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Puppy for Sale - 9. Meeting Steven

"Puppy?" Max called from behind his van as I ran away from the house. I had to get away. I felt like throwing up. This was a bad idea, a stupid plan. Living away from Greenstone was never going to work, and everyone knew it!

In my panic, I felt like I had tons of energy, sprinting as I had never sprinted before. I didn't know where the hell I was going, but it needed to be away from here, away from that kid. How was I supposed to live in a house with someone who had such a dislike for me? It was going to be impossible. What was Max thinking?

What was I thinking!

Starting to get out of breath, I reached the end of the street and stopped, leaning against a lamppost, puffing my heart out. My face felt stiff where tears that had fallen were now dry against my skin. All I could think about was Cindy, and how she was alone, how I was alone. Maybe it wasn't meant to be; maybe I was just destined to not have a family.

I pushed myself away from the lamp post and randomly picked a direction to travel in. Where Greenstone was located was anyone's guess, but still, that was my destination. I tried to get my bearings, but it was useless, I had no clue where I was, but to be honest, part of me didn't care.

A vehicle screeched to a stop right beside me, causing several other cars to honk their horn in frustration. The sound made me jump, and I looked up to see a horrified Max clambering to get out of his van, the seat belt obviously giving him trouble.

"Puppy, wait," he screamed through the passenger window; he was now running down.

"I can't do it, I can't," I bellowed back above the noise of a passing truck. Now free from his belt, Max shot out of his van and came running over to me.

Pulling me into a tight hug, he stroked the back of my head and spoke. "What happened? Why did you run?"

"Didn't you see what he said... he said I was a gatecrasher, is that what you all think?"

"Who... Puppy, who?"

"Steven!" I barked, annoyed he hadn't seen his son's attitude towards me.

Max rolled his eyes and sighed. "Ah shit, I'm really sorry. I should never have let you go to the house alone. I just didn't think. What else did he say?"

"Nothing, I held out my hand to say hi, and he was really nasty to me, I just... Max, this was a mistake. How can I be part of your family if one third hates me?"

Max took his hands and placed each one on my cheeks, getting me to look him in the eyes. "Champ, I swear to you I am going to put this right, okay?"

"But how, he obviously doesn't want me there. So, what happens if because of me you all start arguing and stuff? What then?"

"Jens... Puppy that is not going to happen. Susan and I talked about the potential fallout from Steven, and we will handle it."

"Thanks, but that doesn't make me feel any more welcome. I think I should just go back to Greenstone... it would be easier for everyone."

Max took a step back and folded his arms. "You really want that?"

"I don't know... I'm scared. I think he'll make me worse, Max."

"I know you're scared, and d'ya know what? So am I. We can be scared together, Puppy, but slowly, I think that fear will go away and be replaced by something extraordinary. I know it's a lot to ask, but I'm asking you... no, I'm pleading with you to trust me."

"Do you know what you're doing, though?" I asked.

"No, of course not, but I have a gut feeling things are going to turn out okay."

I inhaled a long, deep breath and let it out through my nose, feeling a little calmer. My stomach was still in knots, and my inner scales were tipping heavily, but I managed to keep myself under control. Max held out his hand, accompanied by a desperate look on his face. I felt for him because none of this was his fault, dammit. He was just as excited as I was, but I didn't want to live in fear because of Steven, and he had to realise that.

"So, will you give this another go?" he asked, as I took hold of his large hand.

I shrugged. "I guess."

"Do you think I should do one of those silly family meeting things and thrash this tension out between all of us, or do you wanna just see how things go and let me talk to Steven privately?"

"That's what I mean, Max. Before I came along, there was no tension in your family. Look what I've caused."

"I don't mean that kind of tension, at least not between Susan, you and me... shit, look, I worded that all wrong, I just mean, perhaps if we all sat around the table and allowed Steven to say what he needs to say and then... But, puppy, I know there is a way around this."

I managed a smile... I ACTUALLY managed a smile at his attempts to resolve this, which were failing. "Look, Max, I know why he doesn't like me. I have put myself in his shoes and realised the reasons why he would act that way. I'm just scared that I will ruin the harmony in your family."

"Puppy... you are my family!" he declared, passionately. "And, Jesus, when did you learn to be so damn mature about stuff? You know, you could actually teach Steven a few things."

"I get the feeling I won't be teaching Steven anything for a while."

Max chuckled, and I managed a smile. "So are you gonna come back with me or do you feel like running some more?"

"Yeah, sorry about that. Susan must think I'm a real fruitcake."

"Nah, she'll just think you're keen on exercise."

"Pfft, okay, let’s go back then."

My suggestion seemed to please Max as a big smile etched its way across his face. He opened the passenger door for me and I got in, placing my seat belt on. Max closed the door and made his way round to the driver’s side.

"Now I need to find a place to turn round. I guess I could use someone's driveway."

"Take your time; I’m in no rush, as you can imagine," I said, thinking it was a smart comment and then wondering if it may have hurt Max's feelings.

"I think we should all have takeout tonight. Do you like Chinese?"

"Yeah, I guess they are okay. I've never met any in real life, though."

"Food, Puppy... Chinese food."

"Oh," I said, causing Max to giggle. "Nope, I have never had it."

"It all tastes the same to me, but Susan and Steven like it. If I just get a selection of dishes, you can see what one you like."

"Sounds interesting. Do you and Susan cook?"

"Sure we do, Susan the most, but I help out when I come home early. I usually do the Sunday roast."

"Oh, now that I do know, they used to cook that at the home... chicken, potatoes, broccoli and Yorkshire pudding."

"Spot on Puppy, pretty much what I do at home, but sometimes I'll do some extras like pigs in blankets and stuffing."

"Pigs in..."

"You take a sausage, and wrap it in bacon, then roast it. They call it that because the sausage is made of pig, and the bacon is like a blanket."

"Ah yeah, that's clever,"

"Oh Puppy, your so damn sweet you know that?"

I just shrugged.

Max pulled up outside the house again and turned off the engine. It seemed Susan had gone inside, and the box that I had dropped outside the door had been cleared.

"I'm such a klutz dropping that box," I said, hopping down from the van.

"Don't worry about it. It’s just a silly accident. I just hope none of your stuff was broken in there."

"Nah, I didn't really have anything that could break. Just mum's journal and some nic-nacs."

Locking the van with his key-fob, Max came round onto the sidewalk and placed his arm around my shoulder as if for support. If he was sensing that, he was spot on because I felt like going into meltdown right now.

My knees felt like jelly as he led me towards the front door. Max had begun to get his keys out, but as if she knew that was happening, Susan flung the door open and leapt towards me.

"Oh, Jensen, we were so worried!" She said, hugging me tightly.

"Sorry, I just didn't know how to-"

"You don't need to explain yourself, young man. The important thing is you are back safe. Did Steven have something to do with this?"

"Well, I guess we didn't get off to the best-"

"I had a hunch," she cut me off again. "Don't worry, I'll be having words with my son when he reappears from his room."

"Susan, are you going to let us in love?" Max asked, indicating he wanted to get in and settled.

"Oh, whoops, sorry, yes, c'mon in Jensen and make yourself at home. Would you like a drink? By the looks of the speed you took off, you must be thirsty, huh?"

"A glass of water would be good."

"Water smawter, how boring. What about a nice glass of Coke with lots of ice?"

"Coke is fine, thank you."

"Or I have Orange juice... would you like some orange juice? I went out and brought a load of different drinks as I didn't know what you would like. I have a milkshake, iced tea, Tizer, hot choc-"

"Honey, I'm sure Coke will be fine for him, yeah, Puppy?"

"Sure, I said, feeling a little overwhelmed."

"I'm sorry, I need to learn to keep my mouth closed. I’m just so happy you're here Jensen, it’s gonna be great," she said before clapping her hands and marching off to the kitchen."

"As you can see, Puppy, Susan has quite a lot of energy, but that's why I love her. If she gets too much for you, just tell her, and she'll back off without offence. She’s just pleased that we found each other."

I laughed. "It's okay. I’m just not used to all the fuss, that's all."

"Oh, you'll get plenty of that from her, don't you worry. Now, do you want to take a shower or anything? There is always hot water. Or would you like the grand tour first?"

"Would you mind if I just sat down for a little while and calm myself? I'm feeling a little spaced at the moment."

"Sure Puppy, you're the boss, and remember, this is your house too, so you can do whatever you want, just don't burn the place down." Max bantered, ruffling my hair up.

Doctor Listern did that, and it was bloody annoying.

Susan came back into the hallway humming and passed me my glass of coke. Sure enough, it came with all the extras, lots of ice, a straw and two thick slices of lemon.

"Do I know how to make a Coke, or do I?" she gushed. I just smiled back nervously. Susan was going to take some getting used to.




Sitting in the warm room that was obviously the lounge, Max and Susan were chatting to me about life at Greenstone. Max was telling her what we had discussed in our slight detour before coming here and how close I was with Cindy while I lived there.

The lounge was very homely indeed. It had two sizeable puffy grey sofas that could swallow an Ox. On the wall was a huge TV that made my little one at the home look like a postage stamp. Light coloured wooden cabinets ran along the back wall, and I noticed the room was decorated with ancient Egyptian artefacts... something I had become interested in somewhat by watching documentaries on TV.

A family portrait hung from the wall opposite the window. It looked as if someone had painted it as it was too big to be a photo. Steven looked much younger, maybe twelve or so, while Max and Susan just looked the same. Looking down to my feet, there was a large rug that dominated the floor with a glass coffee table that sat upon it.

"You keep looking at those statues Jensen, do you like them?"

"Yes, I have seen stuff on TV like that, from Egypt, right?"

"Very good, Jensen. Your father and I have been four times now, and I always try and bring something back for the home."

"They are very beautiful," I added.

"Why, thank you, Jensen, and you are a charming boy, isn't he Max?"

"Well, honey, with my good looks, is it any wonder?"

"Oh gosh, always the joker your father, Jensen. So tell me about this lake you mentioned earlier. It sounds like a very tranquil place?"

"Oh, it is, they have swans there, and a few times, I actually saw the babies following behind. It was really cute. It's especially nice in the evening, you know, just as the sun is going down. That was my favourite time. Very often, Cindy and I would just sit on a rock and watch it get dark."

"Sounds like a place I would love, Jensen, a very nice picture you painted there."

"Yeah... so um, does Steven usually spend a lot of time in his room?"

"Not usually, but I think he is a little shy right now. I’ll go talk to him in a bit. But, actually, you timed it right coming here now because it's the school autumn break."

"Shy??" Max asked, smiling. "When has that boy ever been shy about anything?"

Susan mused. Then looked at me and laughed, "well, I'm sure you'll get the Steven introduction soon, Jensen."

Great, I thought but didn't say.

I was finding out fast that Susan was a talker, evidenced by the fact that we had been sitting in the lounge for around forty minutes with Max and me not really getting many words in. But right now? I was okay with that.

I had finished my coke for all but a few cubes of ice and the soggy lemon at the bottom. When Max did actually get a word in edgeways, he got around to telling Susan how I got my name Puppy Stibbs. She found the whole thing hilarious and endearing, whatever the latter meant. As for me, I just sat there and mostly listened, but through all Susan's talking, it did occur to me that I was starting to feel more relaxed.

"Ready for that grand tour now?" Max asked, predicting that I might need a break from Susan.

"Sure, erm, where do I put this?" I asked, referring to my glass that had now become warm in my hands.

"Here, why don't you let me take that? You go on with your dad and see all the rooms." Susan suggested, taking the glass from me.

Max got up and winked at me before waiting for me in the lounge doorway. I followed him out, and he took me into the kitchen and out into the backyard.

"Seems as good a place to start as any," he remarked, closing the door to keep the heat in. I could hear a noise coming from the end of the garden, and it sounded like clucking.

"Wow, do you have chickens?"

"Sure do, Annie and Clarabelle, just like-"

"Thomas the Tank, yeah, I know it. Oh wow, can I go see?"

"Go for it champ, I'm sure they will love a new face."

I ran to the bottom of the yard and stopped in front of an enormous wooden coup. The two chickens were busy pecking away at the dirt and gently baaaarping. Max approached, his hands in his pockets for warmth and watched me as I put my hand through a gap to stroke one.

"You got a friend for life there," he stated as I looked back at him, smiling.

"I love chickens; I’ve always wanted one... this is so cool."

"It's good to see you are smiling Son, you wanna feed them?" Max asked, crouching down and putting a hand on my shoulder.

"Really? Wow, that would be awesome... so what do they eat?"

"Pellets mostly, it helps with the eggshells, but they have leftover vegetables as well. So here, if you open that little flap there bolted on the side of their coup, that's where their food is, just take a handful."

"Cool," I replied, doing as he told me. "Will they take it out of my hand?"

"They might; why don't you have a go?"

Again, I did as he suggested, and sure enough, they both came over to me and started to peck from my hands. At first, it was kind of freaky, causing me to pull my hand away, but as soon as I knew they wouldn't draw blood, I let them have free reign.

Just as I turned round to look at Max again, watching me, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye up at the top window of the house. It was Steven, looking decidedly grumpy, giving me daggers. Max must have seen I had looked at something because he turned around too, seeing what I was seeing.

"Come with me, Puppy," Max said, a sort of commanding tone in his voice.

"Erm, Max, I don't think that is a good idea," I replied, sensing what was about to happen.

"Puppy, I asked you to trust me, and I am asking again, take a leap of faith and follow me."

Reluctantly, I did as he asked and followed him back up the yard towards the house. I kept my eyes locked on Steven until, eventually, he walked away from the window.

"I really don't think we should go barging in there; it might make him worse," I said, trying to keep up with his stride.

"Puppy, sometimes with Steven, you just gotta bite the bullet and go in hard. It'll work. Mark my words."

I swallowed hard and followed him inside the house. Susan was in the kitchen and just smiled as we walked past her. Max led me to the staircase, and I followed him up until we reached the landing. Then, approaching a door which I presumed to be his, or our room, Max knocked three times.

"Steven, come out here, would you."

"I'm getting changed," came a muffled voice.

"Well, hurry up; I want you to say hello to your brother."

"That's impossible; I don't have a brother!" he shouted this time, making sure I heard I imagined.

"Steven, you have five seconds to open that-"

"WHAT?!" Steven bellowed as the door flew open.

"Less of the anger, young man. Puppy, go inside... Steven, go and sit down."

"Puppy? What kind of a stupid name is that? Are you for real?" he asked coldly, looking straight at me.

"Erm, well, it's just what they used to call me at the home. My name is Jensen, really." I replied sheepishly. I wasn't liking this at all, not one bit. I felt my adrenaline valve jam open, and I wanted to run again, but I didn't want to make Steven think I was as crazy as I probably felt right now, so I tried to hold it together.

"Steven, this is not how your mother and I brought you up. Jensen has been nothing but polite to you even though it should be you welcoming him to our home." Steven just stood there darting his eyes between Max and me. "Well?" Max demanded.

Steven shrugged. "What do you want me to say. I'm giving up half my room to a guy I don't even know."

"That's it? After all your brother has been through, and despite how polite he has been to you, all you can think about is your room?"

"It's not just about the room, Dad."

"Well, what then?"

"You know what... he is crazy, and he just waltzes into our family like he belongs here and what say do I get in that?"

"Firstly, Jensen is not crazy; we talked about this; he has some medical issues. I don't ever want to hear you use that word to describe him again, you hear me?" Silence. "Steven, I asked you a question!"

"Yeah, I hear you!"

"Good! Secondly, Jensen does belong here because he is my son as much as you are, and he is your brother, and brothers are supposed to look out for one another."

"Yeah, it helps if they know each other too," Steven muttered.

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear that?"


"So, what are you going to do to put this right?"

Another shrug from Steven. "Dunno."

"Well, how about apologising and shaking his hand, like a real man."

"Fine," came a grunt. Steven walked over to me and sharply held out his hand. I took it and gave it a firm shake, even though my whole body felt like melting plastic.

"Good, now move your stuff off of Jensen's bed, he has to sleep there, and we have only just bought that."

I looked over to one side of the room that contained a single bed. It looked like Steven had been using it as some kind of clothes stand as Jeans, socks, and various jackets occupied it. I watched as he marched over to it and gathered up all the items, dumping them on his own bed, which was unmade... something I wasn't used to.

Not that I was ashamed of my body or anything, but it suddenly dawned on me that privacy was going to be a luxury in this room, unlike my room at Greenstone. I wondered how that would work as it was apparent that we could barely be in the same room as each other, let alone get undressed in front of each other. This was going to be yet another new experience that I wasn't relishing.

"Steven, would you like me to make your bed?" I asked, pointing at it blankly. What a stupid fucking question, I thought. Steven just looked at me like I had totally lost the plot. Even Max looked a little surprised. But not as surprised as I was with Steven's following words.

"If ya want," came a soft reply.

Well, it was a start.


The Chinese food that Max and Susan had ordered in did indeed live up to the hype. Although I must admit when I saw all the plastic containers arrive on the table, it all looked a little too colourful for me, but boy did it taste good, which I commented on. I think my favourite was the sweet and sour chicken. Although when I heard the word sour, I was immediately put off. It's funny how the mind can put you off things by creating a preconception about them.

We had all sat around the table in the dining room to eat. Susan was doing most of the talking, along with Max, who came a distant second. I was mostly being asked questions, which under normal circumstances, I would have no trouble answering, but as I talked, I could see Steven pulling faces out of the corner of my eye as if judging me. I tried to keep the answers short and void of detail. Part of me wanted to not care what he thought, but for some reason, I did. I wanted him to think I was as normal as his friends at school.

I wanted him to accept me.

Dinner was a struggle, really, as my stomach was in knots most of the time, but I enjoyed this new culinary experience and hoped to do it again soon, promising myself that I would be in a better place next time.

As soon as Steven had wolfed down two plates of food he immediately left the table and headed back up to his room, commenting that he had nothing to say. This was after Susan had asked him if he had any questions for me himself. No sooner had Steven bolted for his room, Max gave me a reassuring look as if to say, it will get better.

Susan had begun to clear away the dirty dishes. With dinner consumed, she sealed up what had not been eaten in the plastic pots. I helped load the plates into the dishwasher that she had placed on the work surface and also found a home for the remaining food in the fridge.

Max made us all a cup of tea, even shouting up to Steven to see if he wanted one, not that he got a response, but I admired him for caring about people as much as he did. He invited me into the lounge to watch TV with him and Susan, and it was an invitation I was only too pleased to accept. The thought of having to spend time in a room with someone who really didn't like me wasn't something I was relishing.

As the rolling credits came up from a movie we watched, I glanced over at the wall clock seeing it was just after ten.

"So, uh, what do you normally watch now?" I asked, trying to put off the inevitable of having to go up to bed. I hoped they didn't have any bedtime rules in place, and I guess this was one way of seeing if they had.

"Are you not tired, Puppy? It's been a long day for you." Max asked, casting a gaze on me. The truth was, I was tired... very tired in fact, but I knew what the alternative was.

"Meh, I'm ok."

"Are you sure, honey?" Susan added, "Your eyes look pretty sleepy."

"Puppy, I get the feeling you really want to go to sleep, but something... or someone is putting you off doing that, am I right?" Max asked, a sly grin coming from the corner of his mouth.

My game was up.

"It's just, well, you know... I'm just nervous about going in there. It's his room, and I feel like I am invading it."

Max sighed. "It's your room too now, and Steven is going to have to get used to that. You can't live your life avoiding each other, Puppy."

I can try, I thought.

"I know, I'm just being a big baby; it’s just he makes me nervous, and it in turn that makes me feel unbalanced."

"Unbalanced?" Susan asked, a little shocked at my term of expression.

"It's a bipolar word they use, Honey," Max said, looking at his wife. I nodded.

"Hmm, looks like I have some research to do. If I am to be a fit and prepared mother to you, I really need to know my stuff," she replied, her statement aimed towards me.

"Which reminds me, we need to get you in to have a complete evaluation from Doctor Burrows soon - I would really like to get you checked over. I know how much you respected Doctor Listern, Puppy, but I always think it's good to get a second opinion.

I just nodded.

"Who is Doctor Listern?" Susan asked. "I keep hearing his name... was he the Doctor that looked after you in the children's home Jensen?"

"Yes, he was, we were quite close, and he managed my condition, Susan."

"He also played around with Puppy's medication too much. I felt he was using Puppy as some kind of experiment... in fact, whenever I think of him, I always picture Josef Mengele for some reason," Max commented, shaking his head.

Susan laughed. "Oh darling, I think that's a little extreme."

I didn't have a clue who they were talking about, so I just smiled politely. I was starting to get really tired now. With the long day and the added washout from my daily dose of meds, I was ready to hit the sack. I need to grow some balls and just go up there.

"Would you like me to come up with you, Puppy?" Max asked, seeing my eyes must have momentarily closed.

"Nah, that would just make me look like a wuss; I’ll go up now. Just working up the courage," I replied, managing a false smile. But despite my light-hearted answer, that was actually the truth - it did feel like I had to summon a heap of courage. Most of the night, I had been working myself up into a state, thinking that sooner or later, that dreaded time was going to arrive where I HAD to retire to the room of doom that contained Steven.

As I got up from the sofa, so did Max and Susan. I was worried about what they would do until Max put his arms out and pulled me into a hug, with Susan patiently waiting for her turn.

Was that normal?

"Awww, such a cuddle button," she said, squeezing me tight.

"Thanks," I wheezed out. "And thank you for dinner tonight. It was very nice."

"You and I are gonna get along fine, Jensen; you are so polite," she cackled. "I can't remember the last time Steven ever thanked me for a meal... not that I cooked this one, mind."

"Remember, Puppy, if you need anything in the night, Susan and I are just across the hall, so if you wake up for any reason and need us at any hour, feel free to wake us up, okay?"

"Thanks, Max, but you have work tomorrow, right? So I don't want to disturb your sleep or you, Susan."

"I'm sure you will be fine Puppy, I just want you to know that if you need us, we are here for you," Max added, wearing a kind smile.

"Or, you can wake Steven up," Susan continued, bursting out laughing. Man, this woman was full-on.

I was starting to like her a lot!

"Okay guys, well, I'll head on up then. Good night."

"Good night Jensen Sweetie, sweet dreams... Oh, oh, wait... I forgot to ask... breakfast, what would you like?"

"Well, I'm not su-"

"I have eggs, bacon, cereal, toast... ooh and some waffle things they have in America, oh and what else did I buy Max, do you remember? Oh yes, I remember, I have Oats," she said, cutting me off and not letting Max even answer her question. I nearly passed out with the information overload but felt I needed to reply before I did.

"Cereal is fine, Susan, thank you."

"Awww, I can't wait to make it for you. Good night Honey," she gushed, holding her palms out flat. "He is just adorable," I heard her say as I approached the stairs. I could hear their continued conversation about how special I was until I reached the top of the stairs but was then out of earshot. The hallway was dark, but I managed to remember where my new room was.

Shit, I thought seeing a dim light coming from underneath the door to our room. Maybe he just keeps a lamp on, I thought again as I stood outside like a scared mouse.

I took hold of the chrome-plated door handle and gently pushed it down. As I opened the door, I could see Steven on his bed with some earphones on. He was bare-chested, and his eyes were closed. I briefly thought he might have been pretending, but his breathing was rhythmic and steady.

I excruciatingly gently closed the door and turned back to look at him. His body was really well defined for someone the same age as me. I even felt slightly envious. He had well-developed pecks, and because of the way he was laying, his noticeable six-pack was clearly visible in the orange hue of the lamplight.

As my wandering eyes travelled up his smooth arms, I could see a little tuft of brown hair sticking out from under his armpits. Then, looking down again, I could see a trail of thick brown hair that went from his belly button right down to his track pants and disappeared below I expected.

Something about him was slightly making me feel strange!

Minutes had now passed, and I still found myself staring at him. I was fascinated with the differences between the two of us. Steven's brown messy hair in contrast to my short blond hair. He had deep-set eyes that very slightly curved down at the ends. His nose was perfectly straight, small but wide. His lips were sat perfectly above a cleft chin aligned with his nose, giving him neither an overbite nor an under-bite. Whoever his father was produced a good offspring. Bottom line?

Steven was very handsome!

I didn't really understand the feelings going through my mind as I stood looking at Steven. This was the first time... well, the only time since I arrived that I had had enough time to really stop and look at him or any boy for that matter. The rest of the time, I had been too scared or shy. I couldn't help thinking back to what Cindy had said about me liking boys instead of girls. Perhaps that held some truth, and something told me there was something a little wrong with that. After all, I had grown up seeing guys with girls and had never seen a guy with a guy, like in that movie I watched. Perhaps there were more people like me. It was just a shame there was no one to ask about it. All I knew was that I was curious and that seeing a male with no top on sent strange feelings rushing through my brain.

It was all very confusing.

"What the fuck are you looking at," came a voice that shook me from my thoughts. It was Steven, of course, and during my daydream, it had totally escaped me that I was still standing in the middle of the room with what must have been a dreamy look on my face, staring at him.

I cleared my throat. "Erm, uh... sorry, I had just come to bed and wondered if you were awake."

"What is it to you?"

"Nothing, I guess. I just didn't want to disturb you... erm, do you sleep with the light on?"

"Yes, do you have a problem with that?"

"Uh, no... no, of course not, you do what you want."

"That's right, I do. Now, are you just gonna stand there checking me out or..."

I let out a high pitched snigger, one hundred per cent from embarrassment. "Uh, I wasn't checking you out; as I said, I just wondered if you were…."

"Awake... yeah, you said. Your bed is over there. Just stay over your side of the room, and you and me will get along fine."

I slowly turned around and looked at my bed. It was brand new and had been made up with a warm looking duvet that looked very inviting. I wandered over to it and sat down. Steven had obviously followed me with his eyes, and by the time I turned round to look at him, he had removed his earphone and turned on his side to face me.

"Well, are you going to get undressed or is sleeping in your clothes another weird thing you do?" He asked, his gaze putting me on edge.

"N-no, I just... you are looking at me, and it’s putting me off."

Steven let out a snigger. "What, have you got tits or something?"


Steven rolled his eyes. "Forget it, douchebag, probably something you have never seen in the kid prison."

It was clear Steven wasn't going to turn away, and I didn’t dare to ask him, so I swallowed hard and started to pull my jumper off, taking my t-shirt with it. I was now in the same amount of clothes he was, but knew I would have to take my Jeans off; otherwise, I was going to look strange getting into bed with them on... and strange was something I was trying to avoid when it came to Steven's perception of me.

"You work out?" he asked as I sat there for a moment.

"A little, I got some weights quite recently, and I have been trying to build up."

"It shows, you look pretty good for a crazy dude."

Was that a compliment?

"Well, you do too... I mean, look pretty good." That was all I could think of in response. It probably sounded weird.

"I know, check these out," he said, sitting up and flexing his biceps. He was right; he had some excellent muscle there, something I was working towards. "I play a lot of football, and I am also on the rugby team at school."

"Looks good," I said, not really knowing how to react once again.

"So, are you going to take those jeans off or scared I might laugh at your junk?"

"My what?"

"Your tackle, your dick, your meat and two veg etc."

"Oh... erm, well, I guess."

"Man, you are insane. Just get them off. I don't care what you have down there; after all, we both have the same equipment, right?"

"Yeah, I suppose."

I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but it seemed to give me the courage I needed to take the plunge, so I undid the button on my jeans and slid them off.

"Hmm, I wasn't expecting such hairy legs; you seem pretty smooth up top."

"You seem to be paying attention to my body a lot," I said, feeling irritated now.

"Meh, just comparing, that's all, you know since we are the same age. I have more hair here, see?" He said, rubbing his treasure trail with his fingers. Something about that seemed mildly erotic. "But your legs are much hairier than mine. I can see that straight away."

"Right," I responded, standing up to pull off my jeans completely.

I quickly got into bed, encouraged by Steven's analysis of me. Fortunately, it didn't look like he’d noticed. He was still busy bigging himself up and starting talking about this girl he was seeing.

I was pretending to listen.

"Don't talk much, do ya?" Steven said, noticing I hadn't responded to his vanity topics.

"Erm, well, you were talking, and I was listening."

A dose of courage raced to my brain. I decided to take full advantage of the gift. "I do have one question for you."

"I'm listening."

"Why do you hate me so much?"

Steven bust out into laughter. "Do you really need to ask that?"

"Well, I don't understand. Just when I think you are about to be nice, you turn on me again... I mean, what have I done to you?"

I kept my eyes locked on Steven as he fought for an answer to my question. He looked as if he was lost for words as he played with his earlobe.

"How would you feel if your parents announced a stranger wasn't only going to be coming to live with you, but you had to share your room with them as well? Not only that, a stranger that has suicidal tendencies and could flip out at any moment and kill you while you sleep." He reeled off, eyes wide. I felt suddenly angry at his impression of me.

I felt a rage burn up inside, offended by the latter parts of his comment!

"You know nothing about me; you haven't got a clue what I have been through." I hissed. "What's more, you haven't even bothered to find out. You wanna know why I have issues? Try watching the man you thought was your father blow your mother's brains out, with the blood from her lifeless body spraying over you and up the wall. Try then finding out that not only is your mother now dead, but the man you thought was your father never was. Try accepting the fact that now you may not have any parents. Try dealing with being isolated day after day in a children's home with only one friend and no one that really understands you. Try growing up in a world where life is going past, and you have no clue what is going on outside of the four walls you live in. Try dealing with the condition that you wish every day would go away, a condition that makes you mentally and physically disabled. A condition that drains you and takes away your soul. Try growing up knowing that you may be homeless with no friends, no family, no job, no money, and a world you know nothing about when you hit eighteen. If you wanna hate me, Steven, that's fine, but at least understand why I am this way and have a decent reason why you have to hate."

With that, I buried my head in my hands and burst into tears. It took a lot to remember all that stuff and a lot more to focus my mind on it. Some things in my rant had already happened, but the things that scared me the most are the ones that could have happened.

"Hey man... ah shit, don't cry. Look, I was just angry myself. But, yeah, you're right, I ain't never been told that stuff... well, most of that stuff anyway."

"Some people have problems, Steven," I said, looking up and wiping my watery eyes with a pillow.

"My dad died too, but he was a prick."

"I know, that's why I can relate to you. I just wish you could go a little easier on me. I know my being here has been a lot to deal with. Hell, Steven, I even thought about staying where I was because I didn't want to upset you."

"Really? You would have stayed at your kid prison for me?"

"It's a children's home, Steven, and yes, I seriously thought about it because I knew you were not happy about me coming. The last thing I wanted to do was cause problems. In fact, I will tell Max tomorrow that I am going back to Greenstone. This is not going to work out, I can see you and I are not compatible living under the same roof."

Steven just stared at me, a mixture of shock and anger on his face, with mine a mix of sadness and determination.

But he had won!

"Look, uh, Jensen, I..."

"Don't bother Steven, I'm going to sleep," I cut in, slamming my head down on the pillow and heaving a sigh. Steven turned off the lamp and slowly turned over, leaving just a half-moon to shine enough light for me to see his act.


After my outburst at Steven we didn't talk for some time. While he lay in his bed, I hoped that he would realise a few things before drifting back off to sleep, but I couldn't be sure he even cared that much. Me? Well, I didn't get much sleep that night, the mix of being in a strange environment to having the thoughts of what was said between Steven and me swirling around in my mind.

As for the sleep I did get, it was disturbed by the dulcet tones of Susan outside the door announcing breakfast was ready. I looked over at the window in the room and could see the sun trying to beam its light through the upward-pointing blinds. Steven was still sound asleep, probably immune to the familiar sound of his mother's voice. For me, it was an alien sound, not all that unpleasant, but a reminder that I wasn't in my usual surroundings.

I got up and swung my legs out of bed and hung them over the side before rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. I sat there for a moment and reflected on what I had said to Steven about leaving and going back to Greenstone. I meant it in a totally selfish way, not even thinking of how Max and Susan's feelings would be affected. After all, they had invited me into their home to live, and really, it was only Steven who was causing me issues.

I had a choice, really, I could either stand my ground and say I wanted to go back, or I could persevere for a little longer with Steven. Of course, the latter choice felt better now that I had had time to think about it... And had slept a few hours. After all, it had only been the first night, and when I looked back at how I thought that first night was going to go? Well, was it so bad in the grand scheme of things?

Maybe it was what we needed.

"Yoo-hoo, are you up, little man?" Susan called from outside the door before knocking and presenting herself in the room.

"Yeah, sorry, I was just waking up."

"Ah, no worries, honey, I just didn't want your cereal to get soggy. As you can see, our resident zombie here could sleep through an earthquake," she commented, glancing over at Steven. I managed a smile, feeling it was probably best not to indicate there had been an altercation last night between the two of us.

"I'll be down in a minute, just need to get some clothes on."

"Sure thing, Button, you come down and fill that belly up. I just need to put some washing on the line. See you soon." She said, bouncing out of our room like a woman on a mission.

How did someone have so much energy so early in the morning? I thought.

Downstairs I found my soggy bowl of cornflakes on the kitchen table. Susan had the back door flung open wide, letting in a relatively fresh breeze. I could see her through the window hanging some laundry, expertly shaking out the creases on some of the clothes before pegging them in place.

As I sat there spooning the food into my mouth and watching her, I was amazed at how normal this all felt. It was like I had been used to this routine forever, even though it was my first morning in a real family home.

A humming sound seemed to get nearer, and moments later, Susan entered the kitchen, empty basket in hand. "Ooooh, there you are, so, how is it?"

"The breakfast? Yeah, it's fine. Thank you for making it for me." I replied with a full mouth.

"Oh, you're welcome Button, we have to make sure you don't go hungry, don't we?"

"I guess... so where is Max?"

"Oh, he left for work about an hour ago. The early bird catches the worm as they say," she declared, placing the basket in some kind of utility room.

"What time does he usually get home?" I asked, becoming nervous that I was actually alone with two people I didn't feel I knew very well yet, and one that quite possibly hated me.

"Hmm, varies really, sometimes five, sometimes six," she replied, shrugging. "But guess what?"


"I was sorting through your clothes from Greenstone this morning, and I think you and I need to go on a little shopping trip."

"Shopping trip?" I asked, raising a brow.

"Clothes, Jensen, you need more clothes... and I see you only have two pairs of shoes. How would you like some new sneakers?"

"But... but don't all these things cost money?"

Susan laughed as if I had said something crazy. "Well of course they do, Jensen, but needs are needs. So don’t worry, we won't need to sell the house, little man. I just want to spoil you a little."

"Well, thank you very much, Susan, but really, you don't have to."

"Nonsense," she replied, not seeming to take no for an answer. I felt she was about to say something else to me, but her attention was disturbed. I watched as she glanced into the hallway before a sleepy-looking Steven came padding into the kitchen wearing just a pair of boxer shorts.

"Morning Stevie, honey, would you like some breakfast?" Susan asked as he plonked himself down at the table and let his head fall into his arms.

"Still here then?" He asked, not looking up. I gathered his question was aimed at me.

"Now Stevie, you play nice, Jensen is not going anywhere, and you need to get used to that."

"Toast." That was all he said, without further reference to his earlier comment.

"We say please in this house, young man...and get your hand out of your boxers, honestly, boys! Now go and put some clothes on. I’m sure Jensen doesn't want to see you wandering around the house half-naked!

Oh, I dunno, I thought.

"I'm not going to start changing the way I do things because he is here," he responded, looking up at his mum. Susan just rolled her eyes while my eyes just enjoyed the view.

"I'll put some bread down for you, and then I need to go and wash my hair. I’m sure you are capable of spreading some butter on that toast, yes?" she asked, her sarcasm making me snigger. Susan got some bread from the cupboard and placed it down in the toaster before disappearing out of the kitchen and up the stairs, leaving us alone.


Steven sat there staring at me, which was somewhat alarming. I didn't know what he planned to do when concluding his stair... hit me perhaps, spit at me? But whatever, I didn't have to wait long to find out, and surprisingly, it felt like one step forward... after our two steps back the previous night.

"Let's just get this straight, I don't do apologies, and I don't think I have done anything wrong here."

"I can feel a but coming," I said, mildly amused at his fidgeting posture.

"So anyway, I feel a little bad about what I said, you know, before hearing what you had been through."

"Apology accepted."

"I didn't apologise. I just said I felt a little bad, don't think I've gone soft or anything."

Finally, I felt like I had the upper hand. It was fun watching him get those words out. I knew it would be excruciatingly painful for him to do, but to watch him squirm was as good as having ten apologies from him.

"Well, thank you, Stev-"

"And... and I don't hate you, OK?" he said, interrupting me. The speed at which he said that told me that part was the hardest for him.

I smiled before getting up and walking over to the toaster. I pulled the popped up hot toast from the machine and took a knife in my hand that was sitting on the side. Steven watched, fascinated, as I slid the knife over the butter, collecting a knob, before buttering both slices of bread. Then, finding a clean plate in the dishwasher, I placed the two bits on it and put the plate in front of him before sitting back down. Steven just sat there with his jaw on the table as I finished up the rest of my cereal that was now utterly mush.

"You better eat that before it gets cold," I said softly and robotically, not looking up at him. Steven slowly took a piece of toast in his mouth and crunched down on it, never taking his eyes off of me.

"Nice?" I asked, getting up and placing my empty bowl in the sink.

"Yeah," was all Steven responded with.

"Good," I said before walking out of the kitchen and heading upstairs. I knew his eyes would follow me, probably in astonishment at my actions.

Yes, Steven, I am a nice guy! I said in my head, rolling my eyes.




I had just come in from seeing the chickens when I heard Steven mutter something to Susan before walking down the hallway and out of the door. Apparently, he was going out to meet his friends, something that made me feel strangely envious of him. But as soon as my mind could start thinking about how I didn't have any, Susan announced that we would be going out to the mall.

"Ready for a little retail therapy, Jensen?" She said, taking her car keys from the hook by the fridge. "Go and put some shoes on, and we'll head out." I did as I was told, running up the stairs and finding a pair of unbranded sneakers under my bed.

"You might want to take a jacket. It feels pretty fresh out there," she called from the bottom of the stairs. So, again, I did as I was told and unhooked my hooded grey coat from the back of our bedroom door. Then, pulling it on, I wandered back down the stairs and met her at the bottom.

"Will it be crowded?" I asked.

"Let’s see, it's just gone ten... Erm, No, I don't think it will be that bad. Why?"

"Just never been in a place with lots of people. The thought of it makes me jittery."

"Just stay close to me, Jensen, we'll have a nice time, I promise, and hey, we could even get some lunch out; what do you say to McDonalds?"

My eyes lit up. "WOW... really?"

"Yeah, really," she replied, giggling. "Aww, you are so adorable when you get excited. Come on, let's go. I wanna show you how to shop!"

We exited the house, and Susan closed the front door. There were two cars on the driveway, a black one with the letters BMW on the back and a red one which had four looping rings. I played a little game in my head, guessing what one was Susan's. Anyway, I happened to be wrong as she clicked something on her key and the red car started flashing.

"Are you ok getting in, Jensen? Your dad hasn't left much room. He never does when he parks next to my car."

"It's a bit of a squeeze, but I think I can get in," I replied, edging myself sideways down between the two cars. Then, I carefully opened the door and slid in before putting my seat belt on.

"This is a really nice car Susan," I remarked, looking around at all the little buttons and lights."

"Yeah, it is, but the Bank Manager owns it, at least for a while anyway."

"Does he mind you using it?" I asked. Susan flung herself forward in a fit of laughter.

"Oh, Jensen, you are quite the comedian." She said through her loud cackle. I remained serious, not really seeing what the hell was so funny.


Susan started the engine and reversed out of the driveway onto the road. She moved the stick that sat between us to a specific position, and the car began to move forward.

"That looks different to Max's van," I commented, wondering why she never touched the stick again.

"Yes, Max's van is a manual gearbox Jensen. I’m lazy you see. This is called an automatic," she said, tapping her hand on the stick.

"I think I understand."

I enjoyed the scenery again as Susan cruised along the roads, each seeming to get busier as we drove into more dense areas.

"If you look over to your left, that's the big Odeon cinema... your father mentioned you wanted to go there, right?"

"Yeah, That would be swell,"

"Any ideas what you want to see?" she asked, concentrating on the road.

"I dunno, anything really, I just wanna be able to say I have been."

We pulled up at a red light, and Susan pulled a lever up behind the gear stick. I'd seen Max do this and figured out it was some kind of break.

"So, how are things going with Steven," Susan asked, waiting patiently at the lights.

"A little better, I think... I dunno. Maybe I just need to explain a few things. I can see why he is upset at me being there. It can't be nice for him.

"Steven has had a rough life, just like you, Jensen. You both have so much in common. I wish you could both see. I am not defending him because he has absolutely no right to be nasty to you, but I think he is really just as scared as you are through the tough exterior he acts out. I just think he is scared of losing Max like he did his own father."

"But, I'm not gonna take Max away from him, am I." It was more a statement than a question.

"Well, I know that, and so do you, but Steven might need some time to realise it. I give you full marks for putting up with him, and as I said, I am not excusing what he has said to you, but I wanted to tell you so at least you know there may be a reason for his hostile behaviour.

"So it's not aimed at me, is that what you are saying?"

"I'm saying that I wouldn't take it to heart. I think he is just working through some emotions. It's clear he sees you as a threat, and his natural defence is to attack you, but I think he also realises that you are not the problem... he is! You are doing everything right, Jensen, and you need to keep on doing that. Don't change anything about yourself; you are a wonderful human being. Just give Steven time to see you are not out to fight for Max's attention, and I promise you he will come round. I know my son like the back of my hand."

It was a huge relief to hear Susan explain things like that. What she said totally made sense. I guess Steven had been through a milder experience than what I had, and maybe I needed to think about how I would feel when a person or situation threatened to take away what I loved.

As we continued chatting, Susan took a right turn into a side road and headed up a ramp into a dimly lit parking lot. She continued to drive around looking for a space before deciding to go up another level.

"Hmm, it looks busy today," she remarked, making me feel nervous.

"How many floors does this place have?"

"The parking lot? About nine, I think. But I don't think we'll have to go that high... look, there's a space over there," she pointed. She pulled up alongside it and reversed in before switching off the engine.

"All set?" she asked, pulling the key from the slot by the steering wheel.

"I guess... so what are we doing first?"

"Well, there is a really trendy shop where I take Steven to get his clothes. They have all branded stuff that should last you a while until you grow out of them. So I think we'll get you a few pairs of jeans, some shirts, and a couple of jumpers... oh, and do you need underwear?"

"Well, I think-"

"We'll get some anyway," she cut me off. "And then we'll go to the sports shop and buy you a nice pair of sneakers. How does that sound?"

"Susan, you really don't have to do-"

"You said that," she added. "But I want to. If Steven can have it, I want you to as well."

She led me over to an elevator and pressed the button. Moments later, I heard a ding, and the doors opened. We both got in, and she pressed a button that said G. I assumed this was for ground, and the lift started to descend.

"I really should have put some makeup on. I look a wreck," Susan remarked, looking in the mirror on the elevator wall.

"I think you look nice," I declared, gaining me a broad smile from her.

"Just like your dad," she added as the doors opened.

What became apparent straight away was that this place was indeed busy. The large open forecourt had people crisscrossing about it. Shops lined either side selling lots of different things. Before stepping out of the lift, I had to close my eyes for a moment and summon some mental energy. I was starting to tremble, something that Susan had obviously noticed.

"Hmm, maybe this was a bad idea," she said, putting her hand round my waist."

"No... no, just give me a minute. This is all just... well, I haven't been around this many people before. I’ll be ok in a sec."

Susan pulled me in close to her, and I squeezed my eyes tighter shut. I felt like I was going into a mild shock as the familiar lightheadedness started to plague me. Sweat had begun to form on my hands until it felt like I could have wrung them out. My knees were like jelly.

"Come on, let's go and sit down for a bit; you look like you are going to fall over," Susan offered, leading me over to a vacant bench.

"Grrr, this is so frustrating. Why can't I just be normal?" I spat, getting angry with myself.

"In time, Jensen, in time. Once Doctor Burrows has taken a look at your records in detail, I'm sure there will be something he can do. Your dad seems very confident in that.

"I hope so," I replied, desperately trying to balance myself.

"Did you take your existing meds this morning?"

"Yes, after breakfast, but I think the dosage is all wrong. I am starting to feel bad more frequently lately, and it’s horrible."

"Well, we can sit here for as long as you like, we have all day, and I want you to enjoy it as much as possible, so take your time."

"This is just so embarrassing."

"Nonsense," Susan replied. "Everyone has problems, Jensen, and some of those problems are not always visible to the eye. Look at that woman over there. She could be suffering too. Just because we can't see it doesn't mean it's not there, right?"

"I'm glad you understand, Susan. Thank you."

"I'm not sure I can credit myself with understanding what you feel, Jensen, but I can sympathise wholeheartedly, and I am really sorry you have to endure these horrible sensations. What I can promise you, though, is that Max and I are going to be there for you every step of the way until you no longer feel them."

She gave me a kiss on the head, and we sat there a little longer until finally, I started to feel the passing of the shitstorm that was my fucked up brain.

"Ooookey," I said, sighing, "I think I am ready."

"You sure, honey, remember there is no rush."

"If I don't get up now, I never will."

"Ok then, soldier, let's go."

Susan led me over to the first shop she intended us to visit. Loud music pumped from the ceiling, and all the clothes looked really modern as they hung from the rails. Susan took me over to a large square display shelf which was like a step pyramid with jeans on every shelf. There were black, red, blue, navy and cream coloured ones dotted about in random places.

"Hmm, not sure which ones I should pick," I said in awe of the choice.

"Well, first Jensen, you need to pick the colour, then, you need to pick a fit."

"A fit?"

"Yeah, like hipsters, bootleg, slim fit, straight cut etc."

"Wow, I don't even know what all those mean."

"Well, as long as you don't pick those ones that hang halfway down your ass," she said, bursting into laughter. "I hate it when Steven wears those."

"Why would he wear jeans that don't cover his bum? Surely that's just indecent."

"It's also the fashion, I'm afraid Jensen, but thankfully I think it is dying out now, so you can go for something less revealing. But, I know, why don't you pick a colour and take a few different styles and try some on... what size waist are you?"

"Thirty, I think."

"Hmm, yes, Steven is a thirty-two, and you look a little slimmer... here, these are all thirty waists. Take a few from this shelf and come get me when you have chosen. I'm just going to get some socks for your dad."

I grabbed hold of Susan's arm as she went to leave, probably applying a little too much force.

"OUCH!! What's wrong?" she quickly said. I let go immediately, and she began rubbing her arm.

"Fuck, I'm sorry... shit, I'm sorry for saying fuck... oh dammit, I just... look, sorry for swearing and... fuck did I hurt you. Oh my god, I said it again! Are you hurt? Did I hurt you?"

Susan just looked at me before a grin started to appear on her face. Then, after a few seconds, she burst into hysterics. "Wow, I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't laugh... it’s fine, Jensen, you just caught me with your nail... what on earth is wrong anyway?"

I blew air through my lips. "I just didn't want you to leave me on my own, and now I look like some deranged cretin. Sorry, I grabbed you so hard. I just panicked."

"Think nothing of it, sweetheart, but you have quite a grip there. Go... I will wait outside the dressing room for you."

She took me over towards three little booths with the jeans I had selected, and I pulled back the curtain on one of them, entering. I took off my jeans and started to try on the ones I had picked, looking at myself in the mirror at various angles.

After I had tried on all five pairs, I settled on the slim fit ones that hugged my legs and appeared out from the cubicle.

"What do you think?" I asked, turning in a circle.

"Very nice, they fit you well. So are these the ones you want?"

"Yeah, but Susan, these are thirty pounds each."

Susan Laughed. "Your dad wears Levi's, which are sixty, I really wouldn't worry. Come on, we'll pick up a couple more pairs and then get you some shirts.




We had now been at the mall for a little over three hours. Susan and I were now fully laden with bags of all sizes, and I could not believe how much money she had spent on me. This was way more than I expected and more than she had initially said she would buy. This time though, I didn't say anything, feeling it might appear that I was being ungrateful.

We had stopped for lunch some time ago and had McDonalds. I was like a small kid in a sweet shop, so excited that I was going to try something I had always dreamed of. Susan suggested I try the Big Mac meal as it was McDonald's most popular choice. It was a brilliant choice, and I thoroughly enjoyed it eating every morsel. The strawberry milkshake was heaven and something quite unique in the taste department. The whole experience was incredible and lived up to my own inner hype I had given it.

I was no longer a McDonald's virgin.

The bags were now starting to get cumbersome, and Susan suggested we finish up and head back to the car. Our last stop had been the sports shop, where I was given free rein to choose my new sneakers. Susan gave me a hundred-pound budget, so I opted for a pair of Nike running shoes costing sixty pounds and the rest I spent on some Adidas neon plimsolls costing thirty-five.

Over the moon with my purchases, we got back in the lift and headed towards the car, waiting for us with flashing lights as we approached. We tossed all the bags in the boot (or trunk for you Americans) and got back in the car. Despite my shaky start to the maiden mall visit, I had had a wicked day and couldn't wait to tell Max all about it. Susan and I had also bonded well, and it had been nice to get to know her a little better. She was really genuine and down to earth... a little crazy, but still, nothing on me, I guess.

Man, what a day!

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. If you did spot any errors I do apologise. Please feel free to drop me an email at jamesmatthewsstories@gmail.com and i'll zap them. Many thanks :)


Copyright © 2021 James Matthews; 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. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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An insightful chapter! I loved the bond that Jensen developed with Susan and I think he and Steven will eventually bond.

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Excellent content showing Puppy's insecurities.  Susan is going to learn how to help him overcome them! 

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