The Apartment

Chapter 8

Ray woke up slowly, with a sense of loss nagging at him. As his mind began to function more clearly, he realized that the nagging sense of loss was from the fact that he had spent the night wrapped in Andy's arms, and that Andy was no longer there, cuddled to him as he had been. Just the thought brought a smile to his face, and he got up, and walked to the bathroom, and reduced the internal fluid pressure that was the other reason he'd awakened.

He walked into the living room, where Pauly greeted him cheerily and handed him a glass of orange juice. Andy slipped into the chair next to him, giving him a quick hug. "Want some cereal?" he asked.

"Yeah, that'd be good," Ray replied, trying to get the last of the cobwebs out of his mind. He glanced around. "Where is everyone?" he asked.

"Mikey's sleeping in," Pauly answered. "Peewee's out riding his bike."

"Is that safe around here?" Ray asked, a little concerned for the younger boy.

"In the daytime, yeah, as long as he doesn't go too far from right around here," Pauly answered. "And face it, it doesn't do any of us good to stay cooped up in here all the time."

The usual slam of the outer door, footfalls and three knocks signaled someone's arrival. It was Chay, with his usual big smile especially radiant this morning.

"Have a good night?" Pauly asked.

"Uh-huh," the smaller Asian boy replied. "He was glad for the visit. And look!" He held up a cellphone. "Prepaid and activated already. That means we don't have to go use the payphone all the time. Need to be careful not to use up the minutes, of course, but it'll help."

"Good idea," Andy said. "I had one back, before...." He let the thought drop, and got a sad expression that tore at Ray's heart. Ray drew him into a renewed hug.

"You know, if you're going to be doing that, you might want to think about pants," Pauly laughed, pointing. Ray blushed; "Don't tease him," Andy said.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Pauly conceded. "I was just joking with you, Ray; I couldn't be happier that you and Andy found each other." He emphasized the point with a ruffle of Ray's hair.

"You got plans to use that thing, or are you just glad to see me?" Andy grinned.

Ray was getting used to the banter. "Right now, the second; longer range, maybe both!" he said, feeling daring. That elicited a laugh.

Pauly looked over at Chay, who was sporting a bulge in his pants. "Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?" he asked in the same joking tone.

Chay reached into his pocket and pulled out a banana. "Dorothy told me to eat more fruit," he said deadpan. The other three burst out laughing.

"So, is Donny back yet?" Chay asked.

The room fell silent.

"Dammit, I ... I can't blame him, I feel the same way about Jack, but he's got to stop beating himself about everything!" Chay was angry and frustrated, and venting, and they all knew it, and understood his need to let it out.

"He has to carry everybody on his back; you know that, Chay." Pauly's voice was gentle but firm. "You know you can't change him."

"Yeah ... and God knows I've tried," Chay said with a note of sad finality. Pauly drew the smaller boy into a quick hug.


Peewee's arrival home ended that tense little episode, and by common consent nobody brought it back up. He had had a good ride, and was full of news items. "But Old Lady Schwartz bawled me out when I was bringing my bike back in. She says we're breakin' the law livin' here." Andy rolled his eyes.

Pauly was a bit more concerned. "Did she have anything else to say, Peewee?"

"Nah, just that somebody oughta call the authorities about us."

"Typical; I did her walk all last winter, and she never had a word of thanks." Pauly was disgusted.

"Is she anything to be worried about?" Ray had known women like that before, and knew they were only too willing to make trouble for others.

"I don't think so," Chay said. "She's pretty much all talk."

"I hope so," Pauly said.


Donny arrived home shortly after noon, looking like he'd scarcely slept. Mikey was up by then; he and Pauly bustled him off to the bedroom he shared with Chay, and bedded him down.

Ray took his turn at kitchen duty, making up soup and sandwiches by himself. Andy offered his help, but Ray declined it. What he didn't tell Andy was that he wanted the time to think, to try to figure out what was going on, and why. Andy seemed slightly hurt, but gave him the space he needed.

A lot of things were not quite making sense — almost logical but not quite fitting together. And Ray wanted to know why.

Chay was outwardly his happy open self, but seemed to be keeping some secret hurts inside. He sat at the kitchen table programming numbers into his new cellphone. Mikey obviously knew a bit more than he was saying, but that seemed more out of loyalty to Donny than any intent to keep anything from anyone.

Ray decided to give it time, to see if he could learn more before he tried to figure it all out. After all, he was deeply grateful for what he had — a warm place to stay, food, friends, a home, and above all Andy. But it bothered him that he didn't understand it all.

Mikey and Pauly retreated to their room for a little private time after lunch. After a quick glance to assure himself that Ray and Andy would agree, Chay let Peewee pick a movie for the four of them.

Ray's mental unease translated itself into physical restlessness. He got up and started walking around the apartment. "Want to go for a walk?" Andy asked.

"Sure; I didn't think we could," Ray answered, surprised.

"We're not locked in here or anything, it's just a safe space we don't usually leave without reason. But there's nothing stopping us. And if we don't do something, you're gonna wear a hole n the carpet."

A small, analytical piece of Ray's mind realized that the reason he was so anxious for answers was that he'd nearly lost Andy, and the more he knew, the better job he could do of keeping him safe. 'Though,' he realized ironically, 'so far it's been them saving me, not the other way around.' He made a promise to himself and to Whoever might be listening, then and there, that he'd do what he could to repay what he'd been given — and realized with another shock that he was committing himself to what Chay and Donny and the others were doing, to making a home for homeless kids.

"Hey, slow down!" Andy said with mixed exasperation and amusement. And Ray realized he'd been walking at almost jogging speed for some time.

"Where are we?" he asked Andy.

"I don't really know; we're way east of anywhere I normally hang out," Andy answered.

"You mean we're lost?" Ray asked with a touch of panic.

"No, we've been walking in pretty much a straight line since we left the apartment. If we head back the way we came and bear right at the Y fork, we'll be just a block from home. What got into you, anyway? You've been walking like you were desperate."

"Um...." Ray wasn't sure how to answer.

"Never mind. That looks like it might be trouble ahead," Andy said seriously.

A gang of tough-looking older teens was headed toward them, with attitude written all over them.

Ray thought fast. They were in front of a lawn-and-garden store. He motioned Andy in.

Walking over to a riding lawnmower that was the centerpiece of the store's display floor, Ray said to Andy, "Play dumb." Andy nodded seriously.

A clerk walked up to them. "You boys really shouldn't be hanging around this equipment; it's expensive," he said.

"Oh, I know," Ray said. "I've been forever trying to get Dad to buy a LawnBoy; he insists I use this dinky little Deere that takes forever to do the yard. This is the 28-inch diameter blade model, right?"

"Why, yes," the clerk said, thinking he might have an ally in making a sale to the boy's father. Ray skillfully played him with questions about the LawnBoy's features for ten minutes, then said, "I need to confess, sir. I really do like the LawnBoy a lot, but one of the main reasons we came in is that there was a gang of older kids heading for us, and I wanted to avoid them. I'm sorry I took your time."

"That's perfectly okay; I can understand why you did that," the clerk replied. "Just promise me that you'll bring your father in when he goes looking for a new lawnmower, and we'll call it even."

"I'll do my best to," Ray said, crossing his fingers that the white lie would be okay.

"If you go back this way and turn where the big grass seed display is," the clerk said, "there's a door that opens onto the next street over. That way you can avoid those punks. And thanks for coming in!"

"Thank you!" Ray said to him. He and Andy hurried to follow the directions out of the store, and headed back without incident.

As they got back to the apartment buildings, though, Mrs. Schwartz was berating Mikey in the middle of the walkway. "Ha, look at that, two more of you, and not an adult present, I daresay, to put any control on you. Coming and going at all hours of the night, loud music blaring..."

"What loud music?" Ray asked Andy under his breath.

"Her upstairs neighbors," Andy answered in the same tone. "She blames us."

She went on in the same vein for some time, and as few of her accusations had anything to do with what the boys actually were doing, it seems pointless to detail them all out here.

"Well, if you don't like it, you know what you can do!" Mikey finally yelled back, losing his temper.

That was precisely the wrong thing to say; "I shall do just that!" she said, turned on her heel, and walked into her apartment.

"Now you've gone and done it," Andy said to Mikey.

"I had enough of her," he said back hotly. "But it'll be okay; just wait and see."

"I doubt that," Andy said, and walked into their apartment, followed by Ray and Mikey.


Donny was up when they came into the apartment, looking somewhat the worse for wear but awake and drinking a cup of coffee. Mikey and Andy filled him in on the exchange with Mrs. Schwartz, with Ray speaking up to mention her having scolded Peewee earlier. His sense was that she was likely just blustering, but he stressed again the need to lie low and not draw attention to themselves.

Peewee announced that he was going to make dinner. Ray wondered at this, but the others took it in course. The 11-year-old set to work, with an assortment of sounds coming from the kitchen. After ten minutes or so he asked Pauly for a bit of help. Pauly duly got up from the couch where he'd been reclining, stepped into the kitchen and listened to Peewee's instructions, set to work, and shortly thereafter came back to the living room.

Another ten minutes, and Peewee proudly announced that dinner was ready. Ray was intensely curious, especially when he saw empty boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese™ in the wastebasket. But he was pleasantly surprised by what was served.

The basis, of course, was the small elbows and cheesy sauce of the Kraft dish, but Peewee had done some interesting things with it. The sauce was ... sharper, stronger, more flavorful than he'd expected, and green flecks in it proved to be flakes of parsley that enhanced the flavor. With it were slices of pears on lettuce and thick slabs of French bread.

"Wow, this is good!" he said. "How'd you do it?"

Peewee grinned, obviously pleased with the praise.

Pauly explained. "The two things he called me in for were slicing the baguettes; he's not good with the big bread-cutting knife yet, and for grating some sharp cheese finely into the sauce. Everything else was totally his doing."

"It's great!" Ray told the younger boy.

"Don't praise him too much; you'll give him a swelled head," Chay said with a grin. Peewee stuck out his tongue at him.


The evening passed quietly enough, TV in the living room, cards in the kitchen, and other games no doubt going on in the back rooms. Ray judged that the brief tiff about Mrs. Schwartz between Andy and Mikey was simply their blowing off steam, not an actual fight, and Chay, after his rebellion of the night before, seemed determined to keep Donny happy. Peewee seemed determined to be the center of Ray's attention, and after a moment's worry about Andy's possible reaction, Ray let the younger boy show off for him; Andy looked on with amusement.

Ray found himself getting drowsy relatively early; presumably the long walk and the worry over the gang had burned up enough energy reserves to tire him. He went back to the room he shared with Andy and crashed.

"I'm going to hang out with Peewee and Mikey for a while, unless you need me right now for something," Andy said with a smile. Ray smiled back.

"I want to be with you all the time," he said, "but I guess a part of building a good relationship is knowing when to share you with friends."

Ray fell asleep almost immediately, and roused only a little as he felt a slender body slide into bed next to him. He wrapped his arm around the thin chest and spooned up to the warm body, feeling loved and happy.

Half an hour later, he was awakened by Andy's amused but exasperated exclamation: "Peewee!" He came to full alertness to realize that the 'Andy' he had cuddled up behind was actually the little 11-year-old, and was totally embarrassed by the fact that his boner was pressed up against Peewee's buttcrack. He jumped out of bed, panicked.

"I'm so sorry!" he cried out, almost in tears.

"Sit down, Ray, and just listen," Andy said seriously. He took Peewee by the shoulders and sat the giggling boy down at the opposite end of the bed, looking him in the eyes.

"Look, Peewee, we all know how curious you are," Andy said to him, "and none of us have ever had a problem with you satisfying your curiosity. But this time you did something that wasn't quite right, and you need to know what was wrong about it."

"Remember how embarrassed Pauly was about being undressed around you, when he first got here?" Andy asked him.

"Uh huh."

"Do you remember why?"

"'Cause people told him sex was bad, and he 'specially wasn't supposed to show his wiener to kids my age then. But I'm older now."

"Yeah, but Ray went through pretty much the same thing from his parents, and you weren't just undressed with him, you were snuggled up with him, and I'll bet you when you got into bed, he thought you were me."

"I did, or I wouldn't have..." Ray started to say.

"Hush, love, you didn't do anything wrong," Andy said.

Ray started to protest, and then it struck him. Andy had called him 'love' and really meant what he said. He stifled himself and listened.

"Ray's probably feeling really guilty right now for having boned up, and against your butt," Andy said to Peewee. "It isn't that either of you did anything bad at all, it's that you pushed things and made him feel bad. When we spooned last night, he got a boner and got all nervous about having it up against my butt. So I made it a point to pretend not to notice, so he wouldn't feel bad about it."

"Someday he and I will be wanting to try out buttsex, I'm sure. But it'll be when Ray feels ready to face it; he's still way too nervous about sex stuff for us to even think about it." Andy was being patient with Peewee, but his irritation was evident. "It doesn't bother me a bit that he got a boner and had it pressed into your cute little butt" — Andy gave Peewee a playful swat — "but it does bother me a lot that he feels guilty about it — and that's your fault. You're still a kid by most people's definition, even though you've been here longer than almost anybody. If anybody should know how people react, it would be you, not Ray."

"You're really not upset with me?" Ray asked Andy.

"Of course not, silly! What did you do?"

"But I was...."

"Did you have any clue it was Peewee in bed with you, before I came in? No, right? Did you plan on having buttsex with Peewee? No again, right? Do you have any control over what your dick does when you're asleep? I don't think so. You didn't do a single thing wrong — except, that is, to feel guilty about a perfectly natural reaction. This little monkey, on the other hand, has been dealing with guys who have had guilt trips laid on them by family and friends for years, and he really ought to have known. I don't care that you two were cuddling, I don't care that you boned up, I wouldn't even have cared if you'd shot off on his butt. But I know it'd make you feel guilty, and that's where Peewee went wrong. He's little, he's young, but he knows more about this sort of thing and how people react than you do, and that's why he was misbehaving."

"I'm sorry, Andy!" Peewee said, looking like he wasn't far from tears.

"It's not me you need to apologize to, it's Ray." Andy was being firm. "When he gets more comfortable in his skin, you can snuggle all you want. with my blessing. I don't want you feeling guilty about sex, either — I just want you to realize that you messed with Ray's head."

"I'm sorry, Ray! I won't do it again!" Now the eyes were filling.

"Peewee, it's okay," Ray said. "I thought you were Andy, and I wouldn't have tried to molest you."

"But that's just the point, Ray — you're what, two years older than Peewee? You're not a dirty old man trying to misuse an innocent kid. Peewee knew very well what happens when a teenager cuddles up to his butt. And he knows, or should have known, that you'd react like Pauly would have, back when. That's the one thing he did wrong." Andy was trying to make this make sense to both of them. "I mean, I want you for a boyfriend, I want, whenever you get a boner, that you let me be the one that gets you off. But I know very well what Peewee's like, and he's the one that should have known."

"His boner's a little bit bigger than yours," Peewee giggled. "It felt good pressed into my buttcrack."

"You didn't like mine?" Andy asked.

"Well, yeah, they both felt good," Peewee giggled.

"You've done stuff with Peewee?" Ray asked.

"Well, yeah, before you came along I didn't have a boyfriend. And Peewee likes messing around." Andy was matter-of-fact about it.

Ray goggled at the idea. Andy wisely left further discussion unsaid.

"Can I sleep in with you guys?" Peewee asked.

"Um, I think maybe No!" Andy said. "We want some privacy."

"Okay, I'll sleep in the other bed," Peewee said with a giggle.

Andy chased him out of the room with a playful swat at his bottom, which provoked him to stop at the door and wiggle it. Then Andy came back, stripped down, motioned Ray to get in, and snuggled in front of him.

"You know, he's right," Andy said sleepily a few minutes later.

"What?" Ray asked, genuinely confused.

"That does feel good!"

To be continued....


Editor's notes: D and B have a very good feel for how to make a story come to life. Great chapter. I am impressed.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher