Attention: This chapter has been modified from the original version. (Hehe, I sound like a rented movie) It has been edited, and cleaned up in places. There may be additional scenes and some paragraphs may have been reworded to make actual sense. The original story line remains unaffected. If the chapters following this one look like a complete mess, that means we haven’t gotten to them yet.
A/N Thanks to Jim for editing!
It wasn’t my first day at a new school. I had actually been there for a little over a month, but I’d transferred in the middle of the year. I didn’t really know anyone yet. I didn’t really want to know anyone. I guess you could say, at the time I had a pretty shitty attitude about life in particular.
The problem was people. I hated people. I know; that said, sounds like the problem was me. But it really was people. I hated people. I felt like every time I met someone new, or trusted even an old acquaintance, something bad came of it. I knew that this was a bit irrational, and I was working on it, I really was; but it was happening slowly.
I didn’t trust anyone. I purposely avoided making any friends at my new school, even when people went out of their way to be nice to me. And that happened more often then I would have expected it to. There was even a group of kids who hung around me at lunch and tried to include me in conversations as if it had always been that way. I knew their names, but they were only acquaintances, people who didn’t really know me. But that was okay. I really didn’t want them to know me.
There were only two people in the world that I trusted. Christopher and Anthony Dovan. Chris and Tony. My brothers. They were both twenty-one, four years older than me. They’d moved out of my parents house at age eighteen. I’d only reunited with them just over two months ago, after three years of separation.
I was only fourteen then, and didn’t really understand it at the time. I vaguely remember that Tony and my father had an argument not long before my brothers disappeared from my life. My mother had dragged me away before I could figure out what was happening, but the next thing I knew, Tony and Chris were both gone. I wasn’t that surprised that Chris left too. Even if Chris wasn’t a part of whatever differences Tony and my father had. That’s just the way Tony and Chris were. They did everything together. They were twins.
I remember that when I was really young I was always jealous of the bond they shared; but then again, I’m not sure I would have wanted a mirror image of myself walking around, either. I guess it was just the bond that I wanted. Their whole lives, they even shared a room at my parents’ house. There were five members of our family and six rooms in our house, but they always shared. I never understood that. I loved having my own room. But it must have been that special bond thing between them again.
Not that I didn’t have a bond with my brothers. They always looked after me, and included me every time I started to feel left out. I was close to both of them. In fact, I was the only one who could tell the two of them apart, my parents included.
They were both identical in every single way, but I was always fortunate enough to know which one I was talking to. I think it was something about the way they looked at me. Tony was always more serious--he had a penetrating gaze, like he was always trying to read you; while Chris was more of a free spirit with this spark in his eyes that left you wondering what he was about to get into next.
But other than that, they were identical in every way. At eighteen, they stood just over six feet tall, with the same broad shoulders that every male member of my family seemed to have, with a natural hockey-player build that none of us really had to work for. They had dark blue eyes and blond hair; they even kept their hair the same, longer, cut to frame their face. And I’d never tell them because they’d just get big heads over it, but my brothers were definitely studs. They inherited my father’s facial features as well, with strong jaw lines and straight noses. They even had the same dark freckle in the same spot, just below their left eyes.
I remember realizing what good-looking brothers I had at a very young age. I idolized them, and not just because they were handsome. It was more than that. They were so outgoing, and could draw people to them on their charms alone. Later, I discovered that I could muster the same charisma, but I credit even that to my brothers. They were everything to me, and when they left, it hurt.
It really hurt. They didn’t even say goodbye. I begged my parents to tell me what had happened, but no one would say a thing; they wouldn’t even tell me where Chris and Tony had gone. When I kept asking, it was my father who put an end to it.
Dad was a harsh man. I’ll never deny that. I won’t say that he beat us when we were younger, because he didn’t. But more than a few times he’d raised his hands to his sons, usually in the form of a harsh slap on the back of the head, or an open-handed slap in the face. But it was the verbal discipline that kept his boys in line.
My father had a way of letting you know when you were a disappointment, and after my brothers left, I was always a disappointment. After he told me that Tony and Chris were no longer his sons or my brothers because they had gone off to ‘sin with the devil,’ I was no longer able to ask about it. I just had to take Dad’s word for it or suffer the consequences.
My parents never spoke my brothers’ names anymore, but they were anything but forgotten. It was like our family was broken, and all of a sudden the full attention of both parental units had turned to me, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The year I turned fifteen I’d started to realize things about myself. They were things that had been there long before I turned fifteen, only now, I was beginning to identify certain feelings I had. Of course I tried not to think much of it at the time. I thought it was a phase. I even had a girlfriend, Anna Crossle, and she was perfect--gorgeous, with long, auburn hair, and she was sweet too. We’d grown up two houses away from each other, so she was a friend as well as my girlfriend, and I really did love her. Even better, was that my parents loved her, too.
But there was also Nicky Davis. He was my best friend and actually lived in the house between Anna and me. He had dark brown hair, a never-ending golden tan, and a certain grace about him that I had always admired. And most of my wet dreams revolved around Nicky, not Anna.
By the time that my brothers left, I was pretty sure that I was in love with Nicky. Not that I didn’t notice other guys, but Nicky was special. He was also as straight as they come. I discovered that after I was able to put a word to the feelings I was having. I was gay.
Unfortunately, liking boys instead of girls was not acceptable for my family. The narrow-minded, bigoted comments were never really spoken in my house; but they talked about it in church, and my parents were very strict about church. If the preacher said it, it was true. I’m not really sure which religion we were; my mother came from a Mormon background and my dad was catholic--you figure it out. But being gay was a sin, no matter how they looked at it.
I could never bring up being gay with my family. But I couldn’t hide it from myself either, so I ended up breaking up with Anna. She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but I managed to keep our friendship intact and a month later she was going out with Nicky. Lucky bitch.
But Anna was not the only one unhappy with the breakup. My parents were even less happy, and all of a sudden I was being introduced to every girl from my church. It was weird to me. I was only fifteen, and my parents had never taken an interest in my love life before. Before my brothers left, my parents hadn't even taken an interest in me before. I really didn’t get it.
At first I showed no interest in the girls my mother introduced me to. I was too busy struggling with the idea of being gay. I was pretty sure that I was; I mean, I could appreciate a pretty girl, but it was completely different than how I appreciated a good-looking guy. Unfortunately, when I didn’t show an interest in the opposite sex, things started to get really weird.
My father began to make comments when I fucked-up. Fucked-up meaning, I didn’t go out for football, or when I brought home cookies from a home economics class--which was required by the way, and the cookies were burnt. Suddenly, I was a no-good fairy. I had no idea what that meant. I asked Nicky about it once and he said that he heard some guys at school calling a faggot that.
The realization made me sick. Like I said, bigoted terms were foreign in my house, until then. My mind became a paranoid place as I constantly wondered if my parents had managed to discover the secret I’d been struggling with. I was terrified that I’d managed to slip up and my queerness had somehow become as obvious to them as the fact that I was a blond. Every time he looked at me through suspicious eyes, the same question rang through my head: Did I do something to make my father think that I liked boys? I wasn’t about to take any chances.
I went from showing no interest in girls to dating every one of them they threw at me. This tactic worked for quite a while. I even went out for football and took up everything else that might seem straight to my parents. For a while, when my father started commenting on people he thought were gay, I’d even agree with him. The words faggot and queer, and cocksucker left my mouth more than I could count, and every time they did I hated myself a little more.
And the lie was taking its toll on me. I knew what I was and I hated it. And I hated my brothers for leaving, placing all of this undesired attention on me. But I survived. I learned to survive. It wasn’t until after my seventeenth birthday that everything turned to hell.
There was a new kid at school. Dan Pierce. He wasn’t the most attractive guy I’d ever met. He was short and had a round face, but there was something about him that drew me in right from the beginning; and although he was no Nicky Davis he was what I would call cute.
I didn’t really go out of my way to be friends with him; actually, he was the one who did all the work at first. It was strange, really; he just came up to me one day and said he lived in my neighborhood, and that he needed a ride home.
I was completely stunned at first. For one thing, I had never spoken to him before, and for another, we didn’t exactly run in the same circles. He was what my friends would call a complete social disaster. I’m sure if he’d approached me in front of Nicky or anyone else, it would have raised some sort of suspicions, but he didn’t, and I agreed to drive him home after school.
Dan turned out to be a talkative guy, and really easy to just be with. When we got to his house he mentioned that his parents weren’t home and he asked me in. I really considered not accepting the invitation, but there was just something about Dan that I wanted to know more about, so we went inside and spent the entire afternoon together, just getting to know each other. It was in his small, video-game-filled bedroom that he put me on the spot with no warning whatsoever.
"I’m gay. You are too, huh?" He said it in the form of a question, but I didn’t hear much of one in his voice. Obviously, he’d forgotten that I was fully capable of kicking his ass.
I couldn’t believe him! I mean, he said it so easily and I tripped all over myself trying to deny it before I finally gave up and told him that I thought I was. And it really did feel good to be able to say it out loud, and I felt somehow that I could trust Dan. So I confided in him, but I also made it clear that I thought the feelings I had for other boys were wrong. Gay people were sick. They were perverts. I couldn’t be one of them. If Dan knew what was good for him, he wouldn’t be one of those people, either.
Dan had a slightly different opinion on the subject. He told me that we weren’t sick. We weren’t perverted. We were just different. He also told me that it wasn’t a choice. I didn’t want to believe him. If I believed him, then I would have to be a fag and my dad would hate me.
He showed me articles he’d saved. They said that being gay was just like a genetic thing, like being left-handed. It wasn’t a choice. It was the way we were. At least after talking to him that first time, I had a few things to think about. Maybe I wasn’t sick. Maybe I wasn’t perverted. I was gay. I had admitted that to myself before. Now, I just had to accept it.
I won’t say that I was interested in Dan, at least not in a sexual way--at least not that first day; but I definitely needed him somehow. I needed his friendship. I needed someone to confide in, and I found that in Dan my first afternoon at his house.
And Dan seemed to have more experience than I did when it came to being gay. He’d even had a boyfriend before he moved into my neighborhood. He’d accepted his sexuality; and although he wasn’t out to most of the world, his parents knew about him, and they had accepted it. Needless to say, I was shocked about his parents. They were nice people, and if they accepted that being gay wasn’t a sin, maybe my parents were wrong. That was even more to think about.
In three days I formed a friendship with him--one I kept separate from everything else in my life, but Dan seemed to understand. He was new, but he was outgoing and had already made friends of his own, so we didn’t really see each other except after school.
But then on that third day, things took an unexpected turn.
Dan kissed me. All of a sudden, all of those feelings of not being interested in him as anything more than a friend vanished, and things escalated quickly from there. Dan introduced me to my first sexual experiences with the same sex, and I loved every second of it.
For almost a month we spent every free moment we had together. I never brought him home with me for obvious reasons, but I was always welcome in his home. I never really told his parents about me, but I’m sure they figured it out, and they were always kind. I always felt comfortable in Dan’s house. Sometimes I never wanted to leave.
But then, tragedy struck. One day Dan never showed up for school. Halfway through the day there was an announcement. There’d been an accident. Dan’s parents had been driving him to school when a larger vehicle ran a red light. The entire family was killed on impact.
I lost it. My friend, my lover, the only person who truly knew me, was gone. I broke down and left school. This puzzled everyone I knew because no one knew that I’d even known Dan. But I had, better than anyone else around that town, and I was devastated.
The details of that day are foggy enough, but I remember what happened well enough. It was Nicky who found me. I was such a wreck, and he, being the best friend that he was, took me to his house and tried to figure out what was wrong.
I broke down and told him everything. Nicky said he understood and he didn’t even care if I was gay. He really was my friend and he said that nothing would change it. Others were less understanding. There was someone else that day, at his house, listening in. Anna.
Honestly, I don’t think that Anna would ever intentionally hurt me. We really were friends, but she had heard everything--my entire confession to Nicky. She, too, came from a family where being gay was not acceptable within the family guidelines. She was afraid for me. She thought that I was sick, or in trouble. Maybe she only wanted to help me.
She went to my parents with the information she had, and that night, my parents confronted me. I was such a wreck. I’d lost Dan. Nothing mattered anymore, and I told my parents that I was gay, none too subtly.
I don’t know how I expected them to react. I figured that the worst that could happen was that I could be thrown into the street. I was wrong. I never knew that my father could be so violent. The entire scene was so surreal.
I’m not as big as my father, but I wasn’t small. I was a complete jock; at seventeen I was standing at five eleven and a hundred-and-seventy pounds. I was no lightweight. I wasn’t out of shape either and I knew how to throw a punch, but something about the idea of striking my own father sat wrong with me. I couldn’t do it. I wish I had.
I vaguely remember feeling like a punching bag. My body ached until it went numb. I could hardly stand by the time he stopped, and then I sat there, bloody and broken, as my father announced that he was going out for a drink and I’d better not be queer when he got back. When he was gone my mother went on to lecture me about sinners and hell in her most motherly voice, all the while commenting on the mess my blood was making on her floor.
I took that time to reflect. Were these really my parents? It was so hard to believe. I mean, I know that there are people out there who can’t accept their own children, but why did my parents have to be those people? After meeting Dan and his family, it seemed natural that a parent should accept their child, no matter what.
But mine didn’t. I didn’t have my parents. I didn’t even have my friends. Sure, I had Nicky, but how long would it be before he thought I was sick, like Anna did? Somewhere in the back of my mind and in my heart I knew that Nicky would never do that, but I couldn’t trust it, not anymore. My world as I knew it was gone, and I didn’t feel like I had time to grieve for it.
I got angry.
I was angry because I was bleeding and my mother didn’t care. She was too stupid to see it. And the girl next door, the one I had known all my life, had betrayed me to a father who would never accept me. And Dan--Dan had left me! He was dead, and I hated him for it. He left me, just like my brothers.
But suddenly, my brothers were all I could think of. I’d come to the conclusion a while back that my parents had somehow driven them away. Now I was certain of it. I started to ask myself questions, like, where were they? Why couldn’t they have stayed? Would they hate me too, if they knew the truth about me? I needed to find out.
I’m not really sure how I got out of the house that night. I remember a lot of pain was involved and my mother was screaming at me. I thought of going to Nicky’s house, but my father would find me there. So I thought of my brothers again, and then I remembered something. I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before.
Gina Leto. She’d been Tony’s girlfriend practically all through high school. They’d been really good friends, too, and if he still kept in touch with anyone, it would be Gina. I happened to know that she’d gotten married recently, and lived just on the other side of town.
I managed to drive without getting into a wreck, which was a miracle because my left ankle was throbbing and I could hardly see out of my right eye; but I made it to her house just as it was getting dark. The last thing I remember that night was the shocked faces of both Gina and her new husband when I collapsed right on her front porch.
I woke up sometime the next morning, in a hospital. I had a few broken ribs, a concussion, a sprained ankle and a dislocated shoulder, and the doctors had all kinds of questions. I didn’t answer any of them. Then there were police, wanting to know what happened. I didn’t tell. My parents never came to see me.
It was sometime that afternoon when I woke up to find someone holding my hand, blue eyes gazing at me worriedly, eyes I hadn't seen in three years. It could have been one of two people, but I didn’t have to ask. I already knew, and I burst into tears right then and there. It was the first time I’d cried since my brothers left.
"Tony," I sobbed.
My big brother leaned over the bed and gathered me into his arms as gently as possible and I held onto him for dear life.
"Shh," he hushed me. "It’s okay, we’re here. Let it out, bro."
I suddenly felt another hand touching my shoulder on the opposite side of the bed and glanced up to see Chris, the mirror image of Tony, also worried, his eyes red and tired--but he was still there. My brothers were there. I grabbed Chris’s hand and cried harder as he sat on the bed and hugged me, too.
Apparently Gina had done the right thing. She’d contacted my brothers, not my parents, and I was grateful for it. After three years I had my brothers with me and I lost all feeling of being angry with them for leaving me. After I calmed down, Tony held my hand again, sitting on the bed as Chris paced the room, demanding that the nurses give me something for the pain before he decided to do it himself. I told him that I was fine before he decided to raid the hospital pharmacy, so he then took up residence on the other side of me and switched gears rather quickly.
"Owen," Chris said to me, "you gotta tell us what happened."
All of a sudden my panic was back. My brothers didn’t know about me. I was going to have to tell them and I was terrified of their reaction. My eyes began to tear up all over again. Tony saw it and squeezed my hand.
"It’s alright, Owen," Tony insisted after sending our other brother a sharp look that clearly told him to back off. "You’re safe with us. You can tell us. Did Dad do this?"
I hesitantly nodded and heard Chris curse beside me. He was squeezing my hand a little too hard and I flinched. Chris immediately released his grip and looking sheepish, gave my good shoulder a comforting squeeze.
"What happened?" Tony asked gently.
"I fucked up," I croaked. "It’s all my fault, Tony, I really fucked up."
"Bullshit," Chris said, forcing me to look at him with his matter-of-fact tone. "Owen, I’m telling you right now, whatever it is, you didn’t deserve this and that fucker…"
"Chris!" Tony cut him off and then turned his attention back to me, as Chris suddenly left the side of the bed and began to pace again. "Owen, Chris is right; whatever it is, you didn’t deserve this. We need to know what happened."
I felt myself pulling my hand away from Tony as I thought over the last twenty-four hours. Tony sensed that there was something wrong when I pulled away, but he still let me.
"I’m gay." I said it very quietly, pleading with my eyes as I stared at Tony, searching for his reaction when there was none to be found. "Dad found out, and…" I sobbed again. I swear I was turning into a blubbering idiot. I’d never cried so much before in my life.
I stared at Tony through my tears, needing him to say something, but he just stared at me with a distinct sadness in his eyes, so I looked at Chris, who had stopped pacing; his body had gone rigid and I was afraid again, waiting for him to reject me. And then my worst fears repeated themselves when Chris suddenly stormed out of the room. Chris hated me, too.
Chris’s sudden departure only made me cry harder and I found myself desperately reaching for Tony’s hand again.
"Tony, please! Please don’t hate me!"
I was surprised by his immediate reaction. He latched onto my hand and leaned close, his eyes reddening with emotions of his own as he quickly shook his head.
"We don’t hate you, Owe," he said quickly. "Never. It’s okay, I swear."
"But Chris…" I glanced towards the door.
"Chris doesn’t hate you," Tony stated. "He’s just mad at Dad, I swear."
"No, he hates me," I said dejectedly. "But I can’t help it, Tony, I’m gay!"
"Owen, I’m gay."
That little piece of information seemed to bring everything to a standstill. I stopped crying, stopped thinking, and lay there stupidly gaping at my brother.
"Look," Tony said with a sigh, obviously aware that I had temporarily lost the ability to form proper sentences. "I don’t know how much you know about what happened when Chris and I left, but that was the reason. Dad found out and you can figure out how he reacted. Chris was with me then, and when I left, so did he. Dad and I got into it pretty good, I’m sure you remember that much. It was after Mom took you away that Chris got into it with Dad. I swear I thought they were going to kill each other. Chris was so mad at him for saying all of the things he did to me; and well, he walked away just now because he’s probably reliving it with you. We don’t hate you, Owe."
"You’re gay?" I asked incredulously.
Tony managed to crack a small smile.
"Yeah. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I never really got the chance. Chris and I, we tried to see you after that. We wanted to explain what was going on, but Dad sent us a restraining order. We tried to send you a few letters, too, but I’m guessing you never got those, either," he said sadly.
I shook my head and he squeezed my hand again. That’s about the time when Chris came back in. I stared at him for only a second before he was at my side again, taking my hand from Tony. I also realized that my more carefree and tough brother had been crying.
"I’m so sorry, Owe," Chris said. "We never should have left you there; I’m so sorry."
I reached up and hugged Chris hard, and for a few minutes we stayed like that until I suddenly felt very tired and Chris reluctantly backed away; but they were both really close, and we all just stared at each other for a few moments in silence as I tried to comprehend everything I’d just learned, and my eyes fell on Tony again.
"You’re really gay?"
They both laughed at me.
"Oh, he is so gay," Chris remarked.
"But what about Gina?" I asked Tony. "You were with Gina for, like, ever!"
My brothers exchanged knowing looks with each other, and then smiled at me again.
"Actually, Owe," Chris said, "I was the one dating Gina. She knew about Tony too, and agreed to pose as his girlfriend for Mom and Dad, but I was the one dating her. Tony and I would even switch places sometimes when she was over. The only time we ever really had to be careful was when you were around."
"That’s why you always saw me with Gina," Tony continued. "It’s not that I didn’t trust you, Owen, but we did it so Mom and Dad wouldn’t find out."
I lifted my hand and held my head. I couldn’t believe this. Tony was gay. Somehow things seemed to make sense now. My brother’s didn’t abandon me. My parents had kept us apart. For three years. I was on the verge of tears again, and then panic gripped me. My parents could keep us apart again and when I looked at them, my brothers knew exactly what I was thinking.
"Oh god!" I cried.
Chris and Tony were instantly at my side again.
"Shh," Chris insisted. "Don’t you worry about a thing."
"But what am I going to do?" I demanded. "Dad…"
"You let us handle it, Owen," Tony interrupted. "He’s not getting anywhere near you."
"Damn straight," Chris growled, a little louder than necessary, which earned him another admonishing look from Tony. Chris lowered his voice, but the anger was still there. "He won’t get near you, Owe."
"And we’re not going anywhere," Tony promised. "Now, you get some rest."
"That’s right." Chris smiled. "You let your big bros take care of everything."
I stared up at them helplessly. I didn’t want to cry anymore, but my eyes weren’t cooperating.
"So much has happened." I shook my head. "I don’t know…"
Tony touched my shoulder and smiled reassuringly, even if it was a sad smile.
"It’s okay, Owen," Tony insisted. "You just rest. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later."
Somehow, I ended up falling asleep right after Tony suggested it, but I really didn’t want to. I was afraid to go to sleep in a way, like I didn’t want to miss something important. I was almost afraid that the next time I woke up, my brothers would be gone. I wasn’t sure I could handle that, not after everything. But I fell asleep anyway, a fretful sleep as thoughts of Dan swarmed through my mind.
Dan was dead, and it was like I was just now fully realizing it. I knew that he was gone, but a part of me still expected to see him again. I’d never really lost someone like that before, not someone I was close to; and when I thought about Dan’s parents, too, it was almost too much to handle. I woke up crying again. It was late afternoon.
Chris wasn’t there, but Tony was. He hadn't left me and he explained that Chris had just gone to find something to eat other than hospital food. I hadn't eaten much, but I couldn’t blame Chris. He never really did like hospitals. Unlike me, Chris had spent a lot of time in hospitals. I was too young to fully understand what was happening back then, but I remember that when Chris was fourteen, his best friend was diagnosed with cancer. He died in a hospital and Chris was with him a lot. It was the one thing I remember that he and Tony never really did together.
I wished that Chris was there with me when I woke up, but I had Tony, and over the next hour everything came out. I told Tony all about Dan, everything that had led up to my confrontation with Dad and how I ended up at Gina’s. And Tony just let me get it out as I watched the different emotions play over his face. He was truly sad for me, and angry, I think, too, but not at me. It seemed like the same anger Chris had had earlier, and regret that they had left me.
But Tony was better at dealing with his anger than Chris. Tony was always the levelheaded one. He knew how to keep me calm, and it worked; and by the time I was once again, all cried out, Chris was back, but his expression looked kind of grim. He pulled Tony aside and it scared the hell out of me, especially when they came back, because I immediately knew that my parents were somehow involved.
It was Chris who moved to talk to me this time, with Tony hovering over me. I stared at Chris, the serious expression on his face spinning my stomach into knots as I said the one word we were all thinking.
"Dad?" I squeaked out.
"Hey." Chris forced a smile. "Don’t you worry about him, Owen. He won’t hurt you, never again; but we do need to talk."
"Please don’t make me go back there!" I practically begged, and it had both my brothers holding onto me in a second.
"Not gonna happen," Tony stated.
"Look, Owe," Chris said. "I went to see them today, Mom and Dad; it wasn’t very pretty, but the police are still asking questions about what happened. We can’t tell them, Owen. And it’s a damn shame, too; Dad should really get what he deserves for this." He clenched his fist in anger for a second, but then turned back to me with a small smile. "But at least now we have something to hold over him, Owen. If we don’t tell the police what happened, Dad’s gonna let you go."
"Let me go?" I didn’t fully understand what that meant, but I liked the sound of it.
"Yeah." Tony grinned. "You’re coming home with us, Owen. For good."
That was just over two months ago. The transition wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it would be. I spent some time in the hospital. Gina came to visit a few times, but other than her and my brothers, no one else did. Not even Nicky. That hurt, too. I felt like he’d abandoned me, just like everyone else. He wasn’t really my friend like he said he was. Maybe he never had been.
I couldn’t go to the funeral for Dan and his parents, but Tony went for me. He said that it was a nice service and some of the people there from Dan’s family had heard of me and hoped I got well soon. I wasn’t sure what to think of that.
Then, there were a few classmates there, too. Nicky wasn’t there, but some other kids were, who recognized Tony, and pretty much let him know that everyone knew about me now around school. I guess I had Anna to thank for that, too. It also explained why Nicky never came to see me. I guess he was okay with having a gay best friend as long as no one else knew about it.
It was probably better that I wasn’t going back there.
The rest of my stay in the hospital was a blur to me. Chris brought a counselor to see me when he and Tony both thought I might be shutting down, and they were right. I didn’t talk much to the counselor. My brothers seemed to understand though, so they let me grieve in my own way while they took care of every other arrangement on their own.
I’m not sure how they did it, but they managed to get all of my things from my parents’ house. Undamaged. They even got my truck, a black Mazda that had belonged to Chris before he moved away. Chris left a day early with my things and drove everything to my new home, two towns away. Tony brought me home the next day, and I’ve tried not to look back since.
It was strange, getting to know my brothers all over again. They seemed to be doing well for themselves. They lived in a nice building that contained four apartments. We were on the second floor, and there were three bedrooms. One had been an office, but Chris fixed it up for me before I got there. It really was a nice place, open, and something about it just said freedom. But I spent most of my time alone in my room, except for when I had to go to school. I had a lot to catch up on, so I was buried in homework, anyway, and I sort of didn’t mind it. I’d always been a good student, and schoolwork was a good distraction.
But I was also locking myself away from the world, from people. I couldn’t trust people. I didn’t make an effort to.
I also learned a few things that I didn’t know before. A grandmother that I had never met, my mom’s mother, had left each of us a small inheritance, but I couldn’t touch it until I was twenty-one. The important thing, I guess, was that my father couldn’t touch it. I already knew that he couldn’t touch the college fund my he and my mother had set up for me. I could get that when I turned eighteen, so I guess I didn’t have to worry about school.
Chris and Tony had opened up a club called The Shadow and Tony was going to college while Chris managed the club. They both seemed well off, and the club was doing great. It was eighteen and over, but I guess knowing the owners gave me special privileges because I ended up working there on weekends doing grunt work. But I sort of liked it. I got to be near my brothers and it earned me enough money to keep my car.
Both Chris and Tony said that I didn’t have to work; they wanted me to focus on school, but I decided that I could do both. Besides, I didn’t want to be a burden on them. After seeing the way they lived, I couldn’t help wondering if having their kid brother around cramped their style. As it was, they seemed to have friends but never invited anyone over if I was home. I guess they didn’t want to crowd me. I felt bad for that, but they never let on that it was a problem for them. They were giving me time and I was grateful for it.
I guess things were going pretty well for me, being away from my parents, but that doesn’t mean that they were easy. I still had trouble making friends, and I was only a shadow of my former self, both mentally, and physically. I had lost a lot of weight in those few months. I still had the natural family build, with the broad shoulders. We were just built bigger, I was no exception. But I could see my ribs now, and for some reason I became very self-conscious about my looks.
I’d never thought that I could hold a candle to either one of my brothers, but I have been told that I look like them. I have the same blond hair, but I kept mine short and kind of spiky, and my eyes were a lighter shade of blue. I had the same straight nose, and I still do--I guess my father avoided breaking it. I wouldn’t call myself unattractive, I have had my share of compliments, and I always thought my looks had something to do with making friends as easily as I did. Friends had never been a problem before, I always had them. Until now.
But I really didn’t want friends. I tried to blend into the background as much as possible, and I tried to do everything I could to stay unnoticed by attempting to appear as normal as possible. I let my hair grow out a little and just combed it straight, with bangs. It was the worst hairstyle I had ever had, but it seemed to do the trick. I thought it made me look plain enough, that and the dark, baggy clothes that had been handed down to me from a cousin, but I’d never worn before now, helped me feel hidden. Completely out of the spotlight. It was a switch from the colors and jerseys and letter jackets I’d worn before.
This change had not gone unnoticed by my brothers, who didn’t believe that I had changed that much in four years, mostly because they had been checking in on me in small ways, buying my school yearbooks, asking old friends about me. It was really very touching to know that they had cared, and the apartment was filled with pictures of the three of us when we were younger.
But now my brothers were worried because I had no desire for a social life. But they also left me alone about it for the most part, because my grades were good and I kept insisting that I was all right, and didn’t want to talk about it.
So there I was, a month into a new school. But it might as well have been the first day, because in many ways, it was the day my life started over again. I was, for the most part, successfully blending into the background. Lunch was almost over and I was sitting around under an oak tree with my ‘acquaintances,’ listening to a couple of the girls talk about a dance coming up, which none of them had dates for. I think they were throwing around hints. But the guys weren’t interested; they were trying to tell me about some great weed they got hold of last weekend and how I should join them next time.
They were always inviting me, but I never went. I didn’t smoke pot, anyway. I wondered if I looked like I did. Oh well, these people hung around me at lunch and I neither confirmed nor denied that I was anything like them.
It was about ten minutes before the bell rang for the next period when a disturbance caught my eye on the other side of the courtyard. I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to it, except it was a someone who happened to catch my eye. I mean, maybe I was a loner who didn’t want friends, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t notice people, especially a few hot guys, once in a while. This one in particular.
He wasn’t in any of my classes, but I’d seen him around, always with a camera strapped around his neck. He took pictures for the yearbook--I knew that much--and I was pretty sure he was a year older than me, a senior.
I always thought that it was ironic that he ended up behind a camera when he had a face that definitely belonged in front of it. He was gorgeous, with a mysterious way about him. While he was attractive and dressed nice, he had these great dark eyes that never seemed to give away what he was thinking. His dark hair was longer, and always tied back. His features and the confident way he carried himself made him seem almost unapproachable.
I’d noticed right away that girls were always all over him, but most guys kept their distance. At least until now they seemed to. Now, Dennis Gordon had turned the camera guy into a target. I’d seen Dennis around, too. He was captain of the football team and all-around bully. He was in my gym class, and I hated him from the beginning; but while he liked to pick on some of the guys who I hung around with at lunch, he tended to leave me alone. That was probably the smart thing for him to do. Maybe I wasn’t what I used to be physically, but I’m sure most of the anger I carried around made up for that, and that theory was proved right that day.
Dennis had somehow managed to break camera guy’s camera, and from the looks of things, it wasn’t an accident. Camera guy looked pretty pissed. He also looked ready to take on half the football team, which completely shocked me.
He and Dennis were already shoving each other back and forth when I noticed, and I was sure that if security didn’t break things up soon there would be blows exchanged. I had no intention of getting involved. None of my business. But then this girl--Rachel, it think her name was--noticed and pointed towards the disturbance.
"It’s Dennis again," she remarked.
Adam, the one acquaintance who I had probably warmed to the most, a wiry boy with unruly brown hair, looked in the direction and shook his head. Whatever he saw seemed to interest him because he perked right up.
"Oh, awesome!" he beamed. "That’s Aiden Knightly! He is so going to kick Dennis’s ass. Good. Fucker will get what he deserves." It wasn’t surprising to hear Adam say this; he was usually the brunt of Dennis's jokes.
"Not with all those assholes there to back Dennis up," another guy, Shane, pointed out.
I looked again. So camera guy’s name was Aiden.
"You know him?" I asked to no one in particular. "That Aiden guy?"
Everyone seemed to look at me then. I didn’t usually take an interest in anyone, even the people around me, and I think I caught a few people off guard.
"What?" I asked.
Adam smiled and shook his head.
"Yeah, dude," Adam said. "He’s a pretty cool guy, friends with my sister."
I didn’t know that Adam had a sister. Not knowing really didn’t surprise me though. Like I said, I never really made a point to get to know any of these people. I wasn’t going to ask about Aiden anymore either. I turned my attention elsewhere, not really caring about the fight anymore, but then something happened.
I heard Dennis spit out the word faggot. There was nothing significant about it this time, I suppose. Guys like Dennis said it all the time. But the last time I heard it in such a violent confrontation was when my father used it while kicking the shit out of me. He had asked me repeatedly, "You still a faggot boy?" and when I refused to deny it the next blow would come. Now Dennis was using that word.
It was strange. I felt that sensation--you know the one, when all of the blood seems to rush to your head and you just react. I reacted. It was like I suddenly came out of where I’d been hiding all this time and brought all of that old anger with me.
I jumped up rather abruptly and headed towards the fight, leaving some bewildered acquaintances to follow me. Adam was the first to catch up and he grabbed my arm.
"Dude, what are you doing?" he demanded.
I wordlessly shook him off. I had no idea what I was thinking, only what I was feeling, and I was about to let it out without thinking. I got there just after Dennis threw the first punch and Aiden took it in the shoulder. Aiden hit back, but was interrupted by some other jock taking him from behind.
I didn’t even think, I grabbed onto the guy behind Aiden and threw him off like a rag doll. I was sort of surprised by my own strength for a second there, and it seemed to distract me from the fist that came at my face. I took a good hit in the right eye, but the sting brought me right back to reality and I started hitting back. That’s when all hell seemed to break loose.
I hardly even noticed Aiden fighting next to me, or that Adam and Shane had jumped in, as small as they were, to back me up. I no longer cared; this was my fight, and I wanted to get to Dennis. I don’t know why him, but I wanted him. Had to be him.
I had just reached him when I heard the whistle blow somewhere from behind, and Dennis took no time before throwing his fists at me. It didn’t do much good. He was bigger than me, but I had adrenaline and a bad attitude on my side and I let it out on him. I knocked him down pretty easily. But I didn’t stop there. I grabbed his shirt to lift him up and I hit him twice more before I felt a strong pair of arms grab me from behind and pull me off.
I immediately began to struggle, not that it did much good, as I suddenly realized that there were security guards and teachers breaking things up while they screamed at random people. I put it together in my head that the person holding me meant no harm, but I still wanted them off. That’s when Adam appeared in front of me with a bloody nose. I couldn’t remember him joining the fight and the realization hit me as he cautiously put a hand on my shoulder.
"Dude, what the hell?" Adam said. "It’s over, man, what the hell happened?"
I had no idea what happened, so obviously I didn’t have an answer for him. I glanced behind me, surprised to see the one holding me was no other than camera guy. He seemed taller than I was now, being so close--maybe a few inches taller than me. His hair had fallen loose in places and he had a bloody lip, but no other noticeable damage that I could see, although he looked particularly annoyed.
I silently put my hands up in defeat, but he didn’t let me go until he looked to make sure Dennis was gone. Oddly enough as soon as he let me go I wanted him holding me again, and not because he was hot. It was because I didn’t trust myself all of a sudden, and those arms seemed a safe place to be to avoid further trouble.
I watched as camera guy picked up his broken camera, and then shot me a dirty look that I couldn’t understand before he was hauled off to the principal’s office. I watched after him for a moment and then looked at Adam when I felt his hand on my shoulder again.
"Don’t worry about him, " Adam said, laughing as he watched Aiden go. "He’s just pissed that you stole his thunder, that’s all." Then he turned to me and grinned. "Dude, that was fucking awesome! Where the fuck did you learn to fight like that?"
I never answered. Didn’t want to. Didn’t have the chance to. We were the next ones to be carted off to the principal’s office. So much for staying out of trouble and keeping to myself. But hey, at least I kept to my word about making friends. I doubt having it out with the captain of the football team earned me very many of those.