NOTICE: This story contains sexually explicit material involving members of the same sex.  If this offends you, or if, for some reason, it is not legal for you to read this, then please leave.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is completely intentional.

Comments and criticisms are very much appreciated.  Please email me with any thoughts, rants or praises.  Flames will be ignored, of course, but most emails will gain a response.



Everything's Eventual

by R.H. Lee

Chapter 4:

The New School

    At five-thirty the next morning, Ryan was ripped from sleep by the annoying tones of his alarm clock.  He scrubbed sleep from his eyes and slapped the snooze button, silencing the head splitting noise.  This was not going to be one of those mornings where he came instantly awake, loving the morning and eager to get the day rolling.  No, it wasn't one of those mornings at all.  Ryan was not a morning person in any way, and he certainly detested his alarm clock for waking him on this particular morning.

    Over the course of the last week, he had made six new friends.  This was both strange and wonderful to him, because almost his entire life, he'd been without friends.  Another fact that both shocked and thrilled him was that all of these friends knew that he was gay, and they didn't really care one way or the other.  The fact that each of them had an alternate sexuality helped this along, but Ryan thought that with some of them, it wouldn't have mattered to them even if they were straight.

    During the week, Ryan had been excited to start school in Springfield.  He'd have one advantage that he'd never known before.  This time, he'd go to the new school with friends that he'd made before he got there.  That was a wonderful feeling, but now it was the first day of school, and Ryan was a nervous wreck. 

    All of the usual things that new kids feel and think were bothering Ryan as he stepped into the shower.  What if no one liked him? What if he did something stupid? He wouldn't know anything about any of them, and they'd all been together forever.  He thought about all of this the entire time he was in there.

    While getting dressed, he tried very hard to think of the fact that he'd have at least one of his new friends in almost every class of the day.  He was sure that they wouldn't just pretend that they didn't know him or anything, but he still wasn't happy about going to school.  He'd never fit in before, so he didn't expect to fit in here.

    He supposed that if it turned out to be just like San Dimas, he could sit in the front of the class room where no one ever wanted to sit.  At lunch, he'd find a quiet place to eat his meal in solitude, not even trying to gain acceptance at any of the cafeteria tables.  He'd make it through each day, talking to almost no one, answering only when he was called on and volunteering nothing.

    Downstairs, Sheila was in the kitchen, preparing breakfast.  Scott came down just a minute after Ryan, and the two boys sat at the kitchen table.  Back packs hung on the back of their chairs, and they were dressed in identical school uniforms.  This was also new for Ryan.  He'd grown up going to private schools, but this was the first one that required a school uniform.

    "You two look nice this morning," said Sheila as she put a plate stacked with pancakes on the table.

    "I feel like a mook!" said Scott, pulling at the collar of his shirt and messing with his tie.

    "Your tie isn't right," she said.  "After we eat, I'll help you with it."

    "Thanks," he said, pouring syrup on his pancakes.

    "Ryan, you're quiet this morning," said Sheila as she handed him the bottle of syrup.

    "Just thinking," he replied.  "I'm wondering if there aren't some private tutors that can come to the house, so I don't have to go to school."

    "Ryan," she said.  "Things will be different here, you'll see."

    "Maybe," he said.

    Frank came to the table as happy as ever.  He was a total morning person.  Ryan wondered how he could be so happy in the mornings.  He never did understand his father and Scott.  Both of them were completely happy with being awake up and getting started every morning.  Scott was usually excited in the morning.  Today, though, he wasn't so happy.

    "I see we're all up and ready for our first day of school and work," said Frank, taking the plate of pancakes offered by Sheila.

    "We're up," said Ryan.

    "And we're as ready as we ever will be," added Scott.

    Then things happened a bit faster.  Ryan cleared the table while Sheila helped Scott with his tie.  Frank went to the living room to read the paper before he had to leave for work.  He would have been leaving a bit early to drive the boys to school, but Rick had called the night before to tell Ryan that he'd take them to school, so Frank had more time.

    At six-thirty, Jeff was at the door.  Frank let him in and showed him to the kitchen where Ryan and Scott were still sitting at the table.  Jeff was happier to go to school than Ryan, but he wasn't completely happy.  He hadn't been ready to give up his free summer days.  He would have been content with a few more weeks of vacation.

    Before Ryan could figure out where the time had gone, Rick was there, and they were all on their way to school.  Jeff and Rick talked about other kids that they hadn't seen all summer, and Scott asked questions about classes that he had, but only Rick knew the answers to those questions.  Ryan was quiet, staring out the window at the passing houses.  His stomach wasn't as calm as he'd like, and the closer to school they got, the more upset his stomach became.

    When Rick pulled into the parking lot of Westlake, Ryan saw all of the other cars parked or circling to find a spot.  Most of those cars had more than two kids in them.  He didn't know why he was so surprised, it wasn't as if it would only be his friends going to school.  Still, the sight of all of them made him feel even worse.

    "We can't go to our homerooms until the first bell sounds," said Rick as they got out of the car.  "We'll sit in the quad. Nath's car is right over there, so he's already here. I don't see Robin's car, so she might have come with him."

    "She did," said Jeff.  "I talked to her last night, and she said that she was riding with Nath, and they were picking up Travis."

    "What about Nathan?" asked Ryan.  "Where's his car?"

    "Nathan only lives two blocks from here," replied Jeff.  "He doesn't drive to school."

    When they got inside the main building of the school, Travis found them.  He was all smiles and excitement which made Ryan wonder if there was ever a time in Travis's life that he wasn't happy about something.  They followed him across the quad to where Nath and Robin were sitting.  Moments later, Nathan joined them.  Scott found a couple of boys that he'd made friends with at orientation, and he quickly went to sit with them.

    "Jeff!" called a female voice from behind Ryan.  He turned around to see a girl with long dark hair.  She ran up to where they were standing, and Nathan groaned.

    "Hey, Amanda," said Jeff.  "How was your summer?"

    "Oh, it was great," she said.  "My parents took me to Florida for the summer. What did you do?"

    "Not a whole lot," replied Jeff.  "We hung out mostly."

    "Too bad I wasn't in town," she said.  "I could have come and hung out with all of you."

    "Well, we have to get going, Amanda," said Nathan quickly.  "We'll see you later."

    He grabbed Jeff's arm and all of them started to walk away.  Ryan wondered why Nathan was so eager to get away from the girl, and Jeff clearly wasn't comfortable talking to her.  Robin had looked at her like she was scum, and Nath glared at her with clear hatred.  He didn't want to ask questions, but he really wondered about that girl.

    "She finds you every time I turn around," said Nathan.

    "Just be glad she only lives in Springfield while school is in session," chuckled Jeff.  "If she actually lived here, then she'd be hounding us to hang out all the time."

    "She called my house twice this summer," said Robin.  "I don't know what she thought we'd talk about."

    The bell sounded and they all went in separate directions.  Ryan was happy that he knew exactly where his homeroom class was.  It was the only class he had in the main building.  He headed in that direction, and was not sure what to think when Amanda sat next to him in the class room.  He was putting his backpack under the desk when she started talking to him.

    "So you know Jeff?" she asked.  "I don't remember seeing you around last year. I guess you're new here. Did you get into trouble in public school? Maybe you moved here from somewhere else. Are you living in the dorms? I'm Amanda Placker. Who are you?"

    "I'm Ryan Houser," he replied.  "I moved here from California a little over a week ago, I've never been to a public school in my life, I've never been in trouble for anything that I can remember, and Jeff lives across the street from me."

    "Wow," she said, smiling at him.  "So you hang out with Jeff all the time? Did he tell you about me? What did he say? Oh, you have to tell me everything."

    "Well, until he said your name when he was talking to you in the quad, I had never heard of you," replied Ryan before he thought about how to answer.  "We hang out as often as we can."

    "Oh," she said.  The smile melted from her face and she turned to face the front of the classroom.

    For the next fifteen minutes, Ryan listened as the home room teacher talked about various events that would be taking place in the next few months.  He heard about the first dance of the year, which would be in three weeks.  She told them that they were looking for volunteers to help set up the gymnasium for the dance.  They needed people to help with props, man the refreshment tables, and clean up afterward.

    She talked about several different clubs that were available to join and Ryan paid close attention when she talked about the Music Club.  He wasn't interested in the Drama Club or any of the others that she talked about.  He only got interested again when she announced that try outs for the formal orchestra would be on Friday after school.

    He found his English class just in time.  He'd just walked into the classroom when the bell sounded.  He looked around for Jeff and found him sitting in the back of the classroom, talking to another boy.  The seat next to him was empty, so Ryan headed to the back of the room.  Jeff smiled at him when he sat down, and then he introduced the boy he was talking to.

    "Ryan, this is Miguel Rodriguez," said Jeff.  "He's really cool. Miguel, this is Ryan Houser."

    "Nice to meet you, Ryan," said Miguel.  He was a Latin boy with coal black hair and very dark eyes.  Ryan's eyes about popped out of their sockets when he saw him.  Miguel oozed sex appeal.

    Mrs. Pearson called for everyone to quiet down while she passed out text books and the syllabus.  She talked about two books that they would be reading in class and informed the students that buying both books was up to them, but they must have each book when they started on them.  She went over rules for her class and welcomed them back to school for the year.

    In Chemistry, Ryan sat with Robin and Nathaniel while another teacher handed out both text books and syllabuses and talked about rules and specific events that would be happening in his class.  He assigned lab groups, and Ryan was happy to learn that Robin was right about the lab groups.  Mr. Aldritch assigned every table as a lab group.  There were three students sitting at each table.

    Nathan met him at the door to his computer class.  The two walked in together while Nathan explained that he was only in this class for the credit.  He said that there weren't any real challenging computer classes for him to take at Westlake.  The teacher only handed out text books, had each student create a password on the computer in front of them and then let the students talk amongst themselves until the end of the period.

    "Jeff says that you have three computers," said Nathan while they were talking.

    "Yeah," replied Ryan.  "You'll have to come over and take a look at them. I don't know that they'll do what you would want them to, but for what I want, they're great."

    After World History, Ryan followed Rick, Nathanial and Robin to the cafeteria where they met Jeff, Nathan and Travis.  Again, Travis was very excited.  He waved to several people as they made their way to the serving line, and a lot of people came up to talk to him.  Jeff and Nathan were talking to each other, and Robin was talking to another girl that Ryan didn't know.

    "So how has your day been so far?" asked Rick when they were all seated at a table.

    "Fine," replied Ryan.  "It isn't like we've actually done anything but get text books and stuff."

    "Oh, don't worry, it'll get harder," laughed Robin.  "Tomorrow we'll dive right into assignments."

    "And don't be surprised if you have a pop quiz in a few classes tomorrow," said Jeff.

    "We'll most likely have one in Chemistry," said Nathaniel.  "Probably a chapter test on Friday."

    Course work was no problem for Ryan.  Tests didn't bother him, either.  The only thing that he'd been worried about were all of the other kids and how they would react to him.  So far, everyone seemed to be friendly, so he was starting to feel better.  It really did help having one or more of his friends in each class.

    The last class of the day was the only class that Ryan had without any of his friends.  He dreaded it as he walked into the gym.  He took a seat on the bleachers with the rest of the class and waited for his name to be called.  He walked up to the table set in front of the bleachers to get a lock for his gym locker and pick which of five activities he would be participating in for the first five weeks of the class.  He chose sports, because he had been told that each student would participate in all five activities.  He wanted to get that one out of the way.

    "You're Ryan Houser, aren't you?" asked a voice from behind him when he returned to the bleachers.  He turned around to face Miguel Rodriguez.

    "Hey, Miguel," he said, thanking his lucky stars that he didn't get tongue-tied when he spoke.  "I didn't even see you."

    "Which activity did you pick?" asked Miguel after moving down to sit next to Ryan.

    "Sports," he replied.  "You?"

    "Same," said Miguel.  "So we'll both be meeting here tomorrow. Good thing this is the last class of the day."

    "Yeah," chuckled Ryan.

    "Well, since it is the last class, we don't have to shower," said Miguel.  "We can just do that at home after school."

    "That's good," replied Ryan.  He hadn't even thought of showers.  The locker room was going to be bad enough.

    "Well," said Miguel when the bell sounded.  "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."

    "Yeah," said Ryan.  "Later."

    He walked back to the quad and waited for Rick and Jeff.  It was Amanda that found him first.  She came right up to him and chattered away about the drama club and how he should get involved.  He politely told her that he was thinking of trying out for the formal orchestra, and she seemed to think that was amazing.

    "Which instrument do you play?" she asked.

    "Well, I play keyboards, but I can also play the clarinet, saxophone and the flute," he replied.  This was a fact that he hadn't told his friends.  He wasn't sure why not, but he supposed they'd find out soon enough.

    "There you are," said Scott, coming up behind them.  "Who's this?"

    "Scott, this is Amanda," said Ryan, thankful that Scott had found him.  He really didn't like talking to Amanda.  "Amanda, this is my younger brother, Scott."

    "Where's Rick?" asked Scott completely ignoring Amanda once she'd been introduced.  "I want to get out of here."

    "Scott, is something wrong?" asked Ryan.  "Did something happen?"

    "I just want to get home, so I can hang out with Mark, why?" asked Scott.

    "No reason," said Ryan.  "Rick should be out here soon."

    "Hey guys," said Jeff as he walked up to where they were standing.  "Rick's on his way out."

    "Jeff," said Amanda, grinning like an idiot.  "Are you going to be at the dance?"

    "Dance?" asked Jeff, looking from Amanda to Ryan.  Ryan shrugged.  He hadn't heard anything about a dance, either.

    Amanda gushed about a dance that both of the boys had missed hearing about in home room.  Apparently, the school was holding a "back to school dance" on Saturday.  Ryan had no interest in going, and it didn't look like Jeff did, either.  They listened to her go on and on about her dress, what she and her friends were doing to get ready for the dance, and then she asked Jeff if he wanted to sit with her at the dance.  Ryan barely hid his amusement.

    "Well, I'm not even going to the dance," said Jeff.  "I have plans for Saturday night. Maybe if I'd known about it last week, I would have planned to be there."

    Rick came out of the school then, and the boys all quickly made their get away.  Ryan noticed how happy Jeff was to be away from Amanda.  He wondered if Jeff had any classes with her.  Judging from the look on his face when he talked to her, Ryan could just imagine what it would be like for him to be stuck with her for an entire class.

    Later that night, Ryan sat talking to Robin on the telephone.  She'd wanted him to go with her to the mall, but Frank had told both boys that they weren't going anywhere that night.  He said that they needed to take a break from being away from home so much.  Ryan didn't really understand why he felt that way, but he didn't argue.

    "So do you know Miguel Rodriguez?" asked Ryan while he sketched trees on a page in his notebook.

    "Sure," replied Robin.  "He's a cool guy. He lives there at the school during the year, but in the summer, he's off to New Mexico."

    "Why would someone who lives in New Mexico come to Springfield, Illinois to go to school?" asked Ryan.  He couldn't imagine the reason.

    "Well, Westlake is a really good school," she said.  "It's also not quite as expensive as the rest of the boarding schools in the country."

    "Yeah, my dad said that for a private school, it wasn't too high priced," agreed Ryan.

    "So Rick is about to get off work," said Robin.  "Do you need to get off the phone?"

    "Why would I need to get off the phone?" asked Ryan.

    "Oh, I don't know," she replied.  "I just thought that maybe Rick would be calling you soon."

    "Why would he call me?" asked Ryan.  "He talks to Travis more than he talks to me. If he were going to call anyone when he got home from work, it would be Travis."

    "I wouldn't be so sure about that," laughed Robin.  "But I need to get going, anyway. My dad wants the phone."

    Ryan wondered why she would think that Rick would be calling him.  He actually waited for a few minutes to see if he actually would call, but he didn't.  Leaving the phone behind, Ryan went downstairs to see what they had for a snack.  He found Scott in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a bowl of pudding.

    "Hey," said Scott.  "Is Rick taking us to school in the morning?"

    "As far as I know," said Ryan.  "If he wasn't, I'm sure he would have told us before he dropped us off."

    "Yeah," said Scott.  "He's cool."

    "You like him, huh?" said Ryan, sitting across the table from Scott with his own bowl of chocolate pudding.

    "He's got a really cool car!" said Scott.  "I hope I can get a car like that when I'm sixteen."

    "Well you have plenty of time to save your allowance," chuckled Ryan.

    "How much do you have saved?" asked Scott.

    "I'm not really sure," said Ryan.  "I haven't asked Dad in a while."

    "What kind of car do you want?"

    "Well, I admit that Rick's car is really cool," said Ryan.  "Nath's car is awesome, but I don't think I want a car like either of them. I just want something that's nice."

    "I thought you had your heart set on a Monte Carlo," said Frank, coming into the kitchen and startling his two sons.

    "Well, I think I've kind of gotten over the Monte Carlo," said Ryan, turning to face his father.  "I saw a Saturn at school today that was really nice."

    "Practical choice," said Frank.  "We'll start looking at cars in the spring."

    The next morning, Ryan wasn't nearly as worried about going to school.  He was at the breakfast table before Scott for a change.  Sheila noticed, but she didn't comment on it.  Ryan seemed to be coping with his new found popularity very well.  She'd worried that he would react to it a little differently.  She'd seen him overwhelmed by his friends at times, but he did a very good job of hiding it.

    Rick showed up a little earlier, so she offered him an omelet, but he smiled and politely refused it.  The three boys sat in the living room, waiting for Jeff.  She used the time to clean up the table and start the dishwasher.

    Ryan's second day of school did prove to be a bit harder for him.  He had quizzes in just about every class, and each class assigned homework.  In Gym class, he got a break.  The weather was warm and nice, so the class went outside to play baseball.  Ryan was happy, because it was one of the few sports that he was actually any good at.

    After class, Miguel walked with Ryan to the front of the main building to meet Scott, Jeff and Rick.  The two talked more about themselves that day, and Ryan found that he and Miguel had a lot in common.  They both loved music, and they were both going to try out for the orchestra.  Miguel offered to practice with Ryan, and Ryan happily accepted.

    "Well, I have to get back to the dorm," said Miguel when they reached the front of the main building.  "I'm on dinner detail tonight."

    "Okay," said Ryan, writing his number down on a sheet of paper ripped from his notebook.  "Call me, and we'll set up some time to practice. When are trials?"

    "Next week," said Miguel.  "I'll call you later tonight, and we'll set something up."

    At dinner that night, Ryan told his parents all about Miguel and the practice sessions the two of them would be putting in before trials for orchestra.  Frank was really happy to see that Ryan was making even more friends, and he even allowed him to go for ice cream with Robin when she called and invited him.

    "So Rick said something about a cousin coming to stay with you for a while," said Robin when they got to Baskin Robins.

    "Yeah," sighed Ryan.  "My cousin Mitch will be here some time on Friday. He's going to be staying with us for the rest of the school year. I guess he got into trouble again."

    "You don't sound happy about him coming to stay," said Robin.

    "Well, Mitch is a real jerk," he replied.  "He has opinions about everything, and he'll cram them down your throat every chance he gets."

    "Does he know about you?" asked Robin as they sat down at a table with their sundaes.

    "God no!" gasped Ryan.  "If he did, he'd really be an ass. Mitch hates gay people."

    "This could be bad," said Robin.  "We aren't the type to hide ourselves around people. Don't get me wrong, we don't parade our sexualities around in front of people, but we've never been challenged by anyone, so we're comfortable. Maybe too comfortable."

    "Well, he won't be going to Westlake," said Ryan.  "My dad said he wasn't putting him in private school and wasting his money when Mitch would most likely get expelled."

    "Wow," she said.  "He sounds like a real asshole."

    "Oh, you have no idea," replied Ryan.

    "Well, we'll deal with him when he gets here, I guess," said Robin.  "Is it alright with you if Nath and I come to your house on Thursday to study for the test?"

    "Sure," said Ryan.  "I talked to my dad about it, and Sheila even offered to make us snacks. She did ask if you guys were staying for dinner, though."

    "I don't know," said Robin.  "Are we invited?"

    "You are now," laughed Ryan.

    "Well, I'll talk to Nath about it," said Robin.  "He's getting pretty mad at me for just saying that he'll do something without asking him about it first."

    "So I'll wait `till tomorrow to tell Sheila if you guys will stay for dinner or not," said Ryan.

    "So what's going on between you and Rick?" Robin asked.

    "What do you mean?" asked Ryan.

    "Well, he comes to pick you up for school every morning, and he talks about you to Nath all the time at work," she said.

    "He takes Jeff to school, too," Ryan pointed out.

    "Well, yeah, but he doesn't talk Nath's ear off about Jeff every day," laughed Robin.

    "I don't know," said Ryan.  "He's cool."

    "Cool?" said Robin.  "Is that all you have to say about him?"

    "Well, I don't know what else to say about him," said Ryan.  The conversation was starting to make him uncomfortable.  He liked Rick, but he didn't know what to do about it.  He wasn't accustomed to talking about that sort of thing, either.

    "He's good looking, a great guy, and do you like him?" asked Robin, smiling at him.

    "Sure I like him," said Ryan.  "Like you said, he's a great guy."

    Robin could see how uncomfortable he was getting, so she decided to drop the subject.  She really wanted to know what he thought about Rick, but she didn't want to make him feel weird.  Nath had told her that Rick was trying to figure out what Ryan thought of him, and she wanted to help.

    They talked about school and the dance.  Robin wasn't too big on dances, but she and Nath were talking about going.  Why, she didn't know.  She and Ryan laughed about Amanda asking Jeff to the dance, and Robin told Ryan all about Amanda Placker.

    "Well, she's a know it all, for one thing," said Robin.  "She used to sit with us at lunch sometimes. Whatever any of us talked about, Amanda had to butt into it, and she just knew all about it, you know? And she's really a bitch."

    "Why do you say that?"

    "Well, she does things that sort of help Jeff from time to time, but then she throws it in his face whenever he doesn't do something that she thinks he should," explained Robin.  "And then there's the way she is with Nathaniel. The two of them clearly hate each other, and she will go out of her way to be sickeningly sweet to him, but at the same time, she's being a bitch."

    "I hate people like that," said Ryan.  "You're really not going to like Mitch."

    "Well, from what you've told me about him so far, I agree with you," replied Robin.  "Is he like Amanda?"

    "Well, kind of," he said.  "You'll have to wait and see for yourself. If you ever see him."

    "Well, I'm sure we'll all see him eventually," said Robin.  "Just because he won't be going to school with us doesn't mean that we won't at least meet him."

    "He doesn't know that I'm gay, and I'd really like it if he never found out," said Ryan.

    "Well, I won't tell him," she said.

    "If he meets Travis, you won't have to tell him," said Ryan.

    "Oh, don't worry about Travis," replied Robin.  "He can handle himself pretty good, and if he can't, Rick and Nath will come to his defense."

    "Nath is really cool," said Ryan.  "I haven't really gotten to talk to him much, but his accent is awesome."

    "It is," she agreed.  "I love the Australian accent."

    "What was it like for him to move to Springfield from Australia?" asked Ryan.

    "Well, he said that he wasn't particularly happy about it at first, but he seems to like it now," she said.  "I think he likes it here a lot more than he lets on."

    The next day, Ryan made it through all of his classes with ease.  He had more homework assignments than he'd ever had in his life, but he liked Westlake so far.  In gym class, he and Miguel made plans for Miguel to come to Ryan's after school to practice for the orchestra try out.  When Rick found him, Ryan asked if it was alright if Miguel came along.  They were waiting for him to come back with his violin.

    "Sure," said Rick.  "Is Miguel in one of your classes?"

    "Two of them," replied Ryan.  "We're both going to try out for the orchestra, and he's coming over tonight to practice."

    "He plays the violin," said Jeff.  "It's pretty cool."

    "You are going to be practicing in your room, right?" asked Scott.  "I really need to get my homework done, and I won't be able to think if you two are downstairs."

    "What's the rush to get your homework done?" asked Ryan.  "You always try to put it off until the last minute."

    "Dad said that I can't hang out with Mark unless my homework is done," explained Scott.

    "We'll be in my room," chuckled Ryan.  "Don't worry."

    "Good," said Scott just as Miguel came out, carrying a violin case.

    "All set?" asked Ryan.

    "Yeah," replied Miguel.

    Rick listened to Ryan, Jeff and Miguel talk all the way to Ryan's house.  He'd seen the way that Ryan looked at Miguel, and he wasn't happy about it.  He liked Ryan, but he hadn't figured out a way to tell him.  Nath had told him to just tell him that he liked him and see what he said back, but Rick didn't think that was the way to go.

    As far as he knew, Miguel was straight and had no idea about any of Rick's friends.  Still, he didn't like the way Ryan looked at him.  When he thought about Ryan and Miguel being alone together in Ryan's room for at least two hours, he almost invited himself to stay with them.  He stopped himself, though.  For one thing, he didn't play an instrument, and he didn't want Ryan to think that he was crazy.

    Ryan knew that something was not right with Rick when he'd dropped them off in front of his house.  Rick had kept asking questions, wanting to know if Miguel needed a ride home when they were done practicing, asking Jeff what he was going to be doing, and basically stalling for some reason.  He'd only left because he had to work.  Ryan was sure that if he'd had the night off, Rick would have stayed to watch them practice.

    "I brought my homework, too," said Miguel.  "I thought we could get homework out of the way after practice."

    "That's a good idea," said Ryan.

    The boys went into the house where Ryan introduced Miguel to Sheila.  She agreed to give him a ride home when the boys were done practicing, and she asked if Miguel would be staying for dinner.  When he said that he didn't know, she invited him, and he accepted.  She was very happy to see that Ryan was making even more friends.

    When they got to Ryan's room, Miguel was amazed by the computers, and he was blown away by the keyboards.  Ryan took a few minutes to show him a few music programs that he had installed on his computers and how they worked.  He was surprised by how proud he was to show his friends his projects on his computer.

    "Are you going to be recording anything that we play today?" asked Miguel when Ryan left the computer on and started to assemble his clarinet.

    "Probably not," he replied.  "When we get more in sync, I'll program the keyboards to simulate the rest of the orchestra, and we can play along with that. I can record that, so we can listen to what it all sounds like and make any corrections we need to."

    "That's really cool," said Miguel.  "That way, we'd know what it would be like to play with the orchestra at school."

    "Well, as long as the orchestra is as good as the synthesizer," laughed Ryan.

    For about an hour, the boys played their instruments, going over a few of the required pieces for the try outs.  Ryan thought that they sounded pretty good, but he had no trouble finding a few places where they would need to improve, so he suggested that they practice the weaker parts of the piece.  It wasn't long, and they had those parts down, too.

    "We have to pick one piece to play for the try out," said Miguel.  "Are we going to practice all six selections?"

    "We can," said Ryan.  "But I was thinking that I'd like to play Rhapsody On A Theme. How long do we get?"

    "We can only play a small part of a selection," said Miguel.  "Then, if they liked what they heard, they'll run you through scales and other exercises to see how good you are at filling certain practice requirements."

    "What piece do you want to play?" asked Ryan, flipping through the sheet music.

    "I was thinking about Bach," said Miguel.  "I like the feel of that piece, and I'd only have to play a little of it."

    "Well, we can practice the pieces that we want to play together," said Ryan as Sheila knocked on the door.

    "Dinner time, boys," she said.

    At dinner, Frank and Sheila asked Miguel about himself, and Miguel told them that he was the youngest of three children, and the only one left in school.  His older brother, Juan, had graduated from Westlake at the end of the last school year.  They talked about his violin and what he planned to play for the try out.  Frank was impressed by Miguel's passion for his music.  When he'd asked questions that he didn't really think Miguel would have been able to answer, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the boy was very well prepared for each question.

    After dinner, the boys went back to Ryan's room to put their instruments away and do their homework.  Ryan had more homework than Miguel, but Miguel seemed to have harder work than Ryan.  The two boys worked on Chemistry first.  Miguel wasn't in Ryan's class, but they had the exact same assignment.

    "Who do you have for Chemistry?" asked Ryan.

    "Aldritch," replied Miguel.  "He's giving us a test on Friday."

    "That's who I have," said Ryan.  "Nath and Robin are coming over tomorrow to study for the test. Why don't you come study with us?"

    "That'd be cool," said Miguel.  "I could use a little help."

    "They're staying for dinner," said Ryan.  "You can, too, if you want. I'd just have to tell Sheila."

    "Oh, well, I'm on dinner detail in my dorm tomorrow," said Miguel.  "We each have to make dinner one night a week. This week, I have three helpers."

    Ryan rode with Sheila to drive Miguel back to the dorm, and the two boys talked about music the whole way.  Sheila had no clue what to say in that conversation, so she just let the boys talk.  She was happy that Miguel had come to study with Ryan and would be coming again tomorrow.  She thought that it was important that Ryan make a lot of friends.

    The next morning, Jeff, Ryan and Scott were shocked when Robin came to get them for school instead of Rick.  Rick hadn't called the night before to tell Ryan that he'd be picking him up for school that morning, but Ryan hadn't really thought about that.  He wondered why Rick wasn't taking them.

    "Rick called me last night to tell me that he wasn't going to school today," said Robin when Ryan let her in.  "Something to do with his family."

    "He didn't call any of us," said Jeff, looking to Ryan for confirmation.

    "Nath said he wasn't at work last night, either," said Robin.  "I don't know what's going on."

    "You guys are going to be here studying tonight, right?" asked Jeff.

    "Yeah," said Robin.  "We were invited to dinner, too."

    "You can come study with us if you want," said Ryan.  "We'll be studying chemistry, but you can study whatever."

    "Can't," replied Jeff.  "Travis is dragging me to a movie."

    "What about Nathan?" asked Robin.

    "He's working tonight," explained Jeff.

    At lunch that day, Miguel came to sit with them.  Robin smiled at him, and Jeff said hello, but Travis didn't seem to like the fact that Miguel was there.  Ryan thought he'd ask about it later.  Miguel asked if he could ride home with Ryan, and Robin told him that she would give him a ride.  They all talked to Nath about why Rick wasn't in school, but Nath didn't know anything more than what he'd told Robin.

    After school, they all gathered in the living room at Ryan's to study for their chemistry test.  They sat around the coffee table with Ryan and Miguel on one side and Nath and Robin on the other.  The two pairs quizzed each other on different parts that they knew would be on the test.  Nath and Robin kept laughing at each other when they made mistakes, and Ryan and Miguel seemed to know their stuff pretty well.

    "So you have to make dinner?" asked Robin as they were putting their books away.

    "Yeah, me and three others," said Miguel.  "I'm just glad that two of them know how to cook."

    "You don't know how to cook?" asked Nath.

    "I can cook some things," replied Miguel.  "I'm just not sure I can make dinner for twelve people all by myself."

    He bent down to pick up his notebook, and Nath was confronted with a plain view of Miguel's rear end.  Ryan tried not to laugh as he watched Nath's face.  His eyes got big, and his mouth hung open for a second.  He recovered just as Miguel stood back up and turned to face them.  Robin didn't seem to notice any of it, she was writing something in her own notebook.

    They all said goodbye to Miguel when Robby Talon came to pick him up.  They talked about the test, and Ryan made plans for Saturday with Miguel to practice their music again.  Miguel said goodbye to everyone, and he walked out of the living room, while Ryan stared at Nathaniel.

    They were all silent as Miguel left the house.  Robin and Ryan were looking at each other, and they were both thinking the same thing.  Miguel was easily the best looking boy that Ryan had ever seen, and although Robin wouldn't agree with him in that respect, she wasn't blind.  She thought that Miguel was just as hot as Ryan did.

    "Bloody Hell!" gasped Nath, making both of them jump.  "Did you see that ass?"

    "I did," said Ryan, grinning from ear to ear.

    "Lord, don't get faggy on me, Nathaniel," chuckled Robin.

    "Oh, shut up, woman," replied Nath, and the three of them started laughing even more.  It was clear that study time was over.

    The next day at school, Ryan learned why Rick hadn't been there the previous day.  At lunch, he told them all that his uncle had died the day before, and he'd stayed with his mom all day to help her out.  She was making arrangements to go and see his aunt.  He and his sister would be going with her.

    "When do you leave?" asked Jeff.

    "Tomorrow morning," replied Rick.  "I called Applebee's and made sure that they knew what was going on."

    "Did they give you time?" asked Nathaniel.

    "Yeah," said Rick.  "But the thing is, my mom says that she might need to move to Florida to help my aunt."

    "When will you know?" asked Travis.

    "She said she'd decide that while we're down there," said Rick.  "I'm going to try to get her to just let me stay here in Springfield."

    "You could become a live-in student here," said Nathan.

    "I'm going to suggest that," said Rick.  "But I don't know what she'll say about it."

    "Call me from Florida and keep me posted," said Travis as the bell sounded to let them know that lunch was over.

    Later, in Art class, Rick talked to Ryan a little more about the possibility of moving.  He made it clear that he didn't want to move, and that he'd miss Ryan a lot if he had to.  Ryan was both happy and confused by that.  He hadn't known Rick all that long, so he didn't know why he'd miss him so much, but he was happy to know that Rick cared enough about him to miss him at all.

    When Ryan and Scott got home, they were greeted by the sound of very loud music coming from the second floor.  There were four large boxes on the floor in the hall, and Ryan nearly tripped over a skateboard.  Scott looked around at the boxes and a look of pure dread came over his face.  It was clear that Mitch had arrived, and Scott was not happy about it.

    Mitch had never been nice to Scott.  He liked to pick on Scott because he was younger.  He liked to pick on Ryan just because he liked to pick on him.  Mitch was a year older than Ryan, and he loved to play the age card on him whenever the two were left alone together.  Ryan would have to make sure that he was never left in the house alone with Mitch.

    Ryan went straight to his room and closed his door.  He'd have to privately ask his dad for a lock to put on his door.  He didn't want Mitch just walking into the room whenever he felt like it.  He could still hear Mitch's stereo, but after turning on his own, it wasn't so bad.  He'd have to talk to his dad about the music, too.

    "Ryan?" called Scott from the other side of the closed bedroom door.  "Can I come in?"

    "Come on," said Ryan.  "Sorry about my stereo, but I'm trying to drown out Mitch's music."

    "No problem," said Scott.  "What you're playing is better than what he's listening to. Mom asked him to turn it down twice."

    "I'm sure Dad will do something about it when he gets home," said Ryan.  "Let's just do our homework."

    The two boys settled into their homework without saying another word.  Ryan sat at his desk, and Scott sat on Ryan's bed.  Ryan was surprised that he could do his homework with the music playing so loud.  He glanced at Scott and saw that he wasn't having any trouble, either.  He was still going to have a long talk with his father about Mitch, though.

    "Hey, pussies," shouted Mitch, coming into Ryan's room without knocking.  "Sheila says dinner's ready. And you can turn off that shitty music!"

    He turned around and walked back out of the room, leaving Ryan and Scott looking at each other in silence.  Ryan thumbed his remote control and the room got quiet.  He was thankful that Mitch's music wasn't playing anymore.  He got up and looked out his window and saw that his father's car was in the driveway.

    When the boys got downstairs, they could already hear their dad telling Mitch about his music.  They sat at the table across from Mitch and tried not to look at him.  Ryan was furious with Mitch for just barging into his room, but he didn't want to say anything just yet.  He wanted to let his dad get done talking.

    "And as soon as dinner is over, you will take those boxes up to your room," said Frank.  "I don't ever want to find your skateboard anywhere other than your room, either."

    "Why didn't you bring up the boxes?" Mitch said to Ryan and Scott.

    "Because they aren't their boxes," said Frank.  "Don't think for a minute that either of the boys are going to do any of your housework for you, Mitchell."

    "It would have been nice of them to bring up the boxes," said Mitch, glaring at Ryan.

    "Monday morning, you'll be enrolled at Springfield High," said Sheila.  "You're going to have to be on you best behavior. They already know about your antics in California."

    "Why are you both treating me like I'm a delinquent?" asked Mitch.  "Ryan's music was just as loud as mine was. I don't hear you jumping all over him about it."

    "I turned mine up so I didn't have to listen to yours," replied Ryan.  "And please knock before you come into my room."

    "I did knock, but you couldn't hear me, because your music was so loud," said Mitch.

    "That's enough," said Frank.  "You boys are not going to fight at the dinner table. Mitch, you will stay away from Ryan's room, and you both will keep your music at a decent level."

    "Whatever," said Mitch, staring at his plate.

    After dinner, Scott went to Mark's, and Ryan went back to his room.  He wanted to leave, but he didn't have anywhere to go.  Jeff was staying at Nathan's, and Robin and Nathaniel were both working.  He had no way to get to Travis's house, and he didn't even know where it was.  He sat on his bed and started to read The Hobbit.  The book had been assigned in English, and he had to get through the first three chapters over the weekend.