Welcome back to another chapter of "My Only Escape", I certainly hope you guys didn't forget me. This chapter, however, is brought to you with a sad announcement. Chris Conklin, a close friend, and a dear sweet man, responsible for the Australian broadcast of this story on the radio...unfortunately passed away shortly after the release of the last chapter. He sent me an email only days before, telling me how much he enjoyed chapter 6 and was looking forward to doing another reading for me soon. Every single word of this series...is now done and dedicated to his memory. For Chris, I will always rememer you my friend. And I pray that the rest of this series gives you a proper tribute. I know, wherever you are, that you're still reading. ((Hugz Forever)) And I know I'll be seeing you again soon.

There is a TRIBUTE on the site for Mr. Conklin if you care to stop by. And an 8 CD SET of Chris' emotional reading of the first five chapters is available for order as well. (Orders ONLY available until September 1st, 2005!!! So Don't Miss Out!!!) Thank you Chris. For everything.

Please let me know what you think of this chapter at Comicality@webtv.net or stop by my website at http://comicality.gayauthors.org Thank you.

"My Only Escape"

That night, I believe I had slept on my shoulder in an awkward position, because when I woke up, it hurt even worse than before. I mean it really ached with this sharp misery in the center of my arm. When I rolled out of bed, I immediately reached for my sling and put it on. It only gave me 'minimal' comfort from the pain, but minimal was better than nothing I suppose. I looked at my hair in the mirror, ruffled and twisted in the most comical way. And for just a moment or two, I thought about Brody, and wondered if this is what he saw when he looked at me. If so...what does he like about me? What is so kissable about me? Nothing. I wouldn't kiss me. I'm ugly. Soooooo ugly. I looked away from my own reflection, and I was embarrassed. Ashamed of the disgusting toad looking back at me from the other side of the mirror. I can't explain the feeling really, but when you've been told you're ugly all your life...it takes ten miracles to even begin to think otherwise. I think Brody would be my first miracle.

I didn't look back in the mirror for fear of being embarrassed to the point of not going to school today. Already I was at the point of almost crying from the humiliation of knowing that Brody had actually seen me looking like this. I wish I was cuter. I wish I could, like, be super gorgeous for him so he'd fall all over himself and want me. I wish I was more social too, so I could talk to him more and make him laugh and stuff. I wish....I just wish I wasn't me. I never want to be me. Fucking worthless idiot...sighhhh....whatever. I washed up and brushed my teeth, and then went to get dressed. Might as well go to school. I'm never going to get any better than this anyway. I'm so pathetic.

Thankfully, my father was still asleep when I got up and went into the kitchen for some breakfast. I figured I could sneak some cold cereal down really quick and be out of the house before he woke up. I just didn't need to scamper around his evil gazes this morning. I felt bad enough as it was. My mother, however, was already awake and making eggs and toast. She was like the queen of the 'morning people', and greeted me with a warm smile. "You're up and at 'em kinda early today. I thought for sure I'd have to come shake you in a few minutes."

"Yeah, well...school's important." I said with a mock grin and a hint of sarcasm.

She playfully swatted me on the nose with her oven mit, and sat a glass of orange juice down in front of me. "How's your arm feeling today?"

"Better." I lied. It felt sore and miserable. But for her sake, I gave the illusion of her perfect little soldier. Who could be brave enough, and tough enough, to handle a little incident like this one. "It makes it kinda hard to get dressed though."

"Actually, I was going to comment on the fact that you seem awfully dressed up today. What's the occassion?"

"I'm not 'dressed up', Mom. I just put on whatever."

"No...you put some effort in today. A little bit more than the usual jeans and tshirt. A lady can tell these things." She smiled. "You gotta girlfriend or something?"

"Mom...." I moaned.

"I'm JUST asking! You look nice, that's all."

"You always think I'm chasing some girl."

"No I don't. Sometimes..." She kissed me on the cheek. "...Sometimes I think they're chasing you. My handsome little boy." She grinned, and I couldn't take anymore.

I let a smile spread out on my face, "Ok, that's it. I'm outta here." I shoved the rest of my food in my mouth and guzzled down the rest of my orange juice. "Bye Mom."

"Take an umbrella, honey. It's supposed to rain today."

"I will. Thanks Mom." I grabbed a little umbrella on the way out of the door, and headed over to Adam's. Hopefully he wasn't walking around half naked and getting my homones bouncing around before school.

When I got there, he opened the door, thankfully fully dressed, and let me in. "Well, if it isn't the infamous one armed man?" He said. "Let me grab my breakfast off of the table and I'll take it upstairs with us." He walked into the kitchen to get it, and I heard the doorbell ring behind me. "Can you get that? It's probably Brody." He shouted from the other room.

Brody...the name tingled warmly in both of my ears. I felt a chill run through me, and made my way over to open the door. I took a deep breath, and opened it up. There he was. His backpack slung over one shoulder, and a fountain drink in his hand. Grape...slightly turning his tongue purple. I saw it when he gently licked his lips after the first sip. Brody was more beautiful than he was the day before. And would probably be even more beautiful tomorrow. His soft brown curls were laying damp across his forehead from his morning shower. I could smell the lingering scent of his shampoo, mixed with the soapy aroma of his smooth skin. His bright hazel eyes looked more green than brown today, and they seemed to flare slightly with his smile. "Hey, what's up, Zack?" He said happily, his boyish voice filling me with the most orgasmic sensation of uncensored infatuation. God...he was better at being cute than anyone in the world. He wasn't even TRYING to be sexy, and he was pulling it off subliminally. When he stepped in and past me, I could hardly speak. "How's your arm dude?"

"Um...it's...it's ok." I couldn't take my eyes off of his. If I thought I could get away with leaning in and kissing him right then and there, I would have.

"I got some extra ice for my drink today, so if Adam has an empty sandwich bag, I thought maybe I could put it in there for ya. If you think ice will help it feel better?" Knowing that he thinks about me when I'm not around is like suddenly hearing a celebrity say your name on television. I can't believe he would do something as adorable as bringing me ice for my arm. I doubt it would help, but I'd fake it if I thought it would make him feel good.

"Th-th-thanks..." I started. I thought back to our conversation on the phone last night...and was a bit nervous about talking to him. But Brody seemed just as normal as ever. So I pushed the fear aside and tried to mimic that normality myself. "...um..well..."

"You guys ready? C'mon." Adam said, walking back into the room with his breakfast plate. He trotted up the stairs, and Brody smiled at me before following him up. I walked behind him once I let out a sigh of relief. I certainly hope I can stop being a spaz and actually 'talk' to him again without looking like a complete idiot. Could I be a bigger nerd?

I was walking up the stairs behind him, and before I had a chance to really stop myself, I found my eyes glued to the back of Brody's jeans. Shamelessly so. Maybe I was too scared to look before, but staring at it now, I realize just how gorgeous his ass is. I mean, it was one of those mouthwatering asses that gently push against the fabric of his pants, and you can see this perfect valley between his round cheeks. The kind of tight, bubbled butt where the cheeks look more like perfect circles squeezed together than two ovals. As though the jeans were pushing, tucking, and lifting, that delicious ass like some kind of male push up bra. With every step I watched it intently, secretly wishing that he'd stop suddenly so I could ram my face into it and pretend it was an accident. The thought of licking someone there seemed nasty to me until my eyes saw Brody's ass up close like that. Now all I could think about was having that soft tight pucker gripping my taste buds while I wiggled it around in his warmth. Or even better, plunging my hardness into him and having those cheeks rest against my thighs as his constricting tunnel milked me dry with it's hot muscled suction. GOD, I wanted him! Whatever sickness I had for him before was getting worse, and I couldn't stop it. He looked sooooo good. He smelled good. And now I was watching his squeezably soft melons dance in front of my face while walking up a flight of stairs. I wanted to kiss him. I HAD to kiss him! I had to kiss him NOW!

We reached the top of the steps, and my little 'peepshow' was unfortunately over. But the lust remained, and I was at full attention. I pretended to search for something in my backpack as I felt a blush come to my cheeks, hoefully that'll hide my erection for a bit until I come back to my senses. Whew...was it hot in here, or was it just me? "What's your game of choice today?" Adam asked. I didn't say anything, and Brody looked over at me with a gentle grin. Agh! Don't look at me! I'm trying to make this boner go away!

"I dunno..." I mumbled, looking towards the floor.

"Are you up for a quick match of Halo or something?" Brody asked me. Agh! Don't TALK to me either! He's not helping my situation any! If anything, I got HARDER just hearing his voice sent in my direction.

"Um...ok..sure. Whatever." He got up and sat next to me while Adam sat at his desk and finished eating his breakfast. Brody was close enough that our legs touched! Don't touch me, don't look at me, don't smile at me, don't talk to me...wow...he smelled REALLY fucking good! Better than just out of the shower. It was like he was still IN the shower! And I was in there with him! Great....in the shower with Brody...nice way to think when you're trying to lose a BONER, doofus!

I got to the point where it was just difficult to breathe around him. This wasn't just Brody anymore. This wasn't just some cute boy that I could secretly lust over and keep in my heart and my thoughts without anybody knowing how I felt. I've actually shared a KISS with this boy! His lips were, at one time, actually pressed against mine. And he LIKED it. He knows how badly I wanted to kiss him back, he has to know. Even after running out of that house that afternoon, he had to have known how much that tiny moment brightened up my entire life. And now? Now he's sitting right here next to me, pretending like it never happened, and it's driving me CRAZY!!!

I loved him so much that it really hurt inside. Have you ever felt that feeling? That intense longing for somebody? Where everything inside of you is just aching to be with him, and the more you try to deny it the stronger it gets. Falling in love is like falling into a lake. You might hold on to an overhead branch for a long long time, trying to pull yourself up...but eventually your arms are going to get so tired that you just can't resist gravity's beckoning anymore, and you willingly let go. Right now...my muscles are sore from holding on so long, and whether Brody loves me back or he's just playing a stupid game with my heart...I'm going to fall eventually. In fact, I don't even think it matters anymore. Even if he told me he hated my guts...I'd be in love with him anyway. I guess that's just how this feeling goes.

When we left Adam's house for school, I was more awkward than ever. I don't know how Brody could handle this so well. I would peek at him out of the corner of my eye while we were walking, and he'd give me the warmest smile I've ever seen from him. He'd have that look in his eye...just like he did the day he kissed me. And it was terrifying. Because there were times when I wanted to kiss him so badly that I was afraid that I was actually going to DO it right there in front of Adam. I think I blushed uncontrollably for the first five minutes. It was a huge relief to hear the pitter patter of Sam's sneakers hitting the pavement behind us as he raced to catch up for the day.

"Hey! You guys left early today!" Sam huffed.

"Yeah, we were trying to ditch you! I wish you'd take the hint already!" Adam said with his usual sarcastic flair.

"Shut up." Now, Sam was a little brother to all of us, and he knew Adam was teasing. We practically made it a religion to pick on him on a daily basis, him being the waifish little blond cupcake that he was. But every now and then, he'd tell us to shut up with the slightest little offended whine. A pouty tone that made it seem like he took it to heart. He could be really sensitive somedays.

"So are we still on for tomorrow?" Brody asked me, and his voice caught me off guard.

"Huh?" I shot back, almost stumbling over my feet.

"To hang out this weekend. Are you still cool with that?"

"Um...yeah. I am. Definitely." I was blushing again, I could feel it burning in my face. I lowered my vice, as though me and Brody hanging out was some kind of secretive action. As though talking about this around Adam and Sam, even though they were involved in their own little conflict and in a world by themselves at the moment, was a hazardous topic of conversation.

"Cool. I can rent us a movie or something. Unless you'd rather do something else. Or...whatever, you know? We'll figure something out." He smiled. God...it was sooooo hard to look into those hazel eyes of his. It was like staring at a hypno-coin or something, and I felt so vulnerable whenever he lined me up in his gaze. I was born again through his stare, as though my entire existence was defined only by his perception of me and how I fit into his world. That can be a really helpless feeling sometime.

"Is your arm still broke?" Sam asked, evidently shaking his previous mood for his typical cheery smile.

"It's Not broken, Sam. My shoulder was dislocated, that's all. See?" I said, and took my arm out of my sling to wave it around for him a bit. It was just a little bit sore, but not so much that I couldn't move it.

"Well what are you wearing a sling for?"

"I don't know. The doctor told me I had to."

"Well take it off. It makes you look all 'handicapped' and shit." Sam said.

"It's only for a little bit longer. Don't get your panties in a bunch."

"Faker." He giggled. "Well, whenever you take it off, you owe me three piggy back rides."

"Hehehe, deal. Just don't jump me until then. Ok?"

He thought about it for a second. "We'll see how I feel." What an energetic basket case.

"So, when do I get to benefit from one of your piggy back rides?" Brody asked softly, and I could swear that I got fully hard in a split second. Brody...riding on my back...with his cheek against mine. Sighhhh....


"Quit being a fag. Come on, we're gonna be late." Adam joked, and we picked up the pace. Thank God for THAT comment, otherwise I would have been stuck for sure.

We walked up to the front gate of the school just as the bell was ringing, meaning we were going to be a few minutes late anyway. We wouldn't really care if it wasn't our teachers' sworn duty to publicly humiliate us for being tardy. So we hurried along and got inside. Sam's classes were in the West wing, so he took off first, his bag flying off of his slim shoulders as he ran down the hall. Adam trotted up the stairs and yelled back that he'd see us at lunch. Brody and I weren't in that much of a hurry though. Instead, I was forcing myself to slow down my pace to spend as much time walking beside him as I could. And...if I didn't know any better...I could have sworn he was doing the same thing.

He bent over to get a drink of water from a nearby fountain, and while this may have been the perfect opportunity to look at the seductive curve of his mouthwatering ass as it was slightly pushed out in my direction...I found myself more fascinated by a different sight. Just the sight of him drinking was enough to excite me somewhere deep in the core of my being. I was intoxicated with the visual in front of me. The delicate way Brody was kissing the cool stream of water as the liquid arched upwards to greet his soft lips...the way a few of his loosely gathered curls crawled forward on his forehead...the way his fingers curled gently at the edges of the fountain to hold himself steady...whoah. Everything about Brody was love. How was I ever able to run away from this boy's kiss?

I was so enchanted by the sight, that I was startled by him rising back up to his feet. I found myself speechless as he used the back of his soft hand to wipe away the remaining moisture from his lips, and was onc again locked in by the blended color scheme of his almost confusing eyes. "I'm late. I'll see you at lunch, k?" I mumbled, still unable to let my eyes wander from his. Still laboring to breathe normally in his soul inspiring presence.

"Cool. I'll see you then." He leaned forward, and gave me a quick hug. Out of nowhere. And then he gave me a tender grin and said, "I'm glad we're ok...you and me. Really."

"Um...ok." I have no idea how to respond to that.

"Still friends, right?" He asked.

"Um...ok." I know that I used to have a slightly wider vocabulary than this at one time.

Brody gave me a strange look, and then giggled a bit, which caused me to giggle right along with him. "Ok then. I'll catch ya later." He started to back away from me, and I almost wanted to follow him. I'd follow him anywhere.

"Ok...I'll...I'll catch you later too." Ugh! 'I'll catch you later too?' SNAP OUT OF IT! I'm turning into a serious wacko these days.

You know what makes high school such a lackluster experience sometimes? The fact that the average teenage mind is thinking of about four billion different things at once, and only ONE of them is schoolwork. Sure, I paid attention to my English teacher every now and then, in 90 second intervals at the most, but my heart was wrapped up in Brody and my mind was sure to follow. It was like I was dreaming about his kiss with every blink of my eyes. And it occurred to me that...if we were alone like last weekend...that I might actually have an opprtunity to do it again. And again. And again. Do you have any idea what the very idea of possibility for an encounter that could be considered even slightly erotic can do the mind of a teenage virgin? To hell with a textbook, I'm trying to CONCENTRATE here! He actually is happy that we're ok. He's...happy about being able to still talk to me. How is any of this humanly possible? HOW?

When I see him, he's going to smile at me, and joke around with me, and be all sweet and cuddly around me. I mean...how am I supposed to compete with that? I CAN'T! I'm not cool, or funny, or smart. I'm not ANY of those things! Why does he keep putting all of this pressure on me to be something I'm not? It's like he expects soooo much of me and I'm...I'm just trying so hard not to be worthless that, frankly, it's exhausting. FUCK!!!! I wish I was so much more for him! I wish I was hotter and wittier and just....the kinda boy that Brody expects me to be. Somebody worthy of having him even talk to me.

And it was that pattern of thinking that began to spiral rapidly downward. Sometimes it didn't take much more than a simple thought or a word spoken to myself in the back of my subconscious to get the process started. When my own inner voice was replaced by my father's, and I began to remember how very little purpose I had in this world. When the thought of my own self image in the mirror beganto wither and decay into a sight so pathetic that I'd rather erase my own existence than allow anyone else to laugh at the miserable waste of space that I had become. Suddenly, the pedestal that I had built for Brody was beginning to grow taller and taller before my eyes. And me? I was standing in quicksand with weights tied around my ankles. Rapidly sinkng into the muck beneath my feet while the gap between my self worth and Brody's grew too big for me to even see his smile anymore. I felt sooooo ugly. You have no idea how bad it can get. How it can bring tears to your eyes in those quiet moments, because all you want in life is for this feeling of 'hate' to just go away. You just want to stop being so disgusted with yourself....but you can't. Because you're a useless, wretched, unlovable piece of fuking VERMIN with NO value at all...and deep dow you know that everyone around you can see that.

Maybe I should call this whole weekend off. Before I embarrass myself.

The bell rang, and the teacher grabbed our attention by telling us to pick up our graded papers from the front of the class. Sadly, I tried to shake off enough of my self pity to gather my books and head out of there. Everybody was getting their papers from the teacher's desk, and I made sure to get mine as well. However, when I looked at the grade, I saw a 'C+' on it instead of the 'B' or better that I was expecting. I stared at t for a moment or two, looking at the many red marks and comments that he had put all over every page. Comments like, 'needs more description', or 'lack of detail here', and the ever popular 'this is a run-on sentence. We discussed this.' The more I read, the more I felt like my paper had been unfairly ripped apart. English was one of my best classes. I wasn't neccessarily an A student, but it was still one of the few classes that I considered effortless when compared to all of the others.

"Um...Mr. Raffe? Can I talk to you for a second?" I asked. Getting a 'C+' on a paper wasn't good enough. Not at all. I KNOW I did better than that. I KNOW it. I can't take this home. My dad would kill me if he saw that.

"Yes, what is it, Zack?" He said, still looking down at his desk and writing in one of his grade books, or whatever it was.

"Um...it's just...my paper...it's..."

"Speak UP, Zack. You have to annunciate. Project so people can hear you." He was always so rude about telling me to speak up. I'm soft spoken, so sue me! No need for him to get so agitated so easily. Pardon me for not being used to raising my voice without having the taste slapped out of my mouth at home.

Still, I guess if I was going to plead my case, I might as well play his game. "My paper sir..." I said a bit louder. "...You gave me a 'C+' on it. I mean...was it really that bad?"

He took the paper from me, looking at his own notes, and then looked back up at me. "Zack, I've seen better work from you. All of these italics and caps, they're unneccessary. And remember what I told you about the run on sentences in your stories? Do you? This one, for example. It goes on and on and on without end. There's three completely different thoughts in this sentence. You have to learn to divide them up with a period. There's no room to breathe here."

"I write the same way I talk. It's more comfortable that way. That's just.....it's just how I write." I told him softly.

"But it's not the proper way to write, Zack. You have to follow some kind of rules if you want to be any good at this. They're there for a reason. You can't just 'make up' your own rules and expect anybody to be able to read and enjoy your work."

"But....isn't a 'C+' kinda harsh? I mean...can I write it again or something?"

"Don't worry about it. You're doing fine in this class. You just have to find a way to contain your thoughts and focus on what you're trying to say without all of these written theatrics." He said. He hardly looked me in the eye. Hardly at all. "As far as your grades are concerned, this one won't pull you down very much at all. But I'm gonna need you to work harder on correcting the mistakes we discussed next time. Ok? Don't ignore my notes. They're there to help you."

"But...I mean...can I take this paper back and maybe make this one better? I mean...I can fix it or something, if....if you want. I can make it perfect, I promise."

"We're already moving onto the next assignment, Zack..."

"PLEASE? Just...let me make it better, and then you can read it again. Ok? I'll stay up all night if I have to, and I'll bring it back to you tomorrow before we move on...."

"You already have credit for the assignment, Zack..."

"I know, but.."

"Just try harder on the next paper. Ok?" Mr. Raffe basically looked me in the eye, and let me know that the final decision had been made. That was it, no more to be said. Ok, I get it....I suck. I completely fucking SUCK! I can't write, I look stupid even trying, and I didn't deserve any better than a 'C+' grade on it. I should be lucky I got THAT much! Fine. Whatever.

"Yeah. Sure thing, Mr. Raffe." I said, and took my paper back to put it in my backpack. "I'm sorry." I said, and walked out of the room. How could I be doing SO poorly in my favorite class that even Mr. Raffe is disgusted with my work. He didn't come right out and say it, but I know he was probably just being polite. He HATED it! He really hated it! He thinks I'm some kind of idiot, I know it. It figures. My dad was right. I'm no good at this writing thing anyway. Shit....a 'C+'...I've gotta do SO much better than that on the next one! It's gotta be PERFECT! One hundred percent PERFECT, goddammit! Everything I DO has to be perfect. I work at it! I work my ASS off! And I should have done better. Not this half ass attempt at writing something that's just going to end up being unreadable and stupid. I don't even WANT this thing anymore. I looked at the grade on the paper one last time. Then I brutally ripped it in half, crumpled it up as tightly as I could, and tossed it into the trashcan. I can't believe it. I worked really hard on that story...and it still wasn't good enough. Nothing I do is ever good enough. No wonder I'm such a disappointment. No wonder he hits me.

I pretty much sulked my way through my morning until lunch came, and despite my terminally gloomy outlook, I couldn't help but feel a pinch of excitement to see Brody again. It felt like a lit firecracker in the center of my heart, with the fuse getting shorter and shorter the closer I got to him. Until he came along, I never knew that the mere presence of someone in the same cafeteria could cause such a strong physical reaction to another person. My God...it was exhilirating! There is no better drug in this world than the addicting narcotic of a teenage crush. Carrying my tray to that table, walking over to sit next to him...it felt like I was flying. I am SO in love!

Adam and Brody didn't have much trouble at all talking about this and that,it was a normal situation for them to be together. But for me? It was a struggle to even offer even the slightest bit of conversation. When you're that focused on somebody, you expect your body to betray you. If I started babbling and trying to be all friendly, I was going to give myself away. I knew I was. I'd do or say something so OBVIOUSLY gay, that they'd figure me out in a heartbeat. So I sat there in an awkward state of silence while I tried to find a balance between what I wanted them to know and what I most certainly didn't want them to know. It was then that Brody noticed me being so quiet. "Hey stranger." He said, looking over at me with a sensuous smile on his face. His eyes softened a bit, and I doubt he was doing it on purpose, but his cuteness intensified right in front of my eyes and began pulling me forward. DESPERATELY wanting to kiss him before I went insane! "You're awfully quiet today. What's up?"

"Huh? Nothing." I mumbled, myarmsand legs turning to jelly, my fingers frantically tugging at the paper on the side of my juice bottle from the machine. My other arm tremling, as the sling held it close to my pounding heart. "Just thinking."

"He's always 'just thinking', get used to it." Adam said. "Total space cadet."

"Sorry." I replied, but Brody didn't turn away. In fact, he turned towards me even more.

"So how was your day, so far? Any big adventures?"

"Um.....no." I said softly, and sorta lowered my head to my tray as some weird grin broke out on my face. I can't really say why, but it was there. It tingled something awful to have Brody look at me, talk to me, take an interest in me. I couldn't even look him in the eye.

"No big explosions or terrorist threats. Maybe a kung fu battle on top of a moving train?" He teased.

"Not yet. But I still have all afternoon, who knows?" I giggled. "Maybe when I get to my global domination class." I looked up briefly, to see Brody smiling right along with me, and I turned deep red, snickering out of control.

"Okaaaay, you guys are getting all 'gay' on me again." Adam said sarcastically, and the words sorta got me to straighten up a little. I KNEW I was going to do something gay. I KNEW it! I'm so damn stupid! "I'm going to grab myself a slice of pie from the a la carte line. You guys want anything?"

"No thanks." Brody answered, and I shook my head. Adam got up from the table and left us there alone. I attempted to keep my eyes focused on something that would allow my head to stay down. Hiding my face from Brody. I was soooo ugly, and yet, he could make me feel so beautiful. Just by the way he looked at me. It was so playfully embarrassing. After a moment or two in complete silence...I took a sight peek. I lifted my eyes just long enough to focus on his face, and he was still looking at me, smiling. Oh God! Hehehe! I shot my gaze back down to the table, and felt my smile broaden again all on its own. Soon breaking out into a bashful fit of soft giggles. What is he DOING to me? "Gotchya." I became so enchanted by him, that I was afraid I'd melt right in front of his eyes.

"What are you staring at me for?" I joked.

"Because you're so 'pretty'." He playfully touched my hair in an affectionate way. And yet, despite the false emotion, it triggered a warm chill in me just the same.

"Are you sure it's not just because I'm handicapped?"

"Well, had it been ME that pushed you off of your bike, I might have the urge to appreciate my own handiwork. But since it's just the result of clumsiness, I can't really take credit." He smiled. "So....if I'm staring, it's just because you're dreamy."

"I'm more 'nightmarey' than anything. But thanks for trying." He knew better than to sneak an actual compliment past me. I've been trained too well for that.

"So...are you gonna tell me your middle name now?"

"Hahaha! Jesus! Don't you EVER give up!" And we both shared a laugh over it. Brody knew how to make his teasing so gentle. It tickled the ribs to see that impish grin of his behind every taunted word. He made it 'feel' good. You know? Brody was just.....he was so lovely. In every imaginable way.

"It's good to see you smile, Zack." He said. I suddenly felt myself tense up, and a confusing rush of giggles kept the mystifying feelings in my heart from boiling over. I just had to hold my breath before I started laughing like some kind of maniac. "I mean it. You don't smile nearly enough for my tastes."

My eyes fluttered away from him to look elsewhere. He was pulling me in again, and the pull was getting stronger everyday. I tried to force myself to look at him again, but only for a second or two. "I....usually don't have a whole lot to smile about."

"Well, you should come up with something." He then lowered his voice, almost to a whisper, and added, "Or let somebody help you."

There it was again...that panic inside. It rumbled and twisted in my stomach, and I felt my emotions losing their grip on reality again as he pulled me further and further into my favorite fantasy. This time...when I peeked into genius of his sensual hazel eyes, I found a moment of peace in the storm. For that one moment....looking him in the eye was no problem. I was lost in his stare, and we held it for longer than we ever had before while we spoke "Maybe....yeah." I was so short of breath when I said it that I felt dizzy from it. My whole body was shaking like the room temperature had just dropped to twenty below zero, but I kept going. "Do you really like my smile?"

He nodded, his own smile growing wider. "You seem so sad sometimes. Not on the outside so much...but inside. Like...you're just smiling for the rest of us. You shouldn't. It's so much cuter when you're smiling just for you."

"Thanks, Brody." I said, droppng my eyes to the table again as I felt myself stiffening up and tenting my pants out something awful. Thank goodness that it was tucked away under the lunch table.

"Um...are you still coming over this weekend? I mean...you don't have to. But...I really want you to. Ok?" I wish I was braver, prettier, better. Don't play games with me, Brody, please? Please let this be real. You don't have to lie. I'll love you anyway...but don't try to pretend that I'm someone special. I know what I am, and I know what I deserve in this life.

"I guess. I mean...if you want me to."

"Cool. I'll be good. Promise." He grinned, and I didn't know if he meant that the way it sounded or if I was making it up in my head.

"O-o-ok..." I stuttered, and jumped a bit as Adam came back to sit at the table with us. I sat up straight in my seat, and pulled myself out of the surreal and back to my life. Brody seemed to get a kick out of that. His smile, spawing one of my own.

"What?" Adam asked. "WHAT?" But his curiousity only made us giggle and brush it off. "I swear...you guys are being awfully WEIRD these days. Just don't go giving it to me if it turns out to be contagious." And after that, we finished our lunch. A few grins, a few clumsy moments, but all in all...a good time. Brody seemed to shine brighter and brighter with every second that passed between us. And his dreamy eyes nearly lulled me to sleep. Especially when we parted ways after lunch, and he told me goodbye. With a single soft blink...that's just how he said it. All....soft and sexy like. I wanted to SCREAM! I really did! I think....I think he LIKES me! I mean, I'm not making ALL of this up! I CAN'T be! What if he really does like me??? I don't even know if I could handle that. All I know is that I could hardly contain this rapidly growing seizure in my chest. I've never known a feeling like this before. Never. But I liked it. I LOVED it!

Nobody really gave me any kind of trouble after school that day. Besides, people were use to my routine of running home after the final bell without saying anything to anybody. So why fight it? Still, I would have liked to have seen Brody just ONE more time that afternoon. JUST to get another passionate 'goodbye' from him. I've been replaying those few seconds in the back of my mind ever since it happened. And would probably stick with me for the rest of my life. Even if none of this works out for the best, I'll at least have that memory to keep me smiling forever.

I ran my usual route, and took a quick breather at the bottom back steps of my apartment. I had a few minutes to spare, and just....I just wanted to enjoy what little joy I had left in this day before I faced my father and had it stolen from me. Just a few more seconds. I closed my eyes, and leaned against the wall...allowing the rush of emotions to wash over me like warm rain. It might have been foolish and stupid...but the very fact that I had enough doubt to be able to ask the question, 'what if Brody really likes me?'.....that was a miracle for me. To a boy who was convinced that he was downright unlovable...even a hint of possible infatuation is like a lightning bolt from God. I'm NOT worthless. Not if Brody wants me around. Not if he wants to stay with me instead of running away. Not if he cares about me. I can't be worthless if he loves me. Everything I am and ever wanted to be could be validated and proven with Brody's kiss. He could make me feel good again. I could bear any pain, any beating, any insult...if only he would hold me in his arms and tell me I was his. Please God...please...tell me he loves me. Give me a sign. Just...make this real, ok? I'll do anything you ask. I've never been loved before. I just want to know what it feels like. Just for a little while, ok? Please?

I sucked up as much of the moment as I could, praying and wishing for Brody's love until my tightly shut eyes were almost sore from it. As though I could actually 'will' his affection into reality through mere thought alone. And then...when I was finished...I slung my bag over my shoulder, and slowly walked up the steps to go inside. The sun was still out...but my day was now officially over. I can accept that, I guess. I'm used to it.

When I got into the house, my father was drinking a beer and ironing a pair of pants in the living room with no shirt on. I sorta peeked at him from a safe distance, and was going to go into my room. But I could smell Lynn's scent all over his room. That almost nauseating sweet smell of lavender in heavy doses, covered up with Lysol spray. The sheets on the bed were messed up, and the windows were open, I may be young, but I'm not stupid. It hurt. It gutted me emotionally to think even HE would be capable of something so disgusting, and I had to grit my teeth just to keep from rushing him with a sharp pair of scissors. Why was he doing this? Am I really SO bad, so disappointing, that he would hurt my mom just to prove it to me? Does he hate me sooooo much that he'd be willing to break her heart? I don't understand. He has NO idea how ard I try to do things right...but...he never notices. I push myself to be what he wants me to be, but I only get hurt. I'm always missing something. Screwing somethng up. And NOW look what I've done! Now he's hurting Mom. I hated him for it. I really did. But what could I do? I'll tell you what. I'm going to do what I always do. I'm going to swallow it down, and hide it, and pretend that it isn't slowly murdering me from the inside out. Just like I do with everything else in my life.

"Hey! What are you doing? Get away from there." My dad said, shooing me away from his bedroom door. "Do your homework."

"It's the weekend. I don't have any." I told him.

"Well then go COOK something! You're mother is coming home a bit late from work. It would be nice if she had some food on the table when she got here." He was being a bit more calm than usual, but I knew better than to get to close to the sleeping dragon. I never let my guard down in this house. Never.

"What should I cook?" I asked confused.

"I don't know. Find something."

"I can't cook very much..."

"Then FIGURE IT OUT!" He shouted, his eyes now hardening and burning a hole right through me. "Everything is such a fucking PROBLEM with you!" He then looked at my sling. "And TAKE that fucking thing off! You look like a faggot with that on! You're not hurt!"

I slipped my hand out of the sling immediately, and took it from around my neck. My shoulder didn't hurt that much as long as I wasn't swinging it around. I still felt kinda bad for even having to wear it. Especially around him. He hated me so much when I couldn't take his abuse. I should be stronger than this. "How about spaghetti?"

"Fine. Whatever." He went back to ironing his shirt, and I went in the kitchen. I pulled out a pot for the noodles and a pan for the sauce. I wasn't really all that handy in the kitchen, but I had enough of watching my Mom cook stuff to figure out a few simple dinners. Spaghetti being one of them. It may not be much, but at least I can say I made it. I grabbed some ground beef out of the fridge, and emptied it into the frying pan to start browning it. Just then, my dad walked into the kitchen to get another beer. He didn't even look at me, and I didn't look at him either. I was scared that I'd provoke some kind of slap if I stared at him for too long. He didn't like that at all. He considered it a sign of disrespect, I guess. And then...the phone rang.

I started to wipe my hands off to get it, but he told me to be still, and he walked over to get it while I went back to cooking. I strained my ears a bit to listen. "Hello?....Who?...Brody?" It was Brody? Brody was calling me? Omigod! He's calling me! Sweet! I'll bet it's about tomorrow! I got excited and started to swiftly clean my hands off on the washrag so I could take the phone in my room. But my smile faded once I hear my dad say, "Well, he's busy right now. He can't talk on the phone." It was like having my heart get sucked down into my stomach. What was he DOING? This was Brody. MY Brody! Why is he doing this? I was so hurt that I almost felt tears well up in my eyes. "No, not right now. Maybe later. Ok." It was building up inside me...this hunger for more freedom. This rage. This need to get rid of this awful despair inside. I was almost gagging on the taste of my own suppressed anger, and was no longer content just pouting about it in silence. How DARE he try to keep Brody from talking to me! Who the hell is HE to keep him from me? NONE of this is fair! FUCK!

I heard him hang up the phone, and went back to ironing his shirt. He wasn't even going to pass me the message to tell me Brody called. I balled up my fists, and just cursed to myself under my breath. I'll wait until Mom gets home. THEN I'll call him. She'll let me talk to him. If my dad wasn't such a fucking bastard, maybe I wouldn't be so screwed up when it came to talking to him anyway. I lightly pounded my fist on the kitchen counter, hoping to hold it in for as long as possible...and then noticed that we were out of the ready made spaghetti sauce in the cabinet. So I turned the meat off before it began to sizzle, and went into the living room again. "Um...we're out of spaghetti sauce."

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

"Nothing...." I said. "...I have to go to the store." I could still feel the anger inside. I could still smell that lavender scent. I could still hear his awful voice speaking Brody's golden name. It made me ache inside.

"So GO! What the hell are you telling me for? If that food isn't finished by the time your mother gets home, it's your ass! You hear me?"

I don't know where it came from, it slipped out of my mouth in anger before I could stop it. "Well, maybe you could've cooked something, if you didn't have that 'lady' over again today." I didn't shout it, nor was it said with any kind of snotty tone. At least I didn't mean for it to. But the words themselves held an impact. They were a 'defense'. I was 'defending' myself...standing up for myself against his direct order. Not only that...but I was on to his little 'secret' this afternoon as well. He looked up at me briefly, and my eyes shot down to my feet. My head lowered. I didn't know why I said it, or why I decided to pik this particular moment to attempt to fight back when I KNEW that I was wrong. I got so scared that I began to tremble, and in the short silence that followed, I prayed to almighty God that he didn't hear me.

Then...I took a peek upwards to see what was taking so long for him to curse at me. And without ANY warning at all, I saw him raise his arm holding the hot iron! I moved just in time to keep myself safe as I saw him HURL it directly at my HEAD at top speed! The plug was ripped out of the socket, and the hot metal smashed into the wall right next to me! I was so terrified, so unbelievably terrified, that it felt as if the iron had hit me in the face, even though it had missed. I fell backwards, and looked at the crack in the wall with wide eyes as my mind tried to come to terms with the fact that my own father had just thrown a heavy hunk of metal at me. I froze, so relieved that he had missed, that tears sprang to my eyes and started to drip down my cheeks as I attempted to catch my breath. The iron lay on the carpet on its side by the wall, and I was unable to regain any sense of reality at he moment. Omigod....he tried to kill me. He tried to kill me. KILL me! I felt myself panicking, and held my chest as my heart raced out of control.

"PICK IT UP, you little sack of SHIT!!!" My father shouted! "I SAID PICK IT UP!!!" I felt more tears flood from my eyes, and I slowly rose to my feet again. He's gonna kill me....I know it. I went too far this time. And now h's going to kill me...and it's gonna hurt soooo much. He's gonna make it really hurt this time. I slowly inched towards the iron....so afraid that this was going to be it. There would be no avoiding his fury this time. Not this time. "HURRY UP!" He yelled louder. "BOY...if you fuck up this carpet, I'm going to beat you into a coma! Now pick it up!!!" I was crying so much that it was hard to see, and yet, I didn't dare make a sound. Not a whimper. Only a few sniffles as I fought to catch my breath. I picked up the iron from the carpet, and looked back at my father, who was shooting daggers at me with his eyes. "Bring it over here!"


"BRING IT OVER HERE!!! NOW!!!" He said. I didn't wan to move. My feet wouldn't ALLOW me to move. "Do you think I'm playing a fucking GAME with you??? GET OVER HERE!!!"

"Daddy....please, daddy....don't burn me daddy, please?" I began to beg and cry and plead for my life. My rambling becoming more and more jumbled as my pitiful sobs took over. My nose was running, my hands shaking,and I was forced to inch my way closer to him. Hoping that the tears of his only son would somehow grant me some mercy for being an asshole. "I didn't mean it. I'm sorry....ok? Please don't burn me..."

"I'm NOT gonna fucking BURN you!!! BRING IT HERE!!!" He screamed. I should have dropped the iron and ran. I should have thrown it back at him and ran for help or something. But I couldn't. I was paralyzed. He was my father....I had to do what he told me to do. I was trembling so badly by the time I had reached him, that I could barely hold the iron in my hands anymore. He was gonna hurt me, I knew it. I could practically already feel the unbearable sizzle of the hot iron against my skin now. I winced, and had to shut my eyes as I slowly passed his 'weapon' back to him. I was still crying my eyes out, but had sucked up the sobs enough to take whatever punishment he was ready to hit me with. Then...I felt a heavyhanded smack strike me on the side of the head. My head was knocked to the side, and I had to fight for balance so I could keep standing. My right ear was ringing a bit, but I think I was ok. "What are you trying to do? Burn the fucking house down??? Stupid son of a bitch!" He gripped my arm hard, and yanked me toward him. "Here...." He gave me a small wad of dollar bills from his pocket. "...Go down to the corner store, and get what you need. Then you get RIGHT back in that kitchen and finish dinner." Was that it? Was that the extent of his punishment for what I had said? Maybe....maybe it wasn't all that bad. Maybe my tears helped a bit. I asked him not to burn me...and he didn't. I let out a sigh of relief, and felt a LOT better once he let go of my arm. He let me go. I can't believe he let me go. I must have done something right. Maybe....if I make this dinner just right, and clean up and everything...he'll be ok. He'll let me go. I can DO this! If I just concentrate..I now can do this. "Wipe your face. You're ALWAYS crying! What did I tell you about that? Boys don't cry. SISSIES cry! Are you a sissy?"

"No...." I sniffled, wiping my eyes.

"Then wipe your face and stop it. I don't wanna see that in my house." I wiped my tears away with the sleeve of my shirt, and tried to hold it all in. But the emotions were running too deep for me to just shut them off. So....I straightened up as much as I could, pretending that it didn't hurt anymore...and I went into my room. I shut the door behind me, and leaned my back up against it. All I could think about was how close that iron came to my head...and I heard myself whimper again. I covered my mouth with both hands as the tears began to flow freely again. I didn't know whether to be happy to be alive, or wish that it had killed me so I wouldn't have to live with this pain anymore. But whatever it was that was surging through me at that moment...it came out. Quietly, in a room, all by myself, where nobody could see how much it hurt. "Zack...." He said, his voice warning me.

I wiped my eyes again and answered him. "'Sniffle'....yeah?" I said, my voice betraying me with a high pitched quiver.

"Get going. You don't have a lot of time."

"Um....ok..." Ok Zack...STOP IT now! We've got to go outside! STOP IT! Stop crying! Big fucking baby...knoc it off. You're better than this. You're SO much better than this! You can do it...I know you can. Just get out of the house. You're doing fine, don't blow it.

I got my shoes on and hurried out of the door, checking briefly to make sure that my face was 'normal' again in the bathroom mirror. I sorta fixed my hair a bit, and then rushed out the back door before my father had to warn me again. I was doing something right this time, I'm not gonna mess it up. I started walking down the block, feeling so relieved that things were ok, and that I was able to leave that house in tact. I thought for a moment that I had ruined every bit of libery that I had worked for so long. I should be down on my knees thanking God that he didn't punch a hole right through me. I got off lucky. My guardian angel was certainly with me today.

"Howdy there, stranger." I looked over my shoulder, and saw Adam riding up behind me on his bike. It never took him much longer to get home than it took me. Not unless he was playing around with some friends or hanging out around the lockers until security came by to usher all of the kids off of the premises. He got to have so much fun after school sometimes...it surprised me to see him homeand back out on the streets so early today.

"What's up?" I answered, still marching dutifully towards the store.

"You're missing your 'pity piece', dude." He said. I was confused for a second until he looked down and brought attention to the fact that I wasn't wearing my sling.

"Oh...that. Yeah, I took it off. I don't think I'mgonna wear it anymore."

"Why not? I thought the doctor said you had to."

"My arm feels fine. Besides..I look like a 'sissy' wearing that thing." I said timidly. I was done with that thing, it just....I'm NOT some delicate pretty boy, you know? I don't need some silly sling on my arm.

"If you ask me, you look like a sissy without it. But hey, that's just me." Adam tried to get me to smile, but I was only able to work up a pretty lousy excuse for a playful grin in response. "Nice try." He smirked. "So where are you going? I almost never see you outside after school."

"I have to run down to the store to make something for dinner."

"Sweet. I'll come with you." He said, still riding beside me. I just hope he didn't delay me for too long. I had stuff to do at home. "Besides, I wanna talk for a minute...guy to guy."

"About what?"

"Well...it's a bit complicated. But...I wanted to know what you thought about something."

"Something like what?" I wanted to know, but Adam seemed to e more concerned with finding a way to talk about it...without actually talking about it. He looked around for a moment, as though one of our other friends was suddenly going to jump out of the bushes with a hidden recorder and blab his 'secret' to the world. And then hopped off of his bike to walk alongside me.

"Fine. I'll tell you. But you CAN'T mention this to ANYBODY! Alright? Especially Sam! Or I'll never hear the end of this." Ooh, this must be good.


"You promise?"

"I PROMISE already! Now what is it?"

"Well...there's this...'girl', you know? And I kinda wanted to know if you had some...advice or something, you know? I mean, about just...talking to her and stuff."

This was HIGHLY out of the ordinary! For Adam to like a girl was an amazing twist of fate. But for him to actually ADMIT it...and want to talk about it...that's just going against the very laws of nature and reality! "You....you want me to give you girl advice?"

"No...well..not really. I mean, I like her, you know? And I just wanted to know what you think. I'm thinking of, like, asking for her phone number or something."

"Why are you asking me?" I didn't want to be rude, but it did baffle me a little bit.

"Because, all bullshit aside...you listen to people. I wouldn't talk to anybody else about this stuff." I have to admit, I was a bit flattered. "So...I was thinking, maybe I'd go in, and maybe get her a blank friendship card or something...and write down that I want to take her to a movie or something." He paused for a second, and then asked, "Soooo....what do you think? Do you think she'll go for it?"

"Is this about that 'Holly' girl from the music store?"

He looked horrified at first that I could come to that conclusion based soley on what little he told me. But regained his calm composure. "Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway...if it WAS her....and I'm NOT saying that it is...do you think she would dig something like that?"

"If it was Holly..." He gave me a look, and I added, "..And I'm NOT saying that it is! But if WAS her...I'd remind you that she was 19 years old."

"So? What's that got to do with anything?"

"Well...I'm just saying...she might not wanna go out with someone in high school. You know?" His face dropped. I felt kinda bad for even saying it. "But...I mean, you never know, right? Just look at Demi Mooreand Ashton Kutcher. She's older, and they seem fine."

That seemed to brighten him up a little bit. "Hey, yeah. So sometimes it DOES work out, right?"

I was stuck between giving him false hope and completely crushing his dreams. I tried to walk the fine line in between by simply saying, "Strange things happen."

"Right. So maybe I'll buy her the card. And I'll write something sweet in it. Some song lyrics or something. She'll like that."

I smiled. "So it IS Holly!"

"Shut up..." He smirked, and we shared a few giggles until we got to the store.

I basically just got the one item I had come in for and bought it without wasting too much time. The faster I get back to the house with that spaghetti sauce, the faster I can finish dinner. The faster I finish dinner, the better I'll look in front of my dad for getting it right. Easy. Adam wanted to loiter around for a bit longer, play some video games, read some magazines, or just sit out front and munch down some candy treats before gong back home. But every second that he wasted was a second that made me look like I was out 'playing in the street' instead of getting my work done. I enjoyed Adam's company and I loved talking to him and he was a REALLY good friend of mine. I cherished every moment that I could spend with him. But...the loger he wanted to hang out and just shoot the shit in the back of the store...the more stressed out I got. I could feel the seconds of the clock ticking away, and just wanted him to leave the store with me so I could go HOME! I HAVE to get home! I've got stuff that's got to be done! And fast!

"We should get going." I said, probably for the third or fourth time now.

"What's the big rush? I hardly ever see you in the afternoon light. Hehehe! I wanna cherish it for a bit longer."

"No, seriously. I've got to get back soon. K?"

"Dude...chill out. Can't you just stay for five minutes or something?"

The truth is, I couldn't. As much as I wanted to talk and joke around with him...I just....I just didn't have time to fucking *PLAY* right now! I've got stuff to do. I can 'play' later. I can 'hang out' later. I can 'chill out' later. Right now, I need for him to leave me alone long enough to concentrate so I can cook this dinner and maybe please my dad for once in my life. "You can stay if you want. I'll catch up with you soon. Cool?" I said, slowly backing up towards the door of the store.

"You can't be serious. What's the big hurry?"

"I'm a little bit busy with stuff right now, is all. But we'll talk soon, ok?"

Again...I had frustrated him. He sighed outloud, bought a candy bar and a soda at the front counter, and grunted, "Fine. Let's go." Arrrgh! Why won't he understand? I'm NOT brushing him off! I'm just....I'm trying really hard to do this right today, and I can't just stop to 'have fun' right now. This is important to me. It's really important. And if our giggles can be put on hold for just ONE more day, I'll make it up to him. I swear. I just hope he understands.

We walked without saying much for the first block, but he eventually opened up. "Will you slow DOWN? Why are you walking so fast? Jesus, you're tiring me out here."

"I'm sorry. I'm just...I've gotta finish cooking before my mom gets home."

"Or else what?" He asked. I didn't say anything, just shrugged my shoulders. "No answer. Big surprise. I never get an answer from you."

"Leave it alone, alright? You just caught me at a busy time."

"You're ALWAYS busy, Zack. Always. I mean, why can't you just hang out with the rest of us every now and then? It's not a lot to ask of a friend."

"I hang out." I said in my defense.

"Very rarely. And we have to beg, plead, and DRAG you out just to get that much from you."

"Why are you trying to argue with me? I'm just letting you know that I don't have time to just sit back and 'chit chat', right now...and you're getting all mad."

"I'm NOT getting all mad." Adam said, his voice rising slightly in volume. "I wanted to TALK to you for a little while. Maybe spend some time with you. Excuse ME if I intruded on your busy little schedule. Maybe you can pencil me in for next month. IF it's not too much trouble."

"Oh knock it off!" I said, now getting angry myself. "I'm not going to fight with you on this. I've got other shit to do and I'm GOING to get it done, whether you like it or not." Adam's eyes dimmed, and he seemed insulted. Dammit...I wasn't TRYNG to 'insult' him!!! I just wanted to get HOME! I'm losing TIME! So much time. And yet....the look on his face told me that I was starting to stand on a line that I shouldn't cross with our friendship. And I just didn't want that. "Sighhh....Adam...I'm sorry, ok? Really." He kinda blew me off at first, but I didn't want us to part ways being somewhat angry with each other. "Honestly. I didn't mean it like that. OK? I'll make it up to you later, promise."

He looked over at me and said, "Well...me and Sam were gonna join some guys at the park for some basketball tomorrow afternoon. Why don't you come by and play with us? We're gonna need an extra person, anyway."

Oops. Not tomorrow. ANY day but tomorrow. Those 24 hours are devoted entirely to the boy of my dreams, and no one else. "Ummmmm...actually, tomorrow's not such a good day. I've kinda got stuff to do tomorrow."

"MORE 'stuff'. I hate 'stuff'..." He mumbled. "Stuff like what?"

"I'm sorta...hanging out with somebody tomorrow. So...." I trailed off, and Adam stared at me even harder.

"You can bring them along if you want?"

"Nah....actually, I'm going to their house instead. It's kinda far. So...I doubt we'll be back in time to play. You know?"

"Well...who are you hanging out with?" He asked, cocking his head slightly to one side.

"Um....nobody really." If I said it was Brody, he'd want him to come. If I said no, he'd want to know why. Why we were hanging out, why we wouldn't be coming to join everybody else, why we wanted to be alone. Definitely more questions than I would want to answer. "Just...hanging out. That's all."

"You can find time to 'hang out' with them...but not with me?"

"It's not like that, Adam. We're just...I dunno...we made plans."

"And you can't even tell me who it is?" I didn't answer right away, and this time, his wrinkled brow tightened up with even more frustration than before. "Here we go again. Another question I'm not supposed to ask. More 'stuff' that you can't talk about. Exactly what the hell do you DO all the time? It's like trying to be friends with fucking BATMAN, the way you hide out and hold back and dodge simple questions."

"Whos dodging questions, I just told you I made plans with somebody. I didn't expect you to turn into the FBI on me! I've just got..."

"You've just got 'stuff' to do. Yeah, I know." He huffed at me.

"What do you WANT from me? Huh?"

"All I want is a long list on a big sheet of paper so I know exactly what questions I can and can't ask you on a reglar basis. Because I feel like an asshole running into these brick walls you keep throwing up in front of me all the time." He said. "I can't ask where you're going, I can't ask where you've been, I can't ask why you run home everyday....this is getting ridiculous, Zack. I can't even ask you how you nearly broke your arm, or your shoulder, or whatever the hell it was...because you get all weird and act like you don't want to tell me or something."

"I TOLD you how that happened! What the hell else do you want to know about it?!?! I was riding my bike, I fell off, and I hurt my shoulder! What else can I fucking SAY about it?" I yelled.

Adam was silent for a moment, and then threw a leg over to straddle his bike again, standing up on the pedals. He gave me a slightly confused, but obviously dirty look. Then, he calmly said..."Funny...I thought you fell down the stairs?" I had been caught. There was no taking it back now. I told BRODY that I fell off of my bike! STUPID! Fucking STUPID!!! I had nothing to say, but stumbled and stuttered for words anyway. Even though it was too late. Adam had had enough, and started to slowly ride away from me. "Forget it. Whatever."


"NO! Don't even talk to me. I get it. You were running home after school, ditching all of your friends, just so you could meet up with some mystery person and have him watch you ride your bike down the steps. It sounds perfectly logical to me."

"I'm NOT trying to fight with you!!!" I shouted, more angry at myself than I was at him.

"Then don't bother. I won't. What's the point? You're just gonna lie to me anyway."

"Fine! Fuck you then!"

"Fuck you BACK!" He said, and started pedalling away from me.

I wanted to hate him, I wanted to burn off enough anger to keep me from even caring that he was riding off. But I couldn't. I just couldn't. He was my best friend. "Adam? Adam, wait..." But he didn't turn back. He just rode faster, and disappeared around the next corner. I wasn't trying to make him mad. I wasn't trying to make him feel like he didn't matter. I just....I just...

...Wanted to finish what I was doing.

I felt such a miserable pain in my stomach, and almost wanted to sit right down on the street curb and cry until some of this hurtful emotion was gone. But I didn't have time for that, did I? I had to get home. Finish dinner. Maybe get a somewhat 'less-than-disgusted' look from my father, and go to bed. I didn't have much to look forward to in my life...and now I was missing a big part of what made it all bearable. I mean, does Adam really think I don't WANT to hang out, and have fun, and laugh with the rest of them. But I CAN'T! And I CAN'T tell him why! And I CAN'T change that! But God...if only I could. If only I could.

I walked the rest of the way home, hoping that I hadn't lost a good friend forever. If his is any indication of how things are going to go with Brody tomorrow....then I give up. My life is over. Father knows best. I'm stupid...I'm ugly...I'm worthless. I have nothing to prove otherwise. So the sooner I get that through my head and accept it...the sooner I can work on living my life alone.

This chapter, as well as the rest of this series, is dedicated to the memory of Chris Conklin. A friend who took the time, the effort, and the energy...to bring this story to so many. I'm happy for the short time I was able to have him in my life, and I am posting a TRIBUTE to him on the site, so a piece of him will live there forever. Also, if you can, purchase a special 8 CD SET of "My Only Escape" as professionally read by Chris in his last days. Thank you sooo much for reading folks. Only a few more chapters to go. Let me know what you think at Comicality@webtv.net or stop by the website at http://comicality.gayauthors.org Love always, you guys. Thanks for reading.