My Paper Route (mm mc)

Synopsis: A geeky young high school senior finds himself when one of his paper route customers gives him another job.

The Cast:
     Dickie played by RYAN MERRIMAN
     Rick played by JASON COOK
     Ben played by CHRIS TROUSDALE
     Gerald played by MATT BALLINGER
     with special guest appearance by the guy in the bed played by BRANDON TYLER

View the dream cast for My Paper RouteIf there's one thing that I've learned for certain in the last six years, it's that you never know what's waiting for you in apartment 37.

I've had this paper route since I was twelve. Now I'm eighteen and a senior in high school. I've got the delivery of this route down to a science and the collection of customer payments into a rhythm. The bulk of my route is in three apartment buildings. I live in the burbs, so the apartments are only two stories tall, separated inside by a main lobby and a set of stairs to the upper level, with long hallways stretching out to the right and to the left.

All I have to do is zip inside, go left, plop the papers down on the doormats, go right, do the same, dash upstairs, same deal over, and then out the back and on to the next apartment building. Boom, boom, boom, and I've delivered half my route in just a couple of minutes.

Collecting is almost as easy. Lots of retirees in the apartments, who actually look forward to seeing me just to have someone to talk to, so they're always right there each week or at the beginning of the month with their money and their punch card. One customer, in the first building, apartment 4, always leaves a little envelope with the weekly fee and the punch card on a small table by the door. There's always a card and a tip at Christmas, sometimes a piece of candy at Halloween. In six years, I've never seen his (her? their?) face. Unlike Mrs. Kowalski in number 29, who I can never pull away from as she regales me with the latest misadventures of her five cats.

But none of that applies to the ever-mysterious apartment 37. It's the one apartment with a revolving door. During my tenure on this route there've been like a dozen different people renting this apartment. There's been a newlywed couple who always hollered "Just a minute!" from inside and usually ended up sliding the money under the door or slipping it out to me by opening the door a crack. I could tell which room their voices were coming from--all the apartments are laid out the same--and no one goes shirtless in February. Once it was a nice retired guy, a widower who smelled like seasoned pipe tobacco, but he died like four months after subscribing. There was this one guy who was Spanish or Mexican or something and we could never understand a word we were saying to each other. We developed a system where I'd just hold up the paper bag and wave the card punch. He'd smile, hold up a finger as if to say "hang on a sec" and then get the money. He was pretty okay. There was the third shift guy who liked that I got the weekend papers there by 5:30 in the morning and tipped accordingly, the one cranky lady who never kept a regular schedule and refused to answer the door under any circumstances, and a few others I didn't know 'cause they didn't get the paper.

Now I had a new #37. I'd been delivering to him for a month, and it seemed like he was always home. He usually played loud music, and though his taste in tunes rocked, I wondered what the hell he did for a living that allowed him to be home all the time. I rang his bell, hoping he had the cash to pay his bill, so I could pay mine.

I stood there for a while, rocking back and forth on my heels. More music, more movement inside, no answer. I rang again, to similar results. God, I hope he's not like the cranky lady. I elected to knock, and this time the music was lowered slightly, enough so that I could make out his muffled voice as he spoke to someone else. But I only heard his voice. I guessed he was on the phone.

I raised my hand to knock again when the door opened quickly. I started a bit, first because I was about to rap on the guy's nose, and second when I got a good look at him.

He was gorgeous. I've done my best not to notice good-looking guys for a while now--almost as long as I've had the route--but it gets harder the older I get. And this guy was worth noticing. Dark eyes, thick hair, smooth, smooth skin (in high school that can be a rarity in itself), and though he wasn't that much taller than me, he stood tall. He definitely worked out. He held the door open with one hand, had his phone in the other, held to his ear. There was a legal pad tucked under one arm. I had obviously caught him in the middle of something, and even though he seemed to be a bit harried, he still exuded confidence. He looked like the kind of man I wanted to be.

"Hang on a minute", he said into the phone, then held the received against his chest to muffle the sound. He looked at me expectantly. I stared back. "Well?"

I blinked a couple times and snapped out of my reverie. I held up my punch. "Collecting for the Chronicle."

He looked at me, at the punch, with some puzzlement for a split-second, then said, "Right. Right, right, yeah. C'mon in." Into the phone, he said, "Can you hang on? I gotta pay the paper boy. No, won't be a second, chill a bit." He tossed the phone onto the counter and began rifling through various papers, post-its, and various messages pinned to a corkboard by his phone. He waved me inside. "C'mon. c'mon."

I walked in and looked around as unobtrusively as possible. At least it didn't have the stink of fish that Mrs. Kowalski's place had. I began to peer around the corner into the living room.

"What's it look like?"

"Huh?", I whirled around fast, feeling like I'd been caught at something.

"There's a punch card or slip or something, right? What's it look like? It's always some hideous color, I know, like lime green or neon pink--"

"Orange", I said. "Shaped like a big claim ticket. Hole on the end."

"Aha. Got it!" He produced the card from a spot behind the corkboard and extended it to me between two fingers. "How much do I owe you for?"

"The whole month."

He opened a drawer at the end of the counter, pulled out a zippered bank pouch, and tossed it over to me. I caught it, and saw it was labeled "Petty Cash". He said, "Take what you need", and grabbed up his phone again. "Hal? Yeah, give me those specs again. No, for both pages. Hold on, lemme get a pencil."

I walked into the living room as the guy busied himself in the kitchenette with his phone call. He had done very little decorating in the month he'd been there, but he didn't need to. The place was cluttered enough to serve as a kind of interior design all its own despite the bare walls. In the corner was a drafting desk overflowing with papers, sketches & drawings, various art supplies and hastily-scribbled notes fastened here and there with paper clips and cellophane tape. Not far from the desk was a computer console with a screen up on what seemed to be a Photoshop program, with scanned images and files opened on its desktop. The center of the room was dominated by a photographer's setup. There was a freestanding, pull-up background screen that looked to have multiple scenes in it, reflector umbrellas, lights, and a white floorboard or tile set on the carpet in front of the screen.

Not far from the photo setup was an end table with an open photo portfolio on it, the kind with plastic flip pages for 8x10 prints. The pages showed various young male models in all manner of costumes or half-costumes. They posed as sports players, football and baseball mostly, firemen, cowboys, space heroes like in a '50s sci-fi movie, and so on. Some looked like finished photographs ready for framing, others looked absurd, like the small wad of the raven-haired kid wearing chest-high fishing waders, a winter down vest, and holding a kid's squirt gun. What the hell was that all about?

As I began to turn around to slip back into the other room, I saw an open steamer trunk on the floor. It was open, and filled with costumes of all sorts and fun stage props. Whatever this guy did for a living, it must be fun. I reached down and picked up a plastic ray gun. It was silver, with a barrel at least a foot long, and moons and stars decorating the handle. A tug on the trigger caused a small pinwheel inside to spin around with a "Ffvwwhheeeee!" and spit tiny sparks.

"It's fun, isn't it?"

I whirled around, feeling terrible for snooping, worse for being caught at it. "Oh! I'm sorry, it's just, I saw--"

The guy waved his hand. "Don't worry about it. That stuff is there to be played with, though some of my models get tired of it fast." For the first time, I noticed what he was wearing. It was a royal blue T-shirt with a bold white star over the chest and vertical red-and-white stripes going up and down the abdomen. Damn, it was a Captain America shirt. I'd always wanted one of those.

"So", I said, deciding to take the plunge, "what do you do, anyway?"

"I, young sir, am a graphic designer for magazines, trades, and other such things."

"So what does that mean, exactly? Do you draw, then?"

"Oh, yeah. Sometimes I'm asked to draw. Sometimes to take photos, sometimes I take photos and then use them as reference to draw from. Some of the most fun is taking photos and then altering them in Photoshop."

I pointed to the strange picture of the boy in the fishing gear and winter coat. "Is that what this one's for?"

He stepped forward to see what I was referring to. "Ah. The kid's got a good eye. C'mere." He waved me over to his computer. I was giddy to follow, as artwork of any kind always got me hyper. I've taken all the art classes my high school offers, a vocational commercial art course at the high school downtown, and even an independent study. I was hungry to learn whatever I could.

The guy pulled up a wheeled office chair and gestured for me to sit down. With a deft hand, he manipulated his mouse, calling up different menus and quickly selecting files. In seconds, the image of the wader kid was up on the screen. "Okay. So we take Jason here in his uncomfortable getup", he said. "and we follow the main shape his wardrobe takes." Another two clicks, and Jason was in a silhouette of sorts, with only various bits of detail left showing from his waders and coat. "Then we give it all a uniform color, add our own details, select a light source that matches his face--and voila!"

I inhaled slowly. "Coool." In a thrice, Jason was attired in an old-fashion storybook spacesuit, with bulky boots and gloves, and all those wacky padded rings around his knees, elbows, and shoulders. He no longer looked like an idiot. He looked like his name should be Jason Starstorm or something like that. But it was clear how the mismatched costume had been used as a template to create the classic space cadet image.

"Now we can put him on a strange alien planet", he said, clicking again, and zip! Jason was standing on a crater-laden world with bizarre star systems and colorful moons in the background. "Or inside a space cruiser." Click-click. "Or face-to-face with an alien monster that could make Sigourney Weaver wet her pants." Clickety-click.

"That is so awesome! What was this for?"

"You ever see that show Amazing Stories?"

"Yeah, I love that show!"

"Well, it was based on some old pulp magazines. Astonishing Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fantastic Adventures. It was for a retrospective of those old mags. It was a fun piece."

"I wish I had time to sit here and look at all this stuff!", I gushed.

"Sorry for both of us. I'm on deadline now, but some other time, stop in, I'll give you the tour." The phone rang. "And there you go, I'm summoned back to work. Did you grab your money?" I shook my head and took out of his bank bag what he owed for the month. As he picked up the ringing phone, he added, "And snag yourself an extra couple bucks. I used to deliver papers as a kid. You live for decent tips." I thanked him graciously, punched his card and stared a bit more at the goodies he had strewn about. He took his call, seeming not to care that I lingered. "Yeah. No, he's not here yet, and he's like a half hour late already. No, if I knew where he was I'd call him."

I moved to slip out, setting his punch card and petty cash bag on the counter as I headed toward the door. He kept talking as if he'd forgotten I was there. "Well, he'd better GET here if he knows what's good for hi--we have a deadline here! Those photos need to go out tomorrow, and I've already assured Hal they'll be on his desk." I didn't want to sit and squirm while the guy had a business argument on the phone, so I tiptoed out the door.

"No, you are not gonna call Butterfield and tell him to take over! You can just--hold on a second."

My progress was stopped by the raised voice and snapping fingers of the new guy in #37. "Hey, kid! Yeah, you with the paper bag! You wanna make eighty bucks?"

I turned around. I shrugged. "Um, I guess so."

"You're what, 5'8", 5'9"?"

"5'10", I said, standing up to my full height.

"Shoe size?"


"You're hired." Then into the phone, he said, "Hal will have his photos. My model just walked in the door." And he hung up. Looking at me, he asked, "How fast can you finish the rest of your route?"

Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in front of the camera. My clothes and empty paper bag were tossed into a chair in the corner. I stood before a painted backdrop showing an open barn door looking out upon beautiful countryside with a small swimming hole and lush greenery. I was wearing no shirt, a pair of slightly oversized bib overalls, a big straw hat with frayed edges, and was barefoot. I felt ridiculous. I felt like an idiot. I felt wonderful, important. I felt, for some unfathomable reason, like I was having an adventure.

The guy hauled over a hay bail and set it down beside me. "Sit on that." I sat on it, and was surprised to find it firm like a wooden box. It wasn't real hay, merely a prop. He sprinkled bits of straw and sawdust around my feet, atop the plastic planks that looked like wooden floorboards.

He jumped behind the camera and checked a few things, angled a light, went back, made an adjustment. "Okay", he said with authority. "This is for some Modern Farming dealie or Country Gentleman or something like that. We're going for Rockwellian imagery here. Can you look innocent?"

I wrinkled my brow. "How do you look innocent?"

He smacked his lips. "Kid, what does the number 69 mean to you?"

I raised my eyebrows, bit my lower lip. "Uhh...23 times 3?"

"That!", he pointed at me. "Look like that." And there was a click, a flash, and we were off and running.

"So when do you have to be home?"

I was seated at the base of a faux haystack, or a section of one anyway, and spoke around the long piece of grass I held between my teeth. "Why?"

"Because it's already going on 6 o'clock. You've been here since quarter to four."

"Is it really?", I asked, looking to my watch, finding only bare arm.

He smiled. "Country boys don't wear watches. They can just tell what time it is by the position of the sun."

I started to get up, brushing the bits of straw and dust off the seat of my pants. "I guess I should be getting home."

"Well, let me get a couple more with a shirt and farm boots on you and then we'll say your pay has been well earned." I nodded, happy to stay and play dress up and take part in the creation of art. He tossed me a red checkered shirt, which I began to put on. "Under the bibs", he said.

"Oh, right." I undid the bib straps and buttoned up the shirt, rebuckled myself.

He went into the next room, his bedroom near as I could tell, and came back a few seconds later with a beautiful pair of tall rubber knee boots. They were a deep blue, almost black, with thick white trim around the soles. He set them down in front of me. "Here, slip those on--" He paused. "I can't just keep calling you 'kid'. What's your name, farmboy?"

I smiled as I pulled on the boots. "Dickie. And I've heard all the remarks, thanks." The cool, smooth rubber brushed against my bare feet and legs. It felt wonderful.

He tapped me on the chest as I stood up again. "Hey. Just like the overalls." I looked down and saw he'd been tapping the label stitched to the bib. Dickies. Okay, so I hadn't heard that one. He held out his hand. I took it. "Well, Dickie, I'm Rick. I'm pleased to meet you and thrilled to have you save my hide for this assignment." We shook hands, his was strong and warm.

"Um, I tucked the pant legs into the boots. I wasn't sure if that was how you wanted them, or--"

"Don't change a thing. You look perfect."

I put one foot up on the mock hay bail, my thumbs hooked in my pockets. Rick took maybe half a dozen more photos of me in the boots and shirt. I kept suggesting more poses, which he seemed to enjoy and before long he'd shot half a roll. It was great, and wearing those big rubber boots felt fantastic. I departed with four twenty dollar bills in my wallet and riding a high that practically floated me home. That night I dreamt I was a happy-go-lucky farmboy romping through the country with his big brother Rick.

Rick paced slowly around his apartment. Not number 37. His other apartment. Rick had a second apartment, though it might more accurately be called his first apartment as he'd had it for years before moving in to the building where Dickie delivered papers.

Getting things set up with the landlord had been far easier than he'd anticipated, though he'd had to suffer through an interminable month of establishing his calls from clients. Still in all, it was more than worth it when this day arrived and he finally got to lay eyes on his paper boy. Talk about worth the wait.

Dickie was everything he'd hoped he would be. Not too tall for his age, not too short, but something in the way he carried himself, the spring in his step, prohibited describing him as "average". His eyes shone and he smiled easily. He was no teen idol, but his face was fresh and charming. Rick knew that Dickie did not think of himself as attractive, but he also knew that given another ten or fifteen years, that same paper boy's jaw would drop while looking at his high school memory book in disbelief at how fabulous he looked.

Emotionally, Rick felt no different, save for some carryover from the initial rush of seeing the long-awaited paper boy. It was all Rick could do not to drop the phone and hug the wide-eyed little twink when he saw him. But there'd be plenty of time for hugs later.

Rick gathered up his pajamas, toothbrush, and shaving kit. He still felt more comfortable sleeping here in the second apartment, but he knew he had to get more and more used to doing the majority of his living in number 37 if he wanted his exhaustive plans to work. As unlikely as it was, he didn't want to arouse suspicion in his young new model.

"I dunno, it sounds pretty creepy."

I was walking the halls with my best friend Ben before classes the next day. Ben was the best. We were about the same height, but he was dark-haired, with deep penetrating eyes, and a very confident manner. He occasionally wore glasses which he didn't really need, I think because it made him look so damn cool when he slowly took them off and ticked them into his shirt or jacket pocket. I had just told him about my adventure with Rick the day before. I was still bouncing from the rush of it. I could barely keep my feet on the ground.

"What's so creepy about it? Name one thing about it that's creepy."

Ben looked at me as if I were an outpatient at a lobotomy clinic. "Some old guy you don't know, who you've never even seen before, takes you into his apartment to dress you up in his clothes and take pictures of you. No, nothing creepy going on there."

"He's not that old. And he didn't "take me into his apartment". I was invited, not kidnapped."

"So he's what then, 40? 45?"

"No way! Rick's maybe 26, 27. 28 tops."

"Okay, so this guy who's just a few years shy of being twice your age lures you in front of his porno camera and seduces you into stripping and then dressing up--"

"It wasn't porno! Jesus, where are you getting porno from?? His model cancelled on him and I just happened to be there. It was an opportunity where I was in the right place at the right time. And I changed clothes in the bedroom. With the door shut. Behind a screen."

"Yeah, you just HAPpened to be there just at the time you'd be collecting for your paper route and at that preCISE moment his model just happens to cancel. What an unbelievable coincidence. He probably rehearsed it. You were set up."

"I made eighty dollars. For less than two hours of work. That's more than forty bucks an hour."

Ben rolled his eyes. "So now you're a well-paid teen gigolo. That's gotta be a dream fulfilled."

I elbowed Ben as I sneered, "Puh-lease! I posed for some farming magazine. I looked like I was selling canned corn or something, not pleasures of the flesh."

Ben jerked to the side and then pushed me away, one hand firmly on my shoulder. "Christ, do you have to walk so close to me all the time? I can hear you just fine from over there." He jabbed a finger past me, to emphasize I should move a few feet away.

I sidestepped to widen the space between us. I hadn't noticed, but maybe I was getting in his face. "Look, he was really cool and he had shitloads of sci fi artwork from jobs he'd done, Star Trek, Doctor Who, tons of it."

"Doctor Who? Really? Tom Baker or one of the others?". Ben suddenly seemed interested in more than sarcasm.

"I didn't take notes. I'm just saying he was really nice, he paid me, and he said if his publisher likes the photos--and if his regular model gives him any more shit--he could have me pose again. Like as a superhero." I started to bounce again. I couldn't help it. "Benji, I could be a fucking superhero! He could draw me in one of those illustrations as a superhero!"

Ben's eyes darted back and forth as I spoke, fearful that other kids would be staring at me. At us. He quickened his pace as we rounded the next bend. "You can be too fucking perky sometimes, man."

Ben stopped outside his algebra classroom. "Mrs. Belmonte's. This is me." He shifted his books to his other hand and took off his glasses, slipping them into his shirt pocket. "You better watch it. For all you know this guy could be some kind of psychotic child molester."

I smirked, shaking my head. "I appreciate it, but I didn't get that impression. He was really cool. And if he asks me to pose again, I'm going back."

"Mark my words", Ben said, "You do and your next costume will be a metal G-string and a spiked dog collar. Later." He went into class and took his seat, exchanging smiles and nods with some of the other kids. He took his seat and gave me one last glance before I left for Lit class. He flashed a half-smile my way and I smiled back. He was really looking out for me. What a wonderful friend.

The opening bell pierced the air and I sprinted down the hall to first period.

The door to number 37 swung wide, making me jump just as I was about to drop that day's edition on the mat. "There's the man of the hour!", Rick said.

"Geez! You scared me!", I gasped.

"They loved 'em."

"Who did? Loved what?"

"The editors. The client. They loved you."

"Come again?"

"I overnighted the country boy photos. They got them this morning, and they absolutely loved 'em. My editor wants you to model again. Are you interested?"

I was not only interested, my head was spinning. I imagined myself as one of those old-time sci fi space cadets or perhaps a high-flying superhero. I tried not to sound too eager, but didn't quite pull it off as I said, "When?"

Rick smiled. "See you after you finish your paper route."

And my paper route was finished in record time.

I knocked once on Rick's apartment door and opened it a crack. "Rick? It's me, Dickie. Can I come in?"

From inside came his voice with a slight laugh, "Hell yes, what do you think I'm paying you for??"

I grinned, and walked in to find Rick spreading out yesterday's prints all over the dining room table. "Check these out", he said around the pen he clenched in his teeth. I dropped my empty paper bag onto the floor and approached. "Sit, sit down", Rick instructed. I eyed the overflowing table with the display of photos atop various binders, manila folders, and scattered pens and pencils. The debris overflowed onto the chairs, which were occupied with art director's catalogs, portfolio pages, rolls of film and computer discs, among other things. I raised one eyebrow and shrugged, not knowing where exactly to sit.

"Oh, right, right, right", Rick said. With a sweeping hand he shoved all the stuff off of one chair and pushed it aside with his foot. He patted the seat. What the hell. I sat.

"Tell me", Rick said, "that these are not fucking incredible."

I looked over the multiple 8x10 glossies of myself in bumpkin costume. The framing, composition, lighting, and color was absolutely exquisite. I aspired to be half as good as this guy with my own art projects at home and at school. There was just one problem that I could see.

"I look so...cute", I said with disdain.

"Well, that's the point, champ. You were supposed to look like a Saturday Evening Post cover circa 1942 come to life. And you did splendidly. They want another series right away, and they want you in another costume."

"Another" costume. I liked the sound of that. Time to look a bit more buff and manly and a little less wholesome and unspoiled. "Do I get to be a superhero?", I asked.

"That", said Rick with a raised finger, "is still Jason's province, if I can ever get him to show up. For you we have something special. Follow." Rick led me out into the living room and threw down a large cardboard box with delivery labels plastered all over it. "This was sent here rush today. We found a place just 45 minutes out of town that carries these. Go on, open it."

I lifted the lid and looked in at what seemed to be a shiny black tarp. I looked at Rick questioningly. "Go ahead, take it out", he encouraged me. Gently, I lifted the costume out of it's box. It was very, very smooth and cool to the touch. As it cleared the box it unrolled to the floor. It was a shining pair of jet black rubber bib overalls, with wide buckled belts where the shoulder straps would be. This was definitely not a superhero costume, but it was nothing Norman Rockwell would be caught dead painting, either. Not unless Norman Rockwell ever worked for the 1940's equivalent of Bound & Gagged.

"Ummm...", I said, trying to sound hesitant all the while the mere look of this thing was giving me a zipper-busting bulge down below. "I don't have to wear a spiked dog collar or anything with this, do I?"

"No", Rick said, "I'm not that kind of photographer. But you do get to wear this." He hefted the next item from the box, an equally black jacket not unlike a denim barn coat, also of sleek rubber. He grabbed the last two items out and set them proudly on the floor before me. A pair of tall black rubber knee boots so shiny I could actually see my reflection in them.

"So I'm a farmboy again, but this time I farm...what, rainwater? Only during the monsoon season?"

"You're getting warmer", Rick grinned. He then produced a large yellow hardhat from a nearby prop bag and plopped it on my head. "You're a sewer worker! You farm sewage!"

I jumped back, still holding my shiny new overalls and jacket. "What? No way! Are we, like, going on location for this shoot??"

"We didn't need to drive out to farm country for the last one, did we? It's for a catalog and an accompanying article about families who pass on this undesirable job from one generation to the next and what a cheerful lot they are for taking on such a thankless job and yadda, yadda, so on and so forth."

"So I won't have to wade through sewage?"

"Not this time."

I grabbed up the boots. "Then I guess I'll get changed." I tried to keep a casual pace as I walked to the bedroom, but I could feel myself starting to trot, even while sporting a huge boner. I had to get a move on, lest I start ripping off my clothes to get into costume right in front of Rick.

I closed the door quickly, tossed the outfit onto the bed and stripped out of my street clothes faster than I think I ever had. My briefs caught for a second on my erection, but soon I had them off and stuffed into a pocket of my jeans. No need for Rick to know I'd gone starkers before suiting up by leaving them lying around.

Rapidly, since I didn't know how much time I had, I spread the overalls and jacket out onto the bed and lay down on them. I inhaled sharply, moaning intently at the feel of the cool, gleaming rubber against my skin. My dick was throbbing as I slowly rubbed my arms back and forth over the jacket sleeves. I then braced my palms against the bed and slid my body up and down over the whole suit. It was all I could do to remember to exhale.

All my young life (at least since I hit puberty) I'd dreamed of a suit like this. Well, not exactly like this, but made entirely out of rubber. I fantasized about some water-related catastrophe striking our small town. A dam breaking, an unexpected tsunami, a flash flood, that called for the women and girls to be shipped off to higher ground and all the boys who were left in school had to don waterproof uniforms to be worn not just in class, but 24/7. For our own safety, you realize.

I felt something wet down below and pushed off from the bed to see a sticky stream of precum trailing from my little guy (not so little, but you know what I mean) to the overalls, marring the beautiful shine of the bibs.

"Oh, shit!" I leapt off the bed and grabbed some kleenex from the nearby dresser and frantically wiped the tiny smear off. One screw up like that and I could kiss this dress-up goldmine goodbye. Time to put this thing on.

I jumped into the overalls with the intent of buckling up quickly, but stopped short when I felt the interior rubber crotch make contact with my own. "Huuuuuhhhooooaahh..."

There was a sharp rap at the door. "You okay in there? What's the holdup, buddy?"

"Uh, um, I'm just having a little trouble with these buckle straps is all. They're kinda different from what I'm used to", I said lamely.

"You want a hand?"

I looked down at the tented protrusion at the front of my bibs, jabbing outward, silently crying out, "Hey, look at me! Look at me!" I fumbled with the buckles, forcing one strap through the silver clasp and finding the notch that fit snugly. "No, I'm okay!", I hollered back. "Oh, there it is! There she goes, I got it! Be right out!"

"Time's a wastin' ", Rick said, his voice fading back into the living room as he returned to his camera.

I tended to the next buckle and then stepped into the boots. I took a deep breath as my feet touched the cool rubber. No pause for playtime, Dickie, let's move. Wither that hard-on. Think of road kill, full bedpans, pimply-faced girls, anything. Into the jacket. I snapped up the jacket all the way to the top of the collar and fastened the sleeve cuffs. It felt wonderful.

I turned to walk out to do the job I'd been asked to do, but caught myself in the full-length mirror by the closet door. Ohhh, I looked incredible. It was me, but I was all shining and black and rubber, and beautiful the way I caught the light...

I had to touch it.

Just one little touch. Nothing major, no full-blown damn-the-torpedoes jack-off fest, but I just...had to...touch it. Gently, I pressed the flat of my palm against the front of my rubber crotch. I let out a low groan. "Ooohhhhhhh, MAN--!" My legs buckled a bit and the room seemed considerably warmer. I looked into the mirror and saw the bed behind me.

The big, soft, comfy bed. And my snug, shiny, black rubber suit. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Leaping backwards, I launched myself onto the bed and landed on my back with a major bounce. It was glorious. I flopped my arms down at my sides and just reveled in the feel of the bed against the suit, the suit against me, me against the suit. Ohh, I would never take this thing off. No, I would live in it. I would set up residence in my happy new rubber uniform and receive mail here. Please forward all correspondence to: Dickie the Horny High Schooler, c/o the Beautiful Rubber Suit, 6969 Comfy Bed Way. I breathed in, I breathed out. I wriggled my toes inside the boots. I rubbed my chest through the jacket. I touched the legs of my overalls to my thighs. Lightly, so as not to set anything off.

Yeah, Rick, I'd be right out. But until then, this thing I had with the suit was going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Rick walked into the room as I lay in my new suit making snow angels on the bed soft bedspread. I sat bolt upright as the door opened, blurting out, "I was just about to come out! I was just sitting here! I just pulled on my boots! I had to sit down!" I took a breath. "To pull on the boots!"

Rick leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. He just stared at me.

"I wasn't doing anything", I said without conviction.

Rick smirked, then slowly pursed--and unpursed--his lips. "Dickie?"


"Are you by any chance not wearing any underwear under that suit?"

I gulped. "Mmmmmmaybe."

"Maybe you are or maybe you aren't?"

"The first one." I fidgeted a bit. That wasn't too smart, since the suit rubbing against me just got me more worked up.

"So you are wearing briefs under that?"

"No. You said are you not wearing any underwear, and I am. Not wearing any."

Rick shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose with two fingers.

"Rick, I didn't mean to do anything wrong, honest. I was just, this suit, it feels so, I've never worn anything like this, and I was only, I was only--"

"Getting excited by wearing it? In your nether regions perhaps?"

The suit still felt fantastic, but my excitement in the ol' nether regions was drooping fast. "You don't sound too surprised about it."

Rick walked over and sat down next to me. "Not really. I saw how you looked when you wore those rubber farm boots yesterday. How you obviously enjoyed it. I figured there was something else going on than just a deep enjoyment of dressing up." He looked me in the eye. "You like rubber?"

I blew out a big breath and kicked my feet a little. "I like rubber." I felt as if I was in a confessional, or was fessing up to some mischief I'd been caught at in class.

Rick just rested his hands in his lap. "So tell me about it."

"What, seriously? You want me to just--?"

"How long have you known?"

"About the whole rubber thing? Since always, I guess." I told him about the pair of red rubber boots with the big button-fasteners on the side I wore as a toddler, how I tried to wear them long past the time I'd outgrown them. I mentioned my dad's old lace-up clodhopper snow boots that were all thick brown rubber inside and out, and how I'd sneak them out of the basement and wear them when no one was around. No socks. Just the cool rubber against my bare feet. Through it all he sat and listened, nodding here and there, looking more like he was following along to a checklist rather than that he was waiting to condemn me.

"So you know what it sounds like you are then, Dickie?"

"I don't know. A pervert? A whack job?"

"The term I was going to use was rubberist."

"What is--? No way, you just made that up."

Rick raised three fingers. "There is such a thing, scout's honor. All it means is that you are a person who receives enhanced pleasure from physical contact with rubber. That's all."

"So I'm not a pervert?"

"You are if you start forcing this little aspect of yourself onto others against their will, or wearing rubber bras and panties to church, I'd imagine. But no, I'd say you're not particularly perverted, Dickie."

I fell back onto the bed, arms spread out at my sides, both relieved and relishing the feel of the suit again. "Phwew! Thank God. 'Cause this thing does feel fucking fantastic."

Rick swatted my chest. "Watch the language."


"But be careful. Good as it feels, you can get addicted, just like with any other outside substance that brings you pleasure. If you start craving rubber gear and can't control your need to wear the stuff, then we've got problems. So you promise me that you'll let me know if you ever get too worked up about it, okay?"

"Will do."

"Then let's go take some pitchurs." He patted me on the arm and we were off to the camera.

The backdrop behind me looked like sewer tunnels, which made sense. Pipes and valves curved and arced with large gauges and wheel controls attached. Rick had added the additional props of the hardhat as well as large headphones, like the kind you might see on a shooting range.

"What's up with the headphones?", I asked.

"I have no clue", he told me, "but I'm told they come standard, so you have to wear 'em." I shrugged. He was the boss. Rick then laid down a large plastic tarp and had me stand on it. I was to stay on the tarp for the remainder of the shoot. Rick stepped out of the room for a moment and returned with a small bucket and a large soup ladle.

"What are you doing?", I asked with concern.

Rick began stirring the bucket with the ladle. I couldn't tell what was in it. There was no offensive smell, at least. "You ever heard the old hillbilly expression, 'Well, I'll be dipped in shit', my friend?"

"I think so", I said tentatively.

"Well, I'm about to dip you in shit. Or rather, cover you in shit. Hold still." Rick began to ladle scoop after scoop of runny, slightly chunky, brown gooey soup onto my beautiful shiny suit, which ran in uneven streaks over my arms and chest, heading South pretty fast.

"Eeeeeewwww! I didn't sign on for this!" I started to pull away, but Rick stopped me.

"Relax. It's just mud I mixed up with dirt from behind the apartments. But it'll dry fast and it'll look like dookie. Not enough to gross out our clients, but enough to add some authenticity to the frames."

"You're wrecking the look of my suit."

"You'll survive." Rick made short work of shitification. In short order I really did look like a sewer worker who had been hard at for some time. Oddly enough, I was getting hard at it, as the feel of the thick sludge oozing across my rubber outfit was getting me excited again. Not a pervert, indeed.

I stood there in the black rubber suit, trying to get used to the feeling without getting too worked up. It wasn't easy. Even streaked with mud, with the hardhat and headphones on, pulling around large hoses and spades, I couldn't get past the sensation that I was rock hard and totally turned on. Rick was pretty sharp. Even though the rubber jeans were kind of loose--loose enough to hide my horny teenager's manly bulge--he knew I was fighting a throbbing erection. He distracted me by barraging me with questions.

"Favorite class?"

"Oh, the vocational class at the downtown high, definitely."

"What do you learn there? Oh, put the safety glasses back on. Look upward, past the light."

"Commercial art, mostly. It's a three-hour class, so we cover a lot of ground. Some design work, graphic arts, a bit with the computer. Tried the airbrush. Hated it. No control. I spray all over everything."

"I'm not crazy about it either. Turn your head a little to the left. No, your left. And raise your chin about a quarter of an inch. There! Hold that. So, is that your favorite teacher, too? The one who teaches that class?"

"He's one of 'em." I actually liked school for the most part, so I had several favorite teachers. "He's pretty cool. He tries to include all of us in anything going on at the downtown school, which isn't always easy since we're bussed in from all over."

"Sling the hose back over your shoulder. Other hand. Don't block your face. Include you how?"

"Oh, like last month they were having their Spirit Week, and he let us know about all the theme days. We could slip into the boys' room and change clothes for it. Like Pajama Day, where anyone who wanted to could come to school wearing their pajamas, or Nerd Day with bookworm geek costumes, like that."

"Switch the hose to your other shoulder, bend over like you're rolling it up. You ever dress up for that? You being so into costumes--"

"Yeah, I did! On Professionals Day, we dressed up in a What I Want To Be When I Grow Up theme. This one kid from Northside High came dressed up in full fireman's gear. It was cool."

Rick paused for a moment as he advanced the film. "He did, huh?"

"Yeah, he had the whole outfit, with big yellow boots, a helmet, even a toy axe. He looked really cool." I let my mind go back to the cute blond kid in his fireman's costume, looking younger than he was since that was so much a little boy's costume. I heard the camera click. "Oh, I'm sorry, Rick. Did I miss a direction? I wasn't ready."

"My fault. I was adjusting the light meter and I took the picture. Look this way." I did, he took a replacement photo. "So you didn't go as a farmer, did you?"

"Naw!", I said. "I borrowed one of my dad's old suits and a sample case. I was a sales rep. Everyone thought I was a lawyer."

"Well, if you ever decide to go as a sewer worker for some future dress-up day, you know where to find the ensemble."

I smirked. "Thanks", I said, knowing it'd be a cold day in hell before I let any of the other kids see me in any kind of rubber.

I heard the cranking of the rewind on Rick's camera as he announced, "That's a wrap. Good job, Dickie." I let out a sigh, almost lied that it went quickly, and got ready to shuffle back to the bedroom when I stopped myself.

"Um, what about the mud? I'll track it all over."

"Oh, yeah, the mud", Rick said absently, with a tone that indicated it had never slipped his mind. "I'll have to hose you off or wipe you down or something. Lemme get a washcloth." He came back with a damp cloth and tossed it to me. "Clean yourself off, Dickie. I'd do it myself, but I'd probably get arrested for dressing up an impressionable young paper boy in a rubber suit and then rubbing my hands all over him."

"Ha-ha", I said, and began to wipe myself off. As soon as the cloth touched my suit, I could feel the warmth of the wet rag. I couldn't feel the temperature through the industrial gloves, but it was readily apparent against the thinner rubber jeans. Small globs of mud fell away easily to land with moist splats against the tarp. The heated rubber pressed against my bare skin, as I watched the droplets beading on the outside of the suit. The outside of the suit was growing increasingly wet with the soapy water as more mud washed away, the inside simply grew more hot. As did I.

Rick eyed me curiously. "Everything washing off okay there, Dickie?"

"" My circular strokes went slower. I ran my hands over the inside of my thighs, down my legs, around the back to the seat of my pants. I was getting cleaner, but I was heating up something fierce.

"Dickie, you better wash off the jacket first, or else the dirt running down will just have you washing the pants all over again", Rick cautioned.

"Yeah, right", I moaned back. "Wouldn't want that." Slowly, oh so slowly, I wiped the warm wet cloth across my chest and arms. The streaks of mud clumped together and slid off my slickened suit. The warmth, the gentle press of the slick rubber against my body, the barely perceptible feel of the moistened mud slipping easily off my costume to land with soft smacks on the plastic was all making me terribly excited. God, Rick was right, I really was some kind of rubberist or something. If that was right, if I had some kind of perverted material fetish, I knew I should stop wiping myself off so slowly. I should just quickly mop off the majority of the mud and change my clothes right away.

Sure. As soon as I get this big splotch of mud off the seat of my pants. Ohh, yeah, that's it. And, and, and this spatter here along the top of my thighs. Deep breath. And this big messy glob right over my crotch--

"You wanna grab your hose, Dickie?"

My eyes snapped open. I hadn't even realized I'd closed them. "Huh? I was just cleaning the suit off! Like you asked me to!"

Rick looked at me funny. "Yeeesss, and you're doing a fine job of it. Very thorough. Now, if you could pause in your janitorial duties for a moment and hand me the prop hose at your feet before it gets totally coated in mud..."

I looked down at the hose lying in loose loops between my booted feet. "Oh. Yeah, right. That hose. I got it."

I bent over to grab the hose, feeling the warmed rubber of my jeans press against my ass, tighten across my legs. I tried to focus. I am picking up a hose. That is all I'm doing. I'm picking up a big prop hose. That's all. Rick was behind me, fussing about with the backdrop. He reached over and grabbed the hose from me. "Relax, champ. I got it. Finish cleaning yourself up." I started to stand up a moment too slowly, and Rick snatched away the length of hose just fast enough so that as he walked away, half its length rubbed right against me. Between my legs. Over my ass. And I'd already had the hose up to chest level, so the whipping hose ran directly across my crotch. My back and shoulders stiffened. The cannons were loaded and ready to fire. T-Minus 10...

Rick looked at me. "You okay, buddy? You're not gonna pass out from the heat of wearing that thing, are you?" I shook my head vigorously. "You sure you're okay?" I nodded my head. T-Minus 9... "You want me to get you anything? A glass of water, maybe?"

"Nope!", I said in a helium voice. "I'm fine!"

Rick tossed the rolled hose into a nearby milk crate. "You're getting a little excited there, aren't you, Dickie?"

My face was growing red. I could feel it. I sucked my lips in over my teeth and bit down on them from inside my mouth. T-Minus 8...

"You want me to step out into the hall for a minute?"

"It's okay! I can hold it! I don't wanna...I don't wanna..." I began bouncing on the balls of my feet (which only made things worse as the rubber boots brushed against my feet, the jeans stretched against my legs). T-Minus 7...

"Dickie, the suit is made entirely of rubber. It's not like you're not gonna wreck it."

My voice was now a strangled squeak. "It's embarrassing..."

"Just know that you will have to clean it up comPLETEly afterward. Got me?" Rick put his hand upon my shoulder. That did it. T-Minus6T-Minus5T-Minus4!!! I nodded my head like a bobble-doll in an earthquake. With the pace of a lame tortoise, Rick plodded toward the door. "I'll be in the hallway. Signal me when you're done." I held every muscle, every fiber of my body clenched tight until I heard the door click closed.

T-MINUS 3!!! T-MINUS 2!!! TEE!! MINUS!!! ONE!!!!!!

I fell to my knees, my entire body shaking like a leaf, my balls buzzing like an angry beehive, my breath held in mid-gasp as I hung precariously on the verge of teenage eruption. Unable to stop myself, I fell forward, face-down, onto the muddy tarp. No sooner had I hit with a wet splat than all turrets fired. A merciless geyser of boyjuice sprayed like a fire hose (or so it felt) from my throbbing stiff member and shot upward, across my chest, coating the inside of the bib and jacket. My fists clenched the tarp, mud gooshing between my fingers, my breath fogging against the plastic surface. My hips thrust involuntarily as I fired again and again, the puddling semen gathering into a sticky mess in my pubes, flooding down my pant leg to gather at my knees. My body was wracked with stab upon stab of overwhelming pleasure. Here I was, a good little schoolboy, straight-A student, honor paper carrier, lying face-down in the mud humping a soiled tarp in a rubber suit. I really was a dirty little pervert.

"Kid, you okay??", Rick's concerned voice came from behind me. "It sounded like something fell--" His voice stopped short as his footsteps stopped nearby. Then, after a moment's silence, he simply grunted, "Uh-huh."

"Rick...?", I said into the tarp, my body still twitching from my monstrous orgasm.

"Yeah, buddy?"

"Do you think you could go out for a Coke for a little while? My rubber suit and I would like to be alone."

Rick snorted out a small laugh. "Sure, kid. I'll leave you to bask in the afterglow. The soap bottle's under the sink in the bathroom. The tire shine spritz is under the sink in the kitchen. I want you out of that thing--all of you--by the time I get back. Got me?"

I nodded, my hair picking up bits of mud off the tarp. I let my eyes roam over my limp, rubbered arms, the mud-spattered plastic sheet upon which I lay. The heat, the thrill, the moment, was passing quickly. Now far more quickly I could feel the onset of the shame. I had just had a wonderful biochemical rush that I provoked myself. In a big rubber suit used by people who clean up filth. I had been a baaaaaad boy.

"Ohhhhh God", I groaned. "How'm I gonna be able to look at myself in the mirror after this??"

From the open door, I heard Rick say, "Champ, I'd much rather have you beating off than having sex with someone else when you're not ready for it. You'll never cause that suit irreparable emotional damage. Or vice versa." He left before I could even process his comment. I had a suit to clean. In a minute. Once my legs started working again.

Rick was back in his second apartment. The afternoon with Dickie had gone phenomenally well. Rick dwelled momentarily on the embarrassing moment in college when he had first fully come to grips with the fact that he was a rubberist. Of course, that involved a frat party he had been dragged to, a wager lost to half the college wrestling team, the humiliation of being forced naked into adult-sized diapers, and the clicking away of over a dozen disposable cameras. Not the best time to find yourself orgasmically excited over being wrapped up tight in rubber pants.

But that painful memory was already fading as the recollection of his time today with Dickie replaced it. Dickie would be spared that pain, having recognized in advance his predilection for rubber and latex, and more importantly, that neither it nor he was evil because of it.

Rick was anxious to see how the prints would turn out after tomorrow's processing. Dickie made an exceptional model, especially with the glorious smile he wore today so indicative of his love of the rubber sewer diver's suit. He looked frankly adorable in the oversized hardhat and shining suit, even when streaked with mud. Even before he got all excited.

On his way to the den, Rick stopped in the hallway. He need not wonder how well the prints would turn out, for there framed on the wall was an 8x10 glossy of the paper boy in question. Young Dickie smiled back at Rick from the photograph, dressed head to toe in the sewer worker's gear, mud spattered all over him, obviously having a ball. The photos would not only turn out well, they'd turn out great. They'd be keepers.

Ben and I sat at our usual table during lunch period. Ben was laughing at me. "You, covered in shit. Now that, I would've paid to see."

"It's not like it was real shit", I insisted.

"Close enough to pass", he chided. "Hey, scooch over."

"The suit was pretty cool, though", I said. "The suit I got to wear was awesome."

"Ha! Yeah, I'll bet. You got to be a dung farmer."

Ben licked the lid of his pudding cup, and as I watched him, I found my mind wandering to someplace it ought not to go. Turning my mind back to the conversation, I went on, "It was still pretty cool. Kinda like those old 1950s spacesuits Tom Corbett used to wear."

Ben looked a bit more intrigued. "Does this Rick guy still do a lot of that? The science fiction stuff?"

"We haven't yet, but he says he does it often enough." I noticed Ben staring off into space. I knew where his mind was going, too. "He's got this kick-ass Star Trek uniform like in the movies that's about your size."

Ben gulped down a scoop of pudding. "You still gettin' paid?" I pulled out a wad of cash from my pocket and waved it at him.

"Well, if he ever does anything along those lines, you'll have to tell me about it", Ben said, trying to sound nonchalant. Then he shoved my chair over with his foot. "God, move over a little, willya? You don't have to sit in my lap!" He hunched over his pudding cup like a vulture, furtively looking left and right at the kids in the cafeteria around us.

My afternoon was spent, as usual, in my vocational class at the downtown high. The first part of the class was spent, also as usual, staring at the cute blond kid from Northside when I should have been listening to our teacher tell us what the day's assignment was.

His name was Gerald. He wasn't what I'd call really cute--not Ben cute--but he had a fresh face and a natural smile that was really sweet.

"So you need to pair up, people", Mr. Beschiff said. "Choose someone from this class--not a magazine photo of Madonna or Michael Jackson--and draw your assignment using that person as a model. I don't care how you apply it; illustration, caricature, interpretative charcoal sketch, whatever. But your artwork HAS to have some commercial application and the likeness HAS to be there. You have the rest of the week, critiques on Friday, so get to it."

Friends and those from the same schools buddied up. I was the only kid here from my high school. But as far as I knew, Gerald was the only one from Northside. Cautiously, I approached his desk, already envisioning him as a superhero, tights hugging his firm body, cape fluttering behind him. He was chatting with one of the guys from Fieldview.


The guys from Fieldview kept chatting, Gerald kept staring in their direction. I spoke a little louder. "Um, hey." He turned around to face me. He was cuter up close. "So, ah, would you mind if I expose you to a deadly dose of radiation and endow you with powers and abilities beyond mortal men?"

His jaw fell open. "Say what??"

I held up my sketch pad, which was always full to bursting with various heroic characters. "I'm designing a superhero character. Don't have a partner for that whole likeness thing. Thought maybe you and me could--"

"Oh!", he said, light dawning. "Sure, sure, that's cool. If you wanna."

"You're not working with the guy from Fieldview?"

"Nah, nah, we were just talking. Those two are already working together."

"Oh. Cool." I smiled, then, "I mean, it's just I saw you talking, I thought you already had a partner."

"Nope", he said, grabbing up his pad and materials. "I'm all yours."

The rest of our class was spent, as with everyone else, with two desks pushed together so we could work as partners from either side, facing each other. It wasn't a bad way to work. Gerald was pretty cool, mostly letting me work on getting his likeness down, saying he'd get into the drawing for his own assignment tomorrow. It couldn't be easy, just having to sit there and stare at me while I worked.

When the bell rang and we gathered up our stuff to make it to our respective buses, Gerald was pretty pleased with the likeness I'd captured (which I thought pretty much sucked), but was at least a start.

"I appreciate the way you pumped me up. My arms were never that big."

"Well, something tells me Mr. Beschiff is only going to be interested in how accurate the face is", I said.

"Yeah, probably." As Gerald pushed the desks back apart, some of the sketch papers fell out of one of the folders under his arm.

"Here, let me get those", I offered.

"No, no, it's cool", he said. "You don't have to, I'll get it."

But I had already picked them up. The sketch that landed on top was of a fireman. He was standing tall, with a stance as powerful as any of my superheroes. Backlit by flames and framed by geysers from hoses, he stood in full regalia, with the big coat, bunker pants, huge boots, the whole deal. It was still kind of rough, but it was pretty far along as sketches go. And the face of this fireman looked an awful lot like me.

"Dude", I said. "Is this supposed to be me??"

Gerald took the sketch quickly and shoved it back into his folder. "Um, yeah, actually."

"When did you do this?"

He seemed really uncomfortable. "Here and there. When you were looking down at your own page. I didn't want you to see it."

"Why not?", I asked him.

"Well, it's not exactly finished. You know."

Still, it was a pretty damn good likeness. And not exactly easy to get a good 3/4 headshot like that while all through class I was seated so he could only see a straight-on. This kid was good. "Wow. What's it gonna be for?"

"Uh, a PSA. Fire safety, like that. Well, see you tomorrow, then." He hurried off, obviously not wanting to miss his bus.

I let out a low whistle in admiration. "Wish I could draw that fast."

Perhaps spurred on by the fun I had in vocational class, I finished my paper route at top speed and arrived at Rick's door a little earlier than I had before. He opened the door and seemed surprised to see me. "Hey. What are you doing here?"

I scrunched my brow. "Aren't we doing a shoot today?"

He shook his head. "Sorry, kid. No incoming specs, no work order, no photos. At least not this time."

"Oh. Well, okay. Just thought I'd, you know, offer my services or whatever." I turned to leave, crestfallen.

"If you want, it might be a good idea to come on in anyway and rummage through the wardrobe chest. Just so, as a model, you're more familiar with the costumed we have available."

I lit right up. "Sure!" Then, composing myself, "I mean, I can do that for a minute or two if you need me to. I don't have to be anywhere for a little while."

Rick's costume collection was a treasure trove. Hero costumes, clown suits, different sporting uniforms, profession costumes ranging from doctor's lab coat to police uniforms, Christmas elves, bunny suits, you name it. And there was plenty of stuff made out of rubber. Fishing waders, my sewer worker suit (which you'll note I now thought of as mine), farm boots, rain wear, and more.

After the better part of an hour, Rick got a little tired of narrating as I uncovered one dress-up delight after another, telling me what assignment he'd used it for, which model had worn what. "You feel free to look through whatever you want", Rick told me. "Try some of the stuff on, if you want. I'm gonna get some bookwork done on the computer."

"Cool. Thanks." I rummaged a bit more, wishing I could wear some of the rubber stuff out and about, maybe even to school, but knowing it was all too big and clunky for me to get by with. I could only imagine me trying to hide a pair of chest-high fishing waders under a pair of blue jeans in some lame attempt to get off during the boredom of Social Studies class.

But then I saw it. It was like a wrestler's singlet. It was red and black, with short sleeves and short runner's-style pants. It was thin, flexible. And it was all rubber. The collar was low, and would be easily concealed underneath even an open collar shirt. It felt wonderful in my hands. I could only imagine what it would be like on my body. All day long.

Knowing better but not thinking that clearly, I tossed the singlet into my paper bag and stuffed the other costumes back into the chest or closet, as need be. I leapt up and headed toward the door. "Okay, I'm gonna take off!", I hollered.

Rick leaned back in his chair. "You all done looking at the costumes?"

"Yup!" I was at the door now.

"You put everything back where it belongs?"

"Yup! Gotta go now!" Door open, into the hallway.

"Hey, swing by tomorrow after your route, we may have a new job."

"Will do! See ya!" Shut the door fast, I ran like hell down the hall, down the stairs, out the door, and all the way home.

Rick threw down the pencil he'd been toying with while waiting for Dickie to finish up his playtime with those costumes. Finally! Time to get to work on what he was really looking forward to doing.

Back at the second apartment, Rick held up the red and blue suit to get a better look at it. It was perfect. He knew it was what Dickie had always dreamed of wearing, had he ever allowed himself to dream of such things. Rick began to bounce on his heels a bit, almost like Dickie himself, as he anticipated his young model trying the suit on, romping around in front of the camera in it.

As Rick folded up the suit for the trip back to number 37, he felt something odd. A twinge of...was that guilt? He paused as he packed up Dickie's newest costume. Rick knew that Dickie still suspected nothing of Rick's intentions. And yet, even with the freedom under which his secrecy allowed him to act, Rick had not foreseen that his scheme and the pure enjoyment of Dickie's would begin to blur. Was Rick feeling guilt over his original plan, or straying from it for the pointless exercise of bringing a teenage outcast joy?

He shook it off. Dickie was getting into that red and blue suit tomorrow, and that was that. Rick knew he'd thank him for it. And Rick also knew that Dickie would go though the roof when he learned there were two such suits. He lifted up the second identical outfit and gave it a quick once-over before folding it up as well. Rick winced slightly when he knew what would follow that revelation. What had to. But sometimes the innocent have to be hurt to achieve certain goals. Discomfort over it made that fact no less true.

Rick snapped the case closed on the twin costumes and set back toward number 37, trying in vain to keep his mind off the task that lay ahead.

It took me like a half hour to get up the guts to put the undersuit on. Once I had it on, it felt absolutely fantastic. Quickly, before one of my folks could open my bedroom door to tell me to come to breakfast, I leapt into my clothes to cover up the rubber suit. I looked at myself in the mirror. It worked perfectly. My shirt and jeans concealed the undersuit, and it was snug enough that it made no squeaky noises when I moved in it. next thing I knew, I was in the car being dropped off at the school's main entrance. No turning back now.

I walked around the halls with Ben as usual. I was walking on air. Every step, every move I made, my body was gently squeezed and caresses by the rubber short suit. After the initial paranoia of wondering who would be first to notice something was different about me, I let myself just enjoy the experience.

No one noticed a thing. As far as I could tell, I got no second glances from any of the kids or the teachers. I began to bounce as I walked, side by side with Ben, my best friend in the world. He had on a light blue sweater with dark blue trim, which accented his eyes, and charcoal cords. God, he looked so sharp. Ooh, I was so hard all of a sudden. Most likely a delayed reaction to all the movement in the rubber undersuit. It felt so good, hugging me beneath my clothes, clinging to me as I made my way through--

"What the hell are you so goddamned happy about??"

I turned to Ben. "What's that?"

"You've had this stupid perma-grin on your face like you're stoned all morning. What the hell is up with you?"

"I guess I'm just in a good mood, that's all", I said.

Ben picked up his pace. "Well, I'm going on ahead to first hour. You're creeping me out." He walked quickly down the halls, looking left and right more than once. I wasn't quite sure what he was looking for.

By lunch period, I had begun to rethink the brilliance of my decision to wear the rubber undersuit all day long. I was hotter than hell, and my body was soaking. I didn't think to bring along any extra underwear, so I was pretty much cut off from any kind of escape. I was fidgeting so much and so incredibly hard that Ben actually left the lunchroom for the library. "Man, everybody's staring at you doing your chair dance. What, have you got crabs or something??"

As he left, I looked all around the cafeteria. Near as I could tell, nobody was looking at our table. But maybe I had just missed it. Ben was the one who was the people watcher.

By vocational class, I had done my best to adjust to the feeling of the soaked undersuit, but not so much my hard-on. Mr. Beschiff just gave us a quick reminder of where we were, how many days we had left to finish, and urged us to get to work.

Gerald and I sat opposite each other again, this time with me letting him do the majority of the drawing. I touched up some of what I had done the day before. Gerald as the superhero. Him with his light hair, his smooth face, with increased musculature--still sleek, but incredibly toned--in his uniform tights. My rubber undersuit seemed to be fitting tighter. I wondered if extended wear was making it shrink.

"What do you think?" Gerald held up his piece for me to look at. He had already started adding color. There I was, all heroic looking, all in black shiny rubber with yellow accents, yellow boots, water glistening off my gear, flames licking the skies behind me. "Well? You think it's any good?"

I shifted my eyes from the artwork to Gerald, as he flashed an expectant smile. Suddenly, my suit was really pinching my crotch. "Uh! You must've put some time in on this at home, too. Uhh!"

Gerald looked at me. "Dickie, you okay?"

I hopped off my stool. "Yeah, just a little tummy trouble today. Be right back. Bathroom."

I walked briskly out the door and then raced down the hall to the boys' room. Since it was the middle of a class period, the place was deserted, which was a good thing as I was about to burst. I ripped off my shirt and yanked off my pants. Luckily, the jeans I'd chosen were baggy enough that I didn't have to take off my shoes. I could see that my erection was huge and ready to blow. I could not, not, not, lose it in school.

I reached around to unzip the undersuit, but it was a stretch, since it was a back-zip and I was sweaty, horny, and freaked. The more I tugged, the more I rubbed the suit against my penis, the more I felt ready to spurt everything I had. What the hell was I thinking, wearing a suit to school that does nothing but make me excited??

I couldn't figure it out. Why was I so aroused? It's not like I had the full sewer suit on with the jacket, the boots. This was just a little singlet! And I hadn't done anything to get myself worked up. I was just doing my homework with Gerald. With some more effort, I peeled the top of the suit off me, gasping as I did. My penis was freed, and pointed skyward, ready to fire.

I tried to think of something--anything--that could turn me off. My mind was a blank. All that filled my head was the excruciating sensation coming from my crotch. In a fit of desperation, I dashed over to the sinks, leaned my member over the rim, and opened the faucet full blast. If you know anything about school facilities, you know that hot water is unheard of. A torrent of ice cold water hit my nether regions and caused my limbs to go rigid.

"Holy SHIT!!", I cried involuntarily. I let the water run, watching with great relief as my engorged member shriveled.

"Hey, Dickie, are you okay in there?" It was Gerald, sticking his head in to see if I was alright. Nice guy. Terrible timing. He wandered in to find the bathroom empty. He asked again. "Dickie? You okay? You in here?" Then he heard a toilet flush from within a closed stall. Nodding in understanding, Gerald walked over and rapped lightly on the door. "You alright? You're not sick or anything, are you?"

"No", I called back. "I'm okay. Had school cafeteria enchiladas for lunch. Never a good idea. Just give a few more minutes. And a can of air freshener."

Gerald paused, still waiting. "I thought you just finished--"

"Courtesy flush. In just a little bit I'll be good to go."

"Okay, if you're sure, man."

"I'm sure." I heard Gerald exit the restroom as I let out the obligatory gasp that comes right after a narrow escape. I had raced into a stall at the last second, grabbing my clothes as I went. Now I sat with my pants around my ankles (literally around, as I hadn't managed to get them back on yet), my shirt in one hand and the rubber under gear in the other. My skin was clammy, and still uncomfortably warm. Well, all except my crotch, which was freezing. And I had to spend the rest of my day commando, having brought no briefs with me.

The mischievous impulse of swiping the rubber undersuit seemed considerably less ingenious when sitting panting on a school toilet.

That afternoon, I rapped on the door to apartment 37 with some trepidation. From inside, I heard Rick call out, "That you, Dickie?"

I opened the door a crack and stuck my head in. "Um, yeah. S'me."

"C'mon in and hang on a sec. I've got some stuff I'm finishing up here on the computer."

"Sure. Okay." I stepped inside, my empty paper bag slung over my shoulder with the pilfered rubber suit hidden inside.

Rick's back was to me as he tapped away on his keyboard. "Won't be a second."

I tiptoed into the bedroom and carefully opened up the costume chest. I had no recollection of its hinges ever squeaking, but I didn't want to take the chance of making any noise that could give me away. I lifted out the costumes sitting near the top. Rick was pretty well organized when it came to these outfits, so I had to return the rubber suit to the exact position it came from. Now, where did it go, again? Was it underneath the yellow tights or the clown jumper? I wasn't positive either way. No, wait! It was under both of those, it was on top of the light blue sailor suit, next to the old-world parochial schoolboy's uniform, that was it. All I had to do was lift those costumes out, return the undersuit to its proper place and I'd be home fr--

"Have a nice day at school, champ?"

I whirled around to see Rick standing there in the doorway with his arms crossed. It was pretty obvious he knew precisely what I was doing, what I had done, so it seemed pointless to start spluttering out excuses or explanations. Rick's eyes bore into me with a silent warning not to try to cover my tracks. I pointed to the rubber undersuit I had cleaned up and been attempting to return covertly. "I, um, I kind of borrowed this."

Rick frowned. "You kind of borrowed it, huh?"

I looked at the floor. I knew where this was going.

"You took one of my costumes without permission, Dickie. Without even so much as trying to ask. As far as I can tell, that's called stealing."

If this were a typical mischief situation or a case of disobeying my parents, I'd follow the usual drill and just sit there looking shameful and let the adult in question vent as need be until they got the lecture out of their system. But this was different. Rick wasn't like any adult I'd ever met. He wasn't a relative, teacher, or employer. He was something I'd never had before. He was a mentor. I really didn't want to piss him off, or worse, make him think I was just another stupid, inconsiderate teenager.

"Can I say something?", I asked him.

"As long as it's not an attempt to justify your actions", he said flatly.

I took a deep breath. Then, "When I saw this yesterday, all I could think of was how cool it would be to wear it. Then when I saw how small it was, how easy I could hide it under my street clothes, all I could think of was wearing it all day without anyone knowing."

"And how'd that work out for you?", Rick asked, with a tone that indicated he already knew.

"It pretty much sucked. I mean, it was kind of exciting at first, but then I got too hot, and I was always sweaty, and since I hadn't brought any briefs to school to change into, I felt more trapped than anything. Then I kept getting worked up, and it was like--"

"You couldn't control it?"

I exhaled heavily. "No. I couldn't. I ended up peeling the thing off my in a school bathroom to keep from--you know, so I wouldn't--"

"To prevent any accidents?", Rick offered.

"Yeah. Even then I almost got caught. And my balls still ache." I looked Rick in the eye. "And I feel like a piece of shit for stealing from you and wrecking a great thing I had going with you. And though I know it doesn't amount to anything, I'm sorry."

I began to walk out, but Rick put a gentle hand against my chest to stop me. "I think that after this transgression, you ought to be punished", he said. I was about to tell him to name it, that I'd do whatever he asked then leave forever. Then he added, "But it sounds like you've been punished enough." I stepped back to see Rick had a wry smile. "Don't you think I could've stopped you from taking that if I really wanted to? After your experience with the sewer worker's costume, I knew that if you weren't careful, you could get carried away with rubber gear." Taking a step forward, Rick lifted the undersuit from where returned it in the chest and held it before me. "Being a rubberist is only okay as long as you don't let it control your life." I nodded, completely understanding what he meant.

"So I'm not fired?", I asked.

"You're not fired", he said, dropping the rubber undersuit back into the chest.

"Thank God!", I gasped in relief. "I will never, never do anything like that again, I promise. And I really, really, really appreciate you being so understanding about it."

He turned to look at me as he walked back to the living room. "You're not the first kid in history to wear a rubber suit to school under his clothes. At least you had the brains to use a shorty. Others wore a full bodysuit." My jaw was practically down on the floor. I couldn't believe it. Then Rick added, "And just so you know, I didn't make it to the bathroom in time." I blinked my eyes in disbelief. Before his revelation had fully registered, he said, "C'mere, I want to show you something."

Mechanically, I followed Rick to the end table by the couch. He gestured to what looked like a pair of loosely-folded bib overalls, like those I wore during my first shoot. Only these were crisp, very dark blue, looked brand-spanking new. "What is it?", I asked.

"It's your new uniform." I looked at him askance, wondering when I'd been assigned a uniform to work for him. He handed it to me. It was heavier than it looked. There was more rolled up inhere than just a pair of farmer pants. "Go ahead, take a look at it." I turned it over in my hands, trying to see how best to unfold it, when Rick held my arms up, pressing my fingers underneath what felt like the bib strap buckles. "Here, like this."

On Rick's signal I let the bundle of clothing unroll before me. I swooned. It was beautiful. I held before me something I would be proud to call my uniform. It was indeed a pair of new denim bib overalls, but underneath that was a red sweatshirt. Below the pant legs, rolled up to just below the knee in wide cuffs, was a shining pair of red rubber boots. And upon second glance--yes, the sweatshirt was rubber too.

"Rick", I sighed, "this is--wow, this is incredible. This--this is mine?"

"Well, for whenever I need a farmboy for the camera or whenever you want to wear it while you're over here visiting. Here, look at this." Rick fingered the side buttons on the bibs. "It comes with its own undersuit, although that might not seem quite so appealing after today's escapade." There was indeed a red rubber undersuit, attached to the boots. Riding nearly chest high, the undersuit would fit like snug waders beneath the overalls, eliminating any concerns about keeping the trousers tucked into the boots. "So, do you like it?", he asked me.

"Like it??" I held the suit (excuse me, uniform) to my chest, hugging it. "I love it! There has never been another suit like this!", I crowed.

"Wellll...I wouldn't say that", Rick said cryptically. He curled a finger inward for me to follow him back into the bedroom. He popped open a small suitcase that had been lying near the dresser and with measured, dramatic flair, lifted out another bib overall and red booted outfit. My jaw dropped and I took in a short breath.

Carefully, Rick laid out the second costume on the bed. It was absolutely identical to the one I had on, down to the last stitch. The red sweatshirt, the crisp denim overalls, the cardinal red rubber boots. It was extraordinary.

"So...what? I get two of them?", I gawked.

"Not exactly. I've got another piece to do. The higher-ups are still going on about that first series of farmboy prints we did. They want another. But they want twice as much."

My eyes had not left the second suit. "You don't mean twice the number of photos, do you?"

"Nope. They want two models. In the same costumes. Identical costumes."

I licked my lips, the wheels already turning. "Do they need to be twins? I mean, does the second guy have to look a lot like me?"

"No, not at all. In fact, it's preferable he didn't. We want the look of best buddies. Friends so close they could be brothers, even though they're unrelated." I continued to stare at the suit, already imagining who I'd want to be inside it. After a considerable moment's silence, Rick asked, "You have anyone in mind?"

I looked at Rick, grinning ear-to-ear. "I have just the person."

To my surprise, Rick didn't grin back. He bit his lower lip, then let out a heavy sigh. "I kind of thought you might."

"You want me to do what?"

Ben peered over the top of his tuna sandwich as we sat at the lunch table, nose wrinkled as if the sandwich had suddenly turned.

"Be the second model for Rick's next shoot."

Ben shook his head, mouth twisting with uncertainty. "I dunno about that..." He picked up his juice box, shook it (he always shook it each time before he drank from it), then took a sip. He went back to his tuna sandwich, his eyes sending the silent challenge to convince him.

I leaned forward, pushing my own PB & J aside. "C'mon, Ben, you'd be perfect! He needs two guys this time. And they need to look like best friends. Well, that's us! We couldn't be more convincing, 'cause we wouldn't have to pretend, we could just be ourselves!"

Ben inserted a Frito into his mouth and crunched it slowly. "Best friends, huh?"

"The shoots never take that long. We'd meet at his apartment right after my paper route. We go inside, you meet him, we suit up in costume, we get to goof off for about an hour while he takes pictures of us. Come onnnnn, it'll be fun! Whattaya say?"

"And this Rick guy, he hasn't tried anything funny with you yet, huh?" Ben raised one eyebrow. "He hasn't, like, made a move on you?"

"No", I stressed. "He isn't like that. My folks even met him and gave him the thumbs-up."

"When'd they meet him?"

"Turns out he goes to our church."

"Ah. No wonder he won over your parents. He spends an hour every Sunday gawking at altar boys, there can't be anything fishy about him."

To my disdain, I heard my voice climb to its squeaky-whiny begging pitch, but I couldn't help it. "Bennnn, please, I really want to do this with you. What's an hour out of your life? Pretty please? Best friend? Best costume buddy?"

Ben shook the last crumbs of his corn chips into his mouth and looked cautiously around the lunchroom as he scrunched up the empty bag. His eyes went left, then right, then across the length of the cafeteria. Then he hunched forward, and in a conspiratorial whisper said, "This is the same guy who does all that '50s science fiction, Star Trek, and Dr. Who stuff too, right?" I nodded. "Okay. We meet after your paper route. No sewer worker stuff?"

I shook my head. "No way. Uhn-uh."

He pulled out his pudding cup and popped the lid. "Okay then. Just don't mention it until then. To anybody."

I was practically floating out of my chair. "Mention what?"

Outside Rick's door, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet. Ben stood beside me, nervously looking up and down the apartment hallway. "You're sure you didn't tell anybody about this?", he asked for the twentieth time.

"I'm positive. All except for those guys on the football team."

Ben looked at me with venom. "What?!"

"Kidding! Kidding. No one knows you're here that you didn't tell. Where do your parents think you are, anyway?"


"What's the big deal, anyway?"

"I just don't want half the school to know I ran off with you to play dress up is all."

I rang the bell and Rick opened the door immediately. "Right on time." He smiled at me, then looked at Rick with something in his eyes I couldn't quite define, but it didn't look like him. I had never seen Rick's eyes appear cold before. It was gone in an instant, though, and he said, "This must be the Ben you've been bragging about."

Ben looked at me quickly, saying, "Dude, you were talking about me?"

"Only to say you'd be perfect for this job", Rick answered. "Let's see if our Dickie's right about that. Come on inside."

Rick gave Ben the quick run-through of what the job entails, costume, posing, and so on. Ben just nodded and listened, taking in the variety of movie posters and other decor Rick had added to his place since I first came here. When Rick had finished his shpeal and asked Ben if he had any questions, Ben pointed instead to Rick's poster from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

"That was an awesome movie."

"My favorite of all the Trek flicks", Rick said.

Ben nodded approvingly. "Mine too."

"It's fun to watch it back-to-back with a copy of the episode "Space Seed" from the original series, if you can find it."

For the first time since arriving, Ben's face lit up. "I've done that!"

Rick looked at Ben discerningly. "Have you, now?" Then, offering a meager smile, he said, "Maybe you and Dickie will have to come by another time, we can watch 'em again." He turned to me. "Dickie? Shall we get things rolling?"

I sprang from my chair nearly sparkling with anticipation. "Where'd you put it??", I asked anxiously.

"I laid it out on the bed. Ben's is over the back of the chair. Bring it out when you've changed." I'd slammed the bedroom door before Rick had half-finished his sentence.

I never got into a costume so fast. I was literally jumping into my rubber undersuit and boots, a small amount of nervous anticipatory perspiration providing some added lubrication. I yanked on the rubber sweatshirt with glee, and buckled myself into the bib overalls. I caught a quick glance of myself in the full-length mirror and though I was rock hard (both from being back in my favorite suit as well as anticipating Ben being in his), I was glad nothing showed from the outside.

I opened the door a crack to see Rick sitting back on the couch, tapping his fingers on the couch back. Why wasn't he setting up the lights and the backdrop? I glanced over at Ben, who sat silently in his chair, hands on his thighs, eyeing the walls and the ceiling. I grabbed Ben's costume off the back of the chair and set it near the door. Boy, was he gonna be surprised.

I threw open the door and strode into the living room to stand before Ben. "Ta-da! Well, buddy, what do you think??" Ben just looked up at me with his mouth slightly open. He was speechless. "Isn't this incredible, Benji?" I gave him a quick turn so he could see the whole outfit. The bibs, the boots, they're like Superman boots--oh, and look! The shirt is the same material as the boots! See, feel it!" I rubbed the sleeve between two fingers right up close to Ben.

"Yeah, I can see that..."

"It's all one piece underneath, man. It feels so good to have on, too!" I pulled the sides of the bibs apart to better show the undersuit. "You have so got to try this out, man! Well, you will! You are!" I dashed back to the bedroom and snatched up the other suit. I ran back to Benji, who was already standing up now. I held it up before him. "See? Bam! We're twins, man! This is gonna be so monster! WOO!" I slapped the suit against Benji's chest, which his arms caught on reflex.

I pushed more than walked him to the bedroom door to hurry him along into his costume. He turned around and looked at me with a puzzled expression. Clearly, he was overwhelmed by this as much as I was. He peered over my shoulder to Rick on the couch, apparently not knowing that I could give him whatever directions he needed now.

"Dude, I know this is gonna sound weird, but wear the suit without any underwear on." Ben looked at me aghast. "TrUSt me", I said, as I gave him one final shove and closed the door.

I strutted over to the chair Benji had occupied and flopped down across from Rick. Rick looked at me solemnly. He still seemed uncertain about my choice of partners, but he'd understand when he saw Benj suited up. "This is gonna be the best shoot ever", I beamed. "Rick, I promise you I will never forget this." Rick looked away, apparently a bit uncomfortable by my statement of gratitude.

My eyes were glued to that door. My heart was in my chest as I waited for my best friend in the whole world to come out dressed in the exact same outfit that I had on. I swallowed hard in anticipation. What was taking him so long?

Finally, after an eternity, the door to Rick's bedroom slowly opened. Gingerly, hesitantly, Ben stepped out into the living room. He was beautiful. He still had his glasses off after pulling on the snug sweatshirt and he looked so handsome. The suit fit him perfectly. The rubber sweatshirt gleamed in the light as did his matching red boots. The denim overalls fit over the top of his rubber sweatshirt so well. The denim hung loose in all the right places and was tapered at the waist to show how trim he was. His pant legs were cuffed kind of low, making it look like the boots weren't as tall as they really were, but a quick adjustment would fix that so we'd both match.

He looked down at himself, obviously taking in this extraordinary ensemble he'd been allowed to wear. He was dressed just like me. In denim, in bright red rubber. God, he was so...damned...cute! My best friend, now attired so all the world could see it. I already envisioned where the photos of us together like this would go. In my bedroom, in my wallet, in my locker.

I wanted to hug him right then and there. I wanted to race over and throw my arms around him and tell him how much he meant to me, how much I loved him as my friend. I wanted us to stay dressed like this forever. Best friends to the end, campadres, side-by-side, arm-in-arm for all time.

He looked at me. His eyes so cool and gray, his round, sweet smooth face so--

"Dickie, I can't do this."

I felt as if I had been struck across the face. He couldn't have just said what I thought he said. "Wh-what?"

Ben put his glasses back on. "Dickie, I'm sorry, man, I just can't. This is too much. I can't handle it."

"What do you mean you can't handle it?? You look great! Look at yourself, at me! At us! We're dressed like buddies, like partners, like--!"

"Like fags", Ben cut in. I stood there open-mouthed, stunned. He stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed. "Dickie, I feel like a big fag in this getup. I went along with it to humor you at first, but...Jesus, man." He shook his head.

I made a vague whimpering sound and gestured meaninglessly with one hand.

"Maybe you don't get it. Maybe you can't see what I'm seeing here, man, but we look like a couple of queers dressed up like little kids. There's no way in hell I'm letting this guy take pictures of me like this, much less with you and me together. Forget it."

Rick sat quietly in the corner and said nothing.

"B-but Benji, you can't be serious! We look awesome like this. You gotta go though with this, you promised--!"

"I promised to try it out, and I did. It sucks and I'm not doing this. You went too far with this one, man. Way too far." Ben walked around in a tight circle. "Christ, how can you even move in this thing? I got rubber climbing up my ass and tearing shit out of the hair on my legs and arms. It feels like a fucking straightjacket. Time's up. I'm getting out of this thing."

He turned to go back into the bedroom to change, and I lunged forward and grabbed his arm. I was on the verge of tears. "Benji, no! You can't! I really, really wanted this! You and me, together like this, like--"

"A couple of queer-ass pansy fairy boys.", he cut me off. "Dickie, you mean well and all, I really want to believe that, but it was all I could do to even walk out here in this thing. Once I saw myself in the bedroom mirror, I almost ripped it off right there. But I figured I'd let you see me in it. I owed you that much."

Yes, he owed me enough to show me the personification of my dream and then rip it away. Thanks ever so much. Ben kept going into the bedroom, speaking to me without turning around. "I know you've got the whole superhero thing going on, and you love to play dress-up in bright colors and stuff, but you obviously don't get what anyone else would think if they saw us like this. I'm not risking that." He was already unsnapping his bib straps and peeling off the overalls.

I just stood there, suddenly feeling like something wrong and perverse in my beautiful red and blue suit. My lower lip began to quiver. Ben kicked off the denim bibs and was left with his red rubber bodysuit. I could see outlined in the snug rubber that my buddy has a nice package, too. I cursed myself for noticing. For even looking.

Ben stood there looking at me in his glorious red rubber suit, and took off his glasses. "Dickie, don't watch me change." He walked towards me, and I backed away. Without checking to see if I was past the jam, he slammed the door in my face.

But I had seen him change. I had just seen my best friend in the whole world change into a cruel, judgmental and condemning bastard. I tried not to see it, but I couldn't help it.

I stumbled across the room and sat down on the couch next to Rick. Gently, he patted me on the back. I let him, staring down at my bright red clownish boots. God, was I really so fucking blind that I couldn't see how stupid I looked? Tall red rubber boots, crisp denim overalls, what was I thinking? Was there something wrong with me? To want to stand side by side with my best friend in the world and be photographed in identical costume outfits? Maybe Ben was right. Maybe I was screwed up somehow.

Rick sat beside me and said nothing. He didn't even assure me that everything would be alright. After who knows how long of sitting in silence, questioning my sanity and feeling miserable, Ben came out of the bedroom dressed in his street clothes.

He avoided my tearful eyes and looked at Rick. "I didn't know where you wanted the costume, so I just left it on the bed." Rick said nothing. Ben turned to leave, heading for the door.

I jumped off the couch, ran to stop him. "Benji, wait! Don't go like this! We have to talk about this! Please!" As I leapt across the room, I could feel the magnificent rubber trousers and boots hug my legs and feet. How could he not see how wonderful they felt? All I wanted was to share it with him That's all.

"There's nothing to talk about, Dickie. You have no idea what's wrong with you and everyone else can tell. It's just gotten too damn embarrassing is all. So do what you want and play with all your costumes and shit, just leave me out of it." I started to say something else, maybe get him to go along with a less flamboyant costume, maybe, but as Ben crossed the threshold he held out a palm and pressed it against my chest.

"Don't follow me out. I can't be seen with you dressed like that." My mouth moved, but no sound came out. Ben looked me in the eye and said evenly, "I'll see you around" in a tone that indicated that we would never spend time together again If he did see me around, it would be a signal to avoid me. He backed out into the hallway and kept his hand on the doorknob, pulling the door closed behind him to assure that I wouldn't follow.

"And don't call me 'Benji', for Christ sakes. Jesus."

The door closed tight and that was that. He was gone. The tears began to flow and I felt utterly humiliated. Mere moments ago I felt high as kite just to wear this outfit and now I was totally ashamed of it. My shoulders sagged and my body jerked with the sobs. After the initial crying gasps, I reached up with fumbling fingers and started undoing the clasps on my overalls bibs.

For the first time in several minutes, Rick spoke. "Dickie, what are you doing?"

I spat out my answer through the blubbering. "What does it look like I'm doing?? I have to get this thing off of me! I can't wear it anymore!"

Rick actually sounded hurt. "Why? You look great, kid."

The denim strap seemed to stick to the shiny rubber over my shoulder as I struggled to rip it off. My face flushed as I fought with the other strap, whose buckle was being uncooperative. "Come ON! Get the hell OFF of me, dammitt! GodDAMN, why won't you come off?!!"

Rick was suddenly behind me, his strong hands resting on my shoulders. "Dickie. It's gonna be okay, I promise. Stop it. Stop doing this to yourself."

"You HEARD what he said!", I pulled away from Rick's hold, but he kept his hands firmly in place. "I look like a fag! I look like a big, stupid, fag! Oh God, he said everybody knows! Everybody thinks I'm a lousy queer!" I was suddenly flooded with a fear unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. "Oh, Jesus! I'm all dressed up in a stupid costume and everyone thinks I'm a fag! I'm-I'm-I'm wearing a rubber suit! Oh, my GOD I'm wearing a red rubber FAG suit, and I have to get it off!!"

Rick turned me around and held me to his chest. "Hey, hey, hey, hey. Shh, shh, shh. It's gonna be okay, Dickie. I swear to you it's gonna be okay." I let go of everything and wailed into his strong chest. I felt so weak, so worthless. I was less than nothing. For perhaps a quarter of an hour I bawled and blathered incoherent nonsense as my new mentor held me tight, gently stroking the back of my head.

After my cries subsided into muffled sobs, Rick led me back over to the couch and set me down. The tears continued to flow, and he gently rested my head on his shoulder and spoke to me tenderly.

"Dickie, you love your suit, don't you? Isn't it your favorite costume?"

I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles. "It can't be anymore. It shouldn't be."

"That's not what I asked you, buddy. Do you like your suit?"

"Yes. I do." I felt the weight anew upon my chest and began to sob again. I did love the suit, I truly did. Benji said I looked like a fag in it. Therefore I'm a fag.

Rick held my head. "Hey, now stop it! You have a suit that makes you happy and you love to wear it. So what? You obviously wanted to share that same joy with your friend. Is that so bad?"

"H-he thinks so."

Rick put his arm around me and gently rubbed my shoulder. We sat that way in silence for a moment while I sniffled. As I composed myself, Rick said, "Can you be honest with me, buddy?" I looked up at him questioningly. His eyes were firm and resolute. "Really honest, Dickie. Can you?" I nodded.

Rick turned in his seat to face me, resting his hand upon my shoulder. "This Ben. Are you in love with him?"

I started to jerk away. "N-no! It's not like that. H-he's my best friend. We-we're not--"

Rick held on to my shoulder, resting his other hand upon my knee. His face was passive, but his eyes were penetrating. He said nothing, but his expression bore into me, emphasizing what he'd said before. Be honest.

I lowered my eyes, unable to meet his. I felt icy tendrils crawl from my stomach up my chest, and my legs trembled slightly. I took a deep breath, then another. He sat still, waiting for my reply. Then, closing my eyes, I finally answered, "I think so, yeah." The tears came again, my face began to crumple, and I reiterated, "I am in love with him."

I braced myself for the grown-up's talk about sexual confusion, about how I couldn't possibly know what I feel at this young age, about hormonal overload, etc, etc. Rick stunned me, however, with four words.

"He doesn't deserve you."

I met Rick's eyes, unsure I had heard him correctly. "What?"

He took my hands in his. "Dickie, you are such a wonderful kid. You're happy, you're upbeat, you love so big and so fully. I see you in that bright red and blue outfit and I know, I just know, that's the real you. So full of life and color." And then his expression grew harder. "But then I see you with Ben, and I see how his personal darkness spills over onto you, how it makes you act differently than you are, how it always makes you sad. He does not deserve a friend like you, Dickie, much less a boyfriend as loving as you."

I was barely processing what he'd said. Where was the "you can't know you're queer when you're so young" speech? Rick leaned forward and touched his forehead to mine. "Promise me something", he said.

"A-anything", I stammered.

"Promise me you'll stay the same wonderful, giving person you are now, Dickie. Keep doing what makes you happy without hesitating to share it with others. And whatever you do, don't let Ben, or anyone like him, change who you are. Promise me that."

I could feel my eyes begin to tear, but these were not tears of sorrow. "I promise", I whispered.

He kissed me on the forehead. The he released my hands and sat back on the couch, just looking at me. It was so much to take in, this support, this affection. I had never been so utterly accepted for who I was, no judgments, no accusations.

I sat there silently, looking down at my wonderful, glorious boots. I wriggled my toes inside, feeling the rubber, now moist but still cool. I rubbed my palms over my thighs, collecting my thoughts, feeling the rubber sleeves against my bare arms underneath.



"I really am in love with Benji. I love him so much it hurts."

"Let him go, Dickie. Please, for me."

I wiped away more tears, wondering absently when I'd ever run dry. "But it hurts so bad."

"It'll pass. I promise."

I turned to look at my mentor. In his eyes was experience I had yet to possess, and I trusted him. I looked back down at my boots. "So Benj was right, then. I am a fag."

Rick made an exasperated noise. "No, you're not."

I knew it. My new mentor would not let me down. I had an out. I could still be normal.

"But it does sound like you're gay."

I turned quickly to look at him again. "What??"

"You're not a fag, Dickie. You're not some flamboyant, overeffeminate swishy boy who prances around on tippy-toes and wears women's negligee. You're a nice, normal, cheerful and intelligent young man who just happens to prefer boys to girls. That's all."

"You say it like it's okay or something."

"Maybe it is."

"But I'm a big fag!"

"We've already established that you're not a fag. And you're not that big. You're what, 5'9"?"

"5'10" ", I stressed. "10 and a half with the boots." I smiled, and very nearly laughed. Rick laughed with me.

He stood up, gesturing for me to do so as well. "Come here." I stood up, and he hugged me with genuine devotion, rubbing my back with one palm. He rested his head against mine. I could actually feel his heartbeat. After our embrace, he looked at me with concern tinged with hope and asked, "You feel any better? You gonna be okay?"

I nodded. "As okay as a gay, red-booted farmboy can get, I suppose."

He smiled broadly. "Go and get changed back into your drab straight person disguise and come back here for another session tomorrow. You get to be a teen superhero."

"I thought that was Jason's department."

"Nyah. I fired his lazy ass. Besides, I need someone strong for my champion. And that would be you." I felt a swell of pride as he patted my shoulder. "Go and get changed."

Fifteen minutes later I was leaving his apartment in what I would now refer to as my "straight person disguise". At the door, I turned to Rick once more and said, "Hey, Rick. Thanks a lot. For everything." Then, I added, "I love you."

Without pause, he answered, "I love you too, Dickie." And I knew that this was true.

As I stepped over the threshold, Rick called to me. "Hey, and Dickie--!" I turned back. "Don't call Benji tonight. And if you can avoid it, don't talk to him at school, either."

"I won't", I said. "I promise." And I went home, knowing what I said was true, too.

Rick paced his second apartment. He had been warned by the landlord the dangers of coming back here while he was still at number 37, but he couldn't help himself. He hoped that allowing Dickie to invite Ben over, putting that wonderful paper boy through all that pain of rejection would have the desired positive effect in the long run.

Rick circled the second apartment in an endless loop. The room was dark, lit only by the faint glow of a single blue light. As his stomach burned from the afternoon's events, his mind flashed back to his own high school best friend. The kid he thought was his best friend, anyway. He had sat down with his best buddy, his truest pal, and confided in him that he thought he might be gay.

The friend didn't seem so much surprised as disappointed. He told Rick that the only course he could take was to stay closeted. Indefinitely. When Rick moved closer to his friend and told him he felt he could handle the scrutiny of revealing he was gay, the supposed friend looked him squarely in the eye and said three words. "Well, I can't."

The one boy Rick had chosen as his confidant was more concerned about how he might be branded by association than about Rick's own attempt at sincerity. The "friend" had no desire to see Rick be true to himself if it would in any way inconvenience him.

Rick was shattered. He leaned closer still as the friend tried to move away, and it was then, shaken and confused, that Rick had professed his love. He knew he felt more than friendship for this boy, and had for some time. He was in love with him. The boy leapt up, moving quickly to the door. "I didn't hear that", was all he said.

Calling after him, Rick was stopped in his tracks by the venomous stare from his friend's penetrating eyes. "I didn't HEAR that", he reiterated. "And I won't." And that was that.

The next day at school, Rick felt terribly alone. Whenever the inevitable questions arose among the students about Rick's sexuality, the former best friend's response was always the same. "Naw, he's not that way. I mean, would I ever allow myself to be seen hanging with a fag?"

Rick could still feel the sting of hatred, of confidence spurned, as he felt forced to walk along the halls at his high school with the boy he thought was his best friend. How he sat every day at lunch with the one who was so concerned with keeping up appearances that inflicting terrible pain upon a friend who adored him was an acceptable price to pay. And Rick thought of Ben storming out on Dickie, of the illusion of friendship and support shattered by harsh words and insinuation.

Rick felt torn, pulled from both sides by two different incidents of betrayal and heartbreak. He found it odd to feel the ravages of emotional turmoil that was so similar from situations so distinctly different.

Though it was late and he was tired, Rick made the trip back to number 37 to spend the night. His double-edged anxiety was too much to face while in the second apartment. He would crash on the bed at 37, taking solace in the knowledge that it was there that he watched the destructive Ben walk out of Dickie's life. Despite the pain, without Ben Dickie's life would change for the better. Dwelling upon that, Rick knew his own memories were soon to fade.

"You okay?"

I looked up from my desk at vocational class to see Gerald. I had not heard him approach. "Hmm?", was all I said.

"I asked if you're okay. You look like you just lost your best friend."

"No, I'm okay", I lied.

Gerald looked at the blank sheet of paper before me, the untouched pencil. "Two hours in, and you aren't on your usual third revision, and you're too quiet."

"Why? Am I usually disruptive?"

Gerald smiled. "No, you hum."

"I do?"

"Yeah, you always sneak in your walkman and listen to it while you work. You hum along. I missed it today, that's what tipped me off."

"I guess I didn't bring it today", I said absently. "And I'm okay, really."

"Well, you better get going on that assignment if you don't wanna have a ton of homework on it." He tapped my paper with the end of his pencil and winked at me.

I offered him a weak grin. "And I'll try to keep it down next time I bring in my headphones."

He looked back at me as he walked back to his drafting desk, his light hair catching the light from the tall windows behind us. "Don't." And as he took his seat, he smiled again.

He had a nice smile.

Rick told me he was able to reschedule the farmboy buddy shoot for a later time when he'd found a suitable second model. So I got to be a superhero the following afternoon, and I was a pretty awesome one, too. The tights were silver, with navy blue cape and boots. My yellow-and-gold chest insignia was something of a cross between a nuclear symbol and a starburst. I pretended to throw atomic punches, fire energy bolts from my fingertips, and flew while lying across a tabletop. It was fun. But that wasn't the only snug outfit Rick wanted me in that day.

Following our shoot, Rick sat on the arm of the couch, drumming his fingers impatiently. "How long does it take you to change, anyway??", he called through the door.

"I've been changed", I said back dully. "I'm not coming out."

"Why not?"

"You have to ask?! I can't wear this."

"This from the guy that happily dressed as a sewer worker recently. Come on. Let's have a look at you."

"Can I put something on over the top of it? My bibs are right here."

"Out. NOW."

I swung open the bedroom door and stood there, feeling like an absolute imbecile. I was wearing white, slightly shiny nylon (I think they were nylon) tights. Stress on the tight part. The top was a sleeveless, low-collar tanktop and the pants were shorts that ended above the knee. You could totally see my package. But the worst of it was the logo. In huge--and I'm talkin' huge here, from breast to waistline--black block letters on both the front and the back were two words. "I'M GAY".

"What the hell am I wearing, Rick?"

He made a circular gesture with his forefinger for me to turn around. I did, and he gave me the thumbs-up. "It's a wrestler's singlet."

"I can see that. WHY am I wearing it??"

"Why is not the issue. The important thing is where you'll be wearing it. You're wearing that to school tomorrow."

My face went as white as my tights. "Ohhh, no. I so am not. You cannot make me march through the halls with this--this pronouncement blazing across my chest. UNH-uh! Forget it. I'm changing back to my straight person disguise."

"Hold it, champion", he said. "Your outfit's not complete. This goes with it." He tossed me a plastic shopping bag. I looked inside, expecting something like a pink tutu, but was gladly disappointed. I looked back at Rick. "Go ahead. Pull 'em out." I did so, and revealed a brand-spanking-new pair of very nice dark blue, almost charcoal gray, jeans, and a simple black crew neck T-shirt. The shirt was almost entirely blank, but for a small tennis shoe logo over the left breast.

"I don't get it."

"Put those on. Go ahead, right now." I started to go back into the bedroom. "Ut! No need to go in there. Put them on right now, over the singlet. I'll get your shoes."

"But you said I couldn't wear anything on top of it."

"Not to model it for me, no. Go on, put your pants on. I want to see if I got the right size."

He had, of course. In less than a minute, I looked like your average high school senior, ready for class. It was impossible to tell I even had the singlet on under these clothes. I looked at Rick as he offered me a golf clap of congratulations. I furrowed my brow. "I still don't get it."

"Say what's written on your singlet."

"I'm gay."

"ARE you? Really?" He slapped a hand to the side of his face in mock horror. "My little boy model is a fudge packer!"

"Come on! I was just saying what was on the stupid tights!"

"And is that true? Are you gay, Dickie?"

I paused for a moment, then gave in, if only to see where this was going. "Yeah. I'm gay."

"And have you accepted that? Have you come to grips with it?"

I shuffled my feet. "Not entirely."

He seemed very excited. "ExACTly! Wear the singlet to school tomorrow, and wear those clothes over the top of it."

"But what's the point?! If you can't even see the damned thing--if no one can tell what's underneath--!"

"That is precisely why, champ. In the majority of instances, no one CAN see what's underneath, what's inside. But you know. You always know, and you have to accept and eventually embrace that. You have to be able to walk proud not just because of how you may be seen on the outside, but for who you are within."

I placed a hand on my chest. I could feel the singlet concealed underneath my new shirt. What Rick was saying actually made sense.

He took me by the shoulder and led me over to the mirror. My reflection did nothing to betray the hidden singlet I had on. Rick said, "Lots of people will say that once you come out to yourself, you have to come out to others. You have to become a rabid advocate, or start a newsletter, or whatever else they feel should be your personal agenda. I say no, not if you don't want to. Accepting yourself as gay doesn't mean shouting it from the rooftops or taking out a full page ad in the local paper. You don't have to get in other people's faces. You just have to get the guilt and fear out of your own."

He pointed to my reflection in the mirror. "Who do you see?"

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to answer. I never did well on oral tests. "Umm...a gay kid?"

"No", Rick corrected me. "I see you. Dickie. Just you. A great kid and a good person. That's who I see."

I smiled. "I am gay too, you know."

He patted me on the back. "You'd never know it to look at you."

I reached behind me and adjusted my pants. "It's not even rubber, though."

"Didn't want to give you an excuse to take it off at lunchtime, in case you got too sweaty. Have a nice day tomorrow."

The next day in school, I had never been so nervous. Before first period and all through home room I was unbelievably jumpy, waiting for some huge jock or popular girl to point a condemning finger at me, as if they somehow had heterosexual x-ray vision and could see the legend written across my singlet underwear. By second period, I was doing much better. No one noticed me, really. They were too caught up thinking about themselves. By the fourth class, I was chatting more than usual with other kids, friends, and classmates. I felt good. I knew who I was and no one else did, not really. By the end of the day, I realized the steadily growing feeling of euphoria I had was not due to my knowing something they didn't. It was because I knew who I was and it didn't matter if anyone else did. Being gay is an important part of my identity, yes. But it isn't my whole identity. I'm me, and that's that.

In his second apartment, Rick stopped making the sandwich he was building as he felt a rush of peace flood through his system. He smiled involuntarily, and muscles formerly tensed in his back grew slack and free of pain. He finished making his sandwich and put on an old record as he dined. The favorite lp was even lovelier than he recalled. The sandwich was delicious.

"Whoa. Is that you?"

I looked up suddenly to see Gerald leaning over my desk. I had been sitting in the vocational room before class, flipping through some of the copies of the prints Rick had given me from our sessions together. What lay before me were images of me as a superhero, some as the farmboy, even a handful of me working in the mock sewers.

"Um, yeah. This guy on my paper route does graphic art. I work for him sometimes. he uses me as a model."

Gerald gingerly picked up the print of me in hero tights zooming through the sky above a computer-generated cityscape. "These are awesome. I've never seen anything this sophisticated up close. You are so lucky to be able to do this kind of thing and learn about it firsthand."

"It's fun", I said lamely.

"It looks it", Gerald beamed. "Now this is pretty interesting." He picked up a shot of me in the sewer worker's gear, spattered with faux dookie. He flipped it around to show it to me. "Guess it's not all fun and games though, huh?"

I took back the print, grimacing slightly. "It was for an ad job he had. Or an article or something. Families who work dredging sewers, like that. It was a little gross."

Gerald said, "I don't know. That look kind of suits you."

I started to say, 'Yeah, right', expecting to see a smart alec expression on his face. But his face was passive, his expression straight forward. I opened my mouth to say something, realized I didn't know what to say, closed it. Then I looked at the print again. "You really think I look in this one? THIS one?"

Gerald stuck his tongue in his cheek. "I think it may be the shiny jacket. Even with the shit on it, it looks good on you."

"It wasn't really shit, it was mud", I confided.

"Even so. The jacket and those boots. The boots are cool."

I just smiled at him, not knowing how to comment. "Thanks."

Our teacher walked in and the rest of the kids in class began to file in. Gerald just looked at me for a moment, and I looked back. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, I busied myself with putting away the prints in my backpack. "If this guy on your paper route ever needs another model, let me know", Gerald said. I just nodded and Gerald went back to his desk. Twice during that day's lecture he looked over at me and smiled. I smiled back.

Rick rifled through old boxes and drawers in his second apartment, wondering where in the hell he had stashed it. It wasn't in the half-finished senior class memory book, it wasn't with the dust-covered yearbooks. Not in any of the photo albums, not in the hall closet, not downstairs in his storage area. It had been on his mind lately, especially since he knew young Dickie's own prom was fast approaching. Rick was just about to give up when he found the box under the bed.

It was covered in dust and a fair share of dust bunnies. But he remembered it upon seeing it. He'd shoved all manner of memorabilia in here with the intention of either burning it all or throwing it in the lake. In the end, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Instead, he shoved it under the bed, returning it there at each new locale, pretending not to notice it the few times he had to retrieve it when he moved.

Rick wiped off the dust and dirt as he popped open the folded-over flaps keeping it secure. It was filled near to bursting with items of a life long gone, of masquerades and subterfuge, of carefully maintained disguises not quite as effective as he'd once believed.

He fingered his way past old boutonnières, play programs, and snapshots, grimy from over a decade and a half of neglect. The dance he'd gone to with the boss's daughter as a favor to him after she'd wept for weeks when the other kids called her fat. The cheezy program from the museum's Reader's Theater he took the foreign exchange girl to because he liked her accent. Unfortunately, his attraction to her stopped there. Events, banquets, unbearably dull sporting events, all attended with smiling face, eager attitude, and complete lack of interest. Face after face of delighted young girls with big hair smiled back at him from a plethora of prints, all of whom glowed with joy at having been invited to formals when they'd already resigned themselves to a lonely night of staying home. Instead of wallowing in rejection or going stag, they waltzed across the floor, so to speak, with a perfect gentleman who doted with flair. And Rick was always a perfect gentleman.

At the bottom of the box, he found it. The photo from his senior prom. It was larger than the others, still in its shoddy cardboard frame that belied the cost of having it taken. He stood in his hideous baby blue tuxedo with his art class pal who actually looked good in her cream-colored dress, and had sufficient charm to add just enough blue trim to her ensemble so as not to leave Rick looking like a complete buffoon.

The photo did a fine job of capturing the spirit of the prom, up to a point. Kathy, the girl in the cream dress was the first one Rick had actually wanted to ask to a formal. And she had actually accepted. They were already friends, so the night was filled with laughter and fun with no awkward pauses and desperate moments of attempted cleverness. Dinner was great, the photo session went well (when Rick wasn't making his date burst into laughter), and she was less freaked out than he'd anticipated during his spastic boogie-convulsions during Flock Of Seagull's "I Ran". Everything went perfectly. Until the incident at the punchbowl. Even after all this time, Rick could recall it with frightening clarity.

Relations between Rick and his best friend had been strained ever since Rick's aborted attempt to come out to him. Their visits together were becoming less frequent, with the friend citing his part-time job as his main excuse. The two had met a couple weeks before prom, however, and Rick had suggested the two of them going stag, as neither one of them was dating. The friend reluctantly agreed, but later cancelled. Work.

So Rick went out on a limb and asked Kathy, who accepted. Now he and Kathy approached the punch bowl where other tuxedoed students were serving up drinks to their ladies. Among them was Rick's best friend. And his date.

"I thought you weren't coming", Rick said coldly.

"You thought wrong", his friend said.

The girl beside the friend looked at Rick. "So who is this guy?"

"Nobody. Just ignore him. Why don't you take the drinks to our table, honey."

Rick was incredulous. "You're here with HER?!" It was Amy Deross. A less attractive girl there may be, but if so Rick was unaware of her. "She's your date??"

"It was last minute", the friend said.

"Last minute?", Amy said, looking exasperated. "We've only been dating for like two months!"

Rick began to fume. "You've been seeing her behind my back?"

"Behind your what? What the fuck is the matter with you? Since when do I have to report to you for permission to have a social life? Should I be pissed off at you then? 'Cause I see you managed to get your own date."

"That's only because I thought you weren't coming!!"

"What is this guy's problem?", Amy said.

The friend grabbed her by the arm and led her away. "Who the hell knows. He's unstable. Let's get away from him."

Caught up in emotional overload, Rick called after him, "Why didn't you want to come with me? Just tell me that much!"

The friend roared. "Because I don't want to be your DATE, you lousy QUEER!!"

The room fell silent. Even the music had stopped playing. Everyone was staring at Rick. They had been for some time. He was stuck, trapped. Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. The friend knew if he was to make his final move, now was the time. So, loud enough for everyone to hear without sounding like the performance it was, he said clearly, "You can't keep following me around all the time. I don't care if you keep going on about how much you're in love with me. Get it through your head. I am NOT. That. WAY."

The friend took his date and departed into the crowd. The crowd that was staring at Rick. The girls were all shaking their heads in pity, the boys either laughing or sneering in disgust. Rick looked around frantically for Kathy. Kathy could save him. Her presence alone would stand as proof that Rick wasn't a fairy. He would leap to his date's side and show everyone there that he wasn't--

But Kathy was gone. She had left during the heated exchange so she would not be left to deal with the aftermath. Kathy was no idiot. She wasn't much of a friend, as it turns out, but she was no idiot.

Rick's high school career ended that night. He was met with jeers in the halls from then on, became the butt of all jokes, was even spat upon from passing school buses. Oddly enough, no one recalled the friend. Everyone remembered him differently. When mentioned, he was relegated to the title of "some poor guy that fag kid hit on". The one Rick had considered his best friend got away unscathed. Not so for Rick, who was branded as an outcast and a freak.

Back in the second apartment, Rick dropped the old prom photo back into the box. He let out a deep breath and said three words. "Not this time."

I'd been spending more and more time at Rick's. When I wasn't posing, Rick let me come over and hang out. I'd watch movies with him, flip through his portfolio, or whatever. It had become habit that every time I came in, I'd greet Rick, go straight to the bedroom and get into my red and blue uniform. It got so it didn't feel right to be at number 37 without my uniform on. Unless I was in costume, of course.

Today I was dressed as a harlequin, just like the cheesy romance novels my mom reads. The outfit was actually pretty cool. All blacks and white, with a black beret and a kind of checkerboard/diamond pattern on the pants. "Y'know, in a pinch, I could be a superhero in this costume", I told Rick.

"Easily. The harlequin had the power to turn invisible, you know."

"No kidding? So, can I use that power now, maybe?"

Rick grinned as he rewound the film. "You're done. Go get back into your uniform already." In less than five minutes, I was back out in my red rubber sweatshirt, denim bibs and red boots.

I skimmed through some of the portfolio pieces Rick has laid out for matting, and I notice the shots of me as a superhero. There's a marked discrepancy between the reference photos and Rick's illustrations, at least as far as my physique goes. "I'm too skinny", I observe.

"Well, I've got a Soloflex in the next room if you ever want to get in some workouts, Dickie. We'd want to set you up with a regimen when I'm sure to be here, though. It's a lot easier to exercise steady when you have a partner to work out with." Rick snapped his fingers. "Speaking of partners", he said, pointing to my uniform, "I still need another boy for that farm buddy scene I have to shoot. It'd save me some trouble interviewing potential models if you can recommend somebody you know. Preferably somebody with different hair color than Ben."

"You mean anyone who's not Ben", I surmised.

"No, I mean a blond, redhead, like that. You and Ben both have brown hair. Different shades or not, I'd like my farm buddies to be a bit more distinctive." Rick tossed down on the table some sketches he'd been doodling of some firemen.

"So", he asked again, "you know of anyone?"

The next day at vocational class I was talking with Gerald. Our likeness assignments had turned out pretty well, although Gerald's likeness of me was better than mine of him. We were in the process of exchange color copies we'd made of our respective pieces so we would each have a copy.

"Um, so, like, I was thinking", I stammered, "if you know, that is, if you're not doing anything, not that you wouldn't maybe have plans, but--" I stopped, licked my lips, swallowed. "Um, what I mean is--"

Gerald looked at me as if I'd grown a horn on my forehead. "Dickie, what are you trying to ask me?"

"You remember those photos of me as the sewer worker and stuff?"

"Yeah, the ones that graphic designer on your paper route took. What about 'em?"

"Wellll...the designer guy is doing another assignment, and this time he needs two models and I was wondering if you'd be interested in, you know, if it at all sounds like something you might want to try--"

"Dude! Are you kidding me?? He wants me to pose with you for his artwork?! Are you serious??"

"Well, he didn't ask for you specifically, but he asked me to recommend someone and he trusts my judgment, mostly."

"Oh, man!", Gerald beamed. "Dickie, you have GOT to recommend me! That'd be so awesome! I would love it! We'd pose together, right? How many other guys are in the running?"

I smiled. "Let's just say you're near the top of a short list."

That afternoon at number 37, Gerald was as hyper as I ever was about posing. He even went with me on my paper route to help me get it done quicker. He was nearly bouncing as Rick gave him the tour of the photo area, backdrop setup and such. He saw that the standing area had been strewn with bits of hay and straw, with Rick's prop hay bails positioned just right, backed by a convincing backdrop of a barn interior.

"So what do we get to do?", Gerald asked, still bouncing. "I see the barn picture. Are we gonna be, like in pig costumes or chicken suits or something? Or a cow? Do I get to be a cow??"

Rick rested a hand on Gerald's shoulder. "Down, boy. I don't think I've ever even had a cow costume. You get to be a farmboy. In fact, you and Dickie both do, that's the whole point. Think you can pretend to be his best friend in the whole world?"

Gerald threw his arm around my shoulder and pulled me close to him, catching me totally off guard. "I think we can pull that off", he glowed.

"Well, lookit", Rick said, "I've got to zip off to the photo center and pick up the film I need, 'cause I'm all out and haven't had the chance to restock today. Dickie? You wanna show Gerald his costume?" Rick gave me a look that said, "I'm trusting you he won't freak" as he grabbed up his wallet and made towards the door. "I won't be too long", he said, and was gone.

Gerald was ready to burst. "So? What do I get to wear? It's not a cow costume, then. I'm just a farmboy, huh? Am I gonna be a chicken at all today?"

"That remains to be seen", I said, and led him to the next room.

I took great pains in setting things up so as not to scare Gerald off. He seemed more than willing, but imagining some horseplay in a chicken suit was a long way from donning the gear of a rubberist farmboy. I had him sit on the edge of the bed while I stepped behind the changing screen and put on my uniform.

"O-okay, I'm ready", I said from behind the screen.

"Um, alright. Let's see it."

I took a deep breath and clenched and unclenched my fists. This was it. The moment of truth. I was going to show Gerald my uniform. It felt tantamount to telling him I was gay. Part of me wanted to peel the suit of hurry-quick and back out.

"You okay? I'm all set out here."

But there was no backing out now.

I was about to show the boy of my dreams my favorite outfit, and I was more than a little nervous. With Rick gone, it was just the two of us. Anything could happen now, and emotionally, I was exposing myself completely to Gerald. This is how I saw myself now, in the red rubber and denim blue overalls. This is how I wanted him to see me, too.

With my heart in my throat, I stepped out from behind the changing screen. "Well, this is it", I said, oafishly. I tried to stand tall, to look impressive, but knew there was no way to convey how I felt about this suit to anyone else. They'd just have to understand.

Gerald's mouth fell open and he raised his eyebrows. He started to say something, then shifted uncomfortably on the bed. I knew it. He was about to bolt. He just looked me up and down. He shook his head slightly, put a hand to his mouth, then looked me over again. He ran his tongue over the front of his teeth and then rubbed his jaw pensively. I had no idea what must have been going through his mind.

"This is my favorite of all Rick's costumes", I offered.

Gerald looked at me askance. "Are you--is this the farmboy costume or something?"

"Something like that, yeah."

He shifted again, crossing and uncrossing his legs at the ankles. "Dickie, those boots--" he paused. "Those boots, and--um, that--" He patted his hands nervously against the bed. "Is that shirt the same material as the boots?"

My heart was pounding out of my chest. Here it comes. The rejection, the denouncement. "Yup." I closed my eyes in preparation for the verbal onslaught.


I opened my eyes, uncertain I heard what I thought I heard. I was about to ask Gerald to repeat it, but found I had no voice. He continued to shake his head, but did so with a smile. "Man, you are wearing a rubber shirt."

I smiled, breathing a sigh of relief. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."

"Can I touch it?"

I was suddenly hard as a rock and thankful beyond words for the snug rubber undersuit and bulky overalls which served so well to hide young boys' erections. "S-sure. Go ahead. If you wanna."

Gerald stood up and gestured for me to step closer. He wiped his palms on his pants and nervously, showing great caution, fingered some of the folds of the red rubber between his thumb and forefinger. He grinned broadly, looking on with admiration. Quietly, he asked me, "What does it feel like to wear that?"

"It feels really, really good", I confided.

"Do the boots feel like this too?"

"Oh, yeah! Even more so. They don't have any cloth lining inside 'em. They're rubber inside and out. Oh, and look here--", I said, throwing caution to the wind. I unbuttoned the side of my overalls to reveal the skintight undersuit. "The boots are connected to an undersuit so you're pretty much all covered in rubber."

In a low whisper, he said, "Wowww."

Gerald just kept staring in admiration, and after a moment I buttoned the sides back up again, feeling a bit uncomfortable standing there unfastened, as if I were flashing him or something. Finally he touched my sleeve once more and then forced himself to put his hands in his back pockets.

"Can I try it on?"

I had died and gone to heaven. I reached to take Gerald by the hand, but stopped myself in mid-reach and took him instead by the arm. "C'mere." I led him over to the costume chest and threw open the lid to reveal a variety of bib and boots outfits.

Gerald's eyes lit up when he saw the multicolored stash. "Whoa. This is great."

I immediately grabbed up the twin red and blue uniform and offered it to Gerald. "Here. You gotta try this on. You will look so--I mean, you will love the way it feels. Really." For the first time, Gerald scrunched his nose. I had no idea why. "What? What's wrong?"

"I really don't think we should wear the same outfit. It just seems kinda---well, you know." He shrugged.

Still able to feel the sting of my fiasco with Ben, I was not about to press the issue. "Oh. Well, right. We shouldn't both be in red. That'd be pretty gay." I swallowed, trying to ignore what I'd just said. Then, a bit too eagerly, I said, "Do you wanna wear the red?" I began to unbuckle one bib strap. "Because I could wear something else--"

Gerald reached into the chest. "Actually, I'd really like to try on the yellow." He pulled out a bright canary yellow rubber boot that showed from the way it shined as it caught the light that it had never been worn.

I smiled, a bit hurt he didn't go for the red, but still happy he wanted to wear one of the outfits. "Sure. Cool. Can you fit into a size 11 boot?"

"I wear a 10", he said.

"Oh, that shouldn't be too big a problem", I said quickly, not wanting him to have any excuse not to dress up. "The 11 should still fit you well enough to--"

"They're 10s", he said. I sat there mutely as he turned the boot over to show me the small number on its sole. It was indeed a size 10. And all the others were 11s. Hmm. Gerald then yanked the yellow boots, undersuit, rubber sweatshirt and overalls out of the chest. "Show me how to work the overalls." I gave him a crash course in pulling on the bib straps without twisting them, and showed him that the pant legs were already cuffed where he'd want them. I pointed out the powder he'd need to squeeze into his undersuit. A moment later and I was pacing in the living room while he changed.

After what seemed an eternity, the bedroom door creaked open and I whirled to see the most beautiful boy in the world step out onto the thick carpet in his canary yellow rubber sweatshirt, matching tall boots, and adorable crisp bib overalls. My heart skipped a beat and my dick throbbed in my pants. It was all I could do not to lunge over and smother him with kisses.

Gerald stepped gingerly across the threshold, not out of any discomfort, but appearing to relish every movement he made in his new suit. He walked as if on eggshells, carefully lifting up and then firmly setting down his boots as he went. He kept his arms held loosely out at his sides, almost as if balancing on a log fallen across a creek. He rotated his arms ever so slightly, feeling the brush of the thick rubber against his bare skin. He was grinning ear-to-ear.

I wanted to ask him how it felt. I wanted to tell him he looked beautiful. I wanted so many things at that moment but all I was able to do was stare. Gerald looked down at himself as he came to a stop before me. Lightly, he touched the bib overalls with his hands, pressing the soft denim against the rubber sheathing his body beneath. He looked up at me and his eyes danced.

"Man, fucking...inCREDible."

It was all I could do not to hug him right then and there. But there was something more than discretion that kept me from my impulse. Something about this seemed a bit...familiar. I watched as Gerald walked around proudly in his big yellow boots, squatting here and there, enjoying the feel of the undersuit, doing stretches, flopping down on the couch, putting his feet up, springing back up onto the carpet. Those boots...

"Ger, you've worn boots like this before, haven't you?"

He was walking around the furniture in small circles, arms out as if he were balancing on a tightrope. "Mmm...could be."

I snapped my fingers. "Career Day! At school, that day during Spirit Week when we could come to school dressed up as who we wanted to be when we grew up. You came dressed as a fireman. Black suit, oversized jacket with the wide yellow stripe, the yellow fireman's helmet--"

"--and big yellow boots", he answered.

I crossed my arms. "Gerald, did you wear that outfit because you--because you liked the feel of it?"

"Guilty as charged", he smirked.

I lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Did you, you know, wear anything underneath it? Any underwear?"

He grinned. "Nope."

"Dude! No WAY!!"

"Way." He walked over to me and fingered the sides of my bib. "I didn't think there was anyone else in the world who liked this feeling like I did. It's pretty cool we have more in common than just that vocational class."

My eyes shone. "So, you'd be willing to pose for photos with us dressed like this?"

"Oh, try to stop me." I was bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Except...", he began. Uh-oh. here it comes.

"Except what?", I asked tentatively.

"The red. I don't think you look so good in the red rubber. I mean, it looks pretty okay and all, but I think you'd do way better in another color."

Now this I hadn't anticipated. "Like what?", I asked him.


I raised an eyebrow. "Blue. Really."

"C'mere." He took me by the hand (not the shoulder, not the elbow) and led me into the other room. He bent down over the costume chest which had clearly been digging through earlier with some vigor. "Where is it where is it where---ah! Take this." He tossed me a lightweight rubber T-shirt with 3/4 sleeves. It was a brilliant electric blue. I don't think I'd ever noticed it before. "Oh, and you gotta switch to these." He handed over a pair of baggy, stonewashed bib overalls.

"They're all faded", I said.

"But the lighter color shows off the other blue better. Besides, they're Dickies. It's destiny, man." I smiled, watching his back as he dug further. Then, he stood up, turning to me with a smile a mile wide. "And theeese", he cooed.

He held up a pair of size eleven electric blue knee boots with white soles. The logo on the side of calves said BlueMax. I took them, looking them over curiously, finding the attached undersuit had been tucked into the shafts. He put his hands together in supplication. "Please. You would look sooo sweet."

I couldn't help but smile at bright yellow comrade. "Give me a minute."

He yanked back two fists. "Yes!!"

We stood on the model spot in front of the camera, me in the electric blue, Gerald in his yellow. We couldn't stop smiling. It was if we were high or something, which in a sense I guess we were. There would be no problem giving the impression that we were best friends for Rick's photos.

"So what kind of poses do we hafta do?", Gerald asked.

"Well, first of all, you gotta think like a country boy would think, I guess. Pretend that backdrop really is the inside of a barn, that the hay bails are the real deal. That your biggest concern is getting the field mowed or whatever."

"That maybe your idea of a good time literally is a roll in the hay?", Gerald smirked.

"Or swinging on a rope into the swimming hole or stuff like that."

"Show me."

I blinked. "Show you what?"

"Pose for me. Then I can see how your best farmboy buddy might join in."

"Um, okay. Well, I try to imagine I'm about ten years younger than I really am. That helps me get into the poses without feeling too stupid about it." I plopped myself down on the hay bails, my arms behind me holding me up, my big booted feet sticking straight out in front of me. I tilted my head to one side and flashed a sly grin.

Gerald laughed, pointing at me. "Dude! You just devolved to like nine years old!"

"Well, that's only nine years down, but you get the idea. I haven't even warmed up yet."

Gerald climbed onto the hay bails behind me and put his arms around me. "Say, Dickie, if we're best friends and all, and we grew up in the country, just us--"

"Yeeeess--?", I said, wondering where this was going.

"Well, we might be less inclined to withhold displays of affection for each other, right? I mean, just as best friends, like."

His arms were still draped around my shoulders, and I gingerly reached up and held onto his wrists. "Like how, exactly?", I asked.

"Well, just like this, really", Gerald explained. "Giving each other a hug, arms around each other's shoulders, possibly, um, if we were just out walking in the woods or the fields, maybe--" He reached down and placed his fingers atop mine. "--we'd maybe hold hands." And he slipped his fingers in between mine.

I twisted around slightly and looked him in the eye. I had never noticed how pretty his eyes were. "We might", I agreed.

He began to run his free hand up and down my sleeves, rubbing my arms through the blue rubber, kneading the tension from my shoulders, what little there was. "And you know what else we might do, as farmboys", he whispered in my ear.

"What's that?"

"We might rassle!" In a heartbeat, Ger had me in a bear hug tackle and we were off the hay bail and onto the floor. He spun and rolled, laughing, but though taken by surprise, I was not about to be undone by this upstart newcomer to my modeling world. I put up a good fight, if that's what our shenanigans could be called, but Gerald wound up sitting on top of me, smiling down in victory.

"Say uncle."

"Does anyone even say that anymore?", I asked. "Say uncle. What is that, anyway??" I looked up at Gerald his light-colored hair askew and littered with stray bits of straw.

"I have no clue what it means." He laughed, still panting a bit from our impromptu wrestling match. "Maybe it's just a way of saying you've submitted to the other guy."

I gazed up at him, the yellow sweatshirt complimented him so nicely. It contrasted his eyes, making them appear a deeper color, complimented his hair. "Yeah, maybe that's it", I agreed. Gerald just sat atop me, his breathing a bit labored. He stared as he did while examining me for his drawing. "Ger? You okay?"

"Ohh, I dunno...", he whispered back. "Dickie, I just...I can't help but think that...' and that was as far as he got. He went back to just staring. Tenderly, he brushed a shock of hair out of my eyes and sighed. "Dickie, I was actually thinking...I wanted to ask if it was okay if I--"

I couldn't help myself. I reached up and grabbed Gerald's bib straps and yanked him down towards me. Our lips connected and I kissed him. He struggled a bit at first, mostly since I'd taken him by surprise I'm guessing, but then he let go and gave in to it, returning it with all the energy I gave to him. After ten seconds or so, our lips parted.

"Umm...", he began, "I was gonna ask you if it's okay if I kiss you."

I smiled broadly. "Sure. Knock yourself out." I put my arms around his neck and we returned to our embrace. We rolled over onto our sides, our arms moving everywhere at once. Gerald tenderly grasped and massaged my arms as I kneaded his shoulders. As I held onto his back, his hands found their way under my bib, caressing my chest, rubbing my abs. Soon one of his hands was traveling downward, his palm flat as it pressed against the rubber undersuit stretched across my penis. I yelped with surprise, the sound muffled by our kissing. As he continued to rub and massage my member, I reached down and grabbed his ass, making him yelp a little, too.

For the better part of fifteen minutes we made out, groping and holding each other, hands around the other's back, supporting his neck, fingering his hair. "Y'know", Gerald said between kisses, "this is my first kiss. My first--well, everything. How'm I doing?"

"Smashing", I said, bracing his head in my hands and kissing his face. "I'm very impressed. My first time, too. Review?"

He leaned forward to nibble my ear, commenting, "You're likewise impressive." He proceeded to knead my shoulders again, then folded his arms around my back as he kissed my neck. We tilted lazily to one side, knocking the prop hay bails aside. Then Gerald and I came up for air, each of us brushing the other's hair from his eyes, picking off bits of straw from our increasingly static-clingy rubber shirts. "Hey", Gerald realized, "we're having our very first roll in the hay."

"That we are", I agreed, leaning in to rub my nose gently against his, then kiss him again and again.

Some miles away at the photo center, Rick approached the counter and set down his various multi-packs of film. The sales lady, who might be pretty if not for the eyebrow and nose rings, smiled. "Were you able to find what you needed, sir?"

Rick began to answer when he paused, his head titled slightly to one side, and smiled. "Yes", he said. "Yes, I'd say I have just what I need."

The two of us lay side-by-side in the prop hay, arms resting over our chests, rocking our heels back and forth, the toes of our big rubber boots clunking against each other every alternate beat.

"Well, that was fun", Gerald said.

I started to laugh. "Yeah, but now my suit's all sweaty."

"That's part of the point of wearing it", he said. "So, is it like, wet and sweaty here?" He fingered my undersuit through the gap between my overall's side buttons.

"Wh-what're you doing? Stop that!"

"Oh, so you're ticklish, huh?", he said with devilish glee.

"No! I never said that!"

Next thing I knew, Gerald was on top of me, madly tickling me, his hands shoved under my faded denim bib, sadistic fingers running like manic spider legs over my ribs, belly, and backside. "Looks like it to me."

I was laughing like a hyena, uncontrollably. "S-s-st-stoppp! I'll pee my pants!"

"So? They're rubber inside. You won't hurt anything."

I kept laughing, feeling freer than I had in ages, with this beautiful boy sitting atop me, keeping me captive. He stopped his tickle torture, and my laughter slowly subsided. Gerald stared down at me, his palms flat on the floor above my shoulders. Quietly, he said, "God, you're cute."

He began to lower his head toward me, his lips parting to reach mine.

"So. You boys ready for a photo shoot?"

My head snapped around to see Rick standing nearby. I hadn't heard him come in. His expression was unreadable. I had no idea what he may have seen.

Gerald hopped off me, all smiles. "Boy, are we!" He held out a hand to me to lift me up. "Shall we?"

"Okay, that's a wrap!", Rick told us.

"Aw, already?", Gerald whined.

"Guys, that's four rolls of film. Take five, for Pete's sake."

"Yeah, dude, let me down." I sat upon Gerald's back, riding piggy-back, as he held me up by my legs. He had insisted on keeping me there for the last six shots.

"Okay, if I gotta." Reluctantly, he lowered me to my feet.

"Fellas, why don't you get changed out of costume. The combo of the photo lights and your horseplay is gonna have you pretty ripe", Rick admonished. "Dickie, you leave your street clothes in the bedroom?"

"You mean my straight person disguise? Yep. I'll change first." I disappeared into the bedroom, leaving the door ajar by about an inch. I had nothing left to hide from these two friends.

Rick wound up the cord to his camera's air release. He looked at Gerald, who was watching the door. "That doesn't bother you?"

Gerald looked back at Rick. "What, that he's gay? It shouldn't matter to a real friend." Then, defensively, "Why, does it bother you?"

Rick looked Gerald over and saw his comment was sincere. "Not in the least." Rick began to shut off the photo lights. "Great costume you chose for him, by the way. I wouldn't have thought of it."

Gerald looked back at the door and his eyes danced. "Yeah. He really looks good in blue." Gerald's mouth split into a grin that spoke of more than mere friendship.

"I half expected both of you to be in matching red outfits--", Rick began.

"Y'know, he told me all about what happened here with Ben", Gerald interrupted. He put his hands into his back pockets. "Good thing I wasn't here. I would've kicked his ass."

"It took some effort not to throw the kid out on his ear", Rick agreed.

"Why didn't you?", Gerald asked, his tone acquiring an edge.

"Well, he was wearing my clothes, for one thing", Rick smiled. Then, more seriously, he added, "And sometimes we have to learn unpleasant things about people we think are our friends for ourselves." He busied himself with his photo equipment for a moment, then asked, "Or do you think Dickie would have believed me if I just told him about the kind of person Ben was?"

Gerald's shoulders sagged, he exhaled heavily. "No, I suppose not."

"You really like those yellow boots, don't you?", Rick inquired, changing the subject.

"I love 'em. They rock."

"You wanna take 'em home with you? Your whole suits? Both of you, I mean."

Gerald's eyes practically sparkled. "You mean it?!"

"As long as you take care of them and get them back here in one piece."

I walked out of the bedroom then, my straight person disguise in place. Gerald almost jumped over and hugged me.

"Dickie! Rick says we can take the outfit with us!"

I looked at Rick, my eyes wide, conveying the unspoken question, "Really?" He nodded. "There's a duffle in the closet. Take good care of them, I'll let you know when I need them back for another shoot."

"Rick, that is so awesome", I beamed. "Thank-you so much. I don't know how to--"

Gerald stuck his head out of the bedroom door. He was already shirtless. "Buddy! Later on, I so want to see how you look in the yellow!" He slammed the door as he leapt back inside.

Rick put away the last of his photo equipment, and began to sweep up the bits of hay and straw, his hands doing the work as if on autopilot, his eyes and his smile on me.

The next several photo shoots, Gerald and I were the dynamic frickin' duo. We posed as superheroes (he insisted I was his sidekick, I said we were partners). We were both football players, and Gerald looked totally hot in that uniform. We got to be spacemen with green face paint, pointy ears, and antennae. We donned chains and safety pin-riddled leather jackets and spiked our hair with washable dye to be punk rockers. We even faked dramatic skateboarding stunts in low-riding elephant pants and baseball caps worn backwards to be thrashers. It was while Gerald and I were those two rebellious skateboarders that Rick made his announcement.

"Listen fellas, I need to go out of town for the weekend, and I need someone to watch my place." Gerald and I exchanged this-is-too-good-to-be-true looks. You've got the run of the fridge, the stereo, and the VCR.

"And the costumes?", Gerald prompted.

Rick rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, naturally, the costumes. But I need you two to stick close on Friday and Saturday, though. I'm expecting a package, and if there's no one to accept, they won't leave it and I don't want to wait until Monday to have it."

Gerald and I responded in unison. "Deal!"

Rick was gone by Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon, Gerald and I had set up shop in number 37. In only two hours after my paper route, we had already tried on more than a dozen different costume combinations. We were baseball players who did an impromptu--and badly botched--run-through of "Who's On First?" Gerald finally got to be a chicken, and dragged me along for the ride. We got to be mechanical men of glittery foam metal and wind up each other's key. We were two of the Three Musketeers and had a swordfight with wilting foils. We ate our delivery pizza in front of the TV, watching videos from Rick's library as Flash Gordon (me) and Buck Rogers (Gerald), which is basically the same thing.

We closed out the evening by playing Rick's old records and slow dancing while dressed in full wetsuits, with hood, flippers, and fake oxygen tanks. We crashed in the wee hours dressed, at Gerald's insistence, in adult-sized footed toddler jumpers. I made damn sure the camera had been hidden away before I agreed to that. We fell asleep in each other's arms atop our combined sleeping bags, Gerald still clutching his prop bottle.

Saturday was much the same, only this time it involved more making out and less dress up. Ger and I were fully costumed, sitting on the living room rug lost in our kissing, when Rick's anticipated delivery arrived.

The doorbell chimed, and I jingled my way over to answer it. I was currently dressed in the most incredible jester costume entirely of purples and pinks. Color-wise, I was split down the middle, one side purple, the other pink, the color pattern of the loose tunic and pants of my tights being reversed. I had on a cool headpiece/hood with three long floppy donkey ear attachments, each ending in a gold bell. Bells hung from my skirt as well. My boots had pointy toes. I looked absolutely ludicrous. I looked awesome.

I opened the door. "Yeah?"

The guy in the brown delivery uniform was checking something off his clipboard, when he looked up, saw me, and just sort of went into freeze frame.

"Yeah?", I repeated.

After a moment's silence, the man mechanically held out a good-sized cardboard box. "...package..."

I snatched it away quickly. "Oh, great! We've been expecting this! Thanks." The guy just stood there. "Sorry, do you need a signature or something?", I asked him. Slowly, he shook his head. "Okay, cool." I closed the door on him, as he continued to stand there, staring.

Gerald stood behind me, dressed up as a cowboy. He had on the whole deal, complete with checkered shirt, Stetson hat, leather vest and sheriff's badge, gun belt, big ol' chaps and cowboy boots. He adjusted the brim of his Stetson, saying, "Gee. What do you suppose his problem was?"

"Search me", I shrugged. I moved to place the package on the kitchen counter, but I stopped after a few steps. I tilted my head to one side, causing a slight jingle, and said, "You curious?"

Gerald stuck his thumbs in his gun belt. "Now, we done been told by thet good man ta leave his good parcel ay-lone till'n he gets beck. I represent the LAW in this-here town, and we done gots ta do whut's right, son."

"I can slice it open and reseal it so he'll never know it was ever tampered with."

Gerald arched one eyebrow. "Zat right?"

"Been doing it with my Christmas presents since I was twelve." I flicked one of my bells with my forefinger. Jin-jing.

"Cool." Gerald whipped out his toy pistols, spun them on each trigger finger, and shoved them back into their holsters. "Let's do it."

After carefully slitting open the box directly along the seam with an X-acto knife I pilfered from Rick's desk, we looked inside to see something colorful, reds and yellows mostly, folded beneath bubble wrap. There was a note on top. I took it out and read it.

"Rick, here are the costumes you requested for your boys to wear for the storybook assignment. Can't wait to see the finished product. The country boy buddies were perfect! Best, Hal."

Like locusts, Gerald and I tore away the bubble wrap and pulled everything out of the box. There were two of everything. Big, oversized white shirts with frilled cuffs. Gigantic red pants with three big buttons along the front waistline. Yellow and black striped leggings/stocking/tights/whatever they were. Two pairs or clunky, bob-toed brown lace-up clownish shoes. Two yellow and red beanies with tiny black brims. One oversized yellow bow tie, one black.

"What the hell is all this shit?", I wondered aloud.

"Storybook...storybook...", Gerald was running it over in his mind. Then, "Oh, wait! I know what this is! Unfold the shirts!"

We did so, and revealed two tremendous lace-trimmed collars. One bore the hand-stitched name of Tweedle-Dee, the other Tweedle-Dum.

"Oh, shit", I said. "No wonder he didn't want us to open this. He's playing off the fact that in his photos we look like cute little kids. This is humiliating."

Gerald, however, didn't look particularly humiliated. He tossed one of the lace shirts at me. "I will if you will." Then he added, "Tweedle-Dum."

"No fucking way! I got here first, howcum I hafta be "Dum"??"

Cowboy Gerald drew one of his pistols and leveled it at me. "Son, I hereby order y'all to dress up Tweedle-Dum in the name o' the law."

I screwed up my face like a caricature. "Dagnabbit! It's thet blasted varmint Sheriff Gerald, done makin' me dress up right silly agin!" We grabbed up our new outfits and dashed to the bedroom to change. I jingled all the way.

Gerald and I lay on our backs the living room floor, a bowl of popcorn between us, overstuffed pillows behind our heads. We had been Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum for most of the afternoon and now into evening, loving every minute of it.

It turns out the enormous pants were designed to be pulled all the way up so the crotch fit snugly. The waistline rose to chest height, the pant cuffs falling just below the knees. We looked retarded, but they fit great. We had on our loose shirts, collars identifying us as Dum & Dee, our beanies giving us a terminal case of hat hair, our bumblebee-striped legs stretched out before us, disappearing into our brown clown shoes. We clunked our toes lightly together, my right hand holding Tweedle-Gerald's left. I wore the yellow tie, by the way, Ger had on the black tie.

The end credits of the movie began to roll on the screen before us. We had just watched a typical cheesy love story, couple meets, couple falls in love, couple breaks up, couple gets back together, et cetera. The only difference was that the couple was two high school boys. The end scene showed them courageously dancing together at their prom. As the music faded, I heard a soft sniffling. "Gerald? Are you crying?"

"Maybe a little."

"You jerk. That wasn't worth crying over."

"Why not?? It was beautiful. What with the dying grandma in the hospital accepting the kid when his father wouldn't, and the teacher who stood up for--"

"You're crying in a Tweedle-Dee suit, dude."

Gerald looked at himself. "Oh, yeah. Kinda ruins the image, doesn't it?" He laughed a little at that.

"Time for something new!" I hopped over to the video library and grabbed a selection at random. "This looks kind of cool. Let's try this one." I popped it into the VCR and rejoined Gerald on the carpet.

"What's this one?", he asked me.

"Some kind of action-adventure movie, I guess. Big, hunky guy on the cover. I think it's a spy flick. It's called 'Falcon something'."

In another few minutes we found out the Falcon movie was not a spy thriller. "Holy shit...", Gerald whispered.

"Son of a jumpin' bitch", I muttered. "It's long enough to have it's own zip code." Gerald let go of my hand, began kneading the carpet under curled fingers. "You want me to turn it off?", I asked. He shook his head briskly. I moved closer to him. "Is this video turning you on?"

He nodded quickly. "A--a little."

I had no idea. Another one of my fantasies I was convinced would never happen. The roles were reversed, but I could live with that. I leaned over and whispered in Gerald's ear. "Keep your eyes on the screen."

"No problem", he whispered back.

Lightly, I unfastened the three big buttons at the top of Gerald's clown pants. Slowly, I slid my hand down to the top of his tights. Slipping my fingertips under the waistband, I began to work my way downward. Gerald's head twisted around to look at me with widening eyes. "Wh-what are you doing??"

With one index finger, I guided his face back to face front. "Eyes on the screen", I said. Gerald swallowed hard and dug his fingernails into the carpet, but let me continue. With the tips of my fingers, I began to stroke his member. He inhaled sharply as I fingered his balls and brought him to a full erection. On the screen, chiseled hard bodies writhed and toyed with each other. Gerald kept watching on the TV, his eyes wide beyond blinking. I flattened my hand out and pressed my palm against his penis, pushing it against the warmth of his abdomen. Slowly, I began to stroke him in easy circles. One, two, three times.

Gerald gasped, his eyes shutting involuntarily, his mouth hanging open. Gathering a rhythm, I stroked him steadily, feeling his body grow warmer and warmer beside me, and under my hand. In mid-rub, I switched from circular strokes to an up and down motion. I could see from the way his clown shoes were bobbing back and forth that Gerald was clenching and unclenching his toes. His shoulders tightened and he reached out with one hand and grasped my arm.

My fingers curled down and clutched his testicles, squeezing them in time with the steady pumping pressure I applied to his dick. He began to pant in irregular gasps. His eyes rolled upwards and his grip on my arm tightened. "How long can you hold on, Tweedle-Dee?", I asked.

"I-I-I--", was all he could get out. I increased the speed of my pumping hand. "Dickie, I'm gonna--gonna--"

I smiled. "Who's Dickie?"

Gerald's back began to arch. "Whu-whu-whu-what--??"

I switched back to circular strokes, my fingers becoming moist with his precum. "Call me Tweedle-Dum. Go on."

Ger's hand shot up and clutched my shoulder. "Tw-Twee-Tweedle-D-D-D-Duuumm, please, I c-can't hold out much longer--!"

"Don't shoot yet", I said, knowing how intense this must be for him. I was hard as a rock myself, my own balls buzzing. I could only imagine what my clown twin was going through. I massaged him with vertical tugs again, increasing in pressure but decreasing in speed. Squeeze. Pull. Squeeze. Pull. Squeeze. Pull.

Gerald was fairly writhing. "C-c-c-can't ho-old on--", he wheezed.

I pumped a bit harder, and leaned right against his ear, whispering so quietly, "Do you love me, Tweedle-Dee?"

"YES!!", Gerald shouted. "Yes, I LOVE you, Tweedle-Dum!!"

I released my grip and Tweedle-Gerald fired. Boy-howdy, did he fire. After a convulsive near-minute, he stopped twitching and collapsed backwards onto the rug. When I drew my hand back out of his pants, it was thoroughly coated in his juices. After mopping myself off, I lay beside him, one hand supporting my head, and stroked his chest with the other. "Well, I just bet the downstairs neighbors loved that little outburst. They're gonna think something came through the looking glass here in Rick's apartment and held an orgy."

Propped up on my elbow, I continued to rub Gerald's chest and watched the Falcon video. I muted the sound (no big loss) and for a while all that could be heard was the sound of Gerald's somewhat irregular breathing. Before long, he sat up partway and looked at me, a lopsided grin on his face. "Well, Tweedle-Dee?", I asked him. "Did you like that?"

Silently, he reached over to me and undid the buttons on my clown pants. With a sly smile, he said, "Keep your eyes on the screen."

Rick got home Sunday evening, and we were there to greet him. He made a big deal out of "preparing us" for his next assignment, which was for a children's publisher. We listened intently, doing our best to pretend to be both surprised and irritated by the fact that we'd be called upon to dress up as storybook characters.

Rick opened up the parcel to find the note from Hal, and the two neatly-folded costumes beneath their protective bubble wrap. He laid them out for us, telling us to be there the following afternoon immediately after my paper route to be put through our modeling paces. We reluctantly agreed, shuffling out the door, trying to suppress our smiles.

As Rick began to move the costumes to the bedroom wardrobe chest, he called after us, "So, did you have a fun weekend here--Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum?"

We froze. Slowly, we turned around to see Rick holding the costumes aloft, gently swinging them on their hangers. "These didn't arrive here smelling like April-Fresh Downy, now did they, fellas?"

Gerald shoved my arm. "Go! Go!!"

As we ran down the hallway and out to freedom, I called back, "We'll see you tomorrow afternoon, Rick!" We ran all the way back to my place. I glanced back once to see Rick looking down on us from his window. I couldn't really tell because of the way we were running, but I think he was laughing.

Gerald was in heaven. In fact, I wasn't sure I had ever seen him quite so happy, on a modeling shoot or off. "Okay, fellas, I release you from your labors", Rick said.

"Take more!", Gerald gushed.

"Six rolls is a limit even for me", Rick said. "You're done already."

Gerald flopped his arms at his sides like a little kid and said, "Awww, man--!" We had been posing for the last couple hours as firemen. Rick had put together shiny black costumes made entirely of rubber, with the broad yellow stripe and big yellow boots. We had posed with prop axes, hoses, even a mock hydrant made from styrofoam. I had fun, but not near as much as Gerald. I was ready to get out of the costume and into my uniform, or preferably something a bit cooler and less rubber.

I started for the bedroom, and Gerald called after me, "Dickie, wait!" I stopped. "Leave it on, maybe? Just for a little while longer?"

I rolled my eyes but conceded. "Oh, okaaaayy. For you."

We flopped down on the furniture, myself on the couch, Gerald in a chair. He tipped back his fire helmet with one finger. "What are these fireman pictures gonna be for, Rick?"

"Oh, I dunno, a PSA on fire safety or something. Maybe payment for a really good kid who's been an excellent model."

Gerald whirled around in his chair. "Oh, man! You mean it??" Rick nodded as Gerald whooped and babbled his gratitude.

I peeled off my fireman's jacket and threw it onto a nearby footstool. In attempt to bring my buddy back down to earth, I said, "Say, you got any big plans coming up in the next couple of weeks, Ger?"

"Not really, why?"

"I got my school's senior prom weekend coming up week after next. No date, no real urge to ask a girl I don't care about and then drop megabucks to put on a show of being a straight kid."

"Hey, that's our prom weekend, too", Gerald said. "And yeah, I'm in the same boat. I keep telling people I don't like the whole prom thing, kind of to set up my not being there. You wanna make it a costume and movie night, maybe?" He turned in his seat, "I mean, if that's okay with you, Rick."

Rick set down his rolls of film to be processed and gave us a hard look. He looked like he was gearing up to tell us something he'd been waiting to say for a while. "You guys really deserve an official senior prom. You've earned it." He paused, looking around the room. "Tell you what, why don't we set you two up with tuxes and you can meet here for a real-live boy-meets-boy dream prom evening."

Both Ger and I lit up at that suggestion. "Rick, you mean it??"

"Just let me be there before you make any final decisions on your tuxedos, fellas." Gerald sat up, a finger raised as if to pose a vital question. Rick cut him off. "And no, your tuxes can NOT be made of rubber."

Gerald sank back into his seat, propping his big yellow boots up in front of him. "Was worth a shot."

Rick sat at Franco's Formal Wear, legs crossed, his foot swinging nervously. This place had too many uncomfortable memories, being where he had rented his tux for his own senior prom. The senior prom with the punchbowl incident. Now Dickie was behind one of those dressing room doors trying on his own formal evening wear for the big night.

Rick stared out the window, tired of flipping through endless magazines with their full-color pages glowing about what the well-dressed and infinitely rich were wearing to their school dances and wedding this year. He turned quickly at the sound of the dressing room door opening.

"Well? What do you think?" Dickie stood with his arms wide, dressed in a baby blue tuxedo with slightly darker trim, ruffled shirt front with blue tinge, and gleaming black tuxedo shoes. Rick stared at him for a moment, his eyes looking through his paper boy protégé and into the past.

With a straight face and flat tone, Rick said, "We've got to do better than that."

Rick searched furiously. He was back at his second apartment now. He knew so many repeated trips back and forth were probably not a smart thing to do, but he couldn't help himself. What he needed to track down what he was looking for couldn't be found at the other place.

He knew this was not part of the original plan. For all intents and purposes, he had already achieved, if not exceeded, his original goal. Further involvement at this point could jeopardize everything he'd so painstakingly worked for. But he couldn't help himself. Of late the feelings of dread about his own senior prom was fading, but it did not leave a vacuum. It left Rick with a feeling of emptiness, as if he had not only not even attended his senior prom, it was as though he had not even bothered to try.

Rick had already helped Dickie find a far more appropriate--and dashing--tux, much to the paper boy's protests. Rick had also assisted Gerald with his final selection, ensuring that the two boys would make a beautifully handsome couple. Provided he could find what he was looking for.

Rick poured over old yearbooks, age-old school newspapers, and did extensive searching online. He had heard whispered rumors during his junior and senior year of high school, mostly as the butt of jokes made by the more popular or less secure kids. Every school had its own prom. But there was another prom. A secret prom, one that was well-hidden, even better organized and carefully chaperoned. Back at number 37, there was a snowball's chance in hell he was going to find it. But here, at the second apartment, the secrets were more readily available if he could learn where to look. And he would learn.

Dickie and Gerald would have a wonderful senior prom.

I stood before the door to apartment 37, looking sharp but feeling nervous as hell. Rick had convinced me to choose a simple black tuxedo, with an electric blue tie and matching cummerbund. I'd had my doubts, but I had to admit, it worked okay.

It had taken some time to get away from my parents (after posing for like eighty pictures of me in my tux). I finally made my great escape from Alcatraz only after promising to bring my date, "Geraldine", home after the dance. Too bad she was destined to get too tired or maybe get an upset tummy and have to bow out. I hadn't decided which yet.

I straightened my tie, knocked on Rick's door. He opened up, saying, "Well here he is now." He took a step back and ushered me inside. He looked me over and clicking his tongue, said, "Man, don't you ever cleanup nice." Rick was dressed to the nines in a striking dark blue suit and red tie. If he looked dorky, he could pass for Clark Kent. As it was he looked incredibly handsome.

"You look pretty good yourself", I commented.

Rick smiled, a slight half-bow acknowledging my compliment. Then, "There's somebody here waiting for you."

Nervously, I walked into the living room, where Gerald sat waiting. As I entered, he leapt to his feet, looking no less nervous than I did. He too was in a simple black tux, with a matching tie and cummerbund of deep canary yellow. He looked incredible. I was speechless at first, then managed a meek, "H-hey. You been waiting long?"

"I only just got here." He walked over to me, all smiles. "God, Dickie, you look beautiful." Gently, he kissed me. Gerald took one step back, then lightly fingered my tie. "Love you in electric blue, man."

I smiled, still unused to open shows of adoration. "You always look good in yellow", I said back. Remembering what I had with me, I produced a small plastic florist's box. "Oh! I know we didn't talk about anything like this, but I thought, well, you know, this being our senior prom and all, we should do things right." I opened the box to reveal a small yellow rose boutonniere. It was accented with a thin, electric blue ribbon that matched my tuxedo.

Gerald's face lit up and he said softly, "Thanks, man."

Carefully, I pinned the flower to his lapel, commenting, "A yellow rose means--"

"--friendship", he finished. "Yeah, I know." He kissed me on the cheek after I finished pinning his boutonniere in place. "Here's to friendship." Then he held up one finger. Hold on. He jumped back to the couch where he'd been sitting and returned with an identical floral box. "Guess great minds think alike." He popped his own box open to reveal what I presume was a white rose skillfully tinged to a brilliant blue. Around it's base was a twist of tinsel of a deep canary yellow hue. Gerald pinned it to my lapel, and for a moment we just stood there, hands in pockets, looking at each other, awkwardly shuffling our feet.

Then, from across the room, the faint tinkling of bells. We turned to see Rick with a white towel swung over one arm. "Gentlemen, dinner is served."

We walked over to the dining area to find a remarkable sight. All signs of Rick's ramshackle kitchen had vanished. The cluttered corkboard of messages and outgoing bills was gone. The table, polished and shining, was devoid of any ongoing art projects, strips of photo negatives or invoices. No post-it notes adorned the light overhead. Instead, all was dimly lit and delightful. Two white taper candles burned softly upon the table, straddling an intricate floral centerpiece. White cloth placemats held gleaming china plates and burnished silverware, with small place cards indicating our seats across from each other. A bottle of St. Julian's sparkling grape juice (the fake champagne stuff, which I preferred) sat chilling in a silver ice bucket beside the table. A wooden tray jack with all the fixings for an authentic Caesar's salad set waiting for a command to begin preparations. The scintillating smell of some grand entree roasting to perfection wafted from the oven just out of sight.

I turned to my mentor almost in tears. "Rick, you've outdone yourself. I don't know what to say."

Rick stepped boldly over to the table and pulled the chairs out. "Say only that you are hungry, sir." I was famished. I was so nervous about my first real prom that I hadn't eaten all day. My appetite was not going to be disappointed.

Dinner was nothing short of spectacular. Rick had thought of everything, from the atmosphere of soft background music to the teeny-tiny cups of sorbet (which Gerald insisted on referring to as "crushed popsicle") between courses. As we greedily scarfed our dessert of chocolate fondue, I gushed around bites, "Rick, this is so fantastic. I had no idea you could cook."

"Don't be too impressed", he said ruefully. "Most of this I got from Langstrom's Food Service."

"So you really can't cook", Gerald said.

"No, but I can heat up and serve with the best of 'em", he winked. "Now why don't you boys go amuse yourselves in the next room while I clean up."

Gerald and I moved back the living room furniture and began to rifle through Rick's record collection for suitable dancing music. "What are you guys doing??", Rick said as he emerged from the kitchen.

"We were just finding some good dancing music", Gerald explained. "It wouldn't be prom night if you can't dance with your date."

Rick snatched the Foreigner album out of my hands. "Ohhhh, no no no no", he chastised.

"Rick", I pleaded, "it's not like we were gonna break anything. We just wanted to--"

"Come with me", Rick said, turning off lights. "You want to dance, I know just the place."

"Where's that?", I asked him.

"The prom, of course."

Rick had Gerald and I sit beside each other in the back seat, just like with a real chauffeured prom date. As we approached the school, I said, "Rick, I really appreciate everything you're doing for us and all, but are you sure we're ready for this? I mean, us going together isn't like being asked to get beat up or anything, is it?"

"Naaah", Gerald said, leaning back to better enjoy the ride. "It's just two buddies going stag. We circle the room, dance with a few hot chicks, all the while secretly eyeing each other from across the dance floor. It'll be fun."

"I guess", I said, wishing that I had the guts to risk that beating for one slow dance with my beautiful boyfriend. As we neared the high school's driveway, with it's legion of formally attired young people milling about and wandering in, Rick did not slow down. In fact, he drove right past. "Rick? You do know that was my high school, right?" I turned to Gerald. "Your school doesn't have its formal tonight, does it?"

"Last weekend", he said.

"Where are you taking us, Rick?", I asked.

"To the real prom", he said cryptically. I sat back, a bit nervous and uncertain of what lay ahead.

We drove around for over half an hour as Rick obviously searched for someplace or something he didn't know the location of. We tooled out into the boonies and then circled back into the downtown area, then into the heights. Rick often slowed down, looking out his window at God only knows what, muttering things like "Nope, nope, that's not it" and "I was so sure about that one".

Finally, from the back seat I groaned, "Riiiiick, come ON, let's just go back to your place. I really want to dance with my boyfriend."

"Just a little bit longer, fellas. Bear with me. I'm sure this next stop will be it."

Gerald mumbled into his hand which cradled his chin, "That's what you said about that closed laundromat."

I sat up suddenly as an idea struck me. "Rick, you're not taking us to the retard prom, are you??"

Gerald looked at me askance. "What's that?"

"The retard prom!", I whined. "It's like this big urban legend joke thing that those kids who are losers, or mentally handicapped, or fat, pimply, or just plain stupid get sent to. It's like in the halls, you'd say, is Francine Frump going to the formal? And I'd be all, No, she's going to the Retard Prom."

"Harsh", Gerald said.

"Are we going to the Retard Prom?", I whined higher. "It's supposed to be hidden away so no one else gets infected by the lowlifes."

Without turning around, Rick said into the windshield, "What if I told you I found out it wasn't just an urban legend? And that it wasn't for retards?".

Soon we had driven deep into the heights past all landmarks that were familiar to me and into some shady looking areas. "Rick", I said, "please tell me you know where you're going." Gerald reached over and took my hand. A confidant look on his face made me feel a bit safer. Soon Rick had turned down a dimly-lit street and found an almost pitch-black alley. It was quite a ways down until we'd reached the end. I was pretty scared at this point.

"This is it", he announced. "We've arrived."

"I don't think this is anywhere", Gerald said. "No one else is here."

"Then how do you explain all the parked cars?", Rick asked. Both Gerald and I leaned forward against the front seat to peer out the front window. True enough, hidden in the darkness were multiple rows of tightly packed-in cars. We jumped as there was a rap on the side window. I jumped, letting out a small yelp.

Rick rolled down the window to be greeted by a massive man dressed all in black carrying a large handheld flashlight. He looked big enough to have his own zip code. His muscles were such that his clothing barely contained him. "C'n I hep you with sum'thing?", he rumbled.

Rick simply jerked a thumb to the backseat and the giant shone his flashlight on me and my date. The man's face split into something that I sincerely hoped was a smile. "Keys", was all he said next, and to my shock, Rick turned off the car and gave them to him. He opened Rick's door and Rick stepped out. Before getting in himself, he opened the side door for us boys and we tentatively got out. He looked down at us and touched the brim of his hat. "You gentlemen have a nice ev'nin." Then, into a small walkie-talkie he had clipped to his collar, he said, "Two guests an' chaperone." With that, he handed Rick what looked like a claim ticket, got behind the wheel and quietly drove Rick's car down to the end of the last row of cars.

Rick led us to the wall of the alley over grass, weeds, and gravel, to a nasty-looking metal door with a small slider window. Looking back at where we'd come from, I could almost make out the faint beams of at least three other flashlights stabbing their way around the gloom of the silhouetted cars. Wherever we were, they weren't hurting for security. Rick rapped on the door and the slider opened to reveal a pair of eyes. Gerald whispered in my ear, "Jesus, do you think he's taking us to a speakeasy??"

The mostly-concealed face behind the door said, "Pink triangle or rainbow flag?"

Rick was incredulous. "What, after all it took for me to find this place I have to know a frickin' password? Come on, open up. I got two of the most wonderful kids in the world out here and I think they've earned the right to a senior prom just like anybody else."

The eyes looked at him. "That's close enough", he said.

With that, the door opened and Rick ushered us inside. I could feel the air pressure in the room change as Gerald and I gasped. The room was immaculate. High ceilings, lighting just bright enough to be more welcoming than a nightclub. Tables adorned with red cloths and fine settings littered the right-hand side of the room, a small bar was set up in the left-hand corner. The majority of the room was taken up by a dance floor. A dj was spinning mix hits of the day, interjecting bits of humor between discs that were actually funny. A mirrored ball rotated above the dance floor, casting sparkles of starlight around the room. A handful of waiters bustled about, bringing to various couples drinks and desserts, all of which seemed nonalcoholic and parentally approved.

The couples were few but lively, having an air of freedom and joy that was seldom seen anywhere, much less at the normally tense setting of prom. That might be due to the nature of the couples. Boy-boy, boy-boy, girl-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl, boy-boy, and even two exceedingly rare couples of the boy-girl variety. About two dozen couples in all. There was a sense of happiness in the room, and laughter was the appropriate response.

The room was decorated with endless strings of Christmas lights of six colors, pink streamers, and countless balloons and confetti. Along the far wall beside the dance floor stood six silver mannequins in full tuxedo. The first tuxedo was entirely red, including shirt, tie, shoes, everything. The second mannequin's tux was orange, then yellow, green, blue, then purple. Gerald and I looked to Rick, our astonishment beyond words.

"Welcome to the secret Gay Prom festivities, fellas!", Rick crowed. "I'm gonna join the other chaperones", he pointed to a smattering of a few parents and teachers lingering in the shadows, "and try to stay out of sight until the end of the evening."

I was flabbergasted. "Rick, I--I--my God in heaven, I don't know what to--this is--wow!"

"Sorry I couldn't get you kids here earlier, but they do keep the time and location of this event pretty hush-hush, for obvious reasons. Go enjoy what's left of the night!"

Not missing a beat, Gerald took me by the hand. "Dance with me, boyfriend."

They played a vintage '80s mix. Gerald and I danced like maniacs to Kenny Loggins, Michael Jackson, the Go-Gos, A-Ha, Soft Cel, Nena, and a host of others. When we slow danced to Sheriff's "When I'm With You", a couple leapt upon a small elevated stage set upon one end of the dance floor and danced for the crowd as if they were performing in a music video. Gerald and I bopped to Cyndi Lauper's "She-Bop", exchanging glances and smiles with other cute boy couples all in the swing of things. There were refreshments and snacks, but I don' think we ever stopped grooving beneath the flashing lights long enough to partake of any.

We slipped aside briefly to have our picture taken. The photographer's setup was pretty smart. A few pretty girls in formal wear were on hand to pose with each guy for one mock photo to be taken home to those parents either less accepting or uninformed of their son's sexuality. Any given guy in the place was delighted to lend a hand and pose with any of the girl-girl couples. Photos were processed on site, so Gerald and I each would go home with one photo of the two of us, and one of ourselves and a female prom date.

As the night wound down, Gerald and I slow danced to Spandau Ballet's "True". Arms around each other's shoulders, foreheads together, we spun in lazy circles directly beneath the mirrored globe.

"You know what?", I said.

"What", Gerald whispered.

"This is the first time I've ever been to a formal dance where I actually cared about impressing my date."

Gerald let out a deep sigh. "Well, you are impressive." And tenderly, we kissed.

Out front, at around one in the morning, the mighty muscled-parking attendant pulled the car up and handed Rick his keys as the engine idled. "Sir. Thank-ya fer coming. Hope you boys had a good time. Drive safe."

"Rick", I said, "thanks for taking us here. This was beyond anything I could've hoped for. I actually had a real senior prom."

"Yeah", Gerald agreed. "This was the best. It couldn't have been a better night. Going to the prom with my boyfriend and not having to worry about what anyone else in the room might think about us. I had such a good time."

I looked at Gerald. "Boyfriend?"

He interlaced his fingers into mine and held tight. "Yeah. Boyfriend." We kissed again, and my hands began to move as if of their own accord, reaching up to cradle this beautiful boy's face--

"Okay, break it up", Rick said. "Get in the car before I have to get you a room."

Gerald and I snuggled in the car all the way home. I sat with my arms around him and he continually nuzzled against my neck, occasionally kissing me there. Even after all that dancing, he smelled divine. Rick remained silent the entire ride back. Though once or twice I caught him eyeing us in the rearview mirror. He was always smiling.

That Monday after the prom weekend, I was still flying high. I pretty much levitated to each stop on my paper route and completed my deliveries in a fraction of my usual time. I had long since rearranged the order of my route so that I always ended at Rick's door. I knocked, ready to tell him for the millionth time how much I appreciated the prom, what a great time I had.

Rick opened the door, looking somber. "Dickie. Come on in."

I followed Rick inside, casting my paper bag into a corner by the door. "Dickie", Rick said to me, "I have something important to tell you. You have done a super, super job helping me out with all the modeling work and I greatly appreciate the time we've spent together. You have been a great help and an even better friend. I'm proud to have known you."

"Wait a minute", I said. "This is what people say when they're about to break up. You're not breaking up with me, are you?", I smiled.

Rick let out a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. It was then that I noticed the state of the apartment. Number 37 actually looked clean. The clutter that was usually strewn about on the counters, tabletops, and Rick's desk were swept away. The photo backdrop and lights were put away, somewhere. The walls were devoid of posters and prints. This was more than just cleaning. This was packing.

"What's going on, Rick? You're not being annoyed or tired serious, you're being There's-something-I-wish-I-didn't-have-to-tell-you serious."

"Dickie, you and Gerald have done so much for me, and it hasn't gone unnoticed, either by me or by my superiors, who all think--"

"Cut to the chase!", I yelled.

"Dickie, I've been offered a job. A big job. An important job. It'll be a lot like doing what I've been doing, only a hundred times more so, with an extraordinary increase in pay."

"You're leaving, aren't you?", I said.

"Yeah, Dickie, I am. I owe a lot of it to you, you know. Your photographs really made quite an impression on a lot of people."

"Remind to screw it up next time." Then, looking for some glimmer of hope, I asked, "You'll stay in touch though, won't you? You'll call, you'll write--"

"I'll travel", he said. "I'll travel a lot. A lot more than readily allows you to stay in contact on any kind of a regular basis. I will be assigned to one location eventually--"

"And we can hook up then!", I glowed. "We can play catch-up, fill each other in on our different adventures while we were apart. That could be fu--"

"I'll be living in Milan, Dickie", he said with finality. "I know Geography isn't really your thing, but I trust you know that means I won't exactly be local."

I stood there, trying to process it all. "When were you planning on telling me?"

"I only just found out this morning."

I chewed the inside of my cheek. "When do you have to--?"

"Tonight. I'm on a plane by ten." Rick pointed to some oversized cardboard boxes stacked in the doorway to his bedroom. "Most of the costumes are in there. You can have them. I won't need them anymore. I'm having the movers drop them off at your house later this afternoon."

I groped for something to say. "You can't even stay until my graduation?"

Rick came over and hugged me. "I'm sorry, Dickie, I really am. But I did what I came here to do. Now I really have to go."

I rubbed the tears from my eyes and said, "Just hang on a minute." I went to the bedroom, shoving the boxes out of the way. A few minutes later, I walked back out dressed in my red rubber sweatshirt, crisp blue denim bib overalls and red boots. "If I'm gonna see you off", I told him, "I'm not going to do it wearing a disguise. I want it to be as the real me." We embraced again, I told him how much I loved him, he said he felt the same way about me.

I picked up my empty paper bag and tossed it into the one cardboard box I'd left open. Then I picked up the yellow-and-blue bibs and boots outfit and threw it over one arm. I held it up for Rick to see. "For Gerald."

"You hang on to that boy", Rick told me. "He's a good guy."

I nodded. "I know." I stood tall, and as I reached the doorway to number 37, I said, "Thank-you, Rick. For everything."

"I didn't do anything", Rick said. "You did it all yourself."

I smiled, knowing it was pointless to debate him, and turned to leave my mentor behind. As I walked down the hallway, Rick stuck his head out the door and said, "Hey, Dickie! Walking down the streets in that getup, people might think you're a fag."

"Let 'em", I said back. "They can think what they want. I know who I am." Rick nodded, smiling softly.

I walked slowly all the way home, waving and greeting with a smile all those I knew and many I did not.

That evening Gerald and I decided to see Rick one last time by helping him box up and move out the last of his stuff. I in my red rooted outfit and Gerald in his yellow, we rode on our bikes like the wind over to the apartment. As we bounded up the stairs, we asked Mrs. Kowalski, as she passed with an overflowing laundry basket, if she'd seen and moving vans coming or going. She had not. But she thought our boots were cute.

Gerald and I stopped at the door to number 37 and stood staring. The door was wide open, the apartment empty, picked clean from floor to ceiling. I looked at my watch. It was only 7:30.

"Maybe he caught an earlier flight", Gerald offered.

"He's gone", I sighed. "I don't have my mentor anymore."

I felt Gerald's fingers interlace with mine, and he brought our hands up to his chest. "You have me."

Rick was back in his second apartment, this time for good. He wouldn't be going back to number 37, ever. He roamed the apartment alone. Always alone. His time with Dickie was over and he knew he'd never see the paper boy again. It was late, the apartment was dark, lit as usual by the sole blue light Rick always left burning since this whole adventure began.

But now the light was growing dim. The glow was faint, as if the power source behind it was running dry. It had been burning for some time.

Rick walked up and down the hallways, taking in the now extensive collection of framed prints and photographs from his sessions with Dickie. There was Dickie the sewer worker, Dickie the superhero, Dickie the farmboy. Further down the hallway was Dickie and Gerald as twin country boys, wrestling in the hay. Dickie and Gerald as Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum. The two of them in matching sewer gear trudging through a backwash of gunk and mire. The photo was not of the same quality of the others, and it was immediately clear that it was not Rick's handiwork. A second glance showed the two boys looked a little bit older than Rick remembered them. Scrawled on a small label at the base of the photo was the inscription: "Summer Job, right after graduation. Ger & Me". Rick had no memory of that. But perhaps he would soon.

Shortly the light was too dim to see in the hallway and Rick made his way to the bedroom. He opened up the sliding door to his closet to find his wardrobe had doubled in size. Out of curiosity, he looked for the red and blue farmboy outfit he had given to Dickie but did not see it hanging up. A bit more digging uncovered it folded neatly in the bottom drawer of a nearby dresser. Both it and its twin were there, in beautiful shape, showing very little signs of wear. Or use.

Rick returned to the closet and among some very nice clothes (mostly from International Male by the look of them) was the sewer worker's gear. No, two sets of gear. No, wait---four? Rick didn't recall getting this many sets of the gear for himself. Two sets were worn, faded, showing a great deal of time was spent using them to their fullest. The next two pair were highly polished and shiny, both still slightly slick to the touch from a recent polishing. On the shelf just above them rested two scuffed and dinged hardhats, both yellow, now marred with dirt and grime. Rick rubbed his forehead, trying to place where the second had come from. Oh, well.

As he turned around, Rick saw two pairs of tall rubber knee boots set neatly at the foot of the bed. Neither was red, but one he could clearly make out, even in the fading light, was electric blue. Rick grinned.

Then Rick walked over to the bureau, where the fast-fading light was coming from. Next to the soft blue glow was a silver-framed prom picture. Standing side by side were Dickie and Gerald, in their tuxedoes with matching boutonnieres, smiling with a joy that surpassed description. Seeing that photo brought back to Rick a feeling of great happiness. That's right, he had gotten those two kids to their very own real senior prom. It was quite an accomplishment and it was quite a night. For all of them.

Rick reached for the glowing blue light and picked it up. It was in the shape of a gold pocket watch, but twice the size. Engraved upon its face were images representative of time. Not only a sun and a moon, but a sundial, hourglass, and what looked like a paper calendar. The engraving was small, so Rick couldn't make it all out. Where had he gotten this thing, again? Rick stared at it. Even as it grew dim, there was something about the light, something almost hypnotic, soothing. He shook his head, disrupting its effects.

As he set it down, he noticed that underneath it was a business card. The card had been printed with some type of metallic ink, that through the process of thermography made the letters raised. Rick held the card beside the softly glowing blue pocket watch-lamp and read:

LANDLORD'S PIECE OF TIME Science So Advanced It Seems Like Magic * * * * * Travel back to a time in your life you wish to relive or revise. Alter Your Past ~ Improve Your Future "Destiny is a matter of choice." exclusive clientele * exorbitant fees * worth every penny * worth every second

Rick scrunched his brow. Where had this come from? He seemed to recall picking it up several months back, or had it been given to him? It was so hard to recall, and the more he dwelled on it, the more elusive (and frankly, less important) the memory became.

As Rick set the card back down, he noticed a newspaper clipping that had also been laying nearby the glowing blue watch. It was from the local paper of a neighboring town. The article heading read "MAN MURDERED OUTSIDE NOTORIOUS GAY BAR". The column told of a man in his early twenties who was attacked when leaving a gay club in an unsavory part of town. The young man, dressed only in yellow fireman's boots, firefighter's coat, and very little else, was severely beaten by at least two assailants and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. There were no witnesses. Clues at the scene were scarce. Authorities believed any investigation would prove pointless, as the man had no known friends or companions to provide any leads.

Rick squinted in the fading light to read the name of the victim, but was distracted as the watch-lamp fizzled, let out a small spray of blue sparks, and went dark with a tiny wisp of silver smoke.

A light clicked on.

I turned around to see him, lying there in our bed. His hair was darker now that he had gotten a bit older, but it suited him. He was still beautiful, and I knew he always would be, regardless his age.

"Hey, babe, you comin' to bed?", Gerald asked.

"Yeah, sweetie", I said to him. "I was just doing some stuff."

"What", he asked, "could be so important to keep you from jumping into bed with your boyfriend?"

I smiled. The bedside lamp illuminated the room far better than the blue novelty light. I could see the pictures from all our trips, our incredible Halloween parties, the framed newspaper article about the opening of our graphics house, our commitment ceremony photos. At the end of the bed, standing sentinel as they did every night, were our favorite rubber boots. My electric blues next to his canary yellows. I noticed a weight on my left hand and looked down to see a simple gold band on my ring finger. I paused. I had been holding something in that hand, hadn't I? An article or clipping or something, wasn't it? I looked on the floor and saw that I had not dropped it. It had simply vanished. Oddly, I took this as the natural order of things. Whatever it was, if it was important, it'd turn up.

"Ger, honey, where did we get this--", I turned around to the novelty lamp to find it gone. In it's place was a simple circular reading lamp. 40 high intensity watts. White bulb. Huh.

Gerald threw back the sheets and said, "Who cares about your lousy taste in bedroom decor, Dickie. Get your hunky naked ass into bed with me."

I looked down and saw I was indeed naked. And my body looked fantastic. Having a loving partner to do your workouts with really helped. I leapt into bed beside the love of my life and slid right into him. "Ahh. Rubber sheets. Rubber blanket."

"In case my adorable baby Dickie wets himself during the night." He kissed me.

I snuggled up beside him. "I tolllld you, don't call me Dickie. You know how it puts off the clients. I go by Rick now."

He began to nibble on my ear. "To me, you'll always be my Dickie. G'night."

I put my arm around him and kissed my lover on the side of the head. We slept soundly, and for whatever reason, I felt an extraordinary sense of peace and contentment. Even pride. As if everything in my life had turned out just as it was always meant to.

If you enjoyed this story, please write the author and let him know so he'll write more, at [email protected]