Goldilocks And The Three Browns
by HYPERFocused

Using the key he knew Ephram kept stuck between the last two slats of the porch swing, Bright Abbott gingerly opened the Brown's front door. He didn't quite call it breaking and entering; he knew he'd be welcome had anyone been home.

Shaking the snow off of his down ski jacket, and stamping it off of his boots, Bright let himself into the Browns' kitchen. He yelled "hello" just to be on the safe side.

He didn't expect to hear a response, nor did he get one. Ephram had said they were all supposed to be out of town.

Delia was off on a field trip for her Brownie troop or Indian Princess Guides or whatever the hell Amy had been when she was a little girl. Bright only remembered her dancing around in feathers and glitter -- something he might once have found interesting if she wasn't eight and his sister.

Dr Brown was away assisting his Aunt Linda at a clinic opening a few towns away. A nice deal for the sick and underprivileged, Bright thought, but not what he would call a romantic getaway.

Still, a weekend alone together seemed to prove they were actually dating, despite Delia's protests, and his dad's horror at the idea. Just how twisted things could actually get if he and Ephram ... and Ephram's dad and his aunt married. It confused him just to think about it. There wasn't much point in it anyway. Ephram didn't think of him like that.

Ephram, his best friend in the world (now that Colin was dead), was spending the night at his girlfriend's new apartment. Bright thought it was terribly unfair. What did she have that he didn't? Besides great tits -- yeah, he still noticed -- musical talent, and a place of her own. Never mind. Bright knew what she had. She had Ephram.

But really, the girl wasn't that much of a prize. She was bossy, and before she'd decided Ephram was boyfriend material, she'd treated him like a little kid. Bright wondered if she'd cut his meat for him on a date. Besides, she had almost as dumb a name as he did. Madison. That was a president, or a street. At best, she was named after a fish. In a Disney movie, for God's sake. At least Bright was a family name.

Still, he'd promised to play wingman for Ephram, so he covered. Andy thought his son was spending the weekend skiing with Bright; something he'd assume was perfectly safe and wholesome. Bright wished they really were skiing, camping out after at some cheap lodge. He had a quick but not at all wholesome image of the two of them sharing a sleeping bag, like the guys in that car ad, hanging on the side of a mountain. At least he thought it was a car ad. Might have been a candy bar.

He pictured the long drive to the lodge. Ephram wouldn't have gloves, of course. He'd insist that his hands weren't cold, but Bright wouldn't believe him. He'd just say "here" and warm Ephram's long, slim fingers in his larger hands. Then he'd hand Ephram the black leather gloves he'd brought just for him.

Bright thought about how Ephram would bitch about the lack of good radio sta tions, and how Bright would apologize that his old truck didn't have a CD player. Then they'd sing along to the radio anyway. He imagined what it would feel like, when Ephram fell asleep, leaning into him, and how Bright would turn and sniff his hair, then wrap his coat around his shoulders in case he got cold.

It was easy enough to be Ephram's alibi. His own parents were too preoccupied with Amy and her latest depressive exploits to pay much attention to him. He just said he was going over to Ephram's to study, knowing no one would ask when he'd be back. He'd winced when his father said, "I don't know how you and that boy became friends, but at least he's better than his father. What your aunt sees in him?"

"He's a cool guy, Dad. And the guys on the team haven't exactly been friendly now that I'm not one of them anymore. Ephram doesn't care about stuff like that."

Harold had looked at him sympathetically, then said, "You know, you could still..."

"No, Dad, I couldn't." Bright didn't know why his dad couldn't understand that. He just didn't feel right using Colin that way. It was a moot point, anyway. Things had changed for him. He'dchanged. He hardly felt like the same person.

He wasn't going to dwell on that now, though. He was hungry, and the Brown house was always at least good for scrounging a little something. Bright found a cardboard container of chicken curry, and took a bite. Damn, too hot. He tried a spoonful of Just Plain Vanilla to make up for it, but just ended up with an ice cream headache. Too cold! Finally, he spotted the leftover pizza sitting in its box on the counter. Two thirds of a beef and black olive thin crust. Ephram's favorite. He sniffed it, then shrugged.

"Can't let that go to waste," he thought. It was just right.

Bright plopped it on a plate, and sat down to eat, picking up the comic book --"Manga" he corrected himself - Ephram had left on the table. He didn't get it. Bored, he put it down again, then noticed his greasy fingerprint smearing the creature on the cover. Damn it. Ephram was going to be pissed.

He'd have to take him to Tenth Planet and let Ephram pick out a replacement. Hmm, that could prove fun. Watching Ephram all excited over the weird guys in those Japanese comics was entertaining. Watching Ephram get excited, period, was exciting.

Bright's mind was taking him to a very happy place.

Hunger satisfied for the moment, Bright stretched, and got up to look for something to do. He didn't really feel guilty for spying into the Brown's various rooms. It wasn't like one of the Browns was hiding a body in there somewhere, or anything weird like that. Bright was just - bored.

He went into Dr Brown's room first. About what he'd expected. A pile of medical books on the dresser, a couple of ties tossed onto the bed. He bet Ephram's mother had helped him pick which one to wear, back when she'd been alive. Bright didn't know what his father would have done without his mom.

He sat down on the bed for a moment, feeling the board his Aunt Linda had probably suggested Dr. Brown put under it. Damn, that was too hard for his tastes, but maybe that's what you needed when you got old and your back went out.

Next, he looked into Delia's room. He almost expected a sea of ruffles and pink, like he remembered Amy's childhood bedroom. Instead, he saw splashes of color: the collection of baseball caps on the wall, the pile of magic markers and half finished drawings on her desk. He wondered which hat was her favorite; probably the one that was missing from the space closest to the door. She was a good little artist, too. The only thing she had in common with Amy was her bed, covered in a fluffy pink comforter. Much too soft and squishy for his taste.

He noticed the photograph on her bedside table. A pretty woman, in a white sweater and pearls. He knew it had to be their mother. Those same pearls (at least he assumed so) were sticking out of the butterfly-covered jewelry box on Delia's dresser.

It made Bright sad, thinking about it. Delia was such a neat little kid, and she'd been through hell. He couldn't imagine losing his mom like that, especially when he was a boy. And she hadn't turned into a freak like his sister had with Colin. It had to be a lot worse, losing your mom. Delia was - what was the word he'd learned in his SAT prep class? - resilient. He knew she had a little crush on him, and he made a vow to try to always be nice to her. The way he probably hadn't been to Amy, back when they were kids. Not that anyone could fault him, probably. It's different when it's your own sister.

Finally, with some trepidation, Bright opened the door to Ephram's room. It was covered with posters for bands he pretended to have heard of, plus some classical artists he didn't even begin to "know." He looked into the closet, feeling the row of shirts and sweaters in colors as dark as Delia's were bright. Some were faded to softness; those were obviously his favorites. Bright took a deep whiff, but only caught a faint hint of laundry soap. He didn't know what he was expecting.

A few of the clothes still had tags on them, and didn't really look like what Bright thought of as Ephram's style. He imagined Madison had a hand in picking them out. Just like a girl to try and change a guy, like he was her own personal Ken doll.

Feeling a little uneasier, for reasons he couldn't quite name, he walked around the room, picking up objects here and there, then putting them down again. His mother called it "being at sixes and sevens." He'd wanted to get some sense of Ephram that he hadn't gotten from Ephram himself yet. He had a feeling there was so much more to know, so much he would like. Once, while watching Ephram at a recital, his father had said, "That boy has layers like a Dobosh Torte."

"What about me, Dad?" Bright had asked.

"Oh, son, I love you, but deep? You aren't. You're a Twinkie. Maybe a birthday cake."

Sometimes his father was an asshole.

The late afternoon sun was starting to set, and Bright found himself yawning. His lack of sleep these past few days was catching up with him. Ephram's bed proved especially comfortable. Not too hard, and not too soft. Surely it would be okay if he just lay down for a little while, no one would know. Ephram wasn't due back from the "ski trip" 'til tomorrow.

Pullling the flannel blanket over him, Bright gave in to sleep. Just for a little whi...


The room was almost completely dark when Bright woke up again, startled by a noise. Ephram was standing over him. "Hello, Goldilocks," he said.

"What... what are you doing here?" he said, rubbing his eyes and looking over at the clock.

"Funny, that should be my reaction," Ephram said, looking more amused than angry.

"I'm sorry. You - you weren't supposed to be home yet. Wait a minute - Goldilocks? The hell?"

"If the name fits, dude. Someone's been sleeping in my bed."

His half awake state meant Bright's inner censor was still asleep. "I wish," he said, loud enough for Ephram to hear.

Ephram gave him a weird look, then sighed. "Thanks, I think. Mind telling me why you're here?"

"Things are weird at home, Amy's a spaz. I just didn't want to be there. I knew you wouldn't be home, but you know, I feel - comfortable - here."

"I can see that."

Brain finally working again, Bright thought, and said, "Wait a minute, dude. What are you doing here? Aren't you and Madison supposed to be breaking in the new apartment?"

"Yeah, well. She decided to break up with me, instead. Said it had been a mistake. She likes me, but she can tell we aren't meant to be together."

Bright held his tongue, refraining from telling Ephram, "I told you so." Instead, he patted the bed next to him, and said "That sucks. You deserve better than that."

"I think she's right."

"She's a bitch, man. I always knew it."

Ephram looked down at his hands. "Bright, she said it was because of you."

Bright blanched. "What do you mean? I helped you get her."

"I know you did. She just... she figured out that wasn't what you wanted, or me either. I think she knew before I did, really."

Bright's heart was drumming like one of those monkey toys. And he could practically feel Ephram vibrating with tension. "Knew, what, exactly?" he asked, turning to look at him. This could be the end of everything. Their friendship, and any dreams he had of them ever being more than friends.

"This." Ephram paused a moment, then leaned in and kissed him.

"Okay, Ephram?" Bright started. "First of all, don't call me Goldilocks. And second of all," he went on, "this was just right."

and they all lived happily ever after


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