Computer Drive

Part 2

Some things seem to have a mind of their own, and you need help to figure them out.

audio Audio By
Ben Whisman

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Revision History

§ § §

If anyone had been expecting sudden revelations from Mitchell or Kevin, they hadn’t materialized. In fact, for some weeks, it had seemed things had cooled off between the two friends. At least, Mitchell had. He wasn’t unfriendly. The boys still talked, still hung out, but Mitchell was quieter, more reserved, not his usual self, around Kevin. Mitchell was usually more at ease, happier, more relaxed with Kevin around, whether it was at school or their homes, the park or the mall.

Kevin had tried more kidding, but that only made Mitchell more uncomfortable, and so Kevin had stopped. It had been nearly five weeks now, and Kevin had finally quit teasing Mitchell altogether. He didn’t know what else to do, and it was getting to him. Where before they had talked easily about everything—well, everything but that; now it was a chore getting Mitchell to talk at all. Kevin had stayed home this Saturday, rather than going over to see Mitchell. Mitchell hadn’t emailed or texted or phoned him in over a week. It had all been up to Kevin. And today, Kevin was too sick of it to try. In fact, Kevin was rarely the sunny, mischievous, outgoing guy these days. He tended to stick to his room now, and he was short-tempered with everyone; Mom, Dad, and even the Rugrat, Xavier.

Xavier had been seriously hurt and mad about it for over a week, until he’d seen Kevin brooding, and the pieces starting fitting together. Only for Kevin, things weren’t fitting together, they were coming apart. Xavier didn’t know what to do about it. His brother had always been the strong one, the confident one, always quick with a funny joke or cool new idea. This just couldn’t keep going like this.

Xavier put the cap on the toothpaste and finished brushing his teeth. It was almost noon. Mom and Dad were at one of the big box stores, probably buying those huge, and hugely embarrassing, cases of toilet paper. Mom said the boys went through it fast. Dad said Mom went through it faster than all three of the guys put together. Whatever. Xavier was just glad he didn’t have to be with them for that. He had a serious case of bed-head still, but he didn’t care. It was Saturday. He wasn’t going to take a bath until tonight. He’d put on something and comb his hair later. OK, he would change shorts, though. Kevin’s door was closed, the “Biohazard! Keep Out!” sign firmly in place. Like that mattered to Xavier. He didn’t know if Kevin was awake or not. He hadn’t heard anything from in there since he got up. Xavier spit out the toothpaste and rinsed his mouth and put up his toothbrush. He rushed out to bug Kevin, and slipped on the bathroom rug. “Ow! Fishsticks!” He knew the real word, but at home, it was fishsticks. He picked himself up and rubbed his sore butt and elbow. He liked fishsticks. A lot, actually. He snickered. That was a good one, he’d have to tell Kevin. It was when he put the bathroom rug back in place that he noticed. Kevin hadn’t called him Rugrat. Not even once. Not in five weeks. Now that was going way too far.

Xavier marched purposefully up to Kevin’s door and steeled himself. There was no telling what lay beyond that door. Kevin might be up and studying. Or playing computer games. Or surfing the web, hanging out in nerdy techno-dweeb places muttering about pointers and decimal hexes. Or he might be sprawled out in bed, drooling and snoring lightly. Or he might walk in on him wanking. Well, it’d serve him right for the last time Kevin had walked in on him and laughed so hard he fell over...before mussing his hair and congratulating him on finally figuring it out. It had stopped Xavier from exploding into all-out war, and they’d had their first really serious talk about that stuff later that night. They pretty much knew each other’s secrets after that. Come to think of it, how long had it been since he’d last heard Kevin going at it? Well, fishsticks. He took a deep breath, grabbed the doorknob, leaned into and stormed in.

“Surprise!” He sailed in and skidded to a stop in the middle of the room. Kevin’s bed wasn’t made. It was messed up. Kevin sat at his desk, leaning against the wall. He was...OK, darn it, he didn’t get caught. Oh, well. “Whatcha doin’, bro? You gonna fall over again?” It was their code word. Some things, Mom and Dad really didn’t need to know. Some things were sacred, between the two brothers. That was most definitely one of them.

Kevin’s breath hissed out, “Shut up, Xavier,” he grated, but it was half-hearted. Kevin didn’t even have the energy to get annoyed? Or muster up a good insult? Or some smart comeback? Wow, it really took the fun out of it.

“Nope, no way. I’ve had it. You’re gonna have to fight me! Calling me Xavier? Not making your bed, when you’re not in it? It’s almost noon and you’re not showered and dressed? I barge in here expecting to catch you humping your calculator or something, and you can’t even manage a snappy comeback? Just shut up, Xavier? I dunno which one’s worse, Kevin. But if you don’t at least call me Rugrat, we’re gonna go to war!”

“Fine. Rugrat. You win. Happy now? Leave me alone.” Kevin didn’t even turn around. His voice was totally flat, morose.

“Nope. Not happy at all. Neither are you. Somebody stole my brother, and I’m not letting you alone until you tell me who did it.”

“Fat chance. Go away.”

“Nope!” Grinning, he reached for Kevin’s chair and spun him around, or tried to. It almost worked. He turned him half around and leaned over him, their knees gnashing together, Xavier’s hands on Kevin’s shoulders. Kevin raised his arms to push him away at the shoulders. The two slapped at each other, play-fighting, almost like normal.

“OK, Kevin, this is pathetic. You’re not even trying, you’re just letting me win. Your heart’s not in it. Come on, tell me what’s wrong.”

Kevin looked up at him and winced, then tried to shove Xavier aside. He tried hard, but Xavier wasn’t having it. It caught Kevin by surprise. It caught them both by surprise, as the chair swiveled and they ended up both tumping over, wham, onto the floor.

“OW! OW! Oh, ow!” Yelps came from both boys. Arms, elbows, knees, legs, faces, groins, it felt like everything hit them everywhere at once.

“Oh, shit! Xavier, are you OK? Xavier, did I hurt you?” Kevin was frantic. Tears were streaming from Xavier’s eyes.

“I don’t know. I think so. I mean, I don’t think so. Ow, ow, let me up!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry! Xavier!” The two boys struggled to disentangle themselves from the chair and help each other get up. They wobbled over to the bed and sat heavily. “Ow....” each said. “Xavier, are you OK?” Kevin pleaded.

Xavier heard the pain in Kevin’s voice, the worry, as both of them cradled an elbow or knee or chin. He thought absently how Kevin was no longer detached. Now, he cared. This was his real brother, not the fake who’d been in his place all these weeks.

“I guess, I dunno yet. You? Are you OK, Kevin? Really?”

“Lemme see,” Kevin began touching Xavier, checking all over. Xavier accepted this, half-smiling, touched literally and figuratively by his brother’s concern. Xavier began checking over Kevin too, and they each hissed and yelped in places, but let go, satisfied.

“I think you’re OK, Bubba,” Kevin said, slipping. When had Kevin last called him that, he wondered? Kevin didn’t even notice he did it.

It was entirely too good a chance to pass up. Xavier grinned with a glint in his eye, “I dunno, you didn’t check everywhere.” He crooned.

“No chance, Rugrat, if that’s broken, I ain’t fixin’ it. You better check it yourself.”

“Aw,” Xavier drawled, then couldn’t stop his giggles. “You’re not gonna kiss it and make it better?”

“Oh, no. Less than zero chance, ‘Rat. You kiss it yourself.”

“Good idea! Wanna watch?” he crowed.

Kevin looked shocked for a long moment, and then his expression changed from shock to something else. Xavier had expected Kevin would crack up laughing. Instead, he turned away and looked into space, morose again. Oh, heck no.

“Kevin?” he paused. “What is it? What’s wrong? Why won’t you tell me? You’re not really OK. Won’t you talk to me? Please?” Xavier found himself getting choked up. He loved his brother and he knew, beyond doubt again, that his brother still loved him. But his brother, the confident, funny, witty boy he always looked up to, had lost all that confidence. He was hurting, and it shook Xavier in a way he didn’t have words for.

When he’d been little, when Kevin had called him Bubba, or Rugrat when he was mad, Xavier wouldn’t have known any more than that, a lost, scaredy-cat feeling. But he sensed now it was his turn to be strong for Kevin, to make it all better. But how did you make it all better when you didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it?

And Kevin wasn’t talking. He was looking off into what wasn’t there, blank. It scared Xavier.

Xavier looked over to the desk, saw the overturned chair, and went to pick it up. He rolled it under the desk like Kevin always wanted, everything neat and tidy, perfect and orderly. Straight. It was then Xavier saw what was missing. The photos of Mitchell, of Mitchell and Kevin, of Xavier and the two of them, were gone. They were not so obvious, unless you knew Kevin. All but one. It was always on the corkboard on the wall his desk faced. There was just an empty hole there now. Oh. Xavier should’ve known.

He turned and studied his brother, the boy he most admired, and saw only an unhappy freshman staring into nothingness. Xavier was eleven, nearly twelve, but in that moment he grew up a little, saw his brother with mature eyes. He sat back down by Kevin and put his arm around him.

“Kevin? This is about Mitchell? You guys had a fight or something?”

Kevin shivered, caught his breath, and gulped, but he didn’t answer or look back. His head drooped just a little, but he stayed that way.

Xavier hugged him tighter. “You did, didn’t you?” He sighed and rubbed Kevin’s back. “Tell me what happened. Maybe I can help,” he offered.

“No, you can’t!” Kevin jerked away like he’d been burned. “Nothing can help! He—He won’t talk to me!” Kevin flung himself down onto the bed, burying his face in the pillows. Muffled sounds of him crying tore through Kevin’s body and Xavier’s alike. Xavier wanted to run away from the pain, like a ripsaw, but instead, he leaned over Kevin and rubbed his back again. He lay down beside him and hugged him tightly again.

“I’m sorry, brother.” Xavier soothed.

“It’s not your fault. You can’t do anything about it.” Kevin reasoned. It sounded reasonable.

“What happened? You guys hang out all the time.” Xavier thought hard, “But you’ve been...having trouble...for weeks...like five weeks or more. What’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you. Just leave me alone, OK?” But this time, he was begging him, it wasn’t a challenge. That worried Xavier more than if he’d been mad at him. “Please, Xavier. I know you want to help. I love you. I do. I just...I can’t.”

“Why? Why can’t you tell me? We talk about everything. Or...we used to.” Xavier started to draw away, feeling stung in spite of himself.

“Why? ‘Cause I don’t really know myself. Or himself. Don’tcha see? I don’t know what the fuck I did wrong. I thought we were good! I thought we were closer! I thought it was all going to be OK! But it wasn’t! It’s all gone wrong. He won’t even talk to me. I tried. I’ve tried everything I know how to do, and...it’s just not the same anymore. I give up! I can’t take it anymore. It’s over.”

Kevin was really crying now, sobs wracking his body, sniffling, he was nearly wailing. Xavier felt helpless. He drew away, thinking to leave Kevin some privacy to cry it out. In all his life, he couldn’t remember happy-go-lucky Kevin ever crying like this. It had always been him, and Kevin had always hung onto him. Always. Xavier dove toward him and hugged him for dear life, hanging on. “I’m here, Bubba. I’m here. I love you. I won’t let go, I promise.” He heard the whine in his voice and hated it. He was scared and almost crying too; any minute now, he’d be crying too, and how would that help Kevin? “It’s OK, just cry,” he said, not sure who he was trying to convince. “Let it all out.” He held his brother and let out his tears too.

He was thinking some very dire thoughts about what he’d like to do to Mitchell, the next time he saw him. Like that would do any good. He was ashamed for thinking it, but it was how he felt.

It was many minutes later before Kevin calmed, his tears released. He turned to Xavier and hugged him face to face, and kissed his ear. Xavier, predictably, rubbed his ear. It had bothered him ever since they were little, but they both smiled. They let go of each other and sat up. Kevin daubed at his eyes and nose until Xavier handed him the Kleenex box, wordlessly.

“Thanks, bro. Thank you. I guess I’ve been kind of a dick, huh?”

“Sometimes. A little.” Xavier smirked. “A little dick.”

Kevin looked sideways at him, serious at first. “Are you questioning the size of my junk?”

“Who me? No, you’re a big dick, for sure,” Xavier beamed, doing his best angelic look.

Kevin snorted and attacked, the two of them wrestling and tickling until they nearly fell off the bed. “Whoa! Oh, cripes.” Kevin said, grabbing his brother to keep them both from falling and banging something again.

“Aah!” Xavier floundered, grabbing the bed and his brother and squirming to keep from falling off.

“I think we’re gettin’ too old for this. We’re gonna break somethin’.”

“Yeah, us! Or the chair or the bed. Or us!” Xavier agreed.

“We better be more careful.”

“Yeah. But it was kinda fun.”

“Yeah, it was. Dork.”

“What, you questioning my junk now, big bro?”

“Oh, don’t start.”

“Yeah, true. But I’ve got my brother back.” Xavier smiled. “I missed you.”

“Thanks. We’d better wash up.”

“Yeah. You know, I’m not ready to grow out of this yet. Us playing, I mean, having fun horsing around.”

“Hmm. Me neither. That’s the best I’ve felt in...a long time.”

“Thanks. Kevin?”

“Yeah?”

“I know you don’t wanna talk about it, and maybe it’s private. But...what did happen between you two? How come you had a fight? How come he’s not talking to you? You guys still hang out, but you’re right, you guys aren’t like you always used to be.”

“I don’t really know, that’s the hardest part. We talked and I thought things were really good. It seemed like they were. Like they were gonna get better, even. Then...I don’t know. It’s like Mitchell got really quiet, and nothing I did would get him...back again. I don’t know.”

“I don’t think he’s really gone, Kevin. You guys still hang out and talk. Even if it’s different, he’s still hanging with you. Right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not the same. I’m the one talking. He’s not. I don’t know what else to do. I give up. I don’t want to. I don’t know what else to do, and I can’t take it anymore. I wish it wasn’t like that. I just don’t know what to do anymore.” Kevin hugged him, and Xavier was reassured that at least now, Kevin wasn’t alone in that nothing-space, he was hugging, talking, reaching for him. Xavier hugged him and patted his shoulder.

“What did you fight about?” Xavier asked softly.

“We didn’t. We talked, it was a good talk. At least, I thought so.”

“So what’s he unhappy about?” Xavier couldn’t leave it alone. It didn’t make any sense, and Mitchell was one of his best friends too, besides being Kevin’s best friend.

Kevin sighed, a long, gusty, weary sigh. “Good question, Rugrat. I thought we were fine, but he’s not. He’s major unhappy.”

“See? So he’s all unhappy, and it’s got you unhappy.”

“Well, yeah, of course, duh! Obvious! It’s—Oh crap, you’re right. I’m unhappy ‘cause he’s unhappy. It’s not over, we’re just...really screwed up.” He hugged Xavier gleefully and kissed his ear again. Xavier scrubbed his ear with the heel of his hand, grimacing, but smiling. They were both grinning like fools, and neither one minded a bit. “You are a genius, little brother! You know that?”

“Obvious! So gimme that in writing. Plus your allowance. Tell me what a genius and an excellent, loving brother I am.”

“Not to mention, what a sneaky salesman.”

“I had a good teacher.”

“Why, thank you.—Hey! No distractions! You think you’re gonna weasel out of this?”

“Sure, I do. What am I weaseling out of, anyway? I forget.”

“Hmm, add freaky mind tricks to your skills, bro. You’re right. You won that one fair and square. In fact, for once, only this once, you’ve been right about the whole thing. Or I hope so. I dunno. I don’t know if Mitchell and me can work things out and get back to being good again.”

“Ya gotta try, though. He’s your best friend. Maybe he’s so unhappy, he’s forgotten you’re really his best friend.”

“Maybe. When did you get so wise, little bro?”

“I dunno. This morning, I think.” Xavier said.

“For once, I’m not complaining.”

“That’s a first.”

“Smartass.” Kevin said.

“But it’s a nice ass.”

“Great, and now he’s conceited.”

“You’re not gonna say anything about my ass?”

“Nope, not touching that.”

“Kevin?”

“What, Xavier? I’m right here.”

“Yeah, for the first time in like five weeks. Not complaining, though.”

“Thanks. What is it now? I know you’re not going to quit asking.”

“You still haven’t said what you, uh, didn’t fight about.”

“Oh, come on! Xavier, don’t I get any privacy at all?”

“Nope, none. Not even when you fall over.” He snickered. Then he stopped snickering as he thought about that empty spot on the corkboard where Mitchell’s photo had been.

“That’s for sure.”

“Kevin?”

“Right here,” he said, vaguely annoyed.

“That wouldn’t be what you’re not tellin’ me, would it? I mean, uh, did...?”

“What?” Kevin exclaimed, confused for a second before he caught up. “Oh. You mean...? No, dude, we did not.” He said with some irritation.

“Did you want to? I mean, did he? Or did you? You know, want to?”

“You ask too damn many questions, Rugrat, you know that?”

“But am I right? You said I’ve been right so far. Is it...something like that, maybe? Do you guys...like each other?” Xavier knew he was pushing it. He knew what he was asking, too. But they didn’t have any secrets; at least, not until now. “Kevin, please, I don’t mean anything by it. You know I love you, and him too. I’m only asking. Is it something like that? ‘Cause if it is, it’s OK by me, OK? Please?” Xavier was somehow self-conscious now. He wanted to hug his brother, whether to reassure him or be reassured, he didn’t know. Both, probably. But it fit. It fit everything he’d seen between them, and it fit what had been going on the past five weeks even better than a fight between best friends.

Kevin swallowed. His mouth had gone dry. But Xavier had asked him a tough question, and one that deserved an answer. He had always tried to be honest with his little bro on the real questions. And this was one of the big ones. So how come it was so hard to answer him?

“Kevin? Did I hurt your feelings? You’re still my brother. Mitchell’s your friend, right? He’s my friend too, unless you say different.”

“What?” Kevin turned to look at him, truly alarmed.

“He’s our friend, unless, you know, he’s not.”

“Xavier!” He said, his voice raised, “Even if,” he started, still outraged, then forcing himself to be more calm, “even if,” damn, it was hard to think of it, but, “If things don’t work out between me and Mitchell, that doesn’t mean you can’t be his friend or he can’t be yours. That’s up to you two. Or I guess it’s up to him, really.” Kevin frowned and looked down at his lap. “Nobody gets to say who’s your friend or not, except you.”

“OK,” Xavier said, contrite and chagrined. “What about what I asked? If it’s none of my business, I’m sorry, but Kevin? If that’s what it is, between you guys, I want you to know I love you, gay or straight or whatever. I mean, if you are or he is or...anything...OK? You’re my brother. You’re not gonna be all alone, I promise.” He tried a hug, but Kevin was so lost in thought, or so upset, he hardly registered it. So Xavier, not knowing what else to do and not getting an objection, held on. Besides, he needed his brother.

Kevin sighed finally and turned to look at his brother. He smiled, a little uncertainly, and put his arm around Xavier again. “Bro, I love you too. Don’t worry about that. I’m not mad at you. It’s...it’s a tough question. It should be an easy question, you know? But there’s so much to it. It’s not just one person. It’s not just two people. It’s everybody else too, how they think about that. Look how we’re having trouble talking about it, and it’s just the two of us, and we love each other.”

“Yeah,” Xavier agreed. “But why can’t it be easy?”

“I don’t know. That one, I really don’t know. You’d think it’d be as easy as if a girl likes you or you like a girl.”

“I guess. Um, I don’t exactly know. I mean, who I like or who likes me. Especially who likes me. I think I’d know if I like someone.”

“Maybe, but like I say, it can be hard to figure out sometimes.”

“I guess.” Xavier said, puzzling it out.

“Well, OK, you asked. So here’s the answer. Or, as best as I can figure it right now, this minute.”

“OK.”

“I’m not exactly sure. About him. Or about me.”

“What? Oh, come on, that’s no kind of answer! What do you mean?”

Kevin smiled sheepishly. “Maybe not, but I’ve been trying to figure it out for five weeks now. Do I like Mitchell? Yes, some. He’s my best friend. I’ve kind of...I’ve thought about it. And before you start giggling, nerd, yeah, I mean that too. i’ve thought about him. So maybe.”

“I wasn’t gonna laugh! This is important!” Xavier protested, but he was trying not to think about it, because he wanted to laugh, at the embarrassing thought of his brother thinking about...doing things...with his best friend. They’d known each other as long as Xavier could remember, at least since Kindergarten.

“Well, don’t laugh!” Kevin groused. “At least, don’t laugh if Mitchell’s around, OK? I would sorta appreciate it if you didn’t laugh at me, either, but that’s probably a lost cause.”

Xavier’s mouth quirked, “Probably. I won’t laugh at Mitchell. I’ll try not to.”

“OK, fair enough. I’m not sure what Mitchell’s thinking, what he feels. We did talk about it, a little, and yes, that’s what’s going on, I mean, not going on, but that’s what the trouble is between us. We talked about it and Mitchell is freaked out about it.” Kevin slapped his head, “Oh damn, I am such an idiot. Of course that’s what all this is about. Mitchell’s more uptight and freaked out than I am. You know him.”

“Yeah. I bet he’s goin’ crazy.” Xavier smirked. “Boy-crazy, maybe.”

“Hey! Not funny, dingus!”

“Aw, c’mon, it is, a little.” Xavier answered.

“Not to him, it’s not. He’s taking it way, way seriously. Xavier, you can’t treat this like a joke when you’re with him, understand? It’s a really big deal for him. I think,” Kevin found things were starting to fit into place again. “I think it’s got him scared of the answers, how he feels or how he thinks...I might feel...or what he’s afraid I feel...or...oh, crap, I don’t know, but all kinds of junk like that.”

“OK, I said I’d be serious. I don’t wanna hurt him. Or you either.”

“OK, bro. Good. I think maybe he has feelings for me. Guys in general, too. Only he doesn’t know how to handle that, you know? He’s freaked out about it. He knows I told him I was OK with it, and he knows...well, we both said we’ve thought about it, each other, I mean.” Kevin looked skyward, “As hard as this is for me to talk about with you, think how it must be for him. Man, am I a jerk.”

“Not most of the time. Sometimes, you’re halfway tolerable.”

“Thank you for that scintillating vote of confidence, Rugrat.”

“My pleasure. What are brothers for?”

“I dunno. If I ever figure it out, I’ll tell you.”

“Do that. Now what about you and him?” Xavier grinned. He was trying to be serious, but this was too much. He was super curious, and he knew it.

“Just that. I think he likes me, maybe more than he’s said. He’s said he’s thought about me. So we both like each other a little. We’re trying to figure it out. And Mitchell’s mom knows and she’s cool with it, or she says she is. She heard us talking and told us she’s fine with us, whatever it turns out to be. Only I think Mitchell is not cool with it. I think he’s freaked out. So ever since then, he’s kind of clammed up. I tried teasing him, but I think that just made it worse. I think he thinks I want us to. You know?”

“I know. Do you?”

“Yes, of course, I know. How would I not know, if I’m the one teasing him?”

“OK, OK, back off, big bro! Me, friend, remember? Me, little brother. Not so little.”

“Sorry. See, I’m a little freaked too.”

“You can say that again.”

“I think I did already.”

“Oh yeah. But...do you? Want to, with him?”

“Xavier, that’s personal!”

“Yeah! And really wild! Come on, who else are you gonna tell, right? Tell your curious brother. Pretend you’re telling me about the birds and the bees.”

“Geez, you have no shame, you know that?” Kevin laughed and tousled Xavier’s hair.

“I try. Someone’s gotta put up with you.”

“Oh, thanks. Well, if Mitchell was only that relaxed about it, I guess we’d be OK.”

“Maybe I should talk with him....”

“Ohhh, no! No way, Rugrat. You think he’s freaked now? You think he won’t be if he starts thinking you’re after his bod too?”

“Maybe he’d like me better.” He stuck out his tongue at his older brother.

“That’s all I’d need....”

“Maybe I should.” Xavier gave his little angel impression again. Somehow, it wasn’t working.

“Probably not. Xavier, seriously, don’t freak him out any more than he already is, OK? Please.”

“OK, OK, I’m sorry, I’m just kidding. Mostly.”

“I hope so.” Kevin said.

“So, but you like him and he likes you? You’ve both thought about each other? But he’s so worried about it all, he’s hardly talking to you anymore.”

“Yup, that’s pretty much it. Good summary.”

“And you’re so freaked out, you thought you guys were over and done with. Didn’t you?”

“Yes, pretty much, that’s right.”

“Bro, you guys have got big problems!” Xavier laughed, and hugged his brother.

“Tell me about it!” Kevin laughed and hugged back.

“So? Get him to talk it over. Just tell him. Do whatever you guys did before. Um, which, you don’t want me to know about.—Only, if you do, can I watch?” Xavier grinned cheekily.

“You’re terrible, little bro. What have you been eating lately? Green M&M’s?”

“Maybe. Say, those sound good too....”

“I’ve gotta quit giving you ideas.”

“Right. Give Mitchell ideas. See if he wants to do more than think about ‘em.”

“Rugrat, there are times you are really scary smart, you know that?”

“Hey, I’ve gotta keep you on your toes. Who else will get you and him together?”

“Funny man.”

“So, do I get your allowance?”

“No.”

“Do I get your respect?”

“Definitely. That’s some good thinking, I’ve gotta admit.”

“Oh cool. But you’re slipping. That’s like the third or fourth time you’ve said I’m right today!”

“Dang, I am messed up.”

“Nah, not yet. Only if you miss out on your chance.”

“Great, Mr. Matchmaker.”

“Maybe I should talk to him. For real, Kevin. I don’t mean teasing or whatever. I mean, so he’d know it’s OK to talk about stuff. So he’s comfortable about it. That way, maybe he’d be able to talk to you. Or maybe he’d feel OK talking to me about you and him. Stuff like that. What do you think?”

“I think you’re scary, Xavier. I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea. Let me try to talk to him. Think some more about this. Maybe you’ve got an idea there, and maybe not. Let me try first.”/p>

“OK, Kevin, that sounds good.”

“Good. Now scoot, let me get in the shower and get dressed. My bed’s a mess.”

“Yes! My brother’s back!” Xavier pumped his fist in the air in triumph, then darted out of the room. “Hey, Kevin?” He called out.

“What now?” Kevin called, rolling his eyes.

“Can I watch?” This was followed by peals of laughter from down the hall in Xavier’s room.

“You wish!” Kevin rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. But he smiled too.

Somehow, his little brother was a lot smarter these days than he’d given him credit for. He chuckled. Good thing, too.

But he sighed as he looked over at the hole on the corkboard where Mitchell’s picture had been. He would talk to him. Somehow, he had to get him to listen. Or turn loose the Rugrat on him. Sure, that would go well. He just wasn’t sure if he was ready to put Mitchell’s picture back up again.

He guessed Mitchell wasn’t the only one freaked out after all. Dang.

Maybe it wasn’t over yet, but they sure had a long way to go.