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THE sea of humanity arrayed in front of David and Patrick looked a bit like a huge school of fish all moving in the same direction at the same time. This group wasn’t fish but was made up of concert attendees, all intent on making the same trek from the suburban New Jersey stadium to their cars to go home. Based on his vast experience of attending two concerts, it seemed to sixteen-year-old Patrick that concerts were fun, but getting out afterward not so much.

Both Patrick and his older brother, David, were riding high on the intensity of the music and the shared emotion of the experience. The concert had been fantastic, beyond their wildest dreams. To others, it might have appeared they were drunk, but they were only drunk on the joy of good, intense music shared with tens of thousands of friends. Patrick would not have objected to having a beer or two, or even three, and had in fact asked his brother several times to go buy them a couple. But David had refused each time.

Patrick, at sixteen, was too young to buy alcohol for himself, although in earlier days that would not have been a problem for him. David was barely two years older, which technically made him too young to buy alcohol too, but David looked older than eighteen, and he had a really good fake ID that allowed him to do a lot of things he technically shouldn’t have been able to do.

It wouldn’t have been a problem that night, except for the episode a few months earlier when Patrick had come home drunk rather late one night. He hadn’t even had that much to drink. And while he couldn’t prove it, he was convinced someone must have spiked his last beer. He hadn’t opened it himself and couldn’t remember who had handed it to him. That, plus it had tasted a little different. He had assumed it was just because it was a different brand than he’d been drinking.

Even though he was only sixteen, Patrick had been drinking beer with his buddies for a couple of years. He’d come home many times having had more to drink and never once had a problem. He’d even managed conversations with his parents. Someone clearly had spiked his drink that night, but he didn’t know who or why.

When he got home, his mother had screamed at him for hours about how irresponsible and ungrateful and disrespectful he had been—that plus a whole bunch of other stuff. He didn’t tell her, but when he was that wasted, her yelling was of absolutely no avail. Now, if she had really wanted to make him suffer, she should have yelled at him the next day, when he was hung over. She had not, and he sure as hell was not about to tell her that little fact. He’d been on his mother’s shit list ever since that night.

He’d been grounded for the rest of his natural-born life, or so it had seemed. But what was even worse was his mother had found and destroyed his fake ID. Without a fake ID, he couldn’t buy his own beer. And because he was grounded, he couldn’t go out to earn money to buy a new fake ID. Life sucked, in his estimation—at least except for that particular evening at the concert, which had been phenomenal.

He was, in fact, still grounded, but when his brother told him about the concert and how he had managed to score two tickets to the musical event of the season, Patrick knew he had to go and would have done just about anything to make it happen. He was even more determined when he heard the seats were absolutely incredible, only a few rows away from the stage. They’d talked it over and decided to both sneak out of the house and hope their parents were not aware they had left. The plan had a number of weaknesses, but it was the best they could come up with on short notice.

They’d been so close they could see the individual drops of sweat on the gorgeous lead male vocalist’s face. Of course, the fact that he was all of twenty-three with a buff body packed into skintight jeans and was shirtless didn’t hurt. That was part of what had made the experience so intoxicating for them. They weren’t just listening to music and seeing little tiny figures way off in the distance—that night they were listening to and feeling the music and were nearly able to reach out and touch the band that was only a few feet away from them.

They had deliberately hung back afterward and let everyone else start the exodus while they enjoyed a few minutes more of the mellow feeling. Even though he already knew the answer, Patrick had to ask the question anyway. “Do we really have to go home?”

“Yep. Eventually it’s gotta happen.”

Patrick was worried about just one thing: their mother. “You know that if Mom finds out what we did, she’s gonna be so royally pissed that even you, beloved son, will not be able to haul our asses out of the fire.”

While David had grown up the good boy, or as their mother called him, “the good son,” Patrick had been different, or so he’d been told. They were brothers of the same parents and were only two years apart, but in other ways they were worlds apart. And it wasn’t just physical differences. They were simply two very different people.

David had been a straight-A student and popular with everyone. He had excelled at any number of sports and had trophies and awards to prove his excellence. Everyone liked him and wanted to spend time with him, which made his mother very proud. While Patrick was more introverted than his brother, David could walk up to just about anybody and start talking about just about anything. Patrick couldn’t dream of doing such a thing.

Patrick was bright but didn’t learn in the same ways others did, and as a result frequently skirted the edges of failing, but not for lack of interest or effort. His mother gave him no end of grief about his poor performance, assuming he simply wasn’t applying himself. She repeatedly held up his brother as an example of what Patrick should try to become. Over the years, Patrick had grown tired of the constant comparison. It was tough being number two when number one was so great, not that Patrick held that against David.

David held a special place in their mother’s heart. The brothers had talked about her strong attachment to David and how uncomfortable it sometimes made him feel. Over the years, they had spent many hours talking about the way their mother was almost fixated on David and why. There was, of course, the obvious fact that David was the firstborn. Also, there was the whole bright and popular thing. That, plus Patrick was a disappointment, as she’d so often told him.

After a lot of discussion, they concluded that maybe David was everything their mother was not. At first they had thought she envied her son, but they had finally decided she always delighted in those things about him that she herself did not possess: his popularity, his easiness with people, his success in school.

When they got close to home, David parked on the street, a few houses away from their final destination. If they were going to pull this off, they needed every advantage they could get. They also needed to be in total stealth mode. No noise. Nothing.

They both were somewhat elated when they approached from an especially dark angle and saw no lights on inside the house. So far so good. They had each left the house by their own bedroom window earlier in the evening, but they decided to return together through Patrick’s window, which he had left open. His bedroom was a bit more distant from their parents’ bedroom, which was another thing in their favor.

David boosted Patrick up and through the window first, and then Patrick reached back and pulled David up and inside after him. While David lowered the window, Patrick turned on his bedside light so they wouldn’t trip over anything and make a lot of noise. Patrick looked up and screamed in shock and horror. Their mother was sitting in the bedroom—and she looked mightily pissed.

Since he hadn’t seen what was happening, David turned around fast.

“Oh, crap!”

“Hello, boys. Imagine my surprise when I found both of your beds empty earlier this evening.”

“I can explain,” David started.

“Save it. We’ll talk about this tomorrow. Since both of you are grounded, we’ll have no problem finding a time when I get home from the hospital tomorrow night.”

“Mom,” David gave it another shot.

“Yes?”

“It was all my fault,” he tried.

“I highly doubt that. You were always such a good boy.” Turning her attention to Patrick, she glared. “You, on the other hand, were not. I have no doubt that it was you who dragged your brother along on some crazy, probably dangerous adventure to God knows where.”

“Mom,” David tried again, “give the kid a break. You’re being totally unfair.”

“I’m a parent—it’s what I do. Good night.”

“Well, hell!” David observed after she left the room.

“No shit. I am so screwed,” Patrick rightfully noted. “But you, the boy wonder, seem to be coming out of it mostly unscathed. My life sucks,” he said, throwing himself down on his bed.

“Sorry, kiddo,” David said as he knelt down beside his brother’s bed. “I’ll do everything in my power to convince her that it really was me leading you and not you leading me. And we both know that’s true. There was no way you could ever have come up with those tickets for a sold-out concert.”

Patrick raised his head off his pillow, looked at his brother with sudden intensity, and asked, “Right. Just how did you come by those tickets, anyway?”

“I know a few people.”

“That, dear brother, is the understatement of the century.” David seemed to know absolutely everyone. Patrick always watched in amazement whenever he went anywhere with his older brother. Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere, they always ran into someone David knew.

And everyone seemed to like David. Part of that may have been that David was a very up-front and direct kind of guy. He wasn’t afraid of trying anything or of saying anything, including saying he was wrong, if that happened to be the case. For a lot of guys, admitting they were wrong about anything was something approaching a high crime.

For as long as Patrick could remember, David had been popular, and always seemed to have lots of guy friends as well as a never-ending line of women wanting to date him. And he had dated a lot of women over the years. From things he’d said to his brother, Patrick knew David had been sexually active with a wide variety of women for four years already by the time he turned eighteen, a few months ago. Patrick was a virgin, so he eagerly listened to all the details of David’s sexual exploits, anxious to learn everything he could.

“Did you sleep with some woman to get those tickets?” Patrick asked.

“Maybe a little.”

“How do you fuck a little?”

“Would you believe me if I told you she was really short?”

“Actually, yes. It is my honest assessment that if she has breasts and is breathing, you’ll do her.”

“Hey! I’m not that much of a total whore. But I have slept with a few women.”

“A few? A few?” Patrick said in amused disbelief. “A few hundred, maybe. I’ve seen a lot of women—and men, I might add—check you out and throw themselves at you over the years.”

“Hey! Bro! You know I’m occupied full time with the ladies. Even though I’ve had my share of invitations to play with the home team, I’ve never done that. That’s your playing field, not mine.”

Patrick smiled at his brother. David had figured out long ago that Patrick was gay and had not only talked with him about being gay, but had supported him fully every step of the way. David wasn’t gay, but he had no problem with his brother being gay. That was one of the reasons Patrick loved him.

“I know.”

David had suspected for a long time, but when he found a few gay sites cached in their shared computer in the family living room, he had the confirmation he needed. He’d immediately cleared all evidence of Patrick’s browsing history and then talked with his brother about how to cover his footsteps so no one else could see what he’d been doing. When they got a computer, their mother had insisted it be kept in the living room so she or her husband could monitor the boys and make sure they weren’t doing anything they shouldn’t. She didn’t entirely trust the whole Internet thing.

Patrick looked at his clock and saw it was already 2:00 a.m. “Gotta get to sleep before she plays reveille at 6:00 a.m. And you know she’s gonna be pissed off for days over this.”

“I promise I’ll try to deflect her on this one.”

“Thanks. It won’t work, but I appreciate the thought.”

“Good night, bro,” David said as he left Patrick’s room and quietly closed the door.