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Hold My Bones

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GABE

Gabe can't sit still. He knows this about himself. At least one teacher every year hasn't heard about Gabe Saporta and the ants in his pants, and they call his parents up to come in. Well, only Papi this year. “Dr. Saporta, do you think Gabriel is on drugs?” It's awful, especially since one of the reasons Mama left, Gabe is pretty sure, is because Gabe didn't want to be on the drugs.

The first day of school is hard. Everyone knows Gabe's mom is gone. They're all kind of looking at him weird, like they're waiting for him to flip out like David did in the eighth grade. That's actually Gabe's first memory of this New Jersey school.

He still misses public school. He still misses Queens.

Gabe is about to drown in his own misery when he realizes that no one is actually looking at him. They're all looking at the kid behind him, he thinks, and he twists around. The kid has dark skin, like Gabe's, and looks angry. And not that Gabe is trying to be racist or something, but he doesn't look Jewish at all. Even Gabe has a Jewish nose, kind of, so he doesn't get too much shit for not being a real Jew from these Ashkenazi New Jersey trust fund fucks.

But this kid. Gabe's pretty sure he's definitely not Jewish.

It's confirmed when Mrs. Schoen starts the class and the kid just rolls his eyes and takes a book out of his backpack. Mrs. Schoen doesn't say anything to him, lets him read his book while she yells at them about not studying their Hebrew over the summer. Angry kid is the winner of the "which one doesn't belong?" sweepstakes.

Gabe keeps looking over his shoulder. He can't stop himself. The kid is reading The Devil's Arithmetic and shaking. His skin is pale around his mouth, and he looks like he's going to vom. And then he puts his head down on the desk and is, like, hyperventilating or something. Gabe knows nobody likes to be stared at, but he think the kid is having some kind of problem? And Mrs. Schoen is totally ignoring him, like he's not even there.

Gabe pulls a water bottle out of his backpack, twists in his seat, and bumps the bottle against the kid's arm.

"Hey," he whispers. "You need a drink of water?"

The kid jerks away and stares at him with wide, panicked eyes. "What?"

"You need a drink of water?" Gabe waves the bottle at him. "Not even opened yet, so no germs."

The kid nods, opens and closes his mouth. No words come out. Gabe gets it. Reading about death camps fucking sucks. And if you're not Jewish like this kid isn't Jewish, maybe he didn't even know about death camps. Like, maybe even a little kid's book about it was shocking to him. Gabe gets that too. He's still learning shit about the way the United States works that's shocking and he's been here for eleven years.

The kid drops the bottle when he tries to open it, he's shaking so hard. At least they're in the back of the classroom, Gabe thinks, so no one can see them unless they turn around.

"Do you have low blood sugar?" Gabe asks. "I have granola bars and shit, too."

The kid shakes his head again. Okay. All right. Gabe isn't sure what to do next, but he doesn't have to figure it out because the kid raises his hand, says, "Can I be excused?" before the teacher even calls on him, and races out of the room, clutching the water bottle.

He left all his stuff. Gabe stares at it for a second and then Mrs. Schoen says, "מַר Saporta!" and Gabe turns around so fast he knocks his pencil off the desk, and he's almost expecting Mrs. Schoen to put him in detention, but maybe the pagan gods who protect kids on the first day of school are looking out for him, because she just glares and goes on with the lesson.

Gabe zones out through the rest of Hebrew, waiting for the kid to come back, but he doesn't. If his stuff just sits here when the next class comes in those assholes will probably throw it on the floor or steal stuff from his backpack or something. Because they're assholes. Gabe gathers up the kid's books and notes, puts them in the backpack, then carries it with him out into the hall when class is over. His next period is gym, nobody will notice if he's late or doesn't show up at all. He can just find the kid and give him his stuff back.

*

PETE

Pete should have known that when the school was willing to give him a pass on taking Hebrew and catching up to the students who'd been speaking it all their lives, there would be a trick. He should have known the books they'd give him to study about Jewish history wouldn't just be history books, but really fucking traumatizing descriptions of people being murdered gruesomely.

All his doctors would tell him he's just being overdramatic. And his parents. What he went through at the camp wasn't as bad as the death camps. He doesn't have it as bad as the Jews. He's not in a war. He knows that. But the description of the camp . . . it was too much. Too close. No one was hurting Rivka the way Pete had been hurt, but that didn't matter, did it? She was going through a lot of shit in that book. Shit real people had gone through.

When Pete gets into the hallway, he sinks to the floor, clutching at the water bottle. This isn't like his old high school in Chicago -- no one's in the hallways between classes here. It's just Pete and the hum of the central air and a lot of shit on the walls in languages he can't read.

He doesn't drink from the bottle, can't get it open with his hands shaking, but -- when was the last time someone just gave him something? And didn't want anything back? Maybe the kid will come find him and tell him what he wants in trade for it. Pete remembers when stuff didn't work that way, remembers when he wouldn't have ever thought . . . but now stuff works that way. Now he wonders what everyone wants, what they really want, what they'll take when Pete doesn't want to . . .

He just stays there. And when the bell rings and classes change and the hallway fills with kids and noise, no one kicks him or anything; they give him a wide berth, walk around him, ignore him. That's good. That's better. He'd rather just be ignored.

Someone crouches down in front of him and Pete looks up from his knees, where he's picking at his pristine uniform pants. It's the kid from Hebrew class, and he's got Pete's book and backpack and everything. Pete holds out the water bottle. He didn't drink from it. The kid can have it back.

"Nah, keep it, you look like you need it more than I do. Actually, you look like you need to, like, lie down or something. What class are you supposed to have next? If it's something dumb, the music room's empty this time of day, you could go chill out in there for a while."

"Gym," Pete says hoarsely. "I have gym." He can't go to gym, can't be in the locker room, was going to try to figure out how to skip anyway. "Where . . . the music room?"

"Oh, I've got gym, too. Mr. Evans never takes attendance, it's fine. Come on, I'll show you. It's this way."

The guy is holding out his hand like Pete is just going to touch him. Pete's never had any sense of fucking self-preservation, always wants to know what will happen, so he puts his own hand up, not actually touching the guy, but the guy just comes closer and grabs his fingers, pulls him up from the floor. The hallway is emptying out, bell ringing again, and the guy's hand is so gentle on Pete's, not like he wants to hurt Pete at all. Pete doesn't pull his hand away, just . . . follows. Lets the guy lead him down the hall. And he doesn't seem to want anything from Pete, and Pete can't decide if that's real or if they're going to get to the music room and . . . and . . .

God. It never used to be this hard to have a complete thought not totally fucking ruined by interruptions from his brain. But he never used to have to think around memories before either.

"I'm Pete," Pete says finally. Because he doesn't have any sense of preservation and this guy, this stranger, is taking care of him. Taking him to a safe place, maybe.

"Gabe. Where are you from? And, like, I know this is totally a dick question, but you're not Jewish, are you? You've definitely never been to a Jewish school, I could kinda tell."

"C-chicago. Not Jewish." Pete stares down, watches his feet and Gabe's feet. This guy totally looks like a Gabe. He's so tall. "Bad kid, you know? My parents . . . wanted a change. Thought . . . academics. This school is . . ." Pete's calming down as he talks, as he watches their feet on the tile floor. "Thought high academic standards would be a good influence."

"Oh, yeah, this school's got high rankings or whatever. I mean, it's fine. It's . . . yeah, whatever. Your parents must have some pull."

"Mom's important. School system. Dad's . . . lawyer." Pete stops to breathe for a little while. "Who are you?"

"What do you mean?"

Pete rubs his thumb over Gabe's hand. "You don't look like other people either." Maybe Gabe will punch him for saying that.

"Oh! I'm an immigrant, yo." Gabe grins at him. "Producto de Uruguay."

"But . . . still Jewish?" They're in a totally different corridor now; Pete didn't exactly go to the worst school in Chicago, but it was nothing like this huge place with its wide halls and posters on the wall. Clean. Big. Empty. "Speak Hebrew, everything?"

"Yeah. Sephardic, not Ashkenazi. This is the music room." Gabe tugs Pete along through the door. "It kinda sucks, there's nothing good, but it's quiet in the afternoons, at least."

There are different kinds of Jews? That makes sense when Pete thinks about it but he'd never thought about it before.

"Quiet is good," Pete finally says, because he's not sure . . . he still doesn't get it, what this guy wants. Gabe is holding his hand and carrying his stuff and. "What do I, um. Owe you?"

"Huh?" Gabe glances at him in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"

"What do you want. For this." Pete sweeps out the hand Gabe isn't holding -- the hand with the water bottle. The room, the water, Gabe being nice. What does he want.

"I . . . I still don't get it. I'm just showing you a quiet place to hang out, dude."

"Yes. What do I have to give you for it. In exchange?" asks Pete impatiently. What's not to get? Either he pays for this now, or he pays for it later, he's pretty sure. He'd rather Gabe just tell him. Tell him what to expect.

"Nothing? Or, like, I guess . . . conversation? But that's not really in exchange, you know, I just like . . . talking to people?"

"You just want to talk to me?" Pete looks down at their hands, locked together, sweaty. Gabe's hand is big, his wrist is big, his -- he's big. He's tall. He's bigger than Pete. If he wanted to take something from Pete . . . But he doesn't, like, seem to. To want to hurt Pete. He's being . . . he's . . . it's weird. He's gentle.

"I mean, if you don't want to talk to me, I'll fuck off, but you . . . didn't seem to not want to talk to me."

"What -- will -- I can't, I don't." Pete takes a deep breath. "You could talk to me?"

"Yeah, okay." He lets go of Pete's hand to grab them each a chair. "Uh, my name's Gabriel Eduardo Saporta, I'm a sophomore, I have a little brother named Ricky, we live with my dad, he's a doctor."

Pete wishes Gabe would keep holding his hand. The chairs are comfortable, though. The school must have a lot of money that it can buy these chairs. And good kids who won't ruin them. Pete doesn't belong here.

"A doctor, that's cool." Pete squeezes the water bottle.

"Not, like, a surgeon or whatever. He does ear, nose, and throat. So, like, I can't ever be all 'oh, I've got a sore throat, can't go to school today,' he takes one look and knows I'm lying."

"Sucks. But he knows when you're really sick, too. Doesn't think you're faking if it's real, right?"

"Right, right, if it's real he calls in for me and all that."

"That's -- he sounds nice." Pete's hands have stopped shaking so much, he can get the water bottle open. Which is good because he's thirsty. He twists the cap off and spills some, but gets it down, drinks it, sips carefully. "Your mom?"

Gabe frowns and shrugs, looking away. "She, um. She left."

Pete frowns. "Sucks. Parents -- are hard." He finds himself reaching out to touch Gabe, but pulls back before he does.

"Whatever, right? She doesn't want to stick around, nobody's going to make her."

Gabe looks really. Sad.

"Do you. Um. Do you." Pete stops, looks away. "I'm. You seem like you need a hug. I'm not good at that, though."

"It's okay. I'm fine. It's . . . it's cool." Gabe clears his throat roughly. "So, um, what do you do? Sports? Music? Art?"

"I played soccer. Not -- not anymore, I guess. And . . . music. Lyrics. Play bass. Not well." Now that there's less water in the bottle, when Pete squeezes it, it makes stupid noises.

"No shit, you play bass? I play bass!"

"Bad at it. Like it, though. The rhythm, you know? Solid."

"Yeah, yeah yeah." Gabe is grinning like maybe he doesn't think Pete is an idiot, and Pete grins back. It's so nice. Pete knows there must be a trick, but it's so nice for right now. "What style?"

"Punk, I guess. Hardcore. Rock. I don't know."

Gabe actually bounces in his seat. "You like punk and hardcore? Oh, dude. Oh, dude."

"Dude," repeats Pete. "I guess you do, too?"

"Yeah! Shit, nobody at this school is into hardcore. Oh, man. I bet you saw some awesome bands in Chicago."

Pete grins again despite himself. "I totally did, you don't even know. I used to, like, sneak out of my room? My parents had to put bars on the windows and they used a lock, but I just picked it, you know? Got out, went into the city."

"Bars on the windows? Isn't that, like, a fire hazard?"

Pete shrinks back in his chair. "They had to. I was -- a bad kid. They. They were. They had to."

Gabe frowns, and Pete is pretty sure that this is when Gabe decides he's too fucking weird and not worth it, but then he just says, "Yeah, I guess. Parents, you know? So tell me about the bands you saw."

That Pete can do. He talks about bands and shows until the bell rings again, and then feels stupid. "Oops," he said. "Do you have to go to class now?"

"I have bio. What do you have?"

"I don't know. I'm -- I'm probably going to stay here whatever it is." Pete tries to grin but thinks he ends up just baring his teeth. "Bad kid."

"Let me see your schedule?" Gabe looks at the paper Pete hands him. "Oh, dude, you have Lit with Mrs. Abrams. She's actually really, really awesome. You read books that don't suck and she doesn't give dumb assignments."

"Not -- um -- not like that one?" Pete nods to the book that's off to the side, the one that started all this. The one about the camps.

"No. That one's harsh, why are you reading it?"

"They said I had to read Jewish books and write reports. They said this one was for kids. I can't -- kids read this stuff?"

"I guess usually you read it in, like, a group, with context around history and stuff. They don't just fling it at you. C'mon, let's go to class. I'll find you a better book. My dad has some."

"Okay. Okay." Pete holds out his hand for his bag and stuff. Gabe kind of stares at him, but then hands his bag over.

"Here you go. Um. I'll see you tomorrow in Hebrew, yeah?"

"Yeah. I . . . thanks. Thank you. For . . . not wanting anything."

Gabe frowns at him again. "Yeah, no problem. I'll bring some CDs tomorrow, we've gotta talk about your wrong opinions on shit."

"You are the wrong one," Pete says, as they linger in front of the door. "I'll make you a mix tape."

When Pete finally finds his lit class -- late -- he spends the whole time thinking about that guy. About how he didn't want anything, just to hang out with Pete. Just to talk to him. About the way his face twisted when he talked about his mom. About how he stared at Pete like Pete was interesting, not like he was going to eat him.

Maybe this school won't be the worst thing ever.

That's Pete's least favorite part of himself, the part that always just keeps hoping.

*

GABE

Gabe gets home that night and does his homework and messes with Ricky and waits for Papi to get home with dinner. He wants to ask him for books he can loan Pete for his reports, and tell him about Pete, and how he plays bass, and maybe they can hang out together and play, and also maybe Pete can be his buddy for going to shows so his dad will let him go to ones that are farther away.

Papi looks a little surprised when Gabe starts talking, but doesn't give Gabe the lecture about how he needs more friends and people on the internet aren't the same thing or anything. He's just quiet and smiles a little, so Gabe keeps talking.

"You know all the books he finds just taking a quick look are going to be Holocaust stuff, Papi, and that's important but, like, I hate it when people think that's all Jews have ever done, so can I borrow some of your books for him to read?" Gabe can't sit still, he's bouncing, he wants to tell Diego everything at once.

"Perhaps he'd like a book about Einstein?" Diego suggests. "A very prominent, important Jewish person, not much about the Holocaust at all. I have several. Does he speak Spanish or do you want one in English?"

"He didn't say, but probably English. He definitely doesn't read Hebrew, he's not even Jewish, his parents are just sending him to the school because it has high academic standards and they, like, think he's a bad kid or something. That's what he kept saying, he's a bad kid."

"Gabriel, you should be more . . ." Papi stops and sighs. "I like that you're making friends, but a child who gets into trouble wouldn't be my first pick for you."

"He's not a bad kid, though, Papi. I could tell just talking to him. The way he kept saying it, he wasn't saying it like he was tough and bragging. He was saying it like it's something he's heard a lot that makes him sad."

"People tell him he's bad but he's not? Gabriel . . . maybe you should bring him here, let me meet him. I can talk to his parents, find out why this is. He might be lying to you."

"He's not. You know I'm a good judge of when people are full of -- when they're lying."

"Why would people tell him he's bad when he's not?" Papi shakes his head. "I don't understand people in this country sometimes, Gabriel, I really do not."

"I don't know. He's . . . shy, I think. Or, like, nervous. And he kept asking me what I wanted in return for being nice to him."

"What you wanted for being nice?" Papi frowns at Gabe, and Gabe's worried for a minute that Papi will tell him to stop being friends with Pete. He's getting ready to fight, but then Papi says, "You should invite him over, mijo. Let him get to know us."

Gabe deflates a little. "Yeah, like, I gave him some water because he was having some kind of problem and he asked what I wanted in return, it was weird. I'll ask him if he wants to come over. He likes the same kind of music I do, we can listen to music."

Papi reaches out and squeezes Gabe's shoulder. "I love you, mijo, you're a good boy." Gabe's belly gets all warm. Mama never said stuff like that, not even when she and Papi were happy. "Invite him over to listen to music. Maybe he can stay for supper. I'll drive him home when we're done."

Gabe grins at him. "Thanks, Papi. I'll see what he says. You're awesome."

*

PETE

Pete's parents don't really seem interested in hearing about Gabe, so he just stays quiet during dinner. Hilary and Andy have a lot to say about school and how they need different clothes, and his parents talk about how different New Jersey is from Chicago. His dad keep saying, "Republicans, but so much less corruption!" and his mom says a bunch of times that she's so glad the school didn't call them about Pete today. Things are getting better, she keeps saying, and Pete doesn't really see how that's true. But Gabe is better. Kind of. So far. Pete's counting down to Hebrew class the next morning. 8:30 AM has never come fast enough.

Gabe has this hair that's curly and sticks up and goes everywhere, and a grin that's, like, somehow wider than his actual face. He grins when he sees Pete. No one ever does that. Pete smiles back at him.

"Hey! Here's a less intense book you can read. And, like, my dad said you can come over to listen to music if you want? And he'll make dinner and drive you home and everything."

Pete touches the book. Einstein's hair is amazing. Like he doesn't give a fuck what anyone would say about it. Pete figures if he was a smart scientist, maybe he wouldn't care either.

He wants to know what Gabe would want if he came over, but yesterday was so weird, Gabe didn't even know he was supposed to trade for things. Pete tries to remember what he would have said last year, tries to be . . . normal.

"Will you come when he drives me home?" he blurts out instead.

"Oh, yeah, sure! Listen to more music in the car." Gabe bounces in his seat. "Maybe get my dad to drive us through somewhere for ice cream or something."

"Ice cream," repeats Pete. "Yeah, but -- but if your dad doesn't like me, it's okay. He can just take me home."

"He'll totally like you."

Pete doesn't say anything to that, just nods. He thinks probably everyone likes Gabe. Gabe doesn't know how it is when people . . . don't.

"When?" he finally asks. "My parents will want to talk to your dad."

"Oh, um . . . how about Thursday? I would say Friday but it's Shabbat and my dad observes. Kind of. More than I do, anyway."

"Shabbat? What's that? Like --" Pete almost says, "like witches?" but thinks maybe Gabe wouldn't appreciate him comparing religious stuff to, like, the scary movies on TV at midnight. "Like a religious thing?" he finishes instead.

"Yeah, it's the Jewish sabbath day. Sundown Friday to sundown Saturday."

"Are you not allowed to do stuff? Is it like church all day?"

"Well, like, people who observe, they don't do anything that counts as work. I mean, really observant people, they won't even turn a light switch or anything. My dad's not that observant, but he prefers to stay home and read and . . . contemplate, I guess. He doesn't tend to want to go out and do stuff."

"So it's like a day to sit and think about stuff? That sounds . . . like, really nice, I guess, except my brain is . . ." Pete flaps a hand. "Loud."

"Yeah. I can't sit still that long. I'm really bad at Shabbat."

"Maybe we could -- we could. Um. We could do it together some time. So, so when we get -- so we don't have to. Like. I wouldn't get annoyed. We, we could think about music."

"Yeah? That'd be cool."

"Yeah?" Pete grins. "So . . . Thursday. My parents will, um, what's your number? Can they call your dad?"

Gabe writes the number down for him. "He usually gets home around 6:30, but then we have dinner, so have them call at like 7:30."

"Okay." Pete stares down at Gabe's handwriting. It's a messy scrawl, like no one ever told him to be neat ever. This, this is -- he's . . . "Are you sure? That you want to hang out?"

"Yeah, dude! We've got a lot of music to listen to."

Pete smiles, just a little smile. Gabe wants to hang out with him. This is kind of . . . amazing. He digs into his backpack. "I made you a mix tape," he says, offering it. "It's a lot of Chicago bands? But also some other stuff that I just . . . really like."

"Sweet. I will listen to this tonight. I don't have any CDs for you today, sorry, I totally overslept."

"That's okay, it's cool, I'll come over on Thursday and listen to them. I can bring some tapes, I don't have a lot of CDs anymore. My -- they -- I just have tapes, mostly."

"Okay. I have a player you can tape from CD, that's cool."

Pete really appreciates that Gabe doesn't seem to think he's weird or fucked up when he has a hard time talking. He always just -- he starts sentences and doesn't think about how they end up in places where Pete either has to change what he's saying or say things like, "My parents took away all my CDs and gave them to the Salvation Army to punish me."

"Cool," Pete says, "cool, thanks, I -- it'll be cool. If my parents say yes. And your dad."

"My dad already said it's okay, so just have them call." Gabe grins at him and turns back to face front when the teacher starts talking. Pete stares at the back of his neck. Brown skin and curly hair and Pete doesn't know how to do this.

Pete tucks the number into the Einstein book and instead of reading just stares at it. He has Gabe's number. He has a friend. Someone who wants to hang out with him and listen to music. And isn't scared of Pete meeting his dad. Pete just keeps staring at the number. Gabe makes his 9s weird, so the 973 looks like a secret code.

"Are you coming to gym today?" Gabe asks after class.

"You said that guy never takes attendance, right? Do I have to go?" Pete's heart wants to beat out of his chest just thinking about locker rooms and screaming men in shorts with whistles.

"You should probably show up sometimes? But, like, if you don't want to do the stuff he lets you walk the track. As long as you're moving around and not sitting down he doesn't really care."

"Do I have to -- is there a uniform? Can I just wear this?"

"We're supposed to bring a change of clothes, but just tell him you forgot. He's like ninety years old and counting down the days till he retires."

"Awesome. That's -- are you going, too?" They can walk around the track together and talk about music, Pete would be into that.

"Yeah. I always walk the track, I don't put up with organized sports bullshit."

"I liked soccer a lot. But . . . not anymore. Don't like it anymore." Pete bites down on his lip to shut himself up.

"Organized sports were invented to propagate fascism."

"Weren't they invented by the Greeks? They were pretty into democracy."

"Democracy for free men who owned property!"

Pete grins at him. "White men who owned property. Don't forget that."

"It's all so fucked up. But yeah, basketball? Fascist."

"I dunno about that, I think basketball is, like, a sop for the black man, you know? Plus like gladiators, right?

"Isn't that football?"

"That too, right? I see what you're saying about fascism. Keep talking, I'm hearing you."

That turns out to be the magic words, because Gabe has a lot to say about fascism and the way people vote fascists into power. Pete watches Gabe's face and hands while he talks, how Gabe gets really into what he's saying. He flings his hand out and hits Pete in the chest at one point and Pete's not even scared, doesn't even flinch. He thinks maybe Gabe is the kind of person who cries during animal shelter commercials and doesn't kill bugs in the house. That's what he sounds like anyway. The kind of person who cares about shit.

"So. Yeah." Gabe finally stops for a breath. "By the way, all of this is null and void when the Uruguayan national team is playing."

Pete grins happily. "So you're really into Uruguay, huh? My mom's family is from Jamaica, but I don't know anything about it."

"I want to go back there so fucking bad."

"You like it there? It's nice?"

"It's awesome. It's . . . it's just . . . yeah, I love it there."

"I can't imagine, like . . ." Pete looks away. "Being happy someplace."

"Chicago isn't like that for you?"

"No place is like that," mumbles Pete. "Everywhere I go, stuff is fucked up."

"Oh. That sucks."

Pete flushes. "It's just the way life is. Tell me -- tell me more about Uruguay, okay?"

Gabe tells him about the beaches, and Montevideo, and the mountains, and how it just makes his chest ache how much he wants to go back.

Pete wants to go with him. Is it weird to say that to someone you've known for 24 hours? He says, "I'd like to go there someday," looking away from Gabe.

"Graduation trip."

"If I don't get --" Pete cuts himself off. If he doesn't get sent away again. "Yeah, yeah, if we can."

"Cool. We could go to the beach and just goof around all day! It would be so awesome."

Why is Gabe being so nice? Pete is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when class is over and they're done walking around, Gabe walks him to his lit class before going to bio, keeps grinning at him. He likes Pete. He doesn't hate Pete. It's . . . weird. Pete isn't used to people liking him, or wanting to be around him, be his friend. Even on the soccer team last year, Pete was the weird one, the outcast. Not really a jock, but not cool enough to be a scary weirdo dressed in black. Just the one who was always fighting, always getting his ass kicked, always getting in trouble. His parents used to ask him, "Peter, why can't you make friends?" and Pete never knew how to answer them.

And now he doesn't even want to tell them. Partially because they . . . they'll want to know why. Or they'll feel so fucking smug that they were right about moving to Jersey and Pete still misses Chicago.

And if they call Gabe's dad . . . they'll tell Gabe's dad how bad he is, and then not only will he not get to go, but he won't have a friend anymore either.

It'll be better, Pete decides, to just tell Gabe that his parents said no, and keep Gabe a secret. His secret. A nice secret for once.

That night, though, Mom comes in before he can hide the biography of Einstein, and she asks if he stole it. Before he can even answer, she's grabbed it away from him and found the note from Gabe.

It says, "GABE SAPORTA (DIEGO IS MY DAD)" across the top.

"Did you steal this from the Saportas?" demands Mom. "Who is that?"

"I didn't steal it. Gabe loaned it to me. He's in two of my classes." Pete wraps his arms around himself. It's hard to remember not to "look sullen." Fuck. He hates this. "He's a nice guy."

"Peter, why would someone loan you an expensive hardcover book after knowing you for two days?" asks Mom. "Please don't lie to me."

"I'm not lying, Mommy. He's really nice and he thought I would think this book is interesting."

Mom frowns at him. "Peter. And he gave you his phone number?"

"Yes. He . . . he wanted me to come over and hang out, actually, but I knew you and Dad wouldn't want me to, so I just took the number and said thanks and I wasn't going to bug you with it."

"He wants to be your friend and you weren't going to tell us?"

"You don't have to sound so surprised that anybody wants to be my friend."

"I'm not surprised he wants to be your friend, I'm surprised you would throw away friendship so easily," she snaps.

"Well, I knew you and Dad wouldn't let me go, so what's the point?"

"Don't be so damn childish, Pete, of course we'll let you go. We're not -- this is supposed to be a new start. For all of us. As a family. We'll want to talk to his father first, that's all. And clearly you knew that, since you got his phone number and his father's name!"

"Fine! So call him! But not until after 8."

"What happens at 8?"

"He gets home from work at 6:30 and then they eat dinner as a family. Then they watch a show on TV together. Gabe said not to call until 8."

"I'll call, then, and let you know what decision your father and I make after that." Mom sighs and rubs her eyes and Pete feels shitty. Great. His mom will talk to Diego and tell him how awful Pete is and Diego will tell Gabe not to talk to him anymore. Yay.

*

DIEGO

Diego is tired. Lawyers are hard, divorce is hard, and sometimes living in America is more trouble than it's worth. One of his patients told him that if he couldn't speak English without an accent, he shouldn't be a doctor, and then walked out without paying her copay. Diego's office manager, a wonderful woman he met through the PTA at Gabriel's school, brought him a bacon sandwich, promised not to tell his cardiologist or the rabbi, and charged the insurance company as though the patient had not shown up at the office.

But it had made for a long day, and the stranger on the phone who is insulting her own child is not helping.

When he refocuses on the conversation, Mrs. Wentz is saying, "Pete tries to be a good kid but gets into trouble, we'd understand if you don't want your son exposed to that."

Diego isn't entirely sure this isn't a problem with his English. "What kind of trouble exactly?"

"He was very wild. Snuck out of the house to go to concerts, broke curfew, cut classes. He was on the soccer team and would often get into fights with his teammates." Dale hesitates. "After rehabilitation, we were hoping moving to New Jersey would provide a fresh start. So far he's been . . . much better since we've been here. He seems to be settling in. And your son, of course, seems like such a good influence -- loaning Peter books, encouraging him to read."

"I'm sorry, what sort of rehabilitation?"

"Behavioral. It was a . . . a therapeutic camp for troubled kids. He was there for almost ninety days. They straightened him out, did what his father and I couldn't do. I work in the school system, it's embarrassing to admit I just had no clue what to do with him. But his guidance counselor suggested he'd benefit from the discipline."

"I . . . I see." Diego was not expecting this. "Well. I trust Gabriel's judgment and he seems very fond of your son already. Peter is welcome to come to the house."

"If you have trouble with Pete . . ." Mrs. Wentz trails off. "He's been much better, much more well-behaved, since then. But if he gives you any trouble, call me and I'll come get him right away. I hate to, to possibly bias you against him. He was such a wonderful child, very sweet, although mischievous. I'm still not sure what happened."

"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you, Mrs. Wentz. Goodbye." Diego hangs up and frowns at the phone. Then he calls out, "Gabriel, you may stop eavesdropping now."

Gabriel slips right into the study and doesn't even look embarrassed that he was clearly standing outside with his ear pressed to the door. That child. Diego loves him so much.

"So he can come over?" He bounces on his toes.

"Yes. Gabriel . . . I'm glad you're being kind to this boy."

Gabriel frowns. "You look pissed, though, Papi. He's nice, I swear, you'll like him."

"I'm concerned, not pissed."

Gabriel sits down on the chair across from his desk, curls his legs up. "What's the matter? Is his mom mean? He seems, like. Like almost scared of his parents sometimes, it's kind of weird, you know? Like they're totally normal but they scare him anyway or something."

"Not mean, no. She seemed a bit afraid of him, as well, actually."

"Afraid of Pete?" Gabriel laughs. "Oh my god, Papi, wait until you meet him, he's -- he's really not scary at all."

"I'm sure he isn't. But his behavior in Chicago scared his mother quite badly. Has he mentioned anything about a . . . a camp?"

"A camp? No, nothing. He . . . he said today that he wished he had a place like Uruguay." Gabriel swallows hard and Diego's heart twists. "He said he isn't happy anywhere, everything always . . . I don't know, Papi, sometimes he seems really far away and scared and like he . . . I don't know what I thought, though, you know? What did he do in Chicago? He said he just, he was on the soccer team and went to a lot of concerts."

"I trust you to make good decisions. Just keep being kind to him. I think he needs that."

"I can be nice to him. I like him a lot. He's . . . really cool." Gabriel reaches forward and taps his fingers on Diego's desk. "You still look unhappy, Papi. Sad. You're going to like Pete. He's -- you're going to like him. He wants to come with me to Uruguay, he said. Wants to see it. And he wants, he wants to have Shabbat with us, to come over and sit and think. He said we should think and talk about music."

"You're a good boy, Gabriel. You have a good heart." Diego smiles at him and then glances at the clock. "Have you finished your homework?"

Gabe rolls his eyes. "No, I'm never doing homework again. Yes, I finished before supper. Mostly."

"Go finish completely, please."

Diego is surprised and pleased when Gabe darts forward and kisses him on the cheek before he leaves the study. He must really like this boy. Diego cannot actually remember a time when Gabriel has been this excited about another person who was not his Abuela.

*

GABE

Gabe is so fucking excited to have Pete come over. He wakes up super early and cleans his room, dusts in all the corners and makes sure his T-shirts are hung up in the closet and organized by color. They have a good day at school, too, and talk about the Offspring selling out and being on the radio while they walk around the track during gym.

But once they get to Gabe's house, Pete changes. He gets quieter and quieter, looks more and more scared. They're just listening to the Pixies, it's not even creepy music. But he hunches in Gabe's desk chair and picks at his sneakers.

"Are you okay?" Gabe asks finally. "You look like you might throw up."

"Your dad is coming home soon, right?"

"Yeah, he should be here any time. He's not going to be mean to you or anything. My dad's really great."

"I just, I'm . . . he's not going to like me, I don't think. Parents . . . don't. And my mom probably told him. That I'm bad. I can't believe he even let me come over."

"You're not bad."

"You don't know."

"Well, what did you do that was so bad?"

"I was . . . I was bad. I broke the rules. All the time, I broke the rules. And made my parents angry."

"What kind of rules?"

Pete curls into himself even more, looks down, away from Gabe. "Just . . . rules. About. Hair. Clothes. When to change my sheets. School. I snuck out. Cut class. Got in trouble. Fights. The rest of the soccer team didn't like me too much. And . . . I'm bad," he says helplessly. "They kept saying it, since I was a baby, I've always been bad."

Gabe has no idea what to do with this. "How can a baby be bad? Dude, I think . . . I think maybe your parents are crazy? Like. Legitimately insane."

"No, no, they tried really hard with me, they said, they kept trying, they just didn't know what to do. They tried, I was just . . . so, so awful, I guess. I don't . . . I never felt like I was? But they said I was selfish. And then they -- I went -- um. There was a, a thing. That's how I knew they were right, because I couldn't even . . . I couldn't get anything right. Not ever. For, like, three months."

"Three months?" Gabe is so confused. "What did you do for three months?"

"It was to . . . rehabilitate me. A place. Like, I'm going to tell you this and you're never going to want to talk to me again, but I guess not telling is like lying?"

"You don't have to tell me shit," says Gabe, but it's like Pete isn't even there, isn't even in the room. He's somewhere else, far away.

"What kind of a place? Like a hospital?"

"Like a . . . a boot camp. Bad kid boot camp," Pete says softly. "Straighten me out. Teach me how to, to do what I'm told."

Gabe stares at him. "Dude, that is horrible."

"My parents, they . . . I needed it. They say I'm better now. Quiet. No trouble." Pete smiles bitterly. "Not yet, anyway. Still doing okay."

"You're quiet because you're, like, scared shitless they're going to send you back there, right?"

Pete nods, eyes wide. "They said they would. Again. If I don't . . . if New Jersey doesn't work. So I'm, I'm trying. To work hard. To be good."

"Dude, your parents should be punched in the crotch."

Pete shakes his head. "I can't get mad at them. If I get mad, they'll send me back. And I can't go back, I can't, it was so . . . I can't go back."

"You can be mad. Just, like, not show them you're mad. You can be mad in front of me. I won't tell anybody."

"You won't? And you don't . . . you don't want anything from me for it? I . . . people always want something. Trade."

"I want to be your friend."

"But I just told you all that stuff."

"I know. None of that sounds like your fault to me."

"I haven't had a friend in a long time. No one wanted, once I was sent away."

"Well . . . I do. Okay?"

"I -- I think I'd like that. I -- I like you, is that okay to say?" Pete grimaces. "I never was good at being normal. I don't think I'm ever gonna be now."

"It's cool." Gabe glances up as he hears the garage door opening. "My dad's home. Do you want to come say hi or stay here?"

"He . . . um . . . won't touch me?"

"Not if you don't want him to. Like, he'll probably offer to shake hands? But if you don't, he won't press you."

"Okay. Yeah, I want to meet him."

"C'mon." Gabe leads Pete downstairs. Papi is just coming in from the garage. "Papi, hey. This is my friend Pete. Pete, this is my dad, Diego Saporta."

Pete hangs back a little, so Gabe reaches out for his hand, and Pete takes it. Gabe breathes a little easier when Pete twines their fingers together -- like, okay, Pete's not going to run away. Gabe still has a friend.

"Hi," he says. "Nice to meet you. Um. Dr. Saporta. Hi."

"Hola," Papi says. He looks exhausted -- Gabe is actually kind of worried. "I'm glad you came by, Peter. Pete. Which do you prefer, Peter or Pete?"

"Either is fine. Pete. Pete is better."

"Pete it is." He offers his hand.

Pete lets go of Gabe's hand to shake Papi's hand, then grabs back onto it again.

"Hi," Pete says again.

"Nice to meet you. Gabriel, where's your brother? The table isn't set, it's his day, sí?"

Gabe tugs Pete around so he can hold his hand but not keep his hands behind his back, squeezes his fingers carefully. "I don't know, Papi, we were in my room listening to music." Gabe has never loved his dad more than when his eyes don't even flicker over to where his hand is linked with Pete's, even though he knows . . . he knows maybe his dad wants to look. And ask. "I can get him," Gabe offers. "You look tired. Do you just want to order pizza?"

"I'm very tired," Diego confirms. "Pizza would be wonderful. I'll go find Ricky, I want to ask him about his day. Please, make yourself comfortable, Pete, help yourself to anything in the kitchen."

Pete nods and Gabe squeezes his hand again. "See?" he says in a low voice, when Papi has gone to tell Ricky how disappointed he is that Ricky isn't participating in their family. "He likes you. He's nice. He'll hug you if you want sometime. He gives really good hugs. Like, tight and, like . . ." Gabe hesitates. "Safe."

"He seems safe." Pete doesn't sound like he believes that, though.

"Okay," says Gabe slowly. He bites his lip.

"Can I have some water?"

"Yeah, come on." Gabe tugs Pete through the house, careful not to walk too fast. He can tell Pete doesn't believe him that Papi is nice, but that's okay -- he'll learn while he and Gabe are friends how great Papi is, how safe. Papi would never have sent Pete away; Papi is going to love Pete, think he's great, and maybe it will help a little bit, help Pete not feel so fucking awful.

Gabe calls for pizza and watches Pete. He looks like he's going to run away any moment.

"You want to watch TV while we wait?" asks Gabe. There's a weird warm feeling inside him. He wants to hold Pete's hand again.

"Yeah. Yeah. TV is good."

Gabe feels like one of those Australian dogs, herding Pete into the living room, sitting him down in the corner of the couch and then sitting next to him. Not to trap him in against the arm rest, but to make sure he knows no one will sit next to him except Gabe.

What the fuck is Gabe supposed to do with all the stuff that Pete told him earlier? And there's more, Gabe thinks, more Pete didn't say, but Gabe almost doesn't even want to know.

He tosses the cable remote onto Pete's lap. "Anything you want," he says, "I'm easy."

Pete flips through the channels and finds a dumb movie -- even Gabe's seen it a hundred times. Gabe gets it, though; just comforting background noise.

"Sorry about all that shit I said upstairs," he says, staring at the screen. "I know you don't . . . want to know all that."

Gabe slides his hand between them, so that it's resting on top of the back of Pete's hand. "I'm glad you told me. I'm glad you trusted me. I'm -- I hate that it happened to you but I'm glad I can . . . I can. I just wish I could do something. Punch someone. I mean, I believe in nonviolence, but I just want to . . . to fix it for you. Or help. Or . . . I don't know."

"There's no way to fix it. I mean. It just . . . it is. I'm fucked up and they have to do stuff like that to try to fix me."

"No. Pete . . . that's backward. You're not. You're -- you're great." Gabe stares straight ahead. "They're the ones who are fucked up."

"I'm messed up in my head. Like. Actually, medically. I'm bipolar and I have this horrible insomnia. Ever since I was a baby. My parents always are like, do you know what it's like to have a baby who just screams and screams and can't sleep and has to be hospitalized, how scary that is, it's so scary, you scared us like that when you were brand-new, Pete."

"That doesn't -- Pete," Gabe says. He is so out of his depth. "That doesn't make you fucked up. Lots of people have shit wrong in their brains. I have ADD. Fucking -- the guy from Soul Coughing. And --" Kurt Cobain, but, uh, okay, maybe not the best example. "Abbie Hoffman, dude. So many people have shit in their brains that isn't, like, normal or whatever. But that doesn't make them fucked up, that doesn't . . . your parents shouldn't say shit like that to you. They should love you, they should help you."

"I don't do any of it on purpose, you know?"

"No, of course you don't." Gabe squeezes his hand.

"Anyway, dude," Gabe says after a long, weird silence, "I really like you. My dad is going to like you. You can -- you can come here whenever you want, stay here with us when you need to. It'll be cool, we'll just listen to music or watch TV until you feel better. Or, you know. Even if you don't ever feel better, we'll just . . . you know, we'll lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling and I won't ever fucking stop talking, just tell me to shut up if you need to, I know it's annoying."

"It's okay. You're smart. You say interesting things."

"You're definitely the only one who thinks so."

"Well, everybody else can just go fuck themselves." Pete jumps and looks around.

"What?"

"I hope your dad didn't hear me curse."

"He doesn't care." Gabe grins at him. "And that's how I feel about what you say, okay? Everyone else can just go fuck themselves."

Pete grins back and it's a weird cycle of grinning at each other until Pete gets all red and looks down, so Gabe has to look away too. He turns to the TV. "When you -- that first day. You weren't sick, right? That was . . . you were upset. That's going to happen again, right?"

"I have panic attacks. They happen a lot. You don't have to be nice to me during them, you can just ignore me until I'm done."

"N-no, no, that's not, I'm not going to do that. Should I hold your hand or, like, hug you? Or is it better not to touch you?"

Pete flinches a little. "Don't touch me. Please. Just, um. Talking to me is okay, but I probably won't answer. And . . . I don't know, keeping people from staring at me or yelling at me, I guess. But you don't have to. You can ignore me, it's really okay."

"I'm not going to ignore you." Gabe tries to keep the frustration out of his voice but is pretty sure he's not successful. "What the fuck is wrong with all the people you know, dude? That's bullshit."

Pete shrugs and looks at the TV again, but before Gabe can fight with him about the people he knows being assholes, Papi comes down the stairs, muttering to himself in Spanish. "Gabriel, did you order the pizza?"

Gabe twists around. "I did, Papi, it should be here soon. We're watching a movie, do you want to sit with us?"

"In a minute, thank you. I need to go check the mail, your brother is having some difficulty in meeting his responsibilities right now."

Gabe feels Pete tense up next to him.

"What are you gonna do?" asks Gabe, even though he knows what Papi is going to do. He wants Pete to know, though. He wants Pete to hear that Ricky isn't going to be locked in or sent away.

"No video games until he's taking care of his chores reliably. Can you unplug the machine, please?"

Gabe nods. "No problem. You want me to put it in your closet so he can't plug it in when we're not home?"

"Yes, please." Papi goes outside to get the mail and Pete blinks at Gabe in confusion, huddling smaller on the couch.

Gabe slings his arm over the back of the couch, not touching Pete, but there. There.

"You okay?" he asks Pete.

"I . . . yeah. Yeah. He's not grounded or anything?"

"Well, he does stuff. He can't just stay home all day and feel bad. But no video games, that's kind of terrible for him. I don't give a shit about video games, so if I don't do my chores, I get -- my dad tells me he's disappointed I'm not dealing with my responsibilities or participating in our family, and then sometimes I have to, like, sit and think about why. And then usually I just get my internet taken away for, like, a few days."

"What if it's just a mistake? Like, you didn't mean not to do your chores, you just forgot?"

"Just the lecture, usually? But, I mean, I don't forget, I just get lazy sometimes. And my dad, you know, he works really hard, he does a lot, me being lazy is a shitty reason to not, like, help him. Family is really important to him and me -- and Ricky, I think, but he's young, I don't know if he's thought about it."

Pete frowns. "Why? I mean, why is family really important?"

"Because . . . I love them. We take care of each other. We support each other. Like a gang, you know? We like each other a lot, that helps."

"But you didn't choose them. It's just, like, random chance that you were born with these people. Is it . . . is it really awful if you don't like them?"

"No. I mean, my . . ." Gabe takes a deep breath. "My mom didn't like us? And, like, that sucked for us. A lot. When she left. But she hurt us a lot on purpose on her way out. But it's better -- without her. Don't -- don't tell my dad I said that, though."

"I won't." Pete touches Gabe's hand carefully. "That sucks that she hurt you."

"But if she had just left, if she hadn't hurt us on purpose, it would have been fine. Some people don't belong together. That's why -- you know. That's why there are chosen families, right? People you get to pick. In case what you are born into doesn't work."

"I guess that makes sense." Pete's quiet for a minute, watching the movie. "Like I said, you're really smart."

"That's just what I've lived," Gabe says. He turns his hand to hold Pete's, threads their fingers together. He likes holding Pete's hand. He likes it. A lot. Too much, maybe. He's going to have to think about this, figure it out, but he's not sure he wants to. "It's okay to not like your family."

"I love them. I just don't like them. That kind of balances it out, right?"

"You don't have to love them either."

"I do, though."

"That's okay too. Whatever you feel, it's okay to feel it." That's what the family counselor Papi took them to when Mama first left said, anyway. Gabe hadn't believed it at the time, but it makes sense now -- looking at Pete, Gabe gets it.

Gabe squeezes Pete's hand. Then Pete squeezes back.

"I want to hug you," Gabe says, trying to sound casual, staring at the TV, not looking over at Pete. "If that freaks you out, I won't say it again. I don't want to freak you out. I know you don't want to be touched. I'm just saying. Like, one day? When we know each other better and you're ready? I want to hug you. Whenever I feel shitty, Papi hugs me and I feel better, and I want . . . I'm just saying."

Pete swallows so hard, Gabe can hear it. "One day. Yeah. Not yet. But at some point."

"Yeah? I can wait. I'm good at waiting. I wait for shit all the time." That's a fucking lie, Gabe has no patience at all.

Pete smiles at him and ducks his head.

The doorbell rings before Gabe can say anything else totally fucking foolish, so he grabs the pizza and tips the guy, and meets Pete and Papi and Ricky at the kitchen table. Pete is listening to Ricky and Papi argue with wide eyes, but he doesn't look scared or anything, just . . . interested. Like he's never seen two people fight while smiling at each other before.

Gabe has no problem picking up the slack -- he's, as his dad says sometimes, a talker. He talks about school and what they're reading and the wrong history they learn. And he cheerfully tells Ricky to shut up, and tells Papi he loves him, and sometimes touches Pete's leg or squeezes his hand.

When Pete goes to get another glass of water, Gabe leans toward his dad. "He's great, right?" He says.

"He seems very nice, yes. Shy. You're working very hard to make him feel comfortable, I can see."

He's not used to families getting along." Gabe looks into the kitchen for a second to see where he is. "Papi, I want -- I want to talk to you later. About him. I need you to tell me what to do."

"I will always talk to you when you need to talk, Gabriel. I can't promise I'll have answers, but I'm always here."

Gabe hears Pete coming back in and says, "Thanks, Papi, I don't know why I keep screwing up that one math problem."

*

PETE

Pete knows they must have been talking about him when he comes back in from the kitchen with more water for him and Gabe both, but Dr. Saporta smiles at him and ruffles Gabe's curly hair.

"Concentrate, mijo. And how are you settling in at school, Pete?"

"It's. It's . . . okay. No one bothers me." Pete sips his water. "Thank you for the book about Einstein."

"Are you enjoying it?"

"The book? Yeah, yeah, he is an interesting dude. Like, way easier to read about than the -- um. Camps."

"I imagine so. That's a very difficult subject to grapple with."

"It wasn't like I didn't know, it just . . . was really." Pete can feel himself sweating, his heart pounding, thinking about fences with barbed wire on them. "But Einstein, um, the book says he was influenced by some philosophy and stuff, so I thought I might go find that, you know? See what a guy like Einstein thinks is interesting. A -- a critique of reason? Something like that? Sounded, um, I like things that are, you know, about thinking." God, Pete, stop talking.

"Absolutely. Philosophy is a wonderful subject. I think learning about Einstein's influences would be very interesting. Have you been to the library? Not the school library, the community one?"

"No, it's -- my parents work, so it's bus to school and bus home, no stopping. Maybe . . ." Pete darts a look at Gabe. Actually going to the library sounds terrible, but if they brought their Walkmans and found a quiet place to sit and could just, like, read together and listen to music, it might be okay. "Maybe Gabe and I can go some time."

"He takes Ricky to the library on Wednesdays. If it's all right with your parents, it's all right with me if you join them."

"I -- really? They might want to talk to you again." Pete blushes. Dr. Saporta is so nice. Pete wonders what happens when he stops being nice.

"Of course. They have my number." Dr. Saporta glances at Ricky. "Clear the table, please? Then you can go back upstairs if you want."

"I don't get why Gabe gets to have friends come over on a school night," says Ricky mutinously. Pete feels himself stiffen up. But Dr. Saporta doesn't even raise his voice.

"Gabe has been doing well at school and taking care of all of his chores."

"Yeah," says Gabe. "If you did your chores, you too would know the awesome power of getting to have friends over and having a later curfew. And getting ice cream on the way to your friend's house." Gabe grins hopefully at his dad, who laughs.

"That was very smoothly done."

"Ice cream is good for growing men," Gabe wheedles, "lots of protein."

"Is Pete allowed to have ice cream in the evenings?"

Pete nods. "No caffeine. Anything else is okay. I like. Um. Vanilla."

"You can get any flavor you want," Ricky says, frowning at him, "and you choose vanilla? Are you a loser?"

Pete shrinks back in his chair and Gabe glares at Ricky. "Shut up, bro, everyone gets to like whatever they like. No one calls you a loser for liking raspberry-popcorn-poop flavors."

"Whatever," Ricky says, and he seems like he's starting to want to fight, but Dr. Saporta still doesn't yell. He just gives Ricky a very even look, and Ricky goes into the kitchen!

"Let me know what time you need to be home, Pete. I'll be in my office."

"Poop flavor," Pete says in an undertone to Gabe after Dr. Saporta leaves, and starts to giggle. "Poop ice cream, dude? You couldn't think of a better comeback?"

"I'm totally off my game. Good thing Papi was here to shut him down."

Pete has a million questions about their family but instead he says, "We should listen to, like, the Misfits, dude. Until I have to leave, I mean."

"Yeah! C'mon, I have some concert bootlegs, they're fucking amazing."

Pete is going to sit on Gabe's bed with him. He's going to. He's going to. He's going to. And he almost does, but at the last second, he slides off the bed and down to the floor. Just in case. Gabe's room is, like, preternaturally clean, like Gabe secretly isn't a teenage boy at all, and under his bed is empty. So if anything happens, Pete can hide there.

Gabe doesn't say anything, just stretches out on his stomach on the bed, keeping his head near Pete's. "I bought the bootlegs from this guy in New York. Oh man. We have to go up to the city. I'll take you to all the awesome music stores. It'll be great."

Gabe's breath is hot on Pete's skin and he smells like pizza, but it's . . . kind of nice. He doesn't move away. "Your dad lets you go into the city alone? I used to go to Chicago -- I mean, we didn't live in the city part. But I wasn't supposed to."

"Oh, yeah. We lived in the city until I was, like, twelve. I know everything about it."

"That sounds awesome. In Chicago, there were music stores where you could buy, like, mix tapes, you know? Not just CDs and stuff but cool mix tapes with new shit. Do you have that here?"

"Yeah, totally. You can find anything in New York."

Pete tilts his head back a little more, so his hair is pressed against Gabe's hair. "That's cool. Maybe if I can stay out of trouble for a few months, my parents will let me go with you."

"Totally. And we can go to shows."

"We've totally heard of Coney Island High and CBGB's in Chicago. That's the only thing I was excited about when my parents said we were moving here."

"There's all kinds of other venues, too. It's amazing, trust me. I'll take you to the best places."

"I know you will," says Pete. He doesn't say, "I trust you" but -- he does. Kind of. God, he's so fucking attached to Gabe already. It's going to suck when Gabe starts hating him, or hits him, or -- or wants stuff from him. Realizes they should be trading.

And Pete does get vanilla ice cream on the way home, and no one tries to take any without asking, and Gabe gives him a taste of pistachio without even asking for any vanilla in exchange. Pete feels so stupid for how normal the rules of the camp became, how he can't shake them, how he automatically takes a step behind Gabe when Gabe's dad comes near them outside the ice cream shop's bathroom. But Gabe and his dad don't say anything, even though Pete knows they have to notice. They're just -- they're just nice to him. And they don't want anything.

*

GABE

Gabe stares out the window on the way home from Pete's -- they dropped him at the driveway and watched him run inside before they left. He doesn't live that far from Gabe, a couple of miles. Gabe's pretty sure he can do it on his bike.

He feels like . . . he might as well get this over with. Say it. Face it. Be a man. Own it.

"You saw me holding his hand," he says to the window.

"He seemed to find it very comforting."

Gabe turns to look at his dad, his face highlighted in weird, monster ways from the streetlights.

"Yeah," says Gabe cautiously. "I, um. Like it too."

Gabe knows Papi is being careful with him when his voice is completely calm. "You do?"

"You didn't know? I thought . . ." Gabe leans his head against the window and shuts his eyes. He feels sick. "I thought it was really obvious."

Papi pulls the car over and puts it in park. "Gabriel, are you trying to tell me you're interested in Pete as more than a friend?"

"I don't know," Gabe says. He doesn't look over. If he opens his eyes, he's going to throw up. "I don't know. I just want to -- touch him. Hold his hand. All the time. And, and talk to him. Listen to him. Watch him. Protect him. Papi, I don't -- I don't think I've ever felt like this before, not about anyone, where it was. Was. Real."

"You have a kind and generous heart, Gabriel. I love that about you. I'm very proud of that part of you."

"But he's not a girl."

"No. He isn't."

Gabe listens to Papi breathe for a few minutes. Listens to his own heart beat in his ears.

"I don't want you to rush into anything. Be his friend, sí? Let . . . anything else take its time. Especially if you're not sure."

Gabe's eyes hurt but he opens them and looks over at his dad anyway. "Are you upset? I'm upset and I don't even know why."

"I'm not upset. No. I'm not sure what the correct thing is to say to you. I love you very much."

Gabe takes a shaky breath. Don't cry, doofus, he tells himself. "I love you too." Another breath. "Thanks, Papi."

"Gabriel." Papi leans across the car and pulls him into a hug.

"Sorry," Gabe whispers into Papi's collar. He's not sure if his dad hears him. He's not even sure what he's apologizing for.

"Don't be sorry. Don't ever be sorry for being yourself."

Gabe pulls away a little. "For the first time in a long time, Papi, I don't know who that is. Or, like, if this changes me."

"It doesn't."

"You don't think so? I don't feel the same inside."

"You're still the same person at heart. Maybe a new layer of paint, or a different flavor mixed into the rest, sí?"

Gabe squeezes Papi again and moves back into his seat. "Yeah. Yeah, maybe. I guess. I don't even -- I don't think he's interested. I'm just . . . I am going to be his friend. I just wanted to . . . tell you. And he -- he's been through a lot, Papi, the place his parents sent him. I don't even want to think about it. No wonder he hated reading about the concentration camps. That's really what I wanted to -- to talk to you about. How to . . . what I can do."

"What did he tell you?" Papi asks gently. He's watching Gabe, so Gabe has to look away, stare out the windshield while he repeats what Pete had told him -- about his parents, the camp, how scared he is of being sent back.

"How could they do that to him, Papi?" he finally asks. "It wasn't like he was hurting people or stealing things or -- he was just being normal, like a kid."

"He's the oldest child? Having your first child is . . . very frightening. The responsibility, not knowing what to do. I'm not saying they're right to send him away or tell him any of the things they've said. But I can't say I don't understand how frightening it would be to have a child who doesn't do what you expect, who does things you don't know how to deal with, and you have to come up with a new plan without any guidance. I wish they had found help for all of them. He seems very scared of . . . well, everything."

"I hate them," Gabe says fiercely. "They hurt him so bad. Like they didn't even care that he's a person."

"He's not, to them. He's their child. Some people believe there's a distinction."

"You don't. Right? You don't at all. You look at me and see a person. Ricky is a person -- kind of. You think Pete is a person. He's -- you wouldn't ever, right, Papi? Send him -- send me away or hurt me."

"Gabriel. I would never, ever send you or Ricky away. Ever. If I deliberately hurt you, I wouldn't be fit to be your father. I hope . . . I hope that you know that."
Gabe reaches out, touches Papi's hand on the steering wheel. "I know. I meant -- I meant I know you wouldn't. It wasn't really a question, Papi. You wouldn't ever."

"Absolutely not."

"I know. Not even if I -- if I'm different than you thought. I know."

"I'm very proud that you feel able to talk to me about it."

"I couldn't not. I -- I had to. To tell you."

"I'm glad you did." Papi reaches over and squeezes Gabe's shoulder. "Let's go home. Ricky is probably trying to build an escape ladder from his window by now."

"I think he thinks I hid the game system in the attic or something, I caught him trying to figure out how to open the attic door before we left." Gabe grins.

He feels so much better now that he's talked to Papi about everything. Less like he's going to puke and more like he can . . . like he can deal with this. He can get through it. Papi will help.

"He needs somewhere to put his energy. I'm just not sure what." Papi sighs. "Well, that's not your problem, mijo."

"He should run track or something," Gabe says. "I'm doing track instead of gym this semester. It sucks but it's kind of cool to just listen to music and walk around and be in and out of my head at the same time."

"I'll talk to him some more. I think we're going to be having nightly talks until we figure out what will make him feel better."

Gabe nods. "You think he wants to hang out with me more?" He makes a face. "Maybe we could, like, do something on Shabbat. Play a game or, like. I don't even know, what does Ricky do besides play video games?"

"We could play board games or card games as a family."

"I will kick your butt at Clue, Papi."

"Ha! We shall see about that. If Pete's parents will let him sleep over, he can come over occasionally on Shabbat. Not every week, I want to have just family time as well. But sometimes."

By the time Gabe and Pete graduate and he drags Pete to college with him, Pete will be there every Shabbat. Because he will be family. That's how it works, Gabe is pretty sure. Pete becomes family and they fold him in and take care of him. Papi will want that, Gabe thinks, as much as Gabe does, once he gets to know Pete better.

"That sounds good," Gabe says. "His parents will want to talk to you about that, too, I guess."

"That's fine. And Gabriel? They will probably want you to come over to their house, too. They'll see it as unfair if Pete's always visiting us and they never return the favor."

"How am I supposed to go there and be polite to them, knowing what they did to Pete? What they think is okay? I don't know if I can do that, Papi."

"If you do go over there, you will be polite to them, because you are a guest in their house."

Gabe frowns. "Aren't you mad? I'm so mad, Papi, I am -- I'm furious, and angry, and I want to hurt them."

"No, mijo, I'm not mad. I'm sad, for Pete, and for them, because they've lost part of their relationship with him, and they can't get that back. But I don't think they're evil or cruel. I think they were . . . led astray, I suppose. Confused, not malicious. So I'm not angry, just sad."

"I guess it sucks for them that he's not theirs anymore. He's never going to trust them again. They're not a family like we are, and that -- I'm glad that's not us."

"So am I. It would hurt me so badly if you couldn't trust me."

Gabe shakes his head as they pull into the driveway. "I love you, I trust you. I still tell you everything."

"I'm very glad." Papi parks the car. "Please keep talking to me about the things Pete tells you, all right? I like Pete, very much, but protecting you is my first priority."

"I don't . . . you don't need to protect me from him," Gabe says, a little confused. "He could never hurt me, he's so . . . scared."

"Protecting your heart from things that are harsh and could hurt you."

"Oh." Gabe stares up at their house. He's never been afraid to come home, never been scared to see Papi. Not even when the worst things have happened to their family. He can't even imagine it, not really. "I don't think you can really protect me like that, but I . . . it feels good that you want to try."

"Just know that you can talk to me about it. About anything."

"Thanks, Papi," says Gabe. Then the door to the house is flung open and Ricky storms out and the moment is broken.

But Gabe told his dad that he likes to hold Pete's hand and Papi was okay with it. And Gabe feels a lot better.

Gabe is so glad Pete wants to be friends. He didn't even realize how bad he wanted someone to listen to music and watch TV with until right now. The first time Pete sleeps over, it's like a fucking revelation -- suddenly Gabe gets why people have friends. Like, friends who aren't on the internet, who aren't just words in chat rooms. Those friends are awesome too -- that's how Gabe learned about riot grrrl -- but this is something totally different. And it's a different way of thinking, too. Like, instead of sleeping in the guest room, Gabe and Papi plan for Pete to sleep in Papi's study, on the couch. It's not a comfortable bed, but the door locks. From the inside.

When they show Pete, and tell him it's okay to lock the door, and Papi gives him the only key, Pete looks so lost.

"We like you," Gabe murmurs to him. "We want you to feel safe while you sleep."

Pete still looks confused, but when he and Gabe listen to music that night, he sits on the corner of Gabe's bed instead of in the desk chair. Like, he sits on Gabe's bed while Gabe is also sitting on it. And he takes a piece of string without even asking and ties the key to the study around his neck.

(And then he asks if Gabe's dad isn't worried about Pete stealing shit from him, but Papi told Gabe they have to go slow if they don't want to scare Pete, so Gabe refuses to get upset.)

Weeks go by, and Gabe and Pete read books together and talk about Jewish philosophy and it feels so good and comfortable. And Pete becomes more and more comfortable in the house, more comfortable with Gabe -- well.

Gabe doesn't plan it. It's just . . . they're lying on his bed, heads on separate pillows, listening to a tape of a tape of a tape of a Ramones bootleg and holding hands, and then they're asleep. Together. In the same space.

Gabe isn't sure what wakes him up -- he usually sleeps really hard. But he rolls over a little and his hand is caught on something and he yawns and blinks and there's Pete. Staring at him. His head on one of Gabe's pillows. Gabe blinks again. He's . . . he's had this dream before. He'd told Papi months ago, back in September, that he wasn't sure, but . . . but it's been months. Months of hanging out with Pete and holding his hand and liking him.

And he's had this dream.

*

PETE

Pete wakes up in bed next to Gabe and for a minute he just freezes completely, because how did this happen, how did he get here, it's not safe, why is he doing this?

But then he sees that Gabe is still asleep, just breathing slowly, his face all relaxed, and it is safe. It's . . . nice. Warm. And once he catches his breath he doesn't actually feel scared? Just . . . like maybe he should feel scared, but he doesn't. That's probably weird.

"Morning," Pete whispers. "Um. I fell asleep in here, I guess."

Gabe squeezes his hand. "Morning. You okay?"

"Yeah. I think so. Um. I have to pee? But I don't want to get up. This is . . . it's warm. It's nice."

Gabe grins. "You can pee and then come back. I swear I won't steal your pillow."

Pete sits up slowly, reluctantly. He doesn't want to get out of the bed, but he really needs to pee. Stupid, useless body.

He stops when he's about to open the door. "Is your dad going to be mad if he sees me coming out of your room?"

Gabe shakes his head. "Nope, he won't care." He watches Pete closely. "You know my dad, Pete."

"Right. Right. He doesn't . . . yeah." Pete manages a quick smile at Gabe and leaves the room. He's getting better at not defaulting right to camp-brain, but . . . but coming out of a room you're not supposed to be in with somebody else means things. It just does. Anybody who sees it will assume things, like that Pete is . . . is . . .

He hurries the last few steps to the bathroom and locks the door fast. Fuck. He's got a shrink now and he has meds for the panic attacks but this is first thing in the morning at somebody else's house and he is not doing this right now. He is not.

*

GABE

Gabe shuts his eyes and sneaks a sniff of Pete's pillow. He always smells the same, like hair gel and baby powder deodorant (Gabe has seen his deodorant, it's definitely for girls). Now Gabe's pillow smells like Pete.

He waits. And waits. And waits. And Pete doesn't come back into his room. Doesn't come back to him, to his bed. It feels really fucking terrible, and all Gabe can think is about how this must mean Pete really doesn't want him at all. How Gabe probably freaked him out by smiling at him first thing in the morning like it's normal for two guys to be in bed together. Whatever Papi says, Gabe knows it's not normal. He just can't help it. Yeah, he probably . . .

He probably freaked. Pete. Out. Shit.

He jumps out of bed -- he's still in jeans and a T-shirt from last night, god -- and goes down the hall to the bathroom he shares with Ricky, but Pete's not there. So he tries the bathroom in the guest bedroom, knocks on the door.

"Pete?"

"J-just a minute. Just a minute. I'll be right out."

"You don't have to come out. I just wanted to make sure -- are you okay? Do you need your bag?" The bag with pills in it is in Gabe's room, he forgot to grab it. This isn't the first time Pete's been panicking at Gabe's house, but it's the first time it's Gabe's actual own fault.

"I'm sorry." Pete sounds like he's crying.

"No sorries," Gabe says sternly. "Do you want your pills? Or me to come in? Or me to stay out here and keep talking?"

"I need my stupid pills."

"I'll get them. Do you . . . do you want my dad?"

"No! No. No no no."

"Okay! Pete, it's okay, I'll be right back." Gabe dashes to his room and frantically goes through Pete's bag, the pocket with the zipper, finds the little orange bottle of the anti-anxiety meds Pete takes.

Gabe is freaking out. Pete's never locked himself away like this before. And it's Gabe's fault. For being weird and gross and awful and liking Pete in his bed and holding his hand. Gabe's fault. Gabe did this to Pete. Just like all the other people who have done this to Pete. Gabe's like everyone else.

He gets back to the bathroom and tries to keep his voice even when he says, "Can you open the door so I can give these to you? I don't think one will go under the door because of the carpet." He thinks he manages it, even though he feels . . . fucking devastated.

"I'm sorry I'm freaking you out."

"It's okay. We're f-friends." Gabe's throat closes.

"You're my best friend." Pete sobs on the last word, like he can't help it.

Gabe's throat hurts. His chest. Everything hurts. "Mine, too," he says, and rests his head on the door. "Let me in, Pete."

"Gabriel, what's going on?" Papi's standing in the guest-room doorway. "What's happened?"

Gabe looks at the door and back at Papi. "Pete's having a panic attack," he says in Spanish. "He won't open the door. He's upset. I . . . I think I screwed up."

"I doubt it's your fault," Papi answers. "Other people hurt him, not you." Papi walks over to the door. "Pete? Gabe and I are going to go down to the kitchen and make breakfast. We'll leave your pills right here outside the door. Please take the proper dose and come down and join us when you're ready."

"Papi, I should stay with him."

"He needs a bit of space to catch his breath, I think. We'll make pancakes, all right? With chocolate chips."

"Pete," Gabe says to the door, "I'm going with Papi, okay? We're gonna make pancakes. Everything is okay."

"I just need a minute. Th-thank you."

Papi has to drag Gabe away, pull him down the stairs. Gabe sits at the breakfast bar with his head in his hands and watches Papi make pancakes. He can't even find it in himself to be annoyed when Papi doesn't wash the egg first, or count the chocolate chips so each pancake gets the right amount. Papi doesn't even measure the milk, and Gabe is pretty sure he's doing it to get Gabe to say something, but he, he can't. He can't, because he hurt Pete.

"Tell me what happened, Gabriel," Papi says softly.

"He woke up and didn't want to get out of bed but I told him to just go and he could come back but he never came back." Gabe puts his forehead down on the table. "I hurt him. I made him . . . be scared."

"Back up a little, please." Papi's voice is so calm. "You both slept in the guest room?"

"He slept in my room. We didn't . . . we didn't do anything," Gabe says sharply. "Just sleep. We were listening to the Ramones and fell asleep. In clothes."

"All right. He just had to go to the bathroom? He didn't seem upset when he woke up?"

"We were holding hands. He just had to pee. He was supposed to come right back. He said it was warm. That it was nice."

"That doesn't sound like you hurt him, does it?"

"He must have . . . must have realized. Once he left. That it was, that I'm weird."

"You're not weird, mijo. I doubt that's why he panicked, very much." Papi sighs and pours the batter. "He cares for you very deeply. It's written on his face every time he looks at you."

Gabe shakes his head, but Papi's back is to him. "I think he -- he panicked because he knows. Because he knows about me. And, and he doesn't know how to tell me no. He said I'm his best friend, maybe he, he thinks he'll lose me if he says no." Gabe's eyes prickle. Shit. "Maybe he thinks this has to be our, our, what he used to say about the camp. It's our trade."

"Then you explain to him that he's mistaken, that you would never, ever ask him to do something he doesn't want to do freely."

Gabe puts his head down on the breakfast bar. "I'd never ask him to do anything at all," he mumbles.

"Gabriel, you're a good person," he says finally. "I trust you to make good decisions."

"What if I make a bad decision? What if I hurt him more and think I'm not? What if I'm just like them?"

"You're not," Papi says immediately. "Would I trust you so much if you were?"

"N-no. No, you wouldn't. Not at all." Gabe drags in a breath. "I think the pancakes are burning."

Papi curses -- curses! -- and takes the pan off the stove. "All right, we'll go out for breakfast."

Pete comes into the kitchen, arms wrapped around himself. HIs eyes are still red and puffy but he looks like washed his face. Maybe his pills are sort of working? Starting to, at least. Gabe doesn't really get how they work, and Papi's medical books weren't very helpful.

"Hey."

"Pete." Gabe bites his lip. Be normal, Gabriel, he says to himself. "Papi ruined the pancakes but he didn't wash the egg anyway so we're going out for breakfast. Diner, right, Papi?"

"Of course, the diner. Let me go get your brother. Pete, please help yourself to water or juice or tea if you'd like."

Gabe really wants to change clothes, actually, but there's no way he's leaving Pete. Once Papi is out of the room, he -- he wants to ask, wants to . . .

It's so stupid, he knows he shouldn't. But he has to know.

"Did I hurt you?" he asks Pete in a low voice.

Pete blinks at him. "What?"

"Did I hurt you? Or make you -- uncomfortable? I know it's not -- not normal. I didn't ever mean to . . ." Gabe stops. Pete just looks confused.

"You didn't touch me. You let me sleep there with you and you didn't touch me. It was just . . . warm. Nice."

"I, um. I won't ever touch you," Gabe says quickly. "You can touch me if you want -- hug me, hold my hand, whatever you need. I won't, though. I won't hurt you. Not ever, Pete. Best friends."

"I like it when we hold hands. Do you . . . not like it?"

"I like it. A lot." Gabe wonders what Pete hears when he says it. Gabe hears, "I'M GAY!!!!!" in, like, neon. Whatever neon sounds like.

"Okay. You can do that, then. Holding hands is . . . is good. Safe." Pete rubs his eyes. "Is your dad mad?"

Gabe slides off the stool and goes over to Pete. Reaches out and takes one of Pete's hands. Holds it. Repeats in his head, Best friends, best friends.

"Not mad. Worried."

"It's really dumb. Why I panicked. Like . . . so dumb."

"You don't have to tell me. Or him. You don't ever have to say. We still like you."

"I made you feel bad, though."

"Worried. Worried that I had . . . had done something. You have to tell me. When I do stuff you don't like or if I make you feel . . . feel uncomfortable."

"You never make me feel uncomfortable."

This actually makes Gabe feel worse. He is managing to keep his secret from Pete. He's lying to Pete. He's getting more okay with this, more okay with who he is -- and biographies and novels about gay people keep showing up in his room and on Papi's desk, not subtle at all -- but he doesn't think he can say it out loud to Pete, even if it means not keeping it a secret, not lying to Pete.

"I . . . good," he manages.

Pete rests his head on Gabe's shoulder. "I feel really safe with you."

Gabe wants to tell him, You shouldn't because I think I want to kiss you, but instead he says, "Good. Good. You can . . . you can tell me, if you want. What happened. It will be okay. I won't tell anyone. Even Papi, if you don't want me to."

Pete sighs a little. "If somebody saw me coming out of your room first thing in the morning they might think I was . . . up for grabs."

Gabe scowls. "I would kill them," he says flatly. "No one gets to touch you ever again."

That . . . might have been the wrong thing to say, though, because Pete lifts his head off Gabe's shoulder. Shit.

"You would do that?"

Gabe steps back to look at his face, keeps holding tightly to Pete's hand. "Does that scare you?"

"No. It's . . . it's . . . I kind of like it."

"Good," Gabe finally says. Pete's face is so -- so open. Gabe wonders if he knows. "No one is ever going to get to -- no one, Pete. You get to pick who touches you, and if someone doesn't let you pick, it doesn't matter where we are. I'll -- I won't let it happen."

"I wish I'd known you before."

"You know me now."

Gabe loves the way Pete is looking at him, his face open, eyes wide, like he's breathless and hopeful, like Gabe is the world, like Gabe could be . . .

Then Papi clears his throat.

Pete goes to step away from him, but Gabe slides his arm around Pete's shoulders, holding him close. Gabe lifts his chin.

"Is Ricky ready, Papi? I really need pancakes."

"He's getting dressed right now. Pete? Do you feel a little better?"

"Yeah. I do." Pete shivers next to Gabe, though.

"Hey. Pete. Hey." Gabe pulls him closer, into a hug. They tried this Pete's way, for months and months, and it didn't work. Maybe Gabe's way will help. "I can feel you freaking out. You're okay. You're safe here. You're safe with me and Papi."

"Right. Yeah. Your dad . . . your dad doesn't want to hurt me."

Gabe hears Papi hiss behind him, but just says, "That's right," and rubs his hand over Pete's back. "Papi is going to protect you like he protects me and Ricky. No hurting."

"I'm sorry. The pills make me a little . . . I'm saying too much. You don't want to hear my shit."

"Best friends," Gabe reminds him. "You can tell me."

But before Pete can say anything, Ricky comes clattering down the stairs like a herd of ponies and they go off to the diner. Gabe holds Pete's hand under the table and eats with one hand, their thighs pressed together. This is more touching than ever before from Pete -- like suddenly Gabe is a normal part of his space, like a blanket or a teddy bear.

Gabe can't stop thinking about how sad Papi looks, though, not long enough to really enjoy it. While Ricky is explaining to Pete the intricacies of some stupid video game and Pete is drinking his way steadily through an entire carafe of coffee, Gabe presses his sneaker against Papi's shoe.

"Papi," he says in a low voice, "what's wrong?"

"We'll talk about it later, Gabriel. Finish your breakfast, sí?"

Gabe frowns, and can't stop looking up at Papi every few minutes, how sad and tired he looks, how his eyes are red. Like something happened. Like maybe he finally realized this is real for Gabe, Pete is real for him, and wishes Gabe would be with a girl.

But when Gabe thinks that, something clicks inside him, like all of a sudden a lock opened and Gabe is in love with him. It's real.

Pete bumps his shoulder against Gabe's. "What's up? You okay?"

Gabe beams at him, can't help it. Even if he never gets to kiss Pete, even if he never gets to hug him again, even if they never sleep in the same bed and all they do is listen to music and hold hands and talk about philosophy . . . Gabe loves him.

"I'm great."

"Cool." Pete giggles and finishes his coffee. "Thank you for breakfast, Dr. Saporta."

"Any time, Pete, you know that. If Gabriel had his way, you'd sleep over every night, I think." Papi smiles gently at Pete while Gabe flushes. "We'd love to have you over more often if your parents don't mind."

"They don't want me to take advantage of your generosity."

"Really you are doing us the favor." Papi sips his coffee. "When you are here, Ricky and Gabriel fight less, and we have wonderful mealtime conversations."

"It's because Pete's less stupid than Gabe," Ricky says.

"Kiss my butt, Ricky."

"Your dad is smarter than both of you," Pete says, and smiles at Papi.

Papi smiles back. "Perhaps it would help if we all had a meal together. Your parents, your brother and sister, Gabriel and Ricky and me. Would you be all right with me suggesting that to your parents?"

Gabe chokes on his last bite of pancake. Dinner with all of them? Pete's parents and his siblings and Ricky and Papi?

"I'd like to meet your parents," Papi continues. "And maybe they'll be more comfortable with us when they meet us. They've only met Gabriel once or twice, they've never met me . . . I think it could be nice for everyone."

And Gabe will get to see if Pete's parents are still hurting him, even now.

*

DIEGO

Diego locks himself in his study when they get home, and calls Pete's parents to ask them if they'd like to meet up at a restaurant. The sooner the better, he thinks -- tonight. Family supper. Pete's face so far today has been an open wound -- except when he looks at Gabriel. Gazes at him adoringly, trustingly. Diego wants to meet face to face the people who hurt this boy, who keep hurting this boy, this small, scared boy.

Gabriel knocks on the study door and opens it at the same time. "Papi? May I come in?"

"Of course, Gabriel. Where's Pete?"

"He fell asleep, actually. What did his parents say?"

"Tonight we'll meet up at a restaurant -- yes, it has vegetarian food, we're just going to China Panda on the other side of the development. And they'll bring Pete's clothes for school tomorrow, he can stay over again tonight if he wants to. I assumed he wanted to."

"Wow. I didn't think they would agree to that."

"I think Pete has not been asking his parents every time he says he has." Diego rubs his eyes.

"You mean . . . you mean he doesn't want to spend so much time over here?"

"Gabriel. Do you believe that? I don't believe that. What I do believe is that he's afraid of his parents, afraid of asking for things. Of wanting."

Gabriel bites his lip. "Is that why you were so upset earlier? You think he's afraid of you too?"

"Did you hear him, mijo? He thought I would hurt him."

"He didn't really think it, though. Just when he was panicking. That's, like, not rational, you know?"

"I know. I know, and that is the only reason --" Diego rubs his eyes again. "I know you -- you care deeply for him, Gabriel. And he is very easy to care for, I have seen and felt this myself. I would like . . . if you would be all right, I would like our family to offer more to Pete. Not have him ask. Just give."

"What do you mean?"

"Which part do you not understand, Gabriel? You've spoken to me of this, your love for Pete. He clearly loves you too."

Gabriel's face. Diego is making a mistake, maybe? He can't tell. "Our family has much love. Let us give some to Pete, sí?"

"I mean . . . what else can we give him? Besides letting him come over here? Or do you mean letting him be here more? Or, like . . . taking him places with us, doing stuff besides hanging out at the house?"

"That's exactly what I'm talking about. Maybe he would like to come to shul some Friday night. Not to -- not to pray. To listen. Come over more during the week, stay several nights in a row. We can buy more pillows and blankets for your bed. You can fall asleep listening to music together more often."

"That would really be okay?"

"I am offering it to you, Gabriel. You do your chores. You do your homework. You read more now, because you read with Pete. You participate in our family in every way I ask of you. This will be good for you, too, don't you think?"

"I . . . it . . . it's really great to have him around. I feel less . . ." Gabriel waves his hands. "Like I'm going to explode."

"He is good for you, I have seen this." Diego nods, and carefully does not think about how he and his wife could never be that for each other. Ex-wife. "That is what a relationship is, Gabriel. You each bring to it, and you each get what you need."

Gabriel smiles. "You understand everything."

"I want the best for you, Gabriel. And for Pete as well. I believe he is good for our family and our family is good for him." Diego spreads his hands. "Whatever you end up . . . being. With him. You are both always welcome where I am, mijo, you know that, right?"

"Yeah. I . . . I know. Thank you, Papi. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"I hope you do not have to find out for a long time, mijo." Diego holds out his arms for a hug.

Gabe hugs him tight tight tight. As tight as he can. And Diego feels good; he has made the correct decision. All of the correct decisions. Right now, anyway.

Once Gabriel leaves, Diego is counting the moments until Pete knocks on the door, of course. These children are not so mysterious as they think they are.

"Dr. Saporta?"

"Pete," says Diego. "Did Gabriel tell you about tonight's plans?"

"Yeah. Yes. He did. That's . . . that's really nice of you."

"Everyone in our family likes you, Pete. It is no hardship to be nice to you. Do you want to come in and sit down?" Diego will happily set aside these patient charts.

Pete sits down carefully, at the edge of the chair. "I wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. I shouldn't have said that. I was . . . my meds make me a little . . . it implied things that aren't . . . nice, and I shouldn't have said it, and I'm sorry."

"I did not take any offense. I know you are speaking from your past experiences. That is what upsets me, mijo, that you have been hurt by people who were supposed to take care of you."

"You're not like them at all."

"I would hope not."

"I was scared that if you saw me coming out of Gabe's room in the morning you would think . . . you would think I was . . ." Pete waves his hands. "Available. That Gabe and I were doing . . . stuff."

Diego prays that he will be able to handle this with grace and compassion and in a way that helps instead of hurts.

"Pete," he says as gently as he can, "If I had seen you coming out of Gabriel's room this morning, I would think only good things unless you looked upset. Do you understand, mijo?"

"I think so?" Pete rubs his face. "I . . . I know it isn't like that here. This is the real world, it isn't like it was at camp. But sometimes stuff gets all . . . mixed up, in my head. Like the wires are crossed."

"That is how it seems. You were there for a long time. Long enough to make it seem, I'm sure, like it was real. But it was not, Pete. That is not what real life is like, I promise you. Not in this house."

"I promise I won't do that stuff with Gabe. I won't . . . make him dirty."

Diego rubs his chest. He was not expecting this when they decided to have children so long ago. Of course, he had not been expecting a child like Gabriel either.

"I think maybe you did not understand me, Pete. Anything that comes from a place of love -- that is not dirty. Anything that makes you and Gabriel feel good, that is not dirty. Anything you both want. Pete, mijo, that is not dirty. It is beautiful."

Pete ducks his head. "I don't think I can ever have anything like that be beautiful."

"You know Gabriel will never ask for anything, Pete. He will hold your hand until the end of time, I think. And be happy to do it."

Pete's quiet for a few minutes. "Did I make everything weirder instead of better?"

"Do you feel better?" Diego doesn't, not really. This isn't what he'd have chosen for Gabriel, not at all. But Pete is a lovely boy, and Diego can't not want for Gabriel what makes him so happy.

"Sort of. Except I think I made you feel worse."

Diego hesitates. He wonders if Pete will be able to tell if he lies. "I think you and Gabriel are good for each other," he says, keeping his eyes on Pete's. "And that makes me feel better. Knowing that you are a good, honest person makes me feel better."

"But I'm not what you wanted for him. Like. At all."

"What I want for him," Diego says carefully, "is to be happy and loved and fulfilled in relationships and life. I have not seen anything from you yet to suggest that will not be what you give him."

He does wonder if Pete has told Gabe, using words, that this is how he feels, the way he is telling Diego.

"We're best friends." Pete rubs his eyes again. "Don't . . . don't tell my parents any of this, please?"

"I will not," Diego assures him. "But, Pete . . . Pete, it is okay to be more than best friends and still not be ready for -- for. Physical intimacy in that way. You are only teenagers, sí? You have much time."

"I guess so." Pete smiles at him. "Thanks for listening to me. I should go back upstairs before Gabe wonders if I ran away."

Diego does not tell Pete that they all know Pete will never run away from Gabriel. "Go, go, let me work. We're leaving at a quarter to six to meet your parents and brother and sister, so make sure you're both ready."

"We will be. Thank you."

Diego listens carefully to the sounds of the house as Pete hurries off. Once their strange music goes on upstairs, he shuts his office door and sits down. He focuses on the patient charts, because to do otherwise would be to think of the way Pete had looked at Gabriel in the kitchen this morning. The way Gabriel has already appointed himself Pete's protector, and how nervous Pete had been. But he had leaned toward Gabriel almost constantly.

Diego just feels so bad for this boy, who's so obviously scared and uncomfortable all the time, who only smiles when he thinks nobody is looking at him but Gabriel. Who looks at Gabriel so hungrily when Gabriel isn't looking at him, like Gabriel is some kind of shelter.

There is nothing for Diego to do but parent them and protect them and hope they come through this loving each other more instead of hurting each other terribly.

*

GABE

The next day after school, Pete starts toward his bus, and Gabe reaches out for him. "Wait, Pete."

"I'll see you tomorrow," Pete says.

"But . . . you're not coming home with me again? Your parents like me. They liked my dad. They even liked my dumb brother. And it's Monday night, pizza night. You're not coming home for pizza night?"

Pete shrugs and looks down. "They do like you, yeah. And they're okay with me coming over. But they said I need to let you have family time and not try to push myself into your family."

"Come home with me," Gabe urges. "Papi will call them and explain to them how family works. Maybe they don't understand. Papi said tonight we can go buy you a blanket and pillows for my bed, so if we fall asleep again, it will be okay, you'll have your own stuff."

"I can't. They were really . . . really firm. Today I have to go home and stay with my brother and my sister and, like . . . help them with their homework and stuff and not act like I'm part of a different family."

Gabe frowns. "But you are part of our family. I don't understand."

"Just let me do what they say for a few days so they're satisfied and hopefully I can come over and stay all weekend."

"Sorry . . . sorry, I don't mean to. I don't want to make it harder for you. I . . ." Gabe glances around. No one is looking at them, but there are so many people lining up to get on the buses. He thinks if he tries to hold Pete's hand, Pete will . . . run away. Or something. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow. Or you could call me tonight, we could listen to, like, the same songs or something."

"Yeah? Maybe. I'll try. I . . . I'm sorry, I know I promised."

"No, it's cool." Gabe glances around again, grins at Pete. "I'll just miss you, is all."

"I'll . . . I'll miss you too. A lot."

Gabe bounces on his toes. "We'll figure something out," he promises. "We'll get to be together." That sounds so corny, but Pete grins at him.

"Yeah. Hopefully they'll get over it soon, you know?"

"If not, Papi will call them again. We'll work something out." Gabe looks over Pete's shoulder. "Your bus is going to leave."

"Shit." Pete runs for the bus, waving at Gabe as he goes. It's probably a good thing. If he stayed much longer, Gabe was going to do something dumb, like touch Pete in front of everybody, or lean on him.

One day, Gabe is going to forget, he thinks, and he's going to lean forward and press his mouth against Pete's. Where everyone can see. So everyone knows that Pete belongs to him, that he protects Pete. And then, he thinks, watching Pete get on the bus, waving back at him, Pete will run away and never come back.

It's not like everyone at school hasn't noticed that the two of them are joined at the hip. Gabe knows there are rumors going around already. But Gabe's filed under "weird kid" and Pete's filed under "scary weird kid."

Gabe actually thinks most of the rumors are kind of hilarious. People poke him during, like, bio and stuff and ask if it's true that Pete Wentz ate a live frog, and that Pete Wentz killed a man in Chicago, and Gabe says things like, "I think you should just leave him alone." Gabe knows that if he can just make it seem like Pete really is scary, everyone will leave Pete alone, and not fuck with him.

Gabe will make sure no one fucks with Pete.

*

DIEGO

Diego is so tired of the phone calls about Gabriel doing drugs. He has told them time and again to mark his chart that Gabriel has ADD, but no one seems to check the school records before calling. When he receives yet another call -- this time from Vice Principal Lumburg -- it takes him several moments to realize they are actually calling about Pete.

"Bad news?" repeats Diego. "What exactly has he done that's so bad? That you've seen and recorded personally, as school administrators, not rumors or hearsay."

"Dr. Saporta," Mr. Lumburg says patiently, "we don't need to see it for ourselves. Pete Wentz skips class and is ostracized by his fellow students. Except for your son. We're concerned that he may be influencing Gabe and . . ." Mr. Lumburg drops his voice. ". . . they have been seen . . . together."

"I haven't received any notices that Gabriel's grades have been going down since they've become friends. Am I not being kept informed? Or have his grades not changed?"

"Did you hear me, Dr. Saporta? They were seen in the music room holding hands. One of the students was very concerned and troubled by this. Your son's current grades are not the issue."

"His grades have gone up, have they not? A terrible influence indeed." Diego really hates it when people act like he's stupid. "That's the part of my son's life that concerns you: his academics. His friends and his influences are my concern. I'm aware of them and I'm supervising as I should. Was there any other gossip you wanted to share with me?"

"I'll be sure to keep you updated regarding Gabriel's grades and school performance," he says snippily. "I suppose if this is the influence he's seeing at home, we shouldn't be surprised by his behavior at school."

"I'll be sure to call the principal and make sure she knows we've had this conversation."

Diego is extremely upset. He needs to talk to Gabriel and find out if he and Pete are running into any actual trouble with the school administration, anything Gabriel hasn't been saying for whatever reason.

When Diego gets home that night he goes right upstairs and knocks on Gabriel's door. "Gabriel? May I come in? I need to speak with you."

Gabriel is lying on his bed, listening to even stranger music than usual. "What's up, Papi? My homework is done, all of it."

Diego comes into the room and pulls Gabriel 's chair away from his desk to sit down. "This isn't your usual type of music," he says, glancing at the stereo. "Am I wrong?"

Gabriel sits up, crosses his legs.

"No, it's a mix tape from Pete. I think it's for, like, actually falling asleep to. On purpose." Gabriel shrugs.

"Oh. Yes, there's less . . . shouting than your usual music. Fewer loud guitars."

"Papi, just tell me what I did. I can't even think of anything. I do all my homework, and I'm doing extra credit and --"

"You didn't do anything, Gabriel."

"Then why do you look pissed? Why are you talking about my music?"

"Has anyone said anything to you at school about your friendship with Pete?"

Gabriel rolls his eyes. He puts on a mocking New Jersey accent and says, "Gabe, is it true he murdered someone with a poker chip? Gabe, was Pete Wentz really in the mafia? Gabe, do you know he was in prison?" He rolls his eyes again. "They're dumb teenagers."

"Murdered someone? The Mafia? This is what people are saying?"

"Pete's kid brother and sister go to the public school with Jenny Rosenthal's cousin, and I don't know, Papi, it's pretty out of control. But it's dumb bulls -- uh, crap. And no one bothers him."

Diego sighs and runs his hand carefully over his hair. "None of the administrators have said anything to you?"

"My lit teacher thinks my extra credit reports are great," offers Gabriel. "She's really happy that Pete and I are working on Jewish philosophers together. She thinks we should think about looking at the Rutgers philosophy program if we're still interested when we go to college."

"That's wonderful." It is. Gabe being interested in something and connecting with a teacher is really, really wonderful. "What about your vice-principal?"

"Ugh, he's a jerk. He's always, like, lurking around corners and sh -- stuff. Trying to catch kids doing bad stuff, you know? And if he doesn't like you, he'll just make something up. 'Oh, I saw you drinking soda in the hallway' or whatever. But he mostly leaves me alone? Like, he probably knows I won't just be nice about it, you know? I'd make him call you and get you to the school."

"He called me today, at work. To warn me about you being friends with Pete."

"Isn't he, like, five months late with that?"

"Yes. He did say that you and Pete skip class and go to the music room together. Is that true?"

Gabriel looks away. "Sometimes. If Pete can't go to gym. But our gym teacher doesn't care. He doesn't mark us down or anything."

"Gabriel. I do not want you skipping classes. Even gym."

Gabriel stares down at his feet. "I'm sorry, Papi, but I can't say that I won't anymore. Because I will. I'm going to keep skipping when Pete needs to."

"Why does he need to skip gym?"

"The locker room. It's . . . some days he can't go in."

"I see." Diego rubs his eyes. He never wanted to have to deal with these sorts of problems. He never wanted his children to have to deal with these sorts of problems. "He can't have his parents call and arrange for him to be excused, of course."

"You know he won't do that. He thinks -- one thing, you know? Any one thing and that's it, they're going to send him back. I'm sorry, Papi, I am, I wish I could tell you I'll go to all my classes but I don't want to lie to you."

Diego stands up. "I need to think. We'll discuss this more after dinner."

"Papi." Gabriel looks up at him. "I am sorry. But I can't, do you -- I mean, do you at least understand? Even if you're mad?"

"I understand. You're loyal to Pete. You want to protect him."

Gabriel nods and looks away again. "Okay, Papi. Okay."

Diego goes downstairs and sits in his office, wondering what the hell he's supposed to do now. He can't let Gabriel get away with cutting classes, obviously. But he does understand why Gabriel doesn't want to leave Pete alone and vulnerable.

Perhaps Diego needs to call Pete's parents. Maybe it's time for him to get involved. He's been trying not to, as though Pete isn't any of his business. But Pete is his business now, isn't he? Gabe and Pete aren't just best friends -- they're the equivalent of dating. They're practically engaged -- as engaged as scared fifteen-year-old boys can be.

Diego is involved.

He has to be careful, though, because he doesn't want to get Pete in trouble with them or make them crack down on him.

He calls Mrs. Wentz -- Dale -- and asks about her day. She seems to be thrilled that he is a doctor, and watches very attentively when their families eat together, the way Pete is always happy to discuss philosophy and politics with him. She told him at the last dinner that she's never heard Pete speak that way to someone, so animated. That she's never seen Pete hug a stranger. Not in years.

"Dale, I'm actually calling to talk to you about something --"

"Oh?" she says. "Is everything all right with Gabe?"

"Oh, yes, I think so. I just wanted you to know that Mr. Lumburg told me that somehow or other some rumors have gone around the school about why Pete changed schools? Why he came to New Jersey? And it's all typical teenaged-boy nonsense, but I wanted you to know in case you do hear anything from them and need to make sure the truth is known."

Dale sighs heavily. "I'm sure Pete doesn't help matters any by refusing to make friends. He is such a difficult child, Diego."

"I don't think so. I think he's at a difficult age, and changing schools is hard."

"You're very kind to say so, but let's be real with each other, please. Pete is at your house almost more than he's at home, despite his father and I telling him to stop inserting himself into your family time. You know the trouble he can get into."

"I assure you again, it's not unwelcome at all, I enjoy having him here. He's very good for Gabriel."

Dale stifles a laugh. "Peter? Do we know the same child?"

"Gabriel's grades have improved since they became friends. He takes care of his chores and doesn't fight with his brother. Nothing's changed except Pete's influence in his life, so . . ."

"My Peter? Sullen, cranky, angry Peter? And Gabe's grades have improved? I don't . . . I'm not sure what to say, Diego, this is . . . not what I'm used to hearing from the parents of Peter's friends."

"I'm sorry to hear that. And I've never seen Peter be sullen, cranky, or angry."

"Peter is all three of those things constantly at home. I really am at the end of my . . ." She sighs into the phone. "I work with children all day, and yet I come home and can't do anything to get through to him. It sounds like you . . . have a rapport."

"Sometimes it's easier to connect to a new person than someone who's seen you at your most troubled, I suspect."

"And you truly don't mind all the time he spends with you and Gabe? I don't want him to be an imposition, Diego."

"I don't consider him an imposition at all, I assure you." Which is probably why he doesn't act like one.

"He's been asking to spend even more time with your son. I've been reluctant, I have to be honest. But it sounds like you . . . like him."

Diego tries to keep his temper. She sounds so bewildered, as though she cannot understand why anyone would like her kind, gentle, intelligent son.

"I do. He seems to . . . honestly, Dale, I can't say what it is, but there seems to be something he responds to very well here. Why not try it and see if it helps him to spend more time?"

"I -- I can agree to that. I can give permission for that. With a few conditions."

She sounds as though she might cry, but Diego cannot feel sorry for her. He cannot spare the energy. Protecting Pete and Gabriel must be his priority. It should be hers as well, but, he suspects, it is not. Or they think of protection very, very differently.

"Of course. Please tell me your boundaries?"

"Peter must be home -- here -- every Tuesday night for family dinner, and sleep here. If he's with you for more than three days in a row, please have him call us to check in. If his grades drop, we'll have to revisit this arrangement. And if at any point you need to send him home or -- or discipline him, please just tell me. Don't mince words."

"Of course. Absolutely. I . . . I'm not trying to take your son away, Dale, I hope you know that? I don't want to impose on you either."

"Oh, Diego." She sighs again, and sniffs. "He hasn't been mine for a long time. Maybe his whole life. If your family can bring out even a bit of goodness or happiness in him . . . I can't say no. Even when he's home, if he talks, every other word out of his mouth is Gabe's name. I'm not going to fight it."

This is possibly the most uncomfortable conversation Diego has ever had. "Can you put him on the phone?"

*

PETE

Pete picks up the phone frowning. He didn't do anything, he knows he didn't do anything, he's been upstairs all afternoon. "Hello?"

"Pete, niño, it's Diego. Dr. Saporta."

"Dr. Saporta. Hi. Is something wrong? Is Gabe okay?"

"Everything is fine. I just spoke with your mother, and I have some news I think you'll be pleased with. There are a few conditions, but she has given her permission for you to spend as much time here, with Gabriel, as you would like."

"She did? Really?" That doesn't make sense. Unless he thinks of it as she's finally gotten a chance to get rid of him. Then it sort of makes sense.

"She has noticed how happy you are with us, niño. She cares about you and wants the best for you, and believes that allowing you to be in more situations where you are happy is the best thing she can do for you right now. I agree. And, selfishly, I am looking forward to spending more time with you and having you here with us."

"She . . . noticed I was happy?" Pete knows he's repeating the stupidest and least-important things, but he can't seem to help it.

"Pete, everyone notices how happy you are when you're with Gabriel, and everyone notices how happy Gabriel is when he's with you. Your parents and I want the best for all of you, the most happiness, Pete, the most fulfilling lives."

"I . . . wow. Wow. Thanks, Dr. Saporta. I can't wait. Is Gabe excited?"

"I haven't told him yet. Would you like to tell him yourself? I think it will mean more coming from you."

"Yeah. Yeah. Right now?"

"If you like. And, Pete . . . will you think about calling me Diego? Or -- something that isn't Dr. Saporta? I appreciate your politeness, but we are past that now, I think, sí?"

"Diego." Pete says his name a couple of times in his flat accent; so different from New Jersey. So different from Diego's own. Diego just listens and lets him get a feel for it. "Thanks, Diego."

"Thank you, Pete. I'll get Gabriel. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to hear your voice."

But first, Diego has to take a moment to just . . . take a breath. He just invited Pete to join his family, admitted that he does have an investment in this boy, that he does care, that he does have this responsibility. And . . . it's a lot. But Diego cannot imagine what would happen if he hadn't done this, what Pete and Gabriel could do put in certain situations.

And yet they still haven't solved the problem of class-cutting. Damn it.

*

GABE

Gabe is curled up on his bed, trying to read but mostly just staring at the pages. Papi is mad at him, he and Pete might be in trouble, Pete's parents are probably going to find out about him cutting class, fuck. Everything's going to be messed up.

"Gabriel." Papi holds out the cordless. "Pete would like to speak to you. I believe we have worked out a partial solution."

"A solution to what, Papi?"

"Talk to Pete, mijo, and then you and I can have a conversation." Papi closes the door behind him, and Gabe frowns.

"Pete? Is everything okay?"

"I think -- I think your dad just asked me to come live with you?" Pete says.

"He . . . he what?"

"He said I should spend as much time with you as I want. At your house. Because -- because you and I are happy together and he and my parents just want us to be happy."

"As much time as we want." Gabe closes his eyes tightly. "Oh my god, Pete."

"I think your dad is magic. I can't -- he said my mom noticed I was happy with you. My mom. She -- she noticed I was happy. With you. Gabe."

"He is magic. He's . . . he's great. You can be here, Pete."

"I -- I can be at your house. Whenever I want. All the time, Gabe. All the time with you. You said -- you said you'd do it, do you remember? Months ago. I just didn't believe you. And then you did."

"I love you." Gabe did not mean to say that. It just . . . slipped out.

Pete gasps. "You. Me?"

"Is . . . is that okay?"

"Y-yes. Yes. I love you, too," Pete whispers.

Gabe grins so hard his face hurts. "You love me, too."

"I wish I was there right now. With you right now."

"Soon. So soon."

"Tomorrow. I'm coming home with you tomorrow. Is that okay? I know it's, um. Shabbat. Is it still okay, do you think?"

"Yeah. Yeah, it's fine. We'll . . . we'll do family Shabbat. Like you said you wanted."

"Family," Pete repeats quietly. He feels so stupid, but Gabe said -- Gabe said "I love you"-- Gabe said it first. Not like they're best friends. Or -- or not like they're just best friends. "I'm part of your family."

"Yes. You are, Pete."

"You're my family too."

"I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah. I -- um. I'm going to think about you all night. I love you," Pete says in a rush, and hangs up before Gabe can say anything back.

Gabe rolls around in his bed for a minute, freaking out in a good way. Then he runs downstairs to hug his dad and thank him over and over and over again.

"I'm still not happy about you cutting class," Papi says sternly, "but we will work together as a family to come to a solution. Even if it means I have to call the school every time Pete needs to skip gym and excuse you both."

"Okay. That's fine." Gabe can't stop smiling. "Does Pete get to sleep in my room? Or the guest room?"

"Gabriel . . ." Diego sighs. "I am going to be honest, mijo. If I thought you and Pete were going to have sex, I would say no -- he must sleep in his own room. But I don't think you are, sí? But this is something you and I will need to discuss. What men do."

"Papi! I can't . . . no, I can't talk about that with you."

"You do not get a choice. Just as when you were younger we had a conversation about masturbation, we will talk about this. Condoms. How to touch someone without hurting them." Papi reaches into his desk and pulls out The New Joy of Gay Sex, pushes it across the desk to Gabe. "You may read this instead if you promise to come to me with questions." Papi frowns at Gabe. "Are you having sex with Pete, mijo?"

"No! No. We . . . we just hold hands. We don't kiss or anything. Definitely not . . . not . . ." Gabe waves his hands at the book. "Not that."

"As I thought. In that case, he may sleep in your bed if he wants. The guest room or couch is also always open to him if he prefers. Put a sheet on the couch if he sleeps there, please. And --" Diego nudges the book closer to Gabe. "When you begin using this book, we will revisit this discussion, mijo."

"Oh god. Papi. I could . . . I could never do those things."

"Gabriel, sex is natural. When it's with someone you love, it's beautiful. It's normal to want . . . to touch the person you love."

"Pete doesn't like to be touched."

"I am talking about you now, Gabriel. Why do you say you could never do these things?"

"It would scare Pete. And . . . and it's messy. And I would do it wrong and either hurt him or embarrass myself."

"All sex is messy, Gabriel, but there are many kinds of sex. None of them have to hurt. Please, take the book. Read it. Think about it. As any father, I would much prefer if you never had sex at all and remained my small child forever -- but I would also rather have you prepared for what may come. Pete will not be scared of your touch forever -- even now he hugs, he holds your hand, he touches you quite a lot. Maybe you don't realize. There may come a time when he's ready for you to kiss him, Gabriel, and it won't be embarrassing. It will be wonderful."

Gabe swallows hard and takes the book. His face is burning. This is . . . this is really, really embarrassing. But it also means a lot that Papi sees him as somebody who could have sex someday. Papi sees him as a man. Or, if not quite a man, almost.

"I love you, mijo," Papi says quietly. "I know this is strange for you, and difficult, but please trust me. The things you want are normal. Everything you feel is normal. Whatever decisions you make, I will respect them, because I trust you. You are a good person. I am proud of you all the time."

"You're too good to me, Papi."

"Gabriel," sighs Papi. "Come here, mijo." He stands and opens his arms as he walks around the desk.

Gabe hurries into his arms and hugs him as tightly as he can.

*

DIEGO

Diego squeezes Gabriel. Ah, his son, his son. Nothing like what he had expected, but he wouldn't trade him for anything -- he's growing up to be such a good man, someone Diego can be proud to point to and say, "That is my son."

"I expect we'll be seeing Pete tomorrow for Shabbat?" he asks.

"Yeah. Yes. He'll be here. He's really excited."

"His mother set down some rules that I'm sure she'll tell him -- he must spend one night each week with them, and call every three days. And your grades must stay up, both of you. Easy rules, I think, sí? But he will be here the other six nights, I'm sure, so perhaps you would like to make room for his clothes in your room? Or clean out the dresser in the guest room for him. Whatever you think he'd like."

Gabriel nods. "I'll keep my grades up. I'll do my chores. It'll . . . it'll be really good, Papi, I swear."

"I know, Gabriel. I have no doubt in my mind." Diego catches Gabriel's arm as he turns to leave, and shoves the book at him. "Take the book, please."

"Right. The book. Yes." Gabe clutches it to his chest and flees

*

PETE

Pete's waiting for Gabe to get out of the shower when he finds the book. Everything feels terrible. The book is full of . . . it's . . . it's all dirty. It's all things that hurt. Pete would never . . . he could never. And how could Gabe do it to him?

But thinking about Gabe touching him makes Pete's belly burn and makes his stupid dick twitch. He hates his dick, and how it likes stuff without Pete's permission. And now it wants to touch Gabe, to do those things to him, hurt him . . .

Pete can't stop shaking. It's the first day of getting to be with Gabe as much as he wants and Pete is already ruining everything. He didn't even know he could have a panic attack and get hard at the same time.

When Gabe back into the room from his shower, running his fingers through his hair, he stops dead when he sees Pete holding the book. "Pete. Oh my god."

Pete can't stop shaking. "Y-you. You. You w-want to t-touch me?"

"My dad gave me that book, Pete. So I could know things for, like, the future. The theoretical future. I'm not ready to do anything like that now."

"The f-future? N-not with m-me?"

"I don't know. With you if you want to. Only if you want to. I won't make you do anything you don't want to do, Pete. I promise."

Pete is confused and it's making him even more upset. Because Gabe isn't saying he does want to touch Pete and it -- it hurts. Of course he doesn't, though. Pete is dirty. Ruined. Broken.

"You d-don't. Don't. Want t-to t-touch me."

"I do want to touch you. I do. But only when you want me to. I don't want to hurt you."

"You've n-never hurt m-me. Never." Pete pushes the book away and pulls his legs up to his chest. "You. You do w-want me. You want me."

Gabe takes the book and puts it behind the bookshelf. "I want to hold your hand and kiss you. I'm not ready for anything else."

Pete shuts his eyes and tries not to panic. Tries not to need his pills. Thoughts of Gabe touching him are all -- mixed up. With other things. Other people.

"And hugs," he gets out. "R-right? Hugs."

"Yes. Hugs, holding hands, kisses if you want to. Nothing else. Do you want your pills?"

Pete shakes his head and hides his face. "Maybe half of one," he mumbles. "I can't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. It's okay. I didn't mean to scare you. I should've hidden it better. I'm sorry." He grabs Pete's pills and breaks one in half. "Here. Here you go. Do you want me to leave for a few minutes? Or just talk to you?"

Pete dry-swallows the half-pill. Klonopin is so fucking bitter. Then he reaches out. "Stay," he says. "T-tell me. What you said last night. Say it again."

Gabe takes his hand and sits down next to him. "I love you, Pete."

Pete focuses on that. Gabe loves him. Gabe loves him. His mouth is bitter and he's all broken and it's fucking embarrassing and awful, but Gabe loves him. Gabe is holding his hand. Pete leans, leans, leans, until he's pressed against Gabe, leaning on Gabe, breathing in Gabe.

"I love you." Gabe rests his cheek against Pete's hair. "I won't do anything unless you ask me to."

"I'm all mixed up, I don't. I want -- I like when you touch me. But not like that. Like this. What if, um. What if you touch me like this more?"

"Like putting my arm around you?"

Pete nods. "But you have to. To say it. Okay? Every time. So I remember. Is that okay? That I need that?"

"Say that I love you?"

"Yeah. Yes." Pete turns his face, presses it against Gabe. He doesn't know what feels better -- how protected he feels pressed against Gabe like this, or the Klonopin slowly sinking into him, helping him calm down. He needs to stop thinking about that book, thinking about Gabe like that. This is what he needs to focus on. How good this feels. How comfortable. How safe.

"I love you." Gabe puts his arm around Pete. "I love you and I don't want to hurt you."

Pete lets go of his legs and puts his arm around Gabe's chest. All his weight is on Gabe, he thinks, but Gabe isn't moving. "Like this? Is this okay?"

"Yeah. That's definitely okay."

Pete keeps his eyes squeezed shut. "Can we lie down?"

Gabe lies back slowly, letting Pete move along with him. "You want the blanket over us?"

"Yes, please," Pete says softly. He stays curled up to Gabe. He smells like shower gel. It's so quiet in the house, like Pete's parents' house almost, but not at all, because Pete can count Gabe's breaths.

Gabe tugs the blanket up over them both. "Like a fort."

"A secret world." Pete feels so safe. "No one is going to hurt me as long as you're here. Right?"

"Right. I won't let them."

"I love you. I -- I love you. N-not like a best friend. Like a best friend, but -- but more, too. You . . . you know that? I want to make sure -- the kissing."

Gabe's heart beats so loud under Pete's ear.

"That's . . . yes. That's how I feel too. Pete. Really?"

"I can't, not yet. The kissing. But I promise. Some day. I will."

"I can wait. It's okay."

"You shouldn't have to."

"I don't mind."

"I mind." Pete turns more onto his side, more into Gabe. "You should have everything. Everything you want. You're amazing, you should have everything."

"I want you. As long as I have you, I have everything I want."

Pete doesn't know what to say to that. It's like Gabe doesn't even care that he's broken at all. Gabe hasn't ever cared. "You. You can have me forever."

Gabe hugs him closer. "Can you say it again, too?"

"I -- I love you. I love you. I'm yours, I love you." It gets easier the more Pete says it. Sounds more normal.

Gabe grins and giggles. "God, I love hearing it."

"I love you," Pete says, just to hear Gabe giggle again. Oh, god, that sound and the way it feels under Pete's body. "I love you. I love you." He turns his face into Gabe's neck and lets his mouth brush against Gabe's skin as he says it again. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Pete leans in and quickly kisses Gabe's neck, and then sits back. He feels . . . giddy. "I love you," he says. "I like --" He giggles himself. "I finally found something you'll trade."

Gabe stares at him for a minute, then starts giggling again, too. "I'll trade I-love-yous all the time."

"All the time," repeats Pete. "Promise."

***