Disclaimer: If you are offended by male/male relationships then this is not for you. If you are too young or if it is illegal in your area to read material consisting of or hinting at sexual content between two consenting males, Do Not Read Further. This story is property of the author. Please do not borrow or post elsewhere without permission. This is a work of fiction, and any similarities to real people are coincidental.



Desert Dropping

 Chapter Twenty-Nine: Love letters arent for parents

A/N: thanks to Jim for editing!

"Its not a big one, just a little speedboat, so we wont be sleeping in it; but theres a hotel not far from the lake that serves a decent breakfast. What do you think?" Eddie asked as he slowed down our shopping cart so I could place a gallon of milk into it.

What did I think? I thought I was tired, and wanted to go back to bed. It was Tuesday morning, and Eddie had woken me up nice and early to go run errands with him. My guess was that he wanted to make sure I was still okay after the night before. Maybe he thought Id want to talk. Im not sure. But, when I didnt, hed started talking about vacations and how no one could seem to get the same days off, so he and Jase had decided on a weekend trip to a lake where apparently Jase owned a boat.

"When would we go?" I asked, yawning.

Eddie pointed past me.

"We need apple juice," he said, and I reached to get it. "How about this weekend?"

"Didnt you tell Dave he could stay over this weekend?" I asked.

"Yeah; I did, didnt I? His mom isnt going to let us take him with us if they have relatives in town--hell have to see them eventually."

"Do we need eggs?" I asked. "I dont remember what Jase put on the list." Jase had left us a shopping list, but neither of us remembered to actually take it with us.

"Get them to be safe," Eddie replied, and we stopped so I could pick a carton. "I think well go the next weekend. Thats about, what, two weeks before you go, right?"

"I think so," I replied, placing the eggs in the cart.

I yawned again, following Eddie as we turned down another aisle, and rubbed the goose bumps away from my arms as we got even closer to the freezer section.

"Have you given anymore thought to that?" Eddie asked, and I frowned. I did not want to have this conversation. "I mean, have you even talked to your grandma? Maybe it might be best for you to really think about staying here."

"Eddie, Ive tried to talk to her," I insisted. "Andwell work things out. Eventually."

"Thats not what I meant. I know you guys can work things out, but maybe its not the best thing for you to actually live with her."

"I lived with her just fine before I came here," I pointed out.

Eddie frowned. It looked like he was trying to choose his next words carefully. I couldnt really blame him. I was becoming irritated with this conversation, and Im sure it showed.

"Okay," he said slowly. "Why dont you just try school here. If you dont like it..."


"Rory," he cut me off, sounding as irritated as I did, "if you try school here Ill put you on a plane tonight back to your grandmas and you can spend the next four weeks working things out with her! You... are finally starting to settle in here. Youre making friends. We are getting along, arent we?"

"Yes, but..."

"I dont want you to leave, and I think if youd just stop and think about a few things, youd figure out that you dont want to go, either."

I looked at Eddie, and then stared straight ahead as we walked towards the produce section. I didnt really know what to say. But I was surprised at how fast I started to consider his offer. I could go back home now. I could really say goodbye to my old life, without all of the anger and careless goodbyes, and then I could come back and....

But, it wouldnt work.

I needed to go home. Just thinking about not going back to what my life used to be made me feel sick. True, Id reached the point where I knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye to the new people in my life. But, I grudgingly thought, they were the ones making it that way. Its not like Id never see them again. Hell, I wouldnt be opposed to spending a whole summer in Arizona next year. But I needed to go back. I needed to go back to the way things had been before. I wished that they could understand that.

"I want to go home," I said simply. There was no beating around the bush. If I wanted to get my point across to Eddie, then I needed to be honest, and I knew it. "I cant just... not go back. I hated it when I first came here and thought Id never be able to, but then you promised, and..."

"Rory, Im not going to break our deal. Although, I am a little sorry I ever made it. I just want you to think..."

"Ive lived there my whole life," I cut him off. "My mom and me had a home there, and that cant just go away. I want to go home, okay?... But not yet. I mean, its not like... Eddie, Im supposed to be here for another four weeks... I dont want to have to think about leaving the whole time--alright? Please."

Eddies jaw twitched, and for a minute, I didnt think hed let this drop. That would have sucked, too. Last night had left me feeling emotionally vulnerable and completely exhausted. Having to think about how the summer was almost over was not something I wanted to put up with. I actually felt physically relieved when Eddies expression relaxed, he reached out to squeeze my shoulder, and he changed the subject.

"Lets go home and get these groceries put away and... do you want to go to lunch?"

I nodded.

"Yeah. Okay."


Things seemed tense with Eddie after the grocery store. But I think I was the only one who was feeling it. As we went home, put away the groceries, and then went out for tacos, Eddie was acting completely normal, as if wed never had the conversation about me going home. He even sat in the basement with me for a while, later that afternoon. It didnt seem like anything in the world was bothering him. So it was just me. I guess I felt that way because the conversation had seemed unfinished. It made me uneasy, and I had a feeling that it wasnt over.

But I decided not to think about it. Eddie obviously wasnt thinking about it. Besides, it wasnt that difficult to think of a topic to get my mind off of it. All I had to do was tell Eddie that I thought a weekend trip to the lake was a good idea. He said he was glad I thought so, and then went on to explain how Jase liked to go, but they hardly ever found the time. Then, Eddie got even more excited when I explained that other than a bumper boat and other amusement park rides, Id never actually been on a boat. That led to a conversation about how Id never been to the ocean, either, and as a result, Eddie began to plan a vacation for spring break right then and there. He even broke out pictures from the last time hed been to the beach with Jase and Luke.

In the pictures, they were all younger. A lot younger. Eddie had a dark beard hiding his face and Jases blond hair, which I was used to seeing short and neatly combed, was windblown and down to his ears. Luke looked different, too. He looked small and thin, lacking any of the muscle that he had now. He was at least a foot and a half shorter. But he still had those blond curls and blue eyes that demanded attention. His eyes were the first thing in the photograph that I seemed capable of focusing on. There was really only one noticeable difference that stuck with me when it came to these images of Luke. He wasnt smiling in any of them.

"That was right after he moved in with us," Eddie explained. "Jase and I already had the trip planned, and since Luke was going through a pretty hard time, we thought it might be good for him to get away, so we all went."

I turned the page and came face to face with Luke throwing one of the dirtiest looks over his shoulder that Id ever seen. I would have laughed if it didnt look so scary, and maybe a little beautiful, too. The sea and the incoming storm that made up the photographs background seemed to match his mood perfectly.

"Whoa," I remarked, and Eddie leaned towards me on the sofa to get a better look.

"Yeah, he wasnt a very happy kid back then. . . Have you and Luke talked about why hes living with us?"

"I know his mom died," I replied quietly, still staring at the picture. "If thats what you mean."

"Do you guys talk about that?" Eddie asked curiously.

"Sometimes," I admitted. "I think we can understand each other..." I suddenly stopped and looked at Eddie. "Hey, Eddie, whys his dad in jail?"

"He told you that, too?" Eddie asked, seemingly surprised.

I nodded. "He wouldnt say why."

Eddie looked thoughtful for a moment, and a little torn.

"Do you want me to tell you?" Eddie finally said. "Or would you like to try asking Luke?"

I sighed. Something told me that Eddie really would tell me if I asked him to, but when I took a minute to think about it, it seemed that hearing it from Eddie might be a betrayal of Lukes trust, and despite my curiosity, it wasnt a risk I was willing to take. I found myself smiling at Eddie momentarily before I returned to the photograph, grateful that hed given me an opportunity to do the right thing and be patient.

"Can I ask you something else about him then?" I asked.

"I guess so," he replied, regarding me curiously.

"Why does he live with you guys?" I asked. "I mean, I know Jase is his cousin, but didnt he have any other family? I mean, was it because hes gay?"

Eddie seemed to think about that for a minute.

"No. I dont think that had anything to do with it," he replied. "He does have family, Rory. His grandfather offered to take him in, but he didnt want Luke to have to live in a retirement community if it wasnt necessary. And Jases parents wanted to take him in, too. But that year Jases dad passed away and his mom was having a pretty hard time. Shes the one who asked us to take him on a temporary basis. It was only supposed to be until she was ready for Luke to move in with her, but by the time that happened, hed already settled in with us. We made it permanent when Luke told us thats what he wanted."

"Oh... so do you guys ever see Jases mom, or..."

"Usually we all go visit around Christmas," Eddie explained. "Lukes grandpa is living with her now. Theyre nice people. I think youd like them."

"But what about his dads side of the family?" I asked. "Does he see them?"

"No, not really. I know that for a while he kept in touch with his grandparents, but not anymore. Its his choice."

I simply nodded as I continued to flip through the photo album, and when I didnt say anything Eddie stood up and spoke again.

"I should probably call Jase and find out what hes doing for dinner. Im going upstairs, you want anything?"

"No thanks," I replied.

I wondered if Luke would mind me asking him about his family again. I hoped that hed be more comfortable talking about it with me now. Hell, Id wanted him with me when I opened my moms box before Id even thought of anyone else. I hoped that by now, Luke could feel as comfortable with me. Not that I expected it from him. If he didnt want to talk to me about it, Id try to understand that. Id just be disappointed.


When Aaron and I were together, Id spent way too much time thinking about him. At least, that was the impression that I was under. I was constantly wondering when I was going to see him, and Id worry about whether or not we were going to get into a stupid, stressful argument. Id think about how much I liked him, and how nice it was to discover the kind of intimacy that Id never had before with another guy--an attractive guy who seemed to like something about me. But in the end, the stress that I felt when I was with Aaron seemed to outweigh any pleasant feelings that Id developed for him.

Now that I was with Seth, it seemed that I thought about him just as often. When I knew I wasnt going to see him, like on Tuesday because he was working another double shift, Id become a little restless. But it wasnt a stressful feeling. Actually, I found that there was nothing stressful about thinking about Seth. I thought about the times Id already spent with him more than Id think about the next time Id see him; and remembering little things, like the way he walked close to me, or the way that hed let me initiate things between us physically before hed make any moves, or even the dimple in his left cheek when he smiled, made me want to see him even more. But the thing that I liked most about thinking about Seth, was knowing that he thought about me just as much; and I was aware of this because he seemed to make an effort to make me aware of it without actually saying it to me.

On Tuesday, Seth called me twice while he was at work. The first time was to ask if I was feeling better after the night before. The second time was just to say hi. And when I talked to Seth, we really talked. I was beginning to learn little details about him, like how he liked grape soda but didnt care for grape popsicles; or that when he was on the phone with me, little else could get his attention, if the way that I could hear his dad continuously calling for him in the background the second time he called me was any indication. And in a very short amount of time, I realized that I actually cared about all of these details. With Aaron, I was curious, mostly because I didnt understand him, and of course because he rarely ever talked to me about anything real. With Seth, I simply liked talking to him. He was easy to listen to, and he was easy to talk to. And when I wasnt around him, most of the time I wanted to be talking to him.

He surprised me on Tuesday night when he came over directly after he got off work. Before, hed mentioned that he wanted to go to bed early because he was working the early shift the following day. But, he stopped by because he wanted to see me. We sat on his tailgate for ten minutes just holding hands while we talked about our plans for the rest of the week. Seth was looking forward to the weekend because he didnt have to work at all, and I told him that Id probably spend the next few days with Eddie while he was still home from work. Seth asked me if I wanted to do something with him on Saturday, and I agreed before I kissed him and sent him home.

That was another thing about Seth: I found myself becoming disgustingly considerate. I didnt want him to leave. I wanted to go somewhere with him until midnight when my curfew got in the way. I had a feeling that if I asked him to, hed stay out with me, too. But he was tired. That was easy enough to see. I knew he had to work early, so I sent him home because I didnt want him to be tired in the morning.

But, I was rewarded for it on Wednesday when Seth surprised me again by coming over before he went to work--and, he brought breakfast. Not only for the two of us, but Eddie, too. And it was behavior like this that had me thinking about him all the time. It didnt hurt that both Eddie and Jase mentioned that they liked Seth. Id been completely unaware that I wanted their approval on the matter until I realized I already had it.


By the time Friday rolled around, I felt like Eddie and I had eaten in every worthwhile restaurant in a fifteen-mile radius. Wed played laser tag, hed shown me how to shoot a decent game of pool, I could finally park confidently, and we were both a little sunburned from spending so much time outside and in the pool. I wasnt really looking forward to him going back to work the following week. But at least he said I could go into work with him for a few days if I wanted to. And in the meantime, it was already beginning to look like the weekend would be interesting.

Around four oclock, Jase called the house and asked Eddie to come get him because his tire had blown out on the way home, and according to Jase, the donut he was supposed to replace it with was defective. According to Eddie, that meant that Jase wasnt capable of changing a tire, something he made me swear never to repeat to Jase. When Eddie left, I decided to wait back at the house. There was something Id been meaning to do, anyway.

Id been looking at my moms wish list every single night before I went to bed. The little book tended to bring me a sense of peace. But Id be lying if I said that I hadnt been avoiding her diary. I had been. But not because I didnt want to read it. I really did. It was how I wanted to read it, that was in question. Only the night before, Id discussed this very dilemma with Luke. The only thing I was certain of, was that I wanted to take my time with it. And as Luke simply put it, I could start at the beginning, just as my mom likely had when she wrote it, or I could skip straight to the end, where there could be answers about what had been going through my moms head when she decided not to tell me about Eddie before she passed away. On Friday afternoon, when I found myself left alone in the house, it was the beginning of the book that I was flipping to as I sat in the basement with the sound of the television in the background. Id thought about playing another of my moms CDs, but felt that it would be too distracting.

As I read, within two pages, it occurred to me that it was possible that when my mom had started writing her diary, shed never intended for me to see it. She wouldnt have written down all of her feelings--what had been going through her mind, knowing that she was going to die--if shed intended for me to read it. When Id been with her, Id been terrified, devastated. But my mom had been very clear with me. Shed accepted the fact. We were going to make the best of the time that she did have, and in the end, everything would work out okay. She was adamant in this belief when we first found out. But the pages in her diary told a different story.

Disbelief. My mom had been in utter disbelief over the entire situation. I learned that shed secretly gone to two other specialists in the same week, looking for different opinions. They both told her that the cancer was too advanced. Any treatment she could have sought likely would have made the rest of the time she did have a very difficult one. So, shed chosen to spend it the best she could, with me.

I wasnt sure how I felt about reading that. If there was even the remotest chance that she could have been with me longer, I would have wanted her to take it. But that seemed selfish if longer meant more pain for her. I thought of those last few months and shivered, knowing that Id never want her to go through that again.

By page five, I was simply reading my mothers thoughts. Shed made notes of what we did each day. I remembered a lot of it, and for at least four pages in a row, she didnt even mention that she was dying. In some places, she mentioned what she planned to do in a month or so, as if she had no doubt that shed be around then. As I read some of the pages, it was as if my mother didnt even know that she was going to die. That was probably because she wasnt obsessing over it. She was doing better than I had. In the first few weeks of knowing, all Id been able to do was obsess over it. She was definitely stronger than me, and knowing it seemed to give me some peace. I was happy for her, that she hadnt wasted most of her time worrying about what would ultimately happen.

By page ten, I felt a little overwhelmed. I wasnt reading anything particularly bothersome. It was just being in my moms head that I needed a break from. So I closed the diary, wanting to come up for air. I stood up, ready to take it back to my room and lock it as it had been before I opened it; but I hadnt even made it to my room before I felt strong arms close in on me from behind, pulling one of my arms back as another moved around my neck, trapping me in an obnoxiously constricting headlock.

"Guess what?" Lukes voice came excitedly from behind me, as I resisted his grip.

"Luke!" I objected.

"Guess!" he insisted.

"You have to attack people just to get them to talk to you?" I tried, and Luke laughed.

"Nope. Were going to the lake next weekend."

"Um... didnt we already know this?" I replied. "Wanna let go now?"

"Nope," he responded, but did anyway, only to tickle my ribs. I laughed, moving away from him, but not before I dropped my moms diary in the process.

Luke looked down at it as I turned to look at him, and frowned.

"Shit," he cursed as he moved to pick it up. "Sorry, Rory."

"Thats okay," I replied. "So whats with the good mood?"

"Shopping," Luke replied, smiling again. "Im gonna go get a new swimsuit. Wanna come?"

"Sure," I replied, watching as he lifted the diary and held it out for me. I hardly had my hand on it before several small envelopes fell from the pages.

"Shit. Sorry," Luke said again as he knelt down to gather those, too. "What are these?" he asked as he picked them up, and I knelt down to help.

"I dunno. Theres a lot of stuff like that hidden in the pages," I replied. I took one of the envelopes from Luke and opened it up to find a neatly folded piece of notebook paper that didnt have my moms handwriting on it. It had someone elses handwriting on it. It was the name signed at the bottom of the paper that caught my attention. It was Eddies.

I didnt need to read the whole thing to figure out that it was a letter from Eddie to my mother. I just couldnt tell when hed written it, because it wasnt dated.

"What is it?" Luke asked. Rather than answering him, I passed him the piece of paper and opened another envelope, to find a second letter from Eddie to my mother. I passed that one to Luke, too. I reached for a third envelope then, but stopped short of opening it when Luke spoke again. "These are love letters," he announced, and then quickly passed them back to me. "I cant read these."

"But why would Eddie write my mom love letters?" I asked stupidly, and Luke looked like he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes at me for a moment.

"Rory, its not like they were never a couple..."

"Yeah, but hes still gay and Eddie said that romantically..."

"Hes gay, but that doesnt mean that if he had a girlfriend, he wouldnt write her love letters."

"Im gay, and I dont write girls love letters," I said reasonably.

"Yeah? Well when was the last time that you dated one of your childhood best friends who happened to be a girl?" Luke remarked. "Why are you freaking out about this?"

"I dont know," I admitted. "Its just... weird. Did Eddie ever write Jase love letters?"

"I dont know," Luke replied, sounding like he didnt understand what that had to do with anything. "Look, Jase always said that Eddies a lot more romantic than he likes people to think. So... I dont think its that far-fetched to think hed write something like this to your mom. You know, if youre curious you could always read..."

"No," I said quickly. "Reading my moms diary is one thing, but if you havent noticed, Eddies still alive and I cant just read..."

"Okay," Luke cut me off.

"Its too private, and you even said that you couldnt..."

"Okay. I know." Luke flashed me a reassuring smile, and I let out a breath as I watched him neatly fold the letters back up and place them in their envelopes. "You know, you could ask Eddie about it."

"I know. I mean... I just need to think about it," I said. "You said you wanted to go get a swimsuit, right? Maybe Ill get one, too. When did you want to go?"

Luke frowned for a moment, looking annoyed over my subject change, but in the end, he decided not to comment.

"We can go in a few minutes," he replied. "Just let me take a shower first. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I replied as I took the envelopes from him and tucked them back into the diary. "Im good."


"Psst. Rory, let me in."

Luke was knocking on the dressing-room door, and I was positioned in front of the tall mirror, inspecting the black swimtrunks that Id just tried on. The only difference between this one and the last six, was that it was longer than I was used to, but hung lower on my hips. One needed to have an ass to wear these shorts, or theyd likely fall down. I had just enough of one. Luke had picked these shorts out for me. Actually, hed picked out everything that Id tried on. If it were just me shopping, I would have simply grabbed something in my size, paid for it, and gotten the hell out of there. But, according to Luke, you were supposed to take your time with clothes if you wanted them to make you look good, and shopping for them was supposed to be fun. I wasnt exactly having fun yet, but I had to admit that I liked the way the shorts looked. I opened the dressing room door, hoping that Luke would say he liked them too, so we could finally leave.

Luke had been busy changing, too, and as I moved back so he could fit in the small space with me, I noticed that he was currently wearing the same style shorts as me, only his were blue. I decided that the style looked better on him. That wasnt really saying much, though. I was under the impression that everything would look better on Luke.

"I like these," Luke announced, as he turned to face the mirror with me.

"Good. Lets get them and go."

"Wait, I have three more I want to try on," he insisted. "Plus, I saw a few more that would look good on you..."

"No, thats okay," I said quickly. "I mean, I like this one. Hey; why dont I pay for this, and then just meet you by the bookstore when youre done?"

"You want a book?"

"More like a drink," I admitted. "Were in the mall--and Seth is working."

"Ah. Seth," Luke replied, sounding amused.


"Nothing," he replied, regarding me in a curious way that made me blush. "Go ahead, Rory," he said, smiling as he reached for the door. "Ill meet you there."

"You sure?" I asked. "Im not ditching you or something, right?"

"Nah, its okay. Youve got a good enough reason," Luke insisted, reaching out to give my arm a squeeze. "And you might as well go see him now because we have to be home for dinner soon."

"Thanks, Luke... um, Ill see you in a few minutes then?"

"Yeah. Ill find you."

Id talked to Seth just after lunch, when hed called to ask if I wanted to go bowling again. Id already told Eddie that I planned to and he said I could stay out until one oclock again, when the place closed. But Seth wasnt supposed to meet me for that until around nine when he got off work. Showing up at his work definitely wouldnt be something that he expected. I sort of liked the idea of surprising him. At least, I liked the idea before I got there, and I was the one who got a surprise.

Sometimes I really hated that Aaron Keslin had the ability to look good from every angle. Currently, his back was to me, but Id spent enough time checking out that ass to know it anywhere, even under a pair of slightly baggy jeans. But currently, I wished that ass was anywhere but standing in front of Seths store. It didnt help that Aaron looked completely comfortable there, leaning on the counter as Seth brought him a drink while some girl attended to two other people--the real customers.

I just stood there, feeling altogether alert and completely horrified as I stood in front of the bookstore and watched Seth talk to Aaron. Yes, talking. Why was he talking to Aaron? He was supposed to be through with Aaron. Seths words, not mine. He was through. So, I would have liked for someone to explain to me why Seth was giving Aaron a drink and talking to him when in my opinion, he should have been dumping the beverage over Aarons pretty head and threatening bodily harm and a restraining order. I didnt like this.

And why was Aaron even there? Its not like there wasnt any other place for him to get a drink. Of course, as soon as I asked myself the question, I found myself choking on the answer. Aaron was there because of Seth. Aaron liked Seth. Hell, maybe Aaron had told me that for a reason. Maybe it was a warning. Maybe he was there because he still had every intention of getting Seth back. Im not sure why this surprised me. It really shouldnt have. I definitely didnt put it past Aaron. Its not like hed showed any sign of caring about anyones feelings in the past. Why should he consider the guy who I was thinking about all the time, and falling for at a disgustingly fast rate, to be off limits? Even if I told Aaron how I felt about this hed probably just laugh at me. After all, I was just a joke to him. Id be lying if I said that I wasnt threatened by this. And as a result, I did the same thing I always did when I felt threatened. I retreated.

I was halfway through the bookstore when the phone in my pocket started ringing. I answered it gruffly, without even bothering to look at the phone number.



I stopped in my tracks, feeling a little startled by the voice. Seth. I frowned, and prepared myself. I decided that he was calling to tell me that he couldnt go out tonight. And of course, in this conclusion I was jumping to, he was going to leave out the part where he was going out with Aaron instead.

"Hi," I forced myself to say, keeping my voice as normal as possible.

"What are you doing?" Seth asked.

"Um... nothing. Just sort of...Im not doing anything."

"Good. Then, can you please come back here? Hes gone."

Now that, I wasnt expecting.


"Im going on my break now," Seth said. "Ill wait for you here."

He hung up then, and I stood there for a long minute, feeling rather stupid before I let out a breath and headed back towards his store. He was waiting outside of it, just like he said hed be, with two beverages in hand. He handed me one as soon as I got there. I had no idea what to say to him. But I wished that hed take his hat off. I wanted to see his eyes better. Maybe theyd tell me something about what the hell had just happened.

"Can we go sit down?" he asked.

I nodded, and he led the way to the nearest table and sat down. I didnt.

"Look," I started.

"He was a paying customer," Seth cut me off. "Thats it."

"I thought the paying customers were the people who you were ignoring to talk to Aaron," I remarked.

"Okay...point taken," Seth responded, looking a little annoyed. "But he was still a paying customer. I didnt ask him to show up. Do we get to talk about this or are you just going to be angry?"

"I didnt say I was angry," I responded defensively. I didnt like this feeling I had. Frustration, anger, a little fear. Hated it. Couldnt stand it. I suddenly felt like I was talking to Aaron again. Which, Ill admit, was unfair to even think because Seth was being completely calm and willing to talk rationally.

"Im sorry, I didnt mean... Will you please sit down?" he asked.

I took a really long moment to think about whether or not I wanted to be seated, but in the end decided it was alright and sat down across from him.

"I thought you said you were finished with Aaron," I said.

"Would you like to know what happened?" Seth asked me.

"I... yeah," I admitted. Im not sure why I felt like a jerk about that.

"Okay," Seth responded simply, taking a sip of his soda.

"Okay? Thats it...?"

"Yeah," he replied, cracking a small smile, as if there was actually something to be amused about. "I was helping a customer, and Aaron showed up. Katie..." Seth pointed to the girl currently behind the counter, "that girl over there, went to help him because she knows I dont like to. Aaron kept saying that hed wait for me, and we had people around, so I went to help him. I didnt want to make a scene."

"Okay..." I said slowly. I guess that sounded reasonable.

"I got him his drink, and I didnt spit in it," Seth continued, and I actually managed a smile over that. "So I made him pay for it. He asked me when I got off work, and I told him I didnt know. He said he wanted to come over tonight, and I told him I already had plans."

"With me?" I asked tentatively.

"That was none of his business," Seth replied, and I felt his foot slide against mine beneath the table. "I think he figured it out on his own, though... Look, Rory, maybe Im not a complete ass to the guy, but theres nothing going on with me and Aaron, okay? I mean, youre not the only one who has a history with him, you know?"

I stared at Seth for a long moment, and then let out a breath, feeling more than a little stupid. I was a complete ass. I mean, Id been the one who ditched Seth to go talk to Aaron, with no complaints from Seth; and in all fairness, I really had no right to get upset with Seth for talking to Aaron, especially if he hadnt even been expecting him. But if I thought about it, it wasnt really Seth being interested in Aaron that I was worried about. I found myself wondering if I should tell Seth what Aaron had told me.

"Do you talk to him a lot?" I found myself asking instead.

"Like I told you before, only when he shows up. I try to be nice to him, but I do let him know that we cant be friends. Not like we used to be."

Something about that last sentence caught my attention.

"Aaron always said you were his friend. Like, all the time."

"We were friends," Seth replied, shrugging.

"Even after you guys broke up?"

He nodded. "Im not very good at just shutting people out of my life when they make mistakes."

"Doesnt Aaron make a lot of mistakes?"

Seth smiled at that. "Its part of the reason why we cant be friends. But, its not really the mistakes that get to me when it comes to Aaron. Its the lies, you know? It kind of got to the point where I cant trust anything that comes out of his mouth and its pretty much impossible to be friends with someone like that. But that still doesnt mean that Im going to make him an enemy. Im just not going to hang out with him."

I regarded him curiously for a moment.

"Do you even have any enemies, Seth?"

His smile broadened at that.

"For a while there I thought you," he remarked. "But, Ive reconsidered."

I returned his smile for a brief moment, and then let out a breath, regarding him more seriously.

"Im sorry."

Seth narrowed his eyes on me. "What for?"

"For thinking... whatever I was thinking when I saw you with Aaron," I replied. "It was stupid."

Seth seemed curious for a moment. Maybe even borderline suspicious as he looked at me as if waiting for more of an explanation, but then the look faded and he shrugged.

"Okay... so are we good? I kinda need to go back to work but I dont want to if youre upset."

"Will I still see you tonight?" I asked.

"Ill call you when Im on my way," he offered.

"Okay," I replied, giving him a small smile. "Then were good."

Seth looked satisfied with that, but didnt make any move to leave. Instead, he sipped his drink and leaned forward on his elbows.

"Before I go back to work... what are you doing here?" he asked.

"Oh, Luke wanted to go shopping, and since we were here, I wanted to see you. Say hi. That kind of thing--thats okay, right?"

Seth had the nerve to look like he needed to think about that, but then he grinned, and nodded.

"So what did you get?" he asked, nodding towards my bag.

I paused for a second.

"Didnt you say you needed to get back to work?" I asked.

He glanced back towards his store. He saw what I saw, that there werent any customers.

"Yeah, but I have a second."

I shrugged and put the bag on the table.

"Its just a swimsuit; next weekend were going on vacation to the lake. Its just a short trip."

Seth looked almost disappointed for a minute.

"How short?" he asked.

"Just the weekend," I replied, smiling. "I think well be back by Sunday night." I hadnt told him any of this yet, mostly because while I didnt mind the idea of going on a little vacation, I wanted to spend as much time with Seth as possible, too.

"Ill probably be working, anyway," he decided. "But Im working mostly half days this week. If youre not busy..."

"Im not," I replied. "Eddie will be working and Ill have way too much time on my hands."

Seth just smiled. I had a feeling that Id be seeing a lot of him this week. I didnt really mind.

"So is Luke here with you now?" he suddenly asked.

"Hes still shopping. He said hed meet me here," I explained.

"Okay; um, Im sorry, about Aaron."

"Thats alright. Im sorry I freaked out. He just... I dont trust him, you know? I wasnt expecting to see him here. Look, you can go back to work, Seth. Im gonna find Luke. We should get home soon, anyway. Ill see you tonight?"


I watched him walk all the way back to his store, deciding that his butt looked much better in front of it than Aarons. I waved to him before I collected my things and left, wondering where Luke was. I decided to just use my cell phone to call him and find out. He was still in the store, and I told him that Id just meet him there.

Id just come out of the lower level of the bookstore when someone stepped directly in front of me, and as I met Aarons eyes, I did my very best not to cuss. There were way too many little kids around.

"Hi, Rory."

"Aaron," I said shortly, and then stepped around him to continue on my way. He stepped into pace next to me, walking quietly as I tried to pretend he wasnt there. It was a task easier said than done. "What do you want?" I finally asked.

"I wanted to see if you were alright," he replied. I outright laughed. "I feel bad about the other day," he continued, ignoring my general reaction to him. "Look, I know youre mad at me, but maybe we..."

"Whatever it is, no," I cut him off. "We cant."

"No? Just like that?"

"Just like that?" I repeated, incredulous. "No, not just like that. Youve had plenty of time to earn no."

"You dont even know what I was going to say."

"It doesnt matter what you were going to say," I insisted. "I think weve established that you dont care about anyone or anything, and that Im... what was that? Oh yeah, too much of a baby to put up with it. So, no. Whatever it is--no."

Aaron smirked, and I tried to ignore how smug he looked. I hated that I couldnt even insult him and get a proper reaction.

"So were you here to see Seth?" he asked easily, and I abruptly stopped to face him. I had the sudden urge to rip that smug smile right off his face and tell him to stay the hell away from Seth. But it suddenly occurred to me that that was probably exactly what Aaron wanted. He was looking for a reaction from me.

"Its none of your business," I replied, deciding to use Seths words. And I found that it had the desired effect. Aaron frowned.

"Did it ever occur to you why I knew that it wouldnt work between us, Rory?" Aaron suddenly asked.

And I regarded him appropriately, in a way that suggested his question was completely ridiculous.

"I was a joke to you. I get it. And it didnt work because youre...you." I responded. I was at a complete loss when it came to knowing how to respond to him.

"I told you, I did like you, just..."

"I get it," I cut him off, entirely sick of hearing that I wasnt good enough for him. "And it doesnt matter anymore."

"Youre leaving," he continued, anyway. "Even if we would have stayed together, you would have left, anyway. You said it all the time. Do you really think I would have wanted to get really involved with something like that?"

"Lucky for me," I responded bitterly. "Im starting to think what happened was a good thing, Aaron. Better than wasting my whole summer with you."

He was doing that annoying, smirking thing again. I hated that.

"You still dont get it, do you? You might be having a good time with Seth now, but youre still leaving. Im not going anywhere. Hell figure that out."

Seth? This was about Seth? Well, of course it was fucking about Seth. Everything was about Seth, wasnt it? And unfortunately, what Aaron was saying was getting to me. He was practically screaming in my face that as soon as I was gone hed be interested in getting Seth back, and for a moment, I considered staying just to spite him.

"The only thing Seth has figured out is that he doesnt want to be with a liar," I retorted. "Maybe you should stop thinking about what Im doing thats keeping him from taking you back, and start thinking about what youre doing." Not that I wanted Aaron to do anything to change Seths mind about him. "And if you actually cared about him," I added, "youd figure out that he deserves better than you."

"And youre better than me?" Aaron asked, suddenly looking entirely insulted. I found that amusing.

"Of course hes better than you." I spun around when I heard Lukes voice, and found him walking up behind me. I had almost forgotten that I was supposed to meet him at the store. I guess hed gotten tired of waiting for me. He smiled at me. "Ready to go, Rory?" he asked, and then looked at Aaron. "You know, the maintenance here is horrible. Everywhere you look--trash."

"Fuck you, Luke!" Aaron retorted.

Luke smirked. "Sure, as long as youre not the one offering." I smiled at that, and Luke threw an arm over my shoulders. "Are we going?" he asked.

"Yeah," I replied. "Were going."


I sat at the kitchen table across from Luke, as we both stared down at our TV dinners. Im not sure if either of us knew whether or not to be disgusted or amused by the artificial meat and salty gravy in front of us. And the food itself wasnt the only thing we didnt know how to respond to. It was also the way that Jase had called us up for dinner, presented us with TV dinners, a set table with two candles, and a freshly baked pie for desert--which I was ready to skip right to--before Eddie appeared and they announced that they were going on a date.

"What do you think theyre doing?" I asked Luke as I pushed my watery potato spuds around my plate.

"Eating something way better than this," Luke replied, pushing his plate away. "Wanna order a pizza and go watch a movie?"

"Please," I responded, and Luke grinned at me as we sat up, blew out the candles and left the table. But not before Luke placed both plates on the floor for Chey, who didnt seem very picky about her meals.

Luke had the pizza ordered before we were even downstairs, and then we were stretched out on opposite ends of the basement sofa and not paying much attention to the beginning credits of the video Luke had chosen.

"When are you going out?" he asked.

"Seth doesnt get off until nine. Were going bowling again if you wanna come."

"Nah. Thats okay. Im going to some party with Rick and Brian, and then I have to meet Dave later."

"Oh... is he still staying over this weekend?"

"Yeah, hell be here tonight. But he has to have dinner with his relatives first. Its the only way his mom would let him come over."

"So whats so bad about these relatives of his?"

"Nothing really," Luke replied, shrugging. "I think its mostly his aunt that bugs him. She still treats him like a little kid. Every time she comes to visit she tries to tell him he has a seven thirty bedtime, and once she even came into his room with towels and bubble bath telling him it was bath time."

I laughed. "Seriously?"

"I think shes got a few screws loose. But, he can deal with having dinner with her before he comes over here."

"Oh. Cool." I turned my attention to the movie for a few minutes, but didnt really pay attention to it as I glanced towards Luke every few moments, curiosity over Luke surfacing for the second time that week. "Do you like Daves family?" I asked.

"I dont really know them... I mean, his parents are really cool. I like his mom a lot."

"Yeah. She seemed nice... Whats his dad like?"

"Hes cool, too. He travels a lot for work, so I dont see much of him, but hes a nice guy."

"Oh... I think Seths family is pretty nice. I mean... normal."

Luke turned his attention from the television and focused on me.


"Yeah, I mean they have their problems, but..."

"You mean Seth doesnt have two dads?" his tone was somewhat defensive.

"Do you consider Jase and Eddie, like... your parents?" I responded.

Luke smiled, and then shrugged.

"Yeah, I guess so. I mean, were a family. I dont call either of them dad--but theyre the closest thing Ive got, you know?... Whats with the questions?"

"Nothing," I said quickly. "I mean, well, you guys are a family..."

"Youre part of the family too, dont you think?" Luke cut me off, and I had to think about that. I wasnt exactly trying to talk about me now.

"I guess... maybe a little," I admitted. Luke raised an eyebrow at that in a manner that suggested that Id said the wrong thing. "Its just... my mom has always been my family, you know? And my grandma; and I just met you guys."

"Were not trying to replace your mom, but..."

"I know youre not," I said quickly. Thats not what I meant. I guess with you guys... I mean, shit. This is coming out wrong. I know Eddies my dad, okay? And you and Jase are great; and youve made me feel..."

"Like part of a family?"

"Yeah," I admitted. "But... I mean, did you consider Jase and Eddie family right away after your mom died?"

"Jase was family... but I think I know what youre saying," Luke replied.

I sighed.

"Good. Look... Im not trying to talk about me. I think... well, I was wondering...."



"Whats with you?" he asked, laughing.

"Sorry," I replied, cracking a small smile. "I was wondering about your parents. I mean, I know you dont like to talk about it, so..."

"What did you want to know?"

"Do you miss them?"

Luke looked at me like he thought that was a funny question.

"I miss my mom a lot--when you opened your birthday present, I got totally jealous, you know."


"Im glad you shared that with me though," he insisted. "Its just, it got me thinking. You knew it was gonna happen when your mom died, right? I mean, you guys had time. She had time to put those things together for you. With my mom... I didnt even get to say goodbye."

I frowned, studying Luke for a long moment before I sat up on the sofa and found myself moving closer to him.

"Sometimes, I wish I wouldnt have known," I admitted.


I nodded. "Yeah. I mean, yeah... there was warning, and I had time to say goodbye to her, but it was always just... there. Sometimes, it was all I ever thought about and now... I think if I wouldnt have known, I could remember all of that time I spent with her and... be a little happier about it. But I guess it hurts the same, doesnt it? No matter how it happened?"

Luke nodded, seeming lost in his own thoughts before he straightened and looked at me again.

"Missing my mom isnt going to go away. I think Ill always miss her," he said.

I nodded, knowing that I understood the feeling. Missing my mom wasnt going to go away. It never would. It didnt matter whether or not Id known what to expect. Loss was loss, and I doubted that it was any different for Luke when it came to his mom.

"What about your dad?" I asked, and once again, regretted mentioning Lukes father, because his eyes narrowed and he regarded me almost accusingly.

"Sorry; never mind, okay?"

Luke sighed, and his expression softened. "I dont like to think about my dad, Rory."


"He didnt want me," Luke said quietly.


"He didnt want me," Luke repeated, a little louder, as if I hadnt heard him. He brought his knees up to his chest and met my eyes.

"My dad left, just before my mom died."

"To jail?" I asked cautiously.

"No, this was before," Luke responded, shaking his head. "My parents fought a lot. I mean... I dont remember what it was about, but I remember the yelling. My dad would get really loud, and hed walk around the house, and things would get broken. But I remember that before he left, every time he was yelling hed tell my mom it was her fault. Like, she was the reason why he got angry. So when he did leave--I thought it was her fault, too."

"But Luke..."

"I blamed her," Luke continued. "Me and my dad had never exactly been close, but back then I had a complex; like, I felt like I needed his approval with everything, you know? And, men werent supposed to leave their families. Thats what my mom was always telling me. I blamed it on her; I needed it to be someones fault. But, then he came back. It was only for a week, and they were fighting all the time again. My dad was going to leave for a second time and I... I told him I wanted to go with him. I made my mom cry." Luke paused to wipe the back of his hand over his eyes, looking fairly upset with himself. "Anyway, my dad was really angry, and he wouldnt even listen to me, he just said I couldnt go. So, when he started leaving, I followed him out to the car. My mom was trying to get me to back in the house, but I wouldnt listen... I tried to get in the car. My dad told me to get out. I didnt, so, he dragged me out."

"He hurt you?" I asked incredulously.

"Nah. Just a scraped knee," Luke responded, but didnt look at all okay about it. "Bruised pride, more than anything else. I started crying right there in the street, and he told me that he didnt want some kid who cried like a girl hanging around, anyway."

"Im sorry," I said, feeling a little sick to the stomach. I couldnt even imagine having someone like that in my life.

"Thats okay. It wasnt as bad as what happened at my moms funeral. It was the last time I saw my dad. He showed up there. Two days before, Id found out that I was going to stay with Jase for a while, but I didnt want to. When I saw my dad, I sort of thought..."

"He was there for you?" I asked quietly, when Luke didnt continue. He nodded.

"Yeah, but he hardly even looked at me through the whole thing. I remember I tried to stand by him, but he wouldnt talk to me. And then later, when I asked him if I was going to go back home with him, he told me that he wished Id been in that car with my mom."

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

Luke jumped at my little outburst; but then, to my surprise, he was actually flashing a wan smile in my direction.

"I dont think he meant it," Luke said quietly. "Later on, I found out that hed had a problem with drugs. He spent the first year after I was born in jail for it, and he ended up back there for distributing and assaulting a police officer about a month after my mom died. I wrote him a letter about two years ago, when my aunt said she thought he was doing better, but he never wrote back."

"Did you want him to?"

"At the time, yeah," Luke admitted. "But, now it doesnt really matter, you know? Hes supposed to get out next year, but I dont really want to see him. He doesnt want me anymore, anyway, and... I have another family now."

"But if he tried to see you..."

"Id see him," Luke admitted. "But it would be on my terms. Im, um... angry with him, for a lot of things. Ive had a lot of time to talk to Jase about it, you know? And, it might not make sense, but as much as I wanted him to want me back then... I dont think its right to say that I really miss him now."

I nodded, but I didnt believe Luke for a second. He looked too hurt to mean what he was saying. Maybe he didnt want to miss his dad, but some part of him still had to. And that annoyed me. As far as I was concerned, Lukes dad didnt deserve to be missed if he could say those things to his own son.


It was decided. I liked Angela. I really liked her when she was in a bad mood. The girl was a trip. And cuddly. It took me about a minute to stop feeling uncomfortable about it when she sat on the crescent-shaped bench with me, leaned into my side, and full on wrapped her arms around me as her head lay comfortably on my shoulder. Shed done this because her previous pillow, Seth, had gotten up to bowl with Meg. It was just the four of us tonight.

"I should just bite her or something," Angela was saying. I wasnt exactly sure what was going on with her, just that she was upset with Mary, the girl whod been with us last week, for something regarding a dress. I think, the very one that Angela was wearing. I didnt know, or really care what it was about. But it sure was fun listening to her. "She could have bought it last weekend. I asked her if she was going to, but she said no--and she saw me get it! Like, I asked her if it was okay and she said it was. Isnt that just so... really fucked up?"

Angela looked up at me and I forced myself to nod.

"Yeah, thats... bad," I offered.

"She can be such a bitch," Angela said, sighing. "She just had to go back and get it. It doesnt even look good on her. There was another one that did, but she had to get the one I got because... shes stupid."

"She sounds stupid," I replied, and Angela looked satisfied with that.

"She is! God, do you know how embarrassed I was? We were walking around all day matching, and everyone thought we did it on purpose. That kind of thing is not cute."

"It doesnt matter, because you looked better than her, anyway," Seth insisted as he slid in on the other side of Angela and literally pried her arms off of me. "Now will you go bowl? Megs getting tired of your whining."

"Meg is not getting tired of me," Angela responded.

"Im getting tired of you!" Meg called.

"Oh shut up," Angela replied. "Youre just cranky because Rick didnt want to come with us tonight." Angela stuck her tongue out at Seth as she got up to join Meg, who really didnt look at all happy with her; and I indifferently turned my attention away from them to focus on Seth as he slid closer to me, and I smiled when he slid his arms around me, the same way Angelas had been. Only, his were much more comfortable. I leaned into him, relaxing as his chin came to rest against the side of my face.

"Sorry about her," he said quietly. "Shes having a bad day."

"Yeah. I have no idea whats going on with that."

"Angela and Mary both volunteer at the library and today they both showed up in the same clothes; Angela thinks...." Seth paused when I tilted my head back, raising my brow, and he smiled. "You dont care."

"I dont care," I admitted, smiling as I momentarily closed my eyes and enjoyed the way his fingers brushed over my forehead before moving back into my hair. Hed been oddly affectionate tonight. Ever since hed picked me up, actually. I was used to him waiting for me to make the moves, but I had to admit that I liked this. I even found myself comfortable when he held my hand in public, or hugged me for a good three minutes in the parking lot before we entered the building as Angela and Meg went to talk to another group; and I definitely liked the way that his breath was hitting my ear now. I felt completely relaxed with him, and quite frankly, I would have been just fine with sitting just like that for the rest of the night. But I couldnt help but wonder if all of this clingy affection on his part had something to do with what had happened at the mall, when I saw Aaron talking to him. Hed already apologized for it twice since hed picked me up, but hadnt mentioned it since I told him that we should just forget about it.

"Do you wanna bowl some more?" Seth asked, and I shook my head and nuzzled closer to him when I realized that my face was against his neck. He smelled good. I kissed him, just above his collar bone and as he moved his arms more tightly around me I opened my mouth, trapping the skin on his neck between my teeth until he shivered and turned his head so I could place another kiss over his mouth.

"Are you okay with this?" he asked quietly, and I pulled back to look at him.

"Okay with what?"

"Its kinda crowded in here," he pointed out, and I shrugged. I guess it was crowded. There werent as many people as there had been the week before, but the bowling definitely qualified as busy. And, I was in the middle of it, hugging and kissing another guy like it was nothing. Id be lying if I said that it wasnt a little scary. It definitely made me feel self-conscious when I actually took the time to look around at other people who might or might not have been looking at me. But I found that looking at Seth simply kept my mind of it, and for the most part, I did feel comfortable.

"Im good," I replied. "You?"

Seth simply smiled, and leaned into me again as I slid my hand against his so that our fingers could lace together, my eyes drifting to his watch. It appeared that it was way too late, way too soon. Hed picked me up first, and then wed gone to get Angela and Meg; so we hadnt reached the bowling alley until ten, and now it was already past midnight. It would be time to go home now, and that didnt exactly leave much time to be alone with Seth.

"You dont work tomorrow, right?" I asked.



"Nope," he said, laughing.

"Ill come over," I announced.



On Saturday morning--closer to Saturday afternoon, actually--I silently made my way through the basement living room where Luke was passed out on the floor while Dave was on the sofa, tangled in a pile of blankets. Theyd been wired on caffeine and sugar when I got in the night before, and I was half tempted to wake them just to get even for the way that I hadnt been able to sleep last night with all of their bullshitting. But I decided against it. I was on a mission, anyway.

I moved up the stairs slowly, flipping through eight white envelopes, every last one that Id found tucked into my moms diary. Id been up for the last two hours, thinking about these letters and why Id been so shocked to find them in my moms diary, and surprised that they ever even existed. And as I read a few more pages of my mothers thoughts that morning, Id come to two conclusions.

First, was that I was surprised my mom had left them for me because love letters were supposed to be personal. Maybe she was getting as personal as she possibly could by leaving me her diary, but its not like she was around to keep her private thoughts and feelings private anymore. Eddie was still around, though, and it didnt seem at all like my mom to leave me those letters, especially if it invaded Eddies privacy. But as I read more of her diary, I realized that she probably hadnt intended to leave me the letters at all. In fact, I doubted that shed known that shed leave me the diary before shed made the decision to. Shed been writing it for her. Shed packed it full of thoughts and feelings as shed tried to make sense of them, and things that meant something to her. Like those letters.

Second, I was surprised that the letters ever existed in the first place because while I could live with the fact that Eddie had obviously become physical with my mom, I didnt want to think about him being romantic with her. That would mean feelings. Romantic-like feelings. And even Eddie had said that hed been unable to find a romantic interest in her because he liked guys, obviously--although, that still hadnt stopped him from developing a physical interest. In my mom.

And, Eww.

It seriously hurt my head to even think about this. This was because I got grossed out. And, because I got a little angry. Angry, because I felt like Eddie had no business writing my mom love letters when he knew how she felt about him, and he knew that hed never be able to return those feelings.

It made me angry, and Id come to understand that. But Id also come to understand that how I felt about finding the letters had nothing to do with what I needed to do with them. The bottom line was, they werent mine.

I found Eddie in the kitchen. Jase was there, too. He was frying up something while Eddie stood to his left, slicing apples. Eddie saw me first.

"Good morning, Rory. Hungry?" Eddie asked.

Well, wasnt he chipper.

"No," I replied.

"Are you sure?" Jase asked me. "You might want to grab something before Luke and Dave wake up and decide to eat us out of house and home."

"No thanks," I replied. I was still focused on Eddie, and he noticed. I watched him put the knife he was using down as his eyes drifted to the envelopes in my hands.

"Is everything okay Rory?" Eddie asked.

"Its fine," I replied, and then held out the letters. "These are yours. I didnt read them."

Jase stopped what he was doing to watch Eddie wipe his hands before taking the envelopes from me; and then before either of them could ask anymore questions, I walked away. I didnt exactly want to explain that I happened to find private love letters from Eddie to my mother, especially in front of Jase. Eddie could figure out what they were on his own. Although, as I made my escape, I wondered if it was appropriate to give Eddie something like that in front of Jase. Honestly, I wasnt really sure. I just knew that all of it made me a little uncomfortable. Of course, I knew well enough that just because I was attempting to walk away from the situation, didnt mean that I was going to get away.

I hadnt even reached the stairs before Eddie caught up to me.

"Rory, wait a sec!"

I turned to face him, not surprised to find that hed already opened one of the envelopes.

"I said I didnt read them," I spoke quickly. "I mean, I opened two, just to see what they were because they were in my moms diary. And, I showed them to Luke. Hes the one who figured out what they were--but he didnt read them, either."

"Your mom gave these to you?" Eddie asked curiously.

"They were in her diary," I said again. "I dont think she meant to. Theyre yours, so... you can just, do what you want with them."

Eddie took a step towards me, and to my surprise, held the stack out in my direction.

"How about I just give them back to you?" Eddie asked. "I dont mind if you read these, Rory."


"I really dont," he insisted.

Im not really sure what it was about that that I happened to find offensive, but obviously, it was something.

"You dont mind?" I demanded. "Dont those mean anything to you?"

Eddies eyes narrowed, his features showing definite signs of confusion.

"Of course they mean something. Im surprised your mom even kept them. I was fifteen when I wrote these, Rory. I just thought you might want to look..."

"Is this because of Jase?" I cut him off. "You dont want them because of Jase?"

"What are you talking about?" Eddie clearly didnt understand. Jase seemed to, though, as he appeared behind Eddie.

"No," Jase said simply. "Rory, Eddie and I have talked about your mom. I know how he felt about her, and I know how he feels about me. I never met her, but your mom sounds like she was a great lady. Im definitely okay if Eddie cared about her."

I found myself frowning as I turned back to Eddie, not willing to comment on Jases words.

"Why did you write those to her?" I demanded. "You led her on. You let her think she had a chance..."

To my surprise, Eddie nodded.

"These," he replied, holding up the envelopes, "were responses to letters that your mom used to leave in my locker. But yes--for a while, I did lead her on. And, I apologized to your mother for that a long time ago."

"When you dumped her."

"I didnt dump her," Eddie responded carefully. "But, I did end a relationship that I couldnt have. It wouldnt have been fair to me, or Gina--you understand that, dont you?"

Of course I understood that. But at the moment, it didnt exactly seem fair to me.

"Well you had it long enough to get her pregnant," I retorted. "You just didnt stick around long enough to figure it out!"

"Gina didnt stick around!" Eddie suddenly blurted. The moment he did, I could tell he regretted it. Jase was simply frowning at us, and I was frozen in place as reality crept back up on me. Eddie was right. He was never given the opportunity to stick around. "Rory, Im sorry..."

"Never mind," I said quickly, suddenly feeling very embarrassed with myself.

"No, not never mind," Eddie suddenly said, just as I started to turn towards the stairs. "We need to talk about this. Come on. Lets go sit down."

I frowned, and was left to look helplessly at Jase as Eddie turned and silently headed for the living room. Somehow, I doubted that hed just asked me if I wanted to talk. I sighed as Jase moved towards me and placed a hand on my shoulder, giving me a nudge in Eddies direction.

"Go talk to him," Jase insisted, giving me a small smile. "Then, you both eat."

I inwardly groaned and headed into the living room, where I found Eddie on the sofa, his thumb brushing over the stack of envelopes in his hands.

"Im sorry," I said hastily, as I plopped down into an armchair across from him. "I didnt get much sleep last night, and..."

"Are you angry that I wasnt there when you were growing up?" Eddie cut me off, and I stopped talking. He wasnt supposed to just get straight to the point like that. It was way too early.

"I was fine with my mom," I responded. "We were..."

"Fine without me," Eddie said, standing up to move around the table and take a seat in the chair next to me. "I know. Youve done a fine job of letting me know that. Your mom was enough. You didnt need me because you had her. And you know what? I believe you. Your mom was a wonderful woman, and while she was around, I have no doubt that she gave you everything you could have needed. But, thats not what Im asking. Are you upset that I wasnt around when you were younger?"

I swallowed, suddenly having a hard time meeting his eyes.

"I dont want to be mad at her," I said quietly. "And I shouldnt be now. She made a mistake, but..."

"First of all, there is no one saying that you should be mad at her. But if you were mad at someone--like maybe me, or even your mom--I dont think theres anything wrong with that."

"Because youre mad at her?"

"Damn straight Im mad," Eddie replied, and his words actually made me jump. "Im mad at me, too, for not looking for her, for not keeping in touch, for a lot of things. But... I do believe Gina tried to make things right, and even if its late, I can try, too--and I can forgive."

I shook my head. "It doesnt seem fair. I didnt know anything, and then I came here, and there was you--and she was in love with you and I never even knew it. If things were different..."

"I might have been there with you and your mom, I know. But, thats not how things happened. We both have to live with that, Rory. Youre right. Its not fair. Theres no fixing what happened, theres no going back for the last sixteen years. But, were both here now, and no matter what you might think about that, I want to be here, and I will be, no matter where you are or what you decide to do with the next sixteen years of your life. I guess, what I need to know is, are you okay with that?"

I let out a breath and held my head in my hands, not sure whether or not I was actually okay at the moment. I couldnt be angry with Eddie. I couldnt be upset with my mom, and even if I was--or had been--I needed to forgive her and let go. I wasnt really sure where that left me at this point.

"Im still not ready to call you Dad."

Eddie smiled at that. "Okay. But maybe someday you will be," he said, and I met his eyes, not really sure how to respond. I didnt have to. "And, if you ever are, its fine by me."