I didn't sleep very well that night. The fact that Ray was sleeping in the same room as me was very much in my mind for the first hour or so, as I heard him toss around in the sleeping bag and eventually settle down to sleep. It took me a lot longer than that to wind down, though. I even considered going downstairs to see if there was any pizza left and maybe make myself something to drink, but it was late and I didn't want to wake Ray up. So I stayed in my bed, lying on my side, trying to make out Ray's shape in the dark.

He was so close that I could have touched him if I'd reached down, but of course I didn't. Instead, I kept going back to the way he'd looked at me when we were jacking off, right as I was coming. The memory sent a slight, pleasant tingle up my body. Maybe that look hadn't meant anything. Or maybe it had. Should I ask him? Would he freak out? He hadn't made any attempt to come closer to me as we were jacking off. Maybe he'd just been curious.

I sighed in the dark. Even I didn't know how to feel about what had just happened. I had just admitted to myself, finally and definitely, that I liked Ray. As in, like. It was weird, but I'd sort of known it all along. I just hadn't wanted to admit it to myself. And as for what it meant in the long run... nah. I wasn't ready to think about that. Right then I was happy with the way things were. Ray was talking to me again. We were going on this trip together. And there I was finally out of high school for good.

Smiling, I closed my eyes and bunched up my pillow to be more comfortable. I wanted to keep on obsessing about what had just happened and all, but I was too tired. I drifted off into sleep with the sound of Ray's breathing nearby in my ears.

I woke up the next day with the sun in my face. With a huge yawn, I threw off the covers and groggily stood up. I had to pee.

As my brain restarted, I noticed Ray wasn't there anymore. The sleeping bag had been rolled up into a neat bundle and placed by the desk. Ray's pack was gone, too.

I went to the bathroom, wondering when Ray had left. He must have been real quiet, or woken up insanely early for me not to hear him leave. I had no memory at all of anything after falling asleep the night before.

I gave my dick a couple short shakes as I finished peeing, flushed and washed my hands in the sink. I looked at myself in the mirror: my hair was a mess, as usual when I woke up. Other than that I looked okay. A bit happier, too, and it showed. I had to grin, remembering last night's jerk off session. It had been hot.

I realized I was getting a boner yet again, but I ignored it as I dried my hands on a towel. My eyes drifted around the bathroom and settled on the laundry basket. There was Ray's T-shirt, all wadded up from last night. He'd cum all over it, I remembered suddenly.

My dick stirred. I had an idea, but I hesitated. What if Dad caught me? But the house was quiet; he had to be asleep still. Looking out into the hallway to make sure his door was still closed, I snatched Ray's T-shirt from the basket and carried it to my room like it was something I'd stolen. I closed the door behind me and locked it.

I unrolled the T-shirt, sitting down on my bed. I could see the dried-up cum stains on the gray fabric, and when I passed my finger over one of them it was all stiff to the touch. I brought the T-shirt up to my nose and sniffed it.

The T-shirt smelled like Ray, like the fragrance he usually wore, but it also smelled a bit of sweat and cum. I immediately had a hard-on poking through my pants as I sniffed, eyes closed, inhaling deeply of Ray's manly smell. With my free hand I pulled off my pajamas and grabbed my eager, stiff member. I began to stroke it with hard, fast motions, remembering the way Ray's dick had looked last night, the way his precum had glistened in the light of the monitor, and the look he had given me. The memory was so hot I couldn't help myself. I pumped my dick hard.

I was getting too close to come too fast, so I forced myself to slow down. I put Ray's T-shirt aside and stripped naked, lying down on the bed with the T-shirt nearby. Then something new occurred to me, and I used the T-shirt as a sleeve for my right hand when I grabbed my dick again. In a way, it was as if Ray were stroking my hard cock through the fabric of the shirt and the thought got me going again. I began to caress my smooth, lean chest with my other hand, lingering over the stiff knobs of my nipples. A moan escaped my lips, softly. It felt great to jack off like that, and I imagined it wasn't Ray's shirt covering my hand but his own big, strong hand grabbing my shaft and pumping it, while his other hand would stroke my nipples, my chest, my stomach...

The rough feel of the fabric rubbing against my cock and balls heightened the pleasure I was feeling. I pumped a bit harder, and the sensation was even more intense. I could feel my balls tightening up, preparing to empty their load all over me, and I knew I was getting close. I brought the wadded-up T-shirt to my nose again and sniffed it, long and deep. I found a spot with dried-up cum and, hesitating, brought my tongue out to taste it. It didn't taste like anything, all dry like that, but it got me harder all the same. It got me thinking about what Ray's cum would taste like. Or even my own. I hadn't ever tasted it, but now, suddenly, it seemed like a very good time to find out.

I remembered what I'd seen in a video once and shifted my position on the bed so my feet would be pointing at the wall. Then I lifted my legs, inched closer to the wall and rested both heels higher on the wall, climbing up, until only my upper body was still lying on the bed. In this position it looked like I was about to do a backwards handstand, but my dick was pointing right at my face. Feeling a bit awkward, I started stroking it again. A single drop of precum oozed out of my pee slit and dribbled onto my chest. I touched the spot with my left hand and brought my wet finger to my mouth. I hesitated for just a bit, then put my finger in my mouth. It didn't taste like much, but I was horny enough to not care anymore. I couldn't reach Ray's T-shirt in the position I was, but I kept thinking about him as I pumped my dick as hard as I could. I wanted to cum all over my own face. I wanted to imagine it was Ray doing it.

Very soon the wild pumping motions of my fist set me trembling with the beginning of an orgasm. I saw my balls retract a bit into my body and knew I was almost there. The head of my dick was a deep red by now, almost purple, and my entire shaft was throbbing with pent-up tension that was screaming for release. I opened my mouth and stuck my tongue out. Too late to back off now. I jerked my cock off with more savage, wild-paced motions, and I suddenly felt the hot fire of my climax race up my dick. It reached my dick head and exploded out of me in sudden, spurting loads that landed right on my face.

The first time, my cum landed on my cheek, hot and wet. The second time some cum landed on my upper lip and nose. The third spurt landed right inside my mouth. And the next one, too. I fought the urge to spit it out and swallowed. It felt a bit like syrup and tasted salty, but not bad. I licked my lip, trying to get as much of it as I could. Then I reached up to my cheek with my finger, gathered some more and put my finger in my mouth. Man, it was hot.

It was done. I'd tasted cum—and liked it. My neck hurt a bit when I lay back down on the bed, but it had been worth it. I thought about what Ray's cum would taste like. I wondered if I'd ever have his entire, thick dick in my mouth, and I grinned. I sure hoped so.

I cleaned myself up with a towel and went to the bathroom to take a shower. I made sure the water was cold so I'd hurry and also hoping it would clear my head a bit. It worked; the water was really cold and by the time I was toweling myself dry, shivering slightly, I felt ready for the day.

I went downstairs to the kitchen, which was a mess of pizza box remnants and a couple empty beer cans my dad had left. I stuffed them in the trash bin and peeked into the fridge to get something to eat. I ended up eating some fruit and a sandwich I made myself which was basically a slice of cheese on some bread. I couldn't be bothered to make anything more difficult than that.

Having eaten, I went back up to my room to check on my phone just in case Ray had texted me. No such luck. Well, he was probably asleep. I sat down in front of the computer and browsed around for a while, trying to decide what to do. I was feeling too restless to just stay in my room like I usually did, but I didn't want to leave in case Ray came calling.

I checked my e-mail: I had one new message. It was from Ms. Peters, the school counselor. I didn't even open it. The subject line was 'Let's have a last session this Monday', but I just hit delete. I didn't want to be reminded of anything depressing right then.

When I finally couldn't stand being pent up in my room, I went outside. Dad was probably still snoring loudly in his room, so I didn't wake him up to tell him I was going out. I didn't even know where I was going; I just wanted to do something.

Stepping out the front door, I looked around. The day was beautiful. As I walked to my bike, I could smell freshly cut grass from one of the neighbors' gardens. The loud buzz of a lawnmower nearby and the warm sunshine on my skin put me in summer mode right away, and I smiled. As I hopped onto my bike, I thought about the awesome prospect of not having to go back to high school ever again. I could turn over a new leaf, start again. It was an encouraging thought.

I rode around the neighborhood on my bike, saying hi to some of the neighbors as I went by. I didn't have any particular destination in mind, and I soon found out I was mostly going around in circles around our block, passing by my house every five minutes or so—and passing by Ray's house too, of course. I looked at the window on the top left of the house every time, since that was Ray's window, but it was shut and the windows covered it up. That confirmed my suspicion Ray was still asleep, even if it was almost noon.

I rode a bit faster for a while, once even going as far as the school and returning. I guessed it would make Dad happy to see I was riding my bike more, like he wanted. I had to admit it was fun, and I'd missed doing it. Without Ray riding with me, though, it started getting boring after a while.

I was riding past Ray's house for maybe the fifth time when the front door opened. I slowed down, but it was only his mom. I waved, and she only kind of nodded, then looked somewhere else. I stopped to say hi.

"Good morning, Mrs. Savage!" I yelled from my bike.

She hesitated for a bit, then said, "Hello, Jeff."

I opened my mouth to ask her whether Ray was up, but she went back inside and shut the door.

I rode off on my bike. Weird. Ray's parents had always been real nice to me, but ever since Ray had stopped talking to me they'd been kind of... distant.

I suddenly wondered if they'd heard about the things kids said about me at school. I wondered if Ray had told them or something. Even Dad had stopped going out jogging with Mr. Savage, and they'd used to do it all the time. It was like they didn't want to have anything to do with us. With me.

I shook my head. Maybe it was just my imagination, though. Maybe Ray's mom was just busy.

Or maybe not. Maybe they'd heard, and maybe they didn't want me around anymore. The thought made me feel sad. Something Ms. Peters had told me once in counseling popped into my head: anyone who doesn't accept you for who you are is not worth the trouble. I supposed it was true, and maybe, if that was the case, I could just ignore Ray's parents like they were trying to ignore me. But what if Ray went back to pretending he didn't know me again? What if last night had been only a fluke? I wasn't sure I could just ignore him back. I hadn't been able to do it all year, after all.

That got me thinking about Ms. Peters and her e-mail. She had started having these 'sessions' with me after the time someone had spray-painted FAG on my backpack and she'd seen it. That had been two months ago. Things at school had been going steadily worse for weeks, with more kids bothering me as the year went on, but that had been the last straw for her. She had stepped in and cornered me in her office that day after school. I'd had to tell her everything that had been happening, how it had been growing worse all the time, the things kids said, everything. She had been furious and told me she'd talk to the principal and my father and get things moving so this kind of incident wouldn't happen again. I'd practically died. I'd begged her not to make a big deal out of it, and especially not to tell my dad. I literally begged her. It had been tough, but in the end I convinced her to keep it between us for a while. So, instead of telling everyone, Ms. Peters had taken it upon herself to have sessions with me twice a month on Monday afternoons. I supposed it was nice of her and all, since it was her free time and she did kind of help me, but I didn't like those sessions and I didn't like the way she kept insisting I tell my dad. I'd stalled with vague promises until our last session two weeks ago. I supposed she would let it drop over the summer, but apparently she wasn't going to do that.

My good mood of earlier was vanishing, fast, and I suddenly didn't feel like riding my bike around anymore. Fifteen minutes later I headed for home, looked at Ray's window on the way past, but didn't see him. The window was open now, but his car was gone. He must have left already. As I pulled into the driveway and parked my bike, I checked my phone again. No messages from him.

I went into the house and made a beeline for my room. Dad was in the living room and said something, but I didn't answer. I wanted to be alone.

I stayed inside the rest of the day, all day, and then also the day after that, which was Sunday. It was really boring, but I couldn't think of anything else to do. Ray didn't call or anything. I supposed it was stupid of me to expect it, but our sleepover and what we had shared had been important for me. I'd assumed it would be the same for Ray, but maybe I was deluding myself. I didn't know. I brooded over it as I spent the time doing mostly nothing at the computer but playing dumb games, watching movies I'd already seen, and coming downstairs only to eat.

Monday came and went. I got another e-mail from Ms. Peters that evening, since I'd not shown up for the session, but I didn't read it either. Still no word from Ray. Dad tried to bait me out of my room once or twice offering to drive me to this Italian restaurant we both liked, but I said I wasn't hungry, which was kind of true. After the second time he didn't insist anymore.

On Tuesday afternoon, after another long boring day of doing nothing, Ray finally called. I banged my shin on the desk when I vaulted over to grab the phone as it rang.

"Hey Jeff!" he said, his voice friendly.

"Hi, Ray!"

"What's up?"

"Um, not much," I said. "How... how are you?"

"I'm good. Listen, we got our rock climbing thing at ten in the morning tomorrow. Thought I'd remind you. I was thinking you should come over around nine-thirty and I'll drive us there."

"Sure!" I practically yelled. Then, more calmly, I repeated, "I mean, sure. See you then."


He hung up.

I was beaming. He hadn't forgotten!

That evening I surprised my dad by dragging him out of the house so we'd get some hamburgers downtown. I was really chatty and I ate two hamburgers plus some fries, and my dad's fries too. When we came back to the house an hour later and I was running upstairs to my room to prepare for the next day, I heard Dad mumble something about 'unpredictable teenagers'. I said good night and obsessed for a bit about what I was going to wear the following day. Then I made myself go to sleep.

I didn't dream anything memorable, or maybe it was just that I was too nervous to dream anything. The next day I woke up at nine, saw I had forgotten to set my alarm and hurried to take a shower. By the time I was dressed and ready to go, it was already nine thirty-five.

"See you Dad!" I yelled. He had just woken up and was cradling a cup of coffee in his hands, sitting on the couch.

"Where are you going?"

I opened the door. "We have our rock climbing class at the mall, remember? It's today."


"Ray's driving me. I'll be back in a bit."

"Okay. Have fun."

I left. When I got to Ray's house, I saw he was already waiting by his car, leaning against the beaten-up Civic with his arms crossed over his chest. He was wearing a short-sleeved red shirt over a grey T-shirt and jeans. He'd actually combed his hair this time, and when he smiled at me, my heart skipped a beat.

"Hey, Jeff," he said. "What's up?"

"You look great," I blurted.

Ray blinked.

"Uh... I mean, let's go," I said quickly. "The class starts in twenty minutes."

"Sure. Let's get going."

I climbed into the passenger seat and Ray got behind the wheel. As he started the car, I realized I hadn't been in this car with him ever since last year, when he used to drive me to school from time to time.

Ray drove off, and an uncomfortable silence followed. I couldn't think of anything to say and Ray kept his eyes on the road. We drove for maybe five minutes like that. I wondered if it was because he didn't want to talk about the other night. Maybe he was uncomfortable about it. Maybe he was waiting for me to say something.

"What do you think we'll do in the class?" I asked finally. Lame, but it was all I could think of. "I've never climbed anything other than stairs before."

Ray grinned at me. "It looks pretty easy. I guess we'll be okay."

I sighed inwardly. Ray wasn't mad or anything about the other day. "Yeah. I guess. How long is the class supposed to last, do you know?"

"An hour and a half, I think. Something like that."

We were driving by the mall by then. Ray took the ramp that led to the parking lot.

"Nine fifty-four," I said, looking at my phone. "We're barely on time."

"It wasn't my fault," Ray said. "I was ready since way before you showed up."

"No you weren't."

"Yes I was!"

"I don't think so," I countered. "You're always late for everything."

"I've changed, you know," Ray said as he parked the car. "And now you're the one who's always late."


"Admit it."

"No way!"

We were only a couple minutes late for the start of the session. Three other people were taking the same intro class, and they were already strapping on their gear. A friendly instructor named Alice gave us our stuff and showed us the basics of the operation. She explained about the different routes up the massive, twenty-four-feet high metal structure that was supposed to be the wall to climb. To me it looked like a crushed-up cardboard model of a mountain that was dotted everywhere with colored tape and small protruding bits of metal. It looked cool, though, and I couldn't wait to climb.

The instructor was going on about the difficulty ratings of some of the routes when I saw Ray was looking up at the wall apprehensively.

"Nervous?" I chided him.

"Of course not," he said, eyes on the wall.

"It's practically impossible to fall off if you're careful," I said. "And even if you do, your partner has the rope."

Ray nodded. "Right."

"Unless, of course, something went wrong..." I continued, grinning. "The rope could get tangled in something, maybe. Or your foot could slip right when you're near the top."

Ray punched me lightly on the shoulder. "Shut up, Jeff. Not funny."

"I thought you were over your fear of heights?"

"I am. I think. It's just... It's so high."

I laughed so loud that I interrupted Alice in the middle of her explanation of the way to keep your balance if you slipped.

Once we had been taught how to use the equipment we were given, we were ready to go. We were told to begin at different spots on the wall in pairs and select one person to go up while the other would act as belayer. The easiest routes were marked by blue tape and they were easy to spot.

"You go up first," Ray said.

I grinned. "No way. You go."

"You're lighter than me. You go."

Eventually I made Ray go. I followed the directions of the instructor and managed the tension in the rope whenever Ray signaled, held it steady or gave him more rope as needed. It was really easy, although getting the hang of the belay device took me a few minutes. After that I almost got bored.

Ray was hesitant at first, and looked down a lot, but as he got higher up he went faster, more at ease knowing he had a rope to hold him even if he slipped. By the time he got all the way up, he was grinning, and came back down smoothly.

"That was cool!" he said. "I want to try again."

"My turn," I told him. "You get to hold the rope."

"Oh, come on! Let me try again."


Ray laughed. "Okay. Your turn. But hurry up."

"I'll do it as slowly as I can," I teased.

"Come on, we only have one hour to go," Ray said.

I smiled and prepared for the climb.

Throughout the hour, we managed to climb all the way up two more times. It was actually great fun, and sharing it with Ray made it even better. The class was over all too soon, though, and I was just getting down from my third climb when the instructor told us it was time to turn in the gear. A new batch of customers was coming in for the next class and we had to go.

"That was great, Jeff!" Ray said enthusiastically. "We got to do this again sometime."

"I agree," I said happily. "And now you can really say you've conquered your fear of heights."

"I don't have a fear of heights!"

"Not anymore you don't."

"You know how I fell off that tree when we were little. It's not my fault."

"I fell too!" I protested. "And I broke my arm, remember? You didn't."

"No, but I had to watch you wail all the way to the hospital. It left me scarred for life."

I grinned. "Yeah, right."

We were taking off our gear then, when a voice called Ray's name.

"Hey Ray! Dude, what's up?"

Ray and I both looked. Three guys were walking into the gym, and the middle one had spoken. I knew them from school; they'd all been in the track team a couple years back. Ray's friends.

"Hey Mike," Ray said, his voice changing. He sounded edgy.

The instructor came by.

"Are you done with your gear?" she asked Ray and me. I nodded. "You two did a great job today. See you soon!"

I winced. Up until then the guys hadn't even noticed me.

"Here you go," I said, giving her my stuff.

"Hey," another of the guys said. Sam, I remembered. "Isn't that Jeff the f—"

Mike elbowed Sam to shut him up. He grinned maliciously as he asked, "What's up, Ray? Did you come here with him?"

"Together?" the other guy piped in, mocking.

Ray handed in his gear. He didn't look at me. He didn't speak. He simply stormed out of the gym and I had no choice but to follow. As we left, I saw to my dismay that the three guys were following us. Ray headed straight for the parking lot and didn't turn around once.

"Hey Ray! Don't run!" Mike said.

"You're leaving your boyfriend behind!" Sam called.

By the time we got to the parking lot, the other guys had caught up. Ray almost ran to his car, with me right behind him.

"I think the date didn't go well," Sam said.

"Maybe Ray's not a good kisser," Mike suggested. The other two laughed.

"Shut up, Mike," Ray growled, stopping. He turned around to face them.

"You got to admit," Sam insisted, "this does look kind of bad, dude. It's bad rep for the team if you're seen with that little homo. You being assistant coach and all..."

"Yeah," the other guy echoed.

"Seriously, Ray, what's up with him?" Mike asked, nodding in my direction. He sounded calmer than the others but his tone was venomous. "You aren't really...?"

Ray looked at them. Then he looked at me. And in a single awful moment I knew what was coming even before he tried to laugh and said, "What the hell are you talking about, Mike?"

"What's the fag doing here?" Mike asked slowly.

"I don't know," Ray lied. "I went to the gym on my own. There he was. He got the instructor to pair us up and I couldn't shake him off."

"Ray..." I said.

"Stop it!" Ray cut in, looking right at me, "Stop following me, okay? I don't know why you're doing it but it's not cool. I can't give you a ride home. Got other things to do. Get lost!"

Then he shoved me away. Lightly, but it felt like a sledgehammer punch. I backed off, dumbstruck, and watched as Ray and the other three guys hopped into his car and drove off, laughing at me. The sound of rubber screeching echoed in the parking lot as Ray accelerated and then was gone.

I was alone.

I walked back into the mall, eyes wide, not really seeing where I was going and fighting the tears I knew were coming with every ounce of willpower I had. I wandered past the stores and the indifferent strangers coming and going, and walked out into the sunlight. No choice but to walk home.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't wrap my brain around what had just happened. My mind refused to relive the moment when Ray had looked at me and... no. Just keep walking. Come on, Jeff. Just keep walking.

The bright summer day seemed unreal. There were kids playing in a park I passed. I heard them laughing, but didn't really see them. I cut through the park automatically, knowing it would take me home faster, and still refused to think. I avoided people as I went deeper into the park. I refused to cry.

I was hungry, I realized halfway through the park. Ray and I could have gone for lunch after the class. It would have been great—

I found a tree that was secluded from view and sank down next to the trunk. The grass was cool, the slight breeze mild. My lower lip trembled and before I knew it, hot tears were running down my cheeks, burning, stinging with the memory of the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

He'd looked at me like I was no one. He'd looked at me like our friendship had never existed.

Why? Why had he done that?

I cried quietly, hiding my face in my hands.

I knew I should be angry, but I couldn't. All I felt was the devastation of that single moment, again, and again, and again. I kept crying. I lay down on the grass and hid as much as I could so nobody would see me.

His words kept echoing in my mind. Get lost, Jeff. Get lost. Get lost.

Maybe he was right. Maybe I should get lost.

The pain was a pressure in my chest that felt as if someone were squeezing, hard, and I broke out bawling, not caring if anyone heard anymore. Even Ray hated me. He hadn't really come back that day because he wanted to be friends. Nobody wanted to be friends with me.

I don't know how long I stayed there, but I wasn't hungry anymore by the time I stood up. The sun was lower in the sky, and a dull headache pounded in my forehead. I walked home, wiping my cheeks, knowing that my eyes were all red and puffy. When I got to my block, I tried not to but I couldn't stop myself from looking for Ray's car. It wasn't there. I walked up the driveway to my house. Another tear fell down my cheek and I couldn't stop it.

I reached for the door handle, but it turned before I touched it. The door swung inward.

Dad was standing on the threshold, looking right at me. I saw the look of anger he had as he saw me, mixed with surprise and sudden concern when he saw my reddened eyes. And then, overshadowing everything else, fury. I'd never seen him so angry in my life.

"Your counselor called," he said, his voice dangerously neutral. "She told me everything."

I nodded, gulping. I couldn't speak. I was afraid of what he'd do.

Dad knelt down suddenly and hugged me, hard.

I broke down again and started crying.

"I'm sorry," I managed to say, my voice muffled by his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

I didn't even know what I was sorry for. I just said it, and hugged my dad all the harder.

"Jeff," he said, and I was shocked to hear him choking up a little with emotion. "Jeff. I love you, son. You're not the one who should be sorry. But they should. And they will."



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