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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 - 40. Chapter 40 Into the New Year

Into the New Year

No special warnings for this chapter.

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/

Entry for January 2, continued

No snow had fallen since the day before, so I didn’t have any urgent jobs to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do when it snows during school – do I get up extra early to shovel out, or can the Abbotts and Mrs. M. wait until after?

I killed time by walking around town, by sitting for a very long time in the downtown diner, nursing a hot chocolate purchased with the last of my change, and by going into any store that looked open. Many were closed for New Year’s Eve. The public library was shut. I hiked in the riverside park where I’d slept earlier in the year, walking on the road that wound through the trees and picnic shelters. I browsed again in the antique store for a while.

Eventually, I took a long walk up to the Wal-Mart at the plaza. I felt nervous about it, and I was very careful to look for Roger Green Hat’s truck, but I didn’t see it in the parking lot. I wandered around there for a while. It was good to warm up again, and I could watch the TV’s on display to kill time. When I got bored with that, I took a good hard look at the snow blowers for sale. I examined each machine carefully, so I could see how they worked, generally. Of course, I couldn’t just take one apart, but I fiddled and prodded, and messed with the controls. None of the salespeople took me very seriously. I’m just a kid, after all. After that, I found a stack of novels on sale. I picked one up that looked good and started reading it, leaning against another display.

It was in the middle of the afternoon when I entered the deserted men’s room at Wal-Mart, and closed a stall behind me. I took off my backpack, set it on the floor, and proceeded to change clothes. Jeans off. New pants on. I was careful to roll up the cuffs a little so the length would be all right. I wished I had a pin or something for them, but that was just too bad. Boots off. New shoes on. Tight fit, but bearable. I put on my new shirt over my t-shirt because I thought I’d stay warmer. The hardest part was getting all of my food and clothes and boots all stuffed back into my pack. It barely zipped. Who knew that boots took up so much room?

I unlocked the stall door, and walked over to the sinks. Dark brown eyes stared back at me from under a long mop of shaggy blond hair in the mirror. I wanted a hairbrush or a comb. All I had was my fingers, which didn’t do a very good job. Who was this guy? Not the kid who dressed in rags in Carlsberg. Still no trace of a beard coming in. The guy in the mirror looked a little taller, maybe. A little broader? Perhaps. To be honest, my clothes have been getting a little more snug these days. Probably I’ve been eating too much.

Well, whoever I thought I was, I still had a tie to clip on. I got the top button on the shirt done up and determined through a bit of trial and error how to get the clip to work properly. One last check. Run a finger around my teeth – no toothbrush since getting shut out of my library hiding place – rinse. Well, it would have to do.

I got back into my – well, Zander’s – red jacket and put my hat back on. My new shoes felt funny after my big boots.

I took a deep breath. Time to go to the party. Why did it feel more like I was going to an exam? One where I don’t know any of the answers.

It took nearly an hour to get to Kaz’s neighborhood, but the house itself wasn’t hard to find. It was this gigantic brick place, three stories tall, set a long way back from the road. It must have been a hundred years old, at least. It had big garage and barn at the back.

There were cars lined up along the street a long ways from the house itself. Several people were walking up the driveway ahead of me in the dark. The place was brightly lit, and every window shone.

I had to walk up a half dozen stone steps to reach the heavy wood and glass front door. I rang the doorbell, and a rather tall, stately blond woman with hair piled high on her head approached and opened the door.

Warm air and the noise of many conversations rushed out to meet me.

“Welcome,” she smiled warmly. “I’m Wanda Kasimierski. Won’t you come in?”

She shut the door, and I was officially inside. I stood there, awkwardly, wondering what to do with my backpack.

“Take off your coat. Are you a friend of Walter’s, or Lena’s, or maybe Laura’s? You look a little old for Stanley, and definitely too young for Daria.”

I was at a loss for a second.

“My name’s Andy,” I said, recovering, “I sometimes go running with Ka – with Walter, at school, in the morning.”

I was about to babble.

“Of course. You’re another convert,” she said laughing.

Standing there, holding my hat and Zander’s coat, I felt very self-conscious in my new dress clothes. All right, I felt completely ridiculous. I’d never owned anything as nice as what I was wearing in my life, but somehow, my old flannel shirt would have felt more comfortable right then.

“Thomas!” she called out, and a sandy-haired little boy bounced down the steps of a giant staircase.

“I want you to take Andy’s coat and bag upstairs, and put it in Walter’s room with the others, all right?”

The little boy nodded and bounded up the stairs with my pack and coat.

“You’ll find food just about everywhere, and something to drink in the kitchen, through that door,” Mrs. Kaz said, pointing. “I think Walter and his friends are there, too.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome,” she said and moved off to greet other guests.

I decided to get something to drink in the kitchen, so I went in that direction through another dark, heavy door, and down a passage where a door stood open. I heard laughter. I stood on the threshold, looking into a wide, brightly lit kitchen. Something must have been in the oven, because the kitchen smelled good. Eight or nine kids stood around, leaning against the counters or the table. Some had bottles of soda in their hands, others glasses. I heard a familiar voice.

“I can’t believe you actually missed a day of running, Kaz. Are you sick or something?”

Zander. I saw him then, dressed in a white button down shirt and bright red and green tie, and tan pants. His eyes sparkled with merriment. He looked sharp. He looked incredible.

He took a pull on a bottled drink, while everyone laughed at the joke.

Kaz was hard to miss. He smiled and shook his head. “I only said I haven’t gone for a run yet today. There are still a few hours left.”

Terry stood on his right, kind of leaning into him.

She was the one to spot me.

“Andy? Is that really Andy?”

Suddenly, eight heads swiveled in my direction. I wanted to scuttle back down the passage. But then Zander had suddenly crossed the room.

“Andy. You made it,” he said to me quietly, before putting an arm around my shoulder for a moment and announcing to everyone, “Hey, I don’t think most of you know my friend Andy. He’s new to town this year.”

The social greetings and nods of welcome were lost on me then. My shoulders burned where Zander had held me briefly. I was Zander’s friend. That was enough. Then I was wrapped up in a tight hug by Terry.

“Happy New Year,” she practically squealed. “I’m so glad you came!”

“It’s not even your party,” I managed to get out.

“So what?” she grinned as she released me.

And then it was Kaz’s huge paw shaking mine, “Hey running buddy – Happy New Year. What can I get you to drink?”

“Water, I guess,” I said, not knowing what to say. Really, I never got that kind of choice, except maybe once or twice.

“You’re joking,” he laughed.

I shrugged.

“Here,” he said, opening the fridge wide, “help yourself. We’re only supposed to take the soft stuff, but I won’t tell if there’s something else you want.”

Soft stuff? What was that supposed to mean? I saw beer – ugh. After Dad, I had no desire for that junk. I took a can marked ‘Coke’ and decided to see what that was like. I’d seen enough ads for it in stores and on the TV shows Dad used to watch.

Gingerly, I opened the can, pulling on the little handle on the top. The sudden fizz of escaping gas startled me, and I nearly dropped it. When I finally tasted it, the bubbles surprised me, getting up my nose at first. Overall, I thought it was too sweet, and it made my teeth feel a little funny. But it wouldn’t have been polite to just let it go to waste, so I sipped it slowly.

Then I spied a big bowl of pretzels on the counter, and my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten much of anything today. I was taking very small measured portions of road rations from my pack now, so that I could survive until next week. I reached out and grabbed a handful, which somehow disappeared before I could really appreciate their crunchy saltiness. Of course, the Coke suddenly seemed a good idea to wash all that salt away. Time for more pretzels.

So that was the secret. It was the combination of salt and sweet that made junk food so irresistible. Another handful of pretzels confirmed my opinion.

“Hey, Andy, did you miss dinner or what?” I was startled by Zander’s voice at my elbow.

Suddenly, I was embarrassed. I was eating too much. Too obvious. I shook my head.

“I drove into town again today. More practice with Dad. I thought I saw you, and I honked, but I wasn’t sure.”

I wish he had seen me. We could have hung out – spent some of the day together – let some of his magic rub off on me. Anyhow, I didn’t remember being honked at. “Sorry. It must have been somebody else.”

“So where were you today?”

“I was doing stuff. Shopping. Nothing much.” I stuck to the truth, here.

I basked in the warmth of just talking with Zander. Of being with someone who called me his friend. Everything else kind of disappeared, as if I was in a tiny universe containing just us, in this moment. On the other hand, I didn’t like being opaque with Zander. I didn’t like giving him deliberately vague answers. I just wanted him to see something good about me without having to look at everything else.

“So Dad and I made the appointment today, online,” he volunteered at one point.

I must have looked confused, because he explained: “The appointment for my road test. You know, for my driver’s license.”

“Oh. That’s great.”

“Did your dad teach you to drive yet?”

My Dad teach me to drive? There’s a laugh. Dad taught me to wash dishes absolutely spotlessly, clean house so that a speck of dust felt lonely, learn his mother’s recipes so that he could spit the food I cooked out all over the kitchen table in disgust – but drive a car? Nope. From Dad, I learned how to walk silently around the house; from him, I learned how to take punishment, and endure pain without a whimper; from him I learned how to cover up the injuries I received, hide the hurt, and lie about any of it that showed.

I shook my head.

“Come February, I’ll be street legal. If I can snag some wheels from mom and dad, maybe I can drive to school. I could drive you home, so you don’t have to take the bus. What do you say?”

“I don’t take the bus,” I blurted out before I could think.

“Cool. Then it won’t be a problem for anyone if we drive off after school, will it?” he grinned conspiratorially.

“Well, except you might miss swim practice,” I returned, finally getting on track.

Zander was about to say something witty back, but we were interrupted by a sandy haired girl with an upturned nose and freckles. She grabbed Zander’s arm and tugged on it. Jealousy flared in my chest.

“Zander, it’s our turn,” she whined. “Come on, they’re waiting downstairs.”

Insanely, I just wanted Zander all to myself. Which was stupid, really. Here, at this huge party, of all places, I could not hope to have Zander alone. How selfish could I be? Still, I wasn’t very happy about it.

Zander smiled an apology. “Sorry, they’ve got this pool thing going on in the basement. I promised we’d be partners for it.”

Though my insides churned, I pasted a smile on my face, and nodded. “Go on. See you later.”

He left, and I grabbed another handful of pretzels.

I wandered out another door. This led to a big dining room, where adults stood around a large, oval table pile high with food like I’ve never seen before.

There were little plates at the end near me, and before I knew what I was doing, I had grabbed one and started adding things to it: cookies, hard-boiled eggs, and these tiny little tarts that looked really interesting. Nobody paid much attention to me. Everyone here sipped their drinks and nibbled discreetly, deep in their own conversations.

By the time I reached the end of the table, I was afraid food was going to slide off my plate. I backed myself into a corner and started in on my haul. I hoped nobody was going to run me out of the house for eating too much, but hell, I was hungry.

In no time, I’d demolished the food on my plate, and I was thinking about how to get at the miniature roast beef sandwiches on the far side of the table, when I spotted Mrs. Marjorie sidling up to me.

“Well, hello there, Andrew. Happy New Year! I didn’t know you would be here tonight.”

“Happy New Year to you, too, Mrs. Marjorie,” I managed to make myself heard over the rising tide of voices in the room.

“You certainly look good in your fancy clothes, young man. What a pity I’m not sixty years younger.”

Well, that was awkward. I couldn’t help blushing a little bit.

“So what’s a nice boy like you doing out here with a bunch of old geezers like us? I thought there was a hideout full of young people somewhere in the building.”

“The food’s good in here,” I grinned, gesturing at the table.

“Aha! So that’s it! And have you been sampling from the table?” she enquired, eyeing the crumbs on my plate.

I nodded.

At that moment, we were joined by Mr. Stevenson, Zander’s dad.

“Hello, Mrs. McDowell, Happy New Year to you. You already know my latest son, Andy, right?” He was smiling at his own joke.

“Happy New Year, Garrett. And yes, I do know Andrew. I had no idea of the relationship, though,” he said, eyeing me sternly.

What had I done wrong? Fortunately, Mr. Stevenson rescued me.

“No, it’s just that Andrew and my son Zander are friends. Turns out that Andrew here has the same last name as we do – so we made him an honorary part of the clan.”

Now Mrs. M turned her full attention to me. “Really? So you’re part of the family now.”

I shrugged. “They made room for me in the barn.”

That seemed to stun both of them for a moment. Then Mr. Stevenson let out a great big guffaw, as if that were the funniest thing he’d heard all day. Even Mrs. M smiled at that a little.

God, that man has a weird sense of humor.

I excused myself at that point and, after raiding the table further, made my way back to the kitchen.

By that time, the gathering in there had vanished. I wondered where everyone had gone. At the same time, I saw the mess of empty glasses and cups on the counters and decided that there was something I could do. Dad would have killed me if I’d let a mess like that remain for more than a few moments.

I began to clean up, putting everything that looked disposable into the trash. I looked under the sink for dish detergent and found some. In a couple of minutes, I was washing a bunch of abandoned glasses in hot soapy water. I stacked them neatly in the dish drain and looked around to see if there was something else to wash.

Just then, Mrs. Kaz walked in the door, followed by a thinner, younger, and definitely female version of Kaz himself.

“Oh. Andy, where are all the others?” Mrs. Kaz inquired.

“I think they went downstairs to watch the…the pool thing, I think.”

She nodded. “Have you met my daughter, Laura? She’s a couple of years behind you at the high school, I believe.”

I shook my head.

“Anyway. Laura. I think you can do some of the cleaning up here. There must be glasses you can wash…”

At that moment, Mrs. Kaz took in the full dish drain and the soapy water. And my wet hands.

“Andy, what have you been doing?”

I cringed. Her tone was not exactly unfriendly, but there was an edge to it.

“I. Uh, I was looking for the trash, and saw…something that needed doing.”

Lame. Very lame.

“Well. That was very sweet of you, but this is a job for Walter and rest of the Kasimierskis.”

She looked hard at her daughter for emphasis.

“Yes, mom,” Laura sighed, rolling her eyes.

Mrs. Kaz departed the room.

Laura looked at me.

“Thanks. You saved me.” She sounded sincere.

I shrugged.

“No, seriously, Mom doesn’t like my boyfriend, so she’s trying to keep me busy and away from him.”

“Where is he?”

“Oh, out front with his parents. Do you know him? It’s Joey Bricker.”

I shook my head. I didn’t know many people, just Kaz and Terry, and a few of their friends.

“Are you one of Walter’s running friends?” she probed.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

She was inquisitive, and I wasn’t sure I liked it.

“Well, you’re all right with me for doing my dishes.”

I looked down at my feet. “You’re welcome. I didn’t mean to cause trouble.”

Laura laughed. “Trouble? You’re funny. And cute, too.”

Was she flirting with me? Oh, hell. What about Joey Bricker?

“Look, you know how to get downstairs?”

I shook my head again.

“Go through that door, take a right. You go on down, because I have the feeling Joey is going to walk through that other door in just about twenty seconds. We can do the rest of the cleaning up. Together.”

Suddenly, I got it. God, I can be so stupid at times.

Descending the basement steps, I heard more voices and a strange clacking sound.

Four kids around my age stood around a big table with a green felt top. A pool table, I guessed. I’d read about something like this. A bunch of people stood around watching. Somehow, you were supposed to use the stick to get the balls in the pockets. The clacking sound was the noise of the balls striking each other.

I suddenly realized it was a couples game. As in boy-girl couples. Oh. That’s why Zander had come down here.

I felt jealous, again. Once again, I told myself how unreasonable I was being. He’s straight. Of course he’s gonna have a girlfriend. If there’s a couples thing, he’ll be here doing that. I looked around to see where Zander was.

I spotted him sitting on an old battered couch along the wall. The sandy haired girl was sitting in his lap, arm around his shoulders. Zander appeared to be in an animated conversation with the person sitting next to him on the couch. I didn’t see Terry or Kaz anywhere.

Someone entered the room behind me, so I stepped farther in, inching my way along the wall.

I recognized the person I bumped into next. It was wholesome Dave, from Physics class.

“Hey, Andy, Happy New Year.”

I nodded and tried to smile.

It was hard to smile when I could see Zander across the room with a girl on his lap practically grinding into him.

“Who’s your partner?”

“Don’t have one,” I shrugged.

“That sucks. Mine’s over there,” he gestured to a curvy girl with blond hair and pink skin like his own. “We’re playing, uh, not the next match, but the one after that.”

“Oh.”

“So, how do you know the Kasmierskis?” Dave spoke nearly directly into my ear.

“I run with Kaz.”

He nodded and grinned.

“You must be fast,” he yelled.

I shook my head, emphatically.

There was a collective shout the next moment. Apparently, one of the couples had lost the game, and there followed a certain amount of hooting and hollering, as the losers bowed out gracefully.

Another couple stepped in to challenge the reigning table king and queen. They grabbed a pair of pool sticks and prepared to play. I tried to watch, but I couldn’t help looking over at Zander and his girl on the couch. I tried to back up against the wall, as if to lose myself in the crowd of people, so that he couldn’t see me staring.

The girl leaned into Zander and whispered something into his ear. I saw him shake his head. She got up and tried to tug Zander up off the couch, but he didn’t seem to want to leave. Zander laughed at something the guy next to him was saying. His girl settled back into Zander’s lap again.

I felt my envy stirring again.

By this time, the challengers had lost, and Dave and the curvy girl took the sticks from them, and got ready to play.

“Hey, you’re new, right?” said a voice on my left. I looked and blinked.

She looked exactly like Kaz’s sister Laura, but dressed differently. Had she changed?

“Laura?” I asked confused.

She laughed, pleasantly enough.

“No, I’m her twin, Lena. Who are you?”

“I’m Andy. I’m a friend of Walter’s.” I had the feeling I’d be using that line a lot if I stayed much longer.

“Do you have a partner? For pool, I mean?” she clarified.

“No. I came alone.”

Her smile grew wider. “Great. You’re mine, at least for the next game. Hey, everyone, Andy and I got the next game.” This last was delivered to the room at large in a voice that would have carried all the way across the bridge and into town.

She looked over at me, pleased with herself. I could see Zander across the room, looking at me strangely. I wondered what he was thinking.

“Hey, I should tell you something,” I started, “I’ve never played pool in my life. I don’t have a clue how to play.”

Lena shrugged and laughed. “Doesn’t matter. You try to hit all the stripes or all the solids into the pockets, see? When they’re all gone, then you hit the eight ball in. Get it? Oh, and another thing. You can’t hit the white ball into any of the pockets.”

I nodded and tried to concentrate on watching the game.

It proceeded with interruptions and catcalls that accompanied missed shots. There seemed to be plenty of those. I noticed Kaz and Terry slip into the room, holding hands. He motioned to his sister.

“Hold our place, OK? I won’t be a second,” Lena grinned. She disappeared through the door leading upstairs.

I glanced over at Zander. His girl was leaning over and whispering something into his ear. I saw him smile, but somehow it didn’t reach his eyes.

Another clack and I returned to the game. I certainly understood the basic idea. The geometry of it seemed pretty straightforward. I wasn’t sure how to hit the ball properly, but it looked like the white ball had to be hit in the right place to set off the right chain reaction that put a colored ball in one of the pockets. I watched as the older, darkly handsome boy with the stick lined up a shot. To me, it looked like he hit the white ball off center to cause it to glance off another ball and send it unexpectedly across the table and into the pocket.

I must have been pretty intent because I didn’t realize I’d been joined at my place on the wall by Laura. I wondered what had happened to Joey Bricker, whoever he was.

“Hey, where’s Lena?” I asked.

“Right here,” the girl laughed. “I’m still Lena. I changed clothes with Laura, so she could pass as me and hang out with Joey without Mom going apeshit.”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

“I doubt it. Mom’s distracted enough right now. If Laura doesn't manage to get herself kissed tonight, it won’t be for lack of trying.”

She giggled.

Just then, Dave managed to hit the eight ball into one of the pockets and he hung his head.

“What’s the matter? He sank the eight ball. Didn’t they win?”

Lena smirked. “No. They didn’t sink all their other balls first. Because of that, they lose. And we’re next.”

I shook my head. “I’m gonna need a lot of help with this.”

I took a stick from Dave, while Lena grabbed hers from the curvy girl. I made my way over to the current king of the table. He had curly black hair, nearly coal black eyes and a stubble of beard.

“I’m Andy,” I said, introducing myself. “I’m new in town, and I’m new at this. Sorry about that. It won’t be much of a contest for you.”

“Victor,” he said, shaking my hand. “My family owns the diner downtown.”

I nodded.

“Girls break or guys?” he asked.

“Girls,” I said, not knowing what I was agreeing to. I figured Lena knew.

He motioned to his partner, a willowy red-haired girl with long hair and a knowing smile. She lined up the white ball in order to shoot it at the triangle of balls freshly formed at the end of the table. With a sharp clack, the balls were spread all over the table. It was Lena’s turn to shoot.

She had a pretty easy shot at a solid purple ball, which she sank.

“See?” she said confidently. “Easy.”

With that, she hit another ball, this time a green one, into the corner pocket. Then, the yellow ball fell victim to her accuracy, and there was a whistle. She acknowledged the compliment with a wave, and lined up another shot. Unfortunately, her aim was off this time, and it was Victor’s turn.

Victor had two easy shots to make before the white ball got stuck in a touchy position. He chose to break up the knot of balls blocking his way, which left me with my very first shot. Ever.

So I was nervous. Embarrassed. Clueless. My throat went dry. It felt like the world was watching me, though I knew that wasn’t really true.

I had a fairly clear shot at a red ball near the side pocket. I tried to hold the stick the way I’d seen Victor hold it, running it through my fingers as he had done. I concentrated on feeling the line the ball needed to take.

I struck the white ball, hard. The red ball rattled into the pocket, but the white ball ricocheted off it and hit the eight ball, which rolled tamely toward the corner pocket. It stopped maybe half an inch short. I exhaled slowly. I hadn’t completely fucked up yet.

I missed my next shot, and Victor’s partner made two more before missing and giving Lena a chance. Lena made one, then flubbed again. I was glad it wasn’t just me. Victor put two more in, leaving just the purple striped twelve ball for him to knock in before turning his attention to the black eight. We still had three more to go.

Victor’s shot was a little soft, tapping the twelve very close to the pocket, but not in. It was my turn.

“Good luck, partner,” said Lena, who then stood on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. I looked at her, for a moment stunned. Well, that was a surprise.

I turned back to the game. I took aim at the maroon ball next, a fairly easy shot right at the side pocket. What a pity I messed it up, missing it altogether. This should be easy. I understood the mechanics of it, certainly. I stewed while Victor’s partner missed her shot, and Lena sank one of ours, only to blunder on the next. More jeers from the on-looking crowd. Fortunately, Victor didn’t have a clear shot at his remaining ball, and the bank shot he attempted missed entirely.

Now it was my shot again. The blue lay just ahead at the next corner. I tried to tap the white ball just to the left of it, so that it would be gently prodded into its pocket. And so it went, quietly. At that point, I let out my breath and looked up. It was my undoing.

On the couch, I saw the sandy haired girl planting a kiss on Zander’s lips. She was holding his face in both her hands. Clearly there was more to come. Suddenly my concentration was gone. My next shot went a long way wide.

Victor’s partner had no trouble finishing us off. I felt miserable, because I’d messed up. No, I felt worse because whatever I felt for Zander was impossible. And it was being rubbed in my face.

“Hey, not bad for a first game,” Lena smiled at me. I nodded but didn’t smile. I handed off the stick to the next victim and tried to disappear.

I was ready to be gone.

I found my way upstairs to the second floor, looking for my coat and hat. I checked a couple of bedrooms in the enormous house, one looked empty, and the other was piled high with coats, none of which looked like mine.

I tried another bedroom, which looked more promising. Glancing around, it was clear this was Kaz’s room. Posters of runners decked the walls, and trophies perched on sills and surfaces. I discovered my pack sitting on a chair. In a minute, I found my coat. I stuck my arms in the sleeves and pulled my cap on over my head. I heard voices coming along the hallway

“I think they’re kind of cute together, don’t you?”

It was Terry’s voice.

“Yeah. Sure,” Kaz replied, agreeing.

“Oh, come on, for a little while Zander looked as happy as I’ve seen him in months.”

“Uh huh.”

Shit. So now Zander and whoever-she-was were an item. And they were cute. Well, I didn’t think so.

Terry and Kaz entered the room, holding hands. I guess they wanted a quiet corner, too.

“Hey, Andy.” Kaz seemed surprised to find me here in his room.

I looked down. I couldn’t face them right now.

“Good night, guys. It was great being here. Happy New Year,” I mumbled quietly to them as I squeezed past. Coming down the staircase and to the front door, I shook Mrs. Kasmierski’s hand and thanked her for letting me come. I doubted she would remember me at all.

I stepped out the door into an icy, brilliant, starlit night. Snow squeaked under my feet as I walked down the street to where it crossed Main. Which way to go? Turning right would take me back down the hill into town. There, I could sneak in the maintenance room door at St. James, assuming nobody had spotted that I’d jammed it so the door wouldn’t lock. Turning left would take me uphill, and west, out of town.

I turned left.

At other times in the fall, I’d thought about leaving town, either out of fear of getting caught or fear of getting hurt. Now, I hurt like hell, and I just wanted out. West seemed the right way to go.

A couple of cars whooshed by.

Trying to put distance between me and my heartache, I kept going, and lost track of time. The cold bit at my ears and face, and numbed my toes in my too-tight shoes. I was soon out in wide open farmland, just as I’d been this summer. But soon, I ceased to notice anything. I just walked away from it all. There really wasn’t any focus, just the vain hope that walking would make it better.

Fate laughed somewhere in the distant heavens.

A sign loomed up out of the darkness. Faintly, I could make out the words, “…State Line, Come Back Soon!”

Hell. I’d just about walked my way all the way out of state. A few more steps, and I’d be guilty of interstate flight. Ambrose could call the FBI on me, if he knew. I snickered to myself, inwardly. What the hell, he’d have to find me, first.

Not a dozen steps farther, I noticed the lights of a car coming over a rise ahead. Unlike other cars that went past that night, this one seemed to move erratically on the road. It swerved first to the left, then to the right, as if the person behind the wheel weren’t really able to make up his mind about which side of the road was the right one to drive on. I could hear the loud, insistent blare of music as the car approached.

I froze in place, watching, half of me hoping it would pass harmlessly by, while the other wondered idly if I would feel the pain of impact. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad way for me to go. Suddenly, the car seemed to lunge in my direction in a blaze of white light and the blare of a horn.

Something inside me snapped, and at the last moment, I jumped. A moment later, I lay on my back in a snowbank, panting. Red taillights winked out of sight around the bend. It was instinctive, that jump. If I’d waited any longer to think about it, I’d have been killed.

I just lay back in the cold embrace of the snow, staring at the stars. They went on forever. I stared deep into eternity. I remembered the stars at the Whitley farm. These seemed more brittle, crystalline, as if the sky was made out of glass.

Lying there, I realized that I was running again. It came to me, staring into the brilliant starlight, that no amount of running away would take me toward what I wanted. And I knew what it was I wanted. I knew I wanted to go back to Kaz and Terry, friends who I actually cared about. I wanted to go back to Mrs. Marjorie and her ten thousand questions. I wanted to go back to Blackburn High School, the only school where I’d learned much of anything. And I wanted to go back to Zander, whose smile I couldn’t live without.

Suddenly, I felt cold. Really cold. I stood up, shivering. I discovered that I’d twisted my ankle when I flew into the snowbank. Somewhere in the far distance, I heard the pop of a few firecrackers. The New Year began. I started my long journey back to town.

My sincerest thanks to Craftingmom for her unflagging patience in editing and encouragement.

Please leave a review. Your comments and opinions of any variety are most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



On 12/19/2015 12:59 AM, Stephen said:

I'm relieved he turned back.

The night is not over yet though, is it?

But the new year has begun. Andy may have learned that it's important to turn back and retrace one's steps once in a while. But it was a shame to see him so disappointed. Thank you for reading this chapter and for continuing to stay with the story. Thanks especially for your review.

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Ugh, I was really hoping he and Zander were going to share a new years kiss! Poor kid just can't catch a break. If only he could see what we do... Zander obviously likes him!
Oh well atheist he didn't leave town!

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On 12/19/2015 03:18 AM, Kjamieson said:

Ugh, I was really hoping he and Zander were going to share a new years kiss! Poor kid just can't catch a break. If only he could see what we do... Zander obviously likes him!

Oh well atheist he didn't leave town!

What lousy timing for that girl to plant a kiss on Zander. But at least Andy is staying put for now. The cold can be a big convincer to stay in a warm place and out of the weather. Thanks for reading and staying with the story to this point. Next chapter is up on Monday! Thank you for reviewing!

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Well out of it all he got his belly full of food, and learned to play pool. With all his having to sneak around, making up stories and hiding out. It might be easier to take Zander somewhere alone so he can explain the truth to him. Somewhere down the line he is going to have to quit running and hiding. Maybe he can make that his New Years resolution.

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On 12/19/2015 04:41 AM, slapshot said:

Well out of it all he got his belly full of food, and learned to play pool. With all his having to sneak around, making up stories and hiding out. It might be easier to take Zander somewhere alone so he can explain the truth to him. Somewhere down the line he is going to have to quit running and hiding. Maybe he can make that his New Years resolution.

That would be a better resolution than going on a diet! But at least he's decided to stay put for now. Andy gets the itch to run under pressure, undeniably. Of course, there might be pursuit from Kaz's sister...Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. Next chapter is Monday!

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I feel like the last two chapters have been "calm before the storm" where he's just coasting through. There's still a part 3 to this journal entry, though, since it was written on 1/2.

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Another AMAZING chapter....WHY do I get the feeling that Terry and Kaz were talking about Zander and Andy, IDK why but that's just a "feeling" that I got....
more, more, more PLEASE

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WOW!

 

A bit redundant of me perhaps, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this chapter. It is wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing it with us!

 

I should thank Andy's English teacher and the other folk at Blackburn High; Andy is becoming a better writer each day ;-)

 

I would particularly like to praise the emotional tone of the chapter. It was subtle and understated, while remaining visceral and poignant. Hunger induced shame, awkward regard of Mr. Stevenson's laughter (at his own funny and witty inside joke about sleeping in the barn), pangs of jealousy, and general awkwardness were all conveyed in a manner that felt real. Although the party was certainly a success (disaster free) for Andy, I fully understood why he wanted to leave.

 

Andy's decision to stay in Blackburn provided dramatic resolution for the angst of the party while making me wonder if Andy has experienced an epiphany of sorts.

 

I also enjoyed the scene in which Andy ponders his own image in the mirror. Aside from some physical changes, he doesn't know if he sees something different or not.

 

Finally, I really hope Kaz or Zander will have the kindness to ever so gently call Andy out on the tacky clip-on tie. Perhaps the kids at the party mistook poor taste for super self confidence!

 

I'm looking forward to Monday!

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A revealing chapter Parker!

 

Lots of information related to Andy and even some of the adults around him ...and how they interact with him.

 

That he turned left was understandable. That he turned back was satisfying.

 

As Angel mentioned in a previous review, I too had the feeling his friends were speaking about him and Zander.

 

Well done friend!

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I was a bit disappointed with some aspects of this chapter personally. I will echo what others have said that it was well written, and Andy's decision to stay is in fact a big deal. That all being said, I don't understand Zander in particular this chapter. I'm assuming that he's come out to his friends. At least Kaz and Terry. He broke up with his 'girlfriend'. He specifically invited Andy to this party, and then proceeded to spend the entire party, save a few minutes attached to some random girl we've never seen before. Why? Who's he putting on the show for? His parents and friends know that he's gay, why is he letting this girl crawl all over him and kiss him? Is she the exgirlfriend? Why is he riding a sofa with some bimbo instead of at least hanging out with his friends? It just seems really weird to me.

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I really felt Andy's social awkwardness at the party. You captured perfectly the feeling of someone who has no idea how to fit in or the social mores of party going. I understand Zander's actions. He's a teenager who wants to fit in. I also completely understand Andy's feelings. I think this chapter is a bit of a turning point for him. He wants to run, but realizes that what he's running from is pretty special. As much as I wanted him and Zander to have their New Year's kiss, I think what happened was just as poignant. Now to see what the New Year brings. ;)

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On 12/19/2015 06:37 AM, xleroc said:

I feel like the last two chapters have been "calm before the storm" where he's just coasting through. There's still a part 3 to this journal entry, though, since it was written on 1/2.

Thanks you for this review. Andy has been living in constant shadow of the storm that looms on the horizon. That he chose not to bolt for the road is important, but so is the knowledge that personal attachment is holding him in place. He's never had any of that to worry about before. I appreciate your continued reading and remarks.

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On 12/19/2015 07:34 AM, 1brokNangel said:

Another AMAZING chapter....WHY do I get the feeling that Terry and Kaz were talking about Zander and Andy, IDK why but that's just a "feeling" that I got....

more, more, more PLEASE

More is coming Monday. Andy is staying out for now, which is a big step for him. And what does that say for the new year ahead of him? Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review.

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On 12/19/2015 08:42 AM, skinnydragon said:

A revealing chapter Parker!

 

Lots of information related to Andy and even some of the adults around him ...and how they interact with him.

 

That he turned left was understandable. That he turned back was satisfying.

 

As Angel mentioned in a previous review, I too had the feeling his friends were speaking about him and Zander.

 

Well done friend!

This chapter tells us a lot of background for the Kasimierski family, about the sociable nature of Kaz and Terry and Zander, too. If they were friends, Zander's withdrawl would surely have been noticeable in the spring. Glad you understood the left turn, too. Thank you for reading and for your kind review.

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On 12/19/2015 12:19 PM, spikey582 said:

I was a bit disappointed with some aspects of this chapter personally. I will echo what others have said that it was well written, and Andy's decision to stay is in fact a big deal. That all being said, I don't understand Zander in particular this chapter. I'm assuming that he's come out to his friends. At least Kaz and Terry. He broke up with his 'girlfriend'. He specifically invited Andy to this party, and then proceeded to spend the entire party, save a few minutes attached to some random girl we've never seen before. Why? Who's he putting on the show for? His parents and friends know that he's gay, why is he letting this girl crawl all over him and kiss him? Is she the exgirlfriend? Why is he riding a sofa with some bimbo instead of at least hanging out with his friends? It just seems really weird to me.

And to Andy, too, perhaps. But Andy showed up later...Zander had been there for a while already, and there's plenty of sociability going on. Hard to know what was up before Andy arrived. As you say, it's not Zander's best moment. Thanks so much for your excellent thoughts and for reading through this chapter.

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On 12/20/2015 02:37 AM, Valkyrie said:

I really felt Andy's social awkwardness at the party. You captured perfectly the feeling of someone who has no idea how to fit in or the social mores of party going. I understand Zander's actions. He's a teenager who wants to fit in. I also completely understand Andy's feelings. I think this chapter is a bit of a turning point for him. He wants to run, but realizes that what he's running from is pretty special. As much as I wanted him and Zander to have their New Year's kiss, I think what happened was just as poignant. Now to see what the New Year brings. ;)

Sorry to have disappointed you at Midnight, but Andy did have an epiphany of sorts, as you say. And his awkwardness will only slowly be unlearned, I think. The new year begins on Monday. Thanks for taking the then time to read and review!

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At last, Andy seems to be running toward instead of running from: A major development, in both Andy's mind and the story plot. I can second Oxala's comments below (or above?) about the skill of the writing of this chapter, successfully conveying perfectly both the behavior and thoughts of a socially-awkward first-time partygoer and pool-player, and the gentle symbolism of stopping at the state line and turning of the year as a place and time for Andy's turn-around. Looking forward to next installment!

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On 12/20/2015 11:07 AM, Rigel said:

At last, Andy seems to be running toward instead of running from: A major development, in both Andy's mind and the story plot. I can second Oxala's comments below (or above?) about the skill of the writing of this chapter, successfully conveying perfectly both the behavior and thoughts of a socially-awkward first-time partygoer and pool-player, and the gentle symbolism of stopping at the state line and turning of the year as a place and time for Andy's turn-around. Looking forward to next installment!

Andy may be improving as a writer because he has so much time on his hands. Heaven help us if his life ever gets busy. Thanks for catching the state line metaphor. :) Poor Andy is awkward, and will learn being social only slowly. If he hangs with K and T and Z long enough, maybe he'll get comfortable enough in his own skin to fit in. The new year begins on Monday. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind review.

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A new year began, and Andy consciously chooses to turn back and head into town. He's not running anymore. I don't even know how to feel about that. I mean I'm ecstatic, but I know unpleasantness is coming.
I must say, I'm disappointed that Zander and Kaz too, left Andy on his own. Zander could have easily invited him downstairs to at least watch them play. His awkwardness not withstanding, he still is the 'new kid' in town. But teens are sometimes shortsighted I guess.
You did a great job showing Andy's discomfort and emotions as he tried to navigate through the party, an then seeing Zander interact with that girl. It was also nice to see the grown ups in a social setting!

 

A fantastic chapter, Parker! Thank you..

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On 12/21/2015 12:28 PM, Defiance19 said:

A new year began, and Andy consciously chooses to turn back and head into town. He's not running anymore. I don't even know how to feel about that. I mean I'm ecstatic, but I know unpleasantness is coming.

I must say, I'm disappointed that Zander and Kaz too, left Andy on his own. Zander could have easily invited him downstairs to at least watch them play. His awkwardness not withstanding, he still is the 'new kid' in town. But teens are sometimes shortsighted I guess.

You did a great job showing Andy's discomfort and emotions as he tried to navigate through the party, an then seeing Zander interact with that girl. It was also nice to see the grown ups in a social setting!

 

A fantastic chapter, Parker! Thank you..

You hit is squarely: teens can be very shortsighted. Zander and Kaz are used to big gatherings where people circulate, wander, and interact all night. Andy definitely isn't, and he hardly knows how to handle that idea. That, and he isn't sure who beyond Kaz, Terry and Zander might be friendly. Well, he discovered Kaz's sisters are friendly enough. It's good Andy chose not to hit the road again in the cold winter. But what happens in the new year? The new year happens Monday. Thanks so much for reading the story to this point, and for your thoughtful review.

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Oh, so mixed feelings. Like the others, I'm happy Andy turned back, but it's sad he thinks Zander is involved with that girl. I wish they would just talk and dare to be honest. Seems the ball us in Zander's corner...

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On 12/22/2015 05:35 AM, Puppilull said:

Oh, so mixed feelings. Like the others, I'm happy Andy turned back, but it's sad he thinks Zander is involved with that girl. I wish they would just talk and dare to be honest. Seems the ball us in Zander's corner...

It is unfortunate that each thinks the other wouldn't be interested. How often it is that friendships never form for that very reason. Adolescents are often just too scared or embarrassed to break the ice with the truth. For Andy, the truth has always been very risky, so doing that would be doubly hard for him. The New Year happened today, when you are ready for it. Thank you so much for reading and for your review. God Jul!

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On 01/03/2016 02:16 AM, Mikiesboy said:

So he's staying. That's a good thing. Next he's got a few things to sort out.

 

Nice chapter, tim

So he chose to stay. How to go on meant going on a kind of autopilot, I think. Maybe it just seemed safer. Thanks for your review!

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