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Desert Dropping

Chapter Eighteen: Realization

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.

When I woke up on Wednesday, I figured that it was going to be boring. Wednesday, everyone was at work again, and this time, no Aaron. He surprised me by calling that morning, though. Usually I was the one who had to call him. I was actually surprised that he even still had the number. He asked me if there was any chance that I'd be at the park later that night, because he wanted to see me. I told him I had no idea, so we made plans to see each other the next day, regardless. We had no idea what we were going to do, but he'd be over by eleven.

I got a second surprise on Wednesday. Just after twelve thirty, Eddie called the house. He hadn't really called me like that during the day in a while, so I wasn't expecting it. He was taking a break from lunch and wanted to know how my day was going. I probably shouldn't have mentioned to him that I was bored. The next thing I knew, he was apologizing for leaving me cooped up in the house all alone and he started talking about summer programs at various youth groups that might keep me entertained during the day. When I was finally through convincing him that I was too old for summer camp, he abruptly decided that he'd leave work early so we could go do something together. Apparently, he was in the mood for a movie.

"I'll call Jase and see if he can meet us," Eddie decided at the end of that.

"I'm not going on a date with you and Jase," I said quickly. It wasn't that I was opposed to hanging out with them together. I'd just rather not do it in places were people normally go on dates. I must have sounded horrified over the idea, too, because Eddie laughed out loud.

"You're sounding worse than Luke," he remarked. "And I meant that he'll be coming, too. He should be off work by then. We can have dinner out tonight. Luke would never turn down a meal."

I took his word for it. Eddie told me that everyone would meet at the house around four, and I made a mental note to wake up from any naps I might decide to take by then. Of course, nothing went as planned. First, Eddie got home two hours before he was supposed to and I had to cut short another phone call to Aaron, in the middle of him telling me how Alex had suddenly taken to throwing food at the wall. Then, Eddie explained that Jase wouldn't be able to get off early, anyway, and since there was still way too much time--in Eddie's opinion--before Luke got off work, he decided that just the two of us could go out to a movie and they could meet us for dinner later.

It wasn't what Eddie had planned, but in all honesty, it wasn't exactly disappointing to me, and I didn't feel threatened by the notion that I'd be spending more alone time with Eddie. I was actually glad that I wouldn't be stuck at the house all day. Eddie was ready to leave just as soon as he traded in his tie for a t-shirt and jeans, and we got to the theater an hour too early, if we wanted to see anything decent. According to Eddie, this was a good thing, because it gave us plenty of time to walk down the block for ice cream.

"You get along with Luke's friends, don't you?" Eddie was asking on the way back. "If you're getting bored during the day you're welcome to invite any of them over."

"I'm okay," I insisted, licking at my melting cone. I didn't really feel like telling Eddie that I already had a friend of my own, but he wouldn't approve of him.

"You should be having some kind of fun while you're here. I think you've dealt with enough stress, Rory. You know, it might not exactly be the time of your life, but Jase suggested taking you to work with me. We could use some help around the office a few days a week; you could make a little money if you're interested. You don't seem to be comfortable just taking it from me, so..."

"I have some money," I replied. "I've been saving since I was six."

"Six?" Eddie asked curiously.

"Allowance and stuff," I replied, shrugging. "Birthday money, Christmas... I never liked shopping, so I have some left over; and, when my mom died my grandma made sure I got everything she had in savings after all the bills were paid--I haven't touched that, though."

"I'm almost afraid to ask, but you don't have this just lying around in a box somewhere, right?"

I lifted my wallet out of my pocket and held up a bank card for him to see.

"Good," he said in response, smiling slightly. "But, if you still want to make something extra, and get out of the house a few days a week--well, I thought Jase had a good idea."

"Can I think about it?" I asked. To be honest, I didn't think it was a horrible idea, either. Everyone else had a job, maybe I should, too. It was the Aaron factor that had me hesitating. As it was, I only saw him every other day, and if I did my math right, those days would vary from week to week. A job would only serve to limit whatever time we already did have.

"Of course. But, whether or not you decide you want to, it still wouldn't hurt to make some friends."

"I've met a few people," I replied.

"You could invite some of them over, even when Luke's not around, you know."

"Maybe I will," I replied, shrugging, and felt a little relieved when Eddie seemed satisfied with that. But, the conversation didn't end there.

"Are you keeping in touch with your friends back home?"

"Not really."

"They haven't called you at all?"

"They don't have the number," I admitted. "But I gave them the address."

"Have you tried to call them?"

"I don't really need to."


"I'll see them in a few months, anyway, right?"

Eddie fell silent for a few moments as he walked, glancing over at me every few moments, and I suddenly became self-conscious, as I wondered if I'd said something wrong.

"Jase told me you guys had a talk," Eddie finally said. "I know we made our deal, Rory, but that doesn't mean that you have to leave at the end of the summer. It's your choice, but..."

"You don't think I should go back, either?"

"I think... to be honest with you, I'm not sure if I can make that decision, Rory. It's where you grew up, your grandma's there. But, I know I want you to stay here. School's going to start up again in about six weeks. It's not a whole lot of time. I want more than that."

"Does that mean..."

"No, we made a deal, it's still your choice. I just want you to know you have options. If you go back, I do want you to consider coming back next summer, though. And, at Christmas... and you'll have spring break..."

"You want me to visit?"

"Yes, I want you to visit," he responded, as if it should be incredibly obvious. He finished off his ice cream cone and then looked down at me. "Rory, I know I've just missed the last sixteen years, and I can't expect to magically be a part of all that, but I do have now. I plan to be there now, and in the future, and I don't think it should matter where you are. Maybe you're not looking for a father figure, but I hope eventually, we can do more than just get along and at least be friends."

I thought about that for a minute as we reached the theater and stepped into line behind everyone else, deciding that I had no objections. Eddie and I were getting along, and to be honest, when I wasn't there anymore, I didn't see keeping in touch as a bad thing. Eddie wasn't the only one who I wanted to keep in touch with, either. I wasn't exactly close to Jase, but Luke was someone who I could see myself being friends with for a long time.

"Okay," I said simply.


"Okay... I mean, we can keep in touch and all that."

Eddie didn't look entirely satisfied, but he flashed me a small smile and nodded before turning his attention towards the movie listings, and I found myself watching him, becoming curious as I thought over a different topic entirely. But, when he glanced down and caught me looking, I nervously looked away.

"What?" he asked.


"Are you sure?"

I looked up at him again, hesitating for a moment before I spoke.

"Jase told you we talked?"

"Yeah, he did. You don't think he wants you out of here anymore?"

"Not really," I admitted.


"So...since he talked to you, does that mean you guys are..." I left the sentence unfinished, not really thinking that it was any of my business, anyway.

"We talked things out--it bothered you, when we were fighting?"


"I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable, Rory. We really are better now."

"Okay... so why did you do it?"

I assumed that Jase told Eddie that he explained to me why they were fighting. He told me that he would, and the sudden, guilty look that took over Eddie's expression pretty much confirmed that.

"It was a mistake, Rory. I was wrong, and even if Jase has forgiven me, it's something that I'm going to have to live with for a very long time."

"But why'd you do it? Was it because of me?"

"It's definitely not your fault, or anyone else's but mine."

"But you still did it because of me," I pressed.

"You being here... might have had something to do with it," Eddie admitted. "Look, it was still a stupid thing to do, but I did it because I got a little panicked. We just started being able to have real conversations, Rory. I didn't want to give you any more reasons to hate me. I was afraid that if you saw how I lived, you'd want to leave and then I really wouldn't get a chance to know you--or you me."

I nodded for a moment, and then shrugged.

"I think I understand?"

"You do?"

More than he knew. At least, I understood the part about wanting to hide something because I was afraid it would cause trouble. Like with Aaron. I didn't want to tell Eddie or Jase I was seeing him because I was afraid to.

"Yeah. I think so."


The movie wasn't bad. But, that could have been because I wasn't warring with Seth. I decided that all movies would be better without him there. Afterwards, Eddie and I met Jase and Luke for an early dinner of Chinese food, and it was nice to see that the atmosphere seemed more relaxed than normal again. I guess this was always how it was with them, before I came into the picture. I think I was relieved to know that the tension could disappear even with me there. I went swimming with Luke again, and out of nowhere he decided that Rick's party was going to be a pool party. This way, he reasoned, we wouldn't have to do a whole lot of cleaning downstairs when it was over; we could barbeque, and it would be late enough so it wouldn't be too hot. When Jase came out to see if we wanted any of the pie he'd stopped off for on the way home, and Luke ran the idea past him, he seemed to approve right away. There was no need to convince Eddie, either, who was just happy that there wouldn't be a mob of teenagers running amuck in his house.

The next morning, everyone went to work like normal. I was up to say goodbye this time, and Eddie once again mentioned my option of going to his office. I told him I'd think about it, and I would. I just didn't tell him that I wouldn't be thinking it over today because Aaron was coming over, and he was right on time.

Any intimacy issues he seemed to have the last time I saw him had completely vanished, the way that he was pretty insistent on kissing me as soon as I opened the door. It was reassuring. But, I wasn't exactly happy when he said he planned to take me back to his house again.

"Why?" I asked, still not leaving the front door.

"Because if you haven't noticed, it's hot today. I figured we could just hang out at my place."


"Look, I know you're worried about my parents, but they won't be there, and Cody won't bother us."

"Then why not hang out here?" I asked. "We don't have to go anywhere at all."

"Rory, I told you, I'm not..."

"Comfortable, I get it. But, I'm not really comfortable over at your place either. Look, you can pretty much hear it every time a car pulls up here, so you shouldn't be worried. Why don't you just come in. Plus, isn't it cheaper for you to just hang out here?"

Aaron didn't seem thrilled about the idea, but he forced a smile and after a few minutes of hesitating he came inside, something that pleased me because it meant that we weren't going to his house. I'm sure he came to realize, that it didn't matter where we were, just like I did. After putting Chey outside to keep her from growling at my guest, I'd hardly gotten Aaron down to the basement before he'd gotten his tongue into my mouth and his hand down my pants.

I was a little blindsided by his advance, but I found it wasn't entirely unwelcome. It just made getting to my room a little harder. I'd spent myself into his hand just after we got through my door. Aaron didn't seem to care, though. I guess he wouldn't, because a few minutes later I found myself kneeling in front of him as he sat on my bed, and once again I found his hand on the back of his neck as I attempted to get more of his dick in my mouth than I had the last time. I did it, too, slowly but surely. I almost got all of him in before it was over, and the fact that Aaron seemed pleased with that did leave me with a slight afterglow, even though once again, the kissing on the lips stopped. But this time, he did snuggle up to me as I joined him on the bed and I found his mouth moving gently over my ear. It was what he said into my ear that made me go back to feeling unsure of myself.

"I gotta go."

"Go?" I repeated. "I thought..."

"Cody has to go meet my mom in a while for a dentist appointment and I have to take Alex. You can come with if you want, it'll just be a few hours. Doubt you'll even see my mom." I frowned at that, and Aaron probably took it for uncertainty as he shrugged and abruptly stood up, zipping up his pants in the process. "That's okay," he insisted. "Why don't you just call me later."

"I guess," I said, still frowning as I got up and started to follow him out and upstairs. He turned and smiled at me when he reached the door.

"Hey, meet me at the park tomorrow night."

"Aaron..." I started to say that I doubted I could, but he interrupted.

"Luke is always going to the park on the weekends. Just, get a ride with him and meet me there. Or, figure out a way to meet me. Seriously. There's a party. I want you to go with me."

"I don't know..."

He leaned forward, surprising me by actually aiming for my mouth with his lips, placing a longer, but soft kiss over them.

"Meet me. You'll figure out how."

I would? Honestly, sometimes I couldn't figure Aaron out. Actually, I couldn't figure out Aaron more than all of the time. The fact that he'd shown up long enough to get off before he had to go again was unnerving to me, and a little irritating. But, that still didn't change the fact that after he left, I was suddenly trying to figure out how I could meet him tomorrow night. It was true that Luke would probably be going out. He didn't work on Saturdays. But, I couldn't just go with him and then disappear again like I had the last time. If I had any chance of meeting Aaron at all, that meant actually telling Luke that I intended to. I wasn't sure how eager I was to do that.

The next day, while I was once again all alone at the house, I called Aaron and told him this. He didn't seem to see the problem with me telling Luke. He wasn't rude about it; in fact, he was pretty big on telling me that he was going crazy, not being able to see me all day, and he'd probably go crazier if he couldn't meet me that night. He said he missed me. I told him that I'd try to get out. That meant talking to Luke--and I really didn't want to do it.

Like most days, Luke was in a good mood when he got home. I was getting some ice water around the time he'd showered, changed, and come back upstairs.

"After dinner me and Dave are going to get shit for Rick's party," he announced, lifting himself to sit on the counter next to me, something I'd heard Jase scold him for once or twice since I'd been there. This announcement confirmed that Luke was in fact, going out tonight. "We're splitting the list with Brian and Rick, so it shouldn't take that long. Wanna come?"

I looked at him, and opened my mouth to respond, but then stopped. Sure Luke, I want to come, but only so I can hitch a ride to see Aaron. I doubted that was going to sound any better out loud. Luke had said that my relationship with Aaron wasn't going to change anything between us. I wondered if it would apply if I actually worked up the guts to ask him if he'd help me see Aaron.


Luke continued to look at me, expectantly yet patiently, as he waited for a response.

"It's not going to be boring or anything," he finally said. "Afterwards we'll probably go to Brian's or something. But, if you're not up for it, that's okay, too." I saw him glance to the bruise on my face, probably wondering if it was bothering me, and I self-consciously rubbed at it. There wasn't much swelling left, and it was hardly bothering me.

"No, it's not that... it's just... I mean, I want to go."

"Okay, we'll leave after dinner. We probably won't be home until around midnight, though."

"Luke, I mean, I want to go... I'd go, but someone else sort of asked me to do something tonight."

Luke wasn't stupid. He looked at me for a few moments with a more serious expression; not angry, like it had been when he saw Aaron and me together at the park, but it wasn't happy, either.

"You didn't tell him to meet you here, did you?"

"No," I said quickly.

"Jase and Eddie wouldn't like it, you know? I mean, they really wouldn't like it."

"I know. Look, he asked me to meet him at the park, but..." I left the sentence unfinished, hoping that Luke would pick up on the obvious. He didn't disappoint me.

"You need a ride."

I gave him a pointed look and a subtle nod, suddenly finding it difficult to meet his eyes. It suddenly seemed so unfair to even ask him. "You know, it's stupid," I said, when he didn't say anything. "I shouldn't have asked you, so just forget it."

I turned to walk away from the counter but he grabbed my shoulder, stopping me.

"Hey. No. I mean, who else do you have to ask?" He let out a breath, looking like he was thinking hard, and then looked at me again. "I'll drop you off around eight thirty, before I get Dave."


"Don't make a big deal out of it, okay, Rory?" he cut me off. "Look, just... make sure you have your phone this time."

So, I didn't make a big deal about it, or try to discuss it with him further. Instead, I went downstairs to call Aaron and tell him that I was meeting him at the park, and that Luke was being cool enough to get me there. In return, I got a, `That's cool' and `I have to go, see you there.' It wasn't the response I was expecting. In fact, I was a little disappointed by it, but I decided that he was probably just busy with his brother, and that later, when I saw him, he'd tell me again how much he missed me.


Awkward moment. A really long awkward moment. Fifteen minutes worth of awkward moments is what I was experiencing, because it had been exactly fifteen minutes since Luke and I had left the house together, and in that time, neither of us had said a word to each other.

This was a switch from the way he'd been since coming home from work. Even after he'd agreed to take me to the park to meet Aaron, things with Luke had been as friendly as always. We'd gone for a swim before Eddie and Jase got home. Luke had made a game out of trying to stay under water longer than me, but failed miserably. I finally told him I was ready to go in just because I was afraid he'd end up drowning himself after turning blue for the second time.

Dinner consisted of tater tots and fish sticks. Eddie cooked. Jase and Eddie were both eager to know what Luke and I were going to be up to for the rest of the evening, and after some prying from Luke, we learned that they wanted to know if we'd be gone because they were going on a date. Luke told them they had permission as long as when they came back, they didn't do anything gross where anyone might walk in on them. Neither of them liked this comment. I laughed at it.

Before we left, Luke said he wanted to change again, so I decided to do the same. When I met him to go upstairs, he made fun of me because my idea of improving my wardrobe was to change into a shirt that was less wrinkled. I countered by wondering out loud when he'd started to care about anyone's wardrobe, because his usually consisted of underwear and a smile. Sometimes, just a smile. I think I made him blush. There was something very satisfying about that.

But, ever since we'd gotten into his car and driven away from the house, there had been a tension between us that I didn't much care for. Luke didn't seem angry. Not at all. Instead, it almost seemed like he was as unsure as I was. And, I was unsure. I wasn't sure at all if I'd made the right decision in asking him to help me see Aaron. I felt guilty about it, knowing how Luke felt about Aaron.

He finally spoke to me when we were stopped at a red light, and his voice sounded as nervous as he looked.

"Rory... hey, are you..." he stopped and let out a breath, and then continued saying something that probably wasn't his original intent. "So did you bring your phone?"

"Yeah, I got it."

"Okay; we should work something out, so we can meet like last time."

I looked over at him, wanting to ask why he was going through all this trouble for me.

"Won't Eddie and Jase be gone, anyway?"

"They'll be back way before we're supposed to be--don't forget curfew's midnight. You'll probably want to be out until then, right?"

"I don't know yet," I admitted. Aaron had mentioned a party. I wasn't sure what else he planned for us to do.

"Well, I'll probably be out that late; if you need to leave earlier, just call me and I'll come get you. Call me for anything."

"Thanks, Luke; but look, I don't want you to change your plans for me, so..."

"I don't mind," he said quickly, and glanced over at me as the light turned green. "I'm serious, Rory. Call if you need me to get you, or to meet you when you go home." He sighed again, and after another moment began speaking with more determination behind his voice. "Look, you know how I feel about Aaron, and obviously, I'm not trying to stop you from seeing him; but, are you sure you want to do this?"


"It's just, I don't trust him. Just promise that you'll call for anything you want to, okay?"

"I'll be fine," I insisted. "But I promise." Luke still looked uncertain, so I added, "I'll call you before I go home."

He nodded at that, and a few minutes later we were at the park. I didn't see Aaron's car.

"You can go," I told Luke. "I'm sure he'll be here any minute."

"I'll wait," Luke replied. He didn't say it rudely, but I had a feeling that there was no room for argument here. I didn't argue, but that could have been because Aaron's car pulled up next to us just then. Luke reminded me to call one more time before I got out, and then he delayed me, suddenly demanding my phone to make sure I had his number in it. I watched him drive off before I turned my attention towards Aaron's car... and got a surprise.

The back door opened, and Aaron came out of the back seat. That, I wasn't expecting. He was smiling as he came towards me, but as he reached me, I noticed right away that something was different. First, it was like he didn't know when to stop walking, and before I knew it he was practically on my toes, his body falling into mine. As a result, I automatically moved my arms around him, and that's when I realized he smelled like the inside of a vodka bottle.

"Hey," he said. "Ready to go?"

I pushed him back a little, frowning as I looked him over. It wasn't like he was slurring his words or anything, but his eyes had a glazed-over look to them and the smile on his face was almost too relaxed.

"Are you drunk?" I asked.

"Not yet," he grinned, wrapping an arm around my waist to pull me towards his car.

"Aaron, hold on," I insisted. "What are we doing? You can't drive..."

"I'm not driving," he replied, sounding annoyed. I guess that was the reason why he'd gotten out of the back seat. My next question felt like an important one.

"Who's driving?"

"I'll show you," Aaron nearly whispered as he continued to lead me towards the car. I must have been dragging my feet, because he suddenly stopped and looked at me.

"Hey," he said, suddenly sounding serious--sober. "It's cool, okay? I want you to meet some of my friends."

"I've met your friends before," I pointed out in a way that told him it wasn't necessarily a good thing.

"Seth isn't here," he responded irritably. "Come on." I sighed, and moved towards the car, waiting for Aaron to slide into the backseat before I followed him, hardly closing the door before his arm was around me and he was pulling me against his side. "Rory, this is Jason, and Peter," he said, introducing me to the two guys in the front seat of his car.

Peter, in the passenger seat, I recognized as one of the older guys that Aaron was with at the park a few days before. It was the bright red hair that made me recognize him. Up close, he had sideburns and a face full of freckles, and I imagined that if he was standing, he would be tall and skinny. Jason was shorter, but still probably taller than me. He had dark hair that was cut to frame his face, and narrow eyes that gave me the impression that he didn't really like anyone, although, he was the one who greeted me.

"Hey," he said, and I nodded in response.

"Let's go," Aaron told him, and I soon discovered that Jason didn't know how to read speed-limit signs. Or, maybe he just wasn't paying attention to them, being in the driver's seat and talking to Peter in hushed voices about some girl named Lisa. Peter was saying something about hooking up with her and Jason was threatening him with bodily injury if he tried any such thing. Aaron chuckled as he leaned into me, kissing my ear, and I turned to look at him, no happier than I'd been two minutes ago.

"Lisa's Jason's sister," Aaron whispered, as if to explain why the two guys in the front seat were arguing. I didn't care why they were arguing.

"Where are we going?" I asked. "I mean, where is this party?"

"Not far," Aaron replied, and then flashed me a reassuring look. "And will you relax," he added, suddenly massaging my shoulder. "It's gonna be fun, I swear."

I wasn't having fun.

"Yeah, whatever," I responded, and Aaron frowned at me before leaning even closer, lowering his voice to almost a whisper.

"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked. I turned my head to face him with a venomous look, but that only served to deepen his frown. "Seriously, Rory, what's with you? I told you we were going to a party."

"You didn't tell me you were going to be drunk," I retorted, and Aaron leaned back a little, looking annoyed.

"I'm not drunk," he responded. "Shit, Rory. Look, I was already at Josh's place..."

"Josh's place?"

"The party," he explained, obviously not liking the interruption. "I had three drinks, not enough to get me drunk, trust me. But, Jason wanted to drive to come get you anyway, to be safe, you know?"

I stared at Aaron, once again not knowing if I should be angry or not. He had told me we were going to a party. And, it wasn't like I had a right to tell him not to drink. Yes, it made me a little uncomfortable, and so did his friends, but that could have been because this wasn't what I was used to. I found myself wondering why I was so angry. Maybe it was because I'd expected to meet Aaron alone, not like this. Maybe I was the one with the problem here, not him.

I let out a breath, trying to calm myself down. I just didn't like being in unfamiliar situations. With Luke and his friends, it was different. Probably because Luke was there, and I trusted Luke. With Aaron, it was different. It felt almost like I wanted to trust him, but there was still something there that made me nervous, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Whether it was subconsciously remembering his past, or just that I was nervous around him, I didn't know. I didn't know anything. I just knew that when he relaxed against me and pulled me a little closer to him, I began to feel a little more secure, and found my own shoulders relaxing. He must have sensed the change because he took it upon himself to kiss me, right at the corner of my mouth.

"We're gonna have a good time tonight, I swear."

"You know I have to be back by twelve, right?" I asked, realizing to myself that if Aaron had been drinking, I should probably call Luke for a ride when the time came.

"No, I didn't know," he replied seriously, but when I began to look panicked he smiled at me. "But it's okay, I'll make sure you get home."

He took my hand and gave it a squeeze. I squeezed back.


There had been very few times in my life, that I'd come under the general impression that I was walking into a bad situation. That night with Aaron, was one of those times. The party we went to, didn't seem like a party at all to me. First, the location wasn't what I was expecting. I figured that if anything, that this Josh guy would be a high-school student and the party would be at a house. Not a two-bedroom apartment belonging to more high-school graduates, the guy named Josh being one of them--who wasn't even there, I found out. His roommate happened to be Lisa, Jason's sister. And, the party didn't seem like a party at all. At least, not the ones I'd ever been to. There were guys and girls making out everywhere in the crowded space, and a group of people in the living room, pretty much sitting in a huge circle, discussing who could drink the most without puking, and actually trying to find out.

I learned all of this through observation. For the first forty-five minutes after we arrived, I followed Aaron between the kitchen and the living room like a lost puppy. And, I was lost. At first, Aaron made sure to hold onto my hand. I decided not to be uncomfortable with this. There didn't seem to be any other male-male couples there, but no one seemed to care, either. Plus, it felt safer with him holding my hand as he joined conversation after conversation, laughing with his friends and occasionally stopping to explain a joke to me. I didn't really think any of them were funny, but at least Aaron was there with me. But, he was also drinking. One drink after another, I noticed, and soon he was laughing at things that no normal person would laugh at, like some blonde girl announcing that she needed to go to the bathroom. I also noticed that during this time, Aaron didn't introduce me to one person. If someone looked in my direction, he'd put his arm around me and try to make out with me on the spot, resulting in me pushing him away in a subtle, yet pointed way. Then, things started getting annoying. Maybe he wasn't drunk before, but there was no question about it now. He was staggering. His words were slurring every now and again, and I wanted to go--and not with him. I was ready to call Luke, admit I was an idiot, and get the hell out of there. But, there was no way I was going to do this without telling Aaron that I was leaving, and obviously, that he was being an asshole. Maybe he'd figure out how to apologize tomorrow, but for now, I didn't want anything to do with him. But, when I told him I was ready to go and asked if we could go outside to talk real quick, he just looked at me like I'd said something cute, told me to relax, and went back to talking to some girl who wanted to know where he'd been last week, when everyone got trashed and the cops showed up. I wanted to get the hell out of there.

As Aaron ignored me, I reached into my pocket for my phone, ready to call Luke. I pressed the button to see if I could find his number... and nothing happened. It took me another five minutes to figure out that it was because I didn't have cell service anywhere in the apartment as I followed Aaron around. What the fuck was that?

When I finally left Aaron's side, it was to go in search of a phone. He didn't seem to notice, though. As I looked around the crowded apartment, a girl who was probably three years older than me tried to pick me up, and a guy bigger than Brian told me to get out of the way before he puked on my shoes, and after puking in the plant on the table next to me, offered me the fifteenth drink I'd been offered that night. After I declined, I was recruited by the tall, dark-haired girl named Lisa to bring the guys more beer, after she asked me who the hell I was; and when I finally found a telephone it happened to be under another girl, who happened to have a guy's hand up her shirt. Peter's hand, I noticed. No way was I reaching into that, not even for a phone. Aaron found me about then--startled me, actually--when he suddenly pulled me down on a nearby sofa, right into the circle of drunks.

Where'dju go?" he mumbled, nuzzling up to my neck as I slid off his lap, trying to keep him from spilling a drink on me.

"Nowhere," I said angrily. "I want to go home. Seriously, Aaron."

He laughed like I said something funny.

"Aaron, come on!" a voice called from across the room, and I looked up to see Peter standing in the hallway, waving for him.

"Be back," Aaron said, suddenly kissing my cheek so sloppily he might as well have spit on it, before he stood and left me there.

I started to stand, furious and ready to go outside to search for better service, but the same large guy who'd nearly puked on me earlier suddenly took Aaron's place, forcing my body back down as he sat and smashing me against some girl wearing too much perfume. There was a coffee table in front of me, and suddenly no way out, unless I wanted to push and fight my way out, which would probably be a mistake in this crowd.

For what felt like an entire hour, I sat there, hearing the commotion around me, smelling the throw-up in the plant four feet away, and turning down shot glasses as my mind swam, wondering what the hell Aaron was doing down the hall with Peter and the two other people, a guy and a girl, who had followed them down there.

It's hard to explain how I was feeling then. Anger, went without saying. But, there was more to it. I was feeling abandoned, and hurt, and completely disgusted. As much as I hated him then, I just wanted Aaron to come back and rescue me. I wanted him to get me out of there so I could find a phone. I wanted him to tell me that this was a really bad joke, and go back to being the sweet guy he was earlier when he was telling me that he missed me. I felt like such an idiot.

The room itself was making me nauseous by the time things got even worse, if that was possible. The giant on my left had finally stood up, and I'd managed to get up, planning to run for it, when Aaron suddenly caught my eye again. Apparently, I hadn't seen him come back down the hall, because he was over by the front door. It was the sight of his company that suddenly had my blood boiling and the stress of the situation catching up to me. Seth. But, it wasn't just Seth. It was Seth, in his stupid hat, with his hand on Aaron's arm, roughly trying to pull him out the front door. Aaron was staggering, but definitely resisting, being belligerent and loud, as far as I could tell. It looked like he was causing a scene, too, shouting at Seth to get off of him.

"Stop it!" Aaron shouted, and suddenly all hopes of him rescuing me seemed to fly out the window, and I suddenly found myself wanting to rescue him. Whether or not he deserved it, which he probably didn't. I was across the room in a second, slipping my arm around Aaron's waist and smoothly pulling him away from Seth as I did my best to look intimidating. I was satisfied when Seth stepped back; it looked more like he was surprised to see me than afraid of me.

"Why don't you back off," I said angrily. Aaron didn't help. He stuck his tongue out at Seth and made a less-than-flattering sound. "And you knock it off," I told Aaron, who laughed at me in response.

"He brought you here?" Seth asked, not only looking surprised now, but sounding annoyed, too.

"Yeah, and I've got this, so you can go now," I said pointedly. Seth didn't look anywhere near ready to listen. Instead, he just glared between Aaron and me. For a minute my gut clenched, and I wondered if I was about to get into a fight. I hoped not. Maybe I thought Seth was a pussy, but I was pretty sure he could still kick my ass. I wasn't expecting to be rescued by a guy who I didn't even know.

He was tall, another older guy, with sandy-blond hair, a bottle of rum in his hand and glasses. He came right up to us, put an arm around Seth's shoulders, and smiled. At me, I think. I couldn't quite bring myself to return the gesture.

"Hey, Seth," he said calmly. "Let's go talk a minute."

"Kevin..." Seth practically growled.

"Come on," Kevin insisted, still calm, and to my surprise, Seth went with him, just a little grudgingly. This left me with Aaron, and as he turned and tried to kiss me, I remembered how pissed I was at him.

"Don't," I said angrily, and he actually had the nerve to look confused. "I'm leaving."

"Rory," he suddenly said, wrapping his arms around my waist and hugging me to him, just as I'd reached for the door. "Don' leave," he mumbled, looking rather pathetic.

"You're fucked up," I told him angrily, and saying that out loud left me with an upsetting realization. I couldn't just leave him there. "Fuck," I cursed, slipping my arm around him again, and this time pulling him towards the door with me. "You know what? We're both going." I was going to call Luke, ask him to rescue me, and whether or not either of them liked it, Luke was going to rescue Aaron, too.

"I don't wanna go," Aaron argued. He suddenly turned towards me again, his hands dropping on my shoulders and his weight pressing against me so heavily that I had to brace myself to hold him up.


"Please don't be mad with me," he mumbled, trying to hug me now. "Rory..."

"Aaron, seriously, stop it."

"Don't be mad with me," he repeated, taking my hands and pulling me back away from the door as he looked at me with an almost depressed expression. "Please."

"I want to leave," I informed him. "And you're too fucking drunk to take me!"

"No, Rory, don't go yet... I'll get you home, okay? Come talk to me."

"I don't want to talk to you," I retorted, even as I took a step forward.

"Please," he said, dropping one hand to pull me along by one. I'd like to say that I didn't let go because he was staggering and I didn't want him to fall, but unfortunately, I think it was more than that. "Please, Rory, I feel like shit... please, just come talk to me. I'm sorry."

I could feel myself grinding my teeth uncontrollably, both angry and nervous as he led me back towards the hallway. I needed to get out of there. But, just as I was ready to drop Aaron's hand and leave with or without him, something happened that changed my mind.

Seth was suddenly between us, and my hand dropped from Aaron's automatically as Seth faced me. For Aaron's part, he stared at Seth's back for a moment looking confused before he turned and staggered drunkenly down the hall.

"Move," I ordered, feeling panicked and wanting to catch up to Aaron. My head was swimming, my eyes were beginning to sting with the pressure that had been building behind them for the last few hours, and the knot in my throat as I faced Seth was hard to swallow past.

"Don't go back there with him," Seth stated, and then shocked the hell out of me by adding, "Please. He's had too much..."

"Just leave us alone," I found myself saying, bravely pushing past him as I got over my initial shock. Maybe he did care about Aaron after all. But, I hadn't exactly told Aaron I didn't want to see him anymore, and if anyone was going to handle him being drunk, it was me; at least, it seemed better than Seth doing it. "Aaron!" I called, and Aaron stopped just before he reached a door and looked back at me with an unnecessary grin on his face. I was so frustrated by now that I didn't know if I wanted to hit him, or just cry. I think a little of both. "Look, I can call Luke, okay? I know he'll come get us..."

I was cut off by Aaron as he suddenly started laughing out loud, probably at my suggestion. I didn't find it amusing at all, especially when he grabbed my hand and pulled me through a door to the right. I heard some guy shouting Aaron's name, demanding to know what the fuck he was going into his room for. It was no surprise that Aaron didn't seem as concerned with this as I was, and as I tried to keep him out of the room, I discovered just how strong Aaron was as he pulled me through the door and into a dark room filled with smoke that I doubt came from cigarettes, and then he closed us in.

"Get the fuck off of me!" I ordered. Any emotion I'd been feeling was abruptly pushed away as I took in my situation and decided the best course of action was to just be pissed off. But, Aaron didn't let go of me, instead he just laughed; and when he found I refused to let him pull me forward anymore he leaned into me again, placing an arm around my waist as he let his weight drop on me. And the next thing I knew, I was well trapped against the door; and his mouth, sour breath included, was on my face, likely having difficulty in finding my mouth as I turned my head and pushed at his chest. "Aaron, knock it off, you're drunk!" As if pointing this out to him would actually help the situation. Aaron responded by grabbing my hand and pulling it towards him, until my knuckles were against a very obvious bulge in his pants.

I froze. Maybe it was becoming clear that I'd made a lot of mistakes regarding Aaron, but this was definitely his. Believe me, he didn't want me anywhere near that part of his body at the moment.

"Aaron," I said as calmly as possible, as his hand began to move my clenched fist up and down his length in a deliberate way. "Let go."

"Shh, we're just having fun."

"I'm not having fun. I'm leaving. Seriously, you can come, or..."

"I don't wanna go," he replied, placing my hand even more firmly against his erection. "Come on... it's not like you don't need the practice, anyway. You kinda suck, Ror... or I guess the problem is you don't suck."

I went rigid. That was just hitting below the belt; it was also the last straw, if you didn't count the way that he suddenly dipped his head down and latched onto my neck with his mouth, suddenly sucking so hard it hurt. I stopped thinking, and reacted. My hand was already on his erection, so I slid it downwards, causing Aaron to release a small moan as I cupped his balls; but any gratification he got from my actions was short-lived as I squeezed for all I was worth, and he doubled over, pushing off of me in the process.

I didn't stick around to see if he was okay as I turned and fled the room, grateful for the fresh air of the hallway. I just wanted to get out of there. I was going to get out of there, and I didn't give a damn what would happen to Aaron if he stayed alone. I was done.

"You fucking asshole!" I heard him scream angrily after me, and even in the noisy crowd it seemed to draw attention to me. I walked faster. I was halfway through the door before Seth was in front of me for the third time that night, and I couldn't help feeling cornered when he lifted his hand to my shoulder to stop me, looking pissed off under that ballcap. I pushed him off instantly, taking wide steps to get around him.

"You can fucking have him," I snapped. "You fucking deserve each other, anyway."

"Rory!" Aaron's voice came from behind me, but I didn't look back. I got out the front door and moved as fast as I could down the apartment stairs, looking at my cell phone and hoping that I'd see service bars soon. "Rory!" I heard Aaron's voice again, coming from the top of the stairs. I found myself furiously wishing that he was drunk enough to fall down them, but instead, I heard him shouting at someone else. "No! Let go of me! I'm fucking fine!"

"You're fucking out of here is what you are," came the second voice. I half expected it to be Seth's, but it wasn't deep enough. "Where are your keys, Aaron?"

"You can't have my keys!" Aaron argued.

"I have them," came a third voice, and then as I reached the parking lot and began to walk aimlessly, holding up my phone, the voices faded out.

Why the fuck didn't I have service? I began to push random buttons on the device, hoping that something would happen. I tried to remember how we got to the apartment complex, or even where it was located, or more importantly, I tried to remember if I saw a location that might have had a pay phone; but my thoughts were so jumbled at the moment that I felt like I couldn't think at all. I must have stood there trying to think for too long, because I suddenly heard my name again, and it made me jump.


"Aaron, stay away from me," I ordered, turning around to point at him, as if it would better get my point across.

" I'm sorry, okay?" he responded, sounding like he thought he should be the one who was irritated.

If there was one thing I hadn't been expecting, other than everything else that had happened tonight, it was the way that Seth suddenly showed up with the guy he'd called Kevin, and shoved Aaron so hard as he passed him that Aaron ended up on his ass in the parking lot.

"Yeah, you're fucking sorry," Seth remarked, without so much as looking back. I wondered if he even knew Aaron was on the ground. But I had other things that I should have been wondering about. Like, why was Seth stalking towards me like he was going to shove me next. I took a defensive step back.

"Okay, Seth," Kevin said as he helped one very surprised Aaron off the ground. "You need to calm down now."

But Seth ignored him and stopped directly in front of me. It didn't help that it was now dark outside, and I couldn't make out his face at all under that hat. I imagined that it didn't look very happy.

"Do you want a ride home?"

It took me a few minutes to realize that question had come from Seth, and when I did, I found myself wanting to question it more than answer it. Aaron's response was to start laughing. I think he might have had the right idea, trashed or not. Seth didn't much like being laughed at, though, if the way he looked back and yelled was any indication.

"Keep him away from me, Kevin!" He turned back to me even as he finished yelling. "You want a ride," he said, as if stating the obvious now. It wasn't very obvious to me. Somehow, being stranded sounded safer to me than getting a ride from Seth.

Seth didn't wait for a response. He started walking across the parking lot. I didn't follow him. I started fiddling with the cell phone again, chanting, `please, service' in my head repeatedly. But, nothing happened, and I began to feel sick to my stomach as I wondered where the hell I'd gone wrong and how the hell I'd ended up here. When my eyes fell on Aaron, who was hunched over again, looking like he was going to puke, I had my answer.

I blinked when a blue truck abruptly pulled in front of me, blocking my view of Aaron Keslin altogether, and my eyes lifted as the passenger window came down.

"You've got a ride," Seth called, leaning over. "Are you going to take it, or not?"

I couldn't help the hard glare that I felt taking over my features. This was not a good night.

"Fine," I replied. "But I'm getting out as soon as I have cell service."

I opened the passenger door and climbed in, doing my best not to look at him. I also did my best to slam his door. I don't think Seth liked that, the way he seemed to be particularly aggressive with his vehicle when shifting into gear, and he dropped his foot on the gas in a way that had me reaching for the seat belt.


The sound of the engine and passing cars were the only sounds present in Seth's truck. Unless you counted my breathing, which seemed shaky to me. I hoped Seth didn't notice. It was bad enough being alone with him like this because I needed him. There was no way I wanted to give him any reasons to make fun of me. The way I was feeling, anything could probably make me cry right now and I couldn't have that.

I thought it was a pure blessing when my phone suddenly beeped, indicating that I had service, just as we reached the road that the park was on. I could tell Seth to let me out there, and ask Luke to come get me. I lifted the phone, wasting no time to search for his number, and Seth spoke to me for the first time since leaving the apartment complex.

"I practically live next to you. It's not like I can't take you home."

I ignored him, found the number, and called it. It only took two rings for Luke to answer the phone.


He sounded happy. There was laughter in the background, probably Dave. Happy. Something about that suddenly had me pausing. I felt like I'd already put Luke through too much shit in one week to ruin his night now, which is exactly what I'd be doing if I pulled him away from his friends to come get me. I nervously looked over at Seth, weighing my options.

"Hello?" Luke said again.

"Hey," I said, finding my voice.

"Hey," he replied, sounding genuinely happy to hear from me. "Are you still at the park?"

"Um... no."

There was a pause, and when Luke spoke again, he sounded serious.

"Rory, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I lied, taking a deep breath. "Hey, look, I just wanted to let you know that I've got another ride home, so you don't need to worry about it, okay?"

Another pause.

"You're not with Aaron?"

"Not anymore; look, I'll see you..."

"Rory, what happened?" he cut me off.


"You sound..."

"I'll see you at home, okay?" I interrupted him, and before he could say anything else, I hung up the phone and looked out my window, not wanting to look at Seth. I could practically feel his eyes on me, and I didn't want anything to do with it. Fortunately, he continued to drive in silence for the next fifteen minutes, until he'd reached the road leading to Eddie and Jase's house. After we passed his own house, he spoke up.

"You're going to have to tell me where it is," he said, and I finally glanced over at him.

"Not this house, the next one," I replied as we passed another driveway. The next one, was still a ways down the road.

"So, are you okay?"

I probably looked as perplexed as I felt as I snapped my eyes to Seth's, and then immediately looked away. Small talk? I don't think so. I went back to staring out my window.

"He shouldn't have brought you over there," Seth said, when I didn't respond. I responded to that.

"Why are you talking to me?" I thought it was a fair question.

"I don't know... you look like you're upset."

"So? I am upset," I informed him irritably. Seth fell silent, focusing on the road, and I regarded him curiously, frankly, feeling a little frightened because he didn't seem like his normal asshole self. "Why didn't you stay with Aaron... or give him a ride home?"

Now, Seth looked really confused under that hat as he glanced over at me.

"Why would I want to?"

"What?" I said incredulously.

"I've been through with him for a long time," Seth replied calmly. "Tonight I wanted him to know it."

"You've been through with him?" I repeated. If this made any sense, I would have loved for someone to explain it to me.

"Yeah--I would have told you that if you ever would have stopped to listen. Just like when I told you that you should stay away from Aaron," he added under his breath, and my eyes momentarily widened at him as he turned back to the road. A retort was right on the tip of my tongue, as there always was when I was around Seth, only, this time, I couldn't bring myself to say it as I thought back to every time he'd warned me off of Aaron. If someone would have told me then that he wasn't just doing it for his own personal agenda, I would have shit. Of course, even as I thought about it, I couldn't bring myself to warm towards Seth. Not even a little bit. He was being civil towards me and I couldn't understand it--because I didn't trust him. In fact, I just wanted to get out of his truck.

"Whatever," was my clever response.

Seth fell silent, and didn't speak again until he was pulling down the driveway. Eddie and Jase were already home, both vehicles parked out front, and the garage was open.

"This is it?" Seth asked.

"Yep," I said, opening the door to get out before the truck had even stopped. Seth hit the brake in response, and was fully stopped as I got out, just wanting to escape him, wanting to escape everything. I'd made it around the truck before I abruptly stopped, lost for words.

Seth was out of his truck, hands in his pockets, and waiting for me.

"What are you doing?" I demanded.

With the porch light shining on him, Seth looked more confused that ever. He was starting to scare me.

"Walking you to the door?" he responded in the form of a question. That earned him another incredulous look from me. He let out a breath and bit at his bottom lip for a moment. "Look, at the risk of your hating me anymore than you already do..."

Seth was interrupted, and my attention pulled from him as the front door opened and Eddie stepped out carrying a bag of garbage. He looked as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but he recovered quickly, throwing a few confused glances at Seth as he came closer.

"Where's Luke?" Eddie asked curiously.

"Um... with Dave," I said nervously. "I wanted to come home, so... so he brought me," I explained, pointing at Seth in the process.

"Oh, okay," Eddie replied, looking at Seth again. "And you are?"

Seth, looking as unnerved as I did, quickly stuck out his hand to shake Eddie's.

"Seth... Fisher."

"Nice to meet you," Eddie responded politely. "Are you guys coming in?"

"No!" I said quickly. "I mean... I am, he's not."

Eddie gave me a funny look, getting even closer.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked me, and then I watched as his eyes moved from mine, downwards, until he was staring at my neck. "Is that a hickey?"

My hand automatically went to the place on my neck where Aaron had attacked me earlier, and Eddie's eyes flew to Seth accusingly in the process. Seth straightened for a moment, suddenly looking almost terrified before he recovered.

"I've gotta go."

I don't think I'd ever seen anyone get in their truck and back out of a driveway so fast. I barely had time to process the fact that Seth was gone before I realized Eddie was staring at me again, another funny look on his face that I couldn't read. I didn't like it.

"I have to go too," I told him, and did the only thing that made sense at the moment. I fled into the house, and once I was there, barricaded myself in my room.

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