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Linxe Termoil

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Linxe Termoil last won the day on September 22 2011

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  1. 32 years old and i'm in the hospital because of a heart attack. Who knew.

    1. Daddydavek


      Hugs and take care!

    2. Graeme


      ~hug~ The best man at my wedding had a heart attack at that age, too. It happens for some people.

  2. Whoa...I've been a member for 5 years now? Where did the time go?

    1. Show previous comments  2 more
    2. Lisa


      Maybe we'll see some "Spider Webs" around here.......(hint, hint)

    3. Page Scrawler

      Page Scrawler

      @Lisa I've been hoping for that one, too. :(

    4. Lisa


      @Page Scrawler: Ikr? I've given up hope! :( 

  3. Where have you been, Mister?

  4. “When did he go to bed?” Voices were annoying me; someone wouldn’t stop shaking me. I brushed a hand away, grabbed for my blanket and buried myself under it, using my pillow to shield my ears. “I don’t think he’s getting up.” Whoever he was, he was right: I definitely had no intention of getting up. Someone sighed. “Let him sleep. I’ll leave him a note.” Whatever the response was to that, I had no idea, because the voices went away and I went right back to sleep. It was quiet in the house; too quiet. It made me want to roll over and go back to sleep; intuition told me that would be a bad idea, that it was probably far later than I was thinking it was. My alarm clock was useless; someone had put a folded note in front of the numbers. I reached for it, dropped it on the ground when I saw the time: 10:00. I pushed my covers off and panicked; I was late for school. Extremely late for school. Elizabeth was going to kill me if I missed anymore classes. Or not. I was on my way out the front door, ready to start walking to school when I read the note that had been placed in front of my alarm clock: We couldn’t wake you, so we decided to let you have the day off. Everybody else is going to school/work. Make sure you let the puppy out. Tonight you’re going to have to take your sleeping pills earlier than three in the morning. Don’t take your truck anywhere until Ken gets home. He will be home around noon-ish for a little bit. Don’t work on the house either, unless someone is with you. Love, Elizabeth, Ken, and the boys. I turned and stared at the truck sitting in the drive way. I don’t think I would have taken it anywhere even if I had been feeling inclined to drive the thing. I don’t know where I would have gone. Plus, I didn’t know where the keys were. Something yapped when I walked back into the house. Cat-bait. I shook my head at the name and let him out of the laundry room, where he had been penned up. He left a pile of steaming shit in Ken’s parking spot. I think it helped that I encouraged him, seeing as I couldn’t leave him outside by himself. Which presented me with a couple of problems; a fence was going to have to be built for the dog, and I didn’t want to watch the dog. Perhaps it should be better said that I didn’t want him watching me. It was the first time in weeks that I had actually been left alone. No Patrick, Reese or Joel following me around. No Ken or Elizabeth to pop up at unexpected times. My dick was already hard at the thoughts floating through my mind. I was going to have a daylong marathon jerk-off session with no one to bother me except the dog. Who was still watching me. My idea for a daylong marathon jerk-off session only worked in theory. I was sitting on the living room couch, waiting impatiently for the laptop Elizabeth had gotten me to boot up. I was more than ready to explore all the possibilities the internet presented me. My mesh-shorts were down around my ankles and my hand was reacquainting itself with my dick when the front door opened and slammed shut. I leaped to my feet and whirled, facing the front door. Reese stomped his way into the living room, ready to head up the stairs when he stopped cold in his tracks, his wide eyes staring at my naked crotch. Me? I was too busy staring at his head to bend over and pull my shorts back up. His hair was … well, it looked like he’d been attacked by a mad barber. “Whoa…you’re freaking…” Reese stuttered. “Whoa…your freaking…” I echoed, too shocked to do anything else. “…huge…” “…hair…” I snapped out of my shock and actually looked at Reese. His face was red, and there was snot running out of his nose. It was obvious he had been crying. “What the hell happened to you?” I snapped; more worried about the fact that he had been crying and someone had gone and done a Sweeney Todd number on his hair. “Huh?” Reese tore his eyes away from my crotch and clapped his hands to his head in an attempt to cover up the bald patches strewn haphazardly around his head. “Nothing! I don’t want to talk about it. Sorry!” he blurted, bolting up the stairs. I winced. The back of his head was even worse. I stooped down and grabbed my shorts, pulled them up and tugged my cut-off shirt down over the front of my shorts before I followed him up the stairs. He had locked his door. I pounded on it. “Reese, open up!” I demanded. “Go away,” he shouted. “I don’t want to talk about it!” “You have to talk about it!” I replied, “Because you’re going to have to tell your parents something when they get home!” Something slammed into the door from the other side. “Go away!” I sighed, threw up my hands and gave up. Damn teenagers. They were way too dramatic for their own good, if you asked me. Hopefully Joel would have an easier time going through puberty. I went downstairs and sat back down on the couch, staring intently at my computer. “Damn!” I swore, no longer in the mood to pursue any recreational activities that were of an interest to me. Instead, I tried to figure out how I might be able to get Reese to open up and talk to me. That was funny, considering three weeks ago he hadn’t been of any interest to me whatsoever. “Lunch!” I shouted. I didn’t bother waiting to see if Reese came down the stairs, just went into the dining room. I had made sandwiches and potato chips. It was quick and easy, and I was tired of Reese sitting upstairs in his bedroom, sulking. Besides, with as much as he’d been crying, I figured he had to be hungry. I only knew he had been crying because I’d been sitting outside his door. “Thanks; how did you know to make me lunch?” someone asked. I was still facing the kitchen and I turned, startled by Ken; who was home earlier than I had expected, just as Reese came into sight. My eyes went wide; so did Reese’s. The only thing that saved us was the fact that Ken had his back to Reese. “Uh…Elizabeth said you’d be home around lunch time,” I replied, remembering the note. Reese turned and tiptoed out of sight. I guess he didn’t want his dad knowing he was home. Ken nodded, took off his suit jacket and sat down at the table. I joined him. I was biting into my sandwich when he pulled his briefcase up and set it down on the table. He opened it and pulled out license plates, sliding them across the table toward me. “Thanks,” I mumbled through my food. Ken shook his head at me. Manners. I rolled my eyes at him. “Hey…where are the keys to the truck at?” I asked, swallowing my food. “Up there with the spare keys,” Ken replied, as if that’s where they belonged. I rolled my eyes at myself. I should have looked there first. “Planning on going somewhere?” he asked. I shook my head at him. “No, I just wasn’t sure where they were. I wanted to go out and look at the truck. The doors are locked,” I said. What I’d told him was true, too. For the most part, I really hadn’t planned on going anywhere. Ken nodded, looking uncertain, but he opened his mouth anyway. “Because, if you did want to go somewhere, that’s okay with us, you know. Just make sure you call someone and let them know where you’re going, though,” he said. I nodded, still unsure that I wanted to drive the truck. “Okay. Thanks,” I replied anyway. Ken pulled out the documents he had shown me last night. “I wanted to talk to you about these,” he said, putting a chip in his mouth. I nodded, but somewhere around the time he started talking and I started stuffing my face I tuned him out. My mind was on Reese, and the fact that someone had seriously f**ked up his hair. I couldn’t understand how or why he would let someone do that to him. If it had been me and someone tried to do that to, I would have seriously kicked someone’s ass. I think I was just starting to figure out that Reese wasn’t a fighter. That should have been obvious though, with the way his parents loved him. Almost to the point that I’d consider him spoiled rotten. But he didn’t act like he was spoiled rotten. I think his parents just wanted him to be a kid while he could. Elizabeth had said something to me about that early this morning. She didn’t think I’d know how to have fun. To be honest I wasn’t sure I knew how either. My idea of fun had been stealing cars, and that had been done for the money more than anything else. “Is that okay?” Ken asked, grabbing my attention. “Huh? What? Yeah, sure, whatever you think is right,” I answered, not quite sure what I was agreeing to. I just smiled at him. Ken looked uncertain but nodded anyway. “Hey Ken, can I ask you something?” “Yeah,” he replied. “Do you think it’s okay if I start acting like a kid?” I asked. I think he was expecting me to ask questions about whatever it was he’d been saying, but I hadn’t been paying any attention to him, so his surprise was understandable. I think I surprised myself, too. I didn’t think I’d ever go to him for advice or permission on anything. “Uh…yeah…I think that would be great. Actually, I’m a little relieved…is something going on?” he asked. I shook my head at him. “No, why would something be going on?” “Uhm, well, I guess the proper question is why you think you need to ask permission to be a kid?” he asked. I shrugged. “Elizabeth said something to me last night,” I said. He looked curious, so I continued. “She said she didn’t think I knew how to be a kid or how to have fun.” I tried not to look insulted when I said that but I don’t think I succeeded, if his laughter was anything to go by. “I think…I don’t think I did either, and if you think about it, you probably haven’t. You’ve been acting like a parent since you were eleven years old, Micah. We’re pretty sure that that hasn’t been very fair to you…” Ken said. “But I didn’t mind taking care of Joel…” “And I’m glad you didn’t mind taking care of Joel,” Ken replied. “The point is, though, that right now you don’t have to. I’m not saying you have to stop being a brother…but perhaps you could be the great kid that you are, and be a great older brother, too, if you know what I mean?” I nodded. I didn’t think that I had been acting like a parent; I just thought I was being Joel’s big brother. Apparently I was wrong. “So…I should let you and Elizabeth do the parenting, then?” I asked. That was the only thing that was left, as far as I could tell. Ken nodded. “Yeah, let Elizabeth and me do the parenting,” he said. He looked worried. That was my fault. I’d made it quite clear from the get-go that they weren’t my parents and never would be. I sighed. I still didn’t want parents. I had parents. One was dead and the other was a drunk. “Micah?” Ken demanded my attention. I’d been staring out the window. “We can try it…but, I’m not promising anything,” I said. He looked relieved, gave me a smile. “I’m still cooking though. It’s safer that way,” I informed him. He grinned at me and got up from his chair, came around the table. His actions confused the shit out of me, especially when he hugged me. I didn’t hug him back. I got uncomfortable real quick. “Uhm…we can work on the hug thing, like…take it slower, perhaps?” I asked. Ken let me go, looked embarrassed. “Uhm, yeah…you just tell me if you need a hug, or something. Will that work?” Oh brother. I had really put my foot in it this time. I nodded. “Now that all that’s out of the way,” Ken took a deep breath, “I wanted to talk to you about what you told me last night.” I raised an eyebrow at him, not having a clue about what he was talking about. I think we had done a lot of talking last night. “I meant with the principal,” he informed me. I groaned. “You’re not grounding me…” Ken looked at me. “Please?” I asked. “I mean seriously, that guy’s an asshole, and he deserved to be hit, and he pissed me off…” “You’re right. He is an asshole; and no, I’m not grounding you for that. I do however want you to apologize to him,” Ken said. I shook my head. “At least consider it?” He asked. I didn’t want to consider it. “Also, I know he pissed you off and that’s the reason you tried to hit him, but… you shouldn’t do anything out of anger, Micah,” Ken said. “If you’re going to hit someone, you should do it when you aren’t angry. You should do it when you’re calm and collected. Because there’s nothing scarier than a man who does something like that when they’re calm and collected. It tells the other person, ‘hey, don’t f**k with me, because you can’t get to me, and if you try, you’ll be in a world of hurt’, you understand?” I let out a startled laugh, surprised. “That’s some…great parenting advice,” I said, confused. “Are you allowed to give me advice like that?” I asked. Ken shrugged. “I’m a soldier first, and a lawyer second. Micah, as long as we don’t tell Elizabeth what kind of advice I’m giving you, I’m pretty sure I can get away with it,” he told me. I didn’t even know what to say to that. “Okay, we won’t tell Elizabeth,” I said. “Okay, great,” he replied. He grabbed the sandwich left on his plate and his briefcase. “I’ve got to get back to work to meet with a client and I don’t want to be late. I’ll be home late tonight, too,” he told me. I nodded. “Oh, this came for you in the mail,” he said a second later, handing me an envelope. I looked at it. “What is it?” I asked suspiciously. “Probably your ATM card,” Ken answered. “Oh, that reminds me. I called the bank that had control of your and Joel’s trust accounts, and…” “Hrm, can you just spit it out, otherwise you’re going to be late,” I interrupted him. Ken grinned. “I like that about you, you know. You’re short and to the point, no bullshit. Alright. They’ve given us control of the trust funds since we’re your court-appointed guardians for now, and I’ve had them wire some money into your bank account. Not much, though. Just what your dad and I agreed upon last night.” Wait. “You talked to my dad?” I asked him, startled. Ken nodded. “Yeah, in these situations it tends to be easier to get things done when you do communicate with the parent, you know,” he informed me. I shook my head, not liking this one bit. Ken held up his hand. “Anyway, your dad said he had no objections if money were taken from the trust account; he figured you probably deserved it. Joel too, and now I really have to go,” Ken said, backing away like I was about to explode. He was out the door before I could say anything, and I sat back down in my chair. I hadn’t even been aware of standing up. I decided not to think about the money sitting in my bank account. I wasn’t even curious, really. I was however thinking about what he had said. I was staring back out the windows, petting Cat-bait when Reese came down the stairs and into the dining room. I looked at him. “There’s bread on the counter, and meat in the fridge,” I told him. He was wearing a hat on his head. It didn’t do a very good job of covering up the missing patches of hair. Reese nodded. He still looked upset, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. “Thanks for not telling dad I was here,” he said. I nodded. “So what’s the plan, wear a hat until your hair grows back?” I asked. Reese shrugged. “I don’t know.” I scowled at him, getting pissed off. I held it back. Ken said I shouldn’t do anything out of anger, and Reese hadn’t done anything to deserve it, either. Not really. “I do. I need you to watch Cat-bait for a while,” I said as I stood up and grabbed the temporary tags and the other documents that Ken had given me with them. I found the keys to the truck right where Ken had said they would be. “Where you going?” Reese asked. “To put my temporary tags on the truck, then I’m taking it for a test drive. I’ll be back shortly after that,” I replied as I found my wallet, put the bank card and pin number in it and put my shoes on. Butterflies were in my stomach when I unlocked the truck and sat in the leather driver’s seat for the very first time. I started laughing, because I was too short and couldn’t see very well over the steering wheel. At least I couldn’t until I found buttons on the lower left side of the bucket-seat that I was sitting in that raised the height of the chair. I was thinking I was going to have to find platform shoes to wear just so I could reach the pedals; that didn’t turn out to be the case. I reached the pedals just fine. I adjusted the mirrors, turned the key so I had power and rolled down the windows and finally I was ready. Tentatively, I turned the key further and listened intently as the diesel engine roared to life. I smiled. If it wasn’t loud, obnoxious and full of power, then it wasn’t worth having. That was something that my dad had said a lot when I was younger. It was the one motto he still lived by. Intending to reverse the truck, I put my foot on the gas, pushing slightly. I didn’t go anywhere. Laughing at myself, I moved my foot to the brake, popped it out of neutral and into reverse; eyed the rear-view mirror nervously. I had no idea why I was acting like a little girl. Hell, I’d driven up here all the way from Oregon with hardly any problems. I fiddled with the radio, deciding the lack of tunes was the problem. It wasn’t, though. Reese was on the back porch now; Cat-bait was running around in the backyard. Apparently Reese wanted to watch me set off in the truck on my maiden voyage. I couldn’t chicken out now. Making sure the truck was in reverse, I hit the gas pedal. My foot slammed on the brake when I heard Cat-bait yelp loudly. I was out of the truck and looking around wildly under the truck; my face felt weird, like all the blood had drained away. “Micah!” I turned, saw Reese holding Cat-bait on the front porch. I cursed, “What the hell!” Reese looked startled. I ran to the back porch and examined the dog. “What’s wrong with him?” I finally asked. He didn’t look injured. “Flea bit him in the butt,” Reese informed me, grinning. I shook my head. “Stupid…we’re building a fence this weekend,” I informed Reese. He looked confused. “Why are we…” “Just hold onto the dog until I’m out of here, please?” I asked. Reese must have figured out what had me freaking out because he looked amused as he nodded. At least something cheered him up. This time I put the truck in drive and carefully maneuvered into the field behind the barn before I circled around it, put it back in the drive way and pulled onto the street, driving slowly into town. Reese was going to be a lot happier before the day was over. Sunglasses were far more expensive than they should have been, if you asked me. At least they looked good on me; plus they helped keep the sun out of my eyes so I could actually drive. That’s what I was thinking as an asshole in his sixties pulled around me and sped up until he could get in front of me, honking his horn the entire time. I was going 25 in a 45. He was the last asshole to pass me. There was nobody else. I pushed on the gas pedal, finally started relaxing as I continued to get used to the way the truck handled. I was back at the Windleton’s, putting the truck in park, carrying the package I had spent thirty bucks on. Reese was on the couch watching TV. I ignored him and went into the dining room; pulled a chair into the kitchen. “Reese!” I hollered. I opened up my package and went carefully through its contents. “What?” he shouted. “Come here!” I ordered. He came in and I pointed at the chair. “Sit!” Reese frowned but did as I commanded. I snapped the cutting cape through the air. “What are you doing, Micah?” Reese asked, startled. “Fixing it,” I told him as I pulled his ball cap off his head. “Fixing it?” Reese parroted. “Yup,” I replied, turning on the hair-clipper I’d just bought. Reese turned and looked at me, his eyes wide. “I don’t think—” “I think you should trust me. Now turn around and hold still, otherwise I’m going to sit on you,” I threatened. Reese gulped. I managed to stay calm while I brushed out his hair. What he had left, anyway. “Now tell me everything you know about the assholes that did this to you,” I said as I took the plunge and made the first swipe with my clippers. Reese didn’t say anything. “Now!” I demanded. Reese sighed. “Brian’s the worst. The rest aren’t that bad, really.” “Who’s Brian?” “The boy you hit on the beach.” I frowned. “I thought his name was Jamie?” Reese shook his head. I got the clippers away in time and smacked him lightly on the back of his head. “Sit still or you’re going to end up missing more than you want.” Reese flinched, but continued with his explanation. “No, Brian’s the one you hit. Jamie’s just a traitorous jerk. He used to be cool, hung out with us when we were younger, but ever since his mom married his step-dad, he’s changed. Now he’s just a jerk,” Reese said. “Tell me about Brian, then, and everyone who’s been giving you trouble.” “Well, Brian’s a football player…” I listened intently to all the information Reese supplied me with, asking questions where appropriate until I had a general idea of what Reese was dealing with; carefully positioning Reese’s head and cutting at his hair the whole time. It wasn’t just Reese dealing with these kids. Ben and Patrick were catching shit from them, too, as were other kids that I didn’t know. The worst part was it wasn’t just some of the football players giving people shit. A couple of them were on the wrestling team; and I almost cut open Reese’s head when he told me about the shit Joel was catching from these assholes, as well. I followed Reese up the stairs and into the bathroom when I was done cutting his hair, even though he’d finished telling me everything he knew about the assholes picking on him. “Where was I during all this?” I asked out loud. “I mean seriously, how could I not know about this?” Reese looked at me before opening the bathroom door. “You were too busy avoiding everyone by walking home,” he reminded me. “Or Timmy was picking you up and bringing you back here for your sessions. Plus you’d be outside working on that house by the time we got home; we always made sure we looked okay just in case. Joel insisted, so, Patrick would drive around for thirty or forty minutes, wasting time.” I shook my head. I think I was disappointed. “Hey,” Reese laughed, fingering the skin on the side and back of his head, “I look like a marine.” He growled, made what I think was supposed to be a ferocious look at the mirror. “You going to flex next?” I jokingly asked. Reese shook his head and rolled his eyes at me. “Thanks Micah, I like it.” I nodded. He shouldn’t have been thanking me. “You know,” he commented, “you’re like a mom in a boy’s body.” I mockingly growled at him. He laughed at me. “No, I mean it. I mean, you know how to cook, and you clean, and do laundry, and play guitar and sing, and you can cut hair.” He fingered the spikes I had managed to work into place using a lot of gel. I had to admit it, Reese really did look good. He was still smiling when he turned around and looked at me. “I’m glad you’re here.” That made me feel bad. I had made him get rid of his cat and ignored the fact that he had been getting bullied. I shook it off. “Good, now help me get the kitchen cleaned up,” I said. Reese followed me back down the stairs and swept while I put everything away. “Hey Reese,” I said, thinking about something Patrick had said. “Yeah?” “I think it’s time for you and Joel to learn how to do your own laundry. You’re both old enough, you know.” Reese looked startled, before his face turned thoughtful. It was like he had never thought about it before. He nodded, though. “Yeah, I think you’re right,” he said. Yup. I was definitely right. “You two also get to start helping with some of the chores around here.” Reese looked like he was about to argue with me on that one. “You might get a raise on your allowance,” I informed him. “Really?” he asked. I shrugged. “Probably.” “Okay than,” he said. I grabbed my wallet and keys again, locked Cat-bait in the laundry room. Reese watched me, curious. “Since you’ve agreed with me on everything I’ve suggested so far, how about I take you back to school now.” It really wasn’t a suggestion. Reese started shaking his head. “And be sure you catch a picture of that prick’s face when he sees your new haircut,” I suggested, watched as Reese went from frowning to smiling. I took that as an agreement. Reese ran upstairs and grabbed his backpack, hopped into the passenger seat of my truck where I was waiting for him. I didn’t have any problems with going the speed-limit this time. Hell, I think I even managed to go over it before my nerves got the better of me and I slowed back down to the speed-limit, driving through town like I knew where I was going. That’s probably because I did. The truck came with a navigation system set into the center console as part of its cd-player and radio. I drove slowly by the elementary school that Joel was going too. “Where do you guys usually meet Joel at?” I asked. Reese started giving me directions until I was stopped by the side of a park that was across the street. Reese was pointing out the spot they usually stood in when Brian and his goons came by to give them trouble. Why the hell didn’t they ever try to pick Joel up somewhere else? It was a good question, and I asked it. “Because they find us no matter where we try and pick him up at. They don’t care who sees them causing problems. They think they’re king-shit and need to be knocked down a few pegs,” Reese replied, sounding angry over the bullshit. I nodded. I could understand why he felt that way. He just wouldn’t do anything about it. He was too scared. I couldn’t blame him, either. I knew the type of kids messing with him. I had been that type, once, not so long ago. Back when I’d been living in Oregon and people pissed me off with their contempt and hatred for my lot in life. The worst ones had been the ones with sympathy. Those were the ones I tried to hurt the most, just by being an asshole. I wondered if I still had it in me to be a complete, utter asshole. The answer, unfortunately, was yes. I hadn’t changed that much, when I really thought about it. People just hadn’t really messed with me up here. It was 12:45 when I dropped Reese off at the school entrance. “Hey Reese, you guys are picking Joel up at that park this afternoon, right?” I asked. Reese looked back at me, the passenger door open. “Yeah,” he said. He wasn’t in a very good mood anymore. “Good, make sure you’re all standing right where you said you’d be standing,” I said. I ignored the curious look he gave me. “Hey, the instruments are still in my house. Why don’t you tell the girls and the rest of your band to come by around four if they can? I don’t have my session with Timmy, so we can make up for the practice I’ve missed these last two days.” Reese nodded, happy with my suggestion. I sat in that parking lot for a good thirty minutes after dropping Reese off. My mind was racing with ideas and things to do before I finally put the truck in drive. I reached into the middle compartment and pulled out the bank slip showing the balance on my bank account. I had been surprised at the balance, not that I was rich or anything. I was just glad the money was there for me to use. I had to find Wal-Mart and a hardware store, because it was time to start acting like a kid. More importantly, it was time to act like a big brother. The shit was heavy. The rope I’d bought on a spur of the moment decision had turned out more useful than I had expected it to be. Everything was set up as perfectly as I could make it. Now all I had to do was wait. I hated waiting, because I sucked at sitting still. For the sake of not giving myself away, I managed it. I held my breath when I saw Reese, Patrick and Ben standing in the park, just as Reese had said they would be. It would be close. Perhaps too close. I considered scrapping the entire plan. Scrapping the plan was no longer an option. Some kid I took to be Jamie came into view and got in Ben’s face. I couldn’t hear a single word being said between them. Patrick and Reese looked like they were nervous. I could understand why. The tall, skinny kid in Ben’s face was being backed up by three more of his buddies. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Brian amongst them. “Fucking faggot,” Jamie suddenly shouted, pushed Ben backward so that he sprawled onto his ass. Jamie took a step forward, followed by Brian and the rest of his goon squad. Reese and Patrick caught Ben’s arm, pulled him backward. It was perfect. It stopped being perfect when Joel ran into view underneath me. I watched in disbelief and then pride as Joel kicked Jamie in the nuts and, grabbing at Jamie’s shirt, pulled it up and around Jamie’s head, blocking his sight. My heart-rate picked up speed. Joel swung his fist and punched Jamie in the side of the head, knocking Jamie onto a knee. I almost cheered when Joel grabbed at the back of Jamie’s head and pulled him forward, planting a knee into Jamie’s face and knocking him backward. I thought I heard something go crunch. “Joel!” Reese shouted a warning. Brian and his goons were rushing forward to help Jamie. I couldn’t believe these idiots were going to beat up an eleven-year-old kid. An eleven year old who happened to be my brother. Reese ran forward and grabbed Joel around the waist. They managed to get out of the way. Brian and his goons stopped next to Jamie; disbelief on their faces. I understood why. From what Reese had said, no one really resisted the goons. This must have been a first. It was perfect. I grabbed the five-gallon bucket of black paint and tipped it over; the rope helped me guide pouring the paint into place. All over the heads of: Brian, Jamie, and the two goons. I wish I’d had a camera so I could see the expression on their faces. I wanted to see the look on Ben, Patrick, Reese and Joel’s faces too. I’d done one better, though. I let the rope and bucket fall to the ground, laughed when the bucket hit Brian square on the top of his noggin. Grabbing the pillow I’d slit down the seams, I unloaded the feathers into the air, more pleased with the results than I had ever expected to be as the feathers drifted down and settled on Brian and his friends. It was the closest thing to a tar-and-feathering that I could think of, and if anyone deserved it, it was these assholes. I was done. Everything had gone off perfectly. I had calmly caught the goons by surprise and, as far as I was concerned, I was done dealing with them. I wasn’t satisfied, though. I dropped from the tree where I’d been perched out of sight, behind Brian and on top of his two goons. Brian whirled around when he heard me land on his two buddies that had been nice enough to catch my fall. I didn’t waste any time; a one-two punch into Brian’s stomach had him bending over, and taking one out of Joel’s book, though it was technically mine since I’d taught him the move, I grabbed hold of Brian’s shirt and pushed on him so he wasn’t bent over, stepped really close and kicked at the back of his knee. Brian dropped to his knees. I was getting pissed, losing control as the adrenaline kicked in. That didn’t stop me from grabbing Brian’s paint-slicked hair at the back of his head. I pulled him forward, kneed him in the forehead, hoping I didn’t hit him in the nose. The wrong hit would kill the kid. I didn’t want to kill him. I wanted to teach him a lesson. I followed up by pushing Brian’s upper body back up again, then forward into my knee. It wasn’t quite enough. I let Brian continue his fall forward onto his stomach. The two-goons were wiping paint into their eyes; I had time. I stood so I was almost straddling Brian’s body, reached down and grabbed the back of Brian’s shirt, pushed him onto his back. The satisfaction came when I punched Brian in the mouth, punched him again. The lesson needed to be made clear. I wrapped my hands into Brian’s shirt at the top near his neck-collar, pulled him until he was almost sitting off the ground. The only strength supporting him in the air was mine. “Oh God,” Brian groaned. My face was in his in a second. “That’s right, asshole. I’m god, and this is my first and only commandment. You ever come near or touch my brother’s or any of my friends again, I’ll rip off that Barbie-doll Ken-sized dick you have between your legs and beat you to a pulp with it, understand?” Brian groaned something. I was choking him, that’s how tight my grip was on the collar of his shirt. I could only assume he understood. I wanted to make sure. “That goes for you and all your buddies, clear?” I tightened my grip, released my hold some. “kuah…” he choked out again. I shook him. “Yes!” he finally managed to get out. “Good,” I slammed him back into the ground, not caring that his head practically bounced off it. It was a fifteen –second fight that I couldn’t even consider a fight. Jamie was getting up. Rushing him, I nailed him in the face with a wild swing I didn’t think would connect, watched him fall onto his back again. It was time to get out of there. I grabbed the paint-bucket and started coiling the rope as fast as I could. Months of practice made it pretty quick. It was a short rope. Only fifteen feet or so. “Get out of here,” I snapped at Patrick and the others, not taking any time to admire the surprised looks on their faces. Joel reacted to my words, grabbed Patrick’s hand and tugged until Patrick was moving. Ben and Reese ran after them. The rope was coiled. I snatched up the bucket and ran to where I had parked my truck at the side of the road. “Did you get it?” I asked as I got in the driver’s seat of my truck, peeling off the thin gloves I was wearing. I tossed them on the towel I’d set on the center console, after it’d been pointed out to me that I might need it. My truck was already running. I put it in drive and hit the gas, heading up the hill that would take me home. I could see Patrick’s car ahead of me. I looked briefly at the passenger seat, eyed the video-camera being held. I wasn’t disappointed. “Got it all Bach,” came the grim answer. “Good,” I replied, satisfied. Despite the fact that Patrick and the others had left before me, I still managed to make it back to the house before them, even after dropping my passenger off. I was in the backyard, digging holes when they finally pulled up an hour later, wide grins on their faces despite the fact that they were covered in paint. I frowned. I was pretty sure I hadn’t gotten any paint on them. “Why are you guys covered in paint?” I asked, wondering if Brian and his goons had caught up with them. “Oh, we had to go clean up the mess you made in the park,” Patrick informed me. Despite the fact that he had cleaned up my mess, he still looked like he was in a good mood. I rolled my eyes at him. “It’s eco-friendly paint,” I informed him. Patrick just shrugged at me, looking unbothered. Ben and Reese were horsing around behind him, recreating the fight from the park like a couple of eight year olds. I shook my head at their antics, pleased that they were in such good spirits. “So…what’re you doing?” Patrick asked as I shoved the post-hole digger into the ground and pulled up more dirt. I’d found it in the barn. “Building a fence,” I informed him as Joel came out with Cat-bait. “Why?” Ben asked. I gestured at Cat-bait. Ben stopped horsing around, went aww and ran over to play with him. “I thought I killed him earlier,” I informed him. “You’re grounded if you kill my dog,” Joel informed me. Patrick snickered at me. I rolled my eyes at him. He made up for it by picking up another post-hole digger. I’d bought that one. “Where do you want me to start?” he asked. “Over there where that orange flag is sticking out of the ground. We’ll run the fence posts to the barn and then run em from the back of the barn going that way and then up the side to the house.” Patrick looked slightly confused by my vague answer. “Just dig where the orange flags are. About four feet deep.” Reese looked at the flags I’d laid out on the ground. “This is going to take forever. Got another shovel?” he asked. “In the barn, I think. Where are the girls and everyone else?” I asked. Reese shrugged. “No one else could make it, and Ben’s staying with us for the next week,” he reminded me. “Okay…when are your parents going to get home?” I asked. I’ll admit it, I was nervous about what I had done, and I was hoping no one had seen it. But the possibility existed that someone had seen and Elizabeth and Ken were probably not going to be very happy about it. Reese shrugged. “Dad’s going to be home late and Mom won’t be home until seven or so. She has sign-language class tonight.” I grunted. “When did she start taking those?” Reese grinned. “After you and Joel moved in,” he informed me. I shook my head. I should have known that. I found myself looking at Joel anyway. “She knows she doesn’t have to take them anymore, right?” I whispered. Reese nodded. “Yeah,” he whispered back, “but since Joel’s moving at his own pace, she thought it would be a good idea to continue them. She’ll teach me and dad what she learned later.” I could only shrug at that. Reese went into the barn and grabbed two more shovels, handed one to Ben, who just stared at it and shook his head. “I don’t get dirty,” he told Reese. “You do if you’re sleeping in my bed with me tonight,” Reese replied. Ben looked slightly torn between the two choices but took the shovel. “The things I do just to sleep next to a pretty face,” he said, sighing dramatically. I breathed in relief. It was supposed to rain again this weekend. Today was the only break in weather we would have and the ground was barely dry enough as it was. The more hands I had helping the better off things would be. I should have known it would be that line of thinking that would get me in trouble with Patrick. It was sometime later that he tapped me on the shoulder. “Hrm?” I grunted, planted the post-hole digger into the ground and looked at him. “What’re they doing here?” He asked. I looked where he was looking and saw Dafydd and several of Patrick’s Uncles milling around in the backyard, wielding shovels. “Helping,” I informed Patrick. “Helping?” he parroted. “Yup. I ran into your grandpa at the hardware store earlier. He said something about how neighbors help each other out when they need it, and this needs to get done,” I informed him. Patrick didn’t look very happy. “You can’t ask for help from my family without…” I sighed. “Patrick?” “What?” “I’m helping you with your chores tomorrow morning; and your Grandpa wants me to use my truck to help haul some crap out of one of your fields. He’s helping me, I’m helping you. Besides, I didn’t have a choice. He more or less told me they’d be coming over to help put up the fence. So please…” Patrick grunted but gave in. “What’s the deal with your grandfather anyway?” I asked, “I mean, he seems nice enough, once you get past all that gruff tough-boy attitude he displays on the outside.” Patrick looked amused with my comment. “You’re nice enough once a person gets past that—” “Don’t make me hurt you,” I growled at him. Patrick grinned but went back to work. My stomach hurt. I wanted to kiss him. The desire to kiss him was becoming annoying; because I was pretty sure he wanted to kiss me too. He was just... not kissing me, or anything else, for that matter. I knew he’d be sleeping in my bed again; that was becoming a problem. My dick had a mind of its own and it was getting harder and harder to refrain from jumping him the minute he crawled in next to me. After Reese’s interruption this morning, and the lack of hand exercises these past few weeks, I had to wonder if my dick could fall off from lack of use. I decided I wasn’t going to ask Ken about that. I was going to take a long shower, though. Elizabeth. I’d forgotten about her. She was standing on the back porch, watching us work when I handed the water hose off to Uncle Bryce. “Be right back,” I mumbled. I ended up racing Cat-bait across the backyard. He came out ahead of me, leaping up and putting his paws on Elizabeth’s pants. She picked him up and started petting him, still staring at her backyard. “What’re you guys doing?” she finally asked. “Building a fence,” I replied. “Why are we building a fence?” “I almost killed Cat-bait with my truck?” It came out a question. I had thought it was a good enough reason to build a fence. But, perhaps it wasn’t. “I should have asked first…sorry,” I offered. Elizabeth rolled her eyes at me. “That’s an utterly ridiculous name.” she muttered, giving the dog an affectionate rub. “We can still change his name. It’s not too late, you know,” I offered. “How much did all this cost?” Elizabeth asked, instead. I hesitated. “About a grand for all the materials,” I answered. “Micah…” “It’s worth it if it keeps Cat-bait from becoming Truck-bait,” I informed her. Elizabeth grinned at me. “Fine…I’ll go cook dinner. You’re planting the garden back there, too,” she informed me. “No need…” I blurted out, focusing on the first thing she had said and not the second. “We’re putting a garden back there…I’m not going to stare out at some hideous fence…” “I meant no need to cook. There’s a huge turkey in the oven…and…how about you go help them and I’ll finish up dinner?” She rolled her eyes at me again but handed me Cat-bait without any objections. The fence posts were setting in Quikrete © by the time I got dinner ready; Dafydd and the majority of his clan had left. Only Patrick and Uncle Bryce were left. I scowled at the now almost empty back yard. “I was going to feed them, you know,” I said, put out by the hard work I’d put into cooking dinner and now there was hardly anyone around to enjoy it. Uncle Bryce laughed at my tone. “Don’t worry about it,” he answered, amused. “Mom’s used to feeding everyone at all hours of the night and half that bunch will be eating at the bars tonight, anyway.” “Oh, Grandpa said to give this to you,” Patrick said. He handed me a CD. I took it and smiled. “I didn’t think he knew anything about CD’s. Thought he was still stuck on 8-tracks,” he informed me. I rolled my eyes at him. “Be nice…and you might be surprised at what your Grandpa knows.” I drew Patrick’s interest with that comment. He looked like he wanted to ask me about it. “C’mon,” I hollered. “Dinner’s ready!” Patrick groaned. “I’m going to have to eat at home tonight,” he informed me. Uncle Bryce stopped before he got to the door, looking toward the table I’d set before he looked at Patrick and sighed. “Why?” I objected. “Because I have to take a shower and change,” Patrick informed me. I rolled my eyes at him. “I think half your clothes are in my closet,” I replied. “So take a shower here and change in my room. Just dump your dirty clothes in your laundry basket.” He raised his eye. “My laundry basket?” “Yup, it’s the ugly orange one.” Bryce rolled his eyes at us and followed Elizabeth, Ben, Joel and Reese into the house, kicking off his boots in the process. “Okay than,” Patrick muttered behind me. I didn’t let him see the grin on my face as I followed Bryce. I was hungry. “What are you doing?” I asked as I practically bounced into my bedroom. Patrick was lying on his stomach on my bed; his face was flushed and my laptop was lying in front of him. “Nothing,” he replied. “You okay?” I asked. “You look sick,” I informed him, tempted to feel his forehead. Patrick stretched out, let out a groan that was accompanied by a slight ‘ow’. “No. My back hurts,” he answered. “Awww, poor baby,” I said, appropriately sympathetic. He grunted. “You should give me a back-rub,” he informed me. “Now why would I want to do something like that?” I asked. “Because...” Screw his reasons for why I should do it. I had plenty of my own reasons for wanting to do it, which is probably why I didn’t even hesitate to crawl onto my bed and straddle his back. It was all I could do to restrain myself from grinding my hips into his butt when I sat down on him. “Umph.” I immediately began digging my hands, one of which was pretty sore, into his backside. I was more than pleased with the muscles in his back. “Oh yeah,” he groaned out. I snickered. He sounded like a sound-track to a really bad porno. Speaking of which…I narrowed my eyes at the back of his head, thinking. “You should take your shirt off,” I informed him as I stopped kneading at his backside. “Huh. Why?” he asked. I rolled my eyes at him, thinking. “Because it would be easier to do this if you didn’t have your shirt on,” I answered, pulling at the hem of his shirt, watching in breathless anticipation as it slid up his backside, revealing his smooth flesh. Patrick helped me out by lifting his tummy off my mattress. I didn’t waste any time in getting his shirt off of him, and promptly sat back down on his ass, almost ready to resume the vital task at hand. “You should take your pants off, too,” I informed him. My thought was interrupted as soon as he tried to roll over underneath me. I lifted off him long enough to let him do so, watching as his green eyes seemed to suck in the light, sparkling with amusement. I sat down on his crotch, not as startled as one might think when something hard poked me in the ass. It just wasn’t what I expected it to be. I rolled off him and reached into the back pocket of my jeans, pulling out the disc that I had been given. “Hey, I meant to show you guys this,” I said, giving Patrick a cheerful grin. Yeah, I was in a good mood because neither Ken nor Elizabeth had said anything about anyone getting tarred and feathered this afternoon. That meant I was in the clear. I pulled the laptop over and opened it up. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Patrick buttoning up his jeans just as the laptop powered on, a web page opening right up. I squinted at it as Patrick tried reaching for it. I pulled it out of his reach and read what I was seeing. “Patrick, who is Nah-roo-toe and Saskey? And what’s yowie?” He blushed, pulled the laptop from my hand. “No one and it’s nothing. Just a story I was reading,” he replied, not looking at me. I squinted at him, suspicious. “Is it porn?” I asked, grabbing the laptop back so I could read what he had been reading. “No,” he replied. His nose twitched. “Liar,” I replied, flipping over onto my stomach and huddling protectively over the computer. That didn’t stop Patrick from pouncing on my back and tickling me. I squealed, tried to bounce him off me. It didn’t work very well, but it allowed me to roll over onto my back. I pushed at him; he grabbed my wrists and pinned them above my head. “What now?” Patrick crowed, triumphant. He had a reason to be. He was far stronger than I had given him credit for. I just grinned at him grinning at me. His face was way too close. It was… I tilted my head upward and brushed my lips against his, more certain than ever that I wanted to kiss him. Patrick let go of my wrists, breaking the kiss in his surprise. I sat up on my elbows and chased him with my mouth. “Shhh,” I whispered, hoping he wouldn’t say anything, before my lips met with his once more. I rolled us over so I was on top, trailed a hand down his chest, felt his heart beating erratically, and licked carefully at his lips. A finger found one of his nipples and I stroked it. He let out a slight groan. His mouth opened beneath mine. I slid my tongue into his mouth, keen on exploring. My heartbeat picked up; I felt warm and tingly all over; found his tongue with my own and brushed it gently. I was wearing way too many clothes. Feet were pounding up the stairs. I broke the kiss and rolled off Patrick; grabbed at a pillow and tossed it over my lap, keenly aware of how hard my dick was in my pants. Patrick looked confused, slightly dazed. I grabbed the laptop and put it on his lap just as my bedroom door opened and Reese came in. “What’re you guys doing?” Reese happily asked. “Uh…” “That’s great. Ben said get your asses out to the house, now!” he ordered before he turned around and went to leave my room. He stopped before he left though and turned around, looking slightly confused. “Uhm…Put a hoodie on. It’s raining again, and it’s starting to get colder out,” he informed us. “Bloody hell…yeah…okay,” Patrick muttered. Satisfied, Reese ran from my room like his ass was on fire. I let out a groan, and turned back to Patrick; ready to pick up where we had left off. Patrick wasn’t though, because he had rolled off my bed and was putting his shirt back on, standing in front of my closet. His face was red and he wasn’t looking at me either. “Hey,” I whispered. Patrick gave me a funny look. “Uhm…” “So hey, I’ll see you out there,” he said as he grabbed a hoodie off the closet-rod. “Bloody hell,” I groaned out in confusion as I watched Patrick’s back exiting my bedroom, “I’m never gonna get fucking laid.” Patrick’s head popped back into my room, the grin on his face belied the slight furrow in his forehead. I sat up, annoyed with him. “It’s pronounced more like ‘bloodeh,’” he informed me, “and I wouldn’t say never, just…I’m confused. I need to think…I’m sorry. I’ll get back to you, though.” I stared at the door, more confused now than I had been before. He’d get back to me? What the fuck did that mean? I knew he’d been enjoying what we were doing. The tent in his pants said so. Hell, the tent in my pants said so. I sighed and shook my head, shut the laptop down and, grabbing whatever hoodie was closest, walked down the stairs, sliding my hoodie over my body to hide my wilting erection. Yeah, he could get back to me. I was shaking my head as I bounded down the stairs, stopping when I heard the piano playing in the basement; someone singing along with the chords. I walked slowly down the basement stairs, listening intently to the sweet, melodic notes as Elizabeth sang with an intensity that surprised me. Joel was playing the piano for her. When the rain is blowing in your face, And the whole world is on your case, I could offer you a warm embrace To make you feel my love. When the evening shadows and the stars appear, And there is no one there to dry your tears, I could hold you for a million years To make you feel my love. I know you haven't made your mind up yet— “Hey Micah,” Ken whispered softly. “Hey,” I replied softly. “She’s pretty good, huh?” Ken asked. I nodded. She was good. “Hey Ken, can I ask you a question?” “Yeah?” “When’s a good time to have sex with someone?” I asked, trying to play it cool even though I felt my cheeks begin to burn. “Uh…” he spluttered. “What?” he yelped. I looked him in the face, squared my shoulders. “Sex, you know…when’s a good time to do it?” Elizabeth turned her head and looked at us; she didn’t stop singing though. I know you haven't made your mind up yet, But I would never do you wrong. I've known it from the moment that we met, No doubt in my mind where you belong. Ken startled me when he grabbed a hold of my arm and pulled me up the stairs so we wouldn’t interrupt Elizabeth and Joel. I didn’t blame him. She had been wearing the scariest glare I’d ever seen on a person’s face before. “Micah, are you thinking about having sex with someone?” I asked. I rolled my eyes at him. “I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t thinking about it,” I informed him, “I am a teenager, after all.” Ken shook his head, looking stumped and more than frazzled. I raised my eyebrow at him curiously, wondering if he was going to answer my question. He wasn’t answering though, and I was getting impatient. “You do know what sex is, don’t you?” I finally asked, curious. Perhaps it’d just been too long since he had last done it and he’d forgotten what sex was. His face turned red. “I know what sex is,” he hissed. I grinned, realizing I’d embarrassed him. “Okay, so sex…uhm…well, you know how to use a condom and…” I rolled my eyes at him. “I know how to have sex. You have the internet, you know,” I informed him. “I just wanted to know when is a good time to have sex.” “Well, when you love someone, usually,” he replied. “Was Elizabeth the first girl you had sex with?” “Uh…well, no,” Ken replied. I frowned at him. “So…” “So I was a horny teenager and I regretted it afterward, because I didn’t really love her. I think you should wait until you’re sure you are in love,” Ken replied. “How will I know I’m in love?” I asked. Ken grinned at me. “You just will. The first time I saw Elizabeth…” I grunted and shook my head. “Nope…I decided I’m not having this conversation with you. Ick,” I muttered. Ken looked slightly offended. “You can tell Reese all about your sex life, I just don’t want to know,” I informed him, unapologetic, and then looked at him. “You guys still have sex?” Okay, my curiosity was getting me in trouble again. Ken blushed. “I mean, I didn’t even think it was possible to get a hard-on at your age,” I said. Ken narrowed his eyes on me. “For your information, I’m only thirty-eight,” he informed me. I was pondering that statement when Ken swatted me lightly on the ass, giving me a grin. “Now get out of here, runt, and go embarrass someone else for a while.” “Yeah, sure,” I said, regretting ever bringing this conversation up with him. “Hey honey, do you know anything about internet filters?” I heard Ken shout. I shook my head and ran out of the house to my house; breathing in the fresh smell of cold rain as it drizzled lightly, wondering what the boys were doing. Dancing was the answer, I discovered. Ben was shirtless and had somehow convinced Reese and Patrick to take their shirts off as well. I stopped in the foyer to admire their forms, even Reese’s skinny, muscled form, as they shuffled their way through a dance, Ben stopping them every now and then to show them the steps. A cd-player was sitting on the ground, blasting out music from ‘Jersey Boys’. I groaned. “Hey Micah!” Ben cheered when he saw me standing there. “What’re you guys doing?” I asked. “Rehearsing,” Patrick replied. I raised my eyebrow. “I know that. My question is why are you rehearsing?” “Because I made one of the leading roles,” Patrick informed me. I raised my eye at that. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked, wanting to congratulate him, until I remembered I was annoyed with him for leaving me hanging the way he did. “I didn’t find out until today. Our choreographer,” Patrick placed his hand on Ben’s shoulder, “has insisted that we start practicing immediately.” “Why are you doing it shirtless?” I asked. Ben rolled his eyes at me like it was a stupid question. “Eye-candy. It’s all about the eye-candy!” I shook my head. I shouldn’t have asked. “Now get yer shirt off and join us,” Ben demanded. “Not a chance,” I replied. “Aww, c’mon. Don’t be such a spoilsport,” Reese piped up, flexing his muscles. I laughed at him. “Fine…but only for an hour or so,” I replied. Patrick raised his eye. “Why only an hour?” he asked. “Because, I’m gonna teach you pipsqueaks how to fight,” I answered confidently. “Hey, how high is your range?” Reese asked. I shrugged at him. “I dunno, pretty high if I need it to be, why?” “Because you get to be our lead,” he informed me. I raised an eyebrow. “I’m already your lead. Unless you managed to get through puberty in…what, a week?” “No, I mean, for this rehearsal. The CD-player gets to play my part,” Reese replied, unhappy. I smiled at him. “It’s okay, Pony.” Ben snickered at my use of Reese’s nickname. “Everyone goes through puberty sooner or later. You’ll get your voice back…Hey, why do you call him Pony anyway?” I asked. Reese groaned. Ben grinned at me. “Because he’s soo cute, like a pony, that you just want to ride him all night long,” Ben declared. I groaned. Patrick smacked Ben over the back of his head. “Down boy,” he ordered. “Yeah well, one of these days this pony is going to be hung like a horse,” Reese muttered, blushing. “Not according to your mother,” I informed him, ignoring the curious, open-mouthed looks that comment received. “Let’s get on with this. I want to teach you guys how to fight,” I said. If only I’d known what I was going to be getting myself into, I would have kept my mouth shut. Unfortunately, I had a funny feeling that they were going to have to know how to defend themselves. It was cold in the basement bedroom. There was no Patrick to keep me warm. I hated that, but he had taken to being evasive, and stuck to Reese and Ben like glue. He hadn’t even looked up when I’d left them watching TV in Reese’s bedroom after saying good night. As for the reason I was in the basement, it was so I could sulk in peace. My bed smelled like Patrick, and I hated it. I hated it because lying in my bed, thinking about the fact that I’d made out with him, was giving me a boner that was crying out for relief. It was relief that I wanted, lying in a bed that wasn’t my own and smelled nothing like Patrick. My hand was pumping up and down in heated strokes on my cock, my heart racing with my panting breaths as images of Patrick; naked, wet and blowing his load all over my face and chest after getting out of a shower came to mind. It was the closest thing to sex I’d ever gotten from him, and remembering it had me cleaning up my mess ten minutes later. Feeling sated, I rolled over onto my side; my eyes lazily drifting shut, ready to go to sleep. It was the mattress dipping as more weight settled into it that had me opening my eyes fifteen minutes later. My mouth was dry, a side-effect of the sleeping pill that was just beginning to kick in. “Who?” I croaked. “Oh…sorry Micah. I didn’t know you were in here,” Ben whispered, sounding slightly unhappy about something. “S’ok,” I mumbled, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing…I think Patrick wanted to talk to Reese alone,” Ben mumbled. I nodded, not quite understanding until I remembered Patrick saying Ben didn’t really like being alone. I woke up enough to lift the blanket up. “C’mon, get in here,” I mumbled. Ben crawled swiftly under the covers. I imagined seeing a wide grin splitting on his face. “Never thought I’d end up in bed with a guy as hot as you,” Ben said happily. “Ben, go to sleep,” I ordered sleepily. Ben scooted up next to me. I draped my arm over him, so that my hand was touching his firm stomach, cuddling with him as his ass seemed to melt into my crotch. Spooning together, I nuzzled my nose into the back of his neck, smelling his hair. He smelled like strawberries. My eyes closed, ready to stay that way this time. “Micah, are you naked?” Ben asked. “Yuh,” I mumbled. The bed shifted slightly as Ben started moving, shifting position in the bed. I wondered curiously what he was doing, right up until I felt his bare ass-cheeks brushing the head of my dick. That answered my question. My dick started hardening at the realization that Ben was naked next to me. “Someone’s waking up,” Ben remarked next to me. I let out a slight huff of laughter. “You’re incorrigible, Ben,” I muttered. “Yup,” he agreed. I shook my head, rubbing my nose against the back of his neck, deciding the sleeping pills were the reason for my inability to think. “Good night, Ben,” I mumbled. “Night Micah,” he whispered back. It felt like I’d hardly fallen asleep when I was being woken up again. “Owe owe owe owe owe,” someone was whispering repeatedly. “Shhh, you’ll wake him up,” someone whispered hoarsely. “You’re mean… let go of my ear.” Ben. Someone was being mean to Ben. “You’re mean… you’re not allowed to sleep with Micah, especially when you’re both naked,” came the reply. “But…” “No bare butts…now go sleep with Reese,” was the softly spoken demand. “Fine, take away all the fun,” Ben huffed. “You’re not allowed to have fun with Micah…alone…and naked,” the other voice growled. “He wouldn’t be alone…and naked…with me, if you’d take your clothes off and get in here with us,” I mumbled, stretching out until I was no longer curled up around the spot Ben had been lying in. Utter silence in the room. I decided it was the sleep meds speaking for me. “Yeah, what he said,” Ben whispered. “Ben!” “Okay okay, I’m going, yeesh.” I closed my eyes, listening as the bedroom door opened and closed. The slight rustling of the comforter being pulled back and the dipping of the mattress informed me that my new company was crawling into bed with me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. “That was mean, kicking Ben out like that,” I mumbled. “I said I needed to think. That doesn’t mean sleeping with Ben… naked,” Patrick informed me. “He wanted company, and you and Reese were talking,” I informed him, trying to open my eyes. “We didn’t do anything,” I added. “I know,” he whispered, one of his hands coming around my waist, encouraging and at the same time pulling me closer to him. “How do you know?” “Because Ben’s a virgin; I think it’s why he’s horny all the time,” Patrick informed me, “he just wants to experience sex, and I don’t think he cares much who he experiences it with, as long as he knows them and they’re nice to him.” “I’m glad he thinks I’m nice… so Reese and Ben aren’t having sex, then?” I asked, not sure where that thought came from. Patrick huffed. “Reese is a virgin and straight,” Patrick said. “Oh…sorry,” I mumbled into his chest, closing my eyes so I could go back to sleep. “For what?” “That I’m not Reese.” Something wet and uncomfortable got stuck in my ear. I let out a groan of discomfort, thumped lightly at Patrick’s stomach until the sensation went away. Opened my eyes. “Did you seriously just give me a wet-willy?” Patrick snickered. “I’m not,” he whispered. “Not what?” “Not sorry that you’re not Reese,” he informed me. My brain was mush. I couldn’t even think of a response. “Why’d you start sleeping with me?” I whispered. Patrick didn’t answer my question right away. He seemed to be thinking about something. “Does it bother you?” he asked. “Yuh…I never have time to jerk off,” I complained. His chest seemed to get warmer. “Is that why you came down here?” he asked, giggling. I nodded against his chest. He stopped giggling. “Wait, did you jerk off in this bed?” “Yup,” I replied, too tired to be ashamed of my needs. “Was Ben…” “No,” I answered immediately, my mind starting to wake up a little. “Good. I would have had to kill him,” Patrick muttered. I decided to distract him and bit lightly at a nipple that I found with my wondering mouth, listening with delight as a gasp escaped his mouth. “Answer the question,” I mumbled, pulling my mouth away. Patrick sighed. “You used to sleep with Joel, didn’t you?” he asked. The question threw me off. “How’d you know that?” I asked. “That first night, when you were in jail and Joel had just gotten here, he couldn’t sleep. Elizabeth and Ken could hear him pacing in his bedroom. Finally Joel went into Reese’s bedroom and got into bed with him,” Patrick murmured. “I had to come over in the middle of the night because Reese couldn’t understand why Joel was crying, or why he was in his bedroom. Joel fell asleep lying on top of Reese. It didn’t take long for us to figure out he usually slept with you at night, seeing as he crawled into bed with Reese the next night, after pacing a hole in his bedroom floor, again,” Patrick murmured, his voice neutral. “Ken got up in the middle of the night and put Joel in his own bed. The next day Elizabeth went out and bought Joel a giant teddy bear that he keeps in his closet until he’s ready for bed. After that they just kept moving him in the middle of the night, tucking him in next to the teddy bear until he finally started to fall asleep by himself. That pacing that Joel did…it’s the same pacing you’d do at night. I think everyone knew you weren’t sleeping well.” I sighed. Patrick stopped talking, apparently done with his tale, even though he hadn’t really answered my question. I think he had a question of his own. “We lived in a one bedroom house. I used to sleep in the basement that was more of a cellar than anything else. Joel had outgrown his bed, and I gave him mine. He had the bedroom. Dad slept on the couch. I managed to scrounge up enough cash to get an air-mattress, but the thing kept falling apart more often than not. That cellar-floor was so uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t ever be able to sleep, so I’d crawl into bed with Joel more often than not,” I whispered. “Finally I just took to sleeping in that bed with him, at least until he asked me about my morning wood one morning,” I found myself laughing softly at myself, and the humiliation I’d felt that morning. “I think I was like thirteen at the time. I told him not to worry about it, and that night I tried to sleep on the air-mattress. It didn’t work out, for me or for Joel. He came down at like two in the morning because he couldn’t sleep, and crawled onto the air-mattress with me. I was finally falling asleep when I had to wake up Joel so we could go sleep in his bed,” I continued. “Really?” Patrick asked, curious. “Yeah. The air-mattress wouldn’t hold our weight,” I snickered. “The next morning I had to give Joel the talk about puberty, and explain to him the changes his body would go through when he got older. It was so embarrassing.” “You gave your brother the talk about puberty?” Patrick asked. “He was like…” “Eight,” I whispered. “But that wasn’t the really embarrassing thing. The embarrassing thing was my underwear had gotten too small, so I’d taken to just not wearing any. I’d wear shorts that, in truth, weren’t much better. They left nothing to the imagination. I’d have to make Joel get out of bed and go eat breakfast while I laid there in bed, waiting for my boner to go away. The piss boners were the absolute worst though; I’d end up having to piss out the window just to make my boner subside. Then there were the wet-dreams…” I trailed off. “That sounds…” “Horrible?” I supplied. “No, I was going to say kind of hot,” Patrick whispered back. I rolled my eyes at him. “You’re a kinky boy, aren’t you?” I whispered, slightly playful, before I shook my head against his chest. “It wasn’t. It was embarrassing, and I hated it. I hated my dad because we couldn’t get me a new mattress. I hated Joel at times when I had to explain things to him that Dad should have been doing.” “You hated Joel?” Patrick whispered, surprised. “Yeah, but I got over it. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t know anything. I think in the end I finally just hated my dad,” I replied. Patrick sighed. “I’m sor…” “Don’t apologize,” I whispered, interrupting him. “I don’t need anyone’s sympathy. I’m…” “Okay,” Patrick interrupted me, rubbing my back gently with his hand, like I needed comforting. I sighed and closed my eyes. I wanted to go to sleep. “So that’s why you started sleeping with me?” I asked, instead. “Yeah…that night you got drunk, you slept soundly. I was startled at first, when you burrowed into me the way you did, up until I remembered that you and Joel had probably been sleeping together.” “Probably? I thought you said…” “It was theory. Joel wouldn’t really say anything about you, or what your life was like back home. He said we had to ask you,” Patrick whispered. I smiled. “I always told him not to talk to strangers,” I informed Patrick. “It worked…at first,” Patrick mumbled. “He didn’t really talk to anyone. Just followed Elizabeth around until the next morning when he woke up with Reese. After that he started following Reese around. Still wouldn’t tell us anything about you, or the life you guys had. He’d talk though, when he wanted something.” I snorted, focused on the third comment Patrick had made. “Bet that drove Reese mad,” I replied, “it used to drive me crazy sometimes.” “Not really. Reese always wanted brothers,” Patrick replied. I nodded. Patrick had said something like that before, I think. “Why didn’t you just go in and sleep with Joel?” Patrick asked. “I didn’t want people thinking we were weird,” I informed him. Patrick huffed slightly with a hint of laughter. I bit his nipple again; letting out a huff of my own laughter as I intertwined my legs with his, realizing that he, too, was naked. That sucked, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stay awake much longer. “Micah?” “Hrm?” “I don’t think anyone’s going to think you’re weird. I don’t think they really think anything bad about you, at all. I think everyone’s just waiting for you to stop being angry when your parents and home-life are brought up. I think…everyone’s just waiting for you to be you.” “You’re naked,” I informed him, more intrigued by the possibility this presented than with what he was saying. I’d think more on what he was trying to tell me, later. More laughter. “Yeah,” he replied, “and you’re dreaming.” I grunted. “I didn’t think you’d remember that,” I mumbled. “I didn’t, at first,” he whispered. “Not until you started making out with me. After that…it just had the feel of truth to it.” “We should make out more often…and do other stuff, since you’re sleeping with me all the time,” I informed him. Patrick sighed, still rubbing my back. “Micah?” “Hrm?” I asked, hoping he was at least thinking about it. I wanted him to do more than think about it, though. “I need a little more time…is that okay?” he asked. “That’s fine,” I mumbled. “Just don’t take too long, otherwise ‘m calling Ben back down here,” I added. “Over my dead body,” he whispered; started stroking my hair. I felt some contentment with this, assured in the fact that he was at least thinking about the fact that I wanted to have sex with him. “I didn’t think you’d ever like me,” he whispered. “I don’t,” I mumbled, “I just want to have sex with you, ‘cause you’re here and I’m here.” He smacked me lightly over the head. I smiled into his chest. “Hey? Why’d you do that earlier?” he asked. It took me a few minutes to comprehend the question. His hair-stroking was lulling me back into sleep. “Do what?” I breathed. “Kick those kids’ ass. I saw the video,” he whispered, “and who took the video?” “I told Ken I’d stop acting like a parent and more like a big brother,” I replied, “and Reese came home this morning upset. I wasn’t really going to hurt anyone until they went after Joel.” It was all I could really get out. I could barely focus. “Who took the videos,” Patrick asked, shaking my shoulder lightly. “Uncle Bryce and Grandpa…” “Uncle Bryce and Grandpa did?” he whispered, sounding startled, “why did they shoot the videos? Micah? Micah?” More quiet laughter. He started stroking my hair again. “Say good night, Micah,” he whispered. “G’night Micah,” I whispered. “Ass,” I barely heard him say. It made me smile. “G’night Patrick,” I breathed out, falling asleep. End of Chapter 15. Please leave a review. Thanks, Linxe http://www.quikrete....nstructions.asp Naruto and Sasuke. Yaoi Make you feel my love is a song that does not belong to me. It belongs to whoever wrote it. I just borrowed part of it. Click on the link to hear Adele singing it. :)
  5. I stared at Patrick when he made that announcement, and then pulled on the door handle. It was locked. “Unlock this door,” I demanded, going from calm to angry in a flash. “We need to get to the Windletons’. ” Patrick didn’t argue, just did as I demanded. On the ride to the Windleton’s Patrick kept telling me to calm down. I’m not sure why he was telling me to calm down, though. I was just sitting there calmly grinding my teeth.. Patrick pulled over on the side of the road and came to a stop “Micah,” he said. I looked at him, wondering why he was pulling over. “You need to calm down. You’re scaring the storm clouds away,” he said. I cracked a smile, but only for an instant. “I don’t want to calm down. Now drive, please…” Patrick sighed, but did as I said. He put the car in drive and got back on the road. As far as I was concerned, he was going too slow. His grandmother could probably drive faster than he was. “Patrick, can you go faster?” I asked. He grunted, sounding annoyed. “I’m going 80 in a 45,” he snapped pulling into the on-coming traffic lane so he could get around some grandpa in his twenties. “Hey, I think that was…” “Uncle Bryce. He’s going to ground me later,” Patrick muttered, unhappy. “Sorry,” I replied. I wasn’t, though. Patrick finally got to the Windleton’s. I didn’t recognize the large black truck that looked brand-new sitting by the house. That’s probably because it was brand new. In-transit stickers were just visible through the tinted windows: It was a 2011 black Chevy Silverado 3500HD. I did recognize the guy with black hair that wasn’t much taller than me. He was 5’9”, two inches taller than me and heavily built. If it came down to a fight, the only advantage I’d have was if he was drunk. It was my dad. He had the hood up on his old truck—the one that had died and left me and Joel stranded in a mall parking lot at two in the morning. He didn’t see me coming around the side of the black Silverado as he turned and reached into the cab of his truck like he was going to start it. There was no way in hell it was going to start. Ken had been working on that thing for weeks when he wasn’t helping me with the house. “A hundred and seventy-five bucks says it doesn’t start,” I remarked coldly. My dad turned and looked at me. I couldn’t read his face. I could see the blood-shot eyes though. I didn’t bother to try and hide the hatred and anger I was feeling when I saw them, I could care less if he knew how pissed off I was with him. “Micah.” That’s all he said before he turned away and hit the ignition switch. The truck roared to life with a fury that was matched only by my temper. Dad winked at me. It felt like an insult. A sour taste filled my mouth. I spit on the ground. “You always did take better care of that truck than you did us,” I remarked, bitter. “Micah,” he growled. I could tell he didn’t like my tone. I didn’t care. “So, you’re alive,” I said, unhappy because no one had told me, but than, I hadn’t asked either. “No thanks to you, boy,” he growled back, tottering slightly as he inspected his truck. “You mean no thanks to the alcohol, right?” I snapped back. “Boy, you better watch your mouth!” he growled. “Or what? You gonna get all pissed off and hit me, knock me to the ground and start kicking me?” I asked, mocking him. Elizabeth appeared on the porch, a phone to her mouth as she wrapped an arm around Joel. He must have come out when he had seen me arrive. He was staring at us, his eyes as wide as saucers. Patrick was staring too, as Reese joined them on the porch, his own phone to his mouth. I ignored Ben, Stacey and Lissa when they came outside, too; I just turned my attention to my dad until the sound of tires rolling up the drive reached my ears. My dad moved toward me, an ugly scowl on his face. I backed up a couple of steps, my hands coming up to defend myself. He stopped, glared at me. His red nose turned even redder as his eyes narrowed. Then he lunged at me. “Stop!” someone screamed. It happened so quickly, I was barely aware of it. All of a sudden, Joel was standing between me and my dad, still screaming that one word. “Stop,” came pouring out of his mouth, again and again. I was barely aware of Avery running past me, pushing my dad away from my brother and me. Ken was next to join the fray, creating a buffer between Deputy Hayes; me and Joel. But Ken wasn’t paying attention to Avery, or to my dad, or to me. None of us was paying attention to anything except the one person in my world who’d so abruptly shattered the sound of silence. “Just…stop…” Joel said. His voice was weak, raspy, and broken. It was the most wonderful thing I’d heard in a long, long time, even if it didn’t sound anything like what it once had. A sob escaped Joel. Tears trekked down his face. He turned and without looking back fled into the house, past a stunned Elizabeth and Reese. Patrick was staring at me, looking as shocked as I felt. I ignored him. Ignored all of them as I ran into the house after Joel and came to a stop. A birthday cake was just barely visible on the table among the streamers and signs all saying “Happy Birthday, Micah” that were hung around the house. I thought I saw a guitar wrapped in a bow next to the couch. There were other presents, too, neatly wrapped and just waiting to be opened. I swallowed hard. Elizabeth came in behind me. Joel flung himself into Elizabeth’s arms. The sound of his sobbing tore at me, made me angrier. If Dad hadn’t shown up Joel wouldn’t be crying. “Micah! Damn it, boy!” I heard my dad shout after me. “Bah! I’ll be seeing you again, you hear! And happy birthday, you little shit!” Those were the words I could barely hear. “Just…Stop…” was still echoing in my head. It was beautiful. It... I wasn’t sure what I was feeling as I looked at Joel hugging Elizabeth, safe in her arms. And he had…they had…I ran back out the back door. Dad was arguing with the deputy. Ken was talking to Avery. Mrs. Emerson, my case worker from the Department of Health and Human Services was there, standing in the background and taking notes on a legal pad. I’m not sure where she had come from. That didn’t stop me, though. I came running off the porch and around the black truck and shoved my dad. A deputy I didn’t know looked startled for a second but got between us. I ducked and danced out of his way when he tried to grab for me and found myself on the porch again. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” I shouted. My dad was red in the face, glaring at me “Boy, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Dad asked. “What? Don’t you get it Dad, I’m pissed… and I’m sure as hell not happy much. And I feel that way almost all the time! Hell, I barely know who I am. For five years, I haven’t been happy. Just angry, because Mom died…and you weren’t there. You were drunk. Always drunk. It was…just…me, and Joel. That anger, it’s all I seem to know. The only time I manage to get away from it is when I’m there, in that house,” I pointed into the distance, “working on it, or when I’m at school, surrounded by the people I’m starting to think of as my friends! Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had friends? Huh Dad, do you? Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done anything normal! Hell, I stole cars just to keep Joel and me fed! Because you weren’t there, damn it!” I stopped screaming. I hadn’t realized I had been screaming. I took a deep breath, ignored everyone staring at me like I had lost my mind. I laughed at that thought. It came out more as a low moan instead. Perhaps I had lost my mind. “Do you know what I got the last time I celebrated my birthday?” I asked, more quietly. Dad was shaking his head, like he didn’t want to hear it. It was too late for that, though. “I got a little brother who stopped speaking, a father that got drunk; who has been drunk since, and a mom that died and left me. I almost got sent to jail for stealing cars and I got the shit beat out of me over and over again; by you, by other kids in school because they thought we were trash; and you didn’t care, and you were never around, unless you were drunk. Did I forget to mention how angry I am with you?” I clutched at the railing, stared into my father’s eyes. “Please do me a favor and go away. Because… I don’t want you anymore, and we don’t need you. We don’t. We’ve been doing fine for the last five years, and you know what, we’re going to be okay without you!” And it was true. Dad wasn’t saying anything, just kept shaking his head; he looked angry, and dazed, like I’d slapped him silly. I knew how that felt. I’d gotten slapped silly on more than one occasion. I left my dad standing there, looking like that. I was still angry, and hurting, and I didn’t understand it, because…I thought I would have felt better, getting all that crap I’d been carrying around for years off my chest. But I didn’t. Patrick followed me. I tried to hide the tears flowing down my cheeks and then decided that I didn’t mind. I could see Joel staring at me through the door, probably wondering where I was going. He had his arms still wrapped around Elizabeth. She was crying, her head buried into the top of Joel’s head. I couldn’t stand it. I should have been the one comforting him; I wasn’t sure I had that right anymore. I made it to the house I’d been tearing down just as Dad started shouting again, telling me this wasn’t done, because we were his kids, and he didn’t care if we didn’t like him. Telling me we’d be seeing him again. A shudder wracked my body; I flopped onto the floor and finally decided that this would be a good time to cry, because Patrick was the only person there to see it, and I’d only have to kill him if he told anyone. One body was far easier to bury than nine. I was lying on the floor, my head in Patrick’s lap when I calmed down enough to become aware of my surroundings. He was stroking my hair. I wasn’t sure how he’d gotten me into that position. I wasn’t sure I cared either. I was just glad that I wasn’t crying so hard anymore. We weren’t alone, either. I should have been surprised, but after this evening, I wasn’t sure anything could surprise me anymore. Timmy, my shrink, was sitting on the floor next to us. I’m not sure when he had arrived. Must have been after my blow up; Patrick stopped stroking my hair as I sat up, took a deep breath. My chest hurt. No one said anything. The silence was becoming unbearable. Someone needed to say something. Anything. “It was my eleventh birthday, the day that she died.” It was me. I was breaking the silence. “Car accident…” I shook my head, tried to smile but couldn’t. “It was so stupid…Joel had, uh, knocked the cake Mom had baked onto the floor, by accident, you know.” I sniffed and wiped at my eyes, to no avail. I couldn’t seem to stop crying. “I was so mad, and Mom; she just laughed at me and told me to stop being a brat, and to stop being mean to Joel. She told me I should love him, and to give him a hug, instead.” I hadn’t thought about that in years. I hadn’t remembered it before this moment. It made me laugh, slightly. “Uh…she said she was going to the store, to get me a new cake, you know…” I looked at Timmy. Looked away. Found Patrick’s eyes. Those gorgeous green eyes; they were so easy to stare into. I didn’t feel like they were judging me. “But uh…she never came back…” I stopped. Couldn’t talk. I swallowed the lump in my throat and wiped at my eyes again. “It’s my fault, you know…” I said, as conversationally as I could. I felt like I was choking on my words. “When Dad came and got us…uh…the doctors, they told us she was gone, and Dad hadn’t left her side, and Joel, he was six…he wouldn’t stop crying and…I was yelling at him and yelling at him and finally I…” I looked away, ashamed. It wasn’t enough. I lifted my shirt and blew my nose, just as someone offered me a tissue. “…I …” I couldn’t look at Patrick anymore, either. Too much shame. “I shook him…” My confession came out in a whisper; hoarse. I swear to god you could have heard a pin drop in that room. No one said anything. I felt like sobbing like a baby all over again. I pushed that urge back. The guilt though, that continued to consume me. “And I just kept…shaking him… I blamed her death on him,.” I wiped at my eyes. It was useless. “I broke my little brother.” A sob escaped me. “I broke him…” My confession. Making it was the most painful thing I had ever done… “Shaking him and shaking him and shaking and…” I couldn’t stop talking. I needed to stop talking, but I couldn’t. “… finally he stopped crying.” I snorted, could feel the snot slipping back into my throat. “…and…I remember yelling at him to shut… to just shut up, and he did.” I could hardly see. I squinted, trying to focus my eyes. I found Patrick and Timmy still looking at me. I looked away; didn’t want to see their horrified looks; didn’t want to see that Elizabeth and Ken, Avery and Reese and Mrs. Emerson and even Ben and the girls were there. Everyone was there. My eyes found Joel. I was shaking my head, apologetic, even as Timmy handed me a pill and a glass of water, forced me to take it. My eyes never left Joel’s. The skin on my forehead and around my eyes felt pinched. “I’m sorry.” Worthless. They were the most worthless words I had ever heard uttered before in my life. ‘I’m sorry’ couldn’t take back all the horrible things I had done. ‘I’m sorry’ couldn’t get Joel to start speaking again, and yet, for all that, I meant them with all my heart. They were the same words I had uttered every day for the last five years, when Joel was sleeping. Because when it came to Joel, I think; out of everyone else I had said them to, he was the only person who was truly worthy of those words. He was the most important person in my life. “I didn’t mean…mean…” I was stuttering; still couldn’t see clearly. Someone ran into me, wrapped me in a hug. It was Joel, squeezing me, rocking me. My eyes closed. I didn’t… couldn’t; let him go. Someone else hugged me. I was being surrounded in hugs. “You’ll be okay,” Timmy was whispering, “Joel’s going to be okay, too.” Yeah. Everything was going to be okay. Because Joel had spoken tonight. Someone was telling me to keep crying, because crying was okay. To let all that pent up poison out. Someone else asked Timmy what he had given me. The world seemed to drop out from under me, and I realized Timmy had given me something more than a sedative. I could feel someone pick me up, carrying me. “May have been too strong for him. How’s he been sleeping and eating?” Darkness was clouding my mind. But that was okay too. Because it was Joel holding my hand, his voice; broken, ragged and beautiful, saying, “I love you.” I opened my eyes slowly. Things were a hazy blur, fuzzy in my head. I lay there quietly, listening to the murmur of voices in the background as the day caught up with me. The first thing I became aware of was that my headache had gone away. The second thing was that I was in my bed; a bedside lamp turned on revealed a glass of water on the stand next to it. The last thing I realized when I turned over onto my back and looked toward the door was that I wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t Patrick lying in my bed. It was Ken sitting on my bed; his back was propped against two pillows and the headboard. His legs were stretched out toward the end of the bed, a pair of glasses I hadn’t seen him wearing before were perched on his nose as he quietly read some documents. I briefly wondered if he usually brought work to bed with him, and if he did, did Elizabeth get annoyed with it. “Evening,” Ken said. He paused in his reading and looked at me. I could tell he was inspecting me to see how I was doing. I mumbled something back that wasn’t very coherent and sat up, grabbed the glass of water next to me and downed it. “Evening,” I finally managed to get out as I turned back to Ken, likewise searching his face to see how he was feeling. Tonight’s confession rushed up on me and immediately set me on edge. I had to wonder if I was going to be kicked out for being a terrible person, and thoughts of having to leave began running through my mind. Not that I could blame them if they wanted me to go; I mean, I had broken my little brother, after all. “Sorry,” Ken took me by surprise. “Huh?” I asked, not comprehending. Ken apologizing to me was the last thing I had expected. “I said I’m sorry, we’re all sorry…” “So you’re not kicking me out then?” I blurted out, interrupting him. Began worrying again. Because Ken might have been apologizing to me because he was going to kick me out and I just hadn’t let him get that far yet. Ken looked confused, but seemed to understand something of what was going through my head. “No, Micah…we’re not kicking you out. Why would you think we were going to kick you out?” he asked. “Uh…I broke my little brother…” “Just stop right there,” Ken interrupted me. He turned so he was facing me. “First off, you didn’t break your brother—” I opened my mouth to speak but he held up his hand. “Wait…just, let me finish.” I closed my mouth. Ken sighed and pulled his glasses off, rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “We asked Timmy about that. He doesn’t think you…shaking your brother caused him to stop speaking. As he put it, there could be any number of reasons as to why Joel stopped speaking. Quite frankly, we may never know the reason why. But none of that matters now.” I frowned. “How can you say that it doesn’t matter?” I whispered. “Because it doesn’t. You feel guilty, and we can understand that, but you shouldn’t…this is harder than I thought it would be…” Ken mumbled as he looked at the wall behind me. I just watched as he chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip. “He’s still speaking,” Ken said suddenly. He had my full attention as soon as the words left his mouth. “It’s quiet, and strained, but if you give him time, and are patient with him, he’ll say something. Timmy says we have to give him time and can’t push him. He has to get better at his own pace. That’s why it…doesn’t matter. Because he’s going to get better, and, before you passed out, you kept saying sorry.” I shook my head. “I’m still not sure sorry is good enough…it just…doesn’t make things right,” I whispered quietly. Ken smiled at me. “Sure it does, because you’ve been taking care of him and yourself for the past five years. I think, and Timmy agrees with me, that you did it in part because you were sorry, and Joel knows that.” I shook my head. “How can Joel possibly…” “Because he’s not stupid, Micah, and in some ways he’s more mature and brighter than you, and me, and Elizabeth, hell, all of us. Some things we don’t grasp right away, he does. Because he listens, and he watches, and he wants you to stop blaming yourself.” I didn’t know what to say to that. I wanted to change the topic. “Joel grounded me after I tried stealing River’s car, said it was wrong,” I mumbled, before I let out a small grin. Ken gave me a look I didn’t like. “That’s another thing. Avery wants to talk to you about that, but seeing as I’m your lawyer, I told him he had to wait until I talked to you first.” I frowned at that. “Isn’t that like…a conflict of…uhm, something?” I asked. “Conflict of interest?” Ken asked. I nodded. “Yah, that.” He looked interested. “Where would you get that idea?” he asked. I leaned over the side of my bed and pulled one of his books that I had been reading out from under it, showed it to him. Ken looked surprised. I shrugged at him. “It helps me fall asleep,” I informed him. “You haven’t been sleeping much lately, have you?” he asked. “No, and…off topic,” I informed him, pushing him back toward the conversation. “You first, why would you think it’s a conflict of interest?” he asked. “Because you’re like my parent, aren’t you?” I asked. “Ehr, foster parent,” I corrected myself, slightly confused as to why I would call him my parent. Despite my error Ken gave me a smile. “Yeah, I am,” he replied, “but I can still represent you and give you advice until we figure out how serious things are.” “Oh…okay…Didn’t Patrick tell you?” I asked. Ken shook his head. “What does Patrick know? And no, right now he’s being rather stubborn and tight-lipped about anything and everything you two have done today.” I raised my eyebrow at that. “What’s he doing that for?” I was surprised. Patrick didn’t seem to have a problem with tattling on me. “Because he knows that I know when he’s lying, and he doesn’t want to say anything that’ll get him, or you, in trouble,” Ken informed me, clearly amused. I didn’t want to talk about stealing cars, I decided, I wanted to talk about Patrick, and I once more made sure Ken had my full attention. “How can you tell when Patrick’s lying?” I asked. Ken smiled at me. I wasn’t sure why, wasn’t even sure I cared. I just wanted him to answer the question. “Off-topic,” he rebutted. I groaned and gave him my best glare, but after all the glaring I’d been doing today I wasn’t sure my heart was in it, because it didn’t even seem to faze him. He just patted my head. I refrained from leaning away from his touch and tried pouting at him instead, because it had worked on Elizabeth the other day. He shook his head at me. “Sorry buddy, I’ve been to immune to that look since Reese turned twelve,” he informed me. “How about I make a deal with you? You tell me about stealing cars and I’ll tell you about Patrick,” he offered. I thought about it a minute, not sure I wanted to tell him anything. But, I’d told Patrick, and I wanted to know about Patrick. I sighed. “I was thirteen, and I fell in with a group of kids at school, most of them were older. Dad wasn’t home much,” I shifted, getting uncomfortable, and stopped talking. Tried to think about what Ken needed to know and what he didn’t. “Is he…” a voice asked. I looked up and found Avery standing in my door; Timmy was peering at me with interest over Avery’s shoulder. I gave a small wave. “We were just starting to talk about his…” Ken went silent. I think he didn’t want to call me a criminal to my face. I didn’t know why he was being so nice about it. “Previous criminal activities,” I filled in for him. “You don’t have to be nice about it. River never was,” I informed Ken. “Oh, I’ll…” Avery started to say. “You can come in,” I told him. “I don’t think that’s…” “It’s okay. Really.” I told Ken. Ken sighed, picked up the document he’d been reading and put his glasses on, thumbing back a few pages. His eyes scanned the document for a while before he finally put it down. I fidgeted and looked over his shoulder, at the clock. I was surprised to find it was almost ten at night, because the sun had still been up when I’d gone for a not so willing nap, no matter how needed it had been. “Okay,” he finally replied. Avery came in with Timmy and they sat down on the bed next to us. I took a breath and resumed my tale. “Anyway, I was thirteen, almost fourteen and we were out of money, almost out of the home we’d been living in, and Dad had stopped coming home after work. I fell in with a group of older kids from school, and I was out with them at like three in the morning one night.” Ken gave me a disapproving look at that. “Where was Joel?” he muttered but shut up when Timmy looked at him. “Joel was at home, sleeping,” I informed him, “I wasn’t stupid enough, even back then, to bring him with me. Anyway, these kids thought it would be cool to hotwire a car; said they knew a few guys they could take the car to and get paid for it. I wasn’t cool with the idea at first, but we needed the money, so I stood out on the street and helped keep an eye out.” I frowned, remembering that night. “Joel was awake when I got home, crying because he’d been by himself. That was the first time he’d cried since Mom died, and it scared the shit out of me because I just didn’t know what was wrong with him and he wouldn’t tell me.” “Anyway, the second time was about two months later. Money from the first car had run out, and I made sure Joel was asleep before I went out. The guys I had been hanging with decided this would be my initiation into their group, so they’d been teaching me how to hotwire cars from a junkyard that wasn’t very far from where Joel and I, along with…Dad, were living at that point.” “I didn’t get to do it though. Someone else decided they were going to do it because they wanted a bigger cut of the cash and since I was the youngest the others went along with it.” I scowled at the unfairness of it all. “Joel was awake when I got home,” I muttered, deciding to skip how upset Joel had been that time. “The third time was on my fourteenth birthday. I thought Joel was asleep and I was determined to score a car by myself this time. So I went out and walked the wealthier neighborhoods by myself. I figured I’d just score a car and go get one of the guys; they could take me to the man with the cash. But…Joel hadn’t been asleep. He followed me and snuck up on me when I was trying to hotwire this old hot rod that looked like it would be a fun ride, scared the shit out of me.” I shook my head. “He’d activated the flood-lights on the side of the house coming up the drive and I hadn’t noticed, until he was pouncing on me like we were playing a game.” I fell quiet. “I pissed my pants,” I muttered, embarrassed. Someone coughed, tried to stifle a laugh. I didn’t mind, it was kind of funny to think about. “Then River got ahold of me and Joel just before we could run out of there. That’s when I shit myself.” More stifled laughter. I looked at Uncle Bryce, where he was standing in the doorway, trying to listen unobtrusively to my story. “He had a shotgun pointed at my face.” That wiped the grins off everyone’s faces. “I thought he was going to use it too, but when he realized we were just kids, he cursed at me and told us to shut up and stop crying. That’s when I figured out who he was. He was my dad’s boss. My dad had just been hired on. Anyway, he ended up taking us home. Guess he knew my dad had problems and shit.” Ken coughed. I ignored it, because it was my story and I was going to tell it the way I wanted to. “He never called the police?” Avery asked. I shook my head. “Did he do anything?” Ken asked. I smiled, kind of. “Yeah, he put my ass to work. Said if my dad wasn’t going to do his job to keep my sorry ass out of trouble then he’d do it for him. He started giving my dad as many jobs as he could handle, and since Joel and I were in school he’d come get us during the weekends when my dad had to work and he’d take us to a site somewhere, hand me a broom and tell me to clean up after his crew. He said it was payback for breaking in his car window. He also let us work for a couple hours after school. That winter he gave Joel a wheelbarrow, me a hammer and put us to work with his crew. Since I was the smallest I could get into places others might not get into.” I fell quiet. “He was paying us in cash, on the side,” I mumbled. “I think he only did it because he’d been in the house a few times and saw how bad it was. I really liked working for him. I learned a lot from him and the guys on sites. Spent as much time as I could with them, working my ass off, just to try and prove myself. He’d take us out to eat when he could. When Dad would get really drunk he wouldn’t ever fire him, just tell him to take a vacation, and this guy, we called him Red, but never to his face though, he taught me to fight one day when I came in with a black eye. Told me not to let people give me any shit, and then he started working out with me. Sometimes I’d go meet up with him just to work out.” I realized just then how much I missed some of those people that I had worked with, how much River had done for Joel and me. “I spent so much time running back and forth with bricks, lifting cinder blocks, all cause Red said I was a scrawny little stick of a thing. It’s funny, too, cause he’s scrawnier then I am. You wouldn’t know how strong he was unless you wrestled around with him. I think River and Red were the only thing that kept our family together, well, as much as they could. I shook my head, tried to clear it. “They kept me sane. I spent all last summer working construction with them.” “What happened to River?” Timmy asked. “He died a couple of weeks before I ran away with Joel. His son took over River’s construction company and laid my dad and a bunch of people off. My dad went back on welfare, spent his last paycheck. I was almost relieved when I thought he had died, you know. It meant I was free of him,” I mumbled. Ken gave me a small smile, looked like he was about to say something. “What were you planning on doing when you ran away with Joel?” Timmy butted in. I suddenly realized what he was doing and narrowed my eyes at him. Avery started laughing before I could say something. “He catches on quick, Timmy.” Timmy shrugged, looking unapologetic. “Can’t blame him for trying,” Ken replied, giving me a smile of his own. “I think we’ve gotten more out of Micah tonight than we have since he’s come to live with us.” I decided to not take offense at that and just shrugged. Ken handed Avery the document he’d been reading. “You should read that,” he said. I looked at it curiously. “What’re you reading?” I asked, before I remembered something. “Wait, you said you’d tell me how you know when Patrick’s lying,” I reminded him. “Bloody hell, don’t do that,” I heard Patrick say from somewhere in the hallway outside my bedroom, “you’ll take all the fun out of it.” I stared at my door. “How many bloody people are out there?” I asked. Ken got up and went to the door, where he peeked outside. “All of you downstairs,” he insisted. “It’s rude listening in on private conversations.” I looked at the clock. Only twenty minutes had passed. “I should go cook dinner,” I said aloud to anyone who might be listening. “We ordered pizza,” Reese said from somewhere out of sight. “Oh… way to help out. I haven’t eaten all day and I’m hungry,” I hollered. “I’ll bring you up a bloody plate,” I heard Patrick say, his voice farther away. I guess Ken had succeeded in herding everyone away from my bedroom door. Even Bryce left. Timmy was standing up too, just as Ken returned. “That must have been why you went out the way you did,” Timmy said thoughtfully. “These are for you. I went out and got them when I was informed,” he glared at Ken, “that you were sleeping less and less.” He handed me a pill bottle. “If you need more just let me know. Make sure you only take one and get at least eight hours of sleep, if not more.” I looked at the bottle, not quite catching on. “What’re they?” “Sleeping pills and I’d like to speak with you more later on. But I think tomorrow I’m going to give you all the day off, so I’ll see you next week. I’m going to go check on Joel,” he said, and then he left. “Check on Joel?” I looked at Ken. “I thought you said Joel was okay,” I said accusingly. Ken smiled at me. “He is, you can check for yourself, if you want, but first I want to—” “Patrick first,” I reminded him, before he could ask me another question. Ken rolled his eyes. “He doesn’t look you in the eyes; it seems like he is but he isn’t. He’s usually staring just above your head, his ears turn red and his nose twitches, and he fidgets slightly. He’s the world’s worst liar, but if you really want to catch him out you have to be specific with your questions, otherwise he’s the most evasive little shit you’ll ever meet,” Ken said affectionately. “…my nose twitches?” someone muttered beyond the door. Ken rolled his eyes and opened the door. Patrick was standing there with his head turned, as if he’d had his ear at the door. I didn’t care about that. I leapt off the bed and grabbed for the plate that had been stacked full of pizza. “Jeez, did you bring the whole box?” I asked, surprised. Realized I was being rude and…Patrick had been patient with me all day. He was eyeing my pizza too, like… “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that…eat it with me?” I asked. Patrick’s belly didn’t disappoint me any. He sat down on the bed with me, holding something under his hoodie. Another thought occurred to me. “My dad?” I looked up as I said this, found Ken watching me and Patrick. “He’s gone, Micah.” Ken reassured me. I nodded. “Good, let’s hope he stays that way,” I muttered, before I bit into my pizza. “What do you think, Avery?” Ken asked, nodding at the document Avery had been reading. “It looks like River took care of more than Micah realized,” he replied. He stood up and handed the document back to Ken. I chewed and swallowed my food. “I’d say there’s nothing worth worrying about,” Avery added. “G’night Micah,” he left the room. “What’s he mean, River took care of more than I thought?” I asked. Ken didn’t answer me. Just handed me the document; I read it slowly, at first. Then I read it again, comprehension slowly dawned on me. “He paid the people whose cars I’d helped steal?” I asked. At least, I think that’s what I was reading. “Yup. In return they promised to not press any charges against you or the other boys. I assume you didn’t hang out with them any after your run in with River?” Ken asked. I shook my head no. “Didn’t have time. River kept me busy,” I replied. Ken nodded, looked satisfied with my answer. “Good, did you read the rest of it?” he asked. I nodded. “I dunno what to…I mean that’s…” I frowned. “A lot to handle,” I whispered. Patrick looked curious; that didn’t stop him from putting another slice of pizza in my hand though. He seemed intent on making sure I was fed. Ken nodded. “Basically…” “I think I understand what it says, but…I don’t know…can you handle it for me?” I asked, “Cause I don’t know what I’m…” Ken nodded, again. “I’ll make some calls in the morning and find out what I can, if you’re sure, that is,” he replied. “I am,” I answered without thinking about it. “Okay. I just need to read these other documents and I’ll talk to you about them later,” Ken said as he eyed the ones still sitting on my bed. He picked them up before I could look at them. “Oh…what happened today?” he suddenly asked, looked at me expectantly. I looked at him, not sure what he was talking about. I racked my brain carefully. I’d gotten my license; he knew about that. Gone to school, come home after grocery shopping. Ken knew that though, he’d been out there while I’d been fighting with my dad. I backed up through my day carefully. School…Patrick’s car had been towed because I’d told the principal off and tried to hit him after he’d had Patrick’s car towed… “I owe you a hundred and seventy-five bucks,” I mumbled. Ken raised an eyebrow and looked at me and Patrick as Patrick jabbed me in the side, mumbling something I didn’t catch because his mouth was full. “It’s not Patrick’s fault, either. I swear. It was mine. The only reason his car got towed was ‘cause I was an ass to the principal, but I swear that weasel-faced bastard started it. He had no right to have me searched or tell me to stop smoking, ‘cause I wasn’t even on school property,” I blurted out. “And Patrick’s car wasn’t even on school property when that ass had it towed, and I got mad, so I tried to hit him…” Ken raised his hand, stopped me from talking. “That I didn’t know about,” he informed me. Oops. “Was trying to tell you he wasn’t talking about that,” Patrick mumbled next to me. “You shoulda told me sooner,” I hissed. “When? You were passed out and I just got in here.” “Uh-hum. I’m still here,” an unhappy Ken replied. I cringed at the reminder, sure I was about to get it. “Uhm…” I tried playing it off, “what were you talking about?” “I meant with you skipping out on the band practice and missing part of Elizabeth’s class,” he informed me. “I thought you agreed to stop skipping, and Ben seemed kind of disappointed that you missed practice,” he replied. Oh. “Uhm…sorry. I must have had whatever Reese had for lunch,” I replied. Ken arched his eyebrow. “You said you didn’t eat anything today, so I’m going to pretend you’re not lying,” he said. It didn’t feel like he was that upset. “I wasn’t having a good day,” I mumbled. “I mean, we established that, right? And I didn’t know other people knew about my birthday, if I had I would have skipped entirely, swear it. But people just kept coming up and saying happy birthday and leaving crap on my locker and it was pissing me off and I didn’t think it would be right if I took it out on the few friends I have and I was tired because I haven’t been sleeping and then Elizabeth woke me up from a nightmare I was having and…” “Okay okay okay,” Ken stopped me. “We’ll just…leave it as a bad day and chalk one up to experience. But Micah, next time you decide you’re going to end up having a really bad day…do me a favor and let us know…please?” I could agree to that. “And we really are sorry,” Ken said, suddenly subdued. That was the second time he had apologized to me tonight. “What’re you sorry for?” I asked, since I hadn’t let him tell me what he was apologizing for the first time. Ken tried to smile at me. “We should have asked you if you wanted a birthday party rather than just assume you did. We shouldn’t have tried to surprise you. We just…” “Didn’t know,” I mumbled. His apology reminded me that people had been here, and it looked like they had been ready to throw me a party, despite the mood I’d been in all day. “I’m sorry, too. I just…perhaps should have told you?” Ken nodded. “Perhaps. We’ll…uh…just keep working on this whole communication thing. Anyway, I’m going to go read the rest of these documents. You two try not to stay up too late,” Ken said. He left the room and shut the door behind him as he left. I was alone. With Patrick. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, deciding he deserved an apology too. Patrick just shrugged. “Shit happens Micah. We’re all still getting to know each other. Not everything is going to be perfect, you know,” he replied. He took a breath, like he was about to leap into a pond. “Fuck it, I got you a birthday present and I’m not taking it back,” he informed me. He pulled a bag out from under his hoodie and handed it to me. I didn’t know what to say. Still wasn’t even sure I deserved to have a birthday present. Patrick must have been a mind-reader. “I think you should open it,” he said quietly. I was shaking my head. “Yes,” he demanded softly. “You should open it, because…because I heard what you said to your dad earlier, and I think it sucks that you haven’t celebrated your birthday in five years.” I turned to look at Patrick, surprised by his sudden outburst. “And you know what else, I think your mom would be upset to know how unhappy you have been, and I think she’d want you to celebrate your birthday, and I’m pretty sure…” “Okay,” I gave in…because…I don’t know why, but I did, and I reached into the sack he’d given me and pulled out a thick black leather-bound book that had a silver spider-web emblem on it, with a little spider that had two ruby-red eyes clasping the book shut. I stared at it. It looked like it had been expensive. “Uh…I can’t take this, I don’t…” He put his hand over my mouth and shut me up. I didn’t lick him this time. “You can take it, and you do deserve it. Because it’s your birthday, and I wanted to get you something,” he told me, “and…here, it opens like this,” he twisted the little spider and the clasp released with a click. I opened it slowly, felt the leather binding the book. All the pages were blank. “It’s a journal,” he informed me proudly. “That way, if you want to remember a day you can write it down, or if you’re thinking about something and want to remember it later or Timmy asks you something and you don’t want to talk about it, or even if you just want to write about your mom and how much she meant to you, you can. You can write whatever you want.” It was obvious he had placed a lot of thought into this. I wasn’t sure I’d use it. My handwriting was terrible, but… I felt like kissing him. I think that was the first thing I wanted to write in the journal he had given me, for my birthday. I sighed. “Thanks…you guys really wanted to celebrate my birthday, didn’t you?” I asked. Patrick nodded. “Yeah…and we’re sorry too, we hadn-” It was my turn to put my hand over his mouth. “It’s okay. I think I may have…uhm…overreacted to everything today…and if you tell anyone that I’ll kill you.” He licked my hand. Eww. It was totally slimey. I wanted his tongue somewhere else. I was leaning forward to kiss him, his green eyes widening slightly when I pulled back, because a sound that I shouldn’t have been hearing was echoing loudly through the house. “What is that?” I mumbled. I grabbed the now empty plate and, leaving my new journal on my bedside table next to the pills Timmy had given me, I walked out of my room and down the stairs. I hadn’t even made it to the bottom when I came to a complete stop. Joel was lying on the floor, teasing a... “Happy Birthday, Micah,” Patrick whispered. … puppy. I turned and squinted at Patrick. “You got me a puppy?” I asked, surprised. I think I was blushing, because boys only did that for their girlfriends. I should have been the one who got him a puppy. “Do Ken and Elizabeth know?” They had to have known, they were watching Joel play with the puppy. Uncle Bryce was taking pictures. Patrick followed me down the rest of the stairs and into the living room. “I can take it back, if you want me to?” Patrick offered. I shook my head. “I don’t think Joel would let you no matter how hard you tried.” Joel saw me and ran up to me, gave me a hug. “C-c…” he tried. “Can we keep him, please?” he signed, looking excited and uncertain. He’d always wanted a pet. “Uhm…yeah, if it’s okay with Elizabeth and Ken…but he’s yours, okay? That means you have to take care of him,” I told him, looked at Patrick to see if it was okay that I was giving his other present to me away. Patrick smiled at me and nodded. I think he understood that a part of me was still seeking Joel’s forgiveness. Joel hugged me again and ran over to Elizabeth and Ken, signing rapidly. “He wants to know if he can keep him,” I said. I saw the jealous look on Reese’s face. He was jealous because Elizabeth and Ken said yes and Reese had had to give up his cat for me. “We’re calling him Cat-bait,” I informed Joel. Joel shook his head at me. “Yup. Have to follow tradition, after all. All pets have to have ridiculous names,” I argued with him. He rolled his eyes at me, but relented. “C’mon, Cat-bait,”he signed, before clapping his hands on his thighs to get the puppy’s attention. I felt horrible all of a sudden. “Uhm, I need a cigarette,” I mumbled. “Can you come with me,” I mumbled to Patrick, “I think I left them in your car.” Patrick did a double-take when he saw my face but nodded, followed me out the backdoor where I once more came to a complete stop. “What the hell is that doing here?” I demanded, staring. Ken’s head popped out the door, followed by the rest of his body as he looked where I was looking. I was staring at the large black truck that was still sitting in the driveway. Ken’s Ferrari and Elizabeth’s mini-van were parked behind it. “Wait, did you get me a truck for my birthday?” I asked, deciding I was leaping to the wrong conclusion. I had thought my dad had driven it up here, but his truck, the one I had stolen, was gone. Perhaps he had taken a bus and then a taxi to get here. Ken was shaking his head no, though. “Then who…” I turned and looked at the truck again. “Your dad drove it up here, Micah. He left it for you,” Ken answered. Patrick decided to take a walk, probably because he didn’t want to see me explode again. He went to his car. I hoped he wasn’t leaving, because… “I don’t want it,” I told Ken softly, looked at him. “Can we take it back, or trade it in?” I asked. Ken shook his head. “No, we can’t, and we shouldn’t. Because…you know those other documents I wanted to look at?” I nodded. “One of them was your mom’s will, Micah, and she wanted you to have that on your sixteenth birthday,” he informed me. I blinked. “How’s that even possible?” “From what I’m understanding, and from what your dad said before he left, your mom had inherited money from her parents when they died, and she took all that money and set it aside for you and Joel in trust funds that your dad couldn’t touch, unless it was for a specific reason as had been outlined in her will or the trust documents,” he told me. I felt a flash of dizziness rush through me after he said that, followed by anger and confusion. Mostly though, it was confusion. I sat down on the stairs abruptly. “But…you mean…we had money all this time, and we were living in…couldn’t he have used the money to take care of us, and…” Ken sat down next to me; put his arm around my shoulder. “Probably. But, grief can do terrible things to a person, and…I don’t know. I’m sorry, I just don’t know why your dad reacted the way he did.” I could understand that. Because I didn’t know, either. “Anyway, your dad has given us control of the trust accounts, for now. He said there was no reason for his kids to be living off the state when, and I quote “they have money,” end quote.” “So…how much money is there?” I asked, curious. Patrick came back with my pack of cigarettes and scrutinized me as I lit one up. “I’ll come back later,” he mumbled. “Stay… please?” I asked, looking at him, as he looked back at the pack of cigarettes I was holding. Ken answered my question while I had a silent argument with Patrick using my eyes. “Enough for you and Joel to both go to college when you’re old enough,” he informed me. “And more than enough for your dad to fulfill your mom’s wishes, regarding you on your sixteenth birthday. Joel gets a vehicle, too, when he turns sixteen,” Ken added. “Oh.” I still wanted to take the vehicle back. “So…don’t think of it as a gift from your dad. Think of as a gift from your mother, instead,” Patrick blurted out. Ken nodded. “Sorry Micah, but I’m with Patrick on this one…but I won’t make you keep it if you really don’t want to.” I chewed on my bottom lip. “My mom really wanted me to have it for my birthday?” “Yeah, she did,” Ken replied. “You can see her will, if you want.” I shook my head, decided I wasn’t ready for that, yet. I was tired of thinking about her death, and death in general. It occurred to me that, perhaps I had a morbid fascination with it, and on my birthday, no less, and a conversation I’d had with Avery started repeating itself in my head, telling me I was stuck. Plus I was tired of being stuck. I’d decided that. Yet I was repeating the same pattern on my birthday that I had repeated since I’d been eleven. I shook my head, disgruntled with myself, and answered Ken’s question. “No, that’s okay…I don’t think I’m ready for that.” I looked at the truck. “I’ll keep it,” I mumbled. Patrick looked like he approved. It immediately made me feel better about my decision. “Okay, I’ll get insurance on it, and tomorrow I’ll stop and get plates, which you have to pay for, by the way. I’ll go get the title for you to sign,” Ken said as he stood up. He was back out a second later, handing me a pen and a piece of paper that I signed, hardly looking at it as I did so. Ken let out a yawn and said he was beat, that he and everyone else were going to bed. I guess Joel was out front with Reese watching the puppy, Cat-bait, use a tree. We were told to not stay up too late. I was also reminded to use the sleeping pills I had been given if I needed them. I just nodded my head at all this and waited patiently for him to go inside. Patrick sat down next to me. It had stopped raining; the stars were twinkling in the night sky. “Patrick, I need a favor,” I mumbled, barely aware of sliding my hand into his as I found the North Star. My mom had taught me a little astronomy when I was younger. I smiled slightly at the memory He seemed distracted. “Hrm?” “I need Reese’s cat back,” I told him. Patrick frowned. “I thought you were aller…” I shook my head at him. “I’m not…I was an asshole, and I’m sorry, and I’ll apologize left and right to Reese. But, I need his cat back.” Patrick slugged me in the shoulder, looking angry. I winced, “I’m sorry,” I muttered again. “Yeah, me too,” he scowled, “because his bloody cat escaped the day after I took it home and I haven’t found the bloody thing yet.” “I…you…uh…what?” I couldn’t seem to get a complete sentence out, could only stare at Patrick with wide eyes. “You’re in so much trouble,” was the only thing I could think to say. “How the bloody hell am I in trouble? I wouldn’t have lost his bloody pussy if you hadn’t…” “You lost his bloody pussy,” I repeated. Then I had the nerve to giggle. Patrick stopped talking and stared at me. I shook my head and leaned into him. I think I hugged him. “Oh brother,” I mumbled, wiped at my eyes. “Well mate,” I mimicked Patrick’s accent, “I think we’re just going to have to find his bloody pussy, or get him a new one.” I giggled again. Patrick slugged me in the arm again, let loose his own giggle. “I need another favor,” I announced suddenly. I was afraid Patrick might say no to this one, actually, I was hoping he would, but…I hadn’t been very fair to anyone, and I owed a lot more people an apology. “What’s that?” he asked. “I need you to call Ben and the girls and anyone else who had been invited to my party earlier and tell them to come over,” I said. Patrick really did look at me like I was losing my mind this time. “It’s almost midnight, Micah. What the hell do you need ‘em to come over for?” he asked. I smiled reassuringly at him. “Don’t you know it’s my birthday.” I bumped into his shoulder lightly with mine, held his hand a bit tighter. “It wouldn’t be a proper birthday if we didn’t have a birthday party.” Patrick flashed his teeth at me, grinning. “Alrighty then, that’s the spirit!” He looked like he wanted to cheer. I took another breath. “But first I need you to tell me what’s going on with Reese and those boys at school,” I said as he stood up to get his cellphone out of his pocket. Patrick stopped smiling. “Please,” I begged. It felt different, begging for something. I wasn’t used to doing it. Patrick sat back down and opened his phone, stared at it as he started texting a message. “He’s being bullied. Has been since the start of the school year,” Patrick replied, agitated. “And he’s not the only one; some of the football team has been following me when I go to pick Joel up with Reese and Ben, and nobody will do a bloody damn thing about it, and Reese doesn’t want to tell his parents, and Joel doesn’t want to tell you, and Ben just tries to shrug the whole thing off, but it’s getting to him. I can tell, because he drinks far more than he ever did, and the bloody bastards are starting to take the entire thing too far, and I just want…” I squeezed Patrick’s hand; sorry I’d brought up the entire thing. Actually, I wasn’t. Because…they should have told me. I looked at the North Star again. “Everything’s going to be okay,” I mumbled. “Why’s that? Because you got a car?” he asked. “Truck,” I corrected. “And no, it’s because…it’s my birthday, and I’ve been acting like an ass, and I’m sorry.” Patrick’s phone lit up and he read the text message that came through. “The girls are at Ben’s. They said to come pick them up. They want to know if they can bring their instruments. Uncle Bryce wants to know where we’re having the party at,” Patrick said. I considered this, pointed into the distance at the house I’d been working on. “In there, and yeah, they can bring any instruments they want. We can make up for the practice I missed out on earlier,” I said. Patrick nodded, his phone lit up again. “Uncle Bryce says he’ll stop and get Ben and the girls.” His phone lit up again. Patrick rolled his eyes. “Ben said he’ll make some calls,” he added. I released a soft, contented sigh and just listened as Patrick kept relaying the messages coming through on his phone. But nothing was getting done. I stood up, became aware that I was holding Patrick’s hand. I let it go. He stopped relaying messages to me and looked at me. “C’mon,” I whispered, “we have to move a bunch of stuff and get things set up for a party.” “This place is creepy at night,” Patrick remarked as he followed me across the field to the house. I could understand that feeling. I swear I saw someone looking at us from one of the upper windows. But that was impossible, because everyone was in bed. I shook my head and decided it was just my overactive imagination. “Be quiet,” someone hissed, “you’re going to wake everyone up.” “That’s the point,” I remarked just as someone, probably Lissa, dropped their cymbals. I jumped. “Be quiet!” we all hissed. “Fuck it! You need to make a path to this place, Micah,” Patrick whispered as he ran into my shoulder, stumbling slightly. I thought about it, momentarily. Patrick was right. Any path that had once led to this place had long since been overgrown with weeds and grass. It was like the house had just been plopped down from the sky out of nowhere. But I knew that wasn’t the case. Ken said he owned the place, too. It had come with the property when he had bought it. “Okay. That’ll be the next project. You can tear out the bathroom,” I informed Patrick. “Why do I get to the tear out the bathroom?” Patrick asked. “Because I want you to,” I said. We reached the front porch and carefully stepped onto its sagging frame. I opened the double-wide doors and said, “Voila! Party house.” “This place is so cool,” Ben muttered. I eyed the pajama bottoms he was still wearing: they had SpongeBob Square-pants imprinted on them. His muscle-shirt wasn’t much better. Stewie from “Family Guy” was plastered on the front, and Ben didn’t have many muscles, that I could see. Hell, I’ll even admit he was slightly girlish, but not in a soft sort of way. He actually looked rather toned, as best as I could tell, and I could tell, because I was currently looking at his bare stomach, considering his shirt had been pulled up so he could scratch at his belly. Patrick nudged my shoulder and glared at me when I looked at him. “What?” I asked, wanting to get back to admiring Ben’s belly-button. Patrick smirked. “Nothing,” he mumbled. I went back to admiring Ben’s stomach; well, I tried to. Ben had dropped his shirt. I scowled at Patrick, wanted to kick the innocent look on his face right off. But we were supposed to be celebrating. “I thought you’d been in here before?” I asked Ben. Ben shook his head. “Nope, just been outside. We were too scared to come in here, and anyone that did come in here didn’t stay for long. They swore the place was haunted.” Ben shivered. I rolled my eyes. “It’s haunted,” I responded, “I hear ghosts roaming around in there all the time. We’ll be okay, though. They’re mostly interested in naked boys…” Patrick nudged me in the side. I grinned at the look of fear on Ben’s face before he started laughing at me. I smirked. “I’m serious,” I informed Ben. “Hey, that looks awesome. You guys did a good job,” Stacey interrupted. I looked into the ballroom and shrugged. “Just tearing down walls. It’s easy,” I replied She rolled her eyes at me. “I meant cleaning up the mess you made. I wasn’t sure about having a party here,” she replied. I mock-gasped at her. “Stacey, you sound like you don’t believe boys are capable of cleaning up after themselves,” I mocked. Lissa smacked my ass. “You aren’t, you dirteh dirteh boy.” She blew me a kiss. I laughed and gestured them into the ballroom. “After you, ladies.” “Why thank you,” Ben said as he danced his way past the doors, twirling and swirling in his pajamas like a ballerina. I grinned. Stacey and Lissa rolled their eyes and walked after him. I waited for Patrick to follow after them but he didn’t. “After you,” he remarked, smiled at me. I rolled my eyes. I’d show him who the girl was. Someday. “Where are we setting up at?” “In front of the fireplace,” I replied. I opened the double-doors leading into the dining room, revealing the chairs that I had placed carefully around the table. The cake that I had found in the kitchen, untouched, was sitting on the table. The ‘16’ candle was carefully set into it. I decided to ignore the goat chasing a frog design, since it was the thought that counted, you know. All the poster-boards that had been put on my locker that I had taken down were taped to the wall; and the “Happy Birthday, Micah” sign was hung from the ceiling, glittering in the light of the chandelier. It had taken me five minutes to sweep up the room and dust down the long wooden table. I thought it looked nice. Patrick had even found the presents that had been bought for me and sat them on the table, near the cake. They were all still wrapped, just waiting to be opened. As soon as everyone who had been invited got here, that is. “We’re all set up,” Lissa shouted as she started banging on her drums. I grabbed my electric guitar and found the microphone stands someone had carried in. There were far more people than I had originally expected there to be. Apparently Ben hadn’t been messing around when he said he’d make a few phone calls. I was just glad no one had brought alcohol, and many of these folk looked like they were old enough to drink and then some. I could see Ken finding a bus to rent and hauling the whole lot of us to an AA meeting. I think it helped too that Uncle Bryce was standing guard at Patrick’s house, informing anyone who came how to get to the house and telling them “no alcohol.” In fact, it looked like… “Patrick, aren’t most of these folks related to you?” I asked. “Yup, the Rhys clan never turns down a chance to party,” he remarked. I grinned at him. “You should make that phone call now,” I told him. I turned up the huge amp someone had said came from the opera house and plugged my guitar into it, struck a few chords and started playing a riff like no one’s business. To my surprise Lissa joined in a few seconds later, someone from Patrick’s family found Reese’s electric guitar and started playing too. It wasn’t long before we had a full blown band. I kept my eyes on Patrick though, where he was standing in a corner, one ear plugged up while he talked on the phone. He held his phone out to us. I decided that was my cue to start singing. You say it's your birthday It's my birthday too, yeah They say it's your birthday We're gonna have a good time I'm glad it's your birthday Happy birthday to you. People started clapping along in time as Lissa came to her drum solo. I started clapping along in time as well as the other guitar players standing next to me. Yes we're going to a party party Yes we're going to a party party Yes we're going to a party party Patrick put the phone back to his ear and then looked at it a second later. He shut it and stuck it in his pocket, then gave me two-thumbs up. I smiled and waved him over, wanting him to sing with me. As far as I was concerned this was his fault. He shook his head. I nodded mine at him. Someone pushed him forward and finally he complied, running up to stand next to me to sing in the microphone I was using. I would like you to dance (Birthday) Take a cha-cha-cha-chance (Birthday) I would like you to dance (Birthday) Dance You say it's your birthday Well it's my birthday too, yeah You say it's your birthday We're gonna have a good time I'm glad it's your birthday Happy birthday to you. Elizabeth, Ken, Joel and Reese came in just as we were finishing, looking slightly surprised. I was surprised because Patrick’s grandparents came in with them. I hadn’t expected that. I don’t think he did either because he looked just as surprised as I did. I waved, a bit disconcerted, even though it looked like a majority of the guests were Patrick’s relatives. “’appy Birthday,” someone shouted. “What’re you doing?” Elizabeth asked. Stacey started playing a song on the keyboards, one I vaguely recognized from some 80s flick. I turned and looked at her as Patrick pointed into the dining room, looking just as please as he had early. Stacey started singing. Happy birthday happy birthday - Happy birthday happy birthday - Happy birthday happy birthday. Lissa started pounding on her drums and about then I remembered the guitar chords for the song and joined in. I guess Patrick’s family knew the song because they started singing along. Everyone except for Elizabeth and Ken. They were talking to Patrick’s grandparents and Bryce, while looking around the place. Other people started dancing. Happy happy birthday in a hot bath To those nice nice nights. I remember always always I got such a fright. Seeing them in my dark cupboard with my great big cake. If they were me… It wasn’t much, but I could appreciate the clapping and whistling that echoed through the house. “Alright, Bach! We’re here to celebrate your birthday, now get down ‘ere and mingle. Somebody get up there and take over the singin’,” Patrick’s grandpa hollered. I was hesitant at first. “Better do what he says,” Patrick mumbled, “otherwise he’s gonna be cranky…” I decided to make Patrick’s life easier, since he had done more than I could have possibly asked from him today. Ben ran up. “I’ll sing,” he said, grinning. I could smell alcohol on his breath and looked at him, curious. He leaned into me and whispered into my ear, “It’s all in the fridge. A few of us managed to sneak it past Bryce, and don’t worry, I’ll keep my clothes on. For now, anyway.” I thought about it and decided to trust him, because, well, he was a friend, and I hadn’t really seen him get drunk, even at the last, and only, party that I had gone too. “Ok,” I mumbled. Reese ran up, looking like he wanted to take my guitar. I felt a little bit squeamish about it but let him take it; I was pretty sure that by now he knew how important it was to me. He’d take care of it. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Ben suddenly announced, lowering his voice considerably, “I now present you with a game of….Arena Karaoke! First up is…Uncle Bryce!” “Hell no,” I heard Bryce mutter. “Get up there, boy,” Patrick’s Grandpa, Dafydd, ordered. “I’m twenty-seven years old, I don’t think I’m a boy anymore,” Bryce groaned out but went anyway. “You’re dead, Ben, absolutely dead.” Ben snickered. I followed Patrick as he led me around, introducing me to his family, and I have to tell you, his family was extensive. I don’t think I’d ever met such an extensive family before. There were at least 13 kids from Dafydd and his wife in total. Many of them had children of their own. Patrick was the eldest grandchild. I was thinking it was a good thing that there weren’t any great-grandchildren yet, though it looked like one girl was trying to give Patrick’s grandparents great-grandchildren. She turned out to be one of Patrick’s aunts, and was only eighteen; one year older than Patrick himself was. I was shaking my head, dazed and confused, when the flow of people stopped. “How do you remember all their names? I don’t even remember the aunt you just introduced me too,” I remarked, just as Ben called on another person. I eyed him, slightly jealous because he somehow managed to remember everyone’s names. “And how does he do that?” I asked. Patrick looked questioningly at me. “Remember everyone’s names?” I clarified. “Ben’s known my family for years, same as Reese,” Patrick remarked. “And that’s my Aunt Anwen,” he reminded me. “That’s right. An An An…” Patrick laughed at me. I’d been shortening people’s names all night in an effort to remember something about them. “She’s gonna pop soon, huh?” I asked. Patrick looked at me, confused. “She’s pregnant,” I informed him, as if it wasn’t obvious. Patrick grinned, “Well duh.” I smacked his arm. “Her wedding is in less than a month. Grandpa insists that she get married before the baby comes,” Patrick remarked. Something in his tone had me looking at Patrick carefully. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. Patrick gave me a rueful grin. “I’m the only bastard in the family, Micah,” he remarked. He was trying to be cool about it, but even I could see how hurt he was by that fact. I shook my head at him, “You’re not a bastard,” I informed him, serious. “And even if you were, I think I might like you.” Someone grabbed hold of me and Patrick then. It was Ben, wrapping his arms around our necks and putting us in headlocks. “C’mon you two, you’re looking way too serious. I think we need a break,” he remarked, marching forward before letting us go with a laugh. “Tickling isn’t a fair fight,” he said, glaring at Patrick. Patrick gave him a small smile. “Neither is sneaking up on us,” he informed Ben. Ben just shrugged and grinned. “Surrender or I shall be forced to take my clothes off, ghost or no ghost.” I gave a mock gasp. “Oh, the horrors that that would bring upon us all. We better give in,” I told Patrick. Patrick nodded, looking serious as Ben placed his arms in ours and marched us forward. I waved at Elizabeth when I saw her dancing with Ken and continued to the kitchen. Ben had just poured three shot glasses of a dark liquid from a green bottle when the door leading into the kitchen swung open. I spun around, startled and more than ready to have a heart attack. “Here you three are,” Reese remarked, innocently. “You shouldn’t scare people like that,” I informed him. Reese just grinned at me. “Pour me one too, and just so you know, Mom and Dad want presents opened and the cake cut soon. It’s almost 2 a.m. and we still have school in the morning.” I nodded and looked at Reese carefully, because I wanted to say something, and after today’s experience with the principal I found myself slightly reluctant to do so, because my mouth seemed to get me in more trouble than I knew what to do with. “Shot?” Ben asked. “Just one,” Reese replied. Ben poured a fourth shot and we tapped our shot glasses together. “Cheers,” Patrick toasted. I downed my shot and made a face. “Blech, what is that?” “Jaegar,” Ben, Patrick and Reese chorused, their faces wrinkling up as much as mine had. Patrick wiped his arm across his mouth. Reese wiped his mouth on Ben’s shirt. “Disgusting,” I muttered. “Let’s go open presents,” I said a second later. “I’ll make the announcement,” Ben said, shoving the green bottle back in the freezer before he shot out the door. I stopped Reese before he could follow Ben. “Hey Reese?” Patrick followed Ben after I matched his stare. “Yeah?” Reese said. I smiled at the younger boy. “Thanks.” Reese looked confused as to why I was thanking him but shrugged. “You’re welcome. Now c’mon! I want cake, and you’re holding it up!” I laughed and followed after him, joined Ben in the dining room as he stood on a chair and whistled so loudly he cut everyone off. “Presents!” he shouted. Many presents there were, too. More than I had expected, but Patrick later explained that his family liked to stock up on presents when they could, because there were so many of them and if they forgot someone’s birthday it just took one reminder and they had a pile to choose from, not to mention the fact that they seemed to have the remarkable ability of being able to organize a party in next to no time. That explained the stuffed teddy bear I got, along with the happy 6th birthday card that came with it. I guess more than one child had had their birthday forgotten by the Rhys clan, and it was usually Grandma or Grandpa that remembered every single birthday and reminded everyone. I was sitting on the sagging front porch with Patrick, Ben and Reese, eating more cake when Elizabeth and Ken came out. Most people had left already, seeing as it was after two in the morning and they either had work or school to get to. “We’re going back to bed,” Ken said, carrying a sleeping Joel in his arms. “Try to end this soon, please, since you all still have school in the morning,” he added, letting out a yawn of his own. I nodded. Ken smiled at me. “Happy birthday, Micah,” he said, before taking off across the grass field, Joel’s head resting on his shoulder. Elizabeth held back though, smiling at Joel and Ken. “Happy birthday Micah,” she mumbled. “Thanks…and thank you for the new guitar. It’s beautiful,” I told her. She nodded and gestured for Ben to scoot over so she could sit next to me. I was surprised when she suddenly hugged me. “I’m so glad you had fun. I didn’t think you knew how to be a kid anymore,” she whispered into my ear before she tightened her grip on me briefly, squeezed before letting go. She saved me the embarrassment of having to respond to that, because I didn’t even know what to say, by saying, “You’re staying the night, Ben, and if you even think about saying no I’ll call your mother. I know you’ve been drinking.” I looked at Ben; his eyes were wide, ‘Busted’ written all over his face. “She’s not home,” he informed Elizabeth. Elizabeth scowled. “Where’s she at?” Ben sighed. “Arizona. She’s on a business trip,” he mumbled. Elizabeth shook her head, looked ready to say something. “It’s not that bad,” Ben mumbled, “She’s not away on trips near as much as she was. She thought I was old enough to stay by myself until she got back. She’s only supposed to be gone for another week or so, and she made sure there was plenty of food in the house before she left on her business trip.” “When’s she due back?” Elizabeth asked. “Next Saturday,” Ben replied, misery written all over his face. “I’ll call your mom in the morning. You’re staying here tonight, and any other night when she’s out of town, just like before,” Elizabeth answered. “K,” Ben answered, something like relief coming over his face. I had to wonder what this was all about, except I was too happy thanking anything that would listen that I hadn’t been busted drinking. “What about Lissa and Stacey?” Ben suddenly asked, something like panic on his face, “They were supposed to stay with me tonight.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Bryce already took the girls home. They were sleeping on the stairs,” she informed us. I snickered. That could not have been comfortable. Elizabeth looked at me. “And you make sure you get to bed soon, mister, and no more alcohol.” My eyes went wide. “How the hell did you know I’d had a shot?” I asked, too surprised to deny it. Elizabeth smirked at me. “I’m a parent. Parents know these things,” she informed me. My mouth opened into an ‘o’. “You’re not gonna tell Dad, are you?” Reese asked, worried. Elizabeth shook her head. “You’re not shitfaced, and as long as you don’t drive I won’t worry about it. Just make sure it stays that way,” she told the three of us. “And…if that changes, you better make sure you call me if you need a ride, otherwise you’re all going to be in a world of hurt,” she threatened. I decided to take her seriously. “Good night boys,” Elizabeth said, stood up and wandered back toward the other house. “Your mom is so cool,” I told Reese. He gave me a funny look. “Totally,” Ben agreed. Patrick nodded. “Hey, what’d she mean by ‘just like before’?” I asked. Ben smiled. “I used to stay here a lot when I was younger. After Mom and Dad divorced, Mom worked a lot and she would end up having to go out of town for days at a time. It was too much trouble for Dad to get me on the ferry from Seattle to Silverdale, considering he himself had to work, not that he didn’t try because he did; but I was late to school more often than not. So after a few complaints from school Mom decided to give Elizabeth, since she was the nearest neighbor and I was always over there, some papers to act as my guardian when Mom was out of town, and I’d just stay over there. I even had my own room. I think you’re sleeping in it now.” “Oh…sorry.” Ben laughed. “Don’t be, I mean, I loved that room, but I rarely slept in there…I don’t like being alone.” He looked at Reese. “I’m sleeping with you tonight,” he informed the younger boy. Reese rolled his eyes. “Of course you are.” My plate was empty, I realized. I stood up. “Where you going?” someone asked. I pointed inside. “In there. Elizabeth got me a new guitar, and I want to play it,” I announced. I found the guitar with its red bow wrapped neatly around it and carried it into the ballroom and plugged it into the amp. It was even a left-handed guitar. That made me smile. I was almost sure she’d gotten me a right-handed guitar, but she must have remembered me telling her that Reese was left-handed, just like me. It made me feel special. Grandma and Grandpa Rhys and a few others were still hanging about, idly chatting. Someone had even pulled out beer. I grabbed one on my way up to the makeshift stage near the fireplace, ignoring someone’s objection as Ben brought out whatever alcohol was in the fridge and plopped it down, too. Heck, even Patrick grabbed a beer. Apparently all appearances of not drinking were over. “What shall we play?” Ben asked as he poured another round of shots. I shrugged. “I don’t know. We don’t have a drummer, a piano player or a ba-…” Reese pulled out his bass guitar and ran chords to the amp. “…drummer or piano player,” I said. “I’ll handle drums,” Ben announced. I looked askance at him. He just shrugged. “I like dancing, singing when I’m drunk, and I’m a natural when it comes to playing with sticks…besides, Lissa’s been teaching me, and she’s got this most amazing technique…” I snickered. “Okay…get over there,” I muttered. Ben grinned but shook his head, walking over to a pile of music sheets, where he promptly pulled one out. Patrick and Reese wondered over to him. I got busy tuning my guitar, and it was just as I finished tuning it that I realized Patrick was arguing with Ben over whatever had been pulled. “What’re we playing?” I asked, interrupting them. “Uh…” Ben stuttered, looking sideways at Patrick who was shaking his head. “We’re selecting a new one,” he informed me. I grabbed hold of the sheet of music and pulled it from Ben’s grasp, looked at it. I could understand why they wanted to select a new music, but, it wasn’t my birthday anymore. That had been yesterday; I’d had a great birthday party, and today was a new day. “This one’s fine,” I smiled at them. Patrick shook his head at me though. “I want to do this one,” he informed me. I looked at the music sheet he was holding and shook my head. “I don’t like country,” I informed him. “Please?” he begged I sighed and unplugged my guitar, grabbed my mom’s acoustic. “Fine,” I mumbled. “C’mon Grandpa, you’re up. You and Patrick get to do a duet,” I hollered, looking at Dafydd. Patrick looked startled. “What’re you doing?” “Your grandpa hasn’t sung at all,” I informed Patrick. Dafydd didn’t look happy either, the way he was speaking quietly with his wife. “C’mon,” I grumbled, started twanging my guitar. Grandma was apparently of the same opinion as me, because she and several others in Patrick’s family were prodding Dafydd forward until he finally got to the makeshift stage. I started playing the acoustic and Patrick started singing, sounding pretty country if you asked me. Gonna put the world away for a minute Pretend I don't live in it Sunshine gonna wash my blues away Had sweet love but I lost it She got too close so I fought her Now I'm lost in the world trying to find me a better way Grandma came up and started playing the keyboard; only I guess she figured out how to change the settings on it because it came out sounding more like an organ. Wishing I was knee deep in the water somewhere Got the blue sky breeze and it don't seem fair Only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair Sunrise there's a fire in the sky Never been so happy Never felt so high And I think I might have found me my own kind of paradise “Wrote a note said be back in a minute,” Dafydd started singing, Bought a boat and I sailed off in it Don't think anybody gonna miss me anyway Mind on a permanent vacation The ocean is my only medication Wishing my condition ain't ever gonna go away Patrick joined in on the next verse. They sounded pretty good together, if you asked me. I smiled and joined in on the backup chorus with Ben. Knee deep in the water somewhere Got the blue sky breeze blowing wind through my hair Only worry in the world is the tide gonna reach my chair Sunrise there's a fire in the sky Never been so happy Never felt so high And I think I might have found me my own kind of paradise Come on in the water it's nice Find yourself a little slice Grab a backpack of lies You never know until you try When you lose yourself You find the key to paradise “Woot!” I hollered. “You guys are awesome. Let’s do another one, uhm…” I ran over to the pile of sheets and, cheating, turned them face upward and went through them until I found one. “We’ll do this one.” I waved the sheet music around in the air. Patrick grabbed it from me and rolled his eyes, but passed it out anyway. Dafydd shook his head and smiled at us. “No Bach, we don’t have all the instruments needed for this, and it’s late. I got a farm to run, you know.” I groaned,“Aww, no fun,” and pouted at him. But he didn’t look like he was going to give in any. “Alright, alright,” I gave in, instead. “We’ll do that last one then and call it a night,” I mumbled. Patrick shook his head. I turned my pout on him. He rolled his eyes and passed out the sheets of music that had originally been selected. I hooked my electric guitar back up. “Shots,” Ben hollered. I joined him and Reese and together we took a shot. When I turned around Patrick was wearing my mom’s acoustic guitar, strumming it gently as he studied the music. “You play guitar?” I asked, startled. Patrick shrugged. “Some, I’m not very good, but I think I can play this,” he replied. “Oh. Okay. Let’s do it then.” Patrick shook head though. “We really don’t have to do this one, you know,” he murmured. I rolled my eyes at him. “It’s a song, Patrick. Besides, Good Charlotte is awesome,” I informed him. Patrick sighed but started strumming his part. I closed my eyes and started singing, barely aware of Patrick joining his voice in with mine at certain parts. Hey dad I’m writing to you Not to tell you That I still hate you Just to ask you How you feel And how we fell apart How this fell apart Are you happy out there In this great wide world Do you think about your sons Do you miss your little girl When you lay your head down How do you sleep at night Do you even wonder if we’re alright But we’re alright We’re alright I strummed the new guitar Elizabeth got me as the song ended, let out a sigh. “That was…just awesome,” someone mumbled. “It was, indeed. Let’s call it a night, everyone,” Grandma murmured. “You staying the night or coming home tonight, Patrick?” “Wit’ them,” Patrick answered. Grandma nodded and left with the rest of her clan, minus Patrick. I grabbed my presents and placed them in the laundry basket someone had brought from somewhere. Patrick and Ben helped by packing up my guitars and very carefully picking them up. I know because I was watching them intently. If a scratch so much as even made an appearance, I was more than willing and ready to beat the crap out of someone. But, Patrick already knew that, because he just grinned at me. It was then that I realized I had let Patrick play my mom’s acoustic guitar with no outburst on my part. My stomach felt funny. Reese shut lights off and together we slowly made our way back to the Windleton’s house. “That was nice of your grandma to let you stay on a school night,” I told Patrick. Patrick shrugged. “I think she did it because she knows I prefer it over here. There are just too many bloody people at my grandparents’ house right now.” “Why are all those people at your house?” Patrick grinned. “Half of em still live at home and the other half are coming in for Aunt Anwen’s wedding,” he reminded me. I had forgotten. He’d said something about that before. “Cool. Am I invited?” I asked, teasingly. Patrick rolled his eyes. “Of course you’re bloody invited. You and Reese’s band are part of the entertainment,” he informed me. I blinked, startled. “That’s what you’ve been rehearsing for in the afternoons,” he informed me. I turned and looked at Reese. He hadn’t told me that. Reese just shrugged. I groaned. I was going to a wedding. “I’m gonna have to find a tux,” I muttered. Patrick shook his head. “Nah, wear the suit Avery gave you,” he told me. “Is that going to be okay?” I asked Patrick. “Yeah. The only bloody people that are going to end up in a monkey suit are me and my family, everyone else is just semi-formal.” “Cool.” I said as we got to the house. Ben and Reese went to bed after they helped carry everything into my bedroom. Patrick stripped out of his clothes and crawled into my bed after he came in carrying a glass of water. I eyed his tight briefs and the way they clung to his ass just before he got under the covers. He fluffed one of the pillows up and turned, obviously waiting for me. “Hey, I’ll be right back,” I said. He looked curious but didn’t ask where I was going. I went into Joel’s room and quietly approached the bed. I could just barely make him out in the dark. I shook Joel lightly as I leaned over him. He sat up and rubbed at his eyes before he looked at me. I could barely make out his handsigns, “Is everything okay?” he asked. “Yeah,” I whispered. “Hey, Joel…Say it again for me, please?” Joel cocked his head to the side, flopped back onto his pillow. “Say what?” I leaned forward and kissed him on his forehead. “I love you,” I mumbled. Joel smiled, figured out what I wanted from him. He smacked me in the forehead gently. I waited. I wanted to hear him to say it. “Love you,” he mumbled, closed his eyes and rolled over. I guess sleep was more important to him than me bothering him at three in the morning. But that was okay, because he’d been the perfect birthday present. I closed his door behind me and went back to my room. Patrick was still sitting up in bed, waiting for me with a small blue pill that he made me swallow before he let me lay down. I grimaced at the awful taste as it dissolved in my mouth and crawled in next to him. “Good night, Micah,” he mumbled. I positioned myself so I was facing him in my bed, scooted closer until I was pressing against him. “Good night, Patrick,” I mumbled, wrapping an arm around his waist. “Hey Patrick?” I asked. “Hrm?” “What’s Bach mean? You’re granddad and Uncle Bryce keep calling me that.” “It means ‘little’, usually used when referring to one’s pet, it’s just a nickname,” Patrick whispered. I yawned. “I’m not a pet,” I informed him, objecting to being referred as a pet. “Of course you aren’t,” Patrick murmured. I yawned again, didn’t answer. The pill acted quickly, sending me to sleep within a matter of minutes, for which I was grateful. I was even more grateful the next morning, because if I’d dreamed that night, I didn’t remember any of them. End Chapter All music used in this chapter belong to their respective owners/individuals who hold the copyrights to them. I am using part of the lyrics under the fair use act, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Songs used: Birthday, Originally played by the Beatles. Happy Birthday: By Altered Images. Knee Deep: Zach Brown Band featuring Jimmy Buffet Good Charlotte: Emotionless. All that said, I’m curious, how do you guys feel about the use of lyrics in story? I try not to use them all because I feel it’s bulky and unnecessary, and not everyone would want to read through all the lyrics. Hence the links. I would, however, like some feedback on this. You can leave me feedback here. Thanks, Linxe ]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjF1bG5LUcs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLmXAqNOqeA&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9n5G0qFBsHM ]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEAqJsnOZUY
  6. Linxe Termoil


    The sound of the buzzer signaled the end of the second quarter. The home crowd groaned in disappointment. I joined in with the groaning. Our team was not doing well, at all. Across the basketball court the visiting team’s band struck up the chords to Dude (Looks like a lady) just as white smoke flared up on the basketball court. I watched with dismay as some members from our team turned to watch the display. The smoke dissipated to reveal a white ninja kicking and flipping his way down the basketball court, a basketball in his hands. I couldn’t help but shake my head, not as surprised as Trevor, one of the star basketball players, was when the ninja threw the basketball and nailed him in the forehead. A referee blew a whistle and started running after the ninja. “Trevor and that asshole just need to fight it out one of these days,” said Maria, my ‘best’ friend, as more white smoke filled the gymnasium; the ninja escaped successfully. “And the south side ninja strikes again, this time with a blow to Trevor Mason’s forehead,” the school commentator announced. “Yeah, Trevor won’t, though,” I replied. I stood and began shuffling past people to get out of the stands, crushing the urge to run over and see if Trevor was okay. Trevor probably wouldn’t appreciate it since Mindy Cain, high-school cheerleader and promiscuous slut, was already on the court, admiring Trevor’s forehead. “Someone should tell that ninja to come back and stab her,” I muttered, nodding my chin at Mindy. Maria snorted. “I thought you didn’t like Trevor,” Maria said. I shook my head. “I don’t,” I said, “I just like staring at his ass.” Maria shook her head. “So you’re going to be completely shallow?” she asked. “I wish you two would just be friends again,” she said, sighing under breath. I shook my head. “Not going to happen,” I replied, tugging at my leather coat until it was better adjusted to keep the warmth in. “Yeah, I know. Where we going? Is the game even over yet?” Maria asked. I eyed the scoreboard as I made my way down the steps and across the gymnasium. Forty-seven to seven and Southside High was in the lead. “We’re getting slaughtered. I’m not staying for this,” I replied. Maria pouted, looking toward the stand for something, or rather someone. Scotty Jefferson; whom we ran into on their way out of the building. I watched with bemusement as my ‘best’ friend and Scotty started flirting with one another, unable to avoid feeling like I was the misplaced wheel at the scene of a really bad car accident. One of them just needed to ask the other out, already. It wasn’t going to happen, though. I started edging toward the exit. “Hey Maria, I’ve got something to do. You can give her a ride home, right Scotty?” I hollered. Maria turned and gave me a horrified look. Scotty looked like he was about to be sick. “Great! Thanks man, I owe you!” I hollered, bolting for the exit. I didn’t feel like waiting for an answer. I was almost to the door when I heard Maria holler after me, “I’m going to kill you, Daniel!” “Hah-hah! I laugh in the face of danger,” I hollered over my shoulder. “Dork,” someone muttered. I ignored it, now in a hurry to get home. I pulled on the blankets and snuggled under them, seeking more warmth. Only vaguely aware of the time, I was too engrossed in the swordfight playing out on my small TV to get up and close the window letting the cold winter breeze blow through my room. Time continued to pass. Disappointment filled me as the movie ended around one a.m. I got up, needing to pee. When I was done going to the bathroom, I went back to my room and paused in my door. Something was wrong. I studied my bedroom. TV was still on, bed was a mess. It was getting warmer in my room. I probably wouldn’t need so many blankets now. It was getting warmer! Pretending nothing was wrong, I walked back to my bed, listening intently to my surroundings. I was grateful for the old house and its squeaky floors. My would-be attacker gave himself away as he tried to slip out of the closet. I whipped the quilt off my bed and turning, tossed it like it was a net. I followed through with a tackle, a slight thrill rushing through my stomach as I sat atop my now-victims chest, boxes of junk and clothing falling on top of us as my closet came apart. “Give! I give!” The muffled voice came through as my bedroom light came on. I pulled the quilt down some so I could see my attacker, though the long, muscular body under me told me who it was. Only one person would be silly enough to try sneaking up on me in the middle of the night. I smacked Trevor’s face lightly. “Boys!” That warning came from my mom. I turned my head so I could see her peering into the closet at us with annoyance. “Hi Mom,” Trevor and I chorused; the very epitome of innocence. Mom rolled her eyes. “If you want to fight, take it to the barn,” Mom ordered. “Trevor, use the door, that’s what you have a key for!” “Yes Mom,” Trevor replied meekly. I snickered at my best friend. Mom’s glare sent me cringing; I attempted to avoid her gaze. “Daniel, when I said clean your room, I didn’t mean throw everything in the closet.” “Sorry Mom,” I replied, unapologetic. I flashed my best puppy dog look at her. Mom shook her head. “I’ve been immune to that look since I married your dad. Get this cleaned up and keep it down.” “Yes ma’am,” we chorused. Mom rolled her eyes again but left my bedroom, presumably to go back to bed. I turned back to Trevor and frowned at his smiling face. “You’re late,” I informed him. Trevor stopped smiling. “Yeah, sorry,” he said, somewhat bashfully. “Date with Mindy Caine?” I asked. Jealousy was rearing its ugly in the pit of my stomach. Trevor looked startled for a second and then he started laughing at me. I glared at him. “No,” he replied, “she’s too easy.” “Oh.” Good. I crawled off Trevor, intending to get out of the closet. Trevor smacked my ass and then pulled me back in by the seat of my pajamas. “I had to take a walk,” he said, somehow managing to maneuver us so I was under the blanket with him. In my closet. He sounded depressed. “You know he only threw that basketball to provoke you, don’t you?” I asked. “Besides, you should have expected it. Everyone knows you’ll get suspended from the team if you get into another fight.” Trevor sighed. “I know. I just wish we had a mascot to kick that guy’s ass, is all,” he said. I shook my head. “I don’t think a lobster could kick a ninja’s ass, you know, so…it’s probably a good thing we’re getting a new mascot,” I informed him. Trevor snickered. “Yeah, but it’d be funny to watch, anyway.” I couldn’t help it. I started imagining a lobster and a ninja going at it. I didn’t think it would be very fun to watch. I shook my head again. “That’d be one cooked lobster,” I replied. Trevor shrugged. I turned my thoughts to something more serious. “Trevor, why can’t we be friends in school?” I asked. He’d explained it to me before we had started high school, but… I was tired of the charade. He was my best friend, and having to go my sophomore year without being able to talk to him in school, or sit with him at lunch, sucked. Trevor sighed. “Because…this way we can arrange mock fights to get suspended from school and play video games all day,” he replied. “That’s stupid, though. Besides, we haven’t had any mock fights and school is out in like five months…” I informed him. “Yeah. I know. I’m sorry,” Trevor replied. He placed his head on my shoulder. I smiled; decided I didn’t mind being used as a pillow. I just wasn’t so sure sorry was good enough anymore. As far as I was concerned, friends shouldn’t treat friends like shit, no matter the circumstances. It had been an idiotic idea to begin with. Now it felt like I was a paying a price that was no longer worth paying. I nudged Trevor off my shoulder and crawled out of the closet into my bedroom, shutting off the now blank TV and its blue-screen. “Where you going?” Trevor asked. “I’m going out to the arena; you, sir, are staying in my closet and cleaning up the mess you made,” I informed him. Trevor gaped at me. “The mess I made? You’re the one that tackled me,” he objected. “I wouldn’t have tackled you if you hadn’t tried sneaking up on me; now get to work or you’ll never get any practice in,” I replied. Throwing clothes on, I left the house, walking out back to where the arena was. The arena was actually a really large barn that looked more like a garage than anything else. Large rubber mats and wood flooring had been set on top of the concrete, allowing it to be used as a dojo and fencing hall. It was the one place outside of school I spent the most of my time. I grabbed a foil and started sparring across the room with an imaginary opponent: going into simple attacks, imaginary parries and ripostes, and counterattacks. “A ninja would totally kick your ass,” Trevor remarked, interrupting me. I dropped the tip of my foil to the ground and wiped the sweat off my brow, breathing hard. I bent over, a hand on one of my knees. “Nuh-uh,” I replied, too winded to make a feasible comeback. “Yuh-huh,” he responded. I rolled my eyes at him. I totally wasn’t going to fall into that trap. Sixteen was too old for that game, anyways. “Wanna make a wager, then?” I asked. One of Trevor’s eyebrows’ climbed up his forehead. “What kind of wager?” he asked. I straightened up, thinking about it. “Our friendship,” I said after a considerable pause. “Our friendship?” Trevor repeated stupidly. I nodded. “Yup. Our friendship,” I said. Trevor narrowed his eyes on me. “What are the terms?” I shook my head at him. “Spar first, I’ll tell you the terms afterward,” I replied. Trevor groaned. “Why do I feel like I’m not going to like this?” he asked. I didn’t answer him. I went to the corner instead where Mom kept all the fencing gear as Trevor went to the corner where Dad kept all his gear. Trevor didn’t waste any time in stripping down to his underwear, and I didn’t waste any time in watching him strip either. I only turned my attention back to getting dressed in my gear when Trevor slid his keikogi over his back, hiding his admirable muscles from my view. The time for games was over. “Are you going nitō or the ittō?” I asked. Nitō was two swords style; Ittō was one sword style. “Ittō. It’ll be easier to beat you,” Trevor replied. I snorted. “Alright then, ninja boy, bring it!” I hollered, mentally revving myself up. Trevor laughed, “Sure thing, Zorro.” I flushed and narrowed my eyes on Trevor. “I got bored cleaning up your closet, so I turned the movie you were watching back on,” he replied with a shrug. “Hrm,” I mock growled. “You’re gonna pay for that.” Trevor yawned and waved his shinai at me. It was enough to goad me into attacking him. I charged, thrusting my foil at his chest. His shinai swept up, knocking my foil to the side. It was on. It seemed like we danced across that floor for hours; Trevor figured out that I was playing for keeps when I tried kicking him in the nuts, even though my father would have scolded me for such a dirty maneuver. But you know what they say, right: ‘All is fair in love and war.’ Despite Trevor’s longer reach, I was giving him a run for his money. I had him on the defensive when he managed a counterattack that sent me ducking. The tip of his shinai managed to get caught in my protective mask, sent it flying through the room. I dropped the rest of the way to the ground and rolled out of his reach, spiraling into backflips until I had put some distance between us. Trevor leaned over, hands on his knees. “I think…” he panted “…we should…take a break,” he suggested. I shook my head at him. “At least put your mask back on,” he said, straightening up. “Nah, this’ll be over very shortly,” I responded. “What—ˮ I charged at him. My imagination lended itself in helping me see the look of surprise on his face as I dropped to my knees at the last second, attempting to slide beneath his leg, my foil pointing up in a desperate bid to stab him. Victory was in the air. Victory turned to defeat as Trevor managed to swipe my foil to the side. Pain shot into my knees and as I came to a screeching halt, Trevor’s fist landed against my nose. I grasped at my face. Trevor was frozen for a second, before he tore off his Men and dropped his shinai, pawing at me. “Oh my gawd! I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” he hollered “Yungh,” I mumbled into my gloved hand, holding tightly onto my nose before pulling it aside. There was blood all over the place. Mom was going to kill me. I think I wanted to kill me. I couldn’t believe I had lost; although technically I hadn’t admitted to defeat. I decided I didn’t care; my decision had been inevitable the moment I decided to force the issue. Trevor had won. I stripped out of my gear, leaving nothing but my breeches, socks and shoes on. I didn’t even pause to admire Trevor as he stripped out of his gear. There was no point, really. “Did I stop bleeding?” I asked, once he was dressed and examining my nose. “Yeah. Looks like it,” he replied. “Good,” I said, took a deep breath. Trevor looked at me expectantly, grinning. “What’s my prize?” he asked. “I think you should go home,” I said. Trevor stopped smiling. I don’t think he was expecting that. “Dude, I said I was sorry,” he whined. I shook my head at him. “I’m not mad at you for hitting me in the nose. Accidents happen…I mean…I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” I said. Trevor looked confused, and then hurt. I ignored it. “I mean, you won, and when I said we were fighting for our friendship, I meant…Look, you won, that means you can have things your way when we’re at school. We can pretend to hate each other, or you can hate me for real, if that’s what you want…but…we can’t be friends outside of school anymore, either,” I said, wanting to make sure I was heard. “But—ˮ he started. Cutting him off, I said “Look, I know you don’t want to hang out with me because you don’t want people thinking you’re a sword-loving geek like me, and I promise you I won’t tell anyone you wanted to be a ninja when we were eight. You can keep coming by and practicing with Dad and Mom and everything, but…people change, and I don’t want to pretend we’re not friends anymore. I’m sorry but…” Trevor’s face was red. Redder then I was used to seeing him when he was around me. He looked like he wanted to punch me. I don’t think I could blame him. “…you should go now.” That was it. Everything was supposed to be done right then and there. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I watched with misery as Trevor turned away from me, started leaving. He wasn’t supposed to go like that. He was supposed to say we could be friends in school again. He was supposed to tell me he loved me. Boys are so freaking stupid. I wasn’t sure I was any smarter than he was as I watched him turn around at the exit. “You’re right, people do change. You wanted to be a ninja once, too,” he said. Then he was gone. Mom found me in my bedroom later that morning, crying as I picked the splinters out of my legs. The sun wasn’t even up yet. “Oh Daniel, what happened? Where’s Trevor?” she asked, looking around like she expected my best friend since I was six years old to appear any minute now. I shook my head. “He’s gone,” I said, sniffling. I winced as I pulled another splinter out of my knee. “Where’d he go?” Mom asked. “Home,” I muttered. Mom sat down on the bed next to me. “Home? What’d he go home for?” “I told him…” I trailed off when my mom raised her brow at me. “You told him you like him?” she asked, startled. I gaped at her, just as startled. “How’d you know I like him?” Mom rolled her eyes at me. “I’m a mother. Most of the time mothers just know these things. So he didn’t take the news well? That’s a pity, I was pretty sure he liked you too, you know.” “Huh? What? Wait, no I didn’t tell him!” “So what did you tell him then?” Mom asked. “That we couldn’t be friends anymore,” I mumbled. Mom sighed. “That whole school thing?” she asked. I nodded at her. “Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, I think. I’m just sorry he didn’t make the right choice,” Mom said, hugging me. “Now how’d you manage to get a bunch of splinters in your legs?” she asked, taking the tweezers from me. I snorted. “We need to buff the arena floor again, probably wax it, too,” I said. Mom shook her head at me. “I told you not to use that move without the right padding,” she said, smiling. I shrugged. “You beat Dad with it, that’s why he married you, isn’t it?” I asked. Mom smiled at me. “Yes, and…you’re too young to be thinking about marriage. Have you gone to bed yet?” I shook my head. “Good thing it’s Saturday, then. Bedroom cleaned up?” Mom asked, looking pointedly at my closet. I nodded. “It’s the only thing Trevor did right last night,” I muttered. Mom slapped my leg. I winced, my mouth forming into an ‘o’ shape from the pain. I swear she hit thirty splinters. “Well, you’ll survive. Now come on, let’s go take care of the Arena floor.” I frowned at her. “Sleep,” I said. Mom snorted. “You’re young, you can sleep later. Let’s go, I’ll take you out for yogurt later and, if you do a good job, I’ll help you pull the rest of the splinters out of your legs, too.” I sighed. “You know you’re only going to get more splinters,” she added. “Fine,” I said, giving up out of exasperation. Mom smiled approvingly at me. “That’s my boy. Now if only your older brother wasn’t such a pussy.” I snickered. “Layne’s only a wimp because he’s dating Darcie Jenkins and she’s got her hand and mouth wrapped all around his—” Mom smacked me lightly on the back of my head; her glare told me I better not finish that statement. Lunch time Monday afternoon was depressing. Maria was sitting at the table with me, attempting to cheer me up. She wasn’t doing a very good job of it, either. Scotty was sitting with us and the two of them were sucking face like they were trying out for the Olympics. I wanted to find the nearest ledge and jump off it. This was totally depressing. The only thing that made me feel better was seeing Trevor and his messy brown hair in a corner of the cafeteria, looking as depressed as I felt. That only lasted until Mindy Cain and several of her fellow cheerleaders sat down next to him and they started gabbing at one another like old friends. Screw jumping off the nearest ledge. I wanted to push Mindy off it instead, or maybe see if I could arrange for a cheerleading accident. I glowered at her and, unable to watch anymore, I shoved myself away from the table where I was sitting and stood up, drawing stares from Maria and Scotty. “I’m going to class,” I said. Maria caught up with me in the hallway, grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me to a stop. “What?” I asked, annoyed. Maria frowned at the tone of my voice. “Alright buddy, someone needs to get laid. We’re going out tonight,” she informed me. I gaped at her. “What? I do not need to get laid,” I hissed at her, appalled. “Yes you do,” Scotty said. I frowned at him. He just grinned at me. “I got this cousin, he’d be perfect for you,” Scotty said. I gaped at him. Maria was kind enough to close my mouth for me. “First my mom, now you… Does everyone know I’m gay?” I hollered; blushing the second I realized I was standing in the middle of school outside the cafeteria, in a crowd of people. It didn’t help that Trevor came out of the cafeteria the very second I shouted it. He was staring at me. I was staring at him. “Oh crap,” I turned and high tailed it out of the hallway, ignoring the funny looks I was getting. Maria caught up with me again, Scotty hot on her tail. I couldn’t blame him. Even I could see that she had a really nice ass. “We’re going out tonight. Six o’clock at the coffee shop; don’t be late,” Maria told me as I stopped at my locker, ripping down the poster advertising prizes for drawings and ideas submitted for a new school mascot. “Fine,” I grumbled. Maria slapped my ass. “Good boy,” she muttered. Scotty looked jealous. “Relax, she was just sucking your tongue out of your face, and I gotta tell you, I have not and will not ever go there…” I told him, trailing off. Maria blushed. Scotty grinned. “See you at six tonight, I’ll bring my cousin,” he said. They ran off for class as the bell rang. I considered running out of the school, but…screw it. Mom and Dad had always told me to be who I wanted to be, and they both knew I liked boys. We’d had a long, drawn out, embarrassing conversation about it Saturday night when I had been too tired to make much of a fuss. End result: They still loved me. Dad even held me down while Mom picked the rest of the splinters out of my legs; I got ice cream instead of yogurt afterward. Double dating sucked, especially when my date was a shy, quiet boy that was just as blond, tall and attractive as his slightly older cousin. Unlike Scotty though, Kevin spent most of his time drawing in a sketch book and not making any conversation. Scotty couldn’t seem to shut up. He was too busy trying to make sure everyone was having a good time. It was with some relief that the clock struck nine. I stood up. “I’m going to the restroom,” I announced, fleeing the table. I did have to use the restroom, but mostly I wanted to make sure I looked okay. The mirror didn’t tell me one way or another. My brown hair still looked brushed, brown eyes were the same; my sweater hugged my five foot nine inch frame nicely. Bruised nose…I sighed. I probably wouldn’t be interested in me either. Rolling my eyes I left the bathroom, heading back to the table to inform Maria that I was leaving. Only, she was already gone. So was Scotty. Kevin, unfortunately, was still there. He looked just as I annoyed as I felt when I realized we had been ditched. “Sorry,” Kevin said softly. I smiled at him. It was the third word he had said to me all night. The first two were “I’m Kevin.” “It’s okay,” I replied. “So, uh…I’m taking off, I think…” Kevin nodded. He didn’t look very surprised. “Uhm…do you have a phone I can borrow? I need to call my mom and see if she’ll come pick me up,” he said. I frowned. “You’re cousin is a jerk,” I informed him, adding, “I’ll do one better. I’ll give you a ride home.” Kevin smiled but followed me to my car. “Where do you live?” I asked. I frowned at him once he told me. “I can still call my mom if it’s too far out of the way,” Kevin said quietly when he saw me frowning at him. “We’re practically neighbors,” I said. We were, too. I hadn’t realized how close we were until we were almost to my house. Kevin was staring at my barn when he said, “I wonder what’s in there.” I raised my eyebrow. “What do you mean?” I asked. “People are always going in and out of there, but they don’t keep any equipment in there that I can ever tell. My bedroom looks right down on the place. We moved here just before Christmas; Dad got a better job offer and, since it was closer to family, he decided to take it. They never have the barn doors open,” he replied. I pulled into the drive of my house and pulled all the way back. “What are you doing?” Kevin hissed. I laughed at him. “Relax, I live here,” I said. The only thing that could have been better after I made that announcement was if there was light to see his face. I was pretty sure he was blushing. I shut off the car and opened the door. “You coming?” I hollered over my shoulder, running through the cold wind toward the Arena. Kevin was pleasantly surprised when I led him into the Arena. “This is so cool,” he said, looking around. “I always wanted to do martial arts.” “We can teach you,” I told him. He smiled at me. “C’mon, I want to show you something,” I said. I led the way up the stairs at the side of the barn to the loft, revealing my mom’s most prized possession. “Is that…” Kevin said, trailing off as he fingered the black cape hanging on a mannequin. “Yup. The cape and clothes of Don Diego de la Vega himself,” I announced. “Better known as the man behind the mask; Zorro.” I pulled the rapier hanging off the side of the mannequin out and went into a fencing stance, slashing at the air. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was starting to feel more comfortable with Kevin now that I was on familiar turf and not in some coffee shop. It even felt good being able to show off for him. The smile that was on his face as I horsed around felt good. I didn’t even hesitate to start taking off my clothes when he asked me to put the costume on. It was a fit, barely. As long as I rolled the pant legs up and stuffed them into the boots, anyway. Kevin followed me down the stairs and sat down on the floor. I horsed around some more, striking random poses as he quickly began to sketch, holding the pose when he would ask me too. “Do you know how to use the whip?” he finally asked. I grinned at him. “Yup,” I cockily replied. Grabbing at the whip I sent it singing through the air, the familiar crack sent comfortable shivers up my spine. “Hold it right there,” Kevin mumbled, already tracing in his sketchbook. I held the pose, my arm outstretched as the whip dangled uselessly in the air. “Done,” Kevin announced shortly afterward. I pulled the mask off my head and strolled across the floor, wanting to see the drawings Kevin had done. He scrambled to shut his sketchbook. I pouted at him. “Oh c’mon, pretty please…I’ll take my clothes off for you again,” I offered. Kevin blushed. “You have to take your clothes off for me when you change again, anyway,” he pointed out, mumbling. I grinned at him. “I can probably take off more than I took off last time,” I offered with a wink. Kevin dropped his sketchbook. I beat him to it when I picked it up, flipping the book open. Kevin shuffled his feet nervously on the ground but didn’t stop me. What I had meant to turn into a mad scramble through his sketchbook turned into me sitting on the floor, flipping slowly through it as I paused at each drawing, admiring them. By the time I got to his drawings of me I was in awe of his talent. He was good. Really good, but it wasn’t the drawings of me that I liked the most. It was the very last: A fox dressed like Zorro, wearing a cocky smile and cracking his whip through the air with his rapier planted on booted feet, tail curled around him that I liked the most. “You don’t need to be a ninja,” I informed him, serious. He looked at me, uncertain. “Your jiujutsu is right here in your sketchbook.” He smiled at the compliment, went back to being shy. “I want to keep this one,” I said, pointing at the dazzling fox with the cocky smile. My eyes turned pleading. “Pretty please,” I begged. “Okay,” he mumbled. I grinned at him, gave him the book back. “I thought you wanted to keep it,” he mumbled, looking confused. “I do, but you have to color him in first. You can give him to me in school,” I replied. Kevin looked uncertain. “And tomorrow we’ll start giving you lessons,” I added for extra measure. I wasn’t sure I’d want to date him, but…maybe some lessons in martial arts would help instill some confidence in the younger boy. “C’mon, I’ll get you home,” I said as I stood up and patted him on the shoulder on my way up to the loft to change again. Kevin followed me up the stairs. I shamelessly shook my ass at him the entire time, and made good on my promise to take a little extra off. It was nice knowing there was another boy around who wanted to date other boys. Even if he was shy. “Can you come over tonight?” Kevin asked, smiling nervously at me. “Sure,” I said, taking the piece of paper that Kevin handed to me a second later. It was the drawing I had wanted from him. I smiled back at him. “Awesome. I gotta run and catch my ride. I’ll see you later,” he said, rushing off. I watched with amusement, then surprise as he turned and spoke in a voice louder than a soft mutter. “Great…hey, bring the costume too,” he shouted. His face turned red. Scotty came out of nowhere and rescued his cousin from embarrassment by dragging him around a corner. I could understand the rush. It was another Friday and anyone with any common sense would want to get out of the school. Including me, I thought as I grabbed my backpack and closed the door, startled to see Trevor standing next to my locker. I didn’t say anything. Just tried to pretend I didn’t see him standing there. Yeah, it was rude of me, considering I missed having my best friend around. But, he had made his choice a long time ago, as far as I was concerned. Besides, it was probably a fluke for him to be in the same hallway as me, anyway. So I was somewhat startled when he fell into step beside me as I headed toward the office, Kevin’s finished drawing in my hand. Trevor wasn’t saying anything. I wished he would say something. By the time I got to the office and dropped Kevin’s drawing into the box labeled with ‘Mascot Submissions’ Trevor was on my last nerve. “What?” I finally snapped at him as we left the office. Maria waved at me from a corner of the hallway, catching my attention. I forgot I had told her to meet me at the office after school. “We need to talk,” Trevor said. “No, we don’t,” I informed him. “Damn it, Danny, yes, we do,” he replied. “Fine, we’ll talk. Later. I’m in a hurry,” I said, annoyed. I hated it when people called me Danny. Well, when they were people that weren’t Trevor. He was the only one I didn’t threaten to kill. “No. Now,” Trevor demanded. “Sorry, no can do. Now shouldn’t you be running off somewhere? Wouldn’t want to be seen with me, you know…” I remarked. “Let’s go Maria,” I shouted a second later. I took advantage of Trevor’s look of utter betrayal and ran out on him, ignoring the curious stares looking at Trevor and me. Maria met me at my car. “What’d he want?” she asked. I shrugged. “Dunno, don’t care. Am I taking you home or dropping you off at Scotty’s?” Maria sighed. “Home. Mom was pissed because I was out an hour past curfew with him last night,” she replied. I smirked at her. “Oh please, it was nothing like that,” she said. “Uh-huh,” I replied, winking at her. “So you and Kevin, huh?” she asked. I blushed. “I don’t like him like that, we’re just friends,” I informed her. “You two are getting pretty friendly for ‘just friends,’ ” she said. I shrugged. “He’s a good artist, besides, he’s also a student. Mom fell in love with him the second I brought him home and Dad’s all set to adopt him; says Kevin needs more confidence in himself if he wants to be an artist,” I replied. “Uh huh,” Maria replied, not believing me for a second. “I think Mom almost has Kevin convinced to do a big mural in the dojo, too,” I added. Maria rolled her eyes. “Okay, so if you two aren’t a couple, then…why don’t you like him?” she asked. I blinked. “I didn’t say I didn’t like him,” I said. “Why don’t you like him like…you know…” she clarified. I shrugged. “He’s a good guy; he’s just…meek and shy. I’m sure he’ll find a great boy who will admire those qualities in him. Just not…me,” I replied. Maria fell quiet. “Did someone say something to you?” I asked. “Scotty was curious,” she mumbled. I snickered at her. “Whipped,” I mocked. She slugged me in the shoulder. I winced. “Hey, driving here,” I informed her as if she was blind and couldn’t see that we were on the road. “You’ll live. We’re going to the basketball game tonight, right?” she asked. I shook my head. “Nope,” I said. Maria groaned, “Please, you have to.” “Why do I have to?” I asked. “Because Mom and Dad won’t let me go with Scotty; that means you have to pick me up and bring me home…please?” she pleaded. “Fiiine,” I said. I made her wait before giving in. The only pleasure I got out of it was getting to watch her squirm in her seat and the loud squeal of delight she gave at my answer. “Maria’s going to kill us,” I told Kevin as I threw the gym bag I’d smuggled Mom’s prized costume in into the backseat of my car. Kevin shrugged. “It’s not my fault we lost track of time,” he remarked. I grinned at him. That was so true. Turned out Kevin had a great talent for artistry and playing the Xbox, too. I guess his parents insisted he do some normal things that other boys our age liked doing. Otherwise he’d be holed up in his room painting and drawing all evening. Mandatory Xbox time. Go figure. The only pleasure he got out of it was when he kicked my ass in Dead or Alive 3. I was right, too. Maria was full of death threats when we finally arrived at her house. She only stopped threatening to kill us once we got to the school and Scotty kissed her; looking slightly relieved when we showed up. I didn’t know what the big deal was; the game hadn’t even started yet. I figured out what the big deal was when the two of them started making out next to Kevin and me. I only managed to stop paying attention to them once the game started. That’s because all my attention was on Trevor as he ran up and down the court. The visiting team was not going easy on him, doing everything they could to foul him up and get him out of bounds. Their mascot, a brawny kid wearing a knight’s outfit made of plastic even managed to get a shot in when the ref’s weren’t looking. He nailed Trevor in the head with a ball and chain made from a plastic handle, fake rubber chains and a foam ball. It still looked like it hurt. Trevor’s teammates had to hold him back. It didn’t help matters any. The coach benched him for a few minutes before putting him back out on the court. The second time the knight got a blow in on Trevor it became obvious that the ref’s weren’t going to do anything about it; one of them had been looking right at the errant knight when he committed the crime. Trevor almost got kicked off the court that time. The home team booed the ref for that; it still didn’t do any good. “This is ridiculous,” Kevin muttered. “Hrm?” I asked. “Someone should do something. Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” he asked. I frowned. Kevin had a good point. Trevor had had a good point. The school needed a mascot; one willing to fight and help rally the school spirit. One willing to defend Trevor’s honor. I snickered at the thought. Trevor would look good in a dress; playing the part of a damsel in distress. “What’s funny?” Kevin asked. I shook my head. “Nothing, I’m going to go get popcorn. Need anything?” I asked, standing up and slipping out my bench seat. “No thanks,” Kevin said. I nodded, eyeing the basketball court. The closest exit I’d be able to get through was in the boy’s locker room, which was used by the home team. The visiting team got assigned the girl’s locker room, but that’s probably because they were a bunch of girls. At least, that’s what I was thinking as someone fouled Trevor up and got away with it, again. It was also becoming obvious that the home side was losing spirit. I had five minutes until they called half time. The band got cut off by the visiting band before they could even start their show. I watched with narrowed eyes from under the bleachers as the errant knight, greatly encouraged by the referee’s refusal to do anything about his antics, charged the darkened basketball court, swinging his homemade ball and chain at Trevor. He didn’t even get a chance to touch Trevor as I slipped through the shadows and onto the basketball court. The tip of my whip snapped through the air, startling the knight as I hit the handle and sent his ball and chain spinning from his grip. The crowd quieted down, watching with interest and confusion as I curled my whip back up and placed it back on my belt; a hand on the hilt of my sword. I really wanted the knight to charge me. I was just grateful for the discretion I had used in bringing a foil with Mom’s costume rather than the antique sword that had been passed down from generation to generation. The knight didn’t look like he wanted to oblige me. I couldn’t blame him. I did look rather dashing and threatening decked out like I was Zorro. It was unfortunate that someone decided to provoke the guy. It was Trevor, calling out like a chicken; his thumbs tucked under his armpits as he flapped about like they were wings. “Brawk brwk brwk brwk brwk brraaarraaach…” To further add insult to injury, Trevor started circling the guy, his legs coming up slowly as he stayed crouched low, his head bobbing up and down in the air like he was picking feed up off the ground. That’s when the errant knight charged, drawing his fake sword and swinging with the intent to ‘decapitate’ Trevor. His poor sword bent in half as it was met with my foil. I quickly made my point. The edges and tip of my foil had been stained with a red-dye, and I marked the guy and his fake armor up like he was turkey dinner at thanksgiving, to the hoots and cheers of the home crowd. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a referee coming at me. I turned on him; realized it was the same guy who had been letting the visiting team slide with their transgressions against the sport in general, and Trevor in particular. My eyes narrowed and I charged at him, skidding to a halt as he fell to the ground, landing on his back. I paid the proper honors to his shirt. After all, Zorro probably would have done it, too, you know. ‘LAF’, stained in red across the breast of his heart. Most people would assume it stood for Lake Austin High School. The F was personal, though. “Kid! Stop right there,” someone hollered. It was the principal. I swallowed nervously and looked around for an escape route. My chance came when the power went out for no good reason. I took advantage of it and charged across the court, through the locker room and back out to my car, the small side exit was prevented from closing all the way by a small piece of wood I had jammed in the doorway. With luck, no one would know it was me. Kevin was laughing at my discomfort Monday afternoon as Wanted Photos of me as Zorro appeared all over the corridors of school, their origins revealed by the Principal as he got on the school PA system and announced that any information leading to my capture would result in a pizza party for the grade level of whatever student brought me in. It seemed I had met my own personal Alcalde Ignacio De Soto in the form of my principal. “Shh,” I whispered. Kevin kept laughing, though. It was understandable, really. It seems I couldn’t turn around without seeing people mock sword fighting through the school. I swear I even saw the gym teacher and the basketball coach sparring through the halls during lunch. Unfortunately their sword play had come to an early end when the Principal stumbled across them and their antics. Maria and Scotty looked fairly cheerful, too. It seems Kevin hadn’t been able to keep his mouth completely shut during the game. He had told Scotty and Maria that it was me on the court. I forgave him when I found out it was Scotty who had aided me in my escape by shutting off the lights in the gymnasium. I was ready to kill him now though. “Where’d you learn to do that?” he kept asking me. “I’ll tell you after school,” I hissed, looking nervously over my shoulder for the principal. “Now,” he insisted. Kevin still wasn’t of any help. He and Maria had taken to doing a mock sword fight of their own in front of Maria’s locker. “My parents have a fencing academy and dojo in the back of my house,” I whispered. “Do you think—ˮ “Yeah, we’ll teach you. Just come over after school, and if you bring Maria just to make out with her I’ll stab you,” I hissed. Scotty grinned at me, or perhaps it was the idea I had just planted in his head. I narrowed my eyes on him. “No making out, swear it,” he promised. “Good, now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go,” I muttered, seeing someone that I didn’t want to see. It was Trevor, looking way to cheerful as he walked down the hallway, engaging in random sword fights here and there. I shook my head, slammed my locker shut and bolted in the opposite direction. There were more people than I expected there to be at my house, or rather, in my arena. I glared at Scotty and Kevin; they both just shrugged their shoulders at me and went back to sparring with one another under Mom’s guidance. She looked thrilled with the number of new students were signing up for lessons. Apparently Friday night’s vague demonstration had inspired some individuals to look into the art of fencing. I let out a groan and eyed the loft, wondering if I would be able to get up there and hide Mom’s costume without her noticing. Probably. She was moving around the Arena with a few of her older, more experienced students that she had had to call in to help with the lessons. Even Dad was looking pleased; he had gained some new students as well. I was not pleased. At all. “Will you relax, Daniel?” my older brother, Layne, asked. I narrowed my eyes on him, before my gaze flicked toward the loft. He sighed at me. “Mom already hid it,” he said. I blanched. “How’d she know…” “How can she not know? I had to tell her when people just started showing up wanting lessons. She had to drop prices and offer student discounts, but considering the number of people that signed up, it’s probably going to be worth it…” “Yeah but…why here?” I hissed. Layne smacked me upside the head. “Use your brains, will you. There are only two fencing schools in the area, and we happen to be one of them. Now if you’re that worried about being found out, I suggest you go over there and help Dad teach his class, and I’ll go help Mom,” he said. I frowned at him, hesitating. Layne rolled his eyes at me. “Your martial arts are just as good as your fencing, although even I’ll admit your fencing is a lot better. Just let everyone think you do the martial arts, and they can think I do the fencing. I’m taller than you, anyways. They won’t ever suspect either one of us. Now get, before Dad comes over here and starts asking questions,” Layne said. That was a good idea. The less questions Dad asked, the better off we would all be. I was exhausted by the time we got done with lessons. Mom and Dad ended up having to open up two new time slots just to accommodate everyone that wanted to take lessons. It was mostly due to the lack of certified instructors and room. We just didn’t have enough to fill the requirements for holding large classes. Even Maria looked exhausted. She was practically asleep on my bed. Mom had pressed her into service. Out of all my friends, Maria had the most experience with fencing, aside from me. Trevor only liked doing martial arts with Dad, and he couldn’t be bothered to help out any. Something about practice for Friday night’s game against the North Shore Buccaneers. I couldn’t blame him though. I wouldn’t want to be around me either after what I had done to him. “What are we going to do about this Friday night?” someone mumbled. I was too tired to lift my head up off my floor. “What do you mean?” I asked. “We’re facing the Buccaneers. Their mascot happens to be a buccaneer. He’s just as skilled in fencing as you are.” “I don’t think there’s going to be a Friday night,” I replied, closing my eyes. “What do you mean, you don’t think there’s going to be a Friday night?” a sharp voice asked. I opened my eyes and cringed at the look my Mom was giving me. I hadn’t been aware that she was even in the room with us. Dad and Layne were there, too. “Uh…” “You better bet your ass there’s going to be a Friday night, mister. Business has picked up because of that one small escapade you pulled, and if you think I’m going to keep working accounting forever, you got another thing coming,” Mom said. She straightened up and stepped over me; raiding my closet. “What’re you doing?” I mumbled. “You’re not wearing my costume again, it’s not safe enough. So, we’ll improvise. Now what’d you do with those leather pants you got for Halloween last year?” Someone snickered. I turned my head enough to see Scotty stifling his laughter. Kevin was eyeing me, a prospective look on his face. “Top shelf,” I mumbled. Mom found it and tossed it at Layne. She wasn’t done raiding my closet, though. I decided I was too tired to actually figure out what it was she had planned. “All of you get to bed; arrangements have been made with your parents to crash here tonight. Maria, you’re in the guest bedroom next to ours. Scotty, you’re in here with Daniel. Kevin, you get to crash with Layne tonight.” Dad’s announcement was met with various groans of objections. “Sorry boys, but considering the…uh…” “I’m not interested in him like that,” Kevin mumbled. My head came up off the floor. I raised a brow. “Sorry,” he said, “I mean, you’re a great friend, but not really my type. You’re loud, cocky and way too boisterous. I really am sorry—ˮ “Thank god,” I mumbled, ignoring the various looks we were receiving. “I mean, you’re a great friend too, and you’re talented with art. Like, really talented, but…I like em loud, cocky and boisterous. No offense?” “None taken,” Kevin replied. “Now your brother on the other hand…” Dad groaned. Mom snickered. Layne looked horrified. “See Dad, he likes the pansies,” I mumbled. Layne bent over and thumped me in the forehead. I decided it wasn’t worth going through the effort to defend myself. “New sleeping arrangements…” I groaned and sat up. Layne helped pull me to my feet. “Where are you going?” Dad asked as I left my room. “To crash with Layne. Scotty and Kevin can have my bed for the night,” I replied sourly. “That sounds…ow!” I snickered. “Mom only smacks you upside the head if she loves you,” I shouted over my shoulder, pleased. Kevin was coming out of his shell, even if he was a kinky little perv. I definitely liked him though, as a friend. I was asleep before my head hit Layne’s pillow. “Now remember, he’s quick, but you’re quicker…” I resisted the urge to groan. Mom was stressing me out. I seriously wished she would just go inside and watch the basketball game with Dad and Layne; Kevin, Scotty and Maria. But no, she had to stand outside with me near the door leading into the boys’ locker room, rubbing at my shoulders like I was a boxer about to enter the arena. In a way, I kind of was. Layne had been sending mom text updates on everything that had happened so far; Trevor was not having a good night. The door opened and an old man’s head popped out, waving at us. It was time for the show to begin. I wasn’t sure how Mom had managed it, but she had recruited one of the school janitor’s over to our side. “You remember the battle plan now, kiddo,” the janitor whispered, “everything’s been set up.” I nodded and rushed past him, through the locker room and stormed the court, Dad’s face reassuring me. I was just in time to see the Buccaneer Billy stumble ‘drunkenly’ into Trevor, pushing him. Trevor turned on him, angry. Billy drew his sword, dancing in place as he began to show-boat to the crowd. “Go low!” I shouted at Trevor as I continued my run across the court. Trevor hit the ground and rolled to the right, out of my way. My foil was out of my scabbard as Trevor cleared the area. I lunged at Billy and immediately withdrew. Just like Mom said he would, Billy advanced on me, eager to attack. Mom called him brawns and no brain. But he was good. Really good. I retreated, lunged and parried the next blow, giving away ground bit by bit until we were out in the corridor. Referee’s and school faculty were keeping people out of the way as Billy and I danced through the wall, past a section of gate that the janitor had opened up for us. “What’s a matter? Got no balls, boy?” Billy asked, sweating. Mom said he liked to start hurling insults when he was getting tired in an effort to provoke his opponent. I stayed on the defensive as I moved past another opened door; the smell of chlorine strong in the air. It made me wonder briefly if my leather pants would be affected by the humidity in the air, but all worries faded away as Billy lunged forward and got out of the way quicker than I had expected from him. He scored a hit on my non-sword arm, looked ready to claim victory. We weren’t in a tournament though. I reminded him of this fact when I swiped my sword at his head, took off the corny pirate hat he was wearing and sent it into the pool. Cheers from outside in the corridor told me people were still watching. I didn’t look, didn’t have too. I could see faces pressed up against the windows viewing in on the swimming pool, watching with slack-jawed amazement as Billy and I continued our dance. It was a dance that was coming to an end. “It’s the plank for you, boy,” Billy growled, somehow managing to stay in character. I smirked at him, climbed up the small ladder and onto the diving board. I responded with the first words I could quote that came to mind. “And so it was. Lightning split the sky, thunder shook the earth, and then all was quiet. The great warrior known as Zorro was gone. The people of the land gave him a hero's funeral, the largest anyone had ever seen. They came from far and wide to say farewell to their brave and noble champion. But don't worry. Whenever great deeds are remembered, Zorro will live on. For there must always, always be a Zorro. And some day, when he's needed, we will see him again... on his fearsome steed Tornado, riding like the wind, his sword blazing in the sun... leaping, jumping, swinging through the air... fighting like a lion. Fighting like a tiger. Fighting...” Billy charged at me. If I had been in his position I would have done it, too. It was the one thing we had counted on. It was why the swimming pool had been chosen to fight in. I leapt up, bounced off the board and across the gap to the other diving board, my balance precarious as that board wobbled beneath me. I was just in time to look up as Billy went off the end of the diving board and into the swimming pool. “…and it’s the bloody fishes for you, mate,” someone howled. Trevor. “Someone get that kid already!” Principal Alcalde Ignacio De Soto. A campus guard climbed onto the diving board, attempted to corner me. He wasn’t trying too hard, though. He must not have wanted to go swimming like Billy did. His eyes flicked toward the lifeguard chair; flicked toward me, back toward the chair again…I took the hint, leapt onto the chair and, getting a one-handed grip on it, spun around, landing in a crouch on the pavement. I saluted the Principal. He paused, clearly outraged and shouted, “Are you out of your mind?” I grinned. “Not yet, but I’m afraid I’m being driven there,” I replied. For good measure I looked at Trevor and added, “Love fries a man’s brains like a crisp tortilla!” The lights went out. I disappeared out an emergency exit into the back lot. Mom was waiting for me on her motorcycle, looking worried until she saw me dashing toward her. I sheathed my sword and climbed on behind her, holding tightly. “Away, Tornado!” I hollered. Mom obliged me, popping a wheelie as she gunned the engine and took off. It wasn’t until we were a mile away that she pulled over and made me put a helmet on. It didn’t matter. I was still grinning the entire time, glad for the leather Mom had outfitted me in. It was keeping me warm. My Mom was the coolest ever. “Noooo,” I moaned, staring at the packed floor in the Arena on Monday evening. Even Layne, Mom and Dad let out small groans. Someone sighed. “It’s the price you pay when you’re a legend,” Trevor said. I turned and looked at him, startled to see him there. “I’m not a legend,” I informed him, hissing to keep my voice low. Trevor shrugged. “Maybe not to yourself, but you’ve given the school a mascot and made a hero out of him while doing it,” he replied. “Face it Danny, accidents happen.” I looked in the corner toward the sparring blades, turned to face Trevor once more. “Yup, accidents happen. Why are you here?” “You keep avoiding me in the hallways at school. I want to talk to you,” he said. “No can do, we have paying customers. You kids will have to settle your differences later. Trevor, why don’t you work with me today? Daniel, you’re with Dad. Layne…I think Kevin needs some help with his form. He seems to keep forgetting how to hold the foil,” Mom suggested. We all let out snickers, except Layne. He wasn’t amused at all when he had to stand behind Kevin, up close and personal while going through the forms with him. Kevin looked like he didn’t mind at all. Layne didn’t look like he minded so much either, after I checked on them two hours later. Weird. I barely avoided Trevor that night. Hell, I barely avoided him at school the rest of the week. He was getting good at sneaking up on me. So good, in fact, that I ended up having to move into Kevin’s locker, then Scotty’s, and back to Kevin’s. Trevor looked extremely annoyed with me when he figured out what I was doing. I was annoyed with me when I figured out that I had become so paranoid with the fear of getting caught by him or the principal that I almost missed the special game announcement for that Friday evening. The South Side Ninjas had requested a rematch, and since there were no games scheduled for our school or theirs, the principal had accepted. “I think it’s a trap,” Kevin muttered. He did not look happy at all. “Me too,” Scotty said, “I mean…I heard the principal placed a small side bet with South Side’s principal…” “Of course it’s a trap,” I grumbled out loud. “So we shouldn’t do it than, right?” Maria asked. Mom, Dad and Layne were staying out of the conversation. I already knew their thoughts. They figured we should lay low for a week or so. This game was just too sudden for their comfort. I rolled my eyes at them. “We have to do it. Now stop being chickens,” I said. Mom smacked me; lovingly mind you, upside the head. “Now, I’m pretty sure this was arranged so here’s what we’re going to do…” Everything was going as planned. I was hiding under the bleachers. The only thing that wasn’t going according to plan was Trevor was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t like him to miss a basketball game, even if the circumstances for it were unusual. Something was wrong. I just couldn’t put my finger on it, even as we came to half-time. That was when I knew for sure something was off. The white ninja wasn’t anywhere in sight either. The slight shuffling of feet from behind me told me why. I barely ducked the blunted katana as it came whistling past my head, clinking off the side of the pole I had been leaning against. I wasn’t sure how or why, but ninja boy had snuck in behind me, and I was trapped. A man distracted is a man defeated. I ducked and dodged my way around the poles under the bleachers; reached under my belt and grabbed a large, tightly wrapped baggie. Layne had been reluctant in forking over his supply of party snaps, but it had been agreed that they were needed, and since he was the only one who hoarded the precious supply of fireworks, it was him that had to give them up. I told him I’d send Kevin to his room later to make up for it. Kevin had ended up blushing and saying he had to go home. Apparently he was only good for sexual innuendo if he was the one volunteering them. Regardless, Layne went out and dragged Kevin back to the house; he said it was because all good ninjas should know how to make smoke bombs. It was smoke bombs made using the rocks from the party snaps, magnesium, a small amount of black gunpowder and plain old sugar, wrapped tightly in a paper towel that was held together by tape that greeted the white ninja. It was too much smoke in a small amount of space; it was enough to give me cover as I retreated into open ground where I would have more room for sword-fighting. I got my foil out just in time to counter the longer reach of his katana. The crowd was up and on their feet, cheering as we came into view. It was a distraction I didn’t need, even as I wondered where Trevor was. I didn’t have time to wonder for long as Mr. Ninja came at me, the heavier strikes from his blade forced me to give away. It was no use. My foil gave way and snapped. There was no room between us to draw my whip. I rushed the guy, crouched low and slid across the floor, thankful for the reinforced knee pads Mom had sewn into my leather pants as I whipped across the floor; more smoke bombs that I threw at the last second provided cover. It was perfect. Dad was going to call me a little cheater as I struck outward and punched the ninja in his nuts with as much force as I could muster. Ninja boy fell on top of me. I caught him with my knees and arms, flipped him over my head and rolled with him so I was sitting on top of his long, lithe form. “Do you yield?” I asked. “Yes.” He whimpered. I squinted. I’d heard that whimper before. I grabbed hold of the ninja’s mask, pulled it upwards. Trevor’s mid-length, brown locks fell around his face. I stared at him. “Run!” someone shouted, laughing at the last second. It was too late. I was caught by Don Alcalde Ignacio…ehr, Principal Walters. “Boys,” he muttered, “they make things so hard these days.” It was with confusion on my part that he marched me toward a small podium that I hadn’t seen before. The crowd was clapping, even as someone helped Trevor to his feet. Mom, I realized. A camera was hanging around her neck. I peered around with confusion. “Smile and go with the flow,” Principal Walters muttered, grinning as we finally got to the podium. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to tonight’s pep rally,” he announced into the microphone, “I am pleased to introduce you Lake Austin’s newest mascot…uh, what’s your name son?” “Foxy!” someone shouted. Trevor, still holding onto his nuts as he managed to straighten up and point at the scoreboard. The board lit up briefly, a slight pop unrolled a large banner I hadn’t noticed. Kevin’s fox was painted onto the banner. Mom got in front of me and took a picture of my face. “Say son, what’s LAF mean?” The principal asked. “Uh…Like a Fox,” I answered. Someone cheered. “Well…I like it…Lake Austin, doing it like a fox. Pep rally over; go home people!” “Smile Daniel! And for heaven’s sake, take that mask off already,” Mom hollered. I didn’t feel like obliging her. The principal did. He didn’t even hesitate to pull my mask off to pose with me. What was supposed to be a short evening turned into a long night as I ended up smiling for camera after camera. I even had to pose with the cheerleaders and that boy-stealing wench, Mindy Caine. Trevor laughed at me and the surprise pep rally the school had planned out, with the aid of my parents. The opposing team that I had thought was South Side turned out to be the JV basketball team. That explained why they sucked so bad. I decided I wasn’t going to let Kevin anywhere near my older brother; not after I had found out he had helped plan everything. He even drew the large banner. The art teacher had recognized his work and the Principal had pulled him into the office. Kevin’s interrogation lasted all of five minutes. From what I understood, Kevin’s bladder had been ready to burst at the time. He wasn’t used to being called into the Principal’s office. Wimp. Trevor was gone by the time I got out of there. I wanted him to still be there; just so I could brag that Zorro could totally kick a ninja’s ass. My chance came later on, well after midnight. I was in the Arena, sparring in the dark with imaginary opponents when Trevor snuck in and tackled me from behind. “Hey, what’re you doing?” I asked, objecting as he pinned me to the ground “Claiming my prize,” he informed me. “You’re prize?” I asked. “Yup… You know…you never really yielded that night a few weeks ago…” “Yeah…so…” “So I yielded to you tonight,” he replied, squirming on top of me to keep me pinned down. “You’re sure not acting like it,” I informed him. He grinned at me; looked far too smug for his own good. “You probably wouldn’t be acting like it either, if you got to claim the hottest kid in school,” he replied. My brain was mush. “Claim the—ˮ He shut me up with a kiss, pulled back. “I’m talking now. You just lay there like a good boy and listen,” Trevor mumbled. He kissed me again when I opened my mouth to say something. “Shhh,” he whispered, insistent. I wasn’t sure what he kissed me for the next time, decided I didn’t care. Especially when I realized he was taking my clothes off. It wasn’t until after my first experience with a blow job, when Trevor kept apologizing for anything and everything having to do with school, being a jerk because he had been in love with me for a while now and he thought distance might make his feelings go away; but mostly for repeatedly scraping the head of my dick with his teeth, that I decided I believed him. I just wasn’t sure I was going to let his mouth anywhere near my dick again anytime soon. My dick was helping make his argument for him when he told me that practice practice practice makes perfect when we were interrupted. It was through the dim light of the moon that we saw Layne and Kevin sneaking into the Arena, glancing worriedly over their shoulders as if they were going to be caught any second now. It was through a mutually reached decision that Trevor and I decided to keep our mouths’ shut. “Poor Mom and Dad,” I whispered, watching with a weird, creepy sensation in my stomach as Layne and Kevin tentatively began kissing each other. “Why poor Mom and Dad?” Trevor whispered, just as quietly. “They’re never going to have grandchildren,” I replied. “Sure they will,” Trevor informed me. “How? I’m gayer than Zorro the Gay-blade and Layne’s over there getting frisky with Kevin, who happens to be my best friend, by the way,” I whispered. Trevor looked thoroughly insulted at that announcement. It still didn’t stop him from cupping my ass in the palm of his hands. He was lying on top of me, his dick nestled and extremely excited by the feel of things, between my ass-crack. I wasn’t objecting, too much. It allowed us to whisper really really quietly. “Why’s he your best friend?” Trevor asked. “Because you’re my boyfriend,” I informed him. “Now wait a second—ˮ “If you’re going to wiggle that thing you got back there any further into my ass, you’re my boyfriend,” I hissed. Trevor sighed. “Fine….fine…I yield,” he mumbled. “Good ninja,” I mumbled. “Now how are you going to get pregnant?” I asked. Trevor snorted. “I’m not getting pregnant…I do, however, know for a fact that we have a turkey baster at the house…” I didn’t get it, until Trevor started wiggling his hips around, while I imagined a turkey baster… “Oh hell no,” I mumbled. Trevor snickered. “Hey, where are your leather pants at?” he asked. “In my room, why?” “Because, I’d rather be doing it than watching your brother and Kevin sit there and make out. This is the worse porno I’ve ever seen; seriously, at this rate they’ll never do the deed,” he whispered. “My brother is not porno. Eww…Besides, Layne’s seventeen and Kevin’s still got a month to go before he turns sixteen. I don’t think either one of them are old enough to do it,” I said. Trevor shrugged. “You’re probably right…we’re both only sixteen…does that mean we have to wait?” he asked. “Hell no,” I mumbled. “It’s just one more thing to add to the night.” “Yeah?” “Yeah…it’s been…epic, so far. Though that was a pretty underhanded trick you all pulled just to capture me,” I whispered. “Yeah, it was….sneaky…like a fox. Totally legendary. I’m gonna tell this story to our kids,” he replied. I shook my head. “You’re not using a turkey baster,” I muttered. “Okay, I’ll use—“ “You’re not putting your dick anywhere near anyone else, and if I see you flirting with Mindy Caine again, I’m gonna chop it off…Mom has this really neat sword collection, you know.” “Fine fine…whatever. Now how are we getting out of here without embarrassing those two?” I shrugged, “Sneaky…Like a fox.” I stuck to the shadows, crawling my way past Layne and Kevin on one side while Trevor snuck past them on the other. “Hey, you think we should back go back there and watch? What if their first time isn’t so…” I shoved Trevor. “Gross! Shut up…We have our own memories to make. It’ll be a legend worth telling, now let’s go, ninja boy.” I took off running for the house, “I get dibs on the turkey baster,” I shouted. “Yeah…I’ll stuff you with a turkey baster, alright,” Trevor shouted after me. The door to the arena was open a crack when Kevin, barely heard, said, “Thank god, I didn’t think they’d ever leave. You bring your mom’s Zorro costume?” The end. Discuss this story Many thanks to Gayauthor.org's very talented Cailen for designing the L.A.F. Banner and Cia for helping edit this story.
  7. It's Sword-toting masked man of mystery vs. Ninja in this story. Who is going to win in this epic war?
  8. Chapter 13: The Calm before the Storm. “It’s your fault! So stop it! Just stop it!” The crying wouldn’t stop. I grabbed him, shook him, shook him harder! “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Just shut up!” Couldn’t stop shaking. “Stop crying.” I couldn’t stop shaking him. “Micah!” My eyes snapped open. My head was pounding. Something soft tickled my face. I inhaled deeply: A pleasant, slightly musky scent filled my nose, helped me relax. I’d had a dream. A really bad dream. “Micah.” The voice was soft, sharp and filled with worry. I pulled away from Patrick and sat up. I decided I wasn't going to obsess over the fact that my nose had been buried in Patrick's armpit. “What time is it?” I mumbled, reached out and found Patrick’s bare chest. The blankets were around his waist. “It’s four-thirty in the morning,” he mumbled. “You okay? You kept mumbling in your sleep.” I nodded, and then realized he probably couldn’t see me very well. “Yeah,” I responded, lying through my teeth. “My head hurts though,” I added. A soft snort. “No surprise there. You drank so much you passed out on the ride home,” he murmured as a soft chirp filled the room. Patrick sat up and fumbled around beside the bed, and then pulled his cell-phone out of his jeans. “Everything okay?” I asked “Yeah, just my alarm clock. Got to head out and get chores done,” he answered as he turned around to look at me. I could barely make him out in the moon light coming through the window. He fumbled in the dark until he had hold of one of my hands, pressed something to it. “Here, take this. It’ll help with the hangover,” he murmured, holding something else in his other hand. Aspirin and water. I took them and handed the water back, fell backward until my head was on a pillow. “You sure you’re okay?” I nodded, closed my eyes. “Yeah, just a dream,” I murmured. “Do you want to talk about it?” I shook my head. “No. They happen a lot this time of year,” I replied, too tired to think about lying. “Ok,” he murmured. I was glad he was letting the topic of my dreams go. I felt the mattress shift. “What’re you doing?” I mumbled. Come to think of it, why was he in my bed with me. I didn’t think he had meant it when he said he was sleeping with me. The light turned on. I squeezed my eyes shut and rolled over, hid my face in my pillow and let out a groan of objection. He laughed. “Got chores to do, want to help?” It was the second time he’d asked me to help him with his chores. I heard rustling, could only assume he was getting dressed. “At four in the morning? Don’t think so,” I replied. Another soft laugh. “Are you sure? Might be a change of pace compared to the chores you do around here,” he replied. “Patrick, I don’t do chores around here.” He snorted. “Sure you do.” I sighed, not sure why he was picking an argument with me. “No I don’t,” I mumbled again. “Okay. Who cooks?” “Me. Because if I didn’t we’d all be poisoned,” I replied. “…and the laundry?” “Mine and Joel’s,” I replied, finally rolling over to look at him. I was just in time to catch him sliding his shirt over his head. I could also make out my imprint on his body from where I’d been lying against him. I guess I hadn’t been shy about cuddling with him through the night. “Reese’s too,” he added. I frowned. How did he know that? It was like he was stalking me. I nodded. “Yeah, so…” “Who takes out the trash?” “Me…” “Cleans the house?” “Also…” I stopped, seeing where he was going. “Also you,” he finished for me. “Elizabeth cleans, too” I pointed out. “Okay…so I have chores to do. What’s your point?” “My point is you should get Joel and Reese to help out. It won’t kill them, and you'll have more time to work on that house out back rather than only being able to spend a few hours here or there getting it done,” he replied. Patrick had a good point. “I’ll think about it.” He nodded. “You sure you don’t want to help me with my chores?” he asked once more. I yawned at him. “Yup,” I answered. “You know, you could do them later,” I told him. I wasn’t going to think about the fact that I was trying to invite him back into my bed, either. He shook his head at me. “Nope, the horses won’t feed themselves, you know. Neither will the dogs and…” I sat up. “Horses?” I asked, almost curious enough to get out of bed now. “Yup,” he replied. “Got to muck out the stables,” he answered. The thought of mucking out stables killed my curiosity. I lay back down, closed my eyes and opened them again. He was brushing his fingers through his hair. “I don’t recall seeing any horses at your house…or a stable, for that matter,” I informed him. He just smiled at me. “Perhaps one of these days I’ll show them to you,” he replied. I shrugged my shoulder and closed my eyes. “Have fun,” I finally offered, “and make sure you shut off the light on your way out…” A huff of laughter left his mouth. “Okay.” I nodded. The light had just been shut off when I finally said “Patrick, thanks for last night. I had fun…don’t think I’m drinking again, though.” I wasn’t sure he’d heard me. Decided I didn’t care. “You’re welcome,” he finally whispered. It wasn’t until later that I’d decide to be embarrassed about last night. I also decided that Timmy and his rules about using manners were annoying. I’m not sure I liked being nice to Patrick, but whatever. It wasn’t worth thinking about. It was worth going back to sleep, though. So long as the dreams didn’t come back. I didn’t have much hope for that. My pillow smelled like fresh soap and it was way too warm in my bed. I opened my eyes, wondering why it was so warm in my bed. Patrick had come back and managed to slip into bed without waking me up. My nose was, once more, buried in his armpit. Patrick was wide awake, running his fingers through my hair. I thought about saying something but I was enjoying what he was doing. It also once more reminded me that Patrick, for whatever reason, seemed to like me. Thinking about it, I had to admit that I enjoyed the fact that someone, at least, liked me sexually. It opened a new realm of possibilities that my throbbing morning wood liked the idea of. I’d even go so far as to say that maybe, just maybe, I liked him back. Besides, he’d be useful in winter when it got cold out. I wasn’t sure about anything else, though. It was something I would have to think about later. “What time is it?” I asked, a feeling of déjà vu settled over me as this morning’s conversation repeated itself. “Noon,” he replied. I turned and stared at the clock in disbelief. I never slept in this late. An aching bladder told me that I had, in fact, been asleep for a long time. As was the fact that I could feel cravings for my nicotine addiction sneaking up on me like a train going across an intersection at full speed, halting all traffic. I scrambled over Patrick, my morning wood brushing into his leg not so lightly. I threw clothes on that I pulled from the dresser and ran for the bathroom. Patrick was waiting for me when I came out, slightly bemused. He was opening his mouth to speak when I held up a hand, stopping him. I cocked my head to the side and listened intently. I was hearing a hammer. Several hammers, actually. I ran outside the house and flew across the back field, stopping in surprise. “Morning, sleepy-head!” someone hollered. I shielded my eyes and squinted up at the roof. “Afternoon,” I replied, staring up at Avery. He was on the roof with Ken and Timmy, nailing boards into place. I climbed up the ladder standing against the house to inspect their work. I stopped though when I realized that Reese and Joel were out there on the side of the house, using pitch-forks to pick up the old shingles and haul them over to the roll-off; to be disposed of later. “You two put on face masks,” I hollered down at them, standing up on the roof. “No idea what sort of material they used in building this house.” They waved up at me in acknowledgment. “Joel, you should have known better, too,” I added, mildly rebuking him. I turned back to the roof, inspecting it. It looked like everyone had been there working for a good deal of time. “How long you all been working on this?” I asked. “Since six this morning,” Ken replied. “Seven,” Avery shot out. “Ten, I wanted to sleep in,” Timmy replied as a blond head came into view. I hummed with curiosity, but didn’t say anything. Just smiled when I realized that Patrick was resolutely staring forward, refusing to look down as he slowly made his way onto the roof, a couple of tool-belts slung over his shoulder. I grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the ledge when he finally made it. “You don’t have to come up here if you’re afraid of heights,” I told him. He snorted, looked back toward the ground and immediately turned forward again. “I’m not afraid of heights,” he said. The little shiver that wracked his body as he lied through his teeth gave him away. I decided not to argue with him. “Okay,” was all I said as he handed me a tool-belt. “Sleep good?” Avery asked as I held back, holding onto Patrick’s elbow as he moved past me and further up onto the roof, presumably to a spot that he felt was safe. “Yup,” I replied. I hoped Avery hadn’t said anything to anyone about my adventure last night with alcohol. “He had a nightmare this morning,” Patrick said a second later. I immediately scowled at him, wondering why he would tell them that. Somewhere else in the back of my head I wondered if I might be able to push him off the roof. “Really?” Timmy asked, interested. “Yup,” Patrick answered, pretending he didn’t see me glaring at him. “He wouldn’t tell me about it, though, and I haven’t had much of a chance to pester him either.” “Want to talk about it?” Timmy asked. I laughed it off uneasily. “No,” I said. “They occur from time to time.” I ignored the looks they were giving one another. Decided to change the subject. “So…what brought you all out here?” I asked. “Rain,” Ken said as if that should explain everything. I looked up at the clear blue skies. “I don’t think it’s going to rain,” I dryly informed Ken. “Not today. Tomorrow either, from the weather report. But we’re supposed to get some this week and it may not stop again until next summer, so I called Avery and Timmy and asked for help,” he replied. ”Thanks,” I said as I inspected the roof. One side had been covered with new wood-decking. “I’ll start over here,” I replied. I grabbed the closest pile of flashing and unrolled it, positioned it and set to work. It was after an hour or so of working that I realized Patrick was staring at me, sitting with his legs splayed out so he had contact with two sides of the roof. He’d been in that same position since we got up here, I realized. It made me wince. I knew for a fact that sitting with the ridge between his ass cheeks like that wasn’t very comfortable. The thought of something between his ass-cheeks sent my mind spiraling with a thousand different thoughts, all of them pleasant, up until I hit my thumb with the hammer. “Ow!” I yelped. Patrick snickered. I flushed and dropped the hammer, barely paid any attention as it slid down the side of the roof. I hadn’t hit myself with a hammer since I’d turned fourteen. “Holy shit!” someone else yelped. “Hey, watch it, ass-wipe! Jesus freaking Christ; I wouldn't mind getting hammered…but not with a hammer…” I sucked on my thumb and scooted down the side of the roof until I was staring over the eave. “Micah…” Patrick blurted out, sounding nervous. “Hi Ben,” I greeted the shirtless boy. He just glared at me. He wasn’t the only person there, either. I could see Stacie and some guy I didn’t know carrying wheel-barrows into the roll-off. Reese was off to the side with Lissa. I did a double-take when I saw that because it looked to me like he was flirting with her. Uncle Bryce was there, too. I waved at him and crawled back up the roof. “Everything going okay over here?” I heard a voice ask. “I thought I heard someone say ‘ouch.’ ” “Everything’s fine, Timmy. Just hit myself with the hammer, is all,” I remarked, still annoyed with that fact. “And me!” Ben shouted. I rolled my eyes. “It came down a mile away from you, you were fine!” I shouted back. “Besides, that’s what they make hard hats for!” Ben fell quiet, not saying anything. “Bugger,” Patrick muttered. “Hey Uncle Bryce!” Ben shouted, “You want to take me to the hardware store? I need a hard hat.” Patrick rolled his eyes. “Now you done it,” he muttered, looking at me. I frowned, wondering what the hell it was that I’d done, exactly. “He’s always wanted to do that YMCA dance in costume,” Patrick explained. “Keeps trying to talk the rest of us into doing it with him.” The thought of Ben wearing tight jeans, workers boots, a button-down shirt that was hardly buttoned and a hardhat made me burst into laughter. I was still shaking my head when I spotted Timmy still looking at us with a smile. “Hi,” I greeted, feeling uncomfortable. “You work fast,” Timmy said in return as he examined the work I’d gotten done. I didn’t know what to say to that so I just shrugged at him. “I don’t even think we’ve gotten near as much done as you have by yourself,” he said. “How’d you learn to do all this stuff anyway?” he asked. I shrugged. “When I was almost fourteen my dad’s boss figured I was heading for more trouble than I’d know what to do with during the summers and school year so he would pick me and Joel up on weekends and after school, and the week when school was out. He owned a construction company.” Timmy looked thoughtful. “What kind of trouble?” he asked. I shook my head at him and smiled. “On your own time mister; right now you’re on mine,” I replied, semi-playful. Timmy just gave me a grin and shrugged. “It was worth a try,” he said. “Yea, I guess it was,” I said as I climbed further up the roof and examined what they had managed to get done. Three rows of hardwood decking had been laid down and they were scraping off what shingles were left. I flinched when I saw Ken standing on a piece of sagging wood decking. “Hey Ken!” I hollered. He looked at me. “Can you move off that, please?” I asked. “What, this?” he asked. “Yeah, it’s rot…” “It’ll be fine,” Ken scoffed, bouncing up and down on the piece of wood. I closed my eyes when the board let out an all-too familiar cracking sound, opened them back up and watched in what seemed like slow-motion as Ken’s face turned to one of surprise: an ‘o’ shape formed on his mouth as the wood decking gave way and he went…very slowly…through the roof. “…ten…” I hoped the floor beneath the roof held. I scurried across the roof to peer down over the edges of the hole. Dust and what I hoped was plaster were swirling in the air when I found Ken's body lying in a pile of wood. “Micah…” Patrick squeaked, sounding scared. I ignored him. “Ken!” That was Timmy doing all the hollering. “Someone call 911!” Avery himself was shouting as he rushed for the nearest ladder. I could hear someone else; I think it was Elizabeth, hollering, wanting to know what the hell was going on. As for me, I couldn’t think. Just stared as everyone started to panic and shout back and forth. Everyone except Avery, I realized, as I saw him appear below me. “Micah…” Patrick said again. Whining. I ignored him. I was trying to figure out if Ken was still alive. I don’t think I started breathing again until I saw a hint of movement from one of his arms. “He’s alive,” Avery shouted. “He’s alive!” Timmy repeated, for everyone else’s benefit. “Micah!” Patrick shouted. I finally looked over my shoulder at him. “What?” I asked, more sharply than I intended. “I have to use the bloody loo,” he blurted out, looked nervously at the edge of the roof where the ladder was. I looked at him, confused. I didn’t know what a loo was. “What’s a bloody loo?” “The bathroom; damn it. It’s the bloody bathroom!” I let out a groan and, in an effort to stay quiet, clapped my hands over my mouth to muffle my laughter. Didn’t want anyone to think I was a jerk. Freaking jerks! They were all a bunch of freaking jerks, and I was not happy that I had been left behind. I seriously mean it, too. Everyone but Patrick had left me behind when the ambulance transported Ken to the hospital. They hadn’t even asked me if I wanted to go, not that I minded. Much. Whatever. It’d taken me more than thirty minutes to coax Patrick off the roof of the house. Hell, I’d even come close to calling the fire department to come get him off my roof. The only thing that stopped me though was him begging me not to. Apparently the threat of embarrassment was the key to getting him moving because he’d finally managed to get to the ladder. Once he was down he ran for the the main house without so much as a thank-you. As for me, I was sitting in the kitchen, staring at the cell phone that I’d tried using for the first time since I’d gotten it. Everyone whose number I had was going to voice-mail. I let out a growl and dropped the cell phone onto the counter, giving it the best glare I could possibly muster. It didn’t do any good; no one called me back. Patrick came into the kitchen as I wiped the sweat off my forehead. “Thanks, I feel much better,” he mumbled. Still embarrassed, I imagined. “Yeah, no problem,” I replied, picked up my cellphone and left the kitchen. I went onto the back porch. I needed a cigarette. Patrick followed me out there. “So…want me to go get my car?” he asked. “For what?” I asked distracted by the house and a hole I could barely make out. “So we can get to the hospital,” he stated, as if the answer should have been obvious. I shook my head. Being pissed because I had been forgotten while everyone went to the hospital and actually going to the hospital myself were two different things. “No,” I replied. “You can go if you want too, though,” I added, remembering pictures of Patrick hugging Ken when he was younger. “What? Why the bloody hell not?” he asked. The way his accent thickened let me know how upset he was with my answer. The glare on his face told me he wasn’t going to leave until he got an answer. I wasn’t sure I felt like explaining it to him, but… I sighed. “I don’t handle hospitals very well,” I admitted. He raised his eyebrow at me, surprised. “The last time I was in the hospital…when you…” I blushed. His eyebrow arched higher. “…You know…saw my…” I glanced around and whispered the word, still embarrassed over that betrayal from my own body. “…Boner…” His cheeks turned red and he looked away. I took a breath. “Well, I was freaking out in there. I just…don’t handle hospitals, so I think I’m going to stay here,” I finished. He nodded, looked like he actually understood what I was saying. I decided I wasn’t going to laugh at him ever again for being afraid of heights. I lit up my cigarette, inhaled. It was, I realized, the first cigarette I’d had all day. Patrick pulled it out of my mouth and tossed it on the ground. “Hey, what’re you doing?” I objected. “I don’t like that you smoke,” he informed me, “And you probably ought to stop, seeing as you could end up in the hospital with cancer,” he added, smugly. I glowered at him for that. “We should take a trip to Mount Rainier sometime,” I growled at him. He raised his eyebrow at me. “Why’s that?” he asked. “So I can put you on the highest cliff and leave you there,” I replied smugly. He had the nerve to grin at me in response. I found myself smiling back. My breath hitched a little. I found myself stepping closer to him, staring intently into his green eyes. Watched in fascination as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, swallowing the fluid was in his mouth. “So…” I whispered. “Yeah?” I had no idea why we were whispering. I became intensely aware of how close we were and the heat radiating off his body. I stepped away and walked off the porch. “Where you going?” he squeaked. “To find my hammer,” I shouted over my shoulder. “I have a roof to finish. You should probably stay on the ground if you’re sticking around,” I added. He didn’t, and he did. But once I’d figured out that he’d set a ladder going through the hole in my roof and didn’t seem to have any problems going up and down it, I stopped worrying. The only problems we had were when he had to climb up an outside ladder to help me get the rest of the wood-decking onto the roof and when he had to get really close to the edge of the roof. The sun was beginning to set when I finally picked my shirt up off the roof and took a look at all the work we had gotten done. Despite his sense of heightened awareness, we still managed to get the rest of the roof torn off in good time, new decking laid down, the flashing, the underlay and I’d even gotten shingles laid down on part of the roof, though Patrick hadn’t been of much help there. The closer he got to the eave of the roof, the more useless he became. “Let’s call it a night and go cook dinner,” I hollered at Patrick. He nodded and stood up, ready to make his way back down the ladder he’d put through the hole Ken had made before he realized I’d taken the ladder out and sealed up said hole. “Uh, Micah…” It was a problem I’d seen coming from the moment I’d done it and I couldn’t help but laugh at him. I crawled down the roof and onto the ladder. “I’ll see you when you manage to make it down,” I said, smirking. “I’m gonna go smoke and take a shower,” I added, debating something in my head. I decided to go for it and took a page from Ben’s book. “You should hurry up and get down so you can join me…” I felt myself blush. Whatever Patrick was about to say never got said. “Help save water, and all that.” I decided to scurry down the ladder than, too embarrassed to stick around and see if he actually made it down the ladder. I figured I’d know for sure if he actually followed my advice and joined me in the shower…naked. He was still up there, beginning to holler at the top of his lungs, when I went inside. I think I was disappointed when he didn’t join me in the shower. I know for a fact that I was disappointed to realize that he had made it down from the roof, though. He’d also decided to take a shower in the basement bathroom, too. At least, that’s what I was figuring when I saw him come traipsing up the stairs, shirtless and toweling of his head. “That was mean,” he remarked. I smirked. “You still got down from the roof, though,” I pointed out. “Yeah,” he mumbled, not looking at me now. I decided to raid the cupboards. “Hear anything from…” “Not yet,” I muttered. “I’ll go call them and see what I can find out, then,” he replied immediately. I nodded, found something to cook with the steaks someone had pulled out to thaw. “They’re on their way back,” Patrick announced when he came back to the kitchen. “Need help with anything?” He asked. I turned and looked at him. “Can you cook?” I asked. He smiled at me. “I don’t burn things…or undercook things…like Elizabeth does, if that’s what you’re asking,” he informed me. “Okay..uh…can you cut the steaks up into strips and toss them into a frying pan?” “You got it, boss,” he replied. I nodded. The kitchen fell quiet as we worked. It wasn’t a strained quiet, though. It was natural, and comfortable. We didn’t even get in each other’s way as we worked. It was like we belonged. It was disconcerting, because after I’d moved in and took over the cooking duties, I had promptly told everyone to stay the hell out of my kitchen. I had no desire to kick Patrick out, and as he worked I found myself once more watching him. Wanting to know why he hadn’t crawled into the shower with me. Had he thought I was joking? Perhaps I had been, at first. But thinking about it made me realize just how serious I had been. “What?” he asked. He’d caught me staring. “Nothing,” I mumbled, shaking my head. “You okay, Micah? You’ve been acting a bit funny all day. Are you still thinking about the nightmare you were having?” he asked. I shook my head. “No…that’s not it,” I replied. I felt a sudden dread at the thought of having to go to sleep tonight. “So what is it? You can tell me, you know that right?” I cocked my head at him. The thought entered my mind that he still hadn’t told me why he had lied to the judge. It was something I hadn’t thought much about over the past couple of weeks, ever since I’d started speaking to him again. It made me realize that as long as I was ignoring the things he had done, and the reasons he had for doing them in the first place, whatever they were, then I wasn’t angry with him. In fact, I found I enjoyed being around him. Because today when it was just me and him; everything had felt justright. Patrick was still looking at me, curious. “You’re staying the night again, right?” I finally asked. “Yeah, I mean sure, if you want me to,” he answered, gave me another look I couldn’t quite read. It felt like dragons were flying around and mating in my stomach. “When this is done drain the meat and stir the strips in,” I ordered. “I’m gonna go smoke again.” Patrick nodded as I made my escape from the kitchen. Elizabeth pulled up in her mini-van as I lit up my cigarette. I watched Joel and Reese crowd Ken as he hobbled around the side of the van, holding onto his back. They were almost to the porch when Patrick came outside, pulled my cigarette from my mouth and tossed it. I rolled my eyes at him. “How is he?” he asked Elizabeth, ignoring me. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Crying like a baby that his back hurts,” she replied with a grin that I could see was meant with love and compassion. “What’d the doctors say?” I asked. Despite myself, I was curious. “He’ll be fine. Just needs a couple days of rest, no heavy lifting,” Elizabeth told me. “That means no roofing for now,” she added in case I didn’t get it. I shrugged at that. “Roof’s almost done, anyways. I’ll have it finished tomorrow,” I informed her. Patrick nodded in agreement. Elizabeth shot me a baleful look. “You’re not supposed to be up there by yourself,” she said. “I wasn’t by myself,” I replied defensively, “Patrick was with me.” Not that he would have been much use if something bad had happened. I didn’t tell her that, though. “And Uncle Bryce said he’ll be back tomorrow just now when he called,” Patrick added. “He wants to help finish the roof.” Uncle Bryce must have called when I hadn't been around, because I couldn't recall him calling. Elizabeth sighed, looked like she was about to object. “Dinner’s ready,” I shot in there, deciding it wouldn’t be a bad idea to butter her up with food. The look on her face said she knew what I was doing. I pouted at her. She rolled her eyes but gave in. “Fiiiinne.” I pumped my fist in the air, feeling triumphant. “C’mon, let’s go eat!” I shouted. I ignored Ken’s grumpy “Glad someone’s cheerful.” But that’s probably because I wanted to say, “I told you to move.” It wasn’t worth making him crankier than he already was. I’m just glad the doctors gave him a prescription for pain-killers that knocked him out right after dinner. Despite the fact that he was out cold everyone else still sat around the living room and watched TV, and slowly but surely everyone began to wonder off to bed. Except me and Patrick. The clock was hitting two a.m. and I was struggling to stay awake. “We should go to bed if we’re going to finish the roof tomorrow,” Patrick said as a huge yawn escaped me. “You should have gone to bed hours ago if you got chores to do in a couple hours,” I retorted softly, trying my best to not sound cranky. Patrick gave me a sympathetic look that told me he knew why I was trying to stay awake. It was a look that I didn’t mind coming from him. “I don’t have chores tomorrow,” he informed me. “It’s my aunts’ and uncles’ turn. My grandpa agreed with me when I told him that, since they lived there too, they should help out more. Especially since technically I just moved in.” I didn’t know what to say to that, but I couldn’t argue with it. Patrick got off the couch, turned off the lights and armed the alarm. I hadn’t known he’d had his own code, but considering how much he was over there, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. He came back to the couch and pulled on my arm, helping me get up. “C’mon, let’s go conquer your dreams,” he whispered. It was corny. It made me smile as he shut off the TV and dragged me off to my bedroom. I kicked him off the bed when he tried crawling in next to me, tossed him a pillow and a spare blanket I’d snatched off the couch on the way up. He looked confused. “You’re sleeping on the floor, mister,” I informed him. He squinted at me. “What’d I do?” “You wasted my cigarettes,” I replied. He sighed but lay down on the floor anyway. I shut off the side lamp next to my bed; laid there in the dark. According to the clock five minutes hadn’t even passed. “Patrick?” I whispered. “Hrm?” he grunted, tossed on the floor. “Get up here.” Once more I hid my face in my pillow, felt his body sliding in next to mine. The warmth was comforting. I succeeded in resisting the urge to burrow into him for more warmth. “G’night,” I whispered. “Night Micah,” he whispered back. I fell asleep. This time the dreams didn’t come. “There’s a storm front moving in that should hit about five tonight…” Six a.m. Thursday morning and I was awake and depressed. I shut off the weather report I’d been looking at. The dreams had come back and Patrick hadn’t been there to wake me up. I’d made him go back home on Sunday night after the roof had been finished and Uncle Bryce had told him there was an overnight bag packed for Patrick in his car. Patrick hadn’t wanted to go home, but I’d insisted. I didn’t feel like I needed a baby-sitter there. He still came by on Monday night and ate dinner with us. He’d helped with the house too, and on Tuesday night when I was teaching Reese how to play the guitar, like I’d promised I would, he’d been in a corner of the basement dancing while playing music through his headphones, lip-syncing to whatever he was listening to. Yeah, I hadn’t asked what that was about either. The dreams had been worse this morning. More vivid; and full of details I’d just as soon forget. But I wouldn’t. My nightmares had once been reality—when I had turned eleven, five years ago to the day. It was my birthday. I was sixteen. It was raining outside, making everything gloomy and overcast. The weather matched my mood perfectly. I wanted the day to go away. A soft knocking at my door told me that wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t respond. I didn’t have to. The door swung open, revealing Ken’s features in the light of the hallway. “Micah?” he whispered. I looked up from where I was sitting on my bed, fully dressed with homework splayed around me. Homework that wasn’t getting done because I was sitting in the dark. “Hi,” I whispered. “Oh, you’re awake.” He looked worried. They all were. I knew that, because I'd been catching some of the looks they’d been giving each other behind my back all week. It’d been rather nice of them to not pry. More importantly, though, they were letting me be crabby and depressing. “Still not sleeping?” Ken asked. “I got a few hours,” I informed him. “Do you…” “I’m fine,” I insisted, afraid that he was going to ask if I wanted to talk about it. Because I didn’t. He just nodded. “C’mon,” he finally said, “we got somewhere to be. Bring what you need for school; I’ll drop you off this morning.” I nodded, threw everything in my backpack, followed him down the stairs and out the back door. I wanted a cigarette. I didn’t smoke anymore. The silence was killing me. “You’re not taking me to another AA meeting, are you?” I asked. Ken smiled, shook his head. “Not unless you feel you want to go. Though in your case you’d probably be better off at an ala-teen meeting,” he replied. I cocked my head, followed him to the Ferrari. He tossed me his keys and went to the passenger door. “What’s an ala-teen meeting?” I asked. “It’s a meeting for teenagers and kids like you who have alcoholic parents or parent,” he replied. I shook my head, gave him a faint smile. “Oh yeah. I think they had something like that at juvie. I never got to go. I don’t think I want to go,” I told him. He just nodded, slowly got in the car. His back was still hurting some, but he insisted he’d be okay. “So…you’re not taking me to a surprise therapy session, are you?” I asked once I got in the car. He shook his head. “Nope.” “Doctor’s office? I don’t do hospitals very well.” He looked slightly surprised. Pleased, too. Like I had just answered a question he had had but didn’t want to ask. He smiled. “No, Micah, and it’s a surprise. Nothing bad, I promise. You’ve been studying, right?” he asked. I nodded, knowing immediately what he was talking about. He’d given me a pamphlet from the DMV for my driver’s license test. “Okay, so…start the car and drive. I’ll quiz you while on the way to our destination.” I nodded, started the car and shifted smoothly into reverse. Ken and even Elizabeth had been taking me out driving a lot, lately. They said it was because I needed a lot of practice hours in order to get my license, and they didn’t mind wasting the gas. I didn’t mind either. Their cars were a lot easier to drive, not to mention in better shape, than Patrick’s car. I wasn’t going to tell them that the new dent in the side of Patrick’s beat up junker was from where I’d put it in the ditch on the side of a dirt road. I was just glad Uncle Bryce had been able to come around to help pull it out. He made Patrick promise to not let me drive again, though, considering Patrick wasn’t old enough for me to drive on a learner’s permit with him. Otherwise he was going to leave it there. I’d had to promise to not let Patrick talk me into doing anything stupid that would get us in trouble. We’d all agreed. I think the whole incident had scared some sense into us. That had been Monday after school, when I was too restless to do anything and Patrick had suggested we go do something. Ken started quizzing me, every now and then giving me directions to wherever it was we were going, not seeming to mind the morning traffic as several people headed off to work. Most of them were Navy. Apparently there was a submarine base in the area, though I’d yet to see it. Ken worked from there on occasion, when his clients were in the military. We finally got to our destination. I think I’d been expecting breakfast at Burger King, or something. Not the DMV. I wasn’t smiling now. I hadn’t been aware of the fact that people knew when, exactly, my birthday was. I just thought Ken and Elizabeth would take me to the DMV when I wanted to go, or told them we should go, because, you know, my birthday had gone past. I hadn’t even told Joel, and yeah, I know people would probably expect him to know when my birthday was, but I’d stopped reminding him a long time ago. As far as I was concerned, my birthday was bad. I didn’t want any reminders of it. Especially where Joel was concerned. “Happy birthday,” Ken said, cheerfully. I looked at him, tried to smile but I know it came out as a frown. “Micah?” he wasn’t smiling anymore either. He looked concerned. Really concerned. “Uh…” I stuttered, “Thanks.” I gave him a smile. It turned into a grimace. “So…” Uncomfortable. “We should get in there, so I’m not late to class.” This time I did manage to succeed in forcing a smile. Ken nodded and got out of the car. I was standing at the door to the building by the time he got out. He gave me what I think was supposed to be a reassuring smile. “You’ll be fine, you know that, right? We’ve practiced and practiced and practiced, you know all the answers. So don’t worry about this, okay?” I think he thought I was stressing out over the driver’s test and questionnaire and crap. I decided not to let him think otherwise. “Yeah,” I replied, “you’re right. Everything’s gonna be fine.” It wasn’t, though. I’d passed the written examination with flying colors. The driving test was easy, too. Just drive around a few blocks, do everything right. At least, it was supposed to be easy. I frowned. “You’re signaling too soon,” the guy next to me said, marking something down on his clipboard. I was nervous. “Now pull over here,” he later said, “and act like you’re making an emergency stop.” I did as he said. Hit the turn blinker to signal that I was pulling over, came to a stop next to the curb, put the car in neutral and pulled up on the brake. “That’s everything?” he asked. I racked my head, trying to think. “Yes sir,” I finally answered. Ken had told me to be polite and respectful. “You forgot to turn on the hazard lights,” the guy replied. He made another notation on his clipboard. “Let’s go back to the DMV.” I gritted my teeth. My stomach hurt. It was a good thing Ken and I hadn’t stopped to get anything to eat. But I did as the guy said, took us back to the DMV and followed him slowly into the building, cursing myself out because I’d signaled too soon and forgotten the stupid hazard lights. It was an utter failure. “Congratulations, you passed. You can stand in that line and get your photo taken for your license,” the man said, handed me a piece of paper. I was startled. I took the paper, couldn’t stop myself from grinning. Ken was approaching. I flashed him two-thumbs up. He grinned back, looked proud. My stomach hurt a little bit more. We still managed to make it through the line where I was told not to smile. That wasn’t very hard to accomplish. It felt natural. I was still fingering my new license when Ken dropped me off at school, a Sonic’s bag full of food in my hand. “Hey, I need to go grocery shopping later,” I told Ken. He looked distracted, the way he checked his watch. I think he needed to get to Seattle to meet with a client. “Okay… and Micah, congratulations,” he replied, handed me his debit card and drove off. I could only stare after him. Today was my birthday, and Ken had known. I had my driver’s license. I shook my head, nibbled on the breakfast burrito in my hand. I wasn’t hungry anymore so I threw it out and fished around in my backpack until I came up with a pack of cigarettes. I went across the street and sat down on the curb. Let the rain soak my clothes. I barely avoided the mud, yawned and lit up my cigarette. I’m not sure where he came from, but it was Patrick that sat down next to me. “Morning,” he greeted. “I’m not putting it out, so please don’t bother me about my smoking today,” I said. He looked taken a-back. “Okay,” he finally said. Took a breath. “Let’s try this again…Good morning.” I rolled my eyes at him. “Morning,” I returned. He grinned at me, eyed my cigarette. I shook my head at him. “I’m still not putting it out,” I informed him. He grinned at me but gave up. “Yes you are, young man,” someone else said. I turned and looked at the man standing there, a ring of white hair surrounding a bald pate on his head was the most noticeable thing. His mustache was next. He looked kind of like a weasel. I was pretty sure I’d seen him around school before, I just couldn’t place him. I frowned at him. “No, I’m not.” I replied. Patrick mumbled an ‘oh shit’ next to me. “Yes young man-” I stood up in the street. “Listen dickhead,” I cut him off. “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are. I don’t care, either. I’m not on school property, so do me a favor and fuck off.” Patrick gasped. “That’s the principal,” he informed me. Oh… Well, in that case… “Still don’t care. School hasn’t started yet, I’m on public property, and he’s picking the wrong day to fuck with me.” I glared at the man as I said this. “Okay okay,” Patrick mumbled, “let’s just…c’mon…” Patrick stood up, grabbed hold of my wrist and tugged at me until I turned away from the principal who just stared at me like he didn’t know what to make of me. I followed Patrick, unsure of where he was taking me. “Micah…” “I know! I‘m sorry…I’m just…not sleeping well,” I informed Patrick. He exhaled, nodded his head. “It’s okay. C’mon. You’re going to have to put your cigarettes in my car,” he said. I frowned. “Twenty bucks says he has you searched when we walk into the school,” Patrick added. I didn’t argue with him as we got to a side street that Patrick had parked on. I just tossed my cigarettes and lighter into his glove-box without argument. “Invasion of privacy. He has no probable cause,” I replied immediately. I’d been reading some of Ken’s law books that were in his office lately. They helped me fall asleep, because that’s how boring they were. They just didn’t stop the dreams from coming. “School property,” Patrick retorted immediately. “Doesn’t matter,” I replied as we started walking toward the school again; grateful for the distraction Patrick was providing me with. “Sure it does, schools have a lower standard when it comes to search and seizures,” Patrick rebutted. “No they don’t,” I replied as we crossed the street and up the stone steps, into the school building. We were stopped immediately, just as Patrick had said we would be. “Those two right there,” a crabby voice barked. I looked up and spotted the principal. “I want them both searched,” he said to two school security guards. I squinted at the second one, and ended up smirking. He was the one that had ended up sitting on me last week when I’d tried sneaking out of the school. He waved at me in acknowledgment. “Let’s go, gentlemen,” the first one said. That one looked slightly annoyed. “I got this one,” the second one said, pointing his thumb at me. “No,” I said immediately. Patrick rolled his eyes. “What’re you doing?” he hissed. “I told you, they have no probable cause,” I answered. The first security guard rolled his eyes. “Great, another kid who thinks he’s a lawyer,” he muttered. “C’mon Micah,” the second one said. I was surprised he remembered my name, because I didn’t remember his. I just remembered that he had good wrestling moves. I think I’d even asked him to teach me a few of them. I shook my head at him. “Yes. We’ll debate the legalities of the situation in our office, or do I need to call-” I grunted. “Fine,” I snapped. “What’re we looking for, Mr. Warren?” the first guard asked. “Cigarettes. And watch out for that mouthy little punk. He steps one toe out of line you bring him to my office, so I can expel him,” the principal snapped. I decided right then that I really didn’t like this man. Someone muttered an ‘oh brother’, I think it was another security guard standing off to the side. I winked at the principal and watched his face turn red before I was being escorted down the hall to a side office that the campus security used. Patrick and I were told to sit down. I folded my arms across my chest and immediately began to prepare for an argument. “So what’d you do to piss off the warden?” the second security guard asked politely as he came in behind us and shut the door, drawing the blinds. “I told him to fuck off,” I replied, immediately suspicious. The second security guard smiled and shook his head. “And why’d you do that?” he asked. “He told me to put out my cigarette,” I replied. Patrick was talking to the first security guard. Patrick was also letting him go through his backpack. “Do you have any cigarettes on you now?” the second security guard asked. “Nope,” I replied as I took a look around the office. There were photos on the wall of all the security guards. I found my interrogator’s photo and looked at the placard on his photo. Mike Thompson. “Right then. Let’s save ourselves some trouble here, Mr. Raines,” he started. That was about when I found my mug shot on the wall. I stared at it and scowled. Mike Thompson saw what I was looking at and started laughing. “Boy, Mrs. Windleton sure was ticked at you when she brought that in to us,” he remarked. “Yeah, I know. I skipped her class and she didn’t like it,” I replied. “So is that why I ended up sitting on you?” Mike asked. “Well duh,” I remarked sarcastically. Mike sighed and stopped smiling. “Alright kid, let’s just get this over with. I can see you don’t want to be friendly so I’ll explain the rules very quickly. First, all we need to go through your belongings and search you is reasonable suspicion. Two, we don’t need a search warrant. Three, we can search any vehicles on our grounds, as long as we have reasonable suspicion. Four, if we have to we’ll call Elizabeth and you know she’ll give us permission. So why don’t you save us the trouble and just open your backpack, and empty out your pockets.” I was debating how big of a deal I wanted this to turn into, but in the end I decided it wasn’t worth it. It was my birthday, and it wasn’t going to go away any faster if I just sat here and argued over every little thing. “Micah, they won’t find anything, so just let them…” Patrick was saying. I stood up, unzipped my backpack and dumped everything on the floor. “Help yourself,” I remarked as I started emptying out my pockets. Mike sighed but didn’t say anything. He went through the stuff from my pockets first, including my wallet. My driver’s license was the last thing he picked up. He studied it carefully. “For someone’s birthday, you sure are in a bad mood, huh?” he asked. I ignored the question. “You got your license?” Patrick whispered. I nodded at him. “Congrats,” he whispered back, giving me a cheerful grin. I couldn’t help it. I gave him a small smile back. He held out his hand when Mike gave me my driver’s license and wallet. I must not have been moving fast enough because Patrick finally leaned over and grabbed hold of my license, tugged slightly until I finally let him have it. He studied my license carefully, as if needing to see it to believe it. “I failed my license exam three times before I finally passed,” he remarked. “What happened, did you drive on the wrong side of the road?” I asked, unable to help myself. He looked up and his cheeks turned red. “Uh…yeah,” he finally muttered. That got a laugh from me, and the security guards. “It’s not my fault you’re all backward here,” he muttered defensively. I felt myself relax in his embarrassment and gave him a smile that I meant this time. “We’re not backward,” I informed him, “You are.” He shook his head, opened his mouth to say something. “We’re done here. I just need to search your car and you can be on your way,” the first security guard said next. “No,” Patrick replied immediately, surprising me. “Excuse me son, didn’t you hear-” “I heard what the other security guard said. Now I’m telling you, no. My car isn’t on school property, so you will not search it.” The first guard looked surprised by this. “Aren’t you a junior?” he asked. Patrick shook his head. “Nope, I’m a sophomore, which you’d know if you had looked at this silly little badge you make us wear all the time,” he replied, pointing to the badge hanging on his neck that showed he was a student here. It was the same design as mine, a cougar in the background with orange and black coloring. It had our grade, our picture, our birth-dates, which I’d forgotten about, and our student ID numbers on it. “Right,” the guard replied immediately, as if he’d overlooked that small detail. “You’re what, seventeen?” the guard asked. Patrick nodded, “Just turned 17 a while ago.” “Alright, we’re done here,” Mike said. He handed me my backpack. He’d been nice enough to put everything back in it for me, too. “Where are you two going? I’ll give you a hall pass.” Patrick told him. Mike looked at me. “Same,” I replied. Swim class. “You’re seventeen?” I whispered at Patrick, wanting to know now why he was a sophomore. “Yup. Got held back when I was little. Like I said, you’re all backward here. Plus I was waiting for Reese. He ended up skipping a couple of grades, so now we’re finally in the same grade,” he replied. Oh. I didn’t even know what to say to that, just tried to not be annoyed with the fact that Patrick was older than me. “Hey kid,” Mike hollered before I could leave the office. I looked back over my shoulder. “You’re supposed to have a good day on your birthday,” he informed me, “so relax and have fun, will you?” I didn’t respond, just followed Patrick as he led the way out of the security office, my hall pass clutched in my hand. We stopped at his locker first and we were headed toward mine when he stopped me before we could get to the corner leading to mine. “Hey, wait here a moment, will you?” he asked. “Why?” “Just wait here,” he said, a slight smile tugging at his lips. I rolled my eyes. “Fine,” I sighed. He peaked around the corner and I watched as his back stiffened. “Hey, leave him alone,” he shouted, than disappeared. That’s when I heard it, someone being pushed into a locker. I was moving around the corner. Reese was on the ground, picking something up with Patrick next to him as a group of teenage boys disappeared around the corner. I stopped next to Patrick and Reese. “What’s going on?” I asked quietly, shaking my head. Balloons that looked like they had been popped were lying on the ground surrounding my locker, along with a torn up poster board. I looked at Reese; saw that his face was red. He looked like he was about to cry. “Uh… It’s nothing,” Reese muttered as he stood up. “Hey…Happy Birthday…Uhm, I have to get to class.” Then he was gone, disappearing into the bathroom at the end of the hall. I started to follow him, but Patrick stopped me. “Let me,” he murmured. I could only nod. I guess I wasn’t the only one having a bad day. I threw my stuff into my locker, picked up the now defunct balloons and cardboard poster that had been torn in two. Holding the two pieces together I could see “Happy Birthday, Micah” clearly displayed, with artful glitter and other decorations carefully drawn onto it. Someone had obviously put a lot of work into it. I put that in my locker and shut the door, leaned my head against it, resigned. The one day a year that I dreaded and usually tried to pretend didn’t exist wasn’t going to go away, at all. I sighed, wondering how much worse it was possibly going to get before I could things could go back to being normal. Well, as normal as they usually were around here, anyways. I went to swim class, alone. Patrick didn’t make it to that class, but he was there in my next class. I didn’t ask about Reese. Just planted my head on my desk and handed the homework in to my teacher when she asked for it. She left me alone the rest of the period, for which I was grateful. I was too busy catching up on sorely needed sleep. Patrick would give me the notes for the class when I asked for them. “Where is he?” someone asked. I peered over the balcony into the auditorium. I could see Ben, Stacie, Lissa, Tommie and Paul down there, along with Patrick and the rest of Reese’s band. No Reese. He hadn’t shown up yet. I hadn’t either. I was trying to figure out how to get out of school. The day had gotten worse, to the point that I didn’t even want to be there. My lack of sleep was keeping me from concentrating in my classes and I had snapped at some kid from student council to “shut the hell up and die” when he’d come by one of my classes, representing the school by wishing me a happy birthday. I’d gotten plenty of strange looks from the class at that. The teacher had even sent me out of class, Patrick giving me worried looks. Who the hell ever heard of a school doing that, anyway? Seriously, couldn’t people mind their own business? I sighed and leaned my head back on the chair I was sitting in at the very back row of the balcony, where I couldn’t be seen. I was determined to sleep through the rest of the day if I couldn’t skip it. “It’s your fault! So stop it! Just stop it!” The crying wouldn’t stop. Grabbed him, shook him, shook him harder! “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Just shut up!” “Micah!” someone was shaking me. My eyes snapped open and I stood up, sweating. “Jeez, are you okay?” she asked. I focused on Elizabeth. “Yeah,” I croaked. My mouth was dry. She stood up and felt my forehead. I stepped away and closed my eyes, breathed deeply. “I’m fine,” I mumbled. She looked me over. I ignored her and looked down at the stage. Reese’s band was putting their instruments away. It looked like they had gotten some practice in, even if I hadn’t shown up. “Did Reese show up?” I asked. “No,” Elizabeth said. She too glanced down at the stage, a frown marring her face. I grabbed my backpack and positioned it over my shoulder. “I’m gonna be late to class,” I informed her. She looked like she was ready to follow me to make sure I got there. It was her class I had next, I remembered. My head hurt. I tried to smile at her, succeeded somewhat. “I’ll be there, Elizabeth. You don’t have to follow me,” I told her. Couldn’t keep the crabbiness out of my voice. She looked at me thoughtfully. “Okay,” she finally said. “I’ll see you in there,” I said, “Just need to use the restroom really quick.” She nodded once more. I let out a breath of relief and walked away as the final bell rang, letting me know I was already late to her class. I wasn’t the only one either. Patrick was standing in the hallway outside one of the bathrooms on that floor talking to some chick, and since I was busy avoiding him and people in general, I hid around the corner. “Are you sure, Renee?” I heard him asking. “I mean, what if--” Whatever he was saying, she cut him off. I decided I didn’t like her. “Listen, damn it. I’m sure. Whether you like it or not, you are going to help me with this. Face it, Patrick, you’re going…” I sighed and moved further down the hallway toward the bathroom on the other side of the building, tuning out their conversation. It would just be too rude to intrude on their conversation, and today I was getting a personal lesson in wanting my privacy respected. I ended up stopping at my locker as I was going past it to tear down the new array of balloons and the poster board decorating it before I made it to the bathroom. That didn’t stop me from still going to the bathroom, though, where I once more heard someone crying. My privacy issues had me ignoring it. My curiosity had me climbing onto the top of the toilet next to this person’s stall and peering into it. I felt kind of creepy and almost apologized to Reese when I saw him sitting on top of his toilet, wiping at his eyes. His hair was drenched, and I could tell part of his shirt had been torn. My head started pounding even more. I didn’t feel like dealing with whatever he was going through. Decided it was puberty. I quietly left the bathroom altogether and headed toward my locker. I was going to leave, everyone else be damned. “Micah, you okay?” Patrick asked. I sighed. “No,” I snapped, reigned in my temper and let out another sigh. “I have a headache,” I whispered. It was the only way to keep myself from screaming. “I’m sorry,” Patrick mumbled. I looked at him, he wasn’t looking at me. I reached into my locker, grabbed the birthday posters that had been put on my locker through the day and stuffed them into my backpack. “Hey, Elizabeth’s taking Reese and Ben and the girls’ home right after school; she’ll be stopping to get Joel on her way. You want to get out of here after school?” he asked. I fingered Ken’s debit card where I had placed it in my locker and breathed. It wasn’t Patrick’s fault I was having a shitty day. “Okay…” I mumbled, looked at Patrick. “I have to go shopping after school,” I informed him. “Shopping?” he asked, looking intrigued. I nodded, “Yeah, for food. Otherwise we’re all going to end up starving to death,” I informed him. He shuddered. I couldn’t blame him. I think he ate more than the rest of us did when he was over. “Okay, I’ll take you,” he replied. I nodded. Let out another sigh. “Hey, we’re late to Elizabeth’s class,” I said. He nodded. “I’ll walk with you,” he said. I shook my head at him. “I can make it but…” I frowned. “But what?” he asked. “Reese is in the bathroom crying. Could you go…?” Patrick looked grim when he gave me a nod. “I’ll take care of him. I’ll see you in class. If Elizabeth…” “I’ll take care of Elizabeth,” I mumbled. We parted ways at my locker. I went to class; Patrick went to take care of Reese. I was fifteen minutes late to class; Elizabeth didn’t say anything to me about being late when I finally sat down. Just looked at the seat Reese was supposed to be sitting in when she stopped practice five minutes later. “He should be coming shortly. Something he ate at lunch wasn’t sitting well with him; Patrick either,” I informed her, just as Patrick and Reese finally got onto the stage. “Sorry Mom,” Reese mumbled; his eyes looked slightly puffy, but he tried putting a smile on his face. He was wearing Patrick’s hoodie over his torn shirt. “It’s okay. I keep saying this school has terrible lunches,” Elizabeth replied. “Come to think of it, there was this one time when I had the fish sandwich…” Thank god for Ben. “No!” He stood up, shouting over Elizabeth. She fell quiet, startled. “No, seriously, I don’t want to hear about the runs, throwing up, snot, vomit, boogers, nothing. No way no how wham bam thank you ma’am,” Ben snapped his fingers. I wasn’t sure how he managed it, looking as green as he did. “Besides, I keep telling you guys to stick with the meat sandwiches—” “Not everyone likes meat as much as you do,” someone muttered. It was an innocent comment made by some girl that swore to anyone who would listen that slaughtering animals for food was a crime. It was still terrible. The worst thing anyone could possibly say in that situation. Reese burst into laughter, followed by several others in the class. Even I managed a small smile. Elizabeth rapped her baton on the music stand, calling for our attention. Despite the sudden disruption of her class she too was smiling. “Okay okay,” she said once we all settled down, “let’s take it from the top.” The class didn’t fly by fast enough, but when the final bell rang I was a bit calmer; still ready to get out of there. “I’ll see you at your car,” I told Patrick as I put my guitar away. Only he had everything he needed, I guess, because he walked out with me. He looked like he was thinking about something. I stayed quiet. The silence was a blessing, as far as I was concerned. We came to a stop when we got to where his car was supposed to be, because it was gone. “Who the bloody hell would steal my car?” Patrick asked. I could understand the confusion. His car wasn’t that great. I’d have probably given him twenty bucks for it, if I’d been desperate. “Missing something, boys?” A smug voice asked from behind us. We both turned and saw Mr. Warren standing there, his smug voice matched equally by the look on his face. Mike Thompson and a different security guard from this morning were standing next to him. “What the bloody hell did you do with my car?” Patrick asked, quietly. “Oh…that junker? I’m sorry, I thought it was a nuisance and safety issue so I had it towed, seeing as how it was sitting here like an eye…” I was seeing red. I was shaking. This was the last thing I had expected today. “This piece of shit ass-hole had your car towed,” I muttered as I dropped my backpack. Mr. Warren shut up and stared at me. “You know…I’ve been having a really shitty day,” I informed Mr. Warren as I unzipped my hoodie and let it drop on top of my backpack. “All I really wanted was to be left alone, but no. You had to bother me, which is cool. I probably deserved it, after telling you to fuck off this morning. But then, you probably should have minded your own damn business, seeing as I wasn’t on school property. You had two ass-wipes go through my shit, that’s cool too. I’m not even bothered by that anymore. But do you know what really pisses me off, you scrawny little weasel?” I asked. Mr. Warren wasn’t looking amused as I rolled up my long-sleeve shirt. “No, you little punk, I don’t, so why don’t you tell me.” “I’ve been looking forward to getting out of that hellhole that usually isn’t so bad all goddamn day, and now I’m stuck here…” I looked at Patrick. He was staring at me, looking extremely startled. “We’re not on school property, are we?” I asked him. He shook his head, opened his mouth to say something. “Good, because I’m going to kick this fucker’s ass,” I muttered just before I charged Mr. Warren. I had the pleasure to see his eyes widen in surprise at my outrageous declaration. I think I was a little surprised too, considering I didn’t usually run around hitting adults; but I had had it with the entire day. As far as I was concerned, the ass deserved it, all because he’d been stupid enough to go picking a fight with me; today of all days. Mike was getting in front of Mr. Warren as Mr. Warren backed up. I spun around him, continued my charge. My fist was about to connect when someone else slammed into me and knocked me off balance. It was the other security guard. I’d forgotten about him. I was about to kick him in the nuts when Patrick was on top of me, pushing me back. “No Micah!” he shouted. I pulled back, glared at him. “You all saw it, he tried to attack me! That’s grounds for expulsion right there,” Mr. Warren was shouting, waving his arms around as he jumped up and down excitedly. “I saw no such thing,” Mike Thompson suddenly said. Mr. Warren fell quiet, looking like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What?” he growled. He sounded like a rat. “I said I saw no such thing,” Mike repeated. “You better think about…” “I did however see you harassing these boys; subject them to unreasonable searches…” Mike interrupted, “and I’ll tell that to whoever comes asking, if you continue that statement. Hell, I might even have to turn you into the superintendent. What do you think Stan?” he asked. The other guard didn’t look too happy at being forced into a situation he obviously didn’t like. I held my breath. It was a solid three minutes, at least, before he nodded his head. “Yeah, I think I saw that too,” he finally replied. Mr. Warren growled, turned and stomped off. Mike was shaking his head. “Boy, you could have cost me my job,” he muttered. Patrick nudged me in the side. “Thanks,” he said, as he nudged me again. “Yeah, thanks,” I finally mumbled. I still wanted to hit someone. Mike was still shaking his head. “Don’t thank me. Thank Elizabeth for being the good friend that she is. Her husband too. You might even want to thank Mr. Warren for being the asshole that he is. Swear that man has pissed off more people than…” Mike shut up. “Nevermind, just you let us worry about him. Your car was towed by The Silverdale Towing company. It’s just a few blocks from here. I’ll give you a ride if you want,” Mike offered. Patrick was shaking his head. “Thanks, but…I think Micah needs to take a walk,” he said. Mike nodded. “Sorry ‘bout your birthday, son.” I almost told Mike I wasn’t his son, but…I just shook my head. “Yeah, me too,” I finally muttered. Patrick handed me my hoodie and my backpack. I trailed behind him as he started walking south, until finally he slowed down enough for me to catch up. “I think you just made life ten times harder than it needed to be,” he remarked suddenly. I frowned. “I mean…charging the principal like that. What the bloody hell were you thinking? Oh hell, don’t answer that, I know you weren’t.” I sighed. “Sorry,” I mumbled. Patrick shook his head. “Was bound to happen sooner or later, I think,” he replied. I didn’t ask what he meant by that, just continued to walk with him, looking at the ground. Patrick sighed. “The guy’s an ass, Micah. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I mean it, too. Elizabeth warned Reese about him once in front of me. The guy is a total control freak; he hates anything that isn’t perceived as being normal; hates anything he perceives as being to sissy-ish. He loves anything and everything having to do with the football team; and considering…” Patrick stopped talking. I looked up and cocked my head at him. “Considering what?” I asked, prompting him to continue his statement. He just shook his head. “I think you’re having a shitty day as it is. It’ll get better, though” he said. I smiled at him, because he sounded so confident with that last statement. “You really think so?” I asked. “Yup,” he replied, just as confident. “Besides, I just don’t see how it could possibly get any worse.” A hundred and seventy five dollars was making things worse. I stared at the attendant on duty at the tow-shop in disbelief. “A hundred and what!” Patrick squeaked, looking outraged. “Yup. That’s towing fees, plus impound and processing fees. Anyone not authorized to be parked in the school lot has…” “But I wasn’t parked in the bloody school lot,” Patrick interrupted. “Sorry kid. its a hundred and seventy-five bucks if you want your car back,” the attendant replied, “if you don’t got it then go away.” Patrick groaned. I handed over Ken’s debit card. “Here.” “What? No Micah, you can’t…” “It’s my fault, so don’t argue with me,” I interrupted. “Besides, once we have your car back everything will be better, right?” I asked. Patrick smiled faintly, but nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Sorry kid, cash only. ATM is over there,” the man said, pointing to a machine at the corner of the building. He handed Ken's debit card back to me. I sighed, but pulled the cash out anyway. “So, we have your car back,” I said as the man handed me a receipt and gave Patrick his paperwork. “Let’s go grocery shopping." “Too healthy for you,” Patrick muttered as I tossed a bag of apples into the cart. I was quickly learning that going grocery shopping with Patrick meant buying junk food, and lots of it. As far as he was concerned we all should have been able to live off frozen pizza, burritos, crème pies, and potato chips. “You’ll eat it anyway,” I remarked playfully as I eyed the cart carefully and pulled out a bag of pork-rinds. “Blech,” I muttered as Patrick groaned. He’d been busted again and he knew it. I put the bag on the watermelon stand with a shudder and walked next to him as he pushed the cart down the produce section. “Don’t you buy anything fun?” he asked. I looked at all the soda he’d loaded into the cart. There was enough to fill the whole bottom space. Ken wasn’t going to be happy about the grocery bill. “Yup, all the soda you wanted,” I replied. “That doesn’t count, you need it to survive,” he informed me. I shook my head and laughed at him. Grocery shopping with Patrick was fun. Who would have known. “Joel and I didn’t get much soda growing up,” I told him. He looked at me, clearly interested. I could understand why. I rarely talked about Life before the Windleton’s with him, or anyone else, for that matter. I smiled at him, despite that fact. “It was usually water or juice, when we could afford it.” I looked away, eyed the cantaloupe stand. “You know I worked in construction during summers, after school, and on weekends?” I asked. Patrick nodded. “I only got in on that job ‘cause I tried stealing a car when I was around fourteen. Anyway, River caught me and said I had too much time on my hands if I was going to be running around with a bunch of wanna be gangsters,” I laughed suddenly at that, remembering. “I think he was alive during the prohibition era,” I added. “Anyway, my dad had started working for him so he knew who I was, and Joel was with me at the time. He told me I needed to learn the value of hard work, so he put me and Joel to work. He’d always find small things for Joel to handle. I got to spend the first couple of months hauling wheelbarrows around after I filled them up with whatever waste needed to be tossed out.” I looked at Patrick, his green eyes starting to glimmer with amusement. “There was a lot of cement. Anyway, it helped bring in money, because River paid me and Joel for the work we did, although it wasn’t much. It still helped, though, and when work slowed down during the winter, he made sure Dad had work to do so we wouldn’t starve. Sometimes he’d keep Dad busy just so he could get Joel and I and take us out to dinner. He’d give me extra money than, too, if he had any to spare.” I swallowed at the memory. River had probably been the only thing that had been keeping Joel and me alive for so long, I realized. “He always tried to make sure Dad never knew about it. He even started making some of Dad’s paychecks out to me, just so he wouldn’t be able to spend it all down at the bar.” I wiped at my eyes, “Damn dust,” I muttered. Patrick just grinned at me and, to my surprise, pulled me into a hug. He didn’t say anything about the fact that I was crying a little bit, though. I appreciated that. Still, hugging him in the middle of the supermarket wasn’t my ideal spot for a public display of affection. “C’mon,” I slugged him slightly in the shoulder, “you’re getting all mushy on me,” I muttered. He laughed at me for that. “Let’s go pay for this crap.” “Can we get Doritos?” he asked. I rolled my eyes at him, “Fine…” He let out a loud cheer in the middle of the store that embarrassed the hell out of me; I still ended up laughing at him as I followed him back toward the chips aisle, and after arguing about what kind of Doritos to get for five minutes I grabbed both bags out of his hands and plopped them in the cart. I had paid for everything and was putting the groceries in Patrick’s car when his phone went off. I took a moment to check my cell phone and noted that it was almost five. I shook my head in disbelief and tapped my cell phone, unable to believe that I’d spent an hour and a half in the store with Patrick, but it was okay. Because my mood was definitely lighter. I pushed the grocery cart into the parking lot stable and waved at the lady who had followed us out of the store, probably to stop me from taking off with another grocery cart again. I didn’t mind though. I just grinned and waved at her. She shook her head and smiled at me before going back into the store. I was standing outside Patrick’s car, waiting for him to come back from the spot he had wondered off too to have his conversation, probably for privacy when he finally hung up his phone and looked at it, and then me. He looked really serious. I cocked my head at him. “What’s wrong?” I asked. He looked at his phone, and then back at me. “Micah…” I frowned. I didn’t like the tone of his voice. It sounded like someone had just died. He stopped talking and inhaled, exhaled. It still didn’t stop the frown that marred his features. I had to wonder if something had happened to Joel, or Reese. Because as far as I knew Elizabeth had picked them up and taken them home after school. “What is it? Did something happen to Joel or Reese?” I asked. “It’s your Dad…” I glanced around the parking lot, as if I was going to see him any moment. It took me a second to realize I was looking for the wrong person before I scanned the parking lot all over again, actually looking for my dad this time. I still didn’t see him. “…he’s at the Windleton’s…” Patrick muttered. Ridge: The uppermost horizontal edge of the roof that is formed by the intersection of two sloping roof planes. Flashing - Materials used to waterproof a roof along intersections of walls, chimneys or dormers with the roof deck. Flashing is usually pieces of metal or roll roofing used, around any intersection of roof planes or projection of pipes or walls through the roof, to prevent water leaks into a building. These projections may include vent pipes, chimneys, adjoining walls, dormers and valleys. Feel free to leave me feedback here please.
  9. Linxe Termoil

    Story Materials

    Just an album for story graphics that I may want to use.
  10. My eyes adored you Though I never laid a hand on you, My eyes adored you Like a million miles away from me you couldn't see How I adored you: So close, so close and yet so far away I let out a groan and folded my arms over my chest, feeling irritated. I had been in ‘rock choir’ for a week now, and I will freely admit that I had been tempted to skip, on more than one occasion, but Elizabeth had taken it into her head to set security on me. By that I mean she’d distributed the photo of my mug shot from when I had been arrested to every single security guard the school had; they had been given orders to drop me to the ground and sit on me if I tried to leave school before the day was over. Carried your books from school, Playing make-believe you're married to me: You were fifth grade, I was sixth When we came to be Walking home every day over Barnegat Bridge and Bay, Till we grew into the me and you Who went our separate ways That had occurred on Monday, because on Friday I’d figured out what ‘rock choir’ was all about and wanted nothing to do with it. On Tuesday, Elizabeth had figured out my schedule and where I hung out and started meeting me at the cafeteria or the auditorium, wherever I ate lunch at, and force-marched me to her classroom. She also met me at every single one of my other classes, along with Patrick, and force-marched us to our other classes as well. My eyes adored you Though I never laid a hand on you, My eyes adored you Like a million miles away from me you couldn't see How I adored you: So close, so close and yet so far I personally thought she just missed my sharp wits and sarcasm. Patrick called it my emo-ness, something Ben had started first. Ben had stopped though when I threatened to prove just how emo I was by using razor blades on his wrists. Headed for city lights, Climbed the ladder up to fortune and fame, I worked my fingers to the bone, Made myself a name. Funny, I seem to find that, no matter how the years unwind, Still I reminisce about the girl I miss And the love I left behind... I’d found humor in that too, because I didn’t own any razor blades. I’d shaved last month and wasn’t due for another shave for at least another week. My eyes adored you Though I never laid a hand on you, My eyes adored you Like a million miles away from me you couldn't see How I adored you: So close, so close and yet so far I was seriously considering buying some razor blades though, if the schmuck in front of me didn’t stop singing Frankie Valli and the Four Season’s ‘My eyes adored you’. No, they weren’t going to be used to shave with either. I was definitely contemplating cutting out Patrick’s tongue. “Dude, why aren’t you playing?” I heard someone ask. I looked over and saw Reese leaning my way. I rolled my eyes at him and placed my hand in front of my crotch, jerked my arm up and down. Someone snickered. I think it was Ben, who was sitting next to me. “Only if I get to watch,” the same someone whispered a second later. Yup, it was Ben. Reese called him the horniest kid he knew, and considering half the crap that came out of Ben’s mouth, I kind of had to agree. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only who had serious issues with wanting to get laid. It was also a refreshing change of pace for me. I knew where I stood with Ben, and what he was thinking about. All the time. Flesh, flesh and more flesh. Preferably nude. Reese rolled his eyes as the music ended abruptly. “Is there a problem boys?” Elizabeth asked. I directed my attention to her. Patrick turned around, looked at me and groaned. Ben and Reese snickered, stood up and made their way to the back of the stage. Patrick joined them, along with Stacey and Lissa, and they all put their heads together. I decided to try and ignore whatever it was they were plotting. I’d get Patrick to tell me later, anyway. Elizabeth didn’t even question what they were doing. She’d become used to my outbursts. In fact, everyone had, though I think I was starting to annoy some people. “Jesus fucking Christ,” I heard someone mutter. That someone turned out to be Derek, the jerk who had abandoned Reese and his ‘no-name’ band during rehearsals last week. I’d decided immediately that I didn’t like him, simply because he thought he was the greatest guitar player ever. “Uh-hum,” Elizabeth cleared her throat and gave me a look that said she was still waiting for an answer. I rolled my eyes at her, but finally decided that she just didn’t know any better, so it was my job to tell her. “Frankie Valli and the Four Season’s isn’t music,” I informed her, arms still crossed firmly over my chest; because I flat out refused to play this shit, “So can we please do something other than the ‘Jersey Boy’ Broadway?” I asked. Elizabeth sighed, clearly not wanting to spend all class-period arguing with me over her choice of the musical they were going to put on this semester, as we had yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And perhaps the day before that one, too. I was all for it, considering it was Friday and I had nothing better to do. “Micah…” she groaned. Yup, she was definitely frustrated with me. “Fine, what do you want us to play?” Huh. I frowned. She wasn’t supposed to give up this easily. “Uh…anything but this. I mean serious, why can’t we play Def Leppard, Styx, Journey, not so much, uhm…Meat Loaf, Queen, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses…just…not this garbage.” Okay, so I had a better term for the crap she was forcing us to play, but last time I’d cussed in her class she’d threatened to wash my mouth out with soap, and I kind of believed she’d actually do it, too. I had no desire to find out otherwise. “You mean…something like ‘Rock of Ages’ Broadway?” she asked. I nodded my head. I’d been listening to her soundtrack for that Broadway before going to bed lately. “Exactly, like that one.” “Because, as I’ve told you before, we’re doing that one next semester,” she…well, whined. “Why can’t we do it this semester and next semester, too?” I asked, narrowing my eyes on her. I felt like pushing the issue, because I was pretty sure she’d give in. “Mrs. Windleton?” someone interrupted. I groaned. Interruptions meant Elizabeth would have time to regroup, then she’d stick to her guns and I’d end up losing the argument, and I really didn’t want to lose this one. I’d already argued her out of doing Mamma Mia, Cats, Rent, and Phantom of the Opera. I was of the decided opinion that any one of those would have been preferable to Jersey Boy. I found myself glaring at Ben. He grinned at me, appearing to take solace in the fact that Reese, Patrick and, to my dismay, Stacey and Lissa were over there encouraging him. Although I did have to wonder why Patrick had just hung up his phone and slid it into his pocket. Phones weren’t allowed to be used while we were in school. “Yes, Ben?” Elizabeth asked, hesitating. She was probably afraid Ben was going to ask her if she had a younger sister again, which would be weird, considering Ben was very obvious in the fact that he’d rather go for her younger brother. If she’d had a younger brother. I realized that I didn’t know if she had any brothers or sisters. “We’ve decided, and by we, I mean me,” Patrick slapped Ben over the back of head. Ben cringed and decided not to push his luck, “that Micah doesn’t know how to have any fun. Therefore, we think you should let him out of the house tonight.” Elizabeth looked confused. I let out a groan. I should have known better. Ben had been pestering me all week to go out tonight. I’d kept telling him no, but he didn’t seem to know how to take no for an answer. He’d even come up with the opinion that I… “I mean, going out and having fun might actually help dislodge the stick he has shoved up his ass; then we’d be able to get on with this and have an actual practice…” Ben offered, giving an angelic smile when Elizabeth glowered at him for swearing. Half the class laughed. I glared at him even more, trying to decide the best way to kill him. I was pretty sure I didn’t have a stick up my ass. “Yeah, fine, whatever,” Elizabeth agreed, “now can we please get on with the rehearsal?” She glared at me when she said that, letting me know I was pushing it. I was opening my mouth to say something when a hand clamped over it. A swipe of my tongue let me know immediately that it was Patrick. He didn’t remove his hand. “Will you please shut up? She agreed to let you; and by you, I mean you and Reese; go out tonight. Please don’t mess this up…” he whispered into my ear. He didn’t let go either, just kept begging me until I finally nodded my head, agreeing to whatever scheme he, Reese, Ben, and the girls had planned out. I had to ask though, “Why’s this going to be fun?” Patrick let out a quiet snicker. “Because I’m pretty sure Ben isn’t planning on wearing any clothes before the night is over,” he informed me. I rolled my eyes but, intrigued, nodded my head once more. “Okay,” I muttered. An uncomfortable feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. I heard Reese utter a softly hissed ‘Yes!’ and rolled my eyes. I was pretty sure I could get Dr. Timmy to get me out of it. I’d be seeing him after school, since he was coming to pick me up. That had been arranged via an argument with Ken, when I’d skipped my first therapy session because ‘I don’t know where anything is and it would be a lot easier if I had a car or something’. Timmy had sided with me when Ken relayed all this information to him. Ken had then informed me that Timmy would start picking me up after school from now on, on the days I had scheduled sessions with him. Yeah, I think I’m giving in to what other people want too easily. Life definitely sucked. “You mean you haven’t actually gone out and had fun with anyone your age since you’ve been here?” Timmy asked again, still sounding surprised. I shook my head, “Nope. Pass me the red crayon, please,” I requested. That was another thing. He insisted that I say please and thank you during my therapy sessions. “Then I think it’d be a great idea for you to go out and have fun,” he said after a few seconds. I looked up from the coloring book I was currently coloring in. I’d stolen it from some kid out in the waiting room, hoping to be told to leave and not come back. Timmy had given the five year old a new coloring book and pointed me into his office, which is where we were. “You’re joking, right?” I asked him. “Green crayon, please.” “No. You’ve been here what…almost three weeks now? It’d be good to get out of the house; not feel so cooped up.” “I’m not cooped up,” I informed him, “besides, what if Joel…” “Joel will be fine. I’m telling you, you should go out and have fun…not be cooped up…” “For the last time, I’m not cooped up!” I growled, exasperated. I ignored the look he shot me, pointed to the orange crayon. He passed it to me. “I mean, I get out of the house all the time.” “Red crayon, please,” he asked for it. I gave it to him. “How do you get out of the house?” he asked. “I walk out the door like everyone else,” I informed him. He gave me a look that let me know I was being sarcastic and while he thought it was funny, he didn’t appreciate it. I gave him a look that said I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic. He should have been more specific, is all. “I mean, where do you hang out when you’re not at the house? What do you like to do for fun?” “Uhm...well… I go into the house in the backyard and I tear down walls and crap…and I go to school.” He looked at me, waiting patiently. I picked up the green crayon. “Anything else?” he finally asked. I shook my head. “Okay, what’d you used to do for fun?” he asked. “Before you came to live here, I mean,” he clarified. I frowned, thinking about that question. “Hrm…well, Joel and I would walk around in the woods a lot during the summer when I wasn’t working, play in the creek, catch toads and stuff, sometimes we’d even fish. We never caught anything though.” He nodded. “And before that, before your mom…” I looked up at the clock. It was 4:32. I shut the coloring book and stood up, smiling at Timmy. He let out a sigh and stood up too, adjusting his khaki uniform. He was in the Navy too; that’s how he knew Ken. I pointed to the psychology book I’d bought at the bookstore last week. “Next week it’s my turn to shrink you,” I informed him. Timmy nodded, looking as amused as he had the first time I’d come into the office and told him to lie down on the couch, all because I wanted to do the shrinking. He stopped me before I could leave the office though. “Micah?” I turned around. “Yes?” “Did you know that when a person has an infection under the surface of their skin, doctor’s end up having to lance it, otherwise it won’t ever get better?” Timmy said. I was confused, wondering what this had to do with anything. “Uh…Okay?” “What I’m saying is, sooner or later we’re going to have to pierce that wound that’s been festering for so long and discuss your father; and your mother,” he advised me, looking calm. It took me a second to understand what he was trying to tell me, but when I did, I shook my head at him in denial. “What do they have to do with anger management?” I asked him. He smiled at me, looking sad. “In your case, I suspect everything. You make sure you go out tonight and have fun. Let it all out.” I was still shaking my head when I walked out of the office and downstairs. I was not surprised to see Patrick, or even Ken, sitting on the couch and watching TV. Patrick stood up and started walking my way. The office we used was Ken’s office, located in the house. The waiting room was the living room. And the kid I’d stolen the coloring book from… Patrick stopped me before I could get past him. I looked at him. Green eyes sparkled at me, his amusement so obvious it almost took my breath away. “Micah…” “Hmm?” I hummed my question at him. “Give my cousin back his coloring book,” he ordered. I sighed; turned to the kid Patrick was babysitting, currently sandwiched between Joel and Reese and tossed the coloring book into his lap, on top of the other one. He looked up and smiled at me; his front teeth were missing. “Tattle-tale,” I growled. He stuck his tongue out at me. Patrick grabbed my attention. “How was your not kill anyone session?” he asked. I shrugged. “It was ok, I guess.” He nodded, pulled my psychology book out of my hands and started up the stairs. “Good luck with your not tell any more big fat lies session!” I hollered after him. “It’ll be fine,” he hollered over his shoulder, “it’s my turn to do the shrinking.” Copycat. I was heading toward the kitchen when he hollered, “And don’t feed Lestyn…” it came out sounding like Justin, “ …anymore sugar. His ma almost killed me last time because he wouldn’t fall asleep.” “Ok,” I hollered back. I waited to hear the upstairs door close and looked at Lestyn again. “Want some ice cream?” I asked. “I think we’ve got marshmallows and chocolate syrup still in there too…” Ken looked away from the TV and eyed me, amused. Reese snorted. Lestyn and Joel bounced off the couch and trailed after me into the dining room. I was still scooping out ice cream when Ken and Reese came in and sat down with us. We decided to ignore the fact that we were ruining our dinner when Elizabeth came in and started hollering. She stopped though when I gave her a bowl. I guess you could say it was my way of apologizing for being a pain in her class, even if it was her fault for picking crappy musicals. I had no idea where we were. We definitely weren’t in the woods, considering we’d driven to get here. But, as I said, I had no idea where ‘here’ was. Patrick put the car in park and shut it off. I opened the door and turned around as the back passenger door opened, not happy as Joel popped out of the car, looking like a chipmunk with his cheeks puffed out like he was hoarding nuts in his excitement at getting to go to another high school party. I turned and glared at Patrick. “Why’d you invite him, again?” I asked. Patrick smirked. “I told you not to feed my cousin any sugar…and I’m sleeping with you tonight,” he informed me. That last took me aback. Reese snickered. Joel smacked me on the arm. “Lighten up, spoilsport. We’re here because you don’t know how to have fun. Don’t worry though, it’s easy. I’ll teach you.” “I don’t need you to teach me how to have fun. I know how to have fun,” I growled. “Sure you do,” he retorted. I ignored him and glared at Patrick’s back. He was walking away from me. “And who said you could sleep with me?” I hollered. “You did when my aunt told me I better be thinking twice before going to sleep in my own bed tonight,” he replied, still walking toward a massive three-story stone building. The design looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it. We climbed up some steps and, after unlocking the doors, finally entered the building, proceeded to go up more steps and went through a set of thick wooden doors. At that point, I stopped in my tracks, not believing what I was seeing. “Dude,” I whispered. My voice carried, letting me know how awesome the acoustics were. I found myself getting excited for no good reason. Well, okay, I had a good reason. We were in an opera house. “You’re so weird,” someone muttered behind me as Patrick turned and looked at me. He looked pleased with himself. The thought entered my mind that maybe I’d let him sleep with me tonight after all. I stepped aside and Ben walked past me, followed by several people. Apparently, Patrick wasn’t kidding about there being a party. The fact that several of the guys and girls following Ben were carrying instruments only made me drool a little bit more, until I got a good look around the place. What I saw was a crime against music itself. The building was pretty old. That had been obvious from the moment I saw the place. But the disrepair and ruin it was in? I found myself shaking my head while examining the graffiti strewn along the walls. Old chairs with holes in them, were strewn about or, as my eyes discovered upon seeing entire blank spots along the floor, had been taken out. Litter was everywhere, and it smelled vaguely like urine and other things I’d rather not think about, too. “It needs some work,” Patrick murmured, “but I like it.” Murmuring didn’t help. His voice carried. “Uh…it’s…” “Needs work,” Patrick said again, giving me a smile. I could only nod, agreeing. “How’d you find this place?” I asked, lamely. Patrick laughed at that. “My family owns it. Uncle Bryce wants to fix it up and turn it into a bar,” he said. I shook my head. “Lucky bastards. So this is where you come to sacrifice all your virgins?” Patrick slugged me in the arm. I let out a startled laugh. It was the first time he’d ever hit me. “Virgin?” Ben hollered, turning around to look at us, “Whose a virgin? ‘Cause I can…” Someone slapped him over the head. “Down, boy,” they commanded. It was Tommie, one of the boys that liked to hang out in the auditorium during Reese’s band rehearsal. He’d even tried out for singing but decided to stick with dancing instead. “Damn,” Ben muttered as he turned around and continued to help set up the equipment that had been brought in. “I was hoping it was Micah…” I flushed, startled. You’d think I would have been used to Ben by now but the horny little bastard somehow managed to surprise me every time. “We can hear you, you know…” Patrick growled aggressively. I could only stare at him, wondering what was going on with him. He was just full of surprises, tonight. I laughed, deciding that they were just playing around. “So…what do you guys usually do?” I asked, uncomfortable. “Play music…get slightly drunk…” someone said. “Or a lot drunk…” someone else added. “Sometimes so drunk some of us end up naked,” Ben tossed his two cents in. “Usually Ben,” Reese threw out there. “Definitely Ben,” Lissa agreed. “I can’t help it. I hate wearing clothes,” Ben defended himself. “We know,” everyone but me chorused. I burst into laughter. “Come on,” Patrick murmured, gesturing for me to take the lead. I shook my head and let him lead the way instead, choosing to take a seat next to Joel when we got down to the front of the stage. “Having fun?” Joel asked me. “Yeah,” I signed back. Because I didn’t have to think about it to realize that I was having fun. That was probably because the alcohol hadn’t started flowing yet. The fact that alcohol was even there in the first place caused some trepidation to stir in the pit of my stomach. I could only wonder what the night would bring as everyone who had arrived so far continued to help set up. Rise above, gonna start the war! (Chorus) When I feel kinda bad and I don't want to stress What you want, what you need, and what'd you come here for? I've got shackles on, my words are tied I just pass it off on ability Well, an eye for an eye and an 'F' for fight Fear can make you compromise Well you got what you want, and what you never knew They're taking me down as the prisoners riot With the lights turned up, it's hard to hide Perfect gift from me to you Sometimes I want to disappear Some kid was grooving on the stage, shaking his hips as he all but made out with the microphone. Apparently, the name of the game was musical roulette, the song selected at random by pulling sheets of music from a pile. There were two categories: Duets and solos. The group that played with the singer was selected by the singer. For each mistake made the group took a shot. For each song successfully completed: The group took a shot. It was a stupid way of getting drunk if you asked me, but at least it looked like everyone was having fun. Well, most everyone I saw was having fun, except for ‘The Five Compadres,’ otherwise known as Ben, Reese, Patrick, Stacie and Lissa. They didn’t look like they were having any fun at all. In fact, they hadn’t even been up on stage yet. But you’d probably think they weren’t having any fun either, if you saw them sitting off by themselves, not talking to anyone. Joel was over there too, mimicking the dance moves some boys named Tommie and Paul were teaching him. At least it looked like he was having fun. “Why haven’t you guys gotten up there and played yet?” I asked as I approached Patrick. I sat down next to him because he was on the outside of the circle and I didn’t feel like climbing over any chairs. It wasn’t because he wasn’t wearing his shirt anymore. At least, that’s what I told myself, anyways. “We won’t actually play unless we can get a singer to go put his name in that hat and challenge them…who will pick us to play with him…or her,” Reese replied. Oh… “So why don’t you guys get a singer?” I asked. “Because most people,” Reese glared at Ben,” are too shy to actually get up there and sing…” Ben shrugged. “What, I’m a dancer; not a singer,” he retorted. “Who has no problem with running around naked through a crowd of people…” “I hate clothes…” Patrick just sat there, smiling as his friends continued to banter back and forth. I just rolled my eyes and found myself staring at the hat sitting on the stage. There’d only been a few groups up so far. I guess most of the kids here were more content with dancing and talking to their friends then actually getting up there to perform. But I was getting kind of bored. It didn’t help that most of the ‘five compadres’ actually looked like they wanted to play. At least, that was the impression I was getting from Stacey, Lissa, and Reese as they kept eyeing the stage. Reese had even brought his guitar. Well, his new one. Elizabeth had gone out and bought him a left-handed guitar last weekend. “Where are you going?” Patrick whispered as I got out of my chair. I just waved at him over my shoulder and moved up to the stage, quickly wrote down my name and threw it into the hat. I was back at Patrick’s side before I could think about what I’d just done. It looked like he was the only one who’d been paying attention to what I was doing. I just shrugged at the look he was giving me. Then I proceeded to freak out, because while I could sing, I didn’t think I was that good. It was just something my music teacher had gotten me to do at my last school because she thought I needed to be involved in school activities. She had even given me private lessons over the school years. The only plus side to it had been the fact that it killed time while I waited for Joel to get out of school so I could walk home with him. “Micah, you okay?” Patrick whispered. I nodded. I wanted to throw up. “And we have a challenger!” someone announced. The two compadres who were bickering stopped and turned their attention to the stage, along with the other three, not including myself. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s get ready to rrrrrruuummmmbbbbblllllle! For the very first time, weighing in at,” the would-be ring announcer stopped and looked at me, squinting… “Uhm… 150 pounds, give or take: appearing on this stage: I present to you, Mmmmiiicccccaaaahhh Rrrraaaiiinnnneeesss!” I don’t know where it came from, but someone rang a bell when I got up on the stage. I guess the fight was beginning. If only it were that easy. For kicks, I jumped up and down, rolling my head on my neck and punched at the air. “Get your group, dude, and get on with it,” the previous singer shouted. “You’re killing the party.” I rolled my eyes. “What’re you guys standing there for, let’s go,” I hollered at the five compadres. Stacey and Lissa got up on stage with me, along with Ben and Patrick. Reese wasn’t moving. I stared at him. “Did you want to play or not?” I asked, confused. “Oh, uh. Yeah,” he muttered, joining us on stage. But apparently, he was having some doubts. “Are you sure you want me up here? I mean, I can…” “Dude, you’ll be fine. Just chill,” I told him. “Duet or solo?” Ben asked, looking at the pile. I shrugged. “Pick one,” I told him. The only instrument that looked like it needed filling was the bass guitar. I looked at it and shuddered. “Uhm…anyone know any bass players?” I asked. “I can do it,” Reese said, looking more confident all of a sudden, as he took off his new guitar and handed it to me. “Here we go,” Ben said, handing out sheet music. Someone groaned. I was the last to get mine. Patrick was standing off to the side of the stage, looking like he was just there to offer encouragement. I stared at the sheet music I had been handed. “Oh…we’re so gonna fail at this. The pitch for lead alone is gonna be rough,” Reese muttered. “We’ll be fine. Let’s go Blondie, we’re doing a duet,” I said to Patrick. “What? Why me?” He asked. “‘Cause I know you can sing. You did on the beach and you have been in class. You’re not getting out of this, now c’mon…besides, payback’s a bitch, remember?” Patrick rolled his eyes. “I was drunk on the beach, and I don’t remember doing anything to deserve this,” he replied as he stepped up to a microphone. He groaned when Ben handed him his part. “This…” I drowned out his objection and the rest of the noise emanating from the auditorium by running my hand down the fret board, striking notes. Patrick shut up and let me tune Reese’s guitar in peace. “Alright Mr. Bowie,” I said, looking at Patrick. “You ready?” Patrick looked doubtful but nodded his head. “Everyone else ready?” I asked. They nodded, still full of doubt about their abilities, I was guessing. It never occurred to me that they doubted my abilities. I just grinned at them, trying to be encouraging. Reese started playing first. I closed my eyes, listened intently to the oh-so familiar sounds of the bass strings rolling out the famous chords like a clarion call. I started playing on cue, barely even looking at the sheets of music, opened my mouth and began to sing. It was almost startling when Patrick joined me on his cue. You said Newark, Newark is dangerous cause you meet that way you met Even a blind man can see what’s inside love love love love people on streets Ah eh eh aaah Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah Why don’t we give all that one more chance Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure Pressure, pushing down on me Pressing down on you, no man ask for Under pressure, that burns a building down Splits a family in two Puts people on streets I laughed when the song ended. I couldn’t help it. It was the greatest song I had perhaps ever actually played, especially with someone singing beside me. Patrick was grinning from ear to ear as well. Mistakes, however, had been made, as I was promptly reminded when someone approached me with a shot glass filled to the rim with a red liquid. I was shaking my head before he even got to me. “Forget it,” I told him, “I don’t drink.” “What?” someone asked. I was too busy glaring at the ‘server’ to figure out who it was, but then again, I didn’t really care, either. “I said I don’t drink.” “He doesn’t drink,” someone mocked. “Would someone ask him why he doesn’t drink? Could it possibly be because he’s too good for our games, even though he’s willing to play those games, up until he actually has to drink? I think someone thinks he’s too good for us, after that performance.” Reese told whoever it was to shut the hell up, but I was already looking at Mr. Attitude-problem. It turned out to be Derek, and he looked like he could barely walk. “Don’t worry about it, Reese,” I mumbled. Looking at Derek I said, “I don’t drink because drinking, in my experience, can turn a person into a major asshole, much like you’re acting right now.” “What’d you call me?” “Asshole. I called you an asshole, because you’re acting like one.” I reiterated, pushing the issue. “What’s he even doing here?” Reese hissed behind me. I didn’t know whom he was talking to. Patrick took the shot glass that had been for me and swiftly swallowed its contents. “There, his portion has been taken, now everyone shut up about it. Let’s just have fun, alright?” I heard someone mutter a ‘fine’. I could only assume it was Derek, because I was still looking at Patrick. I didn’t need him to stick up for me. “And for the bloody record,” Patrick suddenly hollered. “We don’t force anyone to drink if they don’t want too. If that’s a problem, you know where the door is. Don’t let it hit you in the bollocks on your way out.” A couple of people snickered. Everyone who had looked like they had an issue with it let it drop. These band geeks definitely weren’t like anything that I was used too, but then again, it looked like very few people were actually there that were in my class. Patrick handed me a sheet of paper. We were up again, since no one had seen fit to challenge us. “I’ll sing this part,” he mumbled. “You sing this part. We need another piano player.” “Uh. Okay. Who?” I asked. Patrick nodded. “Yup. Get your little brother up here, he can assist Stacie,” he said. I scowled, but the issue was taken out of my hands when Joel skipped onto the stage and went over to Stacie. She immediately started showing Joel what to do on another keyboard, pointing at certain parts on the sheet of music she gave him. I sighed and immediately started studying the music; fingering the parts I was unsure about it. I gave the go ahead when I decided I was ready. “Don’t make any mistakes,” I warned everyone. The music started, quietly at first, and Patrick started singing. I'll hold your hand when you are feeling mad at me Yeah when the monsters they won't go The windows are closed I'll pretend to see what you see "How long?" I say, how long will you relive the things that are gone? Oh yeah, The devil's on your back but I know you can shake him off Patrick was staring at me, I realized. In fact, he was extremely close, and not just staring at me, but staring into my eyes. And dancing. He was definitely dancing. I shuddered, decided immediately that I didn’t like this song, and…shit, I missed my entrance. Ben covered for me. And every day that you want to waste, that you want to waste, you can And every day that you want to wake up, that you want to wake, you can And every day that you want to change, that you want to change, yeah I'll help you see it through 'cause I just really want to be with you You know it's funny how freedom can make us feel contained Yeah When the muscles in our legs aren't used to all the walking I know if you could snap both your fingers that you'd escape with me But in the meantime, I'll just wait here and listen to you when you speak... or scream It was nerve-wracking, the way he was dancing, sweat rolling down the skin of his chest. He was so close I could smell him, smell the cinnamon on his breath. I didn’t miss my cue this time, joined my voice with Ben’s. And every day that you want to waste, that you want to waste, you can And every day that you want to wake up, that you want to wake, you can And every day that you want to change, that you want to change, yeah I'll help you see it through 'cause I just really want to be with you A triumphant tolling of bells shook the stage then, startling me. The truth cuts us and pulls us back up And separates the things that look the same Then you can fight it off, you can fight it off, you can And every day that you want to waste, that you want to waste, you can And every day that you want to wake up, that you want to wake, you can And every day that you want to change, that you want to change, yeah I'll help you see it through 'cause I just really want to be with you Patrick’s green eyes were glittering with amusement, a self-satisfied grin on his face. Ben had shot glasses in his hand. Despite the fact that I’d said I didn’t drink he offered me one anyway. This time I took it, almost spit it out, but managed to swallow it. It burned going down my throat. I felt like throwing up. My face wrinkled up. “What is that shit?” I asked, coughing slightly. Patrick laughed. “Take your clothes off,” he said. I gaped, startled. “What? No!” Patrick laughed even harder. “No no, that’s what we call it,” he explained. “Take your clothes off,” he said, again. Oh. My cheeks felt warmer than usual. “Usually you take it with salt and lime, though,” he added. I blinked. Salt and lime… “It’s also known as tequila.” Well shit. Tequila. Ben was on stage, music playing from a stereo that had come from somewhere, stripping. He was down to a pair of tight briefs when someone stopped him from removing them. He was currently doing some odd dance that I’d seen him practicing with a pair of balloons. We had stopped playing after 40 minutes. That had been an hour ago. I could definitely see why they called it ‘Take your clothes off’. But that had probably been because people kept offering Joel shots. He would have taken them too, but I kept stealing them from whoever was offering them to him before he could get his greedy little hands on them. I was pretty sure I was drunk, too. I was also pretty sure that my shirt was around here, somewhere. “I can’t find my pants,” I informed Patrick, who I was presently leaning against. He snickered. “You’re wearing them.” Oh. I squinted. Sure enough, I was in fact wearing my pants. “Here, drink this,” he said, offering me a glass. “No more alcohol.” I think I was whining. I felt a little dizzy. “It’s water. Need to get you hydrated so you don’t have much of a hangover in the morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get drunk off of puckers before,” he added. “I don’t drink,” I whispered and then, to my horror, I giggled. I clamped my hands over my mouth, but couldn’t stop. “Yup, you’re definitely drunk,” he smirked. The lights decided to go out about then. The music was being turned off. I felt someone, I was pretty sure it was Patrick; tighten his arm around my waist. I think he kissed me, too. I’m not sure though, because he let me go almost immediately. Probably because I’d said something about throwing up, just as the lights came back on. Sure enough, I decided to throw up. “Parties over, everyone go home. Those of you that are drunk and drove here know the routine by now. If you don’t know it, get someone to explain it to you!” someone hollered. I heard people groaning. “Let’s go! You heard the man!” someone else hollered. This voice made me panic. At least I would have, if I wasn’t too busy kneeling over the back of a chair throwing up into a bucket that seemed to come from nowhere. “Bloody hell,” someone muttered. “How drunk did you get him?” “He only had six shots,” Patrick replied. “Of what? Rumplemints? No, that’s too red…” “It’s watermelon pucker,” Patrick replied. “Nyech. I’m never eating watermelon again.” I stopped throwing up. “I can hear you, you know,” I whined, wiping at my mouth as I did so. I leaned back and collapsed butt-first into the chair I’d been throwing up over. Avery, in full uniform, hand on his gun, was staring at me. I closed my eyes. “He’s not here, he’s not here, he’s not here,” I mumbled. “I’m pretty sure I am here…” “I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” “Nah Bach, probably a good thing you threw up: will lessen the hangover tomorrow.” Bach…That was the second time someone had called me Bach, with the same thick accent. I opened my eyes. Only it wasn’t Patrick’s granddad staring at me. It was some guy, looked to be in his late 20’s with a thick head of black hair. “You okay to walk now?” Patrick asked. I nodded. Patrick helped me stand up as Reese and Joel found us. “What time is it?” I asked, deciding to follow Patrick. I was also considering making a run for it, even though Avery had already seen me. But the four deputies standing up by the doors had me deciding pretty quick that I wasn’t going to get very far. I sighed, resigned to spending another night in jail. Because there was no way in hell I was going to let Ken come and get me. He probably knew about some two a.m. AA meeting. “What time is it?” I asked. “Ten-thirty,” Avery replied, following us out the doors. We were the last ones to leave. I came to stop long enough for the one guy calling me Bach to lock the doors. Not because Patrick had stopped walking. Nope, he was still walking like everything was normal. Though how a few kids crawling into a couple of sheriff’s cars was normal was beyond me. “So…are we being arrested?” I finally asked. The young man, who had joined us, let out a laugh. Avery gave me a grim smile. Patrick came back and held me up, because I was swaying on my feet. “You’re such a lush,” Joel decided to say right about then. “Wouldn’t have had to drink if you’d not kept getting offered drinks,” I retorted. “Is that what happened tonight, Micah?” Avery asked. “People kept offering Joel drinks and, being the big-brother you are, you decided to protect him by drinking what he was offered instead?” It took me a second to comprehend what Avery had just said, but when I did, I nodded my head, pointed a finger in the air and said, “Yup.” Then I belched. It was totally gross. Avery shook his head. “Micah, you can’t protect him forever, you know that right?” “Nope,” I shook my head for emphasis. Avery just rolled his eyes at me. “So…can you arrest me now?” I asked. “‘Cause I feel like going to bed.” Avery rolled his eyes again. “No one’s under arrest,” he finally said. I pointed to a sheriff’s car I’d seen Derek getting into. The back door was still open. “Are you sure? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure that that guy’s a dick…and he probably deserves to be arrested…stupid…” Patrick snickered. “He’s not being arrested. No one is. Those that are too drunk to drive or don’t have rides with a designated driver are being given rides home. Some of us volunteer on nights like these to play taxi for you teenagers. At least, we do when we know about these parties. Keeping drunken kids from driving is a priority for us, and this way, everyone’s happy. Parents don’t lose their kids, kids don’t lose their licenses, and no one goes to jail,” Avery stated. Oh,…I looked at Patrick. “Are we riding in a sheriff’s car? ‘Cause the first time and the third time I didn’t have much fun,” I informed him. “Though the second time was alright,” I added. “Why was the second time alright?” Avery asked. “Cause Patrick saw me with a boner…and…and…he finally returned the favor.” I hiccupped. Patrick blushed. Reese and Joel stared. Two other people laughed. The Bach guy and…Ben: still not wearing clothes! “Hey Ben!” I grabbed him and hugged him, enjoying the warmth radiating off his sweat-soaked body. “You know, you can totally sing…you should sing with Reese’s group…” Patrick pulled me away. Ben just kept laughing. “…but if you don’t want to, I will,” I volunteered. “You: clothes: now,” Bach guy ordered Ben. “You okay to drive, Patrick?” Patrick shook his head. “Probably shouldn’t risk it. Can you take us home Uncle Bryce?” The man nodded. I grinned. “Uncle Bryce!” I hugged him. “Hi, I’m…” hiccup. “Micah!” He hugged me back. “Go get him buckled in, Patrick. Otherwise we might be here all night just so he can hug people.” Patrick shrugged. “It’s a better mood than he’s usually in. Usually he’s all glowers, death threats and slugging people.” I tried to hit him in the arm but missed. “Am not,” I retorted, instead. “Yeah you…” I glared at him. “Whatever you say,” he said instead. More laughter from those around us. He grabbed my hand and led me to a nice looking ford explorer. I crawled into the back seat with little complaint. Reese got in the other side, after sliding his guitar into the cargo bay. Joel squeezed in and so did Ben. I was now officially crushed into the door. Someone turned the vehicle on when I complained. I rolled the window down and popped my head out of it, grateful for the cool breeze blowing into my face. “Hey Micah?” Reese asked quietly. “Hmm?” I grunted. “Did you mean what you said about singing for my band?” he asked. “Yeah,” I moaned. That had me thinking a little bit. I popped my head back into the explorer and looked at him. “Reese? Why are you trying to play the bass guitar and the electric guitar?” I asked. He shrugged. “Bass guitar is slightly easier to pick up. Not much goes on with it…I wanted to learn the electric guitar because…because Joel said you play and…” I nodded; even more uncomfortable now. “I’ll teach you,” I mumbled, closed my eyes and leaned my head back. Uncle Bryce must have started driving, because the breeze intensified. We dropped Ben, who was now fully clothed, off. Everyone was still laughing, saying they’d had a good time and telling stories. I wasn’t telling any stories. I wasn’t laughing either. I’d suddenly realized what today’s date was. My birthday was coming up. I wanted more alcohol, I decided. I fell asleep shortly after that, wondering if it would be a good idea to get totally shitfaced on my birthday. Many thanks to my team and, of course, to you, my readers. Without you I wouldn't be here. Please rate and review, and feel free to discuss, or if you would like to nitpick or just make a comment in general about the story, I'll be sure to see it here. Linxe
  11. Monday morning dawned bright and clear. I stared balefully at my alarm clock, watching as it hit 5:45. It still didn’t go off. I gave in, sat up and put my feet on the floor; hardly paying any attention to the fact that no green-eyed cat was there to bother me. My eyes instead fell to Sunday’s paper: “Local woman dies from car accident,” was what the headlines read. She’d left behind three children, and a husband. Her funeral was Wednesday. I turned my attention away from the paper, pushing away depressing thoughts, and tried to focus on my more immediate needs; like getting dressed for school, and going to the bathroom, and packing Joel’s lunch. I didn’t make one for Reese or myself; hell, I didn’t make one for anyone but Joel. Because I was still annoyed at the fact that no one had bothered to tell me I had to start a new school today until late last night; and a woman was dead, leaving three children behind, and a husband, and…and the rest of us were expected to continue on, because the world was still turning. I thought that sucked because it wasn’t fair. That’s how Reese and Joel found me; in the kitchen thinking depressing thoughts. “Morning,” Reese’s voice chirped. I glanced up from what I was doing; making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pulled from my depressing thoughts by Reese’s annoying morning attitude. He got a grunt from me in reply. I hadn’t slept very well. I threw bread on bread and packed them in bags, passing them to Joel just as Ken came in, dressed in a silly white and black uniform, gold thread circling the sleeves around his wrist and atop his shoulders. A silly looking hat was in his hand, an array of medals decorating his chest. It was enough to pull me immediately out of my depressing thoughts, just so I could stare at him. He noticed me staring. “What?” he asked, looking down at his uniform. I shook my head. “What’re you wearing?” “Ken’s in the Navy Reserves, he has a trial today. Some guy getting court-martialed,”Joel supplied. “Uh-huh…” I looked at Ken. “You’re in the Navy?” I asked. I don’t know why I was so surprised by this fact but I was, and a few things started making sense. “Yeah,” Ken answered. I shook my head, still in disbelief. “Is that a problem?” he asked as Elizabeth came in and sat at the table. Reese passed her and Joel a bowl of cereal, before he grabbed two more bowls and seated himself at the table next to Ken. I continued shaking my head, grabbed my cup of coffee and checked to make sure my cigarettes were in my pocket. “No, not at all. I mean, I was a seamen once,” I replied, heading toward the backdoor, “but then my mother gave birth to me,” I finally cracked. Whatever Ken’s reply got lost in Elizabeth’s loud snort; milk came out of her nose. I got through the door and stayed out on the back porch, chain-smoking until Joel brought me my backpack and told me it was time to go. Central Kitsap High School That’s what the sign said above the large brick building, orange and black paneling running beneath it next to windows. A security camera hung to the left, above the bushes that sat next to the stairs leading to the entrance. Patrick was there, waiting for us. And by us, I mean Reese, Elizabeth, and myself. In the distance, I could see a stretch of water, distracting me from the cheerleader wearing a horrible clash of orange and black that, in my opinion, did no justice to her form. “Welcome to Central Kitsap High School!” Reese sounded happy, “You’re a cougar now!” I wasn’t going to be a cougar. And, apparently, neither was Patrick. At least, that’s what I was getting from the woman leaning on the counter, explaining to Elizabeth that, while our records had been received, we still needed to take placement tests. “I thought you were a student here?” I asked Patrick, who was sitting next to me. “No,” his answer was short. He seemed distracted by something. “Oh. But you came to school with them last…” He finally looked at me. “To drop off my school records, and take a tour of the school,” he explained. That’s when I felt stupid, remembering suddenly that he had been living in Wales before this and now he wasn’t. He was living here. “So…” “So you two apparently have to take some tests so they can place you properly,” Elizabeth muttered, looking disgusted as she came over to us, looking at a nice gold wristwatch, and tapping her foot impatiently. “Do you have somewhere to be?” I asked. She nodded. “Yeah. Class.” “Ok…well…you should probably get going then,” I suggested, slightly annoyed because she felt like she needed to hold my hand, as if I was a little boy on my first day of school. She wasn’t my mother. She nodded. “I’ll come get you at lunch and take you back to the house. You should be done by then,” she announced as she rushed off. I almost called her on the cellphone that was in my pocket, poking me in the leg when the big bald man with a belly that hung several inches over the belt holding his pants up came in and led Patrick and me off to the counseling offices to take our tests. But I doubt she’d have liked it if I did call her up, just to make fun of him. Besides, I probably would have hurt the man’s feelings. The bell rang, signaling the end of another class period. I set my pencil down, signaling to the proctor that I was finally done with the placement test plus a personality test and general career choice questions that had been added to the mix. As I had been instructed, I left the tests and questionnaire with the secretary and found a seat. Patrick wasn’t out yet. I let out a groan of boredom and plopped my backpack onto the seat next to me, wondering how long before Elizabeth would be there to get me. If everything went well I would supposedly have my schedule tomorrow or on Wednesday. This led to the question of why I even cared. It’s not like I really wanted to go to a new school, a new face in a crowd of sheep that all did as they were told, without question. I’d have been happier in a bed somewhere, sleeping my day away. I yawned, raised my hand until the secretary looked at me. “Yes?” she asked. “Is there a bathroom somewhere?” I asked, tired of staring at the determination poster, some guy lounging in an office chair with his feet on the desk, hanging on the wall. “Yes, you go out those doors, walk straight and take a right. You’ll run right into them,” she replied. I nodded my thanks and grabbed my backpack, following her instructions. I was almost to the bathroom when a bunch of kids that looked like they belonged on an athletic team exited, laughing at something. The loudest boy was the one that I’d hit the other night. They didn’t see me as they dashed quickly around the corner in the opposite direction. A tall brown-haired kid who looked slightly annoyed at something followed behind them slowly, walking at his own pace. He saw me and gave me a quick glance that said he knew me but didn’t say anything to the others. Not that I would have cared. Although, I would have liked to know what was so funny, considering I could have used a good laugh. But there were no laughs to be had as I entered the bathroom and heard someone sniveling in one of the stalls. I almost knocked on the door to ask if everything was okay, but found myself hesitating. Involving myself in other people’s business would mean talking to people and letting them think that I cared, when I probably didn’t and wouldn’t. No, it was better to just mind my own business. That didn’t mean minding my own business though as I exited the bathroom and heard several guitars playing, followed by voices crooning, quite loudly. I followed the noise and promptly found myself on the balcony of the auditorium. I wasn’t alone either. A blond kid I recognized as Ben was up there with me, standing next to an even blonder boy that I realized quite promptly was Patrick. They were leaning with their elbows against the balcony railing, idly talking as the guitars picked up pace, a distinct country twang rolling through the air. Ooooh, Do you remember when. Oh now…Do you remember when. Do you remember Do you remember when. Do you remember The voices chorused, soft and fading. There was no lead, and I discovered the reason as I moved farther onto the balcony where I could see the stage. The reason why was because there was an open microphone sitting on the stage. I studied them carefully, realized I knew at least two of them, and recognized the other three from Friday night’s smack down at the bonfire. They’d all been sitting with Ben when I’d been dragged onto the beach by Lissa, who was at the back of the stage, pounding away on a drum set with mad skill, like she actually knew what she was doing. Stacey was also on the stage, playing keyboards. I didn’t know any of the boys playing the guitars and…I gulped, swearing it was a banjo. I wasn’t sure though, as I had only seen one. Once. The music came to a stop. “Where is he?” I heard someone asking. “He said he’d be here.” Another boy shrugged. “I don’t know, but he better show up. This was his idea, after all.” I had no idea who he was, and wasn’t sure I cared, either. The answer though was Reese, appearing on stage with a guitar, his hair soaking wet like he’d just gotten out of gym class. “Sorry I’m late,” he panted, sounding funny. “Hi’s” and “about time’s” greeted him as he started warming up his guitar. He looked slightly miserable. I was greeted with my own “hi” as I turned around, ready to sit down. Ben was standing behind me, an easy grin on his face. “I’m Ben,” he informed me, holding out his hand for me to shake. I ignored it. “I know,” I answered, moving around him to sit down. My leg was aching, which, I realized, was a bit surprising because I think the last time I’d felt it ache was Friday night when I’d been carrying Patrick on my shoulder. Patrick sat down next to me but didn’t say anything. Ben gave me a glance. He didn’t say anything either as he pulled out an iPod, plugged up his ears. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a couple of balloons and, moving off to the side of the balcony where there was room, positioned the balloons in front of his waist. His eyes closed. I didn’t pay him any more attention as the music started up again. Reese wrote something down and pushed the pen into his left pocket, before taking his place at the microphone. He opened his mouth, and I watched with interest as, rather than a note coming out, his face turned an interesting shade of red, and nothing happened. Like a fish out of water he closed his mouth, opened it again. Nothing happened. A look of horror crossed his face. The music stopped. “Dude,” some kid said, “Why aren’t you singing?” Reese still looked like a tomato. “I…I…” “C’mon, let’s try it again. You should have said you didn’t remember the song,” the same kid said again. He placed a music stand with sheets of music down in front of Reese. Reese didn’t say anything, just nodded his head. I stood up and walked to the rail, leaned against it with interest. “From the top guys,” the kid said again. “1…2….uh 1..2..3..4..” The scene replayed itself. Only, this time Reese managed to get notes out. Notes that went up and down the range of every scale I knew that was known to man, and some, I’m sure, weren’t even on the scale, or could even be considered notes. I burst into laughter as the music stopped. “Dooood…” the kid said. He sounded exasperated. “I…I--” Reese sounded horrified. “This fucking sucks. You’re all a bunch of amateurs,” the kid interrupted. “Don’t be a dick, Derek. It happens to everyone,” Stacey said. “We have a fucking gig in less than a month,” he growled out, looking tense. “There’s no way we’re going to make it. He can barely play the guitar, and now he can’t even sing. Good luck, losers,” Derek said. Apparently he was finished with his tirade, because he unplugged his guitar and left. Reese groaned. “What a shitty fucking day,” he muttered, his voice cracking in the middle of his sentence. Another kid looked up; he looked just as upset as the first kid did. Reese pulled out his pen and fiddled with it, wrote something down. I suddenly realized there was something else wrong with this scene. Derek had been right. Reese was an amateur. I found myself interrupting the scene below before it could finish playing out on the stage. “Hey! Reese! You’re left-handed?” I shouted. Reese looked around, seeming confused. I leaned over the balcony rail. “Up here!” I hollered. He finally looked up. “What?” he shouted. “You’re left-handed, right?” I hollered back, laughter bubbling up in the back of my throat, because Reese, it seemed, was going through puberty. He looked confused. “Yeah,” he responded. His answer set me to laughing again. I tried explaining why I was laughing, but couldn’t seem to stop laughing. A hurt look appeared on Reese’s face. I ignored it, shook my head and turned around, ready to leave. I’d try explaining it later. Just as soon as I could stop laughing, which was right now. Because I had walked into a tall body. Hands caught me at my shoulder as my face landed against a very firm chest. A slight musky scent filled my nose. Patrick-In-A-Blanket. My hands wrapped automatically around a waist. I pulled back slightly. I definitely wasn’t laughing anymore. Narrow green eyes were peering into mine. “Have you always been a jerk?” Patrick asked, “Because I’m getting tired of it.” “I don’t know,” I shot back automatically. My head cocked to the side, curious. “Have you always been in love with Reese?” I had no idea where that came from but, even as I said it, I thought about it, and decided that there was some truth to the words. Patrick was always hanging around; there were photos of him and the Windletons on vacation, and…it just seemed like the truth to me. Patrick dropped his hands from my shoulder, took a step back. He wasn’t looking me in the eyes anymore. I let him go. “He doesn’t know,” I found myself stating, answering my second question before I could even ask it. Patrick turned, looking ready to run away. I could understand the need to run away. Unfortunately, I was stuck here. For Joel. I grabbed Patrick’s wrist, pulled him closer and turned, pointing once more at Reese who was no longer paying any attention to us. Reese looked awkward, the way he stood there holding his guitar, fingering strings. Derek’s accusation of Reese being barely able to play the guitar rang in my head. Amateurs. “He’s left-handed, playing a right-handed guitar,” I remarked. Then I let go of Patrick and walked away, tired of sitting in a school that I wasn’t enrolled at while waiting for Elizabeth to come get me. So I walked right out the doors, past a junior high school and through the parking lot of the mall that had started this entire mess, my eyes wandering freely when I spotted one place I’d probably never set foot in if given any choice. A bookstore. I went in; and then walked around until I found everything I was looking for. Patrick was outside, standing in front of his car when I came out laden with a newly bought psychology book, landscaping books, another book on puberty and, after rearranging things in my bag when I saw him standing there, a book on Wicca. That book was why I was frowning at him, considering he’d called me a jerk. I decided he wasn’t waiting for me and, going with that thought, pretended I didn’t see him. Patrick must have gotten the hint, or perhaps he was there to get books too because I ended up walking all the way to the Windleton’s house. After disarming the alarm, I made my way to Reese’s room and set the book on his bed, deciding that, whatever it was he was going through, I didn’t really want to discuss it with him. But the book, at least, had some suggestions for boy singers going through puberty. I bookmarked that section for him. My good deed done for the day I set everything else in my bedroom and left the house, not quite sure where I was going. I just didn’t want to be stuck inside the Windleton’s house by myself for the rest of the day. My feet led me right to the abandoned house. It was the sight of the sagging porch; its roof looked more than ready to fall off the house that had me stopping in my tracks, cursing left and right. Cursing because I should have been paying attention, and I hadn’t been. That boy Ben had been up there on the balcony with us when I’d asked Patrick if he’d always been in love with Reese, and I hadn’t exactly been that quiet about it. I had messed up, and I wasn’t sure there was anything I could do about it. Patrick’s words, asking me if I was always a jerk, came to mind. I shrugged my shoulders, my sweat-soaked shirt clinging to me briefly before I pulled it off and decided that no, I didn’t really think I’d been acting like a big jerk lately. I spent two hours pulling weeds and, after finding a saw in the Windleton’s barn that passed as their garage, cut down branches growing around the foundation of the house. Then I went inside, continued pulling down wood-panels. Patrick’s voice bothered me the entire time. It left me feeling… I’m not sure how I felt as I came to another answer entirely. I was sitting on the ballroom floor, absentmindedly staring at the west wall with its large fireplace when Ken found me. I’d managed to get the wood-panels off the rest of the north wall and had started on the west wall, which was almost done. Once I’d gotten into it, everything had flown by quickly. “What’re you thinking about?” Ken asked. I pointed to the left side of the fireplace. “Windows, right there. Large ones, to let in sunlight.” My finger moved, pointing to the right side of the fireplace. “And large sliding doors right there. It’ll let out into the backyard. Perhaps a brick patio,” I mumbled, still thinking about it in my head. “I can build a large trough that wraps around the patio, like the one in the sun-room; add potting soil and plants, a fire-pit, or something. Maybe even a water fountain.” I nodded my head decisively, the image clear in my head. “Sounds like a lot of work,” Ken said. I looked at him, nodded my head and frowned. Ken was wearing a business suit now. He looked sharp. “Hi guys.” Elizabeth’s voice distracted me. I looked away from Ken and found Elizabeth standing in the ballroom, looking around curiously at the mess in the room. I’d found out the day before that Ken had started the mess first, though. After reading the newspaper about the woman’s death and her funeral being on Wednesday, I’d made my way out here to find him working on it. I moved to get up and found Ken holding his hand out. Without thinking about it, I took his hand. As he helped me up, I felt something thick between our grip. “Looks good, guys,” Elizabeth’s voice sounded muffled. She was looking at the north wall, her back to us. I looked at what I was holding in my hand. It was a wad of cash. I was still staring at the wad of cash when Elizabeth turned around. “Micah, why do you have a bunch of cash?” she asked, flabbergasted. Ken opened his mouth, probably to cover up my crimes. “It’s okay,” I mumbled, not quite looking at Elizabeth. Ken either, for that matter. I went back to staring at the west wall. I took a deep breath. “I was blackmailing Ken,” I finally said aloud. My heart was beating loudly in my ears. My face was extremely warm. “Oh?” she asked, her voice seeming to deepen as she stared at Ken. Probably wondering what he’d done that I could blackmail him with. “Yeah.” My body was stiff now. “I made him pay me. Told him it was the only thing that would stop me from running off in the middle of the night.” Despite the fact that I was staring at the west wall I still saw Elizabeth’s look turn into a glare. I looked down at my feet, feeling slightly ashamed of what I’d done. I held out my hand to Ken, offered him the money back. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Are you really?” Elizabeth asked, her voice sounded funny. I nodded. Still couldn’t look her in the eye. “Take it, please,” I begged, looked up at Ken. He was smiling at me. “It’s yours, keep it,” he replied, looking at his wife. “It’s okay. I shouldn’t have…uh…blackmailed you,” I argued back. Ken sighed. Elizabeth still hadn’t really said anything. “The money is yours, Micah. The state pays us to take care of you and Joel. I wasn’t going to say anything about your, uh, blackmail. Hell, I didn’t say anything because I was going to give the money to you anyways. I already set up a bank account for Joel,” Ken finally explained. Elizabeth was looking at Ken now. It didn’t help that she still looked pissed, but, she wasn’t looking as pissed off now as she had been earlier. “If you would like, I can set up a bank account for you too,” Ken finally said. “However, I’m only paying you the three hundred we agreed upon once a week. Everything else is going…well, into a savings account, I guess.” I snorted, shook my head. “Why don’t I feel any better about what I did?” I asked. I should have been relieved, finding out that the state was paying them to take care of Joel and me, but I wasn’t. It went right back to Patrick telling me I was a jerk. This time it was Elizabeth’s turn to sigh. She stepped forward and hugged me. I stiffened, even more uncomfortable now than I had been before. “Because now you know that we know that you know that what you’d done was wrong, and…you confessed. We forgive you. Just don’t do it again.” She let go of me. I exhaled. “You should still take it though. Consider it a payment on all that cash you spent buying my clothes?” I suggested. Ken looked agreeable to that suggestion. “No,” Elizabeth said, “Those were gifts, from us to you, and I’m feeling slightly insulted that you feel like you need to pay us back for that. You don’t, you know.” “Sorry,” I mumbled. I hadn’t meant to insult them. At least, not now anyways. “So… bank account, then?” Ken asked. A hand landed on my shoulder, lightly squeezing. Trying to be comforting. I shook my head. “Nah, well, not yet. I need a roll-off dumpster,” I said, instead. Ken raised an eyebrow. It was unsettling, the way he looked like Patrick all of a sudden, with his upraised eyebrow. It was the first time I realized that Ken had green eyes, too. “What do you need a roll-off dumpster for?” he asked. It took me a moment to answer. I was still unsettled by that look on his face that was so reminiscent of Patrick. “Uhm…the roof…” I said, once I got my tongue to start working again. “The roof?” I nodded my head, as if the answer should be obvious. “Yeah, we shouldn’t have started working in here first thing. The roof leaks. There’s water damage upstairs and in here. It’s going to be a bitch to clean up, much less get the rest of the furniture out of this house, but…we should have done the roof first, before the rain comes back…” I stopped. Ken and Elizabeth had thoughtful looks on their faces, even as Elizabeth told me to watch my language. “I mean, I don’t know if it rains as much here as it does in Oregon but…” Ken nodded his head, “Yeah, it rains a lot here, once summer’s past. We might have a week or two before it starts up again,” he said. “Okay…so, yeah…we need a roll off, plywood sheeting, ice and water barriers, more underlay…” I found myself relaxing, becoming animated, my hands moving around as I continued to talk, comfortable with this topic because I knew something about it. Unfortunately, I think I lost Ken somewhere, because he was looking at me, confused. I stopped talking. “You okay?” I asked. Ken shook his head. “How about I order the roll-off and then we go to the hardware store and you can just…get what we need?” he asked, looking like he had finally decided something. I shrugged. “Sure,” I replied. “How about we figure out what’s for dinner first? It’s almost six,” Elizabeth interjected. I just looked at her, surprised that it was so late. “See.” I pointed to the left of the fireplace. “Windows…” Moved my finger, pointed to the right of the fireplace. “Doors.” Then I walked away. Elizabeth and Ken looked at the spots I’d just pointed out before following me out of the house. I used my shirt to shut off the lights, not wanting to electrocute myself. “Dinner?” Elizabeth asked, wanting to know what we were having. “Ribs, mashed potatoes and corn,” I replied over my shoulder. “After you shower,” Elizabeth suggested. “Only if you two promise not to cook,” I shot back, trying to make it sound like I was joking. Didn’t want someone calling me a jerk again. Ken laughed. “It’s a deal,” he replied. Reese and Patrick were in the living room when I walked in. Reese looked up from the guitar he was playing and immediately got a funny look on his face when I walked in. I almost asked him if he’d gotten the book I’d bought for him but decided against it. His flushed cheeks gave away the answer almost immediately. I just smiled at him and, using my shirt to wipe the sweat off my body, walked up the stairs. I ignored Patrick and the look he was giving me the entire time. He’d probably just end up calling me a jerk again, anyway. I should have been at school, in the counselor’s office getting my class schedule and, you know, actually attending class. Not sitting in a graveyard in the suit that Avery had given me. Patrick was sitting next to me, having taken it upon himself to skip school with me when I’d come out of the bathroom, no longer wearing the clothes I’d worn to school that morning. Mom’s guitar was sitting between us. Elizabeth had told me to bring it to school with me today. I’d been too tired to argue with her, much less even ask why. Ken had taken it upon himself to let me drive his Ferrari last night, insisting that I needed more practice. That had occurred after we’d gotten some more roofing done. I hadn’t argued with him, especially after realizing he had no unpleasant surprises in store for me. I’d even go so far as to say I had managed to relax and actually have a good time with him. Patrick still wasn’t talking to me. I decided that this time it was because I had actually told him to shut up when he’d informed me I was going to get in trouble for skipping class. I had, however, managed to get into his car without too much fuss. I only slugged him once. That was because he’d threatened to call Elizabeth and tell on me. I still told him where we were going though. A quick stop at his house where he changed his clothes and talked to his grandmother finally led to us getting here, at the church where they were holding the woman’s funeral services. Sitting in the graveyard. Because I couldn’t bring myself to go into the church. Patrick got up, pulling my attention from the two gravestones I’d been staring at, and wandered off. “Try not to rile up any ghosts with your evil ceremonies,” I mumbled, back to aggravating Patrick. Unfortunately, my heart wasn’t in it, because I’m sure I could have come up with a better insult then that. Instead my fingers continued to strum the guitar; Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ offering a strange counterpoint to the song ‘Amazing Grace’ that was being sung in the church. It didn’t stop me from playing though. My eyes strayed back to the two tombstones. The services were coming to an end when Avery Hayes plopped down next to me. “I see you didn’t make it to school today,” he remarked. I knew he didn’t need an answer but provided one anyways. “Nope,” I offered. I went back to staring at the two tombstones and continued playing. Linda Hayes 1965-2007 “My sister and…” Avery remarked, apparently wanting to kill the silent conversation I was having in my head about asking about them. “Oh,” was the only thing I could think to say. “I thought it was your wife.” Avery shook his head. “Nope, I’ve never been married, and I don’t have any kids, except Andy. I’ve been raising him since his mom, my sister, died.” “Oh,” I said again, frustration rising because I sounded like a broken record. I had a question that I wanted to ask. I just couldn’t seem to figure out a way to ask it, without sounding like an ungrateful douche bag, anyways. I decided to go with my usual tact and plunged in head first, so to speak. “Why did you want me?” I asked. Avery cocked his head to the side. I finally looked at him; saw that he was considering my question. “I think...because we were getting along, and I’m getting old. I have very few regrets in my life. The lack of children to call my own is one of them.” I considered this and ended up frowning. That was stupid, and I was going to tell him so. “You’re not old, you know that right?” I ended up saying instead. Yeah, I decided I’d be nice and lie about the fact that I did consider him old. I guess I didn’t do a good job of it though because he let out a loud, boisterous laugh that I hadn’t heard come out of his mouth before. Something in my tone must have tipped him off that I clearly thought forty years old was, in fact, ancient. “Thanks, I think.” “Dating anyone?” I asked. He shook his head. “Haven’t had time,” he explained. I looked at him, clearly wanting more information. He nodded his head, seemed to reach a decision on something. “Between raising Andy, my job, and trying to find the drunk-driver that killed my sister and put Andy in the hospital, I haven’t had time…I’ve just been…too busy.” I frowned, startled. That sounded…wrong, somehow. It also explained why Avery was always so tired. “How’s Andy doing?” I asked instead. My eyes flickered toward the church. I couldn’t help myself. “It must be hard for you, being here.” The people in the church were coming out. Pallbearers were carrying the woman’s casket. “Andy’s fine. It was touch and go for a while there, at first…but… he’s fine, he’s away, doing college and all that. And no,” he stopped and frowned suddenly, as if realizing something. “It’s not as hard as I had thought it would be.” “You?” he asked. I shook my head. Having asked him that question had forced me to think about what my own answer would be. “No.” I nodded my head toward the family that was coming out of the church behind the casket. The man in front was crying, holding onto his son. Two girls were clinging to each other. “Do you think they’ll be okay?” I asked. Avery looked at them, thoughtful. “I don’t know…” he said before nodding his head decisively. “Yes, I think they will be,” he replied, changing his mind. “How do you know?” I asked, curious. Avery looked at me and smiled sadly. “Because death is a fact of life. It can be horrible, sometimes cruel in the way it greets us, but it can be very peaceful as well. But death isn’t alone, Micah. It has a companion in life and whether we like it or not, life still goes on for those of us who have been left behind. While we ourselves may end up standing still, sooner or later we’re forced to move on. We continue to grow. At least, that’s what usually happens.” Avery pointed at the family. “They’ll grieve for a while, stand still. There will be good days and bad days. But sooner or later, they’ll start moving on. They won’t ever forget the love they had for their mother. He won’t ever forget the love he had for his wife. They’ll end up remembering all the good times they shared with one another; they’ll share more good times between them, and that is how I know they’re going to be okay.” I didn’t have anything to say to that. I was too busy trying to understand everything he’d just told me. But I think I knew what he meant by standing still while life continued to move on around me. I looked back at the gravestones, but more in particular at Linda’s gravestone, and I think that’s when I also realized that, aside from Patrick, whom I still knew very little about; I also knew next to nothing about the people whose lives had been intertwined with Joel and mine. “It’s for you,” Patrick said. I looked up and watched as he approached Avery and me, holding out his cellphone for me to take. I took it, asking, “Who is it?” as I did so. “It’s Elizabeth,” Patrick informed me. I looked at the phone. I could hear Elizabeth’s voice coming through it. I decided I didn’t want to know how pissed off Elizabeth was. “It’s for you,” I said, holding the phone out for Avery to take. “I heard he decked …” “I heard he’s Reese’s brother, was in prison for attempted murder.” “Who cares? He’s hot.” “I heard he had sex with a teacher at his last school…” “I heard…” I ignored the rumors floating behind, that were about me as I stalked my way down the hall, glaring at anyone who got in my way.I was back to being pissed off. Patrick was walking behind me as we followed our ‘guide’ down the halls of the school on Thursday afternoon. Why was I pissed? Because Patrick had been in every single one of my classes so far, and the way things had worked out, that meant sitting next to him. Including the swimming class I had elected to take on one of the forms I had filled out. Why swimming class? Because physical education was a requirement for all three years of high school. I’d decided that swimming wouldn’t be as painful as any actual gym class. Needless to say, seeing him naked under the showerhead had been more…well, it was more than I could handle. I’d elected to not take a shower that morning with everyone else in the class. That’s about when I’d started to get mad though. No, it wasn’t because Patrick was in every single one of my class either. I glared down at my schedule again, looking once more at the very last class of the day. ‘Rock Choir’, though I had no idea what rock choir was. But that didn’t bother me either. I liked music. I enjoyed playing my guitar and singing. No, what pissed me off was the fact that E. Windleton was staring in bold-lettering right back at me, under the heading ‘Instructor’. I’d lived there for a little over two weeks, had been enrolled in this school since Tuesday afternoon, and even though I’d skipped school yesterday to go to a funeral, I’d had no idea that Elizabeth was a teacher. One of my teachers. Okay, fine, I admit it. Lissa had said something about it on the beach, but the fact had completely skipped my mind, and I was extremely disgruntled over it. I growled at the ‘guide’ when he stopped at a door to a classroom. Another student in this class would be volunteered to lead us to our next class. Patrick tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a look that I took was meant to mean ‘behave’. I growled right back at him. He smirked and passed me. The kid ran off as I stalked into the room right behind Patrick and approached the teacher’s desk, waiting with him as student after student after student filed into the room and their seats. As expected, there were only two chairs left, right next to one another at the back of the room. The bell rang, signaling the beginning of the next class. I groaned as the teacher stood up and handed Patrick and me our schedules back, telling us those last two chairs would be for us. And, just like every other class I’d gone to so far, the teacher cleared her throat. “Ladies and gentlemen we have two new students joining us.” She announced, “Would you two like to introduce yourselves?” she asked. Patrick gave me a look. I ignored it. “No,” I answered, surly. I decided to ignore the uplifting of Patrick’s lips that said he wanted to smile. I didn’t know why though. Surely, it wasn’t that funny, because I’d given the same answer in every other class we’d been in today. Just like in every other class Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was looked at me; her mouth opened and closed like a fish, startled. I decided to ignore the urge to giggle like a mad man that was coming over me and found my seat, half the class looking at me while giggling. The other half looked startled, as if they couldn’t believe I’d just said that. “I apologize for my companion, he’s a tad bit cranky today,” Patrick said into the silence. “His name is Micah, mine’s Patrick, and it’s a pleasure to be here.” I snorted. It wasn’t feeling very pleasurable. Patrick sat down next to me. I looked at him and, just like I had in every other class, said, “Stop apologizing for me. If I was sorry I wouldn’t have said it.” “Cranky pants,” he muttered with a smirk. I scowled, went back staring at the front of the classroom, more in particular the teacher, who looked like she’d just been hit by a bus. I was telling her with my eyes to hurry up and get on with it. She wasn’t taking the hint. I let out a small groan and put my head on the desk. “Hi Patrick,” I heard someone whisper. I looked up. Ben was waving, along with Stacey and Lissa. Lissa gave me a thumbs up accompanied by a wide grin and a wink. I put my head back on the desk. The teacher finally got on with the lecture while I tried to remember what class this was, too lazy to look at my schedule. English class. I was in English class. I glared at the clock until it hit 12:30 and the bell rang. I had lunch from 12:30 to 1:30. Then it was Elizabeth’s class. I was on my way out the door to find the cafeteria when Ben practically ran up to me and wrapped his arm into mine, like I was a bride being escorted down the aisle. Lissa was on the other side of me, doing the same thing. “Hi Micah,” he said cheerfully. Lissa repeated his greetings. I grunted. Patrick was behind us, talking to Stacey. I almost turned around and told Stacey to stop talking; considering she was talking about that ‘cute boy’ she’d been with on Friday night. Currently she was wondering if she would ever see him again. That ‘cute boy’ had to be Joel, which was just…eww, on so many different levels. It wasn’t even funny. “C’mon, slow poke,” Ben said. I jerked away from his fingers as he moved to tickle me and picked up my pace, slightly uncomfortable with how close he was. “Where we going?” I finally asked, deciding to ignore it. “You’ll see,” he replied. “And do you usually grab strange boys on their first day of school?” Okay, so it wasn’t appropriate, but I just had to ask, because I couldn’t ignore it. I hadn’t ever had a strange boy intertwining their arms in mine like I was a bride being walked down the aisle before on any other first day of school that I had had. “Yes,” he replied, echoed by Lissa and Stacey. “There was this one time in 9th grade…” Lissa began. “Shush. He’s not ready for that story yet,” Ben commanded. “Wouldn’t want him getting any ideas about how easy I am in that pretty head of his,” he added. Lissa snickered. “But Ben, you are easy,” Reese remarked, falling into step next to us. I hadn’t seen where he’d come from. “Just for you, pony, just for you,” Ben replied, still cheerful. I decided not to ask about the strange nickname. His cheerfulness was beginning to get to me. I wanted to lash out and push him away, and, at one point in time, I probably would have. I found myself smiling instead though as they continued to banter back and forth, until finally we were standing in the auditorium. Not in line for lunch, like my growling stomach was telling me to go do. I dragged my heels, pulling everyone to a stop. Patrick bumped into me from behind. I found myself briefly hoping those were keys in his pocket, but a previous experience with him told me it probably wasn’t. “What?” I heard someone ask. I couldn’t tell because it looked like the lights were still warming up before they would fully turn on. “I’m hungry,” I replied, as if it should be obvious. “Oh.” This time I could tell it was Ben. “Don’t worry about that, someone’s getting subs from the sandwich cart. I’ll share my hoagie with you,” he said. “Don’t worry, it’s all meat.” I was pretty sure Ben was leering at me when he said that last part. Reese smacked him lightly over the back of his head. “Down, boy!” he commanded. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed, despite the fact that I was slightly embarrassed. I’d never met anyone quite like Ben before. “Aww” Ben pouted. “You’re such a spoilsport.” I got dragged the rest of the way into the auditorium where, much to my relief, someone did in fact hand me a sandwich. Turned out Reese and several of his friends hung out in the auditorium during lunch, practicing what music they could. They also, from what I was seeing, had a lot of fun. Reese’s voice was cracking even worse than it had been on Monday. Apparently, they were looking for a singer, as well as another guitar player, since the one kid, Derek, refused to play with them anymore. I could even understand why, though I thought several members of the ‘No-Name Band,’ as they had named themselves, were good. It was just Reese, and his complete inability to sing, much less play the guitar. Despite this fact, I could tell he was trying. I was also having fun too, up until the bell rang, signaling the fact that once more it was time to go to our next class. Rock Choir. With Elizabeth. No one was paying attention as I got up from my seat and made my way toward the exit. At least, I didn’t think they were. Until Patrick fell into step beside me. “Going to get your guitar?” he asked. I almost informed him it wasn’t my guitar, it was my mother’s. But I decided not to. I just nodded, hoping he’d go away. He didn’t, though. “I’ll go with you,” he informed me, looking cheerful. He wasn’t looking so happy when I did, in fact, grab my mom’s guitar and, rather than make my way back to the Auditorium, made my way to the nearest exit instead. He was cursing when I walked out the doors. “Damn it, Micah,” he finally yelled, running around so that he was in front of me. He came to a stop and planted himself in front of me. “You might have gotten off yesterday, but you’re going to…” “…End up in trouble, I know,” I interrupted him. He fell quiet. “I don’t care,” I informed him. I was back to being angry again. “Now get out of my way,” I told him. He sighed. “Fine…” and stepped aside. I nodded. I wasn’t even past him when he grabbed my arm and tugged on me. “I’ll give you a ride home,” he said as soon as I looked at him. It didn’t sound like I had much of a choice, so I followed him to his car and, somewhat willingly, got into it with him, after forcing him to promise that he wasn’t going to sacrifice me to his God and Goddess. He did, too, after once more informing me that Wiccans did not sacrifice people or animals. I knew that though. I’d been doing some reading at night before I went to bed. He wouldn’t shut up, either, even after I’d told him too. “You were having fun in there, right?” he was asking. I looked at him blankly. “In the auditorium with Reese and Ben and Stacey and Lissa and the others,” he explained himself. “You were…” Oh. “Yeah,” I answered. Because I couldn’t deny it, I had been having fun. “So why are we skipping our last class? Don’t you like music…I mean…” “I like music,” I told him. I was getting a headache. I didn’t feel like explaining myself to him. I shut my eyes and leaned my head on the window. Patrick shut up. “It’s not about the music class or even the fact that Elizabeth’s teaching it; though that does tick me off a bit,” I finally offered. That’s all that was said between us as he pulled into the Windleton’s driveway. I dropped my mom’s guitar off in my room and took a few seconds to change into something that I wouldn’t mind getting all dirty, before I made my way out the backdoor and over to my house. Patrick followed me, not talking. Apparently, he had decided to give up on getting answers from me. It surprised me though when he picked up the spare pry-bar and began to help me pull off more wall paneling. I wasn’t allowed to work on the roof unless Ken or Elizabeth was there. Usually Ken, because Elizabeth flat out refused to go anywhere on the ladder. Something to do with being afraid of heights, I guess. “Hi.” I looked up and found Elizabeth in the room with me. I wasn’t surprised, either. Patrick had disappeared when we’d heard her coming, yelling at Ken to get the hell out of her way because she had had it and if he didn’t, he’d find himself sleeping on the couch tonight. Yeah, Patrick was definitely afraid of her, and I could see why. She was standing in the doorway just watching me. “You skipped your last class today,” she informed me, sounding for the entire world as if it was something I didn’t know. “I know,” I muttered. “Why?” “Because.” Yeah, I know. It’s a lousy excuse and oft-times overused, but I hadn’t gone to my last class because…because I didn’t want to talk about it with her. “Because why?” she asked, pressing the issue, her eyes all narrow and squinty as she looked at me. “Do you need glasses?” I asked her instead. She blinked at me like I’d lost my mind. “No,” she informed me. “Oh…well, you might want to get them checked anyways. You’re squinting at me like you can’t see me,” I replied back. What can I say, I didn’t get intimidated all that easily, and the sarcasm just came dripping out of me, adding to the sweat already pouring off of me. “Micah…” Her voice came out, the warning clear. I guess she didn’t appreciate the humor. “Patrick!” she suddenly hollered. “I know you’re in there. You better get your ass out here right this minute or we’ll be having this conversation later. In front of your grandparents!” Patrick came out of the kitchen, looking sheepish. He still kept his distance though. She must have had the privilege of spanking him when he was younger. I let out a sigh, turned my thoughts toward the things that were bugging me. “You didn’t tell me you were a teacher,” I informed her. “A teacher at the high school I’ve been enrolled in,” I added, in case she missed that point. She just blinked at me, like she didn’t get it. A heavy breath of air came puffing out from between my lips in frustration. “Okay, so… I guess I should have informed you that I’m a teacher…one of your teachers,” she finally replied. Maybe she got it after all. “I’m sorry I didn’t. But…there wasn’t any time.” This time it was my turn to look at her like she’d lost her mind. She shot me a defensive look. “Well, there wasn’t! I mean, you just got here on Thursday, Friday we went shopping and then Saturday you decided to go missing after not really being missing, cook dinner for everyone, and then you go straight to bed! Sunday you were all depressed, Monday I was running late, which, by the way, I’m still mad that you left without calling me. Tuesday and Tuesday night you spent out here, roofing.” She shuddered. “And Wednesday you skipped completely. Which, by the way, I let slide. If you’d wanted to go to the funeral, you should have said something. I’m…not…unreasonable…damn it!” She was standing still now, attempting to glare daggers at me. I opened my mouth, trying to get a response in to no avail. I guess she was really pissed off with me because at the last, she stomped her foot on the ground. Then she was standing by me, picking up the sledgehammer. I took a step back as she raised it and, with a swing that I would have never suspected could come from a small woman with such a slender frame, she knocked part of the walling I had been working on into two pieces. I cringed, wondering how much it was going to cost to replace that panel. She dropped the sledgehammer and then turned on me. “So please, why don’t you explain. To. Me. Why. You. Skipped. My. Class! Because I have got to tell you, I have half a mind to ground you, and don’t you dare tell me I can’t. You may not like it, but I’m the mother. I may not be your mother, but mother trumps you any day of the week!” Her face was red. I could only stare at her. She just glared. Waiting. Then my anger got a hold of me because this woman, this tiny woman, was actually getting to me. “I skipped your class because I will not play my mom’s guitar at school. Not that guitar, not my electric guitar. Not now! Not ever! And you wanna know why I won’t play my guitars at school? I’ll tell you why!” I was shouting now. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. “I won’t play them at school because playing was something I did with my mother! Playing is something I’ve done with Joel! With my mom! Not anybody else! My. Guitars. Do. Not. Go. To. School… Ever! And…I should have said something when you kept telling me bring them with me. I’m sorry.” I shut up then, because I needed air. “What’d you play at your last school?” she asked, surprisingly calm in the face of my anger. “They let me use the school guitar or I played the piano, but most of the time I just sang.” I was so startled by her calm question that I answered her question without thinking about it. “Ok. We’ll get you another guitar to play at school then,” came her reply. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything at all. “Will that work?” she asked. “Uh…yeah, I guess,” I responded, still taken aback. “Good, because we really do need more guitar players,” she informed me. I snorted. What they really needed were good guitar players. “What?” she asked. I told her what I had been thinking. I mean, I hadn’t censored myself at any other point in time, why should I start now? She gave me a look that I think meant she didn’t appreciate the comment very much but, to my surprise, kind of nodded her head as if she agreed me. “Yeah, that’s true too,” she sighed. I stepped away from her, more than ready to end this conversation with this strange woman who had taken me into her house, no questions asked, and given me clothes, and a computer, and stereo and other things. Was that what kindness was, or was it something else? It was a lot more than most people had given me. But more importantly, she had done the same for Joel too. No questions asked. I knew why she was doing it, though. At least, I thought I did. She wanted more kids. She wanted Joel. She couldn’t have him. But… I could at least return the favor, somehow. Ben had told me in the auditorium that I should try being polite to people. Avery had pretty much informed me that I had been stuck in one spot, in one moment in time, and it was time to move on. Had Joel moved on? It felt like he had, because he’d been so damn insistent on us staying with these people, and that hurt. Because he was supposed to be my little brother. I was supposed to take care of him. Not anyone else. Yet here these people were, giving us a chance. Joel was being given the chance to speak again; to fix my mistakes. “For the record.” I turned and looked her in the eyes. They were light brown, dark flecks surrounding her pupil. “I don’t drink. Some asshole dumped booze all over me when I was trying to get out of there, unfortunately someone else passed out and I had to carry his sorry ass home.” I had already explained part of this to Ken. Perhaps he hadn’t mentioned it to her. I didn’t tell her that that someone happened to be Reese and Patrick. I figured she could figure that one out on her own. “And… if you really want to end up with good guitar players, you should go buy Reese a new guitar. That one won’t work well for him,” I told her. That said I figured my good deeds for the year was done. I raised my pry-bar, ready to get back to tearing down walls. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with the guitar he has?” she asked, interrupting me. I let out an exhausted sigh. Exhausted, because she should know better. “I mean, he’s left-handed like me, right?” I asked, studying the wall in front of me. “Uh…yeah?” The question was plain in Elizabeth’s voice. “He’s playing on a right-handed guitar,” I informed her. I decided the conversation was over. I shoved the pry-bar in between the frame and a piece of wood paneling, pushed on the pry bar. Moved it. Pushed. Moved it again. Heard her tell Patrick he better not be skipping any more classes either. On the third push, she was gone. I moved it again, watched as the wood-panel slowly came off the frame it had been stuck to for so long. In one spot. Unmoving. I was tired of being stuck. End Chapter 11 Many thanks to my team of beta-readers and editor's for their advice and feedback. They have been a great help to me the last couple of weeks while I have pushed chapters out left and right. Please leave feedback and reviews, and please, feel free to discuss in my section of the forum board. I love getting feedback. Linxe
  12. The music playing on the radio died abruptly as Patrick killed the car, the air filling with a tense silence broken by the sounds of our heavy breathing…because we’d been making out like a couple of sex-crazed bunnies. No, just kidding. But thoughts of Patrick naked and wet were flashing through my mind. A lot. This probably explained why I wasn’t looking at him, but instead at the run-down wooden house that was, in my opinion, just as large as the Windletons, though in a far sadder state of disrepair. Plants swallowed the front porch, swathing the house in an odd assortment of color that was strangely appealing to me. A barn stood off to the side of the house, its wooden doors sitting open and revealing a floor strewn haphazardly with hay, much like the lawn was strewn with a coloring of fall leaves. Leaves that were broken by a wild-haired old man who was wielding a lawnmower like it was a weapon, the thought coming suddenly because of the pissed-off look on the old man’s face when he shot a particularly nasty look at the car. “Your dad looks pissed,” I remarked, feeling myself gloat slightly at the thought of Patrick being in trouble. Probably because of all the trouble he’d been causing me lately. “He’s not my dad.” Patrick opened his door and got out, slamming it shut before I could retort back. Whatever. Then I got annoyed because I found myself getting out of the car and following him. I arrived at Patrick’s side just as the old man who wasn’t Patrick’s dad shut the lawnmower off. “Rydych yn dod drafferth i fy nhŷ?” the old man stated. My gaze drifted around the yard while I inadvertently cocked my head, attempting to decipher the strange language. “Nid fy mai i. Dilynodd fi gartref fel ci bach goll,” Patrick stated. A shiver wracked my spine when he spoke. The old man snorted. “Rydych wedi tasgau i'w gwneud,” the old man said just as the front door opened, revealing a woman with equally white hair. The only difference was hers was well-kept. She also happened to be wringing her hands in an apron as she gazed apprehensively at us. “Rwy'n gwybod. Dywedais wrthych byddwn i'n ei wneud pan gefais yn ôl,” Patrick murmured, “Roedd rhaid i mi agor y bwyty ar gyfer Bran y bore yma.” “Again?” The old woman suddenly asked, not sounding happy even as she shot me a smile. I decided instantly that I liked her, probably because she was speaking in English. “Ydw, nain,” Patrick replied. I decided I hated him even more then I already did, annoyed because he was not including me in the conversation. I rolled my eyes at him at the same time as the woman did, which made me smile in amusement, amusement that was reflected in her eyes, setting me at ease. “Wel, rydych yn gartref erbyn hyn. Cael eich tasgau ei wneud, Patrick,” the old man said, giving me a strange look as he did so. “Oh honey, surely...” “Mae’n iawn, nain,” Patrick murmured. That’s when I realized for the first time that his entire body was stiff, standing at attention. He also wasn’t looking the old man in the eye. Like he was scared of the old man, or something. I studied him as much as I could, but I had realized something was off too late, because Patrick was leaving. A gesture I took to be meant for me had me following him into a house that smelled of herbs and food, diapers and dogs; a house filled with the sounds of children. Lots and lots of children. At least ten of them, all ranging in age from newbornsto maybe twelve or thirteen. That wasn’t all, either. There were men and women, too. Ranging from my age to perhaps thirties or forties. It was like I had stumbled into a Mormon compound. Only, no one was praying. Heck, it sounded like one guy was swearing under his breath as he waltzed around the room with a baby on his hip. A hand grasped my wrist, distracting me from observing what was going on in the living room. “So what was all that about?” I asked as Patrick, still holdong onto my wrist led us to a second floor and past several doors. “Nothing, much. My grandpa seems to think you’re trouble,” he replied. I frowned at him. “Me?” I asked indignantly. “You’re the one that lied to a judge,” I reminded him. Patrick grinned. “He meant it more as he seems to think you’re going to get me into trouble, not that you yourself are actually trouble,” he replied. We came to another door and he led the way up another flight of stairs and into the attic. An attic with several beds, the only privacy offered to their occupants that of several sheets strung between each bed. Sheets that had to be carefully navigated, I soon discovered, or one was liable to wrap the clothesline they hung from around one’s neck. I swallowed when we got to a corner of the attic, the sun shining brightly through a window and onto his bed; a large knife lay in a leather sheath next to a book with a pentagram on the cover. Everything made sense now. Yup, Patrick was trying to kill me. He had lied to a judge and made me stay with the Windletons so he could use me as a religious sacrifice for the strange cult that he was obviously a member of. Patrick sat on his bed. When I finally looked away from the weapon that was probably going to be used to sacrifice me to whatever occult deity they worshipped, I was startled to realize his cheeks were red. Like...really red. He was, I realized, blushing. And it was kind of cute. “So...Uh...sorry, that was­­­—” “So you’re part of a cult?” I interrupted, picking up the knife sitting next to him, “Cause I gotta warn you, I don’t do religion—and there’s no way in hell I’m joining in on your orgy-infested ceremonies,” I informed him. He was giving me a look. I didn’t look back at him, just decided to plow ahead with what I was thinking. “So, is that why you did it?” I asked, finally deigning to look at him. He was staring at me like I had horns growing out of my head. I looked away and put the knife down. “I mean, it makes sense...I think.” Well, it did. I couldn’t think of any other reason for him to lie to a judge. “Micah...” I looked up when Patrick said my name, realizing that I must have embarrassed him because he was shoving the knife and the book under his pillow. Out of sight out of mind, I guess. “Hmm?” I hummed my question at him, waiting impatiently for a response. “You’re an idiot, and I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he told me. Only now he was glaring at me; his cheeks weren’t flushed in embarrasment, I realized, but in anger. Good. I figured it was only fair that I finally got to piss him off for everything he’d done to me lately. “Your cult. It’s the reason you lied to the judge, right?” I asked, still baiting. “I mean, you guys must...” a hand covering my mouth had me shutting up, and before I knew it Patrick was in my face, still glaring at me. “You should probably shut up now, ‘cause if you continue that line of thought I’m going to stab you,” he hissed at me. Yeesh, someone was testy. I smirked, feeling triumphant because I was getting a rise out of him. I was also going to get answers from him. He just didn’t know it yet. I licked his hand, watching in amusement as he snatched it away like I had bitten him. He wished. “See. Member of a cult! You’re already threatening to kill me.”. He rolled his eyes, his face flushing even more. “We’re not a cult,” he argued back, finally obliging me with my whims. “Okay then, who are all these people living with you?” I asked, even though I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. If they weren’t a cult, then I was screwed, because I couldn’t think of any other reason he’d have a book on witchcraft and a giant sacrificial dagger lying on his bed. “Patrick, is your friend staying for dinner?” a voice suddenly shouted up the stairs. “This asshole isn’t my friend,” he shouted in reply. I glared at him. I wasn’t an asshole. He was. He stared at me with an upraised eyebrow, as if waiting for an answer. I shook my head, deciding I didn’t really want toadstools and boiled frog-legs, or whatever it was they ate. “And no Grandma, he’s not staying for dinner,” he shouted back, giving her my answer. “They’re my family, not a cult. And we’re here for Anwen’s priodas...” I gave him a blank stare at the strange word. “...uh...wedding.” He responded to the look I was giving him. Well shit. Apparently they were all related to him. But an entire family could belong to a cult, right? “Who’s Anwen?” I asked, licking my lips at the slightly salty, sweaty taste that I could still feel on the tip of my tongue that was Patrick; visionsof him in the shower last night came back to me. Again. I couldn’t help myself, I peeked at the front of his nylon basketball shorts, swearing I could make out the lump that was his penis. At the same time I was wondering if Anwen was his girlfriend or fiance or something. Sure, Patrick was only 16, I think...but didn’t cults marry off their children at a young age? “She’s my modryb..uh...aunt,” he remarked. I looked up and stared at his mouth, fascinated by the accent that was becoming more distinct the longer he talked. I still wasn’t quite able to make out where he was from. I shook my head, remembering that I was there for answers..and, more importantly, I was there to piss Patrick off for deciding to meddle with my life, not get to know him... or his family. “Oh...you marrying her?” I asked. Only this time I didn’t manage to get the effect I wanted out of him. Rather then pissing him off he just smirked at me suddenly, like he knew something I didn’t know. “What?” I asked, feeling very defensive and nervous all of a sudden at the look that he was giving me. It was very distracting. He didn’t answer right away. Instead he got off his bed and before I knew what was going on, he had his back to me and was pulling his shirt off. I couldn’t help myself. I scooted back on his bed and leaned against the headboard, putting my hands up behind my head like I was surrendering to a police officer,trying to escape the uncomfortable knots in my stomach and alsoenjoy the unexpected strip show that I was getting. He turned around, revealing his hairless torso to me as he dropped his mesh shorts. I gulped, the sound audible even to my ears as baby blue boxer-briefs revealed themselves. “...’elp?” Patrick asked. I looked up “Huh?” I asked, face flushing when I realized he’d still been talking while taking his clothes off. “I said I have chores to do, do you want to help?” It took me a moment to catch on but when I did, I shook my head at him. “No,” I said at the same time, my gaze trailing away from his face once more and down his torso, stopping at the very distinct bulge resting in his underwear. I blushed when he inadvertently scratched at the spot I was staring at. “Too bad,” he murmured softly. And then he was sliding jeans up his long legs, eliminating the view I had in my current position. A position that, I realized, would reveal the boner I was beginning to sport. Crap! My face heated up even as I abruptly switched positions on his bed so that I was laying on my stomach but still facing him. I hid my face in his blankets, grateful that his back was once more turned toward me as he rummaged through a dresser drawer for a shirt. I closed my eyes, trying to will my boner away to no avail. I needed to come up with... “I’m gonna stay here and nap,” I informed him, eyes still closed. “But first I think you should tell me why you lied to that judge...though I still think you’re part of some cult that you wanted me to join.” “Wicca is not a cult,” Patrick rebutted immediately. “It’s a religion, same as any other. With the belief in nature and two Gods, well, a God and a Goddess, and...it’s hard to explain...” I nodded while opening an eye to peer at him, still trying my best to piss him off. “Uh-huh,” I stated in as disbelieving a manner as possible. He rolled his eyes at me, then changed the subject. “You really got into my car just to come over here and take a nap?” he asked. My head dropped back onto his bed; inhaling I caught a strong scent that I could only think to describe as Patrick-on-a-blanket. “No,” I stated, “I got into your car to find out why you lied to that judge, an issue you keep avoiding, and I don’t get it. Did I murder your favorite toad or something? Cause I gotta tell you, lying to that judge just to make me stay with that insufferable jackass and his family...” “Reese isn’t a jackass,” he interrupted. I harrumphed. “I wasn’t talking about Reese, I was talking about Ken,” I told him. “...oh...he grows on you.” I rolled my eyes. He said this like it was a fact, and...I sighed. “You’re still avoiding the topic.” He shot me a smile, like Chesire the Cat might have had he caught Tweety Bird. I let out a groan. Seriously, why couldn’t he stop dancing around the issue and just tell me why he did it? “I can’t tell you why I did what I did,” he said, his voice soft. I looked up and realized that he was genuinely thinking about it. “Why not?” I asked, ready to admit I was desperate for an answer. “I mean, I don’t think I did anything to deserve this.” “Because...perhaps you’re right,” he remarked suddenly. “Perhaps you didn’t do anything to deserve this. But, who says I did this for you?” he asked. Huh? I was seriously confused now. He shot me a smile that I think was meant to be triumphant or something. He only ended up looking kind of creepy. I groaned and dropped my head back onto his bed, closing my eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Sorry, gotta go do chores,” he said. Another sigh escaped my mouth. I pulled at his blanket until part of it was covering my head. “Fine. Have fun,” I mumbled, deciding that a nap was indeed in order. The bed sloped as Patrick knelt on the mattress next to me and poked my shoulder. I opened an eye and peeked at him, wondering what he wanted, annoyed because he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. “You’re seriously going to take a nap?” he asked me again, giving me a look of disbelief. “Yes, and it’s your fault that I need one,” I told him, closing my eyes again. “How’s it my fault that you need a nap? You were sound asleep when I woke up in your bed...and why were we naked?” I blushed; my lips stretched into a smirk. But I didn’t answer his question about why we were nude. “Because Ken woke me up at six a.m. and dragged me to an AA meeting,” I informed him A moment of silence. “Why would Ken do that?” he asked. “Oh...I don’t know...perhaps it’s because he’s a jackass...or he caught me coming in last night reeking of booze after I carried your drunk-ass upstairs with Reese and Joel. Now go away and...uh...,” I yawned in the middle of my demand, “let me sleep.” “Oh...uhm...sorry,” Patrick mumbled. I guess making him feel like an idiot had its perks. Silence was the only reply I got. I didn’t care, and apparently Patrick had nothing else to say because after sitting there in silence I finally felt the mattress shift as he got up and made his way down the attic stairs, leaving me in silent comfort on his bed. Silent comfort that I tried to take advantage of, to no avail. It was with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I unrolled myself out of his blankets, inhaling through my nose one last time to catch Patrick’s scent before I stood and, with a quiet, cranky laugh started snooping through Patrick’s belongings. The snooping left me feeling slightly disappointed. Aside from a few books on Wicca, some old jewelry in a dresser drawer, anda hand-written journal in a funny language I couldn’t understand, there was nothing to poke fun at except for his clothes. Patrick didn’t have a lot of clothes to poke through either. But what he lacked in quantity he seemed to make up for in variety. Blue jeans that looked like they would be a tight fit, a variety of button-up long-sleeved and short-sleeved western shirts, the leather belt with its bucklethat I’d seen him wearing the first day I’d ever met him­­all looked like they would go with the cowboy boots and hat I found under his bed. Baggy looking shorts and punk rock t-shirts looked like they would match the shoes and skateboard that looked like it had never been used. Then there was the dress shoes to match the preppy clothes; khaki pants, polos, more dress-shirts. It was when I snooped through one of the bottom drawers of his dresser that I hit pay dirt. I found what I could only think of as a wool dress in shades of blue, black and a lavender-ish color running in stripes, the same pattern repeating. A reddragonpin sat on top. Neatly folded in a bag next to the...well, dress was all I could think to call it, I found what looked like a tuxedo jacket, a vest, and a not so neatly pressed white shirt with a bow-tie. And that was it. The entire situation was strange to me, and I’m not just talking about the dress. That, I quickly decided, had to do with whatever country Patrick and his family were from. No, what was weird to me were the different styles of clothing that Patrick had. It was like...he had no real personality, or couldn’t decide who he was or something. I was definitely confused, and also intrigued by the situation. Intrigued enough that I ended up going down the squeaky attic stairs to the second floor of the house, where I immediately became drawn to pictures lining the wall. Some were old, much like the Windletons had on their wall. They were almostall, it seemed, taken in the countryside, the people they portrayed wearing formal wear in front of a stone cottage house, lambs and other livestock scattered here and there. But these pictures didn’t hold my attention long, nothing indicating where they had been taken. I moved down the line of photos until my attention was snagged by one that looked old, but not too old. It was ofa man and a woman, their dark hair neatly clipped, holding a baby girl in a dress. They looked, well, happy, and familiar. Baby photos of the same child were set in small frames surrounding that photo. The man and woman holding that baby were the old man and woman who lived here. And in each picture they were still smiling; the young girl I took to be their daughter appeared a little older in each one, and more and more children were added to each photo. There were a lot of children. They were the only thing that was consistent. Another lady, older than the man and his wife, were in some of the photos, holdingone child or another. Often their oldest daughter appeared front and center next to them, surrounded by children with neatly arranged black hair and fine facial features, dark eyes shining brightly in whatever light they were standing in. They were all growing up. Then Grandma and Grandpa weren’t smiling anymore. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing in this most recent photo. When I did I felt kind of dumb. The young lady had disappeared, the one I took to be their eldest daughter. Sure, the children were smiling, but the old man and his wife weren’t. Going back to the pictures before that one I could see where her face was slightly strained, her shoulders tense. My curiosity piqued, I went back to the photo she wasn’t in, stared intently and continued on my way down the hall looking at the photos that I had already passed, stopped again at a new photo. It was the same family, the same unsmiling couple. The same children minus their oldest daughter. But there was a new addition to the family. A towheaded child, probably not even six months old was being held in the photo by one of the younger boys in the family, and a baby girl, probably a year old, was standing at his feet, holding her arms up like she wanted to be held. There were no photos of this child being born surrounding this photo. The photos all continued in that line, the same towheaded boy growing older, being held by an older boy or an older girl, or standing next to them; always distant, as far away from the old man and his wife wife as he could get. The photos continued that way as the months, years and days passed by, Patrick getting older in each one, even at the age of around eight, when the scenery changed. They were standing in front of this house, streamers coming down from the roof and into the ground. A sold sign in the background. Movers were on the front-porch, moving, well, furniture. Patrick still wasn’t smiling. More photos, this one with a young Reese in them, his head not even reaching Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick still wasn’t smiling. It was an odd combination, seeing a wide-eyed, gap-toothed happy Reese standing next to an obviously unhappy Patrick. About the time Patrick was somewhere in his teens he disappeared from the photos altogether. “Ah... Good photos, those,” someone murmured behind me. I jumped, startled, and found myself staring at the old woman, Patrick’s grandmother. Even as my mind processed her words I turned, backtracked to the very last picture Patrick appeared in. He was standing on a bluff, looking toward a sunset with a distant look in his eyes. The frown on his face was even worse in this photo. He looked lonely. “They don’t look...” I stopped talking, looked back at her, uncertain. She looked at me with a raised brow, nodded her head for me to continue. “He doesn’t look happy,” I mumbled. A sigh escaped her lips, as if the words I’d uttered had knocked the breath out of her. A soft, wrinkled hand touched the back of my neck before it moved to my shoulder. “No, he doesn’t, does he?” she asked as she stepped closer to me, examining the picture I was looking at. “I don’t think he looks happy in any of them,” I stated, unconsciously following her as she guided me back the way I’d come from, stopping long enough for her to examine each photo that I had just looked at. We got to the first photo he appeared in, being held by a young man. “His dad?” I asked. She snorted. “No. His uncle. My son, Bryce. He was always good to Patrick. Bryce missed Patrick something terrible when Patrick went back to Cymru...” I shot her a look at the unfamiliar name. She noticed it and smiled at me. “Wales,” she explained, even as a finger reached out and stroked the photograph. “Three generations of Welsh men and women live under this roof,” she murmured. Whatever thoughts she was processing weren’t obvious to me. The silence became slightly stressful as we moved on. Only stressful because now we were looking at pictures Patrick wasn’t in, pictures portraying a young woman surrounded by her family –her parents, specifically, one of whom was standing next to me. The stress was emanating from her as a mix of emotions crossed her face, some happy, some sad, as we continued our stroll down memory lane. “He was very quiet growing up. Always kept to himself, never asked for anything. His aunts and uncles though, my children, they always made sure to include him in their games, made sure he had clothes when new ones were needed. There’s a saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ For Patrick, we were his village. I think being the youngest of most of our children, our eldest child’s child, it was perhaps hard on him. We didn’t always have time for him. But...” she exhaled, then turned and, now holding my hand, led me further back down the hallway and into a room that looked more like a library than an office. An old plush leather couch sat against one wall beneath some windows. She pointed me toward it. I sat down stiffly, still uncomfortable as she moved to a shelf and pulled a large leather-clad binder off it. It was a photo-album, “P A D R I G” clearly spelled out in bold, golden lettering on its cover, that she sat down on the table in front of the couch, flipping it open to reveal more photos of Padrig...Patrick... I decided that to me, he was Patrick. A smile lit up her face as we came across a baby photo, an even older woman than his grandmother holding Patrick swathed in a blue blanket, tufts of blond hair sticking out of a baby beanie cap stretched across his head. His eyes were closed. Baby Patrick was obviously asleep. More baby photos of Patrick being held in a rocking chair, a crib, and held against the old woman’s chest as she sat on a couch surrounded this photo. “His great-grandmother was always there for him. So while my husband and I were busy trying to raise our children, she raised him...” She flipped the pages, stopping at a photo of green countryside, a brick bridge visible in the background. In the foreground was Patrick and his great-grandmother. This photo was vastly different from all the others I’d seen of Patrick. Patrick was smiling up at the old woman, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist. “The river and stone arched bridge in Snowdonia National Park, Gwynedd, Wales. He was happy when she was around...” She flipped to another photo. This time they were standing in the foreground of a large brick structure with several arches. Patrick was looking away from the camera, a finger pointing at the large structure. “Here they are at the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct... I don’t think he ever forgave us when we left her in Wales, and came here to raise our family...I’m not sure she ever did either, but...” She suddenly looked at me and shrugged her shoulders, looking lost. I had to wonder why she was telling me all this. “I don’t think it came as much surprise to anyone when he asked...no...demanded to go back before his fourteenth birthday...” She flipped through the album some more, revealing more photos of Patrick in Wales, older thanhe was inthe previous photos. The same woman, now ancient, stood next to him in these photos. “Jeez, she’s soo...old...,” I remarked without thinking, panicked when I realized what I’d said. I looked at Patrick’s grandmother, ready to apologize when her laughter rang through the room. “Don’t let her hear you say that,” she remarked, “She’s not even sixty-five yet, and I promise you, she’ll kick anyone’s arse she hears calling her old. That is one woman not to be trifled with.” Patrick’s grandma was still smiling. I glanced around, still feeling slightly self-conscious. “She’s not here, is she?” I asked, not wanting to get my ass kicked by a sixty-something year old woman. Grandma shook her head. “No. She’s still in Wales. In all the years we’ve lived here, she hasn’t come to visit once, though we talk on occassion.” I felt her sadness, pulled the album closer, trying to think of something to do to distract Patrick’s grandma, althoughwhen I pulled the book closerto inspect one photo, I saw a distant look on his face. Patrick wasn’t smiling in this one. It was like he didn’t even know the picture was being taken. “No...I think it was for the best...” the old woman continued, prattling on. “After my daughter died in Ireland at the beginning of the drug problems that took Veronica Guerin’s life, I don’t think my husband was ever the same...” I looked up when she mentioned that Patrick’s mother was dead. “I don’t think he knew what to do with himself...I don’t think I did either.” A tear was sliding down her cheek. I shifted, even more uncomfortable because this old woman who was sitting next to me was crying. How did one comfort an old lady? “But Dafydd, my husband...his mom...she was so strong. She didn’t hesitate to make us claim Patrick to raise him when we went to Ireland to get our daughter’s body...” She fell silent, her eyes seeming to venture back in time. A shudder wracked her body. “What about his dad?” I asked suddenly. Her eyes met mine. “We don’t know. No name was ever given on his birth-certificate. He was in care when we got to Ireland, and it took...a lot...to get custody of Patrick. We never pursued the issue.” “Oh,” was all I could think to say. She patted me on the knee, then she was standing up and going back to the bookshelf, pulling more albums down. P A D R I G spelled out neatly on each cover.She set them in front of me. “Thank you,” she said. I glanced up, surprised by the sudden warmth I heard in her voice. Warmth that was directed completely at me. “For what?” I asked, startled. She smiled at me, an honest smile. “For...for whatever reason, Patrick has decided to stay and go to school here this year. I don’t think his hen-nain..ehr...great-grandmother...was pleased much...but..I think you had something to do with his decision...and...” she stopped, took a deep breath and looked me in the eye. “...it gives me a chance to get to know my grandson. I didn’t take that chance the first time I had it... I won’t pass this chance up.” Then she was leaving the room, mumbling something about needing to go get dinner ready for the masses, telling me to take my time and look at the photos as much as I wanted. I didn’t respond to that, still surprised by her brutal honesty and the regrets that she had expressed; regrets that she had decided to confide in to me. It made my stomach hurt even more. That didn’t stop me from looking at each photo though, carefully inspecting Patrick in each picture. Smiling when I saw a smudge of chocalate smeared across his chin as he celebrated a birthday, or the way he smiled a genuine smile when he was around his great-grandmother or, very rarely, his uncle Bryce. It was a genuine smile that I soon discovered was only featured in each photo of the very last album I opened. This album had photos of Patrick and Reese, Ken and Elizabeth. In some they were playing golf, or touring an amusement park, or celebrating more birthdays. Arms were stretched around the two boys as hugs were freely given out and returned. The smiles were truly, happily genuine, even as Reese and Patrick camped out on a carpetted floor in pajamas, snacking on popcorn while a much younger Reese lay on on top of an older Patrick’s back, reaching over Patrick’s head to get more popcorn, the greedy look of a hungry boy on his face. Then the smiles weren’t so genuine, at least not on Patrick. He looked sad and withdrawn in the very last photo taken of him and Reese. Reese looked to be eleven or twelve in that photo. Patrick was probably somewhere around thirteen or fourteen, maybe even fifteen. I closed that book on that last picture with a loud thump, making myself jump. I stared at the cover of the book, P A D R I G staring back at me with its gold-gilt script writing, bold and noticable. I set the book down on the table and stared back at those letters before looking around the room. The door was still open and a variety of voices could be heard in the distance, all clamoring for attention as they prattled away in what I took to be the language of their native homeland. Welsh. Some far away land I’d most likely never get to see. A land that Patrick, for whatever reason, had decided to not go back to, even though he had been raised there for a good portion of his childhood, and an even better portion of his teen years. My mind was awhirl, trying to figure out why he had decided to stay here, even if his grandmother was grateful, regardless the reason. I couldn’t figure it out, even as I continued to stare at that gold-lettering. I stood up and looked out the window, realizing the sun was still up in the western sky. That meant dinner should be soon. My stomach growled at the thought of food. I started to walk to the door of the office but stopped when I spotted some paper and tape lying on the desk in a corner of the room. Making my way to the desk I found a pen and, not bothering to think anything of what I was doing, started scribbling out the same three letters over and over on a couple pieces of paper. Scissors that I found in the drawer enabled me to continue the crazy thought that was running through my head. Then I was putting the photo albums back on their shelves, smiling wildly to myself as I walked out the door, following the noise as I made my way downstairs and into a hallway; peering into the living area of the house. The trestle table was quickly being filled by moving bodies, squabling children and adults, all of which were ignored as my eyes found Patrick standing in the middle of the mess that passed as their living room, a baby in his arms that he was bouncing back and forth,shooting goofy looks at it. I rolled my eyes and rather than making my presence known decided to escape unnoticed from his house before they could invite me to sit down and eat toadstools and belladonna and whatever else might pass for food around here. Only, I didn’t escape unnoticed. The front door opened just as I got to it, revealing the old man with his wild hair, standing in socks with a pair of work boots in one hand. I stopped and backpedalled slightly, uttering an apology in my surprise at his sudden appearance. He shot me a look that I couldn’t decipher. I decided to ignore it, realizing I had more pressing needs. “Which way back to the Windletons?” I asked. Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure how to get back to the house I was temporarily staying in. He gave me a bemused look, and then pointed out the door. “Behind the barn you’ll find a path leading across some fields and right on into the Windletons backyard,” he replied, his voice thickly filled with his accent. It took me a second to decipher what he said,but when I did I nodded my thanks, darted around him and headed down the porch steps. I only looked back once, to see the old man staring out the door looking at me. I stopped suddenly and smirked to myself. “I won’t find any sacrificial altars out there in the woods, will I?” I shouted, deciding that if I couldn’t piss Patrick off anymore, maybe I could piss off his old man enough that Patrick would be told to stay away from me. But the old man surprised me. He let out a sharp bark of laughter instead. “No bach, you won’ find no bloody altars out there. Just watch out fer Rhus when ya get to the woods,” he shouted. I gave a sharp nod of my head, heading for the barn while wondering who Rhus was. “My name’s Micah,” I shouted over my shoulder, “not Bach. He’s a composer.” I added, just in case Patrick’s grandpa didn’t know. I didn’t think much more about it as I spotted the trail that led into a field behind the barn and toward a patch of woods in the distance. I wasn’t long into the woods when I rather abruptly tripped over something. That trip clued me into who Rhus was, or perhaps I should saywhat rhus was. A three-stemmed leaf, slightly reddish along the edges with some sap covering it was a mere six-inches away from my outstretched hands, next to a wild growth of mushrooms growing haphazardly on a pile of mulch. Only, Rhus was more uncommonly known as Rhus Diversiloba or Poison Oak, and more then one bad experience with it had me up and on my feet in no time, examining the ground I’d fallen on to see if I’d touched the poisonous plant. I was lucky though, because as best as I could tell I hadn’t fallen into it; I still gave the area as wide a berth as possible, though, and walked more carefully through the woods until I did indeed come to a field where the Windleton’s house was visible. But so was the house that I had been in the other night. It’s stillness drew me to its front porch, a light shining through the windows of the double-wide door drew me back up its stairs and into the house. A look at the lightswitch revealed a neatly written note saying “DO NOT TOUCH! WILL ELECTROCUTE” taped over the push-buttons. I smirked, wondering who else had electrocuted themselves A glance around the foyer didn’t reveal anyone, so I looked past the double doors into the large room that I could only think of as a ballroom. There wasn’t anyone there, either. Instead, I found a mess. A rather large mess. Someone had taken down all the crap that had been strewn along the wooden walls and started taking down the wood paneling; lumber sat on the floor. I growled in frustration at this, finding myself annoyed as I inspected the haphazard work. The wood paneling that had been torn looked completely destroyed, as did some of the lath-and-plaster that I found in the space once occupied by the wood panels. I found myself grateful that whoever had started this project hadn’t finished it. In fact, it looked like they hadn’t gotten very far at all. A quick glance around the floor revealed a pry-bar, a hammer, a flash light and a sledge-hammer. I shuddered, hoping they hadn’t been stupid enough to use the sledgehammer to tear down the walls. Picking up the pry-bar I set to work, pulling off wood panels as quick as I could and laying them neatly in a pile on the floor until I had a sizable space to view into. What I saw made me shudder. The wiring was old and frayed in some places, the interior of the wall was covered with more lath-and-plaster, as I had suspected it would be. But that’s not what really bothered me. It was the fact that the wall was a load-bearing structure, the beam just barely visible in the ceiling stretching from one end of the room to the next as far as I could see with the flashlight. The thought of the entire house crumbling around me had me shuddering again. That didn’t stop me from continuing on. I kept pulling the wood-paneling off, one at a time, piece by piece, until a voice that sounded far happier then I would have expected it to echoed through out the room just as I set another panel down. “Found ‘im.” And that voice had me looking up warily as Patrick came further into the room, talking on a cell phone. “’E’s in the old house on your property...I dunno....uh-huh. K. Nes ymlaen.” He hung up the phone, apparently done with his conversation, and flashed me a look that said I was in trouble. “So this is where you ran off too. We’ve been looking for you,” he remarked. “Oh? Did you miss me?” I asked, slightly sarcastic. I turned around and began prying the next piece of paneling off the wall. “Nah. Taid told me you left when I found you missing from my bed,” he said absently as he came up and stood next to me, inspecting my work. I stepped back abruptly, dropped the wood panel, startling Patrick as I jumped out of the way. He shot me a look as he himself barely got out of the way. “Now look at who’s trying to kill who,” he remarked. I couldn’t help it. I started laughing, telling him it was about time he ‘fessed up to his true intentions. He smiled at me as I continued to laugh, my sides hurting as I breathed a little harder, attempting to get my breath back. And then the laughter died on my lips as Patrick took a step toward me, once more in my personal-space, a focused look appearing on his face as he stared at me. My back stiffened up, an uncomfortable feeling once more knotting in my stomach. A minty smell reached my nose as he leaned toward me. I stepped back. “What’re you doing?” I mumbled. Patrick never answered. A sneeze from the foyer had him stepping back and me whirling around. Joel came through the door,his eyes squeezed tightly shut as a comical expression took over his face. He sneezed again, and again, and again. Joel finally managed to stop sneezing. His eyes settled on me the second he opened them, and a grumpy expression appeared on his face as he, well, marched toward me. “You need to come home, right now!” he ordered before I could even ask him what was wrong. “Uh. What’s wrong?” I asked, confused, still wondering what Patrick had been about to do. “And why are you here?” I added. “I’m hungry,” he informed me, looking as bent out of shape as I felt. My stomach growled suddenly. I ignored it, turning to Patrick and grabbing at his hand, snatching his cell phone away as I looked at the clock. Holy shit, it was almost nine p.m. I cursed the lack of windows in the room, feeling like I should have known what time it was, but decided that I didn’t really care either. Because the mess in the room showed that I had been keeping busy, and feeling like I’d been doing something productive made me feel...good. It was the first time I’d felt good about myself since I’d gotten there. “Didn’t Elizabeth cook you guys dinner?” I asked. Out of the corner of my eye, standing next to me, I saw Patrick cringe. His expression matched the same one that appeared on Joel’s face. “Well, yeah...” “Cool. So what’d you guys have,” I asked. “Because I’m hungry.” “Well...she cooked those frozen pot-pie dinners that you’d bought from the grocery store,” Joel remarked. I smiled. “Good. I like those. You saved me a turkey one, right?” I asked. Turkey was my favorite. Joel nodded, a frown still heavy upon his face. “So...she didn’t let you eat more then one? That’s okay. I’ll make sure you get some more,” I told Joel, deciding that would make him feel better. I grabbed him and spun him around, pulling his back into mine as I started walking toward the door, hugging him. Joel shook his head though and pulled away until he could face me again. “Micah,” he whined, his handsigns coming out real slow, “she burned the pot-pies.” Okay. That had me stopping in my tracks and staring at him with all my attention. “Okay, that’s fine...I’ll just cook the others.” Joel shook his head at me. “All of them?” I asked in disbelief, my brow furrowing. Joel nodded, a smile lighting up his face as I finally sensed how bad it was at the Windletons house. “But...they’re microwavable...how...” Joel shrugged. Patrick snickered. I glared, feeling even more bent out of shape as I tried to figure it out. Joel went back to frowning at me. I got the feeling something else was bothering him. “What else is wrong?” I asked him, deciding to go with my gut instincts, because when it came to Joel, my gut instincts were hardly ever wrong. Something else must have happened while I was gone if he wasn’t being his usual cheerful, annoying self. “Still have a hangover?” I asked, inspecting him to see if he was still throwing up. He didn’t look like he was still sick. Joel shook his head at me, looking truly troubled. I felt myself frown as Joel looked at me, hesitating. He didn’t hesitate long enough. “That shrink guy thinks he can help make me talk again.” The house was quiet, to the point of being uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if it was because the drunk shrink, who introduced himself as Doctor Holmes, who wasn’t drunk, was still there or if it was because I’d walked into the house and glared at everyone before walking into the kitchen. Joel was still out there in the living room, sitting on the couch between Patrick and Reese while Ken and Elizabeth sat there making quiet conversation with the doctor. They didn’t seem to be focused on Joel speaking again, even though Ken had asked what I was pissed off about now, saying he was sorry for dragging me to an AA meeting. Patrick told him that might be it, but it more likely had something to do with the fact that the shrink wanted to shrink my brother who was already short enough as it was just to make him talk again. It’d taken me a second to realize Patrick was trying to make a joke. I didn’t find it very funny. That’s probably what prompted them to change the subject to whatever piece of small talk they could think of. You’d think I would have been galled over this, and wanting to ask a bunch of questions. I did have questions. But I didn’t need to ask them. When I’d walked into the kitchen and started the hamburger meat to browning, I’d sat down at the dining room table and discovered a bunch of papers that looked like they had just been freshly printed off. The doctor had printed out a bunch of papers on Selective Mutism, treatment options, causes. There were also, as I discovered while flipping through the materials on the table, case files on Hysterical Mutism. I found the reading to be slightly boring, most likely because I didn’t completely understand what was going on in all the reading I’d been doing. I put my head down on the table, eyes going out of focus on the papers in front of me, hands clutching at them tightly. The only thing disturbing me was the chatter coming from the living room; the smell of cooked hamburger filling the kitchen, and my own thoughts, until a chair was scooted out across from me. I looked up and found the good doctor seated across from me, his hand wrapped neatly around a glass cup. “Hi,” he smiled at me, “I’m Doctor…” “Timmy,” I interrupted. “Yeah, you introduced yourself at the AA meeting earlier.” I got up from the table, papers still clutched in my hand and moved into the kitchen, shut off the fire; drained the meat and threw it back into the pan, covered it with spaghetti sauce and checked the noodles; still warm. It was perfect. It also kept me from talking to Timmy, who still sat at the table, watching me intently as I worked in the kitchen. I felt like he could see right through me, but wasn’t judging. It was unsettling. I pulled the French bread out of the oven and finally asked the question that was bothering me. “Will it work?” His response was unsatisfactory. He shrugged his shoulders at me. “I don’t know,” he followed up with, “but I’d like to try.” I frowned. He smiled. How annoying. “S.M., if that’s what this is, is very rare. About seven in one thousand children have it. But his symptoms are far worse than anything described that I have read so far, seeing as he isn’t speaking to anyone…He spoke when he was younger, right?” I nodded, at the same time asking, “What’s this going to cost?” My shoulders were tense; I could feel them, so tight they felt like they’d snap. It was like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. Memories I’d rather have forgotten surfaced. “Nothing,” he said quietly. The frown on my face worsened at this news. My head was starting to ache. I didn’t want handouts. “It has to cost something,” I pointed out, deciding to argue with him. “No it doesn’t,” he said firmly. “Not if I’m volunteering to do this for free. Besides, I have to admit that I’ve never treated anyone with this…problem…before. I’m afraid I find myself rather intrigued. So…it costs nothing.” I was still frowning at him, trying to think of something to say that would help argue my point. “You can see me too, if you want,” he offered. That took me by surprise. “There’s nothing wrong with me; Joel either, for that matter,” was the only thing I could think of to say when I realized that I should probably say something. He laughed at me. “Of course there isn’t,” he agreed amicably, “I was just thinking that…maybe you would, I don’t know, like to talk to someone. It must be hard, your life being turned upside down so abruptly. It was just a thought though. You don’t have to if you don’t want too.” I set the plates I’d gotten out down on the counter. “Besides,” he continued, “I promise you can yell at me if you want, as long as I get to yell back.” He flashed me a grin as he said it. It put me at ease. Ken and Elizabeth came into the dining room. I gestured to the plates and silverware, pointed to the table. It was my way of saying ‘set the table’. Ken understood. “Dinner,” he hollered over his shoulder. “Do you do anger management?” I asked, shooting Ken a glare that he barely saw as I said it. “I’m sure we can figure something out regarding your…anger…issues…if you would like,” Timmy said. “How about verbal communication?” I asked next, this time glaring at Ken until he was paying attention. I knew it was a stupid question, considering the entire subject started because of Joel but as far as I was concerned, Ken’s verbal communication skills sucked and needed improvement, “and…I’ll think of something…” Timmy let out a short bark of laughter, giving me an appraising look. “I can try,” he remarked, “no promises though,” he added as an afterthought, also looking at Ken. Ken didn’t seem very happy. Everyone else sat down at the table. Patrick, Reese and Joel were looking at me. Patrick was the only one who seemed to understand what was going on. “I’ll do it if he does it,” Ken finally muttered. “Joel too,” Elizabeth suddenly said, catching my attention for the first time. “Only for his…mutism,” I insisted. Elizabeth nodded at me. “Unless he wants otherwise,” she interjected, joining the negotiations taking place between Ken and me. Her request was reasonable. I guess. I put dinner on the table and sat down, not giving my agreement. Patrick was cutting the garlic bread when I finally looked at him. “Didn’t you eat already?” I asked. Patrick shrugged at me. “I’m a teenage boy…I’m always hungry,” he informed me plaintively, as if I should know this. I eyed him. Someone laughed. “Can you do anything for impulsive liars?” I asked Timmy, still eyeing Patrick. Patrick dropped the garlic bread, opened his mouth to say something. “Payback’s a bitch,” I informed him, smiled sweetly. I turned to Timmy, wanting an answer. He looked confused but nodded his head slowly. “I can…try.” Patrick groaned. “Fine,” he muttered. “Fine! I’ll do anger management, Ken anger management and control freak management and communication and…Patrick will stop lying,” I said, deciding to spell out the terms of my surrender. “Agreed?” My surrender in exchange for Joel getting a chance to speak again…It was, I thought, the only thing worth surrendering for, because there was no way in hell I’d be leaving now if this shrink could help Joel. Help fix my…mistake. “And Joel will work on his lack of speech problem,” Elizabeth interjected, something like relief coming to her face. I nodded my head, glanced around the table. Ken looked annoyed, but finally said yes, those were the terms he was agreeing too. Patrick was the last one to agree. A noodle landed on my shirt, caught my attention. “Don’t I get a say in this?” Joel asked. “No, you don’t,” Patrick and I said at the same time. I looked at Patrick. Green eyes met mine, amused. “Masterful,” Timmy said suddenly. We looked at him. He smiled at me just before he plopped a chunk of garlic bread into his mouth. End Chapter 10. Please rate and review the chapter. You can find the discussion thread here
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