Brett was curled up on the couch in the family room of his home, reading the book that had been assigned to him over winter vacation. Something boring, like a coming-of-age story, with some kid and his father bonding over one summer. Yeah, right. Brett never got along with his father, and the rift between them only got wider as Brett became a teenager. When his dad moved out a year ago, things settled down, and life got easier. He had no desire to reconcile with his father, which made the book seem endlessly pointless.

Sick of reading, he jammed his bookmark in between the pages and tossed the book onto the coffee table. He stood up and noticed that the box where the mail belonged was empty; no one remembered to pick it up. Walking into the mudroom and pulling on a zip-up sweatshirt, he made sure the door was unlocked, because the last thing he wanted was to get locked outside in the rain have to ring the doorbell until either his mother or sister came to rescue him. He turned to doorknob and stepped into the night.

It didn't take Brett long to realize that something was amiss. There were flower petals in a rough line in front of the doorway, and some had been stepped on and crushed. It was obvious that someone had been pacing there, by the muddy sneaker-prints covering the petals. Looking up from the remnants of the flower, Brett saw a dark form underneath the oak tree in the front yard. He immediately recognized who it was by the white and black checkered cabbie hat pulled on over short brown hair.

The shadow looked up slowly. Even through the rain, Brett could tell that streaks of eyeliner had paved their way down Maddie's cheeks. As he walked closer, he could also see that Maddie's eyes looked completely normal. He was a fantastic actor; he could switch from one emotion to a vastly different one, leaving no trace of the change. Brett was now standing in front of Maddie. He crouched down and lifted the other boy's head up with a finger below his jaw.

"How long have you been out here?" he asked quietly, but loud enough to be heard over the rain.

"Three hours," Maddie answered, looking up at Brett, the rain a hazy curtain between them. Wordlessly, Brett took the other boy's hand and pulled him into a standing position. As if Maddie was a dog, he led him from under the tree, onto the porch, and through the front door. Once the two were inside, Maddie removed his water-filled shoes while Brett went into the kitchen and put water on the stove to boil. Not breaking the silence quite yet, both sat down in the bar stools at the countertop.

Brett pulled his hands out of his short, caramel colored hair. Tilting his head forwards and gazing at an invisible spot on the floor a few feet away, he spoke coldly, "Why did you come here?"

The only sound that came from Maddie was the involuntary chattering of his teeth. Brett sighed and left the room. He came back a moment later holding a large blue and white afghan, which he draped over Maddie's shoulders. "I'm not mad at you," he said in a kinder tone, sitting back down and moving his hand over Maddie's back. "I know how you feel. I've been there. But what you did, hiding out and," with his other hand, he reached for Maddie's left wrist. He shied away, like a child afraid of getting in trouble. Brett retracted his hand and continued, "That's not how to deal with this, Maddie."

"I'm sorry." His voice was almost a whisper.

"Don't be sorry," Brett replied. "Two years ago, I was in the same place. It's scary. I wouldn't let my first boyfriend hold my hand, even when we were alone. These things take time. If anyone should be sorry, I should." He ran the back of his finger down the side of Maddie's face. The younger boy shook and drew back slightly but didn't protest. "I was rushing you."

When Maddie speaks, the sound is weak and shaky. "It—it's not your fault that I wasn't ready," he said, pulling the blanket closer around his body. "I like you. Please, don't give up on me. I need more time, like you said." He clutched his left wrist and, shuddering, ran his thumb over the area where red lines crossed the skin like pickup sticks.

"If time is what you need, then don't worry," Brett squeezed Maddie's shoulder. "I've got all the time in the world." He wanted to lighten the mood, or at least draw Maddie's focus from his wounded flesh. "My first boyfriend, he and I were a lot like you and I. He's a year older than I am. When we met, I was about your age. He had to ask me out three times before I gave in. I wanted to, but I just couldn't bring myself to say yes.

"I would go for days sometimes without calling him or going to see him. Those were the times when I was afraid to make the wrong choice. I was terrified that he would try to kiss me. I was fifteen, and I didn't want to be gay. I didn't want to take the next step past curiosity, didn't want to make it official," Brett explained, not quite sure where he was going, but figuring he would finish and hope it all made sense. In reality, Brett and Maddie were in different situations, not so much set by the situations themselves, which were identical, but by their individual states of mind. Brett was rational, and, while he had been frightened of his future, he tried to deal with it in the best way possible. But Maddie was impulsive, whatever seemed right at the time, he did. He had the scars to prove it.

"Is that it, Maddie? Are you scared of ending up like me?"

Slowly, Maddie turned his head and nodded. "I don't want to be different anymore."

The water on the stove began to shriek and Brett jumped from his seat to get it, hoping the sound hadn't woken anybody up. He pulled two mugs from the cabinet and set them on the counter, then placed a tea bag in each. After carefully pouring the almost-boiling water in the cups, he turned around and put one in front of Maddie, carrying the other with him as he returned to his seat.

"Drink," he said, commanding but gently, "It'll warm you up and make you feel better." He watched, slowly sipping his own, as Maddie obeyed. When the younger boy finished, he put the mug down and looked back to Brett. His face wasn't as pale as it was when he first arrived, and his hands were no longer shaking.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"Brett?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry I ran. I'm sorry I scared you. I'm sorry about everything."

"It's okay. I'm just glad you're safe now."

"Brett?"

"Yes?"

"Could you—I mean—can we—try again?"

"Of course. Whenever you're ready," Brett said, smiling. He ran his fingers through Maddie's hair and let his hand come to rest on the back on his neck. Suddenly, he pulled his hand back, a concerned look crossing his face. "You're still wearing your wet clothes! I'll go get something for you to change into!" he jumped up and pulled the blanket off of Maddie, helping him to his feet. To himself, he muttered, "How could I have been so stupid?"

Maddie stepped back. "Don't worry about it. I should be heading home anyways." He moved towards the door.

Lunging forwards to stop him, Brett hissed, "Oh, no you're not. It's still raining. I'd drive you, but our car's in the shop. You're staying here."

For a few seconds, Maddie was torn between the waiting door and Brett's piercing eyes. Finally, he turned and followed Brett, who led him upstairs and into the laundry room. Once the door clicked closed, the light went on and Brett opened the dryer. "Put your clothes in there, I'll find something for you to wear tonight."

"I don't think that'll work."

"Why not? Makes perfect sense. Wear something of mine tonight while I dry your things, then tomorrow when it stops raining, you can wear your clothes when I walk you home."

"Uh…Brett? Maybe you didn't notice," he reached up high so that his hand was level with the top of the older boy's head, and then moved it down so that it was level with his own. The difference was close to a foot; Brett was exceptionally tall, and Maddie had always been on the short side. Both boys muffled their laughter at the statement.

"I see what you're getting at. I suppose we can wait for you clothes to dry and you can wear those tonight." Maddie nodded and pulled his sweatshirt off, tossing it in the dryer. Brett helped peel the rest of the clothes off of the younger boy's body because, seeing as they were skintight and soaking wet, they stuck to Maddie like glue. After a matter of minutes, Maddie had stripped down to his boxers. He motioned for Brett to turn around. Brett complied, sighing, and turned to face the wall. Soon he heard the dryer door close and the machine start its low hum, and Maddie's voice,

"Um…do you have a towel or something?"

Brett snickered and sidestepped towards the linen closet, where he pulled out a Superman bath towel and handed it to Maddie. "Don't worry, my eyes are closed…"

"It's okay, you can look now," Maddie said once the towel was safely covering him from the waist down. He smiled once Brett had turned around to face him and asked mischievously, pointing at the towel, "Is this yours?"

Brett flushed and rolled his eyes. "It was…when I was little." He glared at Maddie's smile. "Shut up." He grabbed another (white) towel from the closet and put it around Maddie's shoulders. Trying to make as little noise as possible, he got down on the red and white tile floor and leaned against the closed door to the hallway. He motioned for Maddie to join him, and he spread his legs with his knees bent and his feet on the floor, making a sort of chair for the younger boy. Hesitantly, Maddie lowered himself down, making sure the towel stayed in place. He tilted his head back slightly to rest on Brett's shoulder as Brett wrapped his arms around him. Both smiled, and Maddie hummed a tune softly while Brett moved his hands up and down over the towel covering Maddie's arms, trying to keep him warm.

Not long after, the two boys were pulled out of their sleep-like trance induced by the constant rhythm of the dryer by a voice from behind the door. Brett's mother. "You okay, honey?"

Brett tightened his arm around Maddie, while moving his hand up to cover the smaller boy's mouth gently, signaling him to keep quiet. He turned his head up and to the side to face where he imagined his mother's head was and said, "Yeah mom, I'm fine. Got caught in the rain; just drying my clothes off."

"All right, hon. Go to sleep soon, though, it's late," she replied, although Brett could hear a smile creeping into her voice. He released his hold on Maddie as he heard her footsteps retreating into her bedroom. Both exhaled almost silent sighs of relief, and Brett ruffled Maddie's hair playfully. However, seconds later, the footsteps grew louder once again. "Oh, and Brett?"

"Yeah, Mom?"

"If Maddox is going to spend the night, one of you can use the sleeping bag in the closet. I'm pretty sure Becky put it back in there after her trip."

Maddie's body stiffened for many reasons; of which he could not determine which one caused him the most panic. There was the simple fact that Brett's mother knew he was there. There was the question of, 'how much had she heard?' Finally, and quite possibly the last thing on his mind, was that she used his full name, something he despised. His eyes, wide with shock, snapped to Brett, who shrugged, embarrassed.

"Goodnight Mom," Brett muttered, burying his face in his hands and attempting to laugh. Once he heard the bedroom door shut, Maddie touched the older boy's head and assured him that it was all right. Brett looked up and he and Maddie leaned their heads against each other. The dryer still had another ten minutes until it finished the cycle, so they had to wait at least that long before they could successfully disappear into Brett's room for the night.

"That wasn't so bad," Maddie said, giggling and making a face.

Brett rolled his eyes and quipped, "At least it wasn't my father."


A/N: Aye, sorry about the title. I couldn't get one that was good enough, so unless someone suggests a better one, this is what it will be. Reviews and the like are greatly appreciated.