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Subject: Miles from Home: Chapter 12 Welcome back for part two of this story! Thanks as always for reading. Feedback, comments, and questions are always much appreciated. You can send them my way at ail In response to a frequent request from readers, I’ll be sending out a notification when I post new chapters to those who’d like an alert that another one is available. If you’d like to receive those notifications, just drop me a note and I will add you. The new chapter alert will come to you via bcc email to protect readers’ privacy and confidentiality. ************************************************ Christmas Eve, Junior Year ****** Sunset blazed across the cloudless horizon, fanning out in smoldering shades of orange and pink and yellow and purple. But the warmth of those colors didn’t at all match how frigid the air actually was on this clear New Mexico evening late in December. Shivering inside my Jeep, I could see my breath floating in thin white wisps in front of my face as I pulled over on the side of the highway near the edge of town. I parked, and Wiley stirred restless in the passenger seat next to me, confused about why we would stop but not get out of the car to explore. “Just chill, buddy,” I whispered over to him. I scratched the thick fur behind his ears until he finally circled into a seat with his nose pressed expectantly against the window. “I gotta be quick…” From my backpack stashed on the floor below Wiley, I pulled out my battered laptop with the fraying duct tape just barely holding it together. I cracked it open delicately against the steering wheel, powered it on, and started typing: “Pete, “I know you’re gonna be pissed that I’m writing to you. And I know you deserve something that’s a way better present than a fucking email from me crashing on your Christmas- especially when you’re hurting so much right now. But damn it, I can’t stop thinking about you. So go ahead and call me a selfish asshole again, but I fucking promise I’m only sending this because there’s a point I think you need to hear. “And since you’re already pissed at me, I’ll just dig myself in even deeper and start that point with probably the last thing you want to read about: how it still fuckin’ haunts me how much I fucked up that summer after Freshman year. I can’t help it. Being back here, I keep thinking about it over and over again, like somehow it’ll make me understand how I could mess everything up so badly. Even with the best of intentions. Even with me thinking I finally had shit figured out. Even with everything I did making so much sense at the time. And, yeah, it’s easy now to see how much of a fucking idiot I was looking back on it. But 20/20 hindsight on the past doesn’t erase it or make it any better, no matter how much I wish I’d never hurt you. Or anyone else. Fuck, you gotta know I’d crawl over broken glass all the way to Montana if it meant I could have a do-over. But shit isn’t that easy. I can’t fix the past, and I can’t fix the present or take away what’s hurting you now. “But thinking about how I fucked up that summer might not be completely pointless because it did make me realize I undersand something now that I just didn’t fucking get back then. And that’s helping me to see that there is something I can do that might make a difference for the future- a difference that I hope will make what’s coming suck a little bit less. So go ahead and be pissed at me. And go ahead and hate what I’m about to tell you. I know it’s gonna make you mad, but please listen anyway. The fact that you won’t want to hear this is exactly why I need to say it.” I paused my typing there as I fumbled for the next words, acutely conscious of time slipping away from me along with the light fading on the horizon. Wiley could sense how agitated I was, so he whimpered and wedged his head between my hands and the keyboard, insisting that I pet him. My fingers scratched around in Wiley’s soft fur restlessly as though the words for what was sitting so heavy in my gut were hidden somewhere in there. After a minute, I shook my head to jolt myself out of the trance blocking my thoughts, let out a deep breath, and started typing again as my heart pounded faster inside my chest… ***** Sophomore summer, early June ***** “Oh fuck yeah!!…” The words belted out from deep inside my lungs and sailed into the thin, cleansing air of altitude. I threw my arms above my head in triumph, stretching them up towards the sun, the sky, the surrounding peaks… towards everything. By the time Tom reached the top of the sand dune several seconds later, my laughter had started again, too. Full-bodied and deep, it bubbled unrestrained out of my lips that were stretched so wide across my face I could actually feel how long it’d been since I’d smiled like this. “Damn…,” Tom chuckled, panting from our race to the top of this dune and shaking gaziantep travesti his head at me between his short, huffed breaths. I’d been doing this all week, erupting into sudden, spontaneous laughter for no reason except perhaps for every reason. Over the last few days, Tom’s response to this unusual exuberance from me had gone from quizical concern to an amused bewilderment about what the fuck I thought was so funny out here. It wasn’t funny, though. It was just good. Pure, unalloyed good to finally be on our special bros-only backpacking trip that I’d been promising Tom since my second week away at school. We’d both hyped it up all year since then, debating endlessly about where would be the most awesome place for us to go until we’d settled on a demanding trail through the San Juan mountains in southern Colorado. From the outset, we’d always known this trip would be flat-out amazing. It never even occurred to either of us to doubt that it would be. And I laughed now as I felt just how right we’d both been all along while I soaked up the beauty of this impromptu, `fuck-it-why-not?’ detour to Great Sand Dunes National Park on our way back to where my family was living this summer. Home did not disappoint. But that was no surprise. I expected it. Counted on it. And I also wasn’t surprised that these sand dunes, a place I’d visited only a few times in my life before now, felt so much more like home to me than where I’d spent most of the last nine months away at school. “Do you fuckin’ see this??” I asked, clapping Tom on his back and completely forgetting to gloat about my victory in our race up here to the top. I drank in the still-snowy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range towering over the wind-braided dunes stretched all around us. “Awesome,” Tom huffed, taking a long, appreciating look before collapsing, exhausted, down to a seat on the sun-warmed sand of the dune’s ridge. “Beautiful,” I corrected, laughing to myself again for another second before I performed a mock-stumble and took a dramatized belly flop onto the sand by his side. Chuckling at my antics, Tom punched me in the arm and reminded me that I was a “fuckin’ crazy ass.” To that, I just rolled over onto my back and idly flashed him a middle finger. Tom grinned, and I laughed some more. Fuck, it was great to be home. For the first time in months, I could actually feel the sun’s warmth blasting over me as I stretched out into the sand, digging my aching and blistered feet into the slope of the dune and resting my head back onto my hands. Above me, all I could see was a cloudless infinity of piercing clarity. Home. Fuck, there was no bluer sky than here. “Do you really havta work tomorrow?” I asked Tom, still keeping my eyes fixed on the deep blue as I interrupted our awed silence. Tom sighed next to me. “I gotta start sometime,” he replied, and I glanced over to him in time to see his shoulders drop in resignation as his thoughts turned to the job he’d lined up at a hardware store in Las Cruces. “It’d be so fuckin’ cool to stay out here all summer…” I said, even though I knew I was just stating something obvious to us both. I looked over and watched Tom’s face light up at my allusion to what we could do with even more time to soak up summer in the Rockies. “We could climb all a’ them…” he smiled, stretching out his arm to trace the ridge line of the Sangres where their peaks serrated a jagged white line across the blue horizon. “You know, we’re a couple of fuckin’ chumps,” I chuckled. “We shoulda gotten jobs doin’ something out here…” It’s not that I was dreading the start of my own summer job. I really was looking forward to my gig teaching at a summer program New Mexico State University hosted on its campus for rising high school freshmen who’d be the first in their families to go to college. But as genuinely grateful as I was for the opportunity to help other kids like me go down that path to earning a degree, I didn’t necessarily expect that any job could ever be as much fun as playing around in the mountains all summer would be. Tom simply nodded his agreement to my daydream, still looking out at the mountains towering over our dune for a minute before he glanced back over to me to ask something that must’ve just occurred to him: “Hey, didn’t you say Pete was doing somethin’ like that?” “Huh?” It took a second for Tom’s question to fully register; I’d been charting the route to climb one of those peaks in my head. “… Yeah… he is. Trail maintenance.” “Dude, how the hell is Pete anyway?” Tom smiled, grinning expectantly because he’d always loved my Pete stories and had fuckin’ idolized him ever since they’d met over my birthday. “You kinda stopped talkin’ about him lately…” “Pete’s cool…,” I responded absently, watching my feet dig deeper into the sand as I contemplated gaziantep masaj salonları what to do with Tom’s other implicit question. “… He was just about pissin’ himself he was so excited to be going home to Montana this summer…,” I continued, then looked back over at the relaxed, unreserved smile my brother had fixed on me. I considered it briefly. Really, it was for only as much time as it took me to feel the warm weight of the sand dulling the aches in my feet: Would Tom still look up to me if he knew? What if…? No. This was Tom. We were brothers. He wouldn’t. “… And we’ve… uhhh… we’ve been hookin’ up. Together.” With that, I watched Tom’s eyes widen in the few seconds of silence that sat heavy between us after I spoke those last three words. Then he burst out into laughter. “Dude, Miliano,” he exhaled, slapping me hard on the shoulder, “you fuckin’ had me for a second!” Apparently, Tom thought this was fuckin’ hilarious. He was laughing so hard he was nearly bent over double and sliding down the dune. It took Tom a full minute to even notice I wasn’t laughing too. “No… no joke,” I said when I’d finally caught his attention again. “We did.” “Oh, shit!” Tom cursed under his breath as he quickly pulled himself back up beside me on the dune. “You’re serious??” I nodded my head, watching as Tom’s mood visibly sobered. “Shit, I’m… I…,” he stumbled, searching for words and finding none. Instead, Tom quickly threw his arm around my shoulders. And just as quickly, I pushed him away. “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” “Max, it’s okay!” he blurted. But Tom referred to me by my real name so rarely that hearing it now only made my whole body cringe. “Of course it’s okay,” I spat, unnerved by all the concern I now saw etched across my brother’s face. Tom’s worried look only deepened when I said that, though. “No, I mean it, Max. You’re my brother, and… And it’s okay that you’re gay.” “Jesus, Gumby, I’m not gay-…” “…-But you just said…?” Tom interrupted. I shrugged. “I’ve been hookin’ up with Pete,” I replied simply. Just as quickly as we’d gotten into this conversation, I now wanted out of it. Tom had said it was okay, and I could tell he meant it. As far as I was concerned, that’s all I needed here, and I wasn’t much interested in discussing this any further. “But-…” Tom pressed, trying to override my attempt to brush this aside until I just cut him off again: “… -I haven’t changed, Gumby. And I’m not any different than I ever was.” Tom opened his mouth to say something more but stopped himself when he evidently realized he didn’t know what that would be. “Look, it’s no big deal…” I continued, but the concern I could so easily read in my brother’s expression stopped me from taking that thought any further. Shit, why the hell was Tom making such a big deal out of this? “Uhh…” Tom stared at me, his eyes skeptical. “…But Pete’s a guy.” “So??” I challenged him back. “We’re just me and Pete. Same as ever.” “But are you guys, like,… together now?” Tom asked. Frustrated, I shook my head in exasperation. “It’s not like that…. we’re just… doing this now, too. And it’s no big deal-…” “…-`No big deal?'” Tom interrupted, throwing my own words back at me. “Max, you’re sayin’ that too much.” “Fuck, because you’re not gettin’ it!!” I snapped, deciding that I just needed to remind him of what the real point was here: “… And didn’t you just say that it’s okay?” “It is!” Tom agreed, nodding his head. “But I think maybe you’re not gettin’ it.” “What is there to get?” Tom, now looking more serious than I’d seen him in years, just shook his head at me again. “How the hell did this even happen? Have you been into other guys too?” “No!” I snapped, probably way too quickly at Tom’s second question. And then I just shrugged, dropping my eyes back down to the sand mounded over my feet. “… And I don’t know… I guess I just felt like doin’ it with Pete.” “And he…?” Tom continued, even though I wouldn’t look at him anymore. “… Is Pete gay?” “Yeah, he says so…” I replied, leaving it at that, as I started pushing more of the warm sand around my ankles and felt Tom’s eyes weighing on me. “Wait.” Tom broke in, his voice suddenly hard. “He didn’t make you?-…” “…-No!” I cut him off, lifting my eyes back up to meet Tom’s. “It wasn’t like that. I started it.” Then, as something else occurred to me, I felt my mouth twitching back up into a smile: “… And I had to fuckin’ talk Pete into it, too.” With that, I knew I’d given Tom a priceless opening for giving me some shit. So I waited, expectantly, for him to rip on me for what I’d just admitted to him so we could just get back to laughing together again. He didn’t, though. Instead, Tom’s eyes only hardened even more, and his voice was gaziantep escort bayan still serious as he asked me: “Why?” My feet squirmed under the sand. This was venturing into territory I didn’t want Tom to know about. After all, I felt at peace with what Pete and I had done together. Or, that was the line I’d promised myself I would take on this at least. And damnit, I was going to fuckin’ stick to that promise, too. With Pete. And now with Tom too. “He didn’t think it was a good idea…” I finally hedged in response to Tom’s question, continuing quickly before he could press this issue any further: “… But that was just `cause of some bullshit with his family fuckin’ with his head. And really, Gumby, it’s fine.” And when I said that, I believed it, too. I knew Pete and I had left things in a solid place at the end of the year. We were good. Really, what the hell else mattered? “… Besides, this isn’t somethin’ you need to worry about.” “Maybe I do if you’re not going to,” Tom countered, undeterred. “I don’t,” I said, turning my head to look back out across the dunes, wanting this to be over. “But this isn’t the same as you just bein’ with another girl…” “Why the fuck not?” I bristled, shooting my eyes back to Tom’s in annoyance. This time, Tom dropped his head, not knowing what to say. “Gumby,” I softened, realizing that I was being needlessly difficult now. “I’m fine with it. And like you said, it’s okay…” We were quiet then, both of us looking down at the dunes below. I didn’t like this. Even though I knew what was behind it and knew that Tom had always been just as fiercely protective of me as I’d always been of him, there was a suggestion of something I could feel lurking underneath Tom’s concern. And to me it smelled a bit too much like what Pete’s mom had said to him: `You’ll never be happy or have the kind of life you want if you do…’ “I like Pete…” Tom said evenly as I thought about that, breaking the first few minutes of uncomfortable silence we’d had on this whole trip. “You like everyone…” I mumbled while I studied the sand grains stuck to my palms rather than facing him. Tom flicked some sand at my face with one of his feet until I looked back up at him. “I like Pete a hell of a lot more than little-miss-look-at-my-tits you were fuckin’ around with junior year…” “Hey! She was good at singing…” I protested, knowing Tom damn well knew I’d never hooked up with any girl if I couldn’t at least respect something about her. “… And sucking your dick,” he added. Wincing at how crass the truth sounded, I reached over and tried to smack Tom on the back of his head. “No, I mean it,” Tom continued quickly as he ducked out of the way and deflected my hand with his arm. “Pete’s a great guy. And you know I’ve always said you need someone smart who can fuckin’ keep up with you. And Pete’s a great guy-…” “…-You’ve said that twice now,” I interrupted, reading between the lines of his words. Pete really was a great guy. But he was also great at just being a guy. Pete wasn’t some kind of fuckin’ fag. Pete was gay, but he wasn’t any less of a man. … And that’s what made all this “okay.” For Tom. And for me. I didn’t dwell on that thought, though, because it just suggested how shallow my own peace with what we’d done together was. Even thinking about that shit felt too fuckin’ ugly now. And this was no place for anything ugly. I was home. Nothing could touch me here. “Look,” Tom sighed, shaking his head at my interruption. “I know Pete’s been a great bud for you. So if you really are cool with this, I think you should give him a shot-…” “…- I told you, we already-…” “…- That’s not what I meant,” Tom said. “It’s about damn time you let someone else get close to you after Juliana.” Shit. We were not going to get started on that old song of his again. “What? So I can be all `Hello-I-love-you’ like you are?” “Dick. You know that’s not fair,” Tom retorted, hitting me in the shoulder again. “… But I’m tellin’ you, you’ve been keepin’ yourself out of the game long enough. And it’ll change your world, bro… It will change your world.” Tom had been repeating that same line all week before this, too, rhapsodizing over and over about the girlfriend he’d now had for almost four months. And as astonished as I was that he’d stayed with one girl for so long, what surprised me even more was that I’d even decided Maribel was actually good enough for my brother when I’d finally seen them together. But still, there was no way I’d ever say that to Tom. Instead, I just muttered that “it must be nice livin’ in a different world every week” under my breath before I then diverted the subject back over to her. It wasn’t hard to do. Tom couldn’t stop talking about Maribel. And he probably also realized that I wasn’t about to entertain any further discussion of me and Pete anyway. I was glad. After all, I was home now. It was always impossible for me to be upset about anything for very long here. And Pete and I were good, too. There was no need to worry about any of that shit now. This was my summer, and I was gonna fuckin’ enjoy it. Because, damn, there was no bluer sky than here… **** To be continued.

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