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

Chapter sixteen: Understand

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.

I must have been asleep again two minutes after Eddie left my room. He didn't wake me when he came back with food, either, because the next time I woke up it was because there was something cold being pressed against my face. Before I even opened my eyes I knew that it had to have been the middle of the day, the way that my room was bright. That meant that I should probably wake up soon, otherwise there was no way that I was going to be able to get back to sleep later tonight. Only, opening my eyes only left me feeling trapped again as I realized who my company was. There weren't two of them this time; but truth be told, if I was going to be cornered by one of them, I would have rather been stuck with Eddie, who I knew how to handle. At least with Eddie, I knew he wanted me there. Unfortunately, it was Jase holding the cold pack to my head. It didn't help that I couldn't read his serious expression.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

I lifted my hand and took over holding the ice before I started to sit up. The way he was standing over me just seemed uncomfortable.


"Are you still sore?"

"Yeah," I admitted. My face hurt, but that was to be expected.


I had to think about that for a minute.

"No... not really."

"Good," Jase said, giving a nod of approval, and then just looked at me, as if it were my turn to talk.

"No one's going to get bent all out of shape if I want to get up now, right?" I finally asked. It seemed like a good question, considering that Eddie had been pretty keen on the idea of me resting.

"I don't think that will be a problem," Jase replied, and he graced me with a small smile that actually made me feel better. "Look, there are already some sandwiches upstairs if you're hungry. Eddie and Luke are out because Eddie found someone who would fix his car today, and I've got to go pick up some books. You'll be alright alone for a while?"

"Yeah," I replied, nodding.

"Okay then," Jase replied. "I let Chey out to go to the bathroom; will you let her in when you make it upstairs?"

"Sure." It was a reasonable request.

I watched as Jase walked over to my door, and then paused, as if considering something.

"Do you want to get out of the house?" he asked after a moment.


"The mall is where I have to go," he explained. "It might take me a while, but if you wanted to tag along, you could."

"Oh," I replied. This was the part where I was supposed to immediately decline, because spending any amount of time alone with Jase was an intimidating concept to me. "Um... yeah, okay."

What? I didn't want to be stuck inside all day. Besides, I was up now. Only, the look on Jase's face suggested that he was only asking me to come to be polite, and he was obviously surprised by my answer. I almost backed out because of that.

"I'll wait for you to get ready, then," he said, and then he was gone.

Twenty minutes later, after I'd showered and dressed, I was also looking in the bathroom mirror, regretting my decision to go anywhere out in public. My eye was swollen, and the bruise was so obvious that it would have been better to have a zit on my nose. I lifted my hand, touching the wound gingerly as I frowned to myself, wondering if I really wanted to put up with the staring that would occur.

"Here, I thought you might want to use this."

I looked to the bathroom door, where Jase was standing, holding out a baseball cap.

"Thanks," I said, taking it and placing it on my head. It didn't hide everything, but it shadowed my face enough to keep things less obvious.

"At least Eddie didn't break skin," Jase commented. "You won't scar. Are you ready?"

I nodded, and together Jase and I made our way upstairs, where he let Chey in, and then we were in his car and driving. It was a quiet drive, if you didn't count the country music that Jase had playing at the perfect volume to make conversation unnecessary. I think that was for the best. It actually created a peaceful atmosphere, and I stared out my window the whole way, wondering if Jase planned to talk to me at all. To be honest, I wasn't even sure if I wanted him to, regardless of whether or not it needed to be done.

The mall was crowded. I guessed, crowded even for a Sunday, but Jase seemed to know where he was going as I stood behind him on the escalator, looking around.

"You don't have to stay with me, Rory," Jase said over his shoulder. "You'll probably be bored. Do you want to go look around?"

I'd be bored all by myself. Not to mention, lost.

"I like books," I said, shrugging. At least Jase smiled, so I didn't get the feeling that I was bothering him by following him around.

"Suit yourself; there's not anything you need while we're here, is there?"


"Okay; well, if you get bored, wander anytime you want."

And I wandered less than five minutes after we entered the bookstore, when Jase started arguing with the clerk, who seemed to have misplaced his books. I looked around the store for a few minutes, making my way upstairs to take a look at their music selection for a few minutes before I realized there was a pretzel stand outside of the second floor exit. I wasn't hungry, but I could have used a drink. I spent a few minutes heading over there, and decided to order one for Jase, too. It couldn't hurt sucking up. I wasn't sure how long he would be, but we'd be together for the whole way back home, and I was beginning to wonder if we should do some talking. After all, Luke said it wouldn't hurt to talk to Jase, and there were things that needed to be cleared up between us, I thought. Because just thinking about it, was doing nothing short of stressing me out.

"What do you want?"

I was so busy thinking about Jase, and debating whether or not to strike up a conversation with him, that I hardly noticed the rude tone of the guy behind the counter.

"Can I get two large..." I stopped talking the moment my eyes met the light brown ones glaring at me from underneath the brim of a top-hat-shaped red cap that the employees of The Grind and Go apparently wore.

"Two large what?" Seth responded. He might as well have barked the words at me.

"Never mind," I said quickly. "I didn't know you worked here."

"But Aaron sent you, anyway," he said testily. "Fine, he likes lemonade."

Seth grabbed two cups next to him, and I noticed for a brief moment he was looking over my shoulder, probably for Aaron. Something about that really bothered me.

"I'm not here with Aaron," I retorted. "And I think I'll go somewhere where they're not going to spit in my drink."

Seth began to narrow his eyes at me, but I didn't bother to stick around to see what he had to say. At least, I tried not to. I'd made it two steps before he called after me.

"What happened to your face? It looks like shit."

I caught myself pulling the ballcap lower over my eyes, and resenting that.

"Aaron doesn't think so," I found myself saying before I could help it. Not that Aaron had said anything about my face. He hadn't even seen it up close. But, I imagined that he wouldn't tell me that I looked like shit, and besides, saying that to Seth seemed to piss him off. At least that was a success.

"You know, he did invite me the other day. Believe what you want, but I was there because he said he had something important he needed to talk about. You weren't supposed to be there."

"You're full of shit," I responded, shaking my head. "Aaron shouldn't have asked you to stay; but you know what? I think he knows that now."

I turned away from the counter, this time refusing to even look back at Seth. Seeing him was not exactly a pleasant surprise, and for him to suggest that Aaron actually asked him to be at the theater only pissed me off, and unfortunately, made me question whether or not Aaron actually did it. Believing anything that would come out of Seth's mouth, was reason enough to get pissed at myself. I'd definitely had enough of this shit, especially when he called after me again.

"You know what else he knows? He knows he can use you, because you're too stupid to see it!"


"Are you okay?" Jase asked me as I approached the counter where he was still waiting on books. I'm sure I looked flustered.

"I'm fine. Here. I got you a drink." And it wasn't from Seth, either.

"Um, thank you," he replied, taking it. "Are you hungry, Rory? You haven't eaten anything today. Maybe we could grab something when I'm done here."

"I'm not really hungry."

"Okay... well, let's get something, anyway, okay?"

I shrugged indifferently, although I really didn't want to eat. I just wanted to get out of the mall. There was no way I wanted to risk running into Seth again. All he ever managed to do was upset me. In fact, I was getting damned tired of him. Maybe Aaron had said that he'd talk to him, but truth be told, I'd prefer it if he didn't. I just wanted for both of us to stay away from the guy, and Aaron's friend or not, I decided right then that Aaron would be hearing about this. I doubt his friend would tell me that he was just using me. As Jase and I left the bookstore, I really didn't want to stop and eat. I wanted to go home and call Aaron. Maybe if he knew what I was putting up with he'd realize that Seth was a jerk. Plus, now that he'd seen it first hand at the theater I wasn't that worried about him believing me. But, Aaron would have to wait, because Jase wanted tacos. At least he stopped at a place away from the mall. The only downside was that eating in the restaurant put us face to face and I was no longer in the mood to talk. That's probably why I spent as much time as I could stuffing my face. I couldn't eat forever, though, and Jase seemed to know it. It looked like he felt we needed to talk, too, the way he sat silently after he was finished eating and just watched me. That, did nothing for my nerves. When I couldn't take it any more, I finally sat up in my seat and looked right back at him. He wasn't like Eddie, though. He didn't look away at all.

"How are you holding up?" he finally asked.

"What do you mean?" I asked cautiously.

"It's been a stressful week--are you doing alright?"

"Okay, I guess," I replied, scratching at the back of my neck.

"Have you tried calling your grandma yet?"

I nodded and then looked away. I really didn't want to relive that conversation. But, I was also worried about why Jase was asking me about my grandma. I think I was half expecting him to tell me that he wanted me to move back in with her and get away from his family.

"I guess it didn't go like you expected it to, huh?" he asked, and I met his eyes again, shaking my head.

"Actually, it turned out just how I thought it would--just not how I wanted it to."

"Maybe next time will be better."

"Maybe," I said, but I seriously doubted it.

"You just have to keep trying, Rory. I'm sure eventually she'll figure out that she has to talk to you."

"No. My grandma's not like that. She likes to have things her way; if she doesn't want to talk to me, then she won't. Not about anything I want to talk about, anyway. It's pointless. Do you want me to leave?"

Jase blinked, my question taking him off guard. I watched as he leaned forward and locked his fingers on the table as he looked at me. It didn't help my nerves that he actually seemed to be thinking about this.

"Leave where, Rory?"

I inwardly groaned. Didn't he know that he wasn't supposed to answer a question with a question? That irritated me. He knew damn well what I was talking about.

"Home. Back to my grandma. Away... away from here," I replied, doing my best not to sound agitated, but probably failing miserably. Jase, in return, sounded completely calm. What he had to say, I hadn't expected.

"No, I don't; in fact, I think your decision to go back at the end of the summer is a little rushed. Your mother wanted to find Eddie for a reason. When she asked you to come here, she never intended for you to move back in with your grandmother. Your relationship is strained with her right now, anyway. I don't think it would be in your best interest to go back."

"And is that your professional opinion?" I asked somewhat roughly. I hadn't been expecting that kind of response, and I really hadn't been expecting the impersonal way that he said it. At least he had the decency to look sorry.

"Rory, Eddie's your father. A few weeks ago I can understand why you wouldn't want to get to know him. You thought he'd abandoned you and your mother. It's completely understandable. But, you know better now. He wants to get to know you. He wants to be your friend, and maybe someday, something more. And you owe it to yourself to get to know him."

That was nice and all, but it didn't exactly answer my question.

"But, do you want me to leave?"

"No," Jase replied, beginning to look troubled. "I don't understand, Rory--did I do something that would make you think that?"

"I don't know," I replied, momentarily glancing away from him. "When you and Eddie were arguing about the picture, I heard what you said, that you'd leave, because of me."

Jase sighed and ran his hand over his face, looking like he was trying to come up with something to say.

"Okay; first, I'm sorry that I said that. But second--I wasn't thinking about leaving because of you. It was Eddie. When I said I'd leave, I also wasn't talking about permanently. Eddie was having just as much trouble at adjusting as you were. I thought it might be a good idea to leave the two of you alone for a while."

"But you guys are fighting about me..."

"No," Jase responded firmly. "We're fighting because I got mad at Eddie for something he shouldn't have done. Before, I was concerned about a few things regarding you, yes; but it was more that I was concerned over how Eddie was handling certain situations."

"Like the lying?"

"Yes, like the lying," Jase said. "Look, Rory... can I be completely honest here?"

"It might help," I mumbled, and he actually looked amused by that.

"Okay; you intimidate me."


"I mean it," Jase replied. "You have to understand... it took Eddie and me a long time to get where we are now. And I... I love him. But, your dad--Eddie--it takes him a while to open up to people. Being gay..."

"He told me."

"Well, it's all true. I don't think certain things have ever been easy for him, and as foolish as it might sound to you, I've always been a little afraid that one day something was going to scare him enough... to leave. When Luke moved in with us, things settled down almost naturally--we had some problems at first, but I think in a way, we were always a family. But when we found out about you... I don't think you understand just how scared your dad was. Obviously, we didn't know you were gay, or what you knew; he just wanted you to accept him, Rory. That was very important to him, and it still is. And I got really worried, because I thought that he'd actually leave us just so you would think he was... normal. That's why I agreed to play along with his little charade--at first. He needed to tell you the truth. He should have. I was willing to pretend for a few days. Not forever."

"I get that," I said, shrugging.

"I don't like to hide who I am, Rory. Eddie knows that, and that's why we're fighting."

"But, no one's lying about it anymore," I pointed out. "And you can't be angry about the picture, because I left that out." I could feel myself getting upset over this, but didn't understand why. If Jase didn't want me to leave, then why was he fighting with Eddie?

"I'm sorry I did that. I don't know--maybe I did it on purpose, okay? Maybe I wanted..."

"Rory," Jase said gently. "It's okay; look, I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but I think I will, given it's the only way you're going to understand. What you heard me fighting with Eddie about, wasn't just that picture. That's what he was angry about. What I was upset about, was the way he moved all of my things out of our bedroom after he found that picture."



And... I had absolutely nothing to say.

"He knows what he did was wrong," Jase continued. "He's sorry for it, I understand that; and I even understand. I've always known that Eddie has been, maybe, a little ashamed of who he is. A lot of that is from his past and I know he works on it; but when he did that, for the first time, I felt like he was ashamed of me."

I had to take a moment to digest this information. I'd been so focused on thinking that they were fighting about me that I'd refused to let myself think they were fighting just because Eddie was an idiot. And what he did was wrong. In fact, if I were Jase, I'd be angry, too. But, that didn't necessarily mean that I was angry with Eddie. Actually, I was surprised to find that I felt kind of sad for him. And Jase. Just... them in general. I was sad for them. And in all honesty, I was just as concerned over their fighting as I'd been before. I guess that meant it that I wanted them to work things out, whether or not Jase wanted me there.

"Do you understand now?" Jase asked, and I simply nodded. "Good; look, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell Eddie I told you. I'm going to tell him," he added quickly. "We just... never discuss these things with Luke, and we didn't talk about it first. I think I need to be the one to let him know we had this discussion."

"Um...yeah, sure."

"Thank you," he said, giving me a small smile. "And, I really do want you here. I'm sorry if it seems like I've kept my distance. Maybe... we can sit down and talk again?"


"Good," he nodded, looking satisfied. "I know you're probably trying to figure out where you fit in here, Rory. Just, try to remember that I'm still trying to figure out where I fit in with you, too. I think if we can sit down and talk to each other every once in a while, it'll be good."


It'll be good. That's what I told myself fifteen minutes after I got back with Jase and started to dial Aaron's number. Talking to Jase had made me feel better about things; maybe having an honest conversation with Aaron about Seth would have the same effect. And, if I could do it without getting pissed off, maybe Aaron would listen. At least, I imagined that he would have listened, if he had answered his phone.

I sat down on my bed, wondering where Aaron was, but didn't have much time to think on it, the way Luke suddenly barged into my room. This, I hadn't expected, considering that he and Eddie weren't there when Jase and I got back.

"We're leaving," he announced.


"How's your head, any better?"

"I guess, but..."

"We have to get out of the house, come on."


Luke didn't give me a response, and I didn't argue much when he grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the door. I wasn't necessarily worried about this behavior, just surprised by it; and I didn't press Luke for answers as I followed him through the house because I assumed an explanation would be coming sooner or later. Luke led me straight to the garage, where his car was already running.

"Aren't you going to tell Jase we're leaving?" I asked, finding it strange that Luke wouldn't think of that.

"Eddie will tell him."

I looked around as Luke practically shoved me into the passenger seat, taking note that Eddie's vehicle was nowhere to be seen.

"Weren't you with Eddie? I don't see..."

"He'll be back in a few minutes. He had to run back out to get something. I promised we'd clear out before he got back--actually, I insisted that we clear out before he gets back. He's going to do some serious apologizing to Jase, and things are probably going to get... gross." Luke shifted into reverse and began to back out of the driveway as I looked at him, still trying to figure out what was going on.

"Oh... oh! Ew!"

"Yeah," Luke nodded, as if confirming that I'd figured it out, and agreeing with my reaction. "I've just spent half the morning with Eddie guilting him because they woke us up last night, and..."

"You what?" I demanded.

"I guilted him--come on, it's not like you've never done it. Besides, I'm tired of them fighting. If they think it's bothering us, they'll work it out; and Eddie's going to work it out, trust me." I frowned at that, only because I happened to know what Eddie did, and I wasn't sure that they were going to work this out as quickly as Luke seemed to think they were. At least, where Jase's feelings were concerned, I didn't think it would be so fast. "And guess what?" Luke continued. "I found out why they're fighting." Now, I regarded him skeptically. I knew why Jase and Eddie were fighting, but I didn't see Eddie spilling the information to Luke like that. The only reason Jase told me was to convince me that he didn't have a problem with me. "Eddie fucked up, big time." Okay, maybe he did know. "He probably doesn't want me telling anyone what he told me, but I didn't make any promises and I think you should at least hear it. I was right, by the way, they're not fighting about you."

I glanced over at Luke, suddenly feeling amused by his excitement for gossip. He was obviously waiting for me to ask why Jase and Eddie were fighting. I imagined when he told me would be the highlight of his day. I actually felt bad about ruining it for him.

"I know. I talked to Jase this morning."

"Jase told you?" Luke asked incredulously, after a moment of appearing like I'd managed to slap him in the face. "He told you?"

"Yeah," I replied, wondering whether or not I should be offended by his reaction.

"He never tells me anything," Luke replied, pouting.

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I think he felt like he had to tell me. I sort of accused him of wanting me out of your lives."

"So you really did talk to him? How did that go?"

"Actually... it was okay," I admitted. "I mean, it bothers me that they're still fighting, but I guess Jase made me feel better in general."

"Did he say anything about Eddie? I mean, Eddie sounded sorry. I know he's been apologizing. Do you think he stands a chance?"

I had to think about that. Jase had sounded pretty hurt, and in all honesty, it made me wonder if he ever would fully forgive Eddie. But, Jase saying that he loved him--that was something, at least, for me to hear.

"He loves Eddie."

"Yeah; I know they love each other, but do you think they'll make up?"

"I hope so."

Luke flashed me an annoyed look.

"You're not really helping with the optimism here," he remarked.

"Sorry," I replied, sighing. "It's just...I want them to make up too, okay? The fighting makes me uncomfortable. But, do you really think it's any of our business?"

"Yes," Luke practically snorted. "The way I see it, it became my business when they woke you up last night, resulting in you waking me up. Plus, things seriously suck around the house with them fighting. Eddie made a mistake. But, they're going to work things out, because that's what they do."

Luke looked at me expectantly, as if he was waiting for me to agree with him. I hadn't been around long enough to know what Eddie and Jase do, but I was willing to take his word for it.

"So while they're making up, what are we doing?" I asked, deciding that I wanted a change in topic, and a question answered. After all, we were already well away from the house, and I wanted to know where we were going. I wasn't overly concerned about it, knowing Luke would be the company, but I wasn't interested in being around a crowd. Just thinking about it had me pulling Jase's ballcap lower.

"Well, first we're going to pick up Dave... and I haven't really thought past that point. Why? Is there something you want to do? We can go do it."

"Dave?" I repeated, suddenly not so fond of the clearing out for Eddie and Jase idea. It would probably be safer at home.

"Yeah, I told him we'd hang out today, so he's expecting me, anyway."

"But probably not me," I remarked under my breath, and then raised my voice some when Luke flashed me a funny look. "Um... has Dave talked to you at all, about me? I mean, has he mentioned that... he's sort of pissed at me right now?"

Luke instantly frowned at that, and appeared to be confused. I guess that meant Dave never mentioned seeing Aaron and me together. I wasn't sure whether I should be relieved or disappointed about that.

"Why would Dave be pissed at you?" Luke demanded, and I let out a breath. I'd known that sooner or later I'd have to talk to him about this. Maybe he knew that I liked Aaron, but I wasn't sure he knew that I'd actually been seeing him, apart from the times I happened to run into him at the park. I guess I was nervous about how he'd react.

"Because... he saw me with Aaron," I admitted, and I swear Luke actually flinched. At least, I thought I saw it before he composed himself and suddenly seemed to be paying more than enough attention to the road.

"Oh?" he said casually. "When?"

"A few days ago. It was when you were at work--I went to a movie with him."

I almost wanted to tell Luke that it was a disaster, just because I thought it would make him feel better, but instead, I waited for his reaction.

"Dave is pretty loyal to me, hating Aaron and all," Luke finally said, sounding as if it was no big deal at all. I would have been relieved by that, if I didn't know better. "I'll tell him to lay off. Don't worry about it, okay?"

I stared at Luke for the longest moment, wondering if I should let it drop here, or if I should say something else. He'd made it pretty clear that he didn't want to talk about Aaron. It bothered me, though, that he wouldn't. Honestly, I wasn't sure what I wanted from him. Asking for his blessing was entirely out of the question; but I guess, it would have been nice to know that I didn't have to tiptoe around the subject with him. But, that would never happen, either, and it disappointed me. I liked Luke. In all honestly, at the time I probably felt closer to him than anyone--and I mean anyone. It wasn't like I was calling any friends from back home, telling them how I was doing; and even if I was calling them, I couldn't tell them about half of the things I was going through because in that world, I was just Rory--not Rory, who was gay and dating a guy named Aaron. Maybe I hadn't known Luke for very long; but in some ways, I felt like he really was all I had, and it seriously bothered me that there were things that I couldn't talk to even him about.

"Hey Luke, I know you..."

"Maybe after we get Dave we can go to Rick's or something," he cut me off, sending a clear message that any conversation regarding Aaron was over. "I'm sure he's planning his own party by now. I bet we'll hardly have to do anything."

I sighed, deciding that if Luke wanted to talk about something else, I wasn't going to stop him. I wasn't sure I had a right to, anyway.

"That sounds fine," I replied, and tried to return his smile.


It was hard not bringing up Aaron again with Luke on the way to Dave's house--considering Dave seemed to live in the same neighborhood as Aaron. It wasn't on the same street or anything, but when we parked in front of Dave's house I found myself continuously looking over my shoulder, half expecting Aaron to drive by. That was probably because I was still wondering where he was, since he hadn't answered when I called his house. But, as Luke led the way to Dave's front door and knocked, my attention was redirected there, as we waited for someone to answer.

"Is he even home?" I asked, when Luke had to knock a second time.

Luke shrugged, and then surprised me by turning the doorknob and pushing it open.

"Probably. Door's unlocked."

"Luke!" I said, feeling alarmed, when Luke took it upon himself to walk through the front door.

"Relax, I do it all the time," Luke replied, waving me into the house.

I frowned as I stepped into the house, decorated in shades of blue, I noticed, and smelling a lot like Italian food.

"Dave?" Luke called out, and I nearly jumped when a short woman with dark hair appeared in the hallway. She definitely wasn't Dave, but I guessed that she lived there... and we'd probably just walked into her house uninvited. I glared at Luke because of this, but he just smiled.

"Hi Jeanette," Luke said, and I did find myself relaxing when she returned his smile.

"I thought I heard the door," she said. "It's about time you stopped by; I feel like I haven't seen you in ages, get in here." We were already in the house, but I think she said that for a reason to pull Luke into a very tight hug. "I was beginning to think you and Dave were having a fight."

"Nah, I just found a job," Luke explained. "Been kind of busy."

"Well congratulations. What are you doing?"

"Construction," Luke said proudly, and I watched a very motherly but only mildly concerned expression cross Jeanette's features.

"Construction? You be careful, Luke. How are your parents?"

I blinked at this, and again looked at Luke, wondering how much this woman actually knew about him. But, then I heard his response.

"They're both good. Jase keeps asking when you guys are coming over for dinner again; oh, and this is Eddie's son, Rory."

I blinked, when the attention in the room was suddenly turned on me, but collected myself enough to extend my hand when Jeanette excitedly reached for it.

"Oh, you did come after all," she said. "I know your dad was so excited. How do you like it here?"

"Um... it's okay..." I managed to get out, feeling a little unnerved by this woman, and having been mentioned to her, when I couldn't remember anyone telling me about her. Of course, that could have been because she didn't seem to know anything about keeping secrets from me. She'd even referred to Eddie and Jase as Luke's parents. The thought struck me as odd for some reason.

"Well that's good. And you guys tell Jase and Eddie hello for me."

"We will," Luke promised. "So is Dave here? I told him I'd just show up, but if he's not home yet..."

"In his room," Jeanette replied, smiling. "Are you guys going out?"

"Maybe to Rick's," Luke told her. "We're not sure yet."

"Well, you know where to find him. Make sure you say goodbye before you leave."

"We will," Luke replied, and elbowed me to follow him as he abruptly turned towards another hall. I didn't even have a chance to question him about Jeanette referring to Eddie and Luke as his parents before he was opening another door, this time without knocking at all, revealing a narrow-shaped bedroom where Dave was literally posing in front of a tall mirror, wearing a dress shirt over jean shorts. He spun around, cheeks aflame, when Luke whistled at him, just like any gay construction worker would.

"Fuck you!" Dave hissed. "Close the door!"

"What are you doing?" Luke asked, as he closed the door behind us, laughing. I probably would have laughed with him, if Dave hadn't shot me an angry look that likely had to do with more than just his obvious embarrassment.

"Nothing," Dave stated, moving to his bed to sit down.

"Nothing?" Luke repeated, sounding skeptical. Dave sighed, and opened his mouth to respond, but paused briefly enough to look at me like I was an intruder before he focused on Luke again.

"Angela called me," he explained, becoming even more flustered.

"Seriously?" Luke asked, moving to sit next to Dave, and suddenly I felt like they'd both forgotten that I was even in the room. "She called, what did she say?"

"She said she wanted to talk to me," Dave replied; and then, more panicked, "Why would she want to talk to me? I didn't even know she had my number. Did you give it to her?"

"No," Luke said quickly. "Why does she want to talk to you?"

"Didn't I just ask you that?" Dave responded irritably.

"Okay," Luke replied, using calmer tones now. "But she called you; that's a good thing, right? I mean, Angela called you."

"Angela called me," Dave repeated, suddenly sounding a little drunk. At least he was smiling, and not flashing me dirty looks. "Shit," he suddenly said, looking at Luke, "she asked me to meet her over at Brian's. You have to come with me." Dave was suddenly clutching Luke's arm like a lifeline.

"No problem," Luke insisted. "When?"

"Now," Dave replied, and then he was suddenly looking at me again. I doubted that I was invited. "What are you guys doing here, anyway?"

"I thought we were hanging out," Luke replied, but Dave was still glaring at me. I watched as Luke paused to take note of this, and then felt surprised when he suddenly backhanded Dave's arm. "Dude, knock it off. I know he's hanging out with shithead, okay?"

I flinched at Luke referring to Aaron like that, finding it offensive, but I doubted that it was the right time to speak up about it. As for Dave, he turned to Luke with a disbelieving expression on his face, and for a moment the two of them seemed to communicate just by looking at each other. Dave looked annoyed until Luke gave him a pointed look, at which point he seemed to relax, and then looked at me again.

"Dude, are you coming with us?" Dave asked, the hostility gone from his tone and expression.

"Yeah, he's coming with us," Luke responded. "Do you wanna go now, or do you need to make sure you look pretty enough again?" He glanced towards the mirror, laughing, and in response, Dave glared at him.

"Let's just go, asshole."

"Fine," Luke replied, still grinning. "But I gotta say goodbye to your mom first.


Brian's house wasn't even a block away from Dave's house, and on the way there Luke explained to him what had happened to my face. Apparently, Dave had been under the impression that Luke had done it after finding out that I was `hanging out,' with Aaron. The fact that he'd even think that frightened me a little. I never would have thought of Luke as the violent type, but I guess Dave knew him a little better than I did. It was both troubling and comforting to know that I'd already done plenty to provoke Luke enough to hit me, but he hadn't yet. I would have liked to think that he never would.

When we reached Brian's house, it was only for a very tall, thin man with a pony tail, introduced to me as Brian's dad, to tell us that things were getting too loud in his living room and everyone had gone to the park. So, then we were driving again, and my headache was returning and I was beginning to wish that I'd never left the house in the first place. I still wasn't interested in being in a crowd, and I had a feeling that was exactly what I was headed for.

I guess it could have been worse, though. When we got to the park, everyone was right there in the parking lot. Brian, Rick, Cathy, Meg, and of course, Angela. The girls looked like they were in the middle of an animated conversation and Brian and Rick were so involved in spinning remote-control cars around the parking lot that they hardly even noticed that we'd arrived.

"There she is," Luke said, nudging Dave. "Go talk to her."

"I can't," Dave stated, suddenly stopping in his tracks to shake his head. Luke rolled his eyes and grabbed Dave's arm, obviously seeing no problem with dragging his best friend over there. I started to follow, but became sidetracked when Rick noticed me.

"Shit, Rory. What happened to you?"

Brian looked up then, and the next thing I knew I was explaining to them how a baseball managed to smash my face. I was thankful when Luke joined us halfway through the story and took over telling it for me. I glanced over my shoulder, noticing that Dave had actually managed to get Angela alone. Probably with Luke's help. But, she seemed to be doing the talking while he was doing just about everything he could to avoid her eyes.

"Hey, Brian," Luke suddenly said in a lowered voice. "Did Cathy ever talk to Angela about that guy she's seeing?"

I couldn't quite stop myself from rolling my eyes at the mention of Seth. I suddenly felt like I should be telling anyone who would listen what an ass he was.


"Well have you asked her?" Luke demanded.

"No," Brian replied. "Why would I do that?"

"For Dave," Luke said, sounding annoyed.

"When I'm with my girlfriend, I'm not really thinking about Dave," Brian informed him.

"Can we please leave now?" Dave's voice suddenly came from behind us, and I turned with Luke to face him. He wasn't with Angela anymore.

"What's wrong with you?" Rick asked him.

"What happened?" Luke said, sounding a little more sensitive than Rick.

"I talked to her," Dave responded dryly.

"And?" Luke demanded.

"It's her mom's birthday next weekend," Dave replied.

"Oh no you don't," Rick suddenly said. "Next weekend is my party."

"And I'll still be there," Dave replied. "Angela's dad is building her mom a patio for her garden, but he hurt his back. Angela asked me to help."

"But that's a good thing," Luke insisted.

"I'm not the only one she asked... and it was Seth's idea," Dave explained.

"Oh," Luke said, frowning.

"I'll be there, too," Brian said. "She already asked me."

"Well she didn't ask me," Rick said, sounding happy about it.

"I know," Dave replied, suddenly smiling again. "That's why I volunteered you--you guys, too," he added, looking at Luke and me.

"What?" Rick demanded.

"Well her boyfriend's going to be there," Dave said defensively. "No way am I going to watch that alone. I need moral support!"

"We'll be there," Luke said automatically, and my eyes widened at that.

We? As in me, too? Oh, hell no. I wasn't afraid of a little manual labor, but no way was I spending a day trapped in the same vicinity of Seth.

"Um, Luke..." I started to say. I needed to nip this shit in the butt right now.

"I'm not going," Rick stated.

"Yes, you are," Luke informed him.

"Yeah," Brian said, elbowing Rick. "Don't be a jerk."

"Fine," Rick replied, scowling. "But my party better be good."

I sighed, wondering how I was supposed to get out of this. If I said anything now, I'd probably have to explain my problem with Seth, and I didn't want to do that with everyone. But, maybe I could explain it to Luke later. Maybe it would be a way to reopen a conversation about Aaron with him, and warn him what a jerk Seth was in the process. Maybe he could get someone to tell Angela that she was wasting her time on her boyfriend, who happened to be hung up on another boy.

"Great," Dave suddenly groaned. Unfortunately, I looked up, only to see that Seth was moving through the parking lot in his truck, window down and ballcap secure on his head.

I immediately turned away, feeling the need to hide. Why wasn't he still at work and away from me? At least he was away from Aaron this time...

...And, the moment I had the thought, I saw something that had me momentarily freezing in my tracks.

There, on the other side of the parking lot, was Aaron's car. I suddenly found myself looking around, wondering if anyone else had noticed. But, I guess they wouldn't. Angela was headed towards Seth's truck, with Meg tagging along behind her; Cathy was with Brian now, and Rick had gone back to the remote-control cars while Luke was obviously doing his best to cheer Dave up. I just stood there, wondering if anyone would notice it if I disappeared for a few minutes.

It took me about thirty seconds to decide that they wouldn't.

Maybe it was wrong, after all, I was there with Luke; but Aaron was at the park, and I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to see him. Besides, we weren't far from where I usually ran into him, anyway. In fact, it took me less than five minutes to find him.

He was at the tables where people generally hung out--actually, he was on top of one of the tables, with his shirt tucked in his back pocket and a smile on his face that seemed obvious from the top of the hill. I found myself smiling at that, but I stopped walking and became curious as I took a closer look at the people he was with.

I don't think I'd seen any of them around before. It was a group of guys, all looking older, and from where I was, I was pretty sure that one or two of them were drinking. For some reason the scene struck me as odd... and made me a little uncomfortable. But, I found myself walking towards them, anyway. I didn't have to walk far, though. I was happy when Aaron spotted me, and after pausing for a brief moment, waved in my direction before leaving the friends he was with to meet me. I think I was just grateful that I didn't have to meet the guys he was with; and that he didn't seem interested in introducing me once he did reach me.

"Oh, wow," he remarked, his first action to lightly lift the hat off my head, just enough for him to take a better look at my bruise. "That looks like it hurts."

"Not that bad," I lied. "What are you doing?"

"Just hanging out with some friends," he replied, gesturing back towards the table, and then grinned at me and reached for my hand. I was a little hesitant about him holding it with his friends looking on, but didn't exactly resist. "What are you doing here? I didn't think I'd see you until Tuesday."

"I came with Luke and Dave," I explained. "They'll probably want to leave soon."

"Okay; wanna go for a quick walk then?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at me in a suggestive way that made me smile, but it faded quickly.

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you. I tried to call, but..."

"Then come on," he insisted, giving my hand a tug to lead me in a direction away from everyone. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Actually... look, I saw Seth today," I said, deciding that it wouldn't help to dance around the subject. I noticed a slight frown crease his brow, but other than that, there was no reaction from Aaron. "Aaron, look, I know he's your friend, and we've had this conversation before, but I think there's some stuff you should know. Remember that night at Seth's house when I left, and he told you it was because I wasn't interested?"

"Yeah," he replied, frowning more openly now.

"Well, I never said that. I left because as soon as you disappeared he tried to warn me away from you." Aaron opened his mouth to say something, likely to argue, so I continued before he could. "And today he said you were just using me."

"Don't tell me you believe that shit," he suddenly said, sounding defensive.

"No, I don't, but I thought I should tell you. Look, I don't want to be around him, ever, and whatever his deal is..."

"I told you not to worry about Seth."

"Yeah, but..."

"Look... forget him," Aaron cut me off, moving closer as he placed a hand on my waist. "I told you I won't bring you around him anymore."

"But that's not the point..."

I frowned as Aaron leaned forward, but I didn't exactly stop it when his lips came into contact with mine. I even responded, when I felt his tongue, softly pressing against my mouth. But still, how could he just say not to worry about it? Shouldn't he be... pissed, or something? He was supposed to tell me that he wasn't going to hang around Seth anymore.

"I'm glad you showed up," he said, pulling back for a moment before his mouth was over mine again, and when his arms moved more tightly around me I found myself sighing against his mouth and slowly making an effort to return the kiss. Maybe he planned to stay away from Seth. Maybe he just didn't want to talk about it. I found myself relaxing slowly, sliding a hand up his arm to rest on his bare shoulder as he deepened the kiss, and when he pulled back again, I even found myself returning his smile. Only, when he began to lean forward again, my hand was suddenly on his chest, stopping him as my eyes widened on the figure standing behind him.

"Shit," I cursed, and Aaron looked back just in time to see the frown on Luke's face before he turned and walked away. Instinctively, I immediately started to go after Luke, wondering just how long he'd been standing there. Maybe he knew I was seeing Aaron, but there was a huge difference between knowing it and seeing it, and that worried me. I needed to make sure he was okay. Only, before I could get anywhere, I found Aaron's hand on my wrist, pulling me back.

"What are you doing?" Aaron demanded.

"I have to go talk to him," I stated. "Shit, Aaron..."

"I thought you said he was going to stay out of it."

"He is, but..."

"Then what are you doing? Just leave him alone."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I demanded.

"No, Rory. You said he knew; what's the big deal?"

"You don't see he's pissed?"

"Of course he's pissed--you're with me. Talking to him isn't going to change anything."


"I'm serious. Look, I know Luke; he'll deal with it, but he'll never be happy about it. Are you seriously going to go after him every time he sees something he doesn't like?"

"Look, I need to talk to him."

"Fine," he said, suddenly releasing me, and looking every bit as pissed off as Luke did. "Then go talk to him; but don't bother coming back."

"Aaron!" I said incredulously. What the hell was his problem?

"I like you, Rory, but I'm sorry--this is bullshit. It's bad enough that we can't see each other because of Jase and Eddie. I'm not going to just sit around waiting every time you go after Luke, too."

"Aaron, he could leave!"

"Then I'll take you home," Aaron insisted, grabbing for my hand. "If he said he'd stay out of it, just leave him alone."

"Aaron..." I said almost desperately. This was the worst possible moment for him to be giving me an ultimatum.

"I mean it. If you want to be with me... let me take you home."

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