Chapter One

©2004-2005  All Rights Reserved

This is a story about  tragedies and triumphs faced in the journey of life.  For the most part, it is a work of pure fiction, though some parts draw upon a host of life experiences.  Though not in the beginning, this story will eventually contain sexual acts between consenting adults.  Gay characters have gay sex, so if this bothers you, or if it is illegal to read such materials due to your age or where you live, then please do not read further.  All copyrights are held by the author, so please do not duplicate, print, alter, or resubmit (or anything else I may have missed ) this story without first obtaining written permission from the author. 

This is my second story in the Raven Cliff series.  For those of  you who read OF LOVE AND CHANCE, you will find ONE RAY OF LIGHT  to be quite different. For one, it is told in limited third person narratives, rather than various individual points of view.  It is also a much darker, more complex delve into the nature of humanity.  It contends with spiritual and social issues, but in a completely different manner.  In similarity, it is ultimately a romantic love story that is not meant to be a quick fix, jerk-off session.  You might also recognize a few characters here and there, for lives often interconnect in ways we do not realize.  If you haven't read OF LOVE AND CHANCE, don't worry, for this story stands alone.

A special thanks to Paul for all his efforts with editing, and to Tob for his input and feedback.

If you have any comments, ideas, suggestions, etc., I would love to hear them.  Please contact me via

'What the hell do I care?'  he thought to himself as the old lady begged.  He hated her with such an unyielding passion, feeling only utter disgust at the thoughts of his even being related to her.  She, of course, had taught him all about hatred, and he learned his lessons so very well.  He thought back to all the torment and hell he had lived through under the hand of that bitch that dared to call herself a mother... HIS mother.  The anger festered deep within his stomach, bringing his blood to a slow but steady boil.  Finally, he had simply had enough.

"Look, you made it all too clear that you no longer had a son.  That was fifteen years ago.  Now you track me down and call me up, for what?  Did you really think my heart would bleed for you?"  He coldly stated, biting back his desire to yell.  He would save that for later, using it to hit home his point.  "You didn't lose any sleep over me when you threw me out to the wolves.  What the HELL makes you think I give a shit what happens to you?  You tossed me out with less care than you give your trash.  Now, you have the audacity to disturb me, at my home no less, crying to me about your misfortunes."

An icy smile of pure contempt spread wide across his rugged face.  "You reap what you sow.  God only knows how miserable you made my life!  I am HAPPY to hear you are suffering, though it is only a fraction of what you truly deserve."  Finally, he let loose with both barrels.  " To paraphrase the last words you spoke to me, I DON'T HAVE A MOTHER.  YOU ARE DEAD TO ME.  NEVER, EVER CALL THIS HOUSE AGAIN!"  With that said, he slammed down the phone.

He picked up the receiver and quickly called the telephone company.  He brewed as he waited for a representative.  Finally, one answered.

"Yes, I need to have my number changed... Unlisted, please...  As soon as possible... Coal, my name is Coal Black... No ma'am, it is C-O-A-L.... Yeah, like the rock... Yes, ma'am.  I have heard that one before." 

He snickered to himself about his name.  He had always thought his mother was far from intelligent.  Coal had been born and raised in the heart of Kentucky, so he surmised that coal was probably the only thing his family knew about other than farming.  There was just not a whole lot of other industry in his home town.  But, naming your child Coal was just too much.  Combine that with the last name Black, and you had a name that raised many an eyebrow. 

He gave the representative what information was needed to verify his identity and the specifics he wanted for the new number in terms of plan coverage.  "Yes ma'am, the sooner the better... Let me get a pen... OK... Yes ma'am.  I have it written down.  Thanks, and you, too."

'What a way to begin the morning!'  He fumed to himself.  He looked at the clock and became completely pissed, realizing that he could have slept at least another hour.  Though it was his day off, he had many matters that needed tending.  Still, the extra hour of sleep would have been welcomed.  Coal worked very hard, and the opportunity to rest was a luxury seldom afforded to him.

With continued internal bickering, Coal began his morning ritual.  He stumbled from his bedroom to the bath, tripping over the clothes strewn about the floor.  He stripped down his boxers, scratching his heavy scrotum as he relieved his bladder.  With that completed, Coal turned and started the shower. 

A strong current of very warm water cascaded down his well-defined frame, slowly releasing the pent-up tension from his bulky muscles.  Coal moaned softly, repositioning himself in the steady spray.  Relaxing, he slowly soaped up his body, carefully massaging himself with his hands and the washcloth.  His fingers kneaded his scalp as he shampooed his short, black locks.  Rinsing, he bent down and turned to find the conditioner, bumping his head on the shower door handle. 

Cursing loudly, he rubbed his front hairline and forehead.  Then, he began to chuckle, musing as he envisioned the headlines of a man who died from an accidental head injury while showering.   After conditioning and rinsing, he allowed the hot spray to work over his body for a few minutes, firmly rubbing his pecs, abs, and biceps.

Steam filled the bathroom as he opened the shower door.  The sudden temperature change produced goose flesh, causing the soft black hair that adorned most of his body to stand.  His deep brown nipples became erect, tingling as the soft texture of the terry cloth towel brushed over them.  Drying himself, he moved to the sink and brushed his teeth.

As the towel swiped away the fog on the mirror, Coal stared at his reflection, sizing himself up as he always did.  His pale, silver-blue eyes shimmered beneath his heavy black lashes.  His dark olive skin was smooth, save the smallest of lines that were barely visible around his eyes.  A thick shadow of stubble dawned his lower face and neck, accentuating Coal's full lips.  He smiled, revealing his deep-seated dimples as he checked his pearly white teeth.  Finally, Coal set to shaving his face smooth.

By any standards, Coal was an extremely attractive man, for one who was thirty.  Truth be told, he was attractive for a man of any age.  However, Coal always found fault within himself.  This, of course, was due to the darkness that had long ago enveloped his life, jading him, perhaps, forever.

Returning to the bedroom, he tugged on a pair of boxers and ankle socks.  A tight blue T-shirt and a loose pair of jeans completed his ensemble.  Coal then gathered up the clothes scattered about his floor, sorting them into piles for laundry.  Carrying a load with him, he sauntered down the small hallway into the kitchen.  There, in the pantry, he started a load to wash. 

A sudden growl grabbed his attention, as Coal turned to find Malice crouched on one of the shelves.  Slowly, he pulled on a leather work glove.  In response, the huge gray cat bared her long fangs and claws, arching her back as she growled and hissed ferociously.  As Coal's hand neared, Malice's pupils dilated, and her feral growl grew faint.  Her ears turned back, and her tail twitched with defined purpose. Without any further warning, the cat sprang into action, clutching the gloved hand with her front claws and teeth.  She quickly rolled to her back, bringing her hind legs up to kick and scrape at the glove. 

Coal hissed and shook his hand vigorously, further exciting Malice in her play.  After a few minutes, he began laughing.  Malice promptly stopped her attack and looked at Coal indignantly.  Gently, he stroked her ears and neck.  "I'm sorry girl.  I know you hate it when I laugh at you."  He smiled and lowered his face, as Malice arose to rub her head against his cheek.  Coal grinned as she purred.  "Nobody's gonna attack your daddy, not while his baby girl is around."  He said affectionately.  "You're the best damned attack cat in the country."

Malice methodically worked her way into Coal's strong arms, purring in apparent contentment as she laid her head in the crook of his neck.  He smiled as he held the only creature to ever show him true affection or love, considering Malice to be his only real treasure in life.  Stroking her gently, he praised his beloved pet.  "We've been through so much together, baby girl.  You're daddy loves you more than life itself."

And, it was true.  That old cantankerous cat was Coal's only true friend, his only real family.  He knew that he would give his life gladly if it meant saving hers.  After all, she had saved him many, many times before.  As he gently pet her and swayed his body in a rocking motion, Coal fondly remembered the day Malice came pouncing into his life.

Coal had collapsed underneath a weeping willow that grew along a mountain stream.  Tears trickled down his reddened cheeks from his puffy eyes.  "What am I gonna do, now?"  He softly said aloud.  "I have no one... no family, no home, nothing to call my own.  How am I gonna live?"  The reality of his situation came crashing down upon him, and his tears became heavy sobs.

Barely fifteen, Coal had been thrown out of his home.  His mother had always been stern and frigid towards Coal, but he had never seen her so angry or abusive before, not physically at this level, he thought.  He carefully rubbed the bleeding whelps that lined his back, butt and legs with his one good arm.  He knew the other wasn't broken, for he had suffered a broken limb many times before.  No, he decided, it was just severely bruised. 

See, Twila Black had beaten him within an inch of his life, and all because she had found his notebook.  "Why the hell did I have to be so fucking stupid?!?"  He cried out angrily, suddenly wincing in pain as he felt the strong stings starting along the injuries to his ribs. 

There was one person who had caught his eye and held his fascination since as far back as he could remember.  Rory Hampton was his name, and Coal was paralyzed with a heart-wrenching crush for the lad.  On numerous occassions, Rory had tried his best to start a conversation with Coal.  Unfortunately, Coal could never bring himself to look Rory directly in the eyes, much less utter a word that made any sense.  To Coal, Rory was perfection made flesh, and his teenage hormones screamed out whenever Rory was in close proximity.  Rory's twinkling eyes and killer smile made Coal feel faint and queasy.  It was because of this mind-numbing crush that Coal had inscribed Rory's name on the inside of his notebook, surrounded by three rings of hearts.

Twila became ballistic when she discovered the written declaration of love.  She seized Coal by the nape of his neck, pelting him repeatedly with her closed fist.  Though Coal could have realistically fought his belligerent mother easily, the years of abuse had stripped him of any feelings of power.

As he cried, helplessly balled up on the floor, Twila retrieved a horse bridal from the wall.  She screamed terrible obscenities about Coal as she pounded him over and over again.  The bridal tore into his flesh, stinging with each and every strike.  After the beating, Twila grabbed Coal up to his feet, dragging him towards the hallway and near the stairs.  She ordered him to leave, but in his weakened state, he moved slowly... a bit too slowly for Twila's liking, apparently, for she shoved him to quicken his pace.  Coal fell down the flight of stairs, striking his head against the wall at the bottom landing, creating a loud thud.  His face was lacerated during the fall, burning intently as the wounds seeped his life essence.  Twila coldly screamed at him for getting his tainted, faggot blood on her walls, as she stomped down the stairs.  Grabbing him up again, she pushed him to the door, literally throwing him out of her home and down the porch steps. 

"Momma, please!"  Coal begged, as he struggled to stand, turning to gaze into his mother's stone-cold eyes.  His plea only further infuriated Twila.

Then, with a bitter glow in her eyes, she screamed.  "NEVER, EVER COME TO THIS HOUSE AGAIN!"

Coal had struggled and dragged himself down the road for several miles that evening.  Too weak to walk any further, he had stopped to rest beneath the tree and sip from the stream.  The well of his sorrow was deep, but a sudden voice shook him from his self-pity.

"Well, what do we have here?"  The voice was dripping with contempt.  Coal looked up to see Eric Sneed, the one person who hated Coal as much as Twila Black, possibly more.  As Eric moved in closer, a look of horror and surprise covered his face.  "Man, she really beat the piss out of you this time."  He said softly.  He reached out his hand and clutched Coal by the face, turning his head to each side to assess the damage.  "Damn!  You really must have pissed her off, but good."  He stated.

"W-What do you care?"  Coal stammered, wondering about the sudden edge of concern that laced Eric's words.

A slow smile spread across Eric’s smug face.  "Not one fucking bit, faggot!  I was just admiring the crazy bitch's work."  He laughed.  "Looks like this one’s gonna be easy."  He glared, cracking his knuckles and balling up his fists.

Coal shuddered and closed his eyes in defeat.  He was far too weak and sore to defend himself against Eric's attack.  Coal just prayed to himself that Eric killed him and ended his misery.

As Eric stepped in to strike Coal, a loud growl rang out.  Coal opened his eyes to see a small ball of gray fur drop from a branch above him.  This ball landed on Eric Sneed's face, and it quickly lashed out with razor sharp fangs and claws. 

"Shit!"  Eric screamed trying to knock the wild animal from his face.

The momentary distraction was all Coal needed, as he summoned up his remaining strength for one quick assault.  A knee to the testicles, a punch to the stomach, and a knee to Eric's face put Coal out of immediate danger.  Shielded by the dark shroud of night, he struggled to move himself deeper into the woods and hide before Eric recovered.  The angry Eric searched frantically, but Coal, well within a thicket of bushes, was never found.  As the ranting delinquent headed further into the woods, Coal crept quietly back towards the road.  

After a couple more miles of walking, he leaned against a fence post to rest.  Sinking to the ground, he lay still, resting his eyes.  A rough, sandpaper texture began swiping itself across his forehead.  The nuzzling and purring let him know who it was. 

He grinned as he opened his eyes and stroked his guardian angel.  "You saved my life, little one." 

When his strength returned somewhat, Coal sat up and examined the kitten more closely.  "Well, I guess I have me a baby girl."  He smiled, rubbing her affectionately, and the kitten responded with heightened purrs.  "What to call you?"  He thought aloud. 

Thinking of the situation, he grinned.  "How 'bout Angel?" 

The kitten looked at him roughly, as if expressing her disagreement with the name.  "Oh, you're a feisty one, aren't you?"  He giggled, as the kitten showed her claws to him with seeming pride.  "Such contempt you have."  He laughed.  Then, it struck him.  "Well, how 'bout Malice?" 

The kitten seemed to agree, as she nuzzled him once again.  "All right, Malice it is." he smiled. 

Coal grinned at the bittersweet memory of finding his one true friend.  "Daddy would be so lost without you, baby girl."  He cast his gaze downward, taking in the sight of his beloved pet.  "How about a special breakfast for my little Malice?" 

Coal laughed as her ears perked up and Malice raised her head to look him in the eyes expectantly.  Food was definitely the way to her heart, as Malice was rather pudgy.  He sighed thoughtfully.  "You have been there for me through all the lean times, when we could barely afford to eat.  Why not spoil you while we have it so good?" 

Malice nuzzled him in agreement, causing Coal to smirk.  Honestly, their lives were hardly what most would refer to as 'so good', but Coal and Malice had faced so many hardships during their time together.  The world was not exactly filled with wonderful opportunities for a man with only a ninth grade education and a shady past.  Still, once Coal had moved to Raven Cliff, he found a decent job that paid a fair wage for an honest day's work.  It was semi-skilled labor, and the door to his current employment had only opened to him because of the kindness of one young man. 

This young man said he believed in Coal, actually helping Coal out of his 'situation'.  He then trained Coal for the job through a program offered at the mission.  The young man had even pulled a few strings to help Coal get the job, not to mention making the purchase of his first home a reality for Coal.  It was nothing fancy, but it was more than he had ever dreamed of owning.  This purchase was made possible through a program at the mission called Fresh Start, and it had given Coal and Malice a new lease on life.

Coal held his beloved companion as he prepared her a fresh piece of fish.  Flaking it apart lovingly in her dish, he smiled.  "You are my lucky charm, Malice.  Even though things have often been rough, we have made it out of every hardship together."  He sat cross-legged on the floor, hand feeding his baby with tiny bite-sizes of fish.

When Malice finally had her fill, Coal walked into the living room and stretched out in the recliner.  He had just turned on the radio when the bulletin for the upcoming snowstorm was announced.  A tail twitched across his cheek, as he pat his chest.  "Well, come on Malice.  You can snuggle up with Daddy for a few minutes.  Then, he has to run some errands and get us some groceries."

Malice accepted his offering, as Coal stroked her fondly.  He sang to a few songs that crossed through the airways, relaxing with the contentment of his life.  'It's far from perfect, but I have everything I need.' he affirmed to himself. 

Sometimes, though, Coal felt the pangs of loneliness.  Not that he was in any way dissatisfied with the companionship his darling Malice offered, Coal simply longed for conversation and emotional connection from other people.  Most of the time, however, he relished in his solitude.  >From the experiences he had faced in life, Coal was a bit tainted in his views of people in general.  It was difficult for him to relate to others and near impossible for him to trust anyone at all. 

Realizing that time was growing short, Coal pulled Malice from his chest, apologizing for intruding on her nap.  He then ran out to his old pickup, struggling to get it started.  Finally, it turned over and fired.  He left it running to warm up, as he darted quickly back into his home.  There, he found an anxious and expectant Malice.

He chuckled lightly, his heart quickly melting to her demands.  "OK, baby girl, you can come with Daddy." 

He went to the pantry and retrieved a flannel throw blanket.  Then, he donned his jacket and gloves.  Finally, he picked up his companion.  She purred contentedly in his arms as they headed outside.

Coal slid into the truck, holding Malice on his lap.  He then leaned sideways and spread out the throw.  Once Malice was comfortable, Coal tucked the throw around her to keep her nice and toasty.  She looked at him with dismay.

"It's really cold out, girl, and Daddy doesn't want his baby getting sick."  He stated sincerely, explaining his actions.

This seemed to pacify her, so Coal put the truck in reverse and backed out of the driveway.  Once on the street, he headed to the water company to pay his bill.  Then, it was on to the electric company.  Finally, he drove onward to the mission to make his house payment.

"You stay in that blanket, Malice.  Daddy will be back in a few minutes."  Coal sweetly said. 

Patting her head one last time, he slid out of the truck and locked the door.  Coal waited patiently in line until he finally was able to make his payment.  Afterwards, an unexpected desire filled his very being, so he decided to pay a visit to the man who changed his life.  With that thought in mind, he strolled down the hallway until he arrived at the Work Force Preparation Center.

"Hey!"  Coal bellowed in greeting, his excitement taking even himself by surprise.  "How have you been, Kal?"

The young man looked up, and a broad smile of recognition spread across his handsome face.  "Lord, have mercy.  Coal!  I haven't seen you for quite some time."  Kal replied, standing to his feet and extending his hand.  Coal shook it vigorously as Kal continued.  "I have had a fantastic year, buddy.  I met the man of my dreams, got married, and now, we are raising four children."

The shock on Coal's face brought out a hearty laugh from Kal.  Coal chuckled himself, smiling at his Godsend.  "Congratulations, man.  Wow!  You have been one busy fella."

Coal took in the sight of his mentor.  Killian Anderson Lord (KAL) was 5'11" with a muscular build, though one would never know by the way he dressed so conservatively.  His gentle, green eyes mirrored the warmth found in his endearing smile, which was truly set off by his deep-seated dimples.  There was something different, Coal thought.  Then, he noticed.  Each time Coal had seen Kal, his hair was usually matted down close to his head through heavy styling products.  Today, though, his deep brown hair hung in loose, haphazardly arranged curls.  The usual wire-framed glasses were also absent.

Coal was impressed, to say the least.  He had always thought Kal was adorably cute, but today, he looked ruggedly handsome.  "I like the hair, guy."  Coal grinned.  "Say, are YOU wearing contacts?" He asked incredulously.

Kal laughed.  "Well, I have a special dinner with my husband this evening."

"Oh, so this is not an everyday thing.  I get it.  Wow!  There for a minute, I thought you had gone all wild and crazy on me."  Coal chuckled.  "I take it he likes the look, though, right?"

"Very much so."
Kal blushed.

'He'd be a fool not to.' Coal thought to himself.

Kal motioned for Coal to follow him, as he walked to the break area.  Fixing them both a hot cup of tea, he offered Coal a seat.  Coal graciously accepted.

"So, how has the job been going?"  Kal asked, his enthusiasm evident in his voice.

"What can I say?  I had a terrific teacher."  Coal grinned.  "I had another raise about two months back, and they've offered me an advancement."  Then, Coal fidgeted a bit, as he tried to push aside his feelings of self-doubt and self-degradation.  "The only thing is, I have to get my GED first."  He explained somewhat somberly.

Kal patted his hand reassuringly.  "Coal, I know you can do it.  You're a bright man, and one of the best trainees I have ever had."  He praised.  "Why else do you think I called Mr. Davenport and raved about you?"

Coal blushed profusely, feeling the heat in his cheek with the back of his hand.  "You know, I still owe you for that, Kal."  He looked at his cup of tea nervously.  "That job changed my life, man.  It helped keep me from falling back into my previous situation." Coal said, looking up with gratitude gleaming in his eyes.

Kal was one of the few people with which Coal felt he could be open.  Honestly, Coal looked to Kal as his hero, his saving grace from a life of shame and uncertainty.  If he had ever regarded any human as a friend, Coal knew it was Kal.  Kal was well aware of Coal's past, but he never held it against him.  In fact, Kal would often encourage Coal to be more than he was.  It was as if he could see this hidden potential that Coal could never seem to find... well, not until Kal pointed it out, anyway.  Then, somehow, Kal made Coal believe he could achieve anything. 

Kal reached over and gently squeezed Coal's shoulder.  "It was my pleasure, Coal.  You are a fantastic man, and I believe you deserve only the best in life."

"Thanks, but you know all too well that I was just a..." Coal started, but Kal stopped him.

"That was the past, Coal."  Kal smiled.  "You are a different person now, and I am proud of the man you have become."  Kal began chuckling.  "Say, do you still have that cat?"

Coal quickly jumped to his feet, remembering Malice.  "Oh, man!  She's in the truck, and it is freezing outside."
"Did you park at the side lot?" 
Kal asked.

"Yeah.  Man, I can't believe I forgot I had Malice with me!" 
Coal said, kicking himself and feeling stupid.

Standing, Kal smiled and patted Coal's shoulder.  "Try keeping up with four teenage boys."  Then, he pointed towards the side door.  "Come on.  Let's get that tiger and bring her in."

"Tiger!"  Coal laughed.  "Yeah, I guess you could call her that!  So, they are teen boys, aye?"  He asked, looking to Kal as they walked across the room.

"And very active.  Love and I have a time keeping up with their schedules."
  He snickered.  "Somehow, though, we manage. "

"Love, huh?  Hehehe!  That's kinda cute."  Coal commented, as they headed out to his truck.

"What can I say?"  Kal giggled.  "He is the love of my life."  Kal flashed a lopsided grin, reminding Coal of a bashful child.  "He calls me Love, too."  The affection in his eyes let Coal know just how Kal felt.

"He is one lucky man, Kal.  I can tell you love him a great deal."
  Coal smiled, reaching out for Malice.  She jumped into his arms.  "There's Daddy's girl!"  He enthused, holding her close to his chest.

Kal chuckled.  "I swear.  I have never seen someone so loving to a pet before."

"Everyone has a soul mate, I guess."  Coal turned and grinned.  "Mine just happens to be a cat."

"And I believe that!"  Kal laughed.  "Seriously, I do.  I know Malice loves you every bit as much as you love her."

Coal looked at his pride and joy with thankfulness in his heart.  "She is the best friend a man could have."  He praised.

"As long as she likes you, then I suppose that is true."  Kal giggled.  "She was never very fond of Tracy, though."

Coal laughed as he remembered how Malice had once attacked Kal's assistant for touching him.  Malice had even chased Tracy around the bay, hissing and growling with every step. "She was only protecting me.  I just don't see why Tracy found that so hard to believe."

They entered the break area, and Kal shut the door.  Coal put Malice down, letting her explore the room.  He and Kal again took their seats and sipped their tea.  Coal elaborated upon the specifics of the possible promotion, and Kal suggested that Coal attend the GED preparation program that the mission offered.  Then, they talked about the different aspects of their lives.  As they talked, Malice curled up in a chair beside Coal, where she slept peacefully for the next hour.

Kal rose up slightly from his chair, retrieving his wallet from his back pocket.  With a gleaming pride, he produced photos of his family for Coal to view.  First, he showed Coal a family portrait.  "This is Brad, Pete, Chance, and Aisa. " Kal grinned, pointing out each of his sons.  "Brad and Pete are both 13 now, and Chance and Aisa will soon be 16."  Lovingly, he stroked his husbands face with his finger.  "This, of course, is Love.  Kanawha Darkstorm."

Coal studied each of the faces carefully, looking at Kal and smiling every so often.  "Quite a handsome family you have there, Kal.  You know Aisa and Brad honestly look a good bit like you and so much like each other.  Were they brothers to begin with?"

"No, not until this past year."  Kal snickered.  "But, they do look the part.  Pete looks a lot like Love, I think, though his hair is much lighter.  Then, of course, there is Chance."

Coal was still looking at the photo as he replied.  "Man, he looks so much like the both of you.  Is he actually Kanawha's?"

Kal laughed.  "Not biologically, but I know what you mean.  I think if the two of us would have been able to have a child together, it would have looked exactly like Chance."  His pride for his family was evident, and Coal found himself captivated.  "All five of them are a Godsend, and I thank the good Lord every day for their being a part of my life."

Coal looked at the other pictures as Kal explained each.  Eventually, they were on the last photo.  "And this one is Aisa and Chance at the Spring Formal this past year.  They are a couple, by the way."  Kal chuckled.

Coal was awestruck as he contemplated how different life was for Kal's children than it had been for him.  Knowing all to well how difficult it could be growing up gay, Coal found he held a new respect and admiration for Kal; he had given Chance and Aisa a loving home, something Coal had never had himself.  Coal also marveled at the idea of this young gay couple going to a school dance together.  'Maybe their generation will make the world a better, more accepting place.' he thought to himself.

"So," Kal started, shaking Coal from his thoughts, "is there anyone special in your life these days?"

Coal sighed heavily.  "Kal, you know no one is ever gonna..." But, once again, Kal cut him off before he could put himself down.

"Coal, you are a wonderful guy.  You are honest, handsome, smart, charming, and hardworking."  He said, supportively squeezing Coal's shoulder gently.  "And, whether you want to admit it or not, you have a heart of gold in there.  Any man would be lucky to have you in his life.  But, someday, I just know that one man will be blessed with having you as his lover."

Coal felt like he had an intense sunburn, he was blushing so hard.  Sheepishly, he looked up at Kal, as his grin grew into a huge smile.  "Thanks, Kal."  He replied bashfully.

The two continued their chat, as time slipped past them during their conversation.  Taking notice of the clock, Coal reluctantly acknowledged it was time to get going, else he would be late.  He thanked Kal repeatedly for all of the help in turning his life around.  Before Coal left, though, Kal gave him his cell and home phone numbers.

"Call me sometime, Coal.  I would really like you to meet Love and the boys."  Kal smiled.

"I think that would be nice."
  Coal grinned, feeling a warm satisfaction from the contact and conversation with his hero. 

Then, Kal did something Coal wasn't expecting.  He gave him a firm hug.  The connection was brief, but it left Coal with fond feelings of contentment.  "God loves you, Coal, and so do I."  Kal smiled.

Coal felt a strange feeling slowly creep inside of him as he pondered those words. 

"Be safe, and remember to call me."
  Kal grinned.  He then petted Malice on the head.  "You take good care of your daddy, girl, and remind him to use the phone if he forgets."

Coal laughed at Kal's insistence.  "I get the hint, man.  I promise, I will call, and soon.  I really hate to leave, but I am gonna be late, and you know how she can worry."

"Then, I will see you soon, buddy."  Kal smiled, exuding nothing but positive feelings towards Coal.  This made Coal once again realize why he idolized Kal so much.

Coal waved goodbye and exited the building.  The truck stalled again, but finally turned over.  After letting it warm up, Coal put it into drive and headed out.  Malice yawned, and stretched, then resumed her nap as the heater blew warm air in her direction.  Coal simply grinned, seeing that Malice's comfort was assured.

Coal drove to the north side of Raven Cliff, pulling into Crow's Pharmacy.  There, he picked up a few prescriptions for Mrs. Turner.  Next, he went to Talmage's to purchase a valve for her hot water heater.  Afterwards, he drove to Mrs. Turner's home on the west side of town. 

As Coal pulled into the driveway, he looked up at the old garage apartment fondly.  He and Malice had lived there for a little over two years before Kal helped Coal fill out his application at Fresh Start.  Three months later, Coal received the keys to his very own home.  Though Mrs. Turner was sad to see him leave, she had told Coal how proud she was that he was officially living the American dream.  She had even given Coal the old bedroom suite from the furnished apartment as a house-warming gift, the suite he was still using two years later.

The storm door creaked open as Mrs. Turner stepped out on the stoop.  Her cane clanked sharply as it struck the concrete slab.  "I hope you brought Malice with you, because I have a special treat for her."  She smiled.

Coal grinned widely as he took in the sight of her.  Margery Turner stood a tad shorter than her 5'2" frame due to her osteoporosis.  She was a bit hefty, fairly stout for a woman of 78 years.  Her white hair was piled up on her head in a full bun, and her gold-framed glasses were at the end of her nose.  Her steal-gray eyes were transfixed on Coal, shining with the warmth that her smile also presented.

As Coal reached to get the prescriptions and the valve, Malice climbed his arm and sat upon his shoulder.  He then grabbed his toolbox from the back of the truck and headed towards the door.

"Malice would have my hide if she missed out on any of your treats, Ma'am."  Coal chuckled.  "She's always been rather fond of your cooking."

She laughed.  "It is Marge, not Ma'am, son, and I can see Malice is fond of someone else's cooking, too.  Lord, she must have gained a couple of pounds in the last few months."

They both laughed as Malice shot an indignant look towards Marge.  "Sorry, honey.  We ladies tend to plump up as we get older."  Mrs. Turner soothed.

Apparently, Malice accepted her form of an apology, for the cat leaped down and stroked herself around Marge's legs with affection.  Mrs. Turner led her guests into the kitchen, where a fresh plate of catfish was awaiting Malice.  She had also prepared Coal a nice lunch.  Marge filled a small bowl with cold water from the fridge and sat it on the floor next to Malice's treat.  Then, she strong-armed the protesting Coal to the table to join her for lunch.

Smiling, she commented, "It is nice to have someone to cook for, you know, so don't feel like you are putting me out."  She unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap.  "Honestly, son, after all these years, you should know better by now.  Just politely concede without the protest."  She laughed.  "Besides, you are the one doing me the favor, fixing my hot water heater and all."

Coal became flushed.  "I'm just returning old favors."

They both began their meal, exchanging idle chitchat and pleasantries.  Coal complemented Marge on her wondrous cooking, which she graciously accepted.  Marge made a few comments on how strapping and handsome Coal was, which caused him to blush deeply.

Laughing heartily, Marge slyly commented.  "You know, I have a new tenant who would be blown away by your charming good looks and kind spirit.  He works at the Medical Arts Center by the hospital, and, Lord, is he ever handsome."  She paused, lifting her fork and pointing it at Coal.  "You know, I could cook a special dinner to introduce the two of you."

Coal was a mix of embarrassed and warm-hearted.  He knew Mrs. Turner cared for him quite deeply.  Though he tried to deny it to himself, he had strong feelings for her as well.  She had often referred to him in the company of others as her grandson, and Coal knew this was how she truly saw him.  If he was honest with himself, he knew the perception went both ways.

Coal thought of arguing, but he knew he would never win.  To pacify Marge, he smiled and simply said, "Maybe."

She reached over and took Coals hand in her own.  With a loving caress, she stared into his pale silver-blue eyes.  "Sooner or later, you are going to have to let go of the past.  You are not that person any more, Coal.  You are a wonderful young man who deserves a lifetime of love with a special partner."  A few tears whelped up in her eyes.  "I want you to have the kind of happiness that George and I had together."

Coal's thoughts turned to George Turner.  He was a kind man who, like Marge, did not hold Coal's past against him.  When George took ill, just before his death three years back, Coal had promised to look after Marge.  Coal felt it was the least he could do for the kindness they had given him. 

Coal had taken George's death rather hard, for George was one of the few people in Coal's life he even remotely trusted.  George had been somewhat of a father figure for Coal, and Coal had often wondered if his shady past had somehow cursed George with such a grueling death.  Like many other good people who had come into his life, George was gone.  Coal felt as if he were a black cat crossing life's highway, bringing misfortune to all with which he came into contact.

"He was a good man."  Coal said somberly, bowing his head in reverence. 

Marge squeezed Coals hand.  "So is my new tenant."  She grinned.  "He has many of George's qualities.  I know how fond you and George were of one another, so I think he would be a perfect match."

Coal just laughed.  "I see."  He skillfully replied, keeping himself uncommitted to her matchmaking plans.

As Marge looked out the window, her train of thought skipped track quickly.  "My Lord in Heaven!"  She replied.

Coal looked out to see a heavy snowfall beginning.  "It looks like we are in for a real good one."  Coal sighed.  He removed his napkin and placed it on the table.  "I best get to fixing your hot water heater before Malice and I get snowbound."

"I could think of worse things."  Marge quipped.

Coal laughed.  "You know I didn't mean it like it sounded."

"Of course you didn't."  Marge grinned, assuring Coal that she was not offended.  "But, I would never object to your and Malice's company.  Besides, you could meet my new tenant this evening."

Coal snickered as he made his way into the utility room.  There, he shut off the water valve to the line.  Next, he cut the line and removed the broken valve on the tank.  After considerable effort, he installed the new valve and soldered the line back together.   Assured there were no leaks, he sat for a moment, just admiring his handiwork.

This was a skill he had learned from helping George around the house and his old apartment.  Coal smiled tearfully many times while completing the repair.  In his mind, he could hear George's instructions as if he were standing right beside him.  It also brought about a whirlwind of bittersweet memories of the times the two of them had spent together.

This, in turn, caused Coal to contemplate Marge's words about her new tenant and Coal forgiving himself for his past.  Coal wondered if someone could really love him, and the possibility of it all made him smile.  But, he began envisioning that special person finding out about his past.  Coal was just not sure he wanted to risk being hurt like he had been so many times before in life.  He was, after all, still jaded by the darkness.

It was just before five when the repairs were finished.  Coal thanked Mrs. Turner again for the lunch and Malice's treat.  She slipped a check into his shirt pocket to reimburse him for his expenses, though Coal knew there would be a little extra for what she considered to be his trouble.  Marge then gave him a small bag of baked goods to take with him, asking him to think about the dinner.  He promised he would, then turned to leave. 

"Just a minute."  Marge called to him, as she headed into the living room.  She returned with a scarf she had knitted for Coal.  Wrapping it around his neck, she smiled.  "I can't let my grandson get sick on me, you know."

Coal was deeply touched, knowing Mrs. Turner had taken the time to make something so special for him.  Feeling himself getting misty eyed, Coal cast his gaze to the floor.  "Thanks."  He said softly.

Marge raised his head with her hands and kissed Coal on the cheek.  "I love you, son.  Never doubt that for a moment."  She smiled.  "Well, be careful going home, and please, call me and let me know you made it safely."

"I promise."  Coal smiled.  He gathered up Malice and turned for the door.  "I'll let you know about the dinner, too." He added, just before exiting.

While the truck warmed, Coal cleared the walkway for Mrs. Turner.  With a grin of excitement, he did the same for the mystery man tenant Marge had raved so much about.  He mused to himself that perhaps Mrs. Turner was right.  Maybe it was time he tried to let someone inside.  His smile broadened as he finished his task, wondering to himself what this guy was really like.  Seeing that, at most, only a couple inches of snow had fallen, Coal did not clear the drive.

He slid in the truck with a zeal of enthusiasm.  He and Malice then drove towards home, stopping at Tilly's Grocery along the way.  His mind was spinning as he contemplated Marge's dinner offer while he walked across the parking lot.  He was leaning towards accepting the invitation when he entered the store.  Coal had several things to get, but the lines were long except for the express lanes.  Having Malice with him, he decided to just get a few essentials and do the bulk of the shopping later.  After retrieving the necessities, he quickly checked out.

Malice was not thrilled with the cold winds from where Coal had opened the door.  "Sorry, baby, but Daddy has to get in if we are going to get home."  He soothed. 

The storm was really getting bad when Coal put the keys into the ignition.  With extreme effort, the old truck turned over.  Within a few minutes, the sun was setting, and Coal and Malice were back on the road.

It was now dark, and the snow was falling in a fast fury.  The large flakes looked almost like chicken feathers to Coal.  Though the truck was in four-wheel drive, he carefully navigated the vehicle through the side streets.  He was just a mile or so from home when he saw a young person running towards the street.  The kid was naked, and appeared to be crying out.  "What the hell?!?"  He exclaimed, bringing the truck to a dead stop.

Coal put the truck in park, leaving the door ajar as he jumped out to see what was the matter.  The naked kid ran on, getting closer and closer to Coal.  "Oh, God!  Oh, God!"  He heard the young man cry as he came into closer view.

"Buddy, what's wrong?" 
Coal asked softly, as the boy came to a stop.  The kid was hysterical, so Coal wrapped him tightly in his arms.  "It's OK."  He soothed, holding the terrified young man even closer to him.  After he held him for a moment, Coal noticed the blood.

Suddenly, Coal felt a sharp pain along the back of his head, neck and shoulders.  It knocked him to his knees, the feeling was so intense.

"You should have minded your own business, fucker!"  An angry voice yelled.  Coal had been so overtaken by the boy, he never heard the others coming.  It was a mistake that would cost him dearly.

"Oh, God, No!"  The kid screamed, as two larger guys grabbed him, dragging him away from Coal.

"Now we're gonna finish what we started, you fucking faggot!"
  One of them hissed.

Coal willed his body to move, but someone grabbed a large tuft of his hair and tugged forcefully, causing his head to be pulled backwards abruptly.  Then, he felt a sharp sting, followed by a burning sensation along his neck.  Coal reached up to grab hold of his throat.  Pulling his hands away, he was panicked to find them drenched in blood.

"Told ya, you should have minded your own business, fucker."  The angry voice shouted. 

Coal was shoved to the ground, as his attacker walked over him, stepping on his back and head.  Coal painfully looked up, only to see the three of them beating the daylight out of the poor kid he had tried to help.  He tried to yell, but only a gurgling of blood was produced.  He was in shock, as he helplessly rolled over onto his back.  In the distance, he could hear the cries of the young boy, the pounding blows of the attackers, and horrible obscenities being shouted.  He gasped many times in sheer terror.  Then, logic took over.  He pulled the scarf Mrs. Turner had made for him tightly around his neck, trying his best to control the bleeding.

Coal could feel himself becoming weaker, as his life force was swiftly oozing from his body.  His mind raced in so many random directions... the future, the past, and the present.  He saw himself at Mrs. Turner's, having a wonderful dinner with Marge and her tenant.  Then, he saw Kal on the day they first met, his loving eyes beckoning Coal to trust him.  A heartbeat later and Eric Sneed was standing over him on the playground in second grade, taunting him as always.  Then, there was George squatting before him, as he was teaching Coal how to fix the damaged pipes to the kitchen sink in his old garage apartment.  Twila Black replaced George, as she stood over Coal with the strap drawn back, as she prepared to administer a painful lesson of his worthlessness.  In a flash, Coal was fixing breakfast for his darling Malice.

His eyes glistened as the wave of tears washed down his cheeks.  Silently, he sobbed with soul-felt sorrow. 'Oh, God!  What will happen to my baby?' his mind tragically wondered. 

As if summoned by his thoughts, Malice edged her way upon his chest.  Carefully, she curled up along his neck, as Coal often found her when he awoke in the mornings.   Lovingly, she licked his face and nuzzled her head along his cheek.

'Oh, baby girl!  Daddy loves you so much.'
Coal mentally stated, knowing he could not verbalize his affections any longer.  He just hoped that she knew his ever-present thoughts were filled with the fondness he felt for his beloved feline friend.  For the first time in many, many years, Coal turned to God in prayer, asking that he send someone special to watch over Malice should he die.

As the darkness closed in upon him, Coal saw Rory.  He was walking over to Coal, as Coal sat under a tree on the playground eating his lunch.  Rory seated himself just inches from Coal, while Coal felt his stomach tie itself into a million tiny knots.

"Hey.  How are you today?"  Rory smiled, wiping his sun bleached blond hair from his face.  This gave Coal a clear view of the dazzling jade eyes that captivated him so deeply. 

Coal tried to speak, but as Rory reached into his brown paper bag to get his sandwich, his taut, silky smooth arm brushed along Coal's leg.  Coal just made a small gasp, as he was once again rendered speechless.  After a moment, Coal glanced slightly at Rory, blushing profusely. 

Rory's smile just broadened.  "That's OK, Coal.  You don't have to talk if you don't want to."  His soft teen voice was heaven's harmony to Coal's ears.  "Let's just enjoy our lunch together, buddy."

Every day, Rory tried his best to make a connection with Coal, but it always ended in the same results:  Coal was just too overwhelmed with emotions to speak.  As Coal thought back on his life, over all the heartaches and pain he had endured, there was one thing he regretted more than anything else.  He never was able to thank Rory for being so kind to him.  Coal painfully realized that Rory was the only person in his childhood to ever reach out to him, to treat him like a real person, and to acknowledge that Coal had any worth at all.  That thought haunted him as he sank further into the depths of darkness.

Well, that is a wrap for chapter one, and remember, I said before it was a bit darker a tale than OF LOVE AND CHANCE.  The next installment should be out shortly.  Again, if you have any comments, suggestions, etc., I would love to hear them.  Please contact me via