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"A Class By Himself 14"

It was hard to shake myself out of sleep the next morning. Especially after being scared half to death by Joel stumbling into my room at 2 AM in some lame attempt to 'sneak' into the house after hours. Either my mom was too tired to hear him come in last night, or she was just too tired to care this morning. Either way, it took a while to get back to sleep. And those few moments of frustration felt like they cost me an entire night's worth of sleep.

Not that I was going to need my stamina for much more than detention anyway, in one form or another. I rolled over in bed, trying to absorb the last little bit of heat from my warm morning blankets as I could, and I saw Joel slowly waking up on the floor next to the bed. He lazily gave me a crooked grin as he rubbed his eyes. I giggled a bit and said, "What the hell did you think you were doing last night?"

"You heard me?"

"Dude...half the fucking NEIGHBORHOOD heard you. You scared me half to death."

"Why didn't you say something?"

"Like what? 'Hey, idiot, I'm trying to sleep?' I kinda thought you'd be able to figure that out at two o'clock in the morning." I said.

"Damn. My bad, dude. I was trying to 'get some' last night."

"Gee, that's original." I said, rolling my eyes. "So did you get any?"

"No!" He pouted slightly. "I went over to Johnny Rourke's house, cause I hear his sister is kinda digging me, right? Now, Johnny's a total lightweight when it comes to drinking, but I heard that his sister can hold her own a lot better. So all of us are kinda sitting around, getting kinda toasty, you know? Things are going just like they're supposed to. Johnny gets fucked up first, and he's getting ready to pass out, leaving me and his sister all uninhibited and ready to party, you know?"

"And this is the part when things go wrong, right?" I asked.

"I don't know what the hell happened, but the room starts spinning and I realize that I kinda was going a little too hard on the drinks. I'm basically getting ready to slide right off of the couch, and she asks me if I'm ok. I don't want her to know I'm that buzzed, and I certainly don't wanna puke or I won't get her to let me suck her tits, right? So I lay back for a second, and tell her that I'm fine, and I just wanna close my eyes for a second. Just to keep the room from spinning. Next thing I know, it's one o'clock in the morning, the whole house is dark, she's gone to bed without me, and I'm laying on the couch with my head in fucking Johnny Rourke's lap."

"Hehehe, serves you right, ya pervert. Johnny Rourke's sister is like two years older than you."

"Yeah....she's built like it too." He snickered. Sometimes that boy is SO hopelessly straight.

"Whatever. Just...be a little bit more discreet when you come in from now on, will ya? My mom might seem like a hard sleeper, but she can be kind of a curfew hound....guest or no guest."

"Don't worry, I'll be totally stealth-like next time." He said. Then, he sat up a bit. "Hey....what is that?"

"What is what?" I asked him.

"That. On your hand. What is that?" I looked at my hand and told him there wasn't anything on it. "Yes there is. It's right there." I looked again, and he said, "Here, give me your hand." He took a hold of my wrist, and with a jerk, he suddenly pulled it down and pressed it against his morning hardon!

"GROSS! What the fuck?" I giggled, pulling my hand back as quickly as possible. Joel immediately cracked up and rolled over on his side laughing. "Hehehe, JERK! It's not funny!" I said, but couldn't stop laughing myself I do have to admit though...he was a bit bigger than I thought he would be. I mean, I didn't expect to have his boner in my hand all of the sudden, but now that I think about it, I wish I had given it a nice little squeeze or two. It was all hard and warm, and it bounced when my palm covered it. Hehehe, God, am I being weird or what? "That's it, I'm getting dressed."

Joel kept laughing at me as I got out of bed and gave him a kick for being obnoxious. Then I grabbed some clothes and went into the bathroom to get cleaned up. But not before hearing Joel say, "Ya big ol' fag! Hehehe!" I gave him the finger on my way out, but somehow...that just felt like his comment was a bit more obscene than usual. I don't know, maybe it was just me. I mean...Joel was being his usual goofy self, right? He's not being intentionally rude or hateful when he says stuff like that, but...this morning, I kinda took it to heart. Maybe all this 'coming out' talk from Tanner has gotten me all backwards.

I hopped in the shower and let the warm water run down over my shoulders. You would think that the quiet moment would bring me some peace of mind, but it didn't. Not at all. In fact...having time to think only made things worse. I'd rather stay too busy to worry about much of anything. My identity is on the line here. My whole world, my entire life, from this point on will be radically different if Chris so much as utters a WORD about me and Tanner being gay. To anybody! I mean...he's already got a great deal of mindless followers at that school as it is. And the fact that they totally HATE me, as well as most of the rich kids in that damn place do...it would be open season on me for the rest of my academic career! No certificate of appreciation would keep them from spitting on me in the hallways if they knew I was even more of an outcast than what they made of me for being...um....'not' rich. Over something like this??? They'll fucking ROAST me and feed me to the volleyball team! I just.....arrrgh....I've got to find a way to appeal to SOMETHING in Chris that misses me! Or at least cares enough to not want to hurt me. The bad news is...I don't know how to find that particular part of him anymore. It's, like....gone. And I chased it away.

There's nothing like pouting and nurturing your regrets in the shower to start off a day in high school. Perfect mindset for me to have when entering the academic prison system. Sighhhh....I need to just swallow it up and get myself together. The last thing I want is for Chris and his goons to see how much this is getting to me. I should be counting my blessings, honestly. At least Chris has kept his retaliation to the school grounds. It hasn't come 'home' just yet, and that means that my mom won't be involved. At least not yet she won't. I just wish that I didn't have to stress over this anymore. And...and I wish I hadn't hurt him so badly. I mean, let's be honest, that's what all of this is about, isn't it? I could have told Chris to back off a long time ago and just put a stop to it before it even started. Even HIS determination would have given way to common sense by the time his heart had really gotten involved. But..I let it go on and on. I just...I liked it, you know? He was cute and he was funny and he was chasing me all over town, trying to get my attention...my ego just kinda got involved and I let him think...I mean, we were friends, but I didn't think...

Sighhhhh.....I'm so screwed.

When I got out of the shower and went back into my room, Joel was ready to take a shower of his own and 'pretend' to be spending another day at school. God knows how he can kill so many hours for so many consecutive days in a row. As much as I detest spending 80 percent of my life in school, I honestly don't know what I'd do with myself if I wasn't there. "It's about time, shower boy." He said with a little push and a smile, and he went into the bathroom and closed the door.

I could smell my mom making toast and eggs downstairs, and the first whiff of that morning aroma was enough to instantly get my stomach growling. I trotted into the kitchen, giving my mom a kiss on the cheek as she handed me a plate. "Butter's in the fridge." She said. She still had her old morning robe on...and she just looked so...'faded'. Her hair was dry and kinda had split ends everywhere, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She looked like she was half sleepwalking, and when I sat down at the table, I had to push aside a collection of bills and envelopes just to have a place to eat. Those bills were getting more and more colorful by the week. The closer they get to that all powerful 'final notice', the more the colors of the bills get. From white paper, to yellow, to pink, to red. And when they go back to white again...that's when you know you're in trouble. That usually means, 'We just cut off your electricity. Deal with it, deadbeat.' My mom looked at the table, and came over to gather some of the papers up. "Sorry. I'm just trying to figure things out, honey." She sat down with some toast herself and lightly spread some butter over it. "Do you want jelly?" She asked, getting up to go to the fridge.

I almost didn't want to say it. "Um...we're out."

"Oh....I see." She sat back down and paused for a second, no emotion showing on her face. Then she snapped out of it, and saw me watching. She gave me a little smile, "I'll bring some packets home from work for tomorrow, k? Do we need anything else? Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise?" I shook my head. "You sure? I'll bring some home anyway. You never know, right?" She took a bite of her toast, and things were quiet for a moment. Then she said something that seemed completely out of the blue. "You know, it's been while since you've seen your gramma and grandpa, right? Maybe we could set up something where you could go for a little visit, huh? We could both go. Together."

What? I didn't understand. "Um...ok..." I said quietly.

"It wouldn't be for long. Just a little bit. Grandpa could drive you back and forth to school. No more school bus." She looked down at the table when she said it, but kept a somewhat upbeat tone of voice. Like she was trying to 'sell' me on the idea. "They've got some room in the basement. You could take a tv down there, and it'll be like having your own place. Your gramma can make you those blueberry pancakes you liked so much"

It was an awkward moment, to say the least. But, to avoid the risk of possibly hurting her feelings, I simply too another bite of my toast, and a forkful of eggs, and nodded my head. "Well...yeah. Sure. I guess." But I really didn't want to go. I certainly hope that she wasn't making any plans to do me the favor of living with my grandparents while she sat here in this house all by herself and starved and struggled all alone. I wouldn't allow it. If she NEEDS my help, why doesn't she just ASK me? You know? Shit...I've got to find a way to get a job. Somebody around here has got to hire help under the age of 16. If I wait two whole years to get a job, we'll BOTH be homeless.

We heard a few bumps upstairs as Joel came out of the shower and went into my room to get dressed. There was another silence, and that's when my mom asked me, "So when are you planning to tell me what's going on with Joel?"

"Joel? My friend, Joel? Nothing. Nothing's going on." I said, trying to practically bury my face in my breakfast to avoid the question.

"Derrick..." She said, a stern vibration creeping into her voice. "...Talk to me."

"There's nothing going on, Mom. Really. Joel just misses me, that's all. If you're talking about last night, he totally apologized for it when I mentioned it to him." She wrinkled up her forehead for a second, and I realized that maybe I should just keep my mouth shut about that particular incident. "We'll be quiet. I swear."

"That's not what I'm talking about, Derrick." She said. "Is Joel....is he in some kind of trouble?"


"Because if he's in trouble, we can get him some help. You just have to talk to me."

"He doesn't need any help, ok?" I said.

"What does his mother think about him spending so much time over here?"

"She doesn't care, ok? Just....leave it alone. Joel's just fine. He just wanted to get way from things for a while." I said, almost agitated by the fact that she wouldn't let it go.

"Well, I'd kinda like to hear that from her, if you don't mind."

"NO!" I said out loud. My eyes widened for a split second and I looked back down at my breakfast as I realized how 'panic stricken' I sounded when she mentioned talking to Joel's mom. "Just....don't. Ok, Mom? Promise me?" She leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. "Please? Look...we just wanted some time to catch up and be friends again. He's going to school every morning. You see him get dressed up and leave. He's not making any trouble. I just wanna spend some time with my best friend, ok? Seriously."

Her face did not look happy. "I don't like this, Derrick. I don't like it one bit." She said.

"It's just for another day or two. K? Then he'll be gone. You'll see." I don't know how in the hell I planned to have Joel's problems with his mom all wrapped up and 'sitcom solved' in the next day or two...but if I could just get an extension from her, at least I'd get a chance to think up another excuse for him to stay a bit longer. I can't just 'turn him in'. His mom is messing with drugs. The second somebody finds out that she's 'unfit', or whatever, they'll send her to mandatory rehab. And once that happens, they'll shove Joel in the first low budget group home for boys that they can find in his area. And his area isn't exactly Beverly Hills. I can't do that to him. I gave him my word that I'd help him out, and that's just what I'm gonna do. After all the times he stuck up for me growing up...I owe him that much.

I managed to get out of the house without too many more questions being thrown my way. I was extremely lucky, but I know my mom, and she won't just 'forget' about this. She respects my need for some privacy, and she won't push as long as she doesn't see any immediate threats in what I'm doing. But she doesn't like being in the dark, and she simply won't tolerate being lied to. So I'm walking a very thin line here, and I won't be able to balance on it for too much longer without giving her a little info about what's going on here. Sighhh, great. Like I need to worry about THIS right now!

I had to leave to catch the bus just as Joel was coming downstairs. I didn't have time to explain, but I gave him a signal to warn him to stay away from my mom if he wanted to escape the interrogation. He sorta nodded, put his shoes on, and left the same time as I did. We've gotta work something out soon, or this whole plan is gonna go to shit.

I seriously missed Tanner's presence on the bus that day. It hurt my heart every time we passed his stop...and just kept driving. It would still be a couple of days before he was re-added to the bus route, and I'm sure that it was going to hate every minute of transportation until then. Looking up from my sulking shoulders...I saw the window across the aisle from me...where I used to watch him every morning. Where I used to see the hidden sadness in his eyes, giving such a raw sense of 'personality' to his untouchable beauty. I remember how the sun used to shine on his face, and how soft his hair looked, and amazing his lips were. His clothes were always just so clean and perfect, and his eyes would almost glow with this special shade of hazel green that has to be witnessed to be believed. I sighed as I thought about the way his silky hair would gently sweep back and forth across his cheeks as the bus would start and stop on the way to school. I was so infatuated and so intimidated at the same time. It was almost like a dream, just being close enough to him to stare blankly, silently wishing that I could get the courage to speak to him. There's no greater magic in the world than having that feeling rattling around in the pit of your stomach with every breath you take.

Since then...Tanner has become more to me than words will ever describe. He has touched my heart and soul in ways that I doubt that I could ever expect anybody else to understand. There are a lot of cute boys at my school, some that might even be more attractive than Tanner is. And Chris is extremely hot by most standards....and he was wiling to do anything to make me happy. But....not ONE of those boys are my Tanner. NONE of them. They just....they don't count, you know? There's no explanation for it, no logic to it, no 'cure' for its symptoms...I'm just in love. I'm in love with the boy that I WANT. And he loves me too. That alone makes me blissfully happy every day of my life. Even during the hard times, he's my light in the dark, he's the one thing that reminds me that better days are ahead. Despite all the bullshit, and the money, and the social judgment, surrounding us...he was willing to fight for me, even with his own parents...just to keep me close. And I was willing to do the same for him. We've come a long way from me staring at him while he stared out of that bus window every weekday morning...but the feeling hasn't changed. And it never will. We traded hearts, and that love isn't going ANYWHERE....ever. No matter what people try to do to split us up, I'm not going to let my only joy go.

And I take comfort in knowing that. I really do.

The bus pulled into the school gates, and let us all off. I didn't bother to take much with me to school except for reading material for detention and whatever small workbook materials I needed for class. But when I reported directly to the detention hall and sat down for my first period of 'broken heart punishment'...I got a bit of a surprise. "Derrick, what are you doing in my detention hall today, son?" The monitor said.

I gave him a lazy look, and told him, "I'm on your list, sir."

He looked it over. "I don't see your name."

"Trust me....it's on there."

"Trust me....it's not." He replied, showing me the clipboard. I was confused...but it looked like I was actually...FREE today. "Out. Go to class."

"Are....are you sure?" I asked.

"Do you WANT to stay in my detention hall....?"

"NO! No...I'm gone. Thanks. I mean...yeah...THANKS!" I said, and quickly rushed out of the room before he had a chance to double check and keep me anyway.

The morning bell had already rung, so I was left to walk the empty halls by myself until I got to my next class. A million thoughts went through my mind. Wondering if maybe my little talk with Chris yesterday had actually helped him to see the light. Maybe he's seen the light is willing to give me a break. I KNEW that there was some goodness left in him somewhere! I KNEW IT!!! I mean, he couldn't just hate me forever, right? Maybe he'll back off and just accept things the way they are. Maybe we can even go back to being friends after he takes some time to lick his wounds a bit more.

Then...I thought a bit more about the situation...

Wait...what if this is BAD? What if Chris is setting me up for something even MORE terrible and MORE humiliating than detention could ever be??? He's doing this to throw me off, isn't he? I'll bet he is. He's gonna get me to let my defenses down, and then he's gonna slam me with something HARSH! I've gotta be ready for anything. I mean, literally ANYTHING! For all I know, he could be waiting in this hallway to push me into an empty classroom and have his groupies work me over with pipes and wrenches from the janitor's closet. It was something that worried me all morning, as I went from class to class without any trouble from my teachers whatsoever. What gives here? Something is completely going bonkers here. What...did Chris take a 'day off' from his torture or something?

I think it was even more of a torture, not knowing what was going on in Chris' devious mind, or how this new strategy fit into his evil plan to make life a pure HELL for both me and Tanner. But what could I do but wait helplessly for the shit storm to roll in and consume us all?

I think I must have been rattling myself to pieces with bad thoughts when lunch time rolled around. It must have been pretty visible on my face, because not even my usual flock of daily 'hecklers' bothered to tease me today. I guess they took one look at me and figured that I was already punishing myself beyond anything that they could do to me. So why bother, right? I can't tell you what a relief it was to feel a gentle hand on my shoulder that day as I sat in the courtyard, eating a stale sandwich and a bag of corn chips.

Tanner looked more incredible than ever when I looked up and saw his smiling face looking down at me. It was a definite surprise, and I was overjoyed to just have him near me again. It felt like some kind of concrete fantasy. But he was here, and I doubt that my smile could spread out wide enough to show my appreciation.

"Hey!" I said in surprise. "I thought you had your lunch switched for that...monitored study hall thing?"

"I did." He said with a shrug of his shoulders. "I ditched. I figured...what the hell can they do to me? Give me more detention? I don't think I have room on my daily schedule for any more punishment. So I guess they'll be stuck as to what to do with me at this point." He gave me a warm smile. "To be honest, it's kind of a liberating feeling."

"How did you know I'd be here?"

Tanner came to sit down beside me. "Lucky guess. I know you come here to be alone when things are bothering you."

"You know me well."

"I'd like to think so. Besides...I wanted to see you. It's been weird to think about you all day and not get to see your smile. At LEAST once or twice a day. It kinda 'aches' inside, you know?"

I looked him in the eye, and was actually able to work up a half way decent smile. "Yeah, I know. Believe me."

He smiled back at me, and for that golden moment...everything felt 'just right' again. Then he giggled and said, "Look at you...you wanna kiss me right now, don't you? Hehehe!"

"Oh GOD, yes!" I laughed.

"Well, if you come over after school, and finish up your paper for class a few minutes early..." He smirked wickedly. "...We can lock the door to my room...maybe get comfortable..."

I bit my bottom lip, "And you'll give up a little milk and honey?"

"Hmmmm...maybe. If you're good."

I nodded, "Oh I'm good. I'm the best." He smiled, and leaned over to rest his head on my shoulder for a second or two before reaching around me for my lunch bag. "What are you doing?" I asked him.

"I just wanna see what you've got in there. That's all."


"Because..." He said, and my smile got him to confess. "...Because I can't go to the cafeteria...I'm ditching. You wanna share?"

I raised an eyebrow, and told him, "Sighhh....fine. But don't make a habit of this. I'm tired of carrying you, Tanner." He burst out laughing ad I instantly joined him. "Poor people are like dogs, you know? If you feed 'em, they just keep coming back."

"Just give me some of your sandwich, bitch!" He said, grabbing the bag.

"I've got your 'sandwich' right here, sweetheart!" And we playfully tussled around a bit before I gave in and split my lunch right down the middle with him. Hell, I would just be eating for the sake of appearances anyway at this point. Just being near him again...it was like I wasn't hungry anymore. My body had just what it needed. Endless energy, like magic. And despite all the bullshit surrounding us today...lunchtime was ours. All ours. Nobody could take that away from us. How awesome is it to know that you have something that survives even the most intentionally evil attacks? That defies any and every force working against it? It's such a religious experience to look into those eyes and know, beyond all doubt, that this is what I want. And I've got it. I've got it right here in the palm of my hands, and I never have to let it go.

Yeah....lunch time was.....good.

I don't think that Tanner had to suffer any additional consequences for ditching that study hall today. They probably didn't even care to take attendance. Most of that 'monitored' and 'mandatory' stuff is more bark than bite anyway. All hype and empty threats to scare us into showing up. Hehehe, maybe Tanner and I can just walk out one day and find ourselves a nice private place to screw like jack rabbits until the final bell rings and then go home like nothing happened. How's THAT for extracurricular activities?

I got on the bus at the end of the day, and was surprised to find myself with a grin on my face. I had actually made it an entire day without a single trip to academic hell, and while I thought about possibly finding Chris and thanking him for lifting his ban on me and my activities, I didn't. The last thing I wanted was to jinx his sudden unexplained kindness. For all I know, he had just let it slip his mind today, and would immediately put the whammy back on my already oppressive schedule. But...if it WAS just some random act of forgiveness, then I was forever grateful for it

Tanner had to stay after school, as he didn't seem to be as lucky as I was in avoiding Chris' wrath. But I'd still get to see him later on. If I could finish up that History paper for Mr. Hamlin really fast, then I get to suck on those sweet lush lips of his for the rest of the evening until it's time to come home again. Tanner and I having the privacy for a little naughtiness every now and then is one of the only major perks I get out of having his mother despise me so much. The further she stays away from me the better, especially when I'm doing inappropriate things with her precious little boy! Hehehe! Put THAT in your martini, barracuda face! I can't wait. I'm gonna rest up for a few seconds, grab a can of soda out of the fridge, and head right back over to Tanner's place just as soon as he lets me know that he's on his way home.

I wish that I could say that everything went along just that easy. But it didn't.

A car slowly pulled up beside me as I was walking home from where the bus dropped me off. And the back seat window rolled down, Chris leaning his head out. "Hey there, Slug. You're looking awfully cheerful. You must have had yourself one hell of a really good day, huh?" This wasn't going to be a 'pleasant' run-in, I could tell. I could hear it in the tone of his voice. I could see it in the especially smug tilt of his grin. So much for him being 'kind'.

"Hey, Chris..." I said, still walking forward as his driver kept a steady pace beside me.

"Awww, now you were looking soooo happy a second ago. Now you see little ol' me coming by, and your smile magically disappears. Go figure." He said. "If you keep this up, you're liable to hurt my feelings, you know that?"

"What do you want, Chris?" I said, my hopes severely dashed over him leaving me alone once and for all. I just wanted to walk that last block and a half to get home. That's all.

"What do I 'want'? Hehehe, I wanted to talk to you. I wanted to see your face brighten up when you saw me again...just like it did when you saw Tanner at lunch." Shit....how the hell does he find this stuff out so quickly? I glanced over at him briefly, to see an evil smile on his lips as he shook his head. He knew that he had caught me red handed....again "You've been breaking the rules, Slug. And breaking the rules means more punishment. You're going to learn to respect this little game of mine, you know that right?"

"There IS no game, Chris! Why can't you just fucking leave us alone! Haven't you had enough of your childish little temper tantrum yet?"

"Had enough? Hell no, Slug! I'm just getting started!" He told me, and I sped up my pace as I saw my house in the distance. "Now...since Tanner didn't show up to his study hall like he was supposed, I'll just have to find a more 'secure' way of keeping him put. That's something I'll deal with in time. But you? I've got 'special' plans for you, my friend."

I stopped walking at that point, and with an evil look, I approached the car window and looked him right in his smug little FACE. "You wanna know something, Chris? All of this energy and this effort to keep us apart...it's not gonna work. It's NEVER gonna work! Do you wanna know why? Because we have something together that you could never understand. You couldn't BUY it, you couldn't FORCE it, you couldn't even CHARM it out of me. And you can't BULLY it out of me either. I don't love you. I am NEVER going to love you! And if you think that a few computer tricks and some long hours in detention is going to change anything, then you're even more pathetic than I thought!" I said, hoping that it would hurt. Hoping that it would do the kind of damage that I needed it to do. From the way his smile faded and turned into a hurtful sneer of anger....I'm thinking I made contact. "Your so-called 'love' is a joke, Chris. And at the end of the day, I'd rather truly be in love with someone I never get to see, than to be seen with someone that I could never love. Believe me...you're just wasting your time."

I walked away from the car as Chris sat there in silence, gnashing his teeth together as the sting of it infiltrated every part of him. Then he told his diver to put the car in park and just wait for him right there. I was almost on my front lawn when I heard the car door slam shut, and Chris yelled out to me. "HEY!!! We're not fucking FINISHED yet!"

I turned to face him, at my very limit with everything he had done to me and my boyfriend. If I didn't stand up to him now, he'll just keep getting worse. And this has to stop now. "What are you gonna do, Chris? What could you possibly do to me that would make me feel any differently about you?"

"I couldn't give a SHIT how you feel! This isn't about you! It's about ME!"

"I know it is." I said. "It's always about you, Chris. From the very first time you kissed me. You're so used to getting your way, so used to having people bend over backwards to make you happy, that you never developed the capacity to care for somebody other than yourself."

"I cared about you, and what did it get me?"

"It got you a good friend who really believed that you were more than just some spoiled little rich kid with a permanent chip on his shoulder." I said. "A friend who liked you so much that he was willing to hide the most important thing in his life from you in order to spare your feelings."

He paused for a moment, but he was still hurt. Still angry. And he wasn't about to let me off the hook that easy. "You know, you really have perfected the art of bullshit. You really have. But you wanna now something? You had my heart. You had it, and you fucking stomped all over it while you and Tanner went off to kiss and cuddle and laugh behind my back! That's cool, I was a sucker for ever giving a degenerate piece of poor ghetto trash the time of day anyway." He said, stepping closer to me. "But guess what? My heart is MINE again. And since I don't have the 'capacity to care' about anybody, I'm gonna stop playing little baby games with you, and turn the heat up on you and your boyfriend. How's that?" He said. "The gloves are off, faggot! I want you to come over to my house, TONIGHT! Seven o'clock, and not a minute later. Wear something nice. Whatever goes for 'nice' in your particular price range." He said. "If you're late, I start making phone calls. A different student every five minutes that you're late. And I let them know just what you and Tanner have been up to behind closed doors. If you don't show...and I call Patrice and Norman, and give them a nice little story for the school newspaper about the proud new gay couple roaming the halls. And that's just for starters."

"Chris! This isn't FUNNY anymore!" I shouted.

"Heh! You're damn right it isn't funny! Things don't really get funny until me and my locker room buddies go for a couple of burgers at your MOM'S greasy ass little diner! I'm sure she'd be very interested to know why her bouncing baby boy was so infatuated with another boy at his new school. Or why he spends so many weekends at his house. I'm sure she'll be fine with having a queer son. She seems like the type who wouldn't feel like she wasted all of that money she spent to send you to school with the rest of us. Who knows? She might even buy herself a rainbow pin to match the grease stains on her apron."

I tried to stand strong, but Chris could already see the quiver of fear in my eyes. He could already see the weakness spreading as my breaths got short, and my hands began to tremble. "How can you be so damn heartless, Chris? To ME?"

"You're the reason I'm 'heartless' in the first place, sweetheart."

"I'll deny it. I'll tell them you're lying."

"I'll tell them I'm not." He grinned. "I already told you..you're credibility is shot. And juicy rumors never go away, Derrick. Not ever." He told me. "You don't seem to understand...there are people in that place that are praying for your downfall. They can't WAIT to get a hold of something like this."

"Why???" I said, my voice shaking as the fear crept even deeper into my spirit. "What did I ever do to THEM???"

"You're not one of US, Derrick! That's what you did! You didn't work to get the opportunities you have. Your mom is a fucking waitress! Your dad is long gone! You live in the suburban equivalent of a roach motel! You can't even keep a nice pair of shoes!" Why was he doing this? WHY? "And after that 'fluke' of an achievement award you got from the school...they're itching to see you humiliated beyond belief. Do you know how HARD some of these parents push their kid to be the very best? At everything? And now, those same kids have to go home to angry mothers and fathers who are constantly reminding them how some poor little rag doll from the slums made out better than they did! Oh yes...they are LOOKING to see you embarrassed, my friend!"

"I....I do NOT....live in a fucking 'slum'..." I said meekly my voice almost ready to break. "...And I've got more....HEART, and more brains, and more....DIGNITY...than ALL of you put together! So FUCK you, and FUCK them too!" I said with a sniffle. "I don't care if the whole damn SCHOOL hates me...I'm still smarter than all of them, and I've got the paper to prove it." I said, "And I've still got someone out there who loves me. Completely! Without exception! And when we're naked, and kissing, and holding each other...you're the furthest thing from my mind. So deal with it."

Chris stepped even closer, bumping me with his chest. "You know, you should really be careful what you say to me, Slug!"

"It hurts, doesn't it? Knowing that Tanner can have me anytime he wants, and all you can do is sit at home and cry about it!"

"WATCH IT!" He said, now giving me a hard shove that almost knocked me down.

"What are you gonna do, Chris? Kick my ass? Huh? What's that gonna solve?"

"I doubt we'll ever find out, because it's NOT gonna happen. Not today." Came a voice from behind me, and I saw Joel coming towards us from the house to stand toe to toe with Chris in the middle of the street.

Chris immediately looked him up and down. "EXCUSE me? Does this even concern you?"

"I'd say it does." Joel answered. I found myself backing away as the tension between the two of them got so thick that it was almost hard to breathe. They squared off, face to face, and I was almost afraid to see where things would go from here.

"You know what? You should really learn to mind your own fucking business" Chris said.

"Really? Why don't you teach me, hot shot?"

"Do yourself a favor...turn around, and walk away. Before you find yourself with a bigger problem than you're prepared to deal with."

As far as I know...neither one of them had any trouble when it came to fighting. And I didn't see anybody backing down, or even showing a hint of a desire to. Chances are, the second one of them throws the first punch..they're gonna go at it until one of them simply can't get up anymore. And to be honest, I didn't want to see that happen to either one of them.

"You guys...wait..." I said, hoping to get them to step apart for a second or two. But as soon as I got close to them, they both lightly pushed me back, never taking their eyes off of one another.

"Shouldn't you be digging around in someone's trash so you could eat dinner tonight?" Chris sneered.

"Heh, funny. Yeah, actually I just came back from that. You wanna come inside and have some? Or are you late for your ballet class, sissy?"

"Try Lacrosse, dickwad!" Chris said.

"Oooh, dangerous!" Joel responded, as they both began to circle one another in the street.

"This isn't necessary, you guys! Seriously!" I said. "Joel?" But he didn't even acknowledge me. "Chris?" He was daring Joel to make a move so he could start swinging.

Thankfully, Chris' driver actually started to pay some ATTENTION to what was going on up the street, and honked his horn. It was the only thing to get them to calm down a little bit. Not by much, but enough where they didn't have their fists balled up. "Looks like your magic carpet ride is waiting on you, rich boy." Joel said.

"This isn't finished. Not by a long shot." Chris replied, squinting his eyes in Joel's direction. "You should have stayed in the gutter today, asshole. You would have been better off."

"Yeah? Well if you want to stay 'pretty', I suggest you stay OUT of the gutter from now on, and leave my friend alone. You get me?"

"Is that a threat?" Chris asked him.

And Joel answered, "No, it's not a threat. It's the reason I came out here."

"Can't wait." Chris said, and looked back over to me with a smirk. "Seven o'clock, Slug. Tonight. I'll be waiting. I doubt that I have to remind you what happens if you don't show." Then he hollered back at Joel, "Hey, tough guy? Did your 'friend' here tell you what we were fighting about?" I froze when he said that, and trembled at the idea of Chris exposing me right here in the middle of the street! "Why don't you ask him? I'm sure it'll make for a very 'revealing' conversation." He backed away from the both of us, heading back to his car. "Seven o'clock. Tick tock, tick tock.." He got in, and the car drove past us, turning up at the corner.

"You know...that kid is BEGGING to be put in the fucking hospital, you know that? Next time...I'm not saying a word. I'm just gonna walk right up and knock his head off. I'm sick of playing games with that pretty little faggot!" And there it was....that word again. Indirectly causing the hateful comment to burrow deeper and deeper into my chest. And that's when he said, "What did he mean by that, anyway? What were you two fighting about?" I lowered my eyes, and just picked up my backpack to walk towards the house. "What's going on? Talk to me."

"It's nothing. No big deal. Really." I hid my face as best as I could. He can't know about me. He's not ready to know about me. And I'm not ready to lose a good friend over this. So I swallowed it all, hoping that the fear of being outed before my time didn't show too clearly on my face. Joel gave me a really strange look, and I just kept walking. The faster I got in that house, the better. I didn't want him to ask any questions. I didn't want him to bother with it. I just...I wanted to hide away for a while where nobody could see me. Where nobody would ever find me. I just wanted to disappear.

But I guess I can't do that...can I? Not tonight.

I've got somewhere to be...by seven o'clock...and not a minute later.

Thanks so much for coming back to read this new chapter of "A Class By Himself"! I really hope that you enjoyed it! And tune in for the next chapter, it's sure to have a few 'interesting' developments in the story! Hehehe! Anyway, let me know what you think at Comicality@webtv.net, or just stop by the website at http://comicality.gayauthors.org!

And don't forget to drop by the Comicality IRC Chatroom too!!! Now officially open all day, EVERY DAY! I also drop in from time to time myself when I can, so I hope to talk to you guys soon! CHECK IT OUT! :)