't do something like that, why would they do that?"
"People are people, good and bad, gay and straight," Vic answered. "But that's not the point. It's not only gays who hang out at those places. 'Phobes hang out there too, sometimes."
"Homophobes," Charlie explained. "Bigots. Men so hateful they'll pick up gay guys, especially kids, and hurt them. For fun. You have no idea whose car you're getting into, at that parking lot. You absolutely have to stop doing it, do you understand?"
Suddenly Brian was angry. "You could have just TOLD me, couldn't you?" he shouted at them. "You could have just explained, not kidnapped me, and scared the shit out of me!"
Charlie laughed and pointed at Brian's jeans. "Scared the PISS out of you, don't you mean?"
Blushing red with fury, Brian jumped up, but Vic grabbed his arms, pulled Brian into a hug. Surprised, Brian let himself be hugged for a moment, then Vic pushed him gently back into the chair. "You would not have believed us, Brian. If you are honest, you'll admit that."
Brian was honest; Brian was always honest. He thought for a minute, then admitted. "Maybe not. Maybe not."
Charlie perched on the arm of Brian's chair and smiled down at him. Charlie had dark hair and eyes like black cherries. He had a wide jaw with a trace of stubble, full red lips, and dimples imbedded in each cheek. Suddenly Brian was aware of the warmth of Charlie's body, so close beside him; he could smell after-shave and beer, and a hint of clean perspiration from the shirtsleeve of the arm Charlie draped casually over the back of Brian's chair. Brian slipped his eyes sideways, and blinked as he realized that Charlie was looking back at him; Charlie's eyes were twinkling.
"Oh, no, you don't, Charlie McDougall," Vic interrupted, grabbing his friend and pulling him up off the chair.
Charlie laughed. He smiled down at Brian. "Promise to look me up, the minute you turn eighteen?" he teased. Mesmerized, Brian nodded.
Vic shook his head in mock disgust. "Come on, kid, we're taking you home. Can you sneak in with those wet pants, or does Charlie need to loan you a pair of his?"
"I can sneak in," Brian confirmed. Although he would have loved to put his legs inside a pair of Charlie McDougall's jeans.
On the ride home, Brian endured a long lecture from Vic, or Uncle Vic, as he asked Brian to call him, now that they were friends. He loved the way he could hear Uncle Vic's smile in his voice; the way Charlie kept interrupting with his own advice from the front seat. Suddenly Brian had gay friends, older friends he could talk to. Vic confirmed it. "I'll give you my number in New York," he said, "Call me - collect! - any time you need to talk, okay?"
"And Brian? Michael's not ready for the life yet, you understand?"
"The life?" A tiny thrill ran down Brian's spine. "Yeah, Uncle Vic, I know. I'll watch out for him."
"You're a good kid, Brian, a good kid. I know you're going to be a wonderful man when you grow up."
Brian swallowed the lump in his throat. Nobody ever told him he was a good kid.
A few nights later, Brian had been walking down Liberty Avenue, when he heard a familiar voice.
He turned and saw a group of men leaning on the railing outside Woody's. One of them peeled away from the rail and approached him.
"Hey, Charlie." Charlie was dressed all in black, black jeans, black tee, black leather jacket.
They slapped hands and Charlie smiled at him. "Well kid, you got the elevator-eyes down pat, don't ya?"
"You staying away from that bookstore, like me and Vic told you?"
Brian nodded. He'd stayed away, but it hadn't been easy, he was horny as hell. Seeing Charlie didn't help; he could feel his balls tighten in recognition of the guy's sexiness.
"Wish I could buy you a beer," Charlie said, "But you got a couple years to wait, right?"
Tossing his head, Brian bragged, "I drink beer now, I drink it all the time. I smoke dope, too." He hated for the guy to think he was a kid.
"Wanna come into Woody's? I'll buy you a Coke, anyway."
"Sure." Be cool, Brian reminded himself, as Charlie led the way inside the gay bar. He'd never been inside before, he didn't know what to expect. Flashing back to the pictures in his secret magazine, he almost expected to see naked men humping on the pool table. But it was just like his dad's bar inside; Brian was disappointed. Well, not quite like his dad's bar: Pictures of almost-nude men decorated the walls. Charlie led the way to a tiny table, then went to the bar to get drinks. Brian caught the eye of a guy sitting nearby, staring at him. When the guy did what Charlie had called 'elevator-eyes,' Brian almost laughed out loud. He stared back at the man, and returned the up-and-down glance.
Catching him in the act as he returned with a beer and a Coke and set them down on the table, Charlie laughed and said, "Hey, slow down, kid."
"I'm not a kid," Brian replied, then said, giving himself a year or so, "I'm seventeen."
"Oh." Charlie was surprised. "I thought you were younger. Vic warned me to stay away from you. I got quite a lecture, when he left for New York on Sunday."
"Maybe. . ." Brian hesitated, then, with a deep breath and a burst of bravado, he looked straight at Charlie and continued, "Maybe I don't want you to stay away from me."
The older man laughed. "Hmmm." Then he changed the subject, and they talked about other things, music, and movies, and motorcycles. Brian liked being there with Charlie, in a gay bar, being treated like a grown-up for just about the first time in his life. Charlie talked to him like an equal, not a kid, and Brian was aware of a current of something-else going on, under the surface of their talking and laughing.
Somehow, they ended up back at Charlie's house. The house where Brian was brought after the fake kidnapping. Charlie had a stash, and they were going to share a joint. At least, that was the reason for going there, and they did share a joint. Sitting side by side on the sofa, their bodies drew closer and closer together. Charlie's arm went around his shoulders. It was all hazy to Brian, now, until the moment that Charlie had kissed his mouth. Captured his mouth, plundered his mouth, sucked Brian's tongue and every ounce of strength out of his body through his burning, bruised lips. Soon after that they were naked, Brian had never been naked with another person before, had never imagined someone would be kissing him, licking him, over every inch of his exposed, trembling skin.
Charlie had asked permission to fuck him. Brian remembered that clearly enough, because he'd been scared, terrified really, wanting to say no-no-no, but when Charlie had smiled at him, licked two of his fingers and gently pushed them inside, down there, suddenly Brian wanted it. "Yes-yes-yes," he had breathed, begged, demanded, and in a heartbeat, Charlie was kneeling between Brian's legs, holding his dick poised to thrust inside. Charlie hesitated, then once again he smiled, and whispered softly, "Now relax, Brian. I want you to remember this. And anytime you're with somebody else, you'll always think of me."
"Huh?" Blinking, Brian looked around; the movie was over, the theatre lights had been turned on.
"Jeez, Brian, were you sleeping or what?" Mikey was standing over him, holding the empty popcorn box.
"'Course not," Brian answered, getting to his feet and moving down the row of seats toward the aisle. But his head was still full of memories, of lying naked in Charlie's bed. He wished he could tell Michael. But he knew in his heart that Vic had been right; Michael wasn't ready for stuff like that. Someday he would be. But not yet.
They stopped for rootbeer slurpees at 7-11, Brian's treat, as usual. Sometimes Michael argued with him, but it was only fair for Brian to pay for more things, Brian had a good job at McDonalds and Michael had only a paper route. The manager at McDonalds believed that Brian was already sixteen, he was much taller and looked a lot older than most boys his age. Mikey had six months on him, but he looked about twelve. It didn't help that Debbie dressed him in cords and primary-color striped shirts. Brian favored chinos and pullover cotton sweaters in dark brown and navy blue and maroon. Luckily his mom didn't care what clothes he bought, as long as she could just give him the money before school started in the fall, and didn't have to go shopping with him.
They dawdled all the way home, talking about the movie, what a great actor Patrick Swayze was, and how maybe they could go see it one more time before the theatre started a new show next week. Caught up in their discussion, they didn't notice Debbie standing on the front porch, arms crossed and looking like thunder, until it was too late. Reaching the foot of the steps, they both jumped when they heard her voice boom out, "Where the HELL have you been, Michael Novotny?"
"Um," Michael didn't answer. "Um. . ."
Bracing himself, Brian stood tall and looked Mrs. Novotny squarely in the eye. "It was my fault," he admitted, "We went to the movies. It was my idea."
"Was not!" Mikey pitched in, "I wanted to go, too."
Debbie was shaking her head at Michael. "The school called. You played hooky again! Get up to your room RIGHT NOW." Brian waited while Mikey walked slowly up the steps, head hung in shame. He knew Mikey hated disappointing his mom. Brian had been amazed to discover that Michael's mother had never spanked him. Not even once, Michael claimed; not even a smack. It was hard to believe.
When they were alone, Brian stood still, waiting to be yelled at. It wouldn't be the first time. Debbie glared at him for a few moments, then shook her head, sighed, and sat down on the stoop. She patted the cement beside her. "Come sit here a minute," she said.
"It was my fault, Mrs. Novotny," Brian repeated, as he sat next to her.
"Tell me something I don't know," she sighed. "You're a bad influence on my son, you know that?" When he said nothing, she went on, "I outta forbid him to see you any more."
Brian clenched his fists, felt his heart bang hard against his ribs, but kept his face frozen, giving nothing away.
"I won't do that, though, so don't worry." She had turned half-around on the stoop and looked intently at his face. "You know why I won't do that? Do you?"
"Because the little bugger loves you. He loves you like a brother. Doesn't he?"
Yes. Yes. "I guess," Brian replied, nonchalant, tossing his head.
"And you love him the same, don't you?"
Yes! Yes! "I guess."
"Mmm-hmm." Debbie raised her arm, and Brian couldn't stop himself from flinching, only a tiny bit, only a teensy bit, but she noticed. She said nothing, but he could see her noticing, and he felt guilty; of course he knew she wouldn't hit him.
Debbie slipped her arm around his shoulders, pulled him against her, hugged him tight. She smelled like apples and Olde English furniture polish and cinnamon. "If you love him like a brother, Brian, then you'll do something for me. For him." She pushed him a few inches away, so she could look into his eyes. "Will you do that?"
Brian cleared his throat. "What?"
"Help me watch out for him. Oh, I know you do that a lot, already. Michael's told me."
"No, I don't," he denied.
"Yeah, you do. You help him with school work, protect him from bullies; yeah, he's told me."
Brian shrugged, embarrassed. "That's nothing."
Debbie let go of the hug and wrapped her arms around her knees instead. She was wearing the most alarmingly bright orange stretch pants he had ever seen.
"It's hard for a mom to raise a son alone; Michael never had a father."
(Damned lucky, Brian thought to himself, but he didn't say it.)
"He's such a good kid, never getting in trouble, or making me worry. At least, not until - "
"Until he met me."
She nodded. "Yep, till he met you. And I could throttle you sometimes, Brian Kinney, you know that?" When he said nothing, she patted his knee. "But you're good for him too. I know you care about Michael, and I'm asking you now to help him some more. Stop playing hooky, will you do that? Because Michael NEEDS to be in school. Schoolwork is harder for him than it is for you, he can't afford to miss classes." Debbie took Brian's hand and squeezed it. "Will you do that for me? Will you do that for Michael?"
Brian hesitated. He hated to make promises. But he guessed maybe she was right, because Michael did have trouble with school work sometimes. Brian loved skipping school. He could make up the work, easy. Yet what fun was skipping school, if Mikey wasn't with him? It was like eating popcorn without butter. He sighed and said at last, grudgingly, "Okay."
"Yay!" Debbie cheered, and hugged him again. "Can you stay for dinner, honey?"
Dinner at the Novotny's was almost worth giving up playing hooky. "Did you make putenesca?" Brian asked hopefully, licking his lips.