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 Twenty-One: After the party

A/N Thanks to Jim the editor for volunteering his time to sort through all of my mistakes. As always, his time and efforts are greatly appreciated.

I don't think I was ever actually going to hit him. I did think about it, though. It was tempting, as I started to close the distance between us while Aaron pulled his eyes from Eddie, focusing on me, probably feeling very stupid for even showing up. He'd feel even stupider, after I hit him, I thought. But, somewhere over the next few steps I took, I think I started to compare the idea of hitting Aaron with the idea of hitting a girl. It just wasn't something you did. And, it wasn't that I saw Aaron as a girl. If he'd been any other guy, I think I could have done it; but that fact that we'd been seeing each other, the fact that I'd kissed him, that he'd touched me, that I'd had his fucking dick in my mouth for crying out loud, had me feeling guilty about even the idea of hitting him. I'd like to think that made him especially lucky. But as it turned out, it didn't really make him any better off.

"I just wanted to talk to you," Aaron said quietly, probably trying very hard to ignore the way I'm sure Eddie was still looking at him--Eddie, who was definitely behind me, but hadn't said anything yet. As for everyone else, they didn't seem to notice the difference, the party being exactly what it was--a party. That all changed however, the second Luke appeared in front of Aaron, around the same time that Eddie's hand dropped on my shoulder and I came to an abrupt halt.

"Leave," Luke said, and nothing in his tone suggested that he expected to be argued with. Aaron seemed somewhat startled by this, but he didn't make any effort to go away.

"This isn't really any of your business," he informed Luke.

"My house, my friends, my business, get out," Luke retorted, around the same time Dave caught up to him and things began to slowly quiet. I felt startled when Eddie suddenly moved past me, obviously not liking what was going on.

"I think you need to leave, now," he said to Aaron, and I wasn't all that surprised to find a certain amount of dislike in his voice.

Unfortunately for Seth, he chose that moment to walk around the side of the house, placing him just behind Aaron. He stopped, definitely looking confused over the situation, especially when Luke suddenly pointed at and turned on him.

"If you're with him, you can get the hell out of here, too." Luke said roughly.

I still didn't like Seth, but what he had told me earlier, assuming that he'd been telling me the truth, had definitely left my feelings mixed. A few hours ago, I wouldn't have minded Luke throwing him out, but he wasn't there with Aaron, and there was no need to let Luke think he was.

"He's not with him," I said, just as Angela moved up to Seth and took his hand, obviously alarmed. I don't think Dave liked that one bit, but any evidence of that didn't even last a moment as he stood by Luke, looking like he was waiting for someone--anyone--to ask him to hit Aaron Keslin.

For Aaron's part, he decided to ignore everyone telling him to leave and looked at me again.

"I just want to talk. " His words were for me, no one else. I felt myself swallow as Eddie saw this, and suddenly began looking between Aaron and me with a mixture of annoyance and curiosity on his face. "It'll take five minutes, Rory.."

Aaron took a step towards me, and that proved to be a mistake, considering Luke was directly in front of him.

"Back the fuck off," Luke ordered, and he actually gave Aaron a sharp shove backwards. Aaron caught his balance, his eyes narrowing on Luke, and to my surprise, he actually stuck a hand out to shove Luke back. But, just as quickly, Dave swatted Aaron's offending hand down.

"Fuck you!" Aaron spat at Dave, turning his hostility towards Luke's best friend with a threatening step forward. That's when Luke gave Aaron's shoulder another shove and then drew back his fist. Apparently, whatever patience Luke had been demonstrating over the entire situation was gone. Without thinking, I moved forward, finding that as much as seeing Aaron hurt would make me feel better, I didn't want Luke getting into it like this.

But Eddie beat me to him, forcefully grabbing Luke's threatening arm and pulling him back, even as Luke shouted at Aaron to get the hell out of there. I was a little surprised by this. I'd seen Luke angry before. I'd even been on the other side of that anger, but it was nothing like this.

"Luke!" Eddie shouted, and then looked at Aaron. "Out, now!"

"I don't think I said I wanted to talk to either of you," Aaron responded coolly. He was obviously out of his fucking mind. And this was fucking enough.

"I don't want to talk to you!" I shouted, unwittingly pulling the attention towards myself. I didn't much care for it, especially when I saw Eddie's eyes directly on my hickey. But I tried to ignore it, and focused on what I needed to say to Aaron. "I don't want to talk to you, I don't want you to call me, and I don't want to fucking see you. Just leave, Aaron."

Aaron didn't get much of a chance to even respond to me before Dave's apparently hot head got the better of him and he got in Aaron's face.

"See, he doesn't want to talk to you, now get out before I take you out," Dave ordered; but if anything, this provoked Aaron, who was suddenly glaring at Luke's best friend. It was when Aaron took a threatening step forward that Eddie grabbed the back of Dave's shirt and pulled him back, and to my surprise, Seth moved behind Aaron and grabbed him around the chest.

"Aaron, no. Let's go. Now," Seth insisted, pulling him back. Seeing the two of them that close together bothered me, even under the circumstances, but I shoved the feeling down as Eddie finally lost patience and started yelling.

"That's it, party's over! Everyone, go home!" He looked pointedly at both Luke and Dave. "Both of you, inside--now."

"Eddie..." Luke started to argue.

"Luke, in the house."

Rick passed by me, patting my back as he went, looking like nothing in the world was bothering him.

"Good luck, Rory. Thanks for the party," he said, before shouting out over everyone trying to scramble out of the pool to gather their things, "We're going to Brian's house!" People seemed relatively pleased by this. Brian didn't, though. He appeared a moment later to smack the birthday boy on the back of the head.

Eddie was still glaring at Aaron, while Seth continued to pull him away, but when Aaron's eyes drifted in my direction, Eddie followed them, and frowned. I jumped when Luke's hand suddenly dropped on my shoulder, and facing him suddenly seemed as difficult as facing Eddie. There was a frown on his brow and his cheeks were flushed in a way that looked entirely different from when he blushed. I didn't know what to say to him, so instead, I silently followed him into the house with Dave.

I began feeling a little lost, once inside the house. I think I was in shock. Or, maybe not something so dramatic. I was a little surprised when Luke and Dave went straight to the kitchen and sat down glumly, rather than going straight to the basement; but unsure of what to do with myself I followed their lead, taking my seat next to Luke, feeling completely ready to apologize--repeatedly, if necessary

This was definitely my fault, even if indirectly. I didn't exactly ask Aaron to show up, but I was the reason he did, and I felt like banging my head against the nearest wall as I thought about how I might have prevented this if I hadn't hung up on him earlier. I didn't get any apologies out, though. Not before Eddie came inside, looking... well, I'd never seen Eddie look quite like that before. His dark eyes were narrowed, his nostrils were flaring, and there was a vein sticking out of his forehead that I couldn't remember seeing there before. My focus for wanting to apologize to Luke abruptly faded away, and became a strong urge to defend myself from whatever Eddie was about to say to me. Only, it wasn't my name that came out in what I would forever refer to as Eddie's angry voice.


Luke? What did Luke do?

"Oh come on, Eddie," Luke responded. "You can't..."

"You put your hands on him," Eddie cut him off. "Do you want to tell me what the hell you were thinking? You know that if he goes around telling someone you attacked him we could end up with officers at our door!"

"Oh, please," Luke replied, rolling his eyes in the process. "I hardly even touched him."

"And since when does that matter with Aaron Keslin?" Eddie demanded before his eyes suddenly darted to Dave. "And you. You didn't have to go sticking your nose in there, either!"

"Sorry," Dave said sheepishly, just as Jase arrived, looking worried.

"What's going on?" Jase asked.

"Keslin was here," Eddie answered. "Luke decided it would be fun to shove him."

"Luke?" Jase questioned, sounding a lot calmer than Eddie as he neared the table, but when Luke responded, it wasn't directed towards Jase, but at Eddie.

"What was I supposed to do? Leave him alone? Stay away from him? He walked right into our backyard like he owned the place! That's not my fault!"

And there was my guilt again.

"Luke, I'm so sorry," I blurted, and I was only beginning, but to my surprise, Luke cut me off rather sharply.

"Shut up, Rory. It's not your fault."

There was an abrupt silence following Luke's words, and he momentarily closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath before he looked at me again, his features noticeably softer.

"I'm sorry," he said, and I frowned because he wasn't supposed to be apologizing to me. I would have told him that, if I wasn't suddenly very aware of Eddie leaning over the table, looking at me crossly. I guess it was my turn to get scolded.

"Did Aaron Keslin give you that hickey?"

I wasn't only surprised by the question, but also by the way Eddie's voice was suddenly softer. I still moved my hand defensively over the offending mark, though.

"It's not like I asked him to do it," I said by way of explanation as I remembered the incident.

"It wasn't Seth, it was Aaron?"

Eddie obviously seemed to be having trouble with grasping the concept, but I managed a nod, anyway, hoping that he wasn't going to blow up at me. Thank goodness for small favors. Jase might have looked just as surprised and disturbed as Eddie, but he still stepped forward, placing a hand on Eddie's back that I hoped was meant to calm and said, "Why don't you guys go get ready for bed. Dave can stay here tonight."

Eddie opened his mouth to argue, but Jase leaned towards his ear and spoke before he could.

"It's late, Eddie. We should talk, and make sure everyone got out of here okay."

Eddie, still looking at me as I tried to avoid his eyes, let out a breath and nodded. It was all we needed before Luke, Dave, and I were fleeing the table and heading downstairs. But, not before Eddie called out behind poor Dave. "I'll be calling your mom, Dave."


Dave wasn't happy about Eddie's promise to call his mother. He found it completely unnecessary, given that he hadn't even touched Aaron. For a good hour, he sat with Luke and me in the basement, saying that if he'd known he was going to get in trouble for something then he would have made it worth it. I noticed that during this time, neither Luke nor I spoke a word.

I kept waiting for Eddie to come downstairs with Jase. He'd probably think more talking was in order; but every time I looked towards the stairs, no one was coming down them, and by two o'clock in the morning Luke was passed out on the sofa and Dave on the floor; and I just sat there, knowing that going to bed would be pointless at this point, because as exhausted as I felt, my mind was racing, and I had a feeling that actually getting to sleep would be a task in itself.

I took a hot shower, hoping that the steam would make me sleepy enough to fall asleep, but by the time I'd pulled on a pair of sweatpants, my mind was in no condition to settle down for the night. I think it was the stress of not knowing what was going to happen next. As much as I wanted to avoid the whole conversation with Eddie, I found myself wishing that he had tried to talk to me tonight, just so I could get it over with. I even wandered upstairs, hoping that I'd run into him, even if that meant more yelling. But, it seemed that Eddie and Jase had already gone up to bed, lights out and everything.

I ended up in the kitchen and flicked the switch near the glass door, watching as the pool lit up. Somehow, it didn't look as peaceful as usual with various soda cans and paper plates scattered around, some even floating in the water. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, though. At least most people seemed to know what a trash can was for.

I grabbed a garbage bag from under the sink, and headed out there. I figured that since I was up, it wouldn't hurt to start cleaning, I just wished that my eyes hadn't automatically moved to where I'd last seen Aaron standing, almost as if I expected him to still be there.

I didn't ask him to come. If I really thought about it, I hadn't wanted him to show up. But, I couldn't help wondering what he would have said to me given the chance. Deep down I knew that no explanation would have been good enough for what happened when he took me to that party, but I think... I still wanted to hear something from him. After everything that Seth had said, I felt like I deserved some kind of explanation. More than that, I wanted one. But, at the same time I told myself it shouldn't matter. It was over. I was supposed to be cutting ties, not dwelling on my mistakes. It irritated me that I couldn't seem to do that.

"How are you doing?"

As I picked up the trash around the pool, depositing it into the garbage bag, it was Luke's voice coming from behind me, so soft that I hardly even heard him, but soft enough that I wasn't startled by it.

How was I doing? Was that supposed to be a trick question or something? I was responsible for ruining Rick's party; Eddie knew that Aaron had been sucking on my neck; I'd just been pretty much outed to everyone I knew and everyone I didn't know; and I couldn't get a disturbing image of Aaron out of my mind, one where he was driving around with Seth in his truck, laughing at my expense because I was a complete idiot.

I shrugged in response to the question. An answer seemed too complicated for the time being, but I was glad to have company as Luke began to move around the pool, helping me clean up.

"It's not your fault," he said after a few minutes, and there was a pause before I responded.

"Thanks, but you don't have to lie to me."

"I'm not lying to you. You didn't ask Aaron to show up," he insisted as we met on the other side of the pool, and I held open the bag for him to drop a few paper plates into.

"Why did he show up?" I suddenly asked. "I mean, that was just... stupid. He always told me he wasn't comfortable around this house, and then he just..."

"Because it's Aaron, Rory," Luke said ruefully. "Look, it's hard to explain him sometimes. You probably ticked him off and he was looking for a reaction from you. Sometimes, when I was with him, it would feel like everything's a big game to him, you know? Everything. But then, whenever I'd get sick of it, he'd do something completely sweet and I'd forget everything I was mad at him for." Okay, I admit it. That sounded familiar. It didn't make me feel better, either. "Maybe he was trying to do something like that with you tonight. But I've gotta say, it seriously backfired on him."

"Yeah, I guess."

The look Luke gave me was either sympathetic or concerned. I couldn't tell which.

"It really wasn't your fault, Rory. Plus, the party was about over, anyway. If anyone's pissed, it's at Aaron."

"I don't know, Eddie seemed pretty pissed off at more than just Aaron," I pointed out, and Luke actually winced.

"He's been kinda on me ever since I got into trouble for that car," Luke explained.

"But you didn't do anything!" I protested.

"I know, and Eddie knows," Luke said quickly. "He just doesn't want me to get in any more trouble, you know? He's just trying to look out for me, Rory. And, he's right, I shouldn't have put my hands on Aaron. Dave would have been happy to do it for me."

I couldn't help cracking a smile at that logic, but it quickly faded.

"I don't think Eddie's all that happy with me right now, either," I reminded myself, more than Luke.

"Yeah," he replied, and it wasn't at all comforting. "He knows about you and Aaron. That's not good; but don't worry. It's why Jase let us off the hook--so Eddie can calm down and think; he'll probably want to talk to you tomorrow, though."

I groaned.

"I'm tired of this, Luke. It's over. With Aaron--it's over. I just want everyone to let it be."

"You shouldn't worry," Luke said again. "It's gonna be okay."

"Yeah? Because you say so?"

"No," he replied, cracking a small smile. "Because it's over."


At eight o'clock in the morning, my head ached, my eyes felt heavy, and I was developing a runny nose. I think it was all side effects from not sleeping; or worse, not crying. I didn't want to cry over Aaron. That would just be stupid. Crying over my mom, was at least something I could understand, which is probably why I ended up in the attic, going through the boxes in search of the pictures that my grandma had sent.

There was so much frustration just bottled up in my head, and not letting it out was wearing me down fast enough. It also put me in a foul mood as I moved one box after another, wondering what the hell I'd done with those pictures; or more specifically, what Eddie had done with them. I'd let him borrow the box, just so he could go through them. When he tried to give them back to me, I'd asked if they could go in the attic with everything else. But now, I couldn't find them, and it was starting to piss me off.

It was fair to say that I was lacking patience. Lack of sleep again. I'd tried to sleep. I really had. When Luke and I finished cleaning up the pool, he'd thrown a blanket over Dave and then asked if I was alright again. I, of course, had insisted I was fine and attempted to go to bed. It didn't work. I'd closed my eyes and everything, but if I'd gotten any sleep at all it was so restless that it hadn't really done any good.

I became frustrated, unable to find the pictures. I just needed one good one, something with my mom's face. I started to search other boxes, not really caring what happened to the contents of them as I rifled through, simultaneously wondering if there were any pictures in my room that I could use. I grabbed a heavy box, pulling it off the stack and cursing loudly when my hands slipped and I dropped it.


I jumped, looking up to see Eddie standing there in the attic. He seemed bleary through my eyes, but not so bleary that I couldn't tell he was in a bathrobe and had a bad case of bed head.

"What are you doing?" Eddie demanded, but there was a slightly concerned note to his voice.

"Looking for my pictures," I said shortly, and went right back to what I was doing.


"My pictures," I blurted, as if this were supposed to be obvious. I think at the time, I really did think that it should be completely obvious why I was in the attic at eight o'clock in the morning, rummaging through boxes. "My grandma sent them. They're of my mom and I can't find them!"

I sounded angry. I hadn't meant to. It seemed like every second that passed had my eyes becoming heavier, and as I wiped at my nose I glanced at Eddie, feeling perturbed that he was just standing there looking worried. Why wasn't he doing anything?

"I just want my pictures," I insisted, moving to open another box.

"Okay, I'll get them for you," Eddie said quickly, and I stopped what I was doing, and looked at him.

"You said you were going to put them in the attic," I informed him.

"And I did--they're right here." I watched as Eddie moved over to a shelf and lifted a box from it, the very box I was looking for. "I thought they'd be safer over here," he explained. "Are you ready to take them down to your room?"

"No," I replied, taking the box from him and setting it on the ground. I was aware of Eddie watching me as I opened up the box and was faced with images of myself... and my mom. As silly as it might have seemed, when I lifted a picture of just my mom's face, I let out a breath of pure relief. It's what I needed. Something worth crying over. But, I couldn't cry over anything in front of Eddie.

"Rory, what are you doing?" he asked. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I replied, sounding testy. I couldn't quite control my tone of voice. It was the frustration. Everything was frustrating me.

"You don't look fine," Eddie replied.

"I said I'm fine," I snapped, and Eddie's brow shot up at my tone.

"I just... I didn't sleep very much. I want to go to sleep."

"It looks like you haven't slept at all."

Well, wasn't he a genius?

"I just need a nap," I insisted, taking my one picture as I started to walk away. Eddie didn't seem to be in such a hurry, lifting my pictures back off the ground to put them back on the shelf.

"You look upset," Eddie said, obviously unwilling to let me just walk away. "Why didn't you sleep last night, Rory? Was it what happened at the party?"

I froze, and glared at him. Of course it was what happened, among a long list of other things. So many things that I couldn't think straight. Couldn't he see that?

"I'm sorry Aaron came, okay?" I said bitterly. "It's not like I invited him."

"I know you didn't," Eddie replied, frowning at the edge in my voice. "Rory..."

"I wasn't even going out with him for that long," I blurted, feeling like I should defend myself. I unnecessarily felt like I was under attack. "So just... leave it alone, alright?"

"No," Eddie replied, sounding a little irritated. "I won't leave it alone. Rory, we need to talk about this."

"So much for sticking to what we're comfortable with, then," I responded bitterly.

"Rory, this is Aaron Keslin. Look, I don't know what's going on with you and him, but..."

"We've been seeing each other," I cut him off. "Aren't you paying attention? I was seeing him every other day when you guys were at work."

Eddie's frown deepened.

"Okay, and are you seeing him now?"

"What do you think?"


"I'm not, okay? It's done."

"Even so, I want to make sure you know a few things about Aaron," Eddie replied, moving closer.

"I already know, Eddie. I know what he did to Luke, alright? I knew, and I still went out with him because I liked him."

"You knew?" Eddie demanded. He looked mad. I didn't care.

"Yeah, so if you're going to tell me how fucked-up I am, please do it now so I can go to bed."

"Rory, don't talk..."

"It doesn't even matter anymore," I said angrily as the pain in my head began to throb at my temples. "It was stupid. And it was fucked-up, but it just doesn't matter. He never even liked me, anyway. It was all some stupid, sick game to him, so it really doesn't matter. Please, just let me forget about it, okay? I just need to... fucking forget about it."

I bit my bottom lip, suddenly aware that it was quivering in an obnoxious sort of way, and I sucked in a breath, willing away the pressure behind my eyes. As soon as I had that under control, I turned my eyes upwards, prepared to glare at Eddie in an attempt to get him to stop talking to me so I could go. But, as I quickly discovered, it was difficult to go anywhere with Eddie's arms around me.

It took me a while to figure out exactly what he was doing, my head suddenly being against that large chest and thick bathrobe. Needless to say, my posture had gone rigid with this unexpected display of affection.

Hugging me. He was hugging me. It was unfamiliar. Strange. Comforting, in a very terrifying way. I hated it. But, why was he hugging me? I didn't ask him to. I wouldn't have asked him to. It only lasted a few moments before I stepped back, still thoroughly shocked. I suddenly couldn't meet Eddie's eyes, and when I spoke again, my voice sounded very small to me.

"I need to take a nap," I insisted.

"Okay," Eddie said gently. I braved a glance up at him. He looked worried, maybe a little embarrassed. Later, I knew I would be the one who would be embarrassed over the entire encounter. I tried not to think about that and got myself to walk away, not stopping before I reached the basement where I went directly to my room and crawled into bed. I lifted the photograph of my mother, and stared at it for long minutes before I lifted my hand to my face, finding moisture beneath my eyes. And then I fell asleep.


I stepped into the kitchen, meaning to go out the back door, and froze. Eddie was standing in front of the counter with his back to me, slicing some bread. I did the only thing that came to mind. I started to back away slowly, hoping that he wouldn't notice me.

Waking up had been an unpleasant experience once I remembered my encounter with Eddie in the attic. It felt more like a bad dream now, but that made sense once I realized I was half asleep at the time. Eddie's attempt to comfort me with a hug had placed a large amount of awkwardness over the whole thing, but what was worse, was that I'd blurted out more information than I'd intended to regarding my feelings about Aaron. Looking Eddie in the eye now seemed like it would be hard to do. I dreaded the idea that he'd want to talk to me some more about it, and I quickly decided that avoidance would be the best path for the time being. Unfortunately, someone had other ideas. I physically jumped when a hand dropped on my shoulder from behind, Jase's voice following it.

"Morning, Rory, want some breakfast?"

I tried not to frown too much when Jase smiled at me and passed by before I turned my attention to Eddie as he spun around, looked at me, and then quickly looked at his watch.

"How is it that you went to bed less than three hours ago and you still managed to get up before Luke?" Eddie asked, but didn't wait for an answer before he looked at me pointedly. "How are you feeling?"

I noticed that Jase seemed a little confused by the question, but instead of asking why it needed to be asked, or even commenting on it, he remained silent and began to unload various fruits out of the refrigerator.

"Better," I admitted, and Eddie nodded at that.

"Good; are you hungry?"

"Not really. Um... can I go for a walk?"

Both Eddie and Jase looked at me, the expressions on their faces telling me that normally when someone around here wanted to go for a walk, they didn't generally ask permission first. But I couldn't help it. After last night, and this morning, I half expected Eddie to say no and inform me that I'm grounded or something.

"Of course," Eddie said after a moment. "Do you want some company?"

Eddie looked hopeful. I was just thrown off by the question. I wanted to get out of the house, and I wanted to be alone. I felt like I had some serious thinking to do over everything that had happened in the last few days. I was hoping that if I got my thoughts in order, it would be easier to put it all behind me and maybe I'd even be able to start over, as if I'd never met Aaron Keslin. Eddie must have seen my answer on my face.

"You know what, that's okay," he insisted, with a small smile. "Do you know where you're going?"

"Probably just down the road and back," I said, deciding that no one could complain about the possibility of me getting lost that way.

"Alright...we'll see you later then," Eddie said, and I nodded gratefully and headed for the back door.

"Hey," Jase called after me, and when I looked back he tossed an apple to me. "In case you get hungry," he said. I gave another nod and then left, careful to make sure that Chey didn't follow me out. I wasn't really in the mindset to make sure she didn't get hit by any cars.

I was already on the road, heading away from the house as I blankly tossed the apple into the air repeatedly, catching it on its way down, when I inwardly cringed at the sound of my name behind me.

"Rory." I started to turn, but found there was no need to as Eddie caught up to me, riding a bike and smiling as he moved up beside me. "I thought you might want to use this," he said, referring to the bike. "Might make it easier for you to get around."

"Thanks, but I'm okay," I insisted. "I'm not going far."

I continued to walk, but instead of heading back to the house like I hoped he would, Eddie kept my pace on the bike, riding next to me silently for a few moments.

"You know, if you want a frame for that picture you took this morning I'm sure we could find something," he said conversationally.

"That's okay," I replied. The photograph had gone under my bed, along with the birthday present and the letter from my mom.

"Alright; well, if you change your mind... Are you sure you want those pictures to stay in the attic, Rory?"

"Yeah, I'm sure... is that okay?"

"Of course."

There was another silence, and I found myself frowning. He still wasn't going back to the house, and I had a feeling that it wasn't photographs and picture frames that Eddie wanted to talk about.

"Sorry I woke you up this morning," I said, when the silence was becoming too uncomfortable for me.

"I was already awake."

"Oh...then, I'm sorry I... I'm sorry for this morning."

"Well, I'm sorry about last night," he replied. I glanced over at him curiously.


"I might have lost my temper," Eddie admitted. "I shouldn't have yelled at you guys like that. I still say that Luke had no business getting within a foot of Aaron, but I didn't have to handle it like that, and when I asked you about..." Eddie paused, and when his eyes drifted to my marked neck I found myself frowning again. "I shouldn't have done it like that. I'm sorry if I upset you."

I shrugged in response.

"It wasn't really you," I admitted. And, it wasn't. If I wanted to pinpoint the moment where things got really bad for me the night before, I'd be pointing directly at Seth, and everything he'd given me to think about. Aaron showing up just felt like being thrown over the edge, after that conversation.

"Do you want to talk about what did upset you?" Eddie asked, and then added, "You had me a little worried this morning. Maybe talking will help."

I surprised myself by actually considering this, but then I remembered what was actually upsetting me. The whole thing with Aaron was... humiliating, if Seth was being honest. I didn't really want to share the details with anyone, let alone Eddie.

"It wouldn't be the end of the world to let me in on some of this stuff, Rory," Eddie continued, when I failed to respond. "It might surprise you to know that I might understand. Believe it or not, I do know what it's like to get dumped."

"What makes you think I didn't dump him?" I asked, feeling defensive. Although, given the circumstances, I guess it really didn't matter who dumped who when it came to me and Aaron.

"Sorry, bad choice of words," Eddie replied sheepishly, and then with interest, "So you dumped him?"

"I guess... it doesn't really matter."

"Okay. Did it happen at that party, when Seth brought you home the other night?"

"Yeah," I admitted. "But look, I don't really want to talk about it, Eddie. I'm sorry I ever talked to him after Luke told me what he did, okay? It was stupid."

"I'm sorry you did, too," Eddie replied. "And, I know you don't want to talk, it's just... you're upset and it feels like... I feel like I'm supposed to fix it. What do you make of that?"

I glanced over at him and smiled despite myself.

"You sound kind of like my mom did when someone stole my bike."

"Someone stole your bike?" he demanded, looking appalled.

"It was back when I was seven," I informed him, amused that he looked ready to get worked up about it. "It was a long time ago."

Eddie narrowed his eyes momentarily, looking like he wasn't ready to let this drop, but did anyway, refocusing on my current problem.

"I guess... I just want you to be happy while you're here, Rory. So far it seems like I've done a lousy job on making that happen. I wish you had told me about Aaron earlier."

"Why? So you could tell me not to see him?" I remarked. "Look, things were complicated enough, and it really doesn't matter anymore. It's over. I just..."

I stopped talking and looked ahead, feeling frustrated with myself, and a little with Eddie, because like it or not, I really didn't want to have this conversation.

"You just... what?" Eddie asked.

"I thought he liked me," I admitted. "Like I said, it was stupid."

"Why would that be stupid?" Eddie replied, although I got the impression that he was saying this with great difficulty. "I'm sure he likes you. What's not to like?"

"He doesn't," I said shortly, and then looked at Eddie again. "Listen, Eddie..."

"Alright," he relented, a small smile curling the corners of his mouth. "I'll leave you alone. But if you decide you want to talk..."

"I know," I cut him off. "Um... I'll see you later, okay? I'm not going far, just..."

"Here," Eddie said, suddenly hopping off the bike and aiming the handlebar towards me. I looked ready to object and he smiled. "You know you want the bike. Take it. Have fun, okay?"

I sighed, but nodded and climbed on, and as Eddie headed back to the house, and I peddled down the road, I bit into the apple, once again thinking way too much. Aaron never really liked me. I guess that's what it came down to, and the realization that I'd been trying to avoid. If he never liked me, it just made me that much stupider. Saying that I felt like a fool was an understatement, but, thinking about it had me thinking about certain things about Aaron that it would explain. Like, the way he never talked to me. Not really. There were a few times, but anything truly personal came in second to making out, and all of that making out now seemed like his way of passing time to me. It also might explain why he became so distant after he got off. I think that was the worst thing, feeling used like that. He was my first, and I was... nothing to him. Nothing. It hurt. If anything, I didn't want to believe it was true. I was desperate to believe that Seth had made it all up. If he made it all up... it would be better. Aaron would still be an asshole, but at least he was an asshole who actually was interested in me, who didn't just use me. In fact, I needed to believe that it hadn't just been a game to him. At least that way I could at least understand it.

I think it was desperation that led me to a very unlikely place. Or, it could have been the bike. I probably wouldn't have gotten so far without the bike. I wasn't sure whether or not I'd be thanking Eddie for that later. I guessed not, considering I'd used that bike to get to Seth Fisher's house, and since it was too late to stop myself from knocking on his door, no good would come of this.

If anything, I was determined. I refused to feel awkward, or even afraid of the situation. Not even when Seth opened the door and I saw brown eyes widen at me suspiciously from under a white cap that matched everything else he was wearing today, from shirt to jeans to shoes. It made his skin look darker, but I decided his matching outfit was tacky and annoying. I'd also worked myself up so much on the way over there that I was tempted to rip his stupid hat off his stupid head and stomp on it. Of course, I did no such thing. I settled for throwing my accusation at him before he even had a chance to ask what I was doing there.

"You lied to me."

Seth quickly became guarded, crossing his arms as he leaned against the door frame.

"You can believe whatever you want."

"I know," I said quickly. "And you're a liar."

"Fine. Is that all?"

Okay, now I felt stupid. I'd anticipated that Seth would be much more disagreeable than this.

"Yeah, that's all," I said testily.

"So are you going to leave?"

"Yep." I turned around and headed back to the bike. I'd come to confirm that Seth had been lying to me. I needed that confirmation. I wouldn't say that I got exactly what I wanted, or even that I felt better, but I was confident. At least, until he had to go and call, answering me.

"For the record, I didn't lie to you."

I froze, spun around on my heel, and marched right back to the door, where Seth hadn't moved a muscle.

"What is your deal?" I demanded. "What exactly, did I ever do to you? Why can't you just admit you were... just admit you lied, okay?"

Oh god. It was one thing to be desperate, but completely another to actually sound desperate. I was fairly certain that I was currently both, and as soon as I realized it, I was mortified. The best retort I could come up with at the moment, fuck you, was on the tip of my tongue, but I choked on it when someone else appeared in Seth's doorway. It was a tall slender woman with blonde hair. She was carrying a little girl who looked to be around five years old, her red hair separated into pigtails, and she was fast asleep. But, it was the woman who caught my interest. For a moment I found myself staring at her in an disconcerted way, some of her features reminding me of another woman, who was no longer with me. It was more than a little unnerving. In all the time that my mom had been gone, this had never happened to me before. She smiled and said something to me, but it felt like the words weren't making any sense.

"...Rory," I heard Seth say my name and snapped out of it. He was introducing me.

"It's nice to meet you," the woman said, and I forced myself to nod, the fact that she was Seth's mom finally sinking in. I watched as she looked at Seth.

"We'll be back in a little while. When your dad gets home remind him to..."

"Call Grandma, I know," Seth insisted, and she leaned forward, tilting the child in her arms to kiss his cheek before I stepped aside so she could pass me, taking the little girl to a minivan parked in the driveway. I think I was still staring at her when there was an unexpected tap on my shoulder and I spun around to find Seth looking at me. I tried to glare at him, but I don't think my heart was in it all of a sudden.

"Do you want to come in?" he asked, and I blinked, and then just stared at him. He was actually serious.

"No," I said, but didn't make any move to leave. In response, Seth pushed the door open wider and stepped aside.

"Do you want to come in?" he asked again, and this time I did manage to glare at him. I also managed to walk right through his front door.


I don't know what I was thinking, or even what I was doing. When I woke up that morning, I'd wanted to get away from the house so I could think. If I had known that I was going to end up dropping in on Seth, I might have reconsidered the idea of taking a walk. But now, I was standing in Seth Fisher's house and allowing him to close the door.

"Do you want something to drink?" he asked, and I looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

"Okay... well, I want something to drink," he replied, and without a word headed across the living room, towards the kitchen. I stood there for another moment, knowing that I should just leave, but instead, I followed him, keeping a reasonable distance as I looked around nervously. My previous visits to Seth's house hadn't gone all that well, and being nervous now seemed like a natural reaction. I'm guessing that Seth remembered my last visits, too. Maybe that's why, when he removed two glasses from the cabinet, he looked at them, frowned at me, and then put them back, reaching for plastic cups instead. I might have laughed at that if I wasn't so pissed off.

Seth opened his refrigerator as I prepared myself to decline any drink he was about to offer me, especially when he lifted a jug of a grotesque-looking brown liquid in it and then poured it into the cups before holding one out to me.

"It's not as bad as it looks," he insisted. "My mom made it."

And... I didn't decline. Instead, I took the cup and looked down into its contents.

"That was your mom?" I asked unnecessarily.

"Yeah, and my sister."

I glanced up at Seth, thinking of the little girl, and suddenly found myself wondering if he was a redhead under that hat. I sampled the beverage in my hand, finding that it had a fruity taste to it. Not bad. I guessed that the main ingredient was apples, although I could have sworn there was a mix of strawberries and bananas in there, too.

"I didn't lie to you," Seth suddenly said, bringing me back to our former conversation and a frown to my face.

"So what, Aaron was just using me to get to you?" I asked bitterly. "Are you sure that's not just wishful thinking?"

"Fuck," Seth cursed, sounding frustrated. Good. Maybe he'd throw me out. For some reason, I couldn't quite seem to leave on my own. "Look, I know that the reason why Aaron kept bringing you around me was to piss me off; but, I don't know what his deal was with you, okay? What do you want me to tell you? That he liked you more? Fine. He probably did. This isn't a competition. I'm not interested in Aaron; maybe you're the one who should be thinking about going back to him. It's starting to sound like you want to."

"I don't," I said defensively, and then forced myself to calm. "You said he told you some things about me. What were they?"

Seth frowned, and released a breath.

"It really doesn't matter."

"Why?" I demanded. "Because you're making it up?"


"Then just say it, okay? What did he tell you? Just tell me, I... I need to know, okay? Please."

Seth bit at his lower lip, and then shook his head.

"I never should have told you anything," he decided. "Look, if you want to know, you should ask Aaron. I'm not gonna be the one to repeat it."

I stared at him, feeling severely annoyed. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that he was trying to avoid hurting my feelings. I wasn't sure how to feel about that.

"Just tell me, and I'll disappear," I offered. "I'll never bother you again." I thought that it was a fair offer. Seth was smirking at it. I was just waiting for him to take it.

"Who says you're bothering me?" he replied, and I frowned, wondering what kind of game he was playing. "Do you want to play Monopoly?"

"What?" I asked, trying to understand the question.

"The game."

"Oh... No! Will you just answer me?"

"I want to play Monopoly," Seth said, and then without saying anything more, he took his drink and headed to the stairs. I managed to glare at his back as he went. I also managed to follow Seth Fisher all the way up to his room.

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