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43. Chapter 43 From Paternity

Mark Arbour%s's Photo   Mark Arbour, 01 Jun 2012

 

October 22, 2000

 

       We decided to head to our house first, which kind of freaked me out, since I hadn’t been back since I’d left it in complete disarray.  I hadn’t really expected that Michael would be there waiting to pick up JJ.  It may have been nice to have JJ there when I got home, but it really didn’t matter all that much to me.  Besides, that way we got rid of his bitchy presence.  I noticed that I had a message on my phone.  I remembered to give Stef an apologetic look before I listened to it. 

       It was from Ryan.  I’d called him and talked to him after I got back from Santa Cruz, but it had been a pretty lame conversation.  I’d let it bother me at first, until it dawned on me that all of my phone calls with him were really short and to the point.  I decided that he just didn’t like talking on the phone.  With that in mind, his message was predictable:  “Dude, call me when you get back in town.”

       “Ryan left me a message,” I said to Stef. 

       “Do you think he would enjoy helping us out?”

       I grinned. “You sure you don’t mind?”  It would be so awesome to see him. 

       “I will endeavor to tolerate him,” Stef said.  He liked Ryan.  Who wouldn’t?  The guy was a walking teen model. 

       I called him, and he answered on the second ring. “Dude, you back?”

       “Just landed.  Stef and I are on our way to Malibu. We’re going to try and fix some of the damage I caused, so we’re shopping today.  Want to go with us?” 

       “Shopping?” he asked scornfully.  He wasn’t all that big on shopping either. 

       “Yeah, but it’s shopping with me,” I said, probably sounding a lot like a chick.

       “Well I was gonna go, but now that you throw that in...” he joked.  “When are you picking me up?” 

       “I’ll call you back and let you know,” I said to him, then hung up.  I turned to Stef.  “I was thinking that we could spend some time going over what they have, doing an inventory, while someone goes to pick up Ryan.” 

       “I think Jeff can handle that while we are going through things,” Stef said, looking toward the front of the car.  Jeff had sat up there with the driver, and I’d put the privacy screen up so I didn’t have to deal with his looks.  “Maybe he can work himself out of his bad mood.” 

       “Just so you know, he’s in for some fun times,” I said to Stef. 

       “Try to balance his bitchiness today with how much he did for you while you were gone,” Stef noted. 

       “I didn’t say I was going to hurt him badly.  Just a little bit of pain, so he doesn’t fuck with me in the future,” I said, giving Stef my evil grin.  He shook his head. 

       Before I could say anything else, my phone rang:  this time it was my dad.  “Hey!  Where are you guys?” 

       “We decided to take 101 down.  We’re going to stop in Shell Beach for a bit when we get there, so that may delay us a bit.” 

       “Shell Beach?”  I didn’t know why that place would be significant.

       “Yeah.  That’s where Robbie and I first got, well, partnered,” he said, scrounging around for the right word.  “We were driving down to Malibu after college to start our new life and I told him I wanted to be like a married couple.”

       It was a sign of how fucked up our society was that gay men couldn’t easily describe their commitment rituals.  “And he went along with that?” I teased.

       “Yeah, but only because I had a ring to give him.  It’s always about him,” he joked.  I heard Robbie say ‘fuck you’ in the background, which cracked me up.  “So anyway, we’re taking our time on this trip.  No speeding, especially since Robbie’s driving.”  Robbie did drive pretty slowly, but he was better than Max, who never went over the speed limit. 

       “No problem,” I told him.  “Is it OK if Ryan hangs out with me, maybe stays over tonight?” 

       “That’s fine,” he said. “We may not be home until later.” 

       “We’ll find something to do,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows at Stef, making him giggle.

       “I’m sure you will,” he said cheerfully.  “I got a call from the headmaster at Harvard-Westlake.” 

       “On Sunday morning?  Isn’t he supposed to be at church?”

       “Evidently he’s dealing with sinners on Sunday morning,” he joked.  “He wants you to come in a little early tomorrow so you can meet with him.” 

       “Alright,” I said nervously.  My mind flashed to all the horrible things he could do to me, all the penalties he could inflict on me.  I could be doing lunch duty for a month, I could get detention, I could have any number of other unpleasant things happen to me...the evils a headmaster could come up with boggled the mind.

       “He doesn’t plan to, and I quote, ‘impose any further sanctions on you’,” Dad said in his fake-officious accent, cracking me up.  “And he’s fine with you missing school to go with us to see your brother skate in Norway.”

       “Really?”  I couldn’t believe that.

       “That’s what he said.  You want me to call him back and argue about it, see if he can come up with something?”  He was in a good mood, joking around.  He was so much fun when he was like this.

       “No, that’s fine,” I said quickly.  “What did you say to him when you met with him?  Did you give him like a million dollars or something?” 

       “No, I didn’t really have to do anything.  I just told him what was going on with us, about our problems, and he seemed really understanding,” Dad said, as if that should be enough.  It wasn’t, and I’d made him stop to think about it so he could come to that conclusion as well.

       “I don’t want to stir things up so I end up on lunch duty, but that seems kind of weird,” I told him.  “The penalties for what I did can be pretty extreme.”

       “Well, you were suspended,” he said, then agreed with me.  “It is kind of weird.”

       “Ask Robbie if he pulled any strings,” I said.  He turned to Robbie and asked him, but he said he didn’t.  “That’s really unusual, for them to be that lenient.” 

       “You’re right,” Dad said, with his curiosity fully aroused now.  “You must have some friends watching out for you.” 

       “I must,” I agreed.  “You guys enjoy your drive.” 

       “We’ll see you tonight,” he said cheerfully, and hung up. 

       I turned to Stef.  “You didn’t send Harvard-Westlake a massive check so they’d let me off the hook, did you?” 

       “If I had intervened, it would to have been to ensure you had lunch duty,” he joked.  “I did nothing.” 

       “That’s really bizarre,” I said, and mused about that.  “I mean, I expected to have a whole bunch of crap dropped on me.”

       “It is odd,” Stef said.  I studied him as he said that, and could tell that he didn’t know what was going on.  He was too easy for me to read.  “I would merely be happy that such a serendipitous event befell you.” 

       “Serendipitous?” I teased him.  “What’s with you and big words?” 

       He scowled.  “I have been spending too much time with JP.” 

       “Makes you sound smart,” I said, winking at him. 

       We were chuckling about that as we pulled up to the house.  We got out of the car and Stef walked over to Jeff.  “I need you to go pick up Ryan while we are taking inventory.”

       “Sure, Stef,” Jeff said, and didn’t even look at me. 

       “Here’s his address,” I said, giving him the note I’d jotted on our way home.  “Be nice to him.” 

       “I’ll be nice,” he said, but a little sarcastically. 

       I grabbed his shirt sleeve and pulled him away from the driver and from Stef, even though they looked at us nervously.  “Look asshole, you’re going to pay for being a dick to me, but you’ll possibly survive that.  You treat my friends badly, and you’re toast.  You got that?” 

       He looked angry and alarmed at the same time.  “I said I’d be nice.”

       “I guess we’ll see if that’s true or not,” I observed, giving him a smart-ass look, even as I walked back over to Stef. 

       I walked up to the door and opened it nervously, as if I expected ghosts to jump out and attack me.  We walked up to my room first, where I put my stuff down, and then went up to Dad and Pop’s room.  I walked in and stopped in shock.  It was completely empty.  “Where did everything go?” 

       Stef swallowed hard.  “Your father opted to take this opportunity to redecorate.” 

       “I ruined everything?” I asked.  I felt the tears return, and angrily wiped them away.  “They even ripped up the carpet.” 

       “It had acid burns in it,” he said.

       I wandered around and everything was gone.  The only things still in place were the built-in closet organizers, but even they were messed up.  “I can’t believe I did that,” I said morosely. 

       “I think it is important that you not let your emotions overwhelm you.  We are trying to look forward, remember?”  He put his hand on my shoulder as he said that, and his touch, so warm and friendly, seemed to suck the sadness out of me.

       “You’re right.  Let’s see if we can make things better.”  We went down to the guest room and sorted through their closets.  They were pretty disorganized, which was unlike both of them.  They had underwear and socks still in the store wrappers, and they had their shirts and shorts and other accessories all jumbled up.  They’d organized their dress clothes and shirts by color before, but now these were all interspersed as well. 

       “It appears we have some organization to do,” Stef observed.

       “They were really upset,” I noted.  This was tangible evidence of how messed up I’d made them.  No way would they have been this careless with their stuff if they were on an even keel. 

       “So it would seem,” he said.  Stef and I pulled everything out, and I organized it while he noted what they had and what they needed.  We were in the middle of our job when I heard a familiar voice. 

       “Welcome home,” Ryan said.  I turned to look at him, and gave him a big grin, which he returned. 

       “It’s good to see you,” I told him, even as I went up to him and gave him a monster hug.  I kind of expected him to recoil at that, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, we hadn’t reconnected yet, and even though I’d only been gone for a week, so much had changed in that short period of time.  I felt like I was a completely different person.  The other reason was that Stef was in the room, and I assumed that Ryan would be nervous about public displays of affection.  None of that seemed to matter to him.  He wrapped his arms around me and held me really tight, tighter than he’d ever done before, and I just sank into him.  We probably hugged a little too long, since Stef was smirking at us when we finally broke apart. 

       “Dude, help us out,” I said quickly, more to get us over being embarrassed.  Ryan jumped in to the task at hand, and helped us pull things together quickly. 

       Armed with our inventory, we hopped into the limo and headed down to Beverly Hills, where Stef went from shop to shop like a demon.  In the past, when I’d shopped with him, he’d been slow and deliberate.  That was maddening to someone like me, who liked to just get things done.  This time, we were all in sync, all focused on finding the right stuff as fast as we could.  It was awesome. 

       Of course, Stef insisted on shopping for himself, Ryan and me as well.  We were looking at suits, since I’d probably need something new for Norway.  Ryan pulled out this really nice dark brown suit, and held it up to himself, looking at it in the mirror.  It would look horrible on him, but he didn’t seem to get that.  Before I could say anything, Stef intervened. 

       “With your coloring, you should stick to blues and greys,” he told Ryan.  He pulled a nice blue coat out and made Ryan put it on.  “See how much better that looks.  It draws out your eyes, and blends in with your complexion.” 

       “Wow,” Ryan said, as he pondered Stef’s words. 

       “You can also get away with wearing lighter colors,” Stef said, and handed him a light grey jacket.  Ryan put it on and admired himself in the mirror, but not as much as Stef and I did. 

       “You should try this one on,” he said to me.

       “No,” Stef said firmly, before I could answer.  “Will looks better in darker colors.”  But he made me try it on anyway, just to show Ryan the difference.  From there, our shopping spree took a multipurpose approach.  In addition to buying clothes for all of us, Stef spent a lot of time teaching Ryan the basics of fashion, and how to dress.  It dawned on me that he’d done that with me too, over the years, as he’d dragged me out on various shopping sprees.  That was the way he taught us how to dress right, and not to look like complete idiots.  All those times that I’d rebelled against going with him, I’d been depriving myself of valuable lessons.  I felt like I’d let a bunch of golden opportunities slip by, and started to feel guilty about that, but remembered his words this morning, about looking forward.  Instead of the guilt, I’d just make sure to spend more time going with him in the future.

       I pretty much let Stef have his way with buying things until we got to the ties.  “That is too wild for Dad,” I said as he picked out a particularly loud tie to go with a solid blue suit.

       “This suit is bland.  It needs something to make it come alive,” Stef insisted, as he held up the swatch of the suit color. 

       “Dad likes his clothes dead,” I joked.  “Try this one.”  I handed him one that consisted of muted stripes. 

       “This certainly meets that criterion,” he said, but bought it anyway.

       Hunger finally demanded that we stop.  Stef took us to a bistro that was pretty fancy, but we were both used to those kinds of places.  We knew they’d have big plates with small portions, so we just ordered more.  “Now all we have to do is go home and put these things away,” Stef said as we sat down to eat. 

       “I’ll have my mom pay you for the stuff you bought,” Ryan said firmly. 

       “You will do no such thing,” Stef said, even more firmly.  “You are a very handsome young man.  Dressing you up is a privilege.  It is the gay man’s equivalent of playing with Barbie dolls.”  I laughed so hard at that I thought I might throw up, and so did Ryan. 

       We got home and started going through things, and I noticed that it had gotten pretty late.  “Stef, if you want to head back, I can finish this up.”  I saw him waver, torn between not wanting to leave me alone while also wanting to get back home at a reasonable time.  “Maybe Ryan can stay here with me and help me out.”

       “I’m fine with that,” Ryan chimed in. 

       I leaned in and whispered in Stef’s ear.  “Go on.  Maybe I’ll get lucky.”  Stef giggled, gave us both warm hugs, then we had to endure one of Stef’s more lengthy goodbyes.  We finally ushered him out of the house, and then went back upstairs to finish putting everything away for Dad and Robbie. 

       It seemed to take forever before we got back down to my room and collapsed on my couch, pretty exhausted from all the work we’d done.  “Thanks for helping out.”

       “Scored some pretty nice clothes,” he said, winking at me. 

       “You did.  I think you look better without any on at all, though.”  He chuckled.

       “Can I take a shower?  I smell pretty ripe,” he said. 

       “Sure.  I’ll go after you do.” 

       He stood up in front of me and held out his hand.  I took it and he pulled me up, so I was standing there less than a foot away from him.  “I was thinking we could shower together.”  He winked at me and headed to the bathroom, with me right behind him. 

       We stripped off our clothes, and just watching him reveal his body, taking in his amazing contours, made me hard as a rock.  He didn’t get excited as fast as I did, so he laughed at me, but I didn’t give a shit.  I turned on the shower and was facing away from him, setting the lights and the aromatherapy, when I felt him behind me.  I stood up and he wrapped his arms around me, and let me feel his hard cock pressing against my ass.  “Mmmm,” he murmured in my ear.  He was so sexy; I was worried I’d blow with just that much stimulation.  He grabbed the soap and started rubbing it all over my body, while I just stood there, leaning back into him, letting him work my body with his hands. He played with my dick, but not too much.  I wasn’t sure if that was because he was avoiding it, or because he knew that I was so excited that he’d set me off he wasn’t careful. 

       He moved away from me and his soapy hand slid up my crack, flitting over my hole.  I moaned and pushed back into him like an old whore.  He giggled at my reaction.  I felt his finger slide into me, then he pulled out and re-entered me with two fingers.  “You clean?” he asked me.

       “Yeah.  Are you?” 

       “Yeah,” he said. 

       He lined his dick up, ready to fuck me, but I stopped him.  “You sure you want to do this?” 

       “You mean since I freaked out last time?” 

       “Yeah,” I said, smiling at him. 

       “Dude, this is all I think about,” he said, as he pushed gently into me.  I moaned, more of a joyful scream, as he filled me up, reveling at the feeling of being this intimate with him.  He started to fuck me, slowly at first, and then picked up his pace.  Neither one of us lasted too long, a symptom of our age and how excited we were.  “Gonna cum,” he growled into my ear, then he groaned and I felt him tense up as he gave himself over to his orgasm.  I stroked my cock maybe twice before I started blasting my load all over the shower wall.  When I was done, he gently pulled out of me, and I sat down on the bench pretty fast, since my knees were so weak from that terrific orgasm. 

       “Wow,” I said, smiling at him.  “That was one hell of a homecoming.” 

       “Literally,” he joked back. 

       We showered off then, and then got dressed, which was kind of a shame, but if he weren’t wearing clothes, I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else.  “Was that OK?” he asked. 

       “Dude, you rocked my world,” I said.

       He blushed.  “No, I meant that I didn’t use a condom.” 

       “You said you were clean, and I trust you,” I told him.  I decided that in this day and age, that was even more powerful than saying ‘I love you’, or at least it seemed that way.  “I’ve had sex without one once before, but I’ve been tested since then, and the guy turned out to be clean too.  Other than that, I’ve been safe.” 

       “I only did it without a condom a couple of times, when I first was with Shiloh,” he said, and seemed sad as he remembered her.  “I got tested last month, just to make sure.” 

       “I’ll make you a deal,” I said.  “You blow it and don’t use one with someone else, or if I do, then we use condoms.  Otherwise, I’m OK if we don’t.”

       “You think I’m going to fuck you again?” he asked, being all cocky.  “That was your welcome home present.  I’m not giving it up any more.” 

       “Right,” I said, and ran my hand up his leg to his crotch and started rubbing his dick through his pants.  He let me undo his zipper and pull out his dick, and I blew him, doing everything I could to make it the best blow job I’d ever given.  I’m not sure if it was that good, but he seemed to enjoy it. 

       After that, we went down to rummage for food.  That bistro place hadn’t really filled us up too well.  “So what’s going to happen to you tomorrow?” he asked me.

       “I have to go to the office in the morning, but that’s it.  The headmaster called my dad and told him that I didn’t have to do anything else.” 

       “Dude, are you serious?” he asked me, stunned.  “I figured you’d be cleaning out the toilets.” 

       “I know, right?  It freaks me out.  I don’t know why this dude is being so nice to me.  I only met him once.” 

       He shrugged.  “You do really well.  Maybe that’s why.” 

       “Maybe, but I doubt it.  I don’t really know what the deal is, but I’ll find out.  In the meantime, I’m not complaining.” 

       He got a little nervous after that.  “What are you going to tell everyone?” 

       “Why?” 

       “Well, I made it sound like you were catching some major shit for all of this.”  At first I was confused, but then I got it.  He’d been my personal PR agent at school, making me out to be this guy who had stuck up for himself against his high-powered parents, and basically flipped off the school as well.  He’d painted my running away as something that deserved a badge of courage.  If I went in and it seemed like nothing happened to me, it would make him look like an idiot. 

       “Dude, what do I do?”  We sat there and pondered it for a while, until it came to me.  He was such a cool guy.  I remembered how he’d handled things when I’d asked him about Shiloh.  He’d just closed up and said nothing.  That was what I’d do.  “I’ve got it.”

       “What?” he asked.

       “Pretend you’re Lance.  Ask me what happened.”

       “Alright,” he said.  He did this really goofy imitation of Lance, who could seem like a total clown at times.  “Will, dude, what happened?  What did they do to you?”  I laughed my ass off at him, and then got serious.

       “Dude, I don’t want to go into it,” I said, looking sad and morose. 

       He smiled.  “Perfect.” 

       We heard the distinct noise of the garage door going up, so we raced out into the garage to see Dad and Pop driving in.  “You made it!” I said enthusiastically. 

       “We’re home,” Dad said.  “Hey Ryan.  Good to see you.” 

       “Good to see you too,” Ryan said, smiling and blushing as he shook Dad’s hand. 

       “We have a surprise for you,” I announced.

       “Oh yeah?  Should I be worried?” Robbie asked.  Dad gave him a dirty look, but I smiled.  He was just teasing me. 

       “Come on.”  Ryan and I led them up to their temporary room.  “We went shopping for you guys.” 

       They went in and looked at their neatly organized closets and drawers, looking at all the stuff we’d gotten them and appreciating how neatly we’d organized it.  “That was really nice of you,” Dad said, and gave me a big hug. 

       “It was the least I could do,” I said.

       “No, it was a nice thing to do,” he corrected, refusing to let me go down the guilt path.  “Thanks.” 

       Robbie was more demonstrative.  He gave me one of his huge hugs, the kind that just absorbs me.  “This is awesome.  Thank you.” 

       “You’re welcome.  You have to thank Ryan too.  He worked his ass off.”  They both thanked Ryan, which made him uncomfortable. 

       “Now I just have to figure out what to wear tomorrow, and I can go to bed,” Robbie said, yawning.

       “I saw in your calendar that you have meetings tomorrow, so I put out some clothes for you,” I told him, pointing to the light grey suit he’d had, along with a new shirt and tie we’d picked up today. 

       “Perfect,” he said, grinning at me. 

       “Can Ryan spend the night?” 

       “Sure,” Dad said.  “We’ll have to leave early so you can meet with the headmaster.”

       “We?”

       “Pat can’t come back to work until Wednesday, so I’m going to be your ride.”  

       “Awesome,” I said.  “I haven’t been able to get in touch with Pat.  Is he alright?” 

       Dad nodded.  “His boyfriend had to go to New York, so Pat went with him.  I don’t know if he forgot his cell phone, or what the deal is, but he’s supposed to be back on Tuesday night.” 

       “Sounds good,” I said. 

 

October 23, 2000

      

       “I’ll pick you up after school, right out here,” Dad said as he dropped us off. 

       “Thanks,” I said, as Ryan and I got out of my mom’s SUV.  I was feeling pretty conflicted.  Part of me was euphoric about my night last night.  Ryan and I had fucked around damn near all night long, and I’d been yawning as we rode to school from my lack of sleep.  Not that I was complaining.  Damn, he was fun.  I was really good with where we were.  We were friends who really cared about each other, and who enjoyed each other.  I knew that I loved him at a core level, but I wasn’t in love with him.  I think he felt the same way, and the fact that we were at the same emotional level of commitment made things so comfortable, and really amazing. 

       The other part of me was filled with anxiety.  “I’ll see you in English,” I said to Ryan nervously as I headed to the office.

       “You’ll be fine,” he said. 

       “We’ll see,” I disagreed.  This was just too easy.  There was no way I should be able to get off the hook without doing something else, without having some other penalty to perform. 

       I opened the door to the administration building and paused, swallowing hard, and then I remembered that I had a powerful and wealthy family behind me.  It was my job to not be a dick, to be polite, but in the end, it was probably our power and money that was making this so easy.  It almost seemed unfair, and I felt a little guilty for being so privileged and lucky, but the guilt wasn’t strong enough to make me fall on a sword.  I walked confidently up to the secretary.  “Good morning, ma’am, I’m here to see the headmaster,” I said.

       “Your name?” she asked curtly, as if I were annoying her.  I probably was.

       “William Schluter, ma’am,” I responded. 

       “Have a seat.  He’ll be right with you.”  I sat on the chair, making sure to keep my posture straight.  I only waited about five minutes before the secretary told me I could go in to see him.  I smiled at the power gesture.  My dad had taught me all about those.  If Dad would have been here with me, the headmaster would have come out here to usher us back.  Since it was just me, he had the secretary tell me to just go into the office. 

       The headmaster rose up and shook my hand.  “Welcome, Mr. Schluter.  Please have a seat.” 

       “Thank you, sir,” I said evenly, working to not sound nervous. 

       “I am glad to see you back home, and back in school.” 

       “Thank you.  I’m glad to be back,” I said, shooting him my best smile.  It actually seemed to work, at least a bit. 

       “I had a very good conversation with your father, and he explained some of the family situations you all were dealing with.  Developing the whole person is one of our objectives and I think that in this instance, everyone is best served by having you resume your studies, and your life, as smoothly as possible.  That’s why there weren’t any additional punishments meted out to you.” 

       “Thank you very much,” I said sincerely.  “I try hard to be a good student.  Things just got a little out of hand.” 

       He nodded severely, to indicate that he understood me, but making himself look like a sage as he did.  I so wanted to get out of there.  “Your hours in the cafeteria were served by Mr. Grafton.” 

       “Excuse me, sir?” I asked, stunned. 

       “Mr. Grafton requested that he be allowed to perform your cafeteria hours for you.  He explained what happened, the whole story.” 

       “Yes, sir,” I said, clueless as to what all he knew. 

       “Would you like to guess what he said?” 

       “Not really, sir,” I said, truly mortified now.  Was he bluffing me, trying to get me to admit what happened?  Did he know?  Did Ryan really tell him the whiskey bottle was his? I resolved not to say anything.  If he were planning to do something to me, he’d have talked to my dad about it. 

       “You may go,” he said in a polite way, dismissing me.  I wandered out of his office, still confused as to why I got off so lightly.  Then I thought about Ryan and smiled.  What a nice thing to do.  He’d taken extra hours in the cafeteria to make up for me taking the hit for the whiskey bottle.  And he’d fucked my brains out last night, I thought to myself, smiling even bigger. 

       School went pretty well.  I got some looks that seemed a little strange at first, until I realized that most of them contained a little bit of awe.  I guess that badge of courage thing that Ryan had been working on had paid off.  Not every kid stands up to his parents like that, not every kid rebels against being completely ignored.  I’d done what many wish they could do, and evidently, that made me cool. 

       At lunch, all of my friends mobbed me, wanting to know what happened.  “Oh my God,” Felicity said.  “What did they do to you?  Did you get grounded?  Oh my God, I would be grounded for like forever.”  She was such a ditzy blond. 

       “I don’t want to go there,” I said dismissively, and just shut down on all of them.  They looked at me with perhaps a little more awe, then left me alone, just like Ryan had predicted. 

       I pulled Ryan aside and told him about my encounter with the headmaster.  “What did you tell him?” I demanded. 

       “I didn’t tell him shit.  I just said that I felt responsible too, and that I wanted to serve your hours for you since you got suspended.” 

       “Dude, that was noble.  Thanks,” I said, shoulder-bumping him as I did.  He nodded as he blushed slightly, his way of thanking me for the compliment.  


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