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Dabeagle

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About Dabeagle

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    Avid gamer and voracious reader. A VW junkie and sports fan.

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  1. Dabeagle

    Chapter 8

    So you know what comes next then, yeah?
  2. Dabeagle

    Chapter 8

    You Don't Know Me Chapter 8 By Dabeagle Friday seemed to drag. The classes didn't hold my interest; conversations were superfluous. My focus was on Kyle and seeing him at lunch and then in class and finally at the game tonight. I flew through the line at lunch and sat down beside Kyle at our table. "Hey, Ky," I greeted him. "Hey," he replied, a little quieter than his usual voice. Giles was telling us how Anna had aggravated him and he'd broken up with her. "I missed something, G-man. How did she aggravate you, exactly?" I asked. He put his hamburger down and looked at me, to Kyle and back again. "I'm not a 'phobe, okay? Anna's sexuality seems to be 'human'. She was kissing Tonya Kirkpatrick." "And she didn't ask you to watch or what?" I deadpanned. He tilted his head down and looked at me as if over glasses. "Really? I don't care if she likes girls, but I do care if she's making out with someone besides me when we're supposed to be dating, right?" "Yeah, true," Kyle said quietly. "So, what's next for you, then?" I asked idly. With a pleased expression he replied, "I asked Moira Green to go with me to the game tonight. She said yes!" I let out a low whistle and smiled at him. "G-man, who knew you were such a Lothario?" Kyle was uncharacteristically subdued. I wanted to ask if he was all right but there were a lot of people around and I didn't want to push him in case he didn't want to say in front of others. I ran into James Murphy in the hallway after lunch and called out to him. "Hey, James. You coming tonight?" He paused, a surprised look on his face, but he recovered quickly. "Football isn't usually my thing." "We have the table. You should come. I have to go, see you tonight?" "Uh, maybe," he said as we parted. Later in class Kyle remained quiet. He wasn't unfriendly, but seemed like he might not be feeling well. I tried to joke with him a bit but he just gave me a wan smile. I tried to catch him after school, but I was stymied when a staff member from the group home showed up to pick me up early. I hadn't been told I'd be picked up and the staff member didn't know why. Upon my arrival at the group home I was directed to head down to Henry's office. A little frustrated I went down and knocked on his door. He opened it and smiled at me. "There he is! Come on in, Drake. I think you know Pam and the Benoits." I looked around in slight confusion. "Uh, did I do something wrong?" Pam smiled. "Anything you want to confess to?" "No?" I ventured. Pam finally let me off the hook. "We're actually here to have a chat and make a decision." "Um, okay. Can I make a call? Kyle wasn't himself and I was going to talk to him," I glanced at the Benoits, "I'm supposed to work a booth at the game tonight for the GSA with him, by the way. I'm sorry, did I tell you that already?" "Yes, Wednesday night," Mrs. B said with a little laugh. "Slow down, you can talk to your friend as soon as we get done here. I think you'll want to hear all of this." "Um, okay," I said, unconvinced. "Drake, what's the GSA?" Mr. B asked. "Uh, the Gay-Straight Alliance. Kyle is the vice-president, and I have to help him tonight." "You mentioned," Mr. B said with a chuckle. "I guess you're looking forward to seeing Kyle. Is this a date or something?" I paused. Here it was. I hadn't given much thought to coming out to anyone. Maybe that was a side effect of having hidden it for a lifetime, literally. But the Benoits weren't my birth parents, nor were they anyone else who'd sat in judgment over me before. My sudden flare-up of nerves didn't dissipate but it did abate, slightly. So much could rely on how the next few minutes went. I swallowed and said, "No. But I hope it's heading in that direction." Mr. B looked at me and shook his head with a look of mild wonder. "What?" I asked. My stomach clenched, trying to strangle the butterflies that had taken wing; a futile effort. "You," he said. "Ever since I've met you I've had things I believed challenged. From what I knew of your past, to my worries about you being violent to...well, your sexuality." My gaze flashed around to each of the room's occupants. "Is that...a problem?" He smiled wryly. "I never considered you might be gay. You...are an athlete, a good one. Smart, loyal, more mature than I'd give a kid your age credit for. I know, none of those things should mean anything - at least that's what I hear. But, the proof is before me." Mrs. B put a hand over her husband's. "It's not a problem with us, sweetheart, is what he's building up to say." He glanced at his wife and back to me with a smile. "What she said." I looked down a little, smiling at them. I was right - they're good people. Those butterflies which had been roiling in my gut could now have lifted me on a bed of their soft wings. Elation rose through my body and relief flooded me immediately afterward. "Well. Can I assume that you'd like to move forward, Mr. and Mrs. Benoit?" "Move forward with what?" I asked. "With you moving in with us," Mr. B said. I stared at him for a moment, feeling a bit of magic as I realized I'd be done with the group home and in with a real, honest to goodness family. I may have screamed again. There were a few administrative things that had to be handled. While that was done, I went up and packed all of my things. There were a few curious looks shot in my direction, but these kids probably saw a lot of people coming and going. It was sort of amazing how much I had in the way of clothes. After loading up I turned to Pam. "Hey, Pam. Is there any way I can get some of my stuff? Like, maybe from my room at my old house?" "I'm sure something can be worked out," she replied. "I'm sure you know, though, that anything you brought would need to be approved by the Benoits." "Yeah, sure," I replied. "What might there be that would be a problem?" "Maybe a computer or TV that they may not want in your room. Things like that. I'm sure it can be discussed once we know more." "Okay, works for me," I replied. I spent some time at home putting away my clothes in the closet and bureau. I didn't have things - sports stuff, knickknacks or books to put away, except the ones that belonged to the library. Ramses sat on my bed and did his best to keep me from folding anything I'd stacked there to be put away. The twins saw that I was, in their eyes, cleaning my room and so avoided me. We had an early dinner and I helped to clear afterward. The Benoits decided to take their kids to the game so we could all have a night out. After we arrived I texted Kyle to find out where our table was, but I tumbled to it before he responded. It was set up with a few other clubs along the side of the school, next to the flow of traffic in and out of the bleachers. "Hey, Ky," I said as I slipped behind the table. "What do you want me to do?" "Um, I just got the table set up. Spread the table cloth, and we can put the cookies out," he said quietly. "Okay. Uh, I wanted to ask you all day - are you feeling okay?" "Yup," he replied. I frowned but dropped it for the moment. We got the cookies set up on trays and I hung the GSA sign from the front of the table with tape. Kyle had set little cards out to indicate what kind of cookie was in each grouping; a special section was marked gluten-free. Someone had already stepped up and Kyle was engaged with them when I spotted James in the crowd. I was glad he'd taken the chance and come to the game, despite his statement that it wasn't really his scene. "James! Hey, Murph!" I called out and waved my arm in the air. He looked around in confusion and then spotted me. He actually pointed to himself, wondering if I meant him. "Yeah, you! Come here and say hello!" He glanced around as if to see if anyone else had heard my request. He walked with his hips swinging more than most boys over to the table. "Hey, Drake. I didn't think you were serious." "That's me. Have a cookie, on me," I told him. "They're all good and I made them myself." "Hey!" Kyle protested. "Okay, Ky helped. A little." I leaned forward and stage whispered, "Not really. He just stood there and looked pretty." James cracked a smile and thanked me for the cookie. Our shift wasn't that long but soon I was ready to scream. Kyle was stiff and seeming very sad. I wondered if something had happened to his grandmother. Giles showed up with, I presume, Moira and he treated her to a cookie. By this time it was obvious that something was wrong between Kyle and I - enough so that Giles commented on it to our faces. "What is up with you guys? Kyle, you've been down all day and Drake, you look frustrated." "It's nothing," Kyle snapped. "Okay, yeah it's something, Ky." "Stop calling me that!" Kyle said and turned from me. "Hey, Drake? Um, I can start my shift. Fix him, will you?" he asked as he slipped behind the table. I nodded my thanks and moved in front of Kyle's field of vision. "Ky, talk to me man. Let's go inside, away from everyone, and just work this thing out, okay? Please?" I felt a little like I was begging, but it worked. Kyle crossed his arms and stormed past me. I didn't care as he was moving, so I followed him through a side door and into a quiet, deserted hallway. "What is your deal?" Kyle snarled as he turned on his heel to face me. "I thought you'd changed?" "I'm a different guy, yeah," I told him. "Please tell me what I did to make you so mad?" He wiped an eye and glared at me. "I don't know what's going on with you. I swear to God it's like someone just yanked Draco off to oblivion and dropped a new guy in his body." I looked at him in puzzlement, wondering if he'd somehow figured out this multiverse thing the old barman had said we'd discussed at a bar in another universe. "Isn't that a good thing? I was a pecker head, remember?" "Oh, I remember," he said and looked away from me. "Drake Mathews was left handed, was mean for the sake of it and straight as an arrow. He messed around with plenty of girls, who all seemed to fall for his pretty face and charm right up until he screwed them and moved on. It was like a game to him, a notch on a bedpost." "I-" But he wasn't done. Lifting his gaze to meet mine and with wet eyes he said, "But now Drake is right handed, as nice as can be and screwing with me by holding my hand. You can learn to use another hand, you can choose to be nice but your sexuality doesn't just...change! You're straight and you shouldn't screw with...with people's emotions." I looked at him, channeling my affection for him. "Ky. People used to know me and hate me. When I got this second chance, you know, I figured that I didn't like the guy people were describing to me. I wanted to be better. Then I met you and I had a purpose, someone that gave me a tangible reason to try. I have to tell you, though, I wonder if I wasn't really the person getting the second chance." He sniffed. "What do you mean?" "Ky," I said and reached out slowly, taking his hand in mine. "Giles is doing so much better, Murphy is...well, a work in progress. Jeremy has backed off people. And, of course, there's you." I leaned with my back against the wall and he slumped beside me, still hand in hand. "What about me?" "When all this started, Ky, you thought you knew me. Then you found out...you don't know me. But I wanted you to. I think you've developed some feelings for me, and I sure know I've developed feelings for you. So maybe my second chance was really about everyone else." He looked down at our hands and whispered, "So now you're gay? And you're interested in me?" "Completely," I said firmly. He looked up at me and studied my face. "I want to...how can I be sure, Drake? I don't know what to think. Help me." "Kiss me," I told him. "Kiss you?" He shook his head. "How does that help me? Why are you telling me to kiss you?" "Couple reasons. First is because, yeah, I've done things with people. Girls. I don't remember any of it. As far as I'm concerned, I've never been kissed. By your own statements, I've certainly never kissed a boy." I tilted my head toward him and gave him a sly smile. "Second, I could just come over there and try to plant one on you. But I want this to be about you, not me. "I figure I've got one first kiss in me. You want it?" He looked at me, perhaps assessing me. I waited patiently for him to feel it was right. He took a deep breath and squeezed my hand before releasing me. His eyes moved over my features, maybe looking for a reason to kiss me or not. He reached up and tentatively placed his hands on the sides of my face before leaning in and gifting me with the most beautiful kiss I'd ever experienced. I placed my hands on his hips and gently held him while he lengthened our first kiss. There was no rush to it, just a gentle repetition of pressure, coupled with opening and closing of his mouth. It grew in intensity as our tongues made some contact, but this couldn't be termed a make-out. It was tender, slow and sweet - something I'd measure any kiss against for the rest of my life. It was a kiss from someone who really wanted to kiss me and I him. His lips slid to one side, breaking the kiss, and he placed his head on my shoulder, wrapping his arms around my neck. We stood still, holding each other loosely. He let out a long sigh and dug his chin down a little into my shoulder. "That was nice," he said quietly. "Nice?" I replied, matching his tone. "I never wanted it to end." He let out a sharp breath, a contained bark of laughter. "I can't believe I just kissed you." "I'm a little amazed myself," I admitted. "Never thought you'd kiss a guy?" "Not that, no," I said and smiled. "Because it was you kissing me. I'm so happy right this minute." Muted sounds from outside the building were overshadowed by the stillness of the hallway. I focused on his breath as it moved past my ear and I imagined that our heartbeats were synchronized and reaching toward each other, straining to become one. "I used to hate you. For the things you'd done. Said to people," he said haltingly, a voice meant just for my ear. "Giles is my best friend and when you hurt him last year, I felt like it hurt me, too." "I'm -" "Don't." He pushed his cheek against me as if he were going to cover my mouth. I hoped it was because he didn't want to let go of me to do it. "I know you're sorry it happened. We were both nervous about the new you, but I think he was more scared than I was." "Why?" I asked. My voice was a whisper and I was scared to think what Drake may have done to Kyle that I didn't know about. "I was always a little ashamed that I, kind of, had a thing for you. Giles was afraid I'd set myself up to get burned." I smiled and squeezed him lightly. "I'm glad you did. Have a thing for me, I mean." "I guess it was some of that bad boy thing," he continued as if I hadn't spoken. "I guess I hoped one day I could tame you. Isn't that stupid?" "It's a nice idea," I conceded. "Even better if it comes true." He leaned back and studied my face. He looked vulnerable, a look I'd never seen on him. "Now what, Drake? Where do we go from here? Will you disappear, now that you know how I feel about you? Am I one more flaming wreck of a relationship in your wake?" I tilted my head to the side as I regarded him. "I know you still worry Draco will come back. But I'm willing to work to show you that's not me anymore. This guy, right now, is who I want to be. Holding hands with you and hoping like hell you're going to kiss me a whole lot more." He smiled, a gentle smile and his cheeks grew red. "Are you actually saying you want an us?" "Pretty badly," I confirmed. "Like how?" He gestured around us. "In empty hallways like this where no one can see?" "No. I want everyone to know I'm in love with you, Ky." His eyes grew wide and his voice dropped in disbelief. "You love me?" His tone was more statement than question. "Yep. I'm sure of it." I moved my hands up from his hips to his sides and nudged him the slightest bit closer to me. "I know you're still catching up, since last night. But I've been liking you more and more. When you came out to me last night I knew I had to try. So I'm not just saying that. I've been slowly falling in love with you since we met." He looked down and away slightly, a little smile on his face. "I don't know what to say." "Are you okay with that? I know we're just...you're supposed to wait to say something like that, I know," I told him. I was getting nervous that I'd just put a bunch of pressure on him. "But I can't lie to you. You make me want to be better." He smiled a bit more and chuckled softly. "I am just a little...I'm still struggling to find the words." "Well, I want to date you. I want you to be my boyfriend. Can you come up with words for that?" I asked. He smiled again, with a touch of red coloring his cheeks. "Yeah. I want to be with you." My heart leapt. My hands were still on his sides, a remnant of our hug. I worked my hands around his back and pulled him toward me. I leaned in and was gratified that he met me halfway and I enjoyed another sweet, slow kiss. His style of intensifying the kiss without speeding up and letting lust take over was incredible. I probably could have stayed that way for a very long time, had Giles not let out a strangled yelp as he came upon us. "Erp! Um, sorry! I didn't mean to interrupt!" he said and started to back up. Kyle laughed lightly and placed his forehead on my shoulder. I looked over at Giles and grinned. "Get used to it, G-man." He stopped backing up. He'd been backing up quite slowly, so clearly he was hoping to get an explanation rather than to actually leave us be. "I said fix him, Drake. Not kiss him," Giles said dryly and then shook his head with a little laugh. "I can't believe I'm seeing this." Kyle stepped away from me, though I managed to snag one of his hands so he didn't get too far away. He addressed his friend. "You? I'm still wondering if this is happening!" "Well, um," Giles said as he slowly backed away. "I was just checking to see if you guys were okay. I guess you are. So I'll just head back out." "Giles? Who is running the table?" Kyle asked. "Um, Jim Murphy. I told him I just wanted to check on you guys." He widened his eyes and smiled. "Really, though, I still can't believe I saw you guys kissing." "I think he's asking to see it again, Ky." I teased. "I'm good," Giles said with a laugh as he put his hands up in mock surrender. He turned and, still chuckling, headed back outside. "We should go out there. Check to make sure Giles isn't eating the profits. Maybe watch the game." "Like this?" he asked, squeezing my hand. "Oh yeah, like this. Uh, wait!" I leaned over and used my free hand to turn his face toward me and kissed him, gently but with intent. Breaking the kiss I looked into his eyes and said, "For luck." We'd walked into that hallway in disarray, but when we walked out we were a newly minted couple. We checked in at the table, but the next shift was there and we were free. We held hands as we walked through the crowd and sat down with my new family. Mr. B smiled and gave me a thumbs up when he saw our hands, and Mrs. B cooed at us. The twins teased us about being in love, but I didn't mind. I knew I was. After the game the Benoits gathered the twins to get them home for showers and bed. I asked if it would be okay if Kyle and I walked home. The Benoits smiled broadly and told me to be home by nine-thirty. "For the love of....seriously?" I turned to see the speaker, James Murphy, looking at me with surprise and then disgust. I was confused, to say the least. "James? Problem?" "I'll say," he snarled. "How is this fair? You go from banging cheerleaders to getting Kyle? Why the hell are you so lucky and I'm fucking not?" he spit out and stormed off. I looked at Kyle and he shook his head, looking mildly irritated. Kyle and I helped to break down the GSA table and turn the funds over to the treasurer. There were a few leftover cookies, and I grabbed a few to take home to the twins. Once our duties were done Kyle and I strolled slowly along the streets we'd walked together so many times before on our way home from school. "I think Jessica has a crush on you," I told him. He gave me a crooked smile. "What makes you say that?" "Are you kidding? She demanded that you be the one to read to her. She cuddled you during the movie the other night. She's having an awakening, dude." "Oh, my God," he said and laughed while covering his face. "I saved the twins a few cookies. I'll tell Jess they are from you." "Jerk," he said and snorted out a laugh. We walked for perhaps another forty feet in an easy silence. Somewhere a dog barked and a door slammed. A TV blared briefly; maybe someone opened a door or window. And then he reached out and took my hand in his. I squeezed gently and moved to walk closer with him. "I saw you talking to James at the meeting. I started to wonder, last night after you'd left." "About?" "If he was...next for you." He paused and I stopped, pulling him gently to face me and resting my palm on his face. He brought a hand up and placed it over mine. "I've always wondered if it was my fault. Was I too hard on him? Was there...?" "When I spoke to him at the meeting I told him I'd say hello to him in the halls and stuff. Trying to make up for what I did to him." The corner of my mouth turned up in amusement. "You know, after I talked to James at the meeting I felt like I should tell you about him. You know, to do right by you." His brow furrowed in confusion. "Do right by me? What does that mean?" "Well, that I'd do what was right for you before what was right for me. But I figured you already knew about old Jimmy, since you were both in the GSA. But my second reason was totally self-serving." A smile played about his face as he waited for me to continue. "I wanted you for myself." Nodding he smiled and cleared his throat. "I'd have reacted pretty badly if you'd picked him, you know." "Oh? Jealous?" I asked in a teasing tone. "I told you, I always had a thing for you," he said in a playfully daring tone. "That's...kind of putting it mildly. I think you're the...uh, hottest guy in school." I moved my hand so that my fingertips were pushing slightly on the back of his head, nudging him forward. "Isn't that convenient? I thought you were hottest." "Liar," he said, his cheek moving under my hand letting me know he was smiling. "Okay, fine," I said with a sigh and kissed him lightly. "I thought you were the cutest, nicest, kindest guy. Hot is kind of rolled into all that, right?" Chuckling he whispered, "I just can't believe Draco Mathews is my boyfriend." "Drake. All that old stuff is gone. Drake Mathews is a new guy...and he's in love with his boyfriend, Ky." We held one another and a kind of peace settled on me. I had more work to do, more good work. I was convinced that my second chance wasn't about just me. It was about the people Draco had hurt and the healing I, as Drake, could achieve. Loving Kyle, returning what he was giving to me, was part of that. For some people it wouldn't be the biggest part. For me, holding Kyle and knowing this special person had fallen in love with someone like me.... We started walking again, strolling really. "Drake?" "Yeah?" "How do you see this going?" "You mean tonight or our future?" I asked in a teasing tone. "Our future," he asked, bumping me. "I'm not sure," I confessed. "Being your boyfriend was my goal. I haven't thought about anything else, yet. Why? What do you see?" He responded with a light kiss. "That. Lots of that." "The future is promising," I said with a grin. We walked for several feet in silence. In a quiet, contemplative tone he said, "I also see...graduation. College. World travel. A...house. Marriage." He cleared his throat. "Kind of a lot, I guess." "Can we have a dog?" I asked. "I love dogs." Chuckling he said, "Yeah. We can have a dog." "Sounds good, then. I'm in." He pushed in close to me and I wrapped my arm around his shoulder. "That's a lot of commitment, Drake. You want a second to think about it?" Thinking of how I'd led my life before, staying a course I'd not chosen for myself yet providing both emotionally and financially, while leaving a vital part of my own needs unmet...well, I knew I could commit. Would we last? I wasn't sure of the odds. But I knew I could commit myself to Kyle and, one way or another, I'd try like hell to make it work. "No. You're my boyfriend, Ky. I love you. I'm in love with you. I want to be where you are. You want to think about that?" He came to a stop again and met my gaze. "Most couples don't make it out of high school." "I don't think we're most couples," I told him. "No? I think people would warn us not to get our hopes up." He paused and tilted his face as he studied me. "I think I'd tell them to screw off. You?" I smiled in the gloom. "I'd tell them they don't know us." Then I kissed him and kept kissing him. And, by God, he kissed back.
  3. Dabeagle

    Managing time to write

    I work full time and have three kids, so time can be a problem. I'm a night owl, so I end up writing when the kids go to bed. When I have to travel for work, much of my time is spent lost in thought and I usually develop characters or stories in my head when that happens. I'm not the type who can force myself to write, but it happens more easily when I have an idea and feel compelled.
  4. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    A large part of the idea for this story came from envisioning that very hand holding scene. It only took me 60 pages to build the framework to get me there!
  5. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    Very observant. Only time will tell if or how well I answered your questions!
  6. Dabeagle

    Chapter 7

    You Don't Know Me Chapter 7 By Dabeagle Sunday came and went much as Saturday had, with less Kyle. Maybe since I'd been there for more than twenty-four hours the twins interest in me had flagged into normalcy; I was just another person in their home. The morning was dominated by chores and, since the room I was in was pretty clean, I helped each of the twins with their room. The adults seemed to approve, perhaps because they could focus on what they wanted to get done instead of prodding their progeny along. Rain settled in by mid-afternoon. I sat on the couch with Ramses and read my book while normal household things went on around me. We had a nice dinner, although the twins got into a name-calling fight and got sent to bed early. Once again I slept well, with Ramses deciding to join me. Monday I was awoken by Ramses needing to go out, so I pulled on my shorts and tee shirt and let him out into the yard. It was seven so I started the coffee pot, let him back in and took a quick shower before getting ready for school. I'd always been a morning shower kind of guy and enjoyed getting the day off to a good start. The following Thursday found me over at Kyle's house. Giles arrived shortly afterward and Mr. Winters looked pleased to see us. "Guys, thanks for the help," he said with a nod to each of us. "With my mother-in-law having had that accident we thought it was best to move her here with us. This room needs some clearing out, though." "Glad to help," Giles said and I nodded in agreement. Kyle had been kind of down about how hurt his grandmother was and he'd told me she'd always been a favorite of his. Giles and I said we'd come help move furniture in the spare bedroom to lend our support and my heart broke a little as Kyle got a little misty eyed. We worked steadily to pack and move the spare room. Mr. Winters had used it as an office while Mrs. Winters had used it as a project room. Unfortunately they had accumulated enough things in the space that the room couldn't actually be used as either. We brought labeled boxes down to the basement and Mrs. Winters was organizing it all so they could use it later or set it aside for donation or disposal, whether that be sale or just throwing it out. We ended up carrying out some of the more beat up furniture items we uncovered and carried them to the curb. As we worked I was interested to try and get a look at Kyle's room, just down the hall from the room we were cleaning, but didn't get the chance. Around seven we broke for pizza and gathered around the Winters' dining room table. "Looking forward to those waffles, Kyle?" his mother asked as she placed a bottle of soda on the table. "Oh." Kyle sported an expression that looked like he was thinking of something divine. He glanced at Giles and me and grinned. "My grandma makes these super waffles for me. She takes bacon and puts it on the griddle and then pours the batter over it and cooks the bacon right into the waffle. They are the best!" His mom smiled at him and shook her head. "My mom thinks the sun rises and sets on her grandson. Just don't forget, she's supposed to be recovering. Don't let her jump into grandma mode." "Grandma mode?" I asked, thinking back to my own experiences. Kyle rolled his eyes. "Grandma mode means my grandma is spoiling me." "Which is just about every second she's around him," his dad chimed in and Kyle chuckled. "I'd argue, but it's true." After we ate we headed back up to finish clearing things, but we didn't have the same amount of effort. I can remember a similar feeling when moving to a new home. Once you fed your friends beer and pizza you were on your own. At nine Giles and I departed. We said goodnight to the Winters and Kyle's dad slipped each of us a twenty for the work. I opened my mouth to protest and he just put his hand up to stop me. "It was worth it. I know you guys would have helped out anyway which is just another reason why you deserve some recognition. Don't spend it on hookers, okay?" he said with a little grin and muttered about going to find a beer. Giles and I walked up the street in companionable silence. Giles had been friends with Kyle for a while, I guessed, and I could see why they liked each other. Kyle was empathetic and kind of sweet while still being very normal. Giles was a bit short on the self-worth scale, but his recent forays into dating had boosted him up a little and I was enjoying getting to know him. As we walked toward my home I decided I'd be squandering a golden opportunity to learn more about Giles and Kyle. "So how long have you and Kyle been friends?" I asked. "Probably about four years," he replied. "We met in middle school. The elementary schools all send their kids to Humbolt Middle and we met there." "Was there some epic event that made you guys friends or something else?" "We just had some classes together. Hung out on the weekends and stuff. He's just a good guy, you know?" "Yeah, I get that feeling," I agreed. "So, I know it might be weird to ask, but you feeling a little better about you and me?" He glanced at me. "Like, being friends?" "Yeah." "It sounds weird to say out loud," he mused. "If you'd asked me before I'd have said there was no way. I mean, you were really a horrible person. Like, the new you would totally not put up with the old you and his crap." "I'm glad you approve," I said with a smile. He shook his head and stopped dead. He stared at me for a moment, just enough for me to open my mouth to ask what was wrong, but he spoke in that heartbeat between me asking and not. "You don't know what it's like to be the smallest guy in the class. It didn't used to matter so much, but more than ever being short and wimpy just makes me feel like shit. So for you, someone with a definite place on the pecking order, to treat me like an equal? It's changed a lot for me." "But, Giles...I mean, you're cool. I'm sorry shit happened before�" "Please. No more apologies. I think it's nice you feel some empathy, maybe even some responsibility but you don't even know the things you said and did. I get that you mean you're sorry when you say it and I really do appreciate it. But you can't truly be sorry for shit you can't even remember. You get me? So we're good, it's all past and can we just drop that part of whatever this friendship is shaping up to be?" I nodded and sighed. "Yeah. I can understand what you're saying. Just so we're clear, though, I value you as a person. I appreciate you trying to let my past go. I wish more people were like you." He frowned lightly and we started to walk again. "No one's ever said anything like that to me." "Said what?" "That they wished other people would be like me." "Yeah. Tough to be cool, isn't it?" I said with a chuckle. ~YDKM~ Friday afternoon the Winters drove out to pick up Kyle's grandma and get her bedroom furniture. I offered to go but there were issues because I was still in the system and needed permission for long trips or something. Besides it would be overnight. Kyle sent me a few selfies of he and his Gram and she looked like fun, even though she was kind of beat up. He got her to hold her fingers up in a V for victory sign and she looked at him with obvious indulgence. They came home Saturday morning and Giles and I met them to help carrying the furniture in and get it set up. Mrs. Miller, Kyle's grandma, was already offering to cook for us and had to be told no by the elder Winters. "Breakfast tomorrow, right boys?" she asked and winked. I couldn't help but smile at her. She got around pretty well, considering her injuries. We got all her furniture in place and I took the liberty of making her bed. It was unfortunate that all the bedrooms were on the second floor as she had a hard time with stairs, but it was still vastly safer for her to have people around both to help her now and if she had any future health concerns. Giles and Kyle were carrying the last two boxes upstairs when Mrs. Miller latched onto my arm. "I'm sorry, what's your name again, handsome?" she asked. I grinned at her. "Drake, Mrs. Miller." "What a devilish name for such a handsome boy," she said with a grin. "Now tell me, how long have you known my grandson?" "A few months," I replied honestly. I tapped my head. "Technically I've known of him longer, but I had an accident and my memory is gone." "Oh, honey," she said sympathetically. "Wait till you get to be my age - you won't need an accident. I can't remember what I had for breakfast!" She broke out in to a laugh and I joined her. "But you and he are friends, now?" "Yeah. He's my best friend," I told her truthfully. "Oh, isn't that a wonderful thing?" she asked, beaming. "My Harold was my best friend. It's such a joy to marry someone with whom you can share secrets and the everyday joys of being in love. I always recommend marrying one's best friend." She paused and glanced at me, her expression fraught with meaning. "Don't you think?" "Marrying someone like that sounds perfect to me," I told her honestly. "That's the real trick, isn't it? The perfect one? Harold and I agreed on most things, but we did have a few hobbies away from each other as well. It doesn't do to spend all one's time with one person. Would you agree?" I thought for a moment. "Well, in theory spending your life with just one person who is perfect for you sounds great. But eventually you'd run out of things to talk about and to do with out the input of other good people, I guess. It's sort of like eating pizza every night - it sounds good in theory, but you need some variety in reality." She pursed her lips. "I was going to tell you I like it better when people don't agree with me all the time. But you make sense which stymies my thought to tell you to disagree once in a while." "I promise to disagree once you say something disagreeable," I promised and she smiled at me toothily before laughing. "Is this guy bothering you, Gram?" Kyle asked as he descended the stairs. He was smiling but also puffing his chest a bit to play his part. "Not in the slightest. You'd better keep this one, sweetheart." She leaned in close and said in a stage whisper. "I'd watch him, too. Entirely too smart, that one." The next week and a half was more of the same. I spent most weekday evenings with the Benoits and stayed overnight for the weekend. Kyle was a regular presence, and as I grew more comfortable with the Benoits I began to spend some of the time out of the house and hanging out with Kyle at his home. Mrs. Miller was enjoying watching us play hoop and trying to feed us silly. Jeremy seemed to be avoiding me, and I could only hope that would continue. Giles had completely turned a corner with me and spent some time joining Kyle and me. I hadn't seen much of Stacy, except for bumping into her in the hallways. Two weeks later on Wednesday I was talking to Kyle next to his locker as we got ready to leave for the day. He was complaining about his math work and, though I had an unfair advantage given my former job history in an accounting department, I offered to help him. "If you think you can explain it better, sure," he said with a dejected shrug. "I have a test on Friday, and if I fail I'm going to get grounded." "Won't let it happen, Ky," I told him confidently. We started to walk down the hallway and Kyle hesitated and then said, "Well, see you later then? Come over after dinner or do you want me to come to your house?" "Um, your house, I think. Your parents might not believe we're studying otherwise," I said with a snicker. "And why are you saying goodbye now? Aren't we walking home?" He slowed and seemed to have some sort of inner debate. I'd learned to close my mouth when he did that; pushing him usually shut him down and then he wouldn't say whatever was on his mind. Sometimes I couldn't help but ask, but this time I did. His cheeks colored slightly and he turned toward me. "School clubs are starting up. I have a club meeting today." "Oh? Can I go?" I asked and hitched up my bag as it tried to slide off my shoulder. "Uh." He paused and then let out a long breath. "It's the GSA, Drake. I don't think it's your kind of place." "What's a GSA and why isn't it my kind of place?" I asked in curiosity. The initials tickled something at the back of my mind, but the meaning eluded me. He pursed his lips and said, "Gay-Straight Alliance. It's not someplace Drake Mathews goes. And," he said and wet his lips, "I'm not sure how many people will want you there." Nodding in understanding I said, "Well, let's go then." Frowning he asked, "Didn't you hear me?" "Yeah. You go to a club that's important to you. I'm going too, then." I left out that my heart was beating about sixteen times its normal pace as the possibility of Kyle being gay blew my mind. "People may not be friendly toward you," he said in warning. "You'll protect me," I said with a wink. He shook his head and smiled, and we set off side by side. The classroom had about fifteen people in it when we arrived. Mrs. Kilmeade, the Biology teacher, sat behind a desk and nodded as we entered. There were several sets of curious eyes that noticed me, but no one made a move to say anything. "Kyle! I made it," Giles said as he entered the room, breathing heavily. "My last class is on the other side of the school. Anna said she'd be here, too." "Cool. Thanks, Giles," Kyle said to him. Giles nodded at me in greeting, a given that he expected me to be there. A few others filtered in before a gaggle of girls entered, one of whom was Anna; the rest seemed to be her friends. Mrs. Kilmeade called the group to order. "I'd like to thank everyone for coming this afternoon. Marissa Gordon, last year's president, will get us started." A curvy black girl with long hair took her place behind the podium and placed a paper upon it to read from. "The first order of business will be elections. We will have votes for president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. The president will run meetings and keep the meetings following an agenda. The vice-president will assume those duties if the president is absent, but will normally arrange fundraisers and club visibility efforts. "The secretary will keep meeting minutes and advise the group of upcoming school events that we might join, individually and as a club. The treasurer will keep track of club funds and expenses. We will need to have a person nominated for office and a second to place them on the ballot. I nominate myself for a second term as president. Is there a second?" There was a small chorus of yeses and seconded mixed together. She put her name on the blackboard under the heading 'President' and then asked for other candidates. One more asked to run and was seconded and their name appeared on the board. "Vice-President candidates?" she asked. I put my hand up and she nodded at me. "Can you nominate someone else?" "Sure," she replied. "I nominate Kyle Winters as VP," I said. "Seconded!" Giles called out. "What? What are you guys doing?" Kyle whispered, looking between us. "Giles, did you plan this?" All of that was buried in the discussion as candidates were fielded for the other positions. Kyle was running unopposed and, as such, was the new VP for the club. I beamed at him and he looked nervous as he joined the other club officers. Snacks were then provided, followed by a discussion about what sort of fundraiser we could have in order to pay for any club expenses we might incur. As he fell into the discussions I wondered again if Kyle could possibly be gay. Clearly being present at this meeting didn't signify anything definitive since Giles and Anna were here representing the 'straight' side of the alliance. Even though he'd been sort of railroaded, Kyle set about his new job with purpose. Homecoming was two days away, and he suggested we bake cookies and sell them at the game. "I'll make some," he said and pointed at me. "And that jerk will help me." Laughter raced around the room, and two others volunteered to bring in cookies for the sale. As the VP, Kyle had to be on hand for the event. Giles and I volunteered to accompany him. Two others volunteered to take a shift and that was settled. "Never thought I'd see you here," a voice said beside me. I turned toward the sound, a voice that was reproachful and somewhat stereotypical. It belonged to a dark haired boy with attractive hazel eyes and a caramel complexion. His face wore a slightly sour expression, as if he wanted to express disdain but not so much that I'd take offense. A passive-aggressive facial expression if I'd ever seen one. "Well, here I am. Your illusions of me are shattered," I said with a smile and held my hand out. "Drake Mathews." "Everyone knows you," he said sullenly, yet shook my hand. "Why are you here?" I nodded my head toward Kyle, though I was beginning to get irritated with this fellow. "I'm here for Kyle and my buddy Giles, there." His eyes swept the room, but I'm not sure he really saw anything. "So now you want people to think you're okay with the gay?" I frowned lightly. "I am." "Could have fooled me," he said with a snort for punctuation. I sighed lightly. "What did I do?" He studied me for a moment. "Is this where you claim to have no memory again?" I decided not to fight with him. I wasn't yet sure if he was someone who was just hurting or if he was the sort that couldn't be made happy and who simply wanted to bitch. So I waited, patiently looking at him and giving him time to consider how he wanted to play this. He shook his head and let out a mirthless chuckle. "I dreamed of getting even with you. When I'd heard you were in an accident I...wanted to wish you'd be hurt. But it felt wrong. Made me angrier. I can't even be angry at someone the right way." I cleared my throat. "Sometimes getting what you thought you wanted...doesn't turn out the way you'd like." "Yeah," he said in a small voice. "You did morning announcements last year. Told the whole school I was looking at you in the locker room and that I hit on you." He closed his eyes and his lip trembled. There was no way I couldn't feel bad about this. He was hurting and Drake had caused it, but the mess was in my lap. This world would see this, too, as my fault. "I'm sorry. I know it's not enough, and I don't remember any of that but...I'm so sorry," I told him earnestly. He wiped an eyes and sniffed and crossed his legs in the feminine style and tried to salvage some pride. He looked at me and then away. "I was, you know. Looking." "Why shouldn't you? Don't you think straight guys would look if they changed in a room with girls in it?" I asked. He glanced at me quickly and looked away, a nervous smile running across his face. "Listen - I'm sorry, you haven't told me your name," I said apologetically. His lip quivered as though a nervous smile were trying to escape his control. "James. James Murphy." "James, it's nice to meet you. I'm sorry for what I did. I wish I could say I hadn't done a lot of crappy things I've been told I did. I can't erase it, but if I can help you or make this any better, please ask. Or tell me. Really." He seemed dumbfounded for a moment and then lifted his chin high, perhaps gathering strength to call me on my statement. "If you really want to make things better, say hello to me." I frowned and tilted my head to the side in confusion. "Hello? Like, now? Hello, James?" "No," he said with a short bark of a laugh and wiping another stray tear. "If you see me in the hall, say hello to me. If you see me out somewhere, say hello to me. I'm sick of being invisible. I want someone to acknowledge that I...I'm more than...." I reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "I will. I'll get to know you. I'll do my best to ease that hurt, James. You have my word." He nodded, seemingly dazed. I suppose confronting a bully can be done in many ways, and he'd used up all his reserves approaching me. I knew how much bravery that took. I made sure to say goodbye to him and that I'd see him tomorrow. After the meeting Giles said goodbye and headed for home. Kyle and I walked toward his house, though I'd have to break off and head to the group home at some point. "Okay, so, why'd you do that? And did you and Giles plan that out?" Kyle asked finally. "Been holding onto that one for a bit have you?" I asked with a laugh, and he bumped into me. "Well, you stopped thinking about math, right?" "Seriously? You nominated me so I'd stop thinking about math?" he asked with a frown and a smile wrapped into one weird expression. "Not entirely. You'll be a good VP. You're just too modest to run." He grumbled lightly about being a better choice than I'd have been. We parted ways and met at his house after dinner to work on math. Part of the problem was that a new method for teaching math had swept the country, and it was hard to understand unless you were a math person. Numbers can be computed several ways and still give the correct answer. So we sat down and I explained the numbers to Kyle in a few different ways until it clicked, and then we applied that to our homework. By the time we got done he was feeling more optimistic about his chances of passing the math test. I promised we'd work the next night as well. "Oh, you're working tomorrow night, all right," he told me sternly. "You roped me into VP and now I have to bake and decorate a bunch of cookies. Mom already said she'd buy me ingredients but she wasn't baking all those cookies for me, so you, my friend, are baking tomorrow night." I grinned at him affectionately and told him I'd let the Benoits know. ~YDKM~ We baked a few different kinds of cookies - batches of chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin. We both had flour on us and fooled around a little, but we'd gotten the work done. The final batch was sugar cookies; we were going to decorate them by hand. Even though his mom had said she wouldn't bake all the cookies her son had committed himself to, she did help. We baked for a few hours and at last the sugar cookies were cooling on a rack. We washed our hands in the sink, and Kyle invited me up to his room while we killed time. I'd never been to Kyle's room before. Previously we'd hung out in his TV room or down in the basement, which had a few games set up. His dad loved foosball for some reason and had a table down there, along with a wet bar and a TV for game days. I think the TV mostly got used by Kyle when he wanted to watch Netflix or something. I have an idea that looking at someone's bedroom gives an insight into the true self. For instance, getting my clothes in the vicinity of the hamper was good enough for me, and I had no problem laying a pair of pants on the back of a chair to be used again another day. Peggy, by contrast, needed all soiled clothes in the hamper and the top shut so that the offending clothes couldn't be seen. I would make the bed, while Peggy would leave it messy - although she insisted the sheets be washed every Sunday. The top of the lowboy dresser was her domain, and it was cluttered with items she'd remove at the end of the day - a watch, perhaps a bracelet or a set of earrings. Those things could be put away properly later, she reasoned, but they rarely were. I had just a few things on my nightstand, like my watch and wallet. The drawer, though, was stuffed with all sorts of things from my pockets. It was with this sort of thinking in mind that I approached Kyle's room, curious as to what it might tell me about its occupant. Kyle's room was at the end of the hall and had a window facing the front yard and another facing the side of the house. He had a Dr. Who poster on the wall and a Warriors championship team poster, complete with fake signatures. His full-sized bed was unmade, and his hamper was overflowing. A small desk was against one wall with a laptop on it, currently closed. He had shelving with a few books, trophies and a few other baubles. A tall shelving unit contained books and models, with sports equipment on the bottom. His dresser was tall. Several drawers were partially open with clothes sticking out. His closet doors were the type with wheels on the top; the bottom edges were pushed out, indicating things stuffed behind them. He took a seat at his desk, turning to face me as I checked out his personal space. "What are you looking for?" he asked with amusement. I smiled and shrugged. "Never been in your room. You can tell a lot about a person by their personal space." "Yeah? Like what?" he said with a snort. I looked at his hamper. "That you're a slob for starters." "You're only saying that because I can't see your room. Ah, shit," he said and hit his leg with his palm. "Sorry." "Don't worry about it. If you saw my room at the group home, you'd be disgusted. Actually, come to think of it," I said and pretended to look critically at his room, "you might feel right at home." "Screw you, Draco," he said and laughed at me. "Hey," I said with interest as I spotted a guitar on a stand. "You play guitar?" "A little. I have lessons a few nights a week. Do you play?" I paused. "I don't know. Maybe you can teach me something some time?" "I could try," he said with a little nod. He leaned over and picked up the instrument and begun plucking the strings to tune it. "You can tune by ear?" I asked, impressed. "Yeah. My teacher taught me. It's not a big deal," he said with a slight blush. "I'm impressed anyway," I told him. His lips curved upward slightly but he said nothing. A minute later the guitar was tuned to his satisfaction and he placed his fingers carefully on the fret board. He let out a breath and began to play. I recognized the tune, which said something for his skill though I'd not classify him as ready for a stage or anything. "Free falling now I'm free falling," he sang softly under his breath. "Tom Petty?" I asked. He nodded as his singing trailed off and he just strummed the chords. "My dad is a big fan. I asked my teacher to show me how to play something by him after he'd died. I think my dad liked that." "Yeah. I bet he did." I paused. "Is that hard to learn?" "No," he said and then stood up. "Sit down, I'll show you." I eagerly sat in his chair and he handed me the guitar. I settled it on my thigh and looked up at him expectantly. "Do you know how to make any of the chords?" he asked. "No clue." He grinned. "Something I know that you don't? Now I get even for math," he said and laughed. He pulled my wrist out and explained how I wanted my fingers to come down straight on the strings so I had to bend my hand like a claw, basically. He placed my fingers on the strings and told me the names of the chords as he moved my fingers along with each new chord. My pulse sped up embarrassingly as our fingers touched and it was weird but kind of awesome all at once. I started to strum and it sounded about as bad as you'd expect. Kyle coached me and I focused intently on trying to nail the chords if not quite yet the rhythm. "Hey, I think you kind of got it," Kyle said with a little hint of pride in his voice. "I smiled crookedly at him. "Good teacher." I handed the instrument back to him. "My fingers hurt. Play something for me?" "Fingers hurt," he muttered. "You need to practice," he said as he retook the chair. I stood a few feet away and considered him while he adjusted his grip on the guitar. He looked good with an instrument in his hands. "Did I play?" I asked. He frowned lightly and looked up at me. "I don't know. I don't think you were part of band at school. We didn't hang around before your accident so I guess you could have played at home." "I wish I could remember you." It was stupid to say and maybe a little manipulative but also, oddly, true. The corner of his mouth curled up and he set his guitar back on the stand. "Hey, did Giles tell you he's got a third date with that Anna girl? Looks like she really likes him." "I know!" I exclaimed as I sat on his bed. "You should have seen his texts about getting his first kiss. I was like, go G-man!" Kyle's smile faltered and he glanced out the window. I hated that look on him. While it normally was my best course to let him decide when or if he'd speak, sometimes I couldn't help myself. "What is it, Ky?" I asked gently. His gaze flickered to me and away and his lips twitched, unsure what emotion to express. With a sigh he threw a hand in the air. "It's stupid. I just thought, you know, between me and Giles that I'd...get that first kiss out of the way...first. It feels weird to say it out loud. Kind of shallow." I pulled a leg up and wrapped my hands around my shin. "Not really. Giles wasn't making the right effort. I'd have given odds that you'd be first, too." He smiled wanly. "You're just saying that to make me feel better." He took in a breath and let it out very slowly and then closed his eyes. "No, seriously," I told him. "You're a nice looking guy. I'm actually - are you bullshitting me? Someone has to have kissed you." He shook his head slowly, his face locked into that pensive, decision making face. All at once the tension flowed out as his face relaxed and he opened those soft eyes and looked at me. "Drake, I'm gay." My heart nearly exploded. A part of me screamed to come out to him, but I barely reminded myself that this was about him, not me. There would be time for me to confess that I was interested in him - I'd be sure of that. Right now, he was feeling low. "Thanks for telling me. I did wonder, since we went to the meeting. " I cleared my throat. My heart quaked and my voice was a little unsteady as I said, "It means the world to me that you trust me with that." He waved a hand at me. "I'm pretty much out, I think. I was more telling you...well, yeah, I wanted to tell you personally. But, you know, it's harder to find someone when you're part of a minority, you know?" Oh boy, did I. I didn't want to tell him about Jim Murphy for two good reasons, only one of which was selfish. Firstly, he had to know about Jim already. They were in the same club, so there had to be a reason that hadn't materialized. Second...I wanted Kyle for myself. I decided to lighten the mood as well as send up a test balloon to gauge where Kyle's heart might lay. "Yeah, I hear you," I replied but got no farther. "I mean, I'm not a total loser, if that's what you're thinking," he said, his voice firming up. "There's just not that many guys around. I did date once. For about twenty minutes, but it counts." He looked at me with a stubborn look, challenging me to disagree with him. "Who was dumb enough to walk away from you?" I asked instead of trying to be funny. He looked slightly off balance and looked away for a moment. "There's a guy at school. He was at the meeting. He's very feminine. I don't really care about that one way or another," he said as he turned his gaze back to me, "but it's one of those things that stands out, you know?" "Sure. What happened?" His head wavered from side to side and he looked down. "His personality. He's kind of passive-aggressive. It made me feel uncomfortable. Unbalanced. We, uh, never made it as far as kissing. Or anything." "Well, you know," I said and pretended to buff my fingernails on my shirt, "as a matter of a convenience there happens to be a guy that has been called pretty cute sitting on your bed. Just saying." He chuckled. "Yeah, right. Me and Drake Mathews, making Valentine's plans." "Whoa, easy. That's a lot of commitment. I was talking a kiss," I said and grinned at him. He blushed and told me to shut up. I flopped back onto his bed and sighed deeply as I thought on that. He'd blushed, but smiled. That definitely wasn't a no. I sighed again. "What was that for?" "Your bed is awesome," I told him. "The group home gave me a single bed with a stained mattress. There is this metal suspension thing under the mattress. It's got a few broken links and squeaks if you look at it wrong. Now, this?" I said and wiggled on his bed. "Has a box spring and nice support - and it's quiet." I rolled my head and looked over at Kyle. He was sitting in the chair, slowly turning from side to side and watching me. I wondered what he was thinking. Could he be turning over how much of my comment about a first kiss was a joke? Was he wondering if there was a possibility of it being a real offer? I patted the space next to me, and he blushed a bit but got up and flopped on his back beside me. "You should put a poster right there," I said, pointing to the ceiling. "Why? So people know what I jack off to?" he asked and snickered. I laughed with him and wiggled a bit more. "Did you set the timer so we'd know when the cookies were ready to frost?" I asked. "Yeah. If we don't hear it, my mom will hear it. Trust me, she's not frosting those cookies," he said with a chuckle. From the corner of my eye I gauged the distance between us and started moving my right hand toward his left. "What do you want to do for designs on the cookies? Are you artistic?" I moved my hand subtly closer to his. While this was in direct contradiction to my earlier thought about this not being about me, it also seemed stupid to waste a chance to open the door to something between us. "Not really. Mom got some rainbow decorations, made from sugar or something. I figured we could write GSA on them with ah - what are you doing?" He jumped as my hand made contact with his, just two fingers settling over two of his. I lay still with my gaze on the ceiling, except to turn my hand over and leave it as an invitation to him. After a moment I shifted my eyes toward him, but kept my head steady. He blinked, a confused look on his pretty features. "Drake?" he asked. I turned slightly and smiled affectionately back at him. He studied me for a moment and then hesitantly lay his head back down and looked up at the ceiling. "Um, so I was thinking about...letters...um, GSA. Maybe...each letter a different...." His hand landed on mine, fingers between my own. Gently I closed my hand around his and he copied me. "Color," he finished, his voice no more than a whisper. I could relate. My chest was sore with the beating of my heart. In my entire life I'd never held hands with a guy and rarely had done so with a woman. It had always been more pedestrian with a woman, more a formality than any expression of affection. The experience right now was unparalleled, and I'd never have imagined that the simple act of holding hands would feel so freeing and so frightening all in one. Lightly I let my thumb stroke the skin of his thumb, luxuriating in a first for us both. "Kyle? The timer went off five minutes ago!" his mother called out from downstairs. Kyle jerked his hand free and sat up as his grandmother hobbled into view. "Didn't you hear me calling you?" she asked with a smile on her face. "Uh, no. Sorry. We, uh," Kyle stammered and his mother laughed. "Did I interrupt you guys telling secrets or something?" she asked with a laugh. "Best friends are wonderful for secrets and more. Come on, boys. Finish up those cookies." Kyle shot me odd looks for the rest of the time we worked. With his mother present, we didn't have an opportunity to say anything more. But I felt like the hand holding had been kind of declarative. He was curious, maybe interested in me. I knew already I wanted him. As I lay on my squeaky bed that night, all I could think of was the feeling of his hand descending onto mine and the current that passed between us as our fingers moved to not let the other go. Goddamn. This must be what falling in love feels like.
  7. Dabeagle

    Chapter 6

    Thank you for all the great comments! I check this several times just to see what you folks have to say!
  8. Dabeagle

    Chapter 6

    You Don't Know Me Chapter 6 By Dabeagle The group home was all ready to basically lock me up for a week or two, but Pam arrived with Mr. and Mrs. Benoit and I had a meeting with them in Henry's office, sans Henry. I don't know if Henry was just not there or if he was asked not to participate. Either way, it was probably for the best. A chair was brought in for me, the Benoits sat together on a small loveseat and Pam Givens sat in Henry's chair. Oh, maybe it was just that there wasn't enough room? "So," Pam began. "I understand there was some trouble at school today? Another fight?" Nodding at her I replied, "Yes." She held her hands out. "Care to elaborate?" So I repeated my story and invited them to check in with Giles for verification. The Benoits looked at each other, communicating in a silent language known to close relationships. When they turned back, Mr. Benoit spoke. "Drake, you seem like a nice kid. I enjoyed having you over last night, but I'm concerned that you solve problems with violence. Understand, I've got two small kids at home. You being around them would be setting an example." I looked at him steadily as he finished and then looked around at the other adults before he asked, "Don't you have anything to say?" I blinked. "Sure. I just didn't hear a question in there." I paused and adjusted on my chair. "For you and Pam, the first thing I can say is - you weren't there. You can talk a lot about walking away and turning the other cheek, but sometimes there are consequences for that kind of behavior at this age. Secondly, as Mrs. Benoit can attest, I've only had a physical problem with this single person. I'm guessing she may be able to back me up when I say he messes with other people." Mrs. Benoit pursed her lips and nodded. "Yes. Jeremy Burke has sent a few people to my office since he joined the school." "Now my point of view is that Jeremy is a bully. One thing you absolutely cannot do is shrink from him. If you walk away, if you turn the other cheek, it tells a guy like him that you're easy meat. He'll come back again and again." I sighed as I noted his deepening frown. "Look, Mr. Benoit, I really liked your home. I liked your kids and your dog. I loved the cooking," I said with a little smile. "But Jeremy had a smaller kid pinned to the wall with no adults around. He'd already slugged him in the eye. Yeah, I could have walked away. I could have gotten an adult - but do you remember how fast school fights are over?" He kept up his frown and looked at me steadily, so I took it as permission to continue. "If I see a bully picking on someone I'm going to stand up. Every time. I don't really see that as being a violent person, not by my standards. I know you and Mrs. Benoit will judge me by your own standards because that's what you did when you looked at who I was now and invited me to your home. I'm sorrier than you know if this means you don't want me around." I leaned forward and placed my forearms on my knees. "I hate it here. I feel like I'm rotting away. I never thought anyone would offer to do anything for me, much less invite me into their home. But I'm not going to lie to get a place at your table, and I won't lie down for bullies." I sat back, drained from making my little speech. Pam cleared her throat but Mrs. Benoit beat her to it, speaking softly. "Mrs. Barker came to my office to speak with Jeremy after the fight. We talked afterward. She confirmed that Giles Martin had the same story you did - that you intervened to help him." She looked at me with a kind expression and said, "I know she'd normally suspend you for a week to get a message through. I think it says a lot that she gave you one day of in-school suspension rather than her norm. Jeremy ended up with five days." She glanced at her husband, placing a hand over his. His expression softened and she returned her gaze to me. "We're both compassionate people. Non-violent. We both feel a great deal of sadness to know your situation, through no fault of your own. I know you used to be a...very different person. My husband and I are concerned, though, how you might influence our children. We don't know enough about you. "I'd say standing up to bullies is a noble thing to do, but fighting...violence...it's very hard to accept." I nodded at her. "I know. But think about it this way. Put your son Justin in place of Giles and tell me you wouldn't want me - or you or your husband - to intervene? I'd prefer not to fight, but some situations call for standing up. It may not always be easy to tell when, but if you get to know me I'm confident you'll come to trust I'm not a violent person." I leaned forward again, splitting my gaze between the couple. "Again, I hate it here. I love your home. But I won't lie to you to make it happen. I can follow rules, I can help out and be grateful for the things you might choose to do for me. But like I said to Mrs. Barker - if Jeremy won't stop, I'm going to be back in this spot again and again. I'm not a punching bag and neither is Giles. Nobody should be." "Well," Pam said as she looked at us in turn. "I'm not a fan of fighting, but I'm also not a fan of zero tolerance policies. There has to be some gray area, and I think Mrs. Barker sensed that there was and acted accordingly. Having said that." She turned to look at me directly. "If you think this will continue, then we need to meet with the school officials. If this fight were your doing, I'd nail you to the wall, but in this case...maybe the better decision is to look at the real problem." "Can we talk for a moment in private, Drake?" Mrs. Benoit asked. I nodded and stood, leaving the room and closing the door behind me. I really wanted to know what was being said, but I resisted, barely, the urge to try and eavesdrop. Instead I sat on the stairs and felt a bit glum. The day had gone so well up until Jeremy had crapped all over it. I was glad I'd stood up for Giles, though. He'd remember that and maybe start to forgive me for the embarrassment that the old Drake had inflicted on him. If the Benoits couldn't see their way clear to keep up visits, well, I guess it was Forest House for a few years until I became an adult. Kind of funny, in a way. Despite my appearance, my clothes, my athleticism...I still had a lot of crap to deal with. Theoretically I had known this to be a fact, but I'd always had a sneaking suspicion that handsome kids had it easier. Maybe that wasn't always true. I do think it had opened some doors for me. Being athletic had allowed me to gain some grudging respect on the public basketball court and it had been my way into cultivating Kyle. If I'd been overweight or had horrid acne, would that have made a difference? Likely. Humans are, largely, a shallow species. I had to include myself - if Kyle hadn't been good looking to my eyes, would I have pushed through and played basketball with him? Maybe. I'd been lonely, after all. The up-shot was that despite those things I still had issues to deal with. Jeremy. Home or lack of one. Developing relationships, finding a boyfriend. People weren't just forgiving me because I was attractive or could play a sport. It was still something of a surprise, even though it hadn't made any real sense; I just had a vague idea that pretty people had it easy. The door opened and I stood up, feeling anxious. Mr. Benoit waved for me to come in, and I resumed my chair in the office. "We don't approve of the fighting," he began and my heart sank. "As adults we feel that solving problems with violence only creates more violence. That sort of thing can snowball into larger conflicts." He looked at me fixedly before softening his tone. "We do understand, though, that we weren't there and you had to make a choice. We understand your reasoning and, though we don't condone fighting, it's commendable that you're honest about your actions and have enough loyalty to take a punch for a friend. "With that in mind, we have a proposal." I stared at him, willing him to invite me into their home. Even for the evening. Just keep up the visits, I thought. "We'd like you to come spend the weekend with us," Mrs. Benoit said. My jaw dropped. "It would be overnight and it would give us a chance to spend some real time getting to know you better. What do you think?" In retrospect it was probably a little over the top. But I stood and held my fists up in victory and yelled "Yes!" The adults laughed at me, but they didn't understand what it meant. I don't think anyone really does unless you live in a place where people are paid to take care of you but not actually care about you. It makes a place cold and no more than a stop-over on your way back to a crappy home or onward to tougher institutions. Pam said she'd speak to Henry, and that I should plan to come back to the group home after school on Monday. Perhaps we'd recap how I felt the weekend had gone; somewhere in there I stopped listening. Shortly afterward I went up to my shared room and packed a bag for the weekend. I remembered to grab my school bag and headed back downstairs before anyone had second thoughts. Once we were in the car and moving, Mr. Benoit teased me and said, "Looks like you were kind of happy to get out of there." "Are you kidding?" I countered with a laugh. "A real home and Mrs. Benoit's cooking? You have no idea." We stopped at Mrs. Benoit's parent's home to pick up the twins. I said hello to the older couple and the twins were pretty excited to see me. That was nothing compared to Ramses, though. There is nothing quite a welcoming as being knocked over and licked by a dog. They show everything on their figurative sleeve and there was no doubt Ramses liked me. Once back in their home Mr. Benoit showed me to a spare bedroom, and I set my bag at the foot of the bed. The room was clean and bland, much like any spare bedroom in any home anywhere. There was a generic print of flowers in a vase on the wall, full bed with nightstands and attendant lamps and thick beige carpeting. Large windows occupied the corner, a double window on each wall that provided ample natural light. I then helped his wife with making dinner and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I watched television with the family for a little bit and did my reading duty with each of the twins at their insistence. I took a shower in a clean bathroom that had no mold and changed into shorts and a tee shirt for bed. I then sat up and watched a movie with Mr. Benoit while his wife worked on a puzzle book. When I'd had my first go-round as a teen I did what most teens do. I complained about having to help around the house and was generally unappreciative. Now I understood what the Benoits were doing by offering me their hospitality and opening their home to me. I understood what it meant to expose their kids to me. Helping to make dinner or clear the table was small recompense. I enjoyed reading to the twins. Children don't understand that doing these small things to show appreciation is valued by their parents. Helping also helped to make me feel, even for just the moment, a part of the household. While I was very conscious of the home not being my own and of respecting things the way I would if I were visiting a friend's home, it was also a warm and welcoming home. For the first time since I woke up as Drake, I felt at ease in the evening. No roomie to stare at me, no staff standing in the hallway as I tried to sleep. No horrid food with little nutritional value. This was what a home should feel like. At ten they told me to go brush my teeth, which I did and then wished them both a good night. In the spare bedroom I plugged in my phone and noticed I'd missed a text from Kyle at some point as well as one from Giles. Kyle wanted to know what had happened to me that night and Giles just said thank you. I presumed the date went well. I propped myself up with a pillow and thumbed in a reply to Kyle. 'Staying with the Benoits for the weekend. Did you miss me?' I set the phone down and tossed my tee shirt and shorts on a chair, then padded across the carpet and turned out the bedroom light. I made my way back to the bed in the dark, waving my hands ahead of me to help find the bed before I stubbed my toe or something. Really, I should have left the bedside lamp on. My phone lit up as a text came through, probably Kyle. I climbed across the bed and picked the phone up, careful not to yank the charging wire. 'More like I noticed you weren't there,' followed by an emoji with its tongue sticking out. Before I could answer he sent another message. 'So no ballin' this weekend?' I smiled as I decided he did miss me and wanted to hang with me. 'I don't know what they have planned. Why don't you come by in the late morning? Maybe I'll know more then.' I secretly hoped that, if they did have plans, they'd invite Kyle to join us. It was good for two reasons: I'd get to hang with Kyle and they'd get to see me with him. I think I'm a good person with him. 'Maybe. I don't want to spoil you, make you think I'll just show up 'cause you say so.' This was followed with a laughing face, tears coming from its eyes. 'Hey! I come to your house when you ask me to!' I smiled and waited for him to reply. I really did like this guy. 'Well, okay, maybe you have a point. I might see you around 10:30.' I grinned widely. 'Okay, Ky. Night.' 'Goodnight, Drake. Draco. What's your middle name?' 'Dalton.' 'So I call you DD? Too much like a cup size.' The emoji crying with laughter was posted twice. I decided I'd text him all night if I didn't stop, but I liked that he was thinking of something personal to call me. I tucked myself under the covers and felt instantly comfortable and safe. It felt like a real bed in a real home - which it was, of course. There was something more personal about it and it made me feel good. I yawned and snuggled down and drifted to a peaceful sleep. ~YDKM~ Morning light streamed through the windows and I blinked at the new day. The bed was warm and comfortable and I liked the way I felt tucked in. I heard a giggle outside the bedroom door and watched bemusedly as the door handle turned and the door slipped open an inch or so. This was enough that a nose poked in and Ramses' head peeked through. I could see, from the movement of his head, that his other end was shaking with pleasure. "Come here, Ram," I said sotto voce. He needed no further encouragement, landing on the bed in short order and snuffling at me as I giggled and petted him. What can I say? It was nice to feel wanted. "He's awake!" yelled a small voice from the hallway, and the twins entered the room and jumped on the bed, piling across me and giggling as Ramses danced on the bed. "Guys! Guys! Ramses, get down," Mr. Benoit said from the doorway. Ramses ran to him and then turned around just out of his reach and raced back to jump on the bed and then leap off and run back to the doorway and out into the house. The twins were wiggling and laughing, and I pulled each of them under an arm and tickled them, causing shrieks of laughter and orders to stop as they messed with me to keep it all going. "Okay, guys. Let Drake get up," Mr. Benoit said in a tired voice. The twins jumped off the bed and told me to come eat and then they were gone. "That's life with younger siblings, Drake," he said with amusement. I chuckled and stretched. "I'll be right out," I told him and he nodded, closing my door. This home was a marked difference from the home of my childhood. While my parents cannot be said to have been mean or cruel, they were distant and unhappy. I'm not sure what kept them together. It wasn't me or sentimentality at having a child. Neither of them was devout so I don't think it was religious dogma. I often wondered if they just didn't know any other way to be. The Benoits were the flip side of the equation, with warm parents, laughter in the home and a sense of welcome and belonging. With a final stretch I climbed from under the covers. I pulled on the tee shirt and shorts I'd discarded the night before and then made the bed. I liked how it felt to climb under the covers of a made bed and had developed the habit of giving myself that gift. I joined the family and ate breakfast and helped to clear up the kitchen by putting away the clean dishes in the dishwasher before loading the breakfast dishes. "Wow, thanks for the help!" Mrs. Benoit exclaimed as she entered the kitchen after having gone to change from her robe and nightclothes. "I didn't even have to ask." "No problem," I told her. The twins were shrieking in the back yard and I stepped outside into the cool air. I had enjoyed the feeling of the thick carpet on my bare feet inside - Peggy had been of the firm belief that carpets were nests of bacteria and we'd always had wooden or tile floors. Because of that I'd been a devotee of slippers. Now my soles registered the gritty feel of the stone steps, cool and rough as I looked at Justin and Jessica playing tag. "Drake! You're it!" Jessica yelled and ran away. With a smile I jumped off the steps onto the dewy grass and chased them around the yard. The sound of a child's laughter is vastly different depending on the point of view. As a parent you had to divine if the child was being mean in laughing at someone, laughing about trouble they were getting into and various other nefarious laughs. Then, of course, there was the clear, pure laugh of fun. As a kid again myself, or maybe simply not being their parent, their laughter just fit my overall ideas of the Benoit household. I ran myself ragged, laughing with them and teasing as we played. It was the sort of mindless fun kids should have by right. "Drake! Leave them alone!" called out a playful voice. I turned to see Kyle standing in the open doorway at the back of the house. "Ky! Hey," I called and headed over to the door. As I did the twins started grabbing on and hanging on me and I struggled forward with one on my back and one around my calf. Kyle wore an amused expression as I drew within a few feet. I grinned at him and asked, "Want to tag in? As you can see, the teams are unfair." His smile pushed to one side of his face and he nodded. I reached out and slapped hands with him and the twins squealed. No one was more surprised than I was when Kyle knocked me over and helped the twins. "Hey!" I yelled, laughing as the twins squirmed to try and pin me down. "They needed the help!" Kyle said with a laugh and worked to twist my arms around myself. We probably wrestled like that for ten or fifteen minutes before Mrs. Benoit called to her kids from the back door. "Okay, guys. Let Drake at least say hello to his friend," she said in an amused tone. Of course they ignored her initially, but eventually released me and went back into the house. I blew a blade of grass from my mouth and sat up, my knees partially drawn up. I squinted at Kyle. "Was that really necessary?" I asked him. "Totally," he said and laughed. "Help me up?" I asked, holding a hand out to him. He obliged and as soon as I had a grip on his hand I yanked him forward, pulling him down on top of me and we started to wrestle again as he called me a cheater. I had the advantage this time, though, and tickled him without mercy until he surrendered. The day ended up going very well, from my point of view. We played a board game as a family, Kyle included, and then Kyle, Mr. Benoit and myself went out front and played basketball in the driveway. Mr. B kept stopping us to coach and adjust what we were doing, which was kind of cool. The twins came outside and I lifted Justin onto my shoulders so he could try to dunk. Within moments Jessica begged Kyle to do the same, and he obliged her. Then she didn't want to get down. After we'd played for a few hours Kyle went home with an invite to join us for dinner and a movie that night. After showering I dressed in casual clothes again, since I knew we were staying in. They ordered pizza and Kyle came back over to join us. The elder Benoits sat on the couch, while Ramses claimed the easy chair. Kyle and I sat with our backs to the couch, covered by a blanket and with a twin pushed up to each of us. I was starting to think Jess had a little crush on Kyle. Hard to blame her, but I had designs on him myself. At the end of the movie the twins were told to get ready for bed, and Jess wanted Kyle to read to her. Mr. B read to Justin. I was amused watching Kyle read from the children's book as Jess interrupted him to ask questions, such as did he have a girlfriend. Afterward Kyle said he had to go home. I walked him to the door and then stood on the stoop to talk. "Thanks for coming, Ky," I told him. "It was cool," he replied. He bobbed his head and put his hands in his pockets. "They seem really nice. It seems like you fit here. You think they might adopt you or something?" I shrugged. "I'm just trying to enjoy it and be myself while it lasts. I don't even know if they want another kid full time, you know?" He nodded slowly. "Yeah. I guess that's the smart way to think about it." "That's me. I think good," I said and chuckled as he laughed at me His face grew still and his expression grew contrite. "Ky? Something wrong?" "Not...exactly," he replied slowly. He sighed and looked down the street for a moment. "I dodged your question the other day. About the pool. You knew I did, but didn't push it." "Well, wasn't sure what the point would be. I think you heard me; what I thought. Or maybe more accurately what I felt about it." His gaze moved back toward me, but he didn't bring his eyes to meet mine. "When we were at the pool, people kept asking me why you were there. It was enough to make me feel aggravated. I realize, now, I took that out on you by saying what I did." Softly I said, "It's all good, Ky." He shook his head slowly and looked up, meeting my gaze. "No, it's not. You keep saying what a good guy I am and how that's why you're trying so hard to make a friendship work with me. That doesn't seem like something a good guy would do, does it? To keep letting my memories of who you were - Draco - interfere with who you're trying to be?" The corner of my mouth pulled up in affectionate amusement. I looked down for a moment before looking back at him. "It means I have a past that's hard to forget. For the record, good guys aren't perfect. But if they screw up, they do what you're doing now - try to make it right." He pursed his lips slightly and nodded. "We good?" I smiled and put my fist out. "Better than ever." He gave me an embarrassed smile and bumped my fist. He shook his head and said, "I can't believe I'm friends with Drake Mathews." We both laughed lightly, but my heart raced. I'd done it. I'd turned the corner with Kyle and he thought of me as his friend. He headed off down the street and I called out to him. "Hey! Text me when you get home." He turned on his heel and walked backward. "Why, Mom? You afraid I'll get kidnapped?" "Please, they'd give you back in ten minutes!" I said with a smile. "But you might get attacked by zombies or something. No, wait, they want brains. You're safe!" "Screw you, Drake!" he said with a laugh and then was gone. Grinning I went back into the house only to see the Benoits moving away from the front window of the house and trying to look as if nothing was amiss. I rolled my eyes. "Did you guys want to see if we kissed goodnight or something?" I asked with a snicker. They had the good grace to blush slightly and laugh. "We had a bet. We wanted to see if you had to pay Kyle to come hang out with you for the day," Mr. B joked. "Oh, ouch!" I said and held a hand to my heart. "That hurts, Mr. B." The Benoits turned on the radio and set the volume low. Mr. B sat in the recliner with a book, and Mrs. B perched on the couch with her puzzle book while Ramses settled in beside her. I went into the spare room and took my phone and book from my bag and settled in on the floor with my back to the couch. Remembering Giles had texted me the night before, I sent him a quick message to ask how his date had gone. 'Really well. It was a group date, two of her friends were already going with their boyfriends.' I frowned and wondered if she'd invited him as a convenience. Apparently he'd read my mind, however, as his next text clarified. 'I wondered if she'd just needed a warm body to go with, but both her friends told me that Anna has liked me for a while. Can you imagine someone too shy to ask ME out?' I chuckled as I texted back. 'Hey, your haircut looked good on you. I was thinking of asking you out if Moira said no' I followed this up with a laughing emoji. 'Are you going to have a second date? Did you get a goodnight kiss?' 'I'm not sure we'd work as a couple, Drake. I'm too pretty for you,' he wrote, answering my jibe and then followed up with, 'She held my hand in the movie theater and we did kiss goodnight. Drake, my first kiss!!!!' I grinned madly and congratulated him. "Something funny?" Mrs. B asked. I looked up and realized I must have chuckled out loud and disturbed them, as both eyes were on me. "Uh, sorry," I said, abashed. I held up the phone. "Giles had a date last night, had his first kiss. He's pretty excited." Mrs. B smiled widely. "That's so cute. Giles is adorable. Who did he go with?" "Um, Anna someone? He said it was a group date to the movies. I guess there was some hand holding and he's just about as happy as can be." A ghost of a smile played on Mr. B's face and he went back to his book. Mrs. B smiled more openly and went back to her puzzles. 'I'm glad it went well. Congrats, G-man.' A new text came in from Kyle. 'I'm home, Mom. I sent the zombies to your house.' I smiled but put a lid on any chuckles. 'Thanks, Ky. See you tomorrow?' 'Not if I see you first.' With a grin I set down my phone and lost myself in the pages of my book.
  9. Dabeagle

    Love, Simon- A Coming Out Movie

    A deleted scene, quite powerful. We didn't see it in the movie because the scene that precedes it and sets it up wasn't included, either. https://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/this-love-simon-deleted-scene-will-make-you-feel-all-your?utm_term=.mqAMv3MWV#.qyjG4WGoR
  10. Dabeagle

    Chapter 5

    You Don't Know Me Chapter 5 By Dabeagle As the week wore on news came from my parents' estate. The court had approved payment of some expenses, including my phone subscription. It also provided me with an allowance. So far the county hadn't tried to get my inheritance, but I figured it was only a matter of time. Unless, of course, what my parents had paid into the system in taxes counted for something. The week settled down and I started to fall into the rhythm of a regular life. I did my best to hang out with Kyle during the evenings. He told me his grandmother had fallen last Friday night and that's why he hadn't been at home; they'd had been out of town for the weekend to tend to her needs. I was relieved I wasn't being avoided and then felt stupid for the thought. Thursday Giles pulled me aside after lunch. "I wanted to ask if you would help me with something." "Sure. What do you need?" I asked. Red spots popped up on his cheeks. "I want to ask Moira Green out. But I know I look like a reject. You always look...good, I guess. Can you help me out?" I looked him over. He looked a bit like a parochial schoolboy, with a button up shirt and dark blue corduroy pants. His hair was a mess. In some ways he reminded me of my own son when he'd started to pay attention to his appearance about the time he discovered girls had boobs. I felt a pang of sorrow for that old memory. Snapping back to the present and a hopeful looking Giles I nodded. "You bet. Meet me after school." I turned over how to make Giles over as the day wore on. I'd never really done something like that, but I figured I'd do the best I could - hell if I would let the little guy down. After school I met him by the front door and we moved off to the side to escape foot traffic. "Okay," I said. "I've been thinking. First thing is your hair." He put a hand on his head and said, "My mom says I have beauti-uh. Shit." He looked away and his face turned red. "Hey, moms say that kind of stuff," I told him with a nudge. "You do have great hair. But if you like to have long hair, you kind of have to do something with it every day. Shorter hair is easier to manage. What do you think?" He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I kind of like the longer hair. But I'm not very good at styling it. Is there a compromise?" "Probably. Let's go to a barber. Um." I looked at him. "Know where we can find one?" "Yeah. I don't have any cash, though." "No worries, this one is on me." "Uh, no. You can't buy me," he said, voice trembling slightly. I liked that he'd gotten the courage to ask for my help and to stand up for himself to me, though he looked scared. "Dude, not sure why you're nervous, but chill. It's just this once. I'm not paying for your haircuts forever," I said and snickered. While uncertain, he seemed to relax a bit and we started off. He lead us over several blocks to a barber shop. The barber advised a mid-length cut, longer on the top, that would be easier to maintain yet give him the slightly longer hair he liked. I have to say, the haircut looked good on him. If it weren't for him wanting to ask this girl out, I might start day-dreaming about the little guy. Nah. He was cute, but like a mascot, not like a boyfriend. Once done we walked to his home. It was a ranch home with a patchy lawn and a dead tree in the front yard. The siding was faded and the trash was filled to capacity and sitting on the curb, waiting for pick up. Inside the house was worn but comfortable. The smell of cigarettes lingered, though he said it was just his mother's clothes that had the smoke smell on them, because she smoked outside. We walked down a hallway to his bedroom, where he turned to face me. "So, what do I do now?" "Okay. You like the button up shirts?" I asked as I glanced about his room. It seemed pretty standard for a kid - messy, could use picking up and a a light dusting but not something that would have gotten me wound up as a parent. Peggy, on the other hand.... He looked down. "Don't I look nice in them?" "Sure. Maybe a little formal for public high school, though. But do you like them?" I pressed. He fingered the cloth. "I do. I think they're nice. You think I need to lose them, right?" "Nope. This isn't about making you into someone you're not. It's about making the best parts of you stand out. What about the pants?" Once more he looked down. "Um, they're warm, I guess. I have jeans, but I like the cords." "Okay, so, decision time," I said. I moved over and sat on the edge of his bed. "Cords are a little dressier than jeans and you can't wear white socks with them. It just doesn't look right." He frowned, looked down and then back at me. "Aren't cords kind of casual?" "Compared to, say, slacks? Sure. But dressier than jeans. With your cords, button up, white socks and sneakers you remind me of a kid that goes to Jesus school." His eyes grew wide and he looked down again. Slapping a hand to his forehead he groaned. "Oh my God, you're right. I've seen kids like that and always thought they looked dorky. What do I do, though?" he asked. "Easy, just make a few choices. If you want to keep the button up,wear a colorful shirt under it and leave it unbuttoned. Unless the shirt is colorful, then wear a white or light colored tee. As for the pants, dark socks with your cords. White or colorful socks with your jeans. Sneakers with jeans, something nicer with the cords." We spent about thirty minutes as he went through some of his clothes and we made up a few outfits of things he should wear together. Although I'd never been renowned for my wardrobe, I did have a basic sense of what went together. I didn't so much remake Giles as rearrange what he already liked to wear. I felt pleased with myself as I walked back to the group home. It really stunk to have to make up for the things Drake had done - some of them really crappy. But in the process I felt like I was having a positive impact. Back at the home I finished up the light homework I'd not completed in school. After carefully filing it away I broke out my current read and placed myself as far from the TV as I could. I'd have been happier reading in my bed, but this group home had an 'eyes-on' policy, meaning I couldn't go up and hang out in my room unsupervised. Leaving the house was still an option, but I figured I'd go to Kyle's after dinner. I'd barely started to read when Henry pulled me aside. I was a little wary, knowing I'd made an enemy of him, but he was reasonably courteous. "So, Pam called this afternoon," he said. "There is someone who'd like to visit with you. Right now she is interested in being a resource for you." I frowned. "What does that mean? Am I supposed to know this person?" "A resource is someone who spends time with you, an adult outside the system that you can interact with. As far as knowing, it's not a family member, if that's what you were thinking. Do you know a Mrs. Benoit from school?" He looked at me with his eyebrows up high in question. "Uh, yeah. School nurse. She wants to be a resource for me?" Nodding he said, "I guess you made an impression on her. She'll be here about five, and you'll spend the evening with her family. Sound good?" "Uh, yeah. Dinner with her or am I supposed to, um, eat here?" Henry's face turned slightly sour. "Don't worry, you won't be subjected to dinner here." After Henry departed I went up to the bathroom and washed my face and combed my hair. I went back down and sat with my book as I waited for five o'clock to roll around, but I couldn't focus on the book. What if Mrs. Benoit was my ticket out of this house? She'd seemed nice. Was she just testing the waters to see if I was truly changed? Did she have the idea of taking me on full-time as a possible end goal? The sad part was I knew I could go in circles playing the what-if game. My best bet was to calm down and just see what happened, to be myself. A few minutes after five the doorbell rang, and I opened the door to Mrs. Benoit. She smiled at me and said hello. "Hi, Nurse Benoit," I said and smiled at her. One of the staff came over and admonished me for having opened the door and then greeted Mrs. Benoit. They had her sign something to do with me not having any medications, who to call in case of emergency and that sort of thing. Then Henry wanted a word with her and they went down to his office. I knew Henry was playing a game, keeping me from the conversation. If I'd cost myself anything in the confrontation in his office with Pam it was that he knew that I knew more than the average kid. After a few minutes Mrs. Benoit emerged and she looked slightly more guarded, so Henry had obviously said something to her. It irked me, but I tried to let it go. I felt confident Mrs. Benoit would judge me on how I acted more than she would from Henry's statements. She'd known what an ass Drake had been, but she also saw I wasn't that anymore. "Shall we?" she asked and I opened the door for her. "I'm ready," I said and followed her out the door. "Did you have homework tonight?" she asked as we walked to her car, a newer Jeep. "Not a whole lot. There's time to get most of it done at school between study halls and team time," I replied. "I like the team time better. If I get stuck, a teacher is there to clarify things." Once in the car we buckled up and I continued. "I was pretty surprised when Henry told me you'd invited me to dinner. I want to say thank you, I really hate the food and company at the group home." She smiled. "You're welcome, Drake. There have been a number of kids from that group home that have come into my office for bumps and scrapes. I know it's not a happy place." "So I have one request," I said. She gave me an inquisitive look and I plowed ahead. "I can set and clear tables, help with cooking or meal prep, but I absolutely hate doing dishes. Please, no dishes?" She laughed and I smiled at her. "We have a dishwasher. We just rinse plates and put them in the washer. With young kids in the house, we don't have time or energy for more." "You have kids?" I asked. Nodding and starting the car she said, "Fraternal twins, Justin and Jessica. They are the twin terrors of fifth grade." She pulled into traffic and glanced at me. "So, how is school going so far? No more fights?" "No fights," I agreed. "Jeremy hasn't come back for round two, but that's only a matter of time. I figure he's trying to stack things in his favor." "Is he so deliberate?" she asked in a concerned tone. "I have no idea," I confessed. "But there's really no such thing as a fair fight. If I had to fight someone, I'd like to make as sure as I can that I won't lose." "It seems like you've given this some thought." I grinned at her. "I don't want to get my butt kicked." We pulled onto Kyle's street and passed his house. Mrs. Benoit pulled into a driveway about a block away from the Winters' and we climbed out. "Come on, I'm hungry!" she said with a smile and placed a hand on my shoulder to nudge me toward the door. I fell in just behind her and removed my shoes as we entered the house. We were greeted by a woof and a wiggling black lab. I loved dogs and had always wanted one. My father disdained them, claiming they had given up being free for a place by man's fire and settling for handouts from a master. I had always argued that dogs are pack animals and simply recognized a superior pack leader, but he'd just sniff and call them dirty. Peggy had been allergic to dog dander, so we'd never owned a dog. I dropped to my knees and held my hand out to the wiggling ball of fur. He licked my hands and then proceeded to sniff my face and try to lick my ears and face. I giggled and pushed his head gently away each time and rubbed his ears as compensation. In a blink he jumped up, placing his paws on my shoulders and overbalancing me flat onto my back with him over me, licking my face and anything else he could while I laughed and squirmed under him, trying to get away. "Ramses! Ram! No!" A man's voice carried through the room. Ramses ignored him, intent on welcoming me. With a command to get back, Ramses was pulled away and I lay on the floor, I'm sure red faced, laughing as I sat up. "Sorry, he doesn't listen that well," the man apologized. "No problem, I love dogs," I told him as I gained my feet. "I'm Drake. Thanks for having me for dinner." "Nice to meet you, Drake," he said and held a hand out while holding Ramses by the collar with the other. "If you don't mind, we'll stick with pork chops for dinner, rather than you, however." I thought for a second and then realized I'd said they were having me for dinner. I grinned at him. "I'm glad to hear that, actually. Cannibalism has never been one of my interests." Behind him his wife had entered the kitchen and two kids, probably around ten, stood wiggling, impatient to be introduced. The boy was a little barrel-chested like his father and a hair short, which lent him a chubby appearance. The girl was taller by an inch at least and sported long hair in braids. Perhaps due to her height she appeared slimmer, possibly a preview of where her brother was headed. "These two are terror one and two," their dad said with a grin. "I'm Jessica, and he doesn't matter," she said with a wide grin. "Jess," her mother said in a tone of warning from the other room. Jess rolled her eyes. "He's Justin." "Want to play Minecraft?" Justin asked, deciding the greetings were over. "Jerk!" His sister snorted and turned to me. "Come see my room. His is a mess." I chuckled at their competitiveness. "Let me see if your mom needs help with dinner first, okay?" "Mom! Can he play Minecraft with me?" Justin called out. "Guys, he's here all night! You don't have to wear him out in ten minutes!" their father chuckled. "Go play." They grumbled and headed off in separate directions. Mr. Benoit guided Ramses to a dog bed and told him to sit. Ramses did, but his tail was swishing quickly and indicated the sitting wouldn't last long. I poked my head into the kitchen and asked if Mrs. Benoit needed any help. "I'm all set, thank you though," she replied and I nodded. "Drake, come have a seat," Mr. Benoit invited. Here it comes, I thought. He's going to try and interrogate me. Who knows what his wife had said about me before the accident or since, but he wants to evaluate me. It wasn't unexpected and I sat down on the couch and regarded him steadily. "My wife tells me you stood up to a bully the other day?" he asked. "I did," I replied. "I got a new friend out of it, too. At least, on the way." "Oh? Who?" asked Mrs. Benoit, poking her head out of the kitchen. I turned to address her. "Giles Martin. He asked me to help him get spiffed up so he could ask out Moira somebody." "Oh, Moira Green. He sets his sights high. Good for him," she said and retreated into the kitchen. "I heard about your accident. You seem well, despite the loss of your parents." He leaned forward, sitting on the edge of his recliner. "I'm sorry about your folks." Nodding I replied, "Thanks. My memory loss is protecting me from a lot of things." "You don't seem to be injured. Is the block psychological?" I shrugged. "Maybe. The first therapist they sent me to wasn't very helpful. They haven't found a new one yet." "Are you making friends? You mentioned Giles. Anyone else?" "Kyle Winters," I replied and smiled slightly. "I'm wearing him down." He chuckled. "You have to wear him down to be friends?" "I have a bad reputation to overcome," I said, knowing he likely knew this already. "He's got a reason to be mistrustful. But...he's a good person. I think he's worth the effort." He nodded at me and sat back in his chair. "Now can he play Minecraft with me?" Justin asked from the hallway. "Or are you still using him?" Mr. Benoit chuckled. "If he wants to play with you, Justin. But he should be warned that you cheat!" "I do not!" "Come look at my room, first!" Jessica exclaimed, appearing suddenly. "Do you have siblings?" Mr. Benoit asked as he flipped the TV on. "Uh, no," I told him and stood up to participate in whatever the little ones had cooking. Jessica excitedly showed off her room, a very girly space. She liked dolls and animals and her room was dotted with ample amounts of both. She told me the names of her dolls while Justin stood in the doorway calling her dolls stupid and asking me to agree. "Justin. Chill, little bro," I said to him. I'm not a big fan of 'bro', but it had the desired effect as Justin looked pleased and closed his mouth. "Will you be our brother?" Jessica asked. "That's not a choice I get to make, Jess," I replied. My throat felt a little tight, and I wasn't sure why. "Besides, this is just a visit. What if you don't like me?" "I like you," she said. "Boys don't listen to me tell them about my dolls." "That's 'cause they're-" "Justin," I said in a flat voice. "I thought you were cool?" His eyes widened a bit and he closed his mouth. I turned back to Jess. "Let me tell you a secret about boys, Jess. In fact, it's about people. It'll take time, but people are more interested in you and what you do if you show interest in them and what they like. And you know what? There's going to be boys and girls who will be happy to know the names of your dolls," I said with a little smile. "No boy I know," she grumbled. Justin fairly hopped from foot to foot as he led me to a small room downstairs that had a TV and a game system. He explained the game to me in agonizing detail and I tried to play with him, but I was pretty sure his dad hadn't been joking about his cheating. Soon we were called up to dinner, but Justin lingered with a pinched look on his face. "Ready to eat, bud?" I asked him. He looked up and frowned a little. "Could I tell people you're my brother? If they think I have one, they might not pick on me." I smiled, knowing how true that was at his age. "You go right ahead. But," I said with a fingertip on the end of his nose. "Don't you tell anyone I'll fight them. You let them think it, but don't say it. I'm not beating up anyone. Got it?" "Sure!" Justin squeaked, and we headed off to dinner. We ate dinner as a family. I couldn't help but think of my past life and the childhood I'd had with my parents. Dinners were silent affairs and done with quickly, as if to limit the amount of time we had to spend in one space. The Benoits' table was the flip side. The parents asked questions about what the kids learned, who got in trouble and what book the kids were reading in class that day. I got much the same treatment. "So, how are you finding school, what with your memory issues?" Mr. Benoit asked. "Not too bad, really," I replied. "It's a little weird. There are some pretty big chunks gone, but I didn't get a total brain wipe. My personality is completely different." I shrugged. "The work makes sense, and I'm not struggling with any of it, yet." "I heard you're a big reader?" Mrs. Benoit asked. "The director of the group home said so." "Really?" I asked skeptically. "I didn't think he knew. He and I don't really see eye to eye." "Well, he didn't paint a glowing picture, no," she admitted. "But we like to make up our minds for ourselves." "I'm so glad you do," I told her gratefully. "As far as books, I read a bunch of different things. I like sci-fi and fantasy books. I like mysteries. I like funny books, like...those ones by Janet Evanovich? Have you read them?" "I have! They got a little stale, but the early ones were very funny," she agreed. That led into a light discussion about books. The twins contributed that they were reading Percy Jackson and that their mom promised to let them watch the movie after they'd read the books. After we ate I helped to clear the table. The twins had to get their showers and then Jess was asking for me to read to her. Of course, Justin wanted the same so I took them down to the little game room and I read a few chapters from one of their books to them. Afterward they went up to bed, and I felt a little choked up when they each gave me a quick hug goodnight. In bed later I reflected on the visit. It had gone well, I thought. The Benoits were nice people, and the kids were kind of fun. They reminded me how my own kids could be competitive with each other at that age. The elder Benoits were gently inquisitive, and I had tried to be forthcoming and polite. The home, the family, had been warm and accepting, and the food had been filling and well made. The twins had protested but I made a show of liking the food and, thinking they were missing something, they ate as well. Ramses had been my constant companion. After the younger ones were in bed, he sat with me on the couch while I rubbed his ears and petted him. There was no doubt I felt a sense of loss when it was time for me to head back to the reality of the group home. Mr. Benoit had dropped me off and I had thanked him, and his wife earlier, for a really nice evening. ~YDKM~ I sat down next to Kyle for lunch on Friday and regarded a happily smiling Giles across from me. "Hey, Giles," I said in greeting. "Did you ask Moira out?" "Nope," he said with a grin. "Anna Triletti asked me out this morning. She liked my hair." I gave him a crooked smile. "Way to go, Giles." "I'm impressed," Kyle said with a chuckle. "Your hair does look nice, by the way. I don't remember you with that style before. Did you get it cut recently?" "Yesterday," he said with a quick nod. "Drake helped me out." "Did he?" Kyle asked, drawing the words out and looking at me. "What?" I asked, a smile creeping on my face. "What happened to you last night? I thought you were coming over?" Kyle asked instead. Before I could reply, Giles jumped in. "I told you, he was helping me. I wasn't sure I should but, you know, I did what you said and gave him a chance." I raised an eyebrow at Kyle who didn't meet my gaze. Giles, oblivious, continued. "He took me to get my hair cut and then helped me go through my clothes to make things match better." "A make over?" Kyle asked and laughed. "No," Giles replied, blushing. "He said it wasn't about changing me as much as rearranging to make me look better. Or something. Look, it worked. I've got a date." "Yes, I guess you do," Kyle said and chuckled while glancing at me. "I thought you just didn't want to get your ass stomped again." "Pft. Mrs. Benoit decided to take an interest in me. I was with her family for dinner and spent most of the evening there." Kyle's eyes widened slightly as I told him what I'd done the night before. "Food was good; she can cook. House was nice. I could get used to a family like that." "Wow. Well, that's cool. You think you might end up living there?" Kyle asked between bites. I shrugged. "Who knows what they thought? I mean, they both asked questions and stuff. Feeling me out. I figure they probably talked about me after I was back at the home." "You coming over tonight?" Kyle asked lightly. I batted my eyes. "Ky. You asking me on a date?" He blushed. "No. Jerk. Just need to remind you who's better at hoops." "Oh, please. Kyle 'The Bricklayer' Winters is better than me?" I asked and snickered. "Oh, give it a rest!" he said with a laugh. "We should call you Twang. That's the sound of your shots bouncing off the back iron!" We teased each other a bit back and forth before I admitted I didn't know if I could come over. "If Mrs. Benoit comes over to get me again, I think I have to focus on that, you know? But Saturday - oh, shit, how's your grandma? You guys going away for the weekend?" He pursed his lips. "She fell in her kitchen. Broke her hip, ankle and left arm." "Holy crap." "Yeah. You wouldn't have known it the way she was giving the hospital staff hell," he said with a chuckle. He sobered and continued, "I heard my parents saying lots of older people just don't bounce back from a broken hip. My mom is going back out this weekend to try and figure out living arrangements for my grandma. She can't stay in the apartment she's in." He glanced at me. "It's on the second floor with a small bathroom and kitchen. She can't use a walker there, much less a wheel chair if she has to." "Shit. I'm sorry, Ky." He smiled weakly. "What's with the Ky thing? Kyle too much to say?" The lunch period drew to a close with the warning bell and people stood from their tables to deposit the last of their garbage. I looked at Kyle and smiled affectionately. "It's called a term of endearment, doofus." I got Kyle's number from him in class later and put it into my phone. I figured I could try texting when I got bored at the group home and was missing his company. After Gym I got Giles's number as well and wished him good luck on his date. He was beaming when he left the locker room. Ten minutes later I was out in front of the school and was more than a little dismayed to find Jeremy picking on Giles again. He had him pushed up against the side of the building and a red mark was already forming around one of his eyes. I didn't even ask why Jeremy was harassing him; it didn't matter. I took off my backpack, swung it a bit like a discus thrower and landed my shot on the back of his neck. "The fuck?" he growled as he turned to face me. "You. You're a fuck. Leave him alone." I stood my ground, staring him down. I knew it should be anytime before someone in authority noticed something was going on. Actually, it should have happened by now - where were the adults? Jeremy pushed his closed fist into his open palm and smiled like a B-movie villain. "I've wanted to do this for a long time, you fucking pretty-boy loser." "You wanted me, huh? Not my type," I said with a sardonic grin. He was on me in a rush. I tried to side-step him but didn't get far enough out of the way, and we both tumbled down to the sidewalk. He yelled something incoherent and swung at me, landing a glancing blow off my shoulder. Good thing we were on the ground; it made his punches awkward to throw. I could see he was in a frenzy, and I was going to get pounded unless I did something drastic. I tried to bring a knee up into his balls but hit his gut instead. The blow looked to have taken some of the wind from him but not enough that he didn't land a wild swing on my jaw. I rolled away awkwardly and rolled over my discarded bag as I stood. He levered himself up and grappled with me again. He was stronger and heavier, so I had to fight smarter and fast. He stumbled, his foot having gotten caught in the strap of my bag. As he fell toward me I turned his weight against him, spinning him off balance, and his back slammed into the wall. He reached for me and I moved fast, pushing my palm against his face and shoving his head back into the wall, hard. "Ow! Oh, fuck!" he hollered and grabbed the back of his head. Not wanting to miss the opportunity I grabbed his hair and dragged him down to his knees. "Don't. Fuck. With my friends," I snarled. "What's going on! Break it up!" A male voice called out and the crowd began to disperse, heading for the buses. This time he was headed to the nurse's office and I had a date with Mrs. Barker. I trooped into her office and sat down, a bit surprised to be joined by Giles a moment later. "You okay?" I asked him. He smiled, his left eye a little puffy. "Better than I would have been. Thanks." I smiled back and rested my head against the wall. "Told you I would." "That's what I mean. Thanks for keeping your word." He paused. "You weren't exactly the most trustworthy guy, before." "New Drake, Giles. New Drake." He chuckled. "I guess I can't call you Draco anymore." I shrugged. "As long as you mean I'm a bad ass when you say it...?" I trailed off, chuckling and he joined me. I pointed toward his eye. "Just make sure you tell Anna there were three guys and they were huge, okay?" "Mr. Mathews," Mrs. Barker said from behind the counter. "Seems you can predict the future." "Yes, ma'am." "Mrs. Barker? I can vouch for Drake," Giles said as he stood. "He only got involved because Jeremy punched me." Giles pointed to his eye as proof. She crooked her finger at Giles and he went in to tell her his story. Minutes later she called me in and sent him back out. "So. What happened?" she asked, leaning back in her chair. I described the scene I'd stumbled on, not forgetting to tell her no staff seemed to be around. I explained the fight as best I remembered it, starting with me hitting Jeremy with my book bag to get him off Giles. I held nothing back, just as before. If nothing else, Mrs. Barker would know I'd give her the unvarnished truth. With my tale done, she sighed and dropped a pencil onto her desk and rubbed her eyes. Dropping her hands she said, "Drake, you can't fight on the school grounds. We have rules. Jeremy will be dealt with, but right now I have to deal with you," she said in response to me opening my mouth to protest. I closed my mouth. "Officially, I have to condemn fighting and give you a one-day suspension, to be served Monday." I slumped. She paused and looked down. "Unofficially...you did a good thing for Giles. The only reason it's only a day is because his story was pretty darn close to yours. You admitted to more than he mentioned. I think he was trying to protect you." Nodding dejectedly I said, "I understand. I don't feel like I had a choice, and I'd do it again, but I understand." She cleared her throat. "Your suspension will be in-school. Make sure you have work to do, and bring a book. It can get boring."
  11. Dabeagle

    Chapter 4

    You Don't Know Me Chapter 4 By Dabeagle There was no one at Kyle's house Saturday, so I spent a few hours at the basketball court. I had much the same reception as last weekend, but I still got to play and that kept my mind occupied and my body busy. I swung by the Winters' on my way back, but the house was still empty. With no way to reach out to Kyle I headed back to the group home. The staff was definitely frosty toward me, but I kept my tongue in check and stuck to my books. Sunday came and the Winters' house was still empty, and I started to worry something had happened. By noon the sky had darkened and rain began to pour in earnest. I was trapped at the group home the rest of the day with my books to stave off insanity. I was awoken at five on Monday morning, took a quick shower and ate what passed for breakfast. I looked through my things to ensure I had everything possible for school. I'd taped my schedule inside the front of a binder to ensure I could find it anytime. I was told I'd get an agenda at school, kind of like a planner, that I could write assignments and notes in. At last we were loaded into a mini-van and dropped off at school. Wadsworth High School was a classic 60s single story construct with gray metal frames on the windows and hard floors that appeared to be slabs of rock - something with a white background, like quartz, but with specks of yellow, black and brown. There was a lot of painted cinder block on the inside, and posters welcoming students back to school dotted the walls. "Yo, Drake! Where you been?" I turned toward the voice and realized I was hearing from Jeremy, one of Drake's former friends. He, unfortunately, looked remarkably like his image in the phone. He'd also enjoyed the cruel prank played on that unfortunate girl. He held out his fist and I frowned lightly. "I guess if you were important to me, you'd know where I've been. Right?" I asked in a tone that was meant to be more curious than damning. "Seriously?" he said while dropping his fist. "What did you expect, flowers?" "D!" Any reply was cut short by the exclamation of that single letter and the pair of arms that were wrapped around my neck and dragging me down and forward a bit. "You missed my party!" I placed steadying hands on the flanks of this girl, probably Stacy. It was hard to be sure with her clothes on. "Accident. It's kind of my excuse for everything right now." I looked away from her and was irritated when she wrapped her arm around one of my own. "You can make it up to me," she purred in an off-putting way. I raised an eyebrow at the gall. "I have an accident and I'm supposed to make something up to you?" "Drake," she whined and I gritted my teeth. I glanced around, hoping to see Kyle, but it wasn't to be. "Hey, yo," Jeremy said. "I heard something went bad with your memory? You all feeble minded now?" "I can remind you of things," Stacy said and giggled. Jesus, she was like the slut out of a bad teen movie! "You know, I'm going to class now," I told them and turned. "Yeah, right!" Jeremy chortled. "You got someone else?" Stacy asked as she fell in beside me. "You could have at least said if you did." "Ugh. You know, Stacy, I just think this isn't working out between us." I pulled out my schedule and double checked the room number. "Why not? You get laid whenever you want. What room are you looking for? Jesus, at least look at me when you break up with me!" She placed a hand on one hip and pushed it out to one side. "235. I was in an accident. My parents died, and all you and old Jeremy care about is that I missed your party. I think I need a little more in my life," I said in frustration and, frankly, shock that I had to say such a thing. "You never cared before, as long as your dick got wet," she said and frowned. "235 is upstairs, in that corner." She pointed about forty feet ahead to the stairwell whose railing was just visible. "Okay, thanks. Um, I think, after that, I've just got different priorities. Take care, Stacy," I said and left her in the hallway. Classes were the standard first day stuff. Teachers explained class rules, expectations, that sort of thing. A few handed out worksheets, and one assigned homework. Jeremy was in one of my classes, but I picked a seat away from him. He threw out his arms in challenge, likely trying to ask what I thought I was doing, but I ignored him. I knew that would likely only work so long before a confrontation would be necessary. All that was expected and I actually felt okay knowing the day hadn't had any major loops. People weren't openly hostile, but no-one was trying to ask how I was either. The day held together until lunch, and I was appalled to find the school lunch was on par with group home food; there was just a wider selection. I picked out the best things I could and avoided the rest. Upon exiting the line I scanned the room, looking for either Kyle or a quiet place. I spotted Jeremy and a table with a few clones of his type and kept looking. Finally I spotted Kyle's tousled mop of brown hair and made my way to his table. "Okay if I sit with you?" I asked him. He looked up and seemed surprised to see me. As always, though, he was polite. "Sure." He obligingly moved down a bit and made a space next to him. I sat and talk around the table resumed. I wasn't addressed so I just listened and ate my lunch. I still wanted to ask Kyle what he'd meant about not needing him to have fun at the pool, but I was a little afraid of the answer. Jesus! I needed to make a few friends. "Is this where we're sitting this year?" Talk at the table stopped and heads turned toward the voice. I turned as well and was unsurprised to find Jeremy, along with another boy and Stacy. "I'm sitting here with a friend. You stay over there," I told him though I knew in my heart it'd do no good. "You don't like the pizza?" he asked the boy across from me, a weedy little blond with glasses who appeared quite short while seated. "Eat some," Jeremy said without waiting for an answer. The weedy boy didn't move fast enough and Jeremy lifted the slice up. "Leave him be," I said. Jeremy looked at me and grinned. It was an evil grin, one that more or less said 'Watch this. Your words mean nothing.' Then he slapped the kid in the face with the slice and dropped it, letting the yellowy-orange grease stain the kid's shirt. The boy with Jeremy burst out in cruel laughter, and Jeremy looked smugly at me before walking away and saying in a falsetto, "Enjoy eating with your friends, Drake!" I boiled. One thing I knew and that I'd taught my own kids was when you have a run in with a bully, you stand up to him. I glanced at the weedy boy and it was clear he was embarrassed beyond words and about to cry. A glance at Kyle informed me of his anger, but he made no move to stand. Okay, I was fine with it being up to me. "Hey. Hey, you going to eat that applesauce? And you, going to finish the mashed potatoes and gravy?" I went around the table collecting leftovers and mashing them onto my tray. "What are you doing?" Kyle asked with an edge of irritation. I expect he felt as if I were to blame for the pizza. Right or wrong, I had brought those idiots to the table, so I'd take a stand against them just for that. "Jeremy is a bully. You stand up to bullies," I said to him and picked up the tray. I picked my way across the room, knowing that every set of eyes at that table was glued to my back. Butterflies jumped and wheeled in my stomach as I drew closer. I walked up to Jeremy and his friends. Stacy's eyes widened and Jeremy took note, turning to see who was behind him. I smiled. "Whoops," I said deliberately and dumped the tray on his head. His eyes opened wide and his mouth twisted in outrage. Laughter exploded in the cafeteria. He stood up, pushing mashed food from his hair and clothes before giving up, growling angrily, and shoving me with both hands back into the person seated behind me. I'd been in a few schoolyard fights as a boy. I hadn't known much, then, but this was now. He'd expect me to push him back, and then he'd push again. Eventually the lunch monitors would arrive and separate us. Then it would be veiled threats and a promise to meet up later at a place of his choosing. A spectacle. Well, fuck that. Rather than pushing him back I just let loose with a punch to the side of his face. He roared and swung back. The flaw in my plan was revealed; he was stronger than I was. His next punch was off balance, he may have slipped on some of the smashed food. I brought both my hands down together on his shoulder which made him wince and bellow again. He bull rushed me and knocked me back onto a table and I swung my hands, beating a tattoo on his back as he landed on me. Then, like that, it was over. A lunch monitor pulled him back, and we were separated, Jeremy to the office and I to the nurse. Apparently, somewhere in the confusion, my nose had sprung a leak. My clothes were in some disarray; my shirt had a slight tear and a drop or two of blood. Otherwise I'd come through it all right. I didn't for one minute think this was the end of it, but Jeremy now knew I'd not stand by and let him do as he pleased. After I'd arrived at the health office and been sat down on a cot with an ice pack, Jeremy was brought in perhaps ten minutes later and placed on the opposite end of the room with a pack for his face. Apparently he was playing up the shot I'd given him. Jeremy glared daggers at me and I ignored him. Nothing pisses off a bully like Jeremy more than being ignored. A woman in slacks and a frilled white blouse entered the room. She sat down next to me and introduced herself as Mrs. Barker, assistant principal. Mrs. Barker had hair that must be colored to be the honey gold it was and for her to also have the crow's feet she did. Her lips pursed as she looked me over. "I suppose you'll tell me he swung first?" she asked with a tired tone. Clearly she was prepared for a song and dance. "No, ma'am. He started it, but I threw the first punch," I told her. Her eyes widened slightly. "Go on." I explained how he'd hit the other boy with his lunch and my reasoning for retaliating. I then explained that he shoved me and I knew he'd try to get me afterward unless I stood up to him, to show him I wasn't an easy target. "So yes, ma'am. I swung first. I'll take my medicine but, ma'am, if he pulls that again you and I are going to be at this again." Her lips pursed and shook slightly as if she found my words amusing. "That isn't an answer I'd have expected from Drake Mathews," she said instead. I tapped my head. "Lost my memory, bad personality and, I guess, my worse friends." "I see," she said. She paused for a moment to consider me. "Come to the office once the nurse releases you." She walked over and spoke to the nurse, Mrs. Benoit, and moments later Jeremy left the room with Mrs. Barker. Mrs. Benoit made her way over to me. "Let me have a look, sweetie," she said uncertainly. I dutifully pulled the pack from my face and held still for her. As she looked me over she said, "I heard what you told Mrs. Barker. I also, of course, heard about your accident. I'm sorry you went through that." "Thank you. I have no memory so...." I shrugged. She looked me in the eye, then took in my face and looked down at the rest of me. Returning to my face she said, "You don't have the same posture. The look in your eye is different. You're different." "I think that's widely regarded as a good thing," I told her with a smile. "Well, not my place to say," she said with a knowing smile. "Are you staying with family, then?" My mood darkened. "No. I don't have any, apparently. I'm living in Forest House, a group home." "Oh, I see," she replied, her voice and face downcast. "That's a shame." She looked up at me, once more studying my face. I assumed it was checking on my injury, but something about the look was off. "Do you really not know that weedy boy, as you called him, whom Jeremy Burke attacked?" Her voice was soft, her tone inquisitive, but her eyes were like those of a hawk. "No. I've never met him that I know of." "Then why did you stand up for him?" I looked away from her face and out the window. "A few reasons. One is that Jeremy is a bully, and he was attacking that boy, in part, to mess with me." I looked back toward her, lifted an eyebrow and drolly said, "He was upset I wasn't at his lunch table." Her lips tugged up in a smile. "What other reasons did you have?" I frowned. "I don't like Jeremy. I think he probably represents the things people didn't like about me." She tilted her head from side to side and smiled a little. "But mainly," I admitted, "I have a single friend in the world right now. It's important to me that he see I'm not the person I was. I'm pretty sure the old Drake would have thrown another slice of pizza rather than stand up to Jeremy." "Oh, no. He'd have probably thrown the first slice," Mrs. Benoit said and then chuckled. "Well, Mr. Mathews, I think you're ready to go back to class." "Do you think I'll get suspended?" I asked as I stood up and followed her back to her desk, where she filled out a hall pass for me. "The first day of school? I'd expect not." She paused. "Besides, Mrs. Barker places a high value on truth. You can be sure she'll seek out this weedy blond as you called him." I reported to the office as instructed, but Mrs. Barker was busy and sent me on to class. My next to last class I finally had Kyle in the room. I made a beeline and sat beside him. He looked at me with a curious smile. "What?" I asked. "I...just...you surprised me. That's all." "Uh huh," I said and pulled out my agenda and a notebook. "Does that mean you'll go back to the pool with me?" He tilted his head and gave me a puzzled smile. "What about the pool?" I gave him a patient look. "You told me I didn't need you to have fun at the pool. I had fun because of you." I paused, a little disappointed that I'd said that. Oh well, in for a pound.... "You're my only friend." "Oh, I think you're on your way to a few more," he said with a small chuckle. "Giles has always been too small to stand up to anyone. Last year, he hated you. This year, you might be his hero." I frowned. "Giles? Is that the little blond?" "Yep. I don't call him little, if I'm teasing him. I tell him he's petite. Makes him growl. It's cute, sort of like a puppy trying to intimidate you," Kyle said and laughed. The bell rang and the class came to order. I thought about what we'd just said and realized Kyle hadn't really said anything about the whole going to the pool thing. I felt no need to repeat myself, though - he'd heard me loud and clear. My last class was gym, and Giles was in it. The gym teacher told us we should just call him coach and then he went on to detail how his rules worked and how our grades would be tallied. He had the unfortunate last name of Krutchner, which led to the mispronunciation and shortening so that the kids called him crotch. Behind his back, of course. We had most of the period to ourselves and I sought out Giles, who had been standing with another boy. Giles was perhaps five foot two with messy hair, dark rimmed glasses and a baby face that, coupled with his height, made him seem far younger. "Hey, Giles, right?" I asked. He turned and the other boy melted away. "Yeah. I mean, I'm Giles." "Cool name. I'm Drake," I said and held my hand out. Much like Kyle had, Giles looked at me oddly. "I know who you are." I went through the dog and pony show of the accident, memory loss and continued to hold my hand out. Finally, tentatively, he shook my hand. "Giles Martin." "Glad to meet you," I told him as I released his hand. "Look, can I ask you something?" He looked around, perhaps looking for help or wondering if anyone else could hear. He nodded toward me and I plunged in. "Listen. I can't remember squat, like I said. Kyle - Kyle Winters? - he told me you probably hated me last year." Giles frowned and looked uncomfortable. I held up a placating hand. "Not trying to be a dick, honest. I just want to ask...what I did to make you hate me?" He sniffed and looked around again. "Just going to kick my ass if I say no?" I frowned. "No. I won't touch you. You don't have to say anything. I just...I'm kind of lost. Lots of people don't like me and I have no point of reference. Kyle seems to think you're a good guy so I'm making an effort to fix what I can with you." He cocked an eyebrow. "Because Kyle said so?" I blew out a breath. "He's my friend." Giles other eyebrow went up. "At least, I'm working on that. He's good people. He likes you, ergo you're probably good people, too. Worth the effort, you know? Think about it," I said reasonably. "There are a few hundred people in this school, right? I can't fix things with everyone. I'll work on people worth the effort. Let's face it - even if I did apologize to everyone, I have no idea what for and most of them wouldn't believe me. I'll work where I can make a difference." His eyebrows had moved back to their normal state and he took on a pensive gaze. "You did sit down next to Kyle," he said, as if speaking his thoughts aloud. I waited as his gaze slowly resolved on me. He blew out a breath and put his hands in his pockets, if anything making himself appear smaller. "You really don't remember anything?" "Not a thing," I promised. He pursed his lips. "Last year we had gym together. Like now. Um. We were changing and you carried me to the girls' locker room and threw me in." His voice dropped and his face went red. "I only had my underwear on." I looked down. Shit. "I'm sorry, Giles." He snuffled. "I pounded on the door and the girls laughed at me." He paused and let out a small breath. "Everyone laughed at me." I gritted my teeth and looked away. I could easily imagine him, with his underdeveloped frame, crying and hating what had been done to him. How powerless he must have felt. "That was a shitty thing to do. I can't tell you how sorry I am. You didn't deserve that." Looking downcast he murmured, "It was evil. There's a reason people call you Draco." I looked at him and the beaten look on his face. He shook his head. "You know, I thought I'd feel better if you'd just say you were sorry. But I don't." I pursed my lips. "Let me try and make it up to you." He turned his head in suspicious confusion and frowned. "How?" I shrugged. "I have no idea. Right now, maybe we both could use a friend. Don't feel like you have to, but I'm here for you. If Jeremy tries shit, make sure I know. I promise I'll stick up for you." A thoughtful look crossed his face. "Yeah. You did do that today." "I can't take away what happened before, but I'll do my best to make it up to you," I told him. He smiled tentatively, and Kyle was right - it did make him look cute. "Okay. I could use a bodyguard."
  12. Dabeagle

    If, as expected, the Raiders move to Las Vegas…

    Sports is one industry that relies on making that personal connection, geographical as well, to tie people to it. I learned that lesson when I moved to NY from California and sports suddenly became important because it was important to people I was in school with. There were Met and Yankee fans as well as the occasional Red Sox fan. There were a few Dolphins fans due to grandparents that had retired there. For me as a transplant part of my identity became the Chargers and Padres. My other two teams, of the four 'major' sports in the US are The Blues and the Warriors. The Chargers made their lone appearance in the super bowl in 1994. The Padres went twice and lost both times in the World Series. The Blues have never won the Stanley Cup. Until recently, with Golden State, I had backed some horrible teams for many, many years. The Padres haven't been winners/relevant for 20 years. The Davis family exemplifies that no matter the backing or fervor of the fans, they follow the path to bigger bucks. It's why the Chargers abandoned their home of nearly 60 years - and why I abandoned them. I have always felt that the name should be left behind, as the NFL did with the Browns - another fan base royally screwed. To me the Raiders will always be the Oakland Raiders. They don't belong in NV anymore than Cardinals belong in AZ, the Colts in Indianapolis or the fact that the Ravens exist at all. Fan bases should be left with their team name and the franchise should start again.
  13. Dabeagle

    A Second Chance?

    Going back to our own childhood might let us correct mistakes we made or even take advantage financially, knowing certain things that will become successful. Would we come out? My guess is we may still not because the climate around us wouldn't have changed. But to start in the present day with that knowledge has benefits and drawbacks. One drawback is technology - depending on your profession you may or may not use a great deal of technology but today's kids are raised with it so they are far more natural with it than an older generation. Benefits in navigating the world, though, would probably make it worth it.
  14. Dabeagle

    Chapter 3

    Thank you so much, Bill! The next one to be offered like that will be the sequel for Things We Lost so keep a look out!
  15. My newest story, You Don't Know Me, places a fiftyish year old man in the body of a fifteen year old. It does set me to wondering - what would you do with a second chance like that? Not starting over in the childhood you had, to make different choices but to grow up in the now knowing what you do. What would you do? What risks might you take or different roads might you travel?
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