Earlier that afternoon, Simon had kicked his skateboard along the smooth garage floor and out onto the rather more rough-surfaced concrete drive. He stepped onto the board, riding a gentle curve as it floated down the incline. The rumbling concrete leveled out onto the wide circle that formed the end of the cul-de-sac where their house sat, and he pushed with his foot to increase his momentum.
The green skateboard wheels drove across the creamy surface as he tried a few twists and flips—tricks that quickly sent the board skidding off to one side. Swearing under his breath, he went to retrieve it, annoyed at how quickly he'd become so crap. However, that he was stuck there waiting for a lift at all was as frustrating as hell. It sucked not being able to drive!
He wasn't meant to be at home. He was meant to be over at Mase's with the others. Luke had promised to take him, but by the time Simon had got downstairs after getting changed, his brother had pissed off out somewhere! Where, he had no idea, and neither did his mum. She hadn't wanted to take him to the Quince's either, and had gone out now, too—left for an appointment somewhere in the opposite direction. She'd shrugged at his pleadings; Luke would be back shortly was all she could offer—but that had been ages ago! He’d waited for ages and tried ringing Luke’s cell, but the phone was either out of range or turned off, and all he could do was leave his brother a bunch of frustrated messages.
One thing he didn’t doubt: whatever was going on with Luke right then, he'd bet the farm it had a lot to do with the fight Luke and Ryan had had in the school parking lot, and probably even more to do with what Ryan knew about Luke and Elliott. Though, when it came to that part of the story with his mum, Simon kept his worries to himself.
He checked his watch and chewed his lip. Much longer and it would hardly be worth going round to Mason's, anyway! But, despite his frustration at being left high and dry, Simon was worried. The fight at school, and Luke's explanation that Ryan had somehow found out Luke was gay bore heavily on Simon's mind. Luke had every right to be nervous. Potentially, it meant a shit storm at school!
Trundling across the concrete again without really going anywhere, Simon tried to think it through. In all likelihood, Luke could really only be at one of two places. Either he'd gone over to Elliott's to break the worrying news and maybe decide they should keep their distance for the time being, or he'd gone to Ryan's to sort it out.
Simon hoped it was the latter.
The truth was, he just couldn't see it. Ryan had been a close friend of their whole family for years! Whatever he thought about guys liking guys, he wasn't going to take it out on Luke. It just wouldn't happen—certainly not in the way Simon guessed Luke was shitting himself about. Ryan might be shocked, he might even keep his distance from now on, but he wasn’t going to make Luke’s life a complete hell. It couldn't be. Ryan just wasn't like that!
Finally, after ten more minutes of rusty skateboard tricks, Simon went indoors. Picking up the phone, he punched Danny’s home number. Danny’s dad answered, but soon Danny was on the phone.
“Hey—wazzup?” Danny sounded, as always, cheerful.
“All good,” Simon lied, “but I’m really sorry, I lost my lift. I don’t think I can make it over to Mase’s, after all.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m playing with Ben now, anyway—he just decided that he wanted to make his own kite! I’m covered in tape!”
Simon grinned into the phone and relaxed—the thought that he was letting Danny down after promising to pick him up on the way to the Quinces was what had him most bothered. A little less morosely, he said, “Well, have fun…I guess I’ll see you tomorrow…but, I just wanted to say…”
He paused a beat.
Simon tried to find the right way to say how much he’d appreciated Danny standing up for him in front of the others that morning in the showers, but he couldn’t find anything that sounded right. “Umm…nothing. It doesn’t matter. See you tomorrow, yeah?”
Simon put the phone down, but almost immediately it started ringing. It had to be Luke.
His eyes flashed to the clock. If things had settled down, maybe there would still be time to get to Mase's? Unable to keep the worry out of his voice, he barked into the mouthpiece. "Where the hell—"
“Hey, Simon.” It wasn’t Luke, it was Todd. “Can you put Luke on?”
“Oh, hi, Todd. He’s not here, I’m afraid. He went out.” Simon was a little evasive because there was plenty in Todd’s tone that indicated he hadn’t called for a bit of chit-chat!
His suspicions were confirmed when Todd said, “That fight in the parking lot—Luke and Ryan—what the hell was that about?”
“No idea,” Simon replied, his anxiety level rising. While not anywhere near the truth, it would have to do. There was a pause that sounded like Todd was holding out for something more, and Simon lied again, “Honestly, I’ve no clue, but I’m sure it’s nothing. Luke will be back soon…I can tell him you called, if you want.”
“Okay, sure. I…umm…called Ry, but he—” Todd didn’t seem to feel the need to divulge anything of that conversation.
After a pause, Simon said, “Can you let Mase know I won’t be able to make it round today, after all. Danny's a bit caught up, too." At least that was all off his chest now.
“Sure, will do.” The phone disconnected.
At a bit of a loss for anything to fill the time, Simon went upstairs and rifled through his school backpack. He pulled out his planner, but a quick check showed he had no school work due in until Thursday. Frankly, just then he just couldn't be bothered anyway. Maybe he might do a bit after dinner.
Instead, he turned on his computer and checked the weather. It was still looking good for another trip to the lake that week, and, even better, it looked like Jacko was coming with him on Wednesday as well!
At least that would help keep the Walker’s pushy daughter off his back!
Simon smiled to himself—sailing alone was okay, but it was a lot more fun with someone else! He began to make plans that helped take his mind off his current worries. He and Jacko would need to be on the ball on Wednesday, as the Walkers would want to be off as soon as they could. It would be quicker if Jacko brought a change of clothes and came straight to Simon’s place after school. They could drop Jacko at home after, easily enough.
As the plan developed in his head, Simon relaxed. Putting his brother's problems to one side, he reckoned it had been a pretty good day so far. He'd risked the locker rooms and the showers, and, when it came to his surgery, the guys had taken it all far better than he’d expected. Despite having been an absolute bastard for weeks, his close friends had really come good when he’d needed it the most. Luke had been right about all that.
Simon took that thought with him to the bathroom to empty his bladder, though that turned into more of an exploratory study as he recalled the unexpected approach most of his peers had to keeping themselves trimmed—or in Jacko’s case, surprisingly smooth! As he splashed into the bowl, he couldn’t help but dwell on Jacko and the others. It had all been quite a surprise!
Shaking off the last drops, he still dabbed at the end with toilet paper—old habits dying hard—and inspected himself just as, quite hilariously, Danny had done that morning, too. His friends were right, Simon decided, his dick actually didn't look too bad. And maybe it would get a whole lot better as soon as he stopped looking like an awkward lollipop!
In no rush, he revisited his new theory that the length of a guy's dick was in proportion to the length of his finger. He doubted there was any money in the idea, but it still amused him as he lifted his wanger to measure himself against the fingers on both hands. Flushing the bowl, he stepped in front of the mirror and pushed down his pants a little further to study himself from a different angle, turning sideward and giggling as the image of a boat stenciled onto his boxers, came into view.
“Hello there, sailor!” he snickered at the reflection, affecting a playful tone as he studied his profile as though it were someone else’s.
Nope, not bad...not bad at all!
He had a tight, flat stomach, and without the gangly trail of skin hanging off his dick, his appearance below the belly button was neat…organized…tidy. It worked. In fact, he would even go so far as to say he actually quite liked it!
Even then, he reckoned he'd be even tidier and more like the rest—and maybe even seem a bit bigger, if…
Grimacing at the straggly bush that seemed out of place amongst the well-kept approach his friends had adopted, he approached the issue of trimming with methodical logic. There was no time like the present, and he knew that Luke owned a small rechargeable trimmer—and he knew exactly where it was stashed. He smirked to himself. If Luke's class was like his own, it wasn't hard to figure why his brother had gone out and bought one, either!
He pushed his pants and boxers right to his knees, and stretched over to open the middle drawer of the bathroom unit. The trimmer was exactly where it was supposed to be, and he reached for it with the plan of carrying it over to the toilet bowl to keep the mess to a minimum. An orderly trim would be in keeping, though he still might do it in stages—a bit now, and then a bit more over the following weekend. It would be less obvious that way. He might even take himself down to Gabe’s number one, given time!
At the same time that his fingers reached into the draw and touched the black plastic casing of the trimmer, something else caught his eye, and his hand paused. Then, instead of retrieving the trimmer, he reached for a medium-sized bottle that he'd seen once before. Lifting it from the drawer and turning it in his fingers, he could read the brand name 'ID Glide' imprinted on the side, and he cringed as he recalled how he'd reacted down in the kitchen the last time he'd seen this item with its flip lid.
He’d not really planned it this way—in fact he wasn’t really planning anything as he flipped the lid—other than just to see what the stuff was like. Tipping it over, a small stream dribbled out easily enough, and he rubbed the goo experimentally around the ends of his fingers, at the same time reading the side of the bottle.
Natural feel, water-based lubricant.
He wondered how something 'water-based' could be made to feel so oily, and he studied his fingers carefully for any clues in the viscous material. It was all over his fingers now, and he knew that the logical place to wipe it off was on something that hung over his nuts.
Perhaps it was because it has been so long since he'd last walked this road, but the idea of hand, dick and slippery stuff really only took hold as he experimentally wiped a finger of goo onto his shaft. The sensation pinged his brain, which made a connection that had been broken for some time. It shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. Almost at once, he began to rise. Even then, he watched his dick with abstract bemusement as it grew stiff.
Maybe what came next should have been easy…but it wasn’t. Probably some shrink would tell him it was a confidence thing, cold feet, maybe, but he was worried by the apprehensive thought that slipped in. ‘What if you can’t, anymore?’
His dick had been sore for such a long time after the surgery, and even now, the almost painfully tight skin and minimal remains of foreskin reminded him that he was different. Yet what had Jacko said just earlier that day about his own cut? ‘I've only got a bit, too… I don't think it really makes any difference.’
Maybe Jacko was right—and maybe there were some things you just had to take on trust?
Simon’s eyes flicked between his goo-coated finger and his dick, and something clicked and he brought the two into contact again. He was tentative at first, but soon the goo was spreading. Within a few moments, he was completely intent as he dripped more of it onto his fingers. He wrapped them just under his head and eased them upwards.
"Ooooohhh..." He couldn't hold back a quiet grunt as his slippery fingers enclosed his glans. He’d left the doors to the bathroom open, and it was a good job there was nobody else in the house! Sensations with which he used to be all too familiar fell over each other clamoring for attention. Within a few short moments, he became so hard it was almost painful and, trying not to drop the bottle, he put a hand on the countertop to steady his suddenly wobbly legs.
Just then, drifting through the house, came the sound of the phone as it started ringing.
Oh for God's sake!
He dropped the lube back in the drawer and slammed it shut. Wrenching his pants and boxers back into place over a straining stick, he wiped his hands on the towel as the phone continued to demand some attention. He hurried through to pick up the extension in his parent's room. The first thing the voice on the other end said was, "Luke?"
Surprised, Simon almost dropped the phone because of the slipperiness of his fingers. "Ryan?" He recognized the voice straight away.
"Oh...hi, Simon. I was looking for Luke." Ryan sounded cautious.
Simon bit his tongue. "He's not here. Is everything okay?" He didn't really want to start asking about the fight, or the rest of it, but...
"Has he said anything?" Cautious still...worried, even.
"About…” Simon stopped. There was no point in pretending he didn’t know about Ryan ending up on the floor, as he’d been there. “After we left school, we barely talked and drove straight home. Then he went out. I thought he’d gone round to your place. Look, what's going on?"
"Nothing. Just get him to call me can you?"
"Simon, I have to go. Please just tell him..." The phone disconnected before Simon could reply.
Jeez—what the hell was going on?
The worry that he'd shifted to one side took center stage again, and Simon no longer felt like going back just then to find a trimmer—or anything else for that matter—and instead walked slowly back downstairs.
Wandering into the kitchen, he filled the coffee percolator, measuring out the correct number of spoons of coffee grounds with deliberate precision. He’d always liked the smell of coffee, especially the blend that Grace always used to buy, but it hadn’t been until that summer that he’d got a taste for it himself. He called it a thinking drink. Not a huge mugful, but still a drink you didn’t have to rush—and he’d had plenty of time over the last months to do little else than think while he was stuck in the house.
He liked it quite strong, but then with plenty of sugar, too—which wasn’t a problem as he burned of the calories easily enough—and plenty of creamer with it as well. Rich and tasty.
Waiting for the pot to percolate, he lounged on the back deck studying the autumnal colors of the garden until the bubbling in the kitchen came to an end. Pouring an aromatic cupful and adding sugar and creamer, he took it back outside and enjoyed the first sip of flavor. It was nice out there and the coffee got his thinking going again. First Todd, then Ryan...the only one who wasn't calling was Luke! And if his brother wasn't at Ryan's, then where the hell was he? It had to be Elliott's, but Simon still couldn't put down a nagging worry. It wasn't like Luke to be like this. All at once, Simon felt an unexpected dread. Maybe Luke wasn't in either place? Maybe he'd had an accident? He'd certainly been driving like a maniac, earlier.
He pushed that idea away as ridiculous. All he could hope was that Luke would just get in contact with Ryan, soon. He took a deep breath, another sip of coffee, and kicked back. There was nothing he could do about it just then, but he was sure it would sort itself out eventually. One thing he did know, whatever Ryan thought about gays, the voice on the phone hadn’t been one that sounded like it was planning on turning their lives into a living nightmare!
The level in his cup went down slowly as he continued to study the garden. It looked like the lawn needed cutting again. He could do that. He could do lots of things now. It was still early in the school year and there was plenty of time to catch up on the dodgy start he’d had. The thought of cutting the lawn reminded him that he still had something else to trim. No time like the present.
Bringing his cup with him, he went indoors, but paused in the kitchen as, yet again, the phone began to ring. More cautiously this time, he lifted the extension of its hook. “Hello…”
“Hello sweetheart.” It was his mum.
“Oh, hi mum.”
“Can you put Luke on?”
“Ummm…” He tipped the dregs down the sink. “No, he’s not back yet.”
“Oh, he’s too bad!” She sounded annoyed. “Well, I’m done quicker than I expected. I’m on my way, so I should be back shortly. I can still take you over to the Quinces if you want?”
“Okay…sure,” he said, though he wasn’t sure he was that bothered anymore.
He put the phone down and parked the plan of going back upstairs—it didn't feel such a great idea with the possibility of his mum turning up at some inconvenient moment!
Returning to the garage with his mind back on other things, he kicked his skateboard towards the open garage door. Nudging the board ahead of him, Simon didn't get further than the entrance to the garage when he paused. He could see the bike approaching at a measured pace up their cul-de-sac. His gut response was to go inside and shut the doors, but he let that go, picked up his board, and waited patiently until Toby glided up onto the drive.
Toby had lost quite a bit of weight, Simon noted absently. His eyes were no longer the watery red of the day of the fire, but at first glance, he didn't look much happier.
"Hey." He greeted Toby evenly. It was a lot easier now to resist the temptation to go back to feeding the wrong wolf. He wasn't getting back together with Toby, but, whatever the reason he was here, Simon decided he would hear him out.
"Hey." Toby was cautious, and avoided eye contact. "I'm not staying."
Toby seemed uncomfortable at the wall of silence, but said, "We're leaving soon. I know you don't want to see me, but I couldn't just go without saying goodbye."
"I heard," Simon said at last. "Is that why you weren’t you in school today—and anyway, where are you going?"
Toby remained cagey. "Just away."
Simon knew he shouldn't be asking—he'd spent weeks driving home the idea that he didn't care a shit what Toby Skerrit did or didn’t do. He spotted the bristling frustration in his ex. With how it had been between the two of them the last month, it was unequivocally none of Simon’s fucking business!
"We're going to Orlando."
"We?" Simon hugged the board in his arms, though with that particular Florida destination, it confirmed who he already knew 'we' had to be.
"Me, Mom...and..." Toby paused a beat, then added, "...and Marcus."
"It's true, then." The fact that Toby had even called him Marcus and not the usual 'Daniels' seemed significant. Simon’s head jumped in all kinds of directions until he decided he'd sit and at least give Toby a moment to explain—to say his piece and then go.
Wedging the skateboard between his knees, Simon perched his backside on the heavy-duty, plastic trunk that held all their outdoor equipment. He called it the coffin, and there was so much old junk in there, it was almost impossible to find anything!
Toby shrugged, but seemed relieved they were able to talk. "He and Mom are probably going to get married...I mean not straight away, but, you know—"
"So, you're leaving?" Simon tried to put all the pieces into a timeline. "When?"
"Soon. Next week, probably." Toby slid off his bike at last, and laid it down. He came to perch on the other end of the coffin. Simon frowned at the intrusion, but in the end didn't object as they sat together for long moments without speaking. It was okay. It was also the first time in a long while that they'd been able to do even this.
"So, he's going to be your dad?" He wanted to smack himself for the stupid question, but it was all he could think of to break the awkward silence.
"I guess. Mom likes him." Toby seemed to gather his thoughts. "I suppose I do, too. I probably wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for him. He was the one who got me into the Academy in the first place...and...well, he got me out when there was that fire. I guess he deserves a chance."
Simon considered that.
Didn't everyone deserve one of those?
"Whatever people think, I never did that," Toby said. In contrast to before, he sounded pained. "Set the art block on fire, I mean. I know you think I'm a bastard—and guess I am—but I'd never do that!"
Simon paused a beat, then said, "I know. Mum told us that gas had been put through the window from outside or something."
They reverted to silence again, though it wasn't as uneasy now. It had all gone wrong in so many ways, but Simon refused to let himself keep being angry. More than all that, he just wanted to get past it. There was still one question, and he looked across. "Before the fire. Your mum said you'd fallen asleep...is that true?"
Toby hung his head, and there was a long pause before he murmured, "Not really."
"Look, it's not important. I wasn't thinking straight, that's all." Toby seemed to want to change the subject again, and said, "If you want, I'll tell her."
Simon stared at the smooth concrete of the garage floor as he thought about that. He suspected he knew exactly what Toby meant, even before Toby added, "I’ll tell her what I did to you, I mean. I fucked up, and it was wrong.” His tone was low. Tired. It sounded like he’d stopped running from it all.
Simon studied the green wheels of his skateboard, spinning one gently with his fingers. He'd known Toby Skerrit a long time. He could be a bit of a manipulative asshole when he wanted to be and always had an answer for everything. Simon also thought it was probably a good idea that Luke wasn't there right at that moment. He wasn't sure Luke would be able to stop himself beating the crap out of Toby if he ever found out about any of it!
However, he also sensed something different in Toby's tone this time. It had nothing to do with the words, but everything to do with where they came from. It was one thing to keep saying you'd messed up, another altogether to really accept that there were consequences. He also couldn't help but remember where Toby had come from, too. Dylan, the kid from Sarasota, wasn't an excuse, but Toby had guts to offer to become a pariah again—even in his mum's eyes! Or worse...Daniels'!
Simon decided to talk about something else instead and murmured, "I read a book while I was in the library."
“A book?” Toby looked across at the unexpected turn of phrase. "What book?"
Simon shrugged. "Some book about modern parables. There was one about two wolves."
He went on to tell it, and Toby listened quietly. When he'd finished relating it, it was actually quite easy to keep talking. For the first time with Toby, he described how he'd felt on that awful day when his life had gone up in flames. He took his time. There was a lot to get off his chest, though none of it was said to try to wound or get his own back. Perhaps it was just good to speak it out at last—especially to Toby.
He spoke about the pain. The physical pain that had led up to an operation that he'd never wanted, as well as the deeper pain of feeling dirty and used, of losing his trust in people, and of not being able to talk about it. He spoke of the black times of feeling lost and depressed, withdrawing from everybody—even his friends—and not even believing in himself anymore. He talked of the desperate lonely hours in hospital, and the long, empty days in his room trying to figure out how to get back on the horse...and failing.
Through it all, Toby didn't utter a word. There were no attempts to justify his own actions or to offer excuses or cheap anodynes. No reacting in ways to admonish, or to propose that Simon could have done this or that if he’d really wanted. As Simon told his story, Toby's head hung lower and lower, and his face became more and more flushed. Finally, he started crying. Hidden out of view in the garage, he appeared to shake at his very core as it came home to roost.
"I...I'm...s...sss...so f..f..fucking…s…sorry..." Becoming beside himself, Toby broke apart. Every wracking sob was filled with unfettered pain. Each heave of his shoulders, an anguish of guilt.
The story came to an end, leaving Simon drawn out by the telling. Emotionally, he began to unravel too. He couldn't help it—everything had gone wrong, and he knew neither of them had really wanted what he'd described. Despite the messed up past, he couldn't stop himself. His own tears started to flow again—though this time not just for himself. Across from him, Toby continued to work through his own private misery, shaking hard as everything got turned over between them.
Even after the tears slowed, Simon knew he would probably cry again later. He would need to. Maybe Toby would, too. Compared to the elation of the football field, meeting with Toby like this had been unexpected and incredibly hard. More than ever he wanted to put it all down now—kill it and bury it properly in the coffin under his backside. He couldn't be responsible for Toby—the guy was going to have to figure out his own demons in the long term—but Simon felt at last he himself was ready. It would always be there, but at least he could move on.
“It..it’s okay,” Simon said at last.
“N…n..n…it’s not. You sh..should.. g..go to the p…pol..police…”
Simon took a deep cleansing breath. When he spoke again, his voice and his head was calmer, clearer. "No, it's okay, you don't need to tell your mum…or the cops. I don't need you to do that."
Toby slumped, and how long the silence lasted between them, Simon wasn’t sure. Enough time for Toby to stop shaking.
"I'm still gonna miss you, though," Toby said at last into the exhausted space between them. He was still sitting precariously on an emotional edge, and wiped his eyes and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
It would have been easy for Simon to say ‘I’m gonna miss you, too’, and he almost did, except he suddenly realized he wouldn’t. Sure, he’d miss the good times they’d had, and Toby had been his first boyfriend, but telling his story at last made Simon realize just how much his life had changed of late. In the end, he just said, “You’ve got plenty to look forward to.”
"Maybe next time you come to Disney, you can visit?"
"Maybe," Simon said, but he knew he didn't mean it. His life needed to move on, not just south.
He looked up at the sound of a car, and saw the battered Nissan approaching well before Grace slowed to a halt at the bottom of the drive. There was no hiding the look of concern on her face as she studied the two of them through the open window.
"Hi, Mom," Toby called and waved, though he still sounded flakey.
"Hello, Toby. I didn't know you were coming down here, too." She climbed out the car and walked slowly up the driveway watching them all the time. Coming closer, her eyes flicked between them, cautious and questioning.
Simon knew that she must know that he and Toby weren't on speaking terms, so she had to be wondering what was going on—especially when they probably both looked like total wrecks!
"Hello, Grace." He used her given name, and just then the gesture wasn't lost on her.
"Hello, Simon," she said, and her lips pursed with a soft smile. Her tone still seemed to tread carefully. "We've sure missed you recently. How are things with you?"
“I’m okay.” He stood and stretched. He actually felt exhausted, but she didn’t press. "Toby came to tell me that you’re leaving.”
She studied the two of them, perhaps still looking for clues before replying, “We are, I’m afraid. As Toby probably said, it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind, but we think it’s the right timing for the three of us.”
"Four, you mean."
She frowned, and a sly grin came easily enough to Simon. "You can't leave Gizmo behind!" he said.
Next to him, Toby chuckled. "We could always leave him with you—you know he always liked you!"
Grace began to laugh, too. "You're right...four. It's a good job one of us can count!"
Simon took another cleansing breath. It was good to be able to laugh again, and making his peace with Toby was as much his gift to her as it was a chance for him and Toby to move on.
“I’m really happy for you. I guess Daniels—I mean Mr. Daniels—is leaving the Academy, then?"
She grinned. "Marcus was telling me you could never really get the hang of that. Toby's the same! But yes, he's already been head-hunted by his old school. Toby's going to enroll there, too."
"Mom'll find something, soon enough," Toby said, quickly standing.
"We'll see," she said. "Maybe something part-time. Actually I'd love to have more time for writing."
"You should," Simon said at once. "You're good at it!" He tried to put a brave face on it, but, despite his misgivings about Toby, he really would miss Grace. He felt lonely again, though in a different kind of way this time.
"Maybe," she allowed. She glanced up towards the door to the kitchen. "Actually, I just popped down to see Lucy, to let her know our plans."
Simon shrugged. "She went out awhile back."
"Did she?" Grace looked disappointed. "Never mind, I can call later. Can you let her know I was here?"
"Do you want a lift, Toby?" Grace said as she swung back towards her car. She glanced at Toby's bike that had been dropped onto the concrete. "I can fold the seats down and get your bike in if you want...unless you're staying a bit longer...?"
Maybe Toby was waiting for Simon to make the decision, and perhaps Simon did just that by not immediately suggesting he stay. Toby's face pinched, then he turned to Grace and nodded. "Sure."
However, they didn't get much further, as, with her usual innate sense of timing, Lucy came up the road in their family van. Moments later, she pulled onto the drive.
“Hello, Grace!” Lucy said as she got out, adding with a wave, "Toby."
Standing at the van, she looked questioningly towards Simon. “Sorry it took a while to get back sweetheart, the traffic was awful! Do you still want me to buzz the two of you over to Mason’s?”
Simon shook his head. He wasn’t really interested in going out anymore, and certainly not with a plus one! “No, it’s fine. Nobody else could make it, either, so he called it off.” He didn’t know whether that was true or not. It didn’t really matter.
She came into the garage and the mums got talking, and Simon sat himself back down to wait. This might be the last time he saw Grace and he wanted to make his last goodbye as right as he could in the circumstances. However, after more than five minutes, Grace said, "I'll just be a couple of minutes, Toby."
Two minutes? Yeah, right!
Five minutes later, Simon flicked his head. "Come on, let's go outside." He didn't want to sit there listening to the two mums any longer—and Grace wouldn’t leave without Toby. He reached into the coffin, dug deep, and finally pulled out a frisbee. He and Toby went down to the road to pass the time. He had a good throwing arm and Toby wasn't too bad, either.
The next time Simon glanced up into the garage, he frowned. It was empty.
"Now where have they gone?"
Toby shrugged. "Inside I guess. Come on, let's go in, too. I could do with a drink. I'm parched!"
Simon nodded. Crying had been thirsty work.
They headed to the kitchen to raid the fridge. Grace and Lucy were out the back with mugs of the coffee he'd recently made. Perhaps, in months gone by, he and Toby would have quickly and easily filled the time with other things, but now the kitchen slipped into a quiet standoff of two people who struggled to find common ground.
Toby broke into the awkwardness as best he could. "Do you want to see it? The house, I mean."
"Ours. In Orlando." Toby tone became surprisingly enthusiastic. "Well, actually it's Marcus' parents. It's a massive place. We're going to stay there until we can find somewhere."
"You've got pictures?" Simon's eyes flicked across his friend's pockets, but it seemed unlikely they contained albums.
"Better than that! You have to see it. You can see my new school, too!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Simon kept his voice low and flicked a glance to the deck to make sure his cussing stayed under the radar.
"Come on...you have to see!" Toby's voice brimmed with enthusiasm, and he turned to the door that led to the hallway. "It's called Google Earth. Marcus showed me."
Toby was already out the door, and as Simon followed him into the hall. Google Earth? What the hell was that?
Toby was already scrambling up the stairs.
"They take satellite pictures of everything," Toby called, pausing near the top and turning. "You can zoom in as if you're looking from above and see towns and streets...even individual houses. You have to see it—on a computer—it's unbelievable!"
Simon was irritated. He didn't doubt that Toby was angling towards Simon's bedroom where his computer was.
Who gave him permission to do that?
Toby spun on the stairs again and was away. Irritated but still intrigued, Simon followed. He'd never heard of it before, but it did sound interesting. Maybe they could even see their own house?
What about people? Could you see people?
He pushed into his bedroom behind Toby, fully expecting him to be already crowding around the desktop computer. By this time—forget Google Earth, he was annoyed enough at the intrusion to frogmarch the guy right out the door again—except Toby was standing stock-still in the middle of the room. He wasn't looking at the desk. He wasn't even looking back towards the door. He was staring at the wall.
"How...?" Toby swiveled and a puzzled expression crossed his face. He'd noticed the picture on the wall—the sailing boat. Simon winced inside, not sure whether he was happy or not that the picture was there. Google Earth would have been a lot less complicated.
"Luke found it. That day at school." Simon kept his eyes fixed on the damaged piece of art. "You must have had it when Milton carried you out...then dropped it." Not only was the frame marked, but the picture itself had an ugly scratch down one side. Putting it back on the wall was partly because he didn't know what else to do with it—and he just couldn't bring himself to throw it away.
"I thought it was destroyed." Toby stepped forward and lifted it off the wall. He felt the frame, and drew light fingers across the damaged paintwork. He even sniffed it—all of which suddenly amused Simon, though didn't surprise him.
Toby flicked him a glance. It was apprehensive and he said, "Will you let me fix it?"
"It won't take long. Please—it's the least I can do." A sly look crossed Toby's face. He stepped closer to Simon and pointed to the signature. "And I don't want anyone seeing it like this—it's got my name on it!"
Simon couldn't stop the laugh. They were standing close and he felt an arm slip around his back.
In another reality, it would have been easy to succumb. A little pressure and they would have been touching. Soft breath would have led to the brushing of lips and the opening of mouths. The picture would be laid down on the bed—as might they. Mouths would become insistent and roaming hands would have slipped beneath clothing. With the remains of lube on his shaft helping him along, he would probably cum really quickly.
It was only a hand around his back at that point, but in his mind's eye, Simon watched it play out. He saw the developing glint in Toby's eye, and guessed exactly where Toby thought this was going.
Simon didn't even consider it, and the wrong wolf started growling at his door. "Don't..." He pushed Toby away with a firm hand.
"What?" The look of disappointment on Toby's face matched the whiny reply.
"You know what I mean." Simon's tone was cold, but he quickly got hold of himself and banished the animal that had suddenly threatened. It still annoyed him that he’d let Toby get this far with his crafty manipulations. What did the guy even want? A quick jerk off together for old time’s sake?
Not fucking this time, thank you very much!
Toby hadn’t changed. He was still up to his old tricks and Simon lost the last shred of sadness that Toby was leaving for good.
"Sorry…" Toby pulled a face, but he got the message. Accepting that Simon was changed, he hung his head. "Come on, let's go put this in mom's car."
Google Earth forgotten, they made their way down the stairs. Following a few steps behind Toby, Simon felt good—empowered, even. He could easily have gone completely off the handle with Toby, but he hadn't. He'd decided what was right for him and said no—end of. He'd been the one in control. It was a far cry from the early days with Toby, when Simon usually did what he was told. Toby led, he followed. He knew now that, even if Toby had stayed in the area, they’d never get back together. Toby hadn’t changed, and it didn’t seem like he ever would.
It became a closure.
They paused by the Nissan after Toby had slipped the painting onto the front passenger seat, and worked the mechanism to put the back seats down. Once he’d found the latch, they made space and manhandled the bike into place. That done, Toby stared in the direction and the house, and his tone was grumpy as he said, "How long do you think she's gonna be?"
However, Simon wasn't really listening. He was looking the other direction as another vehicle came roaring up into the turning circle.
This time, it was a police cruiser.