If you are offended by male/male relationships, or male/male sexual relationships, then you shouldn't be here in the first place. If this conduct is illegal in your area, you must EXIT NOW. This story is not to be copied or posted elsewhere without permission from the author. If you are interested in a story about gay teenage males, then please take your time and enjoy. Feedback/comments/suggestions and even complaints are welcome at DomLuka@aol.com

Desert Dropping Ch. 15

Chapter Fifteen: Nailed

A/N: Thank you to Jim the editor for volunteering his time to sort through all of my mistakes to make this chapter more readable (better) it is appreciated.

My hand hurt. There was no getting around it. But, under the circumstances it was to be expected, the way that Eddie was repeatedly hurling the baseball, and Luke was repeatedly swinging the bat and missing the baseball, leaving me to catch it with a glove that wasn't broken in because we'd bought everything we were using that very morning. Eddie had insisted that he didn't feel like wasting the day away looking for the equipment they already had in the basement, even though Luke swore he knew where it was. I had a feeling that it had less to do with Eddie not wanting to take the time and more to do with the way that something still wasn't right between him and Jase. Once again during breakfast, they'd both been silent, and when Luke asked Jase if he was coming with us, Eddie had ushered me out the door as if he didn't even want to wait for a response. I hadn't liked it. In fact, I was still a little uneasy over it, a fact I tried to ignore as I tossed the ball back to Eddie and tried to concentrate on the conversation he and Luke were in the middle of.

"How many people?" Eddie asked incredulously, hardly catching my throw. He had no trouble tossing it back, though, and once again Luke missed, and I wished that Eddie didn't have to throw the damn thing so hard. Once I brought up my other hand to hold it in the new glove and I knew the ball wasn't going anywhere, I decided not to throw it back just yet. Maybe they wouldn't notice.

"Just thirty or forty," Luke replied. They were talking about Rick's upcoming party. "I figure that's as many as we can fit in the basement without getting overly crowded."

"Forty people isn't overly crowded? Teenagers? With mouths... and stomachs, " Eddie responded. "Luke!"

"What? It's not that many people," Luke replied. "And you already said we could have the party. No backing out now."

"That was before," Eddie said, and then paused to signal for me to throw him the ball. I wasn't thrilled about it, but tossed it to him, anyway. "That was before, when I thought you meant a small gathering, maybe with Rick, his family... a friend or two, and a nice little cake. Maybe hamburgers first."

"That's what Rick's doing with his family," Luke replied. "We get to have the actual party... and no chaperones sneaking downstairs every two minutes," Luke warned. "You promised. You or Jase--and only one at a time--get to come down..."

"Every hour, and you bet we will," Eddie replied. "I don't want any funny business. So, did we set a curfew for this invasion?"

Curfew? I wondered what kind of curfew I had. It was midnight, when I was out with Luke. It came to mind that I'd never figured out what it would be if I wanted to go out with someone else. Someone like Aaron. I'd been thinking about him pretty much ever since I woke up that morning. I doubted that he'd be calling me this weekend, not since he knew that everyone would be around, so I was thinking about calling him. Only, if I did call him, I wanted to be able to tell him that I could get out for a while. Maybe if I saw him this weekend it would turn out Seth-free. Maybe... we could have a real date.

"Jase said that everyone has to be out by twelve thirty," Luke replied.

"Twelve thirty?" Eddie repeated, sounding appalled.

"It's not like it's that late," Luke insisted, glancing back at me with a smile as he rolled his eyes, before lifting the bat from where he was leaning on it as Eddie prepared to pitch again. "We're all up that late on weekends, anyway. And, I already promised we'd clean it all up. You and Jase don't have to do anything." Luke glanced back at me, then, as if he was looking for assistance. But apparently, I was catching on too slow.

Clean up? When did I end up on the cleanup crew?

"Except listen to you," Eddie pointed out, tossing the ball again. Luke didn't even swing this time, and I found myself shaking my head as I looked at the ball, once again sitting in the new glove. There had to be better ways to spend a Saturday morning. Like, with Aaron. I was still angry about what happened at the theater, but I think... it made sense to me that the sooner I was able to spend some real time with him, the sooner I could forget about the incident. Besides, I think knowing that I couldn't see him over the weekend just made me want to see him more. I was suddenly feeling very frustrated with that. After all, Luke could go hang out with his friends anytime he wanted. Sure, maybe Jase and Eddie didn't have a reason to hate Luke's friends, but still. The idea of having to see Aaron behind everyone's backs for the rest of the summer was becoming less appealing by the second. "We're going to have to figure out a way to keep the noise down, Luke," Eddie added, bringing my attention back to him as he waited for me to throw the ball back. Unfortunately, I did.

"You won't hear a thing if you and Jase go out," Luke said hopefully, and Eddie laughed out loud.

"Nice try, but I don't think so."

"Will you just hit something already?" Oops. That was out loud, and I said it. They both looked at me, and for a moment I felt like apologizing before they both started laughing.

"Sorry, Rory," Luke replied. "I really can hit a ball, by the way. Eddie's just distracting me--did you wanna swing for a while?"

"That's alright, you go," I replied, but only because I felt like switching positions would somehow interrupt their conversation.

"We can take a break, if you guys want," Eddie suggested. "Rory, are you hungry yet?"

"Didn't we just eat breakfast?" I replied.

"I'm not hungry, either," Luke replied. "Just throw the ball."

And as Luke requested, Eddie pitched. Finally, Luke swung and hit, and I got a break as I watched Eddie turn to go after the ball, which had made it over his head. There was no need for Luke to run bases. There weren't any bases.

We were at the park that Luke always took me to, only, we were on the other side of it, near a second parking lot that I didn't even know it had. I guess that was because... it was on the other side of the park. The busier side, I noticed. At least, this seemed to be the place where families came on weekends. There was a basketball court, not far from us, occupied with groups of all ages, and a jungle-gym where parents were doing their best to keep track of their children. On the other side of the field, there were some kids kicking around a soccer ball, and others rollerblading around the sidewalks; and yet, it seemed to be quiet where we were, right in the middle of it.

"So," Luke said, turning around to look at me. "You're quiet today. Everything okay?"

"Just tired," I replied, shrugging. I didn't sleep much last night." That wasn't entirely true, but it worked for me.

"Really?" he asked, suddenly looking concerned. "Is everything okay?"

"Fine," I insisted. "It was probably just your snoring."

Luke rolled his eyes at me as Eddie returned and prepared to pitch again.

"Let's talk about this party some more," Eddie insisted.

"We already know all the rules," Luke said, beginning to sound a little irritated.

"Good. Then who's going to be on your guest list? I don't want any alcohol, or..."

"We aren't inviting any bartenders," Luke cut him off. "It's just a few friends. So far Dave and I only have fifteen people on the list."

"Then why not leave it at fifteen people?" Eddie asked. "You could..."

"Because, we probably forgot a few," Luke insisted. "Besides, half of those people will probably want to bring a date."

I wanted to bring a date.

"Dates?" Eddie repeated. "There will be dates at this party? In my house? Teenagers with dates?"

"Eddie..." Luke groaned.

"Okay, okay," Eddie said, holding up his hand, as if to surrender. "I'm okay, I'm cool. I can deal with this."

"It's not like we're planning an orgy," Luke remarked, and I couldn't help laughing at the look Eddie flashed him. This seemed to direct Eddie's attention to me.

"So who are you inviting?"

"Huh?" was my response.

"I mean, have you made any friends yet?" Eddie asked me. "You can always invite a few people, too, Rory; just, try to keep it under forty, okay?" he added with a small smile.

I didn't smile back. I was too busy thinking. Aaron. I wanted to bring Aaron. That's the first thing I thought of when the question was asked. But, it would never happen. Couldn't happen. It was bad enough being with him when I ran into Dave. Bringing him to the house would be a disaster. I didn't want to deal with that. I didn't want to see how everyone would look at me if I showed up with Aaron Keslin--kind of like the way Luke was looking at me when he met my eyes. The look on his face suggested that he knew exactly what I was thinking, and I couldn't help looking away, as if he'd just caught me in the middle of some dirty thought.

"I don't know anyone," I finally answered.

"Well, I guess you'll meet plenty of people at this party," Eddie said, almost reassuringly. "You'll like Luke's friends, anyway."

"He's already met most of them," Luke pointed out. He really did sound irritated now, and I frowned at that. I had a pretty good idea about why he sounded that way.

"Alright," Eddie said, sighing, likely believing that Luke's tone was aimed at him. "Just, keep the guest list clean, okay. I know some of your friends hang out with some questionable people, Luke. I know you're better than that, but just don't invite anyone--like that little punk."

Eddie was suddenly frowning, looking towards the basketball court. I didn't get it.

"Fuck that," Luke responded, and when Eddie flashed him a scolding look, he smiled and shook his head. "I mean, forget that; Aaron won't be anywhere near us."

I blinked. It wasn't like I was really going to invite Aaron. Did Luke have to say that? What the hell kind of point was he trying to make?

"Good," Eddie replied. "Now let's just hope he stays on his side of the park, too."

Park? Aaron was there? I turned my head, following Eddie's gaze to the basketball court, and stared.

There he was. Yup, it was Aaron alright, shirtless and playing basketball with some guys I'd never seen before. What was he doing there? He was out playing basketball and he hadn't even called me? Okay, I'll admit, being upset over this seemed hypocritical, but I couldn't help it. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that I was jealous. I think it was because of Seth. The entire situation had me feeling a little--a lot--insecure. I guess I could be happy to see that Seth was nowhere in sight. That would just ruin my day. I wondered if Aaron knew I was there. I wondered if he'd even seen me. Maybe he was playing basketball because he did know, and he wanted to get close to me without drawing attention to himself. I took satisfaction from that thought. It made me think of the way he'd kissed me goodbye the day before, and not all of the bullshit. It made me think of--nothing. Aaron was suddenly gone. He was still there, I'm sure, but I could no longer see him. Actually, I couldn't see anything as I suddenly blacked out and there was only...

Pain. And lots of it. What the hell just happened? It felt like the side of my face had just exploded...and why was everything so dark?

Wait, no. Well, yes, still lots of pain, but... colors! Yes, I could see colors again! That had to be a good thing, right? Luke wasn't looking at me like it was when I could finally focus on his face. Why was he so tall? Taller than usual, even. Wait... that was because I was laying down. Why the hell was I laying down? This just didn't make sense. Well, it didn't make sense until Luke kneeled down and lifted the baseball next to me. When had Eddie pitched the ball? Huh. Well, whenever he had, I apparently wasn't ready for it.

"Shit, are you okay?" Luke asked, dropping the ball, looking a little annoyed with himself that he'd picked it up first, and then reached for me.

"Don't move him!" Eddie said, appearing at Luke's side as I began to piece together what happened as I tried to sit up. But I'd hardly lifted my head off the ground before Eddie was pushing me back down. "Rory, I am so sorry. Try not to move, okay?"

"Why?" I asked, frowning. "It's not like you broke my neck."

"I just want to be safe," Eddie insisted, reaching for his phone.

"Please tell me you're not calling an ambulance," Luke remarked, shaking his head at Eddie. Ambulance? I did not need an ambulance. I wasn't even in that much pain. The right side of my face was already going numb. I reached up to touch it and winced. I'm not sure what I touched, but it hurt. I started to sit up again, anyway. People were beginning to look over at us and the last thing I wanted was to cause a scene. It was embarrassing enough that Aaron could have seen what had just happened.

"I'm fine," I insisted, general senses coming back to me.

"Rory, please hold still," Eddie said. I don't think he was happy when I snatched the cell phone away from his ear, but I was more concerned with the people who were looking in our direction. I didn't like being the center of attention in a situation like this. I didn't even dare glance towards the basketball court, afraid that Aaron was watching, too.

"Can we just get out of here?" I asked, but didn't wait for an answer as I stood up and headed for where we'd left the car.

"Rory, wait up," Luke called, and a moment later he and Eddie were at my side.

"Rory, I'm so..." Eddie started.

"It's fine," I cut him off.

"I wasn't paying attention..."

"It was an accident."

"I want to take you to the hospital," Eddie stated.

"I'm fine!" I said, becoming agitated. My face felt numb, for the most part, but as I walked a dull pain was forming above my right eye, and I could feel it halfway down my face, to just past my cheekbone. And my head was starting to hurt, but I blamed that on the stress of the situation.

"Actually, it doesn't look too good, Rory," Luke said. When I shot him a look that warned him against agreeing with Eddie, he added, "But, we should probably just go home. You can get some ice on it."

I nodded at that as we reached Eddie's truck. Nodding hurt. Ice sounded good. I needed to sit down, which is why I was grateful to find the passenger door unlocked. I climbed up into the seat and leaned back, noticing more pain when I blinked my right eye. I think it was the tight sensation under my skin that finally provoked me to pull down the visor in front of me and look in the mirror.

I guess it was fair to say I didn't like what I saw, and my hand instinctively moved to my face, just over the right corner of my eyebrow where my skin had turned an appalling angry red and was forming a huge knot. It looked like my whole eye was bruising, and to top it all off, it was bloodshot, too. And it hurt. Touching it only had me wincing again, and as Eddie got in the car I couldn't help throwing him an accusing look, accident or not.

"I'm taking you to the hospital," he said firmly.

"I don't want to go to the hospital," I objected, still looking in the mirror. "It's just... a black eye." A really bad black eye.

"Okay, then you can say I told you so when a doctor tells me the same thing," Eddie replied. "It's not open for negotiation."


Spending Saturday in an emergency room, was not on my to-do list. Watching as Eddie went to harass the nurses every two minutes was not on my to-do list, either. Apparently, my black eye was more important than that car accident that was keeping the hospital so busy, as far as Eddie was concerned. This was oddly touching, but equally annoying, because for all intents and purposes, Eddie had become a complete basket case.

He obviously felt bad about the baseball. When he wasn't yelling at me to stay still and keep a cold compress on my face, he was apologizing. But, truth be told, I was feeling bad about the whole thing, too. Not to mention, humiliated. Eddie wasn't the only one who hadn't been paying attention. If I hadn't been busy staring at Aaron then I probably would have seen the ball coming towards my head; I wouldn't have gone down like an idiot, and I wouldn't be sitting in an emergency room waiting to see a doctor as I wondered how many people had seen what happened. People like Aaron. And, I wouldn't feel bad about Eddie feeling bad--or bad about ruining Luke's day, too, and it did look ruined, the way he was quietly sitting in the chair beside me, looking like he wanted to shrivel up and disappear every time Eddie started making another scene. We'd been there for over an hour before he finally sat down across from Luke and me, looking exhausted and rather defeated.

"I'm sure it won't be much longer," Eddie insisted, but it sounded as if he were trying to reassure himself more than us. As for me, I was painfully tired at this point and tired of holding onto the cold compress, which is why I dropped it in the seat next to me and leaned back in the uncomfortable chair, in an impossible attempt to make myself comfortable as I closed my eyes, wondering if anyone would mind my drifting off for a while.

"I just want to get out of here," I mumbled. "I hate these places."

There was a silence around me, and I sank into it, ignoring the pain in my head as I looked forward to the little nap I was getting ready to take, but the temporary peace was abruptly interrupted by Luke's voice.

"Oh, shit, Rory... your mom, I'm sorry."

"Huh?" I opened my eyes, completely confused by the way Luke and Eddie were looking at me with apparent concern. What did my mom have to do with me getting hit in the face with a baseball and being stuck in an emergency room? That was more Eddie's fault, on both counts.

"Um...I just... it makes sense, why you'd be uncomfortable in a hospital," Luke replied, sounding uncomfortable. "Because of your mom..."


"It's not because of that," I said quickly. "Hospitals are...I just don't like the way they smell. And they're always cold. Besides, my mom died at home."

I took a quick glance at Eddie, who was wearing the expression he always wore when he was taking an interest in what I had to say.

"The apartment you were living in?" Eddie asked so quietly that it was almost as if he didn't want me to hear the question.

"No, my grandma's house. About a week before, she... well, when she got really sick, we moved in there."

I paused for a moment, thinking back to her last few days. It wasn't exactly filled with memories I cared to remember, watching her wither away in what seemed like a matter of days right before my eyes. Her forced smiles. Pathetic attempts at laughter, all for my benefit. I remembered feeling an eerie calm through all of those days, knowing that she wouldn't be around much longer and terrified every night when I said goodnight to her that it would be the last time. Until it was the last time.

I hadn't been going to school. Grandma Alice would pick up my homework for me, because we all knew what was going to happen and I wanted as much time with my mom as I could get. But, I'd taken to sleeping in late. It hadn't made much of a difference because my mom was sleeping most of the time, anyway. But, one Monday morning I woke up early, feeling wide awake, and I found myself downstairs, making a mess of my grandma's kitchen to make my mom breakfast. I remembered what I made, too. She always liked French toast, and I poured two glasses of the lots-of-pulp orange juice that my grandma always had around the house, and I took it upstairs to her room.

My mom was awake when I got there. She looked tired then, and I had to help her eat. This wasn't anything new. I'd been helping her eat for a while at that point. But, that morning, she seemed confused, because she asked me how school was. I was still in my pajamas, but I told her I had a great day, and when she was finished eating, she said she wanted to take a little nap. Her eyes closed, and I watched her, until she wasn't breathing anymore. And I sat there, and I watched, and I pretended that she was just sleeping, and I held her hand, until it started to get cold before I let go. I had to let go, because it was cold, and my mom's hands were always warm. If it was cold, then something wasn't right. I couldn't accept that something wasn't right. I knew it was going to happen, but I wasn't ready for it. She wasn't supposed to go like that. She was supposed to warn me first. I was supposed to be ready for it.


"Is there a bathroom around here?" I asked, abruptly standing up.

I blinked, and realized Eddie was staring at me now, looking worried, so I took a deep breath, trying to put those memories where they belonged. Out of my mind. The way my eyes felt like they were suddenly swelling up only added to the pain in my head and on the right side of my face, and alarmed me to the fact that I was about to have another embarrassing moment. I had no intention of breaking down now. I wasn't even sure where the urge came from. I was supposed to have most of this stuff under control.

"I'll go with you," Eddie insisted, standing, but I waved him off.

"It's okay, I'll find it," I insisted, and started walking before Eddie got the chance to object. At least he didn't follow me; I definitely needed a moment alone. I needed... to stop thinking for a minute. I think I was relieved, if anything else, when I found the restrooms with no incident and they were relatively empty. I locked myself in the nearest stall, and proceeded to take deep breaths, forcing the images I could have done without out of my mind. I'm not sure how long I was in there before there was a soft tap on the bathroom stall.

"There's someone in here," I managed to get out.

"I know, Rory... Will you come out?"

I held my breath for a moment, upon hearing Luke's voice, mostly because I didn't want him to hear me breathing so hard. It took me all of two seconds to get myself under control enough to open the bathroom stall and meet his eyes. I think I liked that he was smiling at me, and not looking worried. If he looked worried, I might have thought there was a reason for him to be.

"You have Eddie going crazy out there," Luke explained. "I was afraid he was going to come in here after you, and he's getting a little... well, I talked him into letting me do it. Are you alright?"

"I'm okay," I nodded. "Are we still waiting?" I moved over to the sinks to wash my hands, just because it seemed better than standing there to face Luke directly. He moved up next to me and leaned against the counter as I held my hand under the water and took in my reflection. There was definitely swelling above my eye now, and the horrible red color seemed to be transforming into several shades of purple and yellow. It wasn't pretty.

"We'll get in soon," Luke replied, and I simply nodded before I turned off the water and reached past him for a paper towel. This brought me face to face with him, and his sudden expectant expression had me staring back at him, not sure what he was waiting for. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "It was stupid of me to bring that stuff up, with your..."

"It's okay," I cut him off, shaking my head. "I didn't know... I didn't know I would get upset... remembering. It was dumb."

"It's not dumb, Rory."

"Maybe," I replied, sighing. "I guess it was just... Should I be afraid of the place she died? I'm not, you know. When my grandma helped me pack up our apartment, I put all of my mom's stuff in the room... where it happened. I'd sit in there. When I moved here, I said goodbye to that room. I miss it. Is there something wrong with that?" I was probably looking at Luke as if I expected an actual answer, but, that was because I was. It took him a moment to catch onto this, though.

"No. I don't think there is."

"Good," I said, nodding, as if that settled it, and then found myself bringing my hand to my sore face again. "My head's starting to hurt."

"Okay," Luke said, placing a hand on my shoulder and directing me towards the door. "Let's go see if it's your turn yet--maybe you should sit down."


We waited for another forty-five minutes before getting into a room, where, after much argument on my part, I ended up in a hospital gown. I didn't object to the bed, though. I'm not sure how long we had to wait in the actual exam room, because I was asleep during that time, and grouchy when a doctor finally did wake me up for an actual examination. I was not a happy camper when they told me I'd need x-rays. I was just happy at four o'clock when they told me we could leave.

I had a concussion; but apparently, I was lucky, too. Nothing was broken. Telling me that I could have ended up blind or needing surgery didn't earn my doctor any points, though. He also gave Eddie a list of things to look out for, which was probably why the whole way home he was watching me more than the road. And, he was back to apologizing again. When I got tired of telling him that I didn't blame him, I went to ignoring him.

I just wanted to get back to the house, maybe go downstairs with Luke and watch a movie in the dark, and definitely take an aspirin. Maybe two. But, we were barely through the door before Jase was in front of us, looking furious. That was definitely enough to put me on edge.

"Where have you been?" he demanded, glaring at Eddie. Apparently, Eddie had neglected to call him. But, Eddie didn't have time to answer before Jase's eyes were on me.

"What happened to you?"

"We had a little accident," Eddie answered. "Everything's fine, Jase. We just took Rory to the emergency room to be sure."

"And it didn't occur to you to call?" Jase demanded, and I became uncomfortable in a matter of seconds.

"I'm sorry," Eddie replied. "I didn't really think to, I was busy..."

Bothering the nurses? I think I was surprised that he hadn't at least called Jase. Actually, something about the fact that he didn't bothered me.

"Hey, Rory," Luke said, touching my shoulder and bringing my attention to him. "Wanna go downstairs?"

I definitely didn't argue with that idea. In fact, I found it a suitable escape as Eddie followed Jase to the kitchen, the two of them arguing in lowered voices. This bothered me, but I ignored it, for now. I went downstairs, I took my aspirin, and I started watching a movie with Luke. I expected someone to call us up for dinner eventually, but it never happened. Instead, Eddie came downstairs with three plates, made a big deal about whether or not I was okay until I asked him to stop, and then ate dinner with us. I kept looking towards the stairs, wondering if Jase was going to join us. He didn't. Through all of this, both Luke and Eddie acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I think that bothered me more than knowing the knot on my head felt like it could fit in the palm of my hand.


I was never the little boy who woke up in the middle of the night to hear his parents fighting. I never had to crawl under the bed to make the noise go away. But that's exactly what I wanted to do sometime in the middle of Saturday night, when the noise coming from upstairs woke me. And it had to have been loud, to travel through the walls all the way down to the basement. It didn't even matter what was being said. The presence of an argument mixed with two male voices unsettled me more than I'd like to admit. I tried pulling a pillow over my head to escape it, but when I brought it into contact with my recent injury, I was wincing and opening my eyes in a matter of seconds. Being awake didn't help, as the awful shouting flooded my ears, and as I climbed out of bed I found myself covered in a thin layer of sweat and feeling nauseous. I needed to escape. Only, being in the basement gave me few options. The only way I could go was up--and that meant walking right into the argument above me.

I found myself knocking on Luke's door, but the only response I got was Chey scratching at the door on the other side. I tried again, and again--and again. And then I just opened it. Luke's room seemed darker than mine. I had to feel my way to the bed, Chey licking at my hand while I went. Then, when my knees found the bed, I tried to imagine where Luke would be sleeping and reached out until it was his bare shoulder beneath my hand, and I lightly shook him.

"Luke," I whispered, as if speaking any louder would interrupt the argument upstairs and draw attention to me all the way down there in the basement. "Luke!" I tried again, and this time Chey helped me, lifting her front feet onto the bed and licking at her owner's face. "Luke!"

"Huh?" he finally mumbled, swatting me and Chey away.

"Eddie and Jase are fighting," I told him, as if he was supposed to fix it. He didn't. He mumbled something and rolled back over instead. I stood there, feeling helpless and frustrated, and the shouting above seemed to get louder. It made my head hurt and knotted my stomach, filling me with an uncomfortable feeling that just wouldn't go away. I tried Luke again. This time, I went back to the door and felt along the wall until I found the light switch. Everything turned bright and I had to close my eyes momentarily, waiting for the sting to fade; and even when I opened them again my head hurt so bad I needed several moments to adjust before I could even focus on Luke, who'd pulled a sheet over his entire body, likely when I turned on the light. And he still wasn't moving.

"Luke!" I became braver, raising my voice as I neared the bed and made a point to pull the sheet away from his head; and when he reached out for it, seemingly unable to pull it back, he pushed himself up and opened one eye in my direction. I wasn't sure if he was actually focused on me or not, but I'd take what I could get. "Eddie and Jase are fighting," I announced, sounding more distressed about it than I intended.

Luke's face twisted into a confused look, and I watched him as he listened for a moment, probably trying to figure out what I was talking about. Not that it was that hard. I could still hear the shouting from upstairs, and every second it lasted seemed to shred my nerves and add another nail to the ones already piercing my head.

"Oh," Luke mumbled, as if I'd just pointed out the color of the carpet to him. But, a moment later he shocked the hell out of me when he shouted so loud that it made me jump, and likely echoed through the entire house. "Shut up!"

I placed my hands over my ears, wincing as the shouting upstairs came to an abrupt halt, and while I wasn't sure why, the silence disturbed me even more than the fighting had. Maybe it was because the silence meant that Eddie and Jase heard Luke. That meant they knew we could hear--that we were listening. I felt like I'd just been caught doing something bad, and the feeling was unsettling as I stared at Luke, wide-eyed and frustrated. But, for his part he was more than half asleep and burying his head under his pillow.

"Why would you do that?" I demanded, and Luke shoved his pillow aside, finally looking at me. But, by that time, I was already headed back to my room, intending to close the door and pretend I was asleep in case Jase and Eddie decided to come down to confront us. I was just pulling my covers back over my body when my door suddenly swung open and my light flicked on, my heart jumping to my throat before I realized it was Luke, his curls a mess on his head as he walked in, still pulling a pair of jeans up over his hips.

"Get dressed," he said, and all I could do was stare in response. He seemed to expect that, though, because he was already on his way to my closet, and when he tossed a pair of pants at me, the only thing I could think to do was get up and pull them on. Meanwhile, Luke was pushing a chair over to the window, and as I watched him climb up and open it, I was more than a little confused.

"What are you doing?" I asked when he suddenly reached down and lifted Chey, and it didn't look like the easiest task in the world.

"Give me a hand," Luke replied in a strained voice as he began to climb up onto the chair with her and navigated her front paws to the open window. As strange as it seemed, I didn't hesitate to finish zipping up my pants, and then I was there with him, shoving Chey outside. "Get your shoes," Luke told me, and a moment later, he was outside, too.

I looked around my room as I stepped into my shoes, still trying to understand what was happening.

"Rory!" Luke hissed from outside, and I jumped before climbing up the chair and allowing Luke to help me out the window. It was the middle of the night, and I felt like I was in the middle of a jail break.

"What are we doing?" I asked, as Luke began to lead us away from the house and into the dark.

"Are you okay?" he asked in response, flashing me a sympathetic look. "Your head alright?"

"I guess, but..."

"We're just going for a walk," Luke said with a small smile, that I'm sure was supposed to put me at ease. "You looked like you needed one."

"But what about Eddie and Jase? They're..."

"I wouldn't worry about them," Luke cut me off, placing a hand on my shoulder as we slowed our pace, but continued to walk with Chey constantly circling us.

"Why? Do they do that a lot?" I asked nervously.

"No, not really."

"Then aren't you worried?" I demanded, not understanding how he could be so calm.

"No, not really," he replied, smiling again. But, when I looked at him, clearly frustrated, he said. "Look, that's exactly why I'm not worried. Come on."


I wasn't sure how long we walked, but we ended up sitting on a mass of rocks with Chey lurking somewhere around us, and I had my eyes trained on the porch light from the house, which looked farther away than it really was.

At least I'd managed to calm down some--with Luke's help, that is. And he didn't even do anything. Not really. He was just there, leaning into my shoulder, completely relaxed as we enjoyed the silence. Even when he spoke his voice seemed quiet.

"The last time they fought it was over moving into that house," Luke explained. "They were at it for two nights in a row... but everything worked out. They don't do it very often, but when they do, it always turns out okay. Sometimes I think... they just need to get it out, you know?"

"They're fighting about me," I said blankly, and I could feel him looking at me, mostly because his breath hit my shoulder when he turned his head.

"What makes you say that?"

"Because they've been fighting ever since... ever since I gave that letter to Eddie."

"Yeah, maybe it has something to do with you. But that doesn't mean it's your fault, and you don't really know..."

"I was the one who moved that picture," I interrupted him. "The one Eddie was so mad about. I told him."

"They're not fighting over the picture anymore," Luke responded, matter-of-factly, and I looked at him, confused. Luke just shrugged. "I heard Eddie tell Jase about it, and Jase could care less. They're fighting about something else. Haven't figured out what yet, though."

I fell silent for a few moments, wondering what they were fighting about if they weren't fighting about me and that stupid picture. The answer came easier than I thought it would. Just me.

"I'm supposed to go home," I said softly. "I want to go home. I mean, not now, but at the end of the summer like Eddie and I talked about. I'm not supposed to go back now. I can't, not with my grandma being... like she's being."

"What are you talking about?" Luke asked, giving me a funny look.

"Jase doesn't want me here," I replied, and I meant every word. But, as soon as I said it out loud, I realized just why Eddie and Jase fighting was bothering me so much. Jase didn't want me there, and I think in a sense, that worried me, because I currently had nowhere else to go. I figured that I'd be able to at least work some things out with my grandma by the end of the summer. But at the moment, that seemed so far away. Getting kicked out because I was disrupting this family, seemed a lot closer than I cared for it to. It made my head hurt. Did I mention my head hurt?

"Again... what are you talking about?" Luke asked. "Jase never said he didn't want you here."

"He hasn't said a word to me in days," I pointed out.

"So? He's been quiet with everyone. Look, he's mad at Eddie, Rory. Trust me. It's between them and has nothing to do with you." Eddie had said the same thing to me. I didn't believe it any more now than I had then, and as if he could read my mind, Luke added, "Hey, if you don't want to take my word for it, why don't you try talking to him?"


"Yeah. Why not? You don't know him yet, Rory. Trust me, the only reason he's being quiet is because he doesn't want to drag anyone into this. But if you ask him about it, I know he'll talk to you."

"So why don't you talk to him?" I asked, and Luke smiled again.

"Because I'd just want the details--and Jase wouldn't give me those. But, he would tell me the same thing he's going to tell you. It's nothing for you to worry about."

"If you say so," I responded, not really feeling any better. "So, what do you think they'll do now?"

"What do you mean?" Luke asked.

"Well, thanks to you they have to know that we heard them," I pointed out. "What do you think they'll do about it?"

"I don't know," Luke admitted. "I've heard them fighting before, but I've never actually done anything about it. I can guarantee Eddie will be embarrassed, though. Jase will probably come up with some speech tomorrow about how grownups say things they don't necessarily mean every once in a while--something like that."

"And what if they find out we're... missing?" I asked, a little nervously. I figured getting in trouble wasn't good for concussions.

"Well... I can always say you ran off again, and I went looking for you," Luke replied, smirking. "Gotta love being the hero."

I flashed him a look that said given my track record, that was not funny. He laughed, anyway.

"Relax," Luke said. "No vehicles are missing, and we left your window open. If they end up in the basement, they'll figure we're out here together. They know I wouldn't go far. Not a big deal, okay?"

I guess I could take Luke's word on the matter. I mean, sneaking out the window had seemed... sneaky, to me, but I doubted he'd do anything to get us into trouble.

"Why are we out here?" I asked him.

"I told you, it looked like you needed to get out. We can go back anytime you want."

"No," I said quickly, shaking my head. "I'm not ready to go back yet."

"Okay," Luke replied, not sounding at all bothered by it. If anything, it felt like he relaxed more against my shoulder in realizing that we weren't going anywhere for a while. "It really bothers you, huh?"


"Eddie and Jase, fighting."

"It just woke me up," I responded, shrugging.

"It really doesn't happen all the time. You shouldn't be freaked out."

"I know," I replied, somewhat shortly. I was getting tired of the topic. It was nice just sitting out there with Luke. I didn't want to interrupt it by further discussing the things that disturbed me. Luke seemed to catch on, because I heard him release a breath beside me, and for the next few minutes, he fell silent. It wasn't a tense silence. More like a calm one. I was the one who finally broke it. "Luke? Aren't things supposed to get better by now?"


"I feel like things keep getting worse," I admitted. "I thought if everyone started telling the truth, things would stop feeling so crappy, but..."

"You got hit in the head with a baseball, Rory. And I know how Eddie throws. I think it's normal that you don't think things are getting better."

"That's not what I meant..."

"I know," he said, smiling at me. "Look, things will get better. I mean it. Starting... right now."

"Things will get better starting now?" I asked skeptically, wincing when I attempted to raise my right eyebrow.


"Because you said so."

Luke nodded. "Because I said so."

I had to think about that for a moment before I realized it was completely ridiculous, but Luke seemed amused by this as he threw his arm over my shoulder, laughing, and I found myself sinking into him, relaxing again as I focused on anything but my headache, grateful to be out there with him, away from the yelling.


I'm not sure how long Luke and I just sat outside, but by the time we made it back to the house, it was silent again. After making sure that I didn't want to talk or something, Luke went back to bed, and I tried to, but I couldn't sleep. I took more aspirin for the physical pain, but it didn't work as well as I would have liked it to, and my mind was too much of a mess to fall asleep again as I remembered earlier in the day, thinking about my mom. That alone had been stressful. Eddie and Jase fighting had only made it worse, and I wasn't sure how to rid myself of the uneasiness of the situation. And then my mind turned back to Aaron as I wondered if he saw what happened today. It's not like I'd heard from him, and it wasn't reasonable for me to think he'd come see if I was alright with Luke and Eddie right there. But still... I wondered if he'd seen me earlier.

I glanced at the clock as I sat up in bed and silently reached for the phone. It was just after six in the morning when I dialed a number that it was probably way too early to call, and I found myself holding my breath after five rings when the groggy voice answered. There was a mumbled hello, so slurred that I could hardly make it out.


A long pause, and then, the voice came more clearly.



"What time is it?"

"Early," I replied, sighing. "Look, I should go. Sorry to call so early. I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's okay," he replied. "I was hoping you'd call. I saw you today... or, yesterday now. Are you alright? That must have hurt."

"Fine, just ugly."

"Doubt that," he replied, and it seemed comforting to hear the smile in his voice. "Hey... I'm sorry I didn't say anything to you, or..."

"It's fine," I replied, and there was another long silence because I didn't know what else to say. I'm not even sure why I called him. Maybe it was because I wanted to hear his voice.

"Good," he said, sighing. "I was afraid you'd be pissed at me or something."

"Why?" I asked curiously.

"I didn't want you to think I was blowing you off. I mean, you're the one that got hurt, and now you're the one calling me..."

"I'm not upset," I insisted. "I understand. Luke and Eddie were at the park when it happened; I didn't expect you to try to talk to me."

"Okay....um, good," he said. "I'm still glad you called--what are you doing on Tuesday?"


"I've got all day free. It's Cody's day with Alex, so I figured I could come pick you up; we could do something."

"Maybe. Are any of your ex-boyfriends planning to show up?" I remarked, before I could stop myself, and then felt guilty when an awkward silence seemed to come between us. "Hey, Aaron..."

"No Seth," he cut me off. "Look, I'll pick you up, and I swear, no Seth."

"Okay," I said feeling more than a little relieved over his promise. "So can I call you later? I kind of want to get some sleep before noon."

"Yeah, I'll talk to you later."

"Bye," I said, hanging up as I closed my eyes, turning in bed until the uninjured side of my face came to rest on the pillow. I really was tired, and my mind was finally beginning to slow down to the point that I thought maybe it was possible to get to sleep. At least, wondering what Aaron and I could do on Tuesday that didn't involve Seth seemed to relax me, and occupy my mind just enough to keep the other thoughts out as I slowly began to drift to sleep.

"Rory?" Luke's voice was only a whisper, but I was so close to sleep that it startled me into opening my eyes and lifting my head. I focused on the door, where Luke was quietly entering my room with a pillow under his arm; and I watched, feeling a little confused as he closed the door on Chey, who objected on the other side of the door.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I thought I heard you," he replied. "Still up?"

"Not if I can help it," I replied, dropping my head again, and Luke smiled at me as he moved closer, until he'd seated himself on the floor next to my bed. I'd thought he'd already gone to bed. I hoped that I hadn't kept him up even longer, if he'd heard my call to Aaron.

"I thought maybe... you'd want some company," Luke said, dropping his pillow on the floor. This definitely got my attention.


"Yeah, so if anyone else wakes you up, all you have to do is step on my head to get my attention."

As stupid as it seemed for him to be offering to sleep on my floor because I was afraid of monsters being under the bed--in a sense--this was an offer that had me smiling in an instant. Not because I needed him sleeping on my floor; but because he'd offer to do it.

"Luke, it's not that I don't appreciate it, but I'm seriously ready to pass out here, so you don't have to..."

"Your floor's kinda comfortable," he remarked, laying back on the pillow and staring up at the ceiling. "And your room's cooler than mine, so..." He turned a set of puppy-dog eyes on me that suggested he was actually asking to sleep on my floor, and I couldn't help laughing at that.

"Fine," I said. "But you have to let Chey in, too--that was just rude."

"No wonder my dog likes you more than me," Luke grumbled, forcing himself to get up and go back to the door to let the dog in. "But you're asking for it. I don't know what she ate, but..."

"Then she's sleeping down there with you," I groaned, tossing my extra blanket onto the floor for him, and a few moments later, Chey was pressed as far as she could be against Luke on the floor, and I was lazily looking down at them from the bed.

"Goodnight," Luke said quietly, closing his eyes.

"Thanks for letting me wake you up," I replied, and in response, I watched his mouth curl into a smile before I closed my eyes, and finally let sleep take over.


I heard two voices, both saying my name. I ignored it. I was way too tired to pay attention. The cool hand on the uninjured side of my forehead wasn't so bad, until I turned my head against the window and pressure came up against my bruise. Then, that hand had to go, and I did my best to wave it away. But, things didn't stop there. When someone started shaking my shoulder, that was just too much. I couldn't help opening my eyes then and glaring at the nearest face--or two faces. Two faces that alarmed me, both being in my room. Eddie and Jase. My room definitely didn't have the calming atmosphere that it had when Luke and Chey had fallen asleep on my floor, and both of them were completely missing now.

"What?" I demanded, suddenly feeling on edge as I remembered all the arguing the night before. Seriously. Why were they in my room? Both of them. Looking pale and bothered. It didn't make me feel better when Eddie released a relieved breath and kneeled down by my bed.

"We were having trouble waking you up," Jase explained calmly, from behind Eddie. "We thought we might have to take you back to the hospital."

"I'm fine," I said quickly, upon hearing that news. "I'm just... tired. I didn't get much sleep last night." And, I immediately regretted saying that when Eddie and Jase exchanged guilty looks. Maybe they did have something to do with my lack of sleep, but it wasn't a topic I wanted to bring up, not alone in a room with both of them. They just needed to get out of my room because having both of them there was pretty much freaking me out. That's why I was relieved when Jase volunteered to go on his own, but not without reaching out to gently touch my forehead, something that made me increasingly uneasy because I had no idea where I stood with him.

"You've got some more swelling," he said. "Stay here, I'll get some ice."

I noticed as he left he gave Eddie's shoulder a small squeeze, and the gesture was the first sign of hope that I'd seen all week. Eddie didn't go anywhere. He stayed right where he was, watching me.

"Are you feeling okay? No nausea... blurred vision..." he asked, as if reading off the doctor's check list.

"I'm just tired and sore," I replied. "What time is it?"

"Past noon," he replied, and the answer surprised me. He smiled at the look on my face. "Don't worry about it. You're supposed to take it easy, anyway. I want you to eat something, though. Stay in bed, I'll get it."

Normally, I might have objected to this, but staying in bed was exactly what I felt like doing. But, I preferred to sleep, rather than eat. Oh well, maybe if I was asleep before he got back he wouldn't bother waking me up again. At least, that was the wishful thinking I was doing as he reached my door and looked back, suddenly seeming rather nervous, and if I'd noticed anything, it was that it was never good when Eddie was nervous.

"Rory, did you... last night..."

"I heard you," I admitted, sighing. Eddie frowned and shook his head.

"I apologize for that. Jase and I were... well, we shouldn't have gotten so loud. Do you... do you need to talk about it?"

"No," I said quickly. That was a complete lie. It was driving me crazy. I totally needed to talk about it. Only... not to Eddie.

"Because, you know, it has nothing to do with you..."

"Okay," I said again, shortly. Eddie just frowned, seeming like something was still bothering him, but eventually, he nodded.

"I'll get you something to eat," he said. "Um... I'm really sorry about your face."

"I know."

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