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The following contains mild descriptions of sexual acts between young people. It is an original work of fiction, and has no basis in reality.

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Perry and Jesse

The Incredibly Romantic (and slightly kinky) Adventures of Two Boys In Love

Part V Truths and Lies

Chapter 40: Everything Forever

As we got closer to home, I noticed Mom spending more and more time looking at herself in the small vanity mirror embedded in the visor. I was surprised when she pulled, unannounced, into an uncrowded Carl's Jr., a tacky fast food outpost on the quiet stretch of road between Escondido and Santa Corina, perched incongrously on a dusty brown, chapparal-covered hill. It was a little before noon;  I wasn't even the least bit hungry, and it wasn't just because of the doughnuts.

"You can wait here if you like," she said, getting out of the car and taking her purse. "I'll just be a minute."

It turned out to be closer to ten, and I was just about to go in and look for her, imagining that I would find her sitting at one of those cheap plastic tables, ravenously pounding down a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, when she did return, and it was clear what she had been doing. While I could still make out some puffiness around her reddened eyes, she had obviously gone to great lengths to hide it. Her make-up and lipstick were fresh and her hair was neatly combed out, her long silky brunette tresses draped fluidly over her back and shoulders. She tossed the baseball cap carelessly into the back seat.

"What's going on?"

"I couldn't go home looking like that!" was all the explanation she would offer.

The first thing I noticed when we pulled into the driveway was Uncle Ron, near the top of a step ladder, stapling a string of lights along the gutter. Josh was just below, holding the other end of the long string. As we got out, Derrin came scurrying up from the open garage, with a big box in his hands labeled 'more Xmas lights (outdoors).'

"Perry's here!" he announced loudly and unnecessarily. Now I knew why my mom had gone through such great pains to fix her face at the hamburger joint. Apparently, she had secretly conspired with her brother and his family to have them come early to decorate the house while we were away. I noticed with a substantial degree of unease however, that Aunt Karen was nowhere to be seen.

"Merry Christmas, Trish; Perry!" Uncle Ron called down cheerfully, pausing only briefly in his task to give us a warm smile from beneath his bushy mustache. I noticed that there were already several strings of colorful lights fixed to the roof and around the front door.

Josh waved to us, giving us a big, confident smile. He was looking, as always, the part of the handsome All American jock with his curly blond hair, broad shoulders, and slender waist, dressed in his blue and white letter jacket, faded Levi's, and white sneakers. It was funny that I thought my cousin was hot-looking, while also realizing that I wasn't physically attracted to him except in the most passing sort of way. On the other hand, Reggie Colbert, despite being thin, gangly and, sad to say, having something of an annoying personality, still managed to make my dick twitch with his wondrously wide cobalt blue eyes, upturned nose, bright white teeth, golden brown tan, and big mop of blond highlighted hair. 

It was also a little discomfiting to see Derrin for the first time since our late November sleepover, looking so cute in a yellow and blue rugby shirt and baggy jeans, his blond hair cut short and spiked. Not only had he seen me up close and naked the night after Thanksgiving, but I had even let him jack me off. And while I didn't want to think about it much, I had to admit that on some level, I had enjoyed it, which was more than I could say about my recent experience with Morgan. What I remembered the most about that afternoon at the Kipner residence was the pain and humiliation. I was ashamed to have Morgan see me naked, and disturbed that he enjoyed torturing and ravishing my body. And there was that disturbing image of Jesse, who had watched the whole thing with drool trickling out of the side of his mouth. Derrin's boyish curiosity and imaginative experimentation seemed innocuous in comparison. 

Everyone in the Waldman clan seemed in good spirits, and I was glad to see my mom with a genuine smile on her face, coming up to Josh and giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

"You're getting so big, Joshy Waldman, I hardly recognize you anymore!" she gushed.

"Josh drove part of the way here!" Derrin announced. "It was the scariest thing ever!"

While my mom went inside, I spent the next half an hour helping the guys finish the outside decorations. This included pumping up an eight foot tall Santa that really wasn't the most tasteful decoration I'd ever seen. But the jolly latex elf looked so gosh-darn cheerful, with a big tooth-filled grin painted on his flat balloon face, and his bulbous balloon arms outstretched in welcome, that he was hard to resist.

At least all the Christmas cheer seemed to be taking some of the sting out of this morning's little road trip. I had a lot to think about before I saw my dad (My God, that would be tomorrow!), but I wanted to enjoy my last day in Santa Corina as much as possible, so I tried to push it to the back of my mind with all my other worries and fears (no Jesse for two weeks, and what to do about Kyle and Miss Z., and Jessica, and Noah, and Morgan, and no Jesse for two whole weeks). Finally, my mom called us in for a light lunch of soup and sandwiches. She warned us not to overeat as we would be having a full holiday feast--courtesy of Vons--around five thirty.

I was surprised but relieved to see my Aunt Karen helping my mom out in the kitchen. She had already come up and given me a warm hug before I could fully recover from my happy surprise. But Derrin was already tugging at my arm. He dragged me, stumbling, to the livingroom, where I was amazed to see a tall, bushy evergreen, covered with our own decorations,  colored lights twinkling away, with a glittering angel on top. I took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh pine scent and the strangely beautiful juxtaposition of garish, man-made baubles and one of nature's most beautiful creations. There were even colorfully wrapped presents under the tree, and Derrin grabbed a compact one and waved it in my face.

"This is from me. I got it with my allowance!" he stated proudly.

Fortunately, I had also gotten him something on my trip to Fashion Valley and I pointed it out to him.

"I know. Thank you, Perry!" he said, giving me an emotional hug.

"You don't even know what it is yet!" I laughed.

"It doesn't matter. You're the coolest cousin ever, so I just know it's gonna be awesome!"

I sighed, wishing for a moment that everyone could be as easy to please as my twelve year old cousin. Still, looking at the traditional Christmas scene, my heart ached a little, wishing that Jesse could be here to share in all the Yuletide spirit. He was probably at home in his little apartment, cartoons blaring from the small TV set, baby-sitting Miranda while his mom worked her second job at the restaurant in Oceanside. I hoped they were at least able to afford a small tree and some basic decorations. If not, I would talk to my mom about getting them some. Of course, we had already picked out our gifts for the Taylors weeks ago, and I couldn't wait for Jesse to open his. Thank God, I would see him one more time before I left, just a little more than six hours from now, at the Saturday evening Family Mass.

After wolfing down our sandwiches, Josh and Derrin followed me upstairs while the adults continued to make the house even more festive with evergreen boughs and garlands. Last year, we hadn't even bothered to do much decorating, seeing as how I was going to be away for Christmas, and holding our traditional family gathering at my grandparent's house, so this was a welcome change. It almost felt like the old days in the house on Ridgegate, except that my dad wasn't here. Well, that was his choice, wasn't it?  Despite the story my mom had told me this morning, the thought made me bristle and I tried, only somewhat successfully, to shrug it off.

Derrin wanted to play Kingcarver of course, but for some reason that name now made me queasy, so I hesitated.

"Managing to fight off all those horny 8th grade chicks?" Josh asked with a smirk.

"Well, I don't think anyone is fighting over me," I answered cautiously.

"Man, you don't know, dude. Chicks that age are just raging with hormones, and a good looker like you who's not a massive jerk, is a primo catch."

"Well...there's really just the one-" I began.

"You're a massive jerk!" Derrin pointed out in a harsh voice, turning his attention away from the video game console. At first I thought he was talking to me.

"What the...?" Josh asked with clear annoyance, as if he'd forgotten his younger brother was even here.

"You dumped Hannah just cuz she wouldn't give you head!"

Josh glared angrily at Derrin, and potions of his evenly tanned face turned a dramatic shade of red.

"You little shit!" he muttered. "You don't know what you're talkin' about!"

"Hey, we can all play!" I interrupted quickly. "I've got an extra controller."

"Nah, I can't play with dweeb boy. Every time he loses, he whines like a baby."

"Do not!" Derrin protested. "You're just jealous cuz you can't even get to level twelve!"

"God, you're sickening," Josh pointed out disdainfully.

"You're mean and nobody likes you!"

"At least I got some real buds," Josh noted, his voice becoming pinched, "not like your creepy little friend."

"Tony's not creepy!" Derrin protested, dropping his controller and getting to his feet.

"He's like Hannibal Lechter Jr.," Josh proclaimed distastefully.

"You can't even get a stupid blowjob!" Derrin shouted. "How pathetic is that?"

I cringed, noting the open bedroom door. Surely our folks could hear at least some of this cacophony from downstairs.

"Why don't we-"  I began.

"Wanna wrestle?" Josh asked, suddenly grabbing Derrin from behind and wrapping his arm around his brother's neck in a brutal headlock.

"Get off! Get off, you fuckin' bully!" Derrin gasped, wriggling furiously in his brother's grasp.

But Josh didn't let go, and I could see him actually tightening his grip around his younger, and much smaller, brother's neck. "This is for the crack about my driving!" he grunted. Derrin continued to struggle gallantly but futilely.

"Josh, you're hurting him," I warned.

"Nah, he's a tough little dweeb...right, dweeb?" he asked.

"You're a bully--a big, fat, ugly, bully!" Derrin sputtered defiantly, his throat obviously constricted by the pressure his brother was applying.

"This is for the crack about Hannah," he said, twisting Derrin's body around like a pretzel, "--you don't know shit about chicks, or what goes on in their fuckin' heads."

"She couldn't stand being with such a massive jerk!" Derrin gasped.

"Take it back!" Josh demanded. "Everything you said, you little fucker!"

"Stop it, Josh!" I shouted, feeling a sudden panic. I moved in, prepared to forcibly remove Josh's arm from around his brother's neck, but the older boy suddenly withdrew.

We all stood there, Josh and Derrin red-faced, all of us breathing heavily.  Without warning, Derrin spun around and forcefully socked his brother in the gut.

"Oof!" Josh gasped, taken completely by surprise. He buckled and clutched his gut, his face turning even redder than it already was. The look of shock and pain on his face was almost comical, and I had to stifle a laugh even though there was really nothing funny about any of this.

"You're a giant penishead!" Derrin screamed furiously, coming in for another attack.

But Josh was quicker this time, and grabbed Derrin's skinny arms, stopping him in his tracks.

"For the love of...." It was Uncle Ron, standing in the doorway and slightly out of breath from bounding up the stairs.

Josh dropped his brother's arms and looked instantly guilty, but Derrin's face was still contorted in anger.

"Joshua Franklin Waldman!" Uncle Ron said in a stern voice. "You should know better!"

"Why do you automatically think it's my fault?" Josh complained in a high pitched, whiny voice, suddenly sounding much younger than his sixteen years.

"He was choking me!" Derrin declared.

"Are you okay?" Uncle Ron asked worriedly, coming into the room and approaching Derrin.

"I'm okay," he muttered, backing off a few steps.

"You're sure?"

Derrin nodded sullenly.

"Sorry, Perry," Uncle Ron said, shaking his head. "I don't know what's gotten into these two lately. Always at each other's throats...literally." He snorted frustratedly.

I couldn't help but wonder if it had something to do with Aunt Karen's recent indiscretion and the new tension that had arisen in the Waldman clan, but I kept my mouth shut and a look of general alarm on my face.

Uncle Ron put his hands on his waist and looked quizzically at Josh. "If we have one more incident like this, I'm gonna have to take away your license."

"That's so unfair!" Josh bleated petulantly.

Uncle Ron ignored his eldest son's childish protests as it became clear that they had had this conversation before. "Why don't you come downstairs and help me straighten the garage up?" he offered in a more even tone.

"Oh man...." Josh's shoulders slumped defeatedly.

"I'll help too," I offered.

"Please, Perry. We hardly ever get to hang out!" Derrin pleaded.

Uncle Ron nodded. "Just enjoy your day, Perry. Josh and I can take care of it. Derrin's been looking forward to seeing you all week."

"Perry doesn't wanna hang out with this little...snot," Josh protested with a sneer.

His dad sighed heavily and gave me a quizzical look, indicating that the choice was mine to make.

"Please stay," Derrin begged.

"Okay," I answered reluctantly. "But if you guys need help, just call me, 'kay?"

Uncle Ron nodded and headed back out into the hallway and I heard his footsteps thumping heavily on the carpeted staircase. Josh lingered long enough to give his brother a threatening glare. Obviously, he didn't intend to let Derrin get away with...well, whatever it was he thought he was getting away with. Then he looked over at me, his face relaxing slightly, and I thought he was about to apologize.  But then he turned and left without another word. Derrin immediately went and sat heavily on the edge of my bed, and pressed his hands to his face. It was clear he was crying but trying desperately hard not to show it.

I quickly sat next to him and wrapped an arm around his narrow shoulders. He leaned in toward me, but kept his hands pressed to his face. I felt his slender body shake with a few silent sobs and just waited for him to pull himself together.

"I'm sorry about that." I finally offered, feeling that Derrin was deserving of some sort of apology from someone.

"It wasn't your fault," he sniffled. "Josh is the big fat jerk. You're just lucky you don't have to live with him."

"Is he really that bad?"

Derrin nodded emphatically. "He's either, like, totally ignoring me, or bossing me around."

"Has it always been like this?"

My cousin paused long enough to give the question some serious thought. He shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe not always. But for a while now."

"Well, maybe it has something to do with the problems your parents were having," I offered hesitantly.

"Are having," Derrin corrected me. "It still doesn't seem like things are back to normal, ya know? They don't spend much time by themselves talking and stuff the way they used to. But I don't hear them yelling or anything either, so I guess that's good."

"Yeah, it is. I think they're trying hard," I consoled him cluelessly.

Derrin rubbed his eyes one more time and then dropped his hands to his lap. "Tony's not a creep, ya know," he informed me solemnly.

"I didn't think he was," I assured him.

This caused a timid smile to appear on his tear streaked face. "He's really nice. Reminds me a little of you."

"How's that?"

"Well, he always asks what I want to do first, and if I say 'I dunno,' then he suggests stuff. And he likes to play games too, like, ya know, like that thing we did...."

"You mean with the Martians?" I asked uneasily.

He nodded. "Not that exactly, but stuff like that. He's pretty cool. We're about the same size and stuff."

I realized that he wasn't talking about height. ''Oh."

"Remember how I did a good job of jacking you off that time?"

I felt the heat coming off my cheeks as I once again recalled the night, almost a month ago, when I had let my younger cousin masturbate me. What had I been thinking? I also realized that I 'd been hoping that somehow, miraculously, he'd just forget about the whole incident. Obviously, that wasn't the case.

"Um...maybe we shouldn't-"

"It was good, remember? You really blasted a load!  It was so awesome!"

"Derrin, maybe we shouldn't be talking about that," I cautioned him.

"Why not? We're cousins. It's not like we were really having sex or anything."

I just had to glance at the closed door to assure myself that there was no way our conversation could be overheard. Still, I spoke in a hushed voice and hoped Derrin would follow suit. "It's just that maybe what we did, what I did, was like...wrong, ya know?"

Derrin looked at me quizzically. "I don't see what was wrong with it. I really wanted to see what you looked like without clothes on, and I wanted to experiment with your dick, and you were cool enough to let me, so what's the big deal?"

What was the big deal? It seemed that it really had all been a quirky little game for Derrin. Maybe I was the one who was making too big an issue out of it.  Maybe it was best to just let it go.

"Nothing I guess," then added, "but just that one time, okay?"

"Don't say that," Derrin pleaded, his small face full of concern. "There's lots of other stuff we could do, and now I know how to give excellent bj's!"

"Derrin, do you hear what you're saying?" I asked in shock. "Cousins don't do things like that to each other!"

"But why not? I mean, if they like each other and stuff. You don't have to do me. I can just do you. I'm good at it now."

I didn't even want to ask how he had gotten good at it, so I  tried to change the subject. "What about that cool girlfriend of yours? You know, the one that chews gum in class?"

I saw his face harden. "Oh, you mean Barbie Gallagher, that stuck-up bitch?"

"Um...well, yeah...."

"I acted totally cool, ya know?  And I tried to hook up with her, to just like mess around, ya know?" It was hard to keep from smiling; Derrin sounded so damn serious.

'But she kept making excuses, like she had band practice or volleyball or some shit like that," he explained bitterly.  "And then one day after school, I saw her out behind the bleachers making out with Sammy Hong-he's an 8th grader like her. I couldn't believe it--I was so pissed!"

"Hey, calm down. It's okay. It was good you found out before you got too involved."

"But what a cliche, huh? I shoulda known she'd be a slut, always chewing gum like that."

It had never occurred to me before that one of the signs of adolescent promiscuity was frequent gum chewing, but it apparently made the case for Derrin.

"So the next day, when she said 'hi,' I called her a slut right to her face!"

"Derrin!" I gasped. "You can't talk like that. I mean, it's not cool to talk about a girl like that--especially to her face."

"I know," he admitted sheepishly. "Actually, Sammy Hong is the one I'm really pissed at. He stole her away from me. I mean, he's an 8th grader like you, maybe a little shorter. Not nearly as hot looking though," he added thoughtfully.

"Well, maybe you're better off finding someone in your own class," I suggested quietly.

Derrin shrugged. "I don't really care. I mean, what do I need a girlfriend for? They're all sluts...even my mom!"

I felt like I had just been slapped.  I was about to berate my cousin for saying something so incredibly harsh, but I saw more tears silently pouring out of his eyes. He looked up at me, his lip trembling and I couldn't help but wrap my arms around him. I felt a few of his tears soak through my shirt.

"Who needs a girlfriend or a stupid brother?" he sniffled, still holding me tight. "I mean, I have you and Tony, and that's enough, right?"

I gently pulled us apart and went to the bathroom to get him some tissue. He was already dabbing his eyes with his palms when I returned, but quietly took the tissues.  He even blew his nose, making a surprisingly resonant honking noise.

"Sit by me, please?" he asked, looking at me with reddened eyes.

I came and once again sat on the edge of the bed. He turned and suddenly pressed his lips against mine. I started to back away, but he grabbed the back of my head and pushed his face into mine. He was sucking with almost desperate passion and I had to pry him off. I looked at him in stunned surprise, gasping for air. He just looked at me, an almost defiant look on his face.

I was wide-eyed and speechless.

"I seen girls kissing like that and no one thinks it's gross," he pointed out defensively.

"What was that for?" I asked when I had recovered my voice.

"I love you, Perry. In my mind, you're my real brother. Josh is just some ugly, evil step brother that I'm forced to live with every day, but I know my true brother is here in Santa Corina."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't approve of the way Josh treated his younger brother, but I also didn't think he could  be that horrible. Besides, whatever Derrin might wish, the facts were the facts. At least he had an older brother --even if he didn't particularly like him, and all I had was Benjamin, up in Heaven.

" kissed me on the lips..." I whispered.

"Haven't you ever heard of kissing cousins?" Derrin asked with a totally straight face.

"I don't think that's what they meant."

"It means two cousins who love each other. It doesn't matter if they're boy and girl or boy and boy."

"Well, it sorta does," I argued gently.

"I don't care then. Maybe I'm breaking some rules, but so what?  Big brothers aren't supposed to beat up their kid brothers--they're supposed to look out for them, and moms aren't supposed to fall in love with other dads and leave their real families. So why can't I kiss my cousin, who's like more than my best friend in the whole world?"

I couldn't find a hole in his argument, even though the truth was, we didn't even get together enough to really know each other that well. It seemed like a lot of this stuff was just in his own head. "I can talk to Josh if you want," I offered.

He shook his head. "No, that'll just make him meaner when we get home. Mostly, if I just stay out of his way, things'll be okay."

"I'm sure he's just as upset about the problems your parents are having as you are."

At first it looked like he was going to argue, and then he reluctantly nodded his head. "It's not fair that he takes it out on me though," he muttered.

"I 'm not saying he's right. I'm just saying why he might be acting like that," I pointed out.

"I know," Derrin sniffled, carelessly wiping his nose with the sleeve of his rugby shirt. "Can I give you a bj now? I've been practicing with Tony and he says I'm really good at it now."

"I'm sorry, Derrin. It's not right. I'm a guy and you're a guy-"

"And Tony's a guy, but so what?"

"I think you know so what," I told him pointedly.

"I'm not a fag!" he declared defiantly, as if daring me to argue with him.

I didn't know what was going on with my emotionally charged cousin. Obviously, he was confused about sex and upset about his parents and the way he was being treated by Josh. That was a lot of stuff for a twelve year old to deal with. I had a sudden urge to go walking up to a gum chewing Barbie Gallagher and dramatically slap her face in front of all her friends. 'That's for Derrin, you two- timing bitch!' I'd declare before spinning on my heels and striding away indignantly.  I looked at my distraught cousin and felt my heart ache.

"I'm not a fag," he repeated softly.

"Okay," I whispered back.

As much as I enjoyed spending time with my Uncle's family, all I could really think about was getting to church and seeing Jesse. I kept glancing at my watch as discreetly as I could. First we had a great prime rib roast dinner, and it was almost like in a TV show or something because everyone was so polite about everything--almost too polite. People asked if you could please pass this or please pass that; and everything was served piping hot in fancy dishes, making it seem like a home cooked meal, even though it obviously wasn't. My uncle asked when my flight was leaving tomorrow, and they briefly discussed the plans for my mom to come over on Christmas day. I noticed that no one mentioned my Aunt Rosemary and whether or not she would be joining the holiday family gathering. Still, the food was pretty good, and the Chinese Chicken Salad my mom had made from scratch helped make it seem more like a genuinely homecooked meal. The Waldmans had brought along a couple of pies from Marie Callendar, and I chose the pumpkin over the apple because it was a good excuse to pile on lots of whipped cream.

Everyone pitched in to make quick work of the clean-up operation, and then we all gathered around the Christmas tree. It was beautiful with the house lights dimmed and strings of multi-colored bulbs twinkling across all the branches, shimmering tinsel, and shiny blown glass ornaments. Yuletide music played softly in the background. My mom insisted we say some prayers before we opened gifts, so we all bowed our heads as Uncle Ron led us in the usual litany of Rosary standards along with a special request for Mary and Jesus and all the saints to bless our family. Finally, we exchanged our gifts and I was glad to see Derrin's eyes light up when he opened mine. It was a boxed set of Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars series, starring the indefatigable and resourceful hero, John Carter. I still couldn't help glancing at my watch though, and once the thank you's were over and the discarded giftwrap stuffed into a white plastic trash bag, it still seemed to take forever for everyone to say goodbye and bon voyage and get out the door. As Derrin headed toward the family SUV and waved, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He deserved to have things go better for him. I also realized that I really liked him, not just as a cousin, but as a friend. While I hoped he would soon outgrow his sexual interest in me, I hoped that we would always have that bond of closeness. I decided right then, that when he was a little older, there were things I definitely wanted to share with him. I knew I could trust him, and I knew he would understand.

As the SUV pulled out of the driveway, I again glanced at my nearly new chronometer. We still had fifteen minutes, and it took about ten to get to church, so we should be okay if we hustled. I went to the kitchen and grabbed my hoodie off the coat hook.

"I just need to fix my face," my mom declared nonchalantly, starting up the stairs.

I froze, feeling a wave of nearly uncontrollable panic surge through my body. "But we'll be late!" I said, barely able to contain my mounting hysteria.

"Oh, maybe just a minute or two," she noted carelessly as she reached the top landing. "Wasn't it nice to see Ronnie and Karen back together again? I'll just be a minute."

 I knew full well that when my mom said 'just a minute,' it had nothing to do with real minutes on a clock, and we could be stuck here for a dangerously long period of time. I could think of nothing better to do than pace back and forth in front of the stairs, feeling kind of warm in my Northwestern hoodie but not daring to take it off and cost us another precious second. 

Finally my mom stood at the top of the stairs, her face apparently 'fixed.' "You can start the car; I'll be right down."

I grabbed the car keys from the hook by the kitchen door and hit the garage door opener with the flat of my palm. It seemed to take forever for it to slide open enough for me to duck under. I pressed the button on the remote to unlock the doors of the Lexus and jabbed at the ignition three or four times before finally getting the key to slide in. I started the engine and even ground the starter a little, just to make sure the thing was really on. Mom was still nowhere in sight so I turned on the radio and scanned all the channels, finding nothing that piqued my interest. Finally, I stumbled across an oldies station playing Honey Pie from the White Album, and I flashed on Jesse, in his T-shirt and sweatpants, lying casually on my futon, singing to himself in that beautiful, clean voice. "Honey Pie, you are making me crazy...." How like an angel he had seemed to me that night, and how I loved snuggling with him, pressing against his hard body, his clean, smooth skin against mine....

I nearly hit the roof when my mom tapped lightly on the window. Rather than getting out of the car, I wiggled my butt over the gear shifter, and put my safety belt on.

"What took you so long? We're gonna be late!" I whined.

"I've never seen you in such a rush to get to church before," my mom commented, the half-smile on her face suggesting that she wasn't taking my panic too seriously.

"But Jesse asked me to be there--asked us!"

"And we will be there...when we get there," my mom said calmly as she backed the car out of the garage.

Father Mike was already reciting the opening prayer when we arrived. The church was less than half full--not unusual for this more informal service, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Gary and Theresa sitting alone toward the back. I smiled and waved to them and Theresa cheerfully waved back. Gary was slower to respond, seeming to look me over carefully before he raised his arm slightly to give me a hesitant wave. I was stunned to see that he had a bandage wrapped around his right hand. I also realized, as my eyes got used to the dim light, that there was a bruise under his right eye. I stopped in complete shock and my mom, who had been trying to catch up to me ever since I dashed across the parking lot, bumped right into me.

"Perry!" she gasped under her breath.

"Sorry," I mouthed. I gave Gary an inquisitive look, but he just shrugged and shook his head dismissively-no big deal.

Yeah, right.

For some reason, I knew right away that his injury had been caused by someone from Goreski's crew, or maybe by the thick-necked wrestler himself, and I felt a wave of guilt drain the blood from my face. The smile quickly vanished from my face and I could no longer look Theresa in the eye. It was clearly my fault that her boyfriend had been injured in a fight, almost certainly against unfair odds. My mom looked over to where I was staring, and seeing Gary and Theresa, she waved politely but absently.

It was time for another hymn, and the congregation rose to its feet. We were about to slip into the nearest empty pew when I felt someone tugging on my hoodie. It was Miranda, looking up at me with a sense of urgency. She was wearing a pair of khaki overalls under an open pink jacket, and her shiny blond hair was mostly combed out straight for a change, and had a couple of bright blue bows clipped on top.

"You're late!" she scolded as the band finished its intro and the church filled with a joyously rhythmic, contemporary tune. She started tugging on my hand and pulled me through the empty pew to the other side of the sanctuary. My mom was barely able to keep up. I was surprised to see Mrs. Taylor, who usually worked at the restaurant on Saturday nights, dressed in her Sunday best, sitting in a side pew, only a few rows back from where the band was set up in its alcove. Miranda didn't let go of my hand until she was standing right next to her mom. Mrs. Taylor looked up from the simple, printed song sheet she was holding and gave us a warm, but weary smile.

Finally, I was able to turn my attention to altar, and to the alcove to the right where Jason Tarentino stood at the front mike in his purple worship team T-shirt, strumming his guitar, backed by his girlfriend Keiko on the keyboard, Tate on the drums, Harv on the bass and...Jesse! He was off to one side, strumming away on the guitar I had seen at his apartment the day I had brought his homework over. Like the others, he was dressed in a purple T-shirt and black jeans. He and the rest of the band also had mikes before them and his voice blended seamlessly into the backup vocals. His long, golden blond hair glinted in the beams cast down from a row of track lighting overhead. I realized, with a bit of a start, that there was a huge grin on my face, but Jesse seemed to be concentrating on fingering his chords and keeping an eye on the other band members and hadn't noticed, or chose not to acknowledge my presence. Fortunately, everyone else's attention was also on the band and I concentrated on keeping my expression as unaffected as possible.

He looked small and slight compared to everyone but Keiko, but so outstandingly beautiful as well. And why shouldn't he? Where else would an angel look more at home than in a church sanctuary, surrounded by stained glass windows, sacred objects gilded in gold, and rows of pious plaster saints staring solemnly down upon the faithful.

But even as I thrilled at seeing Jesse playing with the church band, his face tight with concentration and his crystal blue eyes sparkling in the bright beams of the track lighting, I shuddered as I imagined what had happened to Gary. I told myself that maybe I was jumping to conclusions. If Gary had suffered a run in with Goreski or his cronies, surely he would have let me know. He had my phone number and email address, and certainly knew where I lived. I was torn between remaining in my seat, nestled between Miranda and my mom, and going to the back and sitting with Gary and Theresa. I desperately needed to know how he had gotten those injuries.

The band led the congregation in an upbeat version of 'Little Town Of Bethlehem,' during the offertory, and then the track lighting began to dim, until only the front mike was bathed in full illumination. To my surprise, Jesse stepped up, the polished shell of his acoustic guitar flashing as it caught the bright stage lighting. He glanced around nervously at the crowd of maybe sixty or seventy people, and then locked his eyes for the first time that evening on me. At first I was startled to be the recipient of such a potent gaze. Those bright, sapphire eyes seemed to have a power all their own, and as always, there was what seemed to me a glimmer of pain mixed in with the sparkle of joy. I saw him take a deep breath and hold it before he began to pluck out some simple rolling arpeggios on his guitar, the band silent and still in the dimmed light behind him. His eyes went to his fingering as he shifted smoothly from one chord to the next, and then he focused on the mike directly before him.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

I immediately recognized the lyrics to Josh Groban's inspirational ballad, "You Raise Me Up." It was a beautifully appropriate choice for this less formal Mass, and something that would be easily recognized and appreciated by the young people that dominated the congregation.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

It was a delicate, almost subdued performance, yet filled with barely suppressed emotion, a sense of gratitude and overwhelming love. I knew that Jesse had strong religious feelings, and that we both felt certain that God had brought us together, but....That's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew with unflinching certainty that he was singing about me-to me, and not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit. With that realization, tears immediately formed in my eyes, and began tumbling down my cheeks unabated. Bleary eyed, but unashamed, I managed to glance over at Mrs. Taylor and my mom, and noticed their eyes were shimmering as well. Clearly, I wasn't the only one deeply affected by Jesse's heartfelt performance. Mrs. Taylor even sniffled a couple of times, though her face remained stoic. I felt my mom's hand squeeze my shoulder. I'm sure they assumed Jesse was singing a hymn to God Himself, and that was just fine with me. The rest of the band joined in as Jesse repeated the chorus, supporting his pure, delicate voice with warm, rounded harmonies. The volume and intensity rose as they repeated the chorus yet again, this time with Jesse's voice becoming part of the whole, supported now by the keyboard and other guitars. But abruptly, they all dropped out, leaving only Jesse and his dad's acoustic guitar to perform the final line.

You raise me up: To more than I can be.

He stared right at me again, as if to make certain that I understood his meaning. I felt my whole body tremble, as if Jesse had somehow gotten inside me, right in the middle of my chest. I longed to be with him at that moment, to wrap my arms around him and hold him close. But that would have to wait for another time, probably more than two weeks in the future. I felt a moment of despair as I thought of the long period ahead where I would be separated from Jesse by thousands of miles. But I also took comfort in the fact that it would pass eventually, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and that finally, we would be reunited.

The silence after the final strummed chord was almost as full of meaning as his performance. Of course, I was totally biased, but I found it to be one of the most moving musical experiences of my entire life. I finally wiped the burning tears from my cheeks with the sleeve of my hoodie and was surprised to see my mom dabbing her own eyes with a lacy handkerchief.

When Father Mike rose to continue the service, his normally pleasant and youthful voice, reverently reciting sacred words from ancient texts suddenly sounded harsh and abrasive compared to the delicately sweet and uncorrupted voice we had just heard. Having somewhat regained my composure, I tried to make eye contact as the beautiful blond youth backed away from the mike and returned to his place next to the much taller bass player, but Jason quickly moved in, patting my beautiful angel lightly on the back for a job well done and blocking my view.

I did manage to catch Jesse's eye as I walked past the band after receiving Holy Communion, but instead of returning my warm smile, he looked somewhat apprehensive. Well, I could understand that. This was his first performance with the worship team and maybe even the first time he had played with a band. As far as I could tell, he was doing a great job, and from now on, Josh Groban's heartfelt performance of his own song would only serve as a dim reminder of Jesse's restrained, but emotionally potent rendition.

As the jubilant strains of "Joy To The World" wound down to the last verse, I felt myself torn between racing back to confront Gary about his injuries, and going up front to congratulate the band and especially my precious angel. I glanced back and panicked as I saw Gary and Theresa attempting to make a hasty exit. I clumsily excused myself and slipped past Miranda and Mrs. Taylor so that I could move down the side of the sanctuary without disturbing those still singing.

Gary looked ill-at-ease when I caught up to him, slightly out of breath, but Theresa shot him a warning glance. "Hey, Per, glad you could make it. Jesse sure can sing, huh?" he offered, a quiver in his resonant and usually smooth voice.

"What happened?" I demanded. "What did those guys do to you?"

"Hold on, dude, no need to jump to conclusions, 'kay?" Gary cautioned me as we moved to the side of the lobby, very near the same place Katy and Jessica had trapped me a few weeks ago.

"It was Goreski, right?" I asked in a voice loud enough to turn the heads of those parishioners filing past us and out the large front doors.

Gary cringed a little. "Calm down, please?"

"Calm down?! How can I be calm?" I asked desperately. "I mean, look at you!"

"It's not that bad," Gary assured me. "Just bruised my knuckles against a couple of really thick skulls," he explained, rubbing his bandaged hand.

"And this?" I asked, touching my own face in the same place where Gary's had a bluish bruise.

"Meh, they got in a lucky shot--no big deal," he assured me again.

"Who did this to you?" I demanded again while Theresa looked on sympathetically.

"Okay, but ya gotta promise me you won't get upset," he cautioned.

"I am upset," I told him impatiently. "Please, just tell me what happened."

"Well...I'm pretty sure it was a couple of Goreski's goons--but not Hollister or Hernandez."

"That bastard," Theresa hissed under her breath. The simple curse word sounded even harsher whispered in this holy place. "He deliberately stayed away and then pretended like he didn't know nada about it!" she spat with open disdain, obviously referring to her younger brother.

"Yeah, there were three of 'em, and they caught me after basketball practice. Gets dark so early these days, and they just hid in the shadows and followed me to my car in the back of the parking lot. I didn't get a good look at 'em."

"But you beat them up?" I asked hopefully.

Gary glanced at Theresa and then uneasily back at me. "Not quite, Per. I ain't sayin' I didn't hold my own, but there were three of 'em, and they did catch me by surprise."

"So what happened?"

"Brother Julian--he's our assistant coach, just happened to come out of the locker room on the way to the rectory, and when he saw what was goin' on, he shouted and blew his whistle. Those bastards-" Gary suddenly cringed again, realizing he'd said that word much too loud for the sanctified atmosphere of a church. He stiffened and watched uneasily as several families caught up in their own conversations went by before he picked up his explanation. "Those bastards," he whispered, "they took off for the back fence and were long gone by the time Brother Julian got to me. 'Course, he asked what was goin' on, but I just told him three dudes'd caught me by surprise. I said I didn't recognize them and that they were probably from Kennedy. Maybe they were tryin' ta mug me or somethin'."

"Did he believe you?"

Gary shrugged. "I doubt it, but the a.c., he's nobody's nursemaid. He figured if I wanted to say something, I would. But he did take me back in and patch me up before he let me go."

"When did this happen?"


"Why didn't you call me or something?"

"Call you? What the fu-" He again cut himself off and lowered his voice. "What for? There wasn't anything you coulda done about it. I'm just glad it was me they hassled and not you or Jesse."

"Tell him what they said," Theresa urged him quietly but adamantly.

Gary scowled at her, but she just glared right back. I saw Gary's shoulders slump in his well-worn denim jacket.

"It was nothin'," he protested in something close to a whiny voice.

"Tell me, please," I begged.

Gary sighed. "Aw, just some cra-some stuff about no one messing with the Ballcrusher,and sh-stuff like that."

"Tell him," Theresa urged.

Gary gave her a pained look and then glanced sheepishly down at me. "They said somethin' 'bout...."

"Gary!" Theresa pressed.

"About gettin' my little friends too, or somethin' like that," he mumbled, his gaze dropping to the floor.

I felt a shiver go down my spine. Even though I knew, in the back of my mind, that the whole business with Goreski and his crew was still an open matter, realizing that they had actually beat up Gary and threatened Jesse and me over a month after the incident at the rummage sale, was truly frightening.  How and when would it all end?

"Does Jesse know?" I asked.

"Does Jesse know what?" It was my mom, with the Taylors coming up behind her. Miranda was holding her mom's hand and Jesse was holding his guitar in a black case.

Gary, Theresa, and I stood there looking guilty. Theresa was the only one to offer a greeting.

"Good heavens, Mr. Van Driesen, what happened to you?" Mrs. Taylor.

"Mom!" Jesse protested from behind her.

"It was nothing ma'am," he offered sheepishly. "Just a basketball got in my face."

"And that?" my mom asked suspiciously.

Gary shrugged. "Scrapped my knuckles when I fell."

I glanced nervously at both our parents, and neither one of them looked convinced. Still, my mom put on a fake smile. "Well, if basketball is that rough at Holy Trinity, maybe I won't allow Perry to join."

I was about to protest, when Gary jumped in.

"No ma'am, it ain't like that. I mean, just sometimes, things do get a little woolly, and if you're distracted or somethin'...."

"Distracted by what?" Mrs. Taylor asked pointedly.

"Why're you interrogating him like that?" Jesse asked. "He didn't do anything wrong."

There was a moment of silence while we all seemed to collect our thoughts. Apparently Jesse's point was well taken, and everyone relaxed a little, complimenting Jesse on his amazing performance as he looked down at the maroon carpeting and shrugged uncomfortably.

Now both parents again turned to Gary, but they seemed to realize that they weren't going to squeeze any more information out of us today, and simply exchanged meaningless pleasantries about the upcoming holidays.

"You knew about this already?" I whispered to Jesse.

"We talked a bit before Mass," he explained enigmatically.

"Geez, I wish you'd said something...." I muttered petulantly.

"Hey...anyway," Gary said, forcing a smile on his usually grim and brooding countenance, "you got a big trip tomorrow, huh?"

"Yes, and we really should get going," my mom replied. "We still have some last minute details to take care of and we need to leave for the airport by eight."

"Well, have a really great trip," Gary said, extending his uninjured left hand for me to shake.

I grasped it with what I hoped was more than just a casual grip. He clamped his bandaged hand over both of our clasped hands.

"Have a great trip, Perry. Bring us back some snow!" Theresa joked.

"Sure, okay. I'll stuff some in my pocket before I leave," I managed to quip, even though I didn't feel at all lighthearted at the moment.

We watched Gary and Theresa go, Theresa's arm moving affectionately to the small of Gary's back.  Now we stood for a few silent moments with the Taylors.

"Jesse says New York is almost as cold as Chicago," Miranda noted with a little less energy than she usually exuded.

"Yeah, it'll get pretty cold," I told her.

"You better dress really warm so you don't catch your death," she warned.

For some reason, the word 'death' hit me harder than it should have, though I was well aware of the phrase, and knew it was just a way of warning someone about not catching a cold.

"I promise I will," I assured her gently.

She then came up and wrapped her skinny arms around my torso and pressed her head to my chest. "I'll miss you," her muffled voice said.

Carefully, I put my hands on her narrow shoulders. "I'll miss you, too. Do you want me to bring you something back?"

"Of course--you're my boyfriend," she replied without hesitation.

"Miranda!" Mrs. Taylor exclaimed with embarrassment.

"No, it's okay," I assured her. "There's a really cool toy store there called FAO Schwartz-it's huge! I'll get you something nice from there."

"I wanna pretty dolly wearing a fancy Christmas dress!" Miranda suggested without hesitation.

"Miranda!" Mrs. Taylor scolded again. "That's really not necessary," she assured me apologetically. Her tone was polite but there was always that edge to her tone that reminded people that she wouldn't take anything from anyone that smelled of charity. Well, Christmas gifts were hardly charity, and I decided I'd make it a priority to get Miranda the best doll I could find and have it shipped out so she'd have it under the tree on Christmas Day.

"No promises--just if I see something really cool," I assured the both of them.

I thought Miranda might protest, but she just stepped back and clung to her mom, looking up at me with those big blue peepers.

"Well, do have a good and safe trip," Mrs. Taylor said, coming up to me. She hesitated for a moment and then embraced me. "God bless you, Perry Thompson," she said with heartfelt sincerity.

"Thanks, Mrs. Taylor," I said, finally pulling away.

Now Jesse and I stood there looking at each other awkwardly. My head began to spin as I thought of everything that had happened in the past three months since Jesse had first walked into our classroom and into my life, his head bowed and his long golden bangs hiding his face. Now the moment of separation was really at hand, and by tomorrow afternoon, we'd be on opposite coasts. Even though there was no question it was going to happen--and soon-- I still couldn't fully wrap my mind around the concept.

"That was a really cool song," I noted.

"Did you like it?" he asked hesitantly.

"You know I did," I whispered.

I saw his eyes instantly fill with love and I felt myself get weak. Just for you, he mouthed.

I smiled and nodded, my eyes starting to fill with tears again. I had to look away.

"We should be getting along," my mom said abruptly, lightly touching my shoulder.

"Yeah, I wanna get this in the car," Jesse said, lifting up the black guitar case.

"So, I guess I'll see ya when I get back," I offered dumbly, feeling like the words were coming out of somebody else's mouth.

Jesse nodded. "Yeah, we can email and stuff if you want."

"Of course!" I answered far too enthusiastically. "I mean, yeah, that'd be cool...if you want."

Jesse offered me a shaky smile and I knew he was hurting just as much as I was. His crystal blue eyes, also shiny with moisture, locked momentarily with my own, and I again had that momentary feeling like he was inside me. God told me to stay with you, it seemed to be reminding me. I just nodded as if he had actually spoken the words out loud. He was the first to break our visual lock.

"'Kay, bye, Perry," he said, even as he headed quickly out the door.

Mrs. Taylor gave my mom a wholehearted hug and gave me a smiling nod as she followed her son out. Miranda was holding her mom's arm but turned to look at me before she went out into the night, a somber look on her small round face, and her eyes moist and sad.

The tears that had poured out so freely during Jesse's song threatened to make a return appearance, and I took several deep breaths, willing them back. I had heard there were rare cases of people who had been born without tear ducts, and at the moment, I actually envied them.

"Are you okay, dear?" my mom asked with concern.

"Um...yeah, sure. Why wouldn't I be?" I asked in an unjustifiably snippy tone.

But I think my mom had some sense of what I was feeling, and instead of reprimanding me, she gave me a sympathetic look.

"The time will fly--you'll see," she assured me, while perhaps also assuring herself.

We walked out into the brisk night toward the parking lot. Most of the cars had already left. I saw the Taylors walking toward their station wagon way at the back of the lot. Strangely, we had parked much closer to the church building even though we had arrived late. I had been in such a panic at the time, I hadn't even noticed.

We got in the car without another word and I didn't dare do anything but stare straight head. I wasn't really focused on anything in front of us, just on the black hole that was developing in my heart, a growing emptiness where I knew Jesse belonged.

"Jesse's song was so beautiful," my mom said, as she started the engine and started rolling the Lexus out toward the street. "He has a lovely voice--remarkable tone and control for such a young boy," she said with the perspective of a veteran chorister. "I wonder if he had some vocal training back in Illinois?"

I only half heard her question and had no intention of answering anyway. I was just sitting there wondering how big this hole in my heart was going to get, and at what point I wouldn't be able to live with it any longer. Would I leap up from my seat 30, 000 feet in the air, somewhere over Nebraska and demand that the plane be turned around immediately or my heart would burst? Yeah, that seemed like a totally viable scenario to me right now.

My mom said something else but the words were totally lost on me. I was marveling that someone that I didn't even know three months ago, could have such a powerful effect on me. I mean, who was this kid anyway? Just a boy, a thirteen year old boy from another part of the country, with a long suffering mom, slightly frayed around the edges, and a sweet, precocious little sister. Sure he had book and street smarts; sure he could fight like a finely honed weapon with the speed of a striking cobra; sure he could write like a college student, and sing like an angel. But he was far from perfect; wracked with guilt, haunted by inner demons, and full of insecurities. There was no question that he was physically attractive, the most beautiful boy I had ever seen, but what were looks? They were just a physical covering, just flesh and bones, comprised of the same stuff as me and every other human being on the planet. And just like me, Jesse had no control over how he looked, no control over the power of those piercing crystal blue eyes, those smooth, high cheekbones, those full red lips, or those long locks of luscious golden blond hair that tumbled down the sides of his flawlessly angelic countenance. 

But what truly bonded me to him was something that went much deeper than skin and hair and bone structure. It was a bond that existed on a plane that science couldn't yet explain, a dimension where emotion took tangible form, where thoughts were solid objects, and the soul--especially Jesse's soul--glowed with the blinding fire of a million suns. That was where we truly connected. And how could I leave that? Jesse and I were intertwined, not by anything sexual we had done, but by the way our inner beings had touched in a way I had never thought possible. Everything, forever. Now it was like I was leaving part of myself behind, like I was being forced to cut off a hand or even a whole arm. Could I really survive such drastic metaphysical surgery?

Tears were rolling down my cheeks again and it took me a few moments to realize we had come to a stop, still in the parking lot of St. Agnus. Suddenly, the back door opened and my heart leapt into my throat. Were we being robbed? Was the car being hijacked? Was it that same group of thugs that had attacked Gary, following up on their threat right here and now? Would we be killed or just thrown out on the pavement as the tires screeched on the blacktop?

I instinctively turned to my mom first, getting ready to defend her if I had to, by any means I could muster. It wasn't until I heard the back door slam shut again that I dared to turn around.

"Jesse!" I shouted, filling the small cabin with the sound of my voice.

"What?" he asked. "Did I sit on something?"

I again looked at my mom, completely dumbfounded. Hadn't we just said good-bye to the Taylors? Hadn't a giant black hole just coalesced in the middle of my heart? Hadn't my arm just been ripped off my body? What was going on now? Why was Jesse sitting in the backseat of our car? Why was the Taylor's station wagon pulling out of the parking lot without him?

"Mrs. Taylor and I thought it would be nice if you boys could spend at least one night of your Christmas vacation together....We're not monsters, you know." she added after a pause.

Jesse, spending the night? At our house? Before the trip? Huh? What? How?

"Perry, are you okay?" my mom asked. "We really thought you boys would like to spend a little time together before your trip. But if you-"  I was out of the car before she was able to finish her sentence. I opened the back passengers door and slid in. Jesse wiggled over a bit for me, but just a bit.  All I could do was stare at him, my beautiful, sweet, sexy angel. He smiled shyly, not sure how to respond.

"Seatbelts, boys," my mom reminded us as she began to slowly pull out of the parking lot.

Instead of moving over to the driver's side, Jesse buckled on the middle seat belt, so that we were sitting right next to each other. It was a bold move, one that could easily be viewed suspiciously by those that thought in such terms. But my mom either didn't notice or didn't care, and concentrated on working her way down the quiet neighborhood streets of Santa Corina, almost every house and apartment building on either side of us covered in colorful Christmas lights and decorations. I wondered for a moment if I was in Heaven. Surely it would look like this: small, clean homes aglow with beautiful, twinkling lights, each house containing a happy family of some sort, maybe one with a mom and dad and kids, or maybe one with two moms or two dads, or filled with many generations from very young to very old, or even just a happy couple like the Chandigars. Maybe there was even an empty house there, just waiting for two boys who loved each other as much on Earth as the angels loved God in Heaven.

I felt a momentary wave of panic as I looked out the window at the multitudinous Yuletide displays. What if I had just been imagining things? What if I had only wished so badly that Jesse would come home with me that I envisioned it vividly with nothing more than my mind's eye? What if the seat next to me was actually empty? What if Jesse was on his way home in the Volvo station wagon that I had seen pull out in front of us?

"You okay?" a raspy voice asked with gentle concern.

I knew that voice. That was the voice of the boy I loved, that somehow, for some inexplicable reason, loved me. That was the voice of the thirteen year old human being who had walked into my life three months ago and changed everything forever. I turned and offered him a tremulous smile, dabbing  tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my hoodie.

Silently, subtly, his arm reached across the short distance separating us. In the backseat of my mom's car, in the now-welcome shadows, we held hands.


Special Thanks to my editor-in-chief, AJ!

The author wishes to acknowlege B. Graham and R. Lovland for the words and music of "You Lift Me Up," and J. Groban for his beautiful performance of it.

This is the end of Part V of the Adventures Of Perry and Jesse. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined some three years ago when I first started working on what would become Part I.

While Part VI is roiling around in my head just bursting to get out, it has a long way to go before it is ready to be posted. I hope you will be patient with me as I do my best to continue the story, working in my own way and at my own pace. Please check in occasionally at the livejournal forum for news and updates. There should be some exciting announcements coming up soon.

As always, I encourage you to express your opinions on the story, ask questions, browse through some of the other topics and articles, or just introduce yourself to the rest of the gang of hopeless romantics. Join us at: You are also welcome to email me at: I love to hear from anyone who is enjoying the story, especially those I haven't heard from in a long time (you know who you are).