Tag Archive | Milo Rake

Hannah – Chapter 34 – Second Chances

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Divia sat alone on the park bench gazing up into the sky. She couldn’t believe how much had changed in the last couple of months. She never thought her dad would be so accepting of her being gay. She looked up as Renee came to join her. The other woman sat down next to her nudging her arm. Looking over she smiled taking the rainbow-colored snow cone “thank you.”

Renee gave her an appraising look “is something the matter?” she taking a small bite from her own blue raspberry snow cone.

Shaking her head Divia gave her a small smile. “I was thinking about my dad. I never gave him enough credit when I was growing up. I just assumed he wouldn’t understand.”

“Yet we have him to owe for getting us together” Renee put an arm around her “your dad’s pretty great if you ask me except when he’s yelling.” She chuckled a little “he only wants what’s best for you.”

“I’m beginning to see that” Divia snuggled closer to Renee listening to the distant sounds of children playing, birds chirping in the nearby trees and a couple of dogs barking a block or two away. “I guess I’ve always known it” she rested her head on Renee’s shoulder “I had it backwards. I was the one who was trying to change him. I always wished I had a kinder more sensitive dad like Hannah’s dad Eddie. Someone who wasn’t loud and scary. I thought my dad wanted a different daughter. One who wasn’t scared of him.”

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Renee’s laughter was soft and reassuring. “I think Liono likes you just the way you are. He told me how much he worried about you while you were away. He never wanted to send you away to that boarding school. He thought at the time you needed to find out who you were without your friends always around. Then you left for University and met that girl.” She paused a moment to press a gentle kiss on Divia’s forehead “your mom didn’t paint a very nice picture of her to your dad.”

“I never said anything negative about her” Divia lifted her head protesting.

“I think that’s what made Liono suspicious” Renee shook her head her shoulders rising in a shrug “everyone has faults and you seemed to be blind about hers.”

Nodding Divia stood up crossing he arms in front of her. “I know. I practically worshiped the ground Marzia walked on. Which left me feeling I wasn’t worthy to be in her presence.”

Coming up beside her Renee slipped her hands into the younger girls. “I think Marzia didn’t know what a treasure she had.” She gazed steadily into Divia’s eyes “I won’t make that mistake.”

“Really” Divia asked eyes trying to see the answer in the blue depths of the woman in front of her. “What makes you so confident that you won’t? Maybe I’m not worth it.”

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“I don’t want to change you” she murmured placing a soft kiss on the girls cheek before tugging on her hand to get her to follow her. She walked towards the almost deserted beach. “I think you’re enough just the way you are.” She was silent until they reached the water’s edge “I started off wanting to be your friend. I never once wanted to make you idolize me or to be special like I deserved to be placed on a pedestal. We’re equals. We’re both human which means, I’ll make mistakes and so will you.”

Divia stared up at her in wonder. It was true Renee had never once tried to change her. She hadn’t insisted she wear a certain style of clothes or wear her hair a certain way. Didn’t promise to wait than pressure her for more. Didn’t always need her to make herself feel better. “For the first time I….” she hesitated uncertain exactly what she wanted to say.

“Yes” Renee asked lifting an eyebrow in need of waxing.

Giggling a little Divia smiled holding the young woman’s gaze. She took a step forward cupping her hands around Renee’s face. “I think for the first time I know what love is.”

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Renee breathed in deeply of the salty air from the ocean, the sand, the faint Lilly scent from Divia’s shampoo. Turning slightly she kissed the girls palm of one of the hand’s framing her face. “Does that mean what I think it does?”

Divia smiled moving closer until their bodies molded together. Dropping her hands to around the girls waist holding her close. “I love you.”

“I thought that’s what you meant” Renee smirked leaning her forehead on Divia’s.

“Shush” Divia instructed as she took control of the moment and brought her lips to Renee’s in a tentative kiss. It felt like the first time, her stomach somersaulted inside her making her knees weak. It was the way she imagined feeling but never did until this moment.

***

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Breaking the kiss Renee let a sigh escape, “it’s getting late.”

Nodding Divia took her hand to escort her back to the parking lot where they had left their car. “We’re going to be late and Vince hates when people are late.”

“Yeah” Renee giggled remembering the one time they told the uptight blonde they’d meet him at the movies and he was about to explode when they arrived five minutes before the movie started. “We won’t have time to change before we need to be at the restaurant.”

“What time is it?” Divia asked sliding into the passenger seat careful not to drag in half the beach with her.

“Six o’clock” Renee said backing out of their parking spot.

“What” she exclaimed “we’re supposed to be there now.”

“Relax” Renee laughed “it’s not the end of the world if we’re a few minutes late.”

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Divia nodded as she began to rummage in her bag for her lip gloss and brush. “I wish I had a hair tie or something” she mumbled surveying her touch up job in the mirror.

“You look fine” Renee assured her.

“That’s not saying much” Divia complained “you’d say I looked fine even if I were wearing a burlap sack.”

“Well it’s true” Renee laughed at the murderous glare Divia shot at her from across the car. “I doubt the restaurant would let you in though.”

“Haha very funny” Divia grumbled.

A few minutes later they pulled into the restaurant parking lot. “Aren’t you going to comb your hair?” Divia asked before the girl got out of the car.

“Why?” Renee asked “my hair isn’t going to look any less messy if I comb it.” Silently she held her hand out for the brush Divia was holding out to her. She ran it through her long hair a few times. “Better?” she asked tossing the brush at Divia before getting out of the car.

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“Not really” Divia shook her head when Renee gave her an I told you so look. Coming around the car Divia wound her arm through Renee’s. “Thanks for trying anyway. I appreciate the effort.”

Giving her a quick peck on the cheek Renee said “for you I’d do anything.” Divia immediately tried to hide behind her long blue hair. “Why do you do that?” Renee demanded stopping to tuck the long strands behind Divia’s ears.

“Do what?” Divia asked pretending she didn’t know what Renee was referring too.

“Hide” Renee said gently holding the girls face so she’d have to look at her “you always hide when I try to compliment you.”

“I don’t” she objected shaking her head in denial.

She raised an eyebrow “does it embarrass you to be told someone thinks the world of you?” She persisted knowing she was making Divia uncomfortable “did something happen to make you doubt yourself so much?”

“Well” Divia glanced towards the ground “I guess it all started when I was about thirteen. I was all legs and elbows. I was the awkward ugly duckling next to all my friends. Hannah and Teasha were so much prettier than me.”

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Renee snorted at the picture that entered her head of Olive Oil. “I’m sorry” she covered her mouth with her hand “please continue.”

“Well we were at the beach and a bunch of boys from school came over to us. You know flirting and showing off. I felt left out. Invisible.”

“Oh honey I’m so sorry” Renee pulled her close “kids can be so cruel sometimes.”

Swiping at her eyes Divia nodded “whenever someone compliments me I feel like that awkward little girl again.”

“There’s nothing awkward about you now” Renee squeezed her tight in front of the glass restaurant door. Before releasing her she have the girl a soft kiss on the cheek “you’re beautiful to me.”

“Thank you” Divia murmured feeling her cheeks flush with heat as she walked through the open door Renee was holding for her.

***

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Vincent had arrived early to take advantage of the time to check his emails and his social media sites. He hadn’t had the chance to check with all the baby prep his parents were having him help with. His dad was hopeless when it came to putting anything together. Vincent had taken it upon himself to dismantle and reassemble the crib that his dad had half assembled in his room one night when he couldn’t sleep. For the safety of his unborn sibling he had volunteered to assemble any other accessory his mother purchased that the baby absolutely needed.

Before he left for the restaurant that evening his dad had taken him aside saying “thanks son.”

“For what?” he asked confused to what his dad was referring to.

“You fixed the wobble in the crib” his cheeks were a deep crimson “you may have noticed I’m completely inept when it comes to assembling anything. When we were expecting you, Liono put everything together for me.”

“I’m glad I can help” Vincent smiled at his dad “it’s not a big deal. Are you and mom going to find out what it is?”

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Milo shook his head “your mom and I want it to be a surprise. Boy or girl we’ll be happy with either.”

Sitting in his car Vincent wondered if his parents lack of curiosity of the baby’s gender was because he had been so sickly and they just wanted a healthy baby. In a way he could understand that. He had cost his parents dearly with all the medical expenses he put them through for his eyesight. At times he felt guilty for all the money they had put into him. If it weren’t for his medical expenses his parents would have been able to have the large family they had always wanted.

Restlessly he got out of the car. He walked aimlessly around the plaza knowing it was too early to get a table. He didn’t relish the idea of sitting at a table for three alone until Divia decided to show up. Turning his phone off he decided he didn’t want to read anymore messages. None of them were from the one person he wanted most to hear from. Following his parent’s advice he had sent Trinity a text telling her how much he liked her. He hadn’t received a reply. He had to accept she didn’t want the same things he did.

“Vincent….” a familiar voice called his name.

***

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At the sound of her voice his heart jumped into his throat choking him. “Trinity” he whispered half afraid he had imagined her voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I…” she bit her bottom lip looking down and away appearing uncomfortable in his presence. “I got your message.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “I” she repeated breathing rapidly “there’s something I need to tell you.” She looked up a frightened expression on her normally confident exterior.

“Me?” he cried “what do you need to tell me that you haven’t already said? I know you’re not interested in relationships. I’ve accepted that.” Had she come all this way just to reiterate what she had already told him? He wanted nothing more than to sink into the ground and disappear right where he stood. He didn’t want to hear what she had to say. It hurt too much the first time.

“That’s what I thought too” she took a hesitant step forward putting a hand out touching his arm. “I thought I didn’t want commitments.” She stared at her hand on his harm before moving her gaze to his eyes “I think I’m ready to try…”

He blinked. Was something wrong with his ears? Did she just say what he thought she said? Did she really say she wanted to try? With him? Her hand suddenly felt hot and heavy sending shock waves through his entire body “What does…um….I mean….yes I’d like that” he stammered.

 

 

She smiled up at him. The corners of her eyes crinkling. “Good” she let a giddy laugh escape “I was afraid that you had um…” she took a deep breath “I was afraid you had given up on me.”

Shaking his head in denial he took her hand in his as he began to walk towards the restaurant. “I’ve liked you from the moment I saw you at that Halloween party last fall. I’ve done everything I could think of to purge you from my mind.”

Walking beside him her shoulders rubbing against his. “I spent most of my summer in Monte Vista hoping my mom would convince me that my old way of doing things was the best way. She’d go out on one date after another and I began to wonder if she were happy. She smiled but her eyes seemed dull and lifeless.” She looked up at him “I knew then I didn’t want to be like her. Going from one man to the next. I want something more. Something I’ve been afraid of since my Dad walked out on us. I don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

“Afraid of what?” Vincent asked gently stroking her cheek.

“Commitment. Of having someone I love walk out of my life again.” She reached a hand up to his pressing it firmly to her face. “I never meant to hurt you. I know I did and I’m sorry.” A single tear rolled down the contours of her face “I’ll understand if you don’t want to give me another chance.”

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“Of course I’d give you another chance” he gasped “I haven’t been able to get you off my mind. I owe you so much. Who knows what might have happened to me if you hadn’t helped me.”

“Did you ever get your wallet back?” she asked as they resumed walking.

“Nope” he shrugged “the girls have community service though. The cops found my credit cards in their dorm room. Thankfully they hadn’t used them yet. Just spent all my cash.”

“They’ll do it again” Trinity foretold “community service is just a slap on the wrist.”

“Maybe” Vincent said feeling more charitable now that he had what he wanted most. Glancing at his watch he said “I’m supposed to meet Divia and her girlfriend at this restaurant” he pointed towards the building they had been walking towards. “Want to join us?”

Trinity shook her head hanging back. She could see Vince looking at her “I don’t want to intrude….”

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“Nonsense” he shrugged off her protests “you’ll be with me.” He smiled at her “if it makes you uncomfortable you don’t have to.”

She looked at him then at the restaurant. A thousand thoughts racing through her head at once. She had never been with anyone long enough to meet family or friends. There was a first time for everything she thought smiling up at him. “I’ll come if you promise not to flirt with any blondes.”

He chuckled a little “deal no blondes but red heads and brunettes are fair game.”

“Hey” she protested slapping his arm “I never said that.”

“Alright no flirting” he said holding the door for her “unless it’s you doing the flirting.”

She gave him a worried glance then smiled “I only want to flirt with you.”

Chapter 33 – Where is He? / Chapter 35 – Reunion

Hannah – Chapter 31 – Harsh Realities

Leaving Zach’s room Teasha went to the back porch. She stared into the darkening sky. It scared her to think of a world without her brother in it. She realized now he should have been in therapy a long time ago. When all of this started probably. He had been so fragile then. No one wanted to push the issue. Now if they wanted him to survive they had to push him. A tear rolled down her cheek. The last couple of months had been almost impossible to get through.

Worry for her brother. Concern for Phoenix. Coupled with the nagging suspicion Zach had done something really terrible. Dexter had gone missing the night he confronted Zach. What had happened between them? Had Dexter forced himself on Zach? Had Zach hurt him while he was fighting back? The police had questioned all of them before they left university. They came here to question Zach. So far they had made no arrests but the nagging thoughts persisted. She groaned audibly squeezing he eyes shut. She hated herself for even thinking Zach could be capable of hurting anyone.

The door opened behind her. She turned to face whoever it was who had come outside to join her. “Sweetie” Ramsey said his voice unusually gentle “you talked to Zach.” It was a probing inquiry. A hopeful request she could enlighten him as to what was going on inside his son’s head.

“I think he might be pregnant” she confided in him.

“Waylon’s or that….” Ramsey grimaced unable to say the other boy’s name “I’ll kill him.”

“I don’t know” she said deciding to be honest “it might be Zach’s way of making the situation more tolerable if he believes the baby is Waylon’s.”

“In other words he had sex with Waylon after whatever happened with….” he fell silent, hands balling into fists imagining what he’d do if Dexter were suddenly in front of him. “We can always do a paternity test” he conceded through clenched teeth.

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“Zach won’t like that” she pointed out “Waylon will no doubt back him up.”

“So what is this Waylon guy like?” Ramsey asked.

“He’s a good guy” Teasha smiled as she recalled how he would walk Zach to and from class. “He seems to understand Zach” she leaned her head to the side “it’s almost like he knows what it’s like to be hurt.”

Ramsey nodded looking out across the night sky “if he’s such a good guy why did they break up?”

“I wish I knew” she said quietly. She stepped forward hugging her dad “I’ll try to get Zach to open up more. You know how he is. He holds everything inside until he explodes.”

He snorted in response “we’ll all continue to try.” He brushed her hair from her face. He gave her a reassuring smile “we won’t let anything happen to him. I promise we’ll get through this.”

She nodded giving him a kiss on the cheek “I know dad.” She smiled before moving to go back inside the house. Leaving him to stare out into the growing darkness.

***

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She closed the door behind her. She expected to find the triplets watching some boring show on TV or playing video games. Instead Bruce was standing waiting expectantly for her. His light blue eyes reflected his worry. “If you’re looking for dad he’s outside” she offered feeling uncomfortable under his steady gaze.

“Thank you” he acknowledged making no move to join Ramsey outside.

“Is something wrong?” she asked becoming more certain something was up the longer they stood staring at each other.

He took a step forward engulfing her in his strong arms. “Sweetie I’m so so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” she demanded her voice rising “what’s going on?”

Taking her hands he led her to the couch. When they were seated he said “I received a call from my Aunt…..”

“The one with contacts in the military” Teasha asked feeling her pulse quicken. “Did they find him? Is he alight? Please daddy I need to know.”

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“His plane was found” Bruce confirmed “a couple of weeks ago.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” she started to shake.

“They found him….alive” he watched her as she soaked in his words.

“Alive? He’s alive” she sniffed as fresh tears and shock swept through her. “Where is he?” she grabbed his arm clinging to him like he was her life-preserver.

“He’s in pretty bad shape” Bruce explained “he was injured from the crash, lost at sea with little to no food and water, no medical attention….” he sighed watching as the hope drained in her eyes “it’s a miracle he’s lived this long.”

“But he is….alive” she squeezed his arm.

“Yes he’s alive” he affirmed.

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“I have to go to him” she jumped to her feet heading towards her room.

“Teasha wait” Bruce called after her to no avail. He followed her into her room. Stood watching as she pulled out her suitcase and began filling it. “Honey slow down a minute. You can’t just leave.”

“Why not?” she demanded “you would leave if it were one of us or dad.”

“I would” he nodded “Phoenix can’t have visitors yet and even if he could you’re not married.”

“I love him daddy” she asserted undeterred by his comments.

“I know you do” he walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “My point is they won’t let you see him. You’re not family. You’re not even his girlfriend.”

“What am I supposed to do” she cried dropping the shirt she was holding to the floor.

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“Until he’s better and they allow visitors outside of family there isn’t much you can do.” He stroked her hair wishing there was something he could do to ease her pain.

“Except hope and pray” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“There’s plenty you can do around here” he suggested “we need all the help we can get with Zach.”

“Alright” she sniffed wiping her nose on the back of her hand.

“Use a kleenex” Bruce told her with a touch of humor.

“Sorry” she mumbled grabbing a Kleenex from the box on her nightstand.

***

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The next day she threw a box towards her brother where he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “What’s this?” he asked inspecting it.

“What do you think it is?” she rolled her eyes starting to lose her patience with him. “I told you I was going to get you one. Now go take it.”

He stared at her a flicker of annoyance in his eyes. “I’ll do it later” he said laying it aside on his nightstand returning his gaze to the ceiling.

“No” she put her hands on her hips “you’ll do it now. You can’t pretend nothing is wrong.”

She hadn’t slept well and combined with her worry over Phoenix her patience was at an all time low. “Take the damn test Zach.”

He jumped at the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled automatically. Apologizing seemed to be what he did most now. It seemed he was always doing or saying something that required it. It was an automatic reflex to raised voices and perceived slights.

“Zach I’m not mad at you” she sighed trying to get a firm grip on her emotions.

“You are” he stood taking the test. He stumbled to the bathroom eyes focused on the floor.

“Alright I am” she affirmed “I’m sorry.”

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He nodded accepting her anger but not the apology. What else could he do? He closed the door behind him blotting out her face and words. Wondered what she’d do if he just said he took the test and didn’t? Several minutes later he took the damn test even though he already knew what the results would be. He’d been sick and nauseous for weeks now.

Minutes passed while sat slumped against the bathroom wall staring at the positive results. His ears were ringing as he wondered what his next move should be. He was going to be a father. Waylon was going to be a dad. He had to tell him. Would he be happy? Would he be like everyone else and assume the baby was Dexter’s?

He covered his face with his hands as an image from that night came to mind. Dexter knocking him to the dew drenched ground. The long grass concealing them from the casual viewer. Zach struggling beneath him getting in a few good hits. Dexter had been better at evading his fists than he had been. The punch that had Zach seeing stars, the weight of Dexter pinning him to the ground, the sloppy insistent kiss Dexter forced on him as his hands groped at his clothes. The sense of humiliation of what was about to happen. The helpless feeling he had at not being able to prevent it as Dexter’s hands slipped past the waist line of his jeans. The desperation that drove Zach to drive his elbow into Dexter’s nose. The blow that finally dislodged him allowing Zach to roll out from beneath him. He could still remember the way it felt as his fist connected with Dexter’s face, over and over again. Then the frightening moment when he thought he was going to die staring at the object Dexter had pulled from his jacket…..

“Zach are you alright in there?” Teasha’s voice broke through his daze ending the moment before he could remember what happened next.

***

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Vincent perched on the edge of his bed. His room was in the process of being painted. A half assembled baby crib stood where his stereo used to be. This time next year he’d be sleeping on the couch when he came home for the summer. What were his parents thinking? People their age shouldn’t be having babies.

When he said as much the hurt in his mother’s eyes reproached him. The disappointed tone his father used when they spoke had him regretting his ill chosen words.

Laying back on his bed closing his eyes he refused to believe he was jealous of a baby that wasn’t even born yet. He had wanted a little brother or sister for years. He didn’t want one now that he’d be almost twenty when it was born. He was old enough to be its father and his parents the grandparents. What were they thinking?

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He sat up wondering what his friends were doing. Teasha and Zach were out. He didn’t feel up to walking through an emotional minefield with them. Same with Divia. She spent most of her time at the hospital with her dad. He wondered about her sudden interest in her dad and the guilt she must be feeling. He had lived next door to the girl all of his life so he could only imagine what she must be going through right now.

He could call Ryan. He sat up pulling his phone out. Did he want to spend time with a guy who would do nothing but talk about his girlfriend? He was happy for the guy but he didn’t feel up to having his nose rubbed in it. Hannah? Not her either. She was just as bad as her cousin if not worse. She and Ryan were probably gloating together over their satisfactory love lives.

Feeling restless he ran up the stairs determined to find something to do other than feel sorry for himself. At times like this his thoughts always turned towards Trinity. He found himself wondering what she had wanted to tell him in the waiting room. When he had finally gotten to see the doctor she had been gone when he came out. He knew he had missed something important. After that he had gotten busy with writing term papers and studying for exams. She left soon after to see her mom in Monte Vista.

***

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“Where are you going son?” his father’s voice came from behind him.

“Out” he muttered. It sounded harsher than he meant it to. He was so tired of his parents hovering over him.

“When will you be back?” he asked.

Shrugging Vincent rolled his head from side to side. “When I get back” he replied evasively. “I’m not a baby. I can come and go as a I please.”

“For an adult you sure act like a child” Milo said.

Vincent squeezed his eyes tight. He could hear the gentle rebuke in his father’s voice. The disappointment as well as disapproval. Sighing he turned from the door. “I just have a lot of things to think about.”

Gesturing toward the table Milo asked “want to tell me about it?”

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Vincent hesitated before nodding “I don’t know what good it will do.”

“You’ll never know until you try” Milo said taking a chair and indicating for Vincent to sit down. Reluctantly his son moved to the proffered chair while Milo went to the fridge for drinks. Setting one in front of Vince he sat down opposite him. “What’s on your mind? I know you’re not happy about the baby. I have a feeling though that’s not the only thing wrong.”

Vincent stared at the soda in front of him. He reached for it. Popped it open. Took a several gulps hoping to stall long enough until his father lost interest. Setting it down he sighed “why aren’t I enough?”

Milo blinked sitting back tapping his finger tips on the table. “What gave you that idea? Your mother and I never meant for you to feel that way. We love you.”

Shaking his head Vincent could feel the same old frustration rising inside him. “No that’s not it. Yeah I was shocked, even jealous of the baby. It’s like I don’t belong here anymore.” He slapped his hand down on the old table they’ve had since before he was born. Milo got up for a cloth to wipe up the spilled soda from his overturned bottle.

“Your room” he said quietly.

“My room. That’s a laugh” Vincent crossed his arms pouting “it’s the baby’s nursery now. This time next year it’ll be full of baby things and I’ll be sleeping on the couch.”

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“Vincent” Milo’s voice was firm causing Vince to look up “you’re an adult. This time next year you could have a girlfriend. You could be planning to get married. You won’t be living here forever.”

Vincent stared vacantly at the smooth surface of the table. “I know it’s just….the only girl I want won’t give me the time of day.”

“Oh” Milo chuckled “now we’re getting somewhere.” He shook his head at the scowl his son was giving him. “Son if it were only the baby and the loss of your room I’d be worried we didn’t raise you right.”

Vincent slumped back in his chair with an air of defeat. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat. I know you and mom don’t have a lot of money because of me…”

“Our financial problems aren’t your fault. The medical expenses were worth it. We chose to incur the expense because we wanted the best for you. We don’t regret it. We had to be frugal with what we had. We had to do without but not once have we regretted it.” He moved around the table “we would do it all again if we had to.”

“Thanks dad” Vincent looked up at his dad tears blurring his vision.

Over the next couple of hours he confided in his parents everything that had transpired while he was away at school.

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“Does she know how you feel about her?” His mom asked having joined them and moved them to the living room. She was curled up beside her husband on the couch.

Vincent shrugged from where he sat on the floor. “She told me from the start she wasn’t into relationships.”

“I think you’re missing something” Jillian persisted “she went out of her way to take care of you when you needed help.” She gave him a severe glare that said his drunken night out was going to come up again “she wanted to tell you something. I think it might be important and what you want to hear.”

“It’s too late” he whined “she’s in Monte Vista and I’m here. I’ll never know what it was.”

“Not with that attitude” she snapped “stop wallowing in self-pity and do something. If you want the girl figure something out.”

Figure something out. Easier said than done. He couldn’t just buy a plane ticket. He didn’t have the money and by the time he saved up enough school will have started. He could call but he couldn’t afford the long distance bill. Once again he could feel defeat pressing in around him.

Chapter 30 – Therapy / Chapter 32 – Missing You

Hannah – Chapter 9 – Monday

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Monday morning they stood outside the school staring up at its foreboding walls. Thanks to the events of less than a week ago they were two down. Zach was still recovering from his injuries and Divia was on her way to her first day in private school. “This is it,” Ryan said taking a foot forward “remember no one goes anywhere alone.”

They nodded. Ryan had always been their group leader even as children they had followed him. He had been the one to take charge no matter the situation. Sunday night they had come up with a strategy they hoped wouldn’t allow anyone to become vulnerable to attack. They would arrive together and leave together. No splitting up.

They stood staring up at the building they had once felt safe and secure in. Now they felt only a cold dread to once again walk within those halls. “Have you considered our proposal?” Kristen’s unwelcome voice asked from behind them. Hannah turned to face her. Her breath caught in her throat seeing Bull sneering at them from Kristen’s side. His arm snaked around her waist possessively.

Teasha snarled stepping forward as if she wanted to pounce on them. Hannah grabbed her arm pulling her back. Stepping between her friend and the other girl. Hannah glared at them then glanced back at her friends. Calmly she remarked “as you can see I’ve made my decision. My friends mean more to me than being a cheerleader. I have no desire to be a shallow Kristen shadow.”

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Kristen’s eyes narrowed for an instant before returning to normal “you won’t get another chance.”

“I’m actually ok with that,” Hannah told her “being a cheerleader would have enhanced who I am not define who I am.” She turned to Teasha wrapping an arm around her “I know who my real friends are.”

“You’ll regret this,” Kristen yelled after her.

“I doubt that,” Hannah called back without turning or stopping.

“Are you sure about this?” Teasha asked “you’ve wanted to be a cheerleader since middle school.”

“I’m positive,” Hannah assured her. She had lain in bed for countless hours considering her options. No matter how much she wanted to be a member of the squad she couldn’t sacrifice her friends. “Things change,” she said “cheerleading would have been fun but do you think I could cheer knowing what it had cost me? No I’m happy with my decision. They’re not my friends. My friends would never put me in a position to choose them over someone else. I couldn’t hurt you guys like that.”

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“Same here,” Ryan agreed “even if I could play I wouldn’t. Football isn’t that important to me anymore. I chose the team once over you guys. It won’t happen again.”

“You had no idea what was going on,” Vincent protested. He could see the guilt in his friends eyes as Ryan looked down at his feet. “Give yourself a break. You thought they were your friends,” Vincent put a hand on his shoulder giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“I was wrong,” Ryan mumbled shoving his hands into his pockets “I feel like such an idiot.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Teasha seconded Vincent’s thoughts “your true friends will always be here for you.”

“I know” he sighed looking up at the door coming to a stand still “I’m not looking forward to this.” The others came to a stop beside him nodding.

Vincent was the first to move “let’s get this over with.” He squared his shoulders, lifted his chin and put his right foot forward. The others exchanged glances before following his example.

***

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Hannah and Ryan stopped beside their lockers while Vincent and Teasha went on to theirs. Hannah tried to keep her chin up and pretend the shocked curious looks didn’t matter. Her resolve started to falter as the unkind sneering looks raked over her and the not so whispered remarks that were said loud enough so she could hear them. The malicious spiteful looks from people she didn’t even know who had nothing but hate for her and her friends. Her hands started to shake making it impossible for her to enter her locker code. She wanted nothing more than to run from that place and never come back.

“Hey you can do this,” Ryan’s deep reassuring voice in her ear boosted her confidence.

Looking up with gratitude in her eyes “how do you do it?” she asked thinking he looked so calm and unruffled by everything.

Shrugging he gave a sketchy grin “just ignore it” he said slamming his locker shut.

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“Look who we have here, Ryan Milton football team captain.” Pretending shock the boy covered his mouth “oh I forgot ex-captain. He quit. Couldn’t take a couple of harmless tackles. You’re as much of a wuss as that queer friend of yours. I bet you two were more than friends.”

“Shut up Brannon,” Ryan growled turning around to face his ex-teammate.

“I bet you were more like friends with benefits. Tell us Ryan were you top or bottom?” the boy smiled as his comments earned him approving nods from others listening in the crowd. Pushing Ryan against the lockers Brannon stuck his face close to his “I’m glad you’re not on the team anymore. Football is for real men not for little girls.”

“Let him go,” Hannah demanded.

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“Or what?” the boy asked pressing harder on Ryan’s throat making him gurgle as his throat closed up. He grunted laughing “your such a pansy needing a little girl to protect you. I bet she fights better than you.”

The bell rang and the crowd of students started to drift away towards their respective classes. Ryan brought his hands up and shoved Brannon away from him. Gulping for air his ribs protested the movements as they fought against his bindings. Ignoring it all Ryan gasped “I’d rather be gay then be a bigot like you.”

“Yeah whatever,” the boy mumbled eyeing him waiting for an opening to attack again.

A teacher stuck his head outside his classroom “get to class,” he ordered them before going back inside to tend his students.

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Laughing Brannon took a step back. He gave Ryan one last nasty look “this isn’t over,” he turned away to presumably go to his first class.

Hannah reached for Ryan preventing him from pursuing Brannon “don’t” she pleaded afraid he’d get hurt even more than he already was.

“I can’t do this,” he mumbled kicking the locker in front of him.

“I sent a text to the others,” Hannah told him “they’re on their way.”

***

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While they were talking Vincent and Teasha came up beside them. They took one look at Ryan and started walking towards the exit. After a brief hesitation and an insistent tug on his arm Ryan followed. Breathing the crisp clear air he sighed “I’m sorry I lost my cool back there.”

“With reason,” Hannah told him “Brannon was asking for it but he knew you were in no condition to fight back otherwise he’d never have done it.”

Ryan rubbed his collar-bone wincing from the bruises Brannon had left behind.

Teasha looked at him with concern her blue eyes worried “he didn’t hurt you did he?”

“I’m fine” he felt a little self-conscious as she pulled his shirt down to inspect his injuries.

“Hold still,” she demanded as she ran her fingers lightly over his skin.

Shaking her hands off him Ryan walked away “I said I was fine,” his cheeks burning brightly.

Silently they followed him into the parking lot coming to a stop beside the car. “I take it we’re leaving,” Vincent stated.

Nodding “I can’t go back in there,” Ryan’s voice shook vibrating with emotion.

They piled into the car Vincent mumbled “maybe Divia’s parents weren’t wrong about sending her to a private school.”

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“Would you go if you had the chance?” Hannah asked turning in the front see to look at him. She wouldn’t be surprised if Vincent said yes. He had more brains the rest of them combined. A private school could probably offer him more than what he’d get in public school.

“I would if I could,” he sighed wistfully “it’ll never happen though. We just can’t afford it. My medical expenses and glasses make it impossible.”

“My dad’s would love to send me and Zach to another school,” Teasha added beside him “I heard them discussing it but they can’t afford it. Not with all the other kids and Zach’s hospital bills. It’s out of the question.”

Hannah nodded knowing it wouldn’t be a problem for either her parents or Ryan’s to send them to private school. “I won’t go unless you guys could come to,” she said coming to a decision turning to face the front “we’re in this together.”

“Yeah me too,” Ryan said from the driver’s seat “I just can’t do it today.”

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“I kind of feel like we’re the musketeers. All for one and one for all,” Hannah said fastening her seat belt.

“Where are we going?” Vincent asked as Ryan drove from the parking lot.

“I’m open to suggestions” Ryan said glancing in the rear view mirror.

“The park” Teasha suggested.

“The part it is then,” Ryan smiled relieved that they were leaving that hell hole behind them. He never wanted to go back if only it were that easy.

***

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Pointing towards the swings Hannah began to run “last one there’s a rotten egg.”

“No fair,” Teasha cried running after her “you started before us.”

Grabbing the chains of one of the swings Hannah giggled “I win.” Her eyes twinkled with merriment as she sat down demanding “push me.”

Vincent came up last panting “alright m’lady your wish is my command.”

Teasha watched them catching her breath. Sitting in the other empty swing she said “you sound like your eight instead of sixteen.”

“Right now I wish I was eight,” Hannah squealed as Vincent pushed her higher “it was better than.”

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They all nodded in agreement. Just about anything would be better than now. Teasha noticed the goofy grin on Ryan’s handsome face “I bet I know what your thinking” she teased.

“I bet you don’t,” he retorted sitting on the ground pulling at the green grass.

“It’s a girl,” Hannah said teasing him.

“Don’t” he mumbled feeling his cheeks flush.

“It is a girl,” Teasha giggled “he’s turning bright red.”

“I know who it is” Hannah giggled in delight.

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“Ryan and Charity sitting in a tree,” Teasha chanted kicking her legs to go higher as she began to swing.

“K-I-S-S-I-N-G” Vincent joined in on the fun earning himself a glare from his friend.

“You better stop or I’ll tell everyone who you like,” Ryan threatened his tone serious.

“You wouldn’t dare” Vincent gave him an uncertain stare.

“Oh do tell us,” Hannah pleaded.

“Yes do,” Teasha added.

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“What do I get in exchange if I tell you?” Ryan asked relieved that their attention had been diverted from him to Vincent.

“I’ll give you all the money in my pockets,” Hannah offered.

Shaking his head Ryan snorted “you never have money in your pockets.”

“How do you know I don’t?” she demanded sticking her bottom lip out pretending to pout.

“You never do,” he shook his head at her “you used to get me with that when we were kids or have you forgotten?”

“Then what do you want?” Hannah asked “I want a secret for a secret,” Ryan looked at Vincent who nodded back at him.

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“What do you want to know?” Teasha asked her smile slipping.

“I want to know who you like Teasha,” Ryan said with a mischievous grin.

Teasha turned to Hannah eyes pleading. Hannah shook her head firmly “you can keep your stupid old secret. We don’t want to know.”

Both Vincent and Teasha sighed in relief. “Ok have it your way,” Ryan shrugged “it would have changed your lives though.”

“I bet you don’t even know who Vincent likes,” Hannah said.

“Whatever makes you feel better,” Ryan said laying back in the grass. He closed his eyes enjoying the peaceful surroundings. His parents wouldn’t be pleased to know he skipped class but they’d understand.

***

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Later that night the parents gathered in Eddie’s living room. “I know we’re all concerned about our children’s safety and well-being,” Rory looked from one worried parent to another.

“I can’t tell Ryan he has to stay in school if he feels threatened,” Trent said telling them what happened at school that morning “he’s been hurt enough. I send my kids to school to learn not to collect bruises.”

Gayle nodded taking his hand squeezing it tight “I’m all for sending him to a private school.”

“For some of us that’s not an option,” Ramsey announced “I’d like to get them out of that place. We just don’t have the funds to do it.”

“We’re in the same boat as you,” Milo added.

Leaning into her husband Jillian said “with Vincent’s special glasses, follow-up eye exams and surgeries we barely make enough to cover our expenses now.”

Eddie stood to address the group. He swallowed feeling on display but he pressed on “I’ll understand if you say no but I want to make this offer,” he looked to Rory who nodded and waved for him to continue “it’s important to our kids that they stay together.” He sighed remembering how Hannah had a minor melt down when they had suggested the possibility of sending her to a private school. “Rory and I would like to offer to cover the fees for anyone who needs the help.”

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Bruce looked to Ramsey whose initial reaction was to refuse the offer. “Please,” Bruce pleaded “can we at least discuss it?”

Ramsey looked around the group of people who had become an extension to his family. As much as he disliked the idea of accepting what felt like charity to him the offer he knew was made from good intentions. “Alright we’ll discuss it,” he smiled at his husband who snuggled into him looking at him like he hung the moon. A look and feeling he’d never get tired of.

“Jillian and I will need time to discuss it as well,” Milo told them “we appreciate the offer but it’s an awful lot to ask of you.”

“We’re willing to do it no matter the cost,” Rory assured them “it’s important to Hannah and if it gets our kids out of an unsafe environment I’m all for it.”

“Gayle and I will help with the cost,” Trent offered to the astonishment of his wife “but I have one concern. If we do this aren’t we giving our kids the message that it’s ok to run from their problems?”

“I don’t see it like that,” Bruce shook his head “sometimes they need to know that their safety and well-being is the only thing that matters. We as parents are here to make sure they have that safety even if that means sending them to another school.”

Gayle turned to Trent “I know you want to treat Ryan like a man. Teach him to handle his problems but he’s not there yet. He’s still a kid, our kid. He shouldn’t have to worry about getting beat up for going to school or choosing to be friends with someone.”

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“I know but what if it’s no different in another school? We could be exchanging one problem for another,” Trent said addressing the group.

“It’s a chance we’re willing to take,” Rory said taking Eddie’s hand “we won’t be sending Hannah back to that school. We’ve already called and taken her out.”

Eddie nodded “it’s not like she’s learning anything there except how to be bullied. I commend all of our kids for standing up for themselves and each other. It takes a lot of courage to do that. Unless the school does something, which I don’t see happening the situation isn’t likely to improve.”

The other parent’s nodded “they seem to think the football team can do no wrong,” Jillian said “then you add in the other parents and we’re facing an insurmountable task.”

“The way I see it,” Ramsey spoke his voice low and furious “is we either put up with the unfair treatment or we do something about it.” He tried to smile reassuringly to his husband “we’ve already taken the twins out and we’ve discussed the idea of homeschooling them.”

“I’m going to call the school tomorrow,” Jillian said “Vincent won’t be going back either.”

They all turned to Trent and Gayle who slowly nodded “Ryan won’t go back either.” Gayle said looking towards Trent who nodded wrapping his arms around her “whatever’s best for the kids. Their safety is all that matters.”

Chapter 8 – No Way Out / Chapter 10 – A New Adventure

Hannah – Chapter 8 – No Way Out

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Vincent stared at the light blue wall of his bedroom. His mind blank or as blank as he could ever make it as one thought after another flitted in and out of his head. He frowned as his thoughts turned to memories of what happened three days ago. Had it really been that long? It felt like they had just piled into Teasha’s car afraid for their lives as a group of crazed students surrounded her car.

He could still feel Bull’s fist as it connected with his face. Unconsciously he fingered his bruised mouth hissing from the pain he dropped his hand. The swelling had gone down but the bruises remained, bluish purple against his pale skin. His vision blurred as tears threatened to escape his self-control.

Disgusted with himself he took his glasses off rubbing his temples and the bridge of his nose. He didn’t want to go back to school on Monday morning. The thought raised goose flesh on his arms. Everyone by now knew what Bull and his henchmen had done to him and his friends. They would all be wearing targets on their backs. He didn’t know if he had the strength to face them.

“Vincent,” his mom’s voice carried down the stairs “Divia is here to see you.”

***

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Sighing he grabbed his glasses and hurried up the stairs. He had known Divia his entire life. Lived next door too her since they were born a few hours apart. They shared birthdays. It never felt strange to combine parties. Her friends were his friends. It was normal. He always tried to make it clear she could come over whenever she needed anything. She seldom took advantage of the offer. Her being here now showed how rattled last Wednesday had made her. He hoped he was enough to help her. He smiled at the reserved quiet girl standing rigidly in his parents yellow kitchen.

“Divia” he said her name as he entered the room. She looked up at him relief in her gray eyes as if he had just pulled her from a pit of snakes instead of from his parent’s curious eyes and well meaning questions.

“Can we talk?” she asked her voice barely audible above the running dishwasher. Her eyes shifted towards his parents a silent plea for privacy.

“Sure we can go to my room to talk,” he suggested.

“No I mean not there,” she looked towards the floor a miserable expression upon her face.

“I think that’s our hint to leave,” Milo said with a smile. He took Jillian’s hand whispering something in her ear.

She turned with a sparkle in her eyes and giggled up at her husband, “we’ll be in our room if you need us.”

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Vincent nodded hoping they were quiet this time especially since Divia was there. As they walked out he waved towards the chairs “have a seat.” It felt strange saying that to her. If it were anyone else they would have just went down to his room to hangout. Not Divia though. Not once in sixteen years had she been inside his room. He always suspected it was her strict parents.

She moved towards the table. Her movements leaden and jerky “thank you” she mumbled. The corners of her mouth curled up for a brief moment as she sat down.

Instead of joining her Vincent moved to the fridge “would you like something to drink?” He didn’t wait for her to answer “we have coke, sprite, orange crush, snapple or water.” He grabbed a coke for himself and a snapple for her knowing it was her favorite.

Walking to the table he sat the snapple in front of her. She stared at it a moment. He smiled “go ahead and take it. No one else drinks it. We keep it on hand just for you.”

She smiled reaching for it “thank you.”

Vincent smiled as he sat across from her. He watched her take a gulp of her drink before doing the same with his coke. He wished she wasn’t so timid even with the group she grew up with she was that way. He wondered if she’d have been different if she would have had brothers or sisters. He rather suspected they’d have all been like this slightly backwards socially and afraid of making a mistake her dad would perceive as an embarrassment.

Glancing at the time he asked “what did you want to talk about?”

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She swallowed looking at him with large scared sorrowful eyes “my dad wants to send me to private school.”

“He can’t do that” he exploded slamming his coke down to the table. Of course he could. Liono was her father after all. Sometimes he hated the guy. He looked down as something soft touched his hand.

“He’s my dad,” she said softly as a tear rolled down her cheek “he wants what’s best for me.”

“What’s best for you isn’t sending you away,” he cried taking her hand and squeezing it. She of all of them needed the support of the group to survive.

“He says it’ll be good for me” she shook her head “maybe he’s right. I do depend upon you and the others an awful lot.”

“You don’t” he protested over his thoughts to the contrary. “Maybe my parents could talk to them. Convince them to change their minds.”

“Do you think they would?” she asked surprised and a little hopeful.

***

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“All we can do is ask,” he said. She gulped as she nodded agreement. “Mom. Dad,” Vincent called “can you come here a minute?” He heard the click of their bedroom door as it opened and tried to smile reassuringly at her.

After some coaxing and Vincent talking for Divia. Divia filled in things his parents needed to know. They were able to explain the problem to his parents well enough for them to understand.

Milo stared blankly ahead processing everything he had been told. Turning to the young girl he asked “why don’t you want to go to this private school?”

She looked up eyes darting to Vincent pleading for his help. Vincent opened his mouth to speak for her when Milo firmly shook his head at him saying “let her answer.”

“I” she looked down uncomfortable with everyone looking at her “I want to be with my friends.”

Milo nodded patting her hand, “have you told your parent’s that?”

Her eyes lifted up pleading “I can’t,” she stammered.

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“Why can’t you dear?” Jillian asked “I know your parents care about you. They want what’s best for you.”

“How can separating her from everything and everyone she knows be good for her?” Vincent asked his voice tinged with anger. Ever since Wednesday he felt his world was tilting out of control, throwing him further and further into chaos.

“You won’t always be together,” Jillian told her son “people change. Grow apart. It’s part of growing up.”

Vincent sat back in his chair. Rolling his eyes he gave his mother a sullen look “it’s not fair” he mumbled.

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t talk to them,” Jillian told him “I can’t promise they’ll change their minds.” She looked to her husband “what do you think?”

Milo shrugged “my experience tells me once Liono has made up his mind he sticks to his guns. I think the kids should prepare themselves.”

***

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Vincent walked Divia home crossing the lawn to her door. Sighing he kicked the grass with his toes “sorry. I thought they’d be more helpful.”

“It’s not your fault or theirs either,” she looked up at the sky ” maybe it won’t be so bad.”

“It could be worse,” he grumbled.

“So not helping,” she told him taking a reluctant step towards the house.

“I’ll think of something,” he assured her “if I don’t then maybe one of the others will.”

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“Are we still getting together on Sunday?” she asked.

“Yeah” he mumbled “we need some kind of plan for Monday. We can’t stay home forever.” He looked over at her “you’ll come?” he asked as she turned to go inside.

“Is it at your place?” when he nodded she continued “I’ll be there.” She opened the door “good night” she told him closing the door behind her.

Vincent sighed walking back to his house. He had a terrible feeling things were about to change and he didn’t like it.

***

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Divia looked around the dark living room relieved her parents weren’t anywhere in sight. The last thing she wanted to do was talk to them. They’d done enough talking already. She’d done enough nodding her head and pretending to agree.

She almost made it to her room when her mom came out of the bathroom. “Oh your home,” she gave her a genuine smile like she was happy to see her.

“I’m tired,” Divia muttered “I think I’ll call it a night.” She hoped that would forestall whatever else her mom thought they needed to talk about until tomorrow.

Glancing at the time Elyse frowned “it’s only 8 o’clock. I know your not that tired.” She knocked on her bedroom door “Liono she’s home.” Turning her attention back to her daughter “we need to talk.”

Groaning Divia followed her mom into the living room. Plopped onto the couch while her mom turned on the lights. “Aren’t you done destroying my life already?” she complained.

“Don’t talk to your mother like that” Liono commanded overhearing her comment as he came into the room.

“Yes dad,” she said even though she hadn’t thought her comment was that bad.

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“Good” he said turning to Elyse when she sat beside her on the couch “did you tell Vincent what we discussed?”

“You didn’t say I couldn’t?” she said as her heart beat sped up as panic took control. Was she in trouble for telling him? Was this why they wanted to talk to her? Could they have….

“We won’t change our minds if that’s what your thinking,” his voice was firm unyielding “you will be going to private school. This incident only confirms what we’ve known for a while. You need to learn to think for yourself.”

“I know your disappointed,” Elyse said her voice and eyes full of sympathetic understanding.

“Disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel,” she pulled her knees up to her chin wishing she could be anywhere but there.

“This is not a punishment,” Liono told her his voice developing an irritated tone from having to repeat himself.

“You’re sending me away. How else am I supposed to take this?” she cried forgetting herself as her emotions took control.

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“Divia honey we’re worried about you,” Elyse tried to intercede before Liono lost all patience with the girl. Under the best of circumstances she knew Liono was volatile and unpredictable.

“It isn’t fair,” Divia cried “I want to stay here. I want to graduate with my friends. I want to…” she bit her lip hard before she could say anything else. She couldn’t believe she almost gave away her secret. Something she knew her dad couldn’t handle and wouldn’t accept. She would do whatever it took to keep him from finding out. “I’m sorry” she mumbled looking to towards the floor.

“Your mother will call the school on Monday and make all the arrangements,” he told her as if she hadn’t said a word “you’ll see this is for the best. You’re too dependent on your friends. You need to learn to think for yourself.”

“We know you’ll miss them,” Elyse smiled at her hoping to soften the blow “you’ll still be able to see your friends on the weekends and holidays.”

“It won’t be the same,” Divia could feel the tears welling behind her eyes. She blinked them back knowing her tears would only anger her father further. “Can I be excused now?” she asked sending a pleading look to her mom.

Liono nodded “good night,” he said his voice gruff but not unkind.

“Good night” she mumbled as she passed on her way to her room.

***

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Vincent gave Divia a firm hug when she came down the stairs to his humble abode. “I’m sorry” he said “my parents tried but ” he shrugged words failing him.

“I know my parents minds were made up and unbendable,” she looked around her surroundings “this isn’t what I was expecting.”

“Yeah welcome to my dungeon” he mimicked an evil laugh of a mad scientist.

A pang of regret hit her hard as she wondered why she had never come down here before. It looked warm and inviting if you didn’t mind the chemistry set, microscope and miscellaneous scientific clutter. He had a gaming area where she knew he played on-line with Ryan, Zach and sometimes Charity. Sighing she regretted always having her nose in a book studying. She should have done more with the group. Now it was too late. Dragging her mind back to the present she asked “when will the others arrive?”

“Any minute” he told her giving her another hug “have you told her yet how you feel?”

Shaking her head she sighed “what’s the point now when I’m not even going to be here?” she mumbled. Walking away to inspect his chemistry set “she doesn’t feel the same way about me, I know.”

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“How do you know if you haven’t asked her?” he asked following her his eyes kind “she could surprise you.”

“I doubt it,” she mumbled “you forget I know her secrets.”

“Just because she’s told you about some stupid crush doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you,” Vincent said “you have to tell her or you’ll always wonder what if.”

She was about to say something when Ryan and Hannah came down the stairs together. She was enveloped in a hug that took her breath away “your parents are so mean,”Hannah commiserated with her “my dad’s even called but they couldn’t reason with them.”

When Hannah became distracted with Vincent’s music collection Ryan stepped up to give her a hug and a peck on the cheek “I’m going to miss you.”

“Really?” she asked not sure how to take that declaration.

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“Of course I’ll miss you. We all will” Ryan assured her “who else will I be able to confide in?”

Ryan was the only other person other than Vincent who knew about her crush. She was sure she was the only person other than Hannah who knew about his crush on Charity. “You can always call or text me if you need to talk,” she told him.

“True. Don’t be surprised if I take you up on the offer,” he said before joining Vincent and Hannah in their argument over what music to listen to.

Feeling like an outsider in a group where she had always felt at ease Divia stood at the bottom of the stairs. She glanced up hoping to see Teasha come in. She half expected Teasha wouldn’t come since her brother had just gotten released from hospital. She was about to tell Vincent she was going home when the door opened and the object of her concerns started to come down the stairs towards her.

“Divia I’m so sorry,” Teasha said giving her a hug “your parents are the worst.”

“Tell me about it,” she sniffed enjoying having Teasha’s arms around her. She caught Ryan and Vincent smiling at her. Blushing she pulled away “so um,” she fumbled for words “how is Zach?”

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Teasha smiled sending a flurry of butterflies to flight in Divia’s stomach. She wished she had the courage to tell her how much she liked her. So immersed in her own thoughts she didn’t hear a word Teasha was saying about her brother. She knew it must have been good since everyone was smiling and laughing. She wondered if she ever revealed her secret if she would face the same treatment Zach had. Was she better off keeping that part of herself hidden? She plastered a fake smile on her face as she joined her friends. On the outside she knew she gave the appearance of having a good time while on the inside she was screaming. She was so alone even in a room full of people she knew loved her.

Chapter 7 – Bad Day Part 3 / Chapter 9 – Monday

Eddie – Chapter 21 – Life Goes On

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“Get up,” Gayle shook Trent’s shoulder as he snored in response “I’m counting to five. If you’re not up so help me…”

“What?” he moaned “I just got to sleep.” He had been on the road for the past month. The band had finally started booking larger gigs in bigger venues. All he wanted to do was sleep. If it weren’t for the baby’s due date he would still be on the road. Due date? The words started a panic in his sleep deprived brain. “Baby” he shouted falling to the floor in his hast to untangle himself from the blankets he stole from Gayle.

Laughing despite the pain Gayle shook her head at her husband. “Are you alright?” she asked peering at him from the bed.

“Do I look alright?” he grumbled pulling his legs free from the blanket that had persisted to wrap around him.

“Get dressed” she gritted her teeth as a sharp contraction took her breath away.

Heart pounding he stared in a mixture of horror and wonder at the pain etched across her face. This was what they had been looking forward to for months. Now it was here he found himself wondering if he was ready.

“Don’t just stand there,” she panted “this baby is going to be born in the hospital if I have to drive myself.”

Her half-joking words broke through his stunned inactivity. He grabbed the clothes he had tossed on the floor the night before too tired to put them in the hamper. Clean or not this was what he was wearing he thought as he scooped Gayle in to his arms.

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“I can walk,” she told him through gritted teeth.

Ignoring her he carried her from the house and laid her in the backseat of his car. With fresh eyes he saw the debris left behind by his band mates after spending hours on the road. He should have taken the time to clean it out before he went to bed he realized.

“Snap out of it Trent,” Gayle demanded as the contraction passed “the baby won’t care if there are cans and chocolate wrappers on the floor.”

“Right,” he gave her a sheepish grin before he ran back into the house for Gayle’s carefully prepared bag. With a feeling he was forgetting something he locked the door behind him. It wasn’t until he tossed the bag into the passenger seat that he remembered where he left his car keys. Growling he leaned his forehead on the steering wheel.

“What’s wrong?” Gayle demanded from the backseat.

“Nothing” he told her ” he heard the anxious fear in her voice. The pain too as another contraction hit her. Glancing into the rear view mirror he watched as she writhed in pain. He had to get her to the hospital.

Popping the dash open he found the wires he needed to start the car. Smiling he imagined his parents glaring at him in disapproval as he used the skill he had developed as a teenager to take the neighbors cars for a ride. He thanked his lucky stars that he had an older car that he could still do this on. Chuckling to himself when the car roared to life. “Hold on babe we’ll be at the hospital in a couple of minutes,” he said as the squealed as they hit the pavement.

A few hours later he watched as his son was born. With shaking hands he held onto Gayle’s hand as the nurse laid their son on her chest. “He’s beautiful,” she breathed looking up at Trent “just like his daddy.”

“More like his mom” he held a finger out smiling as his son’s tiny fists wrapped around it. “Mommy and Daddy love you” he cooed.

Introducing Ryan Milton:

***

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Elyse glanced at the soundly sleeping man next to her. Half tempted to push him from the bed. Instead she stumbled to her feet staggered through the dark room yawning as she entered her daughter’s room. “Hey princess mommy’s here,” she soothed picking up the crying toddler. “You stink,” she wrinkled her nose in distaste.

It was hard to imagine how much her life had changed in the last couple of years. She was a mother of a normally quiet little girl. Frowning Elyse put a hand to the little girls forehead “you’re so hot princess”. Quickly changing the girl’s dirty diaper she noticed the rash that seemed to be spreading across her daughters skin.

Alarm coursed through her, running into the bedroom where Liono lay sleeping “wake up,” she yelled at him.

Moaning he squinted up at her “what?” he demanded.

“Your daughter is sick,” she told him panic making her voice shake “she had a temperature and she won’t stop crying. Something’s wrong.”

To her stunned shock Liono laid back in the bed covering his eyes with his arm “she’s fine,” he told her dismissing her concerns.

“No she’s not fine,” she cried “I’m taking her the ER.”

“Whatever,” he turned over burying his face in the pillow “your making a mountain out of a mole hill.”

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“How can you be so cavalier when it comes to your daughter?” she screamed at him causing Divia to whimper louder in her arms. “Aw honey I’m sorry. Daddy’s being a butt.”

“Don’t go filling her head with that shit,” he scowled at her sitting up in bed “I love her as much as you do.” Holding his arms out to take his daughter.

Hesitating a moment Elyse deposited the toddler in his arms. She knew what she had said hurt him but she couldn’t help it sometimes. He infuriated her so much with his lack of interest in everything but music.

“She’s fine” he said repeated standing up. Divia’s eyes drooping half asleep in his arms “nothing to worry about like I said.”

“Just because she’s not crying doesn’t mean everything is ok,” Elyse said taking her daughter into her arms.

Shrugging Liono crawled back into bed “do what you want. It doesn’t take a genius to know she has chicken pox.”

“Chicken pox” she said inspecting the dot’s covering her daughter’s skin “how can you know that?”

“Easy she was playing with Vincent over the weekend right?” Liono asked in a bored disinterested voice.

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“Yeah” Elyse confirmed “what does that have to do with my daughter’s illness?”

“Milo told me at band practice that “Vincent has chicken pox and Divia would probably get it too.”

“And you didn’t think I needed to know that?” Elsye asked rolling her eyes at the man relieved that she at least knew what was wrong. “I’m still taking her to see a doctor though.”

“Good idea,” he mumbled slipping off to sleep again.

“Amazing,” Elyse mumbled staring at the lump under the covers. Turning to the little girl in her arms “your daddy’s a butt.”

“Butt,” the girl repeated giggling.

“That’s right sweetie,” Elyse laughed knowing Liono wasn’t going to be pleased with her when Divia referred to him as butt instead of daddy. What did he expect when he showed so little interest in her?

Pulling into the driveway the following afternoon Elyse was relieved the doctor confirmed Divia had nothing worse than a case of the chicken pox. Liono had been right. Getting Divia from the car seat Elyse wondered what kept her with him. It’s not like they were married or even engaged. That was one thing they both shared in common, their disdain for the marriage institution. She need a piece paper to validate her relationship with Liono. She did however need a hint that he wanted her around. Some interest would be nice. she missed the days when he would buy her flowers just because or whisking her off to some romantic holiday. Their relationship had been hot and new then. After Divia was born she almost felt discarded like a piece of garbage.

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Opening the door she gasped in surprise. Rose petals were scattered on the floor their scent filling the room wafting up her nasal passages. The soft sounds of classical music came from the speakers. Liono was leaning casually against the wall an expectant look in his eyes as he watched her with an intensity she had all but forgotten. “I’m sorry” he told her talking a step forward “I know I’m not the easiest person to be around. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

Looking around the Elyse felt tears sting her eyes as she nodded “I love you.”
The took a step towards each other like some old black and white movie they loved to watch together. “Butt” Divia announced loudly pointing at Liono give her dad a toothy grin.

“What did she say?” Lion asked his attention diverted to the little girl in her mother’s arms.

Putting the girl down Elyse pulled Liono into a passionate embrace. As their mouths sought each other they heard Divia’s voice repeating “butt” as she happily tugged on Liono’s pant’s leg.

“Did you teach her to call me that?” he asked holding onto the woman in his arms.

“Not exactly” she admitted “she’s heard me say it a million times.” Looking down “I guess it kind of stuck.”

Bending to pick his daughter up Liono said “I guess I have been acting like one.”

Giggling Divia touched her daddy’s nose saying happily “butt,” in a clear high-pitched voice.

Introducing Divia Marx:

***

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“Milo come quick,” Jillian called from the living room.

Dropping the dishes he was washing he ran into the living room. Heart pounding in his chest. Milo came to a stop beside her breathing hard “what’s wrong?”

“You just missed it,” she informed him sadly.

“Missed what?” he demanded looking at her in concern.

“Our little boy taking his first step,” she told him.

Milo resisted the urge to say ‘is that all’. He knew a baby’s first step was monumental but he thought Vincent had fallen from the couch or something breaking his head open. He still had nightmares of bringing his son into the emergency room that one time when he rolled off the couch. To this day he didn’t know who was crying more Vincent or him and Jillian. Turning to his wife mumbled “is that a good thing? Him walking.”

“Of course it is,” Jillian looked at him sharply “what make you think otherwise?”

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Shrugging Milo sighed “as clumsy as he is I shudder to think how many ER visits we’ll be making in the future.”

“Only you would find something negative to worry about,” she pouted crossing her arms.

Putting an arm around her he drew her close “I’m sorry but we’ve already taken him to the emergency room four times and he hasn’t even learned to walk yet. Walking is only going to increase the odds that he’ll hurt himself.”

Sighing she leaned her head on his shoulder “we can’t wrap him in bubble wrap.”

“I wonder,” Milo’s voice trailed off as his eyes followed his son around the room. Vincent seemed to grope for the blocks that were scattered on the floor in front of him. He’d pick one up finger it as if trying to see it through his fingers. Than he lean in close to the holes he was trying to fit the blocks into.

“You wonder what?” Jillian asked concern lacing her words as she followed his gaze.

“It’s just,” he swallowed dreading what he was about to say “I don’t think he can see.”

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“Of course he can don’t be ridiculous,” she protested watching her son with a deepening frown “what are we going to do?”

Wrapping her tightly in his arms “first we’re not going to panic. Second we’re going to take him in to see the doctor. Get his vision checked. It could be nothing’s wrong. He could just be clumsy.” His arms tightened around her “I’d feel better if we knew what’s going on.”

“You’re right,” she murmured kissing his neck “it’s just scary to think something’s wrong and we’ve missed it.”

“I know,” he said soothingly kissing her hairline “do you want me to make the appointment?”

“No I’ll do it,” she told him “I know you’re busy with rehearsals and stuff.”

“That’s all secondary to you and Vinny,” he told her.

Giving him a hint of a smile she squeezed his hand “good I’ll expect you to hold my hand during the appointment.”

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“I’ll be there every step of the way,” he assured her.

A week later they sat waiting for the doctor to discuss their son’s vision. They clinched each other’s hands as the Optometrist sat their son down on the floor next to an activity table. “Mr and Mrs Rake I’m Dr Hauser,” he held his hand out to them.

Taking it Milo murmured “it nice to meet you. How is our son?” he asked getting to the point.

Steepling his fingers the doctor observed the young parents sitting anxiously in front of him. “Your son has lost 40% of his vision. This would probably account for his lack of coordination.”

“So he needs glasses” Jillian asked watching her son playing on the floor.

“He will but I’m concerned with further degeneration of his eye sight,” the doctor gave Milo a pointed look “this degeneration could lead to blindness if we don’t do something about it.”

“Um” Milo licked his lips feeling light-headed and nauseous at the thought “what do you suggest we do?”

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“There’s a procedure we can do that could stop the degeneration from worsening. Saving what’s left of your son’s vision. Glasses would be able to correct the rest. Letting him lead a fairly normal life.” He went on to explain the details of the surgery, after care and possible side effects.

Stunned Milo and Jillian nodded as their eyes strayed to their little boy babbling happily to himself on the floor. Turning restlessly in her chair Jillian announced “I want a second opinion.”

“By all means Mrs Rake,” the doctor agreed “just don’t wait too long. Once his vision loss goes to 50% it becomes harder to stop the process.”

A month later they sat in their living room “we’ve seen five different specialists” Milo began cautiously “they’ve all told us the same thing.”

“I know,” she sighed “I’ll call Dr Hauser and set up the surgery.”

Squeezing her tight Milo listened to her breath in the near silent room “he’s going to be alright.”

“I know,” she agreed wishing it were possible to say something enough to make it come true.

Introducing Vincent Rake:

***

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“We need a bigger place,” Ramsey said closing the door to the kids room.

Taking his eyes from the view he loved Bruce sighed nodding in agreement. “I’ll start looking” he said despite the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

“You don’t have to right this minute,” Ramsey said grabbing his husband’s arm and pulling him back to the couch “I know you like this place; especially the view.”

Nodding Bruce slipped his arms around Ramsey’s neck. His eyes fixed on the waterfall outside their window “do you think we could take it with us?”

“I could paint it for you,” Ramsey offered.

Rolling his eyes Bruce chuckled a little “you can’t paint.”

“Then I’ll ask your dad to paint a mural of it on our wall when find a place,” Ramsey told him without a trace of joking in his voice.

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“You really want to move don’t you?” Bruce asked staring into his husband’s eyes.

“It’s not that I want to,” Ramsey leaned forward to kiss Bruce softly on the lips “I hate the idea of packing all of our stuff up. My back aches just thinking about it.”

“Hey,” Bruce protested “you make it sound like I wouldn’t help.”

“Sorry babe,” Ramsey said contritely “I know you’ll help. I just mean I really hate moving. I kinda of gotten settled here.”

“Well we can always ask the others to help us. I know Eddie and Rory would help,” Bruce said.

“Maybe Gayle would be available to babysit all the kids too,” Ramsey nodded a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Ramsey I know what you’re thinking,” Bruce said sliding from his lap.

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“What am I thinking?” Ramsey lifted an eyebrow challenging him.

“You’re playing matchmaker,” Bruce said sidestepping Ramsey’s attempts to pull him back onto his lap.

“There’s no harm in pointing them in the right direction,” he smiled “who knows maybe our kids will unite us all in one big happy family.”

“You’re an idiot,” Bruce laughed letting him wrestle him to the floor.

“Here I was thinking I was being romantic,” he leaned down pinning Bruce to the floor while Bruce tried to wriggle out from beneath “hey what do you think going?” he demanded after his attempted kiss landed on Bruce’s nose.

“Let me up,” Bruce pleaded sweating dotting his forehead “I don’t feel so good.”

Before Ramsey could react two little bundles of energy came flying at them. One landed on Ramsey’s back the other squarely on Bruce’s stomach making him go even paler than he was before. Scooping up both kids, one in each arm Ramsey watched as Bruce made a beeline to the bathroom. “Is daddy ok?” two little voices asked in unison.

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Staring transfixed at the closed bathroom door Ramsey had a sudden idea come to mind. Putting the twins down he took a step towards the door when it opened he asked “are you alright?”

“Yeah” came the shaky reply. Bruce looked outside towards the waterfall before saying “when we move we’ll need a place with at least 4 or 5 bedrooms.”

“Why so many?”

“Well you said next time it was my turn…” Bruce swallowed “I know we didn’t plan on having another baby so soon.”

“You’re pregnant,” Ramsey stepped forward gathering Bruce into his arms. Bruce nodded against his chest melting into his arms. “That’s why you weren’t more upset about moving.” Things started to fall into place like his unusual cravings, the increased appetite, the sudden vomiting. “I guess I get to experience the pregnancy from the other side this time.”

“You’re not mad?” Bruce asked looking up at him.

“Of course not,” Ramsey assured him. Turning to the kids who were not watching cartoons “guess what guys? You’re going to have a little brother or sister.”

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They looked at each other before the girl grinned asking “why?”

“Because your daddy is pregnant,” Ramsey told her.

He watched her blues eyes narrow in thought but it was her brother who asked “how?”

Chuckling under his breath Bruce said “that’s all yours.”

“Thanks a lot,” he mumbled “your dads love each other and that love made a baby.”

The twins looked at each other giggling as they got off the couch. Approaching their parents they demanded “we want to see the baby.”

Kneeling in front of them Bruce said “you have to wait until the baby’s finished growing inside my tummy before you can see them.”

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“Did we grow in there too?” came the next unexpected question.

“You sure did. Right here,” Ramsey rubbed his stomach.

Shaking her head “-” we’re too big.”

“You were a lot smaller than” Ramsey told her. They looked at each shrugged walking off already losing interest in something they didn’t understand.

When they were alone again Ramsey turned to Bruce “you said them, why?”

“Um” his hand absently rubbing his stomach “um the doctor said he heard multiple heart beats.”

“Multiple?” he asked feeling faint “twins?”

“If we’re lucky,” Bruce sighed “it could be triplets maybe even quads. I won’t know until my next appointment.”

Quads Ramsey could feel the blood rushing to his ears “we’re both getting fixed after this.”

Introducing Teasha and Zacheriah Ferris:

***

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Henry and Ria ran into the house stopping long enough to give their dad a quick hug before running to see their little sister. “I take it your parents are here,” Rory stated looking up from the computer here he was working on the lyrics for the bands new songs.

“I would assume so since the twins are here,” Eddie went to the door to find his parents unlocking their trunk “what’s all this?” he asked somewhat dismayed.

“Just some stuff for Hannah,” his mom replied standing up to give him a hug.

“Mostly stuff Ria has out grown,” Casey added.

Looking into the trunk Eddie said “most of this stuff is brand new dad.” Shaking his head “please don’t tell me you bought all this stuff. Hannah has more than she needs now.”

“It’s a grandparents prerogative to spoil their grandchildren,” Lynn told him.

“Yes but,” he turned pleading eyes on his dad “what about the twins? Aren’t they going to get jealous of all the attention their sister gets?”

“Not at all dear,” Lynn said unperturbed.

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Casey shook his head “son don’t argue with your mom. I’ve learned a long time ago it doesn’t pay.”

They lingered outside until Lynn went inside with multiple packages. “Dad this has to stop. I don’t want the twins becoming jealous of their sister. It’s bad enough they can’t live with us.”

“They’re not being deprived,” Casey assured him “once Lynn accepted them they’ve become as much hers as you did.”

“I just wish…”

“I know son but we both know why it isn’t possible. Amber’s lawyer’s will never let it happen. At least this way you still get to see them and be part of their lives. If they went to Amber’s parents we’d never see them.” Casey pulled his son close “I promise we’re doing all we can for them.”

“I know dad I’ve never doubted it. It’s just sometimes I feel like I’m being punished for what wasn’t even my fault.” Shaking his head he tried to push his feelings aside “if this is what I can expect on a random visit what will Christmas be like?”

“I’ll talk to her I promise,” Casey assured him.

“Dad let’s be honest here,” Eddie gave him a severe look “mom isn’t the only culprit here.”

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Cheeks flaming red Casey shook his head “no she’s not. Are you and Rory going to have anymore?”

A sad far way look overshadowed Eddie’s happiness “I don’t think so dad. The doctor’s warned me against having anymore children. Hannah was a difficult pregnancy and we’re lucky to have her. Any other pregnancies would be extremely high risk for both me and the baby. I won’t put Rory through that.”

“What about Rory? It doesn’t have to be you,” Casey suggested concern lacing his words.

Shaking his head Eddie replied “Rory can’t have kids dad. He doesn’t have the right equipment.”

“If you need money for the procedure I’ll be happy to loan it to you,” Casey offered.

“No dad. We considered it but the risks are to high,” Eddie looked towards the house then back at his dad “I appreciate the offer. We have Hannah and that’s all we need.”

After his parents left that evening Rory sat on the floor playing with Hannah “I think she’s going to be a musical prodigy. Listen to her play. She’s already picking out her own melody.”

“I think you’re biased,” Eddie told him with a smile.

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“I am but she’s my little girl,” Rory lifted into the air “she’s perfect just the way she is.”

Following Rory into Hannah’s room Eddie watched his husband put their daughter to bed.

“Good night princess,” they told her together before turning off the light.

Slipping his arms around Eddie “I suppose you’re parents brought up kids again?” Rory asked.

“They did,” Eddie sighed.

“If you want i could have the surgery,” Rory offered as they sat on the couch together “I know how much you’d like to have more kids.”

Shaking his head Eddie nuzzled his nose into Rory’s warm neck “I don’t need more kids. I have you and Hannah.”

“Are you sure?” Rory felt him nod against his chest “you know I’d do anything for you.”

“I know that. It’s still no reason for me to expect you too though” Eddie reached up stroking Rory’s hair “you know I like your hair like this.”

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“Are you saying you didn’t like my signature hat?” Rory asked in mock seriousness.

“I didn’t say that,” he protested knowing Rory was only teasing him.

“I was thinking we need a vacation a honeymoon….”

“A honeymoon?” Eddie said in surprise “we’ve been married for three years it’s a little late.”

“It’s never too late,” Rory said rolling him over onto the couch “I found the perfect resort. It even has a daycare we can take Hannah to.”

“It’s not much of a honeymoon if we’re taking the kid,” Eddie mumbled against Rory’s mouth.

“Shush,” Rory said kissing him “she’s the reason we didn’t go on a honeymoon in the first place. As I recall you barely got through the ceremony without getting sick.”

“Don’t remind me,” Eddie groaned “that’s what I get for not waiting until the wedding night.”

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“What can I say I’m irresistible,” Rory looked into his dark brown eyes and smiled “I really would do anything for you.”

“I know,” Eddie told him pulling him on top of him “I’d love to go to this resort with you.”

“Great,” Rory said moving to button Eddie’s shirt “first I think a little practice is in order.”

“You’re incorrigible” Eddie gasped a Rory’s hand slid inside his shirt caressing his skin.

“You love me anyway,” Rory said removing Eddie’s shirt and sliding his hand towards his waist.

“I’ll love you for always,” Eddie confirmed seeking Rory’s mouth sealing his words with a kiss.

Introducing Hannah Bennett:

 I’ll be opening up a request for sims to pair up with the next generation of kids so stay tuned for more information.

Chapter 20 – Three Little Words / Hannah – Chapter 1 – Honeymoon Part 1

Eddie – Chapter 20 -Three Little Words

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“Aren’t you moving a little fast?” Rory grumbled following Gayle into the kitchen.

“Don’t go all big brother on me,” she chided.

“He can’t help it,” Eddie smiled up at Rory as he handed him the dirty dishes “it’s just who he is.”

“You make it sound like a bad thing,” Rory muttered taking the dishes while his eyes followed Eddie.

Giving Gayle a hug Eddie said “congratulations. I’m so happy for you.” Turning to Rory he reached up to stroke his face “it’s not a bad thing. It’s one of the things I love about you.” He turned before Rory could respond or become uncomfortable.

Rory stared into the sink listening to the sound of Eddie’s laughter as Gayle instructed him to join Trent in the living room while she did the dishes. “You can join them,” she offered once Eddie had left the room.

Shaking his head Rory smiled at her “no I want to help…” He fell silent letting his hands soak in the hot dish water.

“Is something wrong?” Gayle asked as he stood there oblivious for several minutes.

Shaking his head as if waking from a daze “how do you know Trent’s the one?”

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“I love him,” she replied saying the three words Rory was so scared of with so much conviction that Rory envied her. Turning to face him she smiled “Rory I understand more then most why it’s so hard for you tell Eddie you love him. Your parents taught you to distrust love and those who said it.” Sighing she pushed him from the sink “I’m not my mother and neither are you. We can choose to be whoever and whatever we want. I choose to let Trent into my life. I know I might get hurt.” Looking up at him “I refuse to let that keep me from losing out on something wonderful.” She washed a few dishes while Rory stood there watching her deep in thought. “When Trent walks into the room my heart skips a beat and when he’s gone it’s like someone has taken the sun. I don’t know how to describe it but it’s something I don’t want to live without.”

“It’s like he chose me,” Rory mumbled in a low gravelly voice raw with emotion “from the moment I met him I knew he was different from anyone else I had dated before.” Laughter from the other room drifted to them “that’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.” Rory glanced at the floor feeling self-conscious something he hadn’t felt in a long time.

“You love him don’t you?” Gayle asked keeping her voice low and her eyes on the dish she was washing. As his silence lengthened she glanced up seeing him staring into space, cheeks a rosy pink. “Tell him” she squeezed his hand “don’t let your parent’s mistakes become yours. You’re better than that.”

***

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Bruce went to retrieve Ramsey’s wallet from the dresser to pay the pizza delivery guy. He was about to put it back when a small picture caught his eye. Pulling it out he felt his lungs tighten as he tried to breathe.

“Honey did you get the…” Ramsey’s voice drifted away catching sight of the picture Bruce was holding.

“Where did you get this?” he asked eyes riveted to the blond in the picture.

“We’ll talk about this later,” Ramsey told him taking the money from Bruce’s tightly clenched hand.

Bruce heard Ramsey as if from a long distance. His attention glued to the photo. The boy in the photo had been all smiles, eyes sparkling, happy. It had been so long since Bruce had felt as carefree as the person in the picture was. Was that why Ramsey carried that picture? A tear trickled down his cheek unnoticed. He jumped when a gentle touch wiped the tear away and he looked into the concerned eyes of the man he was living with. The man who had quickly become the center of his universe. Bruce turned away from him unable to bear him looking at him. He knew he wasn’t what Ramsey wanted or needed. All he was really was a burden with all his neediness.

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“Don’t do this,” Ramsey spoke softly trying to cover over the hurt he felt at Bruce’s rejection “don’t shut me out.”

“I’m not,” Bruce cried his voice loud almost angry. Sighing he ran a hand through is hair “at least I don’t want to.” He wiped at his eyes in an attempt to cover up the tears. The picture slipping from his fingers drifting to the floor.

Bending Ramsey retrieved the picture and replaced the photo in his wallet. “The pizza is getting cold,” he put a hand on the blonde’s shoulder “let’s go eat.”

Sniffling Bruce followed Ramsey into the kitchen. The pizza sitting on the counter waiting for them “you must be tired of always having to cater to me,” Bruce observed the undertone of anger still in his voice.

“Never” Ramsey replied taking Bruce’s hands leading him to the couch the pizza forgotten. “I want to take care of you. I want to be here for you when you’re having a difficult time coping with things. I want to be here for you, to help you even if that means I order pizza so that you having something to eat. Lord knows I can’t cook.” That last part brought a temporary smile to Bruce’s face.

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“What about you?” Bruce asked gazing into Ramsey’s eyes “I know you want more than I can give.” Bruce moved to get up gazing out the window towards the breath-taking view outside their apartment window. It was one of the things that drew him to this apartment when he and Ramsey were looking for a place together.

“What do you think I want from you?” Ramsey asked gently redirecting Bruce’s gaze back to him.

“I don’t…” he closed his eyes unable to take the look of concern in Ramsey’s eyes. Taking a deep breath he wanted nothing more than to pretend he didn’t know what Ramsey wanted. “To be a fully functioning adult,” he blurted holding his breath expecting Ramsey to offer some sort of argument disagreeing with him.

To his chagrin he found himself being drawn into a hug. Ramsey’s arms felt warm and safe around him. Several minutes passed in silence while they listened to each other breathe. Bruce’s breath tickled the sensitive skin along Ramsey’s neck moving his hair. “Do you really want to know what I want?” Ramsey asked the man he cradled in his arms.

Nodding Bruce pulled back swallowing the lump in his throat giving Ramsey a look like he was about to face a firing squad. “I” he began as his throat tightened choking him. This was it. Ramsey was going to break up with him. Move on with his life with someone who didn’t need so much.

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Stroking the blonde’s hair Ramsey gently pulled him close tenderly kissing his lips hoping his actions would be evidence enough that he meant what he was about to say. He pulled back when Bruce emitted a high-pitched mewling sound. He wanted nothing more than to hold the man he loved until all of his fears melted away. To kiss the bad dreams away. To snuggle with him until he was assured of his love for him. Abruptly Ramsey took his wallet out. Fished around for the picture that started all of this. Holding it out so that Bruce could see it “this is what I want.” The picture shook in his trembling fingers. His voice vibrated with all the repressed emotions pent-up inside him.

Bruce’s eyes were riveted to the picture Ramsey was holding. A young blonde. All smiles. Bruce couldn’t remember the last time he smiled like that. Moving his eyes from the picture he found Ramsey staring at him intensely. “I don’t,” licking his lips afraid of what Ramsey was going to say to him “I don’t understand.”

“This” indicating the picture he was carefully returning to his wallet “is what I want. I want to see you smile again. I want to see your eyes sparkle like they were in this picture. To hear you laugh.” Holding his partner’s face lovingly between his palms “I want to see you happy.” This time when he moved to kiss him he was met with the same fervor he had. The same need and desire.

Pulling apart breathing hard Ramsey gasped “I love you.” He noticed the flicker of doubt in the blue eyes he adored. Pulling Bruce close “I know you don’t believe me yet I can see it in your eyes. I’ve hurt you. I know that.” Kissing his hairline his voice low  and soft “I promise I’m going to prove this is real. I’m not going anywhere.” Stroking the blonde’s hair Ramsey sighed “this is where I belong. Right here with you by your side.”

Bruce felt like he could melt into the warm embrace of the man he adored and lost his heart to him for the second time. The month’s leading up to this moment already forgotten, a thing of the past “I love you. I’ve always loved you,” he murmured finding himself saying the words he thought he’d never be able to say again.

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“I don’t need you to say it,” Ramsey said brushing Bruce’s hair back “I haven’t earned it yet.”

“You don’t have to earn it when it’s freely given,” Bruce asserted snuggling into Ramsey’s arms “I love you and I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner.”

Ramsey sighed peppering tender kisses all over Bruce’s face “there’s no need to apologize.”

Smiling up at his lover Bruce’s eyes held a hint of a sparkle “dad’s going to want that picture back. It’s one of his favorites of me.”

Shaking his head Ramsey chuckled a little “it’s ok he gave it to me.”

***

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Elyse gave Liono a piercing look “what are we doing here?” she asked the question as soon as she stood up from the taxi.

Liono smiled like the cat who ate the canary “do you remember what we discussed?” he asked taking her hand.

She took his hand, eyes shifting from his exuberant face to the house they were standing in front of. “You better not have done what I think you did.”

“What do you think I did?” he asked keeping his eyes fixed on hers.

“If I remember correctly I told you I’d consider living with you if you had a place of your own,” gesturing towards the house “I didn’t mean for you to go out and buy house.” Giving him a penetrating stare she asked “did you buy this house?”

“I did,” pulling on her hand he dragged her forward up the driveway and into the house. “Wait until you see the inside. You’ll love it.”

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Rolling her eyes she let him drag her into the house. It had the open floor plan she liked even if it were a little small. He turned to her expectantly when he had shown her everything. “Its nice” she admitted.

“What do you mean its nice?” he demanded “it’s better than nice.”

She could tell she had bruised his ego but she couldn’t just change her opinion because he wanted her to. Sighing she crossed her arms “the bedrooms are too small.”

“It’s a starter home,” he crossed his arms a wounded expression upon his face.

Touching his arm lightly she smiled up at him “you did ask what I thought of it. I’m telling you. It’s not what I imagined our first house would be like.”

“You did say you’d live with me if I had my own place,” his tone stubborn unreasonable.

Shaking her head laughing “I meant a place without Milo or Jillian. I didn’t think you’d go and buy house without me.”

“Does that mean you like it?” he asked his voice less resentful more hopeful.

“It’ll do,” she told him as he drew her close.

“Does that mean you’ll move in with me?” he asked his voice husky with desire.

“Yes” she smirked pressing her body into his as his lips crushed hers with desire. Separating for a moment she said “next time we buy a house we do it together.”

“Deal” he murmured leading her into the bedroom.

***

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Jillian cuddled into Milo on the couch “this is nice” she kissed his neck “we can do whatever we want whenever we want.”

“Mmm hmm” he said somewhat distracted eyes glued to the TV screen.

“You’re not even paying attention to me” she pointed scooting to the other end of the couch.

“What?” he asked tearing his eyes away from the screen “I’m sorry did you want something?”

Reaching for the remote she turned the TV off. She eyed him a moment half daring him to turn it on again. To her relief he didn’t. He only smiled at her as he closed the gap between them “you were saying something about being able to do whatever whenever we want, right?”

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She nodded as he leaned over her capturing her mouth with his in a passionate kiss that would have brought stars to anyone less grounded in reality than she was. As his lips continued to work their magic on her she ran her hands down his back letting her fingers linger on his waist slipping under his shirt. She felt his hands slide down her body to rest on her hips. Moaning she wanted this but she didn’t want to be distracted from what she needed to tell him. She put her hands up to his chest pushing him away from her.

“Hey what’s the big deal?” he asked running a hand through is long hair, confusion written all over his face. “I thought…” frowning he got up from the couch ” never mind it doesn’t matter.”

“Milo please come back” she entreated him.

It was on the tip of his tongue to demand why he should. He was so tired of her mood swings. One minute she was hot the next she was cold. One minute he couldn’t keep her hands off him the next she was pushing him away. Sighing he walked slowly back towards the couch “alright I’m here. Now what?” he couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice.

“I’m sorry” she gave him a contrite tearful look “I know I’m all over the place emotionally lately.” Taking a deep breath before continuing ” there’s something I need to tell you.”

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He gave her a sullen stare while a hundred different scenarios played out in his head all ending with her breaking up with him.

Biting her lip she blurted “I’m pregnant.” She looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

“What?” he gasped as if he didn’t understand what she just said as if maybe she was speaking another language.

“I’m pregnant,” she repeated.

The silence lingered between them. Unsure what he should do or say he reached for her hand “I guess we better start house hunting.”

“I guess we should,” she squeezed his hand a small smile playing across her lips.

***

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“Come on let’s go for a walk,” Rory suggested getting up from the blanket.

Groaning Eddie resisted his efforts to get him to move “I’m comfortable right here.”

“Come on you won’t regret it,” Rory held is hand out “please” he begged looking towards the horizon hoping he was timing this right.

Gazing up at Ramsey’s outstretched hand Eddie took it “alright you win.”

Smirking Rory put an arm around him as they began to walk along the shoreline. The sky turning colors as the sun began its slow descent in the sky. Stopping Rory turned to him the light casting a warm glow in his eyes. He reached a hand out to stroke Eddie’s cheek smiling when the blonde leaned into his caress. “I…I love you so much.” Rory gasped aloud shocking both of them with his admission. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to say those words to you.”

“Rory you don’t have to…” Eddie began unable to disguise the smile spreading across his face in delight.

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“Shh I want to say this,” Rory broke in his voice deep with emotion “I should have said this a long time ago I let fear get in the way. For the longest time I thought love was a dirty word. A word used to manipulate people. A word used to inflict pain on others.” He took a deep breath “I realize now I’ve been running. Running away because I was afraid of getting hurt.” He knelt on one knee “you taught me what love is. What it can and should be. I don’t want to live my life without knowing love or having you by my side.” He took out a ring. Holding it up to Eddie’s stunned delight “will you marry me even though I might not say I love you as often as I should.” He slipped the ring on Eddie’s outstretched hand “I promise you that I will never stop trying to show you everyday we’re lucky enough to spend together, to the end of time how much I love you.”

“Yes, yes, yes I’ll marry you a thousand times over,” Eddie jumped into Rory’s arms wrapping his arms around him “you don’t have to tell me you love me when I can see it in your eyes. I feel it in the way you always make me feel safe. The endless hours you’ve spent on my couch just so I could sleep when you got none yourself. You’ve shown me there are more ways to say I love than merely saying the words.” Their mouth’s crashed together sealing their love in a hot sensuous kiss that left them both breathless. “Let’s go home,” Eddie suggested leaning against Rory “I need you tonight.”

Looking deep into the depths of Eddie’s brown eyes. He could sink within their depths and be happy “are you sure?” he asked cradling Eddie’s face between his hands.

“I’m positive” he turned placing a soft kiss on the inside of Rory’s hand “I want this. You.”

“Alright,” Rory nodded gently embracing him peppering Eddie’s face with soft tender kisses “let’s go home.”

Chapter 19 – Aftermath / Chapter 21 – Life Goes On

Eddie – Chapter 19 – Aftermath

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Amber crossed her legs hiking her skirt up a little higher. Catching the young blonde police officer’s leering gaze she smirked. “Like what you see?” she purred.

Clearing his throat loudly in the bare gray interrogation room he averted his eyes. She gave him an admiring wink leaning over the table “do I look like the kind of girl who needs to drug someone to sleep with them?”

Dumbly he shook his head mesmerized by her light innocent blue eyes. She ran her tongue along her lower lip as she kicked one shoe off. Moving for foot underneath the table until it nudged the officers knee “you and I could have a little fun while we wait…”

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“Err,” he swallowed watching her as if he had suddenly become a trapped frightened antelope facing a hungry lioness. He jumped as the door banged open and his partner joined them.

Looking from his skittish partner to the doe eyed girl the older man had no doubts what was happening. Jerking his head towards the door he barked “out.”

His young partner looked like he wanted to say something but visibly changed his mind slinking from the room. Once the door closed with a resounding thud behind him the older man glared down at the young woman in front of him. She reminded him of a slow loris he once read about, cute but deadly.

***

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Elyse attempted a smile to comfort her best friend since kindergarten. No matter what she came up with she couldn’t disguise her own bewilderment over what had happened. How had they been so blind?

“What did we miss?” Jillian asked as if picking up on her friends thoughts “we were best friends since we were five. The three musketeers. Why didn’t we see what kind of monster she had become?”

“I keep asking myself the same thing,” Elyse shook her head. She couldn’t help but wonder how things could have been different if they had been more observant. Maybe they could have gotten her help before things had gotten so bad.

“She was different since she went to college….” Jillian sighed getting up to pace around the room “if we had only done something when we noticed the change. If we had maybe Bruce wouldn’t have been hurt.”

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“It’s not our fault,” Elyse told her “we couldn’t have known what she was doing.”

Shivering Jillian turned sorrowful eyes on her friend “I know. It’s just … I can’t help but think of all the things that bothered us about her behavior and we glossed over it. Found excuses for it.”

“I know,” the dark-haired girl agreed “it’s always easy to look back and see all the things we missed. We can’t beat ourselves up over it. She was good at covering up her tracks.”

“I know we couldn’t have known,” Jillian wiped at her eyes sniffling a little “I just can’t get the image of all those guys out of my head.”

“Neither can I,” Elyse whispered hoping Liono and Milo would come soon.

***

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“Do you think it’s a good idea leaving him alone like this?” Milo asked glancing back at Bruce who was staring out the window. “It’s only been a couple of weeks since…” his voice faded unable to verbalize what almost happened right in their own apartment.

“He’s a big boy,” Liono shrugged “he doesn’t need us babysitting.”

“I know,” Milo sighed uncertain what to do. If he hadn’t agreed to the double date with Liono that night it could have been him in Bruce’s place. All he had to do was look in the mirror to confirm he fit Amber’s type. The news had been filled with pictures of all the other guys that had fallen victim to her wiles, at least the ones that had come forward. It made his stomach turn to think about it.

“It’s not your fault,” his friend told him his voice sounding harsh in his ear.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Milo growled jerking away from him. Sometimes Liono’s insensitivity got to him “have a heart he’s our friend.”

Putting his hands up “I’m sorry” Liono apologized “you know how I hate situations like this.”

“Yeah I know,” Milo sighed his friend would never change. Liono wanted to fix things and if he couldn’t fix it he ignored it. “I think we should stay…”

“Guys you know I can hear you right?” Bruce called from the window “just go. I’ll be alright.”

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“Are you sure?” Milo insisted knowing if he were Bruce he’d never want to be alone again.

“I’m sure,” Bruce tried to keep the fear he felt from making his voice quiver “I have to be alone sometime.”

“You heard him,” Liono said grabbing his arm and pulling him from the apartment.

“I don’t think he should be alone,” Milo yanked his arm away “it’s too soon.”

“Which is why I took the liberty of calling Ramsey,” Liono told him chuckling at the irritated shocked look Milo was giving him “I may be an insensitive ass but I do have a heart. He’s my friend too.”

“Shouldn’t we at least wait until Ramsey gets here?” Milo asked relieved that Liono had thought ahead and asked Ramsey to come over. Sometimes he forgot the guy could be relied upon in a pinch. He’d never leave a friend in need.

Leading Milo to the elevator “five, ten minutes tops. Bruce will be ok in that amount of time. He does need to learn to be alone.”

“I guess,” Milo sighed as he got into the elevator still feeling like he was abandoning his friend.

***

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The silence of the apartment became oppressive falling around him like a thick blanket. He hated this room as his mind conjured up half formed images of half remembered events. Turning from the window shivering from more than the chill in the room.

Turning his back on the view of the city behind him. He walked shakily to his room. All he wanted to do was curl up in a hole somewhere and cry. Maybe if he cried enough tears the pain would go away.

The sudden loud knock on the door sent his heart racing at a break neck pace. His mind jumping back in time to that fateful night he had opened the door to find Amber smiling up at him. Another knock had him scurrying into his room and squeezing himself into a tight ball on the floor. Covering his ears muttering “please go away. Please please go away.”

Using the key Liono had given him Ramsey let himself in when no one came to let him in. “Bruce” he called opening the door. Silence greeted him. Standing inside the kitchen he heard muffled sounds that seemed to be coming from a room off the living room. Going in that direction Ramsey kept his eyes open calling Bruce’s name as he entered the room. He stood listening to the cries that coalesced into tangible words.

“Go away,” Bruce mumbled over and over. His hands covering his ears as he rocked back and forth on the floor.

Dropping to his knees Ramsey sat awkwardly on the floor unsure what he should say or do. Mentally kicking himself for his oversight. He should have called first. Warned Bruce that he was coming over. He hadn’t meant to frighten him. “Bruce” he said his voice coming out in a low hoarse whisper.

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At the sound of his voice Bruce lowered his hands looking up “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Alright,” Ramsey said “we can go some place else.” He moved to get up wondering where they could go. A movie. A restaurant.

Grabbing Ramsey’s hand the blonde shook his head “please I…I don’t like it here. I want…I want….”

“What do you want?” Ramsey asked settling back down on the floor “we’ll do whatever you want.”

Bruce looked into the concerned eyes of his ex. With a small sigh he looked down at his hands in his lap. “I want to go home,” he murmured. Home where his siblings would welcome him back no questions asked. Home where his dad would tell him everything would be ok. He could rely upon his family to be there for him no matter what. He didn’t have that here. Ramsey had saved him that night but he didn’t want him. The only person he had was Eddie and Eddie had his own problems to deal with. He couldn’t dump all of this on him. “I have no one,” he whispered tears streaming down his cheeks.

“That’s not true,” Ramsey insisted moving closer to him “you have your friends, Eddie and” he swallowed afraid of the admission that almost slipped from his lips.

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“I don’t have you” Bruce cried too over wrought to keep his feelings in check. “It hurts too much to see you and know that you don’t want me. To know that I’ll always be eclipsed by Eddie. I can’t do it anymore. It tears me up inside. I just want to go home. Pick up the remnants of my sorry life.”

Ramsey stumbled to his feet feeling as if he had been sucker punched in the gut. Leaning against the wall he closed his eyes grimacing as if he were in physical pain. “You can’t go,” he pounded his fist into the wall “not now. Not when I’ve finally figured out what I want.” He turned to Bruce kneeling beside him he gently cupped the blonde’s face between his hands “I want you.” Licking his lips he peered into the other man’s blue eyes “I know I don’t deserve it but I’m asking no I’m begging for a second chance.”

Bruce wanted to melt into Ramsey’s arms and become lost in his concerned adoring eyes. This was everything he wanted yet it didn’t seem enough. “What about Eddie?” His mouth spoke the words aloud even though he didn’t want to know the answer. The answer that would make or break him “I can’t go through this again…I just can’t.”

Taking a deep breath Ramsey found himself saying “Eddie has Rory. I’ve known that for a long time. I didn’t want to accept it.” He leaned in closer until his lips brushed against the blonde’s. He inhaled deeply filling his senses with the man’s scent. “I love you.”

Before their lips connected Bruce pulled away looking deep into Ramsey’s eyes. He wanted to believe him. He wanted to be swept up in the moment. What was life without a little risk? He thought as he leaned forward allowing Ramsey to finish the kiss he started. He’d take that risk.

***

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Rory stretched trying to relieve the tight muscles in his neck and back. Eddie glanced over at him than just as quickly away. This had been going on for the past couple of weeks. Rory hung his head rubbing the back of his neck. The silence between them was growing insurmountable.

Sighing Rory broke the silence “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He turned pleading eyes toward Eddie sitting on the other side of the couch. “Why can’t I say what you need me to say?”

Shaking his head Eddie got to his feet walking in circles like a restless animal. “What do you think I want you to say?”

“To say I love you,” Rory said his eyes fixed on Eddie as he paced.

“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered hugging his arms around himself.

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“It does,” Rory insisted “I’m sorry I’m defective. All my life my parents said they loved each other. I believed them. Then all these years later I find out I have a sister I never knew. All the times they said they loved each other were lies. They lied to me. Claiming they loved me. Saying they gave my sister away to protect me.”

Moving away from the window Eddie knelt beside Rory “that wasn’t love.” Reaching up he brushed back Rory’s hair loose now that he wasn’t wearing his hat.

“I don’t know what love is,” Rory mumbled staring at his feet refusing to look at Eddie.

“You do,” Eddie told him “you just don’t know it.” Crawling into Rory’s lap Eddie continued “you’ve been there for me and continue to be there me. I don’t know many people who would be that patient.”

“I even sleep on your lumpy old couch that’s too short for me,” Rory attempted to joke. He couldn’t believe this gentle timid man was still willing to put up with him. To put his heart on the line for him “I don’t ever want to be without you.” Rory said giving voice to his thoughts “I wasn’t whole until I met you.”

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“Neither was I,” Eddie said in a small voice “not that I’ll ever be completely whole…”

“Don’t say that,” Rory held his face between his hands “don’t ever say that. What Amber did to you wasn’t your fault. Your perfect the way you are. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving that to you.”

“Even when I jump at my own shadow?” he asked looking deep into Rory’s eyes seeking reassurance.

“Even then,” he nodded “although you probably won’t need it now that Amber is in jail for good.”

Eddie sighed in relief. All those unexplained occurrences of finding things moved around, curtains open when he knew he had closed them. The feeling of someone watching him. The slashed tires. The broken door. Amber confessed to doing all of them. A shiver ran through him as he realized how close she had been to him all along and he never knew it.

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Rory pulled him close “she can’t hurt you now. Not ever.”

“Why? Are you planning on sleeping on my couch forever?”

“Well I’d prefer not,” he watched as Eddie’s cheeks flamed “we have plenty of time for that. That’s not what I meant anyway.” He sighed realizing thanks to what happened to Bruce it seemed all of Eddie’s insecurities had resurfaced. “If you need me to sleep on your lumpy couch that’s what I’ll do.”

“No” he mumbled in a small hesitant voice. Looking up he took a deep breath “the bed’s big enough for two.”

 Chapter 18 – Consequences / Chapter 20 – Three Little Words

Eddie – Chapter 18 – Consequences

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Exiting the elevator the girls combined gasps alerted the guys that something was wrong. “Stay here,” Liono commanded as he and Milo went to inspect the damaged door. He and Milo exchanged worried glances as they moved cautiously towards the door.

“What the hell happened here?” Liono demanded.

Shrugging Milo crept closer to their apartment. What reply could he give? He wasn’t here when it happened. How was he supposed to know what happened? He glanced back towards the girls who were standing anxiously by the elevator. Turning back to Liono he nodded towards the door “I hope Bruce is ok.” He could tell by the shift in Liono’s stance and nod he had been thinking the same thing. “Should we call the cops?” Milo asked.

Liono stared at the damage. If Bruce wasn’t hurt he was going to make the guy pay for the damages. If he was hurt Liono would still make him pay for the damages. He’d just be nicer about how he told him. “Did you hear that?” he asked Milo.

Nodding “it sounded like someone crying.”

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“We better tell the girls to call the cops,” Liono said taking charge again and giving commands. He waited until Milo came back from his errand before entering the apartment.

“The police should be here in a few minutes,” Milo informed him.

“Uh huh” he grunted stepping over the ruined door.

Grabbing his arm Milo hissed “you’re not going in there.”

“Someone could be hurt in there,” he wrenched his arm free and stomped into the apartment sure that Milo would back him up.

***

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Gayle gripped Trent’s hand as they walked through the hospital doors. Her eyes darted around the emergency room. People of various shapes and sizes littered the chairs waiting for their turn. Trent tugged on her arm as he walked past them oblivious to their stares. “He’s already in a private room” he whispered in her ear. He led her towards a different set of doors “just keep walking” he told her as an agitated grumpy middle aged woman yelled at them “visiting hours are over.”

“What if she comes after us?” she asked as she let Trent guide her to a nearby elevator.

“She won’t” he told her confidently “that would require her leaving her enclosure. Once she does that she’ll be mobbed by half a dozen tired, grumpy, angry people who have been waiting way too long to be seen.”

“What are we going to do once we get up there?” she asked in a breathless whisper.

Looking around the empty elevator Trent pulled her close “why are you whispering?” His normal voice sounding too loud in the enclosed space of the elevator.

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Slapping his chest “I didn’t want to be overheard,” Gayle laughed at the absurdity of it all.

“By who?” Trent smiled down at her “we’re in an empty elevator.”

“I’m not used to sneaking around hospitals at night,” she told him as the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open.

“And you think I am?” he asked grunting when she elbowed him in the side.

She gasped upon exiting the elevator and coming face to face with a couple of hospital security guards. Leaning close to Trent she whispered “now what?”

***

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Rory glanced over at Eddie who had been silent and staring trance like out the window. Taking his right hand from the steering wheel Rory held it out to him palm up. “It’s going to be alright,” he said hoping to instill confidence. The corners of his lips quirked up when Eddie took is offered hand in his.

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Rory rubbed his thumb up and down the side of Eddie’s soft hand offering what little comfort he could. Pulling into a parking lot near the police department Rory asked “do you have enough money to cover the bail?”

“I think so,” Eddie mumbled turning to get out of the car.

Walking around the car Rory took Eddie’s hand “if you need more I can help.”

Blinking at his offer Eddie asked “why? You don’t even like him.”

“It’s not a matter of me not liking the guy,” Rory shrugged feeling his cheeks flush “You do. I know you well enough to know you wouldn’t have let him near you if you didn’t trust or like him.”

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While he knew Rory’s assessment of him was true Eddie could feel himself withdrawing inside. Had he let his insecurities dictate how he interacted with the people around him? Sighing he wondered if he’d ever be whole again or if that one disastrous point in time would forever color his future, holding him back from the things he wanted. Looking over towards the foreboding building he said “you don’t have to worry about Ramsey.” He wasn’t sure why he said it just that he felt it needed to be said.

“I’m not concerned with that right now,” Rory assured him putting an arm around him “let’s worry about getting Ramsey out first then we’ll worry about everything else.”

Nodding Eddie knew Rory was right. He disliked the thought of being in a tug of war again. If only Rory would have accepted his declaration of love so many weeks ago he wouldn’t have to worry so much now. Taking a deep breath Eddie walked across the street and into the police station.

“Can I help you?” a tired over worked voice asked from behind a partition.

“Err” Eddie mumbled overwhelmed by the activity going on around him.

Stepping forward Rory announced “we’re here to post bail for a friend.”

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“Take a seat kids this will take a while,” the man waved them over to a row of chairs obviously dismissing them.

Balking at the man’s attitude Eddie shocked not only himself but Rory too who stood beside him. “We’re not kids that can be dismissed until your ready to deal with us.”

“Look sunny,” the man pointed a finger at him ready to launch into some tired refrain about respecting authority

“No you look here,” Eddie shouted shrugging off Rory’s restraining hands “you arrested my friend on trumped up charges and I want him out.”

“Eddie please,” Rory tried to dissuade him from going any further.

“No I will not just sit down and do as I’m told” Eddie shouted “I have one friend in the hospital another in jail. I will not just sit and wait.” Turning to the officer “I want to talk to your superior.”

***

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Ramsey paced his small cell. He should be used to being locked up by now. It wasn’t his first time although it was the first time he didn’t deserve it. He felt the sting of being wrongfully accused and wondered if the truth would ever come out or if they’d take what looked like a slam dunk. He wanted to scream that he shouldn’t be in there. He didn’t deserve to be locked up in this stinking hell hole. He needed to be at the hospital begging for Bruce to forgive him, to give him one more chance.

An image of the young blonde blue eyed male with the infectious laugh that never ceased to bring a smile to his face. Why had it taken something like this for him to realize what his feelings were? Why had he clung to Eddie for so long? What had he been so afraid of?

He banged his head against the cool steel bars. A scream was building deep within him. What if he was convicted? His fingerprints were all over the glass and bottle. He hadn’t given a thought about what it would look like to anyone else. Who would drug someone then bring the evidence with them? Seeing Bruce so out of it, so sick had scared him. Scared him more than anything ever had and he’d seen quite a bit in his young life. His dead beat dad had left him in the back rooms of every seedy bar he could in order to drink himself to oblivion. Ramsey had learned quick how to survive on his own.

***

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Milo followed Liono into the apartment. Heart pounding he had the fleeting sensation that he was walking into a trap. The crying increased in volume and intensity. It seemed to him like the crying was forced, fake. He glanced over at Liono who at the best of times had little to know patience for weeping women. At his father’s funeral Milo recalled Liono had patted his weeping mother’s shoulder mumbling a few heartfelt words. He had been relieve when Milo had arrived and he could pass her onto his shoulder letting her tears soak into his best friends suit instead of his own.

He was pulled from his recollections by Liono’s loud demanding voice “what are you doing in here?”

“I came…looking for….Milo” the girl managed to say through hiccups and sniffles.

Milo forced back a groan upon hearing her voice. Amber was the last person he expected or wanted to see. The double date with Jillian had opened his eyes. There was something about Amber that made his skin crawl. “Where’s Bruce?” Milo asked her holding his hand over his mouth and nose as the putrid stench of stale vomit assaulted in sinuses.

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“I….I don’t…know,” she sobbed throwing herself into Milo’s arms.

Reluctantly Milo patted her back. The cold calculated look in her blue eyes didn’t go unnoticed before she resumed her sobs. “Ramsey crashed through the door like a mad man.” She ran her hands up and down his back leaning her head on his chest. “It almost seemed like he was jealous. I was so scared.” She looked up at him tears streaming down her cheeks. She almost looked as scared and innocent as she pretended to be “it’s not my fault that Bruce preferred me to him is it?” she asked hiccuping to effect “I would have preferred to have spent the evening with you.”

Milo was saved from coming up with a response when a couple of police officers entered through the broken door.

***

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“Visiting hours are over,” the guards deep voice boomed in the silent hallway.

Trent wrapped an arm around Gayle’s waist “we’re going up to the third floor waiting room.”

“Family of the accident victim brought in a few minutes ago?” the security guard inquired.

“That’s right,” Trent nodded without blinking. He hoped Gayle would play along or at the very least keep her mouth shut. He watched the guards eyes move from him to Gayle and stop.

“Alright you’re free to go,” the guard said satisfied they were who they said they were. “Next time just inform the receptionist why you’re here. It’ll save us all a headache.”

“Hopefully there won’t be a next time,” Gayle said giving the guards a weak smile.

Once the guards had walked away they made there way to the waiting room. Turning to Trent she asked “what was that all about?”

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“What?” he asked feigning innocence.

“You know what,” she slapped his hands away from her walking towards a chair in the far corner of the room.

Following behind Trent slouched into a chair “I wanted to make sure we got in here.”

“Was it necessary to lie?” she asked deciding to let him squirm a bit.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice interrupted him.

Turning her attention from Trent she gazed up at the young nurse who had approached them. “Yes can I help you?”

“Are either of you related to Bruce Van Winkle?” she asked.

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“No” Gayle replied shooting a look at Trent “we’re friends of his.”

“Oh that’s too bad,” The nurse turned to walk away “he’s been asking for his cousin.”

“He’ll be here soon,” Trent informed her “Eddie asked us to come until he got here.”

A brief smile crossed her tired face “that’s good.” She turned to walk away “please let me know when he arrives.”

Gayle glared at Trent “you just couldn’t help yourself could you?”

“It’s not exactly a lie. Their families are related.”

Rolling her eyes she turned away from him staring out the window.

***

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“It’s your lucky day” an officer announced approaching Ramsey’s cell “you made bail.” The door opened allowing Ramsey to exit through it. As he walked past the officer the man snickered “you’ll be back.”

Not if I can help it Ramsey muttered under his breath. Once Bruce woke up this would all be cleared up. He tried to ignore the cat calls from the other inmates as he walked past their cell doors. He wasn’t coming back he told himself firmly despite the little voice of doubt that kept asking questions. What if Bruce didn’t wake up? What if Bruce is confused and can’t identify who drugged him? A hundred different scenarios played out in his mind.

Collecting his things he felt the hostile gaze of the man who had arrested him burning into his back. He squared his shoulders refusing to show the man any sign of weakness. Was he getting soft he wondered. There had been a time in the not so distant past that a few hours in a cell wouldn’t have left him feeling so jumpy. Exiting the door he looked up to find Eddie and Rory waiting for him. A sharp pain like a knife twisting in his guts took his breath away. At that moment he realized that at no other time in his life had he so much hanging on the line. Marching up to Eddie he demanded “how is he?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie stammered unsure of himself and Ramsey’s demanding tone.

“I need a ride,” Ramsey said walking towards the outside door.

Shrugging Rory took Eddie by the arm and followed Ramsey from the police station.

***

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As the officers took Amber’s statement the others listened. Milo shook his head murmuring “that doesn’t sound like something Ramsey would do.”

“He wouldn’t need to,” Jillian agreed coming to stand by Milo’s side.

“What do you mean?” one of the officer’s asked.

“It was Ramsey who broke up with Bruce,” Liono explained “Bruce would have taken him back if Ramsey had asked him to. If anything Bruce would have been the one to have a jealous fit not Ramsey.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Amber demanded spit flying from her mouth.

“Well…yeah I guess I am,” Liono said “why would you just sit in here after a jealous ex-boyfriend had smashed in the door? At the very least you should have called the cops.”

Elyse nodded in agreement “your story is full of holes.”

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One of the officers who had stepped back from the group to receive a dispatch came back into the room. Approaching his partner he whispered in his ear so that no one else could hear. Their demeanor’s changed as they turned their attention back to Amber. “Did you know there’s a warrant out for your arrest?”

“That’s just a stupid misunderstanding” she told the officer batting her eyes up at him.

“Then why did you flee the country abandoning your children with your victims parents in the process?” The officer stepped forward with handcuffs at the ready “not so stupid now is it?”

Eyeing them in disbelief that soon dissolved into hatred “what victim? He wanted it.”

“He wanted it so much you had to drug him” the officer clicked the handcuffs around her wrists “Your fingerprints were on the bottle that was used to deliver rohypnol to you second victim.”

“You have no proof that I drugged Eddie or Bruce” she shouted struggling against her restraints.

“No we just have hospital records from both victims” The officer bent down and stared into her face “I wonder if they were your only victims or if there were others.” Looking over at Milo then back at her “you definitely have a type. If there are others I’m making it my duty to find them.” Turning to his partner he said “read her her rights.”

 Chapter 17 – Wind of Change / Chapter 19 – Aftermath

Eddie – Chapter 16 – Moments of Darkness

Author’s Note and Trigger Warning: This chapter deals with topics some may find difficult to deal with such as references to attempted rape and drugging someone for the sole purpose of taking advantage of them. Please do not read if this is makes you uncomfortable.

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Ramsey stared at his phone wondering what Bruce needed to talk to him about. After their breakup he had been afraid to call him. Well maybe not afraid Ramsey corrected there wasn’t much he was afraid of. He had been concerned about the blonde’s welfare. He heard that Bruce hadn’t taken the breakup well. If his tone was anything to judge by he still wasn’t over it.

Was that why he called? Did he want to get back together? Did he want that? Maybe he should call him back and decline the offer to come over. He pulled up Bruce’s number on his phone realizing he had never deleted the number from his contact list. What did that say about him?

On second thought maybe he should go and hear what Bruce had to say. Frowning he bit his lower lip. There was something off about the way Bruce sounded on the phone. He wasn’t the same confident guy he normally was. There had been a note of fear in his voice. Why would he be afraid?

His mind made up he decided to ditch his plans for the evening. Not like he had much planned. A thrilling night of re-runs, beer and waiting for Eddie to call. It’s been weeks since that night on the beach. He had to move on. Accept that Eddied wasn’t going to call. He had his answer whether it was the one he wanted or not.

***

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Rory drove up to the house that Trent’s directions led him to. A loud sigh escaped his lungs. How had he let himself get talked into this? The last thing he wanted to do was carry a bunch of heavy boxes and furniture up and down stairs. Getting out of his car he resigned himself to his fate.

Gayle ran up to him a bright smile upon her face. “Thank you for helping….”

“Yeah whatever,” he mumbled. It wasn’t just because she was his sister. A sister he never wanted, didn’t need or even knew. All three were good reasons for why he didn’t like her but it was also her incessant cheerfulness. Didn’t she ever have a bad day?

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It seemed like she was constantly shoving her good mood down everyone’s throat. Just once he’d like to see her without a smile upon her face. The smile his best friend found so fascinating was the same smile Rory found so irritating. He never ceased to find little ways to pick on her until her smile faltered and disappointment replaced it. He could see the hurt in her eyes. It never failed to prick him with guilt but it was never enough to keep him from doing it again.

“If you didn’t want to come…” she started to say but the haunted desperate look in his eyes stilled her words.

“Sorry,” he mumbled looking down “just tell me where stuff goes.” He walked over to the truck where Trent was busy unloading boxes.

“Glad you could make it,” Trent greeted him ignoring the angry irritated glare Rory gave him.

***

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The apartment was too quiet or the neighbors were too loud. Eddie couldn’t decide. The sounds that once were a source of comfort were now grating on his nerves. He had expected a response by now to his text. Had Rory decided he wasn’t worthy it anymore?
There was a burning sensation behind his eyes as he blinked trying to ward off the tears that were building. Why couldn’t he be stronger? Why wasn’t he more emotionally stable? Why did everything reduce him to tears?

Groaning he got up from the couch where he had been aimlessly flipping through channels. Nothing was going to change unless he did. With renewed determination to put the past behind him he decided to go out. His stomach twisted into knots as he thought about going out on his own. Meeting strangers had never been his strong suit. The idea almost paralyzed him. He wanted to stay at home where no one could hurt him.

Shaking his head he went to the bedroom for a change of clothes deciding on a shower before he went out. He was tired of who he was. He wanted to be someone else at least for tonight. Stepping into the shower he missed the soft chirp of his phone.

***

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Liono kicked Milo under the table. “What?” the blonde asked looking up a frown creasing his forehead.

“Put the phone away,” Liono hissed “the girls are coming back.”

Nodding Milo did as requested. Whatever Bruce wanted could wait until they got home he thought. Smiling he turned his attention to Jillian getting up to pull the chair out for her.

“Thank you,” she murmured “as she sat down.”

Elyse snickered “such a gentleman.” Her eyes dancing with amusement.

Liono glared at his friend “show off” he grumbled.

“It’s not my fault. I was taught to treat a lady right,” He glance at his friend who had made him suddenly doubt himself. Looking down at a soft touch patted his hand he met Jillian’s blue eyes and smiled.

“I liked the gesture,” she told him to the combined groans of their companions. Glaring at Liono “don’t pick on Milo for doing what you should have done too.”

Milo covered his mouth with his hand. He lips twitched in amusement. He enjoyed watching Jillian put his friend in his place. He knew Liono well enough to know he shouldn’t show his amusement or he’d pay for it later. “You have to admit she does have a point” he said talking Jillian’s hand in his.

Ignoring him Liono turned his attention to Elyse “did you think I was being rude?” he asked in his blunt way.

Shaking her head laughing she said “you are who you are. I wouldn’t want you to do anything that wasn’t you. It wouldn’t be real that way.” Humming along to the soft music that was playing she asked “care to dance?”

Milo watched the couple move off towards the dance floor. “I’m shocked,” he murmured to himself.

“Why?” Jillian asked “Elyse has always liked the rough around the edges type of guy.”

“That fits Liono to a tee,” he laughed “he’s a good guy once you get to know him.” He picked at the table-cloth before asking “what kind of guy do you like?”

Her cheeks turned pink as she clasped her hands. Shyly she looked up meeting his gaze “I like the quiet, reserved gentleman.”

He didn’t know what to say. He had gotten used to being the last one picked, the second choice or the tender morsel to the shrew. Her admission left him speechless.

***

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The room lurched and swayed around him. Closing his eyes he hoped it would still the room’s rotation. It did little to steady the room. He jerked as someone put their arms around him. A voice saying “let me help you.”

Blinking he tried to focus, to move away from the arms that held him tight. His body refused to obey his command “I don’t…” he mumbled as he fell onto a soft surface. He hadn’t realized he was moving until he wasn’t. Somehow his body didn’t feel attached to his head. Closing his eyes as a fresh wave of nausea and dizziness swept through him. “I don’t…I don’t” he licked his parched lips. Why couldn’t he move? Why couldn’t he form the words he needed to say?

“Here baby” Amber said holding a glass to his lips “this will make you feel better.”

He looked into her beautiful blue eyes. Malice and a predatory gleam stared back at him. He tried to move his head away. Despite his efforts liquid poured into his mouth faster than he could spit it out. He could feel it dribbling down his chin soaking his shirt. “Come on baby just swallow. You’ll feel better once you do.” Her voice thick like syrup. He was drowning. Couldn’t breathe. She was relentless. He couldn’t help it. It was only a matter o time before he had to swallow the contents.

***

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Gayle knelt to retrieve her brother’s phone from the ground where it had fallen. She should just hand it back to him she knew. Curiosity had her hesitating as she allowed herself to bring up his photos. Gasping she found what she was looking for. Pictures of Eddie and Rory together. What she didn’t expect was how happy Rory was in the pictures with his arms around the good-looking blonde. This was the person she wanted to get to know not the grumpy irritable guy that went out of his way to get under her skin.

She wondered what she could do to help him. He gave off a persona of not needing help of not caring. Everyone at some point in their lives needed help. Maybe if he was happy she’d have a chance to get to know him. The real him.

She heard the grump coming. Hastily she exited his photos before saying in an overly cheery voice “look what I found just lying around.” She waved his phone in the air “I wonder what little goodies we’ll find in here.”

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“Give it to me” Rory demanded his voice deadly serious.

Deciding not to tease him further she handed the phone to him. She moved over to Trent who had been giving her hand signals to stop the entire time. She felt his arms slip around her shoulders. She watched her brother’s face. It was an interesting sight changing from anger, relief to surprise and finally sadness. Moved despite herself she put a hand on his arm “why don’t you invite him over?” She took a gamble it was Eddie that was the cause of the myriad of emotions flitting across his face.

Nodding Rory didn’t seem to notice or care that he hadn’t said who had sent him a text that had caught his attention. “Yeah I think I’ll do that,” he agreed half listening to her. His mind more on the long-awaited contact than on anything else.

***

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Eddie wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He hated going out to eat. He couldn’t trust that someone hadn’t put something in his food or drink. It had happened once. A night he couldn’t remember but had lasting ramifications for the rest of his life. That night resulted in two adorable kids he wasn’t quite sure he knew how to cope with. He stood in front of his mirror styling his hair. He had always wanted kids and had never doubted he would some day have some but not this way.

He had never dreamed the kids he would have would be the result of rape. It had never even entered his mind that he would suffer from that particular degradation. A part of him believed that he should have been able to prevent it. Guilt that he had allowed himself to be so vulnerable. Shame that he had let it happen kept him from doing the things he wanted to do now. Often he felt like he was locked inside a self-induced prison, forever looking at his life through iron bars of his own making. He was tired of being a victim. It was time he took his life back with or without Rory.

Unsure where or what he was going to do he was outside on his deck when his phone vibrated. Glancing at it his heart leaping into his throat as Rory’s smiling face popped up on his screen. Breathing hard he lifted the phone to his ear “hello.”

***

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Ramsey walked casually from the elevator. He felt light on his feet humming a tuneless melody strolling down the hallway towards Bruce’s apartment. He had never been here before. All he knew was he shared expenses with two other guys, band members of Rory’s.

He stopped in front of the door, heart pounding in his chest. He rubbed a hand along the sides of his jeans wondering what Bruce wanted to talk to him about. Did he want to get back together? He put a hand up to knock hesitating as he heard muffled voices from inside.

Screenshot-348Screenshot-349Bruce wasn’t alone. He felt like he had just crested the top of a high roller coaster. Filled with anticipation and trepidation as the car hovered over the edge. Of course Bruce wouldn’t be alone. He did share an apartment with two other people. Was this Bruce’s way of telling him he had moved on? Had he lost his chance?

Half turning from the door Ramsey stopped, concern lining his handsome face. Something wasn’t right. He had heard fear in Bruce’s voice when they spoke earlier. He could sense something wasn’t right. He pressed an ear to the door straining to make out the muffled sounds.

***

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Amber pressed her lips against his running a hand up his shirt and across his toned chest. Pulling away she licked her lips “very nice” she purred.

Bruce followed her with his eyes. Her movements were jerky and exaggerated to his drug induced haze. His body felt like lead as it refused to obey any commands to push her from him. “What…”

She put a finger to his lips shaking her head “no talking.” She climbed into his lap grinding her body against his as she devoured his mouth.

He could see her excitement grow as his body responded to her gyrations on his lap. Shame descended over him like a thick blanket as she removed his shirt that he was helpless to prevent. His arms hung heavy to his sides. “Please stop…” he attempted again.

“I know you want this as much as I do,” she brought her lips down to his chest kissing across his skin.

“No stop,” panic rising giving strength to his voice.

She glanced up hands hovering above the waist of his jeans. “Your mouth says no. Your body says yes.” Her hand slipped inside his jeans.

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“No” the word exploded from his mouth. His pleas fell on deaf ears.

Amber jumped as the door came crashing in. Frowning she stood up to confront the intruder “get out” she shouted.

Ramsey’s eyes went from her irate half crazed face to the blonde on the couch. Taking in his half-dressed state he mumbled “Bruce…” Had he misjudged the situation? The near panicked one word plea had galvanized him into action.

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He walked around the couch confused why Bruce wasn’t reacting more to having such an intimate moment disrupted. Peering closer he could see the terror in the blonde’s blue eyes stoking the fire to his anger. What was happening here? “Bruce” he took a step closer observing the tears forming in the blonde’s eyes and rolling down his cheeks. Ramsey knelt beside Bruce reaching a gentle hand up to brush the tears away.

Bruce jerked his face away fear brightening his eye. “I’m sorry…” he mumbled looking away.

“What did you do to him?” Ramsey snarled getting to his feet to confront the girl. Silence greeted his question. While he was preoccupied with Bruce she must have slipped through the broken door. He took a step to follow her when a thud had him turning back to Bruce who was retching on the floor.

 Chapter 15 – Hunted / Chapter 17 – Wind of Change

Eddie – Chapter 15 – Hunted

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Rory watched helplessly as Tom ushered Eddie from the restaurant. He noticed how he kept hold of Eddie’s arms when he attempted to turn around. Breathing deeply Rory blinked multiple times to clear his vision. He could feel his finger nails digging into his palms as he clenched his fists.

“Sir? Is everything alright?” a voice shattered his thoughts.

Nodding he made his way to the exit aware of the stares from the other restaurant patrons. No doubt he would be the subject of many conversations throughout the day. Numbly he looked both ways on the sidewalk secretly hoping he would see Eddie. Sighing he shuffled towards his car telling himself he would see him at home, that he couldn’t hide forever.
Parking he stared aghast at the strange man and woman unloading bags of groceries and carrying them into Eddie’s house. The man caught him staring, smiled broadly walking towards him. “Hi I’m Jake. My wife and I just moved in.”

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Moved? Here? Rory swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat while a bottomless pit opened up inside his stomach. Eddie moved? Where? Had he really hurt the blonde that much he had to move? All he wanted to do was escape his overly friendly new neighbor, barricade himself inside his home. He mumbled some mundane meaningless words before the young man joined his wife in unloading the car.

Closing the door behind him Rory leaned heavily on the door before sliding to the floor. Why couldn’t he say what Eddie so desperately needed him to say? Why couldn’t he say the words? He could sing the words in a love ballad but it didn’t mean anything. He preferred to leave those songs for Trent to perform.

His fingers itched to write. To let his feelings flow from his heart through his fingers to the page. He dragged himself to his feet making his way to his desk. Sitting he let his mind drift as images of Eddie filled his mind. An image of Eddie’s soft, sad brown eyes filled his mind, the deep well of pain and sadness caught his attention as the words began to pour from his soul.

***

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Milo gave Liono a sideways glance “you look rather pleased with yourself. What’s up?”

“I have a date with Elyse,” his eyes sparkled as a goofy grin spread across his normally stoic features.

“Good” Milo said moving towards the refrigerator.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Liono asked his eyes narrowed to slits.

Shrugging Milo continued to get a bowl out for cereal. “Exactly what I said good. It’s good that she wants to see you again. I don’t know if I would if I were her.”

“Ha ha very funny” Liono grumbled “maybe we could double?” he tried to make it sound off-handed, casual.

Milo’s hand jerked causing the milk he was pouring to spill onto the counter. Turning he stared at his friend “I…you…” he gulped trying to form words “you’re not the type to double date.”

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A scowl temporarily marred the grin he had moments before “I’m not.” He shrugged “it’s the only way Elyse would agree to go out with me.”

“Ah” he nodded as a light suddenly went off in his head “sure I’ll call Amber and see if….”

“No not Amber,” Liono pounded his fist onto the table with enough force to make his dirty dishes clatter together.

“What?” Milo asked mopping up the spilt milk “you’re not trying to set me up with the other one are you?” Suspicion kept him from looking over at his friend.

“Why would I do that?” Liono demanded “I’d prefer you weren’t coming at all. Elyse won’t go out with me otherwise.”

“Then why not Amber?” Milo asked moving towards the table.

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“Elyse doesn’t much like her,” Liono explained “come on be a pal.”

“Why don’t you ask Bruce?” Milo wondered “he and Jillian hit if off the other night.”

Liono’s eyes flickered towards the blonde’s bedroom door where he had yet to emerge “I don’t know him…”

Laughing Milo shook his head “you mean you don’t trust him not to hit on your girl.”

“Well….” he sat back in his chair arms crossed “it’d be different if he was 100% gay but he’s not.” Getting up he walked towards the door “so it has to be you.”

After Liono left Milo stared at the spot where his friend had left his dirty dishes. No doubt he knew Milo would clean them along with his own dirty dishes. Frowning Milo wondered what he should do. A part of him was excited at the prospect of getting to know Jillian better. Another part felt guilty feeling he owed Amber some loyalty, after all she had given him her number. Her face came to mind, her large innocent blue eyes framed by her long dark hair. She was pretty no denying that. But there was something lying just beneath the surface he didn’t like. It left him feeling uneasy and covered over the guilt he felt at not calling her.

***

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Ramsey shoved the cloying blankets aside as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. What has it been? Two weeks? Three? Every morning he reached for his phone hoping to find a message from him and every morning he was disappointed. He couldn’t shake the memory of that night on the beach.

The sadness in Eddie’s brown eyes, pulling him close until the blonde’s head was cradled against his shoulder. A part of Ramsey wanted to ask him what happened between him and Rory and another part didn’t want to know. A small part of him was glad Eddie was hurting. He wanted Eddie to feel the same pain he was. The same way Ramsey had hurt Bruce.

The thought of the blue-eyed blonde was like being doused in cold water. He had someone he could have been happy with yet he was longing for someone he couldn’t have. He hurt Bruce when he broke up with him without considering the consequences. He remembered telling Bruce that he deserved someone better, someone who really like him, wanted him. He was shocked to find he was numb when he found himself holding what he thought was his hearts desire and found nothing but doubts inside his heart.

Squeezing his phone within his fist he wondered what he was waiting for. Did he really expect Eddie to fall into his arms? Did he even want that? Running his hands through his tousled hair he could feel frustration building inside him. Telling him Eddie had already made his decision. Even if Rory was out of the picture, did he want to be someone’s second choice? When he could have been someone’s first choice?

***

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After his brother left Eddie wandered aimlessly around his house. It was small. Smaller than his trailer had been but it felt safe. The low hum of people moving around their daily lives was reassuring. It told him he wasn’t alone. The creaks and murmurs silenced his fears, calming him.

Sitting down he forced himself to eat a slice of toast while he considered the days events. Why had Rory assumed Tom was his boyfriend? Had he really given the impression that he had no true feelings for Rory? Most of the time he didn’t even know what was happening between him and Rory. He had thought they were friends until he had to admit they weren’t. Things had progressed so rapidly between them. Was that why things were so messed up between them now? If Eddie had known what he felt….no he shook his head that wasn’t it. He put his empty plate in the dish washer. Eddie knew how he felt. He didn’t just tell random people he loved them. When he told Rory that he meant it. Did he still mean it?

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He couldn’t deny his heart still beat faster upon the mere sight of Rory. He could still imagine how it felt to be wrapped in the warm embrace of Rory’s strong arms. All he had to do was close his eyes and he could feel how safe and protected he felt being held by him. He doubted he’d feel that way with anyone else .

He reached for his phone. Taking a deep calming breath he started to type. Careful this time to make sure the words he typed were correct. He didn’t want to risk another misunderstanding not now when he was finally ready to talk. As he typed he could see the disapproval in his brother’s eyes as he left saying “I know you’re going to contact him. I hope you don’t but I know you will. He’s not good enough for you.”

“You’re wrong,” Eddie protested. He echoed the sentiment as he finished typing. “I’m the one not good enough for him. I’m nothing but damaged goods.” He walked to the window trying to decide if he should send his text. It could change everything. Was he ready? What if Rory didn’t want to give him a second chance? Closing his eyes he sent the text hoping for the best, dreading the worst.

***

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Several hours later Rory stretched the kinks from his spine. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat in one spot for so long. He rubbed his eyes hoping to relieve the dry itchiness that left them irritated. He reread the words he had written letting the emotions roll over him. It was the best he had ever written. He reached for his guitar. His heart swelled as he sang the lyrics. Would Eddie ever hear the song he inspired?

Halfway through his phone began to chime. Ignoring it he continued to play. He closed his eyes imagining Eddie standing before him. Listening to the words he couldn’t say any other way. The words he kept locked deep within him. The words that struck terror in his heart. He wished he had the courage to say the words he knew would change his life forever.

As he finished his senses came crashing down upon him. He noticed the chiming of his phone. “Hello?” he croaked.

“Hey Rory it’s me Trent,” his best friend since high school said cheerily in his ear “I could really use some help this afternoon.”

“Um” Rory brought a hand up to rub between his eyes “with what?” he asked his voice rough as he fought his disappointment. Somehow he half expected to hear Eddie’s voice when he answered the phone.

“Are you alright?” Trent asked concern laced his words “you know you can tell me anything right?”

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“Yeah I know,” he forced the words out fighting back tears “what do you need?”

“Um” he hesitated “um Gayle just bought a house and needs some help moving.”

Rory listened to the hesitation in his friend’s voice. He swallowed his first response. The one that had him telling his friend no in no uncertain terms. “Yeah ok I’ll help,” he found himself saying instead “I could use the distraction.”

“Great I’ll let her know,” Trent said sounding relieved if not surprised “could you come this afternoon?”

“You mean right now?” Rory asked.

“Is that a problem?”

Looking around the room “no, no problem,” Rory sighed “I’ll meet you at your place.”

“Thanks man. We really appreciate it,” Trent’s voice gushed as Rory held the phone away from his ear. Rolling his eyes he wondered how he had gotten himself into this mess.

***

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It was a rare treat to have the house to himself. Bruce ordered a pizza, planning  on watching whatever he could find to watch on the ancient TV they had. He hoped that Milo would have a good time despite his concerns and guilt over hurting Amber’s feelings.

A knock on the door jarred Bruce from his thoughts. Checking the time he wondered who it could be. It couldn’t be the pizza delivery person as he just placed his order less than ten minutes before. Opening the door his eyes grew large in shock as he stared at Amber. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Her eyes narrowed as she looked over his shoulder “where’s Milo?” She said stepping around Bruce and into the kitchen “I need to talk to him.”

“He’s out,” Bruce told her “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“I’ll wait,” she said smiling.

There was something unsettling in her eyes that made Bruce feeling like a trapped animal. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he motioned to the door “I think you should go.”

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She moved closer to him almost purring “he’s out with that bitch Jillian, my so-called friend. It’s alright really” she smiled up at him pressing her body closer to him until he had his back against the wall “that gives us a chance to get to know each other better.” She reached up caressing his cheek “we’re going to have fun tonight.” She ground her slim body into his, she brought a hand up behind his head pushing it down until their lips met in a bruising crushing kiss.

He was shocked at her strength. She was so small it didn’t seem right that she was so strong. It took more strength then he thought it should to push her away from him. “I think you should leave.” Inwardly he was shaking. He had never raised a hand against a girl before. Even now he had to fight with himself not to offer to help her up.

The light from the overhead kitchen light caught on the predatory look in her blue eyes. She grunted as she got to her feet “this is going to be more fun then I thought. By the end of the night you’ll be mine.”

“I doubt it,” he grumbled running a hand through his hair “you should leave” he repeated even though he knew she wouldn’t. Short of physically kicking her out he wasn’t going to get rid of her.

She licked her lips “are ya gonna make me?” she challenged.

Before he could respond a knock on the door distracted him. Moving Bruce kept one eye on her uncertain if she’d attack him when his back was turned. Opening the door he was relieved to find the pizza delivery person. He paid for his meal and bumped into Amber who had come up behind him.

He almost dropped the pizza as her hands slipped around him. Feeling at a disadvantage he tried to dislodge her octopus like arms from around him. Galvanized into action when her wandering hands started to undue his pants. He whirled around hitting her with the pizza box still in his hand. “What the hell” he shouted tossing the pizza onto the table “you need to leave now.”

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Short of pushing her out physically there was little he could do to get her to leave. He marched into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. Leaning against it his heart beating an irregular rhythm he tried calling Milo but it went straight to voice mail. The same with Eddie. A last resort he called Ramsey positive he would come even if they were no longer together. He breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing Ramsey’s voice “can you come over? Please…”

“Is something wrong?” he asked hearing the stress in Bruce’s voice.

“Yeah, um I mean, I don’t know,” Bruce balked at saying he was scared of a 5’2″ blue-eyed girl who looked like she couldn’t hurt a fly. He felt foolish even thinking it “just come please.”

Whether it was the entreaty in his voice or the fear Ramsey could detect he agreed to come. The red-head smiled at the relief he heard in Bruce’s voice as he thanked him.

Coming out of the room after making sure his pants were secure he found Amber calmly watching TV eating a slice of pizza. He grabbed the drink he had been drinking before she had come over and took a couple of large gulps as he wondered what he was going to do. Ramsey would be here in about twenty minutes or so. He was sure he could ward off her advances that long. He took another swallow when Amber turned from the show she was watching. Her predatory eyes sparkled in the light as she casually got up from the couch.

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The room felt warm, too warm for comfort as Bruce took a step backwards. He blinked as his vision became blurry and the room seemed to dance before his eyes. He closed his eyes trying to steady himself but the dizziness only increased. He opened his eyes to find Amber leering at him like a lion about to pounce upon its prey.

Chapter 14 – Jumping to Conclusions / Chapter 16 – Moments of Darkness