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    Parker Owens
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A to Z - 56. Chapter 56 Promises

Promises

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/

March 17 – Friday

This week has not gone the way it was supposed to. Was I expecting a fairy tale? After Sunday, I'd hoped for better than this. Maybe happy endings don't really exist. Things could go really badly wrong. The reality is that I've pulled away from everyone, at least on the inside. All of my energy goes toward thinking. Plotting.

In some ways, the last two days have been almost normal – on the outside, at least. On the inside, nothing is normal. I'm happy, then sad, charged up, then depressed. I've been having bad dreams when I sleep – and I've been awake a lot at night. When I'm awake, my mind is going a mile a minute, thinking about the best thing to do.

Family Protective Services isn't done with me yet, even though my grey-suited stalker friends have disappeared. For now.

At track practice on Wednesday afternoon, I followed Zander when he wandered over to where Bruce Mack was trying to stretch out his badly pulled muscles from the day before. He’s been out of practices since he tried to show up Zander and me on Tuesday.

Bruce looked up and grimaced. “Trouble in paradise, faggots?” He tried to grin nastily.

“No. Everything’s just fine, Bruce.” Zander stated easily. “The judge dismissed your aunt’s case.”

Bruce stared. Now he knew that we knew.

“That was a really shitty thing you did, Bruce, I’m not gonna lie,” Zander went on, pretending to stretch next to him, “but I have just one question, Bruce. Why?” He let the question hang in the air for a moment. “Why? What in the world did I ever do to you?”

Bruce snorted. “You were born, faggot. You and your little butt buddy, and all the other queers in this world; you don’t deserve to live,” he spat out.

Zander recoiled at the venom in Bruce’s voice. I don’t think he expected it. Usually Zander seems to get along with everyone. It's as if he expects to be liked. Zander shook his head and muttered, “Come on Andy, let’s leave the asshole in peace.”

Bruce wasn't allowed to practice Wednesday, or Thursday, or today. He limped around Wednesday and yesterday, and did some jogging today, but Mr. Shanahan kept Bruce on the side most of the time. It must have hurt bad, and in some ways, I felt sorry for him. A little. Anyway, we haven’t had any other contact with him since Wednesday practice, so that’s fine by me.

Wednesday night, Garrett insisted we all go out to dinner to celebrate our big victory. We drove to some restaurant I'd never seen in the north end of town. I've never been in a place like that. I had to wear the best clothes I could find.

Zander insisted I try the steak, something I'd never eaten before. I don't think I've ever seen a piece of meat on my plate that big. The intense, juicy, savory flavor burst in my mouth, and for a moment I was lost in culinary glory. I didn't realize I was so hungry, because I started making short, delicious work of the food on my plate.

Partway through the meal, Garrett excused himself to take a call on his cell.

"Well, that was fast." I heard Garrett say as he slid back into his seat a few minutes later.

"What was that?" Monica inquired.

"That was Heidi Graber on the phone," he clarified. "She said the county filed a motion to appeal this afternoon."

Monica made a low whistle. "Whew, they're in a hurry."

Garrett nodded in agreement. "They asked for an expedited appeal date, too."

I finally broke in: "I'm sorry, but I don't understand. What happened?"

"The county has filed a motion to appeal Judge Harrison's decision before the State Superior Court. This means they think the Judge's ruling today should be reversed because of a flaw in the way he interpreted the law, or because of a mistake he might have made in procedure. If the county can persuade the Superior Court of either argument, the Judge Harrison's ruling today is set aside," Garrett explained carefully.

"What did he do wrong?" I asked. The wonderful restaurant food had turned to cardboard in my mouth. Suddenly, I felt hollow inside.

"Well, I don't think Judge Harrison did anything wrong, and I think his interpretation of the law was perfectly sound," Garrett replied confidently. "The county is likely to get a bloody nose on this one."

"But what if the county wins? Then what?" I persisted nervously.

"Well, the court can send the case back to Judge Harrison or to another county judge to hear the arguments all over again. That's often what happens when an appellant wins. Less often, the Superior Court overrules the county judge, and reverses the decision completely."

"Which means I would have to go with Ms. Chandler," I said quietly.

"That's not going to happen," Monica said firmly.

"But it could happen," I said sadly, "in theory."

There was a dark cloud over our table in the restaurant. The worry circuits in my brain were switched on at full power.

"Yes. It could happen. Theoretically," agreed Garrett. "But we have a long way to go before they even hear the case, and, as I said, I don't think the Superior Court is going to agree with the county at all."

"How long do we have?" Zander put in.

"Oh, well, a few weeks or so," Garrett said. "They asked for a fast-track process, so that's about the right timing, I think."

I had more reason to curse the County when we got home. Garrett thinks the appeal possibly means FPS might get access to the house again. They could come and do another inspection. The result? Zander and I are still sleeping apart.

Not that it would do much good, anyhow. I mean, I want Zander near me, next to me. But I'm just too focused on my own problems right now to be much good to him.

We tried to study together on Wednesday night, on the bed in what was Zander's room that I've taken over. I'm calling it our room from now on, even if we can't share the bed at night. We have to keep the door open, but we can still cuddle and curl up beside one another, unless FPS pays the house another visit. Then Zander will bolt for the door.

I didn't get much work done. Have I mentioned somewhere in here that Zander is beautiful?

At one point, I stopped pretending to read the English assignment and just I watched him, deep in concentration on a math problem. Zander has no idea how gorgeous he is. My heart just ached, because part of me wanted to be able to stretch out and snuggle down with him, cover him with kisses, and, yes, start getting under his clothes, too.

But then, my thoughts wandered to spend time with my anxiety, and the fear started all over again. I couldn't let myself give into my wants or my desires. I have to start letting go. What's it going to be like if one day I have to be marched into a waiting car and driven away to wherever FPS wants to send me?

Anyway, there hasn’t been a repeat of Sunday night. I've been just too damn angry and worried. What if we lose in the appeal court? What if FPS finds a way to pry me away from Zander? What if the grey-suits appear again? I've just had this sinking feeling that something really bad could happen. Maybe the universe was getting even with me for allowing myself to think I could actually be happy.

A long time after getting back from the restaurant, I finally finished my English homework. I closed up my text, and put away my notebook. Almost immediately, Zander set aside his math and brushed his lips against mine. I'd missed this all day. Soon, our arms were wrapped around each other. But once again, my fretful mind got to work. When he tried to deepen the kiss, I wouldn't let him, at least not at first. I'd been spending way too much time in my head since Monday.

Even so, I might have melted into Zander's lips, but a sharp clearing of the throat in the doorway interrupted us. "Boys, don't forget that you need to clean the bathrooms before you go to bed tonight," Monica reminded us. A tiny upturn at the corner of her mouth belied her serious expression. "And Andy, I thought you had Physics homework tonight, not Biology."

I blushed at that.

But the pleasant mood faded almost the moment we got ready for bed. Again, I got worried about what the next few weeks could bring. Alone in our room, I fretted about being torn away from this family and from the boy I love so much.

If the county was going to appeal, they'd start investigating. They'd find out my connection to Carlsberg. The police would arrive, and I'd be gone to jail, or worse, to Uncle Ray. Even if they didn't figure out who I really am, I'd still be a target for the grey-suited couple from FPS again. For weeks, months, maybe. For the millionth time, I considered the possibility of packing up and getting out. Maybe I could get Zander to run away with me? I imagined the two of us out on the road, on our own. I’d done it on my own, so it would probably be better with the two of us. But that would kill Zander’s dreams of going to college, of being an architect. And losing Zander would break Monica and Garrett’s hearts. They’d never forgive me.

Maybe there was something Judge Harrison could do?

I couldn't get comfortable, and I couldn't get my mind to stop spinning. Finally, I got up and padded downstairs. I floated through the kitchen but avoided a midnight snack. Eventually, I wandered into Garrett's study and switched on the lamp. I skimmed my fingers over the stacks of law books. Idly, I wondered in which volume the law about kids in my situation was located. I found the index volume and started looking.

Before long, I was absorbed in my search, trying to decode the legal language. I discovered the foundling statute and the fostering statute that had been referred to in court. I read them and re-read them, in order to make as much sense of the dense text as I could. At one moment, the regulations would seem quite clear; in the next, it would turn to thick mud. I could see how someone might try the appeal court, if only to see if they could get the other side to trip up.

I sat there on the floor, legs folded in front of me, a stack of law books at my elbow, when I heard a noise. I looked up, and there stood Garrett, wearing a surprised expression on his face.

"Well, hello there, Andy. Couldn't sleep either, huh?"

I shook my head.

"Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I try reading one of those," he gestured to the books on the floor. "They usually put me right out."

I started to get up. "I'm sorry, sir, I shouldn't have…"

Garrett made a face. "Stop it. I don't mind. You’re looking at books, not reading confidential files. If you can make sense of half of it, they'll make you a judge," he chuckled.

I nodded.

"So what part of the law are you investigating so seriously?" He reached to pick up a volume. "Aaaah, Volume XVII, family and adoptive law, part two. Working on your own case?"

I shrugged. "Maybe," I admitted.

"Well, don't let me stop you," he went on, "but I'm going to find an antacid tablet and a glass of milk. Let me know if you find something good." He moved to go.

"Sir? Um, Garrett?" I tried using his real name for the first time. "Thanks for not being mad." I gestured at all the books.

"Not at all," he grinned. "Just put them back – in order – when you're done. And before you fall asleep." He moved away.

Alone again. A clock ticked somewhere. The tiny sounds of Garrett trying to be quiet in the kitchen echoed faintly in the house.

I was tired of it all. Tired and fed up. For sixteen – nearly seventeen – years, I’d just let stuff happen to me. I’d just sat there and taken it. First my parents fighting and splitting, then Uncle Ray, then Dad’s routine violence and abuse, and then the daily humiliation of school. And when fate whacked me in the head again last May, well, I’d just taken that, too.

Maybe I had made a choice to run, but it seemed like I’d been just floating along a river of events. Fate had very kindly dropped me off in an eddy with the Stevenson family for a while, but now it was going to spin me out, back into the stream of events, courtesy of Ms. Chandler and her minions. They were going to make life hell for me – and for the Stevensons – and worst of all, for Zander – all over again.

I was sick of it. There in the quiet, book lined study, I decided not to float anymore. I was going to land the raft of my life, stand firmly on the shore, and build what I could on the solid ground. I was going to choose my own way. Period.

I stared at the book in my hand. Something nagged at the back of my brain. There had to be a simpler solution, one that cut through the legal swamp, and kept me out of Ms. Chandler’s hands, let Zander go to college, and kept the Stevenson family together. I was so tired, I kind of zoned out for a few seconds.

I blinked. Of course.

There was a simple, direct, straightforward solution. It had been staring me in the face for hours. My brain came alive again. Potentially, it would upset Garrett and Monica. No, it was actually very likely they’d be unhappy; I was sure of that. And I couldn't stand to think about what Zander might say. I tried not to. But it could work. And in the end, no matter what the Stevensons thought, they would see that my plan was the best one. No more legal battles; no more grey areas, no more hiding and dodging.

I spent several more hours thinking everything through, checking more books, mulling points over. I missed Zander that night, but now I had something concrete to think about. A plan.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much Wednesday night. When I did close my eyes, I had terrible dreams about Ms. Chandler and the grey suits snatching me away, stuffing me in a van, and turning me over to Uncle Ray.

Since Thursday morning, I've been pretty much living inside my head. Planning. I know I've been distant and wrapped up in my own thoughts since going to court. Zander sure noticed. Terry noticed. Even Kaz seems to have noticed. He gave me some really weird looks at lunch today.

But I've tried to keep it together on the outside.

Positively, school is going okay, at least enough so that I can manage the work. As of today, swim class is now officially over – Coach Simpson told me I'd passed my 'level three,' whatever that means. I'm never going to make the swim team, but I'm a better swimmer, I guess. And, strangely enough, it was fun, at least until I remembered the cloud I'm living under. This is what I call the 'Zander Effect' at work. Any experience is better; anything is tolerable with Zander there.

But I have never been far from the thought that all this could come crashing down in ten seconds, and then where would everyone be? That idea makes me sick. I don't want to face FPS, or the courts. And nobody is sending me back to Uncle Ray. I'll run before that happens.

On the normal side of things, the Track coach, Mr. Shanahan, wants me to be his ace sprinter. Kaz gloated and had an I-told-you-so grin pasted on his face all Thursday. Now I just have to find a field event to do, too. Apparently, Mr. Shanahan insists that everyone be able to do a track event and a field event. I think I might do the pole vault. I don't want to do the throwing stuff, and I don't want to compete with Zander in the jumps, so that narrowed my choices down quickly. That is, if I'm even around to compete at all.

As usual, I'm mixing this up again, getting ahead of myself.

I spent all Thursday and today pretty much deep in thought, looking for flaws and holes in my idea. I spent my lunch hour with Jeff Ellison: I had a couple of important questions he could clear up for me. I didn’t tell him anything, just asked him some questions. Apprehensively, I told Dr. O'Shea about my plan, about what I had figured out. She's the only one who knows. She was so surprised, she only asked two or three questions. At home, I was practically a hermit; my mind was that distracted. For the first time in months, I hardly registered Zander was there.

Today, I didn’t take much notice of my last day of swimming with Zander, or anything that happened in class. I used my study hall time and my computer class time for more research.

It looked like my idea ought to work. I've promised myself that it will.

I’m not going to jinx it by writing about it now – I’m too damn nervous that someone will find out and try and talk me out of it, or that it won’t work out the way I’m hoping. The only other person who knows what I’m doing is Dr. O’Shea; She can’t tell a soul – patient privacy laws and all that - and I tried to be deliberately vague about my plans, anyway. She wouldn't violate her doctor's oath, would she?

I really didn’t want to talk about that possibility, and I don’t want to think about it now. Starting this afternoon, I began to put my plan into action; there are still lots of things to do. By tomorrow, it should be complete.

(***)

The events of the week had you rattled, and you kept your distance.

It wasn't me – us – getting outed at school. Honestly, I'd expected a lot worse. Bruce Mack was the most outspoken of anyone at school. There were a few others who said shit under their breath, but I couldn't tell you who they were. But after Bruce set off his bomb in the cafeteria on Monday, life at school had been kind of strange. No violence, no hazing, but some people seemed more distant. Others looked at you and me in a different way, I could tell. Against that, none of the teachers uttered a peep, though it seemed Mr. Warfield and Mrs Landon actually tried to go out of their way to be pleasant in class. Nick Lewis made a point to pull me aside and tell me he didn't give a shit I was gay. Not long after that, a couple of guys from the swim team did the same thing. Said they thought Bruce was an asshole and way out of line. By the end of the week, it was clear we'd be in for some stupid jokes, but most people didn't seem to care too much.

But you had me seriously worried.

You withdrew. It wasn’t rocket science. We hadn’t kissed since Wednesday. Something was going on behind the smile that forgot to include your eyes; you were in some inner dialogue with yourself, and it wasn’t often that you looked me in the eye and remembered where you were.

By Friday, I could hardly reach you at all.

For the first time, I was really scared. It occurred to me that maybe you’d had enough of me, enough of the drama and the scent of danger. Maybe you wanted out; or worse, maybe you wanted someone else, someone less toxic than me.

That thought made me numb. I hardly noticed all the stupid St. Patrick’s Day garbage at school. Could it be that you were getting ready to leave? Find another boy?

On that Friday after our day in court, I kept looking at other guys, wondering which one was the boy you wanted instead of me. There was that kid you met at Nick’s party – Jeff? You’d told me about him. Then on Friday afternoon, you took off with him, getting out of track practice early on some mysterious errand. Was he the one? It was stupid, I know that now, but you know what happens when we listen to our fears. We do stupid things.

When you mentioned that you’d be getting home late on account of your errand, I snapped at you: “Whatever. Be on time for supper.”

I could tell you were hurt and surprised.

At track practice, I made sure to run with some of the other guys. I left you to stretch by yourself. You could have that Jeff kid you were getting together with. God, I was stupid.

After supper, when you tried to get on our bed to do homework, I complained that I needed space and privacy to do some art stuff. You didn’t call me on it. Instead, you just stood silently and went into your room next door.

Mom and Dad had been keeping us apart – just in case of a surprise inspection, they said – and it was so hard to sleep that night. I was mad at you and jealous of whoever had your attention. I was ashamed of being an asshole to you and wanted to beg you to forgive me. We could start over, and everything would be okay. Then I got all jealous again.

Once I got out of bed to walk down the hall so we could have it out – clear the air – but I chickened out. I was worried you’d pick up your pack, walk out the door and never come back.

I don’t know when I slept. It was later on Saturday morning when the phone rang on the bedside table. Kaz on phone.

“Zander, buddy, you gotta come out running with me. It’s a beautiful day,” the voice of my oldest friend boomed out of the speaker.

“Kaz, you know what time it is?” I croaked.

“It’s almost nine thirty, it’s getting late,” he said.

“We had practice yesterday,” I groaned.

Kaz never gives up, and I knew I was going to go running. It was just like me to try to delay the inevitable. He coaxed, and wheedled, and eventually got me meet him at school. He gave me thirty minutes.

I threw on some running clothes and headed downstairs. You weren’t in the room – our room – and the bed was neatly made. Mom informed me that you were at work this morning, and I sourly reflected that you often were. You hadn't left me a note or anything. I remember guzzling down some juice and dashing out the door.

It had been ages since Kaz and I had gone running together, just the two of us. I realized I’d missed this. We greeted each other briefly at the school, and we were soon stretching and jogging along, as if nothing had happened since last September.

Kaz set a slow, even pace, and we ran steadily along the streets toward the south end of town. The air had a hint of real warmth, and snow was all gone, though the grass hadn’t greened up much.

Kaz was in a talkative mood. He always talks when we run, but he was chattier than usual. For a while he just went on and on about this and that. He never tires of conversation in motion, it’s just his way. Once we were well out of town, Kaz changed his tone.

“What the hell is going on with you and Andy? he demanded.

Suddenly, the conversation had gone serious.

“What?” I said, dumbly.

“Don’t play stupid with me, Zander, you know what I’m talking about,” Kaz returned.

I couldn’t remember him talking to me like this before. Last spring and summer, when I shut just about everyone out, Kaz had just shrugged it off, waiting for me to get over myself. Now I realized that he deserved an honest answer.

“You can tell, can't you?"

“Jesus, yes. What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I complained. “I just know that things haven’t felt right all week. It’s gotten worse since we went to court on Wednesday.”

“Well, how are things wrong?” Kaz asked patiently.

“I wonder if I haven’t messed things up," I finally admitted.

“Messed up how?”

“I don’t know. But…you and Terry ever fight?”

“Yeah, once or twice. You have a fight?” Kaz countered.

“Not exactly. But something isn’t right, and…well, I’ve been frustrated. He won’t talk to me about it. And…I was kind of an asshole to him yesterday.”

“Have you tried talking it out? That’s what me and Terry do.”

“No,” I admitted, ashamed. “I’m afraid. Afraid of what I might find out.”

“Like what?” asked Kaz.

“Like I think he’s found someone else. I’m afraid he doesn’t want me anymore, and I’m too damned scared to hear it. And I’m jealous as hell of whoever it is he wants instead of me.” I unburdened myself to my best friend, but I was scared as hell to hear what he would say.

We ran on in silence for a maybe fifty yards.

Then Kaz started to laugh. It started as a little chuckle, but it quickly expanded into a full grown belly laugh. Kaz laughed so hard he actually had to stop running and bend over and brace himself.

I stood there, glaring. What the hell was so funny?

“You’re kidding, right?” Kaz gasped, finally getting his breathing under control.

Angrily, I shook my head. “No, I’m serious.”

Kaz stood up, stepped closer to me, and put his huge hands on my shoulders. From his towering height, he looked down at me in the eye.

“You realize you’re my best friend, right?” he said.

I nodded.

“And you realize you’re an idiot, right?”

I lifted an eyebrow.

“That boy has been in love with you since you met in the locker room last fall,” Kaz stated flatly. “There may be something on his mind, but he hasn’t changed his mind about you.”

“How do you know?”

“It takes a man in love to know another. I don’t have to be gay to figure this one out, Zander.”

“What about that Jeff kid?” I asked weakly.

Kaz waved that idea away. “You gotta be kidding. He’s only doing for that poor kid what you or I would have done in his place. He’s being a friend to someone who needs one. He’s being himself – a great guy – just like you.”

I looked down at my feet. I felt so ashamed. “I know I’ve been an asshole. You think I’ve been pissed over nothing?”

“Uh-huh, that’s exactly what I think. Jesus, Zander, you’re the luckiest gay guy in the world. Your boy loves you, and you better believe it.”

Kaz was smiling at me when I looked back up at him. “So what do I do?”

“You go home, and you tell him you love him. Tell him that you’ve been an asshole and that you need to talk things out. I swear, it’ll be all hearts and flowers in an hour.”

Somehow, his words just blew away the storm clouds that had buffeted my heart for the past few days. Kaz made it sound so easy. And I could trust Kaz – he wasn’t stupid. Best of all, he really believed everything would work out. This was my oldest friend talking, and he was making sense. Why hadn’t I done this before?

I gave Kaz a playful shove. “Hearts and flowers, my ass,” I started to laugh, “you’re not gay enough to know about hearts and flowers.”

We took our time coming back.

We stopped in at Kaz’s house, grabbed something to eat and drink, messed around in the basement, and so on. A couple of hours slipped by. I practically forgot that I had to get home. I had a mission, and it was going to be accomplished. We’d get to the bottom of things easily enough, and then it would be smooth sailing.

Except that, as I made my way home across town, I started having doubts again. What was bothering you? Were you getting ready to be rid of me? Maybe Kaz was full of it and just blowing smoke, trying to make me feel good.

I got home and headed straight for the shower. I remembered the kisses we’d shared. The feel of your body against mine. I felt myself harden just thinking about it. Shit. Time to get dry and find you. Find out what the real truth is.

In the kitchen, I found Mom, working on a project of some kind.

“Hey Mom, where’s Andy?”

“He came home from work while you were out, but I haven’t seen him lately. Isn’t he in his room?”

You weren’t in our room, but I realized I hadn’t checked the guestroom – your original room. I dashed upstairs and looked in, but the room stood empty and silent. I checked my temporary quarters down the hall – empty, too. I peered in my parents’ room – nothing. Now I was worried. Back downstairs, I tried the living room, peeked in Dad’s study, looked quickly around the dining room – nope. I wondered if you were in the basement, doing laundry, so I headed down there. But it was quiet and dark there, too.

I got a sudden chill. You’d decided to take off. Were you running away? Running to someone else? Dashing up the stairs, I pulled my cell out of my pocket and called your number. Distantly, I heard your phone ring up in our room. But you weren’t there.

Where the hell were you?

Now I was seriously afraid. What was I going to do without you?

I had one other idea. Hurriedly, trying not to panic, I pushed my way out the back door, not even putting on my jacket. I strode across the driveway and pulled open the barn door.

And there you were. Seated on the hay, facing away.

You turned, looked over your shoulder at me, and smiled. My heart surged. It was a real smile, the smile I’d fallen in love with. Maybe Kaz was right after all.

You motioned for me to come sit by you on the straw. Nothing would have stopped me. I wanted to wrap you up in a huge hug, but I hesitated to do that. We had to talk.

“Hey.” You sounded almost shy.

“Hey, yourself. Where were you?”

“At work. Doing stuff in town. Here,” you said softly, patting the spot next to you.

“We need to talk, Andy.”

“I know. And I’m sorry I haven’t been good to you this week.” I heard you say.

“Not good to me? You’ve been…” I started.

“No, don’t. I’ve been… preoccupied by…a lot of things.”

My protests died in my throat. You were right, of course. “Me, too.”

You looked up at me, confused.

Time to clear the air. “I’ve been scared, Andy. You haven’t been talking to me, not at all. We haven’t been together enough. And…and I know I’ve been a jerk to you,” I began.

“Scared? What were you scared of?”

I looked down, still ashamed.

“I thought that maybe…with that Jeff kid…I was getting jealous. I thought maybe you didn’t want me anymore,” I finally got it out.

Unlike Kaz, you didn’t laugh. I felt your hand on the back of my neck. I turned to you, saw your eyes, and then I felt your lips on mine, and you were kissing me. Warmly, tenderly, as if our kisses could wash away all my fears. When the kiss broke, you held me there, our foreheads touching.

“You really thought I’d give you up for someone else?” you asked.

“I was stupid. I didn’t know what to think. Maybe you were getting ready to bolt, or maybe you wanted…oh hell, Andy, I don’t know. You wouldn’t talk, or touch, or anything. I was afraid you’d had enough of me. I’m sorry for being such an idiot.” And we embraced again.

“It’s okay,” I heard you murmur into my ear. Since when do you get to comfort me? It’s supposed to be the other way around, isn’t it?

I thought we’d go back to kissing, but you had more to say. You let me go, and immediately the world felt a little colder.

“Zander, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” you began.

I didn’t like the sound of that.

“And I did some research, and well, I’ve been busy getting some things ready."

I definitely did not like this at all. What did those kisses mean?

But you were still speaking. "I’m sorry I worried you. And you're right, we should have been talking about this, but I wanted everything to be all prepped before we started, and I know I should have talked to you about this sooner, but…” you started to talk faster, so I put my finger on your lips to slow you down.

“Just tell me, Andy. Do you love me still?”

And you smiled your best smile, “Yes, Zander. You know I love you.” And I did know.

“Okay then. Everything is going to be okay.”

And your smile got even wider, and you pulled our foreheads together again. The barn smelled of hay and animals. You took a deep breath. Time stood still and nothing mattered but you and me. Then you spoke.

“Zander? Will you marry me? Please?”

At first I wasn’t sure I heard you right. I pulled back, surprised, and searched your eyes for a few seconds. “You want me to marry you?”

Your smile was still there. You meant it. “Please marry me, Zander.”

“Yes.” The word was out in an instant. What else could I say? This was you asking – and I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you. My arms were wrapped around you again. “Yes, Andy, I’ll marry you. Yes. Yes, forever.”

And then we were kissing again, and it was better than before. Hot, blazing, kisses, tongues battling, passion rising. But then you stopped and left me breathless.

“Shit. I’m doing this wrong,” I heard you mutter.

I didn’t know how anything could be wrong. You still loved me, and your kisses were perfect. I saw you reach into your pocket for something. A small red velvet bag. My face must have shown my confusion.

“I forgot the most important part,” you said to me, apologetically. You drew out two beautiful silver rings. Now I understood. Now it felt absolutely real. Not theoretical at all. I felt you take my left hand. “Now, Zander Stevenson. Will you marry me?”

“Yes, Andy Stevenson. I’ll marry you.” And a ring slipped onto my finger, perfectly.

Kaz wasn’t completely right. It wasn’t hearts and flowers. It was rings.

Craftingmom deserves my great gratitude and many thanks for her peerless editing of this and every chapter. Her tactful help was invaluable.

Please leave a review. Your thoughts and reflections of whatever sort or variety are much appreciated.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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It's true that in most states, getting married leads to what's called "automatic emancipation" meaning that Andy and Zander would be adults in the eyes of the law (although minimum ages for voting and drinking remain), but all states require that the parents or legal guardians consent in order for a minor to get married, so I'm not sure how this would work. Strictly speaking, Garrett and Monica are not Andy's legal guardians - they only have temporary conservatorship - Judge Harrison is actually the legal guardian who would have to agree to allow this to move forward. This might cause issues for him if he assented and FPS made the argument that the entire thing was a charade to avoid FPS involvement. A very tangled web, Parker. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

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From the "flight or fight" response to a proposal all in one chapter! What a nice turn of events. I'm not sure of all the legal implications of marriage in this context, but it's certainly a romantic touch, and adds a feel-good component that we've seen little of in Andy's life.
Now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop--and can't wait for the next chapter. Superbly done implicit cliff-hanger, damnit...but a good job!
(Btw, great to hear Zander's perspective on all of this; either things really are that trouble free--other than his jealousy--or he's a little oblivious to some of the drama around him. Thank god his running buddy helps ground him, and get over his jealousy!)

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Wow once more! I could not believe it! What an astonishing idea... But then - why not? Why would Andy not be able to solve his problems once and for all? Marrying Zander and nobody can do anything about it, if Judge Harrison got it right and I'm pretty sure that Garrett's confidence is well-placed. Please let them be right in this...
Venom from Bruce. Cold hatred. Makes me shudder. Reminds me of my own country's bloody persecution of anything 'different' last century.
Andy has gained self-confidence. His choice of vault pole - where he flopped twice last time - without feeling stupid or a loser! His conscious change in attitude - he has recognised his own potential for decision-making, he takes his fate into his own hands. His dreams still wake him up at night but he does not seem paralysed by them as he used to be.
And then he is the one to offer the solution, the comfort, reassurance, as Zander well perceives. Proposing in the barn - among animals rather than in a room - half outside, half inside. Andy's old safe haven in a way and we know from his weeks on the farm that his hide-out in the hay felt like home.
He has made a decision. No more running away. Confronting problems. He has grown up. I would not like to have to confront him in some years - he will be a formidable lawyer or whatever he may take up.
How will his idea be put into practice, though... waiting again for your next instalment...
Thank you, Parker, for another great chapter.

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I did NOT see that coming at all. That was quite the twist. I know Andy is smart, but I never imagined his clever little mind would go there. I'm guess he spent a good amount of time researching marriage laws. I don't know a lot about it myself, though I know it's possible for 16-year-olds to marry. I'm dying to see how this will all play out.

 

What I really liked about this chapter was Andy's moment of clarity, that he didn't need to run I fear and keep being a passive victim of bullies and circumstance. He's such a smart kid, and finally recognizing those assets and putting them to use is going to take him so far.

 

Zander is a bit dense, he really needs to learn to apply some critical thinking skills. Kaz was right, he can be pretty idiotic. It's not just his insecurity and self esteem issues either, though he needs to work on those as well. But I mean he seemed a totally clueless about why Andy would be upset. The kid has had no stability in his life, and bigoted assholes are trying to rip him from the only real home or family he's ever had and you can't figure out what's bothering him Zander? Really?

 

One other thing, I'm surprised the county was backing this Chandler ladies desire to appeal the court decision. Especially when they basically had no case to begin with. Is everyone at the county offices that worried that Andy might catch the gay or something? Considering this all stems from a personal vendetta by an extremely homophobic peer of Andy and Zander's, I think that this whole thing bears some serious investigation. Obviously some very corrupt individuals have positions of authority in this county. Hopes something is eventually done about that.

 

I am a little worried about the boys safety, what with Bruce telling them they don't deserve to live.

 

Wow I wrote a lot, but this was just that kind of chapter. You amaze me Parker. I never know where you're going to take the story next.

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On 02/10/2016 12:33 AM, xleroc said:

It's true that in most states, getting married leads to what's called "automatic emancipation" meaning that Andy and Zander would be adults in the eyes of the law (although minimum ages for voting and drinking remain), but all states require that the parents or legal guardians consent in order for a minor to get married, so I'm not sure how this would work. Strictly speaking, Garrett and Monica are not Andy's legal guardians - they only have temporary conservatorship - Judge Harrison is actually the legal guardian who would have to agree to allow this to move forward. This might cause issues for him if he assented and FPS made the argument that the entire thing was a charade to avoid FPS involvement. A very tangled web, Parker. Can't wait to see how it plays out.

Funny how simple solutions often turn out to be tangled, too. Everything you say is generally true, of course. But if it is allowed to stand, Andy's solution cuts through a whole host of issues and courtroom time. Maybe Andy should be a lawyer. Thanks for your keen reading and insights. Thanks again for reading this chapter. It was just serendipity it came up in the week leading up to Valentines Day.

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I was expecting that the legal solution that Andy found was his own Emancipation. It seemed like an obvious, albeit less romantic, answer. Maybe Andy has yet another possible future career: Lawyer!

 

I like where Andy decided he was tired of just reacting and decided to take an active stand. He has grown so much since he first met Zander!

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A great chapter Parker, especially with the extended thoughts from Zander. Wasn't this the longest Zanderzine to date? Whether it was or not, you placed in into a perfect location -- right before Andy made his plan public (to us).

 

How it proceeds from here, I'll leave that to the author. There will certainly be some difficulties getting it done -- and in time.
But at least wanting something badly has won out over abandoning and flight.

 

Thanks for sharing!

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I wonder how Zanders parents are going to take this news? What a chapter of insecurities on both sides. I really did not see getting married as as a possible solution to his problem, what a left curve that was. Obviously Andy has researched it very well, so that with Zanders parents blessings it would end all the problems and start some new ones! Another great chapter Parker.

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HEHE... I didn't see that coming, for sure.

 

Honestly, when Andy was reading the legal books about the foundling, foster care and adoption laws, that the solution that Andy discovered was minor emancipation, not marriage. At almost 17 years old and under the circumstances, being emancipated wouldn't be hard for Andy to do and it would solve all of the CFS issues. Andy would be free to live where and with whom ever he wanted without interference.

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Not sure that's a solution, dont they need permission cuz they are under age? And geez.. marriage is hard enough for adults..I hope they dont end up going there at their ages.
I think it's good that Andy wants to stand up for himself, but as someone who never had the opportunity to 'date' anyone, i'm not sure marrying your first love is a good idea. Not that I dont think I'm lucky, cuz my husband is a great guy, but there is always this but... mostly I ignore it, but it's there.

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Thank you Parker. Like several other readers, I was completely surprised by the proposal. No other chapter has so completely evoked my smile. A few chapters back, you confessed to being a hopeless romantic in a review reply. Now you are providing proof!

 

And the mood of suspense created in this chapter, wow, it was a genuinely intense reading experience.

 

Andy's declaration of self determination,


I decided not to float anymore. I was going to land the raft of my life, stand firmly on the shore, and build what I could on the solid ground. I was going to choose my own way. Period.
is as inspiring as it is beautiful. This is the man we have seen in glimpses and hints, slowly emerging from a broken boy. Nicely done!

 

I loved Monica's quip about studying physics rather than biology. Her relationship with Andy has evolved beautifully.

 

As Rex pointed out, we are left with the implicit cliff hanger, the unanswered questions. What was Jeff's role in Andy's plan? Will Monica and Garret support a marriage? Since Kaz is obviously taken, who will be Andy's best man? Could FPS somehow block a marriage? Which of them is pregnant?

 

More soon please! :)

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I am so happy to see Andy taking charge of his own life. If he is planning emancipation - which I don't think he'd have a problem getting - I think the important adults in his life will accept it. He just needs to explain that he needed their support to help him get his life back together and to the point where he can now stand up for himself and that he will still need their support in some areas. In some societies, 17 is definitely considered old enough to have adult responsibilities, including working, marriage and children.
I also loved Monica's comment about not studying biology.

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I KNEW IT! (It's why I was asking about laws the last chapter). Oh hell yeah! I swore I was gonna quit reading if you made him run again :P Of course, in honest speaking, if he'd simply appeal to the courts himself as not in danger as well as the troubles with the classmate, heads would roll, but I'm all for Andy getting some guaranteed happiness for life instead.

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On 02/10/2016 05:26 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Not sure that's a solution, dont they need permission cuz they are under age? And geez.. marriage is hard enough for adults..I hope they dont end up going there at their ages.

I think it's good that Andy wants to stand up for himself, but as someone who never had the opportunity to 'date' anyone, i'm not sure marrying your first love is a good idea. Not that I dont think I'm lucky, cuz my husband is a great guy, but there is always this but... mostly I ignore it, but it's there.

Marriage may not be a perfect solution. But it's Andy's solution, I guess. Yes, marriage is very hard for anyone who practices it, I agree. I'm old enough to have seen first loves work out long term, and others crash and burn. Dating can work too (it didn't for me, but did for my brother). Thanks for your insight and your good thoughts. I appreciate your reading this chapter!

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Marriage? Wow...I did not see that coming! You had me guessing all chapter as to what Andy's plans were. He's a smart cookie. I can't wait to see how this all works out.

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On 02/10/2016 12:52 AM, Robert Rex said:

From the "flight or fight" response to a proposal all in one chapter! What a nice turn of events. I'm not sure of all the legal implications of marriage in this context, but it's certainly a romantic touch, and adds a feel-good component that we've seen little of in Andy's life.

Now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop--and can't wait for the next chapter. Superbly done implicit cliff-hanger, damnit...but a good job!

(Btw, great to hear Zander's perspective on all of this; either things really are that trouble free--other than his jealousy--or he's a little oblivious to some of the drama around him. Thank god his running buddy helps ground him, and get over his jealousy!)

There are enough shoes left to drop to take care of a centipede. For now Andy is content at Zander's 'yes.' That's enough for this one moment. And you are right about Zander, in that he has been kind of oblivious. Kaz has been an excellent friend. Thanks for your reflections and thoughts, and thanks especially for reading this chapter.

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On 02/10/2016 01:02 AM, mayday said:

Wow once more! I could not believe it! What an astonishing idea... But then - why not? Why would Andy not be able to solve his problems once and for all? Marrying Zander and nobody can do anything about it, if Judge Harrison got it right and I'm pretty sure that Garrett's confidence is well-placed. Please let them be right in this...

Venom from Bruce. Cold hatred. Makes me shudder. Reminds me of my own country's bloody persecution of anything 'different' last century.

Andy has gained self-confidence. His choice of vault pole - where he flopped twice last time - without feeling stupid or a loser! His conscious change in attitude - he has recognised his own potential for decision-making, he takes his fate into his own hands. His dreams still wake him up at night but he does not seem paralysed by them as he used to be.

And then he is the one to offer the solution, the comfort, reassurance, as Zander well perceives. Proposing in the barn - among animals rather than in a room - half outside, half inside. Andy's old safe haven in a way and we know from his weeks on the farm that his hide-out in the hay felt like home.

He has made a decision. No more running away. Confronting problems. He has grown up. I would not like to have to confront him in some years - he will be a formidable lawyer or whatever he may take up.

How will his idea be put into practice, though... waiting again for your next instalment...

Thank you, Parker, for another great chapter.

This is the stronger, more assertive Andy we've been seeing emerge. His solution to his difficulties with FPS may not be foolproof, but it is quite powerful in its way. And, of course, Zander said 'yes.' Bruce was full of venom, to Zander's bewilderment. And perhaps Zander will need to get used to an Andy who loves him, but doesn't have to cling for protection. Writing this section was fun to imagine - hope it rang true to character. Thanks so much for your comments, and thank you so much for reading this chapter!

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On 02/10/2016 01:18 AM, spikey582 said:

I did NOT see that coming at all. That was quite the twist. I know Andy is smart, but I never imagined his clever little mind would go there. I'm guess he spent a good amount of time researching marriage laws. I don't know a lot about it myself, though I know it's possible for 16-year-olds to marry. I'm dying to see how this will all play out.

 

What I really liked about this chapter was Andy's moment of clarity, that he didn't need to run I fear and keep being a passive victim of bullies and circumstance. He's such a smart kid, and finally recognizing those assets and putting them to use is going to take him so far.

 

Zander is a bit dense, he really needs to learn to apply some critical thinking skills. Kaz was right, he can be pretty idiotic. It's not just his insecurity and self esteem issues either, though he needs to work on those as well. But I mean he seemed a totally clueless about why Andy would be upset. The kid has had no stability in his life, and bigoted assholes are trying to rip him from the only real home or family he's ever had and you can't figure out what's bothering him Zander? Really?

 

One other thing, I'm surprised the county was backing this Chandler ladies desire to appeal the court decision. Especially when they basically had no case to begin with. Is everyone at the county offices that worried that Andy might catch the gay or something? Considering this all stems from a personal vendetta by an extremely homophobic peer of Andy and Zander's, I think that this whole thing bears some serious investigation. Obviously some very corrupt individuals have positions of authority in this county. Hopes something is eventually done about that.

 

I am a little worried about the boys safety, what with Bruce telling them they don't deserve to live.

 

Wow I wrote a lot, but this was just that kind of chapter. You amaze me Parker. I never know where you're going to take the story next.

For once Andy surprised you? :) Andy is smart enough to read a rule book and figure out some of its meaning. Regardless of whether his proposal is legal, his plan to free everyone of the clouds overshadowing him is his own and nobody else's. It's not a passive reaction. Zander is dense in that he is being confronted with an Andy who is growing and may no longer cling. And Kaz was certainly right - Zander was foolish. This happens, and reveals some of the blinders Zander may wear from time to time. As to an appeal, the county may see a legal challenge quite apart from the merits of Ms. Chandler's case. Nobody likes getting slapped down in court; perhaps Mr. Kowalski is making a point. Thanks very much for your insights into Zander and for reflecting on this chapter. I hope you continue to enjoy the remainder of Andy's journal.

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On 02/10/2016 02:05 AM, droughtquake said:

I was expecting that the legal solution that Andy found was his own Emancipation. It seemed like an obvious, albeit less romantic, answer. Maybe Andy has yet another possible future career: Lawyer!

 

I like where Andy decided he was tired of just reacting and decided to take an active stand. He has grown so much since he first met Zander!

Andy has grown a lot; now Zander will have to get used to this new guy. Yes, emancipation is much less romantic. It might also require him to return to Carlsberg. Andy as a lawyer might be interesting. Whatever he does, he will be a formidable individual. Thank you for your thoughts and for reading this chapter in Andy's story.

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On 02/10/2016 02:19 AM, skinnydragon said:

A great chapter Parker, especially with the extended thoughts from Zander. Wasn't this the longest Zanderzine to date? Whether it was or not, you placed in into a perfect location -- right before Andy made his plan public (to us).

 

How it proceeds from here, I'll leave that to the author. There will certainly be some difficulties getting it done -- and in time.

But at least wanting something badly has won out over abandoning and flight.

 

Thanks for sharing!

New word: a 'Zanderzine.' I love it. :) It was a moment when Andy took the initiative and changed their lives. It was good to hear from Zander about how he saw it; we knew Andy would be nervous about it. You're right - wanting something - love and family and belonging - has won out over fear and anxiety. Thank you very much for your reflections, and for continuing to follow Andy's journal.

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On 02/10/2016 04:20 AM, slapshot said:

I wonder how Zanders parents are going to take this news? What a chapter of insecurities on both sides. I really did not see getting married as as a possible solution to his problem, what a left curve that was. Obviously Andy has researched it very well, so that with Zanders parents blessings it would end all the problems and start some new ones! Another great chapter Parker.

Andy spend a night in Garrett's law books, and more time online researching, and then more time thinking everything through. Still, there could be some obvious problems ahead. Thanks a lot for continuing to read Andy's story, and for your thoughts on this chapter.

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On 02/10/2016 05:11 AM, Nahrung said:

HEHE... I didn't see that coming, for sure.

 

Honestly, when Andy was reading the legal books about the foundling, foster care and adoption laws, that the solution that Andy discovered was minor emancipation, not marriage. At almost 17 years old and under the circumstances, being emancipated wouldn't be hard for Andy to do and it would solve all of the CFS issues. Andy would be free to live where and with whom ever he wanted without interference.

Minor emancipation would certainly have been an option. But perhaps Andy's love for Zander and his family blinded him to that option. More than anything, Andy wants to belong and to love - and right now, he's in love with Zander. Thanks so much for your remarks and for your continued reading of this story.

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On 02/10/2016 05:28 AM, Zenith said:

Surprise! This amazing story just keeps getting better. Thanks Parker :)

Hope you enjoyed the surprise. Thanks for staying with the story to this point.

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On 02/10/2016 07:07 AM, said:

Thank you Parker. Like several other readers, I was completely surprised by the proposal. No other chapter has so completely evoked my smile. A few chapters back, you confessed to being a hopeless romantic in a review reply. Now you are providing proof!

 

And the mood of suspense created in this chapter, wow, it was a genuinely intense reading experience.

 

Andy's declaration of self determination,

I decided not to float anymore. I was going to land the raft of my life, stand firmly on the shore, and build what I could on the solid ground. I was going to choose my own way. Period.

is as inspiring as it is beautiful. This is the man we have seen in glimpses and hints, slowly emerging from a broken boy. Nicely done!

 

I loved Monica's quip about studying physics rather than biology. Her relationship with Andy has evolved beautifully.

 

As Rex pointed out, we are left with the implicit cliff hanger, the unanswered questions. What was Jeff's role in Andy's plan? Will Monica and Garret support a marriage? Since Kaz is obviously taken, who will be Andy's best man? Could FPS somehow block a marriage? Which of them is pregnant?

 

More soon please! :)

I am very glad you found this chapter enjoyable and surprising. Andy is emerging into someone who can want something enough - love, family, belonging - to do something about it on his own. In some ways, Zander is the one who has to adjust to this new, surprising Andy. And of course, there are lots of shoes left to drop. The boys will have to come in from the barn sooner or later...on Friday. Thanks for your kind words and reflections. Hope you will enjoy the remainder of Andy's journal.

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