This story deals with a gay teenage romantic theme with occasional melodramatic and sexual situations. The usual restrictions apply: please read no further if this type of story isn't to your tastes, or if you're under legal age. This story may not be reprinted anywhere without permission. The contents are ©2003 by John Francis; All rights reserved. Comments to the author are welcomed at thepecman@yahoo.com.

 

Chapter 6

The voices in the First Baptist Church of Jesus Christ of Baldwin Hills choir soared through the cathedral, filling every corner all the way up to the rafters.

Heaven, thought Dylan. I bet this is what you hear when you get to heaven. A thunderous final note sounded from the pipe organ, vibrating the wooden pews. Goosebumps broke out on his arms.

Every member of the Chatsworth High varsity football team sat in five rows along the right side of the large cathedral. Dylan glanced over and saw school principal John Meyers sitting stoically two rows ahead of him. Coach Highland was there, as was Coach Wilson, and five or six other staff members sat nearby. On the left front row were Latrelle's family. A heavyset woman dressed all in black dabbed her eyes with a white handkerchief. At the very front, dozens of candles had been placed alongside the polished-wood railings alongside the steps. Less than ten feet away from the choir, next to the minister's pulpit, was a splendid white casket with sparkling brass handles. Wreaths of flowers covered the carpeted floor, transforming it into a strange kind of artificial garden. He could smell the scented candles, which combined with the fragrance of the flowers to create some kind of odd, sickly-sweet fragrance. Almost like the smell of death.

"I hate these things," whispered Kyle. "They're really freaky."

Dylan nodded. He stared in the distance at the large body lying in the open casket. The face could hardly be recognized as Latrelle's; it looked strange, misshapened. Dylan shuddered, then looked down and closed his eyes.

The funeral service an hour later at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills was no better. The weather was still unmercifully hot, and Dylan and Kyle sweated profusely in the early afternoon sun. Dylan pulled at the collar of his suit, which he almost never wore. Both of them desperately wished the minister would just hurry up and finish so they could get out of there.

"I am Resurrection and I am Life, sayeth the Lord," intoned the minister in sonorous tones. "Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he dies. And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever."

Dylan glanced around the park. It seemed almost pastoral, with the lush grounds extending well up into the hills. Trees and flowers dotted a series of winding paths, and unlike the stereotypical graveyards in movies, the marble headstones here were small, just two feet square, and lay flat on the ground. Dylan stared at a small plaque only about five feet away.

Shit, he thought. Either this guy got buried standing-up, or he was a real small dude. Maybe a child.

"They better hurry this thing up," whispered Kyle, "or else I'm gonna die of heatstroke myself."

"At least you wouldn't have to go far to get buried," muttered Dylan, wiping the sweat off his brow.

As if in answer to Dylan's words, the minister suddenly raised his voice and shifted his gaze directly into his eyes, from 25 feet away.

"Hear my words, oh lord thy God, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Dylan stiffened and shut his mouth, immediately regretting his sarcastic comments.

The preacher dramatically paused, then raised his hands to the sky. "We commend to Almighty God our brother Latrelle, and we commit his body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him..."

The family members by the coffin repeated the words.

"...the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him..."

They again repeated.

"...and the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him eternal peace."

Dylan and Kyle bowed their heads, along with the rest of the group. Their silence was broken only by the soft sobs of Latrelle's mother, as the coffin was slowly lowered into the ground.

* * * * *

Afterwards, several of the team members stood in the parking lot. Most had already taken off their jackets and ties. Waves of heat reflected off the asphalt surface, and a warm breeze blew in from the west.

"You wanna come over today?" said Dylan, tossing his jacket behind the BMW's seats.

"I thought you had Karate practice this afternoon," replied Kyle, hopping in the passenger's side.

Dylan shook his head. "Naw. I blew it off because of Latrelle's thing. I just didn't feel like kickin' anybody's ass today."

"Yeah."

"Hey, you guys!" called Jordy and Lionel, trotting up to the car. "We're gonna grab some lunch. You wanna go?"

Kyle turned to Dylan. "You up for that, man?"

"Sure. Whatever."

"What's your poison, guys?"

Dylan shook his head. "Any place where we won't run into Coach Highland."

Lionel laughed. "Man, you were fuckin' great last night! I don't care what coach said."

He smiled wanly. "Yeah. But now I'm off the team."

"Don't be so sure about that," said a voice to his left. He looked up to see Coach Wilson, who smiled at him as he walked up to the car. "You're really comin' along, Callahan."

"Yeah. Too bad Highland doesn't think so."

Coach Wilson shook his head. "Dylan, give the man a break. He's not that bad. Lemme talk to him. Even though I'm not officially the coach any more, maybe I can convince him..."

"Don't go outta your way for me, Coach," interrupted Dylan. "It's not that big a deal."

"FOOD!" yelled a loud voice behind them. They all jumped and turned as Buck Johnson trudged up to the car. The huge boy was huffing and puffing, and his white dress shirt was stained with patches of sweat. "We needs some food!"

"I want mah babyback-babyback-babyback ribs!" cried Charlie Stephenson, coming up right behind him.

Dylan and Kyle laughed. "You got it, man. How 'bout lunch at my place?"

"Too excellent!" yelled Jordy. He'd been at the last party over at Dylan's place and everybody had had a great time.

"Lemme call first and see if it's okay." Dylan flipped open his cell phone and hit the speed dial. Yolanda caught it on the second ring.

"Callahan residence."

"Yo, it's me. Listen, is it okay if I bring some of the guys from the team over for lunch?"

Yolanda sighed. She only got one-and-a-half days off a week as it was, and she hated giving up her Saturday afternoons.

"Is this kind of a wake for Latrelle?" she said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. Sorta."

"How many boys you gon' bring over, hon'?"

Dylan grinned. "Not more than fifty or sixty!"

"Now, you listen to Yolanda. I got enough food for 10, maybe 15 if some of 'em can eat chicken instead of burgers," she said wearily. "But I warn you right now, I am outta here by 4PM sharp. And you're gonna be cleanin' up this place by yourself, or your mama will kill both of us. You got that, baby?"

"Thanks, Yo. I'll make it up to you somehow."

She laughed. "I've heard that before."

"Love ya." He clicked off the receiver and turned to the other players. "You guys know the way?"

They nodded and ran to their cars.

Dylan looked up at Coach Wilson. He looked more tired than usual. For the first time, Dylan could really see the age on the man's face. Coach had taken Latrelle's death very hard. As it was, he'd been reluctant to even go to the funeral in the first place, even though the family insisted they didn't hold him at fault, and that they sincerely wanted him there.

"You wanna come over, too, Coach?"

The older man shook his head. "Naw. I oughta be gettin' home to the wife. Listen, Dylan." He paused, then looked the teenager right in the eye. "Don't give up on football just yet. I got faith in you, son. You've got heart, and that counts for a lot."

"Yeah. I'll think about it, Coach." He fired up the engine and started to back out, but the man put his hand on his shoulder. Dylan looked up quizzically.

"You got my home phone, Dylan. You call me if you ever need any advice, alright?"

Dylan grinned. "I will, Coach. Thanks."

With a wave, the two boys tore off in the BMW down the parking lot and out into Forest Lawn Drive, then took a side road that led to the 170 Freeway, out to the long hot drive out to Chatsworth.

* * * * *

Two hours later, the party at the Callahan estate was in full swing. Dylan had cranked the living room stereo system up to the max, and the speakers pounded with Aerosmith's latest album. Luckily for them, his parents were on a company retreat down in LaJolla, and wouldn't be back until late Sunday.

Dylan flipped another pair of burgers on the large outdoor stone grill, and took another swig of his Cherry Pepsi. Lady sat nearby, carefully keeping her eyes peeled for any stray meat chunks that might get tossed her way.

"Cool party, dude!" yelled Charlie Stephenson, sipping a Michelob in a chair by the pool. Several other players were already in the water, tossing a beach ball back and forth.

"Thanks!" yelled Dylan, over the din of the outdoor speakers.

Charlie got out of the chair and walked up to him. "You did great yesterday, man," he said. "Highland's a total asshole."

Dylan shook his head. "No, he was right. I was the one who was outta line. Maybe if I apologize to him on Monday, he'll let me back on the team."

"Fat chance of that," snorted Jason Blake, who joined them at the barbecue. "Highland yelled at me for fuckin' 20 minutes in the locker room after the game, because of me doin' that on-side kick. I felt like a real douche-bag."

"Hey!" snapped Dylan. "Who the fuck's side are you on?"

Jason grinned. "The side that won the fuckin' game!" He clapped Dylan on the back and laughed. "Chill out, dude. Highland'll get over it by Monday."

"I dunno," muttered Charlie. "Coach is real stubborn about this shit. You know how he is. You can't talk to this guy like you could with Wilson."

The players nodded glumly. Just then the kitchen window opened up and Yolanda yelled.

"Dylan, honey! They're talkin' 'bout you on the 4:00 news! Get your butt in here!"

Me? he thought, running across the patio and through the kitchen doors. What'd I do now?

Several players were already gathered around the kitchen TV set, which sat on a white revolving pedestal. A newsman was on the screen, with a blurry school photo of Dylan behind him as a graphic, and his name identified in white letters just below it.

"...and in this exclusive home videotape obtained by Channel 4 news, here's that final play by Chatsworth High School quarterback Dylan Callahan."

Dylan's face immediately reddened as he watched the shaky, grainy home-video image of his slapdash play from the night before. It looked a lot different from where I stood, he thought to himself.

"Watch this!" yelled the sportscaster. "Look at this kid run! Just unbelievable."

He smiled to himself. Shit, he thought. I didn't realize there were that many guys comin' after me!

"This 65-yard touchdown might be the most spectacular high school play I've seen in years. It was a real brave, gutsy move."

Dylan felt somebody jab him from the side with his elbow. He looked up to see Kyle's smiling face, who rolled his eyes.

The screen cut from the footage back to the sportscaster, Fred Roggin of KNBC-TV.

"Now, if you can believe it," he continued, "acting coach Wayne Highland went berserk at what this kid did. As we see in this footage, he practically assaulted the player at the end of the game, angry because apparently Callahan didn't run the play that the coach had assigned him. Incredibly, the Coach kicked him off the team."

The image now showed a shaky, hand-held shot of the coach waving his arms, then taking Dylan by the shoulders, shaking him repeatedly, then shoving him away.

"It looks like this coach is right out of the 'Bob Knight School of Anger Management'," the sportscaster said, referring to the legendary Indiana University basketball coach. The image cut back to the announcer, and Dylan felt his face redden with embarrassment. Oh, shit, he thought.

"Now I know as a journalist, it's not my place to editorialize on a situation like this. Chatsworth High has already had enough controversy for the week, what with the death of a player during practice less than a week ago. But it seems to me, the new acting coach is exercising extremely poor judgement by letting this Callahan kid get away. He's got the moves, he's got the talent, and he's obviously got the guts to win, making him the 'Roggin's Hero of the Week.' That's the way I see it, anyway. Back to you, Fernelle."

The other newscaster, a black man with an ill-fitting toupee, looked up and chuckled. "Are you saying this just because this boy's father is Michael Callahan, CEO of DeMille Communications, part owner of our sister company MSNBC?"

"Absolutely not," replied Roggin. "On the other hand, Mike, if you're listening, I'd have absolutely no objection if you'd like to give me a raise. Or maybe some stock options. Anything!"

The anchorman laughed and continued with the show. "That's what I thought, Fred. Just ahead on the Channel 4 news, we've got Paul Johnson with the local weather for the Southland..."

Shit. Dylan shook his head and switched off the TV.

"Congratulations, man!" yelled Lionel, clapping him on his back. "You're famous!"

"Hey, can I have your autograph, Mr. TV Star?" laughed Charlie, his mouth half-filled with hamburger.

Dylan rolled his eyes. "It wasn't that big a deal, you assholes."

He was mortally embarrassed. Once again, somebody had to mention his father -- like everything he did always had to be overshadowed by Mike Callahan's vast wealth and influence. These jerks will never give me a goddamned break.

"C'mon, hon'," said Yolanda, reassuringly. "Your parents are gonna be so proud of you!"

"Not when Dad finds out Coach kicked me off the team," he replied, ruefully.

"You never know. Things change, you know!"

Just then, the doorbell rang. Yolanda looked up. "Hon', I gotta go. Can you get that? And clean this stuff up as best you can, or else your parents will kill both of us."

"I will, Yo'!" he yelled, running down the hall to the living room. He opened the door to find Angel standing there, wearing a black Marilyn Manson T-shirt.

"Hey," said the boy, peering inside and reacting to the loud music. "I thought we were gonna get together this afternoon."

Dylan rolled his eyes. "Not now, man!" he said, hurriedly looking around. He quickly closed the door and led Angel by the shoulder down to the sidewalk. "Listen, Angel, I got... I got friends from the team over. I can't do anything now, y' know?"

Angel's face fell. "I guess I shoulda called."

"Yeah, man," fumed Dylan. "I even gave you a fuckin' cellphone! Jesus Christ!"

"I'm sorry," he said in a small voice. "It's okay if you don't want me to come inside."

He trudged down the steps, then stopped when he reached the sidewalk. "I didn't mean to bother you."

"C'mon, Angel!" called Dylan. "It's not like that. You know how I feel, lil' dude."

The boy nodded sadly.

Just then, the door behind him opened suddenly, and Kyle stuck his head out.

"Hey, bro'! I think Buck's about to break your diving board! He's doin' a cannonball into the deep end!"

Dylan turned to him. "I'll be right there." He looked back at the boy on the sidewalk. "Call me later, dude!"

Angel nodded glumly and trudged down the sidewalk.

As Dylan and Kyle quickly trotted back inside, Kyle turned to him.

"Is that that kid again?" he said. "The one from last night?"

"Yeah."

Kyle raised an eyebrow. "What's his problem?"

Dylan shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. "Aaaa, he's just a kid. He's kinda like the pesky little brother I never had."

Kyle gave him a curious look, but said nothing as they ran out to the patio, just in time to get hit by a tremendous splash. They laughed, and Lady trotted up beside them and shook the water off her back, then barked several times. Dylan grinned and scritched her behind the ears.

* * * * *

By 6PM, the sun hung low in the Western sky. Most of the players had left. The patio area was a shambles. Kyle held a large black plastic garbage bag, while Dylan retrieved a couple of dozen empty beer and soda pop cans, some of which were floating in the pool. Paper plates and napkins littered the concrete floor, and Lady was happily slurping down leftovers by the side of the barbecue. A thin cloud of white smoke wafted from the grill.

"Jesus, these guys are total slobs," moaned Dylan. "It's gonna take me hours to clean this shit up."

"And we haven't even gotten to the living room yet," pointed out Kyle, as he tied the bag.

In the distance, they heard the roar of several helicopters. Dylan wiped his face.

"You wanna go for a dip after we finish? At least we could cool off for awhile."

"I can't tonight," replied Kyle. "I got some shit to do at home. Besides, don't you have a date with Tracy tonight?"

Dylan rolled his eyes. "Christ! I almost forgot." He checked his watch. Good -- only ten after six. "You can split, man," he said to Kyle, trotting over to the wireless phone in the hallway. "I can handle it from here."

Man, he thought. That barbecue really stinks up the yard. Way too much smoke.

"Okay, dude," called Kyle as he ran out the side door. "I'll call ya tomorrow, 'kay?"

"Thanks, bro'!" yelled Dylan, quickly dialing the number. Goddamn, he thought. I gotta hose down this barbecue or Dad's gonna kill me.

After one ring, the phone answered.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Trace. Listen, I'm runnin' a little late. Gimme forty-five minutes, and I'll be over."

"Dylan! Quick, turn on the news!"

"What?"

"Turn on the TV! Your neighborhood's on fire!"

Dylan was so shocked, he almost dropped the phone. He tore back inside to the kitchen, then turned on the set. Immediately, he saw aerial footage from less than a mile away. The Chatsworth hills were ablaze with dozens, maybe hundreds of small fires. The TV picture and reporter's commentary broke up several times, but finally cleared up. With a burst of static, the TV speaker suddenly barked out "... officials advise it's out of control. Residents are expected to evacuate any moment now..."

He looked out the window. There were now more than six helicopters in the sky. Now he could see a fog-like mist in the backyard, hanging over the pool.

Smoke, he thought, as a wave of panic swept over him. The whole fuckin' place is gonna burn up!

The phone suddenly beeped with call-waiting.

"Trace! I gotta go. Listen, I'll call ya back in fifteen minutes. I gotta find out if the fire is close to the house or not."

"Be careful, Dylan!" she said. "Please, call me right back."

"I will. Love ya."

He clicked the receiver and quickly got the other line.

"Hello?"

"Dylan! Son, I'm glad you're there. We just heard about the fire! It's less than half a mile away from Monteira!"

Fuck, he thought.

"How close is it?"

Dylan looked down at the TV screen. "It's on the other side of the freeway, Dad, in one of those large open fields near one of those housing developments at Porter Ranch. The whole goddamned thing is on fire!"

The Callahan estate was on one of the largest pieces of property in the exclusive neighborhood. They were located on the extreme Northwestern-most corner, with a thick wall of trees separating the 2-acre area by the barn from the nearby 118 freeway. Porter Ranch was on the other side, just a few thousand feet away.

Dylan glanced across the side yard. Jesus, he said to himself. There's the barn. There's the trees. And some of them are already on fire.

"Shit! Dad, it's comin' closer!" he cried into the phone. I gotta get the horses out of the barn!"

Just then, the doorbell rang. Great, he thought. If it's Angel again, I'll kick the kid's ass.

"Don't panic, son," his Dad replied. "Just get the horses and the dog somewhere safe, away from the house. Your mother and I are taking the next plane up from San Diego. We'll be there in an hour. Just hang in there until we make it. Don't try to save anything in the house. Just get yourself and the dog out, and take care of the horses, alright?"

"I gotta run, Dad," he said, glancing down the hallway. "Somebody's at the front door. Call me back in ten minutes."

"Okay. Hang in there, Dylan."

He clicked off the phone and tore down the hallway. He opened the front door to find Daniel, the security guard, accompanied by two firemen.

"Dylan! Don't worry, son, they're taking care of the fire in the back right now."

Dylan looked over to the two uniformed men. "Should we start getting out of the house now?"

"No," the first fireman said. "I think we can get this situation under control in about fifteen minutes. We've already evacuated the Porter Ranch houses right by the hills, and we've wet down the entire area over here on this side. All the homes in this neighborhood should be safe for the moment. But if the winds change, it could go up real fast. Just be prepared for anything."

Dylan nodded. "I'm gotta move the horses."

"That's a good idea," said the second fireman. "They've already gotta be pretty scared, just smelling the smoke. I hope they don't panic. Do you have a horse van?"

"No. We'll have to just walk 'em out."

"I'll help ya take 'em down the road, Dylan," said the security guard. "Put your dog on the leash, and we'll get 'em out, just in case. We've got five other horses there already."

"Gimme five minutes, and I'll meet you at the barn."

Dylan slammed the door, ran to the kitchen and grabbed the leash from its holder by the door.

"C'mon, Lady," he said, trying to hold her still as he snapped the leash to her collar. "We're goin' on an adventure."

The dog barked happily.

Dylan looked up at the distant hills. They were now glowing with what looked like a nightmarish explosion of red-orange, the flames licking high up into the sky. White smoke billowed into the yard like a sinister fog. It looked hopeless.

Suddenly, the TV helicopter reporter broke in.

"Furnelle, it looks like the fire is now threatening Sorrento, the new housing development to the West out here in Porter Ranch. Already, it's jumped the side road and several shrubberies and trees are on fire. The fire department is in the process of evacuating the residences."

A chill broke out down his spine. Christ, no, he thought. That's where Angel lives.

Lady barked and tugged at her leash.

"C'mon, girl. Let's go."

Minutes later, he and the security guard had tied up both horses to a stoop in back of the guard shack at the Monteira entrance, by an adjoining horse trail. Luckily for them, the animals were fairly mellow, and seemed completely content to stand by the road. Dylan slipped Borneo's feedbag over his head, and he contentedly ate his oats. Lady sat on the road, panting and looking out curiously over the distant hills.

Just then, Dylan's cellphone rang. He snapped it open.

"Dylan! We're just now getting on the plane, honey. Are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Mom. Daniel helped me get Montana and Borneo out of the barn. Lady's with us, too. The firemen say we should be able to go back in an hour or two, once they're sure the area's contained."

"Oh, I'm so glad! We'll be landing at the Van Nuys airport in 45 minutes. Don't you move until we get there."

"I won't, Mom."

"We love you, Dylan."

"Me, too."

He clicked the phone off, then stared at the dense black smoke in the distance. Angel's house could be on fire.

Dylan turned to the guard. "Daniel -- listen, man, I gotta check on a friend of mine who lives over there. His place is right next to the fire."

The guard shook his head. "Don't do it, son. You heard what the firemen said. They've already evacuated that whole area. Nobody can get in."

"But I gotta..." he stopped. The cellphone. "Lemme try to call him."

He hit the speed dial button. Three rings, then four.

"C'mon, lil' dude, pick up!"

Finally, after six rings, there was an answer.

"Hello?" said a small voice.

Dylan sighed with relief. "ANGEL! Jesus, are you okay, man?"

"Yeah. Hey, isn't this fire cool? They got like 20 trucks up here!"

"Where are you now?"

"They told us to leave the house, and they told us to wait in the shopping center parking lot down the street. But so far, all the houses are okay."

"That's good. Your mom okay?"

"Yeah. She was freakin' out, but I think she's calmed down now."

Suddenly, a loud helicopter noise almost drowned out the boy's voice.

"WOW! Take a look at that!!" he cried.

Dylan looked up and as a 'copter took a steep dive above the hills and dropped a huge cloud of purple powder on the distant flames.

"Yeah. That's cool, lil' dude. Listen, call me if anything happens. I'll talk to ya later on tonight."

"Thanks, Dylan," the boy said. "Listen, I'm... I'm sorry 'bout earlier."

"Don't sweat it. Just stay with your mom, 'kay?" He clicked the cellphone shut.

Shit, he thought. If the fire came through Monteria, they'd lose about $150 million' worth of houses, easy.

* * * * *

By 8PM, the excitement was over. The fireman contained the blaze, and the security guard helped Dylan and his father take the horses back out to the barn. The bitter stench of burning grass and trees made his nose sting, and a few stray helicopters still dotted the horizon, searching for any still-burning embers.

Tracy was relieved to find out that Dylan's house was intact. But she insisted that they go out to brunch Sunday afternoon.

"Okay," he laughed. "Call it a make-good for tonight."

"And you were so great last night at the game!" she enthused. "You didn't even hang around long enough for me to give you a kiss."

"Sorry, babe. I was... I was kinda busy." Busy getting kicked off the team, he thought ruefully.

"I forgive you this time. Pick me up at 2PM, 'kay?"

"I will. Love ya, babe."

"Love you."

He walked back up the steps and entered the side door leading to the garage. Better tell the folks where I'm going, he thought to himself.

Dylan hit the "all call" button on the intercom. "I'm goin' over to a friend's house for a few minutes," he said. "Be back in an hour."

Seconds later, the back door open and his mother stuck her head out.

"Honey? Be careful. The firemen said there's a stage-three fire alert all weekend long."

"I know, Mom," he said reassuringly. "I'll make it quick."

He hopped in the BMW, hit the garage door button, then roared out into the night. Mrs. Callahan turned, only to find her husband standing beside her. He smiled.

"Dylan's acted a lot more mature lately," he said, putting his arm around her. "He really kept his head during the fire."

She nodded. But something was still on Dylan's mind.

Her husband gave her a squeeze. "Let's watch a movie. Can you sit through Casablanca again?"

She smiled. "Oh, so you want to play it again, Sam?"

He rolled his eyes and they shut the door and went back inside.

* * * * *

"I was really worried 'bout ya, lil' dude," said Dylan, sitting on Angel's bed. "That fire got really close. I don't know what I'd do if... you know."

Angel sat at his computer and nodded absent-mindedly, hitting a few keys. They could still smell the remnants of smoke, despite the fact that all the windows were left open, in hopes of letting the mountain breezes blow it away.

"I'm okay," the boy said. "The fire was cool. I've never seen so many trucks and 'copters and stuff. It was like a movie!"

"Dylan!" said a voice, as the door opened.

He looked up to see Mrs. Thompkins standing in the doorway. She smiled at him.

"Thanks again so much for checking in on us. Are you sure you don't want anything to drink?"

Dylan stood up and shook his head. "No, it's okay, Mrs. Thompkins."

"Please! I've told you before -- call me 'May.'" She had a pleasant voice, with some vague kind of accent. Probably from Boston, thought Dylan to himself.

"Right -- uh, May. Listen, I gotta go." He turned to the boy. "Call me tomorrow, 'kay, Angel?"

Angel nodded. "No problemo, man." He looked up at him and grinned.

Dylan couldn't stop himself from smiling back. Angel's face still took his breath away. He lightly slugged the boy's shoulder.

"Later, lil' dude."

He turned and walked down the hallway, and Angel's mother stopped him at the door.

"Dylan, I've never thanked you enough for being Angel's friend. It's been terribly difficult since his father and I split up six months ago."

Dylan nodded. Most of the kids he knew at school either had parents who were divorced, were about to be divorced, or had single parents. How his own parents managed to stay together after 20 years was pretty amazing.

She squeezed his shoulder. "My son's very lucky to have somebody like you that he can count on. It was difficult on him back in Santa Fe."

"Yeah." He tilted his head curiously. "Y' know, Angel never seems to want to talk about what went on there."

The woman sighed and shook her head. "It was... very traumatic for all of us. Angel's father said... he said terrible things. All because of his brother -- may he rot in hell." She spat out the words.

Dylan raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"But it's getting late," she said quickly. "Perhaps we can talk about it some other time. The divorce will be final in just a few more weeks."

He nodded and looked away, embarrassed. She was obviously uncomfortable talking about it.

"I gotta go. Thanks, Ms. Thom... uh, May."

Her face brightened. "Thank you, Dylan."

He ran out to the car, hopped in, and turned the key. The BMW Roadster roared to life, and he pulled out of the driveway, waving as he drove down the crescent.

Back in Angel's room, the boy hit a button on his computer, then waited patiently as the page came out of his printer. It was a facsimile of the front page of the Sunday LA Times, bearing the banner headline "Brush Fire Engulfs 60 Acres in Chatsworth Hills," and then in smaller letters, "Three Firefighters Injured -- Homes Escape Damage." In the background, his compact stereo blared with the sounds of a recent Rob Zombie CD.

Angel smiled to himself, then took the page and opened a plain black loose-leaf notebook nearby. Inside were several dozen other newspaper clippings, all nearly collected and carefully glued in place. Some were yellowed with age, and each bore different headlines: "4-Year Old Drowns in Tub," read one. "Cats Tortured and Killed by Satanists, Claim Police," said the next. "Babysitter Paralyzed in Freak Accident" trumpeted a small clipping. The most recent read, "Santa Fe Teacher Sentenced for Child Molestation."

Angel carefully snipped his scissors around the text, taking care to retain the date at the top of the page, then lay the scissors down and applied a dab of rubber cement to the back and smoothed the new clipping into place onto a blank page. He read it again and smiled. This is too cool, he thought to himself.
 
 


The latest installments of Jagged Angel can be found on Archerland.net, and submitted sometime thereafter to Nifty.com, ASSGM.com, and GayWritersGuild.org, along with the alt.sex.stories.gay.moderated newsgroup. Feedback can be sent to the author at thepecman@yahoo.com.