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When in Doubt

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Tommy couldn't go to sleep.

It wasn't his fault. Nothing was ever his fault, really. It was all just his reaction to things.

And his current reaction was to the fact that his best friend, Chuckie Finster, was sleeping in his sleeping bag right next to him.

Of course, this wasn't an odd situation--not even close to odd, as far as odd situations go. Odd situations were them attempting to walk across the country while it was raining. Odd situations were encountering ghosts that had red eyes and were supposed to be dead hundreds of years ago (Tommy shuddered whenever he thought about Bean.)

Chuckie and Tommy had sleepovers all the time with each other. And with Phil and Lil and Dil and sometimes even Angelica and Susie. And even when they didn't have sleepovers with all of them, the whole group--when it was just the two of them, that wasn't odd either (Dil had gone to some overnight activity with the science fiction club he'd joined in high school. He refused to consider it science fiction.)

But it wasn't because it was odd that Tommy was having a reaction. It was because Tommy felt odd that made it so odd, and what was even odder was that he felt odd because Chuckie was sleeping next to him, Chuckie was sleeping next to him, Chuckie was sleeping next to him, and that Chuckie was sleeping next to him.

You get the drift?

Tommy rolled over and sighed. And tried to sleep.

--

Six hours later he was still awake.

He'd probably fallen asleep for little bouts over the night, but he couldn't remember--he felt tired, and he felt somewhat rested. Perhaps he felt rested because he felt so tired. Life was weird like that.

Chuckie sat up in his sleeping bag and put on his glasses and yawned. Tommy suddenly noticed that his best friend's eyes were blue. Which was weird because he'd always associated them with tiny little dots on his face framed by the purple glasses. But suddenly he was noticing that Chuckie's eyes were blue.

Were they always blue?

Geez, through about fourteen years of friendship and he was just noticing this now.

"Good morning, Tommy," said Chuckie cheerfully, crawling out of his sleeping bag and peeking into the kitchen. "Oh, I see your mom's making pancakes."

Tommy tried to say, "Morning," but all that came out was a large yawn. Chuckie didn't even notice. He stood up and walked into the kitchen like this was his own house. Though considering the amount of time he always spent here, all day every day for the past 365 x 14 days (Tommy wished he was good at math, but he wasn't), this might as well be his second house.

"Oh, hi Chuckie," he heard his mom say from the kitchen. "Is Tommy up yet?"

"Yeah, he is," came Chuckie's voice. "I don't know why he's not here." Then his face poked out from the kitchen and Chuckie said to him, "Tommy, breakfast's ready! You awake or what?"

"Yeah, I am." Tommy got up from his place on the couch and walked over to him, feeling in a daze. Then his vision cleared when he nearly crashed into the chair and Chuckie grabbed him quite firmly on the wrist.

"You spilled the pancakes," Chuckie informed him.

Tommy looked down. Oh. He did.

"Geez, Tommy, even I don't cause things to fall the moment I wake up," said Chuckie. "And you know how clumsy I am. Something the matter?"

"What? No, I'm fine," said Tommy, managing a smile.

"Are you sure, dear?" His mother, ever the intrusive one, cut into their conversation with a second stack of pancakes (which Tommy pointedly avoided being near.) "You have bags all under your eyes."

"Yeah, you do," said Chuckie.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." Tommy waved his hand at them. "You guys are imagining things." He sat at the table and nearly knocked over the syrup. Luckily, and strangely, Chuckie caught it.

--

Chuckie went back home (he had homework to do, apparently) soon after breakfast, and Tommy thought about using the time to catch up on the sleep he'd never gotten, except then he found that it was still hard to sleep because he still had things on his mind.

Why was it that when Chuckie was around, he couldn't sleep? And then when Chuckie wasn't, Tommy still couldn't sleep?

Life was weird like that.

Tommy lay in his bed, thinking. This wasn't the first time he'd felt odd around his best friend. He couldn't pinpoint the times, exactly, but it was a familiar feeling. He sort of wanted to compare it to the feeling he got around girls, except he couldn't because Chuckie wasn't a girl. Girls were nice and pretty and soft and had shiny, lovely-smelling long hair.

And Chuckie was... well, Chuckie.

Well, Chuckie was nice too. And for a guy, he wasn't bad-looking. Like, Tommy didn't exactly dig redheads, but after years of looking at Chuckie and getting used to how he looked, Chuckie's looks just looked so natural to him. Like there was nothing to hide. It might be because Chuckie didn't have anything to hide from Tommy and Tommy knew him so well. Which could very well be the reason why Tommy thought he was good-looking--

No, no, wait, scratch that. Chuckie wasn't really good-looking. He just wasn't bad-looking. There's a difference between being attractive and being... Chuckie.

And Chuckie wasn't hard, but he wasn't soft either. Girls were supposed to be the delicate ones and boys were supposed to be the rough ones, but Chuckie sort of fell somewhere in the middle. Chuckie was a boy, yeah, but he was also kind of a wimp (Tommy couldn't deny it) which made Tommy feel sometimes that he had to protect him. He'd had to protect him his whole life, but that was the root reason he felt that way anyway.

Chuckie's hair wasn't so bad either.

But he wasn't on the league with girls. No. No way. Chuckie was nowhere close to a girl. Tommy wouldn't even think of him that way. He shouldn't. He couldn't.

Because Tommy Pickles wasn't gay.

Right?

--

After a half an hour of tossing and turning on his bed, Tommy gave up and sat up in his bed. He was about to go out with his video camera and try to shoot some clips for his next video montage ("Getting Old and Growing Mold") when Dil entered the room and Tommy fell on his butt instead.

"Dil!" he said indignantly. "You could've at least knocked."

"Sorry, bro," said Dil, grinning and waving around a pair of strange looking goggles. "Dude, you should've gone with me last night, we stared at the stars and discussed alien theories and everything! It was awesome!"

"Wasn't it just science fiction club members only?"

"Oh, right."

Dil kicked a stray sock in Tommy's room and glanced around. "Where's Chuckie?"

Tommy's stomach did this weird flippy thing, which it was not supposed to do because it was almost like the weird flippy thing it did when he was around girls. Almost. "He went home."

"Already?" said Dil, surprised. "I thought you guys would like, play video games or watch a movie or something."

"Nah, he has homework. You know how high school is."

"Yeah, I guess," said Dil. "Hey, why do you have bags under your eyes?"

"I don't!" said Tommy, but just to make sure, he went to his dresser mirror. Yeah. He definitely had bags under his eyes. Big, huge ones.

"Did you and Chuckie spend all night partying with aliens?" asked Dil suspiciously. "You better not have. Or you better have, and you should tell me. Did you, did you, huh, did you?"

"We didn't," said Tommy, turning back to his brother. "We just watched TV and talked and ate and slept. That's it."

"Oh," said Dil. "Sounds boring. I'm glad I wasn't home."

He turned to leave, but before he could, Tommy suddenly impulsively grabbed his shoulder.

"Um... Dil, if you had feelings you knew you weren't supposed to have feelings with, like it could be against everything you knew and what everyone told you was right and wrong, or... something, what would you do?"

Dil stared at him. And Tommy mentally smacked himself, because since when did he go to his younger brother for romantic advice?

Actually, a better question would be, since when did anyone go to DIL for advice? Dil, of all people!

Tommy was surely losing his mind.

"You have feelings for me?"

And now Dil was. If he had one to begin with.

"Like, I don't really care if other siblings want to marry each other and everything, but bro, sorry." Dil raised his hands and shook his head. "No homo for me. Or incest, either."

"No, not you!" was all Tommy's brain could make him say.

"Oh." Dil wiped his forehead and breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

"It's, um." Tommy shuffled his feet. "Chuckie."

Dil stared at him some more. Then he said, "I don't know what to say, dude, but since you guys have been best friends before I was born, I think you should tell him. This isn't something you should just keep to yourself or tell anyone else because he's your best friend and he deserves to know. And I don't think what's important is if he's gay or if he likes you back or anything, but that your friendship has developed enough over the years that you'd trust him to be okay with who you are and who you like, even if it's himself. And I'm pretty happy for you, dude, for thinking that you're in love. You'll pull it through, T."

And then he walked away.

He just walked away.

Tommy shouted after him, "Since when were you this smart?"

--

Tommy wanted advice. No, he needed advice. Well he'd already gotten plenty of advice from his little brother, but since what Dil had said had been so painfully wise and made him feel like a dumbass (and also Tommy couldn't remember every single thing he said), Tommy wanted advice from someone else.

So he decided to get it from the person who knew Chuckie almost as well as him. Almost.

"Hi, Mr. Finster," said Tommy after ringing the Finster's doorbell.

"Oh, hi Tommy," said Mr. Finster. "You know you don't need to ring, but just to humor you, I can get Chuckie if you want."

"Actually it's not Chuckie I want to see," said Tommy (and knowing that this was also probably really weird for Mr. Finster since Chuckie'd been at his house just a few hours ago.) "It's Kimi."

"Oh, Kimi?" Mr. Finster looked surprised. "Okay then, I think she's in her room. You want me to get her?"

Tommy felt tempted to play along with Mr. Finster's playing along, but decided to spare him and said, "I can go there, thanks."

He went to Kimi's room, where Kimi was busy typing away at her computer that she didn't notice him. It took a few throat-clearings for her to turn around.

"Sorry I didn't see you," she said, spinning around in her chair. "I was typing up the article for the school newspaper."

"Sounds cool." Tommy sat down on her bed. He realized he was still holding the camera he had picked up from his house before Dil interrupted him. "Want me to get a few pictures or are you all good?"

"I'm good. And I'm almost done." Kimi smiled, and then closed her laptop. "Now, what's up? Boys usually don't just come into my room offering to get pictures for the newspaper."

"Yeah... it's not that." Tommy scratched his head. "It's..."

"Yes?"

"I, uh..."

"What?"

"I have a..."

"Spit it out!"

"Okay, okay!" Tommy put his head in his hands, not wanting to see her reaction. "It's Chuckie. I have feelings for Chuckie."

One second passed. Two seconds passed.

Tommy peeked out from between his fingers.

Kimi was staring at him. "You have feelings for Chuckie?" she said. "And you're telling... me? Why are you telling me?"

"Because you're the second closest person to him!" said Tommy.

"Second closest?"

"Oh please, we all know that best friends top the list of friends, family and everything," said Tommy with a roll of his eyes. "And if it makes you feel any better, I remember a long time ago Chuckie saying that you're the female version of me."

"I remember that," said Kimi fondly. Then, "So, wait, what does that have to do with anything?"

"What should I do about it?" Tommy burst exasperatedly.

Kimi looked thoughtful.

"Well," she said, her voice on the edge of sarcasm, "considering you're best friends and you never keep secrets from each other, I think you should tell him."

"Tell him?"

"Tell him."

"Tell him?"

"Tell him."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

Tommy exhaled deeply. Then he inhaled. Deeply.

"WHY CAN'T THERE BE AN EASIER WAY."

"Because," said Kimi, flinching at his raised voice and then rubbing a finger in her ear. "If it's a stranger, then you ask 'em out or ignore it. If it's a friend, then you ask 'em out or ignore it. But if it's a best friend, you can't ask 'em out 'cause if they say no then it puts a strain on the relationship forever, and if you ignore it it's bound to get stronger. So the best thing is to just tell him."

"But... but what if telling him causes our relationship to be on strain forever too?"

"It's not going to," said Kimi with the air of someone who was attempting to seem patient even though she was extremely, extremely impatient. "You know Chuckie. You know how understanding he is. He's your best friend. Hell, even if he wasn't your best friend, he'd still be caring and understanding and with him the best thing would be to tell him anyways, 'cause he's Chuckie. And you never know, he might like you back."

Tommy inhaled deeply.

"He's not going to like me back."

"You don't know that," said Kimi with a teasing smile.

Tommy exhaled deeply.

"HE'S NOT GAY."

"Neither are you," said Kimi. "But that didn't stop you from liking him, did it?"

--

After the oh-so enlightening visit to the Finster's house, Tommy went home. And hated that it was a Saturday.

He walked up to his garage and kicked it, then spent the next five minutes trying to figure out how to cure a swollen toe. (At age fifteen, you'd think he'd know.)

His thoughts immediately went to Chuckie. And how he felt like Chuckie was always with him when he wasn't there. And how he could always hear Chuckie's voice in situations when he wasn't around. And how Chuckie just seemed to be a part of him. Which was both nice and very creepy.

Chuckie was like a little voice in his head that he'd been born with. (Which also sounded nice and very, very creepy.)

He was considering going inside and doing some sentimental girly things that he'd never admit to doing anyone, ever (which included looking at little pictures of him and Chuckie and crying, and looking at recent pictures of Chuckie and gawking), when Angelica came up to his house. Because Angelica liked ruining opportunities like that.

"Hey, Pickles," she said to him (which he never understood because she had the same last name.) "You know if your brother's home? I need to speak with him about this chapstick he sold me the other day."

"Was there something wrong with it? I'm sorry." Tommy leaned close and tried to see if there was anything wrong with Angelica's lips, but nothing abounded.

"No, don't be ridiculous!" Angelica laughed. Well, more like a cackle, but Tommy supposed it was a laugh. "The chapstick was amazing, it made me feel like my lips had gone straight to heaven!"

"Because they died?"

"Your brother's chapstick was genius, okay? Now do you know if he's home?"

"Hey, Angelica," said Tommy suddenly, and then knowing that he was going to regret this in a moment. "Have you ever considered having feelings for Chuckie?"

Angelica stared.

Then laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed.

She laughed so hard she fell down and couldn't get back up.

She laughed so hard she started crying.

She laughed so hard she started crying because her stomach hurt from laughing.

She laughed so hard that she nearly gagged (and Tommy sidestepped from her.)

She laughed so hard that she looked like she'd taken a bath in mud and gelled her hair in five hundred different directions because she was rolling around so much.

Fifteen minutes later, Tommy reluctantly helped his cousin up. Angelica wiped the remaining tears in her eyes as she tidied herself back up.

"Wow, I've never had a good laugh like that in... ever," she said. "Thanks for that, cuz." She patted him on the back.

"No, but seriously," said Tommy.

"Don't make me do that again," said Angelica. "'Cause next time, I will puke on your shoes."

"So you've never considered dating Chuckie?"

"Never."

"Asking him out?"

"Never."

"Like-liking him?"

"Never."

"Crushing on him?"

"Perish the thought," said Angelica, and then shuddered.

"He's not that bad, is he?" asked Tommy.

"He's not that bad if you like kids like Chuckie," said Angelica, waving a hand. "Little juniors who wear big dorky glasses and have bright red hair and have braces."

"He got those braces off two years ago!"

"Still looks the same to me."

Tommy thought Chuckie looked the same to him too, but in a nicer way. In a less Angelica kind of way.

"Say, hypothetically," said Tommy, "someone liked Chuckie. What do you think that someone should do?"

Angelica snorted. "Tell him. He'd probably faint from shock. And then beg that person to go out with him."

Tommy rolled his eyes. What a supporting cousin he had.

"Thanks, Angelica."

"No problem, Tommy," she said cheerfully. "Now can you get me to your brother so I can sell this chapstick at school?"

--

Tommy ended up spending the rest of his morning helping Dil and Angelica organize the chapstick Dil had invented (and trying some himself--it actually was really good, made his lips nice and smooth and had this unique fragrance about it too), and then had lunch with his family, and sadly, with Angelica over. She talked about how she wanted to run a fashion business, a gossip column in a newspaper, and a talent agency for two hours.

Two hours.

Tommy couldn't take it. Actually, he didn't. Forty minutes into these two hours, he said, "I'm bailing," and then he bailed, grabbing his camcorder and his jacket and leaving for Phil and Lil's house.

Of course, only Lil was in the front yard. Dribbling her soccer ball. Tommy liked to think that he never thought of any of his girl-friends (well, "female friends" as he referred to them out loud) in any other way than a girl or a friend, but he would consider considering Lil, even though he'd never done so before. (Partially because of fear of Phil's reaction, partially because it was Lil.) She was pretty, she was nice, she was athletic and she was pretty close to being a dude too personality-wise, except she wasn't.

Also, there was the fact that Tommy was currently crushing on someone else now.

No, someone he liked.

Someone that he like-liked.

Someone that he wanted to go out with.

Someone that he REALLY wanted to go out with. (Chuckie would make a really good boyfriend for any girl. He was kind, loyal, and you really couldn't go wrong with a guy like Chuckie. You just couldn't, no matter what Angelica said.)

"Hey Tommy," said Lil when she saw him. "What are you doing here?"

"Just wanted to talk." Tommy sat on the grass and watched her dribble the soccer ball.

"Talk about what?"

Dribble, dribble, dribble.

"Oh, you know," said Tommy. "Life."

"What about life?"

Dribble, dribble, dribble.

Tommy sighed and flopped down on the grass.

"You ever feel like you know that there's something you should do that everyone wants you to do except you can't find the courage to do it?"

"Yeah, happened to me when that soccer team offered for me to go international."

"But you didn't do it," said Tommy.

Lil shrugged. "What can I say? I'd miss you guys, and I'd rather miss out on my dreams than miss my best friends in the whole world."

"But that's not what this is!"

Lil stopped dribbling, kicked and caught them ball, and then stared at him.

"Tommy, what's wrong?"

"It's... It's Chuckie! I just don't know what to do and Chuckie's being Chuckie and I just argh!"

"Chuckie's being Chuckie? Is that what's wrong?" If Lil could look any more confused, she couldn't.

"No," said Tommy, then sat up and sighed and stared down in his lap. "I... like Chuckie. Like, a lot. As much as I used to like Rachel. More, even." (Even though he still liked girls in high school, hormones had kicked in more in middle school and faded a bit by the time he was fourteen.)

Lil stared.

Then she shrieked.

"EEE!" she said.

Tommy looked up at her. "What?"

"EEE!" Lil said again. "You, you're... you're gay! You like guys!"

"But I'm not gay!" Tommy protested. "I just like Chuckie!"

"Whatever! You like Chuckie, that makes you somewhat gay, and that is just--EEE!" Lil squealed and ran around the front lawn like a maniac with the soccer ball in her arms. "Oh my god, I can't believe this, one of my friends is actually--I have to call Kimi! Right away!"

"She already knows," said Tommy glumly.

Lil nearly ran smack into him. "She does? Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't she tell me? I can't believe it!"

"I don't get it," said Tommy as Lil ran inside to grab her cellphone.

The top window opened and Phil popped his head out. "Hey, keep it down down there!" he said to them. "Oh, hi Tommy."

"Hey Phil," said Tommy. "Do you know why your sister just--"

Then he stopped.

Because if he asked why his sister was being so crazy, Phil would ask what Lil was being crazy about. And then Tommy would have to tell him about him liking you-know-who (not Voldemort, Chuckie.) And Tommy didn't want to do that.

Well, he did, the same way he wanted to tell his parents. Not yet. But Phil was his friend, and he'd already told a bunch of other friends (and a non-friend), all but one he hadn't intending on telling anyway. So it would be unfair to not tell Phil.

Tommy sighed and got up from the lawn.

"My sister what?" asked Phil.

"I'll be up in a second," said Tommy.

--

Five minutes later, he was indeed up in a second. He'd passed Lil in the living room, who'd been sprawled on the couch and talking intently with Kimi on the other end. Of course Kimi's reaction to him had been none but advisory because that was exactly what he'd been asking for, but now it seemed like when she was talking about it with Lil, she had probably gotten as excited as Lil had. Their voices had reached the same level on the squeak-o-meter.

Tommy sighed, shook his head (girls, there was one reason Tommy didn't mind liking Chuckie. Tommy never understood girls. He always understood Chuckie), and continued making his way up the stairs.

Phil was in his room, listening to intense opera. Now Tommy knew why he'd wanted them to shut up so badly.

"Hey, Tom," said Phil, shutting off his stereo and welcoming him in. His bedroom didn't smell like fungus this time. Joy.

"Hey Phil," said Tommy.

"Man, your eyes look whack," said Phil. "Did you get enough sleep last night?"

"Nah," said Tommy, knowing that he could lie and tell the truth to Phil. "Had a sleepover with Chuckie. You know how those get."

"Oh yeah. Just you two then?"

"Yeah." Phil didn't even seem the least bit jealous. He seemed to understand the friendship between he and Chuckie, as the best not-best friends of best friends do.

"Except we didn't do much. We went to sleep pretty early, actually. He was pretty tired, I guess, so it wasn't a very eventful night."

"Oh really?" Phil flicked his eyebrows up and down. Tommy understood the implication and knew that Phil was just joking, but he rolled his eyes anyways. He felt compelled to feel offended, even though he wasn't offended at all.

"You know what I mean," said Tommy. "Well..." He sighed. "I wish it wasn't like that, though."

"Like, what just the two of you? You could've invited me over, man."

"No, not that." Tommy shoved him, because he knew Phil preferred spending time with Lil than hanging out with the guys. Even though Phil'd never admit it. There were a lot of things he, Phil and Chuckie would never admit to each other both because they were embarrassed and because they already knew. It was just a guy thing.

"Like, the whole... just like that. Just watching movies and eating and playing video games and doing all that other stuff we always do."

"You want to find another group hobby?"

"No, I want to do with Chuckie what you were teasing me about doing things at night and what we do at sleepovers and argh."

Why was it that talking to the DeVille twins was as frustrating with one as with the other?

Phil took a while to comprehend this statement, and then he said, "Oh." And then he said, "Oh." Then he said, "OH."

"Yeah," said Tommy. "Oh."

"You..."

"Yeah."

"But girls..."

"Yeah."

"And Chuckie...?"

"Yeah."

It was surprising how smart Phil could be when it came to communicating about dude stuff without many words.

"T," said Phil, "why are you telling me this?"

"I need advice, and your sister is being too weird about it to give me any," said Tommy. "By the way, why is she being weird about it? I told her I liked Chuckie and she started going all crazy menstruating girl on me."

"I think it's a fantasy she has," said Phil. "Seeing guys together. Holding hands and kissing and stuff. I don't get it. I've seen her and Kimi watch some stuff like this."

"Oh, gross dude," said Tommy.

"Hey, you're the one who wants to do naughty things to Chuckie," said Phil.

"Yeah, but that's because he's Chuckie." When Tommy thought about dudes kissing, or himself kissing another dude, it made him (bad) queasy. But when he thought about kissing Chuckie, it sounded really nice. Like, he could see that happening. He wanted it to happen. Really badly. Chuckie would be softer than any girl, and he'd be kinder and smell nicer and everything. Just thinking about hugging Chuckie made Tommy go crazy.

Man, his feelings had really grown today.

"That's gross too," said Phil.

"You're so unsupportive," said Tommy.

"Well why don't you just tell him?"

"Because he's Chuckie and he's my best friend and I don't know how he'll react!" said Tommy. "Plus, he could hate me."

"Tommy," said Phil. "You're being stupid. You're not going to know how he's going to react if you never tell him. And he'll never hate you. Ever."

"Why?"

"'Cause he's your best friend."

Tommy wondered when all the stupid people in his life suddenly turned smart.

--

So he needed to ask a smart person.

Aka Susie.

He went to her house, where she was with Angelica and Harold. But when he told her, she didn't seem surprised at all.

Angelica, however, did.

"So that's why you asked me that question earlier!" she managed to wheeze out through her tears of laughter.

Tommy glared. Susie glared.

Harold asked, "Is it possible to like both boys and girls?"

"Yes, that's called bisexual," Susie told him. "But Tommy, you're not bisexual, are you?" She said it like she knew the answer already.

"No, I'm not," said Tommy, and Susie nodded.

"I figured as much," she said. "You probably like Chuckie because you've spent so much time with him so that he's becoming more than just your friend and your best friend and you're so accustomed to having him around that it's like you're practically going out already except you're not. And you two are so close and always emphasize you're close so that probably has something to do with it too. It's a common byproduct of most really close friendships."

"So does that mean I should just try to get over it?" Tommy asked hopefully.

Susie shook her head. "Personally, I think you should tell him. Chuckie can handle anything. And you can, too."

"Why does everyone keep telling me this!" Tommy wanted to scream. But he didn't. So instead he just said it very, very loudly.

"Because it's what we think you should do," said Susie.

"It's not as bad as it seems, Tommy," said Harold, slipping off Susie's comforter and patting him on the back. "If he's okay with it, then he's okay with it. If he likes you back, then that's awesome. But if he hates you and doesn't want to talk to you, then that's his fault for being a bad friend and it's his loss."

"And then you should wonder why you'd like him if he was like that," said Susie. "Plus, you've seen how the rest of us reacted."

Tommy looked pointedly at Angelica, who was still rolling around laughing her ass off on Susie's bed.

"She doesn't count," said Susie.

--

Tommy didn't want to cave into peer pressure. Except he usually did.

So several minutes later found him standing in front of the Finster's front door again.

Tommy tried to rehearse different ways he could tell Chuckie that he liked him, except all of them were super lame and he didn't want to do it. He was afraid that after all this trouble, he couldn't. Then he told himself that he would no matter what.

So he opened the door and walked straight to Chuckie's room.

Chuckie wasn't there.

"Uh, Kimi?" he said, popping into her room (she was on the phone with Lil, apparently, and went all giggly when she saw Tommy). "Where's Chuckie?"

"Did you check the backyard?" she asked. "He's been spending a lot of time there lately." Then she turned back to her phone and said, "Yeah, it was him... yeah! I know! It's so cute!"

Tommy would probably never understand girls.

He went to the backyard like Kimi had said and found Chuckie standing there. Charles Finster. His best friend.

He swallowed his pride, dignity, fear, cowardice and whatever else gripped his heart at that moment, and walked out to the back porch.

Chuckie turned when he heard Tommy's footsteps. He smiled when he saw him.

"Hi," he said to Tommy.

"Hey," said Tommy. "I, um, I have something to tell you."

"I have something to tell you too," said Chuckie.

Tommy blinked. "You do?"

"Yeah," said Chuckie. "You see, I... I think that I might be bothering you. Being a bad influence on you or something. And it's been really bugging me, but whenever you're around me you always seem so weird, and it's probably my fault because I don't know why else you'd be acting this way, so if you don't want to be friends with me or something anymore, just say it. I knew this day would come eventually."

Tommy wanted to laugh.

And cry.

And kind of punch Chuckie in the face for being so earnest and loving and stupid.

"Chuckie," he said. "Are you seriously considering just throwing away everything we used to be because you're worried for my well-being?" And he realized at that moment that he had been worried about Chuckie throwing away their friendship because Chuckie'd be mad at him, when really Chuckie would definitely be more likely to throw away their friendship because of Tommy being mad at him. And Tommy would never consider throwing away their friendship. Ever.

"Well," said Chuckie, "yeah, I guess so."

"I've been being weird because I like you," and boy, the feeling Tommy got when he said that, not caring at the moment what Chuckie's face looked like but just that he got it out of his system, "and I like you like I like girls, sorta, only more. And I just said the word 'like' three times in five words."

"You... You like me? Like you like girls?"

Chuckie's eyes were as round as saucers, like he'd never heard of such a phenomenon.

But Tommy wasn't scared. Because he knew that this was Chuckie and nothing bad could ever come out of it and however Chuckie acted, he could handle it. He'd always handled it.

"Yeah," he said. "I do."

"You're joking."

Tommy kissed him.

Right on the lips.

Planted one on him.

Right there.

"Does that seem like I'm joking?" he asked Chuckie.

"Well," said Chuckie, his eyes even bigger (and bluer) now, "no."

"Yeah," said Tommy.

"Why do your lips taste like mangoes and bananas?"

"Oh." Tommy blushed. "That's probably Dil and Angelica's chapstick, the one they made."

"Oh yeah, right," said Chuckie like he knew what he was talking about even though Tommy knew he wasn't. It seemed, though a bit delayed, like Chuckie was dazed by what Tommy had just done to him.

"That was kinda nice," he said to Tommy. "I liked it."

"You liked it?"

"Yeah?"

"You liked what?"

"The kiss."

Chuckie blushed.

Tommy thought about how nice Chuckie looked when he blushed (pink skin, red freckles--it was cute. Tommy just called Chuckie cute), and then blushed himself. This was good, he thought to himself. Really good. Better than any reaction he could've ever imagined.

"Well, um," said Tommy. "I'd say that I wanted to do it again, but I kinda heard a loud crash in the kitchen when I did it so I kinda don't want that to happen again. The crash, I mean."

"But you want the kiss to happen again?" said Chuckie. "You didn't hate it or anything?"

"I was the one who said I liked you."

"Yeah, but you didn't say you liked the kiss. I did."

The blushing sequence occurred again.

"I liked it too," said Tommy, grinning.

"I want it to happen again too," said Chuckie.

"Then... do you want to have a sleepover or something? Again?" offered Tommy, even though it'd only been several hours since their last one.

"Yeah, except I think it'd be a bad idea to do it at my house," said Chuckie. "'Cause of Kimi and my parents."

"We can't do it at my house, though!" said Tommy. "My parents! And-And my brother!"

"Can't be worse than mine."

"You know," said Tommy, "I don't think it matters, anyway, when our parents know or whatever, as long as we know. And I think they'll get the news just fine, since everyone else has."

"Everyone else has what?"

"Well, I sorta already told the guys that I liked you, so..." Tommy gave him a sheepish smile. "They were supportive all the way, though, except for Angelica."

"She's like that."

"And Phil was sorta eh." Tommy waved his hand. "Like, grossed out by the prospect of you and me together."

"Like it'd be anyone else," Chuckie scoffed. Tommy smiled. Life was weird like that.

"Hey, we should invite Phil," said Chuckie suddenly. "To our sleepover! And gross him out!"

"And Lil and Kimi," said Tommy. "I think they'd be offended if we didn't."

"Why?" asked Chuckie.

"It's a girl thing."

"Oh," said Chuckie. "Well, it'd be fun with everyone around. Then we don't have to tell them. We just have to kiss in front of them."

"You think we should invite our parents out as well?"

"That might be pushing it," said Chuckie. "Man, this feels weird, talking about kissing you, with you."

"Tell me about it," said Tommy. "Just last night I was thinking about it, and now I'm actually doing it."

"You were thinking about me?" Chuckie probably meant to be teasing, but he sounded much more embarrassed instead.

"All the time," said Tommy, and then blushed at how cheesy he sounded. "I mean, of course I always did before 'cause you're Chuckie and stuff, but yeah, I mean, I don't know who else I'd be thinking of."

"Tommy," said Chuckie with a smile that could heal a thousand hearts. "I don't know how many times I've said this, but. You're the best."

Tommy didn't know how many times Chuckie had said that either. But he didn't care. There were a lot of things he and Chuckie could be in the future. The only thing that wouldn't change was that they'd always be friends.