What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
Eric stopped short when he saw then and immediately ducked back out of the room. Bryan, whose face was toward the door, saw him. “Oh, shit,” he said, breaking off the kiss.
“Eric. He just saw us, then jumped back into the hall.”
Josh was suddenly panic stricken. “Oh God! What do we do?”
Bryan too was shaken but was able to respond. “We talk to Eric. I don’t know what he’s thinking, or feeling. We have to talk to him.”
Bryan climbed off the bed and went looking for Eric. He found him standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror.
“Okay, just checking my face. Ready for the movie?”
“Eric, I know you saw us. I saw you looking at us. I’m really sorry. We shouldn’t have done that. We need to talk about it. Can you come back to the bedroom so Josh can be in on this, too? Can we talk?”
Eric just looked at Bryan for a moment, a strange expression on his face that Bryan couldn’t interpret, then nodded and followed Bryan back to Josh’s room.
When they walked in, Josh was sitting on the bed, looking small and scared. He looked up at Eric, then immediately dropped his eyes.
Eric didn’t appear to want to say anything either, so Bryan decided he’d have to take the initiative. He was feeling unsettled. He didn’t know what Eric’s reaction would be to what he’d seen, but knew he could cause them a world of trouble, so there was reason for concern. He could see how worried Josh was. He could only imagine how he could be thinking this new world he’d started to construct for himself could now be collapsing in on him so suddenly. But he didn’t think Eric would do that. He’d already been in a vulnerable position with Eric and nothing bad had happened.
“Eric, can you sit on the bed? We can all talk better that way. Please?”
Eric looked at him, then at Josh, who still appeared to have pulled into himself and actually looked smaller than he had before. Eric climbed up on the bed, then scooted over so he was sitting in the middle, facing the headboard. Josh was sitting in the far corner up against the headboard where Bryan had been when Josh had kissed him. Bryan got on the bed too, sitting so the three were in a triangle facing inward at each other.
He looked at Eric. And was puzzled. He had expected Eric to be mad, or disgusted, or surprised, or guarded, or, well, something other than what he was seeing. If anything, Eric looked sad.
Bryan wasn’t sure how to start, but knew he had to. “Eric, again, I’m sorry. That was stupid, and I’m sure it made you uncomfortable. I guess I have to tell you about us, it’s the only thing I can do. We like each other a lot. We’ve grown attached to each other. Josh is really kind and saved me when I really needed it and he’s the cutest boy I’ve ever known and he likes me, and, well, we both just found out we were attracted to each other. We’ve been living together for a week now, and our feelings have gotten a little stronger. We began kissing each other goodnight a couple days ago, and we wanted to do that before you came back to the room. I’m really sorry you saw that, because it must make you feel really funny.”
Eric was watching him closely when he was talking, but when Bryan stopped, he dropped his eyes. He didn’t say anything.
“Josh, do you want to tell Eric anything? Say anything?”
Josh looked up. He looked scared, and didn’t have the glow he’d been wearing the last two days. He looked numb, and just shook his head no at Bryan.
Bryan waited, but neither boy spoke.
“Eric, can you tell me what you’re feeling? I hate it that we made you uncomfortable. I want us all to be friends. What are you thinking? We need to talk about this.”
Eric wasn’t a bashful boy. He was sorting out his feelings, his reaction. He’d been shocked, seeing them kiss, and had been thinking about what it meant. And he’d grown almost despondent.
Finally he spoke. “I’m not mad or anything. But I’m not comfortable telling you what I’m feeling.”
“Eric, I’d like to know, but I think Josh needs to know. We want to be friends with you. Friends can trust each other. I know I can trust you. You proved it to me. Can you trust me? Us? If what we did, what you saw, really bothered you a lot, you wouldn’t be sitting here with us. You would have got dressed and said you wanted to go home. That tells me something. But if you can talk to us, it’ll be better. Why can’t you talk about it?”
Eric was silent, gathering his thoughts. Finally he sighed. “You’re right, it does come down to trust, doesn’t it? It’s difficult. We all want everyone to like us. We all need friends. Yet we all have things to hide. Things we think, if anyone knows about them, they won’t like us. You wanted to be friends with me, but you were hiding the way you felt about Josh. He was hiding it, too. You only told me because I found out. You didn’t think I’d like you if I found out. But now, you’re asking me to tell you things I want to hide. I want to be friends with both of you. I like you guys. I loved spending the afternoon and evening with you. This is the best time I’ve had in about forever. We were all together, all buddies, best buddies, and I don’t ever have that.
“But when you were kissing, I suddenly felt left out. All of a sudden, I didn’t think we could all be friends, because it seemed you two would always be closer and I’d be outside of that. Just like always.
“I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is with me. I’m never the one that’s the best friend, even the real close friend. I want that so badly, and I thought, today, with us together, maybe, finally, I could be that. I thought maybe the three of us could be best friends. And then I saw we couldn’t be. Not as equals.
“Telling you this, it makes me sound weak and needy and like a little kid wanting to play with the other little kids, not at all like the person I try to be. I didn’t want you to know I’m like that, that I need friends and how much it hurts that I don’t really have any close ones.”
There was sadness in his voice, but some fear as well. He looked up at Bryan, and Bryan could see the fear in his face, fear he’d opened himself up too much. He always came across as a very confident and outgoing boy. It was hard for him to admit he wasn’t nearly as confident as he seemed. He was stripping away his façade.
Josh had been watching Eric, and as he spoke and Josh listened, some life had come back into his eyes.
“You weren’t bothered that we were kissing? That didn’t bother you at all?”
For the first time since he’d got on the bed, Eric smiled “No, Josh, that didn’t bother me at all. My first thought was, it was cute. Then, I realized what it meant for me.”
Josh felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He sat up straighter. “But Eric, we can all be really close friends. This doesn’t mean you’d be excluded from anything. Well, maybe the kissing part, but nothing else. I thought you might be disgusted that we kissed each other. I thought you’d think we were gay, and tell everyone at school that. I thought you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with us.”
Eric looked shocked. “Josh, I wouldn’t do that, tell anybody!”
“You didn’t think we were gay?”
“Actually, I didn’t even think about that. I was more concerned that what I’d been hoping for all evening wouldn’t happen. I saw you kiss, and thought I’d be left out again. Why, are you gay?”
Josh looked startled, and rather than answering, turned and looked at Bryan. Bryan answered the question with his own.
“What would you think if I said yes? Would you still want to be friends?
“Honestly? Yes. It wouldn’t bother me. I don’t care. I know who you are, Bryan, and I’m getting to know you, Josh, and you’re both great. My parents have talked to me a lot about judging people by what you really know about them as individuals and not stereotyping anyone. You’re the kind of guys I like, smart and funny and not all macho and tough and talking about getting laid and looking for fights and needing to prove they are better than anyone else like a lot of guys our age are doing. But does asking me that mean you are gay?”
Bryan looked at Josh, who wasn’t meeting his eye. He turned back to Eric. “We’ve talked about it. We’re both 14, like you. We aren’t sure. We like each other a lot. Both of us have some interest in girls, but haven’t done anything with them. We aren’t sure about being gay, we just don’t know. We might be, we might not. What we do know is we like each other. So, maybe we could be, if we only take what we feel about each other into consideration. But there’s a lot more than that to consider. We don’t know. We aren’t sure, we’re still young. Neither of us know. Neither one of us is worrying about it, either.”
Eric shifted his gaze between them. They were all silent then, just all looking at each other. Eric looked first at Bryan, then Josh, then back to Bryan. When he finally spoke, his voice was solid, no longer sad, no longer tentative. “You know, I like this. We’re talking about real stuff, stuff that matters. We’re not hiding anything. We’re being honest with each other. We’re getting to know things about who we are that we just don’t ever talk about. All day long, every day, it seems, I’m hiding things. But not now. This is so real. It means something. It matters. I like this.”
Josh looked torn, but then made a decision. “Eric, if we’re really being honest and saying what we’re feeling, let me tell you why I was so scared when you saw us kissing. For that past few years, I don’t know why, but a lot of guys have been calling me gay, and then giving me a lot of trouble. By trouble, I mean sometimes I’ve been beaten up. It’s the main reason I’m at Taft now. No one there has called me anything at all, and no one’s sneered at me because I’m small and then called me gay because of it. Everyone has been nice. It’s been almost like I’m dreaming, it’s been so good, going there. I’m making friends, I’m fitting in. When you saw us kissing, I was sure all that was over. I was sure everyone would be calling me gay again. And they’d have proof this time. Now that we’ve talked, I know that won’t happen. Bryan told me we could trust you. Now I know it for myself.”
Eric could see the emotions in Josh’s eyes. He smiled his reassurance to Josh and to acknowledge his thanks for telling him about his past troubles. Then, looking at Josh still, he said, “Can I ask you another question?”
Josh answered. “Yeah. Go ahead. We want to be friends, Eric. Friends can ask anything.”
“Okay. You don’t have to answer. But, well, have you done anything other than kiss?”
Josh looked shocked. He hadn’t expected that. Bryan, always the more vocal of the two, answered for him. “Why are you asking? Are you horny?” Then he laughed.
Eric blushed. “I guess it really isn’t any of my business, is it? It’s just the way we were being so honest and open, I thought I’d just ask what was on my mind. I was curious.”
“You were just talking about hiding things. We all do that. Josh and I were talking about jerking off the other day. He was saying the same thing, that he’d never even talked about it before. Talking about some things feels really uncomfortable. If I answered your question and said no, you’d wonder, well, why not, and then you’d wonder, is he lying, and if I said yes, you’d wonder, what have they done, and are they going to ask me to do it too, and, well, it takes us where I don’t want to go and maybe you don’t, either. It’s the sort of thing that maybe gets answered by itself as we get to know each other better.”
Josh looked at Bryan, an awed expression on his face. “How did you think to say that? What a great answer!”
Eric looked at him, then broke out laughing. The other two boys did too, Bryan at Josh’s open, innocent shock and amazement, and then Josh because the others were, and the ice was broken.
Bryan was the first to speak. “Eric, this is great. I love it that Josh invited you over. I love it you’re here. I want you to come a lot more.” Then he looked at Josh. “I guess it isn’t my place to say that, is it? I feel so comfortable, like this is home now, I keep forgetting. I’m sorry, Josh.”
Josh frowned at him. “I keep telling this is your home now. You need to think of it that way. I don’t ever want you to leave, Bryan. I want Eric to come over a lot too. We’re going to run every day after school. Eric, if you want to run with us, we want you to do that. We want you to be our best friend.”
Eric again looked back and forth between them, then put up both hands, palms out. Josh hesitated, but Bryan immediately reached forward and gave him a high five. When Josh saw what was expected, he followed suit. Then Josh looked at Bryan, and the two of them high fived each other.
Then they all grinned.
----  ----
When Josh had put the movie in the machine and the other two were propped against the headboard, Josh turned off the overhead light and climbed onto the bed so that Eric was in the middle. They were all in their boxers. Eric turned and looked at Josh.
“Uh, would you rather be next to Bryan? I’m not in the way, am I?”
“Absolutely not. If I had wanted to, I would have crawled onto the other side of the bed and asked you two to move over. This is fine with me. If you don’t like it, tough.”
Josh laughed. “I’m working on being more outspoken.”
“It seems to be working.”
“I’m trying. You ready?”
They watched the movie. It was part two of Lord of the Rings. They all had seen it several times, so, lying on top of the covers, they were able to chat and critique the movie, comparing it to the book, and feel very comfortable while it was playing. Any awkwardness that had resulted from the kissing and subsequent talk had been erased, and the boys felt very close to each other. Halfway through, Bryan said he needed a bathroom break and Josh said he’d make some popcorn. They paused the movie and all got out of bed. When Josh and Bryan left the room, Eric walked over to look at what was in some of Josh’s bookcases.
Josh returned carrying a large bowl of popcorn and three cans of root beer. “I hope root beer’s okay. I’ve got lots of other stuff down stairs. I know Bryan likes root beer and I do too. Do you want something else?”
Eric was standing by one of the bookcases, his back to Josh. When he turned to face him, he had a look of awe on his face.
“Josh, you’ve got a whole bookcase full of science fiction. Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Kevin Anderson, Douglas Adams, William Gibson and more as well. This is fantastic! Have you read all these?”
Josh blushed. “I read a lot. Or I used to read a lot. Bryan doesn’t let me any more. He makes me run and practice dribbling a basketball. I dream of the good old days, just lying on my bed by myself with a book in my hand.”
“Huh,” Bryan snorted. “What was in your other hand?”
Josh looked at him a moment, a little shocked, and then a grin appeared on his face. He shot back, “Nothing, if it’s any of your business. If I was going to do that, I’d need both hands to hold the weight.”
Bryan laughed and threw a pillow at him, and Eric grabbed the bowl of popcorn before Josh could drop it.
They watched the rest of the movie. The popcorn was gone well before the movie ended.
“You guys ready for bed?” Josh asked.
“I’m beat,” Eric replied. “But if you guys want to do something else, I can stay up.”
“No, I’m ready,” said Bryan.
Josh switched out the ceiling light. Bryan got in bed first, against the wall, and Eric got in the middle. Josh slipped in beside him. They were two small and one average-sized teenagers, all of them thin. There was plenty of room. Josh switched out his bedside lamp.
After a moment, Eric said, “I want to thank you both, Josh, you for inviting me, Bryan, you for telling me about what was happening with you. And both of you for wanting to include me, and wanting to be friends. That really means a lot to me. This felt so good, watching the movie, talking about things. You guys are both great, and I really enjoyed tonight.”
Neither Josh nor Bryan spoke for a moment, but Josh finally said, “We meant what we said, Eric. We want you to hang with us. We didn’t know you didn’t have any close friends. We sort of thought you’d be too busy with friends to do much with us. I’m really happy you can be with us. I liked talking with you tonight, even if some of it made me nervous. It seems Bryan was the only one I could be really honest with about what I felt. Now, I think I can be that way with you, too. It really helps, having someone you don’t have to hide yourself with, your feelings and worries and all that.”
“I feel the same way, Eric. I had so much I was hiding, and it was amazing how I felt, telling it all to Josh. It’s one of the reasons I think we got so close so fast. Talking about what you’ve been hiding is just liberating. Being honest with someone else, even when it’s difficult, lets you get really close to them.”
Eric didn’t respond. He lay still, thinking. After more than a minute of silence, he asked in a small voice, “Can I really be honest with you guys? Really? I only said part of what I felt earlier. I’ve never talked to anyone about this. Can I really trust you guys? I want to be with you guys so bad. I’m so happy being here with you. But I’m scared.”
Bryan rolled over on his side so he was facing Eric and put his hand on Eric’s arm. “We like you, Eric. Unless you say you’re a serial killer or child rapist, I don’t think there’s anything you could say that we couldn’t talk about, or that would make us not like you. It’ll make you feel better if you tell us. It helped me. It helped Josh. Try us.”
Eric was again quiet, and then Bryan could feel him shaking. Eric suddenly rolled over and grabbed onto Bryan, hugging him hard, and he started crying.
Josh rolled over and hugged him from the back, and Bryan held him from the front. Eric’s cries turned to sobs. Both boys held him. It took some time, but eventually he began to calm down.
When his crying had stopped, Josh released him and shifted back, giving Eric room to roll onto his back. Instead, Eric remained clinging to Bryan.
“What is it, Eric? You can talk to us. You’ll feel better. You’ve got to trust us. If you have this much inside, you need to get it out. I know,” said Bryan soothingly.
Eric pulled his head away from where his face had been buried in Bryan’s shoulder. He looked up at him and said, shakily, “Bryan, I’m gay, and ever since we met at the mall that first day, I’ve had a crush on you so bad I can hardly stand it. I wasn’t sad only because I couldn’t be as good a friend to you as Josh is. I was sad because I wanted you for a boyfriend, and you’ve already got one.”
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This story may contain occasional references to minors who are or may be gay. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG (in a more enlightened time it would be rated G). If reading this type of material is illegal where you live, or if you are too young to read this type of material based on the laws where you live, or if your parents don't want you to read this type of material, or if you find this type of material morally or otherwise objectionable, or if you don’t want to be here, close your browser now. The author neither condones nor advocates the violation of any laws. If you want to be here, but aren’t supposed to be here, be careful and don't get caught!