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.

Author's Note:  I have no idea if the Sultans are still a baseball team in Springfield, Illinois or not.  When I lived there a number of years ago, I went to see them play a lot, but I also know how often teams vanish.  So, the Sultans appear in this chapter, and may appear in many others, but keep in mind, the story is fictional, so the players on the team do not exist, and the team itself may not exist anymore (and I don't remember what color their uniforms were, so in the story, they are blue and red. Please don't send me pointless emails, telling me that I got the color wrong).  I do know that the Quincy Gems still exist, and that team will appear in this chapter, too, but again, the players only exist in this story.


Everything's Eventual

by R.H. Lee

Chapter 5:


    Mitch Happel sat on his bed, thinking about why he'd been sent to live with his aunt in Illinois.  He wasn't happy about it.  He'd had to leave all of his friends behind in Sacramento, and he didn't know anyone here other than Ryan and Scott, and those two were the biggest assholes he knew.  He didn't like Scott, because the kid always wanted to be in your face.  Ryan was just a big pussy.  That was all there was to it.  The boy had no friends, and he always played with his stupid keyboards.  He didn't like to play any kind of sports, and he never wanted to go anywhere, or do anything.

    Mitch was nothing like Ryan.  At five feet, ten inches tall and one hundred-eighty pounds of carefully developed muscle, Mitch was everything that Ryan wasn't.  He loved football, and he'd been the quarterback in Sacramento.  He had more friends than he knew what to do with, but now that was over.  He'd been busted for drinking four times, and he'd been expelled from school, kicked off the football team and sent to live with his aunt.

    He looked around at the boxes in his room.  Everything he owned was in those boxes.  His car would arrive some time the next day, but he no longer had a license to drive it, so that wasn't going to do him any good.  Besides, his uncle Frank had already told him he wasn't hanging out with anyone for a while.  Frank was determined to make Mitch's life hell, it seemed.  In Illinois, that wouldn't be too hard.  He hated it already.

    With nothing else to do, Mitch turned on his stereo, being careful to keep the music down so Frank wouldn't blow a fuse in his brain about it, and started to unpack the boxes and set up his new room.  The house was nicer than his mom's house in Sacramento, and this room was far better than the one he'd had there, too.  His closet was big enough to hold just about everything he owned that wasn't furniture.

    He set his Solo Flex up first, and then started on his magazines and collection of Clive Barker books.  Frank had bought a desk, bed and chest of drawers when he moved in, so all of that was already in the room when Mitch got there.  He put his folded clothes and sweaters in the chest of drawers and hung the rest in the closet.  It looked sad with all the extra space in the closet.  He wondered if they'd let him get a job.

    With everything put away, he broke down the boxes and put them in the top of his closet.  Then he selected a book from his shelf and lay on his bed to read it.  He was almost asleep when Frank knocked on the door and told him to turn the music off.  He was really going to hate living in Springfield.


    Early Saturday morning, Ryan was awakened by music.  It was clear that Mitch was already awake, and Ryan thought his dad must be out, because Mitch's music was almost as loud as it had been the day before.  Ryan knew that Mitch and his dad were not going to get along well.  He just hoped that his dad got a handle on Mitch soon.  Ryan didn't appreciate being woke up before noon on a Saturday.

    When Ryan got downstairs, Sheila was in the kitchen.  She was making pancakes, and Ryan wondered why she was making breakfast on a Saturday morning.  Usually, it was every man for himself on weekends.  When he walked into the room, he noticed Mitch, sitting at the table.  His dark hair was messed, and he was dressed in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.

    "Good morning, Ryan," said Sheila.  "Do you want some breakfast?"

    "Sure, thanks," replied Ryan.

    "You're up early," she observed.

    "Music," he replied, and Mitch glared at him.

    "Mitch, you'd better have the music off and be dressed when Frank gets back," said Sheila.  "And no music in the house before ten."

    "Fine," he said, shoving his chair back and leaving the kitchen.

    Ryan heard him bounding up the stairs and slamming his door.  The music stopped, and Sheila sighed.  Ryan could see that this was going to turn into a daily thing if his father was always gone by seven.  He hoped that they could do something to keep Mitch quiet in the mornings.  Ryan really liked to sleep in on weekends.

    "So how was your first week of school?" asked Sheila as she set a plate with three pancakes on the table in front of Ryan.

    "It was pretty good," said Ryan.  "I think I passed the chemistry test."

    "Are you finding chemistry hard?" asked Sheila when she sat down with her own plate.

    "Not too bad so far," replied Ryan.  "Robin says that it will get much harder soon, though."

    "MOM!" cried Scott, coming down the stairs.  Seconds later, he was standing in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around his waist and he was dripping wet.

    "What's going on?" demanded Sheila.  "Why are you all wet?"

    "I was in the shower," replied Scott.

    "Well, why didn't you dry off in the bathroom?" she asked.

    "Because," he said angrily.  "I just got in the shower, and Mitch comes barging into the bathroom. He yanked the shower curtain open and told me to get lost. I didn't even have time to grab my robe, because he shoved me out into the hall and closed the door."

    "Damn," sighed Sheila, putting her head in her hands.

    "Scott, go get some clothes and finish your shower in my bathroom," said Ryan.

    "Thanks," said Scott as he hurried off.

    "Thank you, Ryan," said Sheila.  "I don't know what we're going to do about Mitch's attitude. Your father is furious with him as it is."

    As Ryan was finishing his breakfast, Scott returned to the table.  This time, he was dry and clothed.  He sat down as Frank walked in through the kitchen door.  He looked at Ryan and read the look on his face, knowing there was trouble, he said, "What?"

    "Mitch," said Ryan.

    "What's he done now?" asked Frank.

    "He threw me out of the bathroom when I was trying to take a shower," said Scott.  His anger had not subsided.

    "He started his music again just after you left," said Sheila.  "I told him twice to turn it off, but he wouldn't.  He woke Ryan up."

    "I'll have another talk with him," sighed Frank.  "Ryan, what time do I have to pick up Miguel, and will he be staying for dinner today?"

    "He said he'd be ready by one today, and yes, he's staying for dinner," replied Ryan.  "Could we eat in my room?"

    Ryan was thinking about Mitch.  He didn't want Mitch saying anything rude to Miguel, and the only way that he could think of to make sure that didn't happen was to keep Miguel in his room.  He hoped that his dad would allow them to eat there, but even if he did, they'd have to come downstairs to get the food.  He couldn't expect Sheila to bring plates up.

    "No, you'll eat at the table," said Frank.

    Ryan rode with his father to pick up Miguel.  He wanted to talk to his dad about Mitch.  He just hoped that his dad would listen to him and not get angry.  Frank had been in a bad mood ever since he'd gone upstairs to talk to Mitch.  Ryan and Scott had heard them yelling at each other.  Ryan knew that having Mitch there wasn't really his father's idea, but he'd gone along with it because Sheila was helping her sister.

    "Dad, how long is Mitch staying with us?" he asked as soon as they were out of the driveway.

    "For the school year at least," said Frank.  "He has to stay here to go to school."

    "So until school lets out, he's going to be there being rude to me and Scott?" asked Ryan.

    "I had a talk with him, Ryan," said Frank. "He's going to have to straighten up."

    "I don't like how he just barges into the bathroom and my room," said Ryan.  "And his music . . ."

    "Ryan, I said I talked to him," snapped Frank.  "Now can we not bitch about him until he does something else?"

    "I'm sorry," said Ryan.  It was clear to him that he was going to get nowhere with his dad at that time.  He just hoped that the talk that he'd had with Mitch had done some good.

    When they got back to the house with Miguel, Mitch's music was as loud as it was the day that he'd got there.  Frank looked at Ryan, and Ryan could see the anger in his eyes.  It was clear that the talk had done absolutely no good.  Ryan hoped that his dad could get the music turned down enough for him and Miguel to practice.  As he and Miguel walked up the stairs, the music got louder.

    "Your brother?" asked Miguel once they were inside Ryan's room with the door closed.

    "My cousin," sighed Ryan.  "He's staying with us for the school year."

    "Does he go to Westlake?" asked Miguel.

    "No, he goes to Springfield High," replied Ryan.  "He lives in Sacramento, California, but he got into trouble there, so his mom sent him to live with us for a while."

    "You sound happy about it," chuckled Miguel.

    "Oh, believe me, he isn't a bundle of joy," said Ryan as the music stopped.

    The two boys quickly started to practice.  This time they selected a piece that neither of them were very good at.  They were half way through the first run when Mitch bounded through the door, causing Miguel to jump.  Ryan glared at him, but Mitch just smiled at them, shaking his head.

    "I can't believe it!" he said.  "You've actually got a friend!"

    "Go away Mitch," said Ryan.

    "Fuck off, pussy," said Mitch.  He turned to Miguel and said, "How much is he paying you to hang out with him? The guy's like the biggest dweeb in the world."

    "GO AWAY," yelled Ryan.  "You know you're not supposed to just walk into my room without knocking, and I don't want you in my room to begin with."

    "Aww," he said, faking a sad face and voice.  "Did I upset the little pussy?"

    "Dude, what's your problem?" asked Miguel.  "Why are you being such a dick?"

    "Listen, wet back," said Mitch.  "Shut up."

    "I am not a Mexican," yelled Miguel.

    "What is going on up here?" demanded Frank from the doorway.  "We can hear you guys all the way in the living room!"

    "Mitch," Ryan simply said.

    "He walked in here and started insulting us," said Miguel.

    "Mitchell, get your butt back to your room," said Frank.  "What did I tell you?"

    "I just wanted to see for myself that he had someone up here," said Mitch.

    "And I specifically told you to leave them alone, didn't I?" demanded Frank.

    "Fine, I don't like to hang with pussies and spicks, anyway," spat Mitch as he walked out of the room.

    "MITCHELL HAPPEL!" cried Frank storming out of the room after Mitch.

    "Sorry about that," said Ryan when he closed the door again.  "My cousin is a jerk."

    "Don't worry about it," said Miguel, picking up his violin again.  "He's no worse than some of the guys in the dorm."

    The two of them went back to practicing, but neither of them could concentrate on the music after Mitch's display.  They gave up after a while and decided that they would just pick up again on Tuesday.  Miguel had the music room at school to himself on Tuesdays, and he invited Ryan to practice with him there.

    "I shouldn't have to leave home to practice," said Ryan.  "But I would like to see the music room."

    "You know what?" said Miguel.  "I have tickets to the Sultans game tomorrow, do you want to go?"

    "What are the Sultans?" asked Ryan.

    "A baseball team," laughed Miguel.  "They're playing the Quincy Gems tomorrow. It'll be cool. Wanna go?"

    "I'll ask my dad about it when he calms down," said Ryan.  "How are we going to get there and back?"

    "Man, you really need to learn how to get around in Springfield," chuckled Miguel.  "We can ride the city bus out there. The game starts at one, and if it isn't over by six, then we can call for a ride. I'm sure one of the older guys at the dorm will come get us."

    "Well, maybe my dad will pick us up," offered Ryan.

    Mitch wasn't at the table for dinner.  Ryan thought about asking why, but one look at his father, after looking at the empty chair where Mitch should have been sitting answered his question.  The entire meal was eaten in silence, which was odd for the Houser family.  Ryan hated Mitch for making things so tense in the house.

    After they dropped Miguel off at the dorm, Frank took Ryan to get ice cream, so they could talk.  He was furious with Mitch for talking to Miguel the way he had, and he was even more angry about the way he treated Ryan.  He'd told Sheila that having Mitch around would be bad, but she'd promised that Mitch would be good.  Well, that promise had been broken.

    "Ryan, I know that having Mitch around isn't exactly wonderful for you," said Frank when they were seated at a table in Baskin Robbins.  "Believe me, if Rhonda hadn't been so upset when she asked, I never would have agreed to letting him stay with us."

    "Dad, I don't like it that he's here, but I understand why you let him stay," said Ryan.  "I just can't deal with him treating my friends like that. I just met Miguel, and I like him a lot. I don't want our friendship ruined by Mitch."

    "Well, I made sure that he wasn't at the table to insult him again," said Frank.

    "And we were all very quiet," said Ryan.  "That was worse. I hate what he did, but I hate the effect he had on dinner even more."

    "I know, Ryan," said Frank.  "I'm going to figure something out."

    "Well, his music is really bad," said Ryan.  "I'm not inviting Miguel over to practice anymore. I'm going to stay after school with Miguel on Tuesday to practice in the music room at school."

    "I'm sorry you feel you have to do that, Ryan," replied his father.

    "And I want a lock for my bedroom door," said Ryan.  "I don't like him just waltzing into my room whenever he wants to. I'd also suggest a lock for the bathroom door. What he did to Scott this morning was crazy."

    "I know," agreed Frank.  "I'm going to make sure that he doesn't do that again."

    "And, dad," said Ryan, putting down his spoon.  "I have to practice."

    The next day, Miguel showed up at eleven.  He and Ryan rode the bus to a stadium on the other side of town.  They were a little early, but there were people in the stands already, so they purchased hot dogs and sodas and went to sit as close to the field as they could.  They talked about what Ryan called, "The Thursday afternoon study sessions," and Ryan invited Miguel to study with the group again.

    "We pretty much know from the syllabus that we're going to have a test every Friday in Chemistry," explained Ryan.  "I talked to Nath and Robin, and they both said that it'd be cool if you came and studied with us."

    "I don't have a problem with studying with you guys," said Miguel.  "As long as someone can give me a ride back to the dorm each week."

    "Oh, I'm sure Robin or Nath would take you," said Ryan.  "And I'll talk to my dad about making sure that Mitch stays out of our hair."

    "That's good to know," chuckled Miguel.

    The next day, while Ryan was at school, Frank installed locks on the door to the attic and the second floor bathroom door.  He would give Ryan a key to the attic door, and he would keep the other.  He wanted to make sure that Mitch never bothered Ryan in his room again.  He'd taken the day off to enroll Mitch in school at Springfield High, and he'd been pleased when they'd said he could start that day.

    He'd had to have an hour long private conference with the principle about Mitch's behavior problems.  The school in Sacramento had included an account of all of Mitch's antics in the file they'd sent to Springfield High, so his reputation had followed him.  Frank had listened to the principle tell him that none of Mitch's prior stunts would be acceptable, and the school would not hesitate to expel him.  Frank found himself hoping that they did end up expelling Mitch.  That way, there'd be no need for him to stay in Springfield.

    Robin came home with Ryan and Scott.  She'd decided to do her homework with Ryan, since Nath had to be at work so soon after school let out for the day.  Luckily, Mitch wouldn't be out of school for another hour.  He was very happy when his father handed him a key to the attic door.  He'd thought that his father would put a lock on his bedroom door.  He'd never dreamed that he'd put a lock on the attic door.

    "So, Mitch is a real ass?" asked Robin after Frank had gone back to his study.

    "You don't know the half of it," replied Ryan.  He told her about the way Mitch had acted on Saturday.

    "I can't wait to meet this guy," she laughed.  "He sounds like a real winner."

    "Oh, you'll get your chance," said Ryan, looking at the clock.  "Don't worry."

    The two got started on their homework while Ryan worried about what Mitch would say to Robin when he got home.  He hated worrying about what he would say to his friends.  He wished that Mitch had never come to Springfield.  He'd only been there for three days, and Ryan was already hoping he would get into enough trouble to be sent home.

    "Well well," said Mitch, coming into the kitchen and dropping into a chair across from Robin.  "Now the little pussy's got a girlfriend!"

    "Go Away, Mitch," said Ryan without even looking up from his Algebra book.

    "Fuck off, Ryan," Mitch spat back.  "This is the kitchen, not your precious cave upstairs. I have just as much right to be in this room as you do. Now stop being rude and introduce your bitch."

    "My name is Robin," said Robin hotly.  "And the only bitch I see around here, is you."

    "Oh, but tell me what you really think of me," said Mitch, smiling at her.

    "What do I think of you?" replied Robin, glaring back at him. "Let me think. Oh yes! You are without a doubt the most egotistical, self centered asshole I have ever had the displeasure to meet. You've displayed every negative characteristic of the male sex, and I believe you've even discovered a few new ones. You're rude, stupid, full of yourself and completely moronic. I don't know why you think its so much fun to ridicule everyone, but I do know this: you are one sad, strange mother fucker!"

    "Ooh, a feisty one," chuckled Mitch.  "Careful, Ryan. This one could probably kick your ass."

    "Mitch, why don't you just go away and leave us alone?" demanded Ryan.  "Why do you have to be such a dick all the time? You know, it's possible for us to live in this house and never speak to each other. I don't come barging into your room and insult you or your friends."

    "You're just being a pussy, Ryan," replied Mitch, smiling at him.

    "Mitchell, go to your room, and don't come out until I call for you," said Frank, startling the three teens.  They hadn't heard him come into the room, and Robin wondered just how long he'd been standing there.

    "Are we going to have another one of our little 'heart to hearts'?" asked Mitch sarcastically.  "You know I really enjoy those, Frank."

    "Get out of my sight, Mitch," spat Frank.  "If you keep this up, you'll find yourself on a plane back to California."

    "Buy my ticket!" screamed Mitch.  "I didn't ask to be sent here. Do you think I want to live in this stupid city?"

    "Mitch, go to your room," said Sheila, coming in behind Scott.

    Mitch got up from the table so fast that he knocked his chair over.  He glared at Frank for a minute before stalking from the room and stomping up the stairs.  Seconds later, they heard his bedroom door slam shut, and then the music started.  Ryan looked at his dad, and Frank shook his head.  He started out of the room, but Sheila grabbed his arm.

    "I'll talk to him," she said before walking out of the kitchen.

    A few minutes later, Mitch's music stopped.  Ryan and Robin went back to doing their homework after Frank walked out of the kitchen.  It was clear that he was very angry, and Ryan hoped that he would buy Mitch a ticket back to California.  He didn't understand why his parents kept putting up with Mitch.


    "He's the biggest bitch I've ever seen," Robin told Nath on the telephone later that night.  "You should have heard the way he talked to Ryan's dad."

    "Sounds like Ryan stands up to him, though," commented Nathaniel.  "I'd have liked to see that. Ryan struck me as the type to just let the guy say what he wanted."

    "Ryan is definitely full of surprises," said Robin.  "Have you heard from Rick?"

    "They're coming back Friday evening," said Nathaniel.  "Rick says they're moving to Florida, and they are only coming back for a week to pack. He won't even be in school."

    "Damn," said Robin.  "Does Travis know yet?"

    "He should," replied Nathaniel.  "Rick was calling him as soon as we hung up."

    "Well, we'll have to all get together or something," said Robin.  "Have, like, a going away party or something."

    "We'll talk to everyone about it tomorrow," said Nathaniel.  "Where do you think we should have it?"

    "Well, I'd suggest Ryan's, but with Mitch . . ."

    "Don't let Mitch spoil shit for you, Robin," said Nathaniel.  "If he's as bad as you and Ryan say he is, then it's time that he learns what we're all about."


    The next morning, Ryan had just gotten out of the shower when he heard someone knocking on the attic door at the bottom of the stairs.  He put on his robe and hurried down the stairs, hoping that it wasn't Mitch.  He had no idea why Mitch would knock on the door so early in the morning, but he wouldn't have put it past him.  Instead, however, it was Scott, carrying his school uniform and a few other items.

    "Can I use your shower?" asked Scott.  "Mitch is in the other bathroom, and he won't come out."

    "Come on up," said Ryan, shaking his head.

    After both boys were showered and dressed, they headed down to breakfast together.  They passed a smiling Mitch in the hall of the second floor, and Ryan resisted the urge to say something  Seconds later, as they were about to go down the next flight of stairs to the ground floor, he had to resist that urge again when he heard Mitch mutter, "Ain't got a private fuckin' bathroom anymore."

    Saying something to Sheila about it was pointless.  In fact, Ryan knew that saying something about it at all was pointless.  He'd have to find a way to deal with Mitch himself.  In Robin's car, on the way to school, he told Scott to set his alarm for twenty minutes earlier.  That way, he'd be up before Mitch and could get inside the bathroom and lock the door before he could do anything about it.

    At lunch that day, Nathaniel told them all about Rick moving to Florida.  They all talked about what they wanted to do to say goodbye, and when Robin mentioned a going away party, they all quickly agreed.  She asked Ryan about having it in his back yard if the weather was warm enough, so they could swim.

    "Are you sure you all want to be there with Mitch and the way he is?" asked Ryan.  "We'd have to be careful about certain things, and Mitch would undoubtedly be in everyone's face the whole time."

    "Ryan, you shouldn't let Mitch stop you from having your friends over," said Nathaniel.  "You'd be surprised how well each of us can handle ourselves. Robin's already met Mitch, and she isn't scared of him. I'm not scared of the boy, and I'm sure that Jeff and Nathan can handle themselves."

    "Yeah, but Rick will be there, and he's already going to be in an altered kind of mood," said Ryan.  "I don't want Mitch doing anything to make him feel any worse."

    "So it's settled," declared Nathaniel.  "Ryan will ask his dad about having another pool party on Saturday, and the rest of us will think of fun little ways to deal with Mitch while we're there."

    "Nath..." Ryan began to protest.

    "Trust me," interrupted Nathaniel.  "Mitch will be a perfect gentleman while we're there."

    "I've heard from Robin and Miguel about the things he's said to them," said Jeff.  "Ryan, why do your parents just let him get away with it?"

    "Well, my dad has done everything outside of physically disciplining Mitch," replied Ryan.  "I don't know what else he could do."

    "How about sending him back to California?" asked Nathan.

    "He threatened to, but that made Mitch sort of happy," replied Ryan.  "I think, right now, my dad is keeping him here to spite him."

    "Why'd he get expelled from school in California?" asked Robin.

    "I don't know," replied Ryan.  "My dad didn't tell me why. I overheard my mom and dad talking last night, and I think it had something to do with drinking, but I'm not sure."

    "Doesn't he have friends here that he can hang out with on Saturday?" asked Travis.

    "Not that I know of," replied Ryan.  "Yesterday was his first day at Springfield High, and even if he'd made any friends, my dad isn't letting him leave the house."

    When the bell sounded, Ryan walked to his Algebra class with Travis.  They talked about the test they would be taking within the next forty minutes and whether or not they had studied for it.  Ryan had studied, but he wasn't worried about the test.  So far, Algebra wasn't all that hard.  He was sure he'd do fine on the test.

    While he was changing for Gym class, he noticed for the first time that every time he glanced in Miguel's direction, the boy would snap his gaze away from Ryan.  At first, Ryan didn't think anything of it, but when he caught Miguel looking for the third time, he was stunned.  Perhaps his friends' assessment of Miguel Rodriguez was wrong.  Maybe he wasn't as straight as they thought.

    When the bell sounded, and the students were allowed to head back to their lockers and the quad, Ryan followed Miguel to the music room.  Miguel told him that they had the use of the room for one hour, five minutes after the sounding of the last bell at one.  Ryan stopped at his locker to get his clarinet.

    The music room was probably the largest class room setting that Ryan had seen at Westlake.  It was set up theatre style, but instead of desks, there were music stands in front of each seat.  At the far end of the room, there were three enclosed booths.  Ryan assumed that they were soundproof.

    The two boys set up their instruments at the front of the class room, and they went through three pieces a few times each before Miguel checked his watch.  They still had about ten minutes, so Ryan suggested that they work on scales again.  He noticed that instead of keeping his eyes closed while running through the scales as he normally did, Miguel kept his eyes firmly on Ryan.  He thought about catching him looking at him while he was changing for Gym class, and he thought again that maybe his friends were wrong about Miguel.

    At five minutes past two, they put their instruments away, and Miguel walked with Ryan to the front of the main building, where Sheila would be picking him up.  Miguel was quiet while they walked, and Ryan wondered what was on his mind.  Miguel was often quiet while they were together, and Ryan was always wondering what he was thinking.

    "Did you study for tomorrow's English test?" asked Miguel when they were out in front of the main building.

    "I've gone over my notes about a million times," said Ryan.  "Jeff's going to come over after dinner, and we're going to review for the test."

    "Yeah, my roommate is supposed to help me study for mine," said Miguel as Sheila pulled up in front of them.  "See you tomorrow."

    "Yeah," said Ryan.

    "How was practice?" asked Sheila when Ryan got into the Excursion.

    "We did pretty good," said Ryan.  "Miguel can really play that violin."

    "From what I could hear of it the other day, I thought you both sounded really good," she said.

    "Thanks. We have to practice really hard if we want to make the orchestra," he said.

    "Orchestra?" she asked.

    "Well, it's really just a fancy title for band, I think," he said.  "They play at a lot of school functions, and when the drama club puts on a play, the orchestra provides music."

    "That sounds like a lot of responsibility," she said.

    "Yeah, but I love to play," he replied.

    "Well, Mitch's music won't be a problem for a while," she said.

    "Why not?" asked Ryan, turning to look at her.

    "Well, I took his speakers after he left for school this morning," she replied.  She gave a sly smile, and then became serious.  "I don't like doing this, but he has to learn that his music must be kept at a decent volume. He doesn't have to make the rest of the house listen to it."

    "Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to ask," said Ryan.  "My friend Rick is moving to Florida soon and the rest of us would like to have sort of a going away party for him. I was wondering if we could have it in the back yard. Maybe we can swim if the weather is nice."

    "I don't have a problem with it," she said.  "What about Mitch?"

    "Well, Robin and Miguel have already encountered Mitch," replied Ryan.  "They've told everyone about their experiences with him, but the rest of them are inclined to either be friendly to him or ignore him completely."

    "I'll speak to your father about it," she said.  "As far as I'm concerned you can have the back yard for the party. You know the rules, though."

    "Yeah, it'll only be the same people that were at the barbecue," replied Ryan.  "I'm going to invite Miguel, too."

    At the house, Ryan went up to his room and changed out of his uniform while Sheila went to the kitchen to get things ready to start dinner.  Mitch wouldn't be home for almost another forty-five minutes.  Frank would get there either just before or just after.  That meant that Ryan had a little time to himself.  He put his clarinet back together and ran through the piece that he wanted to use for the try out.

    He noticed a few spots where he was weak, so he glanced at the clock on his nightstand and then ran through those a few more times.  After running through them three more times, he switched on his keyboards and programmed them for the same piece, using only clarinets.  Running thought the piece again he could hear his own mistakes in the same three spots.

    He reset the keyboard to play the piece with only one clarinet and ran through it again.  This was much easier, because on the second run, he was able to copy what he heard.  He was going through the piece for the last time when he heard the yelling downstairs, and he knew that Mitch had gotten home and found out about his speakers.

    He turned up the volume on the keyboard and went through the piece twice more, paying special attention to the spots where he had made mistakes.  Drowning out Mitch's voice wasn't as hard as he thought it would be.  His clarinet was loud enough to almost completely drown him out, but standing between the two big speakers with the keyboard's clarinet, he couldn't hear Mitch at all.  He played until his father called him downstairs for dinner.

    The atmosphere was tense again at the dinner table, and Ryan hated it.  His family had always talked about everything over dinner, and now that Mitch was with them, that was changing.  A lot of things seemed to be changing now that Mitch was with them, and Ryan wondered how he'd make it through the school year until Mitch went back home for summer.

    "You know, taking my speakers was rude," Mitch said, breaking the silence.

    "I told you, that discussion is over," said Sheila.

    "Well, I have more to say about it," said Mitch.

    "Mitch . . ."

    "No," he said, interrupting Frank.  "If Ryan can play that stupid clarinet so loud that I can't even study, then why am I the one who lost his speakers?"

    "Mitch, we didn't hear Ryan's clarinet," said Sheila.

    "If you heard it, then you had to be listening for it," added Frank.  "The difference is that Ryan was practicing for school, and you were just damaging everyone's ears. Until you learn to keep your stereo at a respectful volume, you can listen to it with your headphones."

    "That's just perfect," spat Mitch.  "Ryan can play his keyboards and instruments so loud I can't study, but I have to listen to my music through headphones."

    "Drop it, Mitch," said Frank.

    "But it isn't fair!" replied Mitch.

    "Neither is being woken up by your music every morning, Mitchell," said Sheila.  "Your attitude seriously needs to change. You heard what your mother told you. If you screw up here, then you'll have to go live with your father. Do you really want to move to Seattle?"

    "I'm not moving in with my father," he said.  "But I don't want to stay here and be treated like an outcast, either. If I can't listen to my stereo through my speakers, then Ryan should keep his damned keyboards down low."

    "Let's talk about your behavior this morning," said Frank.  "You know that Ryan and Scott have to be ready to leave for school a half hour before you, but you made sure that Scott couldn't get into the bathroom to take his shower this morning."

    "He got to take a shower," said Mitch.  "He just had to use Ryan's precious private bathroom."

    "I've had about all I'm going to take from you, Mitch," said Frank.  "From now on, you will take your shower before you go to bed. If I catch you in that bathroom before six in the morning, I'll take the damned door off the hinges and drag your naked ass out of it, is that clear?"

    "Fine," yelled Mitch, getting up from the table.

    "You aren't excused," said Sheila.  "Now sit back down and be quiet, so we can enjoy what's left of our meal."

    As soon as he was excused, Mitch left the dining room and went back upstairs.  Ryan helped Sheila clear the table and rinse the dishes while Frank read the newspaper.  Ryan wondered just how much more his parents would put up with from Mitch.  It was plain that he wasn't going to act any better no matter what they said to him.

    When Jeff got there, Ryan quickly took him up to his room and locked the attic door.  Jeff was amazed that Ryan now had a dead bolt on the attic door, but he didn't say anything about it.  He could tell that Ryan wasn't in the greatest of moods, and he assumed that it had something to do with his cousin.  Robin had told him all about Mitch.

    "So did you ask about having the party here?" asked Jeff when they were sitting on Ryan's bed.

    "Yeah," replied Ryan.  "My mom said it was fine with her, but she has to talk it over with my father. Right now, I don't think they're in the mood to discuss a party, though."

    "Things are bad over here, huh?"

    "Mitch is just unbelievable," he replied.  "Yelling at my dad at the dinner table isn't the right thing to do."

    "Wow," said Jeff.  "How did you guys get that music to stop?"

    "You heard that?" asked Ryan amazed.

    "Oh, believe me, the entire block heard it," said Jeff.  "My dad talked our next door neighbor out of calling the police Saturday morning."

    "My mom took away his stereo speakers and left him headphones," said Ryan.  "I'll have to tell my dad about your neighbor."

    "Robin said he was pretty rude to her," said Jeff.

    "Yeah," agreed Ryan.  "But you should have heard the way she told him off! It was great."

    "I'm sure," chuckled Jeff.  "Robin can get in your face with the best of them."

    "I don't remember exactly what she said to him, but it sure pissed Mitch off," said Ryan.  "He acted like it didn't faze him, but I could see it in his eyes.  Robin got to him."

    "Good," replied Jeff.  "You should get to him too. Don't let him get away with shit, Ryan. This is your house."

    Ryan thought about that as the two of them reviewed for their English test.  He didn't want to make his dad mad at him, but he wasn't going to put up with the way Mitch talked to him anymore.  He decided that from then on, every time Mitch called him a name, he'd call him on it.  Maybe pointing out Mitch's flaws and throwing them in his face was being just as childish as him, but it was a start.

    Luckily, Mitch didn't come out of his room for the rest of the night until Frank reminded him to take his shower.  He didn't even have anything to say then.  He just went to the bathroom and took his shower.  Scott spent a little time upstairs with Ryan, playing on the computers, and they talked about Mitch.

    "I hate him," said Scott.  "You should hear him in the mornings. Every time my alarm goes off, he pounds on the wall and yells for me to turn it off."

    "Does Dad know about that?" asked Ryan.

    "What difference does that make?" asked Scott.  "Dad isn't exactly doing anything to make Mitch act better, is he? I mean, you hear the way he talks to Mom and Dad. If that were either of us, everyone would think we were abused children by the time Dad got done with us."

    "Scott, Dad can't hit Mitch," said Ryan.  "He can only do what he's done so far to keep him in line. He's been really quiet tonight, so maybe it worked."

    "I doubt it," said Scott.  "He'll have something to say when I go downstairs. He likes to stand in my doorway and call me names. I swear, Ryan, I like it so much better at Mark's."

    Ryan decided that it was time to have a talk with both of his parents.  He'd never seen Scott so upset before.  Scott was always the kind of boy that just took everything in stride and went on with his life.  Mitch was really getting to him, and that pissed Ryan off.  The fact that Scott admitted that he liked it better at his friend's house was the worst.  He had to tell them that Mitch really had to lay off of Scott.

    After school the next day, Ryan had Robin drop Scott off at home, and then he asked her to take him to where his father worked.  She looked at him funny for a few seconds but she didn't say anything about it.  Ryan knew that his father would probably get upset, but he had to know about Scott.  This was the only way that Ryan could think of.  He'd been worrying over it all day long.

    "What are you doing here?" demanded his father.  "You know you can't come here!"

    "Dad, we have got to talk," said Ryan.  "About Scott."

    "Scott?" asked his father, looking at him like he had just said the most absurd thing.

    "Yes," replied Ryan.  "I'm sorry for coming here, but I couldn't wait anymore. I've been worried about this all day long, and I had to talk to you."

    Frank wrapped up what he was doing and told everyone that he would be leaving early.  He wasn't happy with Ryan for coming to his job, but he could see that his son was upset, and now he was worried about Scott, too.  What on earth could Scott be doing that would make Ryan come to work to find his dad? They went down the street to a cafe to talk.

    "Alright," said Frank once they were seated.  "What's going on?"

    "Scott spent some time up in my room with me last night," said Ryan.  "He talked about Mitch a lot. Dad, Scott is very upset. He says that if he or I said or did half of what Mitch is doing, we'd definitely know the definition of respect by the time you got done with us. Dad, Mitch is awful to Scott. Do you know that he pounds on the wall every morning when Scott's alarm goes off?"

    "I didn't know that," said Frank.

    "Well, Mitch also likes to stand in Scott's doorway and call him names and stuff," said Ryan.  "I don't know the whole story there, but Dad, Scott says he likes it better at Mark's."

    "I know that this is getting out of hand, Ryan," sighed Frank.  "I really am doing everything I can to keep Mitch in line."

    "Do you know that the people next door to Jeff, across the street, were going to call the police Saturday morning, because of Mitch's music?" asked Ryan.  "Jeff's dad talked them out of it."

    "Well, that won't be a problem for a while," said Frank.

    "But Dad, living with Mitch is just not good," said Ryan.  "He's always rude to me and Scott; he belittles Scott all the time. He's making Scott feel more comfortable when he's not at home. That's wrong."

    "I don't know what to do about this right now, Ryan," said Frank.  He saw why Ryan had come to find him, and he was no longer angry with him for doing it.  Now he was angry with Mitch for making him do it.

    "Dad, maybe Mitch shouldn't live with us," said Ryan.  "I'm sorry to say that, but if he's going to make Scott not want to be at home, then he shouldn't be there."

    When they got to the house, Mitch was already home.  Sheila was glad to see that Frank had Ryan with him.  She was worried when he didn't come in with Scott.  One look at her husband's face, and she was worried all over again.  She wondered just what had happened.  When he told her that he wanted her to follow him to Mitch's room, she was ready to freak out.

    "Mitchell, open this door," said Frank when they got to his room.  The door had no lock, but it had always been Frank's way to wait for his children to permit him to enter their rooms.  He had thought about breaking that little rule with Mitch, but he knew that if he broke one, he'd break more.

    "What?" said Mitch when he opened the door.

    "May we come in?" asked Frank, trying to contain his anger.

    "I suppose," said Mitch, stepping aside to allow them access to his room.

    "Sheila, I know this is your nephew, and I hate to do this," said Frank.  "But this boy cannot stay under the same roof with my sons any longer."

    "What?!" cried Mitch.  "What's going on?"

    "Mitch, what did you do?" asked Sheila.

    "Oh, sure!" he said.  "Just automatically assume that I did something."

    "Mitch, I want you packed and ready to go by morning," said Frank.

    "Frank . . ."

    "No," he said, interrupting Sheila.  "This boy cannot stay in this house with my sons. He has Scott so unhappy at home that he'd rather be at Marks. That is not how I want my sons to feel, Sheila. Like I said, I know he's your nephew, and I'm sorry about this. I really am, but he can't stay here."

    "Uncle Frank . . ."

    "I'll call his mother and explain it to her," said Frank, ignoring Mitch.  "She can decide what to do with him when he gets to Sacramento. I'll take the day off and drive him to the airport tomorrow morning. I'll even personally see that his things are shipped back to California, but I want him gone."

    "Uncle Frank . . ."

    "This discussion is over," said Frank.  "I mean it. I want him gone, Sheila. I'll call his mother right now and explain that he can't stay here. If you are going to get angry with me over this, I guess that's just going to have to be the way it is. I can't sacrifice the happiness of my sons to put up with this boy."

    He left the room and went straight to the telephone.  He was trying so hard to control his anger.  He couldn't believe that he'd let Mitch make Scott feel so bad.  He hated himself for that.  Mitch had to go.  That was the only thing that Frank could think of to make this better.  He knew that he'd have a lot of making up to do with his sons over this, but getting Mitch out of the house was the first step.

    Ryan had come so far since they'd moved here.  He had made friends, and he was going out more.  He was even out of his room a lot more than he had been in California.  All of that was changing.  Frank had refused to see it until then, but Ryan was spending more and more time in his room again.  He'd had to put a lock on the attic door to keep Mitch out of Ryan's room! He couldn't believe that he'd even let it get that far.

    When he got Rhonda on the phone, he told her that Mitch would be flying back to California the next day.  She immediately started to plead with Frank to let Mitch stay, but he told her that his sons were more important than taking care of her wayward boy.  He explained about Mitch's attitude, his behavior, and he told her about what Scott had said to Ryan.  When he'd finished, Rhonda was quiet for a few minutes, and then she asked to speak to Mitch.

    When she had finished talking to Mitch, she asked to talk to Sheila.  Then, Sheila asked for a moment alone with Frank to talk this out.  Frank didn't know what there was to talk out now.  His decision had been made.  Mitch wasn't staying.  He wasn't about to let her talk him out of this.  His sons were unhappy, and that was just not acceptable.

    "First of all," she said when they got to the living room, "I am angry with you, Frank. I'm just not angry with you for the reasons that you think. You keep referring to Ryan and Scott as your sons, Frank. Now, I know that I am not their biological mother, but I have been their mother for the last eleven years, and you even allowed me to adopt them. So what I'm angry with you about is not understanding that I would never put Mitch above my own sons."

    "I'm sorry for that," he said.  "All I could think about was that Scott was more upset than I've ever known him to be, and it was Mitch's fault."

    "As for Mitch, I'd like nothing more than to backhand that boy more times than not," she said.  "Frank, I agree with you that as long as he acts the way he does, he can not stay here."

    "I feel that there's more to this..." he said not liking the direction he thought this discussion was going in.

    "Frank, he can't go back to California," said Sheila.  "That's just it. Mitch can not go back to California at all."

    "What are you saying?" asked Frank.

    "I'm saying that Rhonda does not want her son back in California," said Sheila.  "She won't tell me why, Frank. It was hard enough to get her to admit that she doesn't want him."

    "So we'll send him to Seattle," said Frank.

    "No, Frank," she said.  "We won't. Darryl doesn't want Mitch, either. So what do we do with him?"

    "We call the authorities and hand him over!" said Frank.  "That's what we do with him."

    "Do you really want to do that, Frank?" she asked. "Truthfully?"

    "I'd never want to do that to a child, Sheila," he said.  "But Mitch can't stay here if he's going to act like that."

    "Well, maybe its time we advise him of his options," she said.

    "What do you mean?"

    "Maybe he'll straighten up if he knows that the alternative is foster care or a juvenile center," she said.

    "And what about Ryan and Scott?" asked Frank.  "Are we just supposed to ignore their unhappiness to save Mitch from an unpleasant life?"

    "Frank, I didn't say that," she said.  "You know I would never put my children in jeopardy to save my nephew."

    "If he's going to stay here, then he's going to earn the right to do so," said Frank, cursing himself for even agreeing to that much.

    "I agree," said Sheila.  "He's going to have to act better, and his language has got to change. I won't put up with his dinner table behavior, and I won't stand for him treating the boys the way he does."

    "I won't agree to this until the boys know what we're talking about," said Frank.

    "Fair enough," said Sheila.  "They should have a say in this."

    Frank called all three of them into the living room to talk about Mitch's "situation."  He felt no guilt about talking about what Rhonda had said to Sheila in front of Ryan and Scott.  Mitch deserved a little humility as far as Frank saw it.  Sheila would have to listen to the boys, too.  If either of them said that they couldn't deal with it, then Mitch had to go.

    "Uncle Frank, I . . ."

    "No," said Frank, making Mitch jump.  "We will talk first, and you will listen."

    "Mitch, you're going to have to learn some respect," said Sheila.

    "You aren't going to California," said Frank.  "And you aren't going to Seattle."

    "What Frank is trying to say is . . ."

    "What I'm saying is that you no longer have those two options, Mitchell," said Frank, cutting Sheila off.  "I don't know what you did in California, but you've burned that particular bridge. Your mother has said that you are not welcome, and she also informed us that your father is of the same opinion."

    "What does that mean?" asked Mitch.  For the first time, Frank saw fear in the boy's eyes.

    "It means that you'll either live here with us, or you'll go into the state's custody," said Sheila.

    "It means it's either here, and I assure you that you will follow every rule we set for you right down to the letter, or you will live in a foster home or a juvenile center," said Frank.

    "What do I have to do to stay here?" asked Mitch.

    "First," said Sheila.  "You have to ask . . ."

    "Please?" he said.  "I don't want to live in a foster home."

    "You have to abide by every rule we set for you," said Frank.  "And I have to discuss this with my sons."

    "I'll follow any rule you give me," said Mitch, but he looked at Ryan and Scott with out right terror.

    "You look scared, Mitch," said Frank.  "Perhaps you shouldn't have treated them so badly. Let it be a lesson, Mitch. Never treat people that way, because you never know when your fate will be in their hands."

    "You have been out right cruel to Scott, Mitch," said Sheila.

    "If he decides to forgive you, you will never pound on the wall again," said Frank.  "You will be courteous to him, and you will always remember that he is not someone who is only there for your amusement."

    "What do you say, boys?" asked Sheila, looking at her sons.

    "If Scott is going to be made to feel better when he is not home, then I don't want Mitch here," said Ryan.  "That's wrong."

    "Yes, it is," said Frank.

    "He can't call me names anymore, either," said Scott.  "And my stuff is my stuff. He can't just walk into my room and take what he wants without asking anymore."

    "He has to be nice to my friends when they're here, or I don't think that he should stay," said Ryan.

    "Alright," said Frank.  "Let's do this a bit different. How about this: if Mitch agrees to respect both of you and follow the rules, how do you feel about him staying with us?"

    "I'm fine with it," replied Scott.

    "As long as Scott's ok with it, so am I," said Ryan.

    "You are going to apologize to both of them for the way you've been acting, Mitch," said Frank.  "Not now, because I don't want to listen to you lie."

    "You're going to find a job and help us pay for your expenses, too," said Sheila.

    "And you will never walk into either of their rooms without first knocking and gaining permission," said Frank.  "If you break that rule, I'll take your door off of its hinges."

    Ryan and Scott were excused from the discussion.  They went to Ryan's room to talk about Mitch alone.  Scott was worried that Mitch would just keep on doing the same things, but Ryan told him that if he did, their dad would send him away.  Scott didn't want Mitch to live in a foster home, but he didn't want him being rude to him all the time, either.

    At dinner, Frank talked to each of them about their day, and it was almost like normal.  A little forced, but almost normal.  Mitch asked for the potatoes and the pork chops instead of just reaching across the table, too.  It was nice, but it was strange.  He told them about football tryouts and the friends he thought he'd made at school.

    Frank told him that he would un-ground him in another week, and then he could have a friend over from time to time.  Ryan briefly thought about what that would mean when they had friends over at the same time, but then he decided that he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.  He was anxious to see how Mitch would act with all of his friends over on Saturday.  He hoped that he wouldn't ruin the day for them.

    After dinner, the three boys did their homework at the kitchen table.  Ryan was surprised that Mitch was quiet and actually did his homework.  He wondered how long this good boy routine would last.