It didn't really make a sound, but I rather like to envision that the sound my jaw made while dropping to what seemed like the floor was similar to that of a crashing coffee mug on a ceramic tile floor.  You know, a good clear crack that pierces the air.  I felt as heavy as lead, yet someone could've knocked me over with a feather at that point.  Charleston.  That was like the slaughter as far as this little lamb was concerned.  I knew this day would come, I would have to own up to the consequences of my birth into my specific family with all its peculiar devotions to antiquated practices.  I was determined to face this, yet I was not determined to face this quite so early nor by myself.  No, the time I had scheduled was some far off time in the future, when Jack and I were older, perhaps college, when the permanency and seriousness of our relationship could neither be denied nor belittled.

In my seriously affected state, the only response I could give my dad was, "Yes sir, that sounds like fun."  I added, "although I need to call Jack and tell him where I'm going.  We had kinda made plans for this week."  Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I could sense a vibe, hmm, maybe not even a vibe, but just a general raising of defenses between my parents.  Subtle, perhaps, but definitely tangible to me.  Then again, maybe I WAS just being paranoid.  I flew back up the stairs to my room and shut the door.  At that particular moment, the gravity of the whole situation came crashing down on me.  I was going to meet my future "wife" this week.  The girl I was supposed to marry.  The girl who was supposed to give my parents their first set of grandchildren.  That may have been what everyone else had in mind, but I had other plans.  And they ALL included Jack, dammit!  I quickly dialed his number (by heart, of course) and just exhaled sharply as I heard his voice connect on the other line.

"Shit Jack," I stammered, "I'm not gonna be able to come over tonight.  Or any night this week."  I was near tears at this point, I was so frustrated and disappointed.

"Will, what happened?" Jack asked.  "Baby, are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, I guess," I replied.  "My parents are making me go on a vacation with them all week but they waited till dinner tonight to spring on me."  The next sentence filled me with dread as I said it, "and Jack, something tells me that they know."

"They `KNOW' know?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, I think they `KNOW' know," I responded.

"How do you know?" Jack asked.

"Well, maybe I'm just being paranoid," I started, "but I'm just picking up on this weird vibe.  It's like they're walking on eggshells around me for some reason."

"Hmm," Jack said, "I don't know what to tell you.  Just act like you've got nothing to worry about.  Coz baby, I can read your cute face like an open book.  I'm sure if I can, your parents can, too.  And bless your heart, you just aren't that good at concealing it when something's bothering you."

Jack is so sweet, even when I least expect it.  That's what was gonna make telling him about Hillary even tougher.  So I won't.  For a little while, anyway.  There's no use in getting him all riled up if nothing comes out of this whole trip, right?  Yeah, I rationalized, I'll definitely tell him if the shit hits the fan, but not until things reach critical stage.  I mean, hell, this was freaking me out enough, I didn't need Jack getting an ulcer over it, too.  We hung up the phone with our goodbyes and mutual pledges of affection for each other, and I began the arduous task of packing for the next week.

My alarm went off that morning at 5:00 am.  I had grown to hate the shrill sound of my fucking alarm clock.  I felt like keeping a hammer by the bed, just so I could bash the shit out of it when it went off in the morning.  I never quite remembered that hammer at bedtime, though…Anyway, I dragged my sleepy ass out of bed and into the shower.

My dad was shouting at my brother and me to get a move on, that we were burning daylight.  God, how I loathed morning people.  I heaved my bag down the stairs and just let inertia propel it to the bottom of the stair case.  My dad shot a disapproving glance my way to which I responded by shrugging my shoulders.  Finally, at 6:05 am, the Expedition pulled out of the Parker family driveway.

"JACK! Get UP!" my mom yelled out, "BREAKFAST IS ALMOST READY!"

When I finally opened my eyes, light was pouring in through the windows, and the smell of frying bacon was drifting through the house.  Man, I really appreciate days off from school now that I have to slave away there everyday.  I just wish that Will hadn't taken off for Charleston.  I mean, I can't really blame him, you can't contradict the parentals on stuff like that, it's just that I had really hoped we would get to spend some quality `us' time this week.  I guess I would just have to get through this week, instead of really enjoying it.  He was only gonna be gone four days, anway.  I guess I could call some of the guys and see what's going on in the mean time, though.  I called over to Robert's house and his mom answered.  I asked to speak to him and not long after Robert picked up on his end.

"What's up, Robert?" I asked.

"Jack, man, what's up?" he responded.

"Nothing, dude, I was just wondering what you were doing today.  See if you wanna shoot some hoops or something," I said.

"You and Will in a fight again?" Jack asked.

I panicked for a second, and then realized that Will had told Robert, and reportedly, Robert was cool with it all.  It still took me off guard, though.

"Huh? Um, no," I stammered.  "Charleston.  Will's in Charleston."

Robert just laughed and added, "you're lost without him, aren't you?"

"Yeah, kinda," I chuckled to myself.

"Don't worry, bro," he said, "the boys'll take care of you this week.  Who knows, you might even be playing on our team by Friday," he laughed.

"Thanks for the invite, but don't count on it," I countered with a laugh of my own.

"Why don't you come over here in about an hour," Robert said, "I think we're gonna get a pickup 3 on 3 game going.  I'm gonna call some guys so we have enough."

"Ok, man, see you in a few," I said as I hung up the phone.  Damn, that was really cool, I thought.  I just had a conversation with someone about Will, and they were totally cool with it.  What a cool concept!  I flew downstairs and woofed down a breakfast of bacon, eggs, grits, and toast, and went back upstairs to check my email.  I had a few things from friends in Florida, most of it was junkmail.  Damn, AOL.  All I ever get anymore is junkmail.  Oh well, I hopped on over to Nifty to check and see if any of my favorite stories had any updates.  Oh no!  "Strawberry Boy" got killed off!  Damn, that was one of my fave's.  Oh well, that new one is pretty good, though, the one about the australian kid or whatever.  What never ceased to amaze me is how hungry people are to read about stories that show that true tender love CAN exist between two guys.  The best part, though, is that I FINALLY know first hand what all those Comicality stories are talking about.  And that is about the damn near coolest thing ever.  Soon it was about time to head over to Robert's, and I threw on some mesh shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt.  I pulled my white socks all the way up to my knees, a la Keith Van Horn, grabbed a Lemon/Lime Gatorade out of the fridge and headed out the door.

The basketball that day was pretty fierce.  We played our asses off for about 3 hours before everyone was starting to feel the effects.  After that, we just sort of shot around.  I have to admit, it feels pretty good just being one of the guys again.  I am so glad we moved here.  I mean, first of all there's Will.  Secondly, I just couldn't handle living in Florida anymore.  I had managed to escape the small town gossip, there was no way I would ever let my guard down like that again, though.  Some of the guys started leaving, so Robert and I went inside.  He, of course, called Cara the minute he got in and they talked for a little bit while I flipped through the channels on tv.  Hmm, TRL is on.  Yo, wassup Carson?  Hehe, this show is pretty lame, although, I must admit I do harbor a secret fascination with the boy bands.  I mean, everybody talks shit about them, yet, for some reason, everyone seems to know the words to the songs.  It's a mystery!  I flipped it on through and wound up on Comedy Central.  I love watching all those old Saturday Night Lives.  Well, not the REALLY old ones, but the ones with Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, and David Spade.  The "GAP girls" has got to be one of the best skits EVER!  Robert soon came back in and flopped down on the couch next to me.

"Norm is the best news guy ever," he said.

"Yeah, I know, Colin Quinn sucks," I agreed.

"You wanna catch a movie tonight?" Robert asked.

"Why, are you asking me out?" I asked and put my hand on his thigh.

"Hehe, no way, perv!  Seriously, me, Cara, and some other people are gonna go catch a flick tonight.  You ought to come, dude, it'll do you good to take your mind off of things," he said as he flashed a grin my way.  Something about the way he said the word `things' made me shiver.  Like some sort of weird foreshadowing or something.  I knew what he meant, Will of course, though, so I laughed and agreed to go.  I got up to go home, I smelled pretty bad and needed a nap before tonight, so I agreed to meet Robert over here at 8:00 tonight.

I awoke at 6:40 and lazily hit the snooze button one more time.  I read somewhere, I think it was Maxim, that the snooze button is bad for you; it messes up your sleep routines or something.  Hell if I care, though, I still think it's one of the greatest inventions ever made.  7:05 rolled around, though, and I decided to drag myself out of my bed.  I still reeked from my afternoon workout, so I hopped in the shower.  I showered pretty quickly I thought, but it was already 7:25 when I got out.  Damn!  I flew around my room, throwing a little gel in my hair, hopping into my clothes and ran downstairs.  It was 7:50 when I got to Robert's house, at least I wasn't late.  The site I saw when I got there upset me, though.  There were three other guys, and four other girls.  All the girls just happened to be dating all the boys except for one, and guess who?

"Um, hey Stacey," I stuttered.

"Hey Jack," she replied while looking me over.  God, is this what sexual harassment feels like?  I started to feel rather trapped, but it was too late.  We loaded up in two cars and headed over to the cineplex.  Guess who sat with me in the backseat?  Gosh, something about her just made my skin crawl all the sudden.  Don't get me wrong, she was a very pretty girl, she just had this look in her eye.  The only thing near resembling it I had only seen once before, and that was on some Discovery Channel show about animal predators in Africa.  God, I felt like I was in her sights, she was closing in on her kill.  Dammit, Will, where are you when I need you?

We went up and bought our tickets for "For Love of the Game" with Kevin Costner.  The worst thing was, Stacey got up there and was like, "We'd like 2 for `Love of the Game', please."  The ticket guy slid the tickets under the window and then she and the attendant both looked at me to pay for them.  I muttered a profanity under my breath and slid a 20 under the window.  She just flashed a cute little smile and went on inside.  I was hating this more every minute.  The girls excused themselves for the ladies room while Robert and I stood in line for popcorn.

"What the fuck, dude?" I harshly whispered to Robert.

"Whoa, what's up, man?" Robert asked very innocently.

"What's up with my `date'," I said sarcastically.

"Man, that's Cara's department.  I swear to God I had no idea shit was all gonna work out like this," Robert pled.  The worst thing was I believed him.

"Well, this is just great.  Just great!" I said disgustedly.  Just then the girls came up to us giggling.

"Well I'm glad to hear you're having a good time, Jack," Cara said and winked at me while motioning her head over in Stacey's direction.  I simply ignored her and ordered a small popcorn and a small Pepsi.  Stacey can get her own damned popcorn.

We went in to find a seat and sat in about the middle of the theater.  Of course, everyone paired off, leaving me very uncomfortable with Stacey.  Luckily I was spared the agony of talking to her when the previews started as we sat down.  She kept motioning like she was trying to reach for my popcorn, but oh no!  She gets nothing from me, including my damned popcorn.  God, why were my defenses up so strong?  I mean, jeez, she's just probably trying to have fun, and I'm just being paranoid.  Any suspicions I had were confirmed when she reached for my drink which was resting in my lap in between my legs.  Instead of just picking up the cup, she leaned her head WAY down in my lap and sucked from the straw, which was only inches from my crotch.  Ok, that did it.  I hopped up from my seat and motioned for Robert to join me outside in the lobby.

"Dude, she's practically RAPING me in there!" I said, quite loud although I was trying to whisper.

"Yeah, I saw that little stunt she just pulled," Robert said.  "Do you realize most guys would kill for the opportunity to have Stacey do that to them?"

"Yeah, well, you and I both know I'm not like most guys," I said.  "I'm gonna go back in there, but if she tries anything else like that, I'm outta here, ok?  You can say I got the stomach flu for all I care, but if she does any more of that, I'm bolting."  We walked back into the movie theater and sat back down.

"I think I'm feeling a little sick, so you probably shouldn't eat or drink anything after me," I told Stacey.  Thankfully the movie started soon after I said that.  I honestly can't remember much of that movie, as I was constantly watching Stacey out of the corner of my eye.  I wasn't letting my guard down, not even for a baseball movie.

The ride home was uneventful, Stacey was thankfully more concerned with singing along with the radio than trying to molest me.  God, I thought girls were supposed to be all sweet and innocent!  I got dropped off in front of my house and as the car pulled away, I looked up at the night sky.  I wondered what Will was doing at this exact moment, I just took comfort knowing he was probably thinking the same thought about me.  I went in and went straight to bed, wishing the rest of the day would hurry up and end.

My mom woke me up the next morning at 11:00 and said I had a phone call.  Dammit, Stacey, LEAVE ME ALONE! I thought.  I picked up the phone and said, "What?!"  All I heard on the other line was laughter, but I KNEW that laughter, and it wasn't Stacey's.  It was WILL'S!

"Good morning to you, too, sleepy Jack," Will said.

"Mmm, morning babe, God, I miss you SO much," I said, damn near getting emotional.

"Oh, don't I know it, babe," Will said.  "Don't worry, though, we made it through one day, we've only got two more till I get back.  Then we're definitely making up for lost time."

"Will, I just don't know if I can make it that long," I poured my heart out into the phone, "I feel like I'm just about to DIE of loneliness."

"Baby!" Will said, "don't you worry one hair on your pretty little head, I'll be back there and in your arms before you know it."

"Well hurry, dammit," I whined, "I'm just pining away back here."

"Don't worry, babe," Will said before hanging up, "I'll be back the day after tomorrow, and have I got a story to tell you.  I love you."

I hung up the phone after returning his sentiment, and just collapsed onto my bed in tears.  I don't know why I was taking this so hard, I mean, I had never had such a bad time over a school break before in my life.  Will was just the light in my life, when he wasn't there, a black void settled in around me that completely surrounded me.  Add that to the fact that I had to avoid the whole crowd from last night, and I was feeling mighty lonely at that point.  Oh well, whenever anything bothers me, I just go pound the shit out of some golf balls on the range.  I hit three bags worth of range balls that day.

Day Three: Mission Impossible

The situation was becoming desperate.  I was missing Will something awful, and I hadn't heard from him all day.  I had sat by the phone eagerly awaiting any news from him, but none had come.  My stomach's rumbling echoed the fact I hadn't eaten anything all day and I was starving.  My mom came through and told me to go get dressed, we were all going out to eat.  I reluctantly left my post at the phone and went up and got ready.  We went out to a really nice Japanese Steakhouse, you know the kind where they cook all the stuff in front of you and put on the little show with the knives and stuff?  Anyway, I just picked at my food, and again mom started in with the questions.

"Honey, eat," she said.

"I'm just not hungry, mom," I answered.

"What's the matter, sugar?" She asked.

"Nothing, why?" I asked.

"Jackson, this is your favorite restaurant.  You normally wind up finishing your plate and mine off too.  Yet tonight, you've hardly even touched yours.  Are you having problems again at school?" she asked.  The way she said that sent chills through my body and made my stomach churn.  Suddenly, I just bolted for the bathroom.  My dad was quick on my heels, and followed me inside just in time to hear me vomit in the closest toilet.

"Jack, buddy, what's wrong?" my dad implored.

"Nothing dad, just go back to the table, ok?  I'll be out in a minute, I promise," I begged.

"Ok, but we're gonna have a little talk when we get home," dad said as he walked out the door.

The ride home was quiet, and I was gathering my thoughts as to what I could say to explain my despondent behavior.  Nothing was coming to me, though, except images of Will.  That certainly wouldn't help matters, to let them know the truth about why I was so upset.  I was just missing my baby, that's all.  When we got home, my mom took Haley downstairs to watch "Dawson's Creek."

"Son, why don't you come out on the deck with me?" my dad asked.  "It's a nice night out."  I followed him outside and collapsed in a deck chair.  He pulled out a cigar, but just chewed on the end.  He never lit it, he just seemed like he was deep in thought.  Finally he broke the silence.

"Son, you know your mom and I can tell you're upset about something.  Why don't you just tell us and let us help you?" he asked.

"I'm just going through some changes right now, dad," I said.  "Some transitional phases in my life."  Yeah, that was a good non-descript answer.  Surely that wouldn't invite further inquisition.  Wrong.

"Well, you know it wasn't too long ago I was going through `transitions' son, I still remember what it feels like.  Feel like you're all alone, nobody understands you or what you're going through?" my dad asked.  I just nodded my head in approval.

"Does this have anything to do with your date on Monday night?" Dad asked.

"Well, sorta," I said.  Oh damn, I started talking, this could only lead to more talking on my part.  It can't go anywhere but downhill from here, I thought.

"I mean, I got set up with this girl.  She's a really pretty girl, but she wasn't the one I wanted to be there with.  No, unfortunately, I can't ever go out to the movies with the one I want.  And right now, the one I want to be with feels like a thousand miles away," I said as I started to sniffle.  Once I started, I couldn't stop, and the tears started freely flowing.  "No, the one I want to be with looks good enough to stop traffic, but yet can't be seen with me.  The one I crave has my heart and soul, and yet I can't let anyone know."  I was outright sobbing now, and my dad did something he hasn't done in a long time.  He picked me up and held me close in his lap.  I wrapped my arms around him and bawled into his shoulder for what seemed like an eternity.  My dad just stroked my hair and held me until I was all cried out.  He was gently rocking me back and forth in his arms.

He finally broke the silence, and changed my world forever, when he said, "So, when do your mother and I get to meet him?"

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