An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho

In and Outed

Up the hill at the Skerrit house, Toby was feeling extremely edgy. He and Simon were alone n the house, though whatever was on Simon's mind just then, it certainly wouldn’t be leading to anything raunchy before Grace got in—which, by the hands on the clock on the bedside table, wouldn't be far off now.

Toby perched on the edge of his bed and took another swig from the glass of cold juice he and Simon had taken from the fridge after Simon had arrived. The room was still stuffy, as his mom turned off the room air conditioners during the day to save money when they were out. Running now, the old unit in his wall rattled away in its attempt to drop the temperature.

After depositing the half-empty glass on the bedside table, Toby stretched out on his bed invitingly—but to no avail, as Simon took the chair.

"Well?" Simon eyed him steadily.

"Well what?" Toby plumped up his pillow and wedged it under his head. "What do you want me to say? It's great Ryan turned up at your place. I can't figure why he even went into school this morning in the first place!" He tried to sound breezy, though from the determined glint in Simon's eye, Toby didn’t think he would get very far.

"This isn't about Ryan, and you know it!" Simon's eyes narrowed. He made to stand. "Do you want me to stay, or not?"

Toby glowered. Lying awkwardly on his bed as Simon put the screws on, he still didn't know what to do—and he didn't like being given the third degree like this. It was fucking unfair, and none of Si's business, anyway! It felt like he was on trial. Again. Just like it had felt five years ago. At least with Si going home first to change, Toby had expected it would give him time to decide how much he was going to say when his boyfriend arrived.

Yet here he was, still no closer as the seconds ticked by.

Simon shifted ominously in his seat and Toby sat up quickly and mumbled, "Okay, okay...." He had no idea what the fallout might be if Si carried through on his threat to walk, and he didn't care to find out. Crossing his legs, he pursed his lips to give the impression he was thinking about what to say, then took another drink to buy time...and felt miserable.

In the end, it came down to what NOT to say, but he started with, "His name was Dillon."

"Dillon?" Simon gave him an encouraging smile—apparently giving him credit for at least having the guts to come up with a name, like Toby was some kid who just figured out the seven times table. Rising up from his chair at last, Simon came to sit next to him on the bed. It felt like a good guy/bad guy routine, though Toby doubted he was being let off the hook.

"We used to live in Florida. In Sarasota." He swallowed, sensing the danger that lurked at the mention of the place.

"With your dad?" Simon ventured at once.

Toby shook his head. His dad had left them years before. He hardly ever saw him these days.

"Just me and Mom," he muttered. "Just like now."

Simon reached out and took Toby’s hand in another gesture of encouragement and squeezed Toby's mom always used to at the doctors before something painful.

Toby suddenly felt hot and emotional, though it had nothing to do with the air conditioning. He attempted to smile, trying to remember that the future still looked good, even though the past had been crap. He wondered what it would have been like—what he would have been like—if they’d still been living in Sarasota.

Back then, on the sunny Gulf coast not far from the sea, he'd been ten when he and Dillon had begun playing together. Dillon, who lived a few blocks away. Dillon, who was his best friend at school. Dillon, who had started it all by brazenly declaring that he’d decided to be gay, telling Toby that, for them to be best friends, he needed to be gay, too.

"Me and Dillon kinda hooked up, if you know what I mean."

"Hooked up?" Simon frowned. "What kind of hooked up?”

Toby held up the conjoined hands. “This kind.”

Simon's eyes widened. “How old were you?"

"Around ten."

His boyfriend—this one—seemed shocked.

"Bloody hell!" Simon muttered. "Do you really mean what I think you mean?"

Toby shrugged. It hadn't seemed a big deal at the time, and he tried to find the right words, muttering, "Dillon...errr...showed me a few things." It's not that he was ashamed of how it began, more that he'd never had to tell it to another guy before. "We were at school together. He just told me one day that he was gay."

"He said that to you? Just like that?" Simon seemed doubtful.

"Look, I don't think he really understood it much either, but he had a few dirty mags with guys in them and it kind of went from there."  Toby had been much more trusting in those days and, though it was totally new, hadn’t been freaked by the idea that his friend liked boys in that way. In fact it had excited him, and with Dillon’s encouragement, they’d experimented.

Looking back now, Dillon was what Toby could only describe as being 'unusually creative' in the bedroom—in fact anywhere that he managed to get Toby’s pants off with the intention of getting him hard. For his part, Toby discovered a LOT of things quite quickly, including how much fun sexy stuff was with someone else! Even though it was only dry back then, with eager help from Dillon he'd quickly discovered he could climax and it had felt amazing! From that point, they did it together...frequently...and that was just the start!

"Oh." Simon seemed bemused. "And that was it?"

"Pretty much."

If only you knew!

Toby knew it was crunch time. Time to decide how much to say. He could leave it at that, but then when his mom spilled even the slightest bit of it—and eventually she would once she knew about him and Simon—then who could predict what the fallout would be with Si. It wasn’t worth the risk and, feeling he didn’t have a choice, he lowered his head and went on.

"Actually, no. Not really." The deeply buried, but familiar pain twisted his stomach. He fought it, silently staring at the hand that held his until Simon became impatient with him again.


And, and, and…shit…!

Toby fought the desire to run.

"We were caught." It had been on that one terrible afternoon, when Dillon’s parents had found them messing in the bedroom at Dillon's house, and it had got nasty. Five years later, the room went still and there was a long, uncomfortable pause before either spoke. Toby fiddled with the hand he was still holding...and waited.

Finally, in a voice that sounded hesitant, Simon said. "Oh." His eyes seemed glassy, distant, as if contemplating what that might be like if it were the two of them that had faced being caught here and now.

"It was awful.” Now that he’d started, Toby forced himself to keep going. “They shouted a lot and then made me sit on a chair by myself in the sitting room while they called Mom. When she got there, they shouted at her, too, until she dragged me out and put me in the car so I couldn't hear any more. When she finally came out, she was like fucking shaking..."

"Shit..." Simon muttered, and he looked pale. Toby guessed that whatever his boyfriend had been expecting, it probably wasn't this.

You wanted to know...well this is what it is.

"And Dillon?" asked Simon. "What happened to him?"

Toby bit into his cheek until he tasted blood. Anything to stop himself shouting, or crying, or throwing something. He'd wasted enough of those things on the bastard the weeks and months after it had happened.

"Nothing that I know of. Mom said he’d told them it wasn't his fault, and that I'd been doing fucking disgusting, horrible things to him for weeks. That he'd begged, but couldn't make me stop." Toby got why Dillon was scared—he was himself—but it was a fucking horrible lie. And because he was a little older than Dillon, and Dillon could appear so convincing, was so bright and had his whole life ahead of him—which apparently Toby didn't—almost everyone seemed ready to believe him.


“I saw him a couple of times at school. He had the fucking cheek to tell me he was sorry!” His anger at the injustice caught in his throat. “He said he didn’t want to get into trouble!”

At the time, it seemed to Toby that everybody seemed to know about it. Adults talked knowingly about him, and not even behind his back! That was bad enough, but his 'friends' were not so restrained and he faced unending and severe physical and emotional bullying, in and out of school. Meanwhile Dillon swanned around and even joined in the bullying at times.

THAT was the hardest to forgive.

“In front of everyone else he was a complete bastard to me, but afterwards he said he was only keeping up appearances because of his parents, but he was sure it would blow over and he really wanted us to do some more stuff together. Shortly after, he got moved to another school, leaving me to face it all, day after day."

Finally Toby sat up and launched himself off the bed, pushing away a surprised Simon. "Fucking bastard!" The memory of it was still all too vivid. Crossing the room, he kicked the door as his fury leaked out.


He wheeled around. "WHAT?" he shouted back. It was all he could do not to tell Simon to just fucking get lost and leave him alone.

You just HAD to know didn't you. You couldn't just leave it alone!

Still sitting on the bed, cowed by what he’d uncovered, Simon looked tense. "I'm really sorry...I didn't know—"

Resentful that it had been forced out of him, Toby's look shot daggers. "Well now you do." Inside he screamed; that angry beast in danger of breaking free. He’d fought it for years and knew that if it did get loose, it would rend anything it could get hold of.

"Happy now?"

As Simon hung his head, Toby grabbed hold of the door handle, getting ready to wrench it open, but got hold of himself and tried to force the emotion back into its prison.

"Look, it's not your fault." He felt wretched, and angry. At the same time, part of him wanted to find something—someone—to blame. And now Simon wouldn't believe in him, would reject him like everyone else. Toby wouldn't blame him. He knew what it meant to stop trusting.

"What did your mum do?" Simon said.

His Mom? She was probably the most important person in his life – even more than Simon.

 “What did she do?” he growled, still holding the door. “ least not in the way you think. She knew I was telling the truth, that it wasn’t just me, and that Dillon had been the instigator. She tried to tell people that, but nobody would believe her, either.”

He remembered something of almost every day quite vividly. In the end, about six months later, he and his mom had moved, too.

Looking back, he often wondered if maybe he would have killed himself if it had gone on much longer. He’d been ashamed and confused, embarrassed and scared every day of his life during that terrible time. Up until then, they'd been happy, but as bad as he’d felt, she'd begun to look drawn and angry most of the time, too, though not at him. He could tell she was fighting battles he knew nothing of.

“We moved. We had to. It was awful.”

They'd sold up and left Sarasota behind. But during those months, and ever since, his mom had been his rock. She hadn't beaten or blamed him, or shouted and tried to make him change. She knew when he was telling the truth and when he was lying. She accepted him for who he was and he learned to tell her everything. And their lives had kept going and had gradually got better.

“Without Mom, I don’t think—” He stopped, unwilling to say more. “We came up here, moved into this place, and started again.”

And now it was back.

Again the anger surged upwards to envelop him, and he felt physically sick.

Glued to the bed until then, Simon stood. But the look on his face was too full of concern and compassion for Toby to bear.  He’d felt consumed and overwhelmed by the people of Sarasota who'd told him he was sick; a perverted kid that needed treating...or worse. Maybe they were right and it was him that was all wrong. Everything he touched became polluted.

Simon drew closer, reducing the gap between them and Toby tried to back away against the door.

Suddenly, he lashed out. “DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME!”

Simon...honest and clean. Him, full of bile and filth. It was too much. Simon froze, yet the shock on his face was easier to bear than compassion.

He didn’t deserve any compassion.

Breathing hard, Toby heard the front door and his mom's voice.

"Toby? Are you in?"

"Here, Mom." Before Simon could touch him and become dirtied, Toby dragged open the door and backed out. He faced his mom in the corridor, trembling, and she looked up without really seeing him from where she was picking through a handful of letters that had arrived in that day's post.

"Hello sweetheart," she said. “Good day at school?” Without waiting for an answer, she noticed one letter in particular, and waved it. "What do you think this is?"

Beaming, she seemed to look past Toby. "Oh, hello Simon. I didn't realize you were here."

Toby twisted to find Simon right behind him, frozen at his bedroom door, his face nervously pale.

"Well, boys." Grace chatted on, unaware of the terrible sirens that were threatening to tear Toby's head apart. "If this is what I think it is, then it'll be steak tonight!" She seemed gleeful, but he had no idea what she was talking about. She slit open the envelope, scanned the letter it contained, and then held out what seemed to be a check that had been enclosed.

"Thought so!" She grinned in delight. "It's another payment from the publisher. Steak it is!" She paused, and seemed to realize that no one else was ready to share her enthusiasm.

"Are you staying for supper, Simon?" Toby could see the enthusiasm being tempered as she frowned.

"I think I'd better go," Simon said quietly.

Grace slid the contents back into the envelope. "Are you sure? Toby's paying for it from his cut?" Despite the jest, from the way she was watching them, she seemed at last to sense something wasn't quite right.

"It's just us, Mom," Toby said. “Simon’s going.”

She put down the mail onto the sturdy but well-worn hallway table alongside her car keys, and ignored him. "Are you okay, Simon?"

"He wants to leave, Mom." Toby raised his voice. He couldn't help himself, and knew he was going into self-destruct mode.

"Boys...what’s wrong?" She put away any pretense that all was well. "Toby, what happened?" Her tone and the look in her eyes took on a hard edge and he flinched.

"It's nothing!" he ground, though his whole body language screamed the opposite. "He doesn't want to be here anymore with someone like me!"

"Toby...don’t…" From behind him, Simon's voice was pained. In front of Toby, his mom froze and her expression shifted as her eyes flicked rapidly between the two. He read it as foreboding and it all felt so inevitable.

"Maybe I'd better be off." Simon looked, and sounded both frightened and guilty as he pushed by. He kept his face turned down. "Thanks for having me," he muttered as he passed by Grace.

She stepped aside in the narrow space to let Simon pass, and he turned towards the kitchen, no doubt heading for the back door to take his bike from where he'd dropped it behind the house.

After watching Simon leave, the look on Grace's face wasn't pretty when she turned back to Toby. She bore down on him, obviously trying to restrain her anger.

"WHAT?" He scowled back. Nothing she could say would make him feel any worse than he did. Lost to his torment, he spit his words at her—at both of them—like a loaded gun. "I told him about Dillon. All of it. And now he wants to go, and we'll probably have to leave again, too." He knew he was being stupid, childish even, but he couldn't stop himself.

"That's it then, is it?” Scathing, her eyes flashed in anger. “You're just going to throw it all away?"

The overtones of her disappointment hit him hard. "You fucking don't have any idea what you're talking about!" He bit back, swearing angrily and already regretting what he'd done. He expected her to come down hard on him—it was what he deserved—yet she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing.

"Toby, out of that door has just left one of the best things that ever happened to you."

He groaned silently. If only she knew! He stood woodenly in place.

She looked at him meaningfully. "If you really care for Simon and you two want to make a go of it, then I suggest you've got very little time to get him back."

His mouth dropped. But how…?

"You knew? About me and Si?" It seemed pretty clear what she was inferring.

"Oh for heavens sake!” She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Of course I knew! I'm your mom! You think I haven't noticed the way you two have been sneaking around lately?”


“But nothing…I've never seen you so happy! And now you just plan to throw it all away because of something that happened years ago?” They could hear sounds through the open back door as Simon manhandled his bike towards the back gate.

“What about here?” she demanded. “That was then, but what about now?"

It hit him between the eyes. There were so many questions he had about what she thought about him and Simon in this way, but now wasn't the time.

“Oh shit!” He glanced around wildly, frozen by indecision. “What should I do?”

"For goodness sake!" She shook her head in frustration. “Stop swearing, and instead, try getting out there and talking to him before he goes!”

Shit, she was right. He rushed by her and turned towards the front door to try to head Simon off on the drive.

Her voice sliced after him. “And keep calm!”

Simon was already through the gate and mounting his bike, but hadn’t yet started to move before Toby got to him and grabbed hold of the handlebars. He’d had no time to think, or any idea of what he was going to say. They wrestled to control the handlebars as he tried to say the right thing.

“Stop!” he pleaded. It came out as a cry. “I messed up!”

* * *

Teetering on his bike, Simon made another attempt to push off, but Toby held on to the handlebars like a limpet.

“Stop!” Toby begged again, looking and sounding a completely different person to Simon from that of just a few moments ago. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to mind. Toby appeared overwrought and frantic as he panted, “I messed up!”

After everything Toby had said, Simon wondered why the guy was even bothering—he'd made it pretty clear that Simon wasn’t wanted! Toby had 'messed up' before—like the time he'd gone ape-shit when Simon had wandered uninvited into his home art studio.

He shook his head. “I think it’s best if I go. I’ll call you later.” Maybe he would get angry about it later, but now he was just confused and needed to get away to think. He eyed Toby with distrust. On the other hand, there was something genuine in the pitch of Toby's voice that cut through to him.

“Simon, if you have to head home, that’s fine.” Grace’s voice carried from the front porch. “But we’ve got another punnet of raspberries in the fridge. I was planning on making some smoothies.”

He and Toby stopped struggling, to turn and stare at her.


It just didn't compute, and Simon had no idea what a punnet even was! Even so, she sounded so reasonable and quite casual that you'd have thought she was completely unaware of the conflict that was raging over the handlebars.

Which in a way, she was.

“There’s plenty of ice cream to go with them, and,” she paused momentarily and waved the letter that was still in her hand, “I’m in a mood to celebrate.” Her demeanor was calm and her voice unthreatening. He'd always instinctively trusted her...yet... indecisively, his eyes flicked between her and Toby, weighing the risk.

“Toby, can you come and help me?” Grace added.

Toby looked uncertain too, and less willing to let go. Finally, not taking his eyes off Simon, he breathed, "Sure.” He stepped back slowly as if testing Simon’s resolve to hightale it out of there. Toby’s eyes remained pleading, and he added. “Please stay. I’m sorry for going off the deep end, really sorry, but I’ve got something important to tell you. Something good. Really good.”

After having said his piece, he turned back towards the front door from which he’d recently hurtled and went back up on the front porch. At the door, he paused and looked back in supplication. Then he went in.

Left alone on the short drive with nobody trying to make him do anything, Simon was even more confused. His head told him to go, but… A battered pickup roared past heading down the hill and he knew that the safest thing would be to push off down the road and follow it. Alone with the decision, he leaned on his handlebars and flexed the break handles before shaking his head and dismounting.

What tethered him was Grace. He and Toby had argued before, but that wasn't her fault and it didn't sit well with him to be rude. At the same time, maybe there would be fewer questions if he just played along, made it seem as though everything was peachy. He and Toby would have to come back to this, though.

And maybe he's faced shit you'll never have to?

What Toby had told him explained a lot of things, though Simon still felt angry at being treated like he'd just been. He still wondered if it was better to put some distance between them. At least today. 


But then again, it wouldn't do any harm just to stay a few minutes so things would be less awkward with Grace.

Feeling skittish, he wheeled his bike back through the gate and rested it once more against the railing of the raised back porch. Inside the house, he could hear voices, but it still took him a while to build up enough courage to go and open the kitchen door. When he did, the voices stopped, yet the look of relief on Toby’s face was unmistakable.

“Hello, there.” Grace still sounded relaxed and a lot more at ease than he felt, or Toby looked, for that matter. He on the other hand hadn’t felt like this edgy in the Skerrit house for a long, long time.

He stepped inside.

Grace seemed to be acting quite ‘normal’, yet he had the feeling of standing on the very edge of something cataclysmic. As she continued heaping raspberries into the blender, she asked, “Can you just reach into the fridge there and pass me out the cream carton?”

He did as he was asked and the movement brought him deeper inside the kitchen. He found the cream and brought it to her at the counter. Behind him, he felt Toby’s hand graze his backside. He flinched at the touch and moved away.

Stupid idiot! The last thing they needed was to be spotted! And after all he'd said about him and that Dillon kid!

Feeling it was safer to sit, he turned and perched at the breakfast bar. Toby came and sat, too, and they waited and watched as she made up a smoothie mix with all the stuff he liked.

Finally it was ready.

“Can I get some glasses for you?” he asked, still trying to cover a gnawing discomfort.

“Nope, I've got it.” She lifted her head and returned an easy smile. “You two just sit and enjoy.”

She seemed to want to take her time, and he watched as she dipped a finger into the mix to taste. From the look on her face, it was good. She set out three glasses on the table top in front of them and slowly poured out the viscous gunge. The slow deliberation of her preparation did nothing to ease his edgy disquiet.

“There.” She pushed a brimming pinkish smoothie in front of both of them, and dropped in a straw. ‘Now try that and tell me it doesn’t taste good!’

Tentatively, Simon pulled at the straw, and then harder as the thick contents of the glass marched up the tube. His mouth flooded with cool, rich, fruity glory.

Man! She wasn't wrong. It was heavenly! He flicked her a wan smile and allowed his anxiety to dial back. “Thanks. It’s really nice.” It made staying a few minutes worth it. He'd take his time finishing it, and then get off.

On the other hand, he could still stay a while. He glanced at Toby and offered him a conciliatory grimace. Toby had certainly gone off the deep end, but maybe rather than just taking off, he should stay and talk. They could find a bit of privacy in the tree house perhaps.

"Yep...real nice, Mom," Toby agreed. Simon could hear the tinges of relief, yet at the same time, Toby seemed on tenterhooks, fiddling with his glass as though waiting for some sign. "Mom...are you going to—"

Grace held up her hand, pausing him, though it wasn’t in a harsh way. It seemed to Simon that she seemed to be weighing them up.  Finally, she sighed.

“You mean a lot to us you know!” She reached across and ruffled Simon's hair fondly before sliding onto a stool across from them. It was an odd thing to say and do, and Simon guessed she was probably just trying to make up for her son's moody outbursts. Stirring her smoothie with a straw, she took a deep breath and said, “I hear that Toby told you about the time when we lived in Sarasota?”

His eyes popped.

Oh fucking hell!

“He ummm…well….I—” He got hold of himself. It didn't have to mean anything—Sarasota was just a place. Just like England.

 Don’t jump to conclusions

Toby had been sucking hard at his straw and swallowed quickly to make room to speak. The words came out rushed and jittery. "It's okay, she knows!”

Simon cringed. “About…ummm...Dillon?” What else could Toby mean? He squirmed and wondered why the hell Toby would have told her that Simon had just ‘apparently’ found out that her son was gay. His mind went into overdrive trying to think of the right way of saying ‘Yes, Toby told me he was gay. Honestly, it’s fine, it doesn’t bother me. We can still be friends’.

Toby shook his head. “No…us. She knows about me and you—that you're my boyfriend!” His face had become an animated ball of energy.

OH MY GOD! Simon's eyes flew wide and he stared at Toby in shock. He went cold and then hot and then cold again. He swallowed, started hyperventilating and couldn't even face catching Grace's eye.

Oh God ...he’s told her!

Sneaking a look towards the door out to the back garden, he wondered how far he might get if he made a run for it. Unable to face what had just hit him, his neck burned as he looked down to stare at the smoothie, wishing to God that he could sink into its depths.

What a fucking mistake it had been to come back in the house! This was not 'Something good—really good!'

 “Sweetheart.” As his world caved in, Grace’s voice remained gently calm, though it was nowhere near enough to get him to look up. From his shoulders upwards he was on fire!

Her hands reached into his field of view and he flinched as she laid them gently over where he was holding his glass, trapping him in place. “Simon. It’s fine. Toby isn’t exactly good at being subtle, but it’s safe here to talk about this.”

SAFE? What the hell was she talking about? Safe was the last thing he felt. He just felt sick.

"I’m really sorry.” It was all he could think to mumble and didn’t go anywhere near justifying what he was.

“Sorry?” Next to him, Toby sounded immediately put out. “Why? This is supposed to be good! And you're sorry for what? That you’re gay?”

Inside, Simon's guts lurched at the terrible indictment.

“Toby…” Grace's voice cut across Toby, soft but determined. “You’re not helping, so just stay quiet.”

At Simon's side, Toby grunted his displeasure, but acquiesced.

“Simon, sweetheart, you’ve got nothing to apologize for.” She squeezed his hands encouragingly, but his eyes remained glued to the glass. Then she tugged at him, patient but firm, and murmured, “Look at me.”

Slowly, painfully, he raised his gaze. He’d never felt so freaked out in all his life.

She held his eyes and said, “Listen to me now. It's okay. You’ve done nothing wrong.”

Wrong? If only she knew! But she did know. Shit, he was so confused. Despite the cold drink, his hands were hot and he wondered if she could feel the sweat on them.

“If Toby has told you about Dillon, then I’m assuming he’s told you that I’ve never treated him any differently because of what happened, or because he’s gay. You have to believe me in this. And if that’s how you are too, then like I said, you’re safe here. Just because you’re attracted to boys rather than girls makes no difference to me."

Attracted to boys...

His stomach lurched as, beside him, he felt Toby's eyes glued his direction.  Oh fucking hell! What the hell had the stupid bastard gone and said to her? His world was imploding. She seemed to know everything and wasn't holding back.

His expression must have been pretty readable as Toby held up his hands defensively. “Honest...not me. I never told her anything! You know what she's like—nothing much gets past her!"

Grace squeezed his hands again, getting his attention.

"Now." She appeared to study him. "Can I let go of your hands without you running for the door?" Her lips curled into a knowing smile and he wondered if she'd been reading his mind, too. She let go of his hands anyway and sat back. Whipping them to safety under the table, he eyed her carefully.

“You’re not mad?”

“Of course she’s not mad!” Bursting out again, Toby sounded irritated. “So what? We’re together. Who cares?”

Grace glanced sideways to Toby and spoke with dry humor. “Yes, Toby, thank you." She turned back to him. “Even if Toby's totally unable to keep his mouth buttoned, he’s right. Of course I’m not mad.”

Simon's eyes widened as it seemed she even found it okay to smirk! She sucked on her straw before adding, “And I’m afraid I’d already guessed."

Guessed? How could she guess?

This was all bad enough as it was, when Simon suddenly realized where another—and perhaps greater—danger lay. "You’re not going to tell my mum and dad are you?"

She pursed her lips and remained still. Long uncomfortable moments passed. Finally she began to talk. "I know. Trust me, I really understand. This is hard for you, isn't it? You feel like you're the only one."

"Hey! What about me?"

"Toby, just put a sock in it for a few minutes will you?" She fairly glared at her son this time. "You've had a lot more time to get used to talking about this with other people than Simon has!"

Again, she seemed to compose her thoughts.

"In my job as a counselor at Creek, Simon, you'd be surprised at how many young people, both guys and girls, come to me to talk, because they don't feel safe talking to anyone else—and definitely not their own family—when they're trying to make sense of same-sex attractions."

"Really?" Toby leaned forward and sounded intrigued. "Anyone I know?"

She rolled her eyes. "Is he like this at school, too?"

For the first time since it felt like he was falling into the abyss, Simon grinned. Funnily, it really helped. "Pretty much."

"And he was the best you could find?" Grace's eyes twinkled mischievously.

“Hey!” Toby pulled face. “Do you mind?”

Simon snickered and relaxed…just a little. Through that simple exchange, he found himself believing that she saw him and Toby as a good thing; something that was a special part of all three of them.

He flicked Toby a sly grin. "I got desperate!" he said, and started giggling, but reeled it in when Toby punched him.

Grace seemed satisfied. "Is it safe to say that you two are together?"

Even then, Simon paused. She waited for him. Surprisingly, so did Toby. Both seemed to feel it was somehow Simon's decision. Yet it felt SO hard to get the words out; finally admit to an adult that he was what he was—a homosexual who preferred other guys.

Dry mouthed, he managed to nod, and after a few moments relaxed a bit more when the roof didn’t fall on him. He still had lots of questions, the first being, "How did you know?"

"Yes, how DID you know," Toby demanded at once. Simon felt an arm snake around his waist and he swallowed and flushed afresh at the obviously intimate gesture.

Grace rolled her eyes as she traced the movement of her son's hand, though she didn't seem shocked. "Well, you two weren't exactly subtle! When you climbed down from the tree house just before lunch on Sunday, it was a bit obvious!"

"Oh." Simon turned bright red again. They'd had a bit of a snog, hidden—he'd thought—by the tree branches. At the time, he thought it was a good job she hadn't seen what they'd been doing up there! It made him cringe wondering now what had been going through her head during lunch!

"You asked about your parents, Simon."

He started at the reminder. The way she slid her half-full glass to one side felt ominous, and as she focused on him, he knew she was giving him her full attention.

"Please don't tell them," he muttered, feeling the panic rise again, and bit his lip. "Luke knows, but they don't. If you—"

Toby interrupted immediately and he seemed really put out. "Luke knows you're gay? That's not fair. Why didn't you tell me?" His eyes narrowed. "He's not gay, too, is he?"

Immediately, and before Simon could even consider how to answer, Grace cut across them and verbally put her foot down. "That's none of your business, Toby!"

Toby pulled a face. "I was only asking."

"Then don't." Sharp at first, her voice softened. "Boys, this is really important." She flicked her eyes to Simon and then to Toby, making sure she had his attention too, then continued, "When it comes to your sexuality, I think you know how important it is that you're able to trust the people you tell."

Out of the corner of his eye, Simon saw Toby flush and felt bad for him, but he nodded. It was true—telling anybody was a minefield!

"And," Grace added, "vice-versa if someone confides in you." She gave her son a determined stare. "You must never break those confidences or ask anyone else to."

Toby bristled. "You think I've got a big mouth now? You think I'm an idiot?" He glared at his mum, who remained passive at his outburst, though it didn't look like she planned to back down. Simon felt tense again and it crept into his voice as, hurriedly, he intervened and did what he always did: tried to keep the peace.

"Don't be daft. Your mum didn't mean that. Look, I don't know about him anyway, okay." He stroked the hand that was wrapped around his waist, trying to appease Toby with the white lie.

The fire died from Toby's eyes and he dropped his gaze. He spoke gruffly. "Sorry...I don't know what's up with me today." He detached his arm from around Simon's waist and seemed to withdraw into himself. It wasn't what Simon wanted, but then Grace was speaking again.

"It's not my place to talk to your parents, Simon. That's something you have to do. But only when you're ready. That might be soon, or it might not. Only you'll know when the right time is. All I can tell you is that, when they do find out, it's better to have it come from you rather than for them to find out accidently, or through someone else."

Simon shifted uncomfortably on the breakfast-bar stool. It didn't take much imagination to figure out what she meant by 'accidently'!

She kept her voice level as she held his eye. "What I can't do is lie. If your mom or your dad ask me outright about you and Toby, I need to be truthful with them, whatever the consequences." She paused to let it sink in. "Can we agree on that?"

Simon nodded. He didn't fully understand what it all might mean, and there was so much to take in, but his initial panic had slipped away. At last, he began to realize that there might even be a good side to this, just like Toby said. A really good side. Inside these four walls, he and Toby could be boyfriends. It was good news. He tried to share a smile with his now official boyfriend, but Toby still seemed distant.

"We'll, I'm getting hungry!" It seemed the meeting was over as Grace stood and sounded upbeat. "The offer of steak is still on if you can stay to eat?" She raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Simon glanced at Toby again, but he'd returned to his smoothie and stayed quiet. "Mum said earlier it would be okay, if it was okay with you."

"That's settled then," Grace said. "Three steaks it is!" She came around breakfast bar and whispered something into Toby's ear that Simon didn't quite catch, before giving her son a gentle kiss on the top of his head. Moments later, Simon found himself on the receiving end of a similar peck to the head.

"There are probably some things we still need to talk about," she added, "but steak first! Maybe you two can get the grill going while I run down to the store. I won't be long." She left them sitting at the breakfast bar and, from the hall, they heard the rattle of keys followed by the front door opening and closing.

After she'd gone, Simon slumped over his drink. He felt a total wreck and completely drained.

"Oh my God!!" he groaned. "That was..." Words failed him and he still couldn't decide for sure whether what had just gone down was a good thing or not! He rubbed his eyes. "I can tell you now, there's no way I'm telling Mum and Dad, whatever your mum thinks!"

Beside him, still uncharacteristically quiet, Toby slipped off his stool, and took his unfinished drink to the sink, where he left it on the side.

Simon followed him with his own glass, and leaving it on the side, too, he put his arms around Toby's middle and said, "It's good though, isn’t it?" Even to himself, he sounded doubtful.

"I guess." Toby shrugged and wasn't much help.

"You don't sound that happy."

Again Toby shrugged. "Whatever..." He disengaged Simon's arms and crossed to the door that led to the hall and the bedrooms.

Worried, Simon hurried after him, though rather than going to Toby's bedroom as he'd expected, Toby went past it to his studio. Simon followed him and stood at the doorway feeling confused, watching Toby pick at some pieces of paper on the worktop.

"What's wrong? What did I do?" It felt like Toby was pushing him away him.

Toby rounded on him. "What's wrong? Nothing. At least nothing with you. It's me that's wrong."

Simon frowned. Was this just because Grace had had a go at Toby about keeping confidences? "Stop it. You're being stupid!"

"I can't—" Toby shook his head angrily and some of the previous outburst surfaced in his eyes. "You just don't get it."

"What the hell are you talking about? Get what?" Simon ground his teeth and tried not to bite back. This was ridiculous and was spoiling everything! "Explain it to me."

Toby looked antagonistic and it felt like they were about to quarrel again as the tension rose. Glaring, he shook his head in what looked more like despair than refusal. Then he turned his eyes away.

"I don't wanna fight. Just forget it. It really doesn't matter." Toby made towards the door, meaning to brush by Simon as he tried to look upbeat. "Come on, let's get the grill on."

"It matters to me!" Simon barred the way. He hated these secrets. "Look, if there's something you don't want to tell me, that's fine, but you're just making me feel like I've done something wrong, and I don't know what."

"You?" Toby took a deep breath and his head moved from side to side. "Hell, I told you, it's not you!"

"What then?"

As if coming to a decision, Toby crossed to the battered bureau that was stuffed paintings and drawings from years gone by. Sliding open one of the drawers, he searched deep in the middle of the pile and retrieved a sheet of art paper.

Simon found himself holding his breath.

What was he doing?

Crossing to Toby, he took the paper from an outstretched hand. Puzzled, he studied the simple picture.

"Oh." It wasn't what he expected.

"I've never dared show it you before." Toby sounded apologetic, almost awkward. Studying the picture, Simon didn't blame him!

"It's the best one I ever did of you."

Simon dragged his eyes from the image. "There are more?"

"A few."


He didn't know what else to say. The picture was serene and chaste, but he still blushed. Again, he looked at the small watercolor of him sitting by a window just in his underwear; a white pair like the ones he normally wore, but done a LOT more sensually than what came out of Kmart!

"Do you like it?" Toby sounded unsure. "I did it about a year ago."

A year?

Of course the pose wasn’t done from real life, yet in it, the boy—a striking likeness to Simon—had his legs drawn up with his chin resting on his knees, smiling gently. Late afternoon sun warmed the room and gave his body a rich, tanned glow. The boy had an untainted, ageless quality about him.

"It's different," Simon allowed. And bloody sexy! Perhaps it was something about the cast of the light, or the unusual smile on his face. And the eyes. The eyes were the focus; they drew you in.

"I kind of like to paint how I feel. It's how I felt about you back then."

Simon studied the undressed boy perched on his bed with all the layers peeled away, waiting and watching. It demonstrated an uncomplicated, coy innocence wrapped around an intimate, deep-rooted sexuality. If it were displayed on a wall, Simon knew that the picture would follow him wherever he was standing in the room. And if it could speak, it would say, 'This is who I am.'

"I don't understand..." Reluctantly, he handed it back. A picture like that? No he didn't expect it to end up on the wall of his bedroom next to the boat! However, it still didn't explain what this was all about. "What's that got to do wi—"

"It's perfect." Toby interrupted. He sounded miserable as he studied the piece of artwork. "It's how you are; how you should be. But I'm just crap!" Roughly, he shoved the picture back in the drawer. "I'm just going to mess up all the time." Sidestepping Simon, he pushed out of the room.

Simon caught him at Toby's bedroom door. Grabbing at his sleeve, he spun him around. "God, what an asshole you are!"

“Leave me alone!”

Roughly, ignoring Toby's plea, Simon pushed him through the doorway and Toby stumbled backwards, backpedaling until they collapsed onto the bed. All the tension of the day: arguing that morning, being attacked by Landon and the others, Toby blowing a gasket and his mom outing them, overflowed. Simon was done with talking. He needed to kiss, and if there was time before Toby's mum came back, something else!

Lying over him, he pressed his mouth against Toby's, smothering the dissent. Toby twisted under him for a few moments before the attempts to deny Simon diminished and he groaned and his mouth opened. Simon was filled with a was sudden, powerful need to press into him and to make a lot of noise without inhibition.

Maybe it was a mistake? In retrospect he wondered if maybe he should have focused more on talking and understanding what was going on with Toby, but just then, he really didn’t care. It seemed Toby didn’t either, and Simon looked into his eyes to find the familiar fire, rekindled and beginning to burn them both. Eagerly, they ground into each other.

Suddenly, rolling them over, Toby took control as the lust in his face focused. Taking hold of Simon's tee, he wrenched it past his head. but instead of pulling the shirt off his arms as Simon had expected, Toby paused at Simon's wrists and twisted the cotton, rolling it tightly till it locked his hands together.

"What are you—" Simon started.

"Wait!" Toby's reply was heavy with lust. "Hold it!"

Knowing he'd started it, Simon did as he was told and gripped the twisted bindings. Quickly Toby pulled down Simon's shorts, though not his underwear which Simon had fully expected to come off, too. But Toby ignored them—instead he quickly pushed both his own shorts and boxers to his knees, his erection throbbed into view as he leaned over Simon. What the heck he was trying to do, Simon had no idea.

Toby pressed down on top of him, and unexpectedly he pulled at the leg band of Simon's briefs and shoved his dick inside.

Simon’s reaction was immediate and he groaned as their two shafts got squeezed together. At the same time, Toby reached past Simon's head and took a firm grip of the twisted tee, holding his arms stretched out.

Simon grunted. Locked at the hips and the hands, the sounds they were making quickly became desperate as Toby ground into him. The feeling of being helpless multiplying the experience.

He was already teetering on the edge when, with animal desperation, Toby let go of his wrists and jammed both his hands under the leg elastic and wrapped them around their two seeping shafts. Violently, he jerked them hard.

There was no time or desire for subtlety.

Simon slipped his bound wrists over Toby's head and held him tight and shouted as, inside his own briefs, they both erupted. Everything became a burst of release, and then Toby collapsed into a tangled mess on top of him.

It was a while before they moved.

Eventually, Simon's head kicked into gear and he remembered that Grace would be back soon. He was about to push the heavy weight off him, when Toby rolled off on his own accord. They twisted to face each other, though Toby's hands remained inside Simon's underpants, holding the two of them together inside a sticky mess.

As the frenzy passed, Simon felt himself relaxing. He didn’t know if it was what he’d needed—and Toby's stunt had been rather different—but it had really helped in the circumstances! The hands that held them together continued to move and he shuddered. Wrenching himself out of the twisted tee, he grabbed at them.

That was way too sensitive

Toby raised his head. The fire had gone, but also the anguish. His face glowed with an unhindered passion and the cheeky grin returned. He looked over Simon’s shoulder towards the door, and called, "Hey there!"

Before Simon had time to try to panic or figure out who it was, there was a soft thud, one he felt rather than heard, and a soft purring right next to his ear. He turned his head as Gizmo the cat nuzzled and sniffed him.

"Giz! Shit, you scared me!"

Toby's face lit up. "Hey Gizzy!" The purr became a loud rumble as Gizmo stepped onto Simon's shoulder to give Toby a lick.

His hands still wedged inside Simon’s briefs, Toby rolled back on top of him again and leaned back to get his knees under himself and sit up. Gizmo got tumbled around but held his footing by pushing his backside in Simon's face.

Spitting hair, Simon pushed at him. "Bloody hell, Gizmo! Do you mind!" Deposited back onto the sheets, the cat turned to glare his displeasure. Toby started giggling and, still leaning over the top of Simon, he pulled both his hands, and finally his boner out of Simon's underwear.

"I told you, Si," Toby sniggered, "he really likes your dick!" He wiped his messy hands on the white briefs and then peeled them back to assess the damage.

Simon was already used to the idea of displaying his arousal in front of Toby, but he drew the line at the cat, and was horrified when Gizmo seemed keen to be involved and popped his nose in for a sniff.

"Bloody hell!" he squealed at the nosey feline. "Just leave me alone!"

Toby screeched with laughter as he swept Gizmo off the bed and the poor cat was unceremoniously dumped on the floor. They watched the animal eye them primly before it stalked off. With the Gizmo gone, Simon looked at his underwear dubiously and pulled a face. "I think I'm gonna need a pair of your boxers!"

“You don’t say.” Toby studied the goo in them, too. He smirked, unabashed. “Sorry about that, I think most of that’s mine.”

Remembering what it had felt when he’d unloaded, Simon doubted it. However, while all Toby had to do was pull up his boxers and shorts, he really needed a serious clean up. Pushing Toby off, and shuffling off the bed, he helped himself to a pair of brightly colored boxers from Toby’s drawer, and with his shorts still dangling around his knees, scuttled across to the bathroom.

Two minutes later, having made good use of a washcloth and some deodorant, he was dressed and back. Toby was back in his clothes too and, other than the rather messy briefs folded carefully into Simon's pocket, you would never have guessed what they’d been up to.

“We’d better go get the grill on,” Toby said.  “Mom’ll be back soon.”

Out on the back deck, they sucked on the remains of raspberry smoothies as the old grill heated up, happy to just enjoy each other's company. It wasn't long before Grace reappeared. She was burdened with more bags than should have been needed for just a few bits of meat.

“Sorry I took a while, you two. While I was there I thought I might as well stock up with a few things.” Grace seemed to be studying Toby in particular. “Everything okay?”

‘We’re good, Mom,” Toby replied. He sounded breezy and Simon smirked to himself. It depended on how you defined good! He just hoped the undies in his pocket weren’t leaking!

She seemed satisfied.

“Good. Well, why don’t two get these cooking?“ She lifted up a sealed polythene bag. “I'll just give them a wash under the tap.”

Humungous slabs of rib-eye were supplemented with fries and a salad to the point where even Toby couldn’t force any more down. It was becoming a beautiful evening and the three of them sat out together on the back deck, following the meal with scoops of ice-cream. Simon couldn’t have felt happier as he and Toby snuggled together into a chair meant for one.

Grace finished her bowl and sat back, appearing to study them. “I think there’s something we need to talk about,” she said.

Toby was in a good mood. “Sure...shoot…” He used his finger to get the last remnants from his bowl.

She pursed her lips. “Well, boys, whether you like it or not, I think we need to talk about sex.”

Toby, having licked his fingers, was in the middle of a swig of coke. He coughed, spraying some of it over the wooden planking, and gasped, “MOM!”

“What?” She appeared unrepentant, though Simon couldn’t help turning bright red. She continued, “If you think it’s off limits to talk about ground rules, Toby Skerrit, think again!”

Simon cringed, wondering what she’d guessed—or worse—knew!

* * *

Back down the hill, at about the same time that Simon was having his world upended, Luke followed Ryan upstairs, leaving Geoff to get on with the ironing. Up in his bedroom, Ryan didn’t hang around and went straight into the bathroom. As the sound of the shower started up, Luke called through the door.

“I’ll get some fresh stuff out for you.”

“Great...thanks.” The muffled reply was short.

While he waited, Luke busied himself. Like him, Ry would probably only need boxers and a fresh tee, so he reached for a reasonable pair from his underwear drawer, and then searched for a tee shirt for Ryan that would match the black jeans. Finding a shirt for himself, too, he waited. It was a bit longer than he expected before the shower stopped and—shortly after—Ryan re-entered with a towel wrapped around his waist.

Luke pointed to the selection of clothes. “If you don’t like the shirt, just find another.”

Ryan nodded. Maybe it was just the hot water, but his eyes were definitely a little bloodshot, and it looked like he’d been crying again. Feeling low, Luke left Ryan to dress, and gathering up his own fresh pile of clothing, closed the bathroom door behind himself.

Turning the water back on, he stripped fully and took a few moments to give his dick a good examination at last. For once—probably because he had other things on his mind—he remained flaccid as he studied himself.

Even in the twenty-four hours since Ryan had snipped away the SmartKlamp, the general swelling had dissipated, though the mark where the Klamp had gripped him and where the cut had been was still inflamed. On top of it, his bulbous glans remained an irate beacon—red and aggravated by the constant rubbing.

What pained him almost as much was the rather noticeable loss in length.

Where the hell had THAT all gone?

Over the years, he’d got used to all the extra length his rather dangly foreskin had offered him. They might have teased him for his anteater, but he’d always relished in the knowledge that he had at least half an inch on any of them!

Now it could see it had only been the appearance off length.

He'd noticed it that morning with Tiberius, but had chalked the downsize to nerves. Now, he didn’t need a ruler to know that he’d definitely been dropped back a gear. With the dangling nub of skin removed and the rest skinned back up his shaft, there was no avoiding the stark reality that being circumcised put him right back in the middle of the pack.

What to do? It wasn't what he'd anticipated, but there it was. He'd just have to get used to it.

Making sure the water temperature was bearable he stepped under the shower with the wariness of the recently skinned, and took another look.

Was he a bit thicker maybe? Possibly... At least his head was nicely chunky. Lukewarm water played over his shaft and—out of nowhere—another uncomfortably tight erection swung up.

FREAKING HELL! That respite hadn’t lasted long!  At least he’d got his proper length back.

He groaned silently as his dick begged for some teenage attention. It had been more than a week, and he might even have risked trying a careful rub had Ryan not been waiting a few feet away. As it was, he washed quickly yet left the water running as he stepped out of the shower and rubbed himself dry with a towel. Spraying his armpits, he pulled on the tee and headed to Simon's room.

Smirking at his cleverness, he took his shorts and upturned wanger with him through the other door, sneaking into his brother’s room under the cover of the continued shower sounds. Next stop, his brother’s readily available underwear drawer to find a pair of something that would keep him snug.

Pulling open the second drawer down in Simon’s chest, he discovered it was empty. Frowning, he pulled open the top drawer and rifled through it, but it was just socks.

Alarmed, he went through every other drawer, too.


Oh crap…

* * *

Extract from Luke's notes:

I literally put my hands on my hips, stared down at the big red pole poking out from under my tee and wonder what the hell I was going to do!

Admittedly, I’d ‘borrowed’ a couple of pairs of Simon's briefs in the last few days, but it was in a good cause. He had plenty, so what the hell was Simon up to for him to get through so many pairs, just when I REALLY needed them to cover my excitable yet still rather tender winky? No doubt Dad was ironing plenty of them right at that very moment, but that didn’t do me any good whatsoever!

My choices were a bit limited.

Firstly, I knew I could forget going downstairs into the kitchen looking like this, just to ask Dad for a pair of Simon’s briefs. Can you imagine how that might look? Scratch that—don’t even try!

Secondly, I could tap at my bedroom door and ask Ryan to look through my drawers and pass me some boxers while trying to hide my boner at the same time. Better but not great.

Thirdly, I could always forget the boxers altogether, but with all the chaffing that that was going to involve, I quickly rated that one alongside option one.

Again I pulled open what I knew to be my brother's underwear drawer. The chest was deep and this time I stuck his hand in towards the back. With relief, I hit cotton.

Pushed right up at the back were a couple of pairs of briefs. That was more like it!

Thankful, I pulled them out and unfurled what turned out to be colorful boxer briefs with cartoon designs; Ben 10 and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—cast-offs from some silly stocking fillers from a couple of years back.

I stared at them in exasperation. Talk about aliens in underwear—what the hell planet was mum on to be even thinking about getting us getting stuff like this? Even though they WERE boxers, at least Simon was sensible enough to decide that at his age, wearing them was NOT an option!

I held up and examined both pairs, and shook my head in frustration. But what else could I do? It was either one of these, or going back to one of the other three BAD choices.

Quickly I squeezed myself into Ben 10.

I say quickly, though it wasn’t that easy. They might have fitted Simon two years ago, but suffice it to say, for me just then, they were a tad tight. He did his best poor guy, but I think poor Ben was quite shocked to find me inside him!

Peeling myself out of Ben, I then had a go at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who, in terms of the totally lurid design were NOT my first choice. I mean who wants to be caught with the word TURTLES printed on their waistband and four green weirdoes shouting ‘COWABUNGA DUDE’ out of their cracks?

The only saving grace was that nobody would see, and at least I fitted inside the four lurid superheroes just slightly more comfortably than the eye watering Ben!

It could have been worse, though I planned to make the living arrangements as temporary as possible.

* * *

Moments later, having stuffed Ben back into the drawer and feeling like he’d been sarong-wrapped around the groin, Luke returned to the bathroom, turned off the shower, waited a sensible amount of time, and then unlocked the door to his room, ready and dressed.

 Ryan was sitting on the bed. He still looked troubled.

“Sorry,” Ryan muttered. “Perhaps I should just go.”

"Go?" Luke was taken aback and frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t seem to stop fucking thinking about it.” Ryan seemed angry with himself. He stalked across the room to stare out of the window. “I keep thinking I’m over it, but…”

Luke made a fairly easy guess as to what ‘it’ was. Maybe what had happened downstairs had been a bad idea. “Dad didn’t mean—”

“It’s not that...your dad’s great,” Ryan replied quickly. “I wish mine was—” He stopped and shook his head. “I keep thinking I’m fine but then— Shit, it’s just really crap and I'm no fucking fun to be around.”

Luke hated to see Ryan like this, but at least he was talking about it.

That had to be a good thing, didn’t it?

Then he had an idea. “Hang in here—I’ll be back in a minute. Stick on some music or something.” He hurried downstairs.

Several minutes later, he was back, disappointed to see Ryan back on the bed still appearing downcast. There was no music.

“Mum said we could eat up here if we wanted.” Luke had told her they were needing to talk about some stuff. She’d got the message and seemed happy to tray-up the meals for them on this occasion.

"We don't have to go down if you don't feel like it...and," he smirked as, from behind his back, he pulled out an almost full bottle of Tequila, "I just happened to find this!"

Ryan’s eyes went wide as he sat up. “Hellfire! What’s that?”

“Tequila. I thought we could have some with dinner. I was going to grab a couple of beers from the fridge, but Mum’s cooking—so I borrowed this from the cupboard in the lounge.”

Ryan eyed the bottle in disbelief, standing for a closer look. “Borrowed? Christ—do you even drink the stuff?”

Luke studied the bottle and grinned. “Well, not really…but there’s always a first time.” They were allowed wine or a beer on special occasions, but never anything harder.

Ryan shook his head and went back to the window, leaving Luke with the feeling he’d messed up again. Then he wheeled around. Taking the bottle, he unscrewed the cap and sniffed at the contents. “I hope you’ve got some glasses?”

“Oh. You want some? You mean now?” Luke had planned to taste a bit of it with the fish pie, but that wasn’t going to be for another hour.

“Damn right! Why not?"

Luke grinned. And why not indeed? It might be a laugh! “Well, okay, maybe just to taste…and then we can have a bit more with dinner. There’s some glasses in the bathroom.” He went into the bathroom and washed out the two toothbrush tumblers.

A voice called through the door. “They’d better not have your toothpaste gob in them!” Luke grinned as Ryan joined him in the bathroom and eyed the tumblers skeptically. "You do have a certain class to you, Summers.”

Ignoring him, Luke held out the glasses while Ryan poured, loading each one with what turned out to be a bit more than 'just a taste. They stared at each other in the mirror, one fair-haired and one dark, neither looking completely sure of what they were doing.

"Come on," Ryan goaded, giving Luke one of the tumblers. "If this is your first time, then it’s gotta go down the hatch in one go!"

"Oh, shit!" Luke muttered, guessing there was no turning back as Ryan started counting. There wasn’t even time to taste it to see if he even liked the stuff!

"Three, two, one—"

On 'one' they simultaneously downed the contents in one go, and Luke hit a spluttering fit as it went down.

“FUCKING HELL ...!” He coughed and spluttered and leaned against the sink top, blinking as a not insignificant amount went down his nose. Ryan was in little better shape and their eyes watered as the heat of the liquor set their throats on fire.

“Oh my God,” Ryan groaned. “That’s really hot!”

Luke coughed again and rubbed his suddenly watery nose. “I thought you’d had it before?”

Ryan shook his head. “I’ll have another, though!”

"No way!"

Ryan held out the glass decisively. "Yes way!"

The fire had reduced to a simmer and left Luke’s mouth and throat swimming with the aftertaste of the potent drink. A little peppery at first, it was surprisingly smooth. He decided he liked it!

"Okay, one more," he agreed, lifting the bottle and pouring a little less than Ryan had. "But we’d better sip it this time!"

“Sip it?” Ryan snorted. “You have to be kidding! We’ll sip the third one. Come on…live a little!” He lifted the glass and counted once more, and Luke found himself throwing his head back and tossing the amber liquid straight down his throat a second time. He braced himself for the worst, but in fact the second wasn’t quite such a shock and he licked his lips as the flavors swirled around his mouth and down the back of his throat. In the mirror, they grinned at each other.

Ryan took the bottle and quickly filled both glasses again. “Okay…sipping from now.”

They settled comfortably in his room and Luke explored the new experience. “I think I could get used to this,” he murmured, rolling the liquor around his tongue. It wasn’t at all like he’d expected and wasn’t really affecting him like he thought it might, either.

“Mmm…me too! Cheers!” Ryan reached across the space and they snickered as they clinked their glasses like old timers. “Sorry about earlier.”

Luke guessed what he meant. “Are you okay?”

“Of course I am.” Ryan looked, and sounded, convincing. "Now what about some music?" He lurched up and snapped on the CD player. "Eva Cassidy? When did you get this?"

"I think it’s Dad's," Luke said as Ryan lifted the box on the side and studied the cover. "Do you like her?”

"Dunno…I never really listened to any of her stuff before.” Setting the CD playing and coming to stretch out on his bed, Ryan held out his hand. “Come on then. Let’s have a look at that phone.”