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    DomLuka
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Desert Dropping - 35. Time

A/N: Thanks to Jim for editing!

I pushed my body forward, gliding over the ice at a faster speed than I was used to, weaving in and out of the thin crowd of people who were at the rink. Eddie was in front of me, towering over just about everyone on the ice in his gray t-shirt and casual jeans, grinning back over his shoulder at me because he was winning our race. I just shook my head at him, wondering if he knew how nervous he was making those who were half his size as he skated around them at fast speeds.

It was Wednesday, four days before I was supposed to return home with my grandma, and I’d had a hard time facing Eddie that morning. I suppose it was awkward after everything he’d said the night before. I hadn’t been able to respond to it then, and if he’d asked me to, I wouldn’t have been able to respond to it now. The whole thing had been too... emotional. What he’d said to me, I think I could have stood to hear from a man who I’d known my entire life. Coming from Eddie, who I hadn’t known for very long at all, was difficult, but no less real.

He’d stomped down any awkwardness after breakfast, though, when he suggested getting out of the house. He’d wanted me to show him where I was always going with Seth; and since lately, it had been skating, that’s where we went while Jase stayed home again and offered to take my grandma down to a farmers’ market about an hour away from the house.

I finally caught up to Eddie, but I’m pretty sure that’s only because he’d slowed down. He was looking flustered, his hair a mess on his head and his cheeks red from exertion. I’m sure I looked the same way. We’d been circling the rink nonstop and I was a little out of breath.

"Do you want to take a break?" Eddie asked me, and I nodded. We left the rink at the first available opportunity and moved to a table where we’d left our belongings, including a couple of drinks. The next few minutes were spent sipping them through straws, me downing my fruit punch and Eddie his soda.

"I didn’t even know they had this place here," Eddie commented. "It’s fun."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Seth said they just finished building it."

Eddie nodded, and took another drink of his soda as he leaned back in his chair, watching me.

"So what do you think about your grandma being married?" he asked. "We haven’t really had a whole lot of time to talk about it."

I sighed, and put down my drink, shaking my head to myself. "I think it’s crazy," I blurted. "She’s completely out of her mind. You don’t just meet someone and marry them two weeks later."

"Your grandma seems happy about her decision," Eddie pointed out.

"Yeah, well I give this another two weeks, tops," I stated.

"Rory!" He looked surprised with me and my negative tone, but he was also fighting a smile.

"She’s never had a boyfriend who lasted more than a couple months. I know my grandma, and this is insane. They’re married but they’re not even living together? Come on. Everything’s backwards."

"Didn’t you just agree to give her away at her wedding?"

"Just because it’s not going to last doesn’t mean I can’t be nice about it," I replied. "I mean... that’s sort of what my mom always said about my grandma’s other boyfriends. I don’t know... I guess it sort of creeps me out that she’s married."

"Well... what if it does work out? Do you think you’ll be okay living with Jarred and his family like that? I’m not asking to try to talk you into anything--I just want to make sure you’re going to be okay."

"I guess so," I replied, after a moment of consideration. "I mean, if he’s okay with me, I think I’ll be okay with him. Plus, it’s not like I don’t have time to figure it out before they do move in together. If they move in together."

"Do you think you’ll tell Jarred and his family that you’re gay?"

I frowned at that question. "I dunno. Maybe. Is it really any of their business? I mean, I don’t even know them."

"But you will."

"Maybe," I agreed. "I guess...maybe I’ll tell Jarred, you know... and then, we’ll see."

"If you’re not happy, you can always come back here," Eddie reminded me, and I raised a brow at him.

"Are you hoping that I’m not happy there?" I asked.

He considered the question. "Yeah. Maybe a little bit," he replied unapologetically, and then smiled at me. "Do you want to skate some more, or go to lunch?"

"Can we skate some more and then go to lunch?" I asked.

"Yep," he replied, abruptly standing up. "I’ll race ya."

I rolled my eyes, wondering if he’d ever get sick of turning everything into a competition as I slowly stood to go join him. Not that I minded Eddie turning things into a competition. It was actually kinda fun to hang out with him when he was acting like a big kid, and as we spent the day together, roaming from one mindless activity to another I decided that I’d miss it, just hanging out with him like that. It was strange, but I started to look at the things I did with Eddie now, and I could almost see myself doing it with him when I was younger--going skating, or to the park, or playing laser tag. And it made me sad that I’d missed it. I guess I couldn’t help wondering if I was about to miss it all over again by returning to Nevada.

..................................

I’d seen Seth on Wednesday. Around nine o’clock I went with him, Angela and Dave back to the club Angela liked to dance at. Luke had stayed behind, insisting that he wanted to hang out with Brian and Rick. I’d wondered if he’d felt left out, but when I’d returned home he seemed to be in a good mood, and spent an hour before we went to bed talking about the party he’d gone to. I was glad he was happy, because I’d had a pretty good night myself. I’d talked Seth into dancing, but we’d done more hugging than actual dancing. He didn’t mention the fact that I’d be leaving. But now it was there between us, and when Dave did bring it up I noticed that Seth looked like he wanted to escape the conversation. I could understand that, because I felt the same way.

I didn’t see Seth on Thursday. I went to the park with everyone else--Eddie, Jase, Luke, and even Grandma Alice, who sat out and watched our attempt at playing baseball. A frightening thought occurred to me there. I couldn’t help wondering how I’d feel if I left, and Eddie and this family just started thinking of me as a passing visitor. I wondered what if by next summer, they weren’t as interested in what I was doing. The thought alone was upsetting, and I began to really consider just how much these people had grown to mean to me.

When Luke had asked me if I just wanted to stay in that night so we could bullshit and watch movies like we so often did, I couldn’t tell him no. One last time, he’d said.

It was Luke’s suggestion that I invite Seth over, and I’d done so, but once I told him what we were doing, he’d made an excuse about having to work in the morning and insisted that I spend some time with Luke before I leave. It was a kind thing for him to say, but it had left me feeling cold, especially when I’d called him later that night to see if he was okay and he didn’t answer. I hadn’t slept much that night, my stomach being in knots about whether or not he was upset with me, but the next morning I got a surprise that seemed to make up for it.

Luke had called in sick to work, and once again, Eddie and Jase put their jobs on hold to be home; and when Seth stopped by to see me before he went to work, Grandma Alice corralled him in the house and wouldn’t let him leave until he ate breakfast. My grandma seemed to be in a particularly feisty mood that morning, and it proved to be an interesting breakfast as she flirted with Jase, interrogated my boyfriend about all the things that she’d already questioned me about, and told Luke that his dog could do with some manners when Chey kept begging for bacon strips. Luke had responded by telling Grandma Alice that Chey had plenty of manners, and if my grandma had any, she would have offered his dog some breakfast, too. That had brought silence to the table until Grandma Alice started laughing, and gave Chey a whole plate of bacon.

After we ate, and Seth had left for work, Eddie and Jase announced that they were going to take Alice out to see whatever sights they could find, and that it would be a day trip. I was, to say the least, surprised by this, because Eddie had been pretty adamant about not letting me out of his sight while he was home from work over the last few days; but apparently, Luke had plans for us. He’d said that he wanted to make sure I got a chance to say goodbye to everyone. I was further surprised when he told me that we just had to wait until one o’clock, when Seth got home from work.

Meanwhile... I packed. It wasn’t a fun task, but it needed to be done. It was particularly difficult with Luke standing over my shoulder shaking his head the whole time. But, at least he changed his attitude when he realized that I was getting stressed out, and he even helped me. We put two bags together for me, and a box of stuff that I thought I’d want to have, mostly memorabilia from my mother. Luke had surprised me when he held up a picture of me and my mom, taken two years before she passed away, and asked if he could keep it. I’d told him that he could, and I was pleased when I caught him slipping a more recent picture of Eddie, Jase, and him into one of my suitcases. I didn’t tell him I saw him do it when I entered my room with two bottles of water and found him standing over my bag, closing it up where it rested on the bed. I just smiled at him when he turned around and I handed him one of the bottles.

"So, I’m sorta thinking that I need to call Nathan," I announced. "He should be back from his vacation about now, I think."

"You’re going to tell him you’re coming home?" Luke asked.

"Yeah," I said carefully. I knew that this wasn’t a good topic for me and Luke, and the last thing I wanted was to end up arguing with him again. "I’m kind of curious about how he’s doing. When I left, I was pretty angry, you know. My friends said goodbye to me, but I acted like I didn’t care. I feel like I should tell him I’m better now... And, I kinda want to figure out what happened to Jason. His line’s still disconnected and that’s kind of weird."

"Have you tried asking your grandma about that?" Luke asked.

I nodded. "She hasn’t really heard anything from anyone I know. They don’t really live in the same neighborhood, and she’s been busy, you know..."

Luke smirked. "Getting married."

"Yeah," I said sighing. "What’s with that? Anyway... I think I should call Nathan."

"Now?" Luke asked, and I nodded. "So do you want me to leave or something?"

"No," I said quickly. "I mean... I don’t know why I’m telling you first. I just, um... I’m nervous, I think."

"So you want me to stay?"

"You don’t have to. I mean, I don’t mind if you’re here, but I don’t need you to hold my hand or anything. I’m just saying..."

"Rory?"

"Yeah?"

"How about you call your friend... and, I’ll go in the other room. I have a few phone calls I need to make, anyway. Uh, I’ll eavesdrop, too."

I smiled. "Okay."

Luke passed me, taking a moment to drop a friendly hand on my shoulder, and then he was gone, and I was left to sit between the two suitcases on my bed and pick up the phone. I’m not sure why it seemed more difficult this time to dial the numbers than it had the last time. I think it was because the last time, I was determined, and I’d been focused, wanting to hear Nathan tell me why I couldn’t get hold of Jason. But now, I was nervous. I found myself wondering if Nathan would even want to hear from me. At the beginning of the summer, Nathan, Jason and I had not been as close as we’d been before my mom got sick. I’d been under the impression that when I left, I wasn’t coming back, and I’d refused to feel hurt over leaving my friends. I’d decided to let them go, rather than feel like I’d lost them. At the time, I’d been tired of losing people, and I was tired of hurting over it; and despite how much I told myself that I’d write them with my new address, now I could safely, and shamefully say that I’d never intended to do it. Not really. I’d intended to forget about them. Even after I made that deal with Eddie, I’d had no real desire to reconnect. I’d already said goodbye to them once. That was enough. And after that, I didn’t want to connect with anyone because when it came time to say goodbye again, it was going to hurt. Just like it was going to hurt to say goodbye to all of the people here who’d slipped right through my emotional barrier.

But, I would say goodbye, and this time, I’d keep in touch; because otherwise, one day I’d end up sitting there with a phone in my hand again, wondering if they even missed me. That’s what I wondered about Nathan--if he even thought about me. I wondered if he and Jason ever talked about me, or wondered why they hadn’t heard from me. I wondered if they were angry that they hadn’t; and I wondered if they even cared. I wasn’t sure which scenario I preferred. I guess I just wanted to call Nathan, tell him I was coming back, and see what he had to say. I also figured that it would be a good time to find out where Jason was, and get his new number if it had changed.

I dialed, and listened to the phone ring. I almost expected to hear that answering machine again, and I think that little expectation relaxed me. But, it also left me completely unprepared for when a woman’s voice answered instead.

"Hello?" she said, and then more impatiently, when I didn’t respond, "Hello?"

"Hi," I said slowly. "Is um... is Nathan there? This is..."

I never got to finish before the woman’s voice was calling for Nathan, and I frowned. That had been his mom. I sort of wanted to tell her who I was. She knew my mother. She was at the funeral. She definitely would have remembered me.

"Hell-o?"

"Nathan?"

"Yeah. Who’s this?"

I took in the sound of his voice, the way he made it sound deeper than it really was when faced with the unknown, and found myself smiling. "Rory," I replied, sitting back on my bed.

There was a long silence.

"Yeah. Okay," came the response, and I blinked at the tone in Nathan’s voice, which was almost defensive.

"Nathan?"

"What?"

I paused, not sure how to proceed. "Are you mad at me or something?" It was a stupid question, I know. I’d blown him off when I left. Of course he was mad.

"I don’t know," he responded hotly. "How’s Jason doing? If he thinks getting you to call me will get me to tell him where his stupid necklace is, it won’t. Because I don’t know."

"What are you talking about?" I demanded. "I was calling you to see if Jason had a new number. His is disconnected and I can’t get hold of him. Nathan, I haven’t talked to anyone all summer."

There was another long silence.

"You haven’t been calling Jason?" Nathan asked suspiciously.

"No. No one. Look, I’m sorry about that, okay? I don’t really have an excuse, it’s just, a lot’s been going on, and I..."

"That lying son-of-a-bitch!" Nathan snapped, and I moved to my feet.

"What is going on?" I asked. I’d expected this conversation to go a lot of different ways. This, was not one of them.

"He told me you’ve been calling him all summer!" Nathan informed me.

"What?"

"Yeah, like you think I’m being a dumbass, too. Well, you know what? He’s the dumbass fucking idiot!"

"You and Jason are fighting?"

"Ya think?"

I sat down again, starting to understand.

"What happened?" I asked.

There was yet another silence, but this time, when Nathan came back, he was somewhat calmer. "You really haven’t been talking to him?"

"No," I assured him, and I heard Nathan sigh.

"Jason moved out of our neighborhood about two months ago. Ever since then he’s been hanging out with all his brother’s friends and he thinks he’s God’s fucking gift all of a sudden. Then, he was with this girl and every time I turned around he was blowing me off. I finally got sick of it and told him to go to hell; so he doesn’t talk to me for, like, a week, and then he calls up saying I have his stupid necklace! You know that stupid plastic skull thing he got out of a crackerjack box?"

"His good luck charm?" I remembered him wearing it at all of our swim meets.

"Yeah, like I have that stupid thing laying around! He probably gave it to that girl and forgot about it. Fuck. He’s been such a jerk. I thought you hadn’t been calling me because of him."

I frowned to myself, feeling like a royal idiot as I thought about my two friends back home, who I’d always pictured living up life without me and being just fine with it. Never had it occurred to me that Jason and Nathan had been fighting, or that Nathan felt abandoned by not only Jason, but me, too. I let out a breath, and tried to be reasonable. It’s what I’d do if this had happened while I was there.

"No, like I said, I haven’t been calling anyone. Shit. I’m sorry, Nathan. I didn’t know..." I paused, sighing. "Look, you and Jason are gonna make up. You know you will."

"Not when he’s being a prick, we’re not."

"Come on. Think about it. Remember in eighth grade he got pissed off over something stupid; like, he wanted to go see one movie and we wanted to see another--he threw a total fit."

"Yeah, well he’s still as stupid as he was then," Nathan informed me.

"Okay, but do you remember afterwards, he showed up at my place saying that he left his jacket there, and then he came back later saying that we had one of his school books? He was only doing it because he wanted to make up but he was too stupid to just apologize. He could be doing the same thing with that necklace. Look, do you have his new number? Maybe I can call him and try to..."

"No, forget it... I don’t wanna drag you into this, I just thought...shit. I’m sorry." Nathan laughed tiredly to himself and I frowned. "God, I haven’t heard from you all summer. I should be asking you how you’re doing or something, right? I mean... how are you? You were pretty down when you left. When me and Jason were still talking, we didn’t think we’d even hear from you."

"Oh. Uh. Yeah... I’m better," I admitted. "I’ve been pretty good. I was actually calling because... I’m coming home."

"Home?"

"Yeah, I’m gonna live with my grandma again. Should be there just in time for school."

"Seriously? But I thought you were moving there--you know, permanently."

"I was, but it changed. I’m coming back now."

"Wow... so I guess things didn’t work out with your dad?"

I opened my mouth to reply, but took a moment to swallow, the question bothering me.

"Um, actually... he turned out to be okay. I mean, I like him."

"Really?" Nathan replied, sounding surprised, and as warranted as that was, I found myself oddly offended by it. "Huh."

"Well, yeah. He’s a decent guy, okay? And I found out he didn’t even know about me. But, he’s still been really... he’s nice. He’s a good guy, and I like him."

"Oh. Well, that’s good, right?" Nathan asked, sounding unsure. We’d known each other our whole lives, but somehow I felt that this conversation was awkward for both of us.

"Yeah, it’s good," I agreed.

"So, things just aren’t working out there, then?"

"Well... no. I mean, yes, they are--it’s not that. Everything’s fine. Like I said, I really like Eddie, and his family is pretty great, too."

"He’s married?" Nathan asked, and I paused, suddenly feeling very confused, and completely perturbed with myself as I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell him about Jase and Luke, or explain how they were a family.

"Um, yeah," I replied. It felt close enough to the truth, but it was still a lie to me as I realized it was one thing to keep my own sexuality from my friends, but to keep Jase and Luke a secret because I was afraid of letting Nathan know the truth, was the same as being ashamed of them, and that, I was ashamed of. "Look, they’re all great. Really... great."

"So... why are you coming back?" Nathan asked, and I frowned. This was not how this conversation was supposed to go.

"I live there, shit..."

"Hey, that came out wrong," he cut me off. "I mean... that’s really great, that you’re coming back here. Who knows, maybe you can help me talk some sense into Jason."

"Yeah," I agreed.

"And, it would probably be too hard to start over in a new school, not knowing anyone, anyway. I mean, it’s gotta be pretty lonely."

I frowned at that, too. I wasn’t lonely. Not with Eddie, and Jase, and Luke. I definitely wasn’t lonely with Seth. Seth, who I didn’t have the guts to tell Nathan about.

"When do you get back?" Nathan asked, when I didn’t say anything.

"Sunday," I replied blankly.

"Wow, that’s, like, no time before school starts."

"I know."

"Well, maybe I could come over when you get back, if you need help unpacking or anything."

"Yeah," I agreed, more genuinely now. "That would be cool. I could call you when I get back?"

"Okay, we’ll catch up then."

"Alright. Um, thanks, Nathan."

"Oh, hey Rory?"

"Yeah?"

"I know it’s a little late, but when you left you said you’d call with your new number... can I have that now? You know, just in case I wanna call tonight and tell you what Jason’s face looked like when I tell him I heard from you first and he’s a fucking liar?"

I smiled ruefully to myself, let out a breath, and gave it to him.

...............................................................

It was one fifteen when Luke handed me the keys to his jeep and instructed me to go pick up Seth. I found the order a little strange, and asked him why I shouldn’t just call Seth and ask him to come over. Apparently, Seth didn’t need his truck, according to Luke, so taking my driver’s license on its first solo spin, I drove down the street to Seth’s house. When I realized that Seth wasn’t at all surprised to see me it became clear that this had been planned. At least Seth wasn’t as vague as Luke was. As I went upstairs with him because he needed to grab a few things, he’d explained that this morning after breakfast when I was helping Grandma Alice with the dishes, Luke had told him he wanted to get some people together this afternoon as a little farewell party. He’d also told Seth that he’d ask me to pick him up, and that he should bring a swim suit. Apparently, I was supposed to get Seth and take him directly back to the house. But it didn’t exactly work that way once I got distracted.

Seth’s parents weren’t home, his bedroom door was cracked open, and I watched him from above, my vision seeming hazy with the sweat heavy over my eyelids. But Seth still looked perfect with his eyes half closed and rolled back. Apart from his cock, erect against his abdomen, his body felt completely relaxed, rocking with the mattress. My arms were hooked beneath his knees as I thrust into him, aiming my erection at the spot that he liked to me hit.

Seth parted his full lips and his eyes focused on me for a brief moment before rolling back again. He looked like he wanted to say something, but like each time before, all he managed was a small moan as his tongue appeared to moisten his lips. Before it could retreat back into his mouth, I leaned down and sucked it into mine. Seth tilted his head upwards, deepening the kiss. I released his knees to hold onto him when his arms came around me and he began to lift his hips from the bed, meeting my rhythm until I arched my back and came, groaning against his mouth as he followed my lips with his.

I could still feel him, hard between our bodies as I softened within his. His hands cupped my face and he continued to kiss me, his tongue moving in and out of my mouth, over my lips while his teeth nipped at me until I didn’t know what to do about it as my breathing slowed and my body cooled. He released me when I slipped out of him, and I dragged my mouth down his body, following the trail of hair leading down his navel until my lips came to the head of his cock and I parted them around it. I took him in, using my tongue as I slowly worked my way down his length, only quickening my pace when Seth brought his hands roughly to my head and shifted his hips impatiently, groaning out his frustration. I sucked him harder, taking him to my throat until I felt his muscles tighten and he became as spent as I was.

Still feeling shaky from my own orgasm, I rolled off of him onto my back, my head resting by his thigh. It took him a few minutes, but when Seth finally recovered he moved to kiss me, causing me to jump when he removed the condom from my softening cock. I closed my eyes as he disappeared for a moment. He wasn’t gone long, and when I felt his weight dip the mattress next to me I turned into him, burying my face against his chest, below his collar bone, where the thin layer of hair there tickled my nose as I took in the clean, musky scent of him. Seth moved an arm around me and I felt him relax as he snuggled up to me, drumming his fingers over the back of my neck.

"Weren’t we supposed to be somewhere?" he tiredly asked.

I kissed his chest, and lifted my eyes to meet his. "I guess so," I admitted, but made no effort to move.

Seth studied me for a moment. "You don’t want to?"

I shifted upwards, sliding a knee between his legs as I faced him, resting my forehead against his shoulder. "I was wondering if you didn’t want to," I said quietly. "I know I didn’t see you last night and I guess I was wondering... if you’re okay."

I watched the left corner of his mouth curl into a smile, a hint of his dimple appearing. "I’m fine... I’m sorry I didn’t come see you last night. I just thought you might want to hang out with Luke. You’ve been with me every night. I don’t... want to feel like I’m taking you away from your family when you’re supposed to be leaving. And right now, Luke is waiting for us, so..."

I sighed. "You’re not taking me away from anything," I insisted, tightening an arm around him. "I don’t want you to stay away, Seth... I just don’t have enough time. I feel like, I don’t have enough time. I don’t want you to stay away."

"Okay," he replied carefully, looking as if he was unsure about something. "But, I think I need to tell you... you know how I said, that I hate that you’re leaving?"

I nodded. "Yeah."

Seth frowned, opened his mouth to say something, and then shook his head. "You know what? I’m sorry. Never mind."

"Seth," I objected, lifting myself onto an elbow. "Just say it, okay? What about it?"

He let out a breath, and long moments passed as I waited for an explanation. "I meant it," he finally said. "I really don’t want you to go. I mean, I’m trying here, Rory, really hard to act like it’s okay." He closed his eyes for a moment and abruptly rolled onto his stomach lifting himself onto his elbows before he faced me again, and my gut knotted over what he might say next. "I feel guilty even saying that to you because I know you’re tired of everyone telling you that they want you to stay. But I want you to know that I wish... I wish you’d figure out that there’s a reason why people keep telling you that. I don’t want you to leave. I know it’s gonna happen, and I don’t want it to be any harder than it has to be, and I don’t want you to feel like shit about this for the rest of the time that we do have. But when I think about Angela calling me next Friday, because she wants to go bowling, it hurts to think that I won’t be able to call you to ask you to come with me. Or that I won’t come home anymore to find you hanging out outside because you got bored..."

"Seth," I started, but I was abruptly cut off by his lips moving firmly, but briefly, over mine. Just enough to silence me.

"I’m going to miss you," he said quietly, and I felt my face twist into an uncontrollable frown as he brushed his fingers over my forehead, as if I actually had long enough hair to push away.

"Please don’t be mad at me."

"I’m not," Seth promised. "I just wanted you to know."

I closed my eyes as Seth leaned forward and kissed me again as I wrapped an arm tightly around him and he buried his face against my neck; and for a long while we laid there, his breath hitting my skin until we remembered that we were supposed to be somewhere.

...........................................

From the gray brick wall in front of the park’s entrance I could hear the excited voices and screams of the people inside, smell the large amounts of chlorine in the water as well as the strong scent of nachos and hot dogs and I could see the slides, towering over the gates as Luke led Dave, Rick, Brian, Angela, Cathy, Meg, and even Mary, along with a few guys from his wrestling team that I’d met once or twice over the summer through them in front of me. I just stood there in my black swim trunks with my backpack over my bare shoulders as the sun beat down over the top of my head, completely immobile, and feeling unnecessarily cautious.

"Hey," Seth said, and I jumped ever so slightly when he came from behind me and gently tapped my side. He’d ditched his silvery shorts for dark-blue swim trunks that I made no secret about liking his butt in; and for once he hadn’t even bothered to bring a hat, his straight blondish hair pushed back over the top of his head. "I thought I was the one who was supposed to get nervous around water. What’s up? Are you okay?"

I looked at him and nodded, tightening my grip on my backpack as I led the way into the water park with Seth right next to me. "Yeah. I’m alright... it’s just, every time I set foot in this place I run into Aaron Keslin. I mean, the last time I came here it was with him, but still... I have a bad feeling."

"Like, you’re going to see him or something?" Seth asked, dropping a hand on my shoulder as we followed behind the rest of the crowd together.

"I don’t know," I admitted. "Maybe not like that. I mean... he’s still on vacation, right?"

"Right."

"Yeah. So it’s stupid," I decided. "I don’t know. Sorry. This place just made me think about Aaron, and I got a bad feeling, that’s all."

Seth studied me for a long moment, and then smiled. "I think that’s normal," he said. "I mean, thinking about Aaron and getting a bad feeling. But you’re not supposed to be thinking about him right now. You’re supposed to be having fun."

"And I’m going to," I replied. "If I can actually get you in the water with me."

Seth looked sheepish for a moment, and then grinned. "Alright," he agreed, and then lowered his voice. "But nothing too rough. My butt’s sore."

I laughed, loving the way he blushed as I flashed him a grateful look for making me smile. "Nothing too rough," I agreed. "And we’ll make sure your feet can always touch the bottom."

"Just stop thinking about Aaron," Seth insisted. "You’ll have a good time. I promise."

And I did. It was rather hard to think about Aaron, anyway, with Seth constantly bending over in front of me to adjust a strap on his sandal that just didn’t want to stay on right. But besides that, it was nice being out with everyone, and our group mostly stayed together as we moved from one slide to another. I refused to go through the tunnel ride with the boats, and after explaining why to Seth, he pointed out that while that ride was the park’s version of a haunted house they had another tunnel, a much slower ride with incredibly corny heart-shaped boats. We went on that, but spent the entire ride laughing because Rick and Brian were behind us and the whole time we heard Rick complaining that not only he was terrified of Brian sinking their boat, but also about how he couldn’t understand why Luke got to ride with both Cathy and Meg, who were in front of them, fawning over my flirtatious housemate.

When we stopped and grabbed something to drink, Angela pulled out a brown bag full of homemade cookies. I gave her a hug when I saw the blue frosting on each one, saying Goodbye Rory. It wasn’t the reminder that I was leaving that I appreciated, but the thought behind it. I hadn’t gotten to know Angela very well, but she said that she’d miss me. Of course, this was mostly because she thought Seth and I were cute together, but still. I felt like I was going to miss her, too. All of them, actually.

As I took my time to simply have a good time and visit with these people I started to wonder if things would be the same with this group next summer. I wondered if Luke and Dave would be best friends, or if Brian and Cathy would still be together. I wondered if Dave would be completely obsessed with another girl by then, or if Angela would still have him wrapped around her finger. I wondered if Seth would still look at me the way he did when I made him laugh, or if he’d just look at me the way that he looked at everyone else. It was all sad to think about. Just like it was sad to think that when I got back home, things wouldn’t be the same. Not with my grandma. Not even with Jason and Nathan, unless I could figure out a way to at least get them to make up and go back to the way things were.

But things changed. They always changed. It was just a matter of whether or not I was there to be a part of it. It was strange to think that if I’d been in Arizona one summer earlier, Luke and Aaron would have been the best of friends and there was a chance that I never would have met Seth. That was now a world I couldn’t imagine. Next summer, I had no doubt that things would be different again. But, I’d know about it. These were people that I was going to hear about, because I wasn’t going to make the mistake I made with Jason and Nathan. I was going to keep in touch, and I was going to know... and I was going to keep my friends.

I spent time at that water park for the rest of the afternoon, acting as if I wasn’t going anywhere else at all. I listened to everyone talk about what they’d be doing the next weekend, before school started, and I threw out suggestions as if I were going to be there myself. And, I took the opportunity to be out. I held Seth’s hand without giving it a second thought, and I kissed him in the lines for various slides, not caring who saw it because the reality was, it could be a while before I was able to do it again. This summer had been an experience for me. It had started with secrets and lies and my inability to sort my head from my ass but now... I had never felt more like myself, and by the end of the day, I’d realized that going home was going to be more of a challenge than I ever thought staying would have been. I’d be starting over with a new family. I’d be trying to figure out why the two guys, who had at one point been my best friends in the world, were no longer talking. I’d be shoving myself back in the closet and locking the door.

The night that Eddie had come into my room and said he’d make a deal with me, I couldn’t wait for the summer to be over so I could get the hell out of there. I never thought that I’d be unhappy about leaving. But now I was, and it was beginning to sink in.

It sank in more later that night. After the water park, we’d taken the entire group back to the house, divided between Luke and Brian’s vehicles. Eddie, Jase, and Grandma Alice were home by then, but didn’t seem to mind that we were all outside swimming some more until around nine o’clock, stopping only to barbeque. I’m not sure what happened after nine because that’s when Seth and I left.

At his house, it was quiet. He’d explained that Gail was at a sleepover, and his parents were out for most of the evening. But it didn’t seem to matter where they were. I was content being locked in his room with him. We talked. He told me that he got an unexpected phone call from his brother, who wanted to start talking again. Seth was happy about that, and I was happy for him. We talked about what things would be like for me when I went home, and I told him how Jason and Nathan were no longer talking. Seth was confident that I could end their feud. I hoped that he was right.

We got through about twenty minutes of a movie before Seth decided that being outside all day warranted a shower, and I got in with him this time. The experience ended with both of us naked in his bed, exhausted, and in need of another shower. But, I wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. I did manage to keep myself conscious this time. Though, I wished that I would have passed out when Seth went to retrieve a notebook and a pen, and brought it back to the bed with him.

I sat up under the covers, and watched him curiously as he rested the notebook on his bare thigh, and began to write, pausing every few moments to glance in my direction with a soft smile. When he was finished, he tore of the piece of paper he’d been writing on, and passed the notebook and pen to me, while I regarded him curiously.

"Could you write down your address?" he asked. "Phone number, too, please. If it’s going to change."

My smile faded. "Seth," I said quietly. "We don’t have to do this now."

"Yeah, we do," he insisted. "Please."

I sighed, not liking this at all. I wanted to do it, just to humor him. But I hesitated. I never would have thought that writing down a few numbers would make things feel so final, especially when all of those numbers were supposed to keep me in touch with Seth. I wrote them down slowly, unable to get rid of the frown that I could feel on my face. It was very distracting, the tight knots in my forehead, and the way my eyes felt heavy. I couldn’t seem to drop the expression, not even when I passed the book back to Seth. He took a moment to look at it, and then placed it on his nightstand before he folded up the piece of paper he’d written on and placed it on top.

"That’s mine," he told me. "Don’t forget it, okay?"

"Okay."

Seth leaned towards me, and as his lips lightly covered mine I lifted the covers, holding them as he climbed back under with me. We laid back facing each other, sharing a pillow, and as Seth broke the kiss, I met his eyes in the dim light coming from the hallway to his bathroom.

"I’m not going to see you tomorrow," he announced, and I frowned at him as his fingers gently rubbed at my shoulder and he shifted his hips forward, tangling his legs with mine. I could feel his flaccid cock, just against mine, and even as tired as I was, I pressed closer.

"Are you working?" I asked. "If you’re working maybe I could stop by afterwards, or come see you... It’s my last day, Seth. I’m leaving on Sunday morning."

He let out a breath, and I watched him deliberately avoid my eyes. My frown deepened as a distinct feeling that he was about to say something that I wasn’t going to like hit me.

"Seth?" I said, near pleadingly. He was making me nervous. After what he’d told me earlier, I didn’t like it. I already had enough depressing thoughts in my mind. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say if it was something else that I wouldn’t like.

"I am working," he confessed. "But, I don’t want you to come."

"Are you dumping me?" I asked, slightly panicked. Perhaps it was a stupid question. I was leaving in two days, but as of yet, neither Seth or I had said it was over. Not really. If he was now... I didn’t want it to be now. The very thought placed so many nauseating knots into my stomach that if he hadn’t wrapped a tight arm around me, I might have rolled right off the bed.

"No," Seth replied, rather firmly, but it was almost as if he had to force himself to meet my eyes. I was not reassured. "I’m not. We had a good time today, right? I mean, going out with everyone was nice, and, being here with you... twice today, that was..." He paused and smiled. "We’ve been happy, right? You’ve been happy, just like we are?"

"Yeah," I agreed, relaxing somewhat with his calm tone.

"And I like how we are right now," he continued, moving a hand to my hip, stretching his fingers to rest over the cheek of my ass. "Can’t we just be like this?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, confused. I knew he was speaking in sentences. They just didn’t make sense. "We are... like this." I snuggled in closer, trying to figure out what he was looking for, and as I felt my cock stirring mildly against his I decided that if he was looking for more physical affection, I could probably arrange it. Only, what he said next probably killed any erection I potentially might have had.

"I don’t want to say goodbye to you," he said. "And I don’t mean that as, I don’t want you to leave--actually, I don’t want you to leave, either. But I don’t want say goodbye... I don’t think we should see each other tomorrow, Rory."

"Seth." I was immediately objecting to this.

"I mean it. I think it would be best if I just... I should take you home tonight. Tomorrow, you should be around your family, you know?"

"You said you weren’t going to stay away," I said accusingly.

"It’s not staying away," Seth said quickly. "It’s..."

"Staying away," I responded angrily.

"If I see you tomorrow, I’m not going to be able to walk away, knowing that you’ll be on a plane in the morning," Seth stated, becoming serious. "I want to call you, and just pretend everything’s normal, but if I see you... I don’t want to say goodbye."

"Why can’t you do that after you say goodbye to me?" I demanded.

"Do you want to say goodbye to me, Rory?" Seth countered, tightening his arm around me.

"No," I said quickly.

"Well, I won’t know that, because when I say goodbye to you when you leave, it’s not going to be because you have to. It’s going to be because you want to! When you say goodbye to me, it’s because you want to."

I narrowed my eyes, and Seth released me as I abruptly sat up, but he was right there with me, his hand going to my thigh.

"That’s not fair."

"I didn’t say that to make you feel guilty," he said quickly. "It’s just the truth, Rory. I’ll try to understand it if you think you need to go home... but please don’t make me say goodbye to you tomorrow. I told you before--I’m trying, but after today, I’m not ready to."

I studied Seth for a long moment, swallowing as I processed his request. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. I’d still be around for over twenty-four hours and the thought of Seth not wanting to see me in that time was devastating. Because I wanted to see him. In fact, I wanted to see him close to me. So close that I could just touch him and be with him and not let go. But I guess that was the problem. Eventually, I was going to have to let go, and that was going to hurt even more. And maybe that’s what he was saying. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I was suddenly terrified of having to say goodbye to him, and I thought that maybe, he was right. It would be easier for him to take me home, just like always. We could pretend that everything was just as it was every other night. Only, come tomorrow, I had no idea if I’d get through the day without seeing him, knowing full well that it could be the last time we were together the way that we were now.

I released a breath, feeling very tired as I allowed my head to drop back on the pillow. I looked up at him, suddenly feeling like there were a hundred things to say, but I had no idea how to get any of them out. So I waited, and when Seth came down over me, kissing me, I wrapped an arm around his neck and parted my lips enough to welcome his tongue, and any affection that he wanted to give me. It wasn’t a long kiss, or even a deep kiss. I think he meant it to be reassuring as he shifted against my side and settled in, pulling the covers back up to our chests. He watched me for a few moments, seeming expectant. But, when all I could do was stare back he sighed and lowered his head, resting against my shoulder and making it clear that he wanted some sort of contact; whatever reassurance that I was willing to give him. I closed my eyes and wrapped an arm around him, forcing myself to relax.

As I laid there with him, I could hear his parents coming in and laughing about something, and their muffled voices for a while before the house grew silent again. I kept looking at the clock, despising my curfew, even when Seth’s fingers stopped drumming on my back and his breathing came in long, even breaths, telling me that he’d fallen asleep. It was twelve thirty before I decided to go anywhere, carefully sliding away from him to get dressed. I thought of waking him up, but after what he’d said to me, I guess it just felt wrong. He didn’t want to say goodbye to me, and as I watched him for a few moments, the way he’d turned to hug my pillow, and how his breath was softly disturbing his hair, which had fallen into his face, I realized that I’d rather remember him like that, not standing in front of the door, telling me that he’d see me later when he had no intention of showing up tomorrow.

I found myself smiling at no one in particular as I looked around his bedroom floor for a few moments before I found the blue ball cap he’d been wearing, and I climbed back into bed to carefully placed it over his head. I looked at him for another minute, deciding that I’d probably never see a guy wearing a hat in the same way again, and I dipped my head down, pressing my lips firmly over his, and then I did it again. He stirred slightly, and when I pulled back I brushed my thumb over his cheek, taking in the sleepy smile that had curled its way over his lips. I left the bed silently, taking a moment to grab the folded piece of notebook paper from on top of his nightstand and to lift the pen again, scribbling a few more words on the book where I’d left my address for him. I wrote the time that I would be leaving to the airport on Sunday morning, and told him I was thinking about him. I left the house without anyone ever knowing the difference, and when I reached the driveway I looked back, sniffling to myself as I tried not to completely let my disturbed emotions get the better of me.

Looking down the road towards the house, it was pitch black. Lonely. Isolated. I wasn’t having it. I lifted my cell phone out of my pocket and hardly five minutes later, I was climbing into the passenger seat of Luke’s jeep, and he was regarding me worriedly, sitting there in a pair of blue boxers and nothing else. I found that I couldn’t say anything to him at that very moment, though, so I silently stared out into the dark, and let him take me home.

I was in the basement sitting on the sofa and staring at the television, which glowed with whatever Luke had been watching, before I turned to face Luke. He was still watching me, waiting.

"He’s not coming to say goodbye to me," I said quietly, and Luke frowned, seemingly taking my words under consideration.

"Want me to kick his ass?" he finally replied.

I shook my head. "No. Not really. I can…I can understand why Seth doesn’t want to."

"So can I. No one wants to say goodbye to you."

I frowned. "I mean, that’s what I did with Jason, and Nathan. I didn’t even say goodbye. I did... but I didn’t really do it. I just acted like it was any other day. Hey, see ya later... you know? I didn’t want to feel it... and now Seth..."

"Want me to make him?" Luke asked. "I mean, I don’t think it would take a lot of convincing, Rory. He’s bummed out, but..."

I sighed. "No," I decided, shaking my head before I looked at Luke pointedly. "Just promise you won’t do that."

Luke turned serious, and regarded me curiously. "Do what?"

"Disappear when it’s time to say goodbye."

"Oh," he replied, nodding, and then he flashed a teasing smile in my direction. "Okay... I mean, it’ll be kinda hard to disappear anyway. I’ll be too busy getting in your face and trying to convince you to stay." He winked at me, letting me know that even with truth behind those words, he was only trying to make me feel better. I rolled my eyes at him and laid down on the couch, my head falling towards him. He playfully scratched behind my ear, and said I looked like a tired puppy. I laughed. I needed that laugh.

................................

I stood with a full stomach outside of the restaurant where Eddie had met Jase for the first time, right next to the fire hydrant I’d hit my first time driving, shaking my head. But, it wasn’t because of the hydrant, it was my cell phone that was the problem. I kept taking it out of my pocket to stare at it, wondering if it was broken. It was past noon, and I hadn’t heard from Seth all day. I’d thought about calling him, but I think I was afraid that he wouldn’t answer. I was sort of hoping that he’d call me. He knew when I was leaving, and if the words he wrote beneath his own address and phone numbers meant anything at all--I miss you--I thought that he would call me. For a while I thought that it was physically killing me that he hadn’t, but when Eddie took me out to lunch I realized that part of that feeling had simply been hunger. The disappointment was still there, though. The hurt. Frustration. Disgusting sense of loss. I knew Seth didn’t want to say goodbye, but I hoped that he’d change his mind.

I put my phone away and tried to look like nothing was bothering me when I felt Eddie’s heavy hand drop down on my shoulder. I looked back at him, squinting against the sun.

"Make sure you have your phone with you when you leave tomorrow," he said.

"You want me to take it?"

"Yeah," he replied, giving me a small smile. "The long distance on it’s free. You won’t have an excuse not to call."

"Thanks," I replied, flashing him a small smile.

"So do you feel like going shopping before we head back to the house?" Eddie asked me, and I made a face, suggesting that this was not the best idea he’d ever come up with.

"Shopping?"

"Yeah," he replied, sliding his hands into his pockets as we headed towards his Suburban. "I feel like I should get you something."

I shook my head. "You don’t have to do that."

"I know. I kind of want to, you know? Why don’t you humor me."

I shrugged, not really interested in gaining anymore material items. I sort of just wanted to get back to the house and spend time with everyone while I had the chance. But I decided that maybe I could make this a quick trip.

"I need pens and stuff for school," I said.

"Alright," Eddie replied, looking pleased. "Let’s go do that. Do you want to go buy a car first?"

I stopped walking abruptly to stare at him. "Huh?"

He looked at me, trying to hide an obvious smile. "You have your driver’s license," he replied, shrugging. "I thought you could use a car. One of my clients owns a dealership. I could get a good deal. I already told him we were coming."

"You’re serious?"

I was sixteen. Being told that I was going to get a car just didn’t have a downside.

"Very," Eddie said, smiling more openly now. "So what do you think?"

I opened my mouth to give a normal teenage response, but suddenly stopped, frowned, and shook my head. "You can’t buy me a car."

"Sure I can," Eddie said, looking a little startled. "I mean... I want to."

"That’s really...nice... that’s cool of you," I insisted. "Like, I don’t think you even have any idea just how cool it is, but it’s too much. I don’t want you to do that. You don’t need to do that. I mean, I’m already happy I came here, okay? I’m glad I met you. You don’t need to get me anything."

Eddie gave me a warm smile. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that," he said. "But that’s not why I’m doing it, Rory. I really want to." He ran a hand through his dark head of hair looking thoughtful for a moment. "I missed sixteen birthdays. I don’t even want to think about Christmases. I didn’t get to buy you your first bike... I kinda feel like I owe it to you. And me. I want to do it for me, too."

I smiled a little bit at that. "My mom would never buy me a car," I informed him. "She’d want me to earn it."

"Well... as much as I respect that, Rory, I’m not your mom. I’m... your dad. And, I’d buy you a car." Eddie sighed when I continued to shake my head. "Alright," he relented. "How about... I don’t buy you a car. I’ll buy me one, and, you can have mine." He demonstrated by holding out his keys for me and I raised an eyebrow at him. "Come on," he insisted. "Technically I wouldn’t be buying you a car this way. I’d be giving you one. And... you need one, and I want to give you one. We can both be happy. You don’t have to worry about getting it to Nevada, either. Give me about two weeks and I’ll drive it up, and fly back. I’ll want to see how you’re doing, anyway."

I stopped and stared at Eddie again. "Are you serious?"

"Yeah, I don’t mind giving you my car, especially if you’ll actually accept it that way. Besides, it’ll give me an excuse to get a new..."

"No," I interrupted. "I mean, you’ll come visit in, like, two weeks? Really?"

Eddie smiled at me. "If that’s okay with you."

"Yeah. It is," I said honestly. "I kind of thought I wouldn’t see anyone until, like, November or something. That actually makes me feel better."

Eddie studied me curiously for a moment. "You know, you can come here any time you want," he told me. "And if you’re having second thoughts about leaving, Rory, that’s okay, too. Or, if you’re not," he added quickly, "and you go home and just need to see someone, all you’ve got to do is call and I’ll do my best to get there, okay?"

I stared at Eddie, unable to do much more than nod as he placed a hand on the back of my neck and led me towards the Suburban. He made everything sound so easy. I guess I wished it felt that way. Eddie was smiling again when we stopped behind the car and he held out the keys.

"You at least have to let me see you drive your first car," he informed me, and after a brief moment of hesitation I took the keys from him, and did just that.

.....................................

Eddie wouldn’t take me back to the house until he made sure I had enough number-two pencils, colored pens, paper, backpacks, binders, calculators and notebooks to get through the next two years of school. I was exhausted by the end of it, but I’d brought it on myself. And I guess it wasn’t a horrible experience, with Eddie wanting to get involved with such things as back-to-school shopping. Usually I did it with my mom. I thought I’d be doing it with my grandma this year, but with Eddie, it was kind of nice.

When we got home, things were quiet. Jase was visiting with Grandma Alice, while Luke brushed Chey after giving her a much-needed bath. I’d noticed that he’d warmed towards Grandma Alice since her arrival, but he still acted like he preferred to avoid her altogether.

Luke asked me if I’d heard from Seth. I’d simply told him that I hadn’t, and I left it at that as the two of us went down to the basement to play video games before dinner, and showed Eddie how when he came to join us. Eddie mentioned coming to visit me in Nevada, and I was pleased when Luke demanded that it happen over a weekend so he could go, too. When Eddie said that he didn’t want Luke missing school, Luke pointed out that his birthday was coming up, and if he could visit me, he wanted a few days off for it. This was followed by Luke and me pouting until Eddie said that they’d try to work something out.

Jase made a nice dinner--lasagna--and as we ate, it continued to seem quiet. There was conversation. Any casual topic that any one of us brought up was jumped all over, just to keep things somewhat lively. But it was quiet. I could feel them staring at me. All of them. If I was going to change my mind and unpack my bags, now would probably be the best time to do it. I figured that’s what they were thinking. I wished that they’d stop looking at me like that. They didn’t.

After we ate, I found myself alone in my room, staring at my phone again. I tried calling Seth, but hung up before the call could go through. Respecting his wishes was becoming damn hard to do, especially since I was running out of time. I wanted to see him--talk to him, at least. I wondered if he was thinking about me at all. It was hard to tell, when no phone call came. It was frustrating. And upsetting. I almost dialed his number again, deciding even if he didn’t answer I could leave him a message, but by then Luke was dragging me out of my room because apparently, everyone was going swimming, even Grandma Alice, which meant no splashing for me and Luke. But that was okay. I was feeling a little too lethargic for splashing, anyway.

It was around ten o’clock when I’d finished showering, changed for bed, and took a moment to lie down, feeling emotionally exhausted. My time had officially run out as far as I could tell, and I think I was just... sad. I was leaving. I was going home, and all of the determination I’d had all summer, every time I’d said that it was what happened to be right for me, it just didn’t mean anything anymore. I was going to miss this family, that wanted to be mine. I was going to miss Seth, who still hadn’t called me, and I was hurt by all of it. For the first time all summer, I was leaving, and I utterly hated it. That night, I gave myself five minutes to cry about it. That’s all I got, because as I told myself, there would be no tears in the morning.

...............................................

My face hurt. It usually did when it was forced to wear a smile that it really didn’t mean for so long. But I endured. As Eddie loaded my grandmother’s and my things into Jase’s car, I hugged Jase goodbye and thanked him for the brown bag full of candy that he’d given me for the flight, and the list of everyone’s numbers. I promised to call when I got to Nevada. It seemed best for just Eddie to take Grandma Alice and me to the airport. The air was thick with sorrow as it was, and I for one did not want to drag it out.

Luke didn’t want to hug me at first. He once again told me that I needed to stay. But, once I got my arms around him, he didn’t let go until Eddie announced that we needed to get going. Luke only reluctantly released me then, only to discover that I was ready to hug him and Jase all over again before we actually left. But when we left, we didn’t make it very far as Eddie pulled off on the side of the road, right in front of the Fisher’s house. I looked past Eddie, staring at it as I desperately tried to swallow down the knot that suddenly formed in my throat.

"You didn’t go see Seth last night," Eddie said quietly. "I thought..."

I stared at the empty driveway, shaking my head. "He’s not even home," I replied. "We should just go."

"Are you sure?" Eddie asked, and I nodded, but it felt like several minutes passed before we actually started driving, and I stared out my window, trying not to think about everything that I was leaving.

On the way to the airport, I did cheer up some as the silence of the drive was pleasantly broken when Luke called my cell phone to tell me that Chey had decided to relieve her bladder in my room. He stopped laughing, though, when I pointed out that he was the one who would have to clean it up. For a few minutes, that phone call made me forget that I was even leaving, and I found a moment of peace in all of the devastating emotions running through me. After I hung up with Luke, I searched out Seth’s number on my phone and stared down at it for several long moments before I sighed to myself, and turned off the device before slipping it into my carry-on. Soon after we were at the airport, and I had to say goodbye to Eddie.

He couldn’t go through security with me and Grandma Alice, but we waited outside of it with him for as long as we could. He kept the focus on his pending trip to Nevada. Grandma Alice thought it was a good idea, and even offered to go stay with Jarred so we could have the house to ourselves; and then she suggested that it would be a good idea for us to show each other where we grew up. When it was time to say goodbye, Eddie hugged Grandmas Alice, and then awkwardly held out his hand for me to shake. I’d hardly taken it before he was pulling me into a hug, though. It was only the second time he’d hugged me all summer. I never would have allowed more than that. Hell, I’d hardly allowed it the first time. It wasn’t hard at all, though. Not this time, and I found myself hugging him back, feeling sad about having spent so much time being angry with him at the beginning of the summer. Now, that time felt wasted.

Time felt wasted again once Grandma Alice and I had boarded the plane, ten minutes later, and discovered that the pilot had come down with a case of food poisoning. There would be another boarding the flight, but it would be another twenty minutes.

That pissed me off.

We were supposed to be in the air. I was supposed to be forcing myself to relax. I started school tomorrow--that would have been something to think about. It might have taken my mind off how shaky I felt just then, how disgustingly sick to the stomach I was as I stared out the window, feeling blind because from my seat, I couldn’t even see the terminal. I wouldn’t be sitting there thinking about how I could have spent a few more minutes talking to Eddie outside of the terminal, or saying goodbye to Jase and Luke at the house. Maybe with those minutes I would have remembered to properly say goodbye to Chey. Hell, maybe she was mad because I hadn’t and that’s why she’d pissed on my floor. Maybe I would have talked myself into calling Seth. Actually, I could still do that, but calling him from the stupid plane probably would have felt like a goodbye more than anything else and he didn’t fucking want that, the bastard. Why the hell couldn’t he have just said goodbye to me?

"Rory Norick!"

I jumped, realizing that my grandma was using her firm tone, but her voice sounded like a mere echo in my head. I looked in her direction, noting the worry on her face, and the concerned expression on the face of a blonde fight attendant in the aisle behind her.

"Rory, are you alright?" Grandma Alice asked.

"Here, drink this," the flight attendant insisted, passing me a plastic cup of water. Yes, I decided, I was thirsty. "You know this plane is perfectly safe," she continued with a friendly smile. "There’s really nothing to be afraid of."

Afraid? Now what the fuck was she talking about?

I reached for the water, feeling irritable, but only then did I realize that my hand was shaking. It wasn’t the only thing. I was shaking all over, I’d broken into a cold sweat and my breathing had become heavy. I hadn’t had a physical reaction like this since my mom died, and I’d worked myself up so bad before her funeral that I’d actually passed out. I closed my eyes as I took the water, forcing myself to calm down as I drank it in long, slow, gulps.

"Has he ever flown before?" I heard the flight attendant ask Grandma Alice.

"He’s not afraid of flying," my grandmother responded irritably. "He’s just a horrible, stubborn procrastinator. Worse than his grandfather was. I swear the man put off our own wedding three times. I finally just had to ambush him with one.... Rory Norick," Grandma Alice said close to my ear, and I opened my eyes, feeling calmer as I turned to look at her, lowering the water from my mouth. "If you’re going to get off of this plane, I suggest you do it before it leaves the ground."

I blinked at her, but before I responded I looked at the still concerned flight attendant. "We’re okay," I told her.

"You call if you need anything," the woman told me.

I nodded before she walked away, and then looked at Grandma Alice, who was regarding me expectantly but sternly, her entire expression warning me against passing out in this airplane.

"I’m not getting off the plane," I said quietly.

"Are you sure about that?" she asked.

"Grandma, I’ve had this conversation with just about everyone. My life..."

"Was with your mother, but now it’s not," she interrupted me, and I frowned, the things Luke had said about my mom not being there anymore registering in my mind. Grandma Alice sighed. "Rory, you know I love you, right?"

"I know, and I’m going home with you because..."

"You’re coming home with me because you’re stubborn. Now you have about two minutes to figure out that you’re feeling as awful as you do because you don’t belong on this airplane. Your mother isn’t there anymore, Rory, I know."

"But you are," I argued. "My whole life... I shouldn’t have just walked away from it like I did the first time. I get Mom’s gone, okay? But..."

"She wanted you to be with your father," Alice cut me off, reaching for my hand. "She was afraid of a lot of things, Rory. Just like you are. But, the one thing she was most afraid of was leaving you. She made peace with that, though. She knew you’d be safe with Eddie. And happy. That’s what she wanted for you, and the only one fighting that is you, and quite frankly, I don’t see why. Do you really want to be on this plane, Rory? Right now, do you?"

I swallowed hard, uncertain of the way that the answer popped into my head without me even having to think about it. I avoided my grandmother’s eyes, wiping at a few tears that escaped my own, and took in a long, uneven breath.

"No one likes change, sweetheart," Alice said, lowering her voice. "If you come home with me now, you’re just asking for more of it--things aren’t going to be the same. They aren’t going to go back to the way they were when your mom was with us. You know that if you really want to come home with me, I’d love to have you, and I could hope that you’ll be happy there. But the thing is, I think you already are happy. Why are you walking away from that?"

I suppose that was a fair question. Because the thing is, lately, I had been happy. Up until I started thinking about leaving. So I guess my answer was, I didn’t know. Things back home really weren’t the same, because home wasn’t there anymore; and I’d known that. I’d been aware--even before I’d talked to Nathan, I’d known it. And getting on this plane... I knew that I was going to go back to Nevada and it would still hurt. So in all honesty, I had no idea why I was doing this to myself when I didn’t have to, and I doubted that this was the time to try to figure it out.

But still, there was hesitation. Part of me felt like not going home would be like giving up something that I needed. Only, whatever that was, was obviously something that I hadn’t had for a long while now.

"You got a new dresser for my room," I finally said, and Grandma Alice laughed.

"Well, it’ll be a little pricey, but I could always ship it to you when I send your bags back." She reached into her bag and handed me what was left of my boarding pass. "I think you still have a few minutes to refund this."

I stared at her for a long moment as she held the pass before I took it, and then launched myself at her, squeezing so tight that she actually coughed. "Call me when you get home," I ordered.

"I will."

"And I want to talk to Jarred, too," I announced, pulling back to face her, swallowing down the knot in my throat. "He can’t marry you twice if he’s not good enough for you."

She laughed. "I think you’ll like him just fine," she insisted, and then turned serious. "Now you get off this plane Rory Norick. Your mother will never rest in peace if she knows I let you get away from your dad."

I took the ticket in my hand and stared at Grandma Alice for another long moment before I abruptly reached down, grabbed my carry-on from under the seat and kissed her cheek.

"Stop wasting time!" she scolded me once I stood up and hesitated again, looking down at her. "Get off this plane." She smiled reassuringly as I stepped past her and started to walk quietly and determinedly down the aisle, doing my best not to knock over the same fight attendant that had given me the water, and hearing Grandma Alice shout, "Don’t you dare forget to refund that ticket!"

I got off the plane, ignoring another flight attendant who asked me if anything was wrong, reached the terminal, and ran.

I’m not sure where I was running to, exactly. But wherever it was, I was excited about it, and maybe a little scared out of my mind as I stopped at a service desk and asked them to refund my ticket, only to have them direct me to another department. Ten minutes later I was pacing wildly, waiting for my refund and trying to figure out what the hell I should do next. I guess the obvious thing to do would be to call Eddie, who would probably be home by now; but as I finished with my business at the airport and headed outside, ready to inhale a lot of that hot Arizona air I decided that there was another matter of unfinished business that I needed to attend to as I fished my phone out of my bag and turned it on.

I sat down on a bench under the awning at passenger drop-off and waited for service bars to show up, regretting that I’d ever turned the phone off after talking to Luke because quite frankly, I was tired of waiting. I needed to call Seth. I should have done it before I left, but at least now, I wouldn’t be saying goodbye. I’d be telling him he was a jerk, but I wouldn’t say goodbye.

His phone rang twice as I swallowed down my anticipation, wondering if he’d even answer at all. When he did, his voice sounded rushed, but I paid no attention, so relieved to hear it.

"Hello?"

"Seth?"

"Fuck. Rory?" He sounded agitated, but I didn’t care, I had good news. Good news I refused to tell him before I got a few things off my chest.

"You can’t just not say goodbye to people!" I blurted. "I waited for you to call yesterday. All fucking day, you could have called me."

"I know. I’m sorry."

"It was a mistake, Seth..."

"I know!"

"I didn’t want to say goodbye, either, when I left Nevada, so I didn’t, and it was stupid..."

"Rory!" he cut me off, seeming rushed. "Look, I’ve been trying to call you, okay? For the last fucking hour, so will you please shut up for a second?"

I sat back on the bench. "Huh?"

"Look, you know how we used to do that thing?" he asked. "I’d call you an idiot, and you’d agree with me? Well, it’s contagious, okay? And, I’m an idiot. I can’t just not say goodbye to you, I know. Look, I’m at the airport... fuck, I thought your plane already left."

"It did, five minutes ago," I replied, still taking in his announcement of being at the airport, and I stood up, moving back towards the doors as my eyes scanned the premises. "You’re at the airport?"

There was a moment of silence, and then Seth spoke quietly. "You’re already in the air?" He sounded so disappointed that I wished he was right in front of me just so I could hug him. "I’ve been sitting here like an idiot. I couldn’t get past security, and they had some delayed flights. I was hoping yours was one of them, and you’d..."

"I wasn’t on the plane when it left," I announced, deciding to put him out of his misery. I just wanted to see him.

"You missed your flight?" he asked, confused.

"Yeah, on purpose," I said, frustrated that he wasn’t getting it. "I’m not going. I’m staying here, now please tell me where you are so you can take me home!"

There was another long silence.

"You’re serious?" he asked.

"Seth!"

"I... uh, I’m... I... I have no fucking idea where I am. Where are you?"

"By the doors, uh, passenger pick-up."

"Don’t move," Seth ordered, and before I could say anything else, he hung up on me.

I laughed to myself as I leaned against a wall to wait for him, hoping that he’d find me before I started driving myself crazy again, and I lifted my phone, ready to call Eddie when I noticed the message symbol in the corner. Apparently, I had two. I checked those first, smiling again as the first came in: Luke, telling me that he’d tried on a pair of jeans that I’d left behind and they looked better on his ass than mine. I didn’t doubt it. I almost called him to tell him so, but then the second message came in. Luke again. But, this message was different, full of static. But I heard his voice amongst it, his distressed words startling me out of my euphoric mood. Three words in particular.

Accident.... Eddie’s hurt.

Copyright © 2010 DomLuka; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Rereading this story made me fall in love with Rory, Luke and Seth all over again. I remeber writing to you begging for Luke and Rory to get together but Seth is perfect for him. An oh man, the cliffhanger here KILLED me when you first posted this.

Thank you so much for writing and I hope you are doing well.

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I'm glad his grandmother could get thru to Rory. Why would luke leave thst message to Rory for him to get while on a plane where he couldn't get details or be with his dad.

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Just when I breathe a sigh of relief about Rory, you go and put Eddie at risk. If it weren't for the fact that this story is finished, that cliffhanger would be a total stinker move. :angry: Feel that? That's me glaring.

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Yeah, what Miles Long said. Even if the story is finished and I don't have to wait--still a low-down, dirty thing to do to Eddie. I'd totally forgotten that ending from the first time around. Jeez, what a thing.

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