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    Parker Owens
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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.

A to Z - 21. Fireworks

Fireworks.

Warnings for violence and assault. Read cautiously if this is a problem for you.

Questions and issues raised in this chapter or any other chapter can be discussed at the A to Z story thread here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

July Fourth. Independence Day. That means parades, celebrations, fireworks. It means cookouts and parties and bonfires. My friends noticed that I'd been a freaking hermit since school got out. They hounded me with texts and calls all through the month of June. Didn't I want to go out on a day trip to the beach with everyone? Didn't I want to go to a friend's graduation party? Didn't I want to double date to the movies? No, no, and no. I'd be expected to pair off. To have a girl. To pretend.

An invite to a swim club barbeque sat on my phone. Another from my best friends came the day before. Didn't want to go to either one, but I had to, or explaining things could get complicated. And who needs complications?

I tried to keep my routine simple. First, get to the town pool early for swim club practice; swim hard and try to forget what my gut is telling me about the speedo-clad boy in the other lane. Teach learn-to-swim classes in the morning. It's easy to forget the questions your mind asks your groin when there are two dozen screaming third graders in the pool with you. Lifeguard at open swim after lunch. Try not to stare at the cute boys. People can tell when I'm staring, even from behind my Ray-Bans. Lifeguards have laser vision.

Usually, it's possible to survive a twenty minute shift in the Lifeguard chair without getting a raging hard-on. After the twenty minutes, we're supposed to rotate off; then twenty minutes in another chair; three shifts, and we take a mandatory break in the shade of the staff room.

Once or twice, I got caught staring at a hot, wet swimmer boy for longer than I should have. Or maybe the strange looks I was getting were a coincidence.

My parents were going to some party thrown by one of my dad's work friends. I thought I'd probably go to my best friend's cookout; there would be fewer people there. Fewer eyes to hide from, fewer excuses to make. My best friend's little sisters would flirt – they noticed boys as much as I did - but that could be handled. They're almost like family, and it could all be a joke. But even if the questions managed to go unspoken, they would still be there: why haven't I got a girlfriend this summer? Who should I get hooked up with? The matchmaking game would begin, and it wouldn't be any fun.

I didn't want a girl. But I hated feeling so different, and so alone, too. Why couldn't the feelings just go away and let me be normal?

 

 

July 10

How long has it been? A week since I’ve written? A week since Eustace Whitley put $130 in my hand and told me to save every penny? Almost a week since my big Fourth of July Adventure?

Ugh. Not a good story. So here’s how that went.

Toby picked me up after a pretty long day. Morning and evening chores, and I wound up helping Ambrose and the boys cut brush and firewood on the south woodlot. Eustace and Cheryl got to work in the garden out back of the house.

When Toby appeared at the end of work, I grabbed my pack which I had kept hanging near the barn door and waved farewell. The Whitleys were going to have a family cookout and then go see fireworks in the village of Akron, a place I had yet to see.

For me, it was off to the bright lights and big city – New Salem.

I watched Toby drive. He looked clean and relaxed – exactly the opposite of the way I felt. I remembered the turns as we drove and took care to look for landmarks. We motored along for a while. Toby tried to make small talk, but I was too anxious to say much more than a word or two. Eventually, he put on some music, some guy going on about getting drunk and losing his girl. Or something.

I was nervous as hell. I fidgeted in my seat.

As we got closer to New Salem, Toby explained the plan over the music.

“The street party on Main gets started around seven-thirty. There will be a band and dancing, and food – you hungry Eric?”

Yes. Definitely. I was hungry. Starving. One meal a day just wasn’t cutting it.

I nodded.

“As soon as you shower, we can get down there and meet up with people.”

“OK.”

“I can’t wait for you to meet my girlfriend, Candace,” he said, enthusiastically – and suddenly the day seemed to go dim.

I’d been crushing on Toby for only a few days, but it had seemed like forever. Maybe, I had hoped – maybe, just maybe, he’d be a guy like me – you know, gay. Someone I could – oh hell, I was beginning to develop a real lust after him. Let’s face it, I woke up with a serious hard-on thinking about him that morning.

Shit. Worse than that, I was beginning to think I could trust Toby, maybe exchange more than a few words with him. Now, I’d have to be sure to avoid him, wear a mask, like I did with everyone. I can't risk him knowing. That’s the real trouble with living the way I do. Everything I am is really a lie in the end.

I realized Toby was still talking.

“…and there’s gonna be a bunch of people for you to get to know there.”

Where was that?

Confused, I realized we were pulling into a driveway at a decent looking house. Toby drove all the way to the back and parked beside a two-story garage.

“Home, sweet home,” he called out, shutting off the engine.

He looked over at me.

“Hey, you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I got out. “Just tired.”

Tired. Tired of all the hiding. Of being scared. Why couldn’t I just be normal?

Later, in Toby’s cramped bathroom in the apartment over the garage, I vowed that for tonight, I would just try to be normal. Meet people, talk and be social. Maybe I couldn’t have a normal life, but I could try for a normal evening.

Maybe I’d make a friend. Maybe I’d try dancing. Maybe I’d meet a girl who would change my mind about the whole gay thing. Maybe I’d flap my arms and fly to the moon.

I sighed as I stepped out of the shower.

I put on my cleanest clothes – new jeans and my soft blue work shirt, washed as clean as I could make it in the bucket on Sunday - and shouldered my pack.

“Ready to head out?” Toby asked as he saw me emerge.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“You can leave your pack here, if you want.”

“Naw, I think I’ll keep it with me.”

He shook his head but led the way down the stairs and out the door. We walked downtown, instead of driving. Without thinking, I fell into a long, loping stride, the kind I used when getting into a groove on the open highway.

“Hey, man, I thought you said you were tired,” complained Toby as he kept up.

“Oh, sorry,” I said unhappily. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Jeez, I thought you were trying to ditch me or something.”

“No, Toby. I wouldn’t do that.”

And I spoke the truth. Though I was really, really disappointed, I wouldn’t have ditched Toby for anything.

As we approached the small downtown area, loud music seemed to bounce off the buildings. I spied a gas and convenience store on the corner that Eustace and I had passed the other day. We made our way over toward the feed store where Toby worked. I recognized the place. The music was louder here, coming from down the street. In the parking lot, someone had set up a grill, and there was food sizzling away.

Suddenly, I realized I was very hungry. The smell was going to drive me crazy.

I didn’t have time to think about that.

Toby started introducing me to his friends there, people he worked with, people he knew. I’m shit with names, but they seemed like decent people. And then Toby led me over to where a big, silver Chevy pickup was parked. A girl dressed in a red checked shirt, with long, blond hair, and a sunny smile to match Toby’s slid off the tailgate. They kissed.

“Eric, this is Candace, my girlfriend,” he said, looking very pleased to have his arm wrapped around her waist.

“Hi,” I said, embarrassed to be put on the spot.

“Hey,” she replied, cheerfully, “so you’re the kid who worked poor old Toby into the dirt on Saturday.”

I looked back at her, surprised. “Uh, sorry about that.”

My reply set her off in a gale of laughter.

“He was so tired Saturday, he forgot to call me,” she went on, smiling. “But I forgave him.”

I just smiled back at her and nodded.

“Well, I’m real glad to meet you, Eric. But if he goes back to that farm again, you gotta leave something more of him for me next time.”

“OK, I will,” I said.

I started getting uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to making small talk. I didn’t know what to say to Toby’s girl – or to anyone else for that matter. And I surely didn’t want to start saying anything that would get me into a round of questions and lies. I looked around.

“Hungry?” she asked, breaking into my silence.

I nodded.

“Toby, haven’t you fed your friend yet? Honestly?”

She sounded like he’d forgotten to put on his pants or something embarrassing. On the other hand, her words had a nice ring to them. Toby’s friend. I don’t think I’ve been anyone’s friend before.

Toby hurried to make amends and made sure I had a burger in my hands in no time flat. When I looked around, I found bottled water on ice in a big cooler near the grill. There was beer, too, but I didn't want to touch any of that.

Instead of following Toby around like a puppy, I found a quiet step on the loading platform where I could sit and eat. From there, it was easy to watch. The burger in my hands didn’t last long, but I nursed my water for a while.

Toby’s friends were an older crowd. I noticed many had bottles of beer in their hands, as they stood around talking and laughing. Toby and Candace moved easily from group to group, making jokes and greeting everyone with an easy smile. They looked like the perfect couple, arms looped around each other’s waists.

There were other girls there, too, some obviously attached, some not. Anyhow, they all seemed way too old for a kid my age. That was OK by me. I didn’t mind not having to make conversation, or to duck and weave my way through the banter that seemed to come easily to everyone else.

Hell. I was supposed to be normal tonight, and here I was, sitting off by myself again. I might as well have been back in the cafeteria at Carlsberg High School. One big difference, though. I was hungry and could do something about it.

I sidled over to the grill again, where an older man presided.

“Sir?” I tried to get his attention.

He looked my way.

“You mind if I get another burger?”

He looked at me funny.

“Did you just call me ‘sir’?”

“Yessir,” I nodded.

He grinned widely.

“Listen – I’m Richard. That’s what people call me. I’m not old enough to be a ‘sir’ yet.”

Richard didn’t seem angry. In fact, he handed me a burger on a paper plate.

“Toby introduced you, but I don’t remember your name again,” he went on.

“It’s Eric.”

“Well, Eric, how do you know Toby?”

We talked easily for a little while. Turned out he knows Eustace Whitley, and so we could talk about sheep and the farm for a bit without me having to twist anything around. Even better, Richard asked if I would take over the grill for a few minutes while he used the bathroom. That gave me something to do – and I can cook, if nothing else.

More people arrived, and the parking lot in front of the feed store got crowded with people. I discovered more burgers and hot dogs in a cooler behind me, so I got busy grilling for a while. Eventually, Richard returned, beer in hand and a big western hat perched back on his head.

“Hey, Eric, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to abandon you to the grill all night,” he said apologetically. He had to speak up, because the noise of the street music and the gathering was growing.

He took the tongs and spatula from my hands and gestured.

“Go on, catch up with Toby and Candace. I think they were headed down the street to the dancing.”

I nodded, even though I had no interest in dancing. If nothing else, I knew I needed to stay somewhere near Toby, as he was my ride back to the farm.

The late sun shone almost orange off the brick buildings of downtown New Salem, and the day was still plenty warm. Music throbbed off the walls of the narrow street, as I made my way after Candace and Toby. I didn’t see them, but I just went the direction Richard had pointed.

They had a stand set up on the main drag near where the street came out. It seemed deserted, but a truck parked next to it had a radio station’s logo painted on it. This was probably the source of the music. Perhaps there would be a band later. A surprisingly large number of people were out dancing in the middle of the street, or just hanging out, talking to friends.

It was a wider mix of ages out here – older folks dancing carefully or talking in small groups, kids racing around, chasing each other, teens like me hanging out in threes and fours, or paired off in couples trying out their moves to the music. I looked for Toby and Candace, but I couldn’t see them. The street was mostly in shadow, though there was plenty of light. I figured I’d see them soon enough.

I watched an older couple, maybe Eustace’s age, move by, swinging to the lively music. Not long after, I saw Candace and Toby emerge from the crowd, headed in my direction. They’d found me. I noticed that they had another girl in tow, a brunette in a western hat like Richard’s. She was a good deal shorter than me, her face was flushed, and her green eyes seemed to twinkle.

Normal. Time to be normal.

“Hey, there you are, Eric,” panted Toby.

He pointed to me. “Madeline, this is my friend, Eric,” he said by way of introduction. “Madeline’s a friend of Candace’s sister,” he said, clarifying.

The music changed, and Toby exchanged a look with Candace.

“We’re gonna go and dance,” Toby called out as they practically ran back onto the street and into the crowd.

“Hi,” I offered my hand cautiously.

“Nice meeting you,” Madeline said, giving me a frank looking over.

I shuffled nervously under her inspection.

“About how old are you, anyhow?”

“Sixteen,” I replied, defensively.

She shook her head.

“Look, you don’t have to hang out with me,” I said. “I can fend for myself.”

“I bet you can,” she said. “But Candace said you looked like you needed a friend, and besides, you’re kinda cute,” she finished, smiling at me.

Cute. Well, there’s a word never used in my direction.

“Thanks. And you’re, um, cute, too, I guess.”

“You guess!” she cried. She tried to swat me with her hat, and I flinched. I couldn’t help it. I’m just too used to being hit not to do that.

“Yeah,” she laughed, “you watch out for my big, bad hat.”

I tried to laugh, too, but it was kind of forced.

“Come on, ditch that pack and come dance with me,” she demanded.

I felt torn between trying to do what she wanted, and leaving my pack behind. It contained just about everything I owned in it. She sensed my hesitation.

“Don’t worry,” she laughed, “it’ll be fine if you just drop it there. “Unless you got something real valuable in there?”

I realized that nothing I possessed was worth anything at all. Nobody would care about the ratty old pack on my back. Except me. Daring very greatly, I dropped it on the sparse grass near a lamp-post. Madeline grabbed my hand and pulled me into the crowd.

It struck me then that I really don’t know the first thing about dancing. Too late.

I tried to imitate, the smooth, sinuous movements Madeline made in time to the music. The best I could manage was an awkward kind of shuffle. When she looked up at me, she brought her hand to her mouth to keep from laughing too hard.

“Shit, kid, you need some serious dancing lessons,” she yelled over the music.

I shrugged. What else could I do?

“Sorry,” I shouted back, “I’m not very good at this.”

She stepped closer and looked up at me. I could feel the heat of her body inches from mine. She put her hands on my hips.

“Just relax, Eric,” I heard her say. “Move with it.”

She swayed her hips back and forth. I tried to relax. Tried to move with her, move with the music like she said. Gradually, I began to loosen up a little.

“That’s it, cutie,” she said, slipping her hands around my waist and pulling us closer, “you’re getting it.”

So much for loosening up. I’d never been interested in girls and now here I was, putting my arms around Madeline’s shoulders. She squashed up against me warmly, and we swayed to the music some more until I relaxed a little.

I was beginning to get used to it all when the music changed to something faster. She let me go and started dancing on her own. She swiveled her hips and thrust her pelvis, and swung her arms back and forth. I tried to imitate her, but it didn’t feel right somehow. I doubt if anyone cared what I looked like, but it went against my grain to lose control or let go even for a second. Hiding means watching, always.

The light was fading and the streetlights came on. People began to take this as their cue to leave off dancing and head someplace else. It turned out this was part of a general movement to the high school ball field, where the fireworks would be set off. Madeline took me by the hand again and started to drag me along in the same direction.

“Whoa, hold up,” I said, disengaging my hand. “I need to get my pack.”

She waited impatiently while I retrieved it, but she waited, nonetheless. I guess that was a good thing. In a few minutes, she spotted someone she knew, and I got tugged over to where a group of her friends were standing. I got introduced, but you couldn’t get me to remember any of their names again.

I was just “Eric, a guy I met from Candace.”

One of the guys in the group, a redhead with a pinched kind of face, stared at me suspiciously, as if I was an enemy spy or something. I shifted uneasily. Then again, I’m always uneasy, even with just one stranger, so maybe I was just being paranoid.

Somewhere along the line someone produced a small bottle of clear liquid, and it got passed around. I knew it had to be alcohol, but my experience with drinking was zero. At home, drinking was for Dad only, and drinking meant beer. I’d tried Dad’s beer once when he was passed out in his chair, and it practically made me puke. When the bottle came around, Madeline took a deep swig, and handed it to me. This was all new to me, but everyone else seemed to think it completely normal. I wanted to be normal, so I drank.

Liquid fire ran down my throat.

I could have sputtered and spat it out, or I could have taken a huge gulp. I chose to gulp. And then cough. A lot.

Madeline patted my back, smirking. “Easy, cutie. Gotta share, right?”

There was general chatter, talk amongst friends, that I was pretty much left out of. The bottle got passed around some more. Madeline linked her arm through mine, which earned me another deep scowl from redhead.

We walked on towards the ball field with the rest of the crowd surging through the gates. Bright lights illuminated the playing field, and people spread themselves out all over the outfield with lively atmosphere of anticipation.

Our group sat down on the grass. Jokes flew and the chatter continued as we got comfortable. Madeline squirmed close to me. I figured I ought to lean into her shoulder; she snuggled closer. A tap on my other shoulder, and I found the bottle being passed to me again. I took another small swig. It got a little easier, with practice, but not better tasting. Madeline took it from me and took a long pull. I felt a pleasant, hazy feeling begin to blanket my brain.

Suddenly, the lights went out, and the first fireworks burst overhead in fiery rosettes onto the blackness. They were beautiful; I’d never seen anything like it. I stared at the vivid color splashed across the sky, hypnotized. And the noise – the percussive pop, the deep rolling boom as each new rocket flashed into brilliance – nothing else mattered. Purples, pinks, reds all dancing across the stars, accompanied by the drumbeat of their explosions. I watched, awestruck.

“Shit, ain’t you seen fireworks before?” Madeline spoke above the noise into my ear.

I realized I hadn’t been paying any attention to her.

“Not like this,” I nearly had to shout back.

She put her arm around my waist and spoke clearly and directly into my ear.

“Maybe we’ll have to have our own private fireworks later tonight, cutie.”

I shivered. Who wouldn’t want to spend a warm evening in the arms of a pretty girl like Madeline? That was what I was supposed to want, wasn’t it? Maybe I was just nervous. Yeah, that was it. Over the insistent noise and sensation of the display, I chanted to myself:

“Normal. Normal. Normal.”

All too soon, it was over in a tidal wave of color and sound. The lights came back on. Smoke drifted slowly across the field.

We rose.

The crowd began to break up, and our group looked about. I’d lost a little of that buzzy feeling in my head, which wasn’t really so bad.

“There’s a party at Toby’s,” Madeline called out, and everyone nodded.

Before long, I found myself walking arm in arm with Madeline and the rest of our posse into the back yard where Toby’s apartment was. The yard was lit with flickering torches and several strings of Christmas lights. Someone had put on some tunes. People were drinking from cans. Beer.

Toby and Candace waved from the back porch of the landlord’s house. We walked up. Madeline disengaged herself from my arm and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

She murmured, “I gotta go inside and find the ladies’, OK? Don’t wander off, now, cutie.”

I tried to smile over my nervousness.

“Hey, I thought we’d lost you,” Toby greeted me after she ducked inside the door.

I shook my head. “It worked out, I guess.”

“You guess!” laughed Candace.

I shrugged. I had begun to think Toby wanted to ditch me. Wouldn’t blame him.

“What you need, young Eric Anderson, is a beer,” Toby stated flatly.

“I’m OK,” I shook my head.

“There’s a cooler over there,” he pointed over to the open garage doors.

“Get something for yourself. And don’t worry about Maddie,” he added; “she’ll find you.”

I left him grinning on the porch step as I wandered across the lawn. I searched in the cooler, and picked out a tall can of something silver. I stood by the garage door and cracked it open. Following my earlier strategy, I gulped the contents down, hoping it wouldn’t taste as bad as Dad’s beer. Bad luck, it was just as awful as I remembered. Thinking to get it over with quickly, I guzzled the rest, and wiped my face. Ugh. Walking around the side of the garage, I stepped out of the light and took a second to deposit my pack in the back of Toby’s truck. My head was feeling foggy again.When I turned, I found myself looking into the pinched face of redhead, the guy who’d been making faces at me all night.

“What’s going on with you and Maddie?” he challenged angrily, blocking my way back to the party on the lawn.

“Nothing,” I protested, looking around for Toby. I had a bad feeling I was going to need to be rescued. “I just met her.”

“You expect me to believe that?” Redhead advanced a step, and I backed away, farther into the shadows.

He was pissed. And I could smell beer. Not a good combination. Dad’s combination. Suddenly, fear swept through me.

“We met at the street dancing…”

“It don’t matter where you met, asshole, it’s what have you been doing with her?”

He pushed me in the center of my chest, and I reeled back a few more steps. We were deep in the gloom now, a long way from the light. My brain was fuzzy, working slowly. I couldn’t think clearly, or I would have run immediately. Instead, I foolishly tried to tell the truth.

“We didn’t do anything!”

“You expect me to believe that? You’ve had your hands all over her all night!”

He advanced again, and this time, I felt the unwelcome sensation of a chain link fence at my shoulders as I tried to back away. No chance to run now. He stepped up close. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. Shit. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I let myself get trapped again. Where the hell was Toby?

“Whatever you think you’ve got, it’s OVER now,” Redhead grated fiercely. “She’s MINE.”

I felt sick, because I knew what was about to happen in the next instant, but I felt powerless to change it. Redhead brought his knee up into my groin, hard. As I doubled over in agony, he slugged me in jaw and down I went, scraping my face on something as I fell. I couldn’t dodge the inevitable sharp kicks to the midsection that followed. I had no breath.

One, two, three, and it was all over for me.

Except that it wasn’t. As I lay there gasping in pain, I tried feebly to cover up from the assault I thought was about to come. I became aware of a chuckle, a rustling sound, and then the feeling of something falling on me. Hot, wet, acrid. Urine. Redhead was pissing all over me. I couldn’t move for the throbbing under my ribs, and so he just took his time, hitting me from head to toe.

Even drunk, he couldn’t miss. I was an easy target.

When he was done, he kicked me again. He leaned over and spat savagely, “Don’t EVER fuck with my girl again.”

I stayed down for a long while. I’m not sure which was worse, the ache from the kicks and punches, the reek of piss, or the humiliation. I wanted to puke, to cry, to rage against it all. So now I’d been beaten up for being gay and for being straight. Of course, Dad used to beat on me for no reason at all.

It was my fault, of course. I trusted Toby. Well, and Toby trusted that I wasn’t as fucked up as I am. I was friendly. I thought that I could act normal, and then things would be OK. Well, normal things happened – normal for me, anyhow. I fucked up and got the shit kicked out of me again. This must be the cosmic plan for me.

The party went on merrily in the background. Nobody saw what happened in the deep shadows behind the garage. Eventually, I managed to move, to get to my knees. I didn’t want anyone to see me – or even worse, smell me. Crawling over to the truck, I braced myself against the bumper and staggered to my feet. God, it hurt, but I'd been beaten up worse. I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to take a beating.

I debated what to do. Run again, get out of town? Crawl back into the shadows behind the garage? In the end, I decided to go back to the one safe place I knew. Eustace's barn. I focused on one thought: get back to the barn and stay there.

Staying out of sight, I crept over to the truck bed and grabbed my pack. If I could sneak away without being seen, I could walk my way back to the farm, clean up and be on time for work.

So much for my big adventure.

I never did say goodnight – or thank you - to Toby. With Candace around, I didn’t think he’d be worried about me, though. I staggered back to the Whitley farm through the early morning hours, and got to the barn with about enough time to wash up under the cold hose. Unlike my adventures with Dad, at least there wouldn’t be much in the way of scars. I tried my best to soap up and rinse out my reeking clothes and to hose off my boots. At least I wouldn't have to deal with Ambrose the State Trooper – he and his family had gone home after the fireworks in Akron the night before.

Eustace Whitley found me changed into cleaner clothes and doing morning chores, as usual. I felt his gaze giving me the once-over. I never looked up. Finally, he spoke.

“Jesus, kid, what happened to you in the big city?”

I shrugged. “Nothing much. Fireworks.”

I couldn’t look him in the face.

“Hmphf. Fireworks, my eye. Looks like you raised a ruckus in town, to me.”

I shrugged again. I couldn’t discuss it with him, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to give him the full story. It was humiliating enough to have to remember it – to have had to dwell on it in the six hours it took to limp back. And to be dead tired and starting another long day – well, I didn’t have it in me to argue.

We worked silently for a time.

“Come on back to the house with me,” he ordered.

We put up our tools, and I trudged back up to the house, where Eustace made me take off my boots and sit down at the kitchen table.

“Look at me, Eric.”

I complied and saw a mixture of concern and annoyance in his face. He reached out and touched my right cheekbone.

“You should have put a bandage to that cut on your face,” he pointed out gently.

I hardly knew I had a cut. When had that happened? With the first punch, or when I fell down?

“I’m going to clean it out and put something on it, so set tight.”

He moved away. When he came back, he had a bottle of peroxide and a bandage. The peroxide stung fiercely, and I jerked back, but it served to wake me up, some.

“Sorry about that,” he said as I reacted to the sting.

I sat in silence as he covered the cut with something.

“Listen, young Eric,” he said more seriously, “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m gonna just come out with it. I don’t hold with fighting and boozing, you understand?”

I started to protest, but he held his hand up.

“I’m not saying you did, and I’m not saying you didn’t. But if you show up here looking like a wreck this morning, you can’t expect me to think differently. And not after the phone call I got from Toby Harris at the crack of dawn this morning asking if you’d shown up.”

I looked back at him in surprise.

“Young Toby is about worried sick over you. Said you disappeared on him last night.”

I looked down at my toes on the floor. Shame plus humiliation. Not a good combination, but it’s my combination.

“You’re a good kid, Eric, and I like you,” I heard him say with quiet authority.

“You work hard, and you seem honest. But I can’t keep you on if you’re gonna tear up the town after work, and then insist that it’s nothing.”

Eustace paused. I felt as if the bottom had dropped out of my already empty stomach.

“I wrote Toby’s number down on the counter by the phone. You call him and set him straight. Then come find me in the tractor shed.”

I heard the door bang shut behind him.

A thousand thanks to Craftingmom for her inspiration and constant, patient editing.

Please leave reviews. Comments and remarks of any kind will be most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; 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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Oh my! He can't catch a break! Now I hope he'll tell Toby the truth, well parts of it at least. But that would require trust...

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On 11/06/2015 04:10 AM, Puppilull said:

Oh my! He can't catch a break! Now I hope he'll tell Toby the truth, well parts of it at least. But that would require trust...

Yes, it seems that Eric is damned for being straight and damned for being gay. But look beyond that a moment. For the first time, he had someplace he felt safe in retreating to when things went badly. And while Eustace misread the situation, he treated Eric's cuts and kept him on. And Eric isn't going to blame Toby for what happened, even though it's doubtful he'll be able to be open to him. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing this chapter!

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See what you get for 'being' straight ...haha :rolleyes:
Seriously though, was the redhead really Maddie's bf, or was it only in his head? I mean if she were actually going with the guy she wouldn't be all over Eric, would she? Well, all that matters is that Eric is going to be even more guarded around people and I'll bet he never hangs around with Toby again. :(
At least he learned to stay clear of alcohol. One good lesson.

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On 11/06/2015 06:35 AM, skinnydragon said:

See what you get for 'being' straight ...haha :rolleyes:

Seriously though, was the redhead really Maddie's bf, or was it only in his head? I mean if she were actually going with the guy she wouldn't be all over Eric, would she? Well, all that matters is that Eric is going to be even more guarded around people and I'll bet he never hangs around with Toby again. :(

At least he learned to stay clear of alcohol. One good lesson.

The redhead might once have had a thing with Maddie - it's not clear (says the author). They certainly appear to have diverging views...Eric will be okay with hanging out at the farm for a while. And alcohol? Yeah, he's definitely learned something there.

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I like the way this is developing - finally Eric is growing and developing as a character. I'm a little disappointed that he was subject to yet another beating; it seems a little predictable now. But this time he didn't run off to another town, and Eustace is there to act as a father-figure, which is something Eric needs. The Eric/Eustace plot line is exactly the story arc that is needed. I'm looking forward to how it develops.

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On 11/06/2015 07:21 AM, Diogenes said:

I like the way this is developing - finally Eric is growing and developing as a character. I'm a little disappointed that he was subject to yet another beating; it seems a little predictable now. But this time he didn't run off to another town, and Eustace is there to act as a father-figure, which is something Eric needs. The Eric/Eustace plot line is exactly the story arc that is needed. I'm looking forward to how it develops.

Eric's retreat to the farm is a big step in his growth. Yes, the smash up with redhead was predictable, but precisely because Eric is not at all comfortable in in his own skin with anyone, and can't read the danger signs. Eric's relationship to Eustace was fun to write about. Hope it will be as enjoyable to read...Thanks so much for reviewing!

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Great chapter. It's good that Eric retreated back to the farm. It seems he's thinking of it as 'home'. Redhead's reaction seems a bit over the top. I can understand a few punches to make his point, but pissing on him shows the workings of a very disturbed mind. I have a feeling his 'relationship' with Maddie may be based more in his head than in reality. I wonder if Eric will trust Eustace enough to tell him what really happened? Like the other reviewers, I'm really enjoying how their relationship is building. Oh, and you are quite the tease...I thought we were going to get to meet the lifeguard after that introduction. ;)

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On 11/06/2015 08:24 AM, Valkyrie said:

Great chapter. It's good that Eric retreated back to the farm. It seems he's thinking of it as 'home'. Redhead's reaction seems a bit over the top. I can understand a few punches to make his point, but pissing on him shows the workings of a very disturbed mind. I have a feeling his 'relationship' with Maddie may be based more in his head than in reality. I wonder if Eric will trust Eustace enough to tell him what really happened? Like the other reviewers, I'm really enjoying how their relationship is building. Oh, and you are quite the tease...I thought we were going to get to meet the lifeguard after that introduction. ;)

Sorry about the tease. And I think the drunken redhead is pretty nasty, as well as disturbed. Not really in touch with reality - Maddie certainly paid him no attention, so I agree that the relationship between redhead and Maddie was over, or never existed. Eustace and Eric will have plenty of work to do together this summer. But this experience will leave Eric feeling more insular and less willing to be open, I think.

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He went home! To the barn, where it's safe. Then he woke up and Eustace took care of him even though he thought he was out causing trouble. Eric tried to be 'normal', to have fun and Red messed that all up. I wonder how that setback is going to affect him. Will he start to trust Eustace now that he's feeling safe there? Will he foster a friendship with Toby, who checked up on him btw. Or will he retreat into himself again.

 

I couldn't stop reading and I caught up, but... Now what!

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On 11/06/2015 02:55 PM, Defiance19 said:

He went home! To the barn, where it's safe. Then he woke up and Eustace took care of him even though he thought he was out causing trouble. Eric tried to be 'normal', to have fun and Red messed that all up. I wonder how that setback is going to affect him. Will he start to trust Eustace now that he's feeling safe there? Will he foster a friendship with Toby, who checked up on him btw. Or will he retreat into himself again.

 

I couldn't stop reading and I caught up, but... Now what!

That Eric actually went back to the farm instead of running away is a big deal, though we wish s evening have turned out differently. Eustace may have misread the situation, but then he's from a different age. Eric at least knows a bit of safety and he headed for it. Thanks for all your many reviews and your comminuted reading! Hoe the story remains enjoyable as it continues to unfold.

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After reading previous reviews, I agree, Eric returning to the farm after the redhead tragedy is BIG! Normally, he runs at this point (which has definitely saved his life in the past). Please, please, please let Toby be a good guy. I'm so ready for young Eric to have something good in his life.

 

Is the start of the chapter about Toby???

 

You're doing a great job Parker Owens. My husband asked me what I was yelling at when I woke him in the middle of night screaming,"NO! NO! NO!" when Eric gets beat up.

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On 11/07/2015 08:18 AM, staff7670 said:

After reading previous reviews, I agree, Eric returning to the farm after the redhead tragedy is BIG! Normally, he runs at this point (which has definitely saved his life in the past). Please, please, please let Toby be a good guy. I'm so ready for young Eric to have something good in his life.

 

Is the start of the chapter about Toby???

 

You're doing a great job Parker Owens. My husband asked me what I was yelling at when I woke him in the middle of night screaming,"NO! NO! NO!" when Eric gets beat up.

Apologies to long suffering husband. Yes, Eric is growing, but only slowly. He has a lot of conditioning to unlearn and a lot of new things to experience, and life to lead - but fear of discovery is still a big part of his existence. Toby is a good guy, though other readers point out (rightly) that he kind of let Eric wander off into trouble.

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So home is the barn. Toby is a friend but is missing part of the puzzle and maybe doesn't have the instinct that Eric isnt, okay.

 

Time will tell.

 

Good job, Parker.

 

tim

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On 11/08/2015 01:18 AM, Mikiesboy said:

So home is the barn. Toby is a friend but is missing part of the puzzle and maybe doesn't have the instinct that Eric isnt, okay.

 

Time will tell.

 

Good job, Parker.

 

tim

And having a home - any home - right now is a big step for Eric. He feels safe there; he hasn't felt that way anyplace else, so far. Toby definitely misses a lot of the puzzle. Like so many others, he can only see Eric through the lenses of his own expectations and experience. Thank you so much for reading and sticking with the story. There is more coming very soon!

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Damn, damn, damn....when is Eric gonna get a break? Just as he starts to settle into a routine, and maybe pull things together, the shit hits the fan. The one bright spot in all this is Eustace and his family. And maybe Toby--time will tell.
Great job on the story so far...just ready for things to go right for Eric!

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On 01/24/2016 01:22 AM, Robert Rex said:

Damn, damn, damn....when is Eric gonna get a break? Just as he starts to settle into a routine, and maybe pull things together, the shit hits the fan. The one bright spot in all this is Eustace and his family. And maybe Toby--time will tell.

Great job on the story so far...just ready for things to go right for Eric!

For Eric, breaks are very, very hard to come by. He's had several already - he still has a warm place to sleep and an actual job for the moment - and he's no longer on the road. Perhaps that ought to be enough. But it does look like he got in over his head this time. Thanks a ton for reading Eric's journal, and for your review, which I really, really appreciate.

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HA,I TOLD YA,i just bloody new you were gonna shit on him again,is it something from your past maybe ??are you taking it out on stepen in your writing,no more chances i'm outer here,you have a fantastic writing style but your subject matter just sucks,(in my opinion)

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On 03/03/2016 08:39 AM, bubby1234 said:

HA,I TOLD YA,i just bloody new you were gonna shit on him again,is it something from your past maybe ??are you taking it out on stepen in your writing,no more chances i'm outer here,you have a fantastic writing style but your subject matter just sucks,(in my opinion)

Bubby - I am sorry the story upset you at this point. Give it some time, and some thought. In any case, Eric is better off than he was with his father. That he chose to go back to the farm, and not run away directly is actually an important part of Eric's growth. There are bright spots, but you are right in saying that they glow dimly just now.

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Well, in rereading this chapter, I was able to understand the journal entry!

 

Poor Eric. I choose to think that redhead is secretly jealous of Maddy! That he wants to be with Eric, but just doesn't have the courage. I know that wasn't your intention, but it might explain the need to humiliate…

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On 07/06/2016 02:56 AM, droughtquake said:

Well, in rereading this chapter, I was able to understand the journal entry!

 

Poor Eric. I choose to think that redhead is secretly jealous of Maddy! That he wants to be with Eric, but just doesn't have the courage. I know that wasn't your intention, but it might explain the need to humiliate…

Well that's certainly a thought I hadn't considered...the redhead's aggression could be simple jealousy or maybe something much more complex. What an idea. But poor Eric us certainly unfortunate...

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Poor Eric he's had a bad rap again in Eustace thinking he was out getting drunk and fighting. I hope that Eric can & will tell Toby why he left without saying goodbye. At least Eric didn't run this time he just headed back to the safety of the barn at Eustace's farm, it shows that he has done so growing in the time he's been at the farm. I know that Eustace likes Eric and feels like he can tell Eric something needs to be done and it gets done. I hope that once Toby learns what happened last night with the redheaded kid he'll go say something to him about how he was wrong for beating Eric the way he did as well as pissing on him all because he was drunk and thought that Eric was encroaching upon his girl. When in fact she never even gave the guy any signs that she even knew he was there. I'm glad that Eustace had Eric go in the house so that Eustace could treat the cut on Eric's face. 

I'm really enjoying this story Parker, I think it's great that Stefan or Eric whichever you want to call him is writing a journal which if he's ever caught and arrested for the murder of his dad. I'm inclined to believe that the journal will go a long way to clearing him of any charges especially if they have a look at his back and but. Thanks for writing this amazing story. 

Butch 

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I'm really pissed with Toby after this chapter. He should have looked out for Eric. :angry: And for once Eustace got the wrong end of the stick.

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1 hour ago, Timothy M. said:

I'm really pissed with Toby after this chapter. He should have looked out for Eric. :angry: And for once Eustace got the wrong end of the stick.

Toby wasn’t quite the kind of friend Eric needed. He deserves that scowl face you used in your perceptive comment.  You’re right that Eustace  got the wrong idea entirely. But then, that might go with a preconceived notion of what it means to be an Anderson. 

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I don't blame Toby, for not being there for his new new friend, I don't think he knew about the situation with Redhead's display of dominance, (Redhead needs his ass kicked) and he was also hosting the party. As for Eustace, the reason I am guessing for his miss reading the situation, is because Stephan\Eric, claims to be an Anderson, and we already know the don't have the best reputation in town. I am glad that he finally has people who worry about him, unlike that douchey principal who wanted him arrested with little to no evidence.

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13 minutes ago, FrankD said:

I don't blame Toby, for not being there for his new new friend, I don't think he knew about the situation with Redhead's display of dominance, (Redhead needs his ass kicked) and he was also hosting the party. As for Eustace, the reason I am guessing for his miss reading the situation, is because Stephan\Eric, claims to be an Anderson, and we already know the don't have the best reputation in town. I am glad that he finally has people who worry about him, unlike that douchey principal who wanted him arrested with little to no evidence.

Glad you are reading the story.Without saying too much there is a lot of great stuff to come .Keep making comments

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