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  2. . The $10 Chocolate Bunny an Easter story for my mom Blessed Harmony hardly ever got rocked by scandal, but Shaun Williams had been pegged as an instigator early on. Now in Mr. Katz’s 5th grade, tongues still wagged about how the boy had kissed Mary Schubert one day by the swing set. Shaun had been a mere 1st grader then, and Mary – as the older, more responsible one at seven – had come in for a fair share of the rebuke. Some speculated in low-toned conference that she’d not properly rebuffed the advance. As for the two children actually involved, neither could discern the exact problem at the root of the grownups’ fixation. For them it had been a teary goodbye punctuated with an “I love you” and a kiss on the cheek. Mary was changing schools, and the unlikely cross-class friendship was coming to a sad conclusion. The powers that be at Blessed Harmony Catholic Elementary and Junior High School had reacted by raising eyebrows and calling in parents for warnings. After the dust had settled, the female staff of instructors, teachers’ aides, librarians, and even lunch ladies, kept their eyes on “that one.” For even though the kissing incident was several years in the past now, the wary glance of cook, nun and pedagogue waited for Shaun to reveal his true colors as troublemaker once more. It turned out they wouldn’t have to wait much longer, despite the fact that Shaun was a good and loving son to his parents, and a respectful soul to his elders. He was the type who took the parish priest’s words to obey both the letter and spirit of the Ten Commandments seriously, although, let it be known, no one is perfect. Even so, Shaun always strove to be as good as reasonably possible, even more so when in the confines of Blessed Harmony. As alluded to already, the makeup of the school staff was entirely female, with the exception of two uniformed custodians – most often seen during lesson time mopping up sick kids’ vomit from too-strenuous post-lunch physical activity – and Shaun’s homeroom teacher. Back at the end of August and the start of Shaun’s junior high school existence, the ringing bell and moving from classroom to classroom, from teacher to teacher for different subjects, had taken some getting used to. However, to return to Mr. Katz at the end of the afternoon for one final lesson in Social Studies was always a relief. He was a nice man, and supportive of all the kids, in a way treating them as if his own, and paying them the respect due to developing individuals. In his own mind, the 5th grade teacher often considered his side of the school a wearying place to work. Not because of the pupils, but for the three remaining instructors constituting Blessed Harmony’s Junior High School staff. Sister Perpetua was excluded from the trying nature of the others, for a sweeter nun of the old-school variety could hardly be wished for. She too always guided developing souls with a smile and the judicious leverage of persuasion to ensure her charges succeeded academically to the best of their abilities. Even acknowledging her tempering influence, Mr. Katz thanked his lucky stars he was the only male teacher. It meant he could rip off his tie, change into sweats, and not have to sit around being vulnerable to intrusive personal questions and gossip-tinged chatter from the ladies. No, his post-three-o’clock-hour was devoted to sports duty. As Blessed Harmony’s athletic director he enjoyed providing a no-nonsense coaching figure to the boys’ teams of the school: softball in warm weather, and gym-bound basket- and volleyball in the cold months. Ms. Goodman’s silvery laughter could regularly be heard up and down the corridors of Blessed Harmony. The 8th grade instructor was the type of person to take things casually, most often dismissing conflict with a wave of the hand. She took pride in knowing she was liked, and found it all the more annoying that one of her colleagues did not return her fondness. But never mind. She normally spent the first hour after the final bell tidying up before heading to the teachers’ lounge for a chamomile-tea-fueled confab with her fellow ladies, and seeing what new underhanded comment Ms. Landau tossed her way. Young and pretty, with Farrah Fawcett hair, Goodman loved kids and felt satisfied in her career choice, yet frankly viewed herself as on a year-to-year agreement with the school. She used the summer months to unwind and socialize with a few gentlemen prospects she kept on her fishing line. Eventually – that is, within a summer or two – she planned to be engaged and able to return to Blessed Harmony with a rock on her finger. With a renewed flicker of ambition, she could then sail through the teaching of a final 8th grade class, and be happily planning a spring wedding at the same time. This day, spring was on her mind, for the crocuses were in bloom, while hyacinths peeked their purple eyes from beneath green pods, and the masses of yellow daffodils and forsythia had already come to pass. Yes, now that it was nearly Easter, her heart pined for summer and an ultimate release from school duty. It all made her sentimental for her wedding; Goodman could see she’d be in white lace and the song playing for the first dance, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters, naturally. Heavy mug in hand, the woman pushed those thoughts away briefly this afternoon to regard Ms. Landeau’s “stunt” displayed so prominently in the copy room/front office. Goodman was on her way to the break room and could already hear her fellow teachers catching up. Walking on to join them, she hoped Landau wasn’t there so she might freely broach the subject of why the 6th grade teacher was doing what she was doing. In her classroom, it happened that the 35-year-old Ms. Landau was thinking about Goodman too. The 6th grade instructor sat at her desk grading math tests, and allowed a vision of her cheerful rival sitting in the teachers’ lounge to drift over her. She resented the younger woman’s perky optimism, and the mere thought of it was enough to halt Landau’s activities. Awkward acknowledgement of the 6th grade teacher’s own predicament came to her instead. Sure, there was nothing wrong with Walker Englebart, son and heir of Englebart’s Fine Chocolates in Belleville, a small city twenty miles to the north, and where both their families resided. Englebart was on the mousy side – that much was true – but five years ago they had gone out on a series of enjoyable dates, mainly to screenings of the latest movies. Landau wrote a red-letter “B+” at the top of an exam and mindlessly grabbed a sheet of medium-sized stickers. She scanned them. From a collection of brightly painted Easter eggs, chick and simple flowers, she selected one and affixed it as reward for the pupil’s good efforts. A larger sheet stood by reserved for “A” students. Ms. Landau picked it up a moment, rather sourly surveying the elaborate images. These more expensive stickers had highly detailed strips of grass where white Easter bunnies leapt. Although intended to be whimsical, they reminded her of Englebart’s ploy and the tough situation in which it had put her. She wondered if the man was thinking clearly. Who in their right minds would imagine such a gift appropriate? True, when they’d been dating, he’d bashfully professed a keen, romantic interest in her, even one evening when they’d gone to see the newly released Divorce His, Divorce Hers. Despite this obstacle, they’d continued to have fun and engaged in hours’ worth of natural conversation. Even still, a part of Ms. Landau doubted he was destined to be “the one.” She’d kept her options open, despite perhaps feeling more for Walker Englebart than she felt comfortable admitting to herself. But still! Out of the blue, look at what he went and did. His gesture was inappropriate for “acquaintances,” to say the least, and it was done in a way to make Ms. Landau’s mind reel: having it delivered to the school like that. The nerve. In fact, so much so that even after she’d settled on what to do with it – and show him how little she thought of his gift – Ms. Landau was unable to keep it in her classroom and be constantly confronted with it. Instead, she’d set it up on display atop the copy room counter for the children to ogle. She didn’t want it, and until it was properly disposed of, the 6th grade teacher would avoid afternoon coffee-clutches. She went back to grading papers, contenting herself with the notion that her embarrassment would soon be over. The following day at lunch, 5th grader Shaun kept his eyes on Ms. Landau. He’d eaten hurriedly, and now languorously picked out raisins from their box one at a time, waiting for the 6th grade teacher to finish her meal and head back to her classroom. He could feel the money burning a hole in his pocket. He was carrying around enough cash to buy himself an entire schoolyear’s worth of milk, and a pint cost a whole five cents! A smart boy, he knew they’d be repercussions. He realized he was doing something to cause the entire school to focus on him, but when Shaun imagined achieving his goal, he knew it’d be worth it. The student chewed pensively on another raisin, shutting all the clamor of the full cafeteria out and thinking back to the first time he’d laid eyes on “him” last week. The copy room had been crowded following the end-of-day announcement, but Shaun persevered, and eventually, the older kids filed out and gave him a chance to see. And there it was – a towering two-foot-high chocolate Easter Bunny! A basket on his back was piled high with variously colored candy eggs. A ribbon bedecked the upright rabbit’s neck, and his little paws were up, almost like a begging terrier. “Geesh,” exclaimed the 3rd grader next to Shaun. “It must weigh a ton!” “Nah,” explained a savvy 7th grader to the girl. “It’s mostly hollow inside. That’s what Sister Perpetua says anyway.” “But still,” rattled Shaun, “it has to be three pounds of chocolate.” “Probably closer to five.” Shaun’s eyes grew round. “Imagine,” exclaimed the 3rd grader again, “eating all of that.” Shaun found himself murmuring: “Yeah….” All around the rabbit were pink and purple shreds of paper grass. Together they formed a cushion as it stood in its presentation box. This too was seasonal, and had various Easter scenes printed all over it. The box sat very near the edge of the counter between the mimeograph machine and the paper cutter. Taped below it was a hand-lettered sign: “All Proceeds go to providing Easter Baskets for the Poor of the Parish.” “I wonder,” said the girl, “what he’ll bring me this year!” The 7th grader asked, “Who?” “The Easter Bunny, of course.” Shaun chuckled, then added rather acrimoniously, “The so-called Easter Bunny only ever brings me new pairs of socks.” “What!” The 7th grader was astounded. “Well, first of all,” explained Shaun, “I wasn’t born yesterday, so I know it’s my mom who plays hippity-hop this time of year, and I always get the marshmallow chicks along with the socks.” “So you don’t have anything to complain about,” said the girl flatly. “No, I guess I don’t,” admitted Shaun. “And come to think of it, my mom never complains about anything – ever.” The three children gazed at the rabbit one more time with hushed admiration. The boy from the 7th grade said, “Anyone who gets that will feel like a million dollars this Easter.” The 5th grader felt emotion welling. “They would, wouldn’t they?” “And how!” slowly exclaimed the girl. Shaun fished for a raisin in his box and chewed it very deliberately. Suddenly, Ms. Landau stood with her tray, saying “Have a good afternoon” to her fellow teachers. Shaun closed up the Sun-Maid box and dropped it in his shirt pocket for later. The 6th grade instructor walked up to the tray return, and Shaun followed close behind. She was first out of the cafeteria, and just as he got to the wide-open double doors, Shaun saw her duck into the women’s room. No worry, Shaun simply walked as fast as he could past it, and along the long corridor. He’d be the first waiting in line outside Ms. Landau’s door. When he got to the front office, he stole a quick peek at the bunny and hightailed it towards the 6th grade classroom. Shaun’s heart sank. There was already a pair of chattering 8th grade girls waiting for Ms. Landau’s return. He got in line behind them. “I hear,” one of them was saying, “it’s a rejected love token from a man she just doesn’t dig.” “Could be,” the other girl opined. “But it’s a lucky break for us.” “Yeah.” The original girl sighed. “I guess we all have more or less equal chances at taking it home tomorrow.” Hands thrust into his pockets, Shaun began to fidget and blush violently. It was a relief Ms. Landau came then with keys rattling to open up her classroom. The two girls and Shaun entered the room and waited until the teacher seated herself. Then she pulled out a clipboard; next to it was a neat stack of cut, mimeographed certificates, each about the size of a chewing gum wrapper. “Hi, April,” Ms. Landau said to the first girl in line. “Hello.” The young lady pulled out two quarters. “I’ll take ten raffle tickets, please.” “Sure.” The teacher wrote down the sale, took the money and handed over April’s chances for the drawing. “Fill in your name and grade, and then bring them back to me, okay?” “Yes, Ms. Landau.” April moved off to use the classroom table. Her friend stepped up, extracting 75¢ from her coin purse. “I’ll take fifteen tickets, please.” Shaun’s stomach began to quake, for both the teacher and the girl’s seated companion acted like the amounts they spent constituted “a lot.” “Okay, Janet, here you go. Fill them out, and best of luck.” “Thank you, Ms. Landau!” The girl skipped off to join April. Shaun stepped up quietly as the teacher was still jotting down the sale. “Yes?” she asked him without glancing up. “Um—” “You entering the Easter Bunny raffle, Shaun?” “Yes,” he told the still-distracted woman. “How many?” “I…um, don’t, um…exactly know how many.” The happy clatter from the girls clammed up as the teacher regarded the boy. “Well, how much money do you have to spend?” Shaun extracted and held up a ten-dollar bill. “This much.” “Where did you get that?!” “My dad gave me an advance on my allowance for three weeks, plus an extra dollar, to make an even ten.” The girls gasped. Ms. Landau rocked back on her seat. “But, that’s…that’s. Shaun, that’s two hundred tickets.” “Yes, please,” he said placing the bill on the desk. “But don’t you understand? That’s more than I’ve sold to everyone else, combined.” Into her withering tone, Shaun thrust an innocent, “But it’s for the poor. I thought you’d want to get as much as possible for them.” Ironclad as it was, there was no overcoming this argument, but nevertheless, the 6th grade teacher leaned forward and asked very intently, “Are you sure?” “Yes, Ms. Landau. I have a good reason.” The woman inhaled, attached the Hamilton note beneath the metal clamp of her clipboard and wrote down: “Shaun Williams, 5th grade – 200 tickets.” The she rustled her pile like a deck of cards. “I doubt I have more than fifty here. You take these and start filling them out.” She stood. “I’ll have to run off and cut the rest.” Landau left the room, instructing Shaun to tell anyone looking for her that she’d be in the front office for a while. As she walked down the corridor, the master copy of her raffle sheet fluttered frustratedly. All she wanted was for this to be over. Instead, now she had to stand by the copier and print off a thick bunch of tickets. Naturally, as the device rattled, her eyes fell on the unwanted gift from Englebart. As the blue-ink fumes of the mimeograph began to circulate around her, Landau’s attention landed on the sign she’d made. Having to come up with “a good cause” proved to be more vexing to her spirit than she’d expected. To give the proceeds to 6th grade wardrobe needs for the upcoming all-student play at the end of the term? To donate the raffle money to Blessed Harmony’s scholarship fund? In the end, the meager prospects for cash-money sales nudged her to settle on Easter baskets for the poor. Truth was, there were hardly any poor in the parish, and Landau had an entire childhood’s worth of holiday egg carriers she could recycle in her parents’ basement. She’d boil and decorate a few eggs herself and pick up packs of treats to fill the baskets up. She had struggled to come up with a reason to reject Englebart’s gift, and felt undue stress about it. In the end, she feared it was all too transparent for the critical gaze of her fellow teachers and nun principal. A hand went up to pin back a stray lock of hair. She wondered if she’d waited too long; five years is a long time. She never imagined she’d get “stuck” teaching. Thirty-five meant she was on the road to spinsterhood. Oh, sure, Ms. Goodman flaunted her free spirit and youthful outlook on life. Oh, sure, the 8th grade teacher could pick and choose men like vending machine candy. Oh, sure, Goodman is on the road to being married and settled by thirty. But then honestly, when she was that age, Landau had been caught up in the “you’ve come a long way, baby” attitude of the times and valued her independence too much to hand it over to a lover, fiancé or husband. Now she was not sure it was worth it, not if she stood around and felt old and ugly compared to other instructors. Meanwhile, back in the 6th grade classroom, Ms. Landau’s homeroom students had begun to show up, and April and Janet quickly let everyone know what Shaun was doing there. Within a minute or two, kids left the room again to inform other classes. Shaun stood and diligently wrote his name and class on the fifty-eight tickets Ms. Landau had left for him on her desk, even though his skin prickled, he held onto the knowledge that what he was doing was going to pay off in the right way. “Hey.” Scott, a boy from the 7th grade, was standing next to Shaun. “Hi.” “Is it true?” “Is what—” “You’re buying $10 worth of tickets?” “Yeah.” “How come?” Shaun shrugged, playing dumb. “Well,” said Scott, already leaving, “good luck, I guess.” “Thanks.” Shaun went back to filling out his certificates In Sister Perpetua’s room, Scott returned and immediately gathered some girls together to confirm the news. Shrieks erupted, and the teacher had to tamp down the noise – for the second time. Nevertheless, the nun listened with great interest. She had papers to grade and stickers to place too, but in fact her mind drifted back to another era, to another Easter holiday season when she’d been twelve; the same age as her students were now. She dared not count the actual number of years, lest it startle her out of the recollection. A boy named Bobby McGee presented her a bunny much like the one on raffle, albeit one to suit a little girl’s grasp. He was a shy lad, and had placed the treat next to him on the pew Easter mass. After the service, as parents filed out and milled on the grass in the springtime air, Bobby had come up and given it to her with the words “It’s not much, but sweets for my sweet.” Startled, the twelve-year-old blushed but took it. After a hasty glance around at the preoccupied adults, she leaned in with a “Thank you” and a kiss on his cheek. To this silly, helplessly old-fashioned memory, Sister Perpetua allowed a grin to play about her lips as she pretended to work. She knew this lingering sensation from a spring five decades ago was wildly innocent compared to the presumed experiences of her swinging, 1970s coworkers, but she treasured it. It kept her warm some nights, and always – as now – made her smile. A tingle traveled along her spine too. Setting her pen down, she deliberately twisted the tight-fitting ring on her finger, the only piece of jewelry she’d worn as an adult. Mouth going dry, the nun glanced out the window and wished with a desire similar to the almighty impulse of spring itself to enter the raffle with the children, to throw caution and restraint aside one more time. But, alas, she knew she’d have to give it up if she did by some miracle win, so the woman picked up her red pen to continue grading, resolving to only enter the drawing in her heart and leave the rest for God to decide. The next day, a festive mood permeated the corridors and classrooms of Blessed Harmony School. It was the final, morning-only, day of lessons before the Easter break. And at one o’clock, with every pupil seated at his or her desk, they would know who won the raffle. The immense chocolate rabbit was going home with one of them, and that realization was electric. A grouchy Mr. Katz gripped his coffee mug as he headed towards his 5th grade homeroom. His irritation sprang from a conference he’d just managed to escape. It seemed the notion of one of his pupils buying an inordinate number of raffle chances had percolated and boiled over in the female hearts of his fellow teachers. Worse yet, they as a body had decided Mr. Katz was the only one able to “Do something about it!” A technicality, they explained, existed: Shaun Williams had paid for two hundred tickets, but only had time to fill out fifty-eight yesterday afternoon. Mr. Katz, they believed, could talk reason to the boy and have him call off his obviously selfish scheme. They had all suspected Shaun was a latent troublemaker anyway. As he seated himself behind his desk, Katz’s annoyance faded to dolor. A sip of his coffee allowed him to casually scan the students already in his room. Shaun was there, laughing and chatting with a small group of boys by their lockers. Would he be able to “talk sense” to Shaun like the nattering ladies of Blessed Harmony wanted? At the same moment in the break room, Ms. Goodman was stewing. Alone, and continually glancing at the clock to ensure she’d have enough time to make it to her classroom before the first bell sounded, the attractive woman wondered what had put the hornet in Ms. Landau’s bonnet. As far as Goodman was concerned, she’d always been nothing but nice to the 6th grade teacher. And yet, why then did the more mature woman constantly snipe at her with insinuating comments? It was almost enough to make her want to quit teaching at the end of the term. Why did people have to project their insecurities onto those who conjure those feelings? Goodman, isolated and hurting, suddenly felt her dreams for the future come to comfort her. With a bittersweet acknowledgement, she knew she wasn’t really looking forward to leaving Blessed Harmony; she’d miss the kids. But in truth, she loved children so much she couldn’t wait to have her own. For her, it's an easy choice. She’d rather be the world's best mom more than the town's best teacher. She rose nobly, straightening her skirt as if she were brushing off Landau as so much annoying lint. She couldn’t help someone who wouldn’t help themselves, so, gathered and composed, she prepared to start her day with a smile, and by humming the strains of a Carpenters’ tune. Hours later, at noon precisely, the lunch bell rang. Mr. Katz had arranged for a teachers’ aide to shepherd his class to the cafeteria. He’d held Shaun back, and now the two sat at a table in the back of the room. “Mr. Katz, I really don’t have much time—” “Look, Shaun, I won’t keep you long, but tell me, why have you decided to…to spend so much on the raffle?” The boy slumped on his chair, causing Katz to continue in a softer tone. “There is concern you’re not doing this for the right reasons. Do you understand what I mean, Shaun?” “Yes.” The teacher waited for more; none came. Shaun simply inspected his hands, which he’d folded in his lap. “No one’s angry or upset,” the adult lied, “but also no one’s clear on your motivations. When there’s a vacuum of information, Shaun, people are likely to fill it with whatever they like.” “Do you think I’m a bad person, sir?” The question rocked Katz. The tension in his face dropped immediately. “Shaun, please look at me. Now, I suppose it’s not too late. You’ve filled out fifty-eight tickets already. That’s more than any other student as bought. Why don’t you quit with that?” “Because I want to be sure.” “But why? Do you want to eat it all yourself?” The boy only shook his head, hurt. Katz almost felt like crying. The teacher wasn’t sure why he was doing this to the boy. “You won’t tell me why you are doing it?” “No, sir. It’s private. I don’t want to jinx it, but if I win, I’ll come back to school after Easter and tell everybody exactly why I wanted it so bad.” Confronted with the boy’s sincerity, Katz was forced to remember an incident from his own childhood, although not a particularly favorable one to the teacher. When he was Shaun’s age, his dad had presented him with a genuine Louisville Slugger. The kid-sized wooden bat had been the envy of his classmates, and he let other boys use it freely during pickup games on Saturdays. One of those matches turned contentious, as Hank Covington – the boy chosen by lots to act as umpire for the game – made a decision Katz didn’t like. The conflict escalated, as everyone seemed to be on Hank’s side and not his. Pissed, Katz had collected his bat and walked out in the middle of the 7th inning. And why was he thinking of this? Why did Shaun’s beautifully sincere gaze at him bring up this wart of a recollection form the man’s own tenth year of life? Because he knew a more selfless, innocent kid not exist than Shaun Williams. This child would never walk out on his friends like Katz did; he doubted the boy would ever let a group of his peers pressure him into talking someone out striving for a goal, no matter what harmless goal it was. All at once, Katz smiled. He stood up, inviting his pupil to join him. After forcing a handshake on the young man, he told him, “Whatever your reasons, I know they are good. Best of luck on your drawing, Shaun!” And he meant it. He felt so liberated, if Katz could exercise his druthers, he’d give the boy another ten dollars to double Shaun’s chances at winning! Somehow it seemed the least he could to make amends, both to Shaun and Hank, but for all the other boys too. After eating hastily, Shaun was standing by Ms. Landau’s door at 12:25. He had a lot to do. Eventually, after being told the news – or lack thereof – by Mr. Katz, the 6th grade teacher came and opened the door. She was not happy about the whole situation, feeling the added attention to the bunny and where it came from originally reflected badly on her. Shaun waited patiently in front of her desk while she extracted the clipboard, and neat little bundles of raffle tickets, stacked and secured by rubber bands into groups of fifty. She kept wondering why Walker Englebart had done this humiliating thing to her. Her heart seethed. “Ms. Landau, I’ve heard what people are saying. Do you think they’ll hate me for this?” For the second time in the day, the boy’s plainspoken question knocked an adult out of their languor. Confronted with the ten-year-old’s unflinchingly pure gaze, Landau’s rancor melted away. A truth was standing there before her, and after a moment of painful self-realization, she told Shaun, “No, I don’t. And don’t let worrying about others bother you. People often need very little excuse not to like someone, or at least tell themselves they don’t.” She grinned a little, handing Shaun his pile of blank certificates. “You have a lot to fill out, one hundred and forty-two to be exact, so you better get started.” Just as Shaun beamed and took ahold of them, there was chatter at the door. Girls from the 8h grade had heeded Mr. Katz’s call for volunteers and were there to help. As they sat at the table and worked away, Shaun noticed April and Janet’s handwriting was a whole heck of a lot neater than his, but they were speedy too – writing his name and grade over and over again – so he could relax a bit. “No one really understands why you’re doing this, Shaun,” April said casually. “Yeah,” agreed Janet, “some say it’s unfair.” That stung, but Shaun could see how some might feel that way. “I have a good reason.” “Wanna share what that is?” April tried coaxing. “As I told Mr. Katz, I will after Easter break, if I win.” Janet chuckled some, still tidily completing a new ticket. “I heard they tried a few test drawings this morning.” “And?” Shaun asked. “And,” April said, “you won three out of four attempts.” The 5th grader merely nodded, but the information buoyed his heart for success. He couldn’t wait to get back home this afternoon…and then…. He smiled broadly, pulling another pile to him to fill out. Soon, trashcans were emptied to start receiving the completed raffle tickets, and Shaun’s teacher popped his head in to collect a pile for 5th grade volunteers to complete as well. Even with all the help, the hundred forty-two others barely made it up to the front office in time. For at one o’clock precisely, the PA system crackled to life. In the 7th grade classroom, Sister Perpetua had her hands folded on her desk. Her erect posture was dignified; composed. None of her students could see or feel the inner workings of her mind. She was relieved the chocolate bunny was soon to depart Blessed Harmony School. It represented the voluptuousness of the world the nun has shunned wholeheartedly. Its presence had goaded her into uncomfortable memories and emotions better left buried; hidden. Besides, her dalliance with Bobby McGee had been short-lived. For soon after, one day while helping her mother clean their farmhouse, the girl had been under the heavy kitchen table wiping down the legs, and heard Him. The nun’s calling had been a literal voice in her mind to serve God, and there had followed no questions about its sincerity. At first it had been a challenge for the young novice at the convent in Ruma to give up “the sweet” things of life, but now she told herself she’d have it no other way. The principal’s voice sounded throughout the school, announcing the start of the holiday break, and giving out instructions for when regular classes would resume. Sister Perpetua regarded her chocolate-induced nostalgia as merely a fleeting pang, a tug on her heartstrings for things she actually did not miss. She reminded herself by twisting her ring that it’d been thirty-five years already since she’d taken her final vows, and ignored how even now moisture would sometimes gather as she lay her head upon her pillow, her will to be content slowly shut down by the initiation of the sleep process. For it was then in the twilight gray between waking and slumber her tears would trickle without her knowing it. In the 6th grade classroom, Ms. Landau was also lost in her thoughts. As the principal continued on with the announcements, the teacher’s heart relented its sternness against the son of Englebart’s Fine Chocolates of Belleville. She had made his gift a totem of unwanted attention, and realized she’d acted rashly to reject it – perhaps to reject him as not good enough when they had dated. She’d acted mean. Her “charitable” act was anything but, and she had done it to hurt a sweet man who was simply sweet on her. His resolve to woo her has been tested by the few years of her coolness towards him, and now she regretted every moment of her aloofness. Landau suddenly felt like laughing. Who did she think she was anyway? Embracing the fact she was far from perfect herself, Landau began to sort out how she could repay Walker. She’d get him something for Easter. But what? Maybe she’d send him flowers. And why not? She felt she’d come a long way personally, and nowadays a woman could send a guy bouquets if she wanted…if she wanted to show him…she really cared. Landau sniffled and held back a tear. But she resolved to do it; she’d be doing it mainly for herself anyway. “And now,” the principal announced, “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Shaun sat a little more erect, like God was watching. His heart beat that much faster. “By a random draw”—the sound of rustling paper could be heard—“the winner of Ms. Landau’s chocolate Easter Bunny is…. Shaun Williams, 5th grade class.” The winner let out a breath just in time to hear an unexpected sound. Every child in school shouted in joy for him. He felt blessed. “Class dismissed!” Chairs squeaked. Shaun was instantly surrounded by smiling classmates congratulating him. Half an hour later, the enormous Easter box astride both his outstretched arms, he walked into his living room. His dad helped him with the door. “Did you get it, son?” “Yeah, this is it.” “I’m glad for you, Shaun. Now, set it up,” he said closing the front door. “I’ll go get, you-know-who.” More excited than ever, he placed the box upright on the coffee table, carefully removing the lid. He even bothered to fluff some of the colorful paper grass around the rabbit and tweak its ribbon like a bowtie. His father re-entered the room, smiling as if he were proud. Shawn’s mom walked in behind him, chatting about something mundane and drying her hands on a dishtowel. The woman gasped when she saw the chocolate bunny. Shaun simply said, “I love you, Mom. You deserve a treat sometimes, and this is for you. Happy Easter.” ~ _
  3. The veil between people is thinnest at certain times of the year. This collection of Short Stories explores what we call 'Holidays.'
  4. chris191070

    Expectations

    I loved the morning scene. Both boys want the same thing but are both scared. Caleb is unsure because he’s never felt love and doesn’t want to lose his friendship with Wren. Wren is damaged goods in a different way, knows what he wants but can’t admit it and also doesn’t want to lose Caleb’s friendship. Charlie and Rachel are going to be important to both of the boys as there friendship develops into something more. I like how Travis admitted being confused and how Wren suggested he contact Branson. I’m expecting trouble off the Uncles soon for Wren and Caleb. Looking forward to reading more.
  5. Luke understood Charlie's kinky yearnings SWEAT
  6. Will Hawkins

    Samui Sunset

    Person Opinion: the man who is exclusively a top misses out on some of the greatest joys of gay sex. Remember there are buttons in the rectum that when massaged by an expert top will bring a bottom to a real peak of satisfaction. This means to me that 'versatility' is the key to enjoyment in MM sex. Another point: to be the peanut butter in a MM sandwich can be the best of both worlds!
  7. chris191070

    Chapter 11

    I’m pleased Richie has mended his friendship with Gabe, he needs his best friend. I’m not sure about the money from his father, on one hand he’s trying to make things right with Richie but on the other hand it feels as if he is trying to buy his way into Richie’s good books,
  8. GanymedeRex

    Chapter 1

    So far, this story is a great example of the exhilarating and glorious delights of adolescent friendships.
  9. Timothy M.

    Chapter 11

    Interesting @Wesley8890 - I was just thinking Richie was softening much too soon. And that his father is still trying to buy him. But I'm glad he's mended his friendship with Gabe, and that Freddy didn't reveal he saw him.
  10. That's awesome. Wish I had access to 3D printing. This mini was custom ordered from a place called Hero Forge, who let you design your own minis for tabletop RPGs. They have an option to download your design as a file for printing. I had to go the more expensive route and have it printed and shipped in the mail.
  11. Cachondeo

    Chapter 11

    I really don’t get Richie’s father...
  12. drpaladin

    Chapter 16

    Gabriel is as taken with Desmond as Desmond is taken with him. I thought Gabriel might have known more about what was going on with Sam, but it was more educated guesses. He must have been close friends with Sam at some point. The fatty sleaze was thinking too much with his perverse libido and fell right into the trap. If Desmond took an hour and a half to work on him, his last time on earth was extremely unpleasant. I'm sure Sam will be happy. Now on to bigger and better things.
  13. Today
  14. Dodger

    Chapter 63 The Show

    Thank you for reading and commenting @masuk I'm glad you're enjoying the story.
  15. LonelyBoi01

    Confused.

    I woke up to the sound of shouting, I could hear my mother downstairs yelling. *sigh* why does she always have to be this way. Ever since she her new boyfriend two years ago she changed, she's so dark now. I laid there in bed, trying to block out the noise when I heard it. The loud bang followed by the cry from my brother. I've never lept out of bed so quick in my life. I ran down the stairs, the scene appearing to me slowly. My brother was at the other side of the room, tears flowing from his eyes as he screamed out to me. I looked around and saw him, Daniel. My mothers boyfriend from hell. He was drunk but that wasn't the height of my concerns, in his hand - a gun. The color drained from my face as I stared at my mother, he had shot but missed her, she was crying her eyes out. "SHUT UP WOMAN!" Daniel yelled at her. "I've had about enough of your bitchy whining, the whole lot of ya.. especially YOU" He turned his gaze towards me. "You little FAGGOT, I saw the magazines under your bed, I refuse to let gay filth roam this earth." That's when my life flashed before my eyes. It was over quick but the thought still haunts me to this day. He pulled up his gun, aiming it towards me, I shrieked and looked around for an escape but I was too late. His finger crept towards the trigger, his gaze focused on me. He pulled it. "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" The shriek from my mother, she lept... she took the bullet. She dropped down infront of me. Daniel turning around in shock and running out the door. "ADAM CALL THE FUCKING POLICE!!" I yelled as I took off my jacket, turning my bleeding mother on her side and wrapping it tight around her wound and holding pressure on it. I wiped her tears from her face as she stared up at me, I now was crying too. "I-I'm sorry mum.." I croaked out. She stared at me and groaned. "I-I-I.. l-love you......" She struggled out. "Don't leave me ma" I cried. "I need you!" She smiled slightly, her eyes slowly slipping shut as I cried out. The sirens were just pulling up outside as the paramedics rushed in, putting her on a stretcher and carrying her away. The cops came in and asked us what happened, taking any evidence like Daniel's gun which he dropped on the side. "Have you guys got any other family you can stay with while this is ongoing?" The cop asked us, he was nice enough - brown hair, dark tinted glasses. "Errm, I guess I can call our uncle" I croaked out, blushing slightly at my voice crack. "What's his name?" The cop asked. "Craig." I replied. He smiled at me as I pulled out my phone and began the long, painful conversation - explaining everything that had happened, holding back the tears the whole time. About half way through the cop asked to talk to craig, they spoke for a while about a bunch of stuff, I tried to not let Adam hear by taking him into the living room. "Here, he needs to speak to you" The cop said passing me my phone back. "I need to grab some clothes but I should be with you in about an hour, if you go to the hospital with your mother I'll pick you up from there." Craig said down the phone to me. "Okay, thanks uncie" I said, relief washing over me. "No worries kiddo, I'm so sorry this has all happened. Send my love to Adam as well for me" He said before he hung up. I put the phone down and gave Adam a tight hug. "That's from uncle craig" I said softly. "If you guys go and get ready to go I'll drop you at the hospital, your mothers ambulance left already" The cop said to us. "Oh.. t-thank you so much" I croaked. I got together our coats and shoes, tying Adams laces as his hands were too shaky. I gave him a tight hug and a kiss on the neck as I carried him out and put him in the back of the police car. "Ready to go?" the cop said to me. "Yup. Let's go."
  16. LonelyBoi01

    Prologue

    I hate myself. Those are the words I tell myself every single day. My name is Nathan, I'm 15 years old and I honestly don't know who or what I am. Me and my brother Adam have always been close. He is 4 years younger than me and I guess I've always been there for him, that at times has made me in trouble myself, I lost friends by taking his side over there's - but honestly I don't regret it. A cuddle with Adam can turn the worst day ever into the best, I love him so much. Our parents arent the best, my dad left us a couple years back and my mother met a new guy, completely changed her. She turned into a horrible lady. My life is a mess. A huge mess. But I have my brother, that's all I could ask for.
  17. Katya Dee

    Chapter 16

    It was 10:50, and Werner absent-mindedly licked his lips. He’s been sitting in his car for the last hour. He was so eager to get Rayhe on his knees finally, that he left his house a hell of a lot earlier than he planned. As a result, he ended up arriving to the house behind the old Plaza at 9:45. Therefore, he was sitting in his car for the last hour, trying to keep his imagination from running wild. He didn’t want to take care of himself again; he wanted Rayhe to do it for him. That and he was somewhat worried that he might not be able to perform if he managed to come for the third time. It’s been a while (a very long while) since Werner got more than one release in one day, and he didn’t want to strain himself too much. He would hate it if his body wouldn’t cooperate with him at a crucial moment. That would be very bad indeed. Finally, he heard the sound of the engine. He immediately knew that it was Rayhe. Who else would be driving here this late? Werner pulled the keys out of the ignition and got out of the car, his large form giving him troubles as usual, rubbing unpleasantly against the steering wheel. Maybe one of those days, he will start thinking seriously about losing some weight. He was absolutely right – the engine he heard belonged to Rayhe’s vehicle. Werner couldn’t help but smile when he saw that damn brat (well, he wasn’t a brat anymore, to be honest. He was what... Thirty?) to get out of his car, grave expression on his face. You have no idea what’s coming, Werner thought, pun partially intended. Even Werner himself wasn’t quite aware of everything that he was going to do to Rayhe-Junior tonight. Sometimes, he let himself go, let his imagination and his wild side to take over. When that happened, nobody (not even Werner himself) knew what was going to happen next. Werner firmly told himself to make sure that Rayhe survived tonight – there was an accident or two in his past... Werner winced when he remembered one time when he let himself go wild while he was pounding into Sam who was fifteen back then. He was squeezing the kid’s throat (one of the things he liked to do; it made him feel almost high) and then he realized that Sam wasn’t moving (or whining for that matter. Oh God, that whining pissed Werner off every time; all the ‘Please, stop!’ and ‘It hurts too much!’ were driving him up the wall), and when he listened more closely, he noticed that Sam wasn’t breathing either. Werner remembered panic that flooded him. He was running for the office, and mysterious death of his only son (whose throat would be covered with bruises that would match Werner’s fingerprints to a t) would not look good at all. He managed to resuscitate the kid, and after that happened, he made sure that he was in complete control of himself every time he was with Sam. Werner watched Rayhe walk towards him slowly, as if he was forcing himself to do so, which was probably the case. He stopped a couple of feet away from Werner, his posture beyond tense. “Werner,” he said finally. “Gabriel,” LeVoughn-Senior smiled widely. “Where is Specter?” “I had to make sure you came alone,” Rayhe said. “Are you satisfied?” Werner asked mildly. “Yes,” Rayhe said in a strained voice, and Werner almost laughed. Not yet, he thought, but soon. Well, it depends on... Oh, it depends on so many things... “Specter is inside,” Rayhe was saying meanwhile, and Werner blinked. “I used the back door,” Gabriel said when he noticed Werner’s expression. “I left him there a couple of hours ago; had to make sure that the perimeter was clean...” Perimeter, Werner thought. He spent too much time with that kill-for-hire; he is even using his vocabulary. Suddenly, Werner wondered if those two fucked yet. Then he shrugged to himself. It didn't matter. “Shall we...?” he asked politely, and Rayhe cringed. “Yes,” he said stiffly and went towards the house. Werner followed him, his excitement growing with each second. He was seriously concerned about him even making it inside the house; he felt like he was about to force Rayhe down on his knees right here, outside. He managed to get himself under control. Werner made it all the way to the house. Rayhe unlocked the door and walked inside. Werner followed him, and he was about to say, ‘Okay, this is private enough’ and have his way with that brat, when someone said: “Psst!” right above his ear. Werner turned around, dumbfounded, and then he saw some guy whose face he didn’t recognize; some guy whose green eyes were flickering in a strange way that immediately made Werner uneasy. He thought, “Oh, son of a bitch! This is a trap...!” when the said guy sank a needle into his upper arm, and that was the end of the day that started so well for Werner LeVoughn, because two seconds after the injection, he was unconscious. He didn’t even realize that his huge frame went down on the floor like an oversized sack of potatoes. **** Desmond needed all the help he could get to be able to move LeVoughn-Senior into the living room. “And I thought Rayhe was heavy,” he thought while Gabriel and he dragged the unconscious body into the room. “This one weighs more than a decent size whale!” Finally, the relocation was complete, and LeVoughn-Senior was securely attached to a huge armchair. Desmond straightened up and looked at Gabriel, who stood less than two feet away from him, his arms propped on his sides. “Now what?” Rayhe asked, and Desmond was somewhat amused to hear his voice lack any worry whatsoever. “Now...” Desmond said and glanced at still unconscious LeVoughn-Senior. “Did you give him the same drug that I’ve been injected with?” Gabriel interrupted him suddenly, and now his voice sounded darker than before. “No,” Desmond said shortly. “I don’t need his senses heightened; it’s unnecessary. I just needed to knock him out in order to get him into this chair. With his size...” he glanced at LeVoughn-Senior again. “It would be quite a nuisance,” he finished. “What do you want me to do?” Gabriel asked, and Desmond looked at him intently. “I want you to leave,” he said quietly, and Rayhe blinked. “Why?” he frowned. Desmond closed his eyes for a second. “Because if you stay...” “...you won’t be able to look at me the same way ever again.” “...there is a chance that someone might sneak up on us,” he finished. “You never know,” he added when he saw Rayhe’s doubtful eyes. Gabriel nodded slowly. “All right,” he said. “I’ll leave. I’ll be outside if you need me.” Desmond nodded somewhat stiffly and watched Rayhe walk out and close the door. Then he turned towards LeVoughn-Senior and noticed that the man’s eyelids started to flutter. Good, Desmond thought indifferently. He is coming about. It was two or three minutes later, when Werner finally opened his eyes. He glanced around and jerked wildly, trying to set himself free. He couldn’t move a muscle, it seemed. Desmond certainly knew how to tie someone down and completely incapacitate them. “Who... Who the hell are you?!” LeVoughn-Senior asked sharply, staring at Desmond with badly hidden fear. “I am the last thing you are going to see before you die,” Desmond said quietly. LeVoughn saw a blade in Desmond’s hand, and his eyes widened so much that under different circumstances it would be hilarious. “Wh... What are you doing...?” he stuttered. Desmond paused for a second. “I am doing the world a favor,” he said finally, and then the good day was officially over for Werner LeVoughn. **** Gabriel was leaning on his car, smoking slowly. He knew that being “sneaked up on” wasn’t the real reason Desmond wanted him to leave. Right before the assassin said it, there was this tense look in his eyes; the one that said, ‘If you stay, then you will see a monster every time you look at me.’ It wasn’t true, Gabriel thought. He knew what Specter could do, and he knew what Specter was capable of -- Gabriel did a very thorough research on him before finally knocking him out in that alley. He hated himself for succumbing to that idea finally. LeVoughn-Senior told him that he found out “... from a trustful source” that someone had placed a hit on Sam, and that the same someone hired Specter to do it. “If Specter gets anywhere near him...” Rayhe remembered LeVoughn-Senior saying to him in a teary voice. “...my boy is as good as dead!” Gabriel cringed at the words ‘my boy.’ He remembered how many times he saw bruises all over Sam’s arms, ankles, and throat. Mostly, it would be throat. He tried asking the boy what the hell happened, but Sam would tense up immediately after Gabriel asked anything. It would always be something like, ‘I fell,’ or ‘I scratched myself too hard,’ or ‘I got into a fight at school.’ Finally, Gabriel gave up and stopped asking him anything. Then, after Gabriel’s father passed away, LeVoughn-Senior decided to run for the office. Gabriel was surprised – he never thought that someone like Werner LeVoughn would be interested in politics. To Gabriel's utter amusement, LeVoughn-Senior managed to squeeze his enormous form into one of the office’s chairs, and Gabriel hadn’t heard from him or Sam ever since. Then, a couple of months or so ago, Gabriel received a phone call from a teared up Werner. At first, Gabriel flatly refused. He couldn’t help himself; every time he thought of LeVoughn-Senior, he’d remember the man’s leering eyes that kept running all over Gabriel’s body when he was younger and when LeVoughn-Senior still worked as an accountant for his father. He remembered finding the man completely and utterly repulsive; he still felt the same way when Werner called him that one day. So he refused, only to receive yet another call from Werner the next day. LeVoughn-Senior sounded downright terrified. Finally, Gabriel gritted his teeth and said that fine, he’d get Specter out of the way until the end of the month, until Werner figured out how to keep Sam safe. LeVoughn-Senior swore on his mother’s grave that he’d figure something out; that he’d send Sam to the farthest continent he could think of, just to make sure he survived. Gabriel remembered himself thinking that maybe some people did change, in spite of the belief that said otherwise. Werner sounded like he really cared about Sam that time; he sounded like a hysterical father; he sounded like someone who couldn’t bear even a thought of losing someone dear to them. “Well,” Rayhe thought darkly while sucking on his cigarette. “Turns out that good old Werner never changed after all... He is just a surprisingly good actor, that’s it.” Then he received yet another phone call from LeVoughn-Senior. That one happened after Gabriel had Specter chained to a pipe in his house. “You know,” LeVoughn-Senior said, his voice nowhere near the teared-up-father Gabriel succumbed to a little while ago. “I am rather naive... I mean, there is a chance that I just might let it slip off my tongue when I am talking to Julian... The fact that you are the one who placed a hit on Salamander-Senior... Things won’t go well for you then...” He was trying to persuade Gabriel into taking out Specter for good. In other words, killing him. That was when Gabriel lost it and told LeVoughn-Senior to shove his threats up his ass. It wasn’t like he never killed before, and it wasn’t like he was squeamish about blood -- that wasn’t it, no. He wasn’t going to kill Specter because the assassin was the one who became his tool of revenge for Sheila. He would never kill a man who avenged Sheila. That and there was also the fact that he would feel funny every time he looked at Specter; every time he would imagine what his skin would smell like; every time he thought that his mouth was made for kissing, not killing. When it finally happened between the two of them, Gabriel thought that his fantasies weren't even close to the reality. The reality was so much better. He still couldn’t believe that Specter (“Desmond... Desmond... Desmond... Oh God, Desmond...!”) would give so much of himself to Rayhe; that he would get lost in his own little world as much as Gabriel himself would; he didn’t expect Specter to react the way he did... So tonight, after Desmond told (“asked”) him to get out, Gabriel thought that there was no force in the entire bloody world that would make him see Desmond as a monster. He left nevertheless, because he knew it would be important to Desmond. He finished his smoke, wondering if he needed yet another one (it’s been almost an hour and a half since he went outside), when he heard Desmond’s voice calling him.
  18. Wayne Gray

    Expectations

    Thanks for writing, Petey! They definitely need someone to give them a talking to! You’re right. There are deeper issues for both guys, and it’s going to take time before those are resolved. IF they get resolved!
  19. Petey

    Expectations

    Both boys are so busy protecting their own hearts they're in danger of losing each other's. I think you should sit them both down and give them a good talking to, after all they are your boys :)
  20. Myr

    Mini painting 2

    I"ve started printing my own. painting comes soon
  21. Wesley8890

    Chapter 11

    I hate to say this but now I'm up to the point where I kinda want to knock some sense into this boy! I mean dad is obviously attempting to try to show he cares and Richie just refuses to acknowledge it. Was I this freaking insufferable as a teenager?
  22. This story was inspired by the Kyle character. Strange, huh? Yeah, I know. Honestly, though, many moons ago I met a neighborhood boy who was fifteen, attractive, unusually mature, and clearly—even if he didn't know it yet—sexually confused. The real Kyle developed a huge crush on me which lasted years before his family moved to another state. No, I never responded to that crush despite his increasing attempts to engage me both emotionally and sexually. A few years ago I had one of those random thoughts about the past. It happened to be the real Kyle who popped into my head, which made me go looking to see if I could find him. No luck there, but the thought wouldn't go away, so eventually I started writing a story. All I knew at the time was that it would be based loosely on the truth—gay guy moves into new neighborhood, meets fifteen-year-old kid, kid develops crush on gay guy as he figures out his sexuality, blah blah blah. What I refused to do, however, was write a story that hinged entirely on an adult-minor titillation vibe. Thus the Greg character could never show interest in Kyle, though I had no issue with Greg finding the kid attractive since that's no more inappropriate than liking dark chocolate; it's just natural. But that left me wondering how meeting a boy of fifteen could have a significant effect on a mature gay man if it didn't result in the gay man developing feelings for the boy. So—some of you will be pleased with this—I created a character originally called The Dick. I never gave him a name and he was never more than a nebulous shadow from the past, a guy who was Greg's first love and who hurt Greg in major ways. Not physically, no, but emotionally. In that first iteration, Greg was fifteen when he fell in love with The Dick. Except that didn't really create a problem significant enough to make Kyle important. As you can probably guess, it required that The Dick be an adult when they met and Greg fell for him. Which still didn't solve the boredom issue I was facing. Somehow I needed The Dick to be so significant that Kyle's presence and attractiveness would cause a profound impact on Greg, forcing him to face something terrible and painful from his past. Well, unexpectedly The Dick needed a name. Richard, right? That was an easy leap to make, so I made it. But he needed more than a name. And it only took about ten seconds of thought to realize what could be in Greg's past that would make meeting Kyle a potent catalyst for change in a thirty-year-old man. Basically, Richard, who became The Fiend since The Dick had too much levity associated with it, grew organically from the story as it developed, slowly taking on this dark and ominous persona. Because he'd been mature when Greg was young, making him a predator came naturally, especially because I needed Greg's hurt from Richard to be life-altering and of significant consequence. From there, making him Nate's father was a no-brainer. How could I make Greg's experience with Richard substantial for both guys? It's one thing for a best friend to feel hurt and anger at his best friend's assault; it's a much better challenge to overcome if the assailant was his father. So Richard was a simple, natural progression for a character who originally remained a nameless presence in the past upon whom all blame could be heaped for Greg's dating issues. Well, it started out being simple dating issues, or at least a severe disinterest in dating, but as Richard took shape, so too did a darker past and deeper problems for Greg. And Nate, as well. And finally, I originally wrote five separate endings for this story. One is the ending you've read, with Nate and Greg happily together. Two of the other endings I discarded immediately: Greg and Keigan getting together, which was too trite and predictable; and Greg and Kyle getting together when Kyle was nineteen, which required some romantic interest when Kyle was a minor, a line I was unwilling to cross. The fourth ending was sad: Greg withdrew from Nate because he loved him too much but couldn't have him, and Nate tried fixing it while his relationship with Rita progressed, ultimately ending with Nate and Rita preparing to marry while Greg was a lonely, anguished mess. In the last chapter, Greg sees them across the store where Nate and Rita are building their wedding gift registry. Nate looks hopeful and waves toward Greg, but all Greg can do is turn away as he begins crying. Yeah, after what I put Greg through, I really didn't want to leave him like that even if it was believable. The fifth alternate ending had Greg meeting someone at a party hosted by Keigan and Yannis, but he makes clear he can't really get involved with anyone because of his feelings for Nate. Later, at Greg's birthday party, he runs into Nate for the first time in a year or more, and they finally begin reconciling and rebuilding their friendship. Both are single and at the end, Nate asks Greg out on a date. I rejected that one because I wanted to give them a happy ending, not just a hopeful one. Hopefully some of that is interesting to those of you who like seeing a bit of what's behind the curtain. Thank you so much for all of your support, interest, kindness and feedback! I've never written for an audience; decades of writing always happened simply because I like to write and I have to do it to get stories to stop bouncing around inside my head. Posting this here on GA has taught me a great deal about sharing with others that which has historically been a personal endeavor resulting in something else to store in digital limbo. Now, perhaps, some of those wrongfully imprisoned stories can be released for the enjoyment of others. Again, thank you sincerely and wholeheartedly! Cheers and best regards, - Jason
  23. Ronyx

    Chapter 11

    The house was empty when I got up. I guess my aunt and uncle weren’t going to force me to go back to school until I was ready. I really wasn’t sure I would be able to face people again. I’d already had to endure their looks when Stephen spread the rumor that I was gay. I could only imagine what they would think about Wade dying in the car accident. Dying. It was still hard for me to understand. Uncle Ray had helped me a little the night before, but it was hard for me to imagine a bright future. I just couldn’t see a rainbow ahead. My mourning had become a storm. Dark clouds surrounded me, and there was no way the sun could ever peek through again. I sat in the family room for a while and watched television, but I soon discovered I was looking at the screen, and I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on. I went to my room and checked my email, but again nothing. I picked up the cell phone on my desk and played a game, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even make a decent challenge. Tears welled up in my eyes when I opened my contact list. Only one name appeared- Fucker. Why? Why had he paid for Wade’s funeral? It didn’t make sense. I had humiliated him in front of his coworkers. I had intentionally tried to hurt him. And I know I hurt him. I saw the look in his eyes when he was pulled from my hospital room. I expected him to hate me. I wanted him to hate me. And I still wasn’t sure that he didn’t. He did agree for me to live here with Uncle Ray and Aunt Barbara. By the belongings in my room, it appeared he had completely cleaned out my room at his house. It was obvious he never expected me to return. He hadn’t even spoken to me at Wade’s funeral. A nod of his head was the only acknowledgement that I was at the church a few seats away. He had held Wade’s mother and comforted her, but he couldn’t walk over to me and comfort me. I am hurting. I needed someone to hold me. Two people I loved deeply were now gone. I loved him once, a long time ago. I had loved him before he left us- before he hurt Mom. My mind is wracked with confusion. I want to hate him. But deep inside I want to be a little boy once again. I want to catch a blue gill and listen as he laughs with pride at what I have done. When Uncle Ray held me last night, I wanted it to be him. But I hate him. Right? ******** I was asleep in bed when my phone indicated I had an email. I looked over at the clock. It was 3:36. I got up, sat down at my desk and opened my phone. Gabedaman: can I come see u? I sat and stared at the message for several minutes. I couldn’t decide if I was ready to see Gabe again. He was right when he had said that I wasn’t the same Richie he knew. I had changed and I didn’t know if he would like the new me. I didn’t even like the new me. I wondered if it would be best if I would just let him forget about me. I had too much baggage and I didn’t want him to try and carry it for me. He’d been doing that for years. He didn’t deserve a friend like me. After all these years I knew he felt obligated to be my friend. I wanted his friendship, I needed it. But I was no longer the old Richie. I wasn’t the friend he had grown up with over the years. Something was different. Our friendship would be different. Richierich: yeah, sure I regretted sending it the moment my finger hit the key. I wasn’t prepared to talk to him. I didn’t know what to say. Richierich: can we make it another time? I sat at my desk and waited nervously for his reply, but it never came. He either had left his house before reading it, or he had decided to ignore it. I got up, removed my pajamas and put on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. I walked over to the window and looked out, waiting for him to come. If I had been at home, it would have only taken him a few minutes. But my aunt’s house was about fifteen blocks away. I looked over at the clock: 3:58. I knew it would only take him about ten minutes to ride his bicycle here. My body began to shake when I saw him ride up into the driveway. He rang the doorbell several times before I got up the nerve to walk to the door and open it. He had his head down but lifted it and attempted a slight smile when he saw me. “Can I come in?” he asked when I stood staring back at him. “Yeah, sure.” I stepped aside as he entered. He was carrying an armload of books. “Here,” he said as he laid them down in a chair. “I brought your homework for you. I wasn’t able to get your computer science assignments because there was a sub today.” He looked up and our eyes met. “Thanks,” I managed to smile. His lips curled into a smile. He then walked over and wrapped his arms around me. My body stiffened as he clutched me tightly. “Are you all right, Richie?” Tears filled my eyes as I rested my head on his shoulder and nodded. His eyes were misty when he pulled away and looked at me. “I know I should have come to see you,” he apologized, “but I didn’t know how to take all this.” Tears started to flow down his cheeks as he pulled me into another hug. “God, Richie! You almost died!” We both started to cry uncontrollably. I don’t know who was more emotional, me or Gabe. One thing was for certain, I hadn’t lost my best friend. He was still here for me, flaws and all. It surprised me when he pulled away, stared into my eyes and then…kissed me. On the lips! I think it startled him as much as it did me. He jumped away, and his face flushed with embarrassment. “Jesus, Richie!” he exclaimed as his face continued to redden. “I didn’t mean to do that!” I held out my arms. “I know that, you idiot.” He walked over and we hugged once again. “But thanks anyway.” He pulled away and said excitedly, “If you ever tell anyone I kissed you, I’ll kick your ass into tomorrow!” I started laughing. I knew Gabe meant nothing by it. It only showed how much he really cared about me. I may never tell anyone about the kiss, but I’ll always cherish it. It sealed our friendship forever. I put my hands on my hips. “What?” I tried to sound insulted. “I’m not a good kisser?” “No,” he said quickly, “you’re a good kisser.” “I am?” I continued to tease him. “No,” he blushed. “I didn’t mean it that way.” “It’s okay, Gabe,” I said trying to make him feel more comfortable. “A kiss doesn’t always mean you want someone. It can show that you care for someone, like when you kiss your grandmother.” It was his turn to put his hands on his hips and act insulted. “So now I kiss like someone’s grandmother?” “Dunno,” I shrugged my shoulders. “You didn’t kiss me long enough for me to tell.” “Well, you’re never gonna find out again,” he insisted. “And if you ever tell anyone...” “You’re going to kick my ass into tomorrow,” I laughed. “Damn, straight,” he replied. He put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the sofa. When we sat down, he turned toward me, tucking one leg under his other. “So, are you all right?” I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” “Guess, not,” he replied sadly. “But you know I’m here for you if you need me?” “Yeah, I know,” I sighed. “Good old Gabe watching out for fucked up little Richie.” He reached out and touched my arm. “Don’t, Richie.” “It’s okay,” I replied when I saw how upset he was getting. “I’ll be all right.” I stood up. “Let’s go to the mall. I need to get out of the house for a while.” He started to grin. “I heard Footlocker is having a sale on Nike’s. Dad gave me my allowance last night. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money. “Damn!” My eyes widened. “What did you do to get that much money?” “Cleaned out the garage.” “Without me?” I shrieked. “How come he’s never paid you when I’ve helped you?” “You didn’t get me in trouble, Asshole,” he laughed. “When you help me it is usually because you got me to do something stupid at school. Cleaning the garage was our punishment.” “You mean your punishment,” I giggled. “I never got into trouble.” “Fucker!” he laughed as he held up the money. “And if you’re nice, I just might buy you a Big Mac.” “You were going to buy me a Big Mac anyways,” I grinned evilly. “What makes you so sure?” “I’m blackmailing you for kissing me.” “Fucker!” He pulled me back down onto the sofa and pretended to hit me. “I’ll kick your ass.” “Tomorrow!” I screamed as I threw him on the floor. I held out my hand and helped him up. “Let’s go, I’m starved.” He put his arm around my shoulder as we headed for the door. ******** I intended to go back to school the next day, but I didn’t get any sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, Wade’s face appeared. Tears filled my eyes when I saw him grinning with his brown eyes shining with mischief. God, I miss him so much! What I miss the most is not giving him my virginity. I had planned to do that after he had taken me out to the steak house. As we ate, I really began to fall in love with him. He would look over and smile innocently. And his eyes, those brown eyes, they would stare at me with so much love. When he told me that I was the first person he had ever told that he loved, I believed him. And I had wanted to give him the only thing I could to show that I loved him to- me. But now... I was curled in a ball hiding under the covers when Uncle Ray entered the bedroom. He sat down and didn’t say anything for several minutes. I guess he didn’t know what to say. What can you say to someone whose world has been shattered completely? He finally reached out and rubbed me on my back. “Just remember what I told you, Richie. It won’t last forever.” I nodded and then he got up and left the room. I slept for about two hours until my cell phone rang. I was puzzled who was calling me because I hadn’t given it out to anyone. When I picked it up, I saw the word ‘Fucker’ on the screen. My hand started to tremble as I held it, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. I turned it off and put it back on my desk. After showering and eating some cereal, I went out into the garage and got out my bike. It took me about thirty-five minutes to ride across town. When I entered through the wrought iron double gates, I saw a large, green tent with many people standing outside. I wondered who they had come to mourn. Was it someone they loved, or were they there because it was the proper thing to do? Then I thought again of him. Did he attend mother’s funeral because he still had feelings of love for her, or had he been there because it was expected? He was, after all, still her husband and our father. I stood beside my bike as I looked at the large number of people surrounding the tent. Who had this person been that brought so many people to say goodbye to them? Tears filled my eyes as I wondered why no one had attended Wade’s funeral. He was a great guy, perhaps greater than the person whose casket sat under the tent. But no one came to say goodbye to him. Even I couldn’t bring myself to follow the hearse for the last ride to the cemetery. I remembered how difficult it was to watch as the long black vehicle led the procession to where I now stood. It would have been too emotional for me to have to do it again so soon. So, I went home and buried my head under the covers of my bed. Now I didn’t even know where he was. I got back on my bike and rode it up the sloping hill to where my mother was. As I approached, I noticed a black BMW. He was here. I turned and headed to a large oak tree and hid behind it so he couldn’t see me. He was sitting on the ground beside the now wilted and dry flowers. Andrew was sitting in his lap and Melinda was pressed up against his body with her head buried in his shoulder. She was holding a bouquet of fresh pink carnations. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it appeared he was trying to console my little brother. He put his arms around him and held him tightly. I dropped to the ground and started crying silent tears. I didn’t want to make any sounds because I didn’t want him to know that I was watching. After several minutes they got up off the ground and he put his arms around Andrew and Melinda and stood staring down at the ground. She leaned down and carefully placed the bouquet atop the mound of dirt. They turned and headed back to his car. Harley jumped out from the back seat, ran to Andrew and embraced him. Freddy got out of the passenger’s side and helped Melinda into the car. When he turned, he saw me standing behind the tree watching. Our eyes met. We stood staring at each other briefly before he nodded slightly and then got into the car. I watched as his black car pulled away and he drove off down the sloping hill and through the wrought iron gate. After I was sure they wouldn’t return, I walked over to her gravesite and sat down. I crossed my legs and just sat staring at the flowers my sister had placed upon the grave. After several minutes, I finally began to speak. “I don’t even know where to begin,” I said tearfully. “So much has happened since you’ve left.” My shoulders began to shake, and I leaned forward and cried for several minutes. Finally, I sat back up and wiped my face clean. “Did you know?” I picked a fresh carnation from the bouquet and held it in my hand. “There were so many times I wanted to tell you, but you already had so many other things to deal with.” I plucked a few petals from the flower and let them fall to the ground. “Somehow, I think you knew, though. Mothers always know, don’t they?” Tears again filled my eyes. “I want to make you proud of me. I really do. But things are so hard right now.” Again, I feel forward and started sobbing loudly. I sat back up and plucked a few more petals from the pink carnation. “I fell in love, Mom. His name was Wade. I think you would have liked him.” More tears. They wouldn’t stop flowing from my eyes. “He died, though.” I sat staring down at the mound of dirt. “I wish you were here. I’m so confused.” I plucked more petals from the pink carnation and let them fall to the ground below. “But I guess you’re not here, so I’m going to have to learn to do this by myself,” I said sadly. “Life sure is hard, isn’t it?” I lifted my sleeve to my eyes and wiped them dry. “Where ever you are, I hope you’re not in any more pain. I hope you’re watching over Andrew, Melinda and me. I’ll try to do good. I promise. It’s just isn’t easy.” I plucked a few more petals from the carnation. “I guess I’m going to have to be a man now, huh?” I blinked back the tears. “Dad is taking good care of Andrew and Melinda. Don’t worry about them.” I reached for more petals, but there were none. “He hates me, so I’m living with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ray; but I guess you already know that.” I looked up as a flock of birds flew overhead. I sighed and sat motionless for several minutes. I watched as the mourners at the big, green tent walked quietly back to their cars and drove away. “I guess I better go,” I finally said. “I’m meeting Gabe and we’re going to the mall. He’s still my best friend.” I fought back tears. “I don’t know why, though.” I took a deep breath. “I love you, Mom. I know you didn’t want to leave us.” I leaned down, kissed the dirty ground and then sat back up. “I promise I’ll try to be good. I won’t let you down no more.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and then stood up. After staring down the mounded soil for another minute, I walked to my bike and headed home. ******** Gabe was sitting on the porch waiting for me when I arrived home. “Where the hell have you been, Richie?” He looked down at his watch. “I’ve been sitting waiting for ten minutes.” “Wow,” I laughed. “Ten whole minutes?” “Well,” he pouted. “It seemed like a long time.” “Did you get the money for the shoes?” I asked as I opened the door. He followed me up to my room. The shoes he had seen the day before cost more than he had, so he was going to ask his father if he could do more chores to make up the difference. “No,” he frowned. “He told me I had to learn to live within my means. I’m fucking fifteen, I don’t have any means. Whatever that is.” “You saw that other pair you liked,” I reminded him. “They were cheaper than the ones you wanted.” “Yeah,” he frowned again. “But everyone is wearing the ones I wanted. They’ll know I couldn’t afford them.” “Does it really matter what they think?” He threw up his arms. “Well, duh, yeah,” he replied. “I play basketball. If I’m going to get a girl to look at me, I have to look good.” I scanned his body, fell on the bed and started laughing. “You gotta have a body to look at first.” He jumped on the bed and pinned me down. I continued to laugh as I attempted to wiggle from under his lanky body. “So now I’m ugly?” I continued to squirm under him. Finally, I was able to break away. I ran to the middle of the room and turned. “Yeah,” I laughed. “And you can’t kiss, either!” “Fucker!” he screamed as he shot up from the bed and chased me into the living room. He tackled me, and we went tumbling to the ground. “I can to kiss,” he insisted as he held me to the ground. “I just can’t kiss another guy.” “You didn’t have a problem yesterday,” I squealed as he pressed me harder into the ground. “And besides, you’ve never even kissed a girl.” “I have to!” he shouted. I stopped squirming and he let me up. “Really?” I looked over as his face reddened. I knew Gabe talked to a lot of girls, but I had never know him to date any yet. “Who?” “I’m not going to tell you,” he said as he sat up and tried to catch his breath. “You’ll tell everyone if I tell you.” “No, I won’t,” I promised. “Who have you kissed?” He studied me for a minute before responding. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?” I nodded my head. “Okay. Teresa Scott.” “Teresa Scott!” I started laughing. “I knew it. You two have been looking at each other since the sixth grade. When?” “When what?” “Idiot,” I laughed. “When did you kiss her?” “Two weeks ago,” he blushed. “After a ball game.” “Did you?” I ran my finger inside my fisted hand. His eyes widened. “No!” He screamed. “We only kissed for a few minutes.” He scooted back, leaned against the sofa and looked over at me. “What about you?” “What about me, what?” “You know.” He started making the same gesture with his hands. Tears filled my eyes as I got up and walked into the kitchen. Gabe jumped up and followed me into the room. “Jesus, Richie!” he apologized as he grabbed my shoulder and turned me toward him. “I’m really sorry. I forgot.” “It’s okay.” I got a paper towel from the counter and wiped my eyes. He continued to look at me. “So, you two were like... in love or something?” I started laughing nervously thinking about Wade’s proposal. “Yeah. He kinda wanted us to get married.” Gabe’s eyes widened. “No shit! Weren’t you too young? And besides, is that even legal?” “Dunno,” I responded sadly. I wiped a few more tears from my eyes. “I guess now it’s never going to happen.” Gabe walked over and pulled me into a hug. “I’m sorry, Richie,” he said. “I was such a dick. I’m sorry for all the things I said about him. I didn’t know.” I pulled away and walked across the room. “I guess I really didn’t give you a chance to know, huh?” “I’m your best friend, though,” he said. “I should have known.” He walked over and stood before me. “Promise one thing though.” I nodded my head. “If you ever fall in love with another guy, let me know, okay?” I started laughing at the serious look on his face. Good old Gabe. I knew why he’d been my best friend for all these years. “I don’t think it will ever happen again,” I smiled. “But if it does, you’ll be the first to know.” “Good. I better be.” He hit me lightly on my arm. “Now let’s go to the mall. I guess I’ll have to settle for the cheaper shoes.” “Gabe?” “Yeah?” “You’re not ugly.” I smiled. “I’m sure you’re going to kiss a lot of girls.” “You think so?” he asked hopefully. Gabe is cute, athletic and smart. He is also a bit naïve and clueless about the charm he possesses. I have been jealous for years about the way girls fawn over him, trying to get him to pay attention to them. “Yeah, I’m sure of it.” I threw my arms around his shoulder. “Let’s go.” As we headed for the door, he suddenly stopped. “Wait a minute!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I almost forgot. Here.” He thrust the envelope into my hand. “What’s this?” “I stopped by your house to talk to Freddy before I came over here,” he explained. “When I told your dad I was going to the mall with you, he gave me that.” He nodded at the envelope I was holding. “What’s in it?” “Dunno,” I said as I fumbled to open it. I reached in and pulled out a large wad of money. “Jesus, Rich!” Gabe grabbed it from my hands and counted it. “There’s two hundred dollars here!” he squealed. When he handed the money to me, I pushed it back into his hand. “You keep it,” I insisted. “I don’t want it.” “I can’t take this, Richie.” “Sure you can,” I insisted. I didn’t want anything he gave me. “It’s only guilt money, anyway.” “Guilt money?” “Never mind,” I smiled. “You want those shoes we saw yesterday, don’t you?” “Hell, yeah!” “Then let’s go buy them.” “You sure?” He looked at the money he was holding in his hand. “I’m sure,” I smiled. “You’re my best bud.” I threw my arm around his shoulder and we headed for the door. I started laughing when he shouted, “Fucking, hell yeah!”
  24. Wayne Gray

    Expectations

    I know. They're damaged goods, both of them. Children!
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