It was Ben Early, otherwise known as 'Beanie', that changed my life that day. I was cruising through the park on my bike, on the way down to Lowe's for my dad, to pick up yet another box of five-penny nails. My dad was going to build something with wood, but just what, even he did not know. Anything. He liked to look at plans online, and then to putter around in the little shop he'd assembled in the back of the garage, joining pieces of wood into things that were sometimes useful, and sometimes not. He was pretty good at it when the muse moved him, and pretty bad at it when that muse was on vacation. But it kept him busy in his free time, and happy, and even my mom said some of the things he came up with were pretty cool.
I was the errand boy, the guy that ran for stuff. I guess that goes with being the oldest son. It seemed like every time my dad saw me passing through the house these days, he called out, "Billy, next time you're in town, would you get me...".
My mom likes to say, 'If I had a dime for every time you blah blah blah, I could retire'. It was one of her favorite phrases for when one of us kids, in her opinion, overdid something. I could use that same phrase to cover how often my dad had asked me to run to town for him, except I haven't even had a job yet to retire from. I mean, I'm fourteen, but even so I don't know what I want to do in life yet, and retirement is just a word I hear my grandparents joke about. From listening to them I have gotten the concept of retirement: that it's kind of like being a kid, except that you pay for the pleasure of it yourself. But I'm really not ready for it at all.
I do not want to build things with wood for a living, I do know that much. And not even as a hobby. The things that my dad makes fall into two categories: those that are nice enough or useful enough to be placed in a living space and showed off; and those that don't meet that standard, and wind up stacked in a corner of the basement, the wood waiting to be recycled into yet another project.
I can take a hint, and I am a firm believer in genetics. The small talent my dad has with wood was not passed on to me, nor the interest. I can't hammer in a nail straight, let alone saw and rout and all that other stuff. But that dad does it, well, that's okay with me. I don't even mind being asked to get the stuff he needs, because I also know that what he is doing makes him happy. And when dad is happy, the whole house is happy.
And for me it's always a chance to get out and ride my bike a little, something I am good at, and something I have always enjoyed. Often as not, when dad will ask me I will go right away, stopping at the console table near the front door to grab a few dollars from the family stash. That was a basket my folks kept there, where all of us tossed our pocket change at the end of each day, and from which we were all free to borrow when the need arose. It was an honor system, and you were expected to return the money, and even maybe a little more, as soon as you could afford to do it. I always did, and so did my brother Mike, and my sister Dink (short for Denise, in dad's sometimes confusing English). In any event, there was always more than enough cash there to get whatever dad needed, and maybe a slice of pizza for myself from 7-11.
Hey, riding a bike is work, and it requires fuel, just like operating any machine!
So there I was, in no particular hurry, because it was a warm and sunny midsummer day, with birds singing in the trees, puffy white clouds in the blue sky, and no feeling of calamity lurking at my shoulder. Just the sort of day where something jumps up to bite you in the butt, because you're too damn relaxed for your own good.
I cut through the park, hoping to maybe see the Cubs out for practice on the field behind the chain-link backstop. Those guys had a wonderful habit of taking their shirts off in the heat, and some of them were real lookers, that Bobby Diamond in particular. With his blue eyes and quick smile, he was always worth a sigh of regret from me. A sigh, because he was straight as an arrow, and would never know that I was interested, let alone that I dreamed about him.
But not even the dream today. The field was empty, or so It appeared at first glance. What I did see was Beanie Early, one of my buddies in crime, kicked back on the weathered wooden bench behind the backstop, watching something to the far side of the field. The backstop, at the angle I was approaching from, cut off my view of what he was watching...but, Beanie being Beanie, I felt it was worth stopping to take a peek myself.
He turned to look at me as I pulled up and set the bike down on the ground, and grinned as I walked over and sat down beside him. "Hey, queerbait. Thought you might be along. What's up?"
I laughed. "Not much, oh most extraordinarily gay one. Just another nail run." I peered at him, noting the way he kept his hands laying together over his crotch, and glanced again at the ball field, but it was still empty. Hmm. "What are you doing here?" I asked.
He tossed his head, and I turned to follow his gaze.
I had to squint in the sunlight, but what I saw was enough to cause me to lean forward to stare even more intently. I heard Beanie snicker, but by then my attention had been completely stolen by the events transpiring beyond the backstop.
There were four guys there, standing above a white foam mat laid out on the ground. One looked to be older than me, maybe sixteen. The others were younger, my age, or within a year or so of it, anyway. The older guy and two of the younger ones were dressed only in gym shorts, their suntanned bodies beautiful in the afternoon glow. But it was the third younger one that caught my eye.
He was dressed in this very cute one-piece workout suit, blue with red trim, that was about one dickhair longer than crotch-length, and held up by narrow straps across both shoulders. It covered the guy's body just loosely enough that it promised some extremely arousing peeks if he moved just so, and triggered responses in my nutsack that went from tingly ooh ooh to full-blown how ya doin! in a single, thrilling instant. I gasped, I think, or maybe it was just the sound of my heart inflating inside my chest.
At the moment, he was being suspended aloft by the other two young ones, kind of like Superman in flight, with his arms extended in front of him, his bare legs thrust out behind him, and his spiky blond hair blowing in the breeze. He was smiling, filled with joy, and just as unbelievably cute as he could be.
"Holy St. Booger's ballsack," I breathed, causing Beanie to laugh again. "Who are they?"
"Close your mouth, Billy-boy, 'for some bug flies in and lays eggs in there."
I frowned, the brief moment of nirvana shattered, and glared at Beanie. "Can't you ever answer a simple question?"
Beanie grinned. "Depends on which one of those guys just grabbed you by the balls and squeezed." Obviously, he had seen the signs of interest in my own expression.
I got it then, and had to smile. "Oh. You like one of them, huh?" I nodded, getting it now. It wasn't just the beautiful bodies that had Beanie's eye. He was in love again, for at least the third time this month.
Beanie closed an eye and watched me sagely with the other one. "Maybe."
"You do!" I had to grin. "Let me guess which one..."
Hell, it wasn't that hard. Beanie was almost fifteen, and an inch and half taller than me. He had a thing for older guys, and the one standing and watching the other boys, with his arms crossed and a slightly smirky smile on his face, was not a bad looker at all.
"You like the tall one. The one with the nice bulge in his shorts."
Beanie's eye tagged mine again. "And if I did? I wouldn't have any competition, would I?"
I placed a hand on my chest and looked as totally innocent as could be. "From me? No way. I'd probably choke on that thing he's got."
Beanie grinned, and leaned closer, all the barriers down now that he knew we were not sparring for the same prize. "Yeah, but what a way to go!" He waggled his eyes at me. "Which one is yours?"
"The flying one," I said immediately, still trying to get my head around the idea of that one being 'mine'.
My choice seemed to please Beanie no end. "I had a feeling! That's Pyotr. But he likes 'Peter' better."
"One could wish," I said, sliding a little closer to Beanie. "You know these guys?"
"I met them the other day. They come here to work out." He favored me with a slightly superior smile. "They're from St. Petersburg, in Russia."
"Sure they are," I returned, leaning back. Beanie was having fun with me, obviously.
"For real!" he said, closing the distance between us again. "The oldest guy, that's Dimitri Esmeria. The three others are his cousins, Vladimir, Kaspar, and Pyotr Roskov." He grinned then. "Or Dimi, Vladik, Kas, and Peter, as they want to be called now. They're really Russians!"
I stared at the boys again, examining them even more closely than before. I couldn't have guessed they weren't as American as I, by the way they looked. Well, except for the cool workout suit that Peter was wearing, which didn't look like anything I'd ever seen for sale at Walmart, that was for sure.
"Do they speak American?" I hazarded, still staring.
Beanie laughed, and poked me. "You are so friggin' cute when you're being stupid! They speak English, yes." He let his eyes follow mine, to caress the muscled bodies before us. "They've been here for two years, and I can understand them just fine." He grinned. "In fact, I think their accents are sexy."
Beanie would. I took in a breath, let it out slowly. "Do you know how old they are?"
"Sure. Dimi is sixteen. Vladik and Kaspar are twelve. They're twins, just not identical ones."
I huffed in impatience. "And Pyotr? I mean...Peter?"
"Thirteen...almost fourteen. A few months younger than you." He laughed. "Although you'd sure never be able to tell by talkin' to him."
Beanie gave me a sterling silver smile with that, and I couldn't help smiling in return. "Yeah? That's cool as shit."
"Wanna meet them?" Beanie suddenly bounced to his feet, and waved a hand at the boys like he owned them. I looked over at them, suddenly feeling a whole lot of shy coming on.
Vladik and Kas were pressing Peter now, up and down, up and down. Peter was grinning, obviously enjoying the whole thing.
"I hope they don't drop him," I said automatically, horrified on some basic level of the idea of bruises on that that beautifully tanned body.
"Nah. It's considered dishonorable to drop a teammate," Beanie said.
I refocused at that. "Teammate?"
"Yeah. They were part of some gymnastic outfit back home, before they came here. They don't compete now, but they still like to keep their workout on, you know?"
I realized then that Beanie knew a lot about these guys. "You've talked to them more than once, I take it?"
"Friggin' right! Every day since I first met them last week." Beanie grinned, and lowered his voice. "Best show in town, if you ask me."
At that moment, Vladik and Kas gently lowered Peter to the mat, and stepped back from him, waving their arms gently by their sides and working their shoulders a little. Peter lay still a moment, and then his head suddenly came up, and he looked right over at Beanie and me...and grinned!
"Oh my god!," I breathed. "Oh my god! He's looking right at us! " I forced my eyes over to Beanie, whose own eyes had gone wide at my reaction. "What do I do?" I whispered frantically. "What do I do?"
Beanie put has hands on his hips and stared at me. "Get a grip, Romeo. They're really nice guys. Let's go and say hello."
He made to step past me, but I reached out a hand and stopped him. "Are they...um...are any of them...gay?"
An odd look flashed across Beanie's face, but then he grinned. "You sure ask a lot of questions," he whispered back. "Now will you stop acting like a turd and come on?"
He gripped my arm and started dragging me forward. My eyes returned to the four boys, and Peter was still watching us. And still smiling.
At that moment, the biggest guy - Dimi - came over to the mat and said something to Peter that I didn't hear. Peter shrugged, ignoring the older boy, still watching us.
Dimi wasn't having that, apparently. He reached down, grabbed the straps of Peter's workout suit, and hauled up on them.
Peter let out a sharp laugh and came up on his elbows and knees, but it wasn't enough to stop an almost unbelievable stretching of his clothing. The workout suit separated from Peter's backside, and I had this just startlingly clear look at the tanned curves of his butt, and the top of his buttcrack, and just...just parts of Peter I had no right to see.
I grabbed Beanie's arm and squeezed it so hard that he gave a little grunt at the pressure. "Fuck a duck! Haven't these guys ever heard of underwear?"
Beanie laughed. "Are you complaining?"
Was I? Well..."Um, no."
He continued pulling me along."Then come on, shitballs. Geez, you'd think you never saw a cute guy before."
Well...I hadn't. Not like this one, anyway!
Beanie grinned, and waved at the four boys as we approached "Komradskis! Que pasa?"
Dimi and Peter looked at each other, and both boys laughed. "Is coming Bee-nie!" both boys called, in unison.
I realized then that Beanie was pulling really hard on me, and that I was actually trying to hold back. What the hell was up? I was trying not to get closer to Peter? There was something definitely wrong with that move!
I knew what it was, too. I was scared. Peter had hit me hard, just the sight of him digging deep into my little world of fantasy and secret desires and shining a light on everything I thought was private. In one fantastic instant I had laid eyes on a guy and been struck silly. Even more than Bobby Diamond had ever done, Peter Roskov had lined up every little notion of what I wanted in my perfect guy and made them stand at attention.
And now, here I was, trying to run away from the boy of my dreams. No way I could live with myself if I let that happen!
I surged forward so quickly that Beanie stumbled, and gave me an evil look. But he let go of my arm, convinced now that I would follow under my own power.
"I wanted you guys to meet a friend of mine," Beanie said, clapping me on the shoulder as we drew up before the others."This is Billy Mitchell." He waved a hand at the Russians. "Dimi, Vladik, Kas, and Peter."
All four of them grinned and waved, but it was Peter my eyes went after. His smile seemed eager, his blue eyes bright with welcome, and it was a look that could have melted butter at ten feet.
"HI," I said, managing to make it sound like a word instead of a grunt. "How are you guys doing?"
"We are good," Dimi said, nodding. "Is nice day."
"It sure as hell is," I returned, grinning sunnily at Peter before I could stop myself.
Vladik and Kas looked at each other and burst out laughing, and I had no idea why. But the boy with the little star tattooed on his shoulder - Vladik, I think it was - reached out and gave Peter a small shove, propelling him towards me.
Peter winced, and glared for just a second over his shoulder; but then returned his smile to me. "I am Peter."
"I know. I mean...I'm pleased to meet ya."
He stuck out a hand and I looked at it, golden brown in the afternoon sun, fingers slightly apart, awaiting the touch of mine. I stuck out my own hand and grasped it, and let my eyes come up to meet his.
I can't describe what I saw there. They were beautiful eyes, wide open and alert, intelligent and strong. They seemed to search mine, and I felt kind of lost in their gaze.
Lost, and pleased right down to my socks. I smiled, mostly because I just couldn't help but to do so. That seemed to please Peter, who's own smile widened, and he gripped my hand more tightly and pumped it a few times. I almost automatically squeezed back, and returned the enthusiastic shake. Peter laughed, released my hand, and then smacked it gently. "Good grip. Strong. You bend steel bars, da?"
Beanie gave out a squeaky laugh, and prodded me with a fingertip. "This guy? I don't think so. He has been known to heft a slice of pizza or two."
I gave him my best fuck you look, but didn't want to say it in front of our company. I had a feeling that these guys wouldn't be much offended by anything that could come out of my mouth - but why be offensive if you don't have to? My mom would probably have been proud of me at that moment.
Beanie saw the look, though, and nodded. "He's mighty good on a bike, though."
Peter turned and looked to where my GT Interceptor Pro lay on its side in the nearby grass. He smiled, and let his eyes come back to mine. And then he stepped back and looked me up and down, and nodded. "Strong legs. Is good for you."
Being looked at like that was really oddly thrilling. It was like being checked out, but maybe a little more professional. I felt my face warm, but unaccountably, didn't feel my shy strengthen like it might have normally done. I looked Peter up and down in return, could not miss the definition beneath his sun-browned skin, and probably grinned like a complete fool. "You look pretty fit yourself."
All four Russian boys laughed, and I felt like it was some kind of joke they shared, but one which I was missing completely.
Dimi grinned at me, and then at Peter. "You sit out this round, Petya, and entertain your new friend. Bee-nie will fill in for you, da?" Dimi's eyes went to Beanie, whose mouth dropped open a little, but who nodded eagerly at the idea. "I'm for that. What do you want me to do?"
For just a second I saw the devil in Dima's eyes. But he covered it right up with a very cute laugh and grin, and pointed at Vladik and Kas. "You are heavier than Petya. You will challenge these two." He turned to look at his smaller cousins. "You not drop Bee-nie, right?"
The two boy's eyes widened as they examined Beanie like one might a heavy piano that had to be moved. "We try not to drop," Kas said then, grinning at Beanie.
"But we no promise," Vladik finished, also smiling.
"I spot," Dimi offered, waving a hand at Beanie. "They drop, I catch. Da?"
Beanie looked like he hoped that both of the smaller Russians would collapse under his weight, but tried to cover it up with a grin. "I'm game. What do I do?"
"Lay down on mat," Dima said, pointing at the white mat on the ground. "They get you up. I help, if needed."
The speed with which Beanie went to the mat and laid down was astonishing, and I couldn't help grinning. Being hefted into the air by two cute guys, while a third one you liked a lot stood guard to make sure you weren't dropped, could not fail to be high up on the list of favorite things to do for a guy like Beanie.
For just a second I felt a flash of jealousy, and it surprised me. It wasn't for what Beanie was going to get to do, it was for what the Russians were going to do with Beanie.
Beanie and I had been friends for a long time. We had come out to each other first, before either of us had told our families, and we had shared an awful lot together in our quests to find boyfriends. Something in our friendship had kept us from becoming interested in each other like that; but that I was fond of Beanie I could not deny. And...that someone else was going to be able to put their hands on him and lift his body...kind of made me...jealous.
But the thought kind of got lost as Peter grasped my arm and pulled at me. "Show me your bicycle, Bika?"
Huh? I looked at him, could see the smile in his eyes, and knew somehow that what he had done to my name was a little special. I grinned - again like a fool - and nodded. "Sure. C'mon over."
We went to the bike and I pulled it upright so that Peter could examine it. The approval in his eyes was immediate. "Aw, is nice bike. Made well."
"Did you have a bike in...in Russia?" I asked.
"Da. But not like this." He shook his head. "Bike like this, very expensive in my country." He waggled his fingers, seemed to think about it, and then rubbed his thumb against his first two fingers. "Costs lotsa scratch, pardner."
There was an undeniable Texas drawl to the way he said the words, and I couldn't help laughing. "You musta known an American over there."
He nodded. "Several. My papochka...my father, was in import business with several Americanskiy." He grinned. "I learned some Yanki from them."
I was fascinated by the strangeness of the way this boy talked, especially about how he talked of things that were utterly familiar to me. "If you'd like to ride it, go ahead."
Peter grinned, and nodded. "I would. But...not now?" He reached out and gave me a playful poke. "I get to know you, first."
That sounded absolutely wonderful to me. That I could have been on my way to Lowe's to buy friggin' nails, had stopped to talk to Beanie, and was now in the company of this boy who made my head spin just a little, was amazing. There was that being bit in the butt thing...only this was a bite I really welcomed!
Peter looked up into the sky, and - apparently without much thought - stuck his thumbs under the straps holding up his workout suit and flexed his arms and shoulders, stretching. The suit responded by crawling upwards, and my eyes dropped in shock as the thin material suddenly outlined most perfectly the contents of Peter's crotch. And I mean perfectly.
In an instant I knew that this guy from the other side of the planet had a dick about the same size as mine - well, when it was limp, anyway - and a very nice set of nuts at the least equal to my own. My eyes simply soaked up the image as my thoughts ground to a halt inside my head. Shee-it! I scarcely knew this guy, and I had already seen his cute butt and had an almost perfect view of his junk.
I forced my eyes upward to meet Peter's, and he was smiling at me. "Come."
He grasped my arm and pulled at me, and we sank down to the grass. Peter stretched out, and then rolled onto his side and propped his head up on his hand, and watched me. "I get to know you now."
I had to laugh, and mimicked his position, only facing him. "What do you want to know?"
So we talked about school, and sports, and things that seemed normal in my daily life, but were utterly strange to Peter. And things he had done in his life, that seemed utterly strange to me. He was fascinating, no doubt about that. That we had had such different upbringings, but were here now, two feet apart and discussing life, was simply stunning to my senses.
I liked Peter, and I liked him a lot. As we lay there talking, I noticed that he had a small scar in one eyebrow, and that his nose was not absolutely straight. And, he had a canine tooth that was slightly out of line with his other teeth, which I could see plainly as he talked. I could see everything clearly from that distance, and most clearly that he was not perfect.
And none of it mattered, not one bit. He was beautiful to me, not just for his looks, but for what I saw in his eyes when he smiled, and for the humor and good-nature that came through in his speech. Here was a good person, one who could be a friend that would never, ever quit on you.
A friend, and maybe more.
Here was the guy I think I had been looking for, at school, around town, and in my dreams each night in bed. Here was a guy I could fall in love with - if that were only possible.
I also liked the way he looked at me, as if he was seeing things in my face, too. I knew I wasn't the cutest guy around - not by far. Bobby Diamond made me look average, and I knew it. But Peter watched me as if he were exploring, as if he were seeing things that most people couldn't, and liking what he found. It was a very rare, very odd experience; but I loved every freakin' second of it.
We talked, and then we paused to watch Kas and Vladik heft Beanie up and down, while Dima placed a hand in the small of Beanie's back for balance. Beanie wore an expression of magnificent contentment, and I couldn't help grinning at him, even as he grinned over at me.
"Bee-nie likes being weight," Peter observed, laughing.
I just nodded, not wanting to say anything to give Beanie away. That my friend was in the grip of the same feelings as I was obvious now, and I would not do a single thing to spoil it for him. Peter and I watched a few moments longer, and then we went back to talking.
School for Peter had been different than anything I ever knew, with an emphasis on performance that seemed sadly lacking at my school. Peter seemed to expect life to be harder and more challenging than I had ever considered it might be, and yet again I was struck with how different we saw that world. And finding how much I liked the way this boy saw things.
The more we talked, the more the big question leaned forward into the light from the twilit reaches of the back of my mind. Peter touched me regularly, laying his fingers on my arm to emphasize something, and patting me when we laughed. I was acutely conscious of that touch, at the openness of it, the warmth of it. Was Peter just being friendly, or was he seeking more?
And...the whole meeting now seemed odd, too pat, almost as if Peter had been expecting me to come along. I knew that was ridiculous...right? Briefly, I looked over at Beanie, and smiled again at the joy on his face. He had finally been put down, and he and Dimi were sitting together at the edge of the mat, shoulder to shoulder, counting, while the twins did push ups. Dimi, too, seemed quite comfortable at Beanie's side, and for just a moment a suspicion crept into the back of my mind that maybe things here were not quite as they seemed.
"You have girl?" Peter suddenly asked, giving me a gentle tap on the arm to get my attention back. His eyes twinkled, as if at some secret joke.
"Huh?" It seemed a question jarringly out of place to what I had been considering.
"You have girl?" Peter repeated, looking both interested and amused at my expression.
"Uh...no. I don't." I could only shrug. I'd never even been interested, and now that I was out at school, most of the girls didn't try to get more than just normally friendly.
But I had to ask. "How about you?"
Peter wrinkled his nose in a frown, but then laughed. "I play game, but I not get caught."
I couldn't help smiling at the funny expression he wore. "What game?"
His grin came back, and I just sighed happily inside at the sight of it. "In Russia, boys and girls play game. Game of Fox and Hare. Sometimes boy is fox, sometimes is girl." He nodded. "Fox chase Hare. Sometimes catch, sometimes not."
I laughed at that. Oh! He was referring to the way that guys and girls pursued each other. I had seen plenty of that at school myself. It always seemed kind of plain to me when someone was after someone else. Tommy Spatts had just recently landed Kelly Kincaid, and people were still talking about it like it was the romance of the ages. The happy couple were seen in the hallways every day, hand in hand, smiling like all get out. It was cute, if you went in for that boy-girl stuff.
Not for me, though.
"I get it. So the girls chased you, huh? You were the Hare?"
"Yes. Very fast Hare, too. Not get caught."
I wondered then...what would happen if I played the Fox, to Peter's Hare? I had slowly been convincing myself that I was seeing signs of interest from the Russian boy. I know, I know, it was awfully soon to think anything of the sort...but I was feeling little blips at the edge of my gaydar, and not knowing what to make of them. Bogey, or the real thing? That Peter might at least be bi was a nice idea. Hell, a lot of those gymnast-types were prone to walking on the wild side, weren't they?
But then I immediately regretted even thinking such a thing. It was a ridiculous stereotype, and wishful thinking on my part, at that.
But I'd never know unless I tried. Fox, huh?
"You didn't want to get caught?"
"Nyet. No." He laughed. "Must be right Fox, to catch this Hare."
He grinned at me, and leaned a little closer. "You ever play Fox and Hare?"
I shook my head. "No. I just...I never met the right Hare, I guess."
He leaned back a little. "Is many out there. Is many Foxes, too."
I had to agree with that. The idea that I might be a Fox now and chase after Peter as the Hare was an idea that was growing in attraction with every passing moment. Just having him close to me was thrilling, and no one had ever quite done that to me before.
A piercing, long whistle split the afternoon air then, and Peter's head swiveled in the direction it had come from. The other Russian's also looked that way, and Kas and Vladik climbed to their feet and said something to Dima.
A look of disappointment came onto Peter's face, and then one of resignation. "Must go. That is papochka calling. Wants us home." He climbed to his feet and looked down at me, while I stared up at him, awash in my own disappointment.
He grinned, dropped a hand, and helped me to my feet. Then he turned and pointed to a gabled roof protruding above the trees at the end of the park. "See house? I live there." He turned and grinned at me. "Come here every day to work out."
I stared at the distant roof. "You guys just move in, or something? I've been coming to this park my whole life, and --" I grinned at him "-- and I'm pretty sure I'd remember seeing you."
He nodded. "Papochka bring us here to I-meh-rika two years ago. To Chi-ca-go." He grinned at the way the two words struggled off his tongue, and I had to smile. "Do import business from this end now," he continued. "He do well, and move us here to this lovely town." He winked at me. "Many things here nice to look at. Many things here nice to do."
I blinked, not sure what I was hearing. It sounded like he was talking about me!
"You come here tomorrow, Bika?"
He wanted to see me again! The disappointment at him leaving was whisked away, to be replaced by anticipation. "Sure. I'll come by. What time?"
He laughed. "Same as today, but earlier. Okay?"
I blinked at that, but got what he meant. "Sure."
He winked at me again. "Is date!"
He put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a little squeeze, his eyes bright; and then he was turning away, and heading back to the others, who were gathering up shoes and shirts and rolling up the mat.
Beanie came to stand beside me, and we watched as the Russians started off across the park towards the house at the end. They all turned and waved, and Beanie and I waved back, and we watched them until they were out of sight.
"Aren't you glad you stopped, Billy-boy?"
I nodded. "Fuckin' right!" All sorts of emotions were romping through my skull just now.
Beanie prodded me with his elbow. "You like Peter? I think he likes you."
I stared at the space among the far off trees where Peter and the others had vanished from sight. "I think I'm in love, Beanie."
* * * * * * *
The next day, and for the next few weeks after that, we spent our days in the park, Beanie and I, with Dima, Peter, and the twins.
Before I knew it I found myself barefoot and shirtless, and being hefted about by the Russians, and wrestling, and working out with Peter. The touching was most pleasant, of course, and I pushed it a little, being the Fox to Peter's Hare. If he was aware that we were engaged in the chase he didn't show it, but nor did he in any way discourage me from the hunt. That I was falling for this sweet, blue-eyed guy from another land was obvious to me now, and a little terrifying, too. I wanted very much to keep after him, to be the Fox in pursuit; but I was also afraid of spooking him, of losing him, and that kept me in line as far as daring quite to pounce like I wanted to. I became a sweet Fox, maybe; the teeth I showed always a smile, the touch I gave always gentle, and the catch I wanted so much...just out of reach. Sometimes, that's the way it is, I guess.
Peter rode my bike, and I his. His looked like it had been assembled from several different makes, but it was sturdy and effective, and all it would have needed was a nice paint job to make it a primo machine. He had no trouble at all pacing me on the backwoods trails, and when we weren't with the others, we were pedaling through the woods, laughing and carrying on, and having the time of our lives. Being with Peter became my every day, and dreaming of him my every night. In between those two, I was about as happy as I had ever been.
At some point my parent's noticed, and I think my mom prodded my dad to ask me about it. Neither of my folks were totally comfortable with me being gay, but dad at least could talk to me about it pretty easily, without his face reddening like my mom's did. Not that mom had stopped being supportive. I had decided that she was just slightly embarrassed to talk to me about my love life, because there were no girls in it for her to empathize with. It was an all-guy thing, and somehow her logic dictated that dad should be the primary one to deal with it.
Dad wasn't totally comfortable with it, either. He plainly didn't get the attraction, but nor did I expect him too. That he loved me and wanted me to be happy were obviously foremost in his mind, and so it was dad that pulled me in and asked me what was going on. He called me into his shop one morning when I was getting my bike out of the garage.
"You have your head in the clouds lately," he said, and then proceeded to run a two-by-four through his circular table saw while I stood patiently and waited. He finished the cut, and shut off the motor. "Is there any particular reason?"
So I proceeded to tell him about Peter, and what Beanie and I had been doing for the past few weeks.
When I was finished, Dad looked at me and smiled. "Russian? No kidding?"
"Nope. They're the real deal, dad. From Saint Petersburg, they said."
He nodded. "Nice city. Big, too, from what I've heard."
I felt my eyebrows go up in surprise. "You've heard of it?"
He laughed. "Sure. I was just across the Gulf of Finland from the place when I visited Helsinki."
My dad had been in the navy when he was not a whole lot older than I. I'd heard a lot of fun tales about his experiences, but this was the first time he'd ever mentioned being anywhere near Russia.
I grinned at him. "Wow. I'll tell Peter that my dad was nearly a visitor to his homeland."
"From what I heard, it's the nicest city in all of Russia. Not as big as Moscow, and so a lot more comfortable." He winked. "Away from the government a little, too."
My dad had a thing about being 'too near' to government, which was one of reasons why we lived in a small town in the boondocks. But not the main reason at all, which was that he and my mom had grown up in the country, and loved it.
But I heard my dad laughingly tell my Uncle Mark once that government was like a hernia: you knew it was there, it was painful, but the only thing you could do was live with it or surgically remove it, which was messy and costly. My Uncle Mark lived near the nation's capital and worked for some big government bureau, and even so he and my dad were always laughing about something the government had messed up.
"'Of the people, by the people, and for the people' obviously never considered that fact that normal people don't want to be involved in government", my dad had once said. "And so we have government by politicians, which brings us back to the hernia dilemma."
But that was neither here nor now.
"You seem to like this guy, Billy." Dad's eyes watched me with interest now, and I could see that I had his full attention.
I know I grinned, and I know it was because what he had said was the understatement of the year. I was in love, I was pretty sure, and it probably showed in my eyes and my face, because dad's eyes widened and he smiled, too. "Oh. Like that, huh?"
"Is it okay?" I had to ask, because I knew that if my Fox caught Peter's Hare, he would be around the house a lot, and my family would either have to like him or things would be hard on all of us.
"Yes, it's fine." Dad nodded. "One thing about you, Bill, is that you have good judgment. I think that if you like this boy, we will like him, too." He winked. "Bring him around to meet us sometime, and we'll put him to the test."
I felt warm inside - really good. Not just because dad had said that Peter was welcome, but also because I think it was the first time he had ever called me Bill. That I was in some way momentarily being elevated to equal status with my dad was plain.
We're in this together, he was saying.
"Thanks, dad." I wanted to act like an equal, but I wasn't quite up to it, and I wound up giving him a great big hug instead.
And then I was on my way to the park, and to Peter. It was to be a memorable day.
* * * * * * *
I had become a strong wrestler, and I could pin Kas and Vladik with a little work now. I was a little bigger than they were, and I had become a lot stronger, working out with the guys. Dima was of course out of the question; he could press me easily, and was strong as an ox. Beanie couldn't take him, either, which didn't seem to bother Beanie one bit. He was ecstatic just to be able to wrestle at all with Dima, and it was a win for Beanie just to be on the mat with him.
Peter also was a lot stronger than anyone else his age I had ever met, and I had a heck of a time pinning him. I had maybe an inch in height on him, and less than ten pounds. We were very equally matched, but I had to struggle to win against him even half of the time.
But I sure loved wrestling with him. I would get a faceful of the smell of his skin, and feel all those muscles working against mine, and more than once found my face pressed against his as we fought to dominate the mat. It would have been a simple thing to sneak in a faux kiss - press my lips against his skin, and imagine I was kissing the guy I loved.
But...I was still a scared Fox, not quite ready to pounce.
Usually, after working out for a bit. Peter and I would go and lay in the grass together, and shoot the shit. It was a favorite thing to do for me, because I could look into Peter's eyes as we talked, and be close to the smile he offered at every opportunity. And hear the laugh I had come to love.
That day was no different, and after an hour or more of wrestling and working out, Peter and I went to lay in the grass while the others continued to go at it.
Kas and Vladik had impressed me with their dedication. They loved gymnastics, and they loved to work out. And while they joined in everything the six of us did, it was plain that the fun of it was secondary to them, and the work the main reason for being there.
Dima I was not so sure about. That he was there to work out was obvious, but that he seemed to wish to work out mostly with Beanie also plain. I had initially thought that it was because Beanie was closest to him in size and weight, and therefore the best competition, but...hell, I'm not blind, either, and it was plain to me that something was going on there. Something special.
I really wanted to ask Peter about that, but was just a little too worried about tipping my hand. I was sure now that Peter was at least bi, and that he liked me. But could he love me - that, I didn't know. And I was kind of afraid to find out, lest the answer be crushing, and our friendship lost.
So we talked for most of the afternoon, while the others played, and I watched my Russian boy as he told stories of his homeland, and of his friends, his family, and his life there. I was enchanted as always, and followed every word, laughed when he laughed, sighed when he touched me, and just adored him and desired him...from two feet away.
It might as well have been a mile.
Fear sucks, you know that? Twice I made up my mind to ask Peter if there was a chance for us to be more than we were now, and twice I chickened out miserably. I was getting annoyed with myself now, and on the point of forgetting about it for the day, when something happened that changed the course of history as I was to know it.
The sound of laughter wafted over to us, and we both looked over at the other boys on the mat. I had to look twice, because I just couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. Dima had Beanie pinned, and was lying atop my friend's chest and grinning down into his face. Beanie, for his part, looked like he had no fight in him at all, and was in fact enjoying every moment of the wrestling match.
But it was the closeness of their faces that amazed me. They were scarcely two inches apart!
I heard Peter laugh, and turned back to look at him. "I think Fox catch Hare," he said, almost wistfully.
I blinked, and turned back to look at the other two boys. Dima drew up a hand, and rubbed the tip of Beanie's nose playfully, and Beanie responded by raising his head and puckering his lips. Dima dropped his own head and kissed Beanie....kissed Beanie!
"What the hell!" I said softly, sitting up.
I felt a hand on my arm, and looked back at Peter. "Is okay, da?"
I gaped at him. "You knew about this?"
He nodded. "The first time Bee-nie come here, he start talking to us. He and Dima like each other right away. No need for Fox to chase Hare much there. Hare come willingly."
I laughed in amazement. "You knew." And then another realization hit me. "And Beanie, he knew, too!"
Peter's fingers flexed gently on my arm. "Da." He smiled at me. "I say to Beanie, you have friend? I need vozlyublennyy, too."
"Vozla...huh? What's that?"
Peter frowned a moment, but then he smiled, and his eyes twinkled. "Is boyfriend, Bika."
I stared at him some more, not getting it. I must have looked very put off, somehow, because he watched me a moment, looking distressed. "I am sorry, you no like. I ask Beanie if he have gay friend, and he say da. He say if we come every day to park, you come along eventually, and I get to meet you." He smiled, looking a little shy himself now. "He say I like you. He right."
His words slowly revolved through a hollow space inside my head, echoing and re-echoing as I replayed them again and again.
Beanie had set me up!
I stared at Peter now, saw the way he watched me, saw the hopeful light in his eyes. And I had to laugh.
Here I had been, lusting after this guy, and contemplating playing the Fox to his Hare, and entertaining the wild hope that I might somehow catch him. And all along he had been waiting for me to show up, hoping to meet me instead.
"You knew I was gay," I accused. But I couldn't help smiling with it.
His eyes lit up. "Da. I like you right away, Bika. So I be patient, and wait."
Those words sank in, and I felt an incredible sense of amazement.
I wasn't the Fox at all!
I was the Hare!
That was all I needed to push me over. I leaned closer to Peter, right up to within two inches of his face, just as Beanie and Dima had done. And then I puckered my lips, and closed my eyes.
I heard the smallest of laughs, or perhaps the gentlest of growls; and then felt the warmth of his face against mine.
And then the Fox kissed me...
...and I was caught.
This story was originally written in response to a picture challenge. You can see the picture at: http://iomfats.org/storyshelf/contests/2017-just-hangin/