Not So Different

52. Surprise!

With the music coming from Jane's room, Sonny wasn't sure whether Jane and Tom heard him when he called out to them. He knocked on the door: no response. He pushed it open.

They hadn't heard him.

He felt as if his tongue had suddenly got too big for his mouth, and his ears and nose too big for his head. Jane and Tom were like two boxers in a clinch and all he could do was wait for the referee to shout, 'Break!'

He must have made some sort of noise, and they must have heard it, because suddenly Tom moved backward as if he were tied to a winch and somebody had tightened it one turn. He and Jane both looked at Sonny with different embarrassed faces and made different embarrassed noises. Jane turned the music off. Nobody knew what to say.

Sonny supposed it would be polite for him to apologise. There wasn't really anything for Tom and Jane to be embarrassed about. Jane put his feelings into words, more or less.

'No biggie. You had to learn about kissing some time.'

Tom, putting a congratulatory hand on Jane's arm, explained that he'd been carried away by the genius of her latest work. Jane turned an easel around dramatically to display it. It was a stylised jungle scene, and through the foliage Jane's head could be seen, only her hair was tiger-striped, more or less, in blonde and her native black.

Sonny said he liked it, but he couldn't help wondering whether it was a cry for help. Tom suggested both reactions might fit. Jane conveyed the slightest hint of irritation that they didn't understand.

'The lady or the tiger—now you don't have to choose', she said.

'Does this mean you'll be ordering the pizza with entrails?' Sonny joked.

Jane responded with great seriousness, and already Sonny had a sick feeling.

'This is going to be my new look. And you're assisting in the procedure.'

Sonny looked down uneasily at Jane's finger pointing at him, and then across at Tom, who was smiling. Whatever his girlfriend might have in mind for Sonny didn't seem to bother him.

It turned out that what Jane had in mind for Sonny was for him to help dye her hair to create blonde stripes like the ones in her painting. He'd been afraid of something like that. He tried several times to persuade her of his complete unsuitability for the task, but she refused to let him off. She wanted to create an effect, and the procedure pretty much required her to have somebody else to assist. It would spoil the effect to ask Tom to do it (given that he was the intended prime beneficiary) and, as she said, who else was she going to ask? Trent? That rhetorical question shut Sonny up for a while, and he trailed after Jane to the pharmacy, sadly but resignedly, to buy the hair dye.

He took some slight comfort from the fact that Jane was as appalled as he by the marketing nightmare that was the range of blonde hair dyes on offer. There was a definite rural or agricultural theme, with most of the colours being named to evoke images of bucolic idylls in fields full of beautifully golden grains or other plants. (How golden was heather, though, really? He'd have to look that up.) How were they supposed to choose? He took the opportunity of their shared floundering to suggest again that Jane get help from somebody more suitable, like the girl behind the counter. He figured twenty dollars and a bag of doughnuts would do the trick.

'You know, Sonny, not everybody in the world conducts themselves by the same ruthlessly mercenary principles as you and your family.'

'That's why I threw in the doughnuts. Give the deal a personal touch.'

Jane saw right through Sonny's evasion. She could tell that he was still trying to get out of the mission she had assigned him, and she made it clear that she was listening to no excuses about his lack of aptitude for activities like dyeing hair and painting toenails.

'Look, Sonny, this is the kind of thing that teens do together to cement their friendships. Don't you want to cement our friendship?'

'It's teen girls that do those things together, I think you'll find.'

Jane looked steadily at him. 'And that's supposed to make a difference to us how?'

Sonny couldn't meet her gaze. Jane wanted to look good for Tom. He told himself that he understood that, he really did, he didn't need to be a girl for that. And he'd already decided that if Tom went away it wasn't going to be because of him. Should he be worried that if he did botch the hair dye job it would make Tom go away? That didn't make sense. Tom wasn't like that. So why was he still uncomfortable? It was because Jane was being odd about it. She had a rational case that he couldn't assail, but he felt there was something else going on in her mind behind it.

He was still feeling strange about it when they were assembled in the Lane kitchen for the procedure: himself, Jane, and the volatile chemicals she'd finally fixed on. It was almost as if they were two teen girls. Jane sat at the table with a towel over her shoulders looking unusually teen-girl-like, while Sonny, rubber-gloved, held in his arms the mixing bowl full of hell brew and stirred like a chef—or like a teen girl experimenting with cooking and impersonating a chef. He carped again about the harshness of the chemicals, but Jane was having none of it. They had nothing to fear, she insisted, but fear itself.

'I'm sure FDR had teen girl hairstyles in mind when he made that speech', Sonny said, before degrading himself to the point of suggesting that with one phone call he could get the Fashion Club to do the job.

Jane threw her head back, opened her eyes innocently wide, and held her right fist up to her head with thumb and little finger extended to mime a telephone receiver. She dropped and flattened her voice cruelly to sound like Sonny and said, 'Hello, Quinn? It's me, Sonny. Can you help me make my friend look pretty?'

'All right, you bitch', Sonny said like a teen girl. 'What do I do?'

Jane quoted the instructions at him verbatim, but she might as well have been speaking Etruscan. He grunted in incomprehension and she translated.

'Grab a hunk of hair and start painting.'

He grabbed a hunk of hair and started painting.

As far as Sonny ever knew, that was all he did. How the activity translated into the final fateful outcome remained forever an arcane mystery to him. Looking back afterwards, he could not recall any sense of foreboding as he sat by Jane while she kept her hair under a shower cap for the length of time prescribed. If he had believed in omens, he might have thought it ominous that they were watching Sick, Sad World, because sick and sad was a pale moon-cast shadow of how he felt when Jane removed the shower cap to reveal, not blonde tiger-like stripes, but irregular patches of murky orange that even somebody as fashion-blind as he could see were hideous.

Unable to disabuse a cheerfully chattering Jane or even to flee (though he would have liked to), he stared fatalistically at the oncoming freight-train of destiny as Jane approached a mirror.

'Aaah! What did you do to me?'

'I told you I was no good at this!'

'Can't you paint a lousy stripe?'

Sonny could feel his face moving and he didn't care. He could only stammer as Jane continued her onslaught.

'You did this on purpose! Because of Tom!'

'Because of Tom?' Nothing made any sense any more to Sonny. He just wanted to fix things, but he didn't know how. But Jane just wanted him to get out, and somehow that's what his legs were doing. He couldn't remember how it happened, but he was outside the door of Jane's house, and that door was shut behind him.

It remained shut the next morning when he stopped on the way to school so that he and Jane could walk together. He rang the doorbell, but nobody answered. Trent he didn't expect to be responding to low-level stimuli at this hour of the morning, and Jane's parents might be away again, but where was she? She had to go to school.

But she didn't. When she didn't show up he tried calling from school but there was no answer. He was trying to think what else he could do when Jodie came up to him and asked after Jane. He could only suggest vaguely that she might be sick. Jodie was disappointed. Apparently Jane had been hinting around about her big tiger surprise.

Sonny said, 'Um, the tiger turned out to be more of a penguin with eczema.' He didn't know why he was talking so much to Jodie. If he hadn't been walking so slowly, she'd never have caught him.

If he hadn't been so distracted, he wouldn't have almost blundered into a gathering of the Fashion Club. They were planning a meeting at the Morgendorffers' (at Quinn's) to discuss blushers (the artificial cosmetic kind, of course, not the perfectly natural biological phenomenon). Some things in Sonny's world were still just as normal, meaning bad. He turned round to look for an uninfested hallway in another direction.

'When you talk to Jane', Jodie said as he turned away, 'tell her I hope she feels better.'

'You mean if I talk to her.'

He still wanted to talk to Jane. When he got home he tried calling her again, but her phone rang out. After he'd finally hung up himself, he stared at the instrument for thirty seconds and then, for no good reason he could think of, tried calling his mother.

Marianne, his mother's downtrodden secretary, asked him whether it was important, because it wasn't a good time to call. He could hear the distant rumble of his mother ranting in the background. He told Marianne he'd call back.

Still on autopilot, he called the next number that came into his head. Tom answered. Sonny asked him whether he'd heard from Jane, and went on to explain that she hadn't been at school and wasn't answering her phone and he just wanted to make sure she was all right.

'Well, she was all right enough to call me late last night, yelling stuff I didn't understand and making freaky accusations.' Tom wanted to go on to explain at greater length how he felt about that, but Sonny cut him off to say that he was going to try going over to Jane's again to see how she was doing.

'Oh', said Tom, pulling up. 'Oh, yeah.' He paused again. 'Good idea.'

'Yeah', said Sonny. 'Got to go.' He remembered that he should close the conversation properly. 'Bye', he said, and hung up.

This time, when he rang Jane's doorbell, she answered. She looked okay. She'd dyed her hair back to its normal colour.

Sonny gabbled, 'I'm really sorry. I warned you. That doesn't make it any better. I'm sorry. I feel kind of awkward.'

'Really?' Jane said. 'I hadn't noticed.'

They went inside together and sat down on the couch. Sonny asked Jane why she hadn't come to school or even answered the phone.

'To be honest', Jane began, and even before she'd said anything more Sonny was wondering why she'd used those words. Why were they necessary? Why would honesty between the two of them even be in question? Meanwhile Jane went on, 'I've been feeling kind of overwhelmed lately, and after the hair thing and all, I figured I'd give myself a mental health day.'

'Overwhelmed? Why?'

'Why do you think?'

'I don't know. I know something's been wrong, but I can't figure out what it is. I feel like there's something you're not telling me. I got the impression Trent knows something, but he's not telling me either. Tom …' Sonny trailed off.

'Sonny, did you wonder why Tom came round to your hotel room and invited you to go swimming with him and didn't tell me about it?'

'Of course I wondered. I told you then that it didn't make sense, because he must have known you'd find out from me. Tom's been acting strangely. You've been acting strangely. I'm the one who's been just the same as always.'

'Just the same as always, huh?' Jane looked intently at him, making him feel uncomfortable again.

'We've talked about this. I've stopped being hostile to Tom on your account. He knows that doesn't mean we count as friends, because I told him that from the beginning. That's not really a change. I'm still the same.'

'And what's that, exactly?'

'You know this. You know me. Still Sonny Morgendorffer. The same Sonny Morgendorffer. You above all people know.'

'Sonny Morgendorffer, hey?' Jane said, and she looked at him, slowly nodding her head, with the look once again of somebody who knew a secret that he didn't, almost as if it was a secret about himself that he didn't know.

'It's like you're asking me to say who I am. You know who I am. The person who would never screw up your hair on purpose. The person who would never do anything to hurt you.'

Jane nodded again, and her face relaxed. 'Yeah, I know', she said, almost apologetically. 'Well then, hair apology accepted. Life goes on.'

Sonny was so relieved at Jane's apparent return to normal that he asked whether she wanted to get some more dye and have another go.

Jane gave him a challenging stare, but this time it was one he was used to. 'Have you gone completely and utterly mad?'

Later he would remember Jane asking him that question.

Sonny walked home thinking there was still some secret he wasn't being let into, and found Tom parked in front of his house. Sonny asked him crossly what he was doing there.

'I wanted to talk to you. Your sister said you weren't home so I figured I'd wait out here.'

Sonny figured it was only polite to invite Tom inside, but Tom had been frightened off by the girls rubbing stuff on each other's cheeks and making animal noises. Sonny recognised the description of a Blushathon, and that it would only get worse. He didn't fancy going inside for it either. At Tom's suggestion, he got in the car. He decided it would be okay if they weren't actually going anywhere.

'Did you want to talk about Jane?' he said.


'If you don't want to talk about Jane, then what game are you playing?' Sonny said, wishing he'd never got into the car. Close quarters were always dangerous. He turned his head to scan his escape route. 'Apart from Jane, I have nothing to talk about with you.'

'Why is everybody so mad at me?'

'Why? Why?' Sonny decided in that moment that, Jane or no Jane, the time had come when he was really going to open up to this character.'Because I moved to this town and I knew immediately I'd be a total outcast. And in the one moment of good luck I've had in my entire life, I met another outcast who I could really be friends with and not have to feel completely alone. And then you came along and screwed the whole thing up! You twisted me around to be nice to you on her account but everything's gone to hell anyway, and I don't even understand why!'

Tom was not antagonised by Sonny's unleashed hostility. He seemed happy now to talk more freely, and more vehemently too. 'It's not that hard to understand. I met a girl I thought was cool and I went out with her for a while. We started to get bored with each other. It happens all the time and it's nobody's fault.'

He sounded convincing, and Sonny wanted to believe, but—'Oh yeah? Would you still be bored with her if I weren't here to get in the way?'

'Probably', said Tom. 'And more to the point', he said, becoming more emphatic, 'she'd be bored with me. It's got nothing to do with you.' He shook his head decisively.

'Fine. But if you're breaking up with my best friend, Tom Sloane, then we've got nothing to talk about and no reason even to be in the same space.' Sonny started to get out of the car.

Tom reached out a hand, put it on Sonny's shoulder, and said, 'Wait.'

Physically, the touch of Tom's hand on Sonny's shoulder was light. It could never have functioned as any sort of physical restraint. But it still jerked Sonny out of one world and into another.

Since his first serious exchange with Tom, when Tom had just started seeing Jane and wanted to straighten things out with Sonny from the beginning, Sonny had been living in a world where, despite all his prior experience of life, he could, in a particular sense and within limits, trust Tom.

The physical contact snapped him out of that world, back into a world he was more familiar with, where people only approached him physically for one reason. In that familiar world, he knew what came next after somebody put a hand on him. He went limp with recognition. It wasn't something to resist, it wasn't something to argue about. It was just something to be confirmed.

He asked Tom to confirm what came next.

Tom reacted to his simple question with an exclamation of utter astonishment, as if Sonny were the one who had jerked him into a completely different world, one that was totally alien to him. Sonny couldn't take that seriously; he'd heard it all before.

'What did you say?'

'I said, are you going to hit me?' Sonny repeated. 'I've told you about this. Some guy gets mad at me for something that's not my fault, and he grabs me by the shoulder, and the next thing I know his fists are thudding into me. You told me you're not that type, but so what?' Sonny didn't even bother trying to shake off Tom's grip.

'Sonny, did you not hear what you said?'

'What do you mean?' Sonny was getting tired of this conversation. 'Not hear what?'

As flatly and undramatically as Sonny himself, Tom said, 'You asked me whether I was going to kiss you.'

Sonny gaped. 'What are you talking about? Is there something wrong with your hearing? Hit. I said, are you going to hit me?'

Tom shook his head, staring intently into Sonny's eyes, which couldn't turn away. 'The second time, yes, but the first time the words were, are you going to kiss me?'

Sonny couldn't think. He could only see Tom's green eyes coming closer and closer, as his other hand came up to Sonny's other shoulder.

Their lips met, and Sonny's eyelids recoiled from each other. His face did not, however, recoil from Tom's.

He could see that Tom's eyes were closed.

Then Tom's eyes, and his lips, and his hands too, were gone. He was back in his own seat as Sonny regained the power of speech.

'Dammit!' he said. 'Dammit, dammit, dammit!'

'I liked it too', Tom said quietly.

'That's not funny!'

'I know.'

Then they were kissing again. They had moved towards each other this time, and met in the middle. Tom's hands were on Sonny's shoulders again, but now Sonny's were also on Tom's.

Then again they were back in their seats.

'That was definitely not funny', Tom said.

Sonny heard himself say, 'I gotta go', and then he was getting out of the car and fleeing up the path to the house. But there was no sanctuary anywhere.

He got into the house and up the stairs without the Fashion Club noticing, or if they noticed him he didn't notice them noticing. His parents weren't around, either. His mother had a huge case on, her biggest yet, and his father had been busy too with some more consultancy work for that hotel they'd stayed at recently, Le Grand. (Bobby the bellhop had been doing expensive favours for Quinn with a fake story about a non-existent uncle at the hotel giving permission, billing the Morgendorffers, then breaking into the hotel computer system to cancel the charges. When this came out, Jake had seized the opportunity to convince them that as well as improved security they needed a new marketing campaign to offset the bad news stories, and that with his inside knowledge of the incident there was nobody better to handle it.) Sonny got to his room, shut the door behind him, and then … felt as if all his joints had locked up, from his knees up to his jaw. The next thing he was conscious of was lying flat on his back on his bed, staring at the ceiling, still fully dressed, even to his boots.

Time must have kept on passing, but Sonny lost the sense of it. Maybe he slept in snatches that night or maybe he didn't. When he was conscious he stared at the ceiling, which seemed to be going round and round in rhythm with his circling thoughts. He thought of walking in on Jane and Tom kissing, of himself and Tom kissing, of Jane giving him a cryptically significant stare, of Trent sagely counselling him, of Tom in his swimsuit, of Jane asking him whether he'd gone completely and utterly mad, of his navel ring, and then round and round and back and forth and in and out, in an intricate tangle like one of Mrs Bennett's diagrams with circles and crosses and far too many arrows …

Sonny's bladder announced the passage of time, like a clepsydra in reverse. He didn't bump into anything in the dark on his way to the bathroom. The dark was good. He felt his way to the bowl and sat down, clothing lowered, to let nature take its course. After an unmeasured time he looked down at himself. There it was. Funny things, hormones.

He couldn't stay there. He found himself back in his bedroom, clothing back in position, glancing at the clock. It was three in the morning. He lay flat on his back again, feeling as if it would always be three in the morning.

He never remembered noticing that morning's sunrise, or hearing his family stir. His parents were both too busy to notice his disappearance, and Quinn would surely never care. The next information from external reality that he registered consciously was the doorbell ringing.

He could tell from the rhythm that it was the person who would notice his disappearance. He glanced at the clock. She must have come here after school. Had she phoned during the day? He might have failed to hear, screening out the noise as intended for somebody else.

He was halfway down the stairs when the doorbell gave the same familiar ring again.

Then he was standing at the open door with the doorknob in his hand and Jane Lane was staring at him.

'Sonny? Are you all right?'

They were sitting together on the couch. Sonny looked round. One of them must have shut the door. Jane spoke again.

'When you weren't at school today, I didn't think … you look like you could use a whole week of mental health days. Sorry! Sorry! I don't know what to say here! Whatever it is, compadre, you can talk to me, can't you?'

Jane was reaching forward a tentative hand. Sonny had to speak before it connected with his arm. His voice echoed from the bottom of an empty haunted well.

'I kissed your boyfriend. I kissed Tom. I didn't mean to. I still don't understand.'

Jane was up, back, away from him. 'I knew this would happen!' she was saying. 'I knew it!'

Sonny came to himself and stared at her. 'You knew.' Jane didn't answer. 'You knew and you never told me. That's what was so strange. So queer.'

'That's not what this is about, Sonny! Boy or girl, queer or straight, you kissed my boyfriend behind my back!'

Sonny could feel himself grinning hideously. 'I know. I told you, remember?'

Jane half-turned towards the door. 'I can't talk about this now, Sonny. I have to kill me a Sloane.'

Sonny was still staring at the door that had slammed behind Jane when it opened again and Quinn came through it.

'Sonny? Are you all right?'

Incredibly, all Tom said when he answered the door to Jane's ring was 'Oh' and then 'Hi!' Jane stared at him in outraged disbelief. 'Oh, hi', she echoed, and then shouted 'Go to hell!', before she leaped at him, hammering his chest with both fists. Over his cries of protest she shouted 'How could you? How could you?'

At least he didn't pretend not to know what that was about. 'I didn't plan it that way! But Sonny said …'

'Sonny said! I thought he didn't even know!' Jane took a step back.

'He didn't! It was my fault!'

Jane turned her head angrily away. 'Oh, don't give me that!'

'He was taken by surprise! We both were! But I was the one who screwed up!'

Jane realised she'd been waving her hands around wildly. She folded her arms. 'Now what?' She threw Tom a challenging look.

'I don't know', he said. 'Do you want to hear what happened?'

Jane didn't want to sit in Tom's house, so they walked silently out to his back yard and sat down on an old wooden swing set, looking away from each other.

'I know what happened. Sonny kissed you. He wasn't at school today, so I went round to his place to check on him. I didn't suspect anything, he just came right out and told me.'

'He didn't kiss me, I kissed him. The first time, anyway. The second time was more kind of mutual.'

Jane looked across at Tom briefly. 'How did you ever get close enough in the first place?'

'I went round to his place to talk to him. At least, I thought I just wanted to talk to him. Maybe I was upset with you because of you ringing me up with all those crazy accusations …'


'Well, I thought they were crazy at the time. I didn't know what was going to happen. Sonny didn't either. He rang me up yesterday before he went round to your place because he was worried about you when you didn't show up at school. He didn't want to talk with me, but he sounded confused. I remember when I was confused about my … about myself, and anyway I like talking with Sonny. There's nothing wrong with talking, is there?'

Jane tilted her head sceptically. 'And you only wanted to talk?'

Tom looked away again. 'I thought so. I guess I might have been kidding myself. I'm a real idiot. There's no question about that.'

'Who's arguing? You might as well go on.'

'We sat in my car and all he wanted to talk about was you, and how he'd tried to be nice to me on your account, and how things had still got screwed up and he didn't know why. He guessed there was something that we both weren't telling him.'

Jane took a deep breath. 'I know. But I couldn't tell him. I was only guessing myself.'

'Me too. And I didn't start to tell him either, if you're wondering. But he didn't want to talk with me if you and I were breaking up …'

'What made him think we were breaking up? I told him things weren't great, I didn't say we were breaking up. What did you say to him?'

'I was telling him that whatever was happening it wasn't his fault! I could tell him that much, and he needed to hear it. I told him we were both getting bored with each other. You know it's true. We weren't going anywhere. We were about to break up anyway.'

They looked at each other, and then away again. Jane said, 'Yeah.' She sighed. 'Go on. Let's finish this.'

'He didn't want to talk with me and he started to get out of the car, so I put my hand on his shoulder, and he thought … he said he thought …'

'… that you were going to hit him? Don't look surprised, I know what he's like.'

'Well, what he asked me … what he thought he asked me …'

'He asked you not to hit him?' Jane shook her head. 'No, wait, he wouldn't do that. He asked you whether you were going to hit him, right?'

'That's what he thought he said. But the words that actually came out of his mouth were, "Are you going to kiss me?" He didn't even realise. It was one of those mistakes that isn't really a mistake.'

'I know what a Freudian slip is', Jane said irritably. 'I may not be as smart as Sonny, but you never give me the credit I deserve.'

Tom hung his head. 'Sorry. But then you know what it meant. I told him what he'd actually said, and I looked into his eyes, and I wasn't guessing any more. I knew. And once I was sure, I knew that he needed to know, too. Right?' he concluded, lifting his head again and looking straight at Jane.

'Right', she muttered. 'But that doesn't mean you had to kiss him.'

'How do you suggest I was supposed to get the message through to him? With words? You know Sonny, Jane. He always has more words. I kissed him and he knew. That's why he kissed me back the second time.' Tom shrugged and sighed. 'I should have broken up with you first, that's all.'

'You got that right. Look. All that time … were you going out with me just to get to him?'

'Are you crazy?'

'I don't know. Am I?'

Tom winced and the corners of his mouth turned down. 'I know this situation right now is my fault and I brought it on myself, but sometimes it's hard being bi, you know? I told you all about it from the beginning, and how I've dated boys before and girls. Did you think I was making that up?'

'No, I didn't say that.'

'Well, sometimes straight people think we're really gay and just trying to look more acceptable and sometimes gay people think we're really gay and haven't got the courage to admit it. And lots of people think that if we're interested in both we must be interested in both all the time and never able to stick to one person. It's not like that. I didn't spend the whole time we were a couple looking around for a boy to cover my interests on the other side, any more than I got together with you just because I was looking for any girl that came along. I had to tell Sonny that the two of us weren't breaking up because of him and I'm telling you the same. It was over for both of us, wasn't it? You already said that was true.'

Jane just nodded sadly.

'But it started because I really like you, Jane. You're smart and you're funny, you have a great attitude … you do everything on your own terms. You're, like, from a cooler world.'

Jane looked up. 'I am, aren't I?'

'You really are.'

A momentary smile flickered across Jane's face. 'Too bad you're such a dork.'

'Yeah, I should have kept the break clean and not dragged Sonny into it.' Tom looked straight at her. 'It's all true what I said, you know. I wasn't dating you just to get to Sonny, but I do like talking to him.'

'Well, that's good, if you're going to get involved with him.'

'I didn't say I was going to get involved with him. I know how anti-social he is.'

'Hey, he's all right. Give him a chance.'

Tom stared at Jane. 'What are you talking about? You want me to date him?'

Jane shrugged. 'I don't know.' She stood up quickly and turned to face Tom. 'But you better get over to his place and talk to him. He was in a bad way when I was there.'

Tom stood up as well. 'A bad way? What's wrong?'

'He looked kind of like a zombie. And not the fun kind. Like he hadn't changed his clothes since yesterday. Or washed. Maybe not even moved.'

'What? And you want me to go over and talk to him?' Tom shook his head. 'If that's the effect it had the last time we were together, I'm not the person he'll be wanting to see.'

'Hey, you're the new prospective boyfriend. I'm going to be busy looking for a new best friend.' Jane's eyebrows went up as the light dawned. 'You're not expecting me to go and clean up your mess! You broke it, you bought it, buster! The last thing I said to Sonny was that I couldn't talk about this with him because I had to go kill me a Sloane, and I still will if you push me!'

Tom held up his hands defensively. 'Okay then, kill me if you have to, but you still have to go and talk to Sonny afterwards. The first time Sonny showed me how angry he was about my getting between the two of you, I told him it was pretty stupid to think anything could do that, and now I'm telling you the same thing. He's the number one thing you talk about and you're the same for him. You know each other inside out. Whatever happens with me, you're kidding yourself if you think you won't talk to him again. Right now, if he's having trouble coping like you say, then I'm just this person he never thought he liked who's knocked him for a loop, and you're the person he needs to hear saying that it's not the end of the world. Who else do you think is going to help him? His family?'

'Sonny? Are you all right?'

It had been Quinn coming through the door. Now she was looming over him. He still recognised her. She was asking him what had happened.

Right. Something had happened, all right. As she crouched down in front of him, peering into his face, he said, 'Quinn? If your best friend were going out with somebody and you kissed him, would you tell her?'

'Are you crazy? Why would I do that?' Quinn said. Then she gasped and brought her hand up to her mouth. 'Sonny? Are you saying that … wait! your best friend's Jane, right? And she's dating some boy … you kissed him, Sonny!'

Sonny nodded.

'You mean … really kissed him? A proper kiss? You and …'

'His name's Tom', said Sonny.

'And you kissed like …?'

Sonny nodded again. 'Yes, Quinn. That's how we kissed. Just like that.'

'I had no idea that … I never thought that …'

Sonny gave a scary Halloween grin. 'It was news to me too, now that you mention it. All of it. I never even thought I'd enjoy kissing. Anybody.' He looked Quinn straight in the eye. She looked straight back at him.

Quinn's voice dropped to a sympathetic undertone. 'And you told Jane? I guess she didn't take it well, huh? No wonder you look such a mess. So what are we going to do now?'

'I think I need to talk to Mom. Will you help me get there? I'm feeling weak.'

Quinn helped Sonny up. 'Can I give you an expert opinion? You should wash and change first. You don't know how much it helps. Let me take you upstairs. You can choose any outfit you like. Just my luck', she said, as she steered him towards the staircase, 'to get the only gay brother with no fashion sense. I guess I don't have a guardian angel after all. I guess neither of us does. But', she said as she helped him up the stairs, 'we still have each other.'

Sonny sat watching as Quinn pushed open the door of their mother's office. He'd already told her that he was going to talk with Helen one-to-one. She'd said that was good, because then she could go and take care of some other things, but she'd insisted on speaking to Helen first, and he hadn't had the will to argue.

'Quinn?' he heard his mother say. 'Didn't my secretary tell you that I can't be interrupted for anything?'

'Mom, Sonny needs to talk to you. I just brought him here. It's important.'

'Sonny? What's wrong? Couldn't he get here on his own? Is he badly hurt?'

'It's not like that, Mom. He just has some things he needs to talk to you about. And I have some other things I have to go and do.' She looked round at Sonny and then back into the office. 'I just wanted to tell you first that today Sonny's my brother and I don't care who knows it.' She turned round to Sonny and said, 'Free pass for now. Enjoy it while it lasts.' Then she walked off. Sonny didn't watch her go, because from behind her his mother emerged from her office.

'Sonny? Are you sure you're all right?'

'Not exactly all right, but then when am I ever?' Sonny said. He thought of Quinn for a moment. She'd been right about getting washed and changed. 'Is there any chance we could get something to eat and drink while we talk? I haven't had anything for … a long time.' He looked in the direction Quinn had gone. 'But I think my appetite might be coming back.'

'Hey, Janey!' Trent called from the door. 'Sonny's sister's here to see you!'

Jane looked up. Quinn? What was Quinn doing here? This has to be the worst timing ever. There was only one way to deal with it, through. She levered herself upright and made her way towards the door.

Quinn met her halfway, and Jane told her at once that whatever Quinn wanted, she really wasn't up to talking about it at the moment.

Quinn said, 'I know it must be hard for you being totally treacherously stabbed in the back by my brother like that.'

Jane took a step backward. 'So … you know about that.'

'It's not the kind of thing he keeps secret. He told you, didn't you? I wouldn't have, I think it's crazy, but then that's crazy Sonny for you, isn't it? It's all those books he reads. If I kissed Sandi's boyfriend, or Stacy's or Tiffany's, I wouldn't tell them. Why would I want to do that? That's what I said to Sonny, but …'

Jane cut her off. 'You didn't come round here to give me Quinn Morgendorffer's introductory lesson on sneaking round behind your friends' backs, did you.'

Normally when Quinn was caught out getting carried away like that, she giggled. Jane noticed that she didn't.

'Sorry. No, I came round here because if I found out that my best friend had kissed my boyfriend behind my back—not that I have a steady boyfriend, but if I did have one—sorry, if that happened to me I'd tell her that I never want to see her or talk to her again.' When Jane said nothing, Quinn carried on. 'Of course, just because I said that wouldn't have to mean it was true, because there might be more important reasons to make up with my best friend than just fighting over some stupid boy. I mean, if you break up with a boy, that's it, you can't go back, because that just makes you look cheap, but if you have a fight with your best friend, you can always make up, because that's how it works when you're best friends, you fight and then you make up and then that makes you best friends. So if you've, like, broken up with Tim, well, that's over, but if you've had a fight with Sonny, well, that's not like breaking up with a boy, even though Sonny actually is a boy, but now it turns out that he's, well, you know, gay, and so it's not like you were ever dating, not that you were anyway, but now if you make up with him it's not like making up with a boyfriend, it's like making up with a best friend, which you two are, so, maybe you should think about it? I mean, even if you told him that you never wanted to see him or talk to him again, doesn't mean it has to be true, but Sonny might not know that, because he's never had a friend before, and maybe you haven't either, so maybe you don't know that either.'

This time when Quinn paused for breath, Jane held up both hands to stem the flow for a moment while she gathered herself. Then she said, 'So the only reason you've come round here today is out of selfless concern for me. And your … distant cousin.'

Now it was Quinn who took a moment to answer. 'Today, Sonny's my brother and I don't care who knows it. But I'm only his sister. He still needs his best friend.'

Jane pulled a face. 'If it matters that much to you, I didn't tell him that I never wanted to see him again. In fact, I already went round to your place to talk to him, even though I didn't know what I wanted to say. But there was nobody home.'

'When I got home, he asked me to take him to talk with Mom. He's probably still with her.'

'He's telling Helen? How's that going?'

'I don't know. I left and came here. That's another reason you should come round again after he gets home. I'll give you a call to let you know they're back. Nobody will pay any attention if I get on the phone.'

Jane squared her shoulders. 'Thanks. I already knew I kind of had to talk to him again. Tom told me too.'

'That's the other reason I came round. I need to know about this Tom. Can you give me his address?'

Jane couldn't help it. She felt like grinning again. 'You're going round to see Tom? I wish I could get to watch. You have to promise to tell me about it afterwards.'

'I guess you can stop worrying that you've sold out on your 1960s ideals, Mom. You've just found out that your son's gay and you haven't turned a hair.'

'Well, Quinn made it pretty clear that she wouldn't tolerate any other reaction', said Helen, giving a fleeting smile. 'It's nice to think that I don't have to be ashamed of the way either of my kids has turned out.'

'I don't know about that. I kissed my best friend's boyfriend.'

'Don't be too hard on yourself, Sonny. This is bound to be a confusing time for you. All these new feelings …'

'No, Jane was right. Gay or straight, boy or girl, I was her best friend and I kissed her boyfriend behind her back. "Confusing" doesn't cover it. I hurt her badly, it's that simple.' He sighed. 'From the first time I saw Tom I felt things were going to get screwed up somehow. Maybe part of me knew all along. I remember that the first things I noticed about him were his eyes and his hair, the way they looked, but I told myself that it was Jane who must be thinking they were "cute".'

'Sonny, do you remember talking once about how it was easy for you to be honest, to look around you and describe what you see?'

Sonny nodded.

'Well, wouldn't you rather know than not know?'

'That I'm gay, you mean?' He scratched behind his ear. 'I have to say yes.'

'Speaking of honesty …' Helen cleared her throat. 'Are you worried about people's … reactions? I know you don't like talking about this, but …'

'You mean, am I worried about people bullying me for being gay if I don't keep it secret? Mom, people have been bullying me for being gay since I was in … third grade, I think, I'd have to check my files, but it was before they even knew what "gay" meant. If it isn't that, it's something else, and if I can't cope by now, well …' Sonny paused. 'With you and Quinn knowing, there's just one person's reaction that's on my mind now.'

'Sonny … your father gets worked up about nothing sometimes, but he's a good man. He believed in the same 1960s ideals I did. And he's absolutely determined never to treat his own children the way his father treated him.'

Sonny looked his mother in the face. Why had they never talked like this before? He realised that it was his fault, not hers. At least he'd had enough sense to come to her now. 'I know', he said. 'But … well, he's never favoured me over Quinn, he's always been scrupulously fair about that, but it's obviously important to him to have a son, his boy. And now, even if he doesn't come right out and say it, he might feel I've messed that up for him. He even passed on his own name to me.'

'He was insistent about that', Helen said reflectively, and then, apologetically, 'and when you've just given birth, Sonny, this amazing wave of tenderness and affection comes over you. The emotional state I was in, there was just never a question in my mind about it.'

'I'm not blaming you', Sonny said without emphasis. 'I'm not even blaming him. What's in a name? It's just now it'll be like I'm telling him that it's the end of the line.'

'Sonny, you don't have to tell him yourself. I know it's been hard for you, telling Jane, and Quinn, and me. I can talk to your father for you.'

Sonny raised his eyebrows. 'You don't think I'll let you get away with that, do you? After telling Jane and Quinn and you I have to tell him myself.'

His mother smiled. 'I know. Of course. But I can see you understand why I had to say that.'

Nobody told me how rich this Tim was, I mean Tom, Quinn thought to herself as she waited for somebody to answer the doorbell. The house and the grounds were amazing. No wonder Tom didn't go to Lawndale High.

The boy who answered the door, now that she took the time to size him up, didn't look too bad either, although he obviously paid as little attention to his clothes as Sonny did. Still, if neither of them cared, maybe that would make them a good match. She was still thinking about how his appearance could be improved with a little effort as she launched herself into speech with practised technique before he could get a word in.

'Hi, I'm Sonny's sister Quinn. You must be Tom. Sonny hasn't had any practice dating boys so I thought it would be a good idea for me to come and size you up on his behalf before you get involved.'

'Um … I'm not sure what you think you've heard …'

'You don't want to start any gossip. That's good. I'm not going to either. It's probably better if a lot of stories don't start going around. Sonny told me all about it, how the two of you kissed behind Jane's back. I guess you know it's been a shock to him, because he didn't know until now that he was interested in boys, if you know what I mean, which obviously you do. Also he's been such good friends with Jane. You aren't going to try to split them apart, are you?'

Tom stammered that he wouldn't, not if he could help it.

'Okay, that's good too. Now I left him talking to Mom and then probably Dad will have to be told about it later as well. So it might be a good idea if you waited a little while before you contacted him, just to give things time to settle. If he starts wondering why you haven't called him, I'll tell him that it was all my idea, because that's what I think is best, based on my experience of dating. I don't know about you yet, but I think with somebody like Sonny it's best to go slow. But you should definitely call at some point. Not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. If you're worried about how my parents react, you can call up and ask for me. You don't even have to give your name. Calls to our house from strange boys asking for me are something that everybody's used to, including me. Then I can give your messages to Sonny if that helps at all. That's all I can think of at the moment, so here's our phone number, in case you don't have it already. Maybe you can give me yours so I can call you if there's anything you need to know? I forgot to ask Jane for it, and I don't want to ask Sonny.'

Tom blinked and nodded.

Sonny heard Quinn calling to him from the front door. 'It's your friend Jane! She's here to talk to you!' By the time he reached the living room Quinn already had Jane seated on the couch with a glass of water in front of her. As soon as he came in, Quinn left them.

Sonny sat down as Jane broke the silence.

'You're looking better.'

'You're looking … not as angry as before.'

'Yeah.' Jane nodded. 'That's about right. Not as angry as before.'

They looked away from each other, then glanced at each other again, then away again.

Jane said, 'I broke up with Tom, but not because of you. I think you need to know that. We would have broken up anyway.'

'That doesn't change what you said before. You were angry because I kissed your boyfriend behind your back. I did do that. You may have broken up now, but that doesn't retroactively let me off the hook.'

Jane cleared her throat. 'Changing the subject from the past to the future, are you planning to date Tom now?'

'Why, have you got some friendly warnings to give me about all his faults? Still angry enough to want to twist the knife? Not that I don't deserve it, but I can't think about that now. I'm confused enough as it is.'

'I guess you're bound to be confused. Are you still angry at me about that?'

Sonny stared at Jane. 'Me? Angry? At you? I'm the bad guy here, didn't we get that much clear? What is it I'm supposed to be angry at you about?'

'About … not being told … stuff. You know. "You knew and you never told me!" That's what you said to me.'

'Oh. That.' Sonny scratched behind his ear. 'You can come out and say it, you know. I'm gay. Plus, I suppose, Tom's bi. I'm not angry about your not saying anything. I just don't understand. Maybe if I did I would be angry. Maybe you should think about that before you say anything else.'

'If I don't tell you now, when will I tell you?'

After another moment's silence, Sonny said, 'Yeah. Go on.'

'I … where should I begin?'

'Do what the King of Hearts told the White Rabbit to do. Begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end, and then stop.'

'Well, the beginning has to be when you arrived in Lawndale—and at the beginning the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing genuinely wasn't an issue. It's like we told the Gupty kids later on when we babysat them—just because a boy and a girl are friends, it's not the same thing. I mean, the first thing I thought when I noticed you was that you could be an interesting person to be friends with, like outcasts together, and I would have thought the same if you'd been a girl, or if I'd known you were gay, or if I had been the one who was gay, or whatever. We hung out together, and that was cool, and I started sketching and painting you, and that was cool too, because you made an interesting subject from an artistic point of view. And then we went to Brittany's party together, but it wasn't a date, because you don't date. I got that, but it made me start thinking. I mean, it made sense as part of the whole anti-social "go to hell" aspect of the Sonny Morgendorffer persona, but did you ever really mean that you weren't going to date anybody ever, your whole life? Do you think?'

Sonny scratched behind his ear. 'I'd have to say that I didn't let myself think. And I suppose now we can both see another possible reason I compartmentalised like that.'

'Well, if we're taking the story in order, we haven't got to the revelation yet, right? You remember at Brittany's party I went off to the make-out room with that big-headed boy?'

Sonny nodded and Jane continued.

'Well, you made your attitude pretty clear, and it was also clear that you weren't jealous in any way and that whatever you thought you weren't going to disown me as a friend just because of my getting involved with a boy—if I did get involved. So I felt like it was clear how things could work, without actually discussing it. We would be friends, and if I got involved with a boyfriend I would, and we'd just go on being friends in a completely platonic non-romantic way. But I also figured that whatever you said at that stage of your life, things might change later on and you might get into dating or whatever. So I figured we could handle that if it came up later on, but the friendship was important to me either way. I never saw our friendship as something that got in the way of my taking an interest in boys, and anything else that might happen between the two of us was just that, something that might happen or that might not, and there was no reason having that possibility in the background should hurt our friendship, which was the most important thing.'

'Also', and here Jane shifted in her seat, 'that night was the first time you were around Trent, and the first time I noticed how you reacted to him strangely.'

'I explained th—wait, Trent? Are you trying to tell me that Trent … that Trent is …'

Jane shook her head violently. 'No! Don't get me wrong. Trent isn't gay … or bi. But he's relaxed about it.'

Sonny raised his eyebrows. 'Trent's relaxed about everything.'

'Yeah, but … well, like I said, he's not into men, but he has had to deal once or twice with men having crushes on him. I don't mean that you ever had a crush on him, I mean not an actual crush as such, because how could that ever happen? I mean, if you didn't even know about it, or even about the possibility of it, which you didn't, it couldn't really be a crush. And I do believe what you said about that first time, that you were thinking about how he might be reacting to a boy being around his little sister, because of those other experiences you'd had, and maybethat's all it was to begin with. But later … well, let's keep this in order. You remember when we were going to go to Alternapalooza? You got dressed up for the event to be "alternative". The "alternative" Sonny Morgendorffer. What did you think about that?'

'I … guess I didn't think about it too much.'

Jane nodded knowingly. 'Well, the truth is I was thinking it might be … not exactly a date, as such, but maybe an "alternative" date? I mean, going to a music festival can be the kind of thing that people do for a date, but it can also be something where a bunch of friends just hang out together. I was thinking that maybe if we got to the festival we might see another side of Sonny Morgendorffer. Just a possibility to keep open, if you see what I mean. You know that didn't work out. But even without getting there I could see you were feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation, and I started to feel bad because I'd got you into it—and I did wonder whether you were feeling as if I'd tricked you into going on a not-exactly-a-date with me and resenting it. At the same time, I could see you reacting to being around Trent, and Trent could too. Say what you like about my brother, as a person just to be around he makes things very easy. So—I dunno, maybe that's all it was. But maybe you were feeling comfortable picking up some sort of gay-friendly vibe from him. All I know is that after that Trent and I both began to—well, just to wonder.'

'Have you told Trent?'

'You mean about what's just happened today? Not so far. But back then, and since then too, we were both thinking along more or less the same lines and we talked about it sometimes. And we both knew that there was just no way we could say anything to you. Paint the picture in your mind. Trent says to you, "Sonny, have you ever wondered whether you might be gay?", and you say, "If you're trying to hit on me, Trent, forget it". Or I say to you, "Sonny, have you ever wondered whether you might be gay?", and you say, "Because that would be the only explanation for my not falling for your irresistible charms". I can just hear the way you'd say it, can't you?'

Sonny nodded slowly. 'You know me too well.'

'It's kinda like something somebody said to me about you, like it'd be no use trying to get through to you with words, because you've always got more words.'

Somebody, Sonny thought. Tom, obviously. Well, he found a way to get through to me, didn't he?

Jane continued. 'It's not even as if we were sure it was true. Suppose we said something to you and we were wrong? Right or wrong, it couldn't work. So all we could do was go on as if we didn't suspect anything. But we did suspect. I guess I don't have to go over all the details of every occasion, because once you actually start thinking about it I bet you'll figure out all the different pictures. Like that business with Ted, and your rash, and your piercing, and the time when Trent and I stayed over at your place. Although now that I think about it I remember there's one thing you probably won't figure out by yourself, but Trent and I both noticed your reaction when Monique showed up to go out on a date with him.'

'Monique? You mean, because I was seeing somebody going out on a date with Trent?'

'That too, but what you don't know and probably won't figure out is that Monique is bi, which might affect the vibe you pick up from her, and from Trent as well.'

'Oh.' Sonny scratched behind his ear. 'I suppose it might.'

'Well, anyway, the next thing was that Tom came into the picture.' Jane stopped to clear her throat and take a drink of water.

'Like I said before, I had my ground rules clear in my own head. If you weren't gay, maybe there'd be a time when we'd be something else as well as friends. But, on the other hand, maybe you were gay, and even if you weren't, maybe nothing else would ever happen. So there wasn't a reason why I couldn't play the field if I wanted to, not from my end and not from yours, either. Like that time at the dance when you went out to leave me alone with two boys that neither of us knew then were Ruttheimers, or the time when you were almost manoeuvring to set up Ted and me. Even when that business happened with the track team, it wasn't any possibilities between me and Evan that were an issue for you. So here's Tom, and why shouldn't I date him? Then unexpectedly you did start acting like a jerk about it, but then you realised what you were doing and we got past that. I don't know, there's no way I can know or maybe even that you can, but maybe another reason you acted that way was that you were already somehow picking up on something about Tom that made you feel awkward?'

'What about you?' Sonny said. 'What did you know about Tom?'

'Oh, he was up front with me from the beginning. He doesn't make a point of hiding his orientation. On the other hand, it'd be an odd sort of thing to bring up for no reason in the middle of a conversation, especially the kind of conversation he'd have with you.'

'And maybe you had more than one reason for not bringing it up with me?'

Jane shrugged. 'Maybe. Anyway, after Tom had spent a little bit of time with you, he began to guess that you might be gay. It makes sense that he'd be sensitive to that kind of thing. He's told me that it took him a bit of time to figure himself out, and he sympathised with the possibility that you might not have things clear in your own head. I never said anything about it to him until he brought it up first, just as a guess, and then I told him that I'd wondered once or twice myself, and when he saw I was curious he discussed the whole subject with me, I mean in general terms. And then … well, then things started to go not so well with Tom and me, like I told you, and it's true that it wasn't because of you. But you and Tom did seem to be getting on a little better, and I did start to wonder about whether anything might start happening between the two of you. And what was I supposed to do? If you were my best friend and a girl, I could maybe say to you, "Don't steal my boyfriend away from me", and then you'd tell me that was paranoid craziness and you weren't going to date anybody, let alone go after your best friend's boyfriend, but at least then it would all have been out in the open.'

'But you were trapped', said Sonny, as more things started to make sense to him. 'You couldn't say that stuff to me because of the things I didn't know and you couldn't tell me. At that point you couldn't even tell me Tom was bi, because I'd start asking you why you were telling me that and what made you think I'd be interested in knowing.'

Jane nodded sadly.

'You just had to wonder to yourself about whether your suspicions were crazy', Sonny continued. 'Now all that stuff that baffled me before makes sense. Everything you said to me, and Tom, and Trent. But where do we go from here?'

'I was hoping you knew. I mean, does the whole "Sonny Morgendorffer doesn't date" thing still apply now that you know? The truth is, you and Tom have a lot in common, but if the two of you start dating, I honestly don't know how I'm going to feel about it.'

'That makes two of us. But … you and Tom may be right that I'm not going to find my way out of this mess with just words. Maybe dating Tom will be the way I find out how this whole … thing … works. I just hope you don't hate me.'

Jane didn't answer for a while. Then she said, 'I think the two of us are going to have to spend some time apart getting used to whatever happens next. Tell me, why did you even get into his car?'

'The only thing on my mind was you!' Sonny said, but then he paused and shook his head. 'As far as I knew. But what do I know about myself? I have to stop hiding this stuff, that's one thing for sure.'

'How's that going so far? Not hiding, I mean. Quinn's being … it's like she's a different person.'

'I know. It's scaring me. She's making me feel that maybe it's more comfortable being her distant cousin than her brother. But I think she'll go back to more-or-less normal for her before too long.' Sonny shook himself. 'I've talked with Mom, too, and that worked out … well, actually.' His eyes narrowed with concentration. 'I haven't talked with Dad yet, though. I don't know how that's going to go. If I can meet the challenge of getting him to focus his attention enough to understand what I'm talking about … I don't know what comes next.'


This is Jane speaking, Tom.

Oh, hi, Jane. Ah … was there something in particular you wanted to say to me?

I talked to Sonny, like you suggested.

And … ah … how was that?

Well, you were right. He needed to hear from me. I couldn't honestly tell him that I'm happy about what's happened, but we said the things we needed to say to each other. Next thing, though, you do need to talk with him.

Um … are you saying that dating is the right thing for us to do after all?

That's not for me to say, Tom. The two of you will have to work that out for yourselves. But you do need to talk with him—probably not straight away, because he's got his family to deal with first. But whatever happens, he's got a lot of new stuff to work out, stuff that you know about personally, and who else do you think is going to help him with it? His father?

Sonny didn't know what his nervously grinning father was going to say to him. He had speculatively entertained a few possibilities—but the words that actually emerged were not among them, although completely in character.

'Am I supposed to be bothered by this?'

In a way Sonny found it reassuring that the fog of Jake Morgendorffer's cluelessness had not been dispelled even by finding out that his firstborn son and heir (and namesake) was gay, but after talking with his mother he found that he didn't want to miss this chance to get through to his father, no matter what happened. 'It's not about "supposed to", Dad, it's about what you actually feel.'

'But you're my son!' his father said, sticking to basic information that even he couldn't get wrong. 'You're my boy! You know how I feel about my boy!' Suddenly he shrank in on himself. 'Don't you?"

To his surprise, but strangely not to his displeasure, Sonny found himself in the position of wanting to offer reassurance instead of wanting to receive it. Unfortunately, how he could do so was one of the things he was still unsure about himself. 'I'm sorry, Dad', he said. 'I'm confused. I'm still not sure exactly how I feel myself about finding out I'm gay. If I'm still your boy, I'm glad. But … I couldn't help thinking about the different ways different fathers might react.'

'That's my boy! You're so smart, always thinking about different things. I've always known that. But you've got this father, not a different father. Not a father like "Mad Dog" Morgendorffer, for example! We know what that narrow-minded old bastard would have said, don't we! Curse you, old man! I wouldn't treat my son the way you'd treat me! I wouldn't pack him off to military school at the drop of a hat! Do you know what it's like at military school, Sonny? Do you know what would happen to you there?'

Under normal circumstances, Sonny would have treated his father's question as a purely rhetorical part of one of his regular rants. But as things were …

'I guess people would pick on me. That's what happens to me everywhere else.'

'That's right! That's my boy! You always know the answers.' Sonny's father smiled at him with what most people would still have thought was just his clueless way. But Sonny was beginning to consider the possibility of something else lying behind it when his father went on to say, 'Don't you?'

A week ago, Sonny reflected, he would either have said nothing at all or else come up with some wisecrack like, For the written, yes, but sometimes I choke in the practical. But now he figured that if his father remained genuinely oblivious, he had nothing to lose by giving a straight answer—and maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if it opened up a serious line of communication.

'Well … I don't know all the answers about military school. You actually went there, I didn't. Sure, I can figure that I would have been picked on, and I can figure that other people do get picked on there, but I don't suppose that's the whole story. I know you talk about it sometimes, but just in bits and pieces, and …' Sonny was looking for a tactfully worded way to say that his father didn't so much talk about his time at military school as rant about it, when his father surprised him by cutting in.

'… and there's some things I've never told you about. Or anybody. But, uh ….'

Sonny could see his father starting to stutter and leaped in to rescue him. 'Dad, you don't have to tell me any secrets if you don't want to.'

'I don't have a secret, Sonny. There are just some things I've never talked about because they've never come up, that's all.'

'Never? Not even with Mom?'

Jake shook his head. 'But I'm not keeping secrets from her. If you want to talk with your Mom about what I tell you, that's up to you.'

Sonny nodded soberly and gave full attention as his father continued to speak.

'At military school …', Jake began, and then Sonny saw him break off from the first stage of an incipient rant, gather himself together, and begin again with the same words in a different manner, one Sonny had seldom seen from him.

'At military school, it's all boys and no girls. And while you're boarding there, it's all boys and no girls all the time. I know you've got the brains to figure out some of what that means if you put your mind to it, but probably you never have. They say that same-sex crushes are part of a normal phase of adolescence for a lot of kids, boys and girls, but …'

Sonny had to interrupt. 'Dad, I'm not crushing on Tom. I didn't even like him … well, I didn't think I liked him much, until … well, I told you about that. I mean, I must have had some kind of feelings dammed up inside me that I was hiding even from myself, and then they came out like the dam was burst by a blockbuster bomb. I just don't think that's the way crushes work.'

'I'm not trying to tell you that you're wrong about yourself. You'll have to find out about yourself for yourself, and if you get any help it'll be from somebody like this Tom of yours, not me. I'm just telling you some things I learned at military school. I'm sure you'll see at once from what I said about military school that if same-sex crushes are a normal part of adolescence for some people, there are bound to be a lot more of them at military school, some more serious and some less so. A lot of the time they have to be hidden from the people around you, because when they happen, or even when people suspect they happen, they can lead to people being bullied. And although you know a lot, from hard experience, about different ways of being bullied, and although you've probably figured out that lots of bullying goes on at military school, maybe you haven't thought about how it's an environment for a lot of sexual bullying.'

Sonny was jolted. 'Dad, you've never said … were you …' He trailed off as his father shook his head.

'No, I'm talking about the whole picture as well as just myself. I did get picked on at military school, but more by some of the adults than by other cadets. I got some protection against them, at least for a while. You see, although military school is a place where it can be hard to hide things from other boys, and also a place where it can sometimes be risky if you don't hide certain things, it's also a place where it can be easier for boys who really are gay, or bisexual, or going through an adolescent phase, or just curious …'—and Jake paused momentarily to look down and then back up at Sonny—'… to find each other.'

Sonny had no trouble now making the deductions which he could see his father expected from him. After a moment's pause for digestion, Jake resumed.

'We didn't seem to have much in common. He was popular with everybody at Buxton Ridge, good at all activities, a highly efficient cadet, and a big sports star—football and boxing. But he liked me!' Decades of surprise rang in Jake's voice. 'I still had a bad time there, but it would have been worse for me without him.'

Jake shrugged. 'I don't know. We lost touch after Buxton Ridge. Maybe I was just going through a phase, or maybe there was just something special about that person at that time in that situation, or maybe I actually am bisexual, like your Tom. It's never been important to me to find out. Once I met your Mom … there's never been anybody else for me. I knew there'd been other people in her life before me, and she knew the same about me, but neither of us ever felt any need to know details.' He looked at Sonny in silence for a moment. 'Now is the time to talk about it, and you're the person to tell. I've still got some stuff from Buxton Ridge in some boxes in the garage if you're interested.'

Sonny nodded and stood up, and his father led him to the garage, where he pulled a box from a high shelf, opened it, and rummaged through it until he found an old yearbook. He opened it and handed it to Sonny, pointing at a photograph. 'Here he is.'

As his father kept looking through boxes, Sonny studied the photograph. It didn't tell him much about its subject, so instead he studied the name beneath it: Rutherford Grey VI. He tried it out a few times beneath his breath: 'Ruthehr-fourd. Ruth-er-ford. Ruth'f'd.' Then he tilted his head to one side and studied the photograph again. Aloud he said, 'I suppose people called him something for short, like "Ford".'

Without turning his head, Jake answered: 'No, everybody always called him "Sonny".'

Some dialogue from 'Dye! Dye! My Darling' by Glenn Eichler