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SUMMARY: Two boys growing up together in an idyllic beachfront community share a passion for baseball. One excels at the game and plays it with reckless abandon; the other, less talented, studies the game and those who play it, hoping someday to share what he learns with others. Best friends since childhood, the two have seen how baseball can bring them closer together. Now, having just graduated from high school, it’s about to show them a crueler side of the game. Baseball is about to separate them even though neither wants that to happen. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Unless otherwise indicated by context, all of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs portrayed or mentioned in this story are fictional, not depictions of real people, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams, clubs, or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there is something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. August 5: I’m at the beach having some fun. If you’re reading this, as I hope you are, I was successful in scheduling this chapter to appear online this evening. Although I won’t be back until this coming weekend, please feel free to post any comments you have or to send me an e-mail. I may not be able to respond to them until I get back, but they’ll be a nice welcome home present for me. At this time I’m still going to try to post the next chapter a week from today, but I’ll have to decide what kind of shape it’s in when I get back.
It was still dark out when I woke up the following morning. Alone in bed, I could hear the sound of water splashing somewhere nearby. I figured it was Mark taking a shower and decided to wait for him to finish before venturing out of my room. Closing my eyes momentarily, I must have fallen back asleep because the next thing I recall someone was trying to shake me awake. When I opened my eyes, Mark was standing next to the bed staring at me.
“You need to get up, Ethan,” he said. “We need to be at the stadium by 8 o’clock. This bus trip today is going to be a killer and Grady likes to get on the road as early as possible. He’ll be fining anyone who gets to the stadium late and delays our departure. I’m not interested in paying the man and I don’t imagine you are either.”
“And be sure to pack a couple of changes of clothes,” he added, echoing D.W. “Some guys try to sneak by with one and that makes for a less than pleasant experience on the drive home at the end of the trip. I’ll make some bacon and eggs for us while you get cleaned up.”
I laid there staring at him. I knew he was right, but I was disappointed he had said nothing about what had happened the previous evening. I was more than a little curious how he felt about that. Truth be told, I was still trying to figure out how I felt.
Mark turned and started to walk away, then stopped and came back to the bed.
“As far as what happened last night goes, well, um, that’s between the two of us and should stay that way. I mean, you know how guys can be, Ethan. There would be hell to pay if anyone found out what happened. We shouldn’t talk about it on the bus today and probably should keep our distance from one another as well.”
“We don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about us. But we can talk about what happened at the hotel later tonight. I sure as hell would like to know exactly what happened last night.”
Then he turned again and abruptly walked away.
I remember closing my eyes.
It was disappointing to hear all of that, but I knew what Mark was talking about. I had spent enough time in locker rooms over the years to understand just how homophobic some guys could be. Faggot rivaled asshole as the word tossed around most often.
Like I had told Brady, most of the time it was used as a general purpose insult. Hardly anyone used it because they thought someone in the locker room was actually homosexual. Real faggots, guys who were gay like me, resided in some other world far away from the locker room. Everyone knew that; and everyone also knew what would happen if a faggot was stupid enough to stick his head into a locker room.
I had seen what happened once when a kid suspected of being gay was courageous enough to try out for the team. It wasn’t a pretty sight. They beat the shit out of the kid while I wasn’t around and I never saw him in the locker room again after that.
So yeah, sure, I wasn’t about to announce that Mark and I were engaged in front of the guys. Still, it would have been nice if he had said something about enjoying what happened; something about how much he liked me and was hoping the two of us could become better friends.
It made me wonder whether he regretted what happened, but I didn’t want to go there for now. Tossing the sheets off, I climbed out of bed and headed down to the bathroom. My shower that morning was refreshing and I remember just standing there letting the water warm me up. Down below I could hear Mark puttering around in the kitchen and I cut the shower short since I didn’t want to delay us.
I stood there drying myself off, then folded the towel and replaced it on the rack from which I had taken it. Looking into the mirror, it seemed to me I was still the same person I had been all my life; and yet something was different this morning. I had actually had sex with a guy for the first time; and not just any guy.
Mark was someone I liked and admired. I had enjoyed having sex with him; kind of. While I didn’t know for sure, I was pretty certain he must have enjoyed it as well. I mean, how could the dude deny it? The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself he had liked letting me do it to him.
How well I had done compared to his girlfriend was harder to say. Just before he had come he had told her to pull off so maybe I had done something he wasn’t used to getting from her. Did he like the fact I didn’t pull off or did he find it disgusting? He had obviously enjoyed pounding her vagina a lot. I had seen that with my own two eyes although he didn’t know that and never would. Did he have a preference between the two?
Maybe he even liked it better, I recall telling myself.
Jesus, stop it, Ethan. You have to be a pretty sick puppy to be thinking about all of this, whether the dude prefers getting sucked or pounding a pussy better.
I mean, even if he preferred having intercourse with Jen, he hasn’t really seen everything you have to offer. He’s just had a taste, not the main dish.
Just thinking about that made me blush and suddenly a more serious thought occurred to me.
What had happened last night was over and done. The important thing was to use it as a foundation to build a better relationship with Mark. I liked Mark. I liked him a lot. He was good looking and strong and, best of all, he was a hell of a nice guy, the kind of guy anyone would be lucky to have as a friend; maybe even a boyfriend.
We weren’t there yet, not even close. But by now I was sure he must have liked it so we could get there if both of us wanted to. It wouldn’t be easy, but Mark and I could build a life together if we were willing to work at it. The two of us could become best friends and spend the rest of our lives together. Wasn’t that the whole point?
It was right about then I thought about Hunter.
Shit, what the fuck is going on here?
I like Hunter more than anyone else in the world. What the hell am I doing thinking about Mark as a boyfriend? Hunter’s the only boyfriend I’m interested in having. Last night was a mistake.
You’re thinking about it because Hunter isn’t gay and you’re horny, Ethan, came the response from a voice deep within. You can’t spend your whole life pining after Hunter. What the hell are you going to do when he proposes to some girl and asks you to be the best man at his wedding?
Kidnap the dude and lock him up in some dungeon?
Okay, I really need to stop thinking about all this shit, I said to myself. You may be royally confused, but you have a bus trip you need to get ready for. That’s the one thing you can count on for sure.
On that note I finished my morning duties and headed back to the bedroom. I made the bed, finished packing and lugged the duffel bag Brady and D.W. had helped me pick out down to the first floor. Mark motioned me over and pointed at the plate he had made up for me.
I wasn’t that hungry, but Mark had made it and I wanted to show my appreciation. I wolfed it down quickly.
“Did you turn off the lights upstairs?” he asked.
“I did,” I responded.
With that the two of us stepped outside.
“Oh shit,” Mark said. “I forgot about Jen taking the car back to Baltimore. We’ll have to take the freaking bus and we’ll probably be late.”
“I could call D.W. if you’ll lend me your cell phone,” I responded. “He offered to come by when he dropped me off last night.”
So that’s what we did. While Mark locked the house, I called D.W. He was already on the road, but it wasn’t that far out of his way. When he arrived, I tossed my duffel bag into the back seat, then climbed in beside it while Mark rode shotgun up front.
Fifteen minutes later we were at the stadium. Grady was already there, as was Brady; so were a lot of the rest of the guys. Brady was running around with his arms outstretched pretending he was some kind of airplane. Mark and I loaded our bags into the storage area below the bus. Then he climbed up the stairs and took a seat close to the front while I pretended to be some kind of anti-aircraft battery trying to shoot Brady out of the sky.
But Brady eluded my efforts to shoot him down and finally honed in on me in attack mode. Before I knew it, I was down on the ground with Brady on top of me giggling like crazy. I remember being a little embarrassed and reminding myself I needed to start behaving like an adult now, not some crazed little kid.
The bus was rapidly filling up so I headed over to join the rest of the team. I climbed the stairs and saw an empty seat next to Mark. As I approached, something about his body language reaffirmed what I already knew, that I needed to pass him by and find a seat at the back of the bus where rookies like me were supposed to hang out.
After everything that had happened the previous evening, it seemed cruel. But I wasn’t about to challenge the unspoken rules of baseball. I made my way all the way to the back of the bus and took the very last seat.
The bus was large enough so no one needed to join me back there. I could have been left alone for the entire trip and that’s what I kind of expected. I was surprised when D.W. showed up and took the seat next to mine. No longer a rookie, he could have staked his claim to a better seat.
“To what do I owe this honor?” I asked.
“I just wanted to get as far away from Dylan as I could,” D.W. said, shrugging his shoulders. “Besides, I like to sleep on these trips and you look like you would make a pretty good pillow; kind of soft and fluffy, at least in spots,” he added, grinning.
“I knew there had been to be some kind of catch,” I replied, smiling at him.
But I was glad he had joined me. I wasn’t looking forward to this trip. As far as I could tell, no one on the team was looking forward to it with the possible exception of Brady. It was the first time his father had brought him along on one of these trips and you could see how excited he was. But no one else shared his enthusiasm, least of all me; so even if D.W. spent most of the trip sleeping, it would be good to have some company, if only between his naps.
The Middle Atlantic League is part of a hierarchy of baseball leagues that provide opportunities for young players like me to develop their talents, skills and abilities. In doing so, the leagues help to identify the very best players and serve as the funnel through which those players are channeled into the Professional Baseball League of America (PBLA), the pinnacle of the hierarchy.
Composed entirely of Class A teams, the Middle Atlantic League was pretty much the lowest level in professional baseball. It was the kind of place where younger players just starting out or who needed to work on their game are sent at the beginning of their professional careers. Working on your game could mean just about anything, including learning how to hit a curveball if you didn’t already know how to do that to improving your fielding skills.
At the beginning, I assumed I had been assigned to the Heat partly because I was just starting out and partly because I needed to get bigger and stronger if I was ever going to play major league ball. Playing Class A would also serve as my introduction to a full minor league season, about 140 games. Although I had arrived after the Heat’s season had already begun, I was still going to be playing more games that summer than I had ever played before in my life.
Later, under Grady’s tutelage, I began to realize there was more to it than that; a lot more. There were many things about my game I could improve if I was willing to let myself be coached. Take base stealing, for example; I had always been a very good base stealer growing up because I was fast and could outrun the throws from most of the catchers I played against.
But lately Grady had been working with me one on one because he knew something I hadn’t realized until joining the Heat; that stealing bases at the professional level was less about speed than about the ability to read a pitcher’s movements on the mound. And I could already see how much of a difference it was making as Grady tutored me in that peculiar science. I was becoming a much better base stealer.
In short, Class A ball is a way for the PBLA to begin sorting out not just who has potential and who doesn’t or even how to maximize a player’s potential; it was a place to figure out who was willing to learn how to play the game the right way and who wasn’t.
A lot of guys would never realize just how much they needed to learn. Like me, they had grown up all their lives being the best player on whatever teams they played for; and still thinking they were the best, they weren’t open to coaching and would end up spending their careers wondering why they could never make it up to the next level. But if you had enough talent and were willing to learn, management would eventually recognize that and move you up the ladder at the speed they considered appropriate.
The next promotion might be to a Class A+ club (which for the Blues would mean the Rockville Royals), Class AA or, much less likely, Class AAA. The AA affiliate for the Blues was the Columbia Crush located in Columbia, Maryland. Further away and based in Virginia, the AAA affiliate was the Portsmouth Tide. That was the highest level of minor league ball, the last step before reaching the major leagues.
And yet whether I would ever move on depended entirely on how I did in the Middle Atlantic League, which was based primarily in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The League was composed of fourteen teams spread over two divisions.
Playing in the Northern Division, the team I was on, the Delmarva Heat, was considered one of the weakest teams in the league. We were currently holding down last place in the Northern Division. Although most of our games were played against other Northern Division teams, we did play some against Southern Division opponents during the course of the season.
The trip we were now about to embark on would be mostly against two of those Southern Division teams and would end up taking us over sixteen hundred miles in a long, circular, loop by the time it was over. Starting out in Shoreham, we would be heading south into Virginia and then west. Eventually we would cross into North Carolina and continue west until we reached Asheville, North Carolina, where we would play the Asheville Legends.
The Legends were generally considered one of the best teams in the League, if not the best.
The thought of driving 540 miles in a bus to Asheville to play a hot team in its own stadium before rabid fans did not make the trip especially appealing for any of us. Nine to ten hours on an old bus is not the most pleasant experience under the best of circumstances and what was waiting for us at the other end was almost certain defeat; at least that’s what most of the guys thought.
After playing three games against the Legends, we would climb back on to our bus and drive west, then north, almost 360 miles to Summerton Bank Ballpark in Louisville, Kentucky, where we would play four games against the Louisville Sluggers. Assuming we survived the trip, which would come after an afternoon game against Asheville, Louisville would be a somewhat easier opponent although they were winning a little over half of their games. That was a lot more than we could say.
Four games in Louisville would be followed by still another 540 mile trip, this time up and across West Virginia to Hagerstown in western Maryland where we would play a night game against the Raptors. Then, boarding our bus after that game, we would head south 174 miles, passing near Baltimore and Annapolis before finally crossing the Bay Bridge and limping home after midnight to Shoreham.
Our reward for that trip would be to get up the next day and begin a three day series against the Gastonia Braves and then a four game set against the Savannah Storm, a seven game stretch that would be the prelude to another eight day, seven game, road trip. To me the whole thing sounded brutal and it pretty much turned out as expected.
There would be good days and bad days and many boring days as well. But mostly there would be hot, humid, and dusty days that sucked the life out of you. To say I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy would be generous. Being on the bus all that time was one of the worst experiences of my life, but somehow I managed to survive. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Different players respond to road trips in different ways. Some read or play cards. Some plug in their earbuds and listen to music the whole way. Some talk, try to sleep, talk some more, and then try to sleep again. I had brought a book along, but had tossed it into the overhead bin on the bus. Then, before I even realized it, D.W. had quickly fallen asleep.
His head was leaning against my shoulder and there was no way I could get to that book without disturbing him; and because D.W. looked totally relaxed and comfortable resting there against my shoulder, I didn’t want to do that because I knew it would wake him up. Instead, I just sat there, allowing myself to be used as a human pillow and trying to avoid dying of boredom.
Not having anything better to do, I started going over what had happened the previous evening in my mind again. I could still remember everything as if it was happening right now. But there were so many unanswered questions and the number seemed to multiply the longer I sat there thinking about things. The one thing I was certain of is that I had done nothing to lead Mark on. I hadn’t even been thinking about sex when he leaned down and kissed me.
It had come as a total shock.
Yeah, sure, I knew the moment it happened I didn’t want it to end; and I had done everything I could to keep Mark aroused once it started. But I hadn’t led him on. He had been the one that came on to me. But what did it mean? Was it the beer that had brought it on; the fighting with Jen? And if it was the beer, was it just that or was the beer his way of letting his inhibitions run free?
At first I had been certain Mark enjoyed the whole thing, but now I found myself wondering whether he had liked it at all. He had hesitated momentarily and thought about pulling away. I was the one who wouldn’t let him do that. But if he had really wanted to break away he could have.
He was bigger and stronger than me. If he had started to resist, I wouldn’t have tried to force him to have sex with me. So he must have wanted to do it at some level and he had finished it after all. If he wasn’t enjoying himself, he could have stopped; or would he have stopped? Maybe the whole thing was just about getting off.
The whole thing seemed more and more confusing the longer I sat there thinking about it; and it didn’t help when D.W. reached over and gently rested one of his hands on my thigh as a way of bracing himself. There was nothing sexual about it for him. He was pretty zonked out. But just the touch of his hand on my thigh made my groin twitch momentarily and I found myself struggling to avoid becoming aroused.
I don’t know how long all of this went on. The next thing I knew Dylan and Jerry were standing in front of the seat, staring down at D.W. and me.
“Well, well, well; look at what we have here,” Dylan said, softly. “It’s the team faggot and D.W.”
Although he didn’t shift his position, D.W. opened his eyes and I could tell he was aware of what was going on.
“Is this your new girlfriend, D.W.?” Dylan said. “The two of you look so cute cuddled up like that. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Unlike pretty boy, I know you’re not a faggot, D.W. But I suppose even a straight dude like you could get lonely at times; could miss some of the comforting he gets from his girl back home. And Ethan there, well, he really is pretty; I’ll give him that. He’s got to be the prettiest boy I’ve ever run across, D.W.”
“Not much potential as a shortstop though as far as I can see; too small; too insignificant; a boy trying to play a man’s position. And not much of a boy either, a pretty boy; has he tried to kiss you yet, D.W.?”
It was the last thing I needed to hear right about then.
“Why don’t you do us a favor and get lost, Dylan,” I responded.
I was defensive now and pushed D.W. up and away from me.
“I don’t know what I ever did to make you hate me, but you’re a pretty sick dude. You need to get some help.”
That only made Dylan chuckle.
“You could help me, pretty boy,” he responded. “You could get down on your knees and suck my dick, faggot. I’m sure you’re good at it. Feel free to do it right here if you want; no one’s paying attention.”
By now I was getting more and more upset. Maybe it was because I had been thinking about what happened between Mark and me the previous evening. Maybe it was because I knew Dylan was right at some level, that I was gay and different from him and the rest of the guys on the team. Or maybe I was just tired of him being on my case all the time.
Whatever it was, I wanted to hit him. I wanted to punch him in the face and rip out that nasty tongue of his.
And I guess D.W. must have sensed I was at the end of my patience because it was right about then he spoke up.
“He’s a better shortstop than you, Dylan,” D.W. said. “He’s a better hitter for one thing. He covers a lot more ground in the field. His throwing is more accurate. I don’t have to pull his bacon out of the fire like I have to with you all the time. You’re going to lose that starting job of yours, Dylan. You’re not as good as he is and anyone with half a brain on this team can already see that.”
It surprised me to hear D.W. say all of that. I was part of the ongoing competition so it was hard for me to know exactly how I compared to Dylan. I thought I was better, but how objective could I be after all? So hearing D.W. say that was a morale booster.
But now it was Dylan’s turn to be angry. He turned his attention away from me and focused his anger on D.W.
The two of them were jawing at one another something fierce and I was worried a fight might break out at any moment. And then Brady showed up.
“The Skipper wants to see you up front, Dylan,” he said. “He sent me back here to tell you that and to tell you he wants to see you right now, not in a minute or two; right now.”
“We’re not finished with this, dude,” Dylan said, his face contorted with rage as he stood there staring at D.W.
“We’re going to talk some more about this, you and me,” he continued. “And maybe do more than just talk.”
“I doubt it, Dylan,” D.W. said. “That’s your problem, jerk. You talk a good game. Too bad you can’t back it up by playing one.”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Dylan responded, turning suddenly and walking toward the front of the bus.
Brady just stood there staring at D.W. and me and you could tell he was shaken by what had happened. But soon enough he forced the words out of his mouth.
“The Skipper would appreciate it if the two of you avoided Dylan the rest of this trip,” he said. “He asked me to tell you that; to avoid Dylan.”
“We’ll try our best,” D.W. responded. “But if we can’t have some fun with Dylan, we’ll need to find someone else to have fun with.”
And with that he pulled Brady down between us and started tickling the kid. Brady was laughing like crazy, squirming around and trying to escape D.W.’s clutches. The whole thing only lasted a few moments, but it broke the tension back there and I was grateful he had done it and for what he had said.
Later, after Brady headed back up to the front of the bus, I let D.W. know that.
“Thanks,” I said. “I don’t know if I can take much more from Dylan without getting into a fight with him.”
“That’s what he wants,” D.W. responded. “He wants to get into a fight with you because he’s bigger and he wants to hurt you if he can; maybe hurt you enough so you can’t play and challenge him for his job.”
“Don’t get suckered into playing his game, Ethan,” he continued. “What I told him was the truth. You’re definitely the better shortstop and it won’t take long for that to be settled.”
“Do you really think so?” I asked. “Do you really think I’m better?”
“I don’t just think so,” he responded. “I know so; and Grady knows to. He just wants you to prove it in front of the guys so there won’t be any lingering questions or any hard feelings either when he makes you the starter.”
“The guys aren’t stupid, Ethan. They’ve been playing this game all their life and they believe what they see. They know you’re better than most of the rest of us and they like you because you don’t even know how good you are.”
We sat there and talked for what seemed like a very long time. At some point we crossed the border into North Carolina and were greeted by a huge sign announcing that fact.
“Home sweet home,” D.W. muttered.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You didn’t know I was from North Carolina?” he responded.
“No, I didn’t,” I said. “You sure don’t talk like you’re a southern boy.”
“That’s because I spent most of my life growing up in Illinois,” D.W. responded. “Then my father, who’s a minister, ended up moving us to Asheville for some reason; so that’s where I lived the last two years I was in high school.”
“Wow,” I responded. “So this must be great for you. I mean, going back home to Asheville. You’ll be able to play before your Mom and Dad; maybe even stay at home.”
“That would be a no,” D.W. said, staring out the window. “We don’t get along very much, my father and me. I told you he was a minister, but the truth is he’s a Bible thumping religious wacko who preaches mostly bigotry and hate with a side of creationism mixed in.”
“It took me a long time to figure out what a wacko he was and the truth is we cut a deal two years ago. My father got my signing bonus, which was pretty much petty cash to be honest, in exchange for signing the papers to let me play ball. I don’t expect he or my Mom will come out to the game; and by now they’ve probably polluted the mind of my little brother enough so he won’t come either. That’s what bothers me most.”
“I hate the man with a passion because it isn’t easy to wipe a soul clean when it’s been subjected to that kind of shit for so many years. The man still exacts his revenge on me every day; because even though I can pretty much count on it being wrong if he said it, that poisonous bile he’s infected me with runs pretty deep.”
“And I know it’s the exact same shit he feeds my little brother every day and that bothers me. It bothers me a lot. I love my little brother so much, but I go to sleep every night ashamed of myself for abandoning him to that man.”
“I tried to protect him from all of that. I swear I tried to protect him, Ethan. I tried really hard. And then, I don’t know. At some point I realized I had to save myself before it was too late. I know that. The man was destroying my soul.”
“But abandoning my little brother like that? It’s a pretty heavy cross to bear, Ethan; and if there’s really a hell, I’ll be burning there a long time for doing something like that to him.”
“I hate myself for leaving him behind like that.”
I didn’t know what to say at that point. It was hard to believe all of this. D.W. was one of the nicest people I had ever met; one of the most popular players on the team, if not the most popular. Everyone liked him because he was just so relaxed and easy-going and you always felt better just talking to him.
He had never seemed very religious at all. He was kind of like me that way. And whenever guys were arguing about something, he never pushed a particular point of view or came down very hard on one side or the other; if anything, he was always encouraging people to consider the other point of view.
There was obviously a lot more to the story than he had told me and I was curious to learn more because this was a side of D.W. I had never seen before. I don’t think anyone else had either. But I didn’t really want to push him to open up more right then because I could see how much it bothered him it to talk about it at all.
Seeing the tears welling up in his eyes, I decided to let it go.
“Well, maybe some of your friends then,” I said, softly. “Maybe you’ll have a chance to see some of them.”
D.W. looked at me strangely and for a moment I thought he was about to say something. But then, for whatever reason, he thought better of it.
“Yeah, maybe some of my friends will be there,” he replied; and that was the end of that.
“In any event, we still have a long ways to go so I’m going back to sleep. You’re a pretty excellent shortstop, Ethan, but you’re a damn fine pillow; nice and cozy.”
With that he closed his eyes and he was asleep again in a flash. By now I was tired as well and began to drift off. Soon enough we were leaning against one another, holding each other in place without even being aware we were doing it.
D.W. was right.
We still had a long way to go.