If you don't like stories involving gay male characters, this story isn't for you. If you're a minor or if it's illegal for you to read these stories, you are not encouraged to read them and the author takes no responsibility if you do. Also, the story, and all characters in it are FICTIONAL any resemblance to real life or someone you know is a coincidence. The characters and story are the property of the author, and while I don't care if you print chapters out for your own enjoyment, please don't sell or post elsewhere without permission. This includes "borrowing characters" for your own story. If you want to do it, ask first. Any comments, questions, please send to Dluka1983@hotmail.com or post them in the forum at the website here: http://domluka.gayauthors.org/

A/N: Thanks to Jim for editing!

"Hey, Rory," Aaron said, smiling as his eyes drifted over me in a way that was likely meant to be obvious.

"Are you out of your fu..."

"Hi, Gail!" Aaron said loudly, cutting me off and looking past me, at Seth's little sister. He then had the nerve to flash me a warning look, and I hated him for it. He was the jerk. And he sure as hell wasn't supposed to be pointing out that I was being one by raising my voice in front of a little girl. I looked at Gail, suddenly hating that she was there. What I hated more, was that she was smiling her cute, toothless smile at Aaron. Obviously, she didn't know any better.

"Hi, Aaron! Are you coming to my house, too?"

"Not this time," Aaron told her. "I just wanted to say hi to you and Rory real quick." His eyes moved to mine. "Hi. Funny, finding you with Seth, isn't it?" There was a certain amount of resentment in his voice. I could have kicked myself when it actually made me feel guilty. I frowned, and tried to remain as calm as possible. There was no sense in blowing up, with Gail right there next to me.

"It's none of your business," I stated, hoping he'd take a hint as my eyes drifted suspiciously to Aaron's hands, which happened to be on the steering wheel. Aaron saw the look and made a disgusted sound as he released the wheel, looking annoyed.

"Are you fu... are you kidding me?" Aaron demanded, roughly releasing the steering wheel. "I just wanted to talk!" He looked entirely offended. "What's with you, Rory?"

"Me?" I demanded. He was unbelievable. He also had the nerve to roll his eyes.

"Come on, Rory, let's go somewhere and talk," he said, sounding as if he had no doubt that I'd actually get up and go with him.

"Excuse me?"

"Let's go for a walk. Come on, I'm tired of playing games here."

"I wanna go for a walk," Gail spoke up. I glanced at her, and then desperately looked around, wondering where Seth was before I glared at Aaron.

"We both know you wanna talk to me," Aaron insisted. "Now come on." He slid his hand across the seat, and when his fingers brushed over mine I jerked my hand away.

"You're completely delusional," I informed him.

"What's dulashanal?" Gail asked, and I glanced at her again before lowering my voice towards Aaron.

"Go. Away."

"Look," he said, leaning closer, "I don't know what your problem is, but..."

"What my problem is?" I demanded. "I told you what my problem is! It's you."

"Why? Because I had a couple drinks and now you think I don't like you anymore?" he replied, making sure to sound like he was speaking to a toddler. I resented that. "Please. Rory, stop kidding yourself, and stop trying to get to me, because it's not working."

"What the...what are you talking about?" I demanded.

Aaron lowered his voice even more.

"Seth? I mean, seriously. You think that bothers me? We both know how you really feel about him."

"I'm not doing anything to bother you!" I retorted. "And who I'm hanging out with is none of your business. Christ. You really do think everything's about you, don't you?"

It would make sense. It was beginning to occur to me that Aaron was a very self-centered and selfish individual. Yeah, I probably should have figured that out back when he was unzipping his pants in front of my face, or when he wouldn't kiss me after my mouth had been anywhere near the organ that he seemed to use in place of a brain. Or, maybe I should have figured it out when Aaron didn't want me to go after Luke because it wouldn't have been fair to him. Then, there was the party he took me to where he treated me like a stand-in shadow before he said things that were meant to tear me down and build him up. It wasn't just his behavior with me, either. He'd done the same things to Luke. He had Luke doubting himself. Aaron had no intention of fixing things regarding Luke's criminal offense because it didn't suit Aaron. Aaron had been certain that Seth Fisher was dating Angela for the sole purpose of making Aaron jealous. And now, Aaron thought that the only reason why I was with Seth was to get to him. Once again, I found myself feeling incredibly stupid because I hadn't seen any of this before--or because I'd seen it, and just hadn't cared. In fact, I don't think I really cared until Aaron's behavior affected me. I guess that made me just as self-centered as Aaron Keslin. I felt disappointed. In myself.

"What do you mean?" Aaron responded, sounding almost bored. "Are we going to take a walk or not?"

"You really are out of your fucking mind."

Gail suddenly gasped behind me.

"That's a bad word," she informed me. "You have to use soap now."

"Sorry, Gail," I responded, trying really hard not to snap at her.

"Yeah, it's a bad word," Aaron remarked, smirking.

"Will you just go? Please?" I decided to try and reason with him. It didn't work.

"Rory, will you just stop and..."

"You stop," I cut him off, and then dropped my voice down to a near whisper in hopes of avoiding Gail's ears. "We can't have this kind of conversation right now, and... you and me--we're not friends. We're not anything anymore."

Aaron stared at me for a long moment, his expression an empty one.

"This is because you've been talking to Seth, isn't it?"

"No," I said sharply. "It doesn't have anything to do with him."

I was becoming concerned here. I just wanted him to get out of the truck. Gail was watching us with interest, and probably understood that her brother was being mentioned. It was a careless way to be having this kind of conversation, not to mention that I fully expected Seth to return any moment. Or at least I expected someone to notice that Aaron was in the truck with me. There were a lot of people there, some being Luke's friends. As bad as it would look, I think I was actually hoping that someone would notice. Then maybe Aaron would leave.

"Then where else would you get the idea that I never liked you?" he demanded, and I paused, mostly because if I didn't know any better, Aaron seemed a little upset about this. I had to think about my response for a moment. True, it was Seth who'd told me certain things about Aaron that led me to believing that he'd been using me, or playing a game with me... or doing things with less than honorable intentions. But if I really thought about it, it was me reflecting on every moment I'd ever spent with Aaron Keslin that had drawn me to the conclusion that he'd never actually been interested in me.

"From you," I ultimately decided, and Aaron frowned at that. He even looked a little confused. "Listen, it's over, Aaron, so you don't have to pretend anymore," I continued. "I don't know what it is you want from me now, but..."

I never got to finish what I was saying. Aaron's face had suddenly contorted into what could only be described as a resentful frown, and he was suddenly opening the door and sliding out of the truck.

"You know, fuck you Rory," he suddenly snapped at me, and my eyes widened at that because I had no idea what I did to deserve it. Before I even developed the sense to get angry about it, Aaron was slamming the door in my face while Gail shouted that he'd used a bad word and he'd have to use the soap.

"Where's Aaron going?" she asked me. I didn't answer. I was too busy watching Aaron push his way through the crowd now, and attempting to stomp down the sudden urge to go after him. But that was because I couldn't figure out what he was so upset about. We were over. It's not like that was supposed to be any skin off his back.

Unfortunately, every time I saw Aaron I could still feel the damage weighing heavily on my own back, and it made for a very frustrating situation, because every time my stomach knotted up with thoughts of Aaron Keslin, I had to adamantly tell myself that I didn't want him back--which I didn't. I think. No, I knew. I closed my eyes, thinking over the last Aaron-free week and could clearly understand that I'd been better off. He'd been nothing more than an unnecessary source of stress for me, and I didn't even mean that to be insulting towards him. It was simply a fact. Without having to worry about what he was thinking, or if he was going to show up, or even what I was supposed to do when I wasn't with him, I'd been able to focus on a few other things--and people. Like with Luke, or even Eddie and Jase--it had been nearly impossible for me to get to know them as I was doing now, all because there was that one thing I knew I couldn't talk to them about. Aaron Keslin. Not that my dishonesty with the family I'd been living with had been the entire problem when it came to getting to know them better. But, it had been part of it. And, not being able to be honest with Luke, Eddie and Jase, hadn't been the only thing wrong with my involvement with Aaron. I didn't want him back. Aaron and I wouldn't work. I could say that with a certain amount of certainty. But, I did want something from him. I realized that as I watched him walk away from the truck.

"Seth!" I heard Gail say, and looked up to see that Seth was, in fact, coming back towards the truck. He was still talking to Angela, and he was smiling. Actually, even from the distance it looked like he was blushing, and she was teasing him about something.

I felt horrible already.

"Hey, Gail," I said, "stay right here, okay?"

I opened Seth's door, and slid out the same way Aaron had, just as Seth started coming back towards the truck. He smiled at me as he approached.

"Sorry about that," he said. "You ready to go?"

I frowned.

"Seth... I have to go."

His smile disappeared, and he looked at me inquisitively, probably waiting for an explanation.

"I really am sorry," I continued. "Do you think I can call you tonight?"

Seth looked thoroughly confused, but seemed to recover quickly.

"Okay... I mean...yeah. Is something wrong?"

"No," I said quickly. "I mean... I'm glad I saw you today," I added a pointed smile, and his expression seemed to soften some. "There's just something I have to do, and if I don't do it now... look, there's just something I have to do. I'll call you?"

He studied me for a moment.

"Can I at least give you a ride somewhere?"

I looked around the park, and then shook my head.

"Okay," he replied after a moment, chewing his bottom lip. "Call me."


I don't think that I left the best impression on Rick or Brian when they said hi to me and I barely even waved before I took off in the direction that Aaron had gone in. For some reason, I was surprised to find him alone, or even still there. He was standing halfway down the hill in front of the empty picnic tables, picking up and throwing what seemed to be imaginary rocks. He looked agitated.


I nearly flinched when he glanced over his shoulder and smirked at me. I figured it was his way of saying "I told you so," because he'd known that I was going to talk to him, either way. Prick.

"Never mind," I said irritably, deciding that I wasn't interested in feeding his ego by staying. But, I didn't get very far when I turned to go. No more than two steps.

"I did like you," he called after me. "I do like you."

I stopped, against my better judgment, and turned to face him again.

"I don't believe you," I said simply, and Aaron frowned. "And even if I did... I don't really think it matters anymore."

"Then why are you here?"

I was silent for a moment.

"I wanted to hear you say that," I admitted. It was true, too. Even if I didn't believe him, I'd wanted to hear him say it because part of the difficulty of thinking about Aaron Keslin revolved around the fact that I'd been absolutely nothing to him when he'd been... well, my first.

"Yeah? Well it's the truth," Aaron stated, taking two steps towards me before stopping. "I do like you... but I like Seth more."

I felt myself freeze when I heard that, for more than one reason. For a moment, I wondered if he was just trying to get to me, if he was being cruel. But, he didn't look like he was trying to be malicious, and there was simply too much truth behind his words for me to question them. Besides, his admission backed up a few of my theories. But I didn't find myself at all happy about it. Instead, I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Part of me wanted to hate Seth, because Aaron thought he was better than me. But more than that, I found myself somewhat jealous, considering the way that I was beginning to feel about Seth. I had the sudden urge to tell Aaron not to even think about him, which I didn't do because for one thing, I had no right, and for another, it would have likely made things worse.

"Well, then I guess..." I'm not sure what I planned to say. I think I just wanted to escape the awkward silence that had suddenly come between us.

"I like Seth," Aaron continued, when I didn't. "But that still doesn't mean that I was using you." I regarded him skeptically, narrowing my eyes. "Okay," he admitted. "Maybe at first, I just wanted to get a rise out of him. But, then I started talking to you that first night, and... I liked you, Rory. You were never Seth, but you can't say that I didn't like you."

"Then what did you like about me?" I challenged hotly. I'm not sure why I was suddenly so upset. I'd expected the worst to begin with, and this wasn't even it. Aaron was actually being honest with me, not to mention that he was speaking completely reasonably. I guess if anything the meaning behind his words is what was getting to me. I was good, just not as good as Seth. I'd figured it out the first time he'd said it, damn it. He didn't need to beat it in.

"I thought you were cute," Aaron replied. Cute seemed like an insult coming from him. "And you were fun. You made me laugh, and I had a good time when I was with you... and I even liked listening to you complain about your family. You're all pretty fucked up, you know that?" He actually laughed. I gritted my teeth, suddenly feeling horrified that I'd ever confided anything in him.

"So glad I could be a source of entertainment for you," I sarcastically retorted, right before I turned on my heel, needing to get away from him. I was fuming. Even more so when he grabbed my arm and spun me back around a moment later. "Just fuck off, Aaron!" I snapped, jerking away from him. It was quite possible that he'd gone too far in commenting on the rest of the family.

"I thought you wanted me to be honest," Aaron retorted. "I do like you."

"Stop saying that," I ordered. I could feel myself shaking, partly because he was pissing me off to that point and partly because his words stung more than I wanted to admit. "You don't even know what it means to like someone!"

"And you do?" he scoffed. "Okay, Rory, I'm dying to know--what do you like about me?"

"Right now? Nothing."

Aaron smirked at that, and then rephrased.

"Fine. Then what did you like about me?"

I fell silent, and stared at him some more. I officially hated this conversation.

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Aaron rolled his eyes. "I knew you were into me the minute you looked at me."

Well, wasn't he just full of himself.

"I like the way you look, Aaron," I admitted. "But that wasn't everything. You had me believing that you just wanted a friend who wasn't going to judge you for all your fuck-ups. And I thought I could do that because I thought... I thought you were the only one around here being honest with me. That's what I liked about you, and it was all a lie. You were never looking for a friend."

Aaron frowned, studying me for a moment before he nodded his head, as if to agree with me. He looked guilty, but not sorry. Just like he wasn't sorry for any of his mistakes.

"I don't remember you complaining," he said.

"Really? Because I remember complaining at that fucking party," I pointed out.

"I had too much to drink, Rory. It's as simple as that," he replied, matter-of-factly.

"Oh, shut up!" I snapped. "You said you wanted me to go so you could spend some time with me."

"I did."

"Bullshit! You brought me there so I could follow you around all night like a fucking idiot, then you disappeared for half the night and then..."

"What do you want? An apology?"

I fell silent, staring at him, and like so many other times I found myself wondering what the hell went on in that head of his.

"Would you even mean it? Christ, Aaron. Do you even remember what happened in that bedroom?"

"I remember that I was trying to have a good time," he said simply. "And you, acting like a fucking baby."

God, I wanted to slap him.

"You practically attacked me!" I retorted. "And then you get pissed off because I ran out on you? Fuck you! You know, the only reason why I stayed as long as I did is because you were making an ass of yourself and I was worried, Aaron! I almost called Luke to come get us both, just because I wanted to make sure you were okay, too! That's when I thought you were just drunk. I was stupid enough to think that you'd do the same thing for me. But you know what? That's what I was stupid about. You don't care about anyone, do you? Not even yourself. You're so fucking impossible..."

"Then why did you come talk to me?" he demanded, looking uneasy.

"Because I'm tired of thinking about you," I said honestly. "I just want it to be over. Why did you even get into Seth's truck, if you never... I mean, did you actually think we were just going to make up or something?"

There was that frown in his brow again as he practically glared at me. I found that it was suddenly difficult to keep a straight face. My eyes felt heavy, and my lids seemed to be narrowing against my will; my mouth was dry, as if I'd just been screaming at the top of my lungs; and I could hear my heartbeat in my temple. I felt sick.

"I think we could still be friends, or do other stuff, I guess," Aaron answered, sounding indifferent. "But no, I didn't think we'd just make up. I got in because I wanted you out of Seth's truck."

That should have pissed me off, I'm guessing. Oddly enough, it didn't. It did however, manage to make me feel stupid for leaving Seth in the first place. I could have been with Seth right now, having a much better time than I was having. Aaron was aware of that, and I'm sure it gave him some satisfaction to know that I was miserable and with him, instead. That should have made me angry, too. But it seemed that I no longer had the energy to be.

I walked away from him. It was that simple. No parting words, nothing. I just walked, heading for the tables without bothering to look back. I didn't need to. Something told me that he was already moving in the opposite direction, and seeing how that put distance between us, it was good enough for me. I didn't even want to look back when I reached the nearest table, took a seat, and put my head down.


The sun was toasting my neck, and the back of my head. I didn't have the energy to move to the shade. That was okay, though. My eyes had been closed for some time now and things seemed dark. Peaceful. It was the knots in my stomach that were getting to me, making me nauseous.

I think it had been easier to tell myself that Aaron didn't like anything about me, than to consider what I'd learned from him today. He had liked me, for completely shallow reasons, not to mention entertainment value. I wasn't nothing to him. It was worse than that. I was a joke to him.

I wished that it didn't hurt. I couldn't even justify why it hurt. It simply did, no matter how much I told myself that Aaron wasn't worth it. Because he wasn't. But, even if I couldn't feel it yet, I told myself that talking to him had been worth it, because now there was at least some form of closure to the matter. It was over. That was a good thing, I decided. And as silly as it might sound, while I was sitting at that table, I also decided that if my mom was there, she'd be proud of me for surviving Aaron Keslin... and my first breakup.

I'm not sure how she'd feel about the way I'd skipped out on Seth to talk to Aaron, though. I'd like to think that she would have thought it was necessary, just like I did. I liked Seth. With Seth... I smiled when I thought about kissing him. Even when I thought about falling off his bed after Mr. Fisher walked in on us, I wanted to laugh at myself; and when I thought about how things could be exciting and peaceful with him at the same time, all I wanted to do was go see him. That's why I felt like such an idiot for ditching him so I could talk to Aaron. Only, it would have been difficult to start anything with Seth while Keslin was hanging over my head. But now, the air seemed somewhat cleared, and it seemed a little easier to think about moving on.

I was going to call Seth. Or, just show up at his house. I decided that I should probably just go see him in person. I could try to explain why I'd run out on him. I needed to get the bike back, anyway. Of course, in order to do any of this, I'd have to get out of the damn park, which currently I was stuck at... because I hadn't planned ahead, whatsoever. In my head, I could hear Seth laughing at me. I was an idiot.


Walking back towards the parking lot, I remembered my promise to call Eddie if I left Seth's house. I decided that late was better than never. I was just fishing my phone out of my pocket when Brian's red hair in the distance caught my eye. I hadn't been expecting to see anyone there while walking back. I wasn't really sure how long I'd been at those tables, but it had to have been close to dinner time. That's why it surprised me to see not only Rick and Dave as I grew closer, but Luke's jeep parked behind them, too. Feeling lucky didn't even begin to describe how I felt just then.

I temporarily lowered the phone and quickened my pace, my eyes searching for Luke, especially when Dave opened Luke's passenger door to get in. No way did I want them driving off without me. I didn't have to worry, though. I spotted Luke, walking across the parking lot where he'd been mixed into another group. All it took was one look in my direction before he stopped, and waited.

"Hey," he said, grinning. "What are you doing here?"

"It's kind of a long story," I replied, not sure that I wanted to get into it with Rick coming towards us. Luke looked curious.

"Is Seth with you?" he asked.

"No," I admitted. That earned me a I-want-an-explanation-later look from Luke, but instead of questioning me further in front of his friends, he threw an arm over my shoulders, guiding me towards his vehicle. "Come on, we're going to dinner."


Dinner plans with Luke and company: not how I'd envisioned my evening.

But, I wasn't complaining. On the way to the diner where Dave worked, I finally called Eddie to tell him that I was no longer at Seth's, but going to dinner with Luke. He sounded a little surprised, and then I surprised myself when I confessed that I'd been at the park for a while, but I'd forgotten to call. I also apologized for it. Eddie said that he was just glad I'd told him, and then told me to have a good time. I made a mental note to call him again when I asked Luke to drop me off at Seth's on the way home. Which I did.

I was glad that we weren't heading back too late. We'd spent a good hour or so in the diner with Rick, Brian and Dave. Brian announced that he'd gone on some sort of diet where he was supposed to drink a milk shake three times a day. I don't think he was supposed to drink it on the side of a triple cheeseburger and a plate of waffles, but no one mentioned it to him. Rick was officially going out with Meg. I never actually saw that one coming, but while everyone else started betting it would last one week, I claimed two, which probably wasn't smart because Rick himself only gave it until Saturday. And, Dave only mentioned Angela Conner one time throughout the entire meal when he mentioned that she always asked for fruit on her waffles when she came in. I hoped that meant that Luke had been able to work things out with him. Luke had been the only one driving tonight, so he took everyone home before he began to ask me questions, beginning with: why had I been at the park all alone?

"I wasn't," I replied. "I mean, I was, but at first I wasn't..."

"Rory," Luke cut me off, laughing as he glanced in my direction from the driver's seat. "I mean... did you go to the park with Seth? You were at his house, right?"

"Yeah," I answered. "He was dropping Angela off there."

"And you, too?" Luke asked curiously, and then frowned. "Did something happen with Seth?"

"I kissed him," I admitted, and Luke's smile reappeared and did wonders for his curiosity.

"How was it?" he immediately asked, and I laughed at him.

"Before or after his dad walked in and I fell off the bed?" I replied.

"You were on his bed?"

I cracked up.


"Yeah, sorry," Luke replied, smirking. "So his dad caught you?"

"He didn't see anything... and it was good--the kiss."

"Okay... so why did you end up at the park alone?"

"I sort of asked Seth to leave me there," I admitted, and then explained about Aaron. I had to prevent Luke from interrupting me several times as I explained everything that had happened, and then my reasons for ditching Seth to take care of it. Luke seemed to be understanding of my reasons, but he did mention several times that he thought sticking myself alone with Aaron hadn't been one of my brightest ideas. I decided that I agreed with him, but I also decided that I didn't regret it. Aaron and I were over. It seemed more....true, when I told myself that now.

It was around nine o'clock when we reached the road leading home and I asked Luke if he could drop me off at Seth's. Luke agreed, and then reminded me that I should call Eddie or Jase if I wasn't going home with him. I called Eddie's phone because it was the number I had, but got Jase instead. It felt a little strange explaining to him that Luke was dropping me off somewhere else, but he had no objections, he just reminded me of my curfew.

When we reached Seth's house, Luke asked me if I wanted him to take the bike I'd left there home with him.

"Better leave it," I replied. "I don't know if he's mad or not about earlier."

Luke raised an eyebrow.

"Should I wait?" he asked.

"I'm okay," I insisted, leaving his jeep.

"You sure?"

"Yeah," I insisted. "I'll see you in a while?"

"Uh-huh. Wanna watch another movie tonight?"

"Don't you work in the morning?" I asked.


I rolled my eyes at him, and then nodded.

"Yeah, sounds good."

I closed his door and watched him leave, waving before I headed to Seth's front door, hoping that it wasn't too late to be there. It looked like most of the lights in his house were off. I'd hardly knocked before the porch light above me came on and the door opened. It was hard not to smile when I saw Seth standing there, the same hat he'd been wearing earlier on his head. But, I didn't get too excited. Seth wasn't smiling at all. In fact, he crossed his arms and leaned against his doorframe, suddenly looking like a very dense wall to me.

"I wanted to explain... about earlier," I said, hoping that he wasn't upset.

"You said you were going to call," he replied.

"Well, I came over instead," I replied, deciding not to point out that I'd left the bike. Somehow I doubted that pointing out any reasons why I'd be there other than him, wouldn't be the smart thing to do. "Do you want me to go home... and then call?"


"Okay... listen, I'm sorry about what happened earlier..."

"Which part?" he cut me off, and I looked at him, confused.

"At the park," I replied. "I feel bad for taking off like that. I wasn't trying to ditch you, if that's what you think."

"I think you ran into Aaron, he said some things that upset you, and you went after him," Seth said simply, and I stared for a moment. Gail. Well, obviously she was a blabbermouth, not that I blamed her.

"It sounds bad when you put it like that," I replied. "I wasn't really going after him, I just wanted... I needed to talk to him."

Seth considered me for a minute. I felt like I was waiting for a verdict or something. But then, he lowered his head and stared down at his bare feet for a moment.

"It's over with him, right?"

I raised an eyebrow, surprised by the question, and I almost laughed out loud when it occurred to me that he might be worried that I was coming on to him while I was still with Aaron. I wondered if he was jealous. I was surprised at how flattering I found that, but it was still amusing, considering that Seth was the one Aaron was interested in. Not me.

"Yeah," I replied. "I swear."

Seth looked sheepish for a moment, and I felt relieved when I saw the beginning of a smile on his face. But he didn't exactly seem ready to let me off the hook yet as his eyes suddenly narrowed and he crossed his arms.

"You cussed in front of my sister."

"I know," I admitted. "Sorry... I cussed at Aaron," I added, as if that would make it better. I got a laugh out of him for that. "Hey, I really am sorry. Just... I'll make it up to you, okay? I mean, if you let me, I will."

Seth raised an eyebrow at that, and suddenly looked very smug. I wondered what I'd just gotten myself into. I figured it out a few minutes later, after he invited me into his house and took me upstairs where Gail was brushing her teeth for bed. It was there, in the hallway bathroom, that I learned what Gail meant by "use the soap" every time someone cussed. I was glaring at a snickering Seth as I stuck a thin bar in my mouth, while Gail looked on in approval.


"I can't believe you made me do that," I was saying as I entered Seth's room, lifting the bottom of my shirt to wipe my tongue every few moments. The shirt didn't taste much better than the soap. "I haven't had my mouth washed out with soap since I was six and told my grandma she was a slut because some kid at school said it was supposed to be a compliment."

This had Seth laughing even harder than he had been as he closed his door, and a moment later he had his hand comfortably between my shoulder blades as he led me past the sofa.

"Come on," he said. "I've got some mouth rinse. I can't believe you agreed to that."

"We're even now, right?" I suddenly asked, feeling a little worried, and Seth smiled at me.

"We're good," he replied, and then stepped ahead of me. I followed him into his bathroom, which wasn't as small as I thought it would be. Just normal sized, full sink and tub. He opened the cabinet above the sink and I watched as he poured some mouth rinse into a small cup. He was laughing again when he held it out for me, but that could have been because I was licking the back of my hand, still desperate to get the stinging, soapy taste out of my mouth. I think it amused me that Seth thought this was funny, and suddenly, as I reached out to take the cup from him, I reached around the back of his head and pulled him forward. I was met with little resistance, even when I slipped my soap-flavored tongue between his lips, even if he did make a face when I pulled back and took the cup from him and rinsed out my mouth. I laughed when Seth did the same thing after my soapy kiss.

I never saw it coming when he moved forward and I found myself trapped between Seth and the sink, and I was opening for him as his mouth came over mine and he kissed me more thoroughly. My hand moved to fist the front of his shirt for balance and I sighed as his hand slipped up my back until his fingers were drumming lightly over my neck before he gently broke the kiss. I wondered what had taken him so long to do that. I smiled when it looked like he was going to do it again, but when we suddenly heard Mrs. Fisher's voice, Seth rested his chin against my forehead, just above the bridge of my nose, releasing a breath as he listened to his mom, who was probably talking from his bedroom door.

"Seth, your sister's in bed...we'll be up for a while."

"Okay, Mom," he called back, when it sounded like she was finished.

"We're going to watch a movie," she called after another moment.

I met Seth's chocolate eyes as he turned his face downwards, feeling a little worried that this interruption was no accident, and for a moment I felt a little uncomfortable. He didn't seem worried, though.

"Alright," he called back.

"Are you guys hungry?" Mrs. Fisher called again, just when we thought she'd gone.

"No, Mom," Seth replied, sounding rather amused, and then after looking at me again, tilting his head so that the tips of our noses brushed together he added, "We're probably gonna go out for a while." He looked at me pointedly, as if asking a question, and I nodded against his head in response.

"Don't stay out too late," Mrs. Fisher called before we finally heard the bedroom door close. Seth stepped away from me then, but not before I grabbed his hand.

"She's gonna keep doing that," he announced. "Until she and my dad go to bed."

"I don't care if we go somewhere else," I replied. And, I really didn't. I just didn't want to go home without spending more time with him.

Seth looked thoughtful for a moment.

"When do you have to be home?" he asked.


"Okay," he replied, just before he led me out of the bathroom. "Let's go."

Thirty minutes later, I sat back comfortably in my seat and looked up at Seth expectantly as he just stood there next to me. When I flashed him a pointed look he just smirked.

"You're not gonna freak out if I sit next to you this time, right?" he teased.

"Shut up," I responded, laughing as I grabbed his wrist and pulled him down into the seat next to me so that we were both facing the movie screen. Seth smiled, and rather than fighting me for the armrest this time, he rested his arm lightly over mine, adjusting our hands into a comfortable position. I liked it.

I looked over at Seth, his comment bringing me back to the last time I'd been seated next to him in a theater. It wasn't a good memory, but things had changed a lot since the last time. The last time, I never would have seen myself willingly sitting next to Seth anywhere, let alone holding his hand.

"I thought you were going to kick my ass," I confessed, feeling that it was safe to, now, and Seth looked at me, obviously confused. "The last time we were here," I explained. "When you were following me--that seriously freaked me out. I kept waiting for you to take a swing."

"What?" Seth asked incredulously, and I laughed. "Are you serious?"

I nodded, smiling to make sure he knew that it didn't bother me in the least now. Actually, now I thought it was kind of funny. Seth didn't. Actually, he seemed troubled by this information, and for a moment I thought he was going to take his hand away. He didn't, though. Instead, his fingers began to softly rake up and down my hand. I turned my palm over, lacing my fingers with his; and wanting to make sure that he wasn't taking my revelation personally I turned my head and leaned towards him, satisfied when he met my mouth rather quickly, just as the theater light dimmed and the movie started.

It wasn't a very long movie. At least, I don't think it was. Seth and I didn't sit through all of it. But I couldn't tell you if we walked out halfway through it or ten minutes before the end, because other than noticing that one of the characters looked really good in his black jeans, I wasn't paying attention at all. I was too busy growing quite attached to Seth's arm. It started with circling a bone in his wrist with my finger; and then I slowly moved upwards from there, tracing veins that I couldn't see in his forearm, noting that the little hairs covering him were thin and soft, discovering that he was ticklish around his elbows, and every so often, becoming brave enough to slide my hand up his shirt to cup his bicep. I found it extremely entertaining that he'd flex every time I did that. And there was kissing. Thank god for kissing. Every time I looked at his face I'd get one, and Seth was initiating half of them. It was an improvement that I approved of, even if they were all short, little kisses. It was nice. I felt like he was giving me just enough breathing room to leave me craving more, and it wasn't a feeling that I was used to. I really liked it.

I was the one who ultimately grabbed Seth's hand and gave it a tug before I released it, stood up, and led the way out of the theater. He didn't even ask where we were going. He just followed me until we were out of the building at which point he walked next to me on the sidewalk and led the way to the parking lot.

"Are you working tomorrow... with Eddie?" he asked.

"Don't think so. He's taking some time off."

"Oh. Okay."

"Why?" I asked curiously.

"I get off at two... so you'll be with Eddie?"

"I don't know," I replied honestly. "He wants us to spend some time together... are you trying to ask me something, Seth?" I asked smartly, and he gave me a light shove before he reached out, grabbed my arm, and pulled me back to him.

"I wanted to know if..." he was speaking too slowly for my tastes.

"Do you want to do something tomorrow?" I asked him, and he grinned at me.

"Skating," he said.

"I could watch you fall on your ass again," I remarked, smirking. This earned me an elbow to the ribs. "I should ask Eddie first," I said more seriously. "But yeah, I wanna go."

"Yeah? When do you think you'll find out if you can?"

"I can talk to him tomorrow," I replied. "When did you wanna go?"

"Whenever you call me and tell me you can."

Seth smiled as he stopped in front of his truck and opened his door. It seemed that I'd followed him directly to the driver's side. Not seeing the point in walking all the way around the truck, I climbed in, paused briefly just in case he was checking out my butt, and then scooted over--but not very far. I left about three inches between us once Seth was actually seated next to me, and I watched silently as he started the truck, but he didn't make a move to go anywhere. Instead, he looked at me, seemingly confused.

"Are we supposed to be going somewhere? I mean... was the movie over?"

I laughed at that.

"I was just getting tired of sitting in there," I admitted.

"Yeah. Me too," he agreed.

He looked at me for a long moment, and all it took was seeing the way that his eyes drifted to my mouth before I had Seth pressed up against his door window and I had my tongue in his mouth, only giving the entire act a moment's pause so I could pull his hat off when the brim knocked into my forehead.

Seth's hand moved to my lower back, pulling me closer to him until my knees were on the seat so I could face him better, and I allowed my hands to move over both of his arms now, sneaking up his short sleeves to grip his shoulders as he tilted his head back and I deepened the kiss. I felt his hand brush shyly over my thigh as I closed my eyes, the contact sending a slight tingling sensation straight to my groin and I found myself pressing in further when that same hand came to rest on my hip, Seth's long fingers digging into my side. Our kiss became somewhat sloppy as it became more heated, tongues missing mouths to lick at lips, and if we were way off, chins. But, it was no less pleasant.

I moved my hands to circle his neck. A week ago, I probably would have used the same hold to strangle him, but now I was moving my fingers over skin, tracing his ears and enjoying the way that he shivered when my thumb moved over his Adam's apple before I moved my hands lower, over his chest, deliberately taking a moment to feel out his pecs and smiling against his lips when I could feel his nipples grow hard beneath his shirt. In response, Seth's fingers dug into my side even harder as he used his other hand to cup the back of my head and he kissed me so hard that I worried about the dwindling oxygen supply.

It was after sliding my hands down his chest so that my fingers could sneak beneath his t-shirt, coming into contact with warm, smooth skin, moist with a thin layer of sweat, that Seth suddenly placed one hand over both of mine, preventing me from moving further as he broke the kiss. He held my forehead to his, breathing heavily while I was downright panting, and squeezed my hands.

"We're in the middle of the parking lot," he pointed out.

I shifted on my knees, wincing slightly when my erection brushed uncomfortably against my shorts, and I met his eyes.

"So?" I practically whined, and Seth grinned at that.

"That movie's gonna let out sooner or later."

Good point. Currently, I hated that he had a good point.

"Okay," I said quickly, pulling away from him and dropping my feet on the floor so I could sit correctly while Seth straightened. "Drive."

"Drive where?" he asked, laughing, even as he shifted into reverse and backed out of the parking space. Then he shook his head. "Never mind."

I watched Seth curiously as he navigated the truck out of the parking lot, around the building, and down an empty street where he abruptly pulled over, parked, and looked at me again.

"This is better than the parking lot?" I asked him, feeling more than a little amused.

"Not really," Seth responded sheepishly, but made no move to drive somewhere else. That was probably the smart thing, though, the way that I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him towards me this time. The amount of room in Seth's truck wasn't exactly excessive, and the steering wheel made space even more limited on his side of the truck.

Seth moved towards me as I kissed him, pausing every once in a while to laugh with him when our legs got stuck in the small space, and then again when I hit my head on the armrest connected to the passenger door. I closed my eyes, wincing as I reached for the back of my head, but stopped when I realized that Seth's was already there, guiding my head away from the door as he regarded me apologetically from above. That look had me laughing again, a problem Seth fixed when he lowered his mouth and kissed me.

I know that being on my back in Seth's truck, with the weight of his chest over me, was probably not the right time to start comparing Seth to Aaron. But, considering that I'd seen Aaron that morning, and our entire, failed relationship--if you could even call it that--had flashed before my eyes, I could hardly help it. Even seeing Aaron that very morning seemed completely far away, being there with Seth. And Seth was so... different. I never would have initiated anything with Aaron the way that I did with Seth. Aaron never would have given me the chance to. It had me wondering if I even would have, given the chance. Now, I wasn't so sure.

But I was sure about Seth. Maybe that was because I knew that if I wanted to slow down, I wouldn't get so much as a complaint from him. Of course, with him over me I was way too turned on to even think about slowing down, but aside from that, it was fun. But, maybe that was because Seth didn't argue with me, and then try to maul me.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that I was the one doing most of the mauling. I slid my hands up his shirt again, my hands moving up his sides and over his back as he broke the kiss to move his mouth over my neck, upwards until I felt his tongue against my ear and involuntarily shivered. I closed my eyes as his lips began to brush over my face, fluttering over my cheek until he found my mouth again; but just as I felt his tongue against mine I slid my hands around to his chest and pushed him back, with no complaint from him as I lifted the shirt and gazed up at his narrow waist, flat stomach and broad chest, appreciating the way that his muscles flexed in his current position, and the way that his erection was tenting his pants, poking right out at me. I tilted my hips upwards, so that my own cock brushed against his thigh and sucked in a breath as I lifted his shirt further; but rather than pulling it over his head, like he seemed completely prepared for me to do, I lifted my head until my mouth landed openly over his skin, just above his belly button so that I could feel the soft hairs leading down his navel on my tongue. My hands moved to his sides, and Seth grabbed his shirt with one hand, holding it up as I traced my way downwards, using the tip on my tongue as he cupped the back of my head and released a small moan as my fingers moved to his jeans, snapping open his button.

I slowly lowered Seth's zipper with one hand as I placed the other firmly over the bulge in his jeans, taking in the long shape and firm feel of his erect organ as he squirmed above me, pressing himself against my hand. Only, the moment I had his jeans obscenely open and my fingers hooked into the tight waistline of dark-blue boxer-briefs, Seth pulled his hips away entirely as he lowered himself and kissed me again. I think whatever moment of disappointment I might have felt came from pure impatience, but as I opened for him and pressed my tongue against his, feeling his thigh as it came to rest against my cock, I allowed the feeling to pass easily as I wrapped an arm loosely around his neck and just enjoyed the soft feel of his mouth and his weight over me as he firmly grabbed my hips and I felt his thumbs lightly rubbing at my skin, just above my waistline. The feeling sent a warm sensation straight to my groin and I arched up against him, tilting my head back as his mouth found its way down my chin and over my neck.

I bit my lips so hard that for a moment, I thought I'd pierced it, when Seth's hand abruptly moved over the bulge in my own pants. No more shy moves for him. I could feel the tips of his fingers on my balls and his palm pointedly over my shaft in a way that had me spreading my thighs as I found it necessary to give him more room. I bit my lip again, and physically shook as I fought off the urge to come right then when he slid his hand upwards and gripped the head of my cock.

I met Seth's eyes and found myself laughing when he had the nerve to look amused with me, but it didn't last long as I cupped the back of his head and pulled him down until my lips were firmly over his and coaxing him open. I was arching again a moment later when I felt his warm hand grip the base of my cock, and it was quite the shock, since I hadn't even noticed it when he opened my jeans and slid a hand into my boxers. I was noticing now, though, especially as he waited no time before he began to stroke me with a firm hand, causing me to shift upwards; and suddenly not knowing what to do with my hands, I gripped his shoulders and held on, issuing a small grunt in protest when he released my erection as quickly as he'd taken hold of it and grabbed my hips instead, guiding me to sit up against the door. In response I cupped his face in my hands and pulled him towards me, kissing him sloppily as the end of his shirt brushed against my exposed erection, and then my eyes widened as he abruptly pulled away and I watched the back of his head descend until I felt his warm mouth close over the head of my cock, gasping as he slickly slid down my shaft and my hands went to the back of his head. The pressure of his sucking mouth had my eyes rolling back as I shifted in my seat against overwhelming sensations and as his head began to bob, his nose coming into contact with the dark, curly hair surrounding my cock I released a series of groans that couldn't have been bit back if I tried; and when his hand gripped my hip, pulling me even deeper towards him I lost control entirely and came so hard that I had to hold myself up by leaning over his back, the experience drawn out because he didn't stop until I was softening in his mouth, and then he was sitting up, his mouth over mine again, his tongue slipping past my lips before I could even respond. I didn't even note the taste of myself on him until I started to recover, slowly responding to the kiss as I moved an arm around him, regaining my wits.

When I recovered enough, I was instantly reaching for his jeans, intent on picking up where I'd left off before his amazing interruption. Honestly, I don't think I'd ever been so eager to have a dick in my mouth before. That's probably because before now, it had never been reciprocation on my part. Seth hissed a breath when I touched him through his boxers, and I'm sure I looked entirely heartbroken when he grabbed my hands and stopped me once again. He smiled at the expression on my face and his lips brushed my face before he spoke.

"Can't," he said breathlessly, and the one word earned him an incredulous look from me. Seth laughed at that, but then nodded towards the clock on his dashboard. Eleven-forty-five.

"Shit," I cursed, and Seth laughed again. "I don't care," I announced, reaching for him again, but his grip on my hands tightened and he leaned forward to kiss me before quickly pulling back.

"Yes you do," he insisted, and then straightened. I pouted as he zipped up, but gave no protest when he helped me straighten my own clothing. "It's not like you can't make it up to me later," he murmured, and I grinned before I pulled him in for another kiss before he scooted over to his seat and rushed to get me home. It was exactly eleven fifty-eight when Seth pulled into the driveway, and I took full advantage of the two minutes I had to kiss him goodbye and promise that I'd call him tomorrow and let him know if I could go skating.

I was practically floating when I made it into the house. It seemed that Eddie and Jase had already gone to bed, and when I made it downstairs I found that Luke had already passed out in front of the television. I covered him with a blanket before I took a seat on the sofa and lifted the remote, suddenly feeling entirely full of energy. Obviously, I wouldn't be sleeping much tonight.


Monday was a good day. Eddie was staying home and after sleeping in until ten o'clock, I found him in the pool. He told me I had to eat breakfast before I got in. In response, I insisted that you weren't supposed to eat before you swam, so he relented and spent the next hour insisting that when it came to cannonballs, he was the master. I'd have to agree with him. I got wetter standing outside of the pool than I did when I actually got in it. When swimming ran its course, we went out for breakfast at the diner where Dave worked. He happened to be working that morning and took his break to join us, still apologizing to Eddie for what had happened at Rick's party. Eddie became suspicious about this and asked Dave what he was sucking up for. Apparently, he had relatives that he didn't particularly care for coming in the next weekend. Eddie decided that he sympathized, and told Dave that if it was okay with his parents, he was welcome to stay over for the weekend.

After breakfast, the way home was interrupted when we stopped off to play laser-tag. Eddie beat me by thirty-one points. I demanded a rematch. The second time he only beat me by eleven points, but the third time he trapped me in the hall of mirrors and he won by fifty. Not that it wasn't fun. We were just about to leave when Eddie challenged two guys, probably older than me, to one last game. He insisted that I needed to win at least one, and we did.

We made one last stop on the way home, for ice cream. It was going on one o'clock then, and having had Seth on my mind all day, I decided to bring the obvious question up with Eddie as we took a seat at an outdoor table, located in the shade.

"Do you think I could go somewhere today?" I asked. I actually felt a little guilty about the question. He was home from work, and obviously interested in spending time with me.

"I guess so..." he replied after a moment of thought. "Is there somewhere you had in mind."

"Ice skating."

"Ice skating," Eddie replied, nodding. "Are you any good?"

"Not terrible," .

"Did you have a specific time for when you'd want to go?"

"Um... around two. Maybe a little after," I explained. "I mean, I know you're taking the day off, so if you don't want me to..."

"I don't see a problem with it," Eddie cut me off. "And, I'll be home for pretty much the rest of the week."


"Yeah. So who are you going with?"

"Seth," I replied, and pinched my leg under the table when I realized that I suddenly lacked the ability to say his name without full on grinning.

"Seth," Eddie repeated, attempting to hide a teasing smile. "Is it a date?"

Well, that was blunt. I tried to keep a straight face, but I'm sure I was blushing all sorts of red.

"It's ice skating," I replied.

"Just the two of you?" Eddie asked, and then burst out laughing when I openly glared at him.

"Okay, it might be a date," I relented. "I mean, that's not a problem, right?"

"Can I be honest?" Eddie replied, and I nodded, hoping that whatever he had to say wasn't about to ruin my day.

"I am so glad that you have a date with Seth."

"You are?" I asked incredulously. "But when you thought he gave me that hickey..." I paused, suspiciously narrowing my eyes on Eddie. "It's because you found out who really gave me that hickey, isn't it? You're just happy I'm not going out with Aaron!"

Eddie licked his cone and then met my eyes directly.

"That is... very true," he admitted unapologetically, and I found myself smiling.

"Yeah, me too," I said, and I meant it. But, Eddie suddenly turned the suspicious glare on me.

"Seth isn't giving you any hickeys, right?"

I blinked at the question, and then considered everything he had done to me last night.

"Right?" Eddie asked again, when I didn't respond fast enough.

"Nope," I said honestly. "No hickeys."

Eddie, who'd been studying me closely, looked slightly disgusted for a moment, and then offered a small smile.

"Seth seems...nice," he reasoned. "His parents are nice people."

"Yeah, they are," I agreed.

"Maybe we should have them over for dinner sometime," Eddie suggested, and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The idea made me uncomfortable, for more than one reason. The first was that it would be because everything with Seth was so new that I didn't even want to think about having dinner with his family yet, and the second was, in part, that I couldn't see myself sitting across from his mother for an entire meal. She was a nice lady--just a little unnerving to look at. Eddie saw my discomfort and laughed. "I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll leave the decision up to you. If you want them to come over one night, just let me know, okay?"

I nodded.

"Thanks, Eddie."

We finished our ice cream, and an hour and a half later, I actually used Seth's phone number. He picked me up at three o'clock to go skating, and I was mortified when Eddie came outside with me, but he only said a quick hello and asked if I could be home in time for dinner. Seth insisted that it wasn't a problem and mentioned that his mom expected the same from him. Two minutes later we were parked on the side of the road, between his house and mine, making out for a good five minutes before Seth insisted that he really did want to go skating.

Ice skating was fun, better than the last time because I had Seth hanging on me a good portion of the time. It took him a while to figure out that he was capable of balancing himself, and he even took me down with him four times. My ass was sore, but laughing at the shocked expression on Seth's face every time he did go down seemed to get me through it.

It also proved to be a good way to test each other's comfort levels. Walking through the mall, we didn't hold hands, but there had been a lot of playful shoving or arm touching. Seth had confessed to being out before, even at school, but I still didn't know how far that went. As for me, people knew I liked guys, but the most experience I had with public displays of affection was kissing Aaron in the park where someone could have passed by, or holding his hand for brief periods at the water park. This all changed, however, when Seth circled the ice on his own for the first time, got excited, and managed to kiss me right before he landed on his ass again. I experienced a few uncomfortable moments as I looked at the people skating around us, but when I was satisfied that they weren't paying attention, or in some cases, just didn't care, I helped Seth up, and didn't let go of his hand for the remainder of the time that we were there. We skated until we were too sore to continue, and then went to Seth's store for smoothies before he took me home, just in time for dinner. I told him I'd call him later, which I fully planned to do. Our kiss goodbye was a quick one, but only because Jase pulled up next to us and sent us both blushing, and Seth into a rush to get out of there. I promised to call him later before he left.


I leaned back on the sofa in the basement living room with the phone to my ear as I listened to it ring. My eyes were on Luke, who was stretched out on the floor in front of the television, playing a video game as he munched on chips. I couldn't understand how he could put anything into his stomach after the dinner we'd had. Jase had arrived home with a feast of Indian food, and my stomach wasn't only full, it was churning.

"Hello?" came the tired voice on the other end of the line once the ringing stopped, and I momentarily found myself frozen in place as I wondered if it would be easier to just hang up. I decided not to. Easy, wasn't exactly what I was going for at the moment.

"Hi, Grandma," I said quietly, and then I waited.

It was Eddie who had once again suggested that I call Grandma Alice. I'd insisted that I wasn't in the mood to fight. Eddie had countered by saying that I didn't necessarily have to fight with her. After careful consideration, I'd decided to call and avoid certain topics, as difficult as it was.

"Rory, how are you?" she asked, almost carefully. She really sounded tired.

"I'm okay," I replied. "Are you alright, Grandma?"

"Oh, I'm fine, sweetie, you just caught me in the middle of a nap. I painted the living room today. Yellow. I'm just not as young as I used to be. Climbing that ladder all day wore me out."

"Painting?" I repeated, trying not to comment on yellow. "You shouldn't be climbing on ladders, Grandma. Why didn't you hire someone?"

She snorted.

"I am perfectly capable of putting a little paint on the walls, thank you. Besides, do you have any idea how much it costs to hire someone these days? Prices are outrageous."

"Oh...well I could have helped you with it--when I come back." I tried not to notice the way that Luke's fingers paused and he glanced over his shoulder at me.

"Don't worry about that," Grandma Alice replied, sounding less tired now. "I'll have plenty for you to do around here."

"Good to know," I responded, without any enthusiasm, and then there was a silence. I was calling to see how she was doing. I was not going to bring up my mother.

"Well, I haven't heard from you in a while," my grandmother spoke up. "How have you and Eddie been getting along?"


"Are you having fun?"

"I guess so."

"Well...so have I. I ran into an old friend yesterday, you wouldn't believe how fat Tessa Rogergom has..."

I leaned back on the sofa, and for the next forty-five minutes, I listened to my grandma talk. At first, it didn't go so well. I was frustrated. Frustrated, because while she talked about the new florist shop, the girls she played bingo with and how it had hailed for exactly two minutes and three seconds just last week, all I wanted to do was yell at her. I wanted her to stop talking about stupid things, and start telling me why she'd lied to me. But, I forced myself to listen, until I didn't have to force myself at all.

When she mentioned that the restaurant that my mother had worked at was under new management I was eager to join the conversation, and was happy to hear that all of the old employees were still there. I even found myself telling her a few things about what the last weeks of my life had been like, and it wasn't to complain, which seemed strange since it was Grandma Alice I was talking to. I told her about going to work with Eddie, and she seemed particularly interested in that, and I told her about goonie golfing with the entire family, and I even told her about how I hung out with Luke. He smiled back at me when I mentioned him. I wanted to tell him that he was just lucky that I wasn't telling my grandma about how he randomly liked to disrobe. But, I refrained from it. Grandma Alice would have had way too much to say on the topic.

"Oh dear, I've still got a load of laundry in," Grandma Alice announced around eight o'clock. Luke had switched from video games to going through his CD collection, but he was still present. "How about I call you back tomorrow, Rory? I need to discuss a few things with Eddie, anyway."

"Like what?" I asked curiously.

"Oh, this and that," she replied in a way that made me a little uneasy. "I'll talk to you soon."

"Grandma Alice?" I suddenly blurted. "Why didn't you give me Mom's letter?"

Okay, I'll admit it. I caved. But, I'd resisted asking the question for long enough, I thought. It wasn't like I hadn't already had a good talk with Grandma Alice.

There was a silence on the line. I thought she'd hung up on me as I glanced at Luke again, who'd stopped what he was doing to curiously watch me; but then I heard Grandma Alice breathing on the other end of the line. I kept waiting.

"I apologize for that, Rory," she finally replied. "I shouldn't have done it."

I felt some relief. An apology from her, it was good. I waited for more.

"I'll talk to you later," she said, when I didn't say anything. I frowned.

"Grandma Alice, why did you do it?"

I'd shit bricks if she had the nerve to hang up on me again.

"It was a mistake," she said after another moment of uncharacteristic silence. "I'm sorry I upset you. You know I love you, Rory. I believed I was acting in your best interest."

"But why would you think lying to me would be in my best interest?" I demanded. I was getting frustrated, and it showed in my voice. "Shit, don't you think you at least owe me a better explanation than that? I just want to know, why you wouldn't give it to me when she wanted you to! She was dying, and you couldn't do the one thing..."

I practically growled when the line went dead, and I probably would have thrown the phone across the room if Luke wasn't suddenly sitting next to me, his hand on my arm as he gently took it from me and hung up, while I rested my elbows on my knees and held my head in my hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his hand sliding up to my shoulder.

"No," I said honestly.

"Do you wanna talk about it?"

I sat up and looked at him.

"My mom wanted me to know what was going on, she said so in her letter! My grandma... why couldn't she just give it to me? Fuck. I mean, I get that what's done is done and all, but all I want is for her to explain why..."

"Hey, stay right there," Luke suddenly cut me off, and I frowned as he got up and disappeared down the hall. If he was going to the bathroom, he'd picked a damn inconvenient time to do it. I felt like venting. I planned to tell him so as soon as he got back, but when Luke sat next to me, I found myself frozen instead, as I stared at what was in his hands.

"Look," he said quietly. "I'm not trying to push you here... but I want you to think about something real quick. You're angry because your mom left you some stuff, and your grandma didn't give it to you when she was supposed to, right?"

I nodded, still frowning.

"Well, you have it now," Luke continued. "Rory, I can understand your reasons... but now you're the one who isn't giving yourself whatever your mom left for you."

I stared at the box, wrapped in shiny red paper, as Luke held it out for me, my eyes trained on the black ink, written in my mom's handwriting. Happy seventeenth, Rory. Just this once, you have permission to open it early. Love, Mom. I reached out and touched it, but didn't take the package into my own hands.

"Look," Luke said quietly, pressing forward with the package until he'd placed it on my lap. "I don't know if what you want to know from your grandma is in there, but something from your mom is. I think you should open it."

I looked at Luke, ready to argue that I wasn't ready to do this. Only, he was right. Telling myself that I wasn't ready was almost as bad as my grandmother deciding for me that I wasn't ready to see what my mom had left. But it was still the last gift. It was the last one I'd ever get from my mother. So, as I removed the shiny red wrap from the gift I did so with care. I took my time, wanting to see no tears in the paper when I was finished.