Tag Archive | rory mcallister

Metamorphosis – Chapter 1 – Introductions

Author’s note:  Metamorphosis is the story of Eddie’s brother Tom after he returns home from appearing on Sim Star Chef. This is a collab story with the author of Sim Star. Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it!

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Faye shut her eyes tightly. She wasn’t in Monte Vista anymore. Instead, she sat in the airport of Brooklyn Heights. Her hands were shaking frantically, she could barely hold the handle of her suitcase. She tried taking in a deep breath, but she felt eyes on her from every corner of the crowded airplane. She was Faye Ferrari. She couldn’t just go on with her life-like it was no big deal. Sim Star Chef was over. She was moving away from her father’s spotlight and it was hard to adjust to. She felt sick just thinking about it. “Faye? Why don’t you take a seat. We’re waiting for my brother and his husband to pick us up anyway, so we can afford to take a breather.”

She tried looking around, but she felt so dizzy. She let Tom lead her to the small couch. “I’m sorry. You don’t need some washed up celebrity hanging onto your coattails. If your brother could give me a ride to the nearest hotel, that would be awesome.”

He shook his head. “No. You’re staying with us. It’s just for a week, Faye. You can do it.”

“I don’t want to,” She mumbled. “It’s your family, not mine.”

“You have to see how a real family functions, Faye.” He held her hand, giving it a light squeeze. “I know we didn’t do the whole few dates thing before becoming a couple, but you’re my girlfriend now. I want you to meet my family.”

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“I can’t do that,” She whispered. “They’ll hate me.”

“Eddie won’t hate you,” Tom said. “Why would he hate you? He loves cooking. His husband is in a famous band, that’s right up your alley. You love stuff like that.”

“Stop trying to incorporate me into your family. We’re moving too fast!” She could feel her hands shaking. “Please, I like you a lot Tom. I do want to meet your family, but I need time for myself.”

She felt his strong arms wrap around her, as Tom willed her to look at him. “Hey,” He said softly. “Don’t shut down on me. I need you here.”

She shook her head. “I need you more than you need me.” His grip on her arm tightened and he placed a hand under her chin, gazing into her cloudy eyes.

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“No you don’t,” he whispered. “You think you do, but you don’t. You are strong and beautiful. You’ve done all of this on your own. All I did was help a little. But the rest of it is all you.”

She looked up into his eyes and felt a calming serene wash over her. She took in a deep breath. “I can do this. It’s not like I’m meeting your brother, the person you’re closest to, or anything. And if he hates me-”

“He won’t.” Faye’s eyes widened when she heard an amused tone. She looked up to see a man with teal hair, hugging a blonde male. “My husband is a nice guy, he doesn’t bite.”

Faye’s mouth dropped open and Tom had to shake her to bring her back to reality. “Uh, hey Rory, Eddie. This is my girlfriend, Faye Ferrari.”

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The blonde male moved forward a timid smile on his face “I’m Eddie.” He swallowed unsure what to say or do next as the girl just stared at him waiting for him to say something, anything meaningful.

His husband took over, draping a casual arm across Eddie’s shoulder. “It’s a pleasure to have you stay with us. We’re looking forward to getting to know you apart from what we saw on the show.”

“Yeah um…” Eddie nodded, thankful that Rory had stepped into the conversation. He hated meeting people for the first time. “We never missed an episode,” he added, lamely shooting his brother a look that clearly begged him for help. His eyes shifted nervously around the busy airport. “Um maybe we can continue this at home?”

“About that…” Faye began. “Where’s the nearest hotel? I’d like to check in my stuff.”

“Faye,” Tom replied, this time a twinge of annoyance to his voice. “Why do you always have to fight me on everything?”

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She gave him a nonchalant shrug and stood up from her seat. “I’m not fighting you on anything. I’m just saying it’d be best if total strangers didn’t sleep under the same roof.”

“You’re my girlfriend,” He replied, yet again. “NOT a total stranger.”

“He’s got a point,” Rory added. “You’re family by extension.”

Eddie nodded silently agreeing with Rory and his brother. “Please stay with us. We may not know each other yet but hopefully that’ll change.”

Faye still looked opposed to the idea. “I still think it would be best if I stayed at a hotel.”

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“If that’s what you want,” Eddie nodded looking somewhat dejected at her refusal to stay with them, “We do have a few hotels in the area.” Turning to Tom he asked, “Did you want to stay with Faye at the hotel? It’s ok if you do.” He tried to hide the disappointment he felt. This was not the way he thought things would be like.

“Eddie,” Rory’s deep voice said close to his ear. “Are you sure about this? You spent hours cleaning and getting things prepared for them.” He glared a moment at Faye standing to the side of her luggage.

“Rory please.” Eddie took his husband’s hand. “She doesn’t want to stay with us. We can’t force her.” Avoiding Faye’s steady gaze he pulled his phone out, concentrating on finding a quality hotel in the area. The least he could do was find her someplace she’d be comfortable in.

Rory was appalled by the situation and snatched the phone from Eddie’s hands. “Remember Gayle,” Rory replied calmly, not looking at Faye. “Family is family, no matter what. That’s what you said.”

“That’s different,” Eddie argued. “Gayle is your sister.”

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“I’m your brother,” Tom piped up, trying to break the tension. “Do I have a say in this?”

“If you say in the hotel, then no,” Rory replied. “You guys are staying with us.” He finally turned to the girl who stood with her arms crossed over her chest. He had watched the show with Eddie, and while one couldn’t help but root for Tom and Faye in the end, if they looked back at everything Faye had done, she wasn’t a nice person. She was stuck up and full of herself. No amount of self-esteem issues could excuse that. This was the real world and now that the fame had come crashing down around her, she had to grow up. It was what Eddie taught him when dealing with his little sister, Gayle. It was a valuable lesson. “Faye,” He addressed her, “Eddie spent a long time fixing the house for you.”

Faye looked thoughtful for a moment, and then taken aback. “He did?” She asked in a soft voice, not looking at him but at Rory.

Rory nodded. Faye was like a child, he observed. She wanted to be told that people had went out of their way for her. He had no idea if that was her hunger for fame or attention talking. “You did babe, right?” Rory asked, nudging Eddie lightly.

“I uhm…did,” Eddie admitted.

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“He even bought new sheets,” Rory said. “He thought you’d appreciate a nice cotton blend.” He was teasing Eddie now, but his husband had actually purchased new bed spreads for the girl.

‘She’s a celebrity,’ Eddie had said at the store. ‘She probably sleeps with silk sheets or something. What about these? They say that you feel like you’re sleeping on a cloud….’ Rory would be damned if he let Faye dash his husband’s efforts.

“I just thought…” Faye began but dropped her voice and shook her head. “Never mind. We’ll stay.”

No thank you, or even a glance of appreciation. Rory didn’t like that, but he’d give her a chance. He extended his hand. “Here, let me carry your luggage for you.”

“It’s okay,” Faye mumbled, but didn’t protest when Tom took it from her grasp and slid it over to Rory.

“They really want to impress you,” Tom murmured to her quietly. “So smile and be nice, alright?”

Chapter 2 – Disappointment

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Hannah – Chapter 33 – Where Is He?

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Hannah smoothed her hair frowning at her reflection in the mirror. Her stomach churned despite her best efforts to appear relaxed. Where was he? She glanced over at the window. Heart leaping into her throat as headlights turned towards their house and drove past.

“Relax” Eddie advised her “he’ll be here.”

“I know” she gave him a stiff smile that did nothing to relieve her butterflies. What if he changed his mind? What if he wasn’t coming? What if he had gotten arrested? What if the investigation into Dexter’s disappearance uncovered his hacking forays? What if he was languishing inside some prison somewhere?

“Hannah” Rory’s voice barely broke through the haze of her mind. She looked up blinking several times “Hannah what’s wrong?”

“I” she shook her head “nothing.” She clasped her hands together in her lap.

“Rory how about we watch a movie while we wait” Eddie suggested giving his daughter a reassuring smile. “He’ll come. I know he will.”

“Thanks Daddy” Hannah blinked back tears pushing aside her growing fear that Donovan wasn’t coming.

 

“If he doesn’t come I’ll personally kick his ass” Rory promised. Hannah knew by his tone he was in earnest. It wasn’t an idle threat or joke.

Several hours later Eddie set a tray of cheese and crackers on her dresser. “Sweetie you should try to eat something.”

She pulled her knees up to her chest “he didn’t come.” The devastation in her voice was all Eddie needed to hear for him to pull his daughter into his arms.

“I’m sorry sweetie” he whispered rubbing her back like he had when she was little and had awakened in the middle of the night from a nightmare.

“He promised he’d come” she cried sobbing onto his shoulder “he didn’t even call.”

Cradling her he looked up as a soft click from the door opening announced Rory’s presence as he walked into the room. His face was grim. Green eyes sizzling with anger.

“Looks like I’ll be kicking some ass after all” he grumbled as he walked over to his daughter. He stroked her soft blond hair “I’m sorry sweetie” he murmured softly wishing there was something he could do.

***

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The sound of Hannah’s phone cut into her sobbing. “Daddy I don’t want to talk to him.” She clung tighter to Eddie burying her face in his shoulder.

“You don’t have to” Rory assured her taking her phone. “Hello” he barked brusquely into it. Silence followed his terse greeting. He turned to look at his daughter before he walked a few paces away. “No I’m sorry Mrs Glenn he isn’t here.”

“What?” Hannah lifted her head up “why does she think he’s here?” She shifted in Eddie’s arms following Rory’s every move listening intently.

“Yes Mrs Glenn I let you know the moment he arrives.” Rory stared at the phone in his hand for a moment before turning to face his daughter and husband. “Donovan left early this morning. His mother expected him to be here already.”

“It doesn’t take this long to get here from Riverview” Hannah protested.

“I know sweetie” Rory came and knelt in front of her bed. “He called his mom six hours ago when he stopped for gas in Simm City.”

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Her eyes grew large “that’s only an hour away” she struggled to sit up. “He should have been here hours ago.” Looking from one concerned face to the other she felt her world begin to crumble. “Where is he? Why isn’t he here? Why hasn’t he called? What if something bad happened?”

Rory pulled his husband and daughter close. “I’ll find him” he assured both of them with a confidence he didn’t feel. He watched as both nodded accepting his assurance without question. He kissed each of them on the forehead before he stood. Walking towards the door he paused to glance back. Both sets of eyes were watching him with identical expressions of anxiety and hope.

Before he could open the door Eddie’s voice stopped him “be careful” was all he said.

“I will babe” he smiled briefly hoping to instill a sense of calm and confidence. “I’ll find him” he looked over at Hannah “I promise.”

“Dad” she called as he opened the door “Tell him I…I love him.”

He gave her a lopsided grin “I will sweetie. I will.” He said it with resignation. His little had gone and grown up on him. As much as he hated it he and Eddie had been replaced by someone new. His chest felt heavy with the knowledge. He looked at Eddie. His soft brown eyes reflected the same realization. Rory knew Eddie had known it for a while he had fought it wanting to keep his little girl a while longer. When Hannah had informed them that this boy was coming to meet them Rory had felt he was losing his daughter now he was sure of it. All the texts and phone calls while she was away at school. All the times she mentioned his name. Rory hadn’t wanted to believe it. “I’ll find him” he mumbled to himself. He was losing his daughter but he wouldn’t stand back and do nothing to find the boy his daughter loved. Although he still reserved the right to kick the boy’s ass if the need ever arose.

***

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Donovan kicked the offending tire. Flat as a pancake. He must have picked up some glass or a nail somewhere. He had checked the air pressure before he leaving that morning just like had checked the oil. He knew he should call Hannah to let her know what happened so that she didn’t worry. Normally a flat tire wouldn’t be a big deal. He could change a tire in less than ten minutes. The problem was it had been raining buckets and the dirt road he was on was going to be soft. He’d have to be careful that the jack didn’t slip in the mud unbalancing the car while he was changing the tire.

Sitting in his car he grimaced as water from his hair and clothes soaked into the car’s interior. He reached for his phone that he had tossed carelessly into the passenger seat. “Shit” he muttered as he found he had no signal. He got out of the car and stood in the pouring rain trying in vain to find a signal. In the back of his mind he kept thinking of that stupid commercial of the guy asking “can you hear me now?”

As thunder rolled over his head he tossed the useless phone into his car deciding to fix the fat before the storm got any worse. His feet squished in his shoes as the soft dirt sucked at his feet. He loosened the nuts before he started to jack up the car.

He was almost done. He was fitting the spare onto the wheel when the jack shifted. The car started to slide towards the ditch. He tried to jump out-of-the-way but the mud and rain hampered him. He fell heavily onto his back. His head hit something hard. Then everything went dark.

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The first thing he noticed when he opened his eyes was the it was dark and the rain had stopped. How long had he lain there unconscious? He was wet, cold and uncomfortable. He tried to sit up. Pain shot through his leg and up his spine and into his head. His vision dimmed to narrow pin pricks. He couldn’t move his leg. It was pinned beneath the spare tire that was under the car. Waves of nausea swept through him as his body broke out in a cold sweat. Shock he guessed. Gritting his teeth to keep from screaming in agony.

He closed his eyes attempting to block out the pain. He tried to still the fears swirling around inside his brain. The what if scenarios that had him imagining he’d have to hack off his foot to keep from starving to death. Where was his handy-dandy pocket knife when he needed it? How long had he been on this back road? Two, three hours? In all that time he hadn’t seen one person drive by. He’d never be seen again. Hannah would think he stood her up. His hands balled into helpless fists as tears ran down his cheeks.

Taking a deep breath he tried to calm himself down. He should have called Hannah at the gas station instead of his mom. At the time he was thinking of the surprised delight he’d see in Hannah’s eyes when he arrived early. He took this stupid back road in the hopes he could cut off time on his journey. He hadn’t counted on it starting to rain thirty miles after he turned on it. He should have stayed on the main roads. He kept berating himself until he passed out a second time.

***

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Rory sat in his are hands drumming on the steering wheel. If he were a young nineteen year old again which way would he have gone from Simm City? The back roads he thought. An opportunity to go fast without all the traffic. They only problem with that idea was the road turned to dirt thirty miles out of Simm City. Someone from out of the area wouldn’t know it.

Making up his mind Rory turned without hesitation down that road. He could always try the more common routes later if this didn’t pan out. The fact that the boy hadn’t called or shown up only confirmed he was down this road somewhere. More than likely he had car trouble and only farmers tended to use that road meant no one would find him till morning. The road was sloppy after the rain and Rory fought to keep his car straight as he crawled down it.

Rory squinted into the darkness. There was something a little ways ahead that his headlights were just bouncing off of. It might be the car he was looking for. He stopped in the middle of the road not risking getting stuck pulling over to the shoulder where the road was softer. The car was empty except for a phone left behind on the passenger seat. Frowning Rory wondered why anyone would leave their phone behind.

Walking around the front of the car he found the reason. The car had toppled to the side, sliding part way into the ditch. A young man lay beside it in the long grass. Rory knelt beside him checking for a pulse. Finding a pulse he sat back on his heels relieved inspecting the car. From the angle of the car and the missing tire he surmised the kid had attempted to change a tire and the jack had moved in the unsteady soil.

Checking on the unconscious boy again before running back to his car. He fetched a tow rope and his jack. He would need to use his own car to keep the other one from sliding further into the ditch and harming the boy more. It was going to be a risky move but one he had to take to free the boys foot.

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After that Rory blocked all concerns for the boy from his mind. Concentrating instead on what needed to be done. It took several minutes for him to find a secure enough spot to set up his jack. He checked on the boy again to find the boy’s light blue eyes staring up at him. “Looks like you could use a little help” he smiled down at him.

“Yeah maybe a little” Donovan agreed. Rory chuckled a little at the boy’s brevity. “Do you think you can wiggle out from beneath if I manage to raise the car enough to free your foot?”

Donovan nodded pulling himself up to sitting position. Rory put a hand to steady the boy when he swayed losing all color in his face. “I’m ok” Donovan insisted breathing heavy.

Rory got up to check his tow rope. He hoped the rope would hold long enough to keep the car from sliding. It was a risk to use his car as an anchor for the other car but there was little else he could think of that might work better. Going back into town wasn’t an option. It would mean leaving the boy alone to suffer more and running the risk of him losing his foot altogether. Shaking his head to deflect the bleak thoughts he moved back to the boys car. He started to slowly jack up the car keeping a wary eye out for the slightest movement. It wouldn’t do any of them any good if he too wound up pinned beneath the car with the boy. He didn’t relish the thought of calling the kids mother either if something went wrong…

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“Shit” he mumbled as he felt the jack shift. Without turning to look he yelled “are you out yet?”

“Almost” Donovan grunted “just a little bit more.”

Rory nodded electing not to tell the kid how precarious the situation was. He either got out or he didn’t there was no going back now. “Alright” he grunted hoping the jack held a little longer.

Donovan moved as soon as the pressure eased on his foot. He moved as quickly as he could to drag himself away from the path of the car if it slid further. The next thing he knew two strong arms were pulling him to safety. “What about your car?” he asked when Rory dropped in the mud.

“There’s a few dents and scratches” Rory told “but the tow rope held long enough to get you out.” He nodded towards the kids car “you do however owe me a new jack,” he added causing them both to laugh.

***

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Donovan woke up to the sound of someone moaning. It took him another moment to realize that someone was him. He blinked at the stark white of the room. The pain in his leg was better than it had been wedged beneath his car. Someone had stopped to help him. He closed his eyes, heading sinking into his pillow. This was not how he imagined spending his vacation.

The door opened eliciting a groan from him. He expected his visitor to be another nurse come to check his blood pressure or IV drip like they had done all night long waking him up each time. How did they expect anyone to rest when all they did was disturb them?

“You’re awake?” a familiar voice said above him.

Smiling he opened his eyes to find a pair of green eyes looking down at him. “Who can sleep?” he asked.

“Are you in pain?” she asked a frown marring the beauty of her face.

“What? No” he shook his head “it was a bad joke.”

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“I can get the nurse” she offered worry in her eyes.

“I’m fine,” he repeated “all I need is you.”

“That’s cheesy” she laughed at him moving to sit on the edge of the bed “I was really worried about you.”

“I bet you thought I wasn’t coming” he smirked up at her.

“Well the thought did cross my mind” Hannah smiled down at him “then your mom called looking for you.” Her eyes filled with tears “I was never more scared thinking you were hurt and needed help.”

“You called the hospital looking for me?” he asked taking her hand and giving it a little squeeze. “I’m flattered you thought so much of me to go through all that trouble.”

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She raised an eyebrow at him “don’t be ridiculous. My dad went looking for you. He’s the one who found you and brought you here.”

Stunned he laid back on his pillow “how did he know to look for me on that road?”

“I don’t know” Hannah she shook her head “you’ll have to ask him but I’m glad he though.”

“So am I” Donovan agreed “I owe him my life.”

“Jack you owe him a jack” she grinned impishly at him.

He pulled her down to him “have I told you how much I love you lately?”

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“Not today” she shook her head.

“Well….I do” he held her face between his hands before moving to kiss her.

Breaking the kiss she sighed gazing into his eyes “I love you so much. If you ever scare me like this again I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Never again” he promised wrapping his arms around her.

“Good because you know I can right?” she teased.

“Yeah I’ve seen in you in action” he grinned “now shut up and kiss me.”

Chapter 32 – Missing You / Chapter 34- Second Chances

 

Hannah – Chapter 10 – A New Adventure

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Eddie watched his daughter while she packed the last few items she was taking with her in a box. He was proud of her and all of her accomplishments. Now it was time for him to let go. She glanced up and smiled “why such a long face daddy?” she asked bouncing to her feet.

“I miss you already,” he told her. He took a deep breath promising himself he wouldn’t cry in front of her. He’d save the tears until after she was gone.

“Daddy it’s going to be alright,” she threw her arms around him “I’ll be home for holiday’s and most weekends.” She knew she was going to miss her parents as much if not more than they would miss her. She just wanted the freedom to skip a weekend every so often to hang with friends or whatever.

“I know sweetie,” Eddie squeezed her back fighting back the inevitable tears “are you sure you don’t want your dad and I to help you move?”

“I’ve got it covered,” glancing at the time “Ryan will be here in about five minutes to load the last of my things into the truck.” She smiled sweetly up at him “don’t worry daddy I’ll be alright. I can take care of myself.”

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His heart broke a little inside. Where had the years gone? Why couldn’t she have stayed a little girl forever? Too choked up to speak Eddie nodded pulling her close. Kissed her cheek murmuring “I love you.”

“Love you too daddy,” she stepped away tears shimmering in her green eyes “I need to tell dad good-bye.” She rushed to the door afraid if she lingered she’d burst into tears and together they’d have a flood.

Looking up from the magazine he’d spent the last several minutes flipping through pages without seeing one of them, Rory stood letting it slide to the floor. “All set?” he asked as Hannah approached him.

Nodding she hurried across the room throwing her arms around him “I’m going to miss you so so much.”

Smoothing her long blond hair Rory kissed the top of her head “I’ll miss you too.” He took a deep breath as his chest tightened. No matter how long he knew this day was coming he still wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to watch his little girl walk out the door a young woman.”I love you so much sweetheart.” He hugged her tight wishing he could keep her with him just a little longer.

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A knock at the door announced the arrival of her ride. “That will be Ryan,” she said pulling away from him. Turning she dabbed at her eyes fighting for control.

“Uncle Eddie,” Ryan said as he came inside the kitchen “is Hannah ready to go?”

“She’s just saying goodbye to Rory,” Eddie told him trying to muster up a smile “she has a few more boxes in her room.” He led the way to her room.

Whistling softly Ryan shook his head “where is she planning to put all this stuff?”

“Knowing her she’ll be storing some of it in your room,” Eddie told him eliciting a groan from his nephew.

“I kind of figured that but she could at least ask,” Ryan groaned picking up the first box “what does she have in here? Rocks?”

***

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Eddie stood beside Rory waving as their daughter drove away to start her own adventure without them. “Hey,” Rory said softly turning to Eddie noticing the silent tears as they coursed down his cheeks “she’ll be back.”

“I know. It’ll just not be the same,” Eddie tried to walk away. Before he could do so Rory’s strong arms pulled him close holding him tight.

“Tell me what’s wrong?” Rory asked his voice soft undemanding. He knew there was more to it than just missing their daughter. It wasn’t what people liked to call empty nest syndrome either. Something serious was bothering his husband. He had spent too many years married to the man not to recognize the signs.

“College. She’s going to college.” There it was out in the open. The problem. The worry. The past. The memories. The turmoil. The upset. The end of normality. The start of a nightmare that had taken years for him to come to grips with. “What if?” he choked on the words unable to give voice to his fears.

Words failed him. What could he say? That nothing bad would happen to their little girl? He couldn’t. Life was too unpredictable. Rory wrapped his arms around Eddie holding him tight. He could feel the tremor run through his husband’s body. He longed for something he could say or do to ease his pain and fears. There just weren’t words. No platitudes that could ease Eddie’s fears and Rory didn’t want to give empty promises. “Whatever happens in the future,” Rory said finally finding the words “we’ll be there for our daughter. She’ll never be alone. She has good friends. People who won’t abandon her. Who will look out for her.”

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Eddie sniffed listening to Rory’s soothing words letting them calm his fears, his worries. He rested his head on Rory’s chest listening to the steady beat of his heart. Thump, thump, thump rhythmic, soothing. As long as he had this man by his side he could do anything. “Thank you,” he murmured “you’re right. I was letting my imagination runaway with me.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Rory tilted Eddie’s chin up “I love you.” It still came as a shock to him how easy it was to say those three little words and mean them. It was hard to imagine how close he had come to never knowing this feeling. Never knowing what it meant to love and be loved. He had almost lost it all.

He looked longingly into Eddie’s deep brown eyes. The same eyes he had looked into twenty years ago and lost his heart. This time was no different. “Eddie you have no idea how much I love and adore you.” He brought his mouth down to tenderly kiss his husband’s soft lips that yielded to him.

Leaning weakly against him Eddie ran his fingers up and down Rory’s back “I have a pretty good idea” he said pressing his body closer to Rory’s.

Moaning Rory pulled him closer as if he wanted merge their bodies together. “You know I think I have the same effect on you,” Rory smiled cheekily down at him.

“Let’s go inside and do something about it,” Eddie replied as Rory lifted him up. Eddie wrapped his legs around his husbands waist. As Rory fumbled for the door Eddie pressed his mouth against Rory’s his tongue exploring, tasting insistent until the door closed behind them and they fell to the floor.

***

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Charity glanced around her room one last time. Her mind on all the fun times she had within those four walls. The various transformations her room had gone through over the years. From baby pink to deep purple with tones of black to the current relaxing blue. She was going to miss it. Her dads. The islands. Her friends the few she had here.

Closing the door she found her parents waiting for her. Zane smiled holding his arms out wide. She giggled as she ran to him and he lifted her up into a bear hug. “I love you daddy” she said kissing his cheek.

“I love you too sweetie,” Zane told her with an easy smile.

Turning to Graham she could see the sadness in his eyes despite the smile he had plastered on his face. “I’m going to miss you too,” she told him squeezing him tight.

Graham’s arms curled around her small frame holding her tight. If he could he’d never let her go. Breathing in deeply he released her “love you baby girl.”

Standing on her toes she stretched to kiss his cheek “love you to dad.”

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Clearing his throat Graham asked “you have everything?”

“I think so,” she shrugged “if I’ve forgotten anything I’ll get it next time I’m home.” Her breath caught in her throat it was going to be months before she saw them again. The thought made her heart ache. She had never been separated from them for more than a few hours a day for school.

“If we don’t hurry you’ll miss your flight,” Graham said turning to practicalities.

“She could always take a later flight,” Zane pointed out a little too hopeful to have a few extra hours with his daughter before she left on the plane.

Despite Zane’s proposal to the contrary Graham hustled them from the house to the airport. “Let us know when you arrive,” he told her.

“I will” she promised looking down at her boarding tickets. This was it. It was really happening. She was no longer a little girl. She was a full-grown adult. A college student. Glancing towards her parents. Zane’s woebegone face made her almost regret not signing up for classes at the local college.

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She might have done just that if Graham hadn’t sat her down and made her admit what she wanted to accomplish with her life. It led her to choosing a school on the mainland that offered the classes that would help her accomplish her goals. It would be harder. In the end the reward would be something she and her parents would both be proud of.
She walked a few steps towards the long queue to get through security. She stopped and turned waving to her parents. The two most important men in her life. They had loved her. Molded her into the person she was today. She didn’t know how she could stand to be away from them for so long.

She ran back to them throwing her arms around them both “I can’t do this.” she cried.
Kissing her forehead Graham peered into her eyes “of course you can. Your dad and I are so proud of you and everything you have accomplished so far. Now go follow your dreams.”

Nodding she walked backwards a few steps loathe to lose sight of them. She bumped into someone, turning to apologize she lost track of them. She turned scanning the crowd but couldn’t find them. With a heavy heart she joined the line through security.

It wasn’t until she was seated on the plane, forehead resting on the window that she felt the first pangs of homesickness. As the island disappeared below her the first tears trickled down her nose. This was really happening she thought. She was on her own now.

***

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Donovan scowled out the window. His duffel bag clutched in his lap to keep it safe from being trampled. An overweight middle-aged man with a receding hairline snored like a jet engine beside him. There was no way he was ever going to be able to sleep with all that noise. If he had to go to college why couldn’t he have gone to the one in his home town? Why had his mother insisted upon this particular one?

The obese man turned in his sleep, his head lolling on Donovan’s shoulder. He couldn’t keep the disgust he felt from showing on his face. With effort he kept from shoving the man way from him. He promised his mom he’d stay out of trouble. He squirmed trying to find a better position in his cramped seat. Pushing against the boulder beside him he groaned. If only his mom hadn’t found out about his computer hacking. He would have had enough funds for a plane ticket.

He let his mind wander for a moment to the luxury of a first class ticket. Room to spread out, to stretch his legs. OMG what is that stench he thought bringing a hand to pinch his nose closed wishing he could burn his nasal passages from ever having to smell again. He coughed as another wave of noxious fumes enveloped him. Eyes watering he tried to crawl over the immobile blockade in his path. No matter what he tried he couldn’t get past the man.

People in the surrounding seats began to stir complaining of the stench assaulting their nostrils. A strange gurgling sound emanated from the sleeping man as more fumes engulfed them. Gagging Donovan couldn’t keep the bile down anymore as he heaved all over the man next to him.

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To Donovan’s astonishment and relief. The people around him applauded as the large man woke up in a huff and lumbered to the front of the bus. Leaving behind a trail of vomit in his wake.

A grandmotherly type older woman came up beside Donovan and helped him clean up the seat asking him “are you ok young man?”

“I’m fine ma’am,” he couldn’t hide his grin “I’m just sensitive to strong scents.”

She giggled “he was rather odoriferous.”

He chuckled feeling better now he had the seat to himself even if it reeked of vomit. It was still better than toxic gas. He leaned his head against the window wondering what college would be like. If he’d meet anyone interesting there. Mostly he wondered if he’d be able to keep his promise to his mom. Would he be able to resist the urge to continue his computer “activism”. He felt he was doing some good giving money back to the people treated the worst by unfair business practices. Did he really want to stop?

***

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Waylon sighed laying back on the bed he’d chosen in the room he was assigned in the dorm. He stared up at the ceiling wondering why anyone would go through the effort to texture it. It seemed to be an awful waste of time and effort for something most people never noticed. His stomach churned as his mind started to wonder who he’d be sharing the room with and the rest of the dormitory. He started to have doubts about coming here altogether. He should’ve have just gone to the local college in his hometown.

He could still have lived with his Uncle and Aunt as they had tried to convince him to do. He could have helped them on the farm, taken a few classes. They just didn’t understand why he wanted to be so far away from them. It wasn’t them but the tragedy that haunted him. All he could think about were all the unanswered questions. Why did his dad start the fire that killed all his family? Why had he been spared? He hated the pity in the neighbor’s eyes as they looked at him. The kids all stayed away from him. He was different. Cursed. His Aunt and Uncle tried but they couldn’t fill the void when his heart had disappeared into it.

If only he had answers to the whys in his life he might be able to move on. A part of him died that night. A part of him still belonged in that fire. He felt like cold ash surrounded by smoldering embers. The embers of that night still burned within him keeping the nightmare fresh and alive.

Growing restless he left his room hoping a little exercise would silence his inner voice. He changed into comfortable workout attire and set to work. Sweat poured off his body as he pushed his limits and his muscles began to burn from the exertion. He could hear voices filtering up from downstairs as others started to arrive. Happy, carefree voices from the sounds of them that both excited him and filled him with dread. Breathing hard he gathered his things and headed towards the showers stalling for time before he had to meet any of these people he would be living with.

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He let the hot water massage his tired muscles soothing and relaxing them. He could pretend he was the only person there until the unmistakable sound of the bathroom door opening and a stall door opened and shut. He couldn’t escape the fact that he wasn’t alone any longer. As much as he wanted to avoid it he knew he had to go out there and meet his roommate.

He waited until he was alone in the bathroom before getting out of the shower to get dressed. He finger combed his wet hair and left. Walked downstairs to his room. As he approached his door it sounded like everyone was inside his room. Great his roommate was the popular type.

He hesitated outside the door debating whether or not to go inside. Taking a deep breath he opened the door to find the room filled with girls and boys all laughing and talking. A girl with dark reddish hair turned with a smile to greet him “you must be the roommate.”

“Err,” he mumbled unsure what to say. He moved to put his things away when he stopped stunned. A gorgeous blond was sitting casually on his bed. Waylon felt his pulse quicken like he was still working out. For the first time since he got there he hoped he’d be accepted and make friends.

Chapter 9 – Monday / Chapter 11 – He Likes Me, He Likes Me Not

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 5 – Bad Day Part 1

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Hannah lay on her back staring up at the ceiling. Earbuds in her ears, her favorite band blasting in her ears. A tear trickled down her cheek. This was the worst day of her life.

Her day started off like any other day. A quick text to Ity. A quick bite of toast to satisfy her parents that she wasn’t starving to death. Then off to school. Today was the day they would post who made the cheer leading squad.

She approached the information board to check the list. A formality. The head cheerleader had informed her yesterday she had the position. She scanned the list her heart plummeting to her toes. Her name wasn’t there. She read it a second time. Name by name. Her name was definitely not there. Stunned she blinked back the tears that threatened to fall.

She could feel the other girls staring at her. Their eyes pitying her. She wished the ground would open up and swallow her or them just so long as they stopped looking at her.

“Hey I thought you were a sure thing,” Ryan said coming up behind her.

“So did I,” she mumbled “I don’t know what happened. They said I was good. The best they had trying out.” She could feel the tears welling up inside her. She swallowed hard, blinking several times refusing to let those girls see her cry.

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“I thought you were good,” Ryan told her trying to cheer her up.

She smiled up at him “you liked my performance yesterday?”

“Sure did,” he said “you were the best they had trying out for the squad.” He put an arm across her shoulders directing her towards the cafeteria “come on cuz I’ll treat you to lunch.”

“Why is everyone giving us weird looks?” she asked feeling like she had grown a tail and horns.

“I don’t know,” Ryan said waving at a boy on the football team who promptly turned his back without acknowledging him “it’s like we have the plague or something.”

“Yeah” Hannah agreed straightening her back and shoulders. She refused to let them see how this was affecting her.

***

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A short distance ahead of them a boy was slammed against the lockers. His glasses flying from his face on impact. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Hannah said charging ahead as she recognized the boy being assaulted.

Vincent had his eyes squeezed tight as blood trickled from his split lip. “Hannah don’t,” he begged.

The older student who had shoved him snarled at Hannah as his feet hovered above Vincent’s fallen glasses. “Vinny can’t you even defend yourself?” he taunted “you need a girl to fight your battles.”

Vincent lunged forward taking a wild swing at the other boys face. The boy easily ducked and avoided getting hit. Anger marred Vincent’s otherwise handsome face as he tried to swing again only to find his arm twisted behind his back.

Laughing the boy shoved Vincent to the floor. Leaning over he said “next time when I tell you to do something you do it without question.” He pressed his knee into Vincent’s back making the blond grunt in pain. Hannah pushed against the boy but he wouldn’t budge.

“Let him up,” Ryan growled towering above them. He clamped a hand on the boy’s shoulder and squeezed until he let Vincent go.

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Grunting in pain the boy stood up allowing Vincent to get up. “Well if it isn’t the football star. You think your pretty special don’t you?”

Ryan’s eyes simmered with anger as he said “leave him alone.”

Smirking the boy took a step back. Searching the floor he found Vincent’s glasses, raised his foot and smashed his heel into them before stalking off humming a tuneless tune.

“Jerk,” Hannah yelled after him.

“Where’s my glasses?” Vincent asked his hands searching the floor around him.

Stooping Ryan picked up the remnants of the eyeglasses and handed them to his friend. “I’m sorry Vincent. I didn’t know he was going to do that or I would have tried to stop him.”

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“It’s not your fault,” he mumbled “I have an extra pair in my locker.”

“What did Bull want anyway?” Ryan asked using the nickname they had given him on the football team.

“He wanted me to do his homework,” Vincent sighed “I told him he could do his own work like everyone else.” Rubbing his shoulder where it had collided against the locker “I guess he didn’t like my answer.”

“I told Bull to keep away from you,” Ryan fumed as they walked to Vincent’s locker “I wonder why he attacked you.”

“He said things were changing and that being friends with you wouldn’t protect me anymore,” Vincent explained as he felt around for his extra pair of glasses “I hate these frames” he muttered slamming the door shut.

“I think they look good on you,” Hannah smiled at him causing a deep red blush to spread across his face.

***

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“Hey watch it,” Ryan yelled as a girl bumped into him.

“I’m sorry,” Divia mumbled her head down, eyes on her feet.

Putting his hands on her arms Rory asked “what’s wrong Div?”

She lifted her chin, visible streaks of tears coursed down her cheeks. “I went to our table to wait for you guys. Someone else was there saying it wasn’t our table anymore.”

“Who said that?” Hannah demanded feeling as if they had all woken up in an alternate universe or something.

“The head cheerleader,” she ducked her head down as some students walked towards them snickering.

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Vincent put an arm around the shy timid girl. He could feel the tension from her body leaking into his. “Let’s find Teasha and Zach and get her out of here.”

“I can’t,” Ryan told them “I have football practice for the big game this weekend. I can’t miss it.”

“Be careful,” Vincent told him his voice serious “Bull wasn’t joking. He’s going to want revenge.”

“I’ll be ready for him,” Ryan waved his friends off as he continued on his way to the cafeteria.

“Teasha says they’re in the parking lot,” Hannah said putting her phone away “let’s go and see if their day has been as bad as ours.”

“Is Zach with her?” Vincent asked not wanting to leave his best friend behind.

“He’s with her,” Hannah informed him “come on let’s get out of here.”

***

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They found Teasha’s car. Running up to it Vincent dropped his knees beside the open door where Teasha was holding her brother who was sobbing in her arms. “Zach what happened?” Vincent asked eyes round with shock.

“He won’t tell me,” Teasha answered for her twin “I just found him like this.” She transferred her brother’s weight to Vincent’s arms despite Zach’s protests.

“He needs to see a doctor,” Hannah cried upon seeing the bloody mess his face had become.

“He won’t go,” Teasha cried wringing her hands pacing the length of the car, “wait until I get my hands on the person who did this.”

Divia looked around the mostly empty parking lot “I think we should leave.” She said after watching a group of boys gathering near a building close to the parking lot.

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Vincent looked in the direction she had been staring in. He gulped “I second that idea,” he helped Zach sit up and got him belted into the front seat “it’s going to be alright,” he assured his friend.

Zach hissed with pain, his swollen lips almost preventing him from talking “I want to go home.”

Closing the door Vincent turned to Teasha “take him home. Have your dad’s take care of him.”

“Do you know what’s going on?” she asked him.

“I might” he looked away watching the group of boys as they started towards them “I can’t tell you. If he wants you to know Zach will tell you.”

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Teasha took a step forward unaware of the group of boys coming towards them. “What aren’t you telling me? I need to know.”

Pulling on her arm Hannah motioned towards the group coming nearer their location. “Now isn’t the time for this discussion. Get Zach home before they can hurt him anymore.” She pointed to the boys now only four cars away.

Awareness sharpened her eyes as Teasha noticed the unfriendly faces of the group coming towards them, “do you think they did this to him?”

“I don’t know,” Hannah told her as an uneasy feeling swept through her “I think you should just go and let us handle this.”

Teasha seemed on the verge of protesting when someone shouted out a profanity directed towards her brother. It served to galvanize her into action. “Come with me,” she said running for the driver’s side of the car.

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The other’s glanced at each other than at the hostile group before bolting towards the car. No sooner had they shut the door and Teasha had thrown the door locks then the group of angry students surrounded the car. “What do I do?” Teasha shouted as someone jumped on her car.

“Just drive,” Vincent shouted back. Stomping on the gas the boys jumped out-of-the-way of the car and the boy on the hood fell off. Watching through the rear view mirror Teasha watched as he got up and dusted off his jeans.

Turning out of the parking lot everyone breathed a sigh of relief. “What’s going on?” Teasha asked again wiping away tears with a shaky hand.

They stared at each other in incomprehension at what just happened. “I wish I knew,” Hannah said in the silence that ensued after their escape. “Things have definitely changed,” Hannah glanced around the car observing the friends she’s had all her life.

Zach worried her the most. He was almost comatose in the front seat like a lifeless doll. His eyes were glassy and except for a few moans he hadn’t made a sound. Teasha was shaking so hard it was a miracle the car was still on the road. Divia always the quiet one of the group seemed to have pulled into herself even more. If she had a shell she’d have crawled into it by now. Only Vincent seemed calm like he knew something the rest of them didn’t.

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“Vinny out with it,” Hannah demanded causing everyone to jerk as her voice seemed to blast at them from a bull horn, “you know something and I want to know what it is.”

“I might but I can’t tell you. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Vincent wiped a stray tear away turning to gaze out the window.

Nodding Hannah thought about all the things she knew about the kids she grew up with. All the secrets they knew about each other that no one else did. The ones they only told to that one specific person they trusted most. The one they were closest to. She told all her secrets to her cousin Ryan and he in turn told her his. She also had Charity to confide in.
Teasha was protective of her twin. Everyone knew if you hurt him you would have to answer to her. She wasn’t afraid to do whatever was necessary to protect those she cared about. She was the same way towards Divia. Sometimes she was the only one Divia had to talk to. Divia’s parents were more concerned with doing their own thing than in being parents.

Zach when he wasn’t with his sister was closest to Vincent. They were always going to art museums or concerts together. She and Ryan would tease them about their bromance. If anyone knew Zach’s secrets it would be Vincent. Knowing Vince as long as she had, she also knew he would never divulge that information unless Zach gave him permission.

***

Hannah was the first one Teasha dropped off. She walked up to the front door wondering how her parents were going to react to her skipping school. She opened the door to find her dads making out on the couch. Smiling she said “get a room.”

Eddie jumped up upon hearing her voice “why are you home so early?” he asked frowning “I didn’t hear you drive up.”

“Teasha dropped me off. My car is still at school,” she explained “I’ll need a ride later to get it,” she turned to go to her room.

“Are you ok?” Rory asked following her.

She tried to blink back the tears “not really daddy,” she choked barely getting the words out “things were awful at school today.” She turned throwing herself into his arms sobbing giving up every pretense of being strong.

 Chapter 4 – Slumber Party / Chapter 6 – Bad Day Part 2

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 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