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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 - 36. The Way Home

Thanks to Jim for editing!

I’d never liked hospitals, but they didn’t bother me. Not really. Unless I counted the time they told me my mom was going to die, there had been no traumatic experiences. And even then, that hadn’t been a real hospital, but a specialist’s office with cozy furniture. Hospitals didn’t scare me until the day that I hadn’t gone back to Nevada with my grandma and I found out that I could lose my father in one.

Luke’s message had been difficult to understand with all of the static, but from what I did get out of it, I knew there’d been an accident, and it was Eddie who was in the hospital. My first thought was to call Luke back, but he didn’t answer, so my next move was to call Eddie’s cell phone, just in case. The call went straight to voice mail. When Seth found me I was on the floor with my bag, pulling the list of numbers Jase had given me out from behind the cover of my mom’s journal, where I’d placed it. I couldn’t even properly greet Seth. I was too busy panicking when Jase didn’t answer either. Seth didn’t quite understand what was wrong with me. He was too busy wondering why I wasn’t on my feet with my arms around him, and rightfully so. But as soon as I explained what I could, he’d explained that there were two hospitals between the airport and home, and we could check both of them. I was relieved to have help, but no less frightened as I wondered what kind of accident had occurred and how bad Eddie was hurt.

Getting to Seth’s truck felt like it took forever, and once we were in it, I couldn’t seem to stop worrying, asking a hundred questions about how far away the hospitals were and how long it would take to get there. When I started asking Seth questions that he didn’t know the answers to, like what had happened to Eddie, he instructed me to keep calling everyone’s phones, just in case. The task kept me distracted, at least until we reached the first emergency room, and I decided that if Eddie was anywhere, it had to be there. It was the same place he’d taken me after the baseball incident.

Seth was with me when I pushed my way past a line of people to the nearest desk. Naturally, I thought my problems were worse than anyone else’s, but the nearest nurse, who was busy speaking to another family, disagreed. “If you’d just take a seat...” she said to me, and I acted like I hadn’t even heard her.

“I just need to know if someone was brought in here,” I explained. “He’s my dad.”

“Your dad?”

“Yes, Eddie Soarda.”

“Okay, take a seat for minute...”

“I don’t want to take a seat,” I informed her.

“Look,” Seth said, placing a hand on my shoulder so I’d know he was there with me. “If you could just check for us, please. If he’s not here we have another hospital to check.”

I was not pleased when she started telling Seth that we’d still have to wait, and I found myself looking around, frustrated, and wondering how much they’d like it if I started checking rooms myself. I looked down the hall where I’d been taken after getting hit in the head with a baseball, noting things seemed generally quiet. Then, I turned towards two double doors, closed and labeled emergency. I went towards those doors, frowning when I found that they were locked. I looked through the small, rectangular window, not at all sure what I was looking for. Anything, I guess. But what I found was two men, walking towards me; the first an older, baldheaded man in a white coat and hospital scrubs, and the second was one of the two people that I’d said goodbye to at the house that morning.

I lifted my fist, and started pounding on the metal frame, not caring that it hurt my hand. “Jase! Jase! Will someone open this fucking door?” I spun around, not liking the way that an agitated male nurse was coming towards me. He was bigger than me, taller and wider, but I held my ground and a second later, Seth was there with me. “Open the door!” I ordered. “My family’s back there!”

“Sir, you’re going to have to come over here,” the big grumpy nurse informed me, just as Seth took up my position of knocking on the door, yelling for Jase, trying to get his attention.

“My dad’s back there,” I argued, and the man sighed.

“What’s his name?”

“Eddie Soarda,” I responded irritably. It felt like I’d already been through this.

“Why don’t you come with me and I’ll check for you?” he offered. Helpful, maybe, but not good enough.

“Rory,” Seth said, tapping my shoulder, and I spun around just in time to see one of the doors swing open, and I was faced with the bald doctor; and Jase, who seemed focused on Seth until he saw me standing there. I watched his eyes widen momentarily in surprise, a sure sign that he hadn’t expected me; but rather than ask me what I was doing there, Jase waved me forward, and the next thing I knew I had my arms around him, clinging tightly. I think part of it was because I was relieved to see him, and the other part of it had to do with me wanting to be on the right side of those doors when they closed again.

“Are you alright?” Jase asked me when I didn’t let go, and I forced myself to nod. I let go when I realized that the doctor was walking away.

“Hey!” I objected. “What’s going on with Eddie?”

“Come this way,” Jase said calmly, leading me back down the hall, where he’d come from; and when Seth remained at the doors, looking uncertain, Jase added, “Seth, you can come, too.”

Seth nodded, but still didn’t move as he looked to me. Obviously, just hearing it from Jase wasn’t good enough. “Please stay,” I said, not really sure what I was in for and truly not wanting Seth to disappear on me again; and that’s all I had to stay before he followed us.

“Jase?” I said, rather impatiently.

“Let’s go sit down, okay, Rory?” he replied. “Luke’s waiting.”

“Can you just tell me if Eddie’s okay?” I asked, just as we passed a another smaller, private waiting room. Seth paused there, and I watched him stare in at the tall, dark-haired man who occupied the room on his own, tapping at a cell phone as he paced, obviously frustrated with the lack of service bars he was getting. But what really got my attention, was that there were tears running down his face and his free hand was shaking at his side. Even worse, there were bloody, large stains over his casual button-up shirt and jeans. I studied the funny look on my boyfriend’s face as he suddenly turned and headed for the room, only to be cut off by Jase’s hand on his shoulder.

“Seth,” Jase said firmly, suddenly looking concerned. “Please come this way.”

There was a rather serious look exchanged between Seth and Jase, but Seth complied, hurrying away from the waiting room with Jase, just as the crying man looked up, and glared.

“What’s going on?” I demanded. If they were trying to scare the hell out of me in a very frustrating way, they were succeeding. Jase only placed a hand on my shoulder, leading both Seth and me away. I looked at Jase, and Seth, both of them seeming to know something I didn’t, and that only irritated me more. “Will someone please talk to me?” I demanded, feeling rather frightened by their behavior; but Jase simply continued to push us down the hall, seeming unnerved about something. I found myself looking over my shoulder, back towards the room where that man had been, and I became startled when I saw him standing outside of the room now, watching us. “Who is that?” I asked.

“In a minute, Rory,” Jase replied, his voice so stern that it didn’t even sound like him. I’m sure I looked terrified to him when he glanced at me, because his expression softened then. “Eddie’s alright,” he told me, and that was enough to calm some of my nerves.

“Okay,” I said slowly. “So what happened? Where is he?”

“Rory?” I spun around to find Luke rushing towards us out of another small waiting room with a bench-shaped sofa, a large wooden coffee table, and two chairs. He reached us, stopped directly in front of me, and just stared, his eyes and nose looking red, and his composure seeming flustered. “You got my message,” he said simply. “I thought you’d already be gone.”

“Oh,” Jase suddenly said, as if he just remembered something. “Rory, your grandma--is she waiting?”

“What?” I asked, confused by the question. “No, she’s on the plane.”

“She didn’t come with you?” Luke asked, sounding annoyed. I cocked my head at him.

“Why would she?”

Seth seemed to understand the situation better than anyone as he looked between all of our confused faces. “Rory got your message after he got off the plane,” Seth explained to Luke, and Luke’s red eyes drifted back to me, and he stared again. Jase looked at me, but didn’t seem all that surprised. I tried to give Luke a small smile.

“You got off the plane?” he asked me.

I nodded, but frowned. This was not the homecoming that I’d been hoping for.

“Can we see Eddie?” I asked, turning back to Jase. There would be time for pleasantries later. Besides, it wasn’t feeling pleasant at all, having one of us missing. But Luke didn’t seem to want to wait, and I grunted as he unexpectedly lunged forward, hitting my chest hard as he wrapped his arms so tightly around me that I couldn’t even hug him back. When he pulled back, he punched my shoulder.

“Ouch!” I objected, startled to find him glaring at me.

“You never should have got on that plane in the first place!” he informed me. “That was seriously fucked up.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, not in the mood to argue with him.

Jase looked over his shoulder, and I followed his eyes to where the guy with blood on his clothes was still glaring at us.

“Let’s go in here,” Jase insisted, corralling us all into the small waiting room. I frowned at Seth when he kept looking back at that man, as if he fully expected himself to turn around and go over there.

“Who is that guy?” I asked again, this whole situation becoming very confusing to me. I hadn’t even figured out what had happened to Eddie yet. “And where is Eddie?”

Jase sighed as he broke away from Seth and Luke and led me over to the sofa. “We can’t see him yet, Rory. He’s alive, and...”

Alive?” I responded dramatically. “Alive is all you’ve got? All that means is better than dead!” As far as I was aware, alive was a temporary situation for everyone, and the word itself was not a comfortable one. “Have you even seen him?”

“No,” Jase replied carefully. “He’s okay, though, Rory. So far they’ve told us he’s awake, and he’s responsive. The car was totaled. He has some pretty bad breaks. Right now, they think something might be wrong with his back--nothing major. It’s probably nothing, but they’re checking him out.”

“It was a car accident?” I asked quietly, feeling like I was getting this information backwards.

“It was taking him a little long to get home after dropping you off,” Jase explained, and then paused for a moment, obviously disturbed by something.

“Jase called Eddie’s phone, and a paramedic answered it,” Luke explained, taking a seat on the other side of Jase.

“Oh shit,” Seth suddenly said, and we regarded him curiously. He looked at me to explain. “Just when I was getting to the airport the radio mentioned an accident; they said there were like four cars involved, but I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry, Rory.”

“You wouldn’t have known,” I said quietly.

“That was the accident,” Luke said, matter-of-factly. “There were cops here, saying that Eddie was hit by someone who ran a red light. There were two more cars behind him that couldn’t stop in time.”

I was staring at Seth, noting the way that something about this news disturbed him, and I watched my boyfriend exchange another look with Jase.

“That man back there,” I said. “Who was he?”

“What man?” Luke asked.

“Guys,” Jase said. “Let’s not worry about anyone else right now. Someone should be here soon to tell us if we can see Eddie...”

“Seth?” I questioned, cutting Jase off. Seth was frowning, but his eyes didn’t leave mine for very long moments as he obviously struggled to tell me something. “Seth?” I said again.

“I know him,” Seth finally said, and Jase sighed. He obviously didn’t approve, but he didn’t object to Seth continuing, either. “That was Aaron’s dad, Rory.”

“Keslin? Where?” Luke demanded, and before he could stand up, Jase had his hand and was holding him down. I was so busy staring at Seth, putting things together in my head that apparently, he already had, that it took me a few moments to realize that Jase had grabbed my hand, too. But it didn’t matter, as I pictured the crying man with the cell phone and the blood on his clothes, because I was too stunned to move, anyway. That’s why I was grateful that Luke was suddenly asking the questions that I couldn’t, even if he sounded pissed as hell while doing it. “Were they there?” Luke was glaring at Jase, who clearly, had wanted to avoid this conversation.

“From what I know, the Keslins...”

“The whole family?” Luke asked.

“Yes,” Jase replied. “They were coming from the airport, too.”

“So... what, they were behind Eddie?” Luke asked.

“No. They took another exit.”

“They ran the light!” Luke said accusingly. “Jase?”

“Luke, let’s let the police sort it out,” Jase insisted. “Right now...”

“Who was driving?” Luke demanded. “Just tell me who was driving.” Jase fell silent, and that seemed to be answer enough for Luke as he pulled his hand away from Jase and defensively crossed his arms. “That fucking figures,” he hissed.

“Is everyone okay?” I asked, and Luke seemed to sober momentarily as he regarded Jase expectantly. Jase turned his head, though, to face me.

“I honestly don’t know.”

I dropped my head into my hands, closing my eyes. It was bad enough having to worry about Eddie, but as I thought of the entire Keslin family being involved in an accident I felt entirely overwhelmed. I hated a lot of things about Aaron Keslin. I’m sure I’d find more things to hate him for if he’d caused an accident that hurt Eddie; but thinking of the blood on Mr. Keslin’s clothes... I couldn’t help feeling frightened for Aaron, too.

“Well,” I said quietly. “Mr. Keslin looked okay, right? I mean, maybe...” I trailed off, not even sure what to say. I shouldn’t even be thinking about the Keslins, I decided. Eddie was in this hospital. And he was hurt. And I hadn’t felt so helpless since I’d watched my mom wither away right in front of me.

I felt hands on my shoulders and looked back at Seth, who’d walked around the couch to stand behind me, looking both worried and reassuring at the same time. I wondered what he thought about all of this. I suddenly wanted to hug him, wondering if he was as worried about Aaron as much as I was worried about Eddie.

“I think I’m gonna go look for something to drink,” Seth said quietly, but the look on his face told me that he was likely going to be searching for more than beverages. I wasn’t about to object to it. “Do you guys want anything?”

“I’m kind of thirsty,” I replied, swallowing against a dry throat.

“That would be great, Seth,” Jase said. “Thank you.”

Seth nodded, and after giving my shoulders a light squeeze he was excusing himself from the room. Jase was standing shortly after his departure.

“I’m going to see if I can find out anything else about Eddie,” he announced, and I looked up at him.

“I’ll go with you,” I was quick to say.

“No,” Jase insisted. “Rory... please, just keep Luke company, alright? If I hear anything I’ll come right back to tell you.”

I was going to object to that, but before I could even think about it Jase was out of the room, and Luke was sliding across the sofa, reaching for my arm to stop me from following him.

“He’s freaking out right now, Rory,” Luke blurted. “Look... I’m worried, too... just, maybe we could let Jase take care of stuff? It makes him feel better. I know Eddie’s your dad, and you’re worried, too, but...”

“You guys have known him longer.”

“No,” Luke said quickly. “It has nothing to do with that. It’s just, Jase... like I said, he’s freaked out. I think he’s just getting some air. I mean, he just talked to the doctor... Besides, I kinda could use some company. He keeps leaving me here. I mean... I think Eddie’s gonna be okay. I just...”

“You don’t have to be reassuring, Luke,” I cut him off. “I think we both have the right to freak out a little.”

He sighed. “Good, because I’m fuckin’ freaked. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. I swear to god if Keslin’s not already dead I’ll kill him if Eddie’s not okay.”

I looked over at Luke, feeling a little unsettled by his threat, but then I realized that he probably had no idea what he was saying. He sounded scared, and looked numb. I could understand both of those feelings. “He shouldn’t have taken me to the airport,” I said, thinking out loud more than anything. “If I wasn’t so slow... I wouldn’t have left, and he wouldn’t have had to...”

“Don’t start thinking like that,” Luke cut me off. “The two of you still would have gone to drop your grandma off, and I don’t even want to think about how I’d feel if both of you were in that car.”

I fell silent, realizing that if I hadn’t been so stubborn, that very well could have been the case. It was terrifying to think about, but at the same time I felt guilt over not being in that car with Eddie when it happened.

“Rory?” Luke said, interrupting a long silence that had grown in our small waiting room, and I forced my attention towards him again. “You’re really staying?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly.

“When we see Eddie... he’s going to be okay, and really happy about that.”

I tried to give Luke a smile that I really wasn’t feeling before I leaned back against the sofa, and as another painful silence filled the space between us, we waited.

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

There was no clock in our small waiting room, I noticed. It was frustrating, not knowing how long it had been, but I think I was grateful, not knowing, too. It kept my mind off of wondering what was taking so long, convincing my mind that not much time had passed. Luke seemed less convinced, though, the way that he’d started pacing. We both looked up when Seth returned, three sodas and a bottle of water occupying his hands as he looked around the room.

“Where’s Jase?” Seth asked.

“He went to see if there’s anything new with Eddie,” Luke replied as Seth handed him a cold soda before he came to sit next to me.

“Did you find anything out?” I asked Seth as he handed me the bottle of water and placed the two remaining sodas on the coffee table before taking one of my hands. My question must have caught Luke’s attention, because within moments he was on the other side of Seth, sipping his soda and looking at the back of Seth’s ball-cap-covered head expectantly.

“I couldn’t just not talk to Mr. Keslin,” Seth said almost defensively. “He recognized me, Rory, and the guy’s a complete wreck. He’s refusing treatment. Won’t even let the fucking doctors look at him. I called my dad. He’s coming down here to sit with him.”

“Okay. But what did you find out?” I asked, and frowned at the way Seth looked at me worriedly.

Maybe...we should talk on it later, Rory. I don’t know if you want to hear it right now, with Eddie...”

“Just say it,” Luke cut him off. “Why is Mr. Keslin a wreck?”

Seth sighed, and glanced at Luke briefly, looking like he thought the answer should be obvious to him. “Because he doesn’t understand how he pretty much walked away from that accident, and the rest of his family didn’t. It’s sounding pretty bad, and since Eddie was there, he’s sort of blaming...”

“Oh that is such bullshit!” Luke snapped. “They’re the ones that ran the light! Aaron ran the fucking light!”

I fully agreed with Luke, and felt angry myself that Mr. Keslin would blame Eddie, but I was currently too worried about too many other things to express this.

“How bad is it, Seth?” I asked.

Seth frowned, facing me directly, obviously trying to ignore the way that Luke was glaring at the back of his head. “It’s not good. Mr. Keslin is obviously... I mean, he walked away. Mrs. Keslin was right behind him in the back seat with Cody and Alex. But, after they hit Eddie, they got hit on the side of the car that Aaron and his brothers were on.”

Luke sat up a little, some of his anger defusing as he listened. “Are they alright?” Luke asked.

“Aaron is. I mean, his dad said he was better off than the rest of them when they brought him in here. Mr. Keslin’s waiting for someone to take him to Aaron or his wife, but Alex’s car seat wasn’t strapped in. They think he’s going to be okay, but he’s hurt pretty bad, and Cody...” Seth frowned, and swallowed, looking a little pale as he sat back in his seat. I found myself comfortingly squeezing his hand, wanting him to finish what he was saying, but all the while dreading it. “Most of the blood on Mr. Keslin, is Cody’s.”

“Is he alive?” Luke asked quietly from behind us, and once again, I hated the word. It was a terrifying word, especially in this situation. Cody was a brat, and I couldn’t stand him anymore than I could stand his brother. But suddenly, that didn’t matter. He was a kid that I’d met, that I’d come face to face with. I knew him. Not personally, but I knew him. I’d known him as the guy who was in the other room when I was alone with Aaron; the guy I wanted to avoid whenever I went to Aaron’s house, but I knew him. I was terrified of what Seth was going to say about him being alive.

“His head was...” Seth started, but stopped himself to swallow again. He knew Cody, too. He knew Cody, and didn’t want to be telling us this. “He got hit really bad. They have him in surgery, but if he lives through it, he might not even wake up... And if he wakes up, he might not even be Cody anymore.”

There was silence between the three of us as Seth finished and dropped his eyes from mine to stare down at our joined hands. My knuckles were turning white I was squeezing him so hard, but I couldn’t seem to help it. I felt like someone had just struck me in the stomach, and I could hardly breathe, let alone move. I realized that I’d actually been holding my breath when Luke abruptly stood up and turned his back on both of us.

“Luke?” I said, noticing the way that I sounded like I was choking when I spoke. But, Luke didn’t answer. He practically fled the room without a backwards glance. I met Seth’s eyes, almost desperately. I wasn’t sure what I was desperate for, but I seemed to find some of it there as he looked back at me and gently pried my fingers off his hand, and then closed both of his over them. “I don’t know what to do,” I whispered, and when I leaned into him he slid an arm around me, pulling me closer.

This time the silence in the room felt like a stunned one as I closed my eyes, and waited again.

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

I felt like I should be crying or something. Jase wasn’t back yet. Luke had disappeared. Eddie was somewhere in this hospital, alone and probably in pain. And Aaron’s brother could be dying while we just sat there, doing nothing. Even crying would have felt more productive than just sitting there. I voiced these feelings to Seth. He told me I should cry if I wanted to. I told him I was too numb for it and that he should do the crying. Then, he told me that we were doing exactly what the doctors needed us to do. We were being patient. I wasn’t feeling very patient.

When Jase finally returned, he had the bald doctor with him and I was instantly all over both of them with questions. Basically, I wanted to see Eddie. After hearing about what was going on with the Keslin family, I just needed to see him. I wanted him to tell me himself that he was alright. When the doctor told me that I couldn’t see him I almost threw the world’s biggest temper tantrum right there in the hospital, but Jase was able to explain things to me a little easier. He insisted that Eddie really was alright. They’d finally determined that the only surgery he was going to need was going to be for his left arm. No one gave me the gory details, but I got the impression that he’d practically shattered it, along with his hand. The hospital was taking care of that now, so it would be hours before I could even think about talking to Eddie again.

When the doctor left, Jase asked us where Luke was and once again I looked to Seth, who admitted that he’d spoken to Mr. Keslin. Jase looked as unnerved by the news of the Keslin family as I felt, but seemed to hold himself together and announced that he was going to go look for Luke. Seth volunteered to go find everyone something for lunch, since he thought it was close to that time, and feeling tired of the small waiting room, I volunteered to go with him, deciding that the cafeteria couldn’t be that far.

When we passed the room that Mr. Keslin was in, I couldn’t help looking. The blood on his clothes was so much more disturbing now, knowing where it came from, and I could feel knots boiling in my stomach as we passed--the thought of Cody never waking up again becoming a frightening one in my mind. I knew what it felt like when someone didn’t wake up. Mr. Keslin was now on a chair, his head back and his eyes closed. I might have thought he was sleeping if Mars Fisher wasn’t sitting across from him, talking quietly. I was surprised when Seth didn’t stop to talk to his dad. Instead, he led me away from the scene quickly. I guess that was because I was there with him. I’d never met Mr. Keslin, but it probably wouldn’t take much for him to figure out who I was.

Seth led me to an elevator, and when we reached it the two of us entered one alone, but he made no move to hit any buttons as he gently took my hand and turned to me.

“There’s a cafeteria here,” he said. “But I think we should get out for a while.”

I instantly shook my head. “I can’t leave.”

“Yes, you can,” he insisted. “Let’s go get some lunch. We’ll bring Luke and Jase back some real food.”

“Seth...”

“Twenty minutes, okay?” he said. “That’s all it’ll take.”

I shook my head, but made no objection when Seth took me all the way to the parking lot and we got in his truck. There, I finally looked at a clock and found that it was in fact well past lunch time. Grandma Alice should have already landed in Nevada by then, so I took a few minutes to call her and explain what had happened. Apparently, Jase had already left a message on her answering machine for me and she’d been worried sick, and like me, had been unable to reach anyone. She asked if I wanted her to come back, and suddenly I was tempted to beg her to; but instead, I told her what everyone else had been telling me, that Eddie was fine.

When Seth started driving I begged him not to go far from the hospital, so we ended up at a fast-food Italian restaurant; and thank god they had chicken sandwiches, because suddenly I couldn’t eat anything red in color, and the mere thought of marinara sauce disgusted me. It was hard to eat anything with the hospital stench still thick in my nostrils and the emotional exhaustion that had me feeling dizzy. But Seth refused to leave the restaurant before I at least ate half of my sandwich, something I ended up being grateful for, because I did feel better after having some food. I was equally grateful that Seth didn’t order anything with marinara on it. Just looking at the guy sitting at a table across from us as he downed his pasta made me nauseous. Needless to say, when we left, we were taking more chicken sandwiches back for Luke and Jase, and I wasn’t surprised when Seth grabbed a few extra for his dad and Mr. Keslin. In all honesty, I was surprised that Seth wasn’t sitting with them. I at least had Jase and Luke with me; Mr. Keslin didn’t have anyone. For a while I thought that Seth was worried I’d be upset with him for going to lend some support to the Keslins, so I told him I wouldn’t mind. But he insisted that he was where he wanted to be.

When Seth and I got back to the hospital, things seemed a lot different than when we’d left. Mr. Keslin was no longer in the room down the hall from us, and Mr. Fisher was with Jase and Luke. To my surprise, they were all smiling. It seemed that they’d taken up exchanging family stories, and Mr. Fisher seemed to be keeping Luke’s and Jase’s minds off of more uncomfortable matters. They were all happy with us when we passed out lunch; and while Mr. Fisher didn’t know how Cody or Aaron were doing, he’d explained that a few nurses had finally convinced Mr. Keslin to let them clean him up and check him out, and they’d taken him to see his wife, and fortunately, Alex, too, who apparently, was cranky and asking for his parents.

Jase voiced his concern for the Fisher family. Maybe he’d been at odds with them in the past, but he didn’t want this for them, not anymore than he wanted to be sitting there with all of us, waiting to hear that we could see Eddie. Luke, was different. He was mostly quiet about the Keslin family, but obviously angry about the accident. It was no secret that Luke blamed Aaron for it. I wasn’t sure if I did, too. I guess I was trying not to think about it for now. I just wanted to hear that everyone was okay. There would be plenty of time later to be angry about why this had happened.

It was almost three o’clock when Mr. Fisher had to leave the hospital, asking Seth to call him later, and inviting all of us over for dinner if we wanted to take a break from things. He also gave Jase a hug and his personal number, telling him to call if there was anything that his family could do. Just after he walked away, Jase had suggested that Luke and I take him up on his offer so we could get out of the hospital for a while, but neither of us were interested, and no one else went anywhere. Except when Jase decided to take a walk to the gift shop, and Seth volunteered to show him where it was, since he’d passed it a few times on one of his earlier outings.

I think Seth volunteered to go because Jase had become restless after Mr. Fisher left, and Seth seemed to be the only one of us capable of keeping Jase company without driving him crazy. Luke and I couldn’t seem to stop when it came to asking Jase what was taking so long, as if he were supposed to have the answers we needed. We were leaning on him, and I, for one, couldn’t seem to help it. It was strange, but hearing that Eddie was going to be okay coming from Jase made me feel a lot better than when I heard it from the doctors, who were always mentioning possible risks and complications. The whole experience of being there was a trying one, but every time I started to panic, Jase would make it better; and even if he was freaked out, like Luke said he was, he was holding it together a lot better than the rest of us. But I could understand why he’d need to get away from Luke and me for a while. At least Seth wasn’t driving Jase crazy--I was happy about that. There was someone there who could be there for Jase, too.

With Seth and Jase absent from our room, which felt like it was getting smaller every minute, I stretched out on the sofa as much as I could and stared up at the ceiling panels, wondering if Eddie was going to see the same thing when he woke up. I wondered when he was going to wake up at all, or be ready to see us. It seemed to be taking an obnoxiously long amount of time for them to fix him, leaving me with way too much opportunity to think about complications, among other things. Like wondering if Eddie was really going to be okay. Even if he was alight physically, there was still going to be an aftermath to this whole situation. Mr. Keslin was looking for someone to blame, and it was hard to imagine how Eddie was going to feel if Cody didn’t make it. It wasn’t Eddie’s fault. The Keslins had hit him, and then it was another vehicle that had supplied most of the damage to theirs. But I knew if it were me in Eddie’s position, and someone died... it was hard to even think about. Harder, because I couldn’t help thinking about how I’d feel if Eddie was the one who might not wake up.

I released a breath I’d been holding and brought both hands to my head, holding it as if that would keep my thoughts from spinning.

“I like Seth,” Luke suddenly said, and I turned my eyes towards him. He was across from the sofa in one of the two chairs with his feet stretched out on the coffee table as he flipped through one of the many magazines he’d pilfered from other rooms.

“You’ve already told me that,” I reminded him.

“I meant, he’s being really cool right now,” Luke replied, without looking up from his magazine.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I think... he feels guilty, about not calling me yesterday. We really haven’t had a chance to talk about it. I mean, I sort of yelled at him, and I feel stupid now...”

“You know he’s not doing all that he’s doing because he feels guilty.”

I sighed. “I know; I was just saying, in general. He’s being really great, and I don’t want him to feel bad. It’s not like I called him, either.”

“He tried to catch you at the airport, right? I mean, that’s something. It’s really lucky he was there. We thought you were gone.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

Luke finally looked up from his magazine.

“Rory? Why did you get off the plane? I mean, I’m not complaining. Just, why did you change your mind?”

I stared at him for a moment, thinking about the question. “I didn’t change my mind,” I finally said, and Luke raised an eyebrow at me.

“What do you mean? Did your grandma make you stay or something?” Luke sounded offended.

“No,” I said quickly. “That’s not what I mean. I didn’t change my mind because I don’t think...I don’t think I ever wanted to leave.”

“What?”

I mean... I’ve been thinking about it, since I got off the plane. For a while now, I’ve kinda not wanted to think about leaving, because it was just too hard, you know? I didn’t want to say goodbye. With you... and everyone telling me to stay... it just made it harder, you know?” I paused, and Luke looked somewhat guilty for a moment, but I continued. “But then, a few days ago I came home and Eddie said... he said he loved me, and he didn’t want me to go. He didn’t wait for an answer, but when he walked away, I think I knew.”

“Then why didn’t you just tell him then?” Luke asked, sounding curious, not accusing. “Why didn’t you just say you were going to stay then?”

“My grandma says I’m stubborn,” I replied, after a moment of consideration, and I got a small chuckle from Luke before I became more serious. “I’ve been thinking about that, too,” I admitted. “I don’t really know, except--this sounds stupid, because everyone’s been telling me to stay, or to think about it, even my grandma--I sort of felt like I had to go back. Like, I needed to.”

“Do you still feel like that?” Luke asked cautiously.

“Yes and no,” I replied honestly, and Luke frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean... I think I still want to go back. I want to say goodbye.”

“But you...you don’t want to move back there, right? I mean, you wouldn’t be just fucking with me, getting off the plane--right?”

I found myself smiling. “No. Remember when my grandma got here, and you yelled at me?”

Luke had the decency to look guilty. “I might remember that.”

“You said, my mom’s not there anymore. And, I knew she wasn’t... I knew I was going to go back, and she wasn’t going to be there. But the whole time I’ve been here, I kind of thought that one day, my life was going to be like it was before. I mean, she wasn’t coming back, but I thought that I could at least go back to what I had before, without her. I just figured that I needed to get back to it, to make everything okay again. Here, I’ve felt like I’ve been in limbo. I guess it just took me a while to figure out that while I was waiting to get back home, I’d already found a new one.”

Luke took a moment to process my explanation, and then gave a slight nod. “So you just wanna say goodbye... to what you had before?”

I nodded. “I think at some point, I have to. I don’t know if I can do it from here... today, I just wasn’t ready.”

Luke looked thoughtful as he studied me. “Maybe when Eddie’s better, we can all go with you,” he suggested.

“Yeah,” I replied, with a faint smile. “I think that would be good.”

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

I leaned back against Seth, mostly because he was conveniently behind me, and I was getting tired of standing. In response, he moved his arms around me and pulled me back further, his body suggesting that I could make myself comfortable as he stood in the waiting room doorway with Luke and me, watching as Jase spoke to the bald doctor again.

Over the last few hours, when I hadn’t been driving myself crazy, I’d been talking to Jase about things that got both of our minds off our surroundings--like school, and what I’d need to do to get ready for it now that I was staying, and whether or not I wanted to unpack some of the stuff that I had stored in the attic. Jase told me that if I wanted to, I could unpack some of the things my mom and I had had in our apartment and find places for them in the house. I wasn’t in the mood to seriously think about it, but it was nice to know I could make myself at home in the place that was going to stay my home.

Luke, at some point, had gone for a walk and decided to call Dave from a pay phone. He discovered that Dave had been frantically calling, but like me, had been unable to get through. It seemed that Angela had called Seth’s house looking for him, and his parents had told her about the accident. From Angela’s mouth, the news had spread like wildfire. There were several people, like Dave and Angela, who wanted to come to the hospital, but Luke was considerate enough to prevent Jase’s headache from getting any worse, and asked them not to come.

It was going on five o’clock when a doctor finally came to talk to us. After some careful negotiating, Jase convinced us to wait while he got the information, and now we were just waiting for him to come back and tell us that we could see Eddie. At least, that’s what we hoped he’d tell us.

When Jase shook the doctor’s hand and suddenly turned back towards us, we all stood up a little straighter, waiting to see what he had to say. He was hard to read, looking rather serious as he came to a stop in front of us.

“We can see him,” Jase announced, and there was a collective sigh of relief. “But before we go, we need to talk. He’s going to be out of it, and probably really tired. They’re going to watch him overnight and move him into his own room tomorrow, and we’ll go from there. For now we’ve been asked to make visits short, and one person at a time.”

“Okay,” Luke said, and I nodded with him.

“Can we go?” I asked.

Jase nodded. “One more thing. Eddie is probably going to be sleeping through the night. He needs his rest and there isn’t really any good reason for all of us to be here.” Jase paused and looked at me. “Rory, I know you want to talk to him, but after you see him, I want you and Luke to go home.”

“Forget it, Jase. We can stay,” Luke stated.

“You should go home and get some rest,” Jase insisted. “You’d be bored here all night, anyway. Go home. Let Rory get settled in...”

“I was only gone for three hours,” I pointed out. “Plus, my bags are in Nevada.”

Jase sighed, and then sternly placed his hands on his waist. “I know you guys are worried, but we’re not going anywhere until you agree to let Seth take you home. I promise to call if anything changes.” I felt Seth’s hands slide to my shoulders. I had a feeling that he wanted me to agree with Jase, but Luke and I were reluctant.

“Why can’t we see him, then decide?” Luke asked.

“Because I need you to go home,” Jase replied, sounding exasperated, but then he forced a smile. “Luke, you need to take care of Chey for the night, and...”

“I’ll send Dave,” Luke countered.

“And I can’t think with you guys here,” Jase said bluntly. He looked incredibly apologetic as he looked between Luke and me. “Listen, I’m not asking you to leave right now. Just tonight. Go home, get some rest, and come back in the morning. Please.”

Luke glanced at me, and I got the feeling that he was waiting for me to decide for us. I also got the feeling that Luke would go with whatever I decided. Honestly, even the idea of leaving the hospital made me feel guilty. Eddie was hurt, and I felt like I needed to be close. But Jase was tired, and stressed, and dealing with our feelings and worries along with his own.

Seth squeezed my shoulders and pulled me back against his chest. “Let me take you home,” he insisted, and with a slight nod, I relented, not sure how I felt about that.

“Thank you,” Jase said, and throwing his own arm around Luke’s shoulders, he led us away from the waiting rooms and through the corridor. I felt like I was in a maze as Jase stopped every few moments to check the signs above us before we reached the room that Eddie was in.

When Jase told me that I should go in first, I argued with him, insisting that it should be him. Luke solved the problem when he got sick of listening to us and entered the room on his own. That gave Jase plenty of time to convince me to go in next, insisting that he’d be checking in on Eddie all night and he wanted Eddie to see me while he was somewhat coherent.

When Luke returned from the room ten minutes later, his eyes were red again, just as they were when I’d arrived at the hospital. I watched as he took a moment to hug Jase, and then he faced me. “He really is out of it,” Luke remarked, chuckling lightly to himself as he wiped at his watery eyes. “I don’t know what he’s on, but he seems... happy.”

Jase managed to smile at that, but I was still looking at Luke. “Does he know I’m here?” I asked nervously.

“I didn’t tell him,” Luke replied. “I thought you’d want to.”

I let out a breath, knowing that that really wasn’t the case. I guess you could say that I was a little nervous about Eddie finding out I was back, especially at a time like this. After all the times that Eddie had asked me to stay, and I’d shut him down...I guess I wasn’t sure why he’d want me back. I wasn’t expecting how terrifying just the thought was. If I’d blown my chance, I didn’t know what I’d do, just like I didn’t know what I’d do if Eddie hadn’t been okay. If it had been worse... if it was Eddie lying where Cody Keslin was right now, I wasn’t sure that I’d even be able to live with myself, knowing that the last thing he thought about me was that I didn’t want to stay with him. I felt like I had a second chance now. The only problem was, even as I stepped through the door in front of me, I had no idea what to do with it. I guess it was logical to start with seeing my dad.

It wasn’t a very big room, more long than wide, and I was momentarily confused when my eyes fell over a woman who looked to be in her thirties, fast asleep in a hospital bed with one elevated, casted leg. There was a curtain drawn behind her, and it reminded me of Jase explaining that Eddie would be in his own room tomorrow morning.

I walked around the curtain slowly, and had to pause and collect myself after seeing what was on the other side. It was no wonder Luke was so upset. As I took a good look at Eddie, who’d been a perfectly healthy human being when he left me at the airport this morning, I really hoped that things weren’t as bad as they looked. I’d expected a cast around his arm, maybe a sling. There were both of those. But I wasn’t expecting to see the brace around his neck, just below his face, which simply didn’t look like Eddie’s face. His dark hair was pushed back, and seemed clean, but his entire forehead was purple and looked swollen. The bruise reached beneath his closed eyes and consumed his nose. I found myself wondering if it had been broken, too. Seeing him there like that, I suddenly felt like I needed to go back out and get Jase, wanting him to convince me again that Eddie was really okay. But instead, I took a few careful steps around the bed, towards his left side, wondering if he was even awake.

“Hi,” I tried, not really sure how to start this. As it was, I was continuously reminding myself not to ask him any stupid questions, like how do you feel? But I guess Eddie wasn’t asleep, because at the sound of my voice his eyes fluttered and slowly opened, just a crack. He didn’t seem particularly focused on anything as he inhaled deeply, and released the breath slowly, obviously fighting for consciousness as he lifted his uninjured arm stiffly right before it dropped back down on the bed. I looked down at his hand, and careful to avoid the bruises on his knuckles, I took his fingertips in my own, watching as he struggled to turn his head before he remembered the brace. His eyes opened, and then drifted to me, looking droopy and tired. I tried to smile, but feared that it looked more like a grimace as Eddie took in my appearance, not seeming at all surprised for several long moments before he curiously narrowed his blackened eyes on me.

“You’re going to miss your flight,” he told me, his voice sounding dry.

I made a face, feeling confused over his words before it occurred to me that Eddie was the one who was confused.

I tried to smile again. It was becoming a chore, especially since all I wanted to do at the moment was cry. I should have cried when Seth told me to. “Nah,” I said conversationally, swallowing down a knot in my throat. “I already did that, hours ago. No worries.”

Eddie blinked slowly. It seemed like he was having some difficulty in focusing.

“Oh. Okay,” he said, and I looked at his bruised forehead, wondering how hard he’d hit it. As I looked at the IV running into his arm, I hoped his current state of mind had more to do with whatever was in it than the knot on his head. I had a feeling that now was not the time to explain to Eddie why I was there.

“Do you need anything?” I asked, and Eddie seemed to consider the question.

“Rory?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you get Jase? I’m ready to go home...” He paused, looking confused again, and then regarded me somewhat seriously. “I wrecked his car, didn’t I?”

I couldn’t help it, I released a small, strangled chuckle, but I couldn’t tell if it was more of a sob or a laugh. “Yeah,” I said quietly. “You kinda did.”

Eddie closed his eyes and groaned, and I squeezed his fingers, hoping that he wasn’t in pain. But, a moment later he was looking at me again. “Jase is going to kill me,” he said matter-of-factly.

“I don’t think he’s that upset about the car,” I assured him.

Eddie exhaled another breath, seemingly concentrating on something. “Was anyone else hurt?”

The question hit me hard, my mind floating to the Keslin family. Suddenly, all of the fears I had about Eddie being devastated about it, having been involved in the accident came flooding back. The mere thought of having to tell him that someone might die collapsed in my gut. How was I supposed to tell him someone might die? My face scrunched up before I could help it. I wanted to scream at him that no matter what happened, it wasn’t his fault. Because that’s what I’d want someone to say to me. But when Eddie looked sober for a brief moment, and looked me over with obvious concern, I took in a deep, shaky breath, and held it together.

“We’re just all glad you’re okay,” I insisted, pausing to force a smile. “I think Luke and I have been driving Jase a little crazy. We were all worried.”

“I’m... okay,” Eddie decided, shifting uncomfortably in his bed as he slid his hand further over mine. I looked down at his bruised fingers for a moment before I met his eyes.

“I want to talk to you, Eddie. About a lot of things.”

“Okay, go ahead,” he replied. His voice was sounding drowsy, and his eyes were glazed over, but he was squeezing my hand, as if to let me know he was still there. “You can talk to me...”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I know. Um... but maybe after you get some rest.”

He seemed to consider this. Or, maybe he was just spacing out, I couldn’t tell which.

“Are you going?” he finally asked.

“No, I’m not going anywhere--except to get Jase. I should get Jase for you.”

Eddie sighed. “Yeah. Tell him I’m ready to go home, m’kay?”

“Okay. I’ll let him know.”

When Eddie closed his eyes again I prayed he wouldn’t open them, because that’s when my face started feeling wet. I carefully pried my fingers from his and backed away slowly, still not sure if he was really okay. Still not sure if I was.

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

Standing at the edge of the pool, water running down my body from head to toe and wearing black shorts so drenched that they sagged at my hips, I stepped into the water for the fifth time, and sank down to the bottom. I kept trying to find that peaceful place, to think of my mom as I wondered what she’d tell me to do about all of the worry in the pit of my stomach, but it wasn’t working. Nothing was working. The image of Eddie, lying in that bed looking like someone else’s dad; and the thought of Mr. Keslin, waiting all alone in that room with his own son’s blood on his clothes. Even Aaron, somewhere in that hospital, knowing that he might have killed his brother; and whether or not he even cared--it was all there, in my mind, making me crazy. I felt like I should have stayed at the hospital, where the air was stale and suffocating, and my more torturous thoughts were at least somewhat smothered.

I left the pool tiredly, wishing that I’d turned on the lights before I came out because it was going on nine o’clock, and dark. I paused in front of the glass door, looking down at the puddle I was leaving around my feet from all of the water coming off of my shorts. I changed my mind about thinking the lights being off was a bad thing, and after a quick look around, I pulled a Luke.

As soon as my swim trunks hit my ankles I stepped out of them, and slipped into the house. Unlike Luke, I wasn’t exactly comfortable with marching through my surroundings completely naked. I suppose there was something adventurous about it, though, not knowing if someone was going to walk in on me at any given moment. Whatever excitement I drew from that was short-lived when I thought about how there was no one really around to catch me, anyway.

The house seemed empty, and lonely, knowing that Jase and Eddie wouldn’t be there tonight. It was quiet. Too quiet. It didn’t help matters that Luke had refused to leave his room ever since we got home. I’d tried to talk to him, constantly reminding him that Eddie was okay, because it made me feel better when someone else said it. But he wasn’t in the mood to hear it. In fact, he wasn’t in the mood to hear anything, unless it was about how Aaron Keslin was God’s biggest mistake. Like Mr. Keslin, Luke needed someone to blame, and he’d directed all of his emotion towards Aaron, in the form of anger. I wouldn’t say that Aaron didn’t deserve this, but I couldn’t help feel sorry for all of the Keslin family; and when I thought about what they were going through, becoming angry with Aaron wasn’t on my agenda, because I felt sorry for him, too.

I thought of knocking on Luke’s door when I passed it; but instead, I decided that he could come talk to me if he wanted to. Besides, I needed him to cool off first. It was hard enough to remain calm. I didn’t think allowing him to pull me into his dark mood would have been the best of ideas.

I grabbed the pair of gym shorts Luke had given me to wear from off my bed. Most of my wardrobe was now in Nevada, except for a pair of jeans and a couple of loose socks that had been left in the dryer, so I’d be walking around in Luke’s clothes for at least a few days. When I went to take a quick shower I entertained the idea of calling Jase at the hospital. I kind of wanted to hear him tell me that Eddie was okay again. Hell, maybe Eddie would be lucid enough to tell me himself. But after drying off and putting on the gym shorts, I left the bathroom to hear the doorbell echoing through the house.

Chey was scratching at Luke’s door insistently, but obviously he had no intention of leaving it, so I headed upstairs myself, already knowing who was visiting us. It didn’t even surprise me that Dave was standing on the other side of the front door with Seth. In fact, I’d asked Seth to go get him when I realized that I couldn’t improve Luke’s mood on my own.

Dave gave me a small smile as he held out a foil-wrapped casserole dish. “My mom made dinner,” he said.

Seth looked sheepish when he held out a stack of wrapped plates. “So did mine,” he announced. I didn’t make a move to collect either of the meals, but smiled and opened the door wider.

“Where’s Luke?” Dave asked as he entered behind Seth.

“In his room. Are you gonna talk to him?” I asked hopefully.

Dave just smiled, handed me the casserole dish, and headed on his own way as I closed the door.

“Is Luke still going off about Aaron?” Seth asked quietly, and I frowned, nodding.

“Let’s just put these away,” I insisted, leading the way into the kitchen. “Unless you’re hungry?”

“Have you eaten?” Seth asked.

“No, but I’m not really that hungry.”

“Maybe later?” he asked as I led the way to the kitchen, and I noncommittally nodded.

Seth was regarding me worriedly as we put the food away. I had a feeling that he wanted to convince me to eat something, like he had earlier, but didn’t want to seem pushy. I wished that I could make him believe I was okay, but in all honesty, I was just plain tired, and didn’t know if I was okay or not. If I could get my nerves to settle, I had no doubt that I’d be crawling into bed and going to sleep. At least if I was asleep, time would pass faster. When I woke up, I’d go back to the hospital, and hopefully find out more about what was going on, and not just with Eddie.

When Seth and I passed Luke’s door to get to mine, it was cracked open, but we passed silently, hearing that Luke and Dave were talking. Actually, Luke was doing the talking, saying how much he hoped they sent Aaron to jail for running that light. But at least he sounded calm now, and obviously he wasn’t complaining that Dave was there, even if he’d told me before that he wanted to be alone.

I turned on my bedroom light when I reached it, waited for Seth to enter, and quietly closed the door behind us.

“Seth?” I asked, somewhat hesitantly. “Have you... heard from Aaron. I mean, has he tried to call you or anything?”

Seth took a seat on my bed and slid his hat off his head, his eyes meeting mine evenly.

“I’d tell you if he did.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling a little stupid for even asking as I moved to sit next to him, leaning back against his hand when his fingers moved to rub at my bare, lower back. I glanced at him. “It’s not because I’m jealous, you know,” I told him. “It’s just... no one’s heard anything new, and I guess...”

“Do you blame Aaron, too?” Seth cut me off.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I think right now I’m just worried for him. I mean, I feel like I should be angry, because Eddie’s hurt, and it sounds like it’s Aaron’s fault. But with Cody still... I mean, if he doesn’t wake up...” I paused, and let out a breath. “It’s just scary, I guess.”

Seth slid his hand further up my back and I turned my head to face him. “I think so, too,” he said. “It’s scary.”

“Are you okay?” I suddenly asked Seth as it occurred to me that despite his ability to be a source of support, he could very well be just as torn up as the rest of us over this. “You and the Keslins...”

“I know them,” Seth interrupted, nodding. “And it’s really hard to see this happen to people I’ve sat down to dinner with, just like it’s hard seeing it happen to you. But, I don’t like to think about how things could get worse, until they do. So, yeah. Right now, I’m okay.”

Seth forced a smile at me that I’m sure was meant to be reassuring, but whether it was meant to reassure him or me, I didn’t know. I decided that it didn’t really matter, and leaned towards Seth, and pulled him forward until my arms were around his neck and his head was on my shoulder as he hugged me back. When I pulled away, and Seth turned his head to kiss me, I leaned into his mouth as it touched mine, parting my lips when it occurred to me that this was the first time we’d really kissed since Friday night. I closed my eyes and pressed my tongue against his, coaxing him into deepening the experience as I felt his hands on my back, seeming cool as his fingers traveled over my skin. By the time he pulled back, placing us nose to nose, I had my hands up his shirt, holding onto his sides as my thumbs traced his ribs.

“So you’re really back?” he asked, and I smiled. It seemed like such an obvious attempt to change the subject that I couldn’t help feeling grateful for it.

“Technically, I don’t think I ever actually left,” I pointed out.

“Even if you didn’t, I’m sorry I didn’t want to say goodbye to you.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t make you,” I replied, cracking a small smile. “But I guess it doesn’t matter now, right? You were at the airport.”

“And you didn’t leave.”

I nodded, and then turned to stretch out in my bed, smiling at him when he took the opportunity to slide his hand up my leg, over my knee, to my thigh, just beneath my shorts. He kicked off his shoes and turned onto the mattress with me, his head coming just below mine on the pillow.

“So are we still broken up?” I asked him, and Seth raised a surprised brow at me.

“Broken up?”

“That’s what we were doing, right?” I asked. “I mean, when I was going back to Nevada... We didn’t say it, but it kinda felt like... you know.”

Seth sighed, and I shivered when his fingers moved to my inner thigh, tickling me there. “I think it was more like... taking things slow. You and me--we’re kinda new. It was sort of hard to tell what would happen with you gone.”

“But I’m not gone.”

“No,” he agreed.

“And since I’m not... I’d probably have a problem with you meeting someone else,” I said.

“Okay,” Seth replied simply. “But, I don’t think that’s something to... worry about. We’re not broken up.”

I smiled. “Just checking.”

Seth sighed and removed his hand from my shorts to wrap his arm around me. He pulled me closer and his forehead came to rest against my chin. I closed my eyes, noting that they felt like they belonged that way while I took in the feel of Seth’s warm, comforting body against mine.

“Will you stay here tonight?” I asked him. I didn’t really have to. I already knew that was his plan. But, there was nothing wrong with a little reassurance.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, and I snuggled closer to him when I felt his fingers moving over my back.

My room suddenly felt warmer, and my body so relaxed that I couldn’t even think about moving it. I wasn’t sure how that was possible, when my thoughts were still going a mile a minute. I wasn’t really focused on Eddie being hurt anymore, though. I think my worries around the topic had finally worn themselves numb, leaving me open to think about other things, like the future. It had seemed uncertain for a while now, but strangely, it felt more uncertain now than it ever had. I’d just chosen a life, I realized. Maybe it was silly, but after everything that had happened today, I felt like I should have a plan when it came to what I wanted to do with it. This hadn’t happened when my mom died because after she passed away, I just didn’t care. But now with Eddie in that hospital, drugged up but still there; and Seth next to me and Luke in the other room--I cared. I cared about a lot of things. I think I just wanted to make the best of everything.

No. I didn’t just want to make the best of things. I wanted to experience them. Everything. I wanted to go into that hospital in the morning and tell Eddie that every time I said I didn’t need him while I was growing up, it wasn’t all true. Because now I realized that even if my mom had given me everything she could have, I’d still missed him. It just took a while to realize it. And, I wanted to be around while Luke was going through whatever he was going through right now. I wanted to be there for him in any way I could, even if that meant standing back to let Dave help him. I wanted to invite the Fishers over for dinner and beg Jase not to let Eddie cook. I wanted to be with these people. I’d chosen it, and I wanted to do a lot more than simply make the best of it.

School. It was going to be terrifying, starting all over again in a new school. Even with the support of my friends and family it was going to be an adjustment, not only being in a new atmosphere but being a new person, too. Someone who was out of the closet. Someone who wanted to hold his boyfriend’s hand in the hall between classes. Everything was going to be new.

But, looking to the future didn’t necessarily mean leaving the past behind. I realized this. Tomorrow I was going to have to pick up the phone and call Nathan. I was going to have to tell him why he hadn’t gotten a call from me today from my grandmother’s house. And I hoped that when I did that, he’d still want to keep in touch with me. And I hoped that despite their quarrel, Nathan would help me get in touch with Jason. In many ways, I felt like I was just now arriving in Arizona. But this time, I wanted to do it right. I did realize that that meant coming clean with Jason and Nathan sooner or later. I’d have to let them know who I really was. I’d have to let everyone know. I wouldn’t be ready for that by tomorrow, but I hoped that some day I could tell my friends everything; and when I did, I could only hope that they’d understand.

I must have fallen asleep. It was dark in my room when I opened my eyes, but the warm body wrapped around me was reassuring. I ran a hand down Seth’s back, finding it bare, and as I reached his butt I felt soft boxers. I kissed the part of him right in front of me and his chest hair tickled my lip, and then I lay there for a long moment, feeling a slight headache. I shifted in his arms to see the glowing numbers of the clock and found that it was only eleven o’clock. It felt much later. I could hear a television on, somewhere past my room, and thought about investigating; but when Seth tightened his hold on me I settled back down, shifting closer to him as I slipped my thigh between his.

“Hey,” I heard him whisper, as if to test whether or not I was still asleep.

“Hi.”

“Can you go back to sleep?” he asked me as he began to rub my back, and after a moment of considering the question, I shook my head against his shoulder.

“I want it to be morning.”

“You’ve still got a ways to go,” he replied. I heard a smile in his voice.

I sighed, and rested for a moment. I felt like... I’m not sure how I felt. Numb, scared. But by now, those two feelings were becoming familiar to me. I think I just wanted to talk. Only, I had no idea what I wanted to talk about. I tilted my head, looking up at him, and in the dark his eyes shone back at me.

“Seth...” I started, but cut myself off when I abruptly pushed myself up, just enough to place my mouth over his. Lying there with him was nice, but suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t get enough company. One little kiss was supposed to make me feel closer to him, I suppose. That’s all it was meant to be, but from the moment he cupped the back of my neck I was clinging to him, finding ways to pull him closer to me as I grabbed at his arms, his waist, his face... I felt like I was pulling until he finally lifted himself and came over me, holding himself up as his mouth moved over mine in our familiar pattern.

I pulled him down. I wanted his weight on me. For just a little while I wanted to feel completely smothered, so I held him there until I almost couldn’t breathe. I shifted beneath him, pressing my body against him, and shivering as the thin layer of hair on his chest brushed against my skin. A stirring in my groin took over my body, just as I felt something hard against my stomach; but the way we were pressed together made it difficult to tell if it was him or me. Him, it seemed, when he shifted lower and I felt his shaft grind lightly alongside mine, what was left of our clothes separating my skin from his.

I tilted my head up, demanding more from his lips until I felt his tongue in my mouth, moving against my own. As I clutched at his shoulders, as if letting go would allow him to leave, it occurred to me that usually I was the one over him. That was probably a strange thought to have at the moment, but true nonetheless. Usually I liked it the other way, but right now, I needed it to be exactly how it was.

I closed my eyes, my breathing becoming deep and heavy as he removed his mouth from mine and kissed my neck instead. His lips were rough, but his tongue was soothing as he crossed my throat and moved down my chest. My hands reached for him and my fingers tangled in his hair as he circled my navel and when I felt his fingers--more aggressively than not--hook in my shorts, I lifted my hips from the bed and felt the air in the room brush over my cock and thighs. His mouth came down, hot and wet over the head of my erection and I gasped at the sensation. My eyes rolled back as his mouth glided down my length and I hardly even noticed it as he finished stripping me of my shorts. I felt his hands on the backs of my knees, which parted further on their own accord as he lifted them slightly and my head slid off the pillow as he practically pulled me to his mouth.

My ragged breathing was met with moans when I felt his throat closing around me before he slid over my shaft again. My grip on his hair was tight. I knew because my fingers were going numb, but I couldn’t seem to let go, not when my body was quivering as my hips came off the mattress. I felt a tug on my balls, and jumped, thinking that I was about to come before I realized that it was his hand there, fondling me before sliding back behind them, into my cleft. The finger that abruptly pressed against my hole was cool and damp, and I squirmed against it. I wasn’t bothered by its presence there, not like I thought I’d be. The sensation of his mouth, sucking me into oblivion was enough to distract me from that, and the light pressure I felt, right before I felt his finger moving inside of me. He hit my prostate and I jumped, shuddering as that sharp overwhelming sensation hit me. I thrust my hips upwards when the urge to do so became uncontrollable, and in response Seth’s free hand slid under me, guiding me to meet him until one final groan escaped me and my body halted, spent and shuddering.

I felt like I was just waking up as Seth’s mouth met my stomach again. I reached for him, pulling him to me until I parted my lips against his, feeling satisfied as his weight settled back over me. I could feel Seth through his boxers, still hard against my thigh. I forced a hand between our bodies, reaching for him.

It was the sharp chirp of a phone that brought us both to pause. I’d like to think that any other night, we would have ignored it. But, this time was different, and in a moment Seth was moving off of me and helping me to sit up.

“Is it yours or mine?” I asked quietly.

“Mine.”

He moved from the bed, searching for his phone in the dark, and answering it as he rejoined me.

“Hello?” Seth’s voice was quiet, steady. It was like he was wary of the phone, just as I would have been. From behind, I moved my arms around him, and rested my head against his back, waiting. “Yeah, we’re okay over here... what do you mean?” Seth’s shoulders went rigid, and in response, so did I as I held him tighter. “It’s okay. Just tell me, please... are you sure? ... okay... Um, no. I’m gonna stay here tonight... I know. Me too... I love you, too.” Seth’s voice was shaky by the time he finished on the phone, and I don’t think he even bothered hanging it up before he dropped it carelessly on the floor and suddenly turned towards me, sniffling as I wrapped my arms tightly around his neck. “That was my dad. He was calling about Cody.”

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

What do you do? How are you supposed to feel? How do you deal with it when a life just ends? It seemed complicated being someone who I knew, but wasn’t close to. When it was my mom, I knew what I was feeling, and I knew that it was reasonable to feel that way. With Cody, I wasn’t sure that I had a right to feel... anything. I kept picturing myself back in the Keslin house, Cody meeting Aaron and me at the door. The look on his face when he was blackmailing his brother. That cruel, arrogant look that I’d wanted so badly to knock right off his face. Only, every time I thought back, I saw myself pulling him into a hug instead. Holding him. It was like inventing myself a role in his life. Because if I’d had one, it would have justified my feeling more than just sad. He was younger than I was, and he was gone; and apart from feeling that it was unfair, I just felt sad. It didn’t feel like enough.

I looked around the kitchen table at the three blank faces around me, the entire setting striking me as odd. Off. Wrong. It was almost one o’clock in the morning. The table was set with plates, spoons, forks, and knives. Napkins had been placed out and there was hot food in front of us, just like there would have been if we’d been sitting down to dinner every other day. Luke was stabbing his mashed potatoes with a fork, his face drawn into a pale, unreadable mask. Dave wasn’t far from him. He was picking at a piece of chicken, every so often bringing a tiny piece to his mouth looking inconspicuous about it, like a child sneaking a taste of dessert before dinner. Like me, Seth hadn’t even touched his food. He just stared at it. Beneath his red eyes, I could practically see the lump in his throat. I didn’t know what to say to him. He probably knew Cody better than any of us, even Luke, it seemed. But it seemed that even Seth didn’t know how he was supposed to feel.

I think the problem was, that none of us had really been close to Cody. For me, personally, I felt guilty for wishing that I could have gotten to know him better, now that he was gone. It was a sense of regret as I realized that even after losing my mom, I’d managed to take life for granted. I felt ashamed of that. Her death had been a big thing for me, but now with Cody, I felt awkward. I found myself wondering if this was how the people around me felt when they were sharing their condolences. Awkward.

“I saw him last week,” Luke suddenly said, and three sets of eyes turned their attention to him, but Luke wasn’t looking at any of us. He’d gone from stabbing his potatoes to stabbing the cooked carrots, and on his plate, they were beginning to look like mashed potatoes. “He was in the gas station with one of his friends. He flipped me off. He’s always been like that, ever since me and Aaron... I thought he was such a little shit. But now... can I still think that and... can I still think that?”

I frowned, understanding what Luke was asking. I felt that his thoughts mirrored my own, in a way. He wanted to feel something, but didn’t seem to know what it was that he should be feeling. My attention turned to Seth when a small, sad chuckle escaped my boyfriend. Luke looked at him, too, seeming confused.

“Cody was a little shit. A big, spoiled brat. I swear he was the biggest snob I’d ever met.”

Luke frowned at that. “He didn’t deserve... he didn’t deserve what happened.”

“No,” Seth agreed. “He didn’t. But I think... he liked being a brat. He liked driving people crazy, so I think...it’s not wrong to feel like that about him.”

Luke stared at Seth for a long moment, and then gave him a slight nod, his expression seeming understanding. There was another long silence. Minutes passed, before it was broken by Luke again. “I didn’t think he was going to die.” I looked up again to find that my blond friend didn’t look like he was talking to anyone in particular, but then he looked at Seth again. “When you said he was hurt like that, I thought that it was just... I expected it to be different. Like, I figured he’d wake up, and everyone would think they’d overreacted... and Aaron would brush it off, like he does with everything. I thought it was going to be okay... But this... this isn’t okay. No one can fix this. What Aaron did...”

“We don’t know what happened in that car,” Seth said quietly. “We don’t know it was actually Aaron’s fault. It could have just been... an accident.”

Dave and I sat up a little straighter in our chairs as we looked between Seth and Luke. I, for one, was a little worried now. That had not been the right thing for Seth to say, especially to Luke, who was still in the mood to blame everything on Aaron, which he did as he narrowed his eyes and scowled. “He killed his brother.”

I heard Seth take in a breath. “He lost his brother,” Seth replied evenly. “A car killed Cody. Maybe... Aaron could have avoided it, but to accuse him of... it’s not fair to say that. Even about Aaron.”

Luke dropped his fork and glared.

“Luke,” Dave said quietly, obviously not liking where this was going. I didn’t like it either, especially since I felt the sudden need to choose sides. I’d been doing my best to allow Luke to deal with this however he needed to. If he needed to be angry with Aaron for a while, then I supposed that he had the right. Only, his anger felt almost like it was getting out of hand, and it seemed that Seth was the only one willing to point this out to him.

“You can defend him all you want,” Luke suddenly retorted. “It doesn’t change what happened. He can’t fix this! He can’t bat his eyes, and...he can’t fix this.”

“No. No one can,” Seth quietly agreed, and Luke just stared at him for a long moment, as if he expected Seth to take it back.

“Guys,” I said, when they continued to glare at each other. But, I didn’t finish my thought once I realized my voice was shaking. I wouldn’t have had the chance to when Luke suddenly stood and walked away. I looked at Seth, frowning to find that his eyes were even redder than before, but whatever he was feeling, he was holding it back.

“You’re right you know,” I said quietly. “It’s not fair to blame Aaron. Luke’s just...”

The corner’s of Seth’s mouth turned up slightly as he gave me a small, grateful look and reached over to squeeze my hand.

“I’ll go talk to Luke,” Dave said, standing. “He’ll be okay. I mean, tomorrow you guys will see Eddie... everything will be okay.”

“Not for the Keslins,” I whispered, and Dave frowned. He started walking, but I abruptly released Seth’s hand and stood up, too. “Dave, let me try.”

Dave regarded me skeptically for a moment, and I openly frowned at it. But finally, he shrugged and sat back down.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to say to Luke. I could understand some of what he was feeling, but obviously not all of it, and at this point it seemed like letting him bitch about Aaron was only going to make him angrier. I knew they had a history. I knew that Aaron had done plenty in the past to fall from Luke’s good graces. But this time, it almost seemed as if Luke thought Aaron ran that red light just to attack him. I didn’t know what to say to that.

I found him in his room. His door was open, and he had Chey on the bed with him. She jumped down when she saw me, wagging her little tail and sniffing at my jeans as I stepped into the room. Luke met my eyes with a flat expression as I sat down next to him. He looked so tired that all I wanted to do was tuck him into bed. It wouldn’t have done any good, though. I doubted that he could even sleep. I reached out to wrap and arm around his shoulders, and there was only a moment of resistance before he leaned into me, letting me hug him.

It felt like such a switch, being there like that. I’d grown so used to Luke being the guy who always had his shit together, and the guy who was there to lean on every time I needed him. Being there for him was new to me, and I almost felt guilty that it felt so good, even if it was a little bothersome. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that Luke was capable of this kind of reaction in a situation like this. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been through a lot, too. Between losing his mom, and his dad abandoning him, and then Aaron--everything Aaron had ever done to hurt him--I guess I should have expected him to act like this.

“Why is it so unreasonable...” he suddenly whispered against my shoulder. “Why is it unreasonable to want someone to fix this? Why can’t we just all go back and make yesterday disappear? You came home... it should have been a good day. We should all be here right now. We should just be a family... but he took it away.... Why did he have to take it away? He takes everything away. I feel like I can’t... I can’t do anything without wondering how he’s going be there, fucking it up for me. Why does he have to be...I want him to fix it, Rory. Aaron... he fixes everything that gets in his way, why can’t he fix this, too?” Luke released a strangled gasp, resting his forehead on my shoulder, and through my thin t-shirt I could feel moisture there, and I hugged him tighter, finding it a little hard to see as my eyes started to water.

“We are a family,” I said firmly. “Luke...tomorrow you and me are going to go back to the hospital... and listen to Eddie bitch about how he’s ready to come home. And he’s the one who’s going to be driving Jase crazy, and... we’re going to laugh at them. You’ll get on Jase’s case for acting like someone’s mother... and I’m going to sit there and know... this is my family. You guys are a family. We are. Aaron Keslin hasn’t taken that away from you. He couldn’t.”

Luke lifted his head, meeting my eyes, paying no attention to the tears now running down his face.

“And what... what is going to happen when Eddie finds out about Cody? How is he going to feel when someone tells him about Cody? What’s that going to do to him?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But whatever happens, we’re going to tell him that it’s not his fault, because it isn’t, Luke. He’s going to believe that sooner or later because... he has to. It’s not his fault--and maybe, it’s not Aaron’s fault, either. Not like that. It was an accident... but it’s not unreasonable to want someone to take it all back. I know what it’s like to actually expect to wake up and find everything...”

“How it’s supposed to be,” he finished.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“It never happens, though,” he said ruefully, cracking a small smile.

“Yes it does,” I stubbornly argued, and Luke raised an eyebrow at me.

“When?”

“Tomorrow,” I said quietly. “Tomorrow I’m gonna wake up right where I’m supposed to be. So, I know it’s gonna be okay.”

Luke sat up some, using the back of his hand to wipe at his face as he avoided my eyes for a moment. When he met them, he forced a smile in my direction. “When did you get so... reasonable?”

“I don’t know,” I said thoughtfully. “But don’t worry, I’m sure it won’t last.”

Luke smirked. “Good, because I kinda look forward to the next time you sit yourself on a cactus. Just let me know ahead of time. I’ll bring the Polaroid.”

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

The glow of morning was flowing through my window, seeming brighter by the minute as my fingers smoothed Seth’s hair and I stared at the clock, wondering if six thirty was too early to wake everyone up. I supposed it was, especially when we all only went to bed two hours before. I hadn’t slept, not really. I’d spent the last hour ignoring the knots in my stomach, and trying not to think about Cody Keslin. But now, I felt strangely calm. In fact, despite my body’s aches and slow movements, I almost felt like I’d been sleeping all night, and I felt eager to get out of bed. But, I didn’t do it too quickly. It was peaceful, just lying there with Seth snuggled up next to me; and considering that yesterday morning I never thought it would happen again, I wasn’t about to take it for granted. Or him. I wasn’t sure how I would have gotten through everything without him.

I kissed Seth’s bare shoulder, and pulled a blanket over him as I moved away quietly, not wanting to wake him. My bedroom door was opened, but then so was Luke’s. Chey was on his bed with him again, hogging his pillow and stretched out like any queen of the roost would be. The scene was made comical by the way that poor Dave was curled up on the bedroom floor. He’d rolled away from his bedding, and looked like he was passed out where Chey normally was.

The house still seemed too quiet as I made my way upstairs, and I could still smell the food we’d heated up last night. The scent was kinda hard to miss since we’d left all of our plates on the table, and they’d hardly been touched. As I stared at it, it almost seemed like those filled plates were there, waiting for someone to come sit down and eat. I cleaned it all up, and as I wiped down the counters, the hum of the dishwasher kept me company. I found myself moving around the house, picking up stray dishes or straightening pillows, anything to pass the time. I wanted to call the hospital, and I almost did, but decided that I kind of wanted to wait for Luke to do that with me. He’d seemed a little better after our conversation before we went to bed. He’d even apologized to Seth, and gave my boyfriend a hug. Seth, being as understanding as usual, insisted that Luke had nothing to be sorry for. He even looked genuinely confused when it came to why Luke was apologizing to him at all. I kind of hoped that Luke would wake up feeling good enough to want to call the hospital with me. But before I could decide whether or not seven fifteen was too early to wake him up, the phone was ringing through the house.

I think I rushed to pick it up in the kitchen so the ringing wouldn’t disturb anyone more than I was eager to find out who was calling. I didn’t even put that much thought into it. There had been several calls the night before, all from people who wanted to know what was going on. Given that it was Monday morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was Luke’s boss, wondering why he wasn’t at work. As I lifted the phone, I made a mental note to remind Luke to call in to work if this wasn’t his employer already calling.

“Hello?” I answered. It was the first time I’d used my voice for hours, and I was surprised to find it somewhat thick, like it would be if I’d just woken up.

Good morning. You sound tired. Don’t tell me you guys were up all night.”

I nearly tripped over my own feet as I paused, leaning against the counter. “Eddie?”

“How are you guys doing?”

“Us?” I demanded. “How are you doing? I didn’t even know if you’d remember that I was here.”

“Well... things were a little fuzzy last night,” Eddie admitted, and I could hear a smile in his voice. “But Jase made sure I got my details straight.”

“So are you alright?” I asked.

“A little stiff, but definitely ready to get home.”

“You’re coming home?”

“Eh... not yet. They’re making me wait a few days... um, some of the medication I’m on is making me groggy, but I was wondering if you guys wanted to come down for a little while.”

“Yeah, of course,” I said quickly. “Um... I kinda wanted to talk to you.”

“Yeah... we will.”

I sighed, taking a moment to feel relief over the sound of Eddie’s voice on the other end of the line. I was going to get to talk to him. Really talk to him.

“We’ll be right there,” I promised.

“I’m looking forward to seeing you.”

“Me too.”

“So, do you think on the way you guys could stop off for breakfast? If I see one more carton of jello...”

I laughed. “Yeah. Anything. Anything you want.”

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

It was difficult not to be happy after hearing Eddie’s voice first thing in the morning. I hadn’t expected it, and I soon realized just how much I’d needed it. I was excited when I woke everyone up, and as soon as I told Luke about hearing from Eddie he was ready to go down to the hospital in his boxers. Dave made him get dressed, though. Seth said that he should go home for a while, and offered to take Dave home, first. I thanked him for everything, and he asked me to call him if I needed anything, even if it was just company. He got several kisses for that before I climbed into Luke’s jeep, and Luke and I headed back to the hospital after stopping for four breakfasts of ham-and-egg sandwiches and hashbrowns. Jase met us outside to make sure that we’d find Eddie’s room okay. He looked tired, but he was grinning, and ate half of his meal before we even got in the building.

Eddie’s room was on the third floor now, and while it probably wasn’t even as large as my bedroom, it was an improvement over the small space he’d been in the night before. Eddie looked like he’d improved since the night before, too. Maybe it was just the lighting, or maybe he was a fast healer, but the bruise on his face was hardly noticeable anymore, even if his nose was still a bit swollen and his eyes were black. It looked like he’d dozed off, but Luke wasn’t exactly shy about ambushing his bed to hug him. Eddie’s groan following the attack warned me from doing the same thing, but he smiled when he saw me. The next thirty minutes consisted of Luke and me asking Eddie a million questions about how hurt he was, what was sore, what he remembered and how long it would take for him to get back home. Jase finally told us to give it a rest and the four of us had breakfast as Eddie asked if I was really staying and I told him how I’d gotten off the plane. I guessed that he wanted to make sure I didn’t change my mind again because he called Grandma Alice from the hospital and made arrangements for me to get my stuff back.

It was a happy visit. It almost felt like we were in a hotel room rather than a hospital, the way that we all lounged around Eddie’s room watching television and talking, leaving every once in a while when a nurse showed up to check on Eddie. I didn’t really have any time alone with him that morning, but that was okay. I was simply content being there with everyone; and the fact that Eddie was talking and joking about how he was going to look like Frankenstein when his cast came off because of the pins in his arm, was all I could have asked for. Only, seeing him alright and happy worried me, too. Luke seemed to be thinking the same thing, because the two of us kept exchanging concerned glances before I finally pulled Jase aside.

“Is everything okay, Rory?” he asked as we stepped out into the hall and headed towards a vending machine. Eddie had asked for a bottled water.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I mean... no.”

Jase frowned and regarded me expectantly. “What’s going on?”

“Last night... Mr. Fisher called and sort of gave us some bad news. I didn’t know if I should say anything, but...”

Jase sighed, and stopped walking to face me. “I saw him this morning,” he said, and the grim expression on his face told me all I needed to know.

“Does Eddie know about Cody?” I asked.

“I wasn’t going to tell him yet,” Jase admitted. “But, there have been police officers all over the hospital investigating the accident. I’m not sure when they’re going to stop by here... I had to tell him.”

“Oh... so is he okay?” I asked, and Jase let out a breath.

“I think he is. It’s a very sad situation, and hard for Eddie. But, he also realizes it’s not his fault.”

I released a relieved breath after hearing that. “Good, Luke and I were worried that he’d blame himself or something. I mean...”

It’s very... it’s very upsetting, hearing about Cody. It’s hard for Eddie, too. It’s probably going to bother him for a very long time. But he knows that he should be grateful that he’s okay, and his family’s okay... he’s going to be alright.” Jase flashed me a reassuring smile, and I gave a slight nod. “How are you and Luke doing with everything? You don’t look like you got a lot of sleep last night.”

“I’m better now. I mean... I feel like I should be doing something, you know? I didn’t really know Cody, but... I feel like I should be doing something. And Luke...” I paused for a moment as I considered how much I wanted to tell Jase before I shrugged, sighing. “Luke was taking everything pretty hard last night. I think he’s angry... I probably wouldn’t let him get Aaron alone anytime soon.”

Jase rubbed at his temple, and started walking again. “That doesn’t surprise me. Luke has gotten very good at blaming things on Aaron.”

I frowned at that.

“You don’t think he has a right to? I mean, after what Aaron did to him...”

“Luke has a right to be angry,” Jase agreed. “But I start to worry when he goes looking for reasons to be angry. You have to understand, Rory, that it wasn’t just about a stolen car to Luke. He really cared about Aaron, and Aaron hurt him. For a really long time he just... I think it was easier for him to be mad. But, it was every little thing. When Aaron showed up at one of his wrestling matches, Luke would blame him if they lost. Or, if there was a dance or something at school, and all his friends were going, Luke would blame Aaron for not wanting to find a date--granted, his reasoning for that one was warranted. But... it was everything. When things weren’t going right for him, it was Aaron’s fault.” Jase paused, regarding me thoughtfully. “When you first got here, you and Luke had a fight.”

I blushed a little at that, knowing very well that Luke and I had had a fight. Not one I cared to remember, because given that it was over Aaron Kelslin, I’d rather not remember it. Luke and I had never told Eddie or Jase what had happened, or how we worked things out. I guess I’d hoped that it would never happen.

“Yeah, I remember,” I said quietly.

“Were you seeing Aaron then?” Jase asked candidly.

I sighed. “Yeah, but I think we’ve established that it was a mistake.”

Jase laughed at my perturbed tone. “I’m not picking on you, Rory. I’m just saying, after you guys got in that fight... that’s about the time that Luke stopped blaming Aaron for everything.”

As Jase started feeding quarters to the vending machine, I paused to think about that for a moment. One of the worst memories I had since arriving in Arizona was the time that Luke had stopped talking to me, all because I’d accepted Aaron Keslin’s phone number. I remembered how angry he’d been, towards me, and Aaron. But, I also remembered that after we made up, he’d told me that he was tired of being angry when it came to Aaron Keslin, and somehow that meant more to me now than it had then.

If I thought back on my own disastrous relationship with Aaron, and Luke’s behavior towards me throughout it--at least, after that first fight--then it was easy for me to say that he’d been so supportive that it didn’t make sense. Although, more supportive towards me than my actual relationship with Keslin. But still, I could remember times when Luke said things like, he hoped he was wrong about Aaron. There had been times when Luke shared parts of his own relationship with Aaron. Besides explaining to me about how he’d ended up with a criminal record, though, it occurred to me that the only other times Luke would really talk about Aaron was to let me know that I wasn’t alone when it came to the way Aaron treated me. He’d direct anger towards Aaron when it seemed that Aaron was hurting me. I never would have considered that Luke wasn’t over Aaron Keslin. But now, after hearing what Jase had to say, and given Luke’s reactions the night before, the way that he wanted Aaron to fix things... I couldn’t help wondering if he was over Aaron at all. Not his romantic involvement with Aaron, exactly. At this point I highly doubted that Luke would touch Aaron Keslin with a borrowed dick. But, I wondered if he was over Aaron in particular. They’d been best friends before they were anything more. Luke was in a situation every bit as tragic, if not more, than mine when he first moved in with Eddie and Jase. He’d latched on to Keslin. He trusted him. Cared about him. But the way Aaron treated him... I suppose that wasn’t something easy to get over. I suppose my first clue should have been the fact that Luke was more interested in guys who he couldn’t have than guys who wouldn’t mind being all over him, all because he didn’t want to get hurt again.

Luke was carrying around a criminal record thanks to Aaron. Their friendship, and whatever else they shared, had ended badly. I found myself wondering if Luke had ever actually found closure from all of that. Yesterday, as Luke discovered that Aaron had run a red light and placed actual lives in jeopardy, including Eddie’s, and then finding out about Cody... I couldn’t really blame him for thinking that Aaron had gone too far this time. Maybe Luke’s nonsense over demanding that Aaron fix the impossible had more to do with Luke wanting Aaron to stand up and act like an actual human being. To show that he cared. To show that he was actually sorry about something. Only, the fact still remained that as tragic as the accident had been for everyone involved, it could have still very well been an accident.

Aaron Keslin had done his share and then some of rotten, vile things, but not even I was prepared to accuse him of taking the life of his own brother. And since no one had actually talked to Aaron, there was no way of knowing what was going on in his head. Hell, it was hard enough trying to figure him out when he was telling you what he was thinking. But, there had been a death. Loss of life. Death. And it had been Aaron’s brother. He and Cody had fought, but from what I’d learned from Aaron, and even Seth... Aaron and Cody had been close, too, in their own way. Aaron Keslin was one of the coldest people I knew. Perhaps the craziest. But I couldn’t imagine this not being devastating for him. I guess I hoped that Luke would realize that, because no matter his feelings for Aaron, the fact remained that Luke and I, we still had our family. Aaron was now missing a part of his.

When Jase turned around with a few bottles of water in his hand, I was still staring at him. He gave me a gentle smile. “Luke’s going to be okay, Rory,” he said. “I think he was just scared. All of us got a really good scare.”

I just nodded, agreeing. Jase didn’t have to remind me of how frightening yesterday had been. It still felt frightening.

“I don’t know if Luke would have wanted me to tell you...” I started quietly, but stopped when Jase placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t worry. Luke will come talk to me when he’s ready. Let’s go back to the room, okay? I think Eddie’s about ready to doze off again. We might as well visit while we can.”

“Okay,” I agreed, and together we headed back past the nurse’s station and down the hall to Eddie’s room. It was the sudden sight of Mr. Keslin that had both Jase and me pausing. He was in a wheelchair now, looking a lot worse than he had the day before as a nurse wheeled him out of a hospital room, about four doors down, straight ahead of Eddie’s. He was slumped in the chair, wearing a hospital gown and a pair of sweatpants, and his eyes looked so red that I had no doubt they actually hurt. When he looked in our direction, I noticed that for the briefest moment his hollow, devastated expression turned hard. Cold. It was a menacing way to be looked at, but at the same time, I felt such sympathy for the man that I didn’t even care. I swallowed as Jase placed a protective hand on my shoulder, and we remained there until Mr. Keslin was out of sight.

“I feel like I should do something,” I said again, and Jase looked at me.

“You are doing something, Rory. You’re making your dad very happy, just being here with him--that’s all you need to do right now.” Jase sighed, and looked at me more seriously. “Look, Mrs. Keslin is in the room that Aaron’s dad just came out of. It’s possible that we’ll be seeing more of them until Eddie goes home. You have to understand that they don’t want us around. Promise me if you see him again, you’ll stay away?”

I sighed, but nodded, understanding what Jase was saying. “But what about Aaron?” I asked. “Have you seen... I mean, is he...”

“Mars said that he’s in pediatrics with his other brother.”

“Alex,” I said quietly.

“Yeah. He’s been scared ever since they brought him in, and Aaron is... well, I guess he’s keeping him company. Mrs. Keslin was there, but... after Cody, she’s just not doing very well.” Jase paused, frowning to himself, but then shook his head, as if deciding not to say what he’d been thinking. “Come on, let’s just get back, okay?”

I took a moment before I nodded, and then reluctantly followed Jase back to the room, where I forced a smile until I was able to stop thinking about the Keslins long enough to listen to Eddie and Jase argue about whether Eddie should listen to the doctors, or just go home. Eddie wanted to get into his own bed, but Jase wasn’t sure he was ready for that. In the end, Eddie was too tired to argue, and agreed to stay put as long as Jase went home overnight to get some rest.

It was past noon when Eddie’s light snoring alerted us to the fact that he’d fallen asleep. Luke had been telling me about the guys on the swim team at his school, other than Rick. Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea for me to join the one there, but apparently the topic wasn’t interesting enough to hold Eddie’s attention.

Jase might have agreed to go home overnight, but he didn’t want Eddie to wake up alone. That’s why, when he suggested that he and I go down to the school, which was running orientations all week, Luke agreed to stay at the hospital. He’d called Dave to keep him company, and as I left with Jase, Luke was flipping through a magazine at Eddie’s bedside, looking mostly content, and I was happy to see him smiling again.

It was a strange experience, walking around an unfamiliar school, knowing that I’d be starting there in a week from the day. I already had friends, but it was still a little nerve-racking. I’d been in classes with the same people pretty much since kindergarten, and this was obviously going to be a switch for me. I was thinking on it so much that I actually forgot about hospitals and injuries and death for a while. I decided that was probably a good thing. Jase seemed to think so, too. He seemed to enjoy walking me around the school, which was mostly empty. There were a few other students walking around, and teachers getting ready for the year. We were able to track someone down in the enrollment office, but it seemed we needed more than just to show up to get me enrolled into school; but that was no sweat for Jase, who said he’d get my grandma to arrange for my old school to send my records, and I’d be enrolled by the first day. For the time being, we both settled for a tour. Jase knew his way around most of the school, and didn’t seem to want to leave until I became at least somewhat familiar with it.

As we walked around, I found myself talking to Jase about Jason and Nathan. I think he was a little surprised, because it’s not like I’d really talked about them all summer. I told him how I still needed to call Nathan and explain why I hadn’t started school with him. I also told Jase how I wanted to keep in touch with my friends, but I was worried that it might not be so easy unless I could bring myself to be completely honest with them.

It felt like it was a long time ago when Luke had told me that Jase was easy to talk to. I discovered that he was right. Jase was very good at helping me sort out my thoughts and discover that I needed to express to Jason and Nathan that I disliked them fighting, but even if they didn’t make up, I wanted to maintain friendships with both of them. He also helped me realize that unless I didn’t want an honest friendship with them, sooner or later I’d have to come out of the closet. He suggested that I tell them about him and Eddie first. It would be a good starting point. If I knew how my friends were going to react to my gay father and his partner, it might give me a better idea of how they’d react to me. But, like I told Jase, I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready for any of that just yet. He was kind enough to assure me that no one in the house would take offense if I wasn’t quite ready to tell my friends about my living arrangements yet. It was nice for him to say, but whether or not Jase, Eddie or Luke became offended wouldn’t change the fact that I already felt guilty about it. Sooner or later Jason and Nathan were going to have to know the truth. But I decided that I shouldn’t worry about it, not when I already had enough to deal with as it was.

Not sleeping the night before had taken its toll on me by the time we got back to the hospital. Eddie was complaining about his dinner meal, which had recently been delivered to his room, when I dozed off in a chair. The next thing I knew, Luke was gently shaking me awake, saying that it was time to go. It was dark outside, and Jase and Eddie were looking over the same book together. They both seemed amused that I’d drifted off, and it was Eddie who ordered me back to the house to get some real sleep. I felt obligated to argue with him, already embarrassed for falling asleep, but I knew when I was beat; so with little objection, I went home with Luke. Jase stayed with Eddie, but promised to be home soon. If he made good on that promise, I never knew it. I remembered calling Seth when Luke and I got home, and him telling me that he was going to come over. Things got a little blurry after that. I remember waking up on the basement sofa to the sound of Seth’s voice. He was sitting in front of me on the floor, talking to Luke about something that was making both of them laugh. He told me to go back to sleep, and I did so. The second time I woke up, Seth was kissing my face and telling me that he’d call in the morning; and the third time, Luke was telling me that I should get in bed. I obviously didn’t make it there, though, since on Tuesday morning I woke up on the couch with a light blanket thrown over me. Late on Tuesday morning. It was ten o’clock before I got up and took a long shower, wondering why the house was so quiet.

I was in search of clean clothes when Luke came downstairs and gave me some jeans and a t-shirt to borrow. I was swimming in both, and it only reminded me to call my grandma and ask her to send my things as soon as possible. At least I had my own socks and boxer shorts. Since the hospital was talking about releasing Eddie that evening, Luke and Jase had gone out early that morning to fill Eddie’s prescriptions; and while they were out they were kind enough get me some of the things I wouldn’t have until I got my bags back.

I wanted to go to the hospital again, but settled for calling Eddie when Jase explained that for most of the morning the doctors would be busy making sure that he was ready to come home. On the phone he sounded even better than he had the day before, perhaps a little bored, and he mentioned being sore; but mostly he was just eager to come home, and I assured him that we all wanted him home, too.

My day moved along quickly after talking to Eddie. I called my grandma, and she mentioned that Jarred would be over for dinner, and that I could expect a call from both of them, then. She said that he was disappointed that he didn’t get to meet me, and would like to at least do it over the phone. This led to a long conversation as I worried about what his reaction to me and my family would be. But, as it turned out, Grandma Alice had already explained everything to him, and he cared about who I was attracted to just as much as Grandma Alice did.

Seth came over again just after lunchtime. It seemed that things had been pretty quiet around his house. His parents were trying to be supportive of the Keslins. His mom was making phone calls for the family, and his dad was helping with arrangements. It seemed that the Keslins wanted Cody’s funeral to happen quickly. It was all very depressing to hear about. My own mother’s funeral had taken place just weeks after her death, and it had all seemed very rushed to me. I remember feeling pushed, even though Grandma Alice made most of the decisions on her own. I could sympathize with the Keslins, knowing that it was always difficult to bury a loved one. I was glad they had people like the Fishers to help them out, especially since the entire family was still stuck in the hospital. What I wasn’t so happy about, though, was that Seth was getting depressed over the whole thing. He seemed to feel torn between wanting to be supportive of the Keslins and wanting to be supportive of us. It wouldn’t have been such a problem if he didn’t feel like Mr. Keslin was angry with him for being around me.

Seth had been at the hospital that morning, and he admitted to me that he’d asked to see Aaron. I assured him that I didn’t mind at all, and I was actually a little disappointed that the Keslins had made it clear that they didn’t want Aaron talking to anyone. Luke had walked in on us talking about this, but instead of making any angry remarks towards Aaron, he opted to ignore the topic entirely and he told Seth and me that it would do us some good to get out of the house for a while. We were both a little reluctant, wanting to be around in case anyone needed us, but when Luke called everyone up, we found ourselves at the movies for a few hours with Angela, Dave, Brian, Rick, Cathy, and Meg. I was grateful that none of them flooded us with questions. Instead, it seemed that the whole group was focused on keeping our minds off of everything. Even Rick was being a lot nicer than usual. He even called up some of the guys he swam with to meet us afterwards so I could meet them. They seemed to have a close-knit swim team, just like I had back home. It didn’t hurt one bit that none of them were really that hard to look at, and Seth cracked me up when he objected to me joining the team on the grounds that he didn’t like the idea of me showering with a bunch of hot guys.

It was four thirty when Seth dropped Luke and me off at home, and when we got there, we were rushing to get into Eddie’s Suburban with Jase when he announced that he was on his way to go get Eddie.

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

“Luke, what are you doing?” Eddie asked, sounding half annoyed, and half amused as he looked over his shoulder--which he could do now without the brace around his neck--at Luke, who was shoving Eddie’s hospital gown into the small duffle bag that Jase had brought along with Eddie’s clothes. Jase was currently helping Eddie button up the front of a comfortable plaid shirt while I waited patiently and Luke did what was necessary to occupy himself.

“Souvenir?” Luke responded.

Jase snorted. “No thank you. I’d prefer to forget all about this.”

“I’ll second that,” Eddie responded, smiling as Jase leaned forward to give him a quick peck on the lips.

Eddie was officially out of bed. He’d been a little wobbly on his legs at first, but he was standing fine, now. He didn’t like that it was hospital policy for him to be wheeled out in a chair, but if it would get him home sooner, I don’t think he was about to complain. As it was he’d already been delayed when a couple of police officers came to interview him. Eddie had told them exactly when he’d told us. He could remember going through a green light, and then feeling the impact of the crash. He remembered that it hurt, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in the hospital and they were asking him to hold still. But as far as the accident was concerned, he’d never even seen the Keslin’s vehicle coming. It seemed that the other two drivers involved had only suffered minor injuries, and the one that had hit Eddie’s bumper had seen enough to know that the Keslins had come out of nowhere. But, the police still wanted to interview everyone.

“Does anyone want to go out to dinner?” Eddie asked.

“Oh no you don’t,” Jase stated. “You’re getting home-cooked meals, in bed. No strenuous activities until the doctor says otherwise.”

“How is eating out strenuous?” Eddie wanted to know.

Luke rolled his eyes. “We’ve seen the way you eat,” he remarked, and I laughed.

I stood up when a nurse came into the room with the wheelchair we’d been waiting for.

“I’ve got that,” I insisted.

“Alright,” she replied, smiling. “I’ll wait outside to walk you guys out.”

“Thanks,” I said, and when I moved the chair over to Jase and Eddie, Eddie grumbled the whole time Jase fussed over him to help him into it.

Jase took over the wheelchair on the way out, and the nurse was there to escort us. We didn’t make it very far, though. We’d started down the hall and came to an abrupt halt when we noticed a room in front of us had the door opened, and Mr. Keslin was visible, talking to the same officers that Eddie had talked to. I hardly noticed that, though. Not while there was another wheelchair outside the door, parked between two waiting chairs, and occupied by Aaron Keslin. I stopped, with Luke right next to me, unable to keep from staring for a minute.

He was in a white muscle shirt and jeans shorts, obviously as done with his stay at the hospital as Eddie was. He had stitches marring the left side of his face, from his forehead, down past his cheek. He was going to have a scar. There were more on his head, which had been shaved. I guessed that they’d shaved part of it for the stitches, and he’d likely insisted on having the rest done, too. Far be it for Aaron to have a bad haircut. And despite the stitches, or the splint on two of his fingers, or even the blue brace surrounding his ankle and his bruised-up legs, his small features and pretty looks were still intact. But there was something different. No smirk, no cruel glares. His eyes were surrounded by dark circles, drawn to the floor. He looked blank. Numb. He hadn’t noticed us, and as I looked around at Jase, Luke, and Eddie, the consensus seemed to be that we didn’t want him to. Jase looked concerned. Eddie’s expression seemed sympathetic, sad. Luke was as blank as Aaron was.

“Are you guys ready?” the nurse asked us, obviously not understanding the holdup. No one responded to her. It was kind of hard, anyway, when Mr. Keslin suddenly saw us and started to raise his voice at the heavier of the two officers.

“Why are you in here harassing my family?” he demanded. “Haven’t we been through enough? Why aren’t you talking to them!” Mr. Keslin made a large show of pointing at my family.

“Sir, please,” the heavier officer started, but words didn’t stop Mr. Keslin from moving furiously out of the room in our direction.

Aaron looked up then, his brow knit and his lips curled down in a frown as he glanced briefly at us, and then focused on his father as he came to stand about five feet away from Eddie.

“How can you live with yourself?” Mr. Keslin screamed, startling me. I could hear Mrs. Keslin from her room, sobbing now. One officer stayed with her while the thinner one came for Mr. Keslin. “My son is dead! How can you live with yourself?!”

“Shut up!” Luke hissed, and I made a grab for him as he moved himself between Eddie and Mr. Keslin, but he shook me off.

“Luke,” Eddie said quietly.

“It wasn’t his fault!” Luke shouted, and Mr. Keslin glared at him.

“You stupid little punk, I should have done something...”

“Mr. Keslin!” The nurse intervened as Jase moved to pull Luke back. “Please go back to your room.”

I watched as the thin officer took hold of Mr. Keslin’s arm. Aaron’s dad didn’t exactly resist him, but he didn’t go back to his room, either. “They destroyed my family!” he screamed, and I stood in stunned silence as the man began to cry. It wasn’t sobbing like his wife. He had silent, angry tears running down his face.

I found myself moving behind Eddie, placing a hand on his shoulder. He reached up with his good hand and squeezed my fingers.

“You killed my son!” Mr. Keslin shouted, and I’m sure he would have been glaring at Eddie as he said it, if Luke and Jase weren’t blocking his view.

“Dad!” I looked up at the sound of Aaron’s voice, sounding small and strangled. His lip was quivering and his eyes were red as he glared at his dad’s back, looking even smaller than he had the night that Seth and I had found him drunk. “It’s not his fault.”

I saw Jase and Eddie look towards Aaron, surprised. But everyone’s attention was back on Mr. Keslin when he suddenly turned on his son.

“You shut up! Don’t you say a word!” he spat. “You’ve already done enough!”

His father’s tone seemed to be Aaron’s breaking point, because the next thing I knew, Aaron was dropping his head into his hands as a painful sob escaped his throat; the only sound he made as his shoulders began to shake and his tears fell. I found myself instinctively wanting to go to him, but the way Eddie squeezed my hand tighter prevented it, and I think we were all surprised when Luke suddenly broke away from Jase and headed straight towards Aaron, glaring at Mr. Keslin while the officer held him back.

“Luke,” Jase called timidly, but rather than responding to Jase, I watched as Luke took the seat next to Aaron’s wheelchair, and simply stared at him with an unreadable expression.

“Get away from my son!” Mr. Keslin ordered, as the officer struggled to restrain him now. But when Aaron suddenly looked up, reaching out to grip Luke’s wrist with his uninjured hand, everyone fell silent. Luke frowned, glaring at Aaron’s hand on him, and for a second, I thought that he might actually lash out. But, all at once, Luke seemed to calm, and I watched as he regarded Aaron in a way that could only be described as patient.

“He wouldn’t stop,” I heard Aaron whisper. His eyes were watering steadily now, and he sounded nearly out of breath. “He just wouldn’t stop.”

Luke took a moment, and then sat up a little straighter. “Who wouldn’t stop?” he finally asked.

“Cody! I was trying to drive... and we just kept yelling at each other. He was telling me I went the wrong way... he just wouldn’t stop... I.. I told him I hated him!” Aaron took in a deep, shaky breath and released it in a series of sobs, holding onto Luke, who suddenly, looked like he had no idea what he was doing. “He wouldn’t stop! He just... and he was kicking the back of my seat, and I looked back... I looked back... then, my mom was screaming, and... I told him I hated him! Why did I tell him I hated him?”

Aaron didn’t get much further than that before he broke down completely. It hurt to watch, even as Luke completely caved in and leaned forward, gathering Aaron Keslin into his arms. And Aaron held on. He held on, and he sobbed, and Luke held him, careful not to do harm to the stitches.

I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I was aware when Jase came to stand behind Eddie with me, and I found myself leaning into him without thinking about it, even more so when he wrapped an arm around me. But we both went rigid, and Eddie’s grip on my fingers turned to steel when Mr. Keslin suddenly took up residence in the seat on the other side of Aaron. Luke noticed, too, and regarded the man challengingly. But Luke’s features softened when Mr. Keslin simply reached out and placed a timid hand on Aaron’s back. Aaron jumped at it, and released Luke to look back. Aaron looked terrified then, facing his father. When Mr. Keslin held out his arms, Aaron only hesitated for a moment before he leaned into them, and together they cried.

Eddie didn’t release my hand when Luke quietly rejoined us and the nurse led us out of the hospital, and I discovered that I didn’t want him to as I squeezed tighter. “Do you think they’re going to be okay? The Keslins?” I found myself asking, and Eddie glanced up at me, looking thoughtful, even if a little sad.

“I wouldn’t be,” he said quietly. “If it had been you... but I think someday...” he paused, sighing. “I think eventually, they will be.”

I looked down at him as we reached the Suburban that Jase had parked at the front of the hospital. “Will we be okay?” I asked.

Eddie slowly stood, and I watched until he was towering over me, a smile curling his mouth. “I know that we’ll be.”

“Good,” I decided. “‘Cause I think I’m ready now.”

Eddie raised a curious brow, and I couldn’t help wondering if it hurt with his bruises. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” I explained. “To have a dad.”

Eddie just grinned at me as I helped the rest of my family make him comfortable in the car, and together, we went home.

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

Desert Dropping

Epilogue

The next weeks were a blur. It was nice having Eddie home. After everything that had happened, it felt like he’d been missing for a lot longer than a few days. He didn’t like taking his pain medication because it made him drowsy, so for the most part he was sore, and lounged around the house all day, since Jase couldn’t get him to stay in bed.

Eddie and I had done a lot of talking in that time. It almost felt like we were just getting to know each other. He liked to joke around by saying that I was grounded for waiting to change my mind about staying at the last minute. I don’t think I really would have cared if he had grounded me. I confessed to him how scared I’d been when I’d heard he’d been in an accident, before I even knew what kind it had been. Eddie kept reassuring me that he was fine, and said that he planned to be around for a long time. No one could really make promises like that. But I had to admit, it did make me feel better to hear it.

Elsewhere, I’d started school. My grandma had sent my things back to me just in time. My first day was easier than I thought it would be, even though I hardly saw Luke. He was a year ahead of me and we just didn’t have any of the same classes. We didn’t even have classes near each other. But that was okay because Seth and I saw each other all the time. In a few classes, in the halls, and at lunch. Rick was in our year, too, and I settled in easily. I even made a few new friends, and some Seth and I made together. I was surprised how much I didn’t think about being out at school. That’s just the way it was; and while I noticed that some guys flat out refused to have anything to do with me, most of the people I crossed paths with were people I’d met one way or another over the summer, and they weren’t bothered by me, or the fact that Seth and I were seen holding hands all the time. This could have had something to do with Luke and the rest of the wrestling team posing a threat to would-be homophobes, though. I just preferred to believe that my peers had more maturity than I gave them credit for.

I never heard anyone really talk about Seth and me. They were all too busy talking about Dave and Angela. The two of them had quickly reached a phase in their relationship where they were spotted arguing one second, and making out the next. Luke was pretty sure that they argued just so they could make out. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Every once in a while he’d complain when Dave spent, in Luke’s opinion, too much time with Angela, but for the most part I think he was happy for his best friend. I kept hoping that Luke would find someone, too, so I could be happy for mine.

My Grandma Alice still planned to get married in December. We’d be taking a long weekend to go to the wedding. I’d talked to Jarred over the phone, only to discover that he wasn’t much of a talker at all. I had a feeling that that was a large part of why he and Grandma Alice got along. Hell, she’d probably talked him into marrying her and he never got a word in until it was time to say I do. But, my grandma sounded happy, and was looking forward to our visit. I was looking forward to it, too, because like I’d told Luke, I still had the nagging feeling that I needed to say goodbye. And then, there was Jason and Nathan. I’d been able to talk to both of them separately, since Nathan had found Jason’s number for me. But, I had yet to come out to them. I’d talked to Jase a lot about that, and ultimately, I’d decided to wait until we went to Nevada. They deserved more than a phone call. I had no idea what I was going to say to either of my friends, but when I came out to them, it would be face to face. I still had time to sort all of it out, I guess.

The day of Cody’s funeral, Seth didn’t go to school. I’d known that he’d be attending. No one from my family was going, but Jase had picked up a large bouquet of flowers and asked Mr. Fisher to give it to Mr. and Mrs. Keslin. The card had been unsigned.

At school, there was a small memorial for Cody Keslin. During the last hour of the day, everyone was called to the auditorium where there was a moment of silence, and then several of Cody’s teachers and a few friends made small speeches. His teachers all said he was brilliant, and how terrible his loss was. His friends, who were older than him, and mostly girls, all talked about how adorable he was. I assumed that all of his real friends were at the funeral. There were rumors that Aaron would be at the school that day to give a small speech about his brother, but I wasn’t at all surprised when it didn’t happen.

I saw Aaron once during the first week of school, when I’d passed one of the counselor’s offices. He’d looked...different. His confident air seemed entirely diminished. He hung his head expertly, like that was all he knew how to do with it, hiding his shaved head under a ball cap. I’d waited long enough for him to notice me, and I’d given him a small wave. It was all I could think to do. He’d given me an uncertain nod, and then turned back to the counselor as if I wasn’t there at all.

I’d found out from Seth that Aaron wasn’t doing well at home. He came to the school once a week to pick up work from his classes, but refused to go. Seth also mentioned that his parents were upset with him for something, but no one was saying what. But upset or not, they were also worried about him, and while Seth insisted that nothing was for certain, there was talk that they were thinking of placing him in a mental health facility for depression. That had worried me, and I’d tried to call Aaron after hearing it, but his mother had simply said that he wasn’t taking calls before she hung up on me. At least I found out what his parents were angry about, though. We all did.

It was about a week after Cody’s funeral when Luke and I had returned from school to find both Eddie and Jase at home. Eddie had been working at the house since his accident. He hadn’t quite been ready to get back he courtroom yet, so our living room was full of legal documents when Jase and Eddie explained that while the police were interviewing Aaron about the accident, he’d managed to tell them all about a car he’d stolen last year, including how he’d done it right before he picked up his best friend for his birthday, and let that friend take the blame when they were caught. There had been a small investigation, and after giving the cops details that Luke never would have known, Aaron had already been arrested and released back to his parents.

This news was met with mixed reactions. Eddie wasted no time in pushing for the courts to clear Luke’s name, Jase wanted to celebrate, and I found myself both happy for Luke, and feeling sorry for Aaron Keslin. Not because he was in trouble. He deserved to be in trouble. But, after everything he’d been through, and seeing him look so... broken, the last few times I’d seen him, it was just hard not to feel sympathetic. Apparently, though, Luke felt the same way I did. I don’t know what was more of a surprise, the fact that Aaron had come clean, or the way that Luke had asked Eddie to help Aaron, the way that Eddie had helped Luke. Eddie didn’t necessarily look thrilled over the idea when he asked Luke if he was sure. But, he didn’t argue. Instead, he said that he’d have to check and see if it was okay with the Keslins, but then warned that even if it was, Aaron was in a lot more trouble than Luke had been in because of his original lies, and he wasn’t sure if he could do much to help, anyway. Luke had taken that as good enough, and never brought it up again.

In fact, Luke hardly ever brought Aaron up at all. Ever since the day Keslin had broken down in his arms at the hospital, Luke had had very little to say about him. He’d seemed as sad as everyone else at the school memorial for Cody, but he was past placing blame. The accident had been labeled an accident, anyway. Aaron was ticketed for running a light, and the two drivers behind Eddie were ticketed for following too close. Eddie seemed to have been the only one driving the way that he was supposed to, and everyone’s insurance rates went up. But it was still an accident. I think Luke had come to accept that, and I think he’d also come to accept that no matter what punishment he’d thought Aaron might deserve, Aaron was already suffering enough. Everyone had suffered enough.

As Eddie suspected, when he asked the Keslins if he could help, they declined. Although, they didn’t tell him to go to hell the way he thought they would. Instead, they thanked him for offering, and even issued an apology to Luke. They hadn’t made much more of an effort than that, so we took it as it was, and we all moved on. I hoped that the Keslins could, too.

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

It was Friday, early November, and I laughed where Seth had me pinned up against the wall outside of the school as he nipped at my ear and zipped up my light jacket. It was a colder day, and he’d been complaining that I was going to end up with a cold if I didn’t keep my chest covered. I met his lips as he kissed me briefly, and I straightened his hat before he took my hand and together we headed towards the student parking lot. He was walking me to Luke’s jeep, since he had to go straight to work.

Seth was in an extra good mood that day. He had just found out that his brother and his family were going to come home for Thanksgiving. It had been the ordeal with the Keslins that had caused his parents to reevaluate their relationship with their wayward son. Seth kept telling me that I had to come over to meet everyone, even though Thanksgiving was still weeks away. I kept promising him I would, regardless.

“Did you ask Luke if he wanted to go bowling tonight?” Seth asked me, and I nodded, smiling at him as he reached to run his fingers through my hair. It had grown out another inch, and ever since he’d taken to touching it, I’d stopped thinking about shaving it.

“Yeah, he’s gonna be there, but he’s gonna ride with Dave and Angela.”

“Isn’t he getting a little tired of being the third wheel with those two?” Seth remarked. “They’re gross.”

I smirked. “Luke thinks we’re gross.”

Seth smiled at that. “Maybe a little,” he admitted.

We moved through a cluster of cars almost blindly as I tried to remember where Luke had parked that morning, but came to an abrupt halt when we actually spotted his jeep. Luke was leaning against his front bumper, but he wasn’t alone. I narrowed my eyes, wanting to make sure I was seeing right as Aaron Keslin leaned on the jeep, just next to Luke, and the two seemed to be talking quietly. It had been a while since I’d seen Aaron now. From the looks of it, his hair had grown back some and he looked otherwise well, but even from the distance I could see the pink scars still marking his face. But, it was more than just the scars that made him seem different. He just didn’t seem... like himself anymore. Just like the time that I’d seen him in the counselors office, he didn’t strike me as the same guy who’s approached me in the park so long ago. As much as that guy had turned out to be a complete prick, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad to think, that he was gone.

I started moving towards them, but stopped when Seth suddenly grabbed my arm. “We shouldn’t,” he said quietly, and I frowned at him, but didn’t argue.

The truth was, no one had heard from Aaron in months. Eddie had heard that Aaron worked out a sentence with the district attorney, but he wasn’t sure what that was. Seth had tried getting in touch with Aaron a few times, but in a strange change of roles, it was Aaron avoiding him. In fact, Aaron had been avoiding everyone ever since Cody’s funeral. According to the information that Seth’s parents had, Aaron had been going to treatment for his depression, and he’d been taking his schoolwork home with him in the meantime. I’d be lying if part of me wasn’t concerned that he’d tried to come out to his parents, and they hadn’t taken it well. But Seth insisted that even if he had come out at home, his parents couldn’t have reacted badly. They were too worried about him for that. After losing Cody, the last thing they wanted was to lose another son. And right now, I guess the last thing Seth or I wanted to do was scare Aaron off when he was actually talking to someone, and Luke, of all people.

When Aaron looked up suddenly, looking right at us, I felt like we should be moving forward again. But a moment later, he was giving a small wave and leaving, but not before I saw him hesitantly reach out and touch Luke’s shoulder in a gentle, almost grateful way.

I sighed. “Maybe you should try calling him again,” I told Seth.

Seth shook his head. “He’d call if he wanted to talk... I think he’ll be okay.”

“How do you know?” I asked skeptically, as Seth placed a hand on my back and started leading me towards Luke.

“Because, he just carried on a conversation with Luke that didn’t result in Luke beating the crap out of him or otherwise threatening to. I don’t care how depressed Aaron is, he’ll see it as an accomplishment.

“Hey guys,” Luke called as we got closer.

“What was that all about?” I immediately asked, and Luke shrugged as he walked to meet us.

“He was here getting his school work. I guess he’s got a tutor.”

“Does he plan to finish the whole year like that?” Seth asked curiously.

“Um, no... actually, he’s moving,” Luke announced. “He was sentenced, to move, actually, for the whole car thing.”

“They’re kicking him out of town?” I asked incredulously. “Can they do that?”

Luke laughed. “No, I mean... well, he was probably looking at some jail time, at least until he turned eighteen. But, since his psychiatrist thinks that that would only hurt him right now, they came up with another alternative.”

“Which is?” Seth asked, sounding a little concerned.

“There’s a hospital, where his aunt lives,” Luke explained. “It’s actually like a school, but he’ll be...”

“Locked up,” I said, not liking the sound of it.

“Look, I know it sounds strange,” Luke said. “But it sounds like he actually wants to go, Rory... and I think it might be good for him. He’ll have his aunt close, and his parents will be able to see him once a month...I’ve never seen him this down before. I mean, he doesn’t think he even deserves to be around people. Normally, I’d agree with him, but he’s just...”

“Different,” I provided.

“Yeah,” Luke agreed. “He’s sort of blaming himself for what happened to Cody.”

I frowned at that, and looked to Seth. My boyfriend sighed. “I’ll try to call him again, Rory. But I’m not gonna force it.”

“You shouldn’t,” Luke agreed. “He’s getting through it. He just needs time--you ready to go home, Rory?”

I sighed, and looked at Seth.

“I have to get to work, anyway,” he told me, and then leaned forward for a kiss, teasing my lips with his tongue for a moment before he pulled back. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Okay,” I agreed, and watched him walk away for a moment before I headed to the jeep with Luke. “Hey, Luke?” I suddenly asked. “What did you say to Aaron?”

Luke paused to face me, looking thoughtful. “That I forgive him.”

I cocked my head, studying him for a moment. “Do you think that’ll help?” I finally asked.

“I don’t know,” Luke replied honestly, and then smiled. “I didn’t really do it for him... I did it for me.”

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

I wasn’t sure if Luke’s forgiveness of Aaron Keslin was the reason why my blond-haired friend ended up with a date for the following weekend, but Luke sure seemed happy about it when he went out with a new guy from our school. At least, he seemed happy about it until he arrived home two hours later, bitching about how he almost got his teeth knocked out for trying to kiss a straight guy. As it turned out, Luke’s date just thought he was trying to be nice by offering to show him around. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry when he’d told me about it. Eddie and Jase chose to laugh. But even Luke could find humor in the situation, and the fiasco didn’t exactly stop him from rejoining the dating world. Especially since when word got around the school about his date with a straight guy, guys who he hadn’t even thought liked other guys were approaching him and he couldn’t seem to choose one over another. Jase had to draw a line when Luke showed up at the house with three different dates over the course of one weekend. It seemed that he was clearly over his funk. I couldn’t really tell if Jase and Eddie were happy or terrified of that.

I went a lot easier on the parental units, because I spent most of my time with Seth, or other friends, new and old. And, every weekend Eddie and I made it a tradition to go out to lunch and then a movie. He’d officially switched the Suburban into my name, but since I never really needed to use it, he and Jase were taking their time when it came to car shopping, since they were looking for two vehicles now. I don’t think they minded, though. At night Luke and I could hear them as they searched the internet, getting excited about one vehicle over another. It seemed to have become a hobby for them. It also became a hobby for Luke and me to tell Eddie how good he’d look in a nice dependable minivan. When Jase started to agree with us, on a more serious level, Eddie swore he’d disown us both. But I figured that wouldn’t happen anytime soon, not when I was just starting to call him dad--kinda.

It was a little awkward. For both of us, I think. I’d tried it once and found myself blushing uncomfortably over it when it took him a while to respond. But, I didn’t quite quit. Every once in a while, it would pop into my head, and it would just come out, and after that first time, Eddie was sure to answer right away, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I think he especially liked it when I said the word in public. I’d even caught him bragging to Jase about it once or twice and that made me... feel good. He was my dad.

But, just because I had a dad--a family--it didn’t mean that my mom was forgotten. As time passed, I found that it became easier to really think of her. I’d continued to read her journal, and listen to her tapes. It had been a long while since I really questioned her decision to send me to Eddie. It was probably a good thing that I’d lost interest in the question, though, because by the time I finally did reach the last entry in her journal, there was no other explanation than the last words on the page.

I’m sending him to Eddie. I want him to be happy. I want him to be loved.

That’s right. She’d wanted me to be with Eddie. She’d come to that decision before she died. She wanted me to be happy. She wanted me to be loved. In Arizona. Ari-frikin-zona. I wondered if she even knew how hot it was in Arizona. And she wanted me to live there. Not just for the summer, either. She wanted me to move there, with a father I didn’t even know, or want to know. She wanted me to rearrange my entire life with no warning, and she wanted me to be happy about it....

And as far as I was concerned, giving me the family that I had now, was one of the best things she’d ever done for me. I was loved, just as much as I would have been if she were still with me. I was happy. And, I was right where I was supposed to be.

End.

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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Amazing story. I was glad to see the Rory pulled his head out of his A** and stayed. I have to admit i was holding out for Luke and Rory to get together, but I think Seth is good for him. so i am torn between who i think he should have ended up with. you should do a sequel to this story and show how Rory and the rest are settling in.

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Bastard! You made me cry so much. Oh gawd. I cannot believe how many times I freaking cried! I actually had to leave the story twice and go watch TV because my heart was so clenched.

 

You seem to know how to tell a story without being manipulative at all. I mean a lot of writers could seem melodramatic telling a story like this one, but yours just came off honest. Rory just came off honest. Amazingly, heartbreakingly, gutwrenchingly poignant.

 

And also /thank you/ for giving Aaron a chance to redeem himself. I think, oddly, that I was more sad about him than anything - and not just about the Cody thing. I just have this feeling that selfish people like that don't realize what they're missing. And that doesn't make me angry, it makes me pity them. It makes me sad to think they don't know all the beautiful moments they miss. So maybe Aaron has a chance now to experience that.

 

I know I said I didn't want to read your WIP stories, but dammit if I won't find myself doing that >8( I just don't think I can stay away from your writing.

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I also cried... T.T I wish there's a sequel

 

Oh ya, i cry every time i finish reading every of your book. The way you tell the story is very.. i don't know how to explain but I LOVE IT! i could feel it.. waaaaaah >.<

 

All your stories are the BEST OF THE BEST Dom! Thank you very much :D

 

keep up your work :D

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Gosh, this was so good! So intricately twined, with deep characters and relationships! I loved it!! It kind of pissed me off that Rory refused to let himself think about leaving, because if he did maybe he'd have realized that he didn't want to sooner! But I love this ending, and the journey that brought everyone to that point :2thumbs:

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What an amazing story! It took me days, but I finally finished it! :) You are such an amazing writer! You really know how to pull at the old heartstrings. I think I cried more when Rory finally opened up his birthday shoebox to reveal all the wonderful things his mom left him. The diary was precious. And the tapes. What an amazing woman she was. She left Rory with a lifetime of tangible love (does that make sense?). Whenever he just wants to hear her voice, he can just stick in a CD. Whenever he wants to read her words, he just has to look at her diary. Amazing.

 

The whole thing with Cody was heartbreaking. No matter what Aaron said in the car, of course he didn't mean it. And now he has to spend his whole life regretting saying those words and knowing he can never tell Cody how sorry he is. Death is horrible to begin with, but when you are in a fight when that person dies, you never really get closure. You know that person died thinking you thought the worst of them. Aaron will never be the same. Which, of course may be a good thing based on his personality, but the new Aaron is so sad and broken, it breaks my heart. I just want to reach out and hug him and tell him it'll be ok.

 

But....the thing I was waiting for never came. I thought for sure, that last night with Rory, Seth was going to tell him he loved him. I mean, it's so obvious from your writing that they were in love with each other, but that was never mentioned. It wasn't even thought of. I mean, Rory never thought of it. But I wanted to hear it. Well, read it. I wanted to see those three words on the screen. But that's just the romantic in me. Would love a sequel on this just so they can finally tell each other how they feel. But I will keep busy reading your other wonderful stories, starting with the one with Luke and Taylor (from The Ordinary Us), "Hello, Stupid". I noticed it's a WIP. Will you be updating soon? I hope....I just hate waiting for awesome chapters like yours! :)

 

Anyway, great job with this story; I'm so sorry it ended; I really loved ALL your characters! :)

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Ugh! You almost made me cry so many times. When Seth didn't want to say 'goodbye' to Rory, I swear to God I felt so silly for having to hold back tears aha. You are an amazing writer and I'm most DEF keeping up with your other stories. That one... Gosh... that made me go on an emotional roller coaster. And I finished it all in a nonstop motion. Thank you so much for this beautiful BEAUTIFUL piece of art.

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Dom. You have to come back. Just drop in and say Hi,OK. This is the first one of yours I read. Like others have said, my life was on hold 'till I finished.

You own real estate in my heart.It requires annual maintenance.

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Hi Dom yeh have to agree brilliant story but when do you plan on finishing the follow-up story Hey Stupid youve done 4 chapters then left it at that .i wont even touch it until there is movement as i hate being left hanging and you have not touched it since 2010 and im concerned and do hope you are ok and writing as i know all to well that life happens and things get in the way but as i said i do hope everything is ok

 

Domaholic

Dave

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what a story... well paced. Interesting turn of events. pure bliss. You really have a talent. Thanks for this wonderful story. You had me crying like a little girl at some points. I loved it! I'm gonna miss Rory =)

Bye

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Simply Amazing!

You have had me captivated from first to last word, i've laughed out loud and cried. Sincerely thank you for publishing this and i hope to read many more stories from you in the future!

- Sweet

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This is the second time I have read this and may do so again in the future. Thank you for such a well-written study of human character. I think this is one of the best things I have read in many years.

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What an amazing story. this is the second time I've read the story. The one thing I did notice, nobody used text messaging. I hate it personally, I think it easier and quicker to talk to someone than try text.

I see that people have asked for a sequel, I would agree it would be great, but surely by the end family unit would be breaking up again as Luke and Rory would be going to college

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Truly a beautiful story with true emotions! I'm not a night owl at all, but i surely had a couple of very late nights! Thank you for sharing this amazing story with us

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The story was rough for me to get through. I was so frustrated in the beginning. I was so mad at all the markers Rory was ignoring and I literally could not read on anymore until after a night's sleep. Then it happened and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Rory and Luke to realise their affections and when didn't happen, I was disappointed. But I did like Seth and their relationship. I just always expected Rory and Luke to end up together.

But I guess that's the mark of a true writer, to convince the readers to form emotional attachments to the characters.

Thanks for the great story. :boy:

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I have read this story several times now and still enjoy it even though I know what is going to happen. Maybe we could have a sequal ?? After all you did leave a lot of possible story lines open for a continuation. What do you think Dom ?????

Thanks for a great read.

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Much of arrogant prick, asshole and many varied other descriptive terms that Aaron was be never deserved what happened to his family. Yes he finally,ly came clean about the stolen car which he should have enough long ago but just what was the cost im glad luke finally broke his dating funk though I think he might have gone a bit overboard lol.

This was a great story. It wasn't the usual teen story. It had everything in it you were constantly feeling one emotion after the other. There was confusion, stubbornness, denial,acceptance as well. I hope eventually you will be able to finish Luke's story he really does deserve his story to come to completion tbe same as his family did in this one.

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This was an amazing story. I put various aspects of my life on hold to finish reading it, as I got so drawn in. I am torn about starting to read the semi-sequel with Luke as I know it is unfinished and judging from the length of time since Dom has last posted, it is unlikely it will be. But, really. Desert Dropping is so good!

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I really loved this story. :) The character development over the course of the story was great! And I just love how you added little details here and there that made the story seem so real, that most authors wouldn't think or know to add - like the baseball glove that wasn't broken in yet. I'm sad that you don't seem to be updating anything on Gay Authors anymore, but I really liked what you did with this story!

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