Someday Out Of the Blue

By LittleBuddhaTW


Special thanks to Kitty (PiscesRising) from for editing!





"Try to keep the tempo driving," I instructed Cody, who was playing rhythm guitar, right before going into the opening verse of the song we were currently working on.

Cody grinned at me and nodded in reply, immediately picking up the tempo.

It was the first Sunday afternoon of our Christmas vacation. The day before, Mr. Bill had called me at Ryan's -- I had given him the number earlier, telling him he could reach me there on the weekends -- and told me that if I performed a show on New Year's Eve at the club, he'd not only give me the rest of the winter vacation off, but he'd also pay me a hundred and fifty dollars for a sixty minute set with the house band. I thought that was a pretty good deal. We would have three afternoon rehearsals before the show, and I would get Cody to practice with me as well. I gave Mr. Bill the set list I had come up with, and that was it.

So on Sunday at around noontime, Ryan dropped me off at Cody's so we could start practicing, and go over some of the songs I was going to play with the band. Playing with Cody was a lot of fun, and he was a quick learner. I thought that sometime it would be fun to perform in public with just him, an acoustic guitar and piano. I even fantasized a bit about going on a pub tour with him when we were older.

I'd always thought that life on the road would be fun, driving from place to place in an old van, crammed full of amplifiers and other equipment, staying in run-down motels, and playing the great oldies to a group of new faces every night. It certainly wasn't a way to make a good living, but it was the kind of life that would make me content. Or at least so I thought. If that meant being away from Ryan, though, assuming our relationship lasted that long, I didn't think I could handle it.

Besides the music, I was also enjoying Cody's company more and more. I felt very relaxed around him, and since he seemed to be able to figure me out so well, I didn't see the sense in trying so hard to hide myself from him. But at the same time, he never pressed me for many details about my life.

When we finished running through Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," we decided to take a break. No sooner had we sat down on the futon in Cody's room, than his mom came walking down the stairs with a tray, on which was arranged an authentic Japanese tea set -- a beautiful ceramic tea pot with four small tea cups arranged neatly around it.

That in itself wasn't odd, but the fact that she was wearing only a long, flower patterned skirt (with no top!) was. Plus she had painted what looked like Japanese calligraphy on her (fortunately not too large) breasts, making me do a double take. It didn't seem to faze Cody at all, though. Weird family! I thought.

"Thanks, mom," he said.

"Cody," she said in a very serious tone, "I told you already that my new name is 'Coral.' We mustn't forget the damage that is being done to the coral reefs in Australia."

"Sorry, Coral," he said with a slightly patronizing smile.

After nodding and giving Cody a measured look, she turned and headed back upstairs. I think I was too stunned to even comment on what had just happened. But I had already known that his mom was "different," so I just shrugged it off.

As Cody poured the tea, I asked him what the Japanese characters on the tea cups meant.

"This one," he said, pointing to the cup that he was currently pointing tea into, "means 'forbearance'."

I just nodded, not really sure if I knew what "forbearance" meant.

"The others," he continued, pointing to the other three cups in turn, "mean 'peace,' 'love,' and 'filial piety.' They are all important virtues."

"What does 'filial piety' mean?" I asked, feeling a little stupid.

"It means respect and reverence for your parents," he explained.

"What if your parent treats you like shit and would prefer it if you were just dead?" I muttered, not really meaning to say that out loud.

"Well, in the Chinese Book of Rites, Confucius said that filial piety is a two-way street. The parents have the responsibility to respect their children and carry out their duties as parents. Only then are the children obligated to be filial to their parents," he said.

"Confucius said?" I asked, chuckling. "You sound like a fortune cookie."

Cody just shrugged and blushed slightly. Feeling like I might have insulted him, I decided to quickly change the subject.

"So what are you doing for Christmas this year?" I asked him.

"We don't celebrate Christmas," he replied matter-of-factly.

"You don't celebrate Christmas?!" I asked incredulously.

Being so excited about celebrating Christmas this year, I couldn't imagine him not doing so, and not even seeming to care. I knew he wasn't Jewish or Muslim or anything, so I didn't get it. I wasn't a religious person. I wasn't even sure if I believed in God. But I still wanted to celebrate the holiday, not because of its religious connotations, but because it meant sharing a special time of the year with people I cared about. I figured that kind of thing was pretty universal.

"Nope. My mom's against the whole commercialization of religious holidays thing," he answered. "It's just like any other day around here."

"Won't that get boring, just sitting around here for two weeks?"

"Nah, I have lots of books to read and I'll play my guitar and stuff. I've also been slacking off on my meditation."

I raised an eyebrow at him.

"What?" he asked, looking slightly perplexed.

"I dunno ... I just know I'm really excited about Christmas this year. I haven't had a real Christmas since my grandmother died. I just think it's weird that you don't seem to care," I said.

"It's not that I don't care. It's just the way things are," he explained, shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, do you think you'd at least like to hang out with me, Ryan, and Ryan's brother during the break?" I asked.

"Sure, that'd be cool. I just don't wanna impose or anything," he said.

I chuckled to myself. "You sound a lot like me."

Cody just gave me a toothy grin in reply.

"Do you wanna come over today and maybe spend the night?" I asked.

"Yeah, I guess so ... if it's alright," he replied.

"I bet you'd really like Ryan's younger brother, Toby. He's really sweet ... and cute," I said, trying to imitate one of Ryan's patented winks.

Cody giggled. "What makes you think I care if he's cute?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I dunno. Just a hunch, I guess."

Cody rolled his eyes.

"Well, let me go call Ryan and make sure it's alright," I said, walking over to pick up the portable phone that was sitting on the floor next to Cody's bed.

I dialed Ryan's number, and he picked up on the third ring.


"Hey, Ry, it's me."

"Hey, Connor. You ready for me to go pick you up?" he asked.

"Well, I was wondering if it'd be okay if Cody came back with us and stayed the night tonight. You know, we talked about there being someone he should meet ..."

Ryan chuckled. "Yeah, that'd be good. I'll come pick you guys up at around three o'clock. Cody can have dinner here with us. Mom's working late tonight at the hospital, so we'll probably just order take-out or something."

"Cool beans," I said. "We'll see you then."

"Bye, babe."

"Bye, Ry."

Everything was set, and I was really hoping it would work out. I at least wanted Cody and Toby to get along and be friends. If anything else happened, that would be great too, but I figured I shouldn't press my luck. I still felt a little jealous about Toby being 'together' with someone, but I knew that was selfish of me, and I didn't think someone as great as him should be single. I wanted him to be happy, just as much as I wanted Ryan to be happy. And I knew that Cody was a really good guy.

"Okay, it's all set, Cody. Why don't you get your stuff together? Ryan will be here at around three to pick us up," I said.

"Okey-dokey," he replied, bounding up the stairs to go get his things together.

As we were sitting on the floor in the living room waiting for Ryan, Cody inched closer to me. He was wearing a pair of tattered jeans, his usual tie-dyed t-shirt, and Native American charm necklace. The light coming through the window from the bright afternoon sun reflected off his light blond hair, making him appear as though he was shrouded in a halo. He was stunningly beautiful.

"Another kiss?" he asked, his wry grin belying his cherubic face.

I blushed and nodded my head, not giving it a single thought, suddenly wanting nothing more than to taste this beautiful yet mysterious boy's lips again.

With that, Cody gently cupped the back of my head with his hand and leaned in, placing his soft lips against mine. This time, however, I felt his lips part and his tongue slip into my mouth. Rather than pulling back after this new development, as usual, my hormones got the best of me, and I kissed back, our tongues feverishly exploring the inside of each other's mouths. Cody was definitely a good kisser.

After we separated, Cody gave me a cheeky grin, but I suddenly felt guilty again. I tried to rationalize it, though, telling myself that it was "just a kiss," as Cody himself had said before. Just an expression of affection between friends. And Ryan had said that he didn't mind, right?

Promptly at three o'clock, Ryan pulled up in front of Cody's house, where Cody and I were waiting on the curb. Cody climbed in the back of the Camry with his overnight bag, and I got in the passenger side next to Ryan. After exchanging pleasantries, we were off.

As we pulled up to the McCormacks' house, I was excited to show off my boyfriend's family to Cody. I was disappointed, however, that Cody didn't appear to be nearly as thrilled as I was. When we got in the door and had taken off our shoes as per Maggie's rule (Toby constantly got yelled at for forgetting and tracking dirt all over Maggie's clean floors), Ryan directed us upstairs to his room, where Toby was already sitting on the floor in front of the television playing a video game, dressed in his usual wife-beater and white briefs. Apparently, he didn't seem to think it was necessary to put more appropriate clothes on for meeting company.

"Hey, Toby," I said, trying to get his attention. "This is my friend from jazz band at school, Cody."

Toby just grunted in reply, without breaking his eyes away from the television screen.

That certainly wasn't the response I was hoping for. I'd told him all about Cody, making sure to emphasize how cute he was, even mentioning that he was a good kisser. I didn't really know what I should say next. Fortunately, Ryan jumped in, as usual, to save the day.

"Cody, why don't you play a game with Toby?" he suggested, gently nudging Cody forward.

"Ummm ... I've never really played video games before," Cody mumbled.

In stark contrast to the bright and cheerful Cody I'd come to know, this Cody seemed pensive and unsure of himself. I wasn't quite sure what was happening, but I didn't like it. Not one bit.

"It's okay, Cody," I said, trying to reassure him. "I totally suck at video games, too. But Toby's a good teacher. It'll be fun."

Still not looking away from his game, Toby tossed the other controller in the general direction of Cody. Ryan continued nudging him forward, and eventually Cody just shrugged his shoulders, sat down on the floor next to Toby, and picked up the controller. With a sigh that let us know that he was not thrilled with the idea, Toby reset the game for two players, and Ryan proceeded to give Cody brief instructions as to how to play the game.

With that, Ryan said he was going downstairs to look through the various take-out menus they had to pick out something for dinner, and I plopped down on the bed to watch Toby and Cody go at it. Unfortunately, that's what they did ... and not with the video game. It was obvious that Cody really never had played before. Saying he totally sucked would have been putting it nicely. Instead of trying to help him, which I was hoping he would do, though, Toby began to mock Cody, and not in the friendly way that he did with me and Ryan. It sounded a lot more like the way the bullies at school picked on other kids.

The names Toby was calling him, like "dork" and "loser," were ones that I had become all too familiar with (although "hippie boy" was a new one -- I hadn't heard that one before), and it upset me to hear Toby, who I had always known to be one of the sweetest people I'd ever met, treating Cody that way. To his credit, Cody continued playing, not reacting outwardly to Toby's non-stop insults and jabs, other than occasionally furrowing his eyebrows. I was not liking this at all. And especially not at Christmas time!

This was not how my plan was supposed to work! They were supposed to get all giggly around each other, gradually inch closer together, "accidentally" brush up against each other, exchange shy grins, and then live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it wasn't happening, and I had no idea what to do about it.

Eventually, I'd had enough. Being the wimp that I was, though, instead of trying to talk to Toby, I left the room to go find Ryan. When we came back, Toby's verbal abuse had turned more physical, his insults now coupled with smacks to the back of Cody's head and flicking his ear. Cody was visibly becoming more and more upset, and it was killing me to watch this scene playing out in front of my eyes. Apart, Toby and Cody were two of the most wonderful boys I'd met, but when put together, they were both like different people -- Toby had become a bully, and Cody became sullen and withdrawn.

Ryan was obviously not pleased either, as he grabbed Toby by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Then I could hear the muffled sounds of arguing coming from the next room, although I couldn't make out the words. Cody just looked up at me with an expression of defeat. I was crushed.

"I'm sorry," I muttered, unable to think of anything else I could say. It was hard to even look him in the eyes. If it was me in his position, I probably would have high-tailed it out of there, but he just sat there, looking kind of lost, the shimmer gone from his eyes. I nervously bit my nails, waiting for Ryan to return, hopefully having sorted things out with Toby, who by now I was totally pissed at.

Finally breaking the awkward moment, Ryan came back into the room and asked me to go with him for a minute. I looked at Cody and attempted to give him a reassuring smile before going with Ryan to Toby's room, where I found Toby sitting on his bed, hugging his knees to his chest. From the expression on his face, I could tell that he was upset, although I wasn't sure if it was anger or sadness.

"I'm sorry, Connor," he muttered, without looking up at me.

"I think it's Cody you should be apologizing to," I snapped at him, surprising myself with the forcefulness of my own voice.

"I'm not apologizing to him," he snapped back.

"Well, you'd better, Toby, because you're gonna have to share your room with him tonight," Ryan jumped in, surprising me with his high-handedness. "He's spending the night, you know."

"That's what we have the guest room for, idiot," Toby said, glaring at his brother.

"Yeah, right," Ryan said sarcastically. "And with all of mom's junk in there, just how are we supposed to fold out the sofa bed?"

This wasn't looking good, but I figured that since I was the one who brought Cody here, and I was the one who wanted them to get along so badly, then this was my responsibility.

I turned to Ryan and said, "Ry, go play a game with Cody or something. I need a few minutes alone with Toby."

Ryan nodded and walked out the door, closing it softly behind him. As soon as he was gone, I walked over to the bed and sat down next to Toby, putting my arm around him. To my surprise, as soon as I did, he melted right into me.

"What's going on, Toby?" I asked gently, the anger I had been feeling before suddenly replaced with concern. "This really isn't like you. I don't even know what to say."

"It's stupid," he mumbled.

"What about that whole 'being friends' thing you lectured me about before? Aren't we supposed to tell each other what's bothering us?" I asked.

"Fine," he said, letting out a deep sigh. "I thought that it would just be us during the break, and we'd get to spend a lot of time together. I guess I just got jealous. I don't want you fixing me up with anyone. I still like you. I don't want any other boyfriend right now."

WHAT?! That certainly wasn't the response I was expecting, but then again, it did make sense. I just didn't understand why he would feel jealous of Cody ... and then I remembered the jealous feeling I myself had felt at the thought of Toby and Cody hooking up, and how I used to feel about Mikey.

"Toby, you don't have to be boyfriends with him. I just want you to try to be friends. Cody doesn't have a lot of friends, and his mom is kinda weird. I just want him to know what it's like to have friends and hang out like normal kids do, the way you and Ryan have done with me. He really is a sweet guy," I said, hoping I could convince him.

"All right," he said, although not sounding very enthusiastic. "I guess I should go apologize to him then."

"Yeah, that would be a good idea," I said, giving him a gentle squeeze.

"Will you hold me for a few minutes first?" he asked, looking up at me with his lost puppy dog expression.

I smiled. "Sure, Toby. Whatever you want."

With that, we lay down together on his bed and I spooned up behind him, wrapping my arms around him tightly. Just a couple of weeks ago, doing this with Toby would have certainly elicited a physical response from me, but surprisingly, it felt different this time. I felt like I wanted to protect him, make him feel safe. Maybe that's how Ryan felt about Toby. I'd never had a sibling before, so I wasn't sure. But at that moment, I knew that I loved Toby.

After snuggling for a few more minutes, Toby and I got up and went back into Ryan's room, where we found Ryan patiently teaching Cody how to play Tekken 5 on the Playstation. And Cody actually looked like he was having fun ... until he noticed me and Toby standing in the doorway. Then his expression became unreadable as he looked up at us.

"I'm sorry, Cody," Toby muttered.

Cody just stared at him blankly, while Toby was fidgeting nervously.

After a few awkward moments, Cody got up, walked over to Toby, and wrapped his arms around him. At first, Toby looked to be a bit taken aback, but soon returned the hug. It was very sweet.

After that, things seemed relatively "normal." Ryan ordered Thai food for dinner (which I almost gagged on because it was too spicy), and then we all crowded onto Ryan's bed to watch DVDs. I snuggled up with Ryan, and was hoping that Toby and Cody would do the same. Unfortunately, they didn't, although they were lying very close together ... much closer than they needed to be if they didn't like each other at all.

At around eleven-thirty, we all began taking turns in the shower (well, actually, Ryan and I showered together, since four people taking turns would have taken up too much time and hot water -- and no, there was no "funny business!"). When we were all finished, I was a little worried that there would be another problem regarding the sleeping arrangements, but without a word from either Ryan or myself, Toby took Cody by the arm and led him to his bedroom.

Being nosey as we were, Ryan and I pressed our ears up against the wall to see if we could hear anything coming from Toby's room, but there were no sounds. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Perhaps Cody was sleeping on the floor, although I hoped he wasn't. Even if they were going to be "just friends," I thought they could at least enjoy snuggling together. I knew from experience that it felt wonderful to snuggle with Toby.

The next morning, after freeing myself from Ryan's grip and placing a soft kiss on his forehead, I made my way down to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked out through the sliding glass door and saw Cody teaching Toby how to do T'ai Chi in the backyard ... and they were both smiling and giggling the whole time. Mission accomplished? I could only hope.

Later that afternoon, as Ryan drove Cody home, I took the opportunity to interrogate Toby about what had happened.

"So what happened last night?" I asked bluntly, sitting down on the sofa next to Toby, where he was watching Oprah on TV.

"You were right. He's nice," he replied vaguely, not moving his eyes from the television, and absentmindedly scratching his balls.

"I mean ... did anything ... you know ...?" I continued prodding him.

Finally he broke his eyes away from Oprah and looked at me with a sly grin.

"Actually," he said, pausing for dramatic effect. "Not that it's really any of your business, but we talked for a while ... and that's about it."

"No cuddling?" I asked, disappointment evident in my voice.

Toby giggled. "Maybe, sort of ..."

"Maybe, sort of?" I asked, arching an eyebrow as I continued staring at him.

"He slept with his head on my shoulder and his hand on my chest. Is that specific enough for you, Mr. Nosey?"

"Yeah, that'll do," I replied, grinning wryly at him.

Because I was normally so shy with people, sometimes it surprised me how much like an entirely different person I felt when I was with Ryan and Toby. A little like the way I felt when I was up on stage. I could have conversations with them and not stutter, I could joke with them, and basically, just act like a "normal" teenage boy. Even I wasn't so dense that I couldn't notice that this was definitely a positive change. It had even rubbed off onto how I acted around other people -- well, just Cody, actually -- but it was a start.

"So are you gonna see him again?" I asked.

"If you invite him over again," Toby replied, his attention having turned back to Oprah, who was currently chewing out some weasely-looking guy with a terrible looking beard, saying something about how he had lied to a bunch of people about some book. I wasn't really sure what that was all about, but she seemed pissed, and he looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"You mean you're not gonna call him or anything to hang out together?" I asked.

"We'll see," he replied cryptically, the faintest of grins appearing on his face.

I figured I wasn't going to get much more information out of him, so I decided to leave it at that.



Christmas Eve was even better than I could have imagined. After breakfast, I stayed in the kitchen with Maggie, helping her make cookies, while Ryan and Toby were tossing the football out in the backyard. Seeing as there was already at least an inch of snow on the ground, and more coming down, I couldn't understand why they would want to be out there like that, but they seemed to be having a blast.

I was having fun too, though, rolling the dough into little balls, placing them on the cookie sheet (well greased, of course), then flattening them down with my thumb, leaving a small indentation in the middle, and finally, putting a small dollop of jelly in the middle. This was something new for me. My grandmother had never made cookies like this before.

When the boys eventually came back in, they were both winded, covered with snow, and shivering. As they were stripping off their snow suits, I looked sympathetically at Ryan, wanting to rush over and warm my boy up. Maggie must have noticed.

"Go warm up your boy, Connor," she said with a wink. "I'll make some hot chocolate."

That was all the encouragement I needed, as I grabbed Ryan by the arm and practically dragged him upstairs to his room. After I helped him finish pulling off his wet clothes, I nudged him towards the bed and got under the covers with him, snuggling up close and rubbing my hands all over his body to warm him up, just like he had done for me that day he'd found me standing at the bus stop, shivering in the rain.

Needless to say, the rubbing became more intense, and before I knew it, Ryan had succeeded in removing my clothes as well. Feeling him lying on top of me, our warm bodies pressed tightly together, and not a stitch of clothing separating us, was enough in itself to drive me to the brink of cumming. The only thing I could do to hold myself back was to imagine the grossest thing I could think of -- which at that moment happened to be Mrs. Grashmal, the seventy-year-old school librarian, sitting astride her desk, dress pulled up over her legs, no panties on, and feverishly fingering herself with one hand, and stamping books with the other.

It worked. Not only was I back from the brink of orgasm, but my erection started to deflate as well. Fortunately, Ryan knew the cure for that, and before I knew it, he had engulfed me in his warm, wet mouth, working his tongue expertly over my cock. With a bit of awkward maneuvering (and with me accidentally nailing Ryan in the jaw with my elbow), we managed to switch ourselves into a sixty-nine position.

As I was exploring his balls with my tongue, I suddenly got the strangest urge, and without hesitation, I pushed gently down on his hips to bring his beautiful butt right in front of my face. I buried my face in his crack, enjoying the boyish, musky smell. Rather than being repulsed, which I would have thought I'd be, I was getting even more turned on (if that was possible).

Ryan apparently knew what I was up to, and wasn't opposed to the idea, as he began working even more diligently on pleasuring me. I then gently spread his cheeks apart, giving me the perfect view of his tight butt hole. For the first time, I hesitated slightly, before slowly sticking my tongue out to taste it. When I did, I not only found that it wasn't disgusting at all, but Ryan certainly liked it, which was made clear by the loud groan that escaped from his throat and the shudder that I felt go through his entire body.

With newfound confidence, I proceeded to lick at his hole with reckless abandon, while jacking on his cock with my free hand. The excitement of this newly discovered pleasure was too much for the both of us, and within just minutes, we both deposited our loads, mine in Ryan's mouth, and his all over my stomach and chest. WOW! Talk about intense!

I was sure that wasn't what Maggie had in mind when she told me to go warm Ryan up, but what she didn't know would hurt her!

The rest of the day was spent lying around the house, watching cheesy Christmas movies on television (by the way, Jim Carrey was horrid as "The Grinch"), gorging ourselves on Christmas cookies, and chatting with each other. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Christmas Eve dinner was big. The McCormacks had their big meal on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, instead having a large breakfast after opening presents on Christmas morning. Dinner that night consisted of a huge Virginia baked ham, scalloped potatoes (with oodles of cheese -- yummy!), pasta salad, asparagus, candied yams, and apple pie for dessert. I ate so much, it took me a while after eating before I could stand up from the table. From all the food that we'd eaten over the Christmas break so far (and the fact that my pants seemed a lot tighter than usual), I would have guessed that I'd put on at least several pounds. But for scrawny little 'ol me, that was probably a good thing.

Later that evening, Ryan, Toby and I all snuggled up together on Ryan's bed to watch the classic black-and-white version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which I always used to watch with my grandmother on Christmas. Apparently it was a tradition in the McCormack house as well. At eleven-thirty, Maggie came in and announced that we had to go to bed "so Santa could come." Toby and Ryan both rolled their eyes in mock indignation, but I thought it was sweet. After taking our showers, Ryan and I snuggled up, and still being stuffed from dinner, I fell right asleep in the warm embrace of my lover.

Something woke me up in the middle of the night. As I opened my eyes and looked at the digital clock next to Ryan's bed, I noticed that it was only two in the morning. Being in that place halfway between sleep and consciousness, my first thought was that it really was Santa Claus. But then I heard an unmistakable whimpering sound. Immediately, I thought Ryan was having a bad dream, but when I leaned over to check him, his breathing was normal and he was sleeping peacefully. Then I heard it again.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed a shadowy figure curled up in a ball at the foot of the bed ... and it was Toby. I'd never seen Toby cry before. He was a tough kid. I had no idea what could possibly be wrong with him, nor did I know the first thing about comforting someone who was crying. So, of course, I immediately nudged Ryan awake.

"What's wrong, babe?" he asked, only half-awake.

"Something's wrong with Toby. He's lying at the foot of the bed crying," I whispered.

Ryan sat up immediately and crawled over to Toby, wrapping him up in his arms. As soon as Ryan was holding him, Toby's whimpering turned into all out sobbing. Ryan held on to him tightly, rocking him gently back and forth and shushing him. I knew how close the two brothers were, but the tenderness and affection that Ryan was showing to his younger brother was deeply moving, and I felt myself coming close to tears. It made me wish that all these years I had had a big brother to look out for me and hold me when I was hurting.

When Toby had calmed down somewhat, Ryan guided him over to where we were sleeping and laid him down between us, where he immediately buried his face in the pillow.

"What's wrong with him?" I asked softly, touching my forehead to Ryan's as Toby lay curled up beneath us.

"He misses our dad. Last year was really hard on us, and I was kind of surprised that this year has been so much better, but I guess it just suddenly got to him. He and Dad were really close."

I could relate to that. I certainly missed my grandmother, especially at Christmas. However, I'd had six years to get over it, and they'd only had two. Things had been so happy the last few days, and then this came up all of a sudden. Both Maggie and Ryan seemed to be fine, though. But now I felt a little like I was intruding on a time when maybe they should be alone together as a family.

"Is there anything I can do?" I asked, feeling bad about not really knowing how to comfort Toby, or anyone else for that matter. How would I react if my own boyfriend suddenly broke down? Would I be able to handle that?

"Just hold him. He'll be fine in the morning when he sees what Santa brought him," Ryan said with a wink.

So with that, we both lay back down, wrapping our arms around Toby and cuddling close to him. Part of me felt like maybe I should go sleep in Toby's room, that this was a moment when Toby and Ryan should be alone together. That thought was banished from my mind, however, when Toby turned toward me and wrapped his arms around me, burying his face in my neck. I looked over at Ryan, who gave me a reassuring smile and then spooned up behind Toby and draped his arm over both of us. I kissed Toby softly on the top of the head and once again let sleep overtake me.



"Open mine first, Connor," Toby said excitedly.

I was already having the time of my life just being with the McCormacks for Christmas. I didn't really expect to be getting any gifts, except from maybe Ryan. When I opened my eyes on Christmas morning, seeing that the sun had barely appeared over the horizon, I'd figured that I was the first one awake, until I realized that both Toby and Ryan were gone from the bed.

The house was a little cold, so I slipped on a pair of Ryan's flannel pajamas and walked downstairs to find both Ryan and Toby already sitting in front of the Christmas tree, looking very much like six year olds, holding the various presents up to their ears and shaking them, trying to guess what was inside.

Unfortunately for them, Maggie's rule for Christmas morning was that they weren't allowed to wake her up until eight o'clock, and it was only six-thirty. So they paced around excitedly for an hour and a half, Toby having drunk at least three cups of coffee and stepped outside for several cigarette breaks. Ryan was a little less hyperactive, but I noticed him frequently glancing up at the clock on the kitchen wall while trying to occupy himself with the morning paper.

As soon as they heard the toilet upstairs flush, however, they both bolted up the stairs and practically dragged their mother down to the living room so they could start opening gifts. Fortunately, I had the good sense to bring the poor woman a cup of coffee, which she thanked me profusely for, before giving the two red-headed "holiday hooligans" the go ahead to start opening the gifts.

I, of course, gratefully accepted the present from Toby, noting that he did indeed appear much happier than the night before. When I opened it, I found the 4-DVD boxed set, Dream Ticket, a collection of three live Elton John concerts, as well as a fourth bonus DVD with interviews and other miscellaneous footage clips of Elton over the years. It really was a very thoughtful gift, and I loved it, but I just didn't have the heart to tell Toby that I didn't have a DVD player. The only place I'd be able to watch it would be at their house, and I didn't think they'd want to be subjected to hours upon hours of Elton John concerts.

"Thank you, Toby," I said, giving him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Open mine now," Ryan said, looking every bit as giddy as Toby, and giving me a big, toothy smile. The look on his face was so adorable, I just wanted to pounce on him and kiss him until we both passed out. Nevertheless, I restrained myself and took the box from him. After carefully unwrapping the package, I found a Panasonic DVDL S-50 portable DVD player. Those things cost almost four hundred dollars!

"So do you like it?" Ryan asked, looking at me expectantly.

"Ryan ... I ... uhhh ... I don't know what to say," I managed to stutter out. I couldn't believe that he had spent that much money on me.

"Well, I wanted to get you something more ... uhhh ... romantic," he said, blushing fiercely, "but when Toby told me what he wanted to get you, I figured this would be a little more practical."

To hell with being embarrassed in front of Maggie and Toby! I thought. I leaned forward and planted a huge kiss on his mouth, stunning both him and his mom a bit. Toby just grinned at us like a Cheshire cat.

After receiving two really great gifts, I was looking forward to watching Ryan, Toby, and Maggie open their presents. That was until Maggie placed a small stack of boxes wrapped in shiny paper next to me and told me that they were from "Santa." I really couldn't believe my eyes. I'd only known them since the beginning of the school year, and Ryan and I had only been "boyfriends" for about a month. I knew they were pretty well-off financially, but this was just a bit too much. I felt like I was being treated like royalty or something, and they seemed just as happy, or more so, than I was. I didn't get it.

I started to protest, but Maggie just gave me a look and told me to open the presents. Ryan and Toby both had excited looks on their faces. I felt really embarrassed, but at the same time, I was afraid of disappointing them. What's a guy to do?

I opened up the boxes and found several brand new outfits. Really nice outfits, too, from American Eagle and Old Navy. There was a pair of khaki cargo pants, a couple pair of jeans, several button-up shirts, a nice sweater, and a pair of pajamas (not that I really wore them when I was spending the night with Ryan -- but Maggie didn't need to know that). I knew a lot of kids hated getting clothes for Christmas, but I wasn't one of them. Clothes were something I really needed. I hated having to walk around school in the tattered old rags that were usually a size or two too small for me.

I was overwhelmed. My mouth just kept opening and closing, but words wouldn't come out. I looked at all three of them, and they all had huge matching grins on their faces. The only thing I could think of to do was give them all really big hugs.

Ryan and Toby both made out like bandits, too, which made me feel better. They both got really nice gifts from Maggie and "Santa." Toby got a brand new stereo system, a new mountain bike, and, of course, some new clothes as well. Ryan got a brand new Compaq Presario 2100 laptop computer, a lacrosse net to set up in the backyard ... and clothes. They both also got a number of DVDs, CDs, and Playstation games, and a pile of gift certificates from various relatives.

I understood why they looked so happy when I was opening my gifts, because when I saw the excited expressions on their faces as they were opening theirs, it made me happy, too. I felt bad that the only things I could afford to give them were a couple of CDs -- the Tupac single "Ghetto Gospel" for Toby (which mixed in the classic Elton John song "Indian Sunset"), and Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will for Ryan. But when they opened them, they acted like it was the best gift they had gotten all morning. I just felt embarrassed.

When it appeared that all of the presents had been opened, wrapping paper scattered all over the floor, and the space under the Christmas tree looking depressingly bare, Maggie walked over to me with a small, wrapped box.

"There's one more present for you, Connor," she said smiling. "This one's from all three of us."

I opened up the box and inside found a plain key.

I looked up at Maggie questioningly.

"It's a key to our house, honey," she said. "This is your home now, too, and I want you to always feel that you're welcome to come here whenever you want to ... or need to."

The meaning behind her last comment was not missed.

As I looked around at all of them, seeing the smiles on their faces, thinking back over the past month, and all the time that I had known them, I didn't feel like Ryan's guest anymore. Now, this was becoming ... a home.



The rest of the winter vacation seemed to go by quickly. I spent the next few days after Christmas getting ready for my New Year's Eve performance at the pub, alternating between rehearsals with the band in the afternoon, and practicing with Cody a couple more times. I didn't bring up the topic of Toby, and he didn't mention it either. I decided to just wait and see what happened, although I figured if one of them didn't call the other within the next week or so, I was probably going to have to get involved.

As with the previous two times I had hung out with Cody at his house, he asked to kiss me. And each time I couldn't bring myself to refuse. I did feel bad about kissing Cody while I was with Ryan, and especially because Toby was the one I was hoping Cody would be kissing. But when I felt his tongue swirling around in my mouth, it was hard to stop. Fortunately, he never went any further than that, or I might have been in trouble.

Both Ryan and Cody accompanied me to the pub on New Year's Eve. Maggie still wouldn't let Toby go, but fortunately the show started at ten o'clock, and would only last an hour, so we had plenty of time to get back home and welcome the New Year together. Ryan was uncharacteristically quiet during the car ride and as we walked into the pub, although he still managed to give me a few smiles. I figured he was probably missing his father a bit, like Toby, and didn't think anything else of it.

I never really got nervous before a show, but this night I was feeling a few stray butterflies flapping around in my stomach, most likely because I hadn't played with a full band in quite a long time. However, rehearsals had gone well, and I was sure that it was going to be a good show. The place was packed, far more than usual, and quite rowdy as well.

I got changed into my all-black suit, and put on a black Fedora and plain black sunglasses that I had picked up at the mall a few days earlier. When I looked in the mirror, I thought I looked a little like a cross between a jazz musician and a gangster, or maybe the "Blues Brothers." It was kind of cool. As I waited on the side of the stage, the drummer began beating out a slow rhythm, with the bass player joining in a few moments later, gradually picking up the tempo. Shortly after that, the guitarist and synthesizer player joined in with some powerful rock 'n' roll riffs, settling into a mid-tempo instrumental improvisation.

After about five minutes, they sleekly segued into the opening of Elton John's classic rocker "The Bitch is Back," and I made my entrance, acknowledging the cheers from the crowd with a wave and a slight bow, then walking over to the piano, adjusting the microphone, and immediately tearing into the song. It felt exciting and energizing to have a band backing me up, fueling the intensity of my playing. Towards the end of the song, we smoothly segued into the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," without missing a beat. By the time we were finished with our opening medley, the crowd was cheering loudly, and I was happy to see the smiling faces of Ryan and Cody right up in the front row.

After thanking the audience for coming, we started right in on the Beatles' "Come Together," and continued on with T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution," Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll," and Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." The band then took a break while I did a short solo set, consisting of my favorite country song, "He'll Have To Go," Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man," and a tongue-in-cheek version of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" (during which I managed to throw Ryan a few goofy grins).

The band then rejoined me for one final rock and roll blow out, with The Rolling Stones' classic rocker "Start Me Up," Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," The Beatles' "Hard Day's Night," and finally, "Great Balls of Fire," complete with me kicking away the piano stool toward the end and playing from my knees. After I hit the last notes, the crowd went wild, and although I was physically tired from the hour-long performance, I still felt emotionally charged. It was a fantastic show, and I felt great about myself.

I knew that Mr. Bill would expect me to do an encore, so I quickly went back to the back room to change into my track suit and Detroit Lions ball cap, then made my way back out on stage to find the audience still clapping and whistling loudly. I noticed that Ryan and Cody were both beaming, and they were probably the two loudest "fans" in the whole place.

I sat down at the piano by myself, the band having retreated from the stage, and readjusted my microphone before addressing the audience.

"Thank you very much for coming tonight, everyone. I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year. This one is from all of us to all of you ... and especially a certain someone in the front row ... you know who you are," I said, giving Ryan a wink.

I then began playing the familiar opening bars of Elton John's "Your Song," putting all of my energy, passion, and emotions into my piano playing and vocals, and smiling at Ryan several times. I hoped he got the message of what I was trying to say through the music. I finally closed out the show with a soaring, powerful rendition of Billy Joel's "2000 Years," from his Millennium Concert, the perfect song for what I was hoping would be a perfect New Year.

As soon as I was finished, I gave a quick bow to the audience, and darted off stage, ready to get home and spend the rest of New Year's Eve with the McCormacks. I was definitely wired by the time we got to the car, but although I got a warm hug from Ryan, he was still unusually quiet and pensive, although Cody was practically gushing about the performance.

As Cody and I were talking excitedly about the show, I noticed Ryan giving me a few furtive glances out of the corner of my eye, but I decided to just let it go. I was too excited to let myself get bummed out. I figured if there was something on Ryan's mind, he would tell me.

We dropped Cody off first, then headed home to ring in the New Year together. Fortunately, Ryan seemed to be in better spirits when the clock struck midnight, and we shared a nice kiss. I even got a big kiss (on the lips!) from Toby, and a kiss on the cheek from Maggie. We then shot off a bunch of party poppers, each had a glass of champagne -- with Maggie warning me never to drink alcohol if I was taking the anti-anxiety medicine -- and then we all plodded off to bed.

When we got in bed, I was kind of in the mood for a little love-making with my boyfriend, but Ryan said he was too tired. It had been a pretty long and tiring day, so I didn't complain. We just cuddled up together and went right to sleep, no doubt assisted by the champagne.




The last day of winter vacation was pretty boring. We spent most of the time hanging out, watching television, and I even managed to join Ryan and Toby in the backyard for a little football in the snow. Maggie had to go back to work that day, so it was just the three of us left to fend for ourselves. It was nice to have a quiet, relaxing day to wind down from all of the excitement of the previous two weeks.

The only thing that started nagging at me was the way Ryan still seemed to be unusually quiet. He still joked around with us, and I got plenty of hugs and kisses, but something just didn't feel right. I was worried about him and had no idea what could be bothering him. But, again, I figured he would tell me when he was ready, and if he needed me to comfort him, I would try my best.

As I lay awake in bed with Ryan that night, the night before going back to school, although I was disappointed that our vacation was over, I couldn't help but feel elated after the wonderful time I had spent with everyone. Christmas had been so perfect. Everything I'd ever dreamed of. In some sense, I felt like I had found a new "family." I had never been so happy in my entire life. It made me feel a little guilty that this was probably my best Christmas ever, even better than with my grandmother.

Despite the fact that I would still have to go "home" next week and face my mother, and deal with Trent Lomax in the hallways at school, it seemed like nothing could go wrong or spoil my good mood now. I had spent a wonderful two weeks with my boyfriend and his family, had fun hanging out with Cody, put on a great show at the pub (which earned me two hundred dollars!), and finally, felt a sense of belonging at the McCormack household. Everything was wonderful.

"Connor, have you and Cody kissed since that first time you went over to his house?" Ryan suddenly asked, breaking me out of my peaceful reverie.

SHIT!!! There went my good mood. How am I supposed to answer that? Should I be honest? Should I lie? Is Ryan going to hate me? Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit! I knew I shouldn't have done that! Why couldn't I just say no?! Maybe I should just lie ...

"Yes," I whispered.

"When?" he asked, sounding curious, but not angry.

"When I was at his house practicing for the New Year's Eve show," I answered hesitantly.

"Every time?" he continued to prod.

"Yes," I answered, barely above a whisper.

"Did you like it?" he asked, his voice starting to quiver slightly.

I should just tell him "no," tell him that I didn't like it ...

"Yes, I did," I replied sheepishly.

"Oh ..."

"Ryan, I ...," I started to say.

But he cut me off. "Connor, I've been thinking," he said, turning on his side to face me.

I could see his face in the faint moonlight coming in from the window, but I couldn't read his expression. Once again, I felt the dreaded anxiety starting to flood over me. I wanted to just jump out of bed and go run and hide ... but first stop and get some of that anxiety medicine from Maggie. Yeah, that's what I would do. Then I wouldn't have to hear what he was going to say, just like it never happened, and everything would still be perfect. Good plan!

But I couldn't move. I was trapped by his gaze. And his eyes revealed nothing of what he was thinking.

"Connor," he continued, "I realize that all of this is really new to you. It's new to me, too. And, if you think about it, things between us have been moving really fast."

"Ryan, I ..."

"Just let me finish," he cut me off again. "I guess it's natural for you to be curious. I don't think there's anything really wrong with that. And Cody's not only cute, but he's a really great guy, too. What I mean is ... well ... maybe we should cool it off for a little bit, and take some time for you to think about what you really want before we get any more serious."

Oh no! Oh no! No! No! No!

"Ryan, no, I'm so sorry! I swear to God, I'm so sorry! I won't ever talk to Cody again. I don't want to break up with you, please!" I pleaded with him.

"Connor, I'm not angry with you. I just think it would be better if you took some time to make sure what it is you really want. I don't want you to regret it later, and I also don't want to end up getting hurt," he said.

"Ryan, please! I was so stupid! I'm really sorry! I swear! I don't need time to think. I don't want Cody, I want you! Please, believe me!" I continued to beg, barely able to hold back the tears at this point. "Please don't leave me again. I couldn't take it. I don't know what I'd do if you stopped speaking to me again, or if I couldn't see you. Please, Ryan, I need you! I swear, you're the only one I want. I was just stupid! God, please forgive me!"

"Connor, this won't be like before. I'm not gonna stop talking to you. I'm not gonna stop being around. I'm not breaking up with you. We just need to take a little break so we can figure things out. We can still hang out at school like before, and you can still come over here on the weekends. Nothing has to change ... we'll always be friends, no matter what. I just want you to really think about what you want before we get any more serious in our relationship."

He was saying that we weren't "breaking up," but that wasn't registering in my mind. To me, it felt like we were breaking up. He was leaving me. I was going to be all alone again, and it was all because I fucked up ... AGAIN!!! No! No! No! Please, God, no! I can't possibly go through this again!

My breathing was becoming ragged. I could feel the panic washing over me like a tidal wave. My whole body was trembling. I felt like I was going to throw up. It had been so long since I'd had a panic attack, and it was happening again. God, I just wanted to die. Why did I have to kiss Cody and screw it all up? Yeah, Cody was cute, and sweet, and intelligent. I loved talking with him, and I felt comfortable around him. Why couldn't I just leave it at that? I wanted to be with Ryan, not Cody ... but like before, my realization had come too late. There was no way Ryan could forgive me a second time.

I felt myself breaking apart. I needed Ryan to hold me. I needed him to tell me how much he cared about me. I NEEDED RYAN!!! But then, I felt him get out of bed, and heard the door open as he left the room. Oh my God! He really is leaving me!

Just as I was wondering whether or not jumping out of the second-story window would be enough to kill me and put me out of my misery, Ryan came back into the room, carrying a glass of water and a couple of pills.

"Here, take these," he said gently, handing me the pills and holding the glass up to my mouth. "My mom gave them to me to give you. I told her you were having another anxiety attack."

I gratefully swallowed the pills and emptied the glass of water in one gulp.

Then he lay down again and held me, not saying a word until the panic finally began to subside, my breathing returning to normal. The anxiety was going away, but the fear was still there. The fear of being lonely and alone. I couldn't handle that again. Ryan was the only good thing I had in my life. He was the only thing that made me feel safe and ... and loved.


"Please, Ryan, don't leave me," I whimpered.

"I'm not leaving you," he said, brushing the hair out of my eyes. "We're just gonna cool things off for a while. And I want you to think, that's all."

His attempt at consoling me was not working. He was leaving me. I didn't understand what "take a break" or "cool off" meant. For me, it was just another way of saying that we were over. And if we were over, then my life was over.

Tears were running down my face, although he most likely couldn't see in the darkness. I didn't want him to see how much of a wimp I was. How needy and pathetic I was. But I couldn't help it. Ryan was leaving me because I couldn't control my stupid teenage hormones. Why did I have to be such a fuck up and mess up the only thing good in my life?

As those thoughts were running around in my mind, eventually the effects of the pills Ryan had given me took over, and I fell asleep, knowing that tomorrow when I went back to school, everything was going to be different again. The new life I thought I had would be gone ... again.