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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.

With Trust - 13. What If

Because it was tradition, and because we just plain enjoyed it, four days before Thanksgiving Chad and I went hunting for a turkey together. In a grocery store. My parents, who detested being anywhere near a store during any holiday rush had been sending us out with a list every year since Chad had learned to drive.

Back when my brother lived with us he spent most Thanksgivings complaining that everything took too long to cook, especially the turkey, and he was most likely found in the kitchen sneaking his hands past my parents despite their best efforts to teach him patience, sampling anything and everything that would eventually reach the table. So naturally, he’d make a point to pick out the smallest turkey we could find because he figured, less wait time. Now that he was living with Greg Hugh, Chad was a firm believer in leftovers. Despite the fact that he ate at home with us for the most part, he’d told me on more than one occasion Leanna spent the night more often when his refrigerator had more than beer and jello in it. This year the goal was for a big turkey, and for added sport my brother suggested we find one that looked like Jesus.

The two of us circled the cooler full of wrapped main courses, every so often stepping out of the way when another shopper reached past us.

“Hey,” I said, sounding impressed as I reached down, lifting out a wrapped bird. “Eighteen pounds... might have a beard or something after we open it up.”

Chad shook his head, whipping a strand of his pink bangs out of his eyes as he guided my arms back towards the cooler, where I took the hint and let the turkey fall. I leaned in his direction when he picked up his own pick. “Twenty three pounds. Definitely has a halo.”

“I thought we were looking for Jesus, not an angel.”

Chad frowned at me. “I thought Jesus was an angel.”

I shook my head as if I were disappointed with him. “He’s, like, the angels’ boss.”

Chad shrugged. “Twenty-three pounds. I’d say this guy is the boss.”

I decided that was fair enough and turned in search of a cart, which we’d left abandoned half an aisle back. All seemed well when I reached it, as no one had bothered to snatch the potatoes out of it. I held the cart still while Chad dropped the turkey in, and we continued along at a leisurely pace.

“Are you bringing anyone to Thanksgiving this year?” Chad asked as he paused and reached for a bag of marshmallows, even though when I glanced down at the small strip of notebook paper between my fingers, marshmallows weren’t on the list.

“No,” I replied. “Probably not.”

That wasn’t exactly unusual. During the holidays my friends were usually busy with their own families while I usually had dinner with mine. Grannie Tenny would be there, and then Uncle Ray and his family--just his family, on the years he had to work--and then Leanna. It was a small gathering accompanied by football and card games, a lot of eating and then complaining about being too full. Sometimes if we finished early enough I would sneak over and crash Haily and Joe’s Thanksgiving with their family. Caleb was usually out of town and we’d catch him later. But this year was going to be entirely different.

For starters, Caleb had left on Tuesday to start his vacation with his family early and I probably wouldn’t even hear from him until the day before we were due back in school. That left Haily, Joe and I on our own... which pretty much meant that we were all spending mass quantities of time away from each other since Haily still wasn’t talking to me, neither one of us would tell Joe why and he’d decided he was going to ignore both of us until it was over.

“Things still aren’t better with Haily?” Chad asked, sounding careful about bringing it up. I’d told my family about the most recent step I’d made in my endeavor to become Heywell’s queer poster child. They hadn’t been amused when I’d worded it just like that, but they were proud of me for being honest with Haily. However, since she still wasn’t speaking to me I wasn’t sure if there was a reason why I should be as happy as my family seemed to think I should be. My dad told me he thought that Haily could handle my secret, that it would all be just fine. My mom suggested giving her space. Chad had pointed out the most important thing to remember, and that was that Haily hadn’t told anyone my secret.

“She gave me a dirty look after school on Friday. So I figure maybe that means she’s not ignoring me anymore.”

Chad’s mouth turned up, and then he took over pushing the cart as we ran into traffic and he didn’t think I was being aggressive enough about getting through it. “If you want I can get Leanna to talk to her. She likes Haily... Haily likes Leanna. It could work. Maybe she can figure out what Haily’s thinking.”

I flashed my brother a wan smile. “Tell Leanna thanks, but I already know what Haily’s thinking. She thinks I’m an asshole.”

“You could try apologizing again,” Chad suggested, rather than disagree with me, I noticed.

“Yeah,” I replied, but I wasn’t exactly optimistic about that suggestion. The few times I had tried approaching Haily she narrowed her eyes on me and shook her head, obviously wanting me much further away. That’s when I’d decided to take my mom’s suggestion to heart and give Haily space. When she was ready to talk to me, I knew better than to think she’d be shy about it.

My brother picked up on the fact that this subject was going nowhere good for me as we reached the long, overcrowded checkout line and as he picked up the nearest tabloid to flip through it while I nosily looked over his shoulder he turned to a subject that was more likely to cheer me up. “What about Milo? You inviting him over?”

I smiled at the notion. “Nah. He’s got his own thing going on. I’m meeting him later, so if you’re over for dinner tonight I’m probably skipping it. Tell Mom for me?”

Chad laughed. “Um, no. That’s what? Three nights in a row? She’s gonna start weighing you in, Nels, if you miss any more.”

I scowled. “It’s the only time Milo isn’t busy.”

“So have him over tonight.”

I would have liked that. But I knew better than to bring it up to Milo. The fact that Emily Hill had stopped by another two times in the last week wasn’t helping, either. Milo believed in avoidance when it came to that woman. I didn’t necessarily like it, but I suppose I was just happy that he wasn’t avoiding me. In fact, he was the one who’d asked if I wanted to do something tonight. Lately he’d been less on edge while in my company, and I wanted to keep it that way, especially since the Monday after the whole Haily debacle he’d tracked me down three times during school just to tell me he hadn’t heard anything about my gayness, so maybe there was nothing to worry about. I didn’t bother to tell him that I hadn’t worried since the moment Caleb met me in front of the school, none the wiser. Haily was much more likely to tell Caleb before she told Joe or anyone for that matter. If she hadn’t told him, I really didn’t think she was going to. But something told me to let Milo come to this conclusion on his own. By Wednesday when I had no one to have lunch with and didn’t feel like leaving Hellschool for my break, he’d sat with me and when Jame complained about it he told him to either eat his food or find another table. With much difficulty, I refrained from gloating.

“Maybe some other time,” I told Chad. “Now do something to make this line move so we can get this stuff home and I can sneak out before Mom tells me I have to stay home.”

I pulled at my blond bangs, wondering if my hair was getting too long. Usually Haily was around to tell me. I didn’t see myself asking her anytime soon, and the thought made me feel down for the fleeting moment before Milo glanced over his shoulder to where I’d made myself comfortable on his half-made bed and his mouth turned up at one corner, his green eyes unusually playful. I narrowed mine mockingly on him. “What?”

He stepped aside, away from the thin piece of paper he’d been working on, which was now covered in paint just like the tips of his fingers, which he’d used as his brush. I found myself fascinated by the colors smeared over his hands as he wiped them off with a wet towel, not seeming bothered by new stains on the rug beneath his feet. Juanita, he’d said, was the one who’d hung Christmas lights up through his room, and at the moment the colorful lights replaced the white glow of the bedroom light and the blues and reds reflecting off his bare chest made him look like the most colorful thing in his room, especially since the majority of the walls were still bare. But his collection was growing again--I noticed more paintings every time I came over. I had a theory that Milo was secretly grateful for his dad clearing out his room. It gave him a chance to use the space he had from scratch. Though, I doubted he was nearly as happy that his dad had hidden his brushes after their last argument, which is why he was using his fingers.

“Pay attention,” he said softly when he noticed my mind was wandering away from what he was trying to show me and directly to parts of his body that were covered in paint and otherwise.

I grinned at him and sat up. I had stayed back when I got to his house and found him working instead of ready for wherever he wanted to go tonight, wanting to avoid getting paint on a new white sweater, but at the moment I was thinking that the sweater needed a little color. But I did like he wanted, my eyes moving to still-wet paper and I laughed out loud as I stood, shaking my head at him. “I liked the body you gave me last time,” I teased.

Milo looked thoughtful as he regarded his work. Even with his fingers he’d managed to make my mom’s goat somewhat realistic, except that he’d replaced the goat’s head with my face, but let it keep the horns. He cut his eyes back to me, decidedly not amused. “The goat’s more realistic.”

My eyes widened indignantly but when I took a teasing step in his direction he grabbed the nearest bottle of paint and aimed it at me, white teeth flashing as he laughed. I took a step back and rolled my eyes, deciding to let him win as I let myself fall back lazily on his bed. Milo relented with the paint and headed to his closet for something clean to wear while I turned my attention back to his painting, soon deciding that I liked this mood he was in. Just like I liked the way he’d wedged his body behind his closet door and his elbow and other body parts were making enough noise to shake the house as he struggled to dress in the small space. Couldn’t blame him, though. He’d said he wanted to get out of his house before his dad was home and taking off his clothes in front of me would probably be unproductive.

He emerged in clean black jeans and a long-sleeved shirt that was loose fitting but not sloppy. His dark hair was tussled around his face and he looked sheepish as his eyes met mine and then avoided them completely when he realized I was already two feet away from him, not so bothered by the paint sticking to the bottom of my shoes when I crossed through it as I reached to touch his shoulder and turned him towards me while my hands drifted over his collarbone and the tips of my fingers found the smooth skin of his neck. His mouth felt warm as my lips found it and my eyes drifted closed. I flicked at his bottom lip with my tongue before it met his and Milo lifted his hand, nails still stained with paint, to touch my side, his thumb brushing my ribs and causing a pleasant tremor to crawl up my spine. It made me pull him closer, the scent of paint still mild on his skin when I slid my mouth to his cheek and then his ear. It was when my hand wandered down his back to the firm curve of his ass that he pulled back, hands on my shoulders to keep me at a reasonable distance while he bit at his bottom lip, which looked pink and kissed. “We have to leave,” he reminded me.

I felt my mouth turn into a smirk, fully ready to start a debate on the matter but doors closing downstairs had the playfulness fleeing Milo’s face as he stepped back from me, and I released a breath. “Where are we going?” I asked as I followed Milo out of his bedroom.

He seemed distracted, his head tilted mildly as he strained to hear what was going on in his house, but he still took the time to meet my eyes, his expression softer when it was aimed at me. “Are you okay with anything?” he asked.

I grinned, liking the sound of that.

“When you said anything...” I stared up at the tall Stratfort residence not far from the private school and shook my head, disappointed. It’s not that I’d expected to be alone with Milo. We were rarely ever truly alone. And, my disappointment wasn’t that he’d taken us to Jerry’s house. I happened to like Jerry and was more than happy to be included if Milo wanted to share his friendship with the guy with me. It was that other thing I would have preferred Milo keep to himself. You know, his other friend. The one with the ass on his face. Damn it.

We were still sitting in Milo’s car. When we’d reached Jerry’s I couldn’t tell why Milo suddenly looked so nervous until he’d broken the news that Jerry wasn’t the only one we’d be running into when we went inside.

“We don’t have to,” Milo said after a moment, and I looked at him sidelong, trying to figure out what was currently going through that handsome head of his. He was looking out the window where his headlights still shone over the iced-over road as if he were bored. At the moment his expression gave nothing away, only the light tapping of his index finger over the steering wheel hinted that he was feeling impatient, waiting on me.

I found myself amused by him, mostly because I’m pretty sure this was the first time he’d ambushed me with something. I suppose I probably deserved it, given our past, and I’d forgiven for this even as the words had left his mouth because I had a sickness when it came to thinking everything Milo did was cute. I didn’t tell him to leave, and I didn’t indicate that I was ready to go inside, either. “Milo. Why would you think this is a good idea?”

He looked at me as if the question didn’t make sense, his dark eyebrow arching up. “I think it’s a horrible idea. Jerry asked me if I wanted to come over tonight, I told him I was hanging out with you and he said to bring you.”

“And Ass--I mean, Jame?”

Milo flashed me the same disapproving glare he always did when I slipped Jame’s nickname into a sentence. “Jerry invited him, too. He didn’t know the two of you can’t get into the same room together without turning into cavemen.”

“Hey,” I said defensively. “I’m trying, and if everything that came out of his mouth wasn’t so...”

“I know,” Milo cut me off, obviously not wanting to hear it. “Look, he doesn’t like you. I mean, he doesn’t like you a lot. I’m blaming you both for that. Maybe you can’t see it... but he’s not that way with me, Nelson. He’s a person.” Milo shrugged helplessly. “I mean, I gave you a chance when everything about you annoyed the hell out of me. Why can’t you give the same chance to someone else.”

“Because when it comes to Jame Graham, I don’t want to see him naked,” I said honestly. “And what do you mean everything? I thought you thought I was cute,” I finished indignantly, which caused Milo to crack a smile.

“I like that you got annoying. I wouldn’t have paid as much attention to you if you weren’t.”

Wondering if that should appease me or not, I let out a breath. “Alright. I’ll go in there. I’ll behave. He won’t, but I will. Unless he says anything about my family. Or Caleb... what do you think the chances are that he’s lost his voice and just won’t say anything at all?”

“What are the chances that you’ll just ignore him if he does?”

I considered that. “I don’t think I want to promise anything. But I will,” I added quickly, the moment that Milo’s green eyes started to narrow on my words. “Just, don’t skip out on me, okay?”

His jaw clenched momentarily, and my guess was that he wanted to point out that lately he’d made every effort he could when it came to regulating Jame. He’d been finding faults in his friend, and he’d made a point to tell the guy that I was his friend and I wasn’t going anywhere. He hadn’t ditched me since the last time I threw a tantrum over it, and I was willing to admit all of this. But... well, I needed some reassurance too every once in a while. Considering I was about to walk into Jame’s territory and I was planning to behave myself, I figured I needed all the reassurance I could get. When Milo finally met my eyes his were inquisitive. “If you don’t want to be here, we’ll go do something else.”

Okay. That was reassurance enough. I reached for my door and was rewarded with one of his more elusive smiles. I was more than happy to deal with Jame for one of those. Besides, Milo and I could go somewhere else easily enough, but he’d likely be opposed to go to my place, and... so was I because my parents would want us to hang out with them, and since Milo’s dad was home and Emily was going to be there later, his place was out, too. Everywhere else was just as public as Jerry’s house, so it wasn’t like I’d be able to take advantage of any privacy, anyway. At least here I’d still be able to spend time with him, and that counted for a lot. It counted for more that despite the way that Milo wasn’t one to show it, I was making him happy. I could relate and imagined he felt the same way I did when he’d made the effort back in October to invite my friends to Jerry’s party.

And walking into Jerry’s house again, it wasn’t so bad. His little sister let us in and Milo took it upon himself to enter familiar territory and lead us down to the basement, probably in the same manner my friends did when they came over. It wasn’t another party we were walking into, just a small gathering of friends. Well, maybe not all of them were my friends, but still. On the way down the stairs Milo explained that Jonathan would probably be around, too, and while I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know him before, Milo seemed to like him. The way I saw it, the more distractions from Assface the better. Normal people, I figured I’d have no problem getting along with.

So I put on my happy face, and before we were in danger of anyone seeing us, took advantage of the dim hallway when I pushed Milo against the wall and kissed him, which, I’m pretty sure freaked him out, but it left a nice blush on his face when we did reach his friends, his green eyes adamantly ignoring mine.

I looked across the room which was still in the order it was when I’d visited Jerry’s the last time, only less crowded and a lot cleaner, and everyone there seemed to have gathered around the entertainment center where a video game was on the television screen and music was playing just above the sound of it.

There seemed to be some sort of two-player match going on. Lots of ninja moves and grunting. Growing up my parents hadn’t allowed game systems in the house unless it was one on a computer, but every so often I’d play with Chad over at his place, a new pastime of his that Leanna had introduced him to. I sucked, and the two people across the room playing seemed to know what they were doing more than I would. One was Jame, his cheeks bloated around his smile as he slid a mocking glance across the sofa at his opponent. “You hit like a girl,” he remarked.

And my happy face disappeared abruptly because it was Haily who replied, “And you fight like my grandma. Now please stop breathing in my direction before I embarrass you in front of your friends.”

Jerry, who’d shaved off his sideburns, I noticed, which made him look much younger, was sitting between them, seeming amused, while Jonathan with his flat red hair sat in an armchair just away from them, more concerned with a small handheld system than with what was going on around him.

I looked at Milo, frowning at him and the situation. It didn’t help that he looked just as surprised as I was, and it didn’t help even more that even being surprised, he didn’t give me the impression that he found Haily’s presence altogether unexpected. He mouthed words in my direction, asking if I wanted to go.

Turning my eyes in Haily’s direction, I regarded her curiously. From the looks she was cutting him, I guessed that she was just as annoyed by Jame as ever, but she wasn’t letting him make her feel uncomfortable as she won the match the two of them were playing and high-fived Jerry. It occurred to me then just how much I’d missed seeing a smile on her face over the last week. That smile faded when she looked twice before her eyes settled on me, and after a brief moment of consideration she seemed to turn back around, place her back against the sofa and made an obvious effort of not looking in my direction at all. Jerry noticed us, too, but seemed a lot more friendly, his grin spreading over his face.

“Hey!” he waved. “Get on in here!” He slid closer to Haily, I noticed, instead of Jame when he attempted to make room on the sofa. I would have made the same choice.
Milo regarded me warily, but I shot him a reassuring glance and led the way into the room. But I didn’t head to the end of the sofa where Assface was sitting like Milo did. Even when he sat between Jame and Jerry, leaving me room between Jerry and himself, I propped myself on the arm of the sofa next to Haily, going as far as reaching over her to greet Jerry while she pretended that she couldn’t see me. I found myself glancing down at the top of her head, where her braid started today, before Jonathan said something to me and I turned around to say hi to him, too. He’d put down his game, seeming pleased about new company and we easily conversed about Hangman Cove and the snow that everyone was getting tired of. As promised, I ignored Assface. The one glance I did spare him told me he was more interested in talking to Milo than sending me dirty looks, so it was a welcome change, anyway. Haily played one more match against Jerry, who beat her easily, and passed the game controller to Jonathan, which left her unoccupied when I finally leaned down towards her, lowering my voice.

“So is this you, jumping ship?” I remarked.

She looked up, dark eyes narrowing. “I happen to like these people,” she informed me, crossing her arms defensively but I’d like to point out... talking to me. “Most of them, anyway,” she added, throwing a more loathsome glance in Jame’s direction than she had for me. At least that was something.

“I like them, too,” I replied, deciding to leave Jame out of it entirely.

Haily’s eyes touched my face again and then moved back to the television screen as if she were trying to figure out whether or not I should be ignored. I sighed, glanced over my surroundings to see that everyone else was occupied, and then lowered my voice again. “Thanks for not telling anyone, Hails.”

I’d tried apologizing. Maybe thanking her for being trustworthy was what she needed. Or maybe not. In fact, that seemed to make her even angrier as she turned back in my direction. “Like I would! You thought I would?” she hissed, clearly offended.

I frowned at her. “I wondered,” I admitted, not feeling like I should apologize for it. “You know, telling you anything wasn’t exactly easy for me...” I took a breath, forcing myself to calm down so I had better control of my voice, which I didn’t really want to be overheard so close to everyone else. “I didn’t want to tell anyone, Haily. The only reason my family has any idea is because they figured it out on their own.”

“I’m your friend,” Haily stated. “And you let me make a fool of myself. So, thanks a lot.”

“I’m sorry. But that doesn’t make telling you the truth any easier. You know, every time I’ve ever thought about telling you... or Caleb, or even Joe the only thing I worried about was whether or not any of you would ever speak to me again. You’re not speaking to me, Haily. Not exactly a confidence booster here.”

“But I’m not--not speaking to you because of that. I’m not speaking to you because you’re an asshole... and because I threw myself at you and feel like the biggest idiot for it. And I’m blaming it on you.”

I’m not sure of Jerry picked up Haily’s tone, or the words she was saying and was trying to make sense of them, but he raised an eyebrow in our direction and I wisely decided it was time to shut up. Especially since Milo was looking at me too, his complexion seeming a little pale, and I guessed he was probably still worried about Haily in general. Or me. It’s not like he’d figured out how to muzzle me yet or anything. I let my mouth turn up lazily for him in a smile I wasn’t really feeling, not wanting him to start feeling paranoid. I think he figured that if Haily started jumping up and down and chanting Nelson’s gay! Nelson’s gay! Everyone would look at him and know his secret, too. Actually, when I’d told him about Haily I’d already expected him to walk away from me. The fact that he hadn’t had been a surprise, and maybe a lesson for me when I realized that it was as important for me to trust Milo as it was for him to trust me. Now I wished he’d trust that no matter what, I’d never, ever let the fact that my secret had been revealed pull the curtains off of his.

“Is it okay if I go get a drink?” Haily suddenly asked Jerry.

I watched, interested as he looked away from his game to smile at her. “Cooler’s just in the garage...” he leaned towards her, whispered something in her ear that made her smile. I figured she was just looking for an excuse to get away from me for a second when she stood up and her smile faded when her eyes were aimed in my direction. I thought about snatching her seat as soon as she was gone, but when she gave me a pointed look before she walked off, I realized that avoiding me wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. I found myself standing, and when the other guys looked at me almost expectantly, I gave a helpless shrug that made Assface roll his eyes. “I think she could use some help,” I said quickly before following after Haily.

It occurred to me that she seemed familiar with Jerry’s place when she went to a door in the basement that I would have overlooked, opened it and then closed it in my face when I caught up to her.

I glanced over my shoulder, hoping no one had seen that as I tugged at the stud in my ear and reached for the door, deciding not to be too annoyed with her. She blamed me. I don’t know. I guess it seemed fair enough. But I’d had enough of our fight, and if she was at least talking to me then maybe I figured it was time to stop giving her all that space. Hell, if I could get her to forgive me, maybe everything would be back to normal by the time school started up again.

“Haily?” I called as I closed myself into the dim garage where three covered cars were parked and stacks of empty boxes lined the wall nearest me, all labeled for Christmas decorations.

It wasn’t much of a surprise that she didn’t answer me, even though I knew she heard me as I spotted her standing on top of a freezer that would have come up to my waist had I been standing in front of it. On the closed white top there were six cans of soda at her feet, and with her back to me she reached up, her hand disappearing behind some dusty old baskets while her dark braid swung behind her. Without looking back she retrieved an almost full bottle of tequila and held it down as if she expected me to take it. “Jerry wants this,” she informed me, and I decided to be helpful as I moved to retrieve it from her hand. As soon as I did she reached up again, this time coming up with two shot glasses at a time, passing each in my direction and leaving me to stack them by the sodas.

“Jerry’s a nice guy,” I mused.

She glanced down at me in a way that suggested she didn’t want me knowing she was doing it. “Do you think he’s cute?” she asked, and I found myself blanching at it, regarding her suspiciously before I decided that she wasn’t trying to be mean. It’s not like I was used to my friends asking me what guys I like.

But, I decided to go with it. “I wouldn’t use the word cute. But, I guess so.”

The eyes she cut in my direction became a little braver, lasted a little longer as she turned to hand me the last of the glasses. “What about Caleb or Joe?”

I shrugged at that, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. “I look at Caleb kind of like I do my brother,” I admitted. “So no, I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to him.”

Haily raised an eyebrow. “And my cousin?”

I felt heat rising in my face despite the cold temperature in the garage. “Joe’s definitely hot,” I replied, and then felt myself growing defensive, despite the way she didn’t appear to be judging me. “But you would think so too if you weren’t related to him. Trust me.”

Haily looked disturbed by that, but shrugged as she held out her hand. I couldn’t help smiling when I took it to help her down. She was still having a hard time looking at me, but instead of gathering the items she’d come for and walking away she lifted herself into a sitting position on the cooler. “I wouldn’t say anything to Joe,” she advised. “I don’t think he’d take it as a compliment.”

I nodded slowly at that, finding myself interested in the fact that I suddenly had a different perspective on things. That what if, perspective. What if everyone knew? I had Haily’s perspective. “What about Caleb?” I asked.

Haily rolled her eyes. “He’d probably be offended that you think Joe looks better than he does,” she guessed, but then turned serious. “But I don’t really know. I don’t really know what either of them would think.”

I nodded slowly. “I don’t think I’m going to tell them, Haily,” I said honestly. “I was kind of hoping to get through high school without really having to deal with it. There aren’t very many people who know anything... I guess I’m kind of wondering, how you feel about it. I mean, are you okay?”

Haily narrowed her eyes. “No. Because it would have been nice to know sooner, since it would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.”

I smiled at her. “If it helps, you’re probably the only girl I’d go for if things were different.”

She shook her head. “Nope. Doesn’t really help, especially since I know all about you and Teresa Milldrum, which is gross, Nelson.... Look, I don’t have a problem with... you know. But it’s kind of hard to look at you the same way. I think it might be for a while. But I don’t hate you... I told my mom you’d probably be stopping by on Thanksgiving.”

I smiled at that. “Really?”

Haily gave a reluctant nod. “She’s still going to hide that plate of pie for you... maybe afterwards you, me and Joe could do something.”

“Definitely,” I agreed, deciding that maybe this year the holidays wouldn’t be so different after all. Maybe they’d even be better. “So... are we okay, Hails? I don’t expect you to forgive me right now,” I added quickly. “But are we okay?”

Haily let out a breath, as if she were being burdened and regarded me, some of the humor I knew she had reaching her features. “I guess, if it makes you feel better.”

“It does,” I said seriously. “I hate when you don’t talk to me.”

She shrugged. “Yeah. I know. Served you right, though.”

I didn’t bother arguing with that and together we started to gather glasses and beverages when she looked at me again.

“So you like Milo Trust, don’t you?”

“Huh?” I caught one of the shot glasses--just barely--when it decided to jump out of my hand, and looked at her, feeling guarded. “What do you mean?”

Haily shrugged, smirked at me teasingly. “I’ve got you figured out, Nels. You’ve got the biggest crush on Milo Trust... you should be careful about that. You never know how someone might react.”

Milo was not amused. Not at all, when I told him what Haily had said.

“What?” I teased him. “I think you should be flattered that I had the biggest crush on you.”

“That doesn’t mean I want everyone else to know about it,” he said indignantly right before he lost his balance, slid on the ice covering the trail and reached for me to catch himself.

I caught him around the waist, smiling before he found his footing and his groin pressed closely against my thigh. I found myself sliding my hand down the bulkiness of his coat, down the firm curve of his ass in a not-so-subtle way. His emerald eyes glimmered threateningly at me in the darkness as he tried to push me away prematurely and almost slid again. Pulling him closer I laughed against his cheek as I used my weight to help him find his balance. “It’s not everyone else,” I promised. “It’s Haily... she won’t say anything. She doesn’t even know anything when it comes to you. Swear it.”

I met his eyes reassuringly, hoping he’d believe me as I enjoyed the way the cold had him suddenly pressing closer to me instead of pushing away. We’d left Jerry’s an hour ago. We’d given Haily a ride home when she’d asked me for one and Milo explained that he was driving, but didn’t have a problem with taking her. The plan from there was to take me back to my car, parked not so far from his house, but instead we’d braved the roads near Hangman Cove. We both at least had clothes for the weather when we decided to go for a walk. It probably wasn’t one of the smartest things to do. The only light was from the moon reflecting off snow and temperatures had dropped dangerously low. But it was also the most convenient time. We were guaranteed to be the only ones there, which meant that Milo, who couldn’t seem to keep his balance even with his boots on, didn’t object when I laced my gloved fingers through his and continued to lead the way towards the lake.

“What if she ended up finding out about me?” Milo finally asked, still worried.

I glanced back at him and resisted the urge to pull his knitted cap further over his head, since in my opinion they weren’t covering enough of his ears, which I imagined would be as red as his nose if I could see them better. “I don’t think she’d say anything about you, either,” I said honestly. “But she doesn’t know.” I gave his hand a tug. “C’mon, stop worrying about it. Please.”

Milo fell silent, his gaze drifting towards the sky as we moved further away from the brush and our feet hit sand where scattered leaves were cold and slick as we made our way over them. The beach appeared silver between the ice and the snow, and against the moon our shadows stretched out in front of us while the scarecrow hung silently in his tree, bits of snow frozen against old straw. I’m sure it was all perfect. Beautiful. But I was more concerned with what Milo was thinking, if he’d find inspiration here and if the next time I walked into his room, I’d see the results. As it was the lines of his face seemed somewhat serene, and his shoulders beneath the weight of his coat were relaxed as his thumb slid over mine, whether or not he was aware of it. I heard him take in a chilly breath of air, letting it out in the form of white fog in front of his face.

“There was a rumor at my old school,” he suddenly said. “It’s the reason why I left Stratfort.”

I looked at him, finding his words unexpected. “What kind of rumor?”

“You know what kind,” he said pointedly, his eyes meeting mine. “No one believed it, Nelson. But I knew it was true, and all I wanted to do was get away from it. I don’t even know how it started, or who started it. I don’t even think anyone mentions it anymore. But I wasn’t ready for it. I’m still not... not like you.”

Wanting to know more, but also wanting to make him feel better, I smiled. “Then it’s a good thing I’m cool with going at your pace.”

Milo narrowed his eyes. “Haily knows. Who’s next? Sometimes I even think...”

“What?” I asked, tightening my hand on his when he continued to walk, not wanting him to get to far away from me.

“Sometimes I think Jame knows I’m gay.”

That pulled me up short, giving me a good dose of Milo’s worry and he just had to deal with the fact that his hand was currently connected to mine, I’d stopped moving, and felt fully content to pull him back in my direction. “Why would you think that?” I asked, trying not to sound as sharp as I felt. But Jame? Caveman or not, I didn’t trust that guy, not with my secrets or Milo’s. Maybe Milo would disagree with me, but the way I saw it, I didn’t have many enemies. The fact that Jame had become one said a lot when it came to my gut instincts, and I didn’t want to trust him for shit. I really didn’t want Milo to, either, but refrained from saying so since I was the one asking him to trust Haily. I hated being fair.

Milo shook his head, seeming troubled as his forehead creased. “I don’t know. You probably think I’m crazy for it, but it’s just this feeling I get... like, when you told me what Haily said... what if it’s just a matter of time? Sometimes Jame gives me this weird look, and I just think... he knows. Or he knows something.”

“Or maybe he’s just weird,” I said, wanting to make Milo feel better. Because I couldn’t say, you’re scared. That would have offended, but it would have been true. Milo was terrified, and I understood the feeling. I remember when he’d been the one to put it into me, but then I really didn’t want to remind either one of us of that.

Milo rolled his eyes at my comment. “I mean it, Nelson. I’m not ready. I don’t want him to know, or anyone else. Shit, why do you think I got so mad at you when...” He cut himself off, the firm set of his jaw telling me that he wanted to be taken seriously without having to explain himself further.

But I was taking him seriously. I tugged at his hand, wanting to pull his body closer since it felt like the rest of him was trying to pull away. I took it as a good sign when he didn’t resist and my arms slid easily around him while I turned my head to rest my cheek against his cold one. “Tell me what would be so bad about it,” I said quietly. Maybe I could assume what would be bad about it for me, but Milo obviously wanted to vent, and with everything going on with Haily lately, and now Jame, too, it seemed, the last thing I wanted was for him to feel unsafe with me, and if he was, I guess I wanted to know why. I wanted to solve it for him, even if the logical side of me understood that was impossible. I couldn’t make this kind of decision for Milo anymore than he could make it for me. “Is it because of your dad?”

He snorted, and when he spoke I could feel his lips moving against my neck between my coat and my beanie that caused me to shiver and lean closer against him. “My dad didn’t want me switching schools. I let my grades drown before I convinced him it was a good idea... and he can’t know. He can never know, because all he cares about is his stupid reputation. Like I could affect that. Most of the time people don’t even know Thompson Trust has a son. Emily didn’t. Trust me, it was a disaster the first time he brought her home. She almost called the police when I walked into my kitchen and found her there. Juanita straightened her out. But I’m not part of the deal where she’s concerned. My dad didn’t even tell the woman he wants to marry about me. She had to find out like that. I had to find out like that.”

I pulled Milo closer and closed my eyes as I breathed in the small amount of warmth coming off his body. Hearing him, it was hard not to be grateful for everything I had. I had a family that was determined to love me despite my flaws or personal preferences. I had at least one friend who was mad as hell at me, probably with good reason, who still wasn’t going to give up on me, secrets or no secrets. Milo had a mom who’d cut out on him and sent him constant reminders with pictures he didn’t want as much as he wanted her acknowledgment. He had a father who had no interest in getting to know him apart from his need to have a picture-perfect family, and a stepmother who hadn’t wanted him to begin with. And he had Assface, but that was a different story altogether. As for the rest of them, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want Milo.

Yeah, that’s because I was completely hard for him. All the time. Literally and figuratively, I guess. But it was also because of the way he painted. No one who didn’t feel could do what he did to a canvas. And maybe he looked angry over fifty percent of the time but if anyone cared to look a little closer they’d figure out that he wasn’t just angry, he was guarding himself because everyone he was supposed to care about had royally screwed him over in one way or another. And he was paranoid, but if I was surrounded by the same people he seemed to be surrounded by, I’d be pretty damn insecure, too. Milo Trust wasn’t really close to anyone... except maybe Jame, so I guess it made sense that he made such a point to guard that friendship. And I’d like to think that he could trust me. So without teasing him, without doing my best to lighten the mood, I decided on telling him the most honest thing that came to mind. “If it were between you and me, I’d out myself first, Milo. And if I have to lie to my friends, I’ll lie to my friends. No one has to know anything about you that you don’t want them to know. If... if someone found out, I swear it wouldn’t be because of me. I won’t do that to you.” I pulled back, smiled at they way his expression pondered whether or not he believed me. “And know what? It has nothing to do with you being the only guy in Heywell that will kiss me back.”

And I got to kiss Milo Trust, my boyfriend, at Hangman, just the way everyone else took advantage of such a right.


I didn’t wake up until noon on Thanksgiving Day, and that was only because Leanna was in my room, on a cell phone, presumably speaking to someone in her family, who we didn’t know much about. When Chad had met her she hadn’t been close to them, and he’d met them once as far as I knew. I also knew that for some reason they didn’t approve of my brother, which was strange because despite his tattoos and piercings... and pink hair... everyone approved of Chad. So I figured that when it came to Leanna’s family, they were a bunch of idiots, especially for letting her go. Hell, I’d keep her.

As she paced back and forth across my bedroom floor, she noticed my eyes open and quickly indicated she was sorry for the intrusion, I waved her off and smiled like I would if anyone in my family had chosen to wake me up at a reasonable hour. I figured noon was reasonable, as I’d meant to get up much sooner. But I’d been up late the night before because Haily had come over. I’d invited her, wanting to make things better between us. And it was... really nice, actually. I think over the last months I’d become so uncomfortable around her because I knew what she wanted from me and couldn’t give it to her. Now that the secrets were out of the way she suddenly felt like my friend again. When she reached to touch me I didn’t feel the need to go into complete defensive mode. When she made a comment about my ass in a particular pair of jeans I didn’t jump to the conclusion that she was trying to flirt with me and I shouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. And best of all, she didn’t look hurt every time she looked at me. So we’d stayed up and hung out way later than we’d expected to before I drove her home. This was after I’d suggested she just crash in the guest room but she insisted that if she wasn’t home Thanksgiving morning her mom would consider it a federal offense.

I still felt sleepy after all of that and yawned widely as I checked to make sure I’d worn boxers to bed before I threw back my covers and passed Leanna’s small figure to grab a pair of pants on the way to my closet. I pulled on a worn but clean pair of jeans and studied two sweaters my mom had presented me with and then hung up just yesterday. One red, one a powder blue. I didn’t have to ask her about them to know that she wanted me to be wearing at least one of them in our family pictures that afternoon. I picked up both, turned to Leanna and held them up.

She didn’t pause in telling someone that she was sure she couldn’t make one event or another as her eyes squinted through her glasses when she made a face at the blue one and pointed to the red. The blue ended up on the floor, the red on my back. I found myself stretching in it since it was a little snugger than I was used to, but the material was soft against my skin as I struggled to pull the tags off the sleeve. Because I was about to rip it, Leanna moved in my direction and did it for me. A moment later she was hanging up with her family and reaching up to smooth over the blond hair that was sticking up on my head. “Do something about your hair before you come upstairs,” she warned. “Your mom’s armed with a camera.” She made a face. “Sorry I woke you up, this was the closest place to get away from the zoo up there.”

“That’s okay,” I insisted. “Is Uncle Ray here?”

“Since first thing this morning. Your cousin is adorable, by the way. Chad’s freaking out because everyone’s playing with the baby and no cooking is getting done.”

I smiled, because she’d said that with affection. “Mom’s not mad I’m not up yet?”

Leanna rolled her eyes. “I did mention there’s a baby up there, didn’t I? But she did say something about your chores. What have you got? I’ll help.”

I smiled, deciding to take her up on that.

“Do you want to feed the rat, the bird or the goat?”

After a quick trip to the bathroom to make myself presentable, I ended up feeding the goat and the rat, and then I headed into the kitchen where my family had congregated. My uncle Ray looked less stern with me than the last time I’d seen him, probably because I wasn’t working on an early police record anymore. Grannie Tenny looked a little brighter than normal, smiled at me twice when I refilled her coffee for her, and I struck a pose for several pictures for more than one camera. Eventually I settled down in the living room with Chad, Leanna and my aunt Patty for a card game while our house slowly developed the odor of hot food and sweet-smelling pies. I was surprised when Caleb called to say happy Thanksgiving and that he was bored to death, but I was happy to hear from him, even looked forward to school starting because I found myself missing him.

A few hours later and I’d helped my mom expand and set our dinner table before we all sat in front of more food than everyone combined could possibly eat. My uncle Ray said a few words that made us laugh and then my dad followed with a little speech that was downright cheesy as he talked about togetherness. But it was nice nonetheless.

And then the doorbell rang.

The look on my face probably mirrored everyone else’s as we fell silent and looked over the table, doing a head count to make sure everyone was accounted for. Finally, my mom gave Chad a nod to go see who was at the door. My brother snatched a roll off the table before he went, and we didn’t wait for him as we started passing food. But Chad was back soon enough, and when I caught my brother’s eye, his expression somewhat curious, he gave me a nod to follow him.

Frowning and trying to figure out what was going on, I silently excused myself from the only neighbor I had looking at me, Grandma Tenny. Chad waited, his hand moving to my back as he led me towards the front door. “It’s for you,” he said quietly, but didn’t have to elaborate as I looked over the living room, my eyes pausing on Milo Trust.

It was obvious my brother had invited him in because he wasn’t standing outside, but he was currently crowding our front door as if he were expecting to bolt out of it at any given moment. His ironed pants made him look taller and his white dress shirt was untucked and rumpled. His dark hair was askew in a way that was only ever a result of him pulling at it so much and as his green eyes met mine they seemed sullen and nervous as I smiled at my brother and indicated that he should go back to the table. The moment Chad was gone that same smile faltered and I crossed the room to Milo, taking it upon myself to lean on the front door just in case he decided he wanted to run.

“Are you okay?” I asked, not bothering with pleasantries. It was always pleasant to see Milo, but the fact that he’d shown up on Thanksgiving told me there was cause for concern.

He shook his head, but his words contradicted the action. “I’m... fine. Look, I’m sorry, this was stupid. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

He reached for the doorknob, but I covered it with my hand first, forcing his attention back in my direction. “What happened?” I asked.

Milo frowned, his gaze drifting towards the noise currently in our kitchen and then back at me. “I’ll tell you later.”

“Your dad?” I asked.

The dark look that crossed his features was answer enough as he shrugged one shoulder heavily. “We were supposed to be sitting down for dinner. He brought up my grades.”

I made a face at that. “What’s wrong with your grades?” I knew for a fact that they were better than mine, and my parents were pleased enough with me. I didn’t get it.

Milo rolled his eyes. “Nothing. Everything, because nothing is ever good enough. The point is, I’m sitting with him and his girlfriend for a holiday...”

“And he brought up your grades,” I said nodding. “Then what happened.”

Milo pulled at his hair in a way that made me want to reach up and protect it. “There was a lot of yelling... and I’m... really sorry to bother you.”

“You’re not bothering me,” I insisted, moving my hand to his shoulder, urging him away from the front door. “Come on, we’re just sitting down.”

Milo shook his head. “I think I should just go.”

I sighed. “Then let’s go to my room for a while. We can talk.”

“No one’s going to anyone’s room.”

I looked up to find my mother coming at us, the look on her face rather stern, for my mom, anyway. She was wearing a green dress today, her long hair still pulled back from her cooking. Her eyes landed on Milo, and while she smiled, he looked so horrified and cute that I had to suppress a smile over it, especially when my mom hooked her arm through his and pulled him towards the kitchen. “We’re sitting down to eat,” she informed us, looking over her shoulder at me. Milo was doing that, too, but I pretended not to notice because I knew he wanted to be rescued. “You look nice today,” she told Milo. “Come on, we put a chair for you next to Nelson.”

“Um...” Milo started awkwardly. He glared at me.

This time I did smile. “Might as well not argue with her,” I informed him. “She’s a hardass.”

“Nelson,” my mom warned, her tone much sharper when it came to my language. She went back to smiling at Milo. “I don’t know how the Trusts do it, but I’ve been told I make a pretty good turkey.”

“We have fish,” Milo said, as if his brain were only half there and that was the first thing that came to his mind.

My mom glanced back at me as if he’d told her he didn’t get cake on his birthday and then patted his shoulder soothingly. “I hope you’re hungry, Milo. If not you can try a little of everything. Nelson helped stir the beans and he buttered the rolls. I’m sure they’re both good.”

Milo opened his mouth, another objection on his tongue when another disruption behind us caused us to look. Sighing, I turned to see who was knocking on the door now, but my mom pushed past me, her hands on my shoulders as she gave me a shove in Milo’s direction. “I’ll get it,” she said impatiently. “Nelson, why don’t you get Milo set up.”

Milo glared at me as I took over for my mom, steering him towards the kitchen. “I’m not staying, Nelson!” he hissed.

“You can let my mom know,” I challenged, and then smiled at him even while the red that meant he was angry crept up his neck to his face. “Look... stay,” I said, my tone softening. “You’re not interrupting anything and if you hadn’t said you had plans I would have invited you, anyway. Besides, I’ll even promise that the only one you have to worry about biting you is me.”

His brow flew up in amusement before he quickly glanced back to make sure my mom hadn’t heard that. And then his shoulders went rigid as color drained from his face.

Frowning, I followed his gaze to where my mom was standing in front of the open front door, the sound of a sobbing woman coming from just beyond it.

“What on earth?” my mom demanded, alarmed.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, Pamela...I didn’t really know where else to go. Thom’s just had the worst fight with Milo, and everyone just took off, and I asked Juanita if she could bring me here, and my family is so far away...”

I recognized her voice well enough by now, even when it was interrupted by sniffling and sobs. I looked at Milo, frowning as I wondered how I was going to get him out of here, past Emily Hill. Because I didn’t think he’d forgive me anytime soon if I didn’t.

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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It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if there wasn't drama; too bad Milo finds himself in the middle, but Nelson will keep him company :lmao:. Glad things worked out with Haily, she didn't seem like a fair weathered friend and I'm glad she's found solace in Jerry, he seems like a solid guy. Wonderful work!


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