Hey everyone,

First off, wow. Um, I haven’t updated this in a long, long time due to school and whatever else got in my way.

However, I make it up to you, since this installment of MSR is quite long and split into two parts. So, enjoy. I’m keeping this short. A big thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve been filling my inbox with mails, asking me to put out the next part and everything else. You people are truely wonderful. Thank you.

There are so many people I want to thank, but at the moment, I just can’t remember the names. However, a big, big thank you to Sarah, Steph, Tony (my grasshopper! And really. Y’all should go read the fabulous “Maze of Moments”. Really. Go after you’ve read mine) and of course, my own, *always* important Val-loonie (schweetie! I don’t mail or talk enough to you. I suck.) for the look through. And to Barry for the all-mighty beta, cleaning up my messy words and making them into something readable. ::kisses::

Lastly, this chapter is dedicated to Brian, who not only gave me the title for this chapter, but kept me sane and amused with hours of meaningful late, late, late night chit-chat, video discussion and so much more. So we’re obsessed ::winkwink::, who cares? You’ve saved me from self-destructing more times than I care to admit and I’m eternally grateful for that. Canadian Lance. I’m dancing. This is for you, mindtwin. Enjoy.

Um, shameless hussying here: New installments of MSR are always on my site ahead of time: Sweetheart Stories. And mail! Send me mail! sweetheart_stories@hotmail.com. Please? Thanks.

Disclaimer: So unreal it’s not even funny, though I do wonder about how close I am to the made-up characters in here. I don’t know Lance. Really. I don’t. Be of age to read this (18 or 21--you know if you shouldn’t be).

My Surprise Romance
People Change
Chapter 53
Strangers in Familiar Places - Part 1
© 2001 Gabriella Morrison

By the time night had rolled around, Lance and I were back to our (somewhat) normal selves, laughing and acting silly in the bed that we shared. Of course there were those wonderfully romantic moments that Lance and I indulged in, giggling to ourselves as we ducked under the sheets in a game of impromptu nude hide-and-go-seek or just sighing soft breaths into each other’s skin after having sex. I was just happy to be with Lance, holding him, kissing him...

We were perfect, weren’t we? Lance and I lying in that big hotel bed, arms wrapped around each other’s bodies...that was perfect. And isn’t that what every relationship strives for? Perfection?

Perfection scares me. Nothing is ever perfect, and when something is perfect, you know damn well that something, anything, is going to come and ruin it for you. Because that’s life. That’s just how life works. I should know. I’ve been the butt of perfection’s jokes.

I didn’t want to think negatively, though. No, I would just wait for the unpleasantries of life to creep up on me, because for now, I was with Lance. Alone. And I didn’t know how long our down time (as he called it) would last.

We lay in bed, side by side, familiar skin pressed against each other’s. I felt the weight of Lance’s body shift against mine, while I wrapped my arms around his torso in an almost protective fashion. Every breath Lance took tickled my skin and caused me to smile, while his hair brushed against my chest. He placed a kiss where my heart beat, and then tilted his head upwards. Slowly he brushed his lips against one of my nipples and I bit my lip, trying to hold back a moan of pleasure. Then Lance suddenly broke away and looked up at me, his green eyes glowing in the moonlit room.

“Stephen?” His voice was soft, almost cautious in tone, as he spoke my name. My heart seemed to stop in mid-beat, and I grew nervous at what Lance was about to say. Judging from his tone of voice, it didn’t sound like good news, and well...I *always* expect the worst.


"You know we’re going to have a big lull now...since Chris was shot and all that, you know?"

“Uh-huh. I know, Lance...”

Even in the darkness, I could make out the contented smile that appeared on Lance’s face. He brushed his cheek against the warmth of my chest, before speaking once more.

“I want to come back home with you.”

Ages seemed to pass while Lance’s words hung heavily in the air between us. Come home? With me? When he had so many other responsibilities to juggle? Lance was kidding, right? This had to be some kind of strange joke, and before I would know what was happening, Lance would laugh that deep, adorable laugh that I loved so much and I would sigh a sigh of relief, end of discussion.

But he never laughed. His eyes were boring holes into my skin. When reality finally hit me, I shook my grasp off my boyfriend and propped myself on my elbows. Reaching out to the lamp sitting on the nightstand, I flicked it on, only to see Lance lying there. He began to blink rapidly, trying to get his eyes used to the sudden flood of light. I took in the sight of my boyfriend lying next to me. There was a look of confusion on his face, while a clean white bed sheet was neatly scrunched around his waist, successfully covering up his nudity. We stared at each other for a few seconds and just as Lance parted his lips, ready to speak, I cut him off.

“Why the hell would you want to come back home with me?” I asked incredulously, sinking back into the pillows. “Don’t you have your own life to deal with? FreeLance? Hang out with the guys? You know...” I trailed off, trying to sort through my emotions. Part of me was wary. And the other part was thrilled. “...do something productive with your life, instead of hanging out with me?” Laughing at my words, Lance just shook his head and gave me a boyish grin.

“For your information, Mr. Peterson...” Lance began as he crawled over to where I lay, the bed sheet falling off his waist. I eyed his nudity with appreciative eyes as he took a seat next to me. “I love hanging out with you.” His eyes softened as he reached up and gently tapped the tip of my crooked nose. “You’re my boyfriend...why wouldn’t I wanna hang out with you?”

“You’re just saying that because of the sex,” I bantered, trying to hold back the grin that so desperately wanted to break out on my face. “That’s the only reason you’re being so nice to me.”

“You act like it’s a crime,” Lance murmured into my ear, as he hooked a leg over my thighs. “And hey, I don’t see you backing away from it.” He finished his sentence by wrapping his arms around my neck and placing a soft kiss on my lips.

“That’s because I like it, you doof.” I rolled my eyes before turning our conversation back to more serious manners. “Did you ask Johnny if you could come home with me? Won’t he be mad?”

His eyebrows momentarily dipped into a frown, and then he shook his head as though he were trying to rid himself of some unpleasant thoughts. “Well...I didn’t exactly ask him yet,” Lance said meekly, resting himself on my thighs, while tracing a fingertip over my chest. “But I’m sure he won’t mind...” He looked at me, a hopeful expression lingering in his eyes. “Right?”

“Hey,” I said, placing a hand over his. “I’m not Johnny...I can’t say. The idea of your coming home with me is...well...” I smiled shyly at him. “Wonderful. I’d love having you around for a little longer, but I don’t want Johnny getting mad at you. Especially after the....um...” I felt my face color for a second. “The shooting.”

Noticing the change in my expression, Lance gently grabbed hold of my chin and looked me in the eyes. “Stephen,” he said softly, brushing his lips over my stubble-covered cheek. “I can’t spend my life being afraid of things...not when there are...” Giving me a mischievous smile, Lance pressed his lips against mine. “Better things to do.”

And with that, Lance drew back and smiled sweetly, before leaning in and kissing me again, his lips closing over mine. We made out for a few more seconds, when Lance suddenly broke away, smiled at me once more, and then reached out to snap off the light.

We were bathed in the dark again, but that was okay. As long as Lance was safe in my arms, everything was right with the world.

When I woke up the next morning, I found myself not just tired from last night, but alone in that big hotel bed. The sheets were wrapped around my body and the silence of the empty room was deafening. Blinking a couple of times, trying to get the sleep out of my eyes, I strained my ears hoping to hear the sound of running water hitting bathroom tiles or even of movement in an adjacent room, but I came up empty. My ears were greeted with nothing but the sound of silence, and I came to the conclusion that Lance had left me alone.

“Lance?” Calling out his name, I propped myself up on my elbows. A lock of shaggy brown hair fell into my eyes and I carelessly blew it away, only to have it fall right back down. “Lance? Where are you?”

No answer. And then, a few seconds later, the door to our room opened, and a set of blonde spikes suddenly poked between the wall and the door.

“Did I hear my name?” Lance asked as he stuck his head into the room. He smiled when he saw me lying there, and then stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him.

“Yes,” I answered, watching as Lance walked over to the bed and flopped down next to me. Without a word, Lance tipped his head and greeted me with a rather passionate good morning kiss.

“Mmm,” I whispered as I savored the feel of our lips pressed together. “Wake me up like that every morning, and I’d never get out bed, you know.”

“Not a bad idea,” Lance quipped as he arched an eyebrow at me. “But I think I have some news that will make you want to get out of bed.”


“Johnny called us for an impromptu meeting this morning. His expression turned serious and--” Lance began to fiddle with the sheets he was lying on. “--You know...and well, he decided to give us this next week off, while Chris goes in for recovery. Johnny thought it would be good for us to go home, take a short breather...” His serious expression turned goofy. “So you know what that means?”


“You’re getting a guest this week, Mr. Peterson,” Lance laughed merrily. “All week...living with you, waking up with you...” His eyes softened. “Just like a normal couple.”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling in agreement. “Yeah...I like that.”

“So do I.” And because there was really nothing else to say, Lance leaned over and kissed me again. And for some reason, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of trepidation. And I shouldn’t have, because I wanted Lance to come live with me. But still...something was going to happen. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but something was going to happen. And I, for one, didn’t like the idea one bit.

“Stevie,” Cynthia called out my name as she rummaged through her purse. “I’ll be back next week to pick up my stuff, okay?”

“Okay,” I nodded, as I watched my cousin pull out a small, spiral notebook filled with pink paper. Everything seemed to be happening much too quickly. One minute, Cynthia and I were flying out to Orlando, to see which member of *NSYNC had been hurt, and the next found us all splitting off in different directions, to different parts of the country. I was heading back to Ridgemont, Joey was off to Brooklyn, and Justin and Harris were going to Florida. Cynthia and Josh, on the other hand, were heading off to...

“Viva...Las Vegas!” Cynthia exclaimed, as she tossed her brunette hair back, giggling like a maniac, before tearing into a slightly off-key version of the Elvis classic. My heart stopped. Las Vegas? I know what people do in Las Vegas besides gamble. And so, panicky Stephen jumped out of his shell, grabbed his cousin’s hand and exclaimed:

“Cynthia! You’re too young to get married!”

She had stared at me like I had grown three heads, before breaking into a round of hysterical laughter. “Married?” she asked incredulously. “Married??? You think Josh and I are going to get married in Vegas?”

“Well,” I said uncomfortably, letting go of her wrist as I shuffled my feet. “What else would you be doing there? I mean...Cynthia...Vegas?”

My cousin reached out and slapped me in the face. It was a light, gentle slap, but one that still managed to catch me off guard.

“Stevie, Stevie, Stevie...” Cynthia sighed, rolling her violet eyes heavenwards. “Did you ever hear of the word ‘gambling’? ‘Cause that’s what Josh and I are planning to do. Drink and gamble. That’s what Las Vegas is known for, baby.” She gave me a snarky, knowing grin while straining on her tiptoes to plant a quick kiss on my slightly reddened cheek.

“But you’re not twenty-one,” I protested as Cynthia began searching for something else in her mess of a purse. “You have to be twenty-one to gamble.” My persistence was first rewarded with a sigh, and then an all-knowing smirk.

“Don’t worry about me, Stevie,” my cousin grinned as she found one of those pink gel pens that are so popular with the teenage crowd these days. “I’m a big girl. And I’m with Josh...we both know what we’re doing.”

Famous Last Words.

“I’ll send you a postcard...you know,” Cynthia grinned devilishly at me, while hastily scribbling something on a piece of notebook paper. “Some kind of scantily clad muscle boy for you.”

“Cynth--” I sighed, my face beginning to turn slightly red. “I don’t want a postcard like that. I have Lance.”

“Oh, please,” Cynthia rolled her violet eyes again, as she capped her gel pen and slipped it back into her purse. “Lance, smanch. You’re not a saint, Stevie. All you gay guys like to look at half-naked boys.”

“Half-naked boys?” Cynthia and I looked over, where Lance emerged from our hotel room, a curious look in his eyes as he caught the tail end of our conversation. “What the heck are you two talking about?”

“Oh, I was just saying how Stevie likes to look at half-naked boys,” Cynthia said breezily as she slipped the piece of paper into my pocket. “That’s the name of the hotel Josh and I are staying at. See you in a week, sweetie.” And, after giving both Lance and I lipstick-smeared cheek kisses, my cousin made her way to the elevator and disappeared as the silver doors closed.

“She’s something else,” I muttered under my breath as I pulled the slip of paper out of my pocket. I looked at it and saw Cynthia’s unintelligible handwriting scrawled over the sheet of paper. Trust my cousin to use a gel pen with ink the exact same color as the paper.

“What’s this all about half-naked boys?” Lance asked from behind me, mock suspicion in his voice. Wrapping his arms around my waist, he rested his chin on my shoulder and looked down at the paper in my hands. “You dumping me, Peterson?”

“Yup,” I teased Lance as I slipped the paper back into my shirt pocket. “How’d you know?”

“Hhhmmmppphhh, Lance muttered as he wrapped his arms even tighter around my waist and nuzzled his face into my neck. “Figures. I meet a great guy and then...” he began to break out in mock sobbing. “He leaves me for some other hot, scantily clad guy...”

“Hey, those are the breaks,” I said as flippantly as I could, before breaking into a grin. I just couldn’t lie to Lance...that face. Those eyes. There was something that broke my heart whenever I lied to Lance, even when it was done in jest. I pried Lance’s death grip from my waist, turned around and pulled him into my arms, so that I could stare into those beautiful, light eyes.

“I’d never leave you,” I whispered solemnly as he wrapped his arms around my waist once more. Never.

“Never?” Lance asked lightly, belying the serious look in his eyes. “Never ever ever?”

Staring at him, I suddenly felt a surge of uneasiness wash over me. I forced myself to shrug it off and forget about it. And looking back into those beautiful chartreuse eyes that I had fallen in love with, I felt my heart melt and the wave of restlessness was forgotten.

“Never,” I whispered back as I leaned in for a kiss. “Never ever.”

Famous Last Words.

Lance and I hopped the next flight to Ridgemont, taking the precautionary measures that have to be taken when you’re traveling with one fifth of *NSYNC. Using secret entrances, as per Johnny’s requests, we somehow made it onto the first-class section of the airplane. As I sank into my seat, I immediately felt the all-too-familiar butterflies fluttering their way into my stomach. Noticing the change in my demeanor, Lance turned to me, a reassuring smile on his lips and a caring look in his eyes.

“Nervous?” Lance reached over and patted my hand. “That’s one thing I love about you,” he said quietly, so that only I could hear. “That look on your face when we’re in an airplane...”

“Thanks,” I muttered under my breath as I took a few calming breaths, trying to get my heart rate back to normal. “Good to know that you love me when I’m at my most nervous.”

Laughing at my words, Lance quickly looked around the first-class section of the plane, only to find that it was less than half empty. And then, leaning over, Lance brushed his lips against my earlobe and gently flicked the tip of his tongue against my skin with lightning speed.

“I also like you when you’re really horny, Stephen...” Lance whispered after his tongue disappeared back into his mouth. “But you know...I think we can save that for when we get back to your place.”

I felt my body (and all of its adjoining parts) stiffen in reaction to Lance’s sultry words. Why the hell did Lance have to go and say something like that? It automatically made me think of sex. Sex. Lance. Sex and Lance. Sex with Lance. If you ask me, those two things go together pretty well.

“You know, that’s all I’m going to think of now,” I muttered, shifting in my seat as I attempted to cross one of my long legs over the other. Things were happening to my body. And if a flight attendant would come over and see my reaction, she would probably think that I was some kind of pervert on board.

“I know,” Lance laughed, giving me a sly look. “That was exactly my point, Stephen.” Craning his neck, Lance examined the airplane again, and seeing that it was still half empty and void of curious passengers, Lance leaned over and licked at my earlobe once more. Against my skin, his tongue felt smooth and damp, its movements slow and languid, drawing out the pleasant sensations that it was causing throughout my body. I sucked in a breath, dropping my hands into my lap. Lance knew exactly what he was doing to me--bastard.

“Fear of flying or sex, Stephen. Take your pick.”

And once he said that, Lance gave me a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and then turned away, choosing that moment to call over a flight attendant, sweetly asking her for a glass of water, because “his throat was absolutely parched.”

Folding my hands over my lap, I stared straight ahead as Lance got his glass of water and politely signed an autograph for the attendant. Once she was out of earshot, Lance looked back at me and grinned.

“You okay, Stephen?” he asked, his deep voice full of sugar as he gently ran his fingertips over my hand. Great. Now he was playing his angelic persona. The Lance Bass that elderly women and small children loved, not the Lance that made me so horny, I could practically knock holes through two-by-fours.

“You are so gonna get it when we get home,” I muttered through gritted teeth while continuing to shift in my seat. Stupid Lance and his tongue, I thought. The feeling of his tongue dragging over my ear had been burned into my mind, and instead of forgetting about it, I just replayed that simple, lustful motion over and over in my mind.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Lance whispered, a knowing smile on his lips as he reached for a magazine. And before I could say anything else, the pilot’s voice came through the speakers, neatly shutting off any conversation between the two of us.

The next few hours flying back up to New York were, in one simple word, hell. When no one was looking, Lance chose to do things to me. Bad things. He’d discreetly stroke my thigh or somehow brush his fingers over the noticeable bulge in the front of my pants. Something. He made sure no one was looking and when the coast was clear, he’d strike. And all the while, I grew more and more aroused and uncomfortable--so aroused and uncomfortable, I was forced to keep my carry on bag over the front of my pants when we left the plane.

And somehow, Lance and I made it back to my apartment, via taxi, where we sat pressed next to each other in the back seat. Lance would kick me every now and then, and as we sped through the city, I marveled at the goofy, sexy way we were acting with each other. My mind began to work overtime, pausing over the events of the last few days. The shooting had brought us closer. It wasn’t as though I had ever taken advantage of Lance and brushed him off or never appreciated him, but just the idea of losing him made me never want to take him for granted again. I was just so happy, disgustingly happy that Lance and I were with each other. Even if he was driving me crazy with desire at that particular moment, smiling coyly at me and rubbing his leg against mine.

As Lance and I got out of the taxi and lugged our suitcases behind us, I was suddenly very thankful that mid-October in Ridgemont not only brought the multicolored leaves falling from the trees, but a biting wind, as well. So it made perfect sense for the man walking beside me to be bundled up from head to toe in warm clothing, right? Right.

However, I wasn’t expecting the heap of greeting cards that were tucked safely inside pastel envelopes and the cuddly stuffed animals that sat in front of my door. They all had Chris’s name written on them. For a few seconds, I stared at the presents and cards, unsure why the doorway to my apartment had turned into a shrine for the oldest member of *NSYNC. And then I remembered those girls that lived next door, and how they knew Lance had been over that one night, and suddenly the abundance of gifts made sense.

“Whoa,” Lance remarked, eying the numerous gifts that lay in front of us. “The teenies are alive and well here, aren’t they?”

Placing his suitcase on the floor next to him, Lance bent down to sift through the items while I unlocked the door to my apartment. I did this as quickly as I could, for fear some teenaged girl would come bounding out of her apartment, take one look at my boyfriend and let out a bloodcurdling scream.

As I pushed open the door, I looked back over at Lance and saw him grinning like mad, cradling a ragtag-looking teddy bear in his arms.

“Aww,” Lance cooed happily as his eyes took in the stuffed animal. “Aren’t you the cutest thing? Ain’t he cute, Stephen?” There was a twinkle in Lance’s eyes as he turned the bear in my direction, waiting for some kind of answer. Instead, I threw the door to my apartment open, grabbed Lance’s suitcase with mine and threw them into the apartment. And then I grabbed Lance somewhat roughly by the wrist and pulled him inside.

“Ooh...are we getting kinky?” Lance laughed as I slammed the door behind him. “Now that’s a welcome-home present.”

As we stood there, face to face, I found that I was unable to speak or even move. In the dim light of my apartment, I noticed that Lance’s green eyes were shining with happiness and his slightly roundish cheeks were flushed with excitement. I allowed my eyes to trail over his body, taking in the way his pants fit him in all the right places. My throat went dry. I blinked once or twice and then watched as the teddy bear fell from his hands. Taking a step closer, I could feel the warmth from Lance’s body radiate onto mine.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The tension in my body, brought on from the evil things that Lance had done on the plane, began to put me into overdrive. Moving forward, I pushed Lance against the door, his body hitting the wood with a soft thump.

The world around us stood still as all my concentration became focused on the way Lance’s mouth felt against mine. My blood pressure rising, the sound of my rapidly beating heart rang through my ears and began to drive me insane with lust. I felt Lance’s hands slide through my hair, his lips trailing down my throat as his hands ran down the back of my neck.

And then he pulled away from me, a devilish smirk on his lips as he took my hands into his.

“I’m taking it that this is my welcome-home present?” Lance whispered huskily as he began to lead the way to my bedroom. “Right?”

I would have answered Lance, but really, my mind wasn’t thinking of anything else except getting that man into my bed. And that’s where we stayed for the rest of the night.

Going back to school was the wake-up call that I desperately needed, although if you would have said that to me the next morning, I would have probably smacked you upside the head and fallen back into Lance’s arms.

My eyelids slowly fluttered open, only to slam shut again. I had forgotten to close the blinds last night, and because of that, Lance and I were bathed in the morning’s warm sunlight. I let out an inward groan.

‘Not school,’ the voice in my head complained. ‘You don’t have to go...I mean, how many sculpture classes have you missed?’

‘Five. It would be six, if you decided to stay home today,’ another voice in my head volleyed back.

‘Shit. You gotta go.’

And so, I gently lifted Lance’s arm, which was draped over my waist, and crawled out of the bed that we shared. My feet hit the freezing-cold floor, and as I began to walk towards the bathroom, I looked back to see if I had awakened Lance. I hadn’t. He was sound asleep, occasionally muttering unintelligible words and phrases under his breath. The blonde spikes stuck out in a thousand different directions. His eyebrows were furrowed and a trail of dried spit (or at least, I hoped it was spit) trailed from the corner of his mouth.

He looked adorable.

Heading to the shower, I adjusted the water temperature and jumped inside, determined to get clean, wash my hair, and shave. I needed to go to class, no matter what the little voice inside my head told me to do.

‘Stay home with Lance...you know you want to. Think about it...a whole day with Lance. In bed.’

No, I had to take the smart route and go to school instead. I’m such a dumbass at times.

After I got out of the shower and shaved, I padded back to the bedroom, where I found Lance still fast asleep. Quietly, I thumbed through my closet and pulled out some clothes. I was in the middle of buttoning up my shirt, when the man on the bed suddenly stirred awake.

“Stephen?” Lance called out groggily, as his eyes darted around the room. “Stephen? Where are you going?”

Biting my lip and buttoning up the remainder of my shirt, I took a seat next to him. He was staring at me with a confused, just-woke-up look that lingered in his slightly bloodshot eyes. Running a hand through his hair, Lance propped himself up on one elbow, reached up and gently ran his fingertips over my cheek.

“You going to school?” His words were so soft and sweet, and I swear, Lance was just trying to dig a knife into my heart. His pale green eyes danced over my face. “Don’t you want to stay home with me today?” His fingers trailed down my cheek...my neck...and over the front of my shirt, where his fingers sought out one of my nipples through the fabric of my shirt.

I closed my eyes, trying my best not to whimper at his touch. “Lance...” I began, the words coming out in a croak. “Yes. I have to go to school today. But you don’t know how much I’d rather stay here with you... “

“You sure you have to go?” Lance asked, sleepily, his eyelids beginning to close with the weight of his tiredness. “You sure?”

“Yes,” I whispered, kneeling next to him, while trying to regain my composure. I didn’t know why I was whispering. After all, Lance and I were the only people in my apartment. We were alone. But there was just something about the way Lance was lying there with his hair mussed up, and the way the light seeped in through the window. He looked so...innocent. And fragile. Keeping the bed sheet tucked around his waist, Lance’s eyes began to open up, waking up more and more as the seconds ticked by.

“I’m gonna miss you all day...” Lance sighed, sticking his lower lip out in a pout. “So much.”

“I know,” I said, giving him a smile as I ran my fingers through the short strands of his hair. “But I’ll try to be home early. Wouldn’t want you to get lonely.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lance laughed, his eyes softening as he continued to stare at me. “Whatever. I’ll be fine by myself, Stephen. I have plans...” He gave me a mock scowl. “Just go to school already...it’s about time you did something besides just lay here all--”

And before he could finish his sentence, I suddenly threw my body over his, knocking Lance back onto the mattress. I don’t know why I did this...maybe it was because I knew I’d be thinking about Lance all day. Giggling like idiots, Lance and I rolled around on the bed for a few seconds before he pinned me down. Looking into his eyes, I noticed a look of sadness flash through them.

“Can’t I just pay for you to get your diploma?” Lance asked teasingly as he kissed the tip of my nose. “Please?”

“I wish,” I murmured as his lips moved lower until they met mine once more. His tongue traced a path around my lips and I found myself unable to speak as we kissed.

“Lance?” I managed to gasp out, as I rolled Lance onto his back and pulled myself into a sitting position. I needed to stop. I was getting more than a little aroused, and if we continued to kiss, there would be a good chance I would never leave that bed. Crawling over Lance’s body, I noticed the disappointed look that appeared on his face.

“I gotta go.” I looked at the watch strapped on my wrist and tapped its face. “It’s eight o’clock. Class starts at eight thirty, and the last thing I want to do is to be late.” My words came out in an almost stern, reprimanding tone. I tried not to look at my boyfriend, because the look in his eyes was enough to make my heart break. I didn’t want to leave him lying there--naked of all things--but I had to. This was the one time I had to put my education ahead of what felt good. Straightening out my rumpled shirt, I gave Lance a shaky smile. “I’ve missed five classes this semester already.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lance sighed, placing his hands behind his head as he watched me scurry around the bedroom, gathering my belongings for the day. When I turned back to look at Lance, my eyes automatically fixated on the upper half of Lance’s body. The alluringly pale skin. The way the muscles in his arms flexed as he shifted himself into a more comfortable position. And the way his dark nipples contrasted with his pale skin...

Oh fuck. If I wasn’t horny before, I definitely was now.


My eyes drifted lower, concentrating on what was hidden underneath that bed sheet. My mouth dropped open a bit. I just couldn’t help myself. Suddenly, school seemed like such a waste of my time, especially when I could be lying in bed with my boyfriend. Unconsciously, my hand drifted up to the top button on my shirt, and I fingered it, ready to slide it through the loophole, when Lance’s voice suddenly cut through my thoughts.

“Hel-lo, Stephen?”

He snapped his fingers a couple of times as an amused glint replaced the sad one in his eyes.


Stephen.” Giving me an annoyed look, Lance stood up, and pulled the sheet around his body. He walked over to me until out bodies were less than an inch apart. “Go to school already. I mean it. Don’t make me kick your ass in.” Leaning over to place a quick kiss on my lips, Lance pulled away before I could respond.

“Now, go.”

“Fine, fine,” I grumbled as I turned away from Lance. “I know when I’m not wanted.” And then I suddenly felt a hard smack on my backside.

“Hey!” I yelped, the sting from Lance’s hand radiating throughout my entire body. Turning back to my boyfriend, I noticed the sly grin that had formed on his face.

“I didn’t say, don’t kiss me goodbye, you goof,” Lance grinned. “Where’s the love?” Good-naturedly rolling my eyes at him, I placed a more than chaste kiss on Lance’s mouth. By the time we parted, I was surprised that my hair wasn’t sticking straight up on end.

“Now go,” Lance demanded, a smile still on his lips as he smacked me in the rear end. “And when you come home, this will be waiting for you.” With that, Lance parted the bed sheet that was wrapped around his waist and flashed me.

Needless to say, that morning’s drive to school was more than difficult for me.

Despite my efforts to get to my sculpture class early, I hadn’t counted on the rush-hour traffic and the packed-to-maximum-capacity parking lot that greeted me almost every morning. And let’s not even start about the numerous potholes I had driven over, probably ruining the underside of my car in the process.

My mood had fallen from nirvana to hell in a matter of a half hour. Maybe I should have just stayed home with Lance, damn the number of classes that I had missed.

By the end of the day, I wished I had listened to that thought and stayed home with Lance. Forever.

When I walked into my sculpture class that morning, the first thing I felt was embarrassment. Ten pairs of eyes greeted my arrival and watched as I took a seat and threw my newspaper bag on the floor. After I had taken my seat, my eyes were drawn to the ten plaster statues that sat on the floor, and a sinking feeling filled the pit of my stomach.

‘Oh fuck,’ I silently intoned to myself. ‘Those plaster statues were due today.’

Professor Bell, the one person who had always trusted and guided me throughout my four years at the University, stared at me, as I sat there, projectless. He was not only my sculpture teacher, but the head of Ridgemont’s art department and one of the most talented painters that I have had the honor of knowing. And I can’t explain the look of annoyance or disappointment that suddenly appeared on his face. It was completely indescribable and it just...bothered me.

I had always been one of those students who is always on time with his projects. I was always filled with ideas and was never one to skip classes. My artwork had always made me happy, and whenever I finished a project, I always felt satisfied with the work I had put into it.

And now...it wasn’t as though I didn’t love my artwork anymore, because I did. It was what made up my personality. It was a part of me. And it still made me happy.

But on the other hand...I had found someone else to make me happy.


Once his name entered my thoughts, I couldn’t get out of my mind the image of my boyfriend flashing me as I left the apartment. I wondered what he was doing at that moment. Had he gone back to bed? Or was he eating the last of the Lucky Charms in my cupboard? Did I even have milk in the refrigerator? I hadn’t been grocery shopping lately, and from what I could remember, the only things in my refrigerator were some mustard, ketchup, a couple bottles of imported beer, and maybe some (now moldy) bread.

As Professor Bell walked to the middle of the room, and knelt down to pick up one of the finished sculptures, my heart sank and thoughts of Lance flew out of my mind.

I didn’t have a finished piece. I looked over at the windowsill, where my half-finished piece sat in the sunlight, and I just fought off the urge to run out of the room. I was embarrassed beyond belief, and even though Professor Bell hadn’t said a thing about my missing work, I could tell that everyone in the room was thinking about it. The other students were looking at me with sympathetic glances, knowing our professor’s strict attitude toward students who came unprepared. He loathed those students. They weren’t worth his time, not when there were people who did come to class prepared and ready to work...

I was screwed. Fuck.

Needing to think about something else, I turned my head away from the finished works that sat in front of me, and instead looked directly at Marianne.

‘Even better,’ I thought miserably as I examined the slender girl, whose lips were pressed together into a nonexistent line. Her stick-like arms were folded over her chest and she was staring straight ahead, as though I wasn’t even there. She was probably the only person who hadn’t shot me a look of sympathy, instead listening to Professor Bell’s glowing critique of her sculpture. I continued to stare at my friend for a few more seconds, wondering why she hadn’t looked at me yet, when it suddenly dawned on me.

‘Oh. That’s right. She’s probably mad at you, Peterson. For standing her up. You stupid schmuck.’

Realizing that the voice in my mind was right, I decided to wait out the rest of the critique by coming up with lame, mundane excuses that I could give my professor. But you know what? As much as I wanted to care about that, I found that I couldn’t. I was exhausted. Mentally, I was tired from worrying so much over the past few days. And then physically? Forget it. Lance and I had been up late, engaging in those physical acts that couples do when they’re in love. The red marks dotting my neck explained that loud and clear.

My mind was so clouded with these thoughts that I never even noticed Professor Bell had wrapped up his critique and had called a ten-minute break for everyone. In fact, it was his next words that snapped me back to reality.

“Stephen, may I see you for a few minutes? In my office?”

Snapping out of my Lance-induced daydreams, I looked up, only to see my professor staring at me with an expectant look on his face. I heard the knowing grumbles of the students surrounding me, and my face flushed. The butterflies that were usually reserved for boarding airplanes reappeared in my stomach, and my hands began to tremble slightly. I watched as Professor Bell disappeared into his office, and that’s when the comments began.

“Dude--” One of the other students said, as he picked up his sculpture from the floor. “I think you might be in trouble or something...”

“No shit,” I snapped back as I stood up, and wiped my sweating palms on the front of my pants. I looked over at Marianne, fully expecting her to be gloating over my newfound troubles, but I was wrong. Instead, the fiery look in her eyes was gone, and a look of concern had replaced it. And suddenly I felt terrible. At that moment, Marianne was the perfect picture of grace. Clutching her sculpture in her arms, she had stopped in mid-motion to watch me meet my doom. And then the corners of her lips turned up, in the slightest of smiles. Suddenly, I felt low--really low--for standing her up the other day. Even if I had gone to Florida to see Lance, it was just rude of me to do so.

But it was for Lance. Lance.

I was so confused at that moment, I didn’t know which way to turn.

As soon as I got my yelling from Professor Bell, I knew I needed to apologize for how rudely I had treated Marianne. That was a given. I just hoped that she would forgive me, because at the risk of sounding really cheesy, I did value our friendship.

But that would have to come after my talking to. Christ, I was nervous.

Listening to the sound of my own shuffling footsteps, I walked into my professor’s sparsely decorated office and felt my throat go dry. Professor Bell was sitting at his desk, his thick wire-rimmed glasses perched on his oversized nose. The harsh overhead lights glistened off his ever-growing bald spot. For ages, Marianne and I had joked about his progressive hair loss, but now, I just wanted to take back every rotten, mean thing I had said.

I was scared. I don’t know how unmanly that sounds, but...I was.

“You wanted to see me?” I asked, my low-pitched voice coming out in a high-pitched squeak. I closed the door behind me, not wanting the rest of the class to hear the downfall of Stephen Peterson.

“Yes, I did. Please take a seat, Stephen.”


Doing as I was told, I took my place in front of Professor Bell’s desk and just sat there, the silent thoughts of fear spiraling around in my head. I began twiddling my thumbs and then stopped. I felt like a terrible failure. I somehow felt that I had let the school down. The school had awarded me that full scholarship for my last semester at the University. And what had I done with it? I had thrown it back in their face. I chose not to attend classes simply because on some mornings I was too tired. And most of those times I was tired because of Lance. Either I had talked to him until the wee hours of the morning, or Lance had been visiting and I had chosen to stay in bed with him. And while doing that hadn’t been such a bad idea back then, now...oh, man, now I just wanted to crawl under a rock and never come out. And staring at the stern expression on Professor Bell’s face, I came to a final realization:

I was screwed.

Now, I know I shouldn’t have jumped to such a horrible conclusion so quickly, but remember, I was king of the overactive imagination. You’re talking about a person who automatically imagined Lance lying on some Florida stage, gurgling in a pool of his own blood, after hearing that newscast. I always assumed the worst, because let’s face it--I haven’t had the best of luck.

The room was way too quiet for my own liking, and the silence was grating on my nerves. So I decided to say something.

“Um, is this about my absences?” My fingers nervously clutched the armrests of the chair I was sitting in. I was holding myself up, hoping that I wouldn’t pass out and fall flat on my face. “Because...I have an explanation...”

‘What’s your excuse, Peterson? The reason I’m not attending classes is because I’m dating a celebrity, and worrying about him is keeping me up all hours. You might have heard of him...Lance Bass? He’s from *NSYNC...yeah, those boy-band guys. You want an autograph for your daughter? I’m sure I can get you one.’

Uh-huh. And while I was at it, maybe I’d go home and tell Lance that I didn’t want to date him anymore because I was straight.

But to my surprise, Professor Bell gave me a look of pure confusion. And that look caught me completely off guard, because I was fully expecting my teacher to nod his shiny head in agreement with my previous words.

“What? Stephen...no.…” He paused for a second, looking at the blotter in front of him, before looking back up at me. “The reason I called you into the office... wasn’t to discuss your absences. Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned with the number of classes you’ve missed this semester.”

I didn’t know how to react to the words that Professor Bell had just spoken. I felt like a balloon whose air had just been let out. I felt relieved. *Very* relieved.

But if that wasn’t what Professor Bell wanted, then what *did* he want to speak to me about?

Before I could ponder that question any further, my teacher continued to speak, lowering his voice with the next words. “Marianne told me about the passing away of your mother, when I questioned her about your absences.” A pained look crossed his face before he continued. “And Stephen, I understand that your adjustment to those...ah...*circumstances* must be quite difficult for you.”

Sitting there in silence, I didn’t know what to think. Part of me felt like crying at the mere mention of my mother. Another part of me wanted to cheer with happiness that my professor wasn’t ready to banish me from the class. But another part of me...the more inquisitive and curious part of me was dying to know *why* I had been called into this office. After all, no one gets called into Professor Bell s office for a leisurely chat session. No one.

To my surprise, a broad, almost *proud* grin appeared on my professor’s face, and reaching over to the side, he set a thick manila envelope in front of me. I noticed that the words ‘London Art Institute’ were stamped in the upper left-hand corner.

Now I was more than curious--I was downright nosy.

“Stephen...” Professor Bell began slowly, almost as though he were trying to draw out the suspense. “Have you ever thought about your future after graduation?”

‘Sure,’ the good old reliable voice in my head answered. ‘Live with Lance.’ And that sudden thought surprised even me, because I hadn’t even given the slightest thought to my future. All I knew was that I wanted Lance in it.

“Um...no. Why?”

“Well, Stephen...I have an offer for you.”

An offer? What? My mind went completely blank at his words. Painters never get offers. Maybe the graphic design kids do, but painters and sculptors? We *never* get offers. In fact, the only sorts of offers we get after college are for an employment opportunity at the local Wal-Mart. There aren’t many demands for painters. I knew this when I chose my major. And I knew that my future was going to be shaky...

But an offer?

Professor Bell seemed to enjoy the confused look on my face, and I watched as he began to open the flap of the manila envelope. “Yes, Stephen...an offer. You see--” He pulled out a large, colorful brochure and handed it to me. I inspected it before opening it up. The cover contained a picture of two people in their mid-20’s involved in a serious discussion. And written underneath their picture was the caption, ‘Internships at the London Art Institute.’

I’ll admit something about myself that I’m not very proud of: About 99% of the time, I’m completely clueless to something that is obvious. Sitting there in Professor Bell’s office with that booklet in my hands...my brain wasn’t working. Why was he showing me this booklet?


Smiling at me once more, Professor Bell began his talk. “My brother, Philip, is head of the London Art Institute. They’re always looking for new talent...someone who has a fresh, interesting visual style. I talked to Philip a few days ago, and he explained that a few of their interns are leaving this May--heading to new jobs or just to something different.”

“Really? That’s nice,” I added hastily, trying to feign interest, as my eyes were drawn to the section of the booklet marked ‘Painters at the Institute.’ I was still clueless, so I nodded my head up and down a few times to make it seem as though I got it. That seemed to make me look smarter.

Despite my efforts at intelligence, Professor Bell obviously knew I had no clue to what he was talking about. Giving me another gentle smile, he just continued.

“Stephen...I’m not sure what plans you’ve made for after graduation, but I’ve told my brother about you. I’ve told him about what a wonderful painter you are, and that you’re one of the most responsible and honorable (Honorable? I thought later on...oh, if only he knew some of the things I did outside of school...) young men that I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching.” He paused in an almost dramatic fashion after those words. “And my brother wants to offer you an internship with the London Art Institute in May.”

I sat in my seat, not sure how to react. My brain refused to absorb the information at first, and all I could think of was...Lance. I wondered what he would do in this situation...and then I snapped back to life.


‘Internship, stupid. You’re being offered an internship. And in London, England, no less.’

“It’s a rather prestigious institute,” Professor Bell explained as he sat back in his chair. “Lovely people. Sophisticated, but incredibly creative, Stephen. It would be a wonderful breeding ground for you, and an even better showcase for your paintings.”

“I--I...” I stammered, unsure of what to say next. I dropped the booklet back on his desk and allowed my hands to fall into my lap. “I don’t know what to say...”

Professor Bell laughed. “Well, ‘yes’ would be a wonderful thing to hear, Stephen...but I’m not going to pressure you. You don’t even have to give me a definite answer until late March...but I do highly recommend this experience. Not only is it a prestigious offering, but it’s a paid internship, as well.”


“Yes.” He laughed again. “It’s a paid internship, Stephen. They also have paid housing for those who are accepted into the program, which you wouldn’t have any problem getting into.” He paused for a second, and drummed his fingers on his desk. “Not only would you be painting and sculpting and doing all sorts of things, but you’d help out the Institute by being featured in their gallery shows. You’d serve as an example of what sort of talent they have interning there.”

I was completely awestruck at the idea, which was sounding better and better with each passing detail.


Professor Bell nodded his head and gave me a grin that stretched from ear to ear, which was a rare occurrence.

“Yes, Stephen...really. In fact... “ He leaned forward and picked up the booklet that I had dropped. “The Institute has plenty of wonderful programs for artists like you....” And for the next ten minutes or so, Professor Bell explained the highlights of the Institute in detail. It was almost as though he were a walking advertisement for the place, but to be honest, I wasn’t complaining. At that moment, the Institute seemed like the most wonderful place in the world. I was absolutely awestruck at the program’s descriptions and of the intensive work I’d be doing there.

“So you see, Stephen,” Professor Bell said while closing the book and sliding it back over to me, “The Institute really is a wonderful place for beginning artists. The only thing that you’d have to pay for is the airfare to London.”

“And what about the airfare back home?”

“Oh, that, too--but the internship is mapped out over two and a half years.”

Two and a half years?” And suddenly, an image of Lance popped into my mind.

Two and a half years without Lance. In the excitement of things, I had completely forgotten about my boyfriend. While Professor Bell had explained the workings of the Institute, his existence had left my mind. If my teacher had whipped out a contract and told me to sign on the dotted line, I would have done it right then and there.

What about Lance? I couldn’t just leave him.

Could I?

That little voice in the back of my mind began talking to me. I had this wonderful opportunity and it was being handed to me on a silver platter. And all I could think about was...Lance. My boyfriend. And the one person for whom I would do almost anything.


“Stephen?” My teacher’s voice shook me out of my thoughts, and I noticed he was staring at me with a concerned expression on his face. “Are you all right? You know, you don’t have to accept until late March...”

“I know.” My words were soft, and I didn’t know what to say next. I was still fumbling with the words in my mind. “The program is two and a half years, right?”

“Right. And Stephen, it would be a shame to pass up an opportunity such as this one. My brother said he was willing to take you right on the spot if he could, *without seeing your work*. And I’m positive that even if you were to send him some slides, the panel would be floored by your talent.”

‘Talk about an ego boost,’ I thought, my face turning a bright red.

The two of us sat in silence. Professor Bell slid the booklet back into the manila envelope and folded the flap over. The wheels in my mind were turning way too fast for me to comprehend anything, and I became mute. Looking up at the clock, Professor Bell smiled at me and stood, the legs of his chair scraping across the wooden floor.

“Think about it, Stephen,” Professor Bell said wisely as he made his way to the door, handing me the manila envelope as he twisted the doorknob. “I can guarantee you that accepting this internship will change your life forever.” And with that, he exited his office while I stood behind, thumbing through the contents of the envelope. A wave of trepidation washed over me as I pulled out the application and skimmed it.

“Change my life forever, eh?” I muttered under my breath as I slid the application back inside. Taking a deep breath, I walked back out to the sculpture workroom, and for some reason, I didn’t doubt those words at all.…

The rest of the class passed by in a blur, as my mind was focused on what had just happened in Professor Bell’s office. I just couldn’t get past the almost rags-to-riches quality this offer held. I had always worried about my future after I graduated. There weren’t many jobs available for painters, and I had always feared that I would spend the rest of my life working as a stock boy at the Home Depot. Not that being a stock boy is such a horrible thing, but after four years at a university and graduating (hopefully) with a Bachelor of Arts in painting, you want something good to head your way. And yes, I was ready to embrace the starving artist persona.

But then I met Lance. And my whole world changed.

I had never been in love before, and let me tell you...that gushy, on-a-roller-coaster feeling settled deep in my stomach and changed my life in ways I hadn’t even imagined. As cheesy as it sounds, I learned how to love someone besides a member of my family. A real, honest-to-goodness love--one that made me weak in the knees and put my head in the clouds. I would do *anything* for Lance. Anything.

I loved him.

But now I had this incredible offer that would make me leave him.

Christ. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I didn’t want to leave Lance. The thought of getting on a plane headed for England and leaving Lance behind made my heart ache. We had been through so much together. Our relationship caused Lance to come out to his family. And he had been there when my mother turned me away.

He had become my strength. Without Lance, I probably would have gone insane.

There was no fucking way I was going to leave Lance and head off to England. No way.

Then why did I have an overwhelming urge to fill out the application, take slides of my paintings, and ship them off to the London Art Institute? Why couldn’t I shake that scenario out of my head?

“Stephen?” I was so on edge, I practically jumped through the ceiling. Turning my head, I saw Marianne standing there, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Jesus, Marianne,” I breathed, clutching my rapidly beating heart. “You scared the living crap out of me.” Despite my frazzled manner, I flashed a smile in her direction, in an attempt to take the edge off my words. I still needed to apologize to her. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for being such an asshole, and that I was sorry for standing her up.

“Yeah...well....” Marianne trailed off, dragging a stool over to where I sat. “What can I say? I’m a scary girl.” She made a horrible face that caused both of us to laugh, lightening the tense mood between us. We grew silent for a few seconds. I kept myself busy by painting my still-unfinished plaster sculpture, while Marianne sketched out a new idea for her next project.

“Wanna go out for lunch?” Marianne suddenly blurted out, dropping her pencil onto her sketchbook with a noisy thump. “I mean...if you don’t want to...you know...hang out with me, then that’s okay...I understand.…” The corners of her mouth turned down, and her eyes took on the saddest look I had ever seen.

Placing my paintbrush next to my sculpture, I looked at the petite girl sitting next to me, and fuck, if I hadn’t felt evil before, I definitely did now. Marianne looked so sad. Her aqua eyes were bright.

“Marianne...” I began softly, scooting my stool closer to hers, so that our conversation stayed between us. “Of course I want to go out to lunch with you...why wouldn’t I?”

She opened her pale pink lips, ready to speak, when Professor Bell clapped his hands once, calling the entire class to attention.

“Okay, everyone.” He looked pointedly at the clock that hung above the door. “I’m going to end class fifteen minutes early today, since I have a faculty meeting to attend. Please have your sketches ready for next class, and Stephen--” Turning his head in my direction, Professor Bell gave me a slight smile. I tried not to cringe. I knew he was thinking of our talk and the almighty offer. “Please have your plaster sculpture done for next class.”

I nodded and began to gather up my art supplies, which were scattered all over my worktable. I did this as slowly and methodically as I could, trying to draw out the time. I wanted to talk to Marianne alone, one on one. And not while one of us was driving or when we were in a crowded restaurant. Face-to-face talks were always the best.

As Marianne placed her sketchbook and pencils in her backpack, I couldn’t help but feel as though something was about to happen between us. It’s a hard feeling to explain, but I’m sure you’ve felt this way before. You just know that something--either good or bad--is going to happen. That’s exactly how I felt. My heart began to pound in my chest, and looking back on all the strange premonitions I had at times, I began to wonder if I wasn’t psychic or something.

Or maybe I was just blessed with a good sense of intuition. That may have been it.

“Stephen?” Marianne’s voice was quiet as she watched me close my tackle box. The room was empty except for the two of us. “Can I ask you a question?”

Instead of looking at her, I turned to my newspaper bag and pretended that I was looking for something. I closed my eyes while my fingers thumbed through the numerous papers in there. I had no clue what Marianne was about to ask, but I was almost positive it was going to be something I didn’t want to hear.

“Sure,” I said, trying to control my shaking hands. I opened my eyes. “Shoot.”

“Why don’t you like me?”

Her words hung in the air between us, and the room was deathly quiet. While I’d like to say that I was shocked by her sudden question, I really wasn’t. For some reason, I had expected her to ask me something like this a long time ago. It’s just that I hadn’t expected to hear it now. Marianne had always been a little shy and quiet, but when you got to know her, you found out that not only did she have a great personality, but she was also a very direct person. No beating around the bush for her. It was just the way Marianne chose to do things.

I really didn’t know what to say, though. Of course I liked her. I liked Marianne a lot. But not romantically.

I didn’t mean to blurt out what I said next. I didn’t. But I just couldn’t hide certain parts of myself anymore. Mari and I had been friends for almost four years, and the ahem sexual tension between us was getting weird. I had to tell her. And so I did.

“Marianne, I’m gay.”

There. I’d said it. But this wasn’t exactly the way I had wanted to tell her.

She stared at me. She stared at me as though I were a stranger. I heard her breathing. I watched as her hands clenched into fists next to her narrow hips. Her eyes grew glassy. Two red spots appeared on her cheeks. And then it dawned on me: Marianne--sweet, shy Marianne--was mad.

I felt hot. A light sheen of sweat broke out across my forehead as I waited for Marianne to say something. I just wanted an answer.

“Stephen,” Marianne said curtly as she tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Why haven’t you told me this before?” She blinked once and seemed at a loss for words. “I mean...why? Didn’t you think I’d understand?”

The hurt look on her face overwhelmed me. I felt stupid. Stupid for not telling her sooner.

“You don’t care?” I asked blankly, taking a step toward her. “I mean...I’m gay. Shouldn’t you be screaming or running around or something?”

After I had said that, I closed my eyes. My God, I sounded like a homophobic moron. And I was gay. Jesus.

Marianne tipped her head to the side, looking very much like one of those clueless, underage models in a Calvin Klein ad. Her eyes grew round, and the fists next to her hips uncurled.

“What?” She asked in disbelief. “Run around? Scream? Stephen, my *brother* is gay. My brother. My flesh and blood. He’s gay.”


“*Oh*? Stephen...I just can’t believe...I...just...”

“Just what?”

“Just--” She turned back to me, the hurt clear in her eyes. “--I m hurt. Why couldn’t you have told me this sooner?” She picked up her purse and swung it at me, neatly belting me in the gut. I doubled over. What the hell did she have in that thing? Bricks?

“I thought we were friends,” she sneered. Her eyes were blazing as she slung her purse/weapon over her shoulder and picked up her backpack.

“Mari--we are friends--” I gasped, holding onto my stomach.

“You’ve been hiding this part of you from me for almost three years, Stephen.” Her voice was strong and defiant. I don’t know why I expected her to sound weak and defenseless, because she most certainly did not.


“Stephen, I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Marianne bit her bottom lip and shook her head at me. “Not now...I can’t.” Our gazes locked, and seeing the pure hurt and betrayal in her eyes, I just wanted to crumble into pieces. And before I could even begin my apology, Marianne turned on her heel and left the room. I heard her footsteps echoing down the hallway, growing softer and softer, until I could no longer hear them.

I stood there, still clutching my stomach until the pain subsided and I was able to stand up properly. My heart was pounding in my ears, and I took a few deep, cleansing breaths to calm down. It didn’t work. Instead, I felt sick to my stomach, and part of me wanted to skip the remainder of my afternoon classes. I only had two--advanced watercolor painting and my senior contemporary art seminar. And who cared about them now? If I skipped, I could just go home.

But I didn’t want to go home.

I stopped and replayed the words in my head. Did I just say that?

Yes. I did. I didn’t want to go home.

I didn’t want to see Lance.

There was a load of problems resting on my shoulders--England, Marianne, skipped classes--and if I went home to my boyfriend, he would immediately notice the distressed look on my face. He’d sit me down and make me talk. And I didn’t want to do that.

I just wanted to be alone. By myself. Alone.

I looked around the empty sculpture room and saw nothing but pieces of scrap plywood and unplugged power tools. Letting out a bitter laugh, I could only shake my head, because at that moment, I was getting exactly what I wanted.


Part 2 is up next!

Thanks for reading,