This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments or events is entirely coincidental. Comments and feedback are highly appreciated, send to


Chapter 6.

I'm watching Mark's chest rise up and down. He's lying on his back, mouth slightly open, he's deep asleep. I take this time to examine the curves of his face up close, something I wouldn't dare to do when he's awake. It still startles me to be that close to anyone. Especially someone who makes me feel the way he does, all giddy and shy at the same time. I study the shape of his nose, the curve of his eyebrows, and notice a light stubble on his face. Apparently Mr. Control freak forgot to shave, I think to myself and smile. It's amazing how even in his sleep he looks so composed, like a statue. How does he manage to do that? I marvel at how handsome he appears to me, well to everyone I think. Is it fair for one person to have such good genes? That beautiful jaw, the model like facial features, the superhero frame, not even mentioning the damn six pack and those arms. Those arms which are now loosely enveloping me. A slow smile spreads on my face; I am the luckiest person on the planet at this moment. But I also think about the fact that his physical appearance would mean nothing if it wasn't for who he is inside. And I know that Mark doesn't believe he's a good person, but I have no doubts of it. He might have made some mistakes on the way, but it doesn't change the fact that who he really is inside, is a caring guy. I just wish I could make him see that side of himself. Make him realize that he's compassionate, nurturing, sweet and gentle.

I'm feeling pretty restless after our earlier talk, so as not to wake my own private superhero I gently get up from the bed and walk over to his desk. It's pretty cold so I grab his grey hoodie on the way and put it on. Immediately I'm surrounded by his scent. I smile as I sit down. His shiny brand new looking MacBook Pro is lying on the desk and I open it gently. Rowland stirs on his fluffy looking pillow and makes a grouchy noise while scowling at me.

"What?" I hiss at the obnoxious thing. He keeps staring at me like I'm doing something I'm not supposed to. The computer comes to life and the desktop picture is of the bulldog.

"We'll you're certainly very prominent here, aren't you?" I whisper at the dog and he sighs, letting me know that I'm not telling him anything new. I roll my eyes at him. Silly creature. I click on the Internet icon and have an internal battle with myself concerning checking Mark's search history. On one hand I feel like it's pretty unfair, and like I'm snooping. On the other hand I want to know more about him and his interests, so finally I say fuck it and click on it. I breathe a sigh of relief when I note that there isn't anything on there he might be embarrassed about. Just some research for his history class, some fitness websites, and other very general stuff. But there are two things that peak my curiosity. The first one is a Facebook page that's been opened numerous times. I look at it and realize I'm not the only one with a strange Facebook stalking ritual. I glance over at Mark as I'm about to click on the page, making a silent apology to his peaceful sleeping face. Then I turn to look at the computer screen. Oh, I think as I take in everything on the page. Luke Perish. So while I torture myself with my abuser, Mark tortures himself with a dead boy's Facebook page. I scroll through a few posts from Luke's friends and family. "You're missed Luke. R.I.P.," "Miss you sweet angel, thinking of you every day." I go back up and click on his picture, and I'm momentarily taken aback, because Luke looks a little bit like me. Light hair, slim built, shy looking. I bite my inner cheek feeling very uncomfortable all of a sudden. Is this why Mark is interested in me? Is he trying to repair a wrong? I shake my head, that's not possible. But somewhere in me a fear remains. What if he's only doing this because of Luke? Would he even look my way if he didn't go through that whole experience with him? I click out of the window, unable to look at the sweet face of the boy who took his own life. I look at the other search that seemed a bit off. It's a help website for mental and physical health challenges. I momentarily wonder what Mark might need help with. At first I figure that it's something to do with fitness but after I click the link and the site opens I realize I couldn't be more wrong. "Recognizing Symptoms Of Child Sexual Abuse In Adults," reads the title. I stare at it for what feels like ages, completely frozen. Finally I scroll to see the symptoms. As I read through I realize I can put a check next to almost all of them. "Depression, anxiety, self-injury, difficulty in relationships, panic attacks, low self-esteem," and the list goes on. I stare at the website, unable to form any thoughts. Am I upset that Mark is looking this up? Happy? I can't figure it out. One part of me feels terribly embarrassed that he knows. Mortified that this website is telling him everything that's wrong with me. I mean who in their right mind would want to deal with someone possessing all those symptoms, I wonder to myself. Another part of me feels grateful that he cares enough to look it up and learn about it. But over all I just feel strange so I click out of the window. I shut the computer off, and Rowland looks appeased. Silly creature. I go back to bed. Mark's arm instinctively drapes itself over my body. I scoot in closer. I slowly fall asleep.

"Stop crying," the voice hisses at me, "your parents will be here any minute now." I try to stop, I really do, but my body shakes with fear. He grabs my arm and shakes me hard. "God, you're useless." I look down ashamed.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you kid." I look up, even though I don't want to. "Calm the fuck down, okay? And if you tell anyone, you know what's going to happen don't you? Bad things, very bad things are going to happen. And it will be your fault. So you need to relax, and smile when your mom and dad get here. You understand?" I nod weakly. He wipes my tears with his hand. I cringe at his vile touch.

"You need to stop acting like such a baby, you're not a little boy anymore. You're not a cry baby are you?" I stare at my feet. I want him to stop talking to me. Stop looking at me. Stop grabbing my arm. "Stop," I repeat in my head, "stop."

"Jeremy," I hear Mark's voice calling my name. "Jeremy, wake up." I wake up, covered in sweat. I'm still in Mark's room. It's dark and we're laying on top of his bed sheets. I check to make sure I didn't have an accident and breathe a sigh of relief when I confirm that I'm fine.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," I mumble.

"Don't be sorry. Are you okay?" he asks concerned.

"I'm fine, just a bad dream." He studies my face carefully. I can tell he's worried. Slowly I turn on my side, away from him. I can't bear to talk about this. It hurts too much. He moves closer and spoons me from behind. He does it very gently, making sure I don't have an adverse reaction. But his touch feels soothing and I back my body into his arms. He holds me tight, and I feel safe. I feel his lips on my temple. Then it hits me, the room is dark, it's dark outside.

"Shit," I spit out.

"What?" he asks worried.

"What time is it?" He checks his watch.

"It's around 10."

"I have to go home," I say moving to get up. He looks displeased.

"Why don't you stay the night?" I think about it. On one hand it sounds very appealing. I love being next to Mark, I love sleeping in his arms. On the other hand the phrase "many physical relations with other people," comes to mind and I worry. Will he try to be intimate with me? I don't think I'm ready for that yet. But obviously Mark, at least the New York Mark, had a lot of physical needs. And I start to worry that I probably can't really satisfy him in the way he wants. My insecurities start eating away at me.

"No, I really should go home," I answer. He doesn't look happy but nods.

"Okay, come on," he says and gets his car keys. I grab my backpack. I check my phone, four missed calls from my mom. Fuck. I text her saying I'm on my way home. We drive in silence and get to my house pretty quickly. Mark stops the car and looks at me.

"Text me if you have a bad dream okay?" I smile. He's so thoughtful.

"Okay," I reply. He leans over and kisses me gently and as always I forget how to breathe.

"Goodnight," he says.

"Night," I reply and exit the car.

When I get to my house my mom and dad are sitting at the table, waiting for me. My mom looks worried. My dad looks annoyed. Great, I think, now I'll have to deal with this shit storm. I'm not sure what's going on with me, but ever since I've met Mark I feel myself becoming more and more outspoken and easily irritated. I think it's the years of agonizing silence, that are now finally pouring out of me. The years of shame, and hurt, and denial, and depression. The years of putting up with my sister and my parents' ignorance. Like Mark said, I let people walk all over me. And it's not that I want to become a mean person all of a sudden, but I'm tired of being a doormat. Especially for my family.

"Jeremy where have you been?" my mom asks.

"Sorry I was with a friend, lost track of time," I reply.

"Lost track of time? It's ten at night on a school night, we were worried," my mother replies.

"I know. sorry. Won't happen again."

"Who were you with?" asks my father sternly.

"Mark," I reply.

"What? I thought I made clear how I felt about you hanging out with that boy," my father says. I just stare at him. Everyday this man gives me more and more reasons to dislike him. I try to figure out how to respond as politely as I can.

"It doesn't matter how you feel, he's MY friend. He may not be allowed in this house, but you can't stop me from seeing him." My father looks astonished.

"Can I go to sleep now?" I ask annoyed and tired. My mom looks at my dad, then back at me. Finally she nods her head and I make my way to my bedroom. I shut the door and let out a sigh. I strip down to my boxers and climb into the cold, empty bed. Immediately I miss Mark. I wouldn't even mind the beastly dog sleeping with us, just as long as I'm with him. Annoyed, lonely, and tired after the day's events I slowly fall asleep.

I wake up to the sound of rain. I get up and look out the window. The world looks gray, and rain is falling down hard and fast. I can't take my eyes away from the heavy drops falling down on the ground. Everything looks dull, and grey, and cold. I smile remembering that I don't have to walk to school. After a long hot shower I put on a cozy dark grey sweater since it looks freezing outside. Downstairs my mom is doing her usual morning routine. I sit down and put two waffles on my plate. My sister is regarding me carefully.

"What?" I snap at her. I realize I've been snapping a lot and make a mental note to calm down.

"Nothing freak," she replies. She sits there, looking more bitchy then usual. She plays with her food and keeps glancing in my direction, like she's trying to figure something out. My parents are both acting like nothing happened last night. They continue with their regular morning chatter. They're good at pretending things didn't happen, I think to myself. The thought stings, but I'm used to it. I'm used to the fact that my parents didn't believe me. That my parents thought my worst nightmare was just an over active imagination of a little boy. I know that my mom believed me, but she chose to ignore her intuition and listen to my dad. I look at them both and feel bitterness. I'm their son, they should have been on my side. I stand up and walk out without saying a word. These are my parents. They should have been there to protect me. They failed doing their only job as a parent. I shiver in the chilly weather. The rain is coming down hard. I run towards Mark's car, and get in as fast as I can, trying not to drench the whole interior in the process. His car is warm and cozy. I smell hot chocolate.

"Here," he hands me the cup. I smile.

"Thank you."

"You're very welcome. Drink," he orders. So bossy. Lena is right. But I do as I'm told. The chocolate is warm and sweet in my mouth, and my day is immediately brighter.

"How did you sleep?" He asks as he starts driving.

"Okay. I missed you though," I reply quietly. He looks surprised.

"You did?" I nod and he smiles a boyish smile. It makes me happy. He's breathtakingly beautiful. We get to school and as usual Mark walks me to class. I don't think I'll ever get used to the special feeling it gives me.

"I'll see you soon," he says and gives me his brilliant smile.

"Bye," I reply and walk into class. I know there's still so much that needs to be said between us. So much I need to tell him, and certainly things he needs to share. For starters why does Jake think that he's Marks's boyfriend? The thought makes me shudder. I decide to try to focus on the positive. He's a good guy. Give him time, I think. I suddenly realize that the last few weeks at school have been the best weeks of my life, and it's all been because of Mark. He has made everything feel alive. Before Mark, life was just one long routine. I was getting through everyday to simply get by. I wasn't really living. But now everything's changed. There's something going on inside of me, feelings I've never experienced before. Of all the secrets I've ever had to hold inside, this one is actually sweet. The way he looks at me when nobody's watching. The way I feel possessive when I see Julia talk to him. The way he brushes against me when we pass in the dark room. All these little moments remind me that I really care about someone, for the first time in my life. That it isn't just a small crush, like I had on Taylor. That it's something much bigger than that. Much more profound. That ever since Mark Norton has entered my life, things have really changed. And I have him to thank for that. And nothing in his past can change that. And nothing in my past can change that either, I tell myself. That's right, fuck you Breckett, I think and smile.

I go through classes until lunch time comes around. I sit with Lena and Mark, who's doing some last minute homework. I pick at my food, a cold looking pizza slice.

"So have you talked to Taylor yet?" I ask Lena and notice that Mark stops writing at the mention of Taylor's name. I quietly wonder why.

"Uhmm not really," says Lena in a raspy voice, still getting over her cold.

"What happened to 'heart to heart'?" I ask her and she giggles. She's really such a pretty, good natured person. I'm sure if only Taylor knew about how she felt for him he would realize he feels the same way.

"I just can't, we've been friends for so long, I don't even know how I would bring it up," she says.

"Do you want me to talk to him about it?" Now Mark raises his head and looks at me with slightly raised eyebrows. What is going on?

"No, or maybe...I don't know, I mean what would you say?" Lena asks, completely oblivious to Mark's bizarre reactions.

"I don't know, maybe just casually ask him about his girlfriend situation," I say.

"I just don't want it to be too obvious, you know," she replies. The bell interrupts our conversation.

"Eat," Mark implores, as Lena looks on. I sigh, take a bite of the gross pizza, and chew. "Go on," he says and Lena raises her eyebrows at me.

"Control freak," she whispers.

"I heard that," Mark replies pointedly and both me and Lena laugh. I finish the pizza and we all start heading to photo class. On our way I notice a group of people standing to the side of the quad. My sister and Chad are among them. I look over and try to figure out what's going on. They all seem to be much more serious than usual. My sister looks at someone gravely. For a second one of the people moves aside and I see the person standing right in the middle. Spencer. I almost stop and stare. He's wearing a cast on his arm. His face shows old bruises. I know they got into a fight, but I never figured it was this bad. Mark notices my stare and follows my gaze. He doesn't even flinch at the sight. He turns to look at me, and checks for my reaction.

"You have to promise never to do something like that again," I whisper, hoping Lena didn't notice Spencer. I don't want unnecessary questions. I don't like lying to her. Mark stays silent for a moment.

"He deserved it," he answers back. I inwardly groan because I can't believe what I'm about to do. I am about to take Spencer's side, for the first and last time.

"Mark, nobody deserves to be beat unconscious." Maybe Mark doesn't understand because he's never had to be on the receiving end of violence. I doubt he's ever been the weaker part in a fight. But I know what it's like to be physically hurt, and I don't wish it on anyone. He regards me curiously. Finally he nods.

"Okay, I'll do my best," he says.

Inside the classroom Mark tries his best to ignore Julia as me and Lena giggle at her silly questions. I'm usually annoyed by how close she sits to him, but for some reason today I'm not bothered. Mark likes me, I have nothing to worry about. But for some reason my mood is off, and I know it has to do with what I just witnessed outside. I am concerned about what happened with Spencer, even though I try to ignore it. I mean, the guy is a huge asshole. But Mark's brutal actions are a bit worrisome. I guess I'll have to talk to him about it more. Unfortunately all of us get placed in different groups, so we don't get to hang out. I frown when Mark gets put into the outdoor group. He doesn't look happy either. The teacher puts me in film developing. I walk over to the sink, and pull out my phone since the task is not too exciting and pretty time consuming. The rest of the day goes by slowly, as it always does when Mark's not around. After school I have to head home. I've been over at Mark's place most afternoons now, and my parents decided I need to have lunch with them today. I explain the situation to Mark and he seems thoughtful for a second.

"So why exactly am I banned from your house again?" he asks.

"Because, my parents found out about the Spencer thing, and they think you're a loose cannon," I say. He smirks.

"I am a loose cannon, they're completely right about that. You should stay away from me," he says playfully. He drops me off at home and we say our goodbyes. When I walk inside the house my father says hi to me, as he cheerfully looks up from his blackberry. Why is he so happy? I wonder. My sister is on her phone as well. She flips me off as I sit down. I flip her off right back. She stares at me in surprise.

"What," I snap at her.

"Nothing, drama queen, calm down" she replies. I roll my eyes at her. My father regards me curiously.

"Is everything okay?" Why does he always ask that when everything is far from okay, I wonder. I mean, nothing is really that awful in my life. As a matter of fact my day was fine, except for the seeing Spencer part. But now I'm here instead of being with Mark, who can't even step inside of my own house. And nothing in my life is really, truly okay. I'm a broken person. My spirit has been broken. And my parents did nothing to stop it. And all of a sudden I feel really irritated again. I surprise myself at the sudden flood of emotions I feel. Uncontrollable emotions.

"Yeah," I mumble. My mom piles mashed potatoes and salad on my plate.

"So are you going to Audrey's party in two weeks?" asks my sister and it takes me a while to register that she's talking to me. I usually only cue in when she says "idiot, faggot, or freak."

"No, why?" I ask wondering why my sister thinks I would go to a cheerleaders party, especially if she's friends with her.

"Well she's inviting Mark so I figured you'd be there too," she answers. His name leaves a hole in my heart. Mark's not even allowed to be here because of you, I think to myself. My insides burn with anger that's directed at everyone in my family.

"Oh," I simply reply.

"Are you sure you'll be safe? I don't like this Mark character," my father chimes in. I roll my eyes.

"Dad, you don't even know him. Why don't you just stop talking about him okay?" I say and he looks at me like I'm from a different planet.

"Well I just don't have a good feeling about him," he starts saying but I stop him.

"Well your judgment about people isn't exactly the best now, is it?" I say sarcastically. My mom freezes in place with a bowl of green peas in her hands. She knows exactly what I'm referring to. I know she feels guilty about it all. About listening to my dad instead of what her heart was telling her.

"I don't know what you mean," my father replies.

"I mean Breckett dad, I mean Stuart fucking Breckett. Go figure it out," I snap and leave the table.

"Jeremy come back here" he yells after me but I run upstairs and slam the door.

"Leave him alone," I hear my mom say and I'm grateful for her. I don't want to deal with my dad. I throw myself on my bad and scream into my pillow. My whole entire body feels raw, and the slightest touch of anything hurts. I notice Mark's hoodie laying on my bed. I grab it like a life line and bury my head in it. I drown my sorrows in his lingering scent. I refuse to come down for dinner, and my parents leave me alone. I lie on my bed and cry as childhood memories swarm my head. Just as I thought my life was heading in a better direction, I'm dragged back into the darkness. I'm drowning, again. I see his face over and over again, his thin lips, his parted hair. Why didn't someone stop him? I'm shaking and trembling with anger, fear, and resentment. I usually have Mark now to calm me down when I feel this out of control. But he's not around and I feel so alone. An overbearing anxiety and fear swarm my entire mind and body, leaving a lingering question. Will I ever get better? What if he broke something in me forever. I cry thinking about the fact that for the rest of my life I will have to carry the burden this man put on me. Something I never asked for. A whole life time of remembering, feeling angry, and reliving my worst nightmare. Is this how it's always going to be? I reach under the bed for my mom's anxiety pills. I take them and drift off to sleep. When I wake up it's late evening time. I pull out notebooks from my backpack and start doing some homework. It's hard to concentrate on Science, but I do my best. It's better to do that than to let my thoughts wonder into the dark depths of my mind. I don't want to linger on what happened to me, it makes me feel like a victim. I don't want Breckett to have power over me. I finish my homework and go back to sleep.

The next morning I wake up at 4:40 in the morning to join Mark on his run. As I brush my teeth in the bathroom, barely managing to stand for more than a minute, I wonder how I got talked into this again. Me and running. I inwardly groan. I throw on some running clothes and shoes, and go downstairs. I wonder if I should eat or drink anything before this, but decide not to. Mark seems very pleased when he sees me walking up, wearing my black shorts and his grey hoodie. He's wearing Grey shorts and a black shirt. I roll my eyes at his enthusiasm.

"Ready?" he asks excited. I groan and he laughs. Why did I agree to this again? We start out slow, and it feels more pleasant than I expected. It's peaceful. The running takes my mind off of things. I don't have the energy to think about Breckett, or my parents, or people at school. Because I'm so rusty all I can focus on is keeping my breath as steady as possible, and not looking too out of shape next to Mark. I can tell that he's going slower than usual for me. The rhythm of our feet hitting the pavement simultaneously calms me down, and I can slowly see the appeal of this. The world is still waking up, as we pass the bridge where Mark found me crying one day. I look at the spot and it feels like it was years ago. Mark has changed so much in my life in such a short time. I remember the sweet things he said, and then me running away. How he's managed to stay around this long still confounds me. We keep running, and everything is starting to hurt, as my breathing becomes ragged. I see the forest.

"Keep pushing," Mark says the words calmly, and I know that I will. I will keep pushing for him. So I move each leg on and on, past the point of hurt and pain. I force my body to keep going, because I know it can. And I feel exhilarated all of a sudden. I'm not as weak as I thought.

"Race you to that oak," Mark yells out and starts sprinting.

"Hey, that's not fair," I yell back and start running more frantically. I can hear his laugh ahead of me and I laugh as well. I put my best effort into the sprint, but Mark hits the bark of the tree ahead of me.

"," I gasp out, my breathing out of control. Mark just laughs. He brushes some hair away from my sweaty forehead. I shiver under his touch.

"We should do this more often," he says. I raise my eyebrow.

"Yeah, you like going at almost walking pace?"

"It wasn't that bad. Much better than I expected actually." I open my mouth in shock.

"How out of shape do you think I am?"

"Not out of shape. You're just so...petite," he says throwing me completely off. I don't know if I should be insulted or not.

"Petite," I repeat the word, trying to figure out how I feel about it. He smiles.

"Come on, we have to start heading back," he says, and I hear the authority back in his voice. We slowly walk back home and get ready for school.

Lunch time proves to be a very awkward experience. I'm not sure what the hell is going on between Mark and Taylor, but there's a strange tension and everyone can feel it. Taylor openly glares at Mark, and Mark, not one to be intimidated, glares right back. I roll my eyes at them. How medieval can they get? They keep staring at each other like they're worst enemies. Me and Lena throw each other questioning looks. When the bell rings I get up quickly, and when Mark and I are alone I decide to ask him what in the world is going on.

"So what was that all about?"

"What was what all about?" He asks innocently.

"You know what, whatever is going on between you and Taylor," I say back.

"Nothing's going on."

"Mark, you guys were staring each other down for 30 minutes."

"I just don't really like the guy. Wish you wouldn't hang out with him," he replies like it's not a big deal.

"What? Why don't you like him?" I ask completely taken aback.

"I just don't, I don't want him around you," he replies leaving no room for arguments.

"I gotta go to class, I might get out early so I'll meet you by the basketball courts okay?" I nod my agreement, not very happy about his lack of answers. What possible reasons does Mark have for disliking Taylor? Is he jealous? No, that's not possible. I decide to keep probing him later.

After school I head to the library. I have a history project due, and decide that the library is my best option if I want to get anything done. Mark's not happy about it, but I tell him that it's not possible to concentrate on history in his presence, and that appeases him a little. The library is mostly empty, which I'm grateful for. I sit at one of the computers and start doing some research. I get done in two hours, and head home. When I open the door I hear voices in the kitchen. I put down my backpack and go in to see what's going on. What I encounter shocks me. Mark's sitting at the table with my mom, my dad, and my sister. There's a huge slice of apple pie in front of him, and my mom looks on happily as he eats it. My dad doesn't look so radiant, but he's tolerating it.

"Hi," I say confused. All eyes turn to me.

"Hi sweetheart," my mom says warmly.

"Hi Mark," I say pointedly. "What are you doing here?"

"I was just having a talk with your parents," he replies smiling smugly at me, then taking a bite of the apple pie.

"Oh yeah? About what?" I ask amused.

"Mark just came by to explain what happened the other day. He explained how it was all just a bit of a misunderstanding and that he hopes to be unbanned from the house. Which he of course is," replies my mom smiling. I sit at the table. My sister glares at me but says nothing.

"This apple pie is really amazing," Mark says to my mom. She beams at him. I shake my head amused, how does he do this to people? Always get his way. My mom invites him to stay over for dinner and he happily accepts before I can reject for him. I glare at him and he just shrugs his shoulders. I go over to the counter to help my mom get everything ready, since my sister can't be bothered.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Mark charmingly asks my mom. She smiles at him lovingly.

"No sweetheart, you just make yourself at home." I hear my dad grunt and I smile. At least he's as uncomfortable with this as I am.

"So Mark, do you play any sports?" my father asks in an annoyed tone.

"Yes, not as much as I used to, but I do play some basketball now and then. At my old school I played hockey and did some sailing. And I used to train little kids at soccer," he replies and I'm surprised. I never knew this. I can only imagine how adorable that must have been. Mark surrounded by little kids, in a soccer outfit, with his authoritative tone. The thought makes me giggle. And hockey and sailing? Who the hell does both, I wonder. Is sailing even a sport? My father must be just as surprised as me, because he only grunts a response. My sister is staring at Mark with a mixture of adoration and confusion. I shake my head, she's still probably trying to figure out why he hasn't made moves on her.

My mom makes delicious mushroom ravioli for dinner, while I get out the dishes and make some garlic bread. I realize that I like seeing her in the kitchen. It's like she's in her element, happy and content. I bring water and ice tea and put it on the table. Mark and my dad are still attempting to communicate.

"So what do your parents do?" my father asks curiously.

"They're lawyers."

"Oh," my father replies. I shake my head at how embarrassing this is. My mom brings out the food and we sit down.

"Mark honey, pass me your plate," she says. She piles the biggest possible serving the plate will fit and passes it back. Mark looks up for the challenge. I put a small portion on my plate, and he gives me a sharp look. I roll my eyes and pile more food on my plate. My mom notices the exchange and stares adoringly at Mark. He's doing all the right things. I finish eating as fast as I can, and drag Mark up to my room, getting him away from my family. We do some homework together and just enjoy each other's company. Finally with a grumble Mark puts his notebooks away and lays down on my bed, face down. I giggle at the sight of him. Within minutes he's fast asleep. I check his notebook and realize that his math homework was the one he was groaning at. I finish my homework and start doing his. I wrestle with thirty equations, not being a math person either. Who invented this torture, I wonder. When I'm finally done with that, I start on his Science homework as well. Thankfully it's just ten fill-in-the-blanks. My brain feels fried as I put away our stuff. I walk over to the bed, and lay down next to him.

"Mark." He doesn't stir. "Mark, wakey wake, it's 9 o'clock." He makes a disgruntled sound.

"Come on Marky," I say and giggle. He lifts up his head.

"No," he says simply and right away I know he's referring to the nick name. I laugh harder.

"Not even funny," he says but I can see the corners of his mouth raising as well. He rubs his eyes and sits up.

"Crap, I still have homework to do," he says stretching his neck.

"No, you don't," I reply. He looks at me.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I did your math and your science for you," I reply. He regards me curiously, and all of a sudden an emotion flickers on his face, but it's so fast I can't quite figure out what it means.

"Thank you," he finally says. "Nobody's ever done that for me."

"You're welcome," I reply a little abashed, it's only homework after all. He leans in and gives me a small lingering kiss.

The next day after school we walk towards Mark's car when he gets a phone call.

"Hey mom," he says while getting into the car. I get in the passenger seat and watch him. Gosh, even his profile is stunning, I think to myself watching Mark on the phone. "Yeah I remember him...uh ah...yeah for a while...what? are his parents holding up?" Mark shakes his head in disbelief while I wonder what's going on. "Yeah of course I'll that's okay I know you're busy, I'll ask Jeremy to come with me...okay...Do we have to stay with him?...You know me and dad don't get along...fine...okay...just for you...bye." Mark hangs up the phone and I look at him quizzically.

"A friend from school died in a car accident last night. They're holding a funeral this weekend. Will you come with me?" he asks.

"Uhmm, I would love to, but I don't think I can afford a plane ticket," I reply.

"Oh don't worry about that, I'll get it. I just want you to come with me."

"That's a lot of money, I can't just let you buy me a plane ticket."

"Well I'm not buying you the ticket, my mom is, and trust me she'll be much happier knowing you're with me when I'm in New York," he says and I stare at him a little horrified. I hadn't even thought of that. The fact that if I say yes we would be going back to the place where the Mark I know now, didn't exist. He waits for my answer.

"Okay," I reply still unsure. He grins.


We drive to his place in silence as I think about what might await us in New York. What will Mark's reaction be when he's faced with his old life? His old friends? His old habits? I think worriedly. Will he be able to handle it?

"You look worried," he comments regarding me carefully.

"How do you think you'll feel, being back in that place?" I ask. He thinks for a minute.

"I don't know, I'm just glad you're coming with me. It won't be pleasant, that's for sure," he notes with an edge to his voice. I wonder what he's referring to. Fights? Drugs? Sex? My head spins when thinking about Mark being involved with all of that. I do my best to not show the worry I feel inside.

When we get to Mark's house we find Joanna in the kitchen, a rather strange sight.

"Hey you two," she says sweetly.

"Hi," I reply. She's struggling with numerous bags on the counter.

"I got you some take out. Thai," she beams at us. I'm really starting to like Joanna.

"Thank you," I say smiling as Mark helps her out with the bags. She grins at me.

"Well I need to be off. Make sure this one here does his homework," she tells me in a playful tone while pointing at Mark. He grimaces and I laugh. He grabs the bags and heads to his room, I follow. I sit at the desk and pull out my math book. Mark lays back on the bed and starts reading for English. I grab one of the boxes and start eating some spicy noodles. Mark looks on approvingly.

The rest of the week goes by pretty quickly, as I'm nervously awaiting the New York trip. My parents aren't too happy with it, but I think they're afraid I'll start talking about Breckett again, so they decide to let me go. Friday morning I get up early and start packing my things. We're only in New York until Sunday so I figure a backpack will be enough. I pull out some clothes and lay them on the bed, trying to figure out what I should bring. I go with two pairs of dark blue jeans, one white t shirt, one long sleeved shirt, and formal wear for the funeral. I also bring some bathroom necessities and my IPod. Finally hoping I've thought of everything I go downstairs.

"Do you need a ride honey?" My mom asks. I'm surprised since she doesn't really like driving.

"Sure, that would be nice," I reply. She puts on her coat and we walk outside. She seems concerned, and I wonder why. We get into the car and start driving.

"Promise me you'll be careful," she says all of a sudden.

"I'll be careful mom, don't worry," I reply.

"You're sure you'll be safe with Mark? I mean don't get me wrong, he seems like a very nice boy, it's just that after everything Kayla said about him, you know...him beating up other boys. I just don't want you guys to get into a fight and for him to lose his temper," she says very quickly, and watches for my reaction. So this is what she's worried about, I think to myself. I don't know if I should laugh or be mad. I mean the thought of Mark losing his temper on me and hitting me seems like a bad joke.

"Mark would never hit me mom, he's a really nice guy. The person he got in a fight with was an asshole," I say and my mom appears shocked. She's not used to me using language like this. But she just nods her head.

"Okay, that's all I needed to know," she says. I smile at her and she smiles back relieved. I guess she's been walking on eggshells around me lately, considering all my mood swings. I make a mental note to be nicer to her. After all she's a really good mom. We get to Mark's house and my mom looks as shocked as I did the first time seeing it.

"Wow, that's a nice house," she comments.

"Yes it is," I agree as we both look at the building. Finally we say our goodbyes and I make my way inside. I walk upstairs to Mark's room and smile at what I see. He's standing over the bed in his jogging clothes, toothbrush in his mouth, headphones in his ears, putting stuff in his backpack. He looks just plain adorable. I walk up behind him and put my arms around his waist. He turns his head surprised and then smiles when he sees me. I laugh at him, with the toothbrush still in his mouth. I check the time, we're cutting it close. I take out his headphones and say.

"I'll finish packing for you, go ahead and shower." He raises his eyebrows at me.

"And you call me a control freak." I smile. He tells me what to put in the backpack and disappears into the bathroom. When he's done we meet Joanna downstairs. She's at the living room table, sipping on a latte and vigorously underlining things on some sort of booklet.

"Hey boys, you ready?" she asks.

"Before we go, don't forget to walk Ro at least two times a day," Mark says motioning to the bulldog who's sitting by his side, surprisingly looking sad. I stare at it wondering if it actually knows that Mark is leaving.

"Walk? Doesn't he have his own yard for that?" she asks bemused.

"No, mom, a yard is not the same as a walk. He likes to take walks. Don't forget, at least two times a day," he says persistently. She looks like she's about to argue, but decides not to and instead just nods. Mark doesn't look happy with her reluctance. I try hard to picture the stiletto wearing Joanna, in her tight pencil skirt, and her cup of latte, walking this beastly thing. The thought amuses me. Then all of a sudden Mark turns to Rowland, in the biggest display of emotions I've ever seen, and stars saying goodbye.

"Are you gonna be a good boy? Yes? Who's gonna be a good boy? You are? Yes you are. Such a good dog. We'll be back in two days okay? Don't chew everything up you little monster," he rubs the bulldogs belly as me and Joanna look on in amazement.

Joanna drops us off at the airport. We get through the security check pretty quickly and make our way to the waiting area. I sit at the terminal nervously playing with my hands. In a few hours we'll be in New York. How is this going to affect Mark? He notices my uncertainty.

"Don't be nervous," he says gently. I smile. How can I not be nervous? Will he change when we get there? What if he'll remember his old life and decides to stay? Or do drugs again? I shudder at the thought. Mark watches me carefully. Soon we board the plane. Right away I remember that I hate flying. I feel claustrophobic, and take-off is a bitch. I close my eyes. All of a sudden I feel Mark's hand give mine a reassuring squeeze.

"It's going to be okay," he says and I nod. Soon after we're up in the clouds Mark dozes off. I envy his ability to not be a nervous wreck on planes. I grab his Ipod and scroll through his music collection. I smile at some of his choices. Bruce Springstein, the French band Air, David Bowie. I raise my eyebrows at Florence and The Machine, since I'm not the biggest fan. I pick "Playground Love" by Air and try to relax my thoughts to the soothing sounds. I certainly don't want to have a panic attack at this altitude. I notice with annoyance that every stewardess that passes by does a double take at Mark. I shake my head, this is ridiculous. But at the same time, who can blame them. I sigh, how can I compete with all these people? I panic as the fear of Mark leaving washes over me. What if he realizes he can do so much better. Will I end up like Luke? I bite my inner cheek hard to try to stop the nagging thoughts.

"What are you thinking about?" Mark's awake.

"Nothing," I lie. He regards me curiously, but decides to let it go.

"We're about to land."

Getting off the plane takes a long while. Once we finally do we head to meet Mark's father. I spot him right away. Not because they look very much alike, but because they have similar mannerisms. They both have tense jaws, similar strong postures, and serious facial expressions. I point him out to Mark. He looks at me surprised but doesn't comment. We slowly walk over to Norton senior.

"Hi, you must be Jeremy," he says and smiles politely.

"Hi Mr. Norton," I reply.

"Call me Chris, please," he says and then looks over at Mark.

"Mark," he says and his tone is flat.

"Chris," Mark replies. The silence that follows is louder than bombs. So no warm family reunion here, I think to myself. We walk to the car in a frosty atmosphere and the drive is mostly silent.

"How is school going?" Chris asks.

"It's fine," Mark replies shortly.

"How's your mom?"

"She's very well," Mark responds. And here I thought my family was bad. I realize that Mark's communication with his father is even worst than mine. I decide to inquire about their relationship later. For now I don't want to throw too many questions at Mark, since I know that even though he's not showing it this trip is overwhelming for him as well. Finally we get to the place where Mark grew up, and where Chris now currently resides. I almost gasp when I see it. First of all to call it an apartment is deceiving, because the thing is probably three times bigger than my house. The word excess comes to mind when I look at it. The living room has giant windows. There's a prevalent black and white theme. There's paintings, and deco furniture. My head is reeling from it all. But before I get to acquaint myself with the place Mark tell his father that we'll be staying in the guest room. I frown.

"What about your old room?" I ask and he's taken aback.

"You want to stay there?" he asks and I nod. He seems conflicted.

"Okay," he finally says.

"Well the ceremony is at ten am tomorrow. I can give you guys a ride," says Chris.

"No that's fine, I'll drive," Mark says dismissively.

"Okay. Well give Mr. and Mrs. Connor my deepest condolences. I wish I could go but I have a very important meeting I simply can't reschedule," states Chris.

"Right, I will," replies Mark annoyed and proceeds to go upstairs. I give Chris a sympathetic look and follow Mark. I can tell his apprehension grows when he gets to the door of his old room.

"We don't have to stay here, I was just curious," I say softly. He shakes his head.

"No, we're staying here," he says sounding like he's trying to convince himself. He opens the door and slowly walks in, as if fearing something is waiting for him inside. I don't know why but for some reason I'm dreading that the room will be littered with needles and bloody bed sheets. But of course it's spotless. Just like Mark's new room. There's no sign of the horrors that took place in here. By the furthest wall there's a huge bed, with a heavy old fashioned wooden frame. A large creepy dark brown painting hanging over it. I frown, wondering why the hell I thought staying here would be a good idea for either of us. On the wall to the right there's a ceiling-high modern looking bookcase and some fancy music equipment. To the left there's large windows and a wooden desk. The room is mostly cold and impersonal. On the desk there's a few picture frames. One is of a younger looking Joanna holding a toddler with a mop of black hair. I smile at baby Mark. He's adorable. The one next to it features four boys at some party. They're all wearing fancy school uniforms. I spot Mark and I'm shocked. His eyes are glazed over, his shirt is slightly unbuttoned and crumpled. He has a drink in his hand. He still looks handsome, as always, but somehow he's not the same Mark I know. His beautiful warm green eyes appear cold. His smile seems fake, and drunk. Mark wakes me up from my thoughts when he turns on the stereo. Soft music. I turn to look at him. He seems like he's in a daze, and lost. He sits down on the bed. I sit next to him.

"Are you okay?" I ask gently.

"Yeah, just a lot of bad memories in this place," he replies. "Are you hungry?"

"No, not really. But I could use some coffee," I reply. He smiles.

"Good, I know just the place," he says excitedly.

"You need a jacket though, it'll be cold soon. Did you bring anything?" I frown, I knew I forgot something. He opens his backpack and pulls out my favorite grey hoodie and hands it to me. I put it on and we go out. We walk a few blocks and enter a small place called "Theodora L's Place." I raise my eyebrow at the pretentious name.

"Don't judge," he replies. When we walk inside I'm hit with a delicious smell of something like cinnamon, apple, and caramel all mixed together. Right away I feel better, and warmer. Mark tells me to find a table while he goes and orders our drinks. Just when I realize that I haven't told him what I want he comes back with a number, and grinning.

"Did you order for me?" I ask.

"Of course," he replies satisfied.

"May I ask what I'm getting?"

"You'll see," he says smugly. I smile at him. I love seeing happy, carefree Mark. All of a sudden he looks at me thoughtfully.

"I'm so glad you came."

"I'm glad I came too," I reply shyly. He smiles.

"Mark? Mark Norton, is that you?" I hear a female voice squeal. I turn to look at its owner. A voluptuous blonde girl is standing a few feet away from Mark, with two of her friends. Her face is caked with makeup. She's wearing a light tan coat and black leather leggings with boots.

"Hey Libby," he replies. I can't really read his expression. The three girls make their way over to our table.

"Gosh it's been so long! What are you doing here?"

"I came for Josh's funeral."

"Oh gosh right, I forgot you guys were friends. Of course. Well it's so good to see you. How have you been? It's been so quiet without you here," she bats her eyelashes at him. I digest her statement. It's been quiet without him?

"I've been great, how about you?"

"You know, same as always. Nothing's changed. Jake's been a huge bitch since you left basically. He's not coping well. How long are you staying?"

"Just till after the funeral," he replies annoyed. I'm annoyed as well, I don't like hearing Jake's name. The waiter comes over and puts two large coffee cups on the table.

"That blows," she says with an over exaggerated sad voice. I realize that the whole entire time she's been talking to him she hasn't looked at me even once.

"So do you know? Cause I've got the money," she says and at first I'm confused. What the hell is she talking about.

"No," he replies seriously.

"Oh, well good for you. That's great. Can you give me any numbers? I'm having a party tonight." And I finally realize what she's talking about. Horrified I look at Mark who simply says no again. The girl looks upset.

"Okay, well why don't you come over tonight?"

"I'm kind of busy," he replies. I can tell he's running out of patience. Finally for the first time since the conversation started the girl glances at me, and I'm horrified when I realize it's after he says the word busy. As if she's assuming he's getting busy with me. The thought makes me sick for some reason.

"Alright, well hit me up if your plans change," she says. He nods. The girls finally leave.

"Sorry about that," he says sheepishly. I tell him it's okay even though inside I still feel a little sick at the thought of someone regarding me as their play toy. And I'm nauseous realizing that according to Mark himself he has treated many people this way. Somehow my head can't comprehend that thought. That Mark would be cruel enough to treat someone like an object, rather than a person. I quickly push the thought out of my head.

"What is this?" I ask looking at the orangeish coffee, trying to distract myself

"Try it," he implores smiling. I take a sip. It tastes, sweet, and like pumpkin. I smile. I love fall flavors. He smiles back. See, he's thoughtful and a good person, I tell myself. He just made some mistakes. We finish our drinks and go back to the apartment. And suddenly I start feeling very uneasy again. I don't know if it's the fact that we're in his old room, in the room where these things have happened, or if it's just weariness after traveling, but my anxiety is running high. After all we're alone, in Mark's room, in this degenerate atmosphere of opulence, excess, sex and drugs. What did I expect coming here? Him holding my hand? I stare at the creepy painting over his bed, the dark shadowy colors, the creepiness of it all. I excuse myself to the bathroom. I feel small, and alone, and scared. I start crying. What the hell is wrong with me. I sit on the edge of the bathtub telling myself to calm down, over and over again. After a while I hear a soft tap on the door.

"Jeremy, are you okay?" he asks in a soft voice. I sniffle. The door opens and he walks in. He looks horrified when he sees me crying. He comes over to me and kneels down.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"Nothing," I mumble stupidly wiping away my tears. Why the hell am I crying?

"Jeremy, that's not true. Why don't you tell me what's wrong?" How can I answer, if I don't even know myself.

"Please talk to me," he says. But I shut down, completely. We sit like that for a while, me wiping away my tears, him anxiously sitting in front of me.

"Do you want me to run you a bath?" he asks.

"No, I don't like large amounts of water," I admit.

"You're scared of water?" he asks.

"Yeah," I admit quietly.

"Because you don't know how to swim?" he asks.

"No, I mean yes. I took lessons when I was younger, but somehow never learned," I tell him, and it feels like I'm revealing a secret.

"You must have had a bad teacher," he comments. I look at him. If only he knew how bad, I think. But I just nod. I can't tell him yet. Not yet.

"Are you hungry?" he asks, I shake my head. He looks disappointed.

"Why don't we go back into the room. We can watch some crappy TV yeah?" he asks. I slowly get up and we go back into the dreary bedroom. He turns on the TV and finds an old Law & Order SVU episode. He notices that I'm hesitant about sitting on the bed.

"What's wrong?" he asks gently. I look at him, not knowing what to say. He waits for my answer patiently.

"I just...I don't want to disappoint you," I say feeling stupid for admitting to that.

"How could you disappoint me?" he asks confused.

"I just hope that you don't have any..uhm, expectations," I mumble out.

"Expectations of what?" he asks.

"Don't make me say it," I plead and he finally understands what I'm getting at. He looks shocked.

"What, you think I'm going to throw myself on you? Nothing is happening Jeremy. I won't ever make you do anything, you know that right?" He frowns as I still look uncertain.

"I'll sleep on the floor," he says. I feel horrible that Mark has to sleep on the floor in his own room, but maybe us sleeping in the same bed isn't the best idea, I think to myself. He brings a soft, long, pillow looking blue thing and puts it on the floor by the bed.

"I can sleep on that," I say feeling horribly guilty.

"Don't be ridiculous," he says smiling. He gets an extra blanket and a pillow and turns off the lights. When he's in the bathroom brushing his teeth I change into boxers and a t-shirt and get under the covers. We watch the show in silence and I drift off to sleep.

"You're doing it wrong," he hisses. I'm crying. This is disgusting. My mind starts escaping me, wondering off into different places, anything to escape the horror of my present situation in the locker room shower. "Every fucking time, you do it wrong every goddamn time. Fucking useless," he spits. I just want the humiliation to be over. I want to die, disappear, become nothing, feel nothing, remember nothing. I want to scream, and fight, and raise hell. But I'm frozen to the spot. My knees in pain from the hard shower tile. But no physical pain compares the emotional shame I experience. Not even close.

I wake up in terror. I guess I must have not made much noise because Mark is still soundly asleep. I check myself, thankfully I'm fine. No accidents. I wipe off my tears and steady my breathing. I feel panic rise within me as I sit alone in the huge bed. And all of a sudden instead of wanting to be isolated I crave human touch. My mind is panicked with thoughts of losing Mark, and thoughts of what I think he probably likes, and thoughts of Breckett telling me I'm useless and terrible at it. So, face still moist, I get off the bed and get on Mark's large pillow bed. He's sleeping on his back. I put my hand on his chest and kiss his mouth softly. I continue until he slowly wakes up. He's surprised, but doesn't stop me. My kiss gets more sloppy and needy, and I smile in a daze as I feel his erection on my leg. I move my mouth away from his, and start kissing his neck

"Jeremy," he says in a low raspy voice of someone who just woke up. I kiss further down his body. He's not wearing a shirt. My mind is boiling over with a million thoughts, to the point where I think my brain is going to explode. I just want to make Mark happy, I want to make sure he doesn't leave me. This is my only way of doing that, this is what he wants I repeat to myself. He's breathing really hard now. I softly kiss his torso, then make my way to his rigid abs. He moans. Fear and excitement, and shame and desire, float through me all at the same time when I get to his happy trail. I'm inches away from my destination. You have to do it, this is what he wants, I keep telling myself. This is what you want too. But right before I decide to remove his boxers he stops me. I feel like I'm slapped in the face. He moves away from me and tries to regain his composure, catch his breath. I sit up, humiliated.

"Why not?" I ask, my voice breaking. He looks at me surprised.

"Because it's not right," he says and tears roll down my face.

"Why? Because of me?" I ask crying. He scoots toward me and holds me in his arms.

"No, of course not. You're not yourself right now, and I want it to happen at the right time. I want both of us to want it, and right now it's only me." He rubs my back softly. I'm crying.

"Don't cry, it breaks my heart," he says, but I can't stop it. I feel terrible. He kisses my head and rocks me in his arms.

"It's okay Jeremy, everything's okay, I'm here," he says soothingly. I cling to him, completely dejected and broken. And because he's Mark, and he's so in tune to my feelings, he knows exactly what my crazy mind is thinking.

"Trust me, I want you a million times more than you want me. And saying no to what you were just about to do was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, okay?"

"Well I'm sure you would have changed your mind about that once it happened," I say still sobbing. He freezes.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I'm horrible at it," I mumble.

"Why do you say that?" he asks softly.

"Because...because I am," I reply ashamed. I don't want Mark to know about what happened to me as a child.

"No, in fact I'm sure you're amazing at it. Just like you're amazing at kissing. Just like you're amazing at everything else you do. Whoever told you that was a fucking idiot who didn't know how special you are." My crying slows down. Mark thinks I'm amazing.

"That's right, just relax," he whispers. He gently lays us back down on the pillow. We're facing each other, our legs intertwined to the point that I don't know where mine end and his begin. He strokes my wet face gently, and kisses my forehead from time to time. My body is exhausted. My mind is exhausted. I'm so mentally tired that before I fall asleep I mumble what I've been thinking for the past couple of days

"I love you." The last thing I notice before I fall asleep is Mark's body freezing in panic. The silence is the only answer I get.

When I wake up Mark is nowhere to be found, and for a minute I run through all the worst case scenarios of where he might be. Doing drugs? With his old friends? With his old flames? None of these possibilities calm me down. I remember my late night confession and cringe. No wonder he's out of here. What have I done? As I'm about to go into a full-fledged panic attack the door opens and he walks in. Grey t-shirt drenched with sweat, black shorts, headphones. I breathe a sigh of relief realizing Mark was only doing his five am run.

"Hey sleepyhead," he says taking his earphones out.

"Morning," I say back and rub my eyes. "What time is it?"

"6:30, you can go back to sleep if you want. Funeral doesn't start till 10:00."

"No, I'm fine," I reply. He smiles.

"Want me to make you some breakfast?" I inwardly cringe remembering his last attempt at breakfast.

"Why don't you go shower and I'll make it this time?" I say.

"Okay, sounds good. My dad already left so you have the kitchen all to yourself," he says and disappears into the bathroom. Once again I breathe a sigh of relief. He's still here. What if he's only acting normal so that things aren't awkward during the rest of the trip? Stop, I tell myself. Whatever is going to happen, will happen regardless of whether you'll be stressing out about it constantly or not. I decide to try and attempt to have a normal day. I throw on some sweats and make my way into the huge downstairs kitchen. Gosh my mom would love this, I think as I take in the pristine looking counters and the sparkling silver pots and pans hanging over them. I open the refrigerator and take out eggs and bread. I beat a few eggs together and decide to make french toast, topped with strawberries and whipped cream. I figure Mark can use an indulgent breakfast on a day like this. I pour him orange juice and make myself English breakfast tea with milk. Mark comes downstairs in dark jeans and a dark t-shirt, hair damp. I almost gasp at how handsome he is. I don't think I'll ever get used to it. He looks surprised when he sees the food.

"Okay, you cook every time from now on," he says and I laugh. Yeah, that's probably for the best, I think to myself. As we eat I can tell Mark is not present, that he's worried about something.

"I really like this house," I say trying to bring him away from his dark thoughts.

"Oh yeah?" He says glancing around like he's seeing it for the first time. I mentally slap myself for not thinking of anything better to say, after all this house is probably full of bad memories for him. We finish breakfast and it's my turn to shower. I walk into the extravagant looking bathroom. The bathtub alone would probably take up like half my room I think to myself. I turn on the shower and undress. It feels good to wash away the events of last night. And I feel much more cheerful after the shower. It's time to get dressed for the funeral. I put on a long sleeve white dress shirt and black pants. I actually look very well put together, I think to myself. Mark comes out wearing black dress pants, a white shirt and a black sweater over it. I marvel at how great he looks. He gives me his brilliant smile.

"I'll grab you one of my jackets, in case it gets cold," he says.

"Thank you," I reply. He looks so proper and serious, and handsome in his outfit. I wish it was for a happier occasion I think as we leave the apartment.

Mark smiles when we get to the garage.

"What are you smiling about?' I ask.

"This," he says pointing to a very shiny silver car. I shake my head amused. Mark looks like a little boy on Christmas morning.

"What is it?" I ask feeling like a girl.

"Only the fastest car in the world," he replies. I still look confused so he adds "Bugatti Veyron." I nod.

"My dad wouldn't let me take it when we moved," he says looking upset.

"Is it his car?" I ask.

"No, they got it for me. But I guess he just didn't think I deserved it after all the shit I put them through, so it just sits here now. He never drives it." Even though Mark looks sad, I'm silently happy that this car is staying in New York. Somehow I can't imagine this ostentatious thing in our high school parking lot. We get into the insanely expensive car and drive.

The funeral is one of the strangest events I ever encounter. Everyone looks rich, pompous, and bored. I take it all in, this is what Mark grew up around. I feel like I'm in some somber fashion show. A lot of people turn and look at Mark, and I see a lot of shocked expressions. I'm surprised by the large number of people that turned up. Josh must have had many acquaintances.

"Just ignore it," Mark tells me when another person turns to stare at him. I'm glad he says it because I thought I was being paranoid. By default everyone stares at me as well. The ceremony ends up being very uncomfortable. But the whole thing doesn't take too long, and we move to the reception, which is even stranger. I feel very out of place. There's the family, the preppy rich school friends, and their parents. They're all socializing, and it almost feels like a sick party.

"I'm going over to speak to his parents for a minute, will you be okay?" He asks

"Yeah, go ahead," I say knowing I won't be. I constantly feel eyes on me, and whispers, it's almost worse than high school. All of a sudden I feel another pair of eyes on me. I turn around and see a couple in the corner, and they stand out from everyone else. The woman looks tired, her eyes red, like she's been crying for a while. Her attire simple black, no fancy shoes or purse. No jewelry. She looks like she's actually mourning someone, unlike everyone else in the room. The man is simple as well. He stands next to her, rubbing her back softly, comforting her. She's staring at me. They look like grieving parents, yet I know it's not their son's funeral, since Mark is talking to the boy's parents on the other side of the room. Someone comes up to them and I hear her talking to the sad looking woman.

"Mrs. Perish, I'm so sorry, this must be so hard for you, being here so soon after Luke," the lady trails off. Oh, I realize. Luke's parents. I look at them with tremendous sadness. They lost their son. The woman keeps staring at me, and gives me a small smile. I smile back. I feel a hand on my shoulder.

"Hey, just one more person I need to talk to and then we can go. I'll be right back," Mark says. I nod, and look back to the woman. She looks horrified. She whispers weepy words into her husband's ear. He looks at me. They head over in my direction. Oh God.

"Hi," the woman says to me in a gentle, shaky voice.

"Hi," I reply timidly.

"I'm Anna Parish, and this is my husband Tom," she introduces themselves.

"I'm Jeremy," I reply.

"We're Luke's parents. I don't know if you knew him."

"No, I didn't. I'm not from New York," I reply sadly. She nods.

"Well, you guys look a bit alike," she comments. I smile a sad smile.

"You know he passed away not too long ago. Drug overdose," she says and I start hearing a certain bitterness in her voice. Oh no, I don't like where this is going. "Except he had never done drugs in his life. He was a straight A student, with a lot of friends and a bright future. He was full of life, and hope, and possibilities. He was always cheerful, always positive. Until he met someone. You might know him, I just saw you two speak. I can't bring myself to say his name, but I think you know who I mean," I look at her, wanting to stop her from telling me the rest of this story. But she's a grieving mother, and I have to give her the respect of hearing her out. It's the least I can do.

"When he met that person, something changed. After a while it was like the light just went out of him. He lost that spark in his eye. He never smiled or laughed anymore. And then he was found dead, in that boy's room. My baby, my son," she cries and the husband soothes her and gives me a sympathetic look.

"I'm really sorry Mrs. Parish," I say quietly. I wish I could take her pain away.

"I'm only telling you this so that the same thing doesn't happen to you. He uses people you know. I don't want him to use you," she says. I stare at her, and think about her words. I don't allow myself to ponder on them for too long. They are the words of a grief stricken mother, and she has every right to say them. But they don't apply to me. All of a sudden I feel protective over Mark. I've seen Mark, the way nobody else has seen him. And he's seen me. He is not the same person anymore.

"Thank you, I really appreciate you telling me this. But I want you to know that Mark feels terribly guilty about what happened. That he really regrets how he treated your son. And he's doing his best to change now," I reply. She looks at me a little surprised.

"He's a drug addict. You can't trust someone like that, no matter what they tell you," she replies.

"Good luck," she says finally and they turn and walk away leaving me stunned. I desperately look around for Mark, but he's nowhere to be found. All of a sudden I feel claustrophobic in this room full of people who should be grieving, but are instead judging me and each other. Finally I can't take it, and walk out of the room, hoping to find the bathroom. I walk upstairs and open a door. I quickly realize it's not the bathroom, and I'm about to leave, but a picture catches my attention. I walk inside and close the door behind me. I realize that I'm in Josh's room. I feel like I'm intruding, but for some reason being here is more comforting than being around all those fake people. I look at the picture that initially brought me here. It's a picture of three boys, two of whom I know. Mark in the middle, his arm loosely draped over the blonde boy next to him. I stare at Luke, who's lovingly looking up at Mark. But Mark's eyes are dead, the warm green that I know is dull and dead looking. The boy next to them must be the person whose funeral we attended, I think. The picture makes me sad. I walk out of the room and start looking for the bathroom again. I open another door and gasp at who I encounter inside.

"Well get in and close the door, fuck," Jake hisses at me from the bathroom as I stand motionless.

"Do you spaz out like all the time? Or just when I'm around," he says getting up and dragging me inside. He peaks his head outside to make sure nobody's coming and closes the door again. He then returns to his previous position. He sits by the closed toilet and continues cutting up white lines with his credit card. He makes four. I keep staring. He picks up his wallet from the floor and takes out a hundred dollar bill. He rolls it and looks at me. He puts out his hand, holding the rolled up bill in my direction. I stand speechless.

"Don't you want some?" he asks me slowly, like I'm mentally challenged. I shake my head and he rolls his eyes.

"God where does Mark find prudes like you and Luke," he says and then leans down and snorts a line. "I mean seriously, when did that become his preference? I remember he use to like doing it fast and hard." I gape at Jake and his crude statement. He laughs at my reaction and proceeds to do another line. All of a sudden the door opens and Mark comes in. He immediately shuts it. He looks furious.

"Jesus Christ Jake, you couldn't wait 15 fucking minutes," he says angrily.

"Oh since when do you care?" Jake retorts.

"Jeremy can you..." but before he has the chance to finish I reply

"No, I'm not leaving. Whatever you have to say to him you can say in front of me," I say stubbornly. He looks at me surprised. Jake looks completely astonished.

"Fine," Mark mutters.

"What is going on between you two?" Jake asks Mark.

"That's none of your business," Mark replies annoyed. "Now finish up and get the fuck out." I stare in bewilderment at how mean he is.

"You want some?" Jake asks.

"No, I don't want any of your low quality, shitty ass blow. Now get the fuck out," he hisses. Jake looks upset. He does the other two lines quickly and unrolls the bill, then sweeps it with his finger and rubs it on the inside of his gums. I look on disgusted, and fascinated at the same time. Mark looks like he's about to lose his patience. Jake walks out of the bathroom, shooting me a cold look.

"Why are you so mean to him?" I ask, not really sure why I even care. Mark looks unsure as well.

"Because...does it matter?'

"I just want to know. Were you guys ever together?" I ask.

"No, I thought we already went over this Jeremy."

"Well, how many times did you sleep together?" I ask feeling braver. He looks shocked.

"Why does it matter?"

"I want to know Mark," I reply.

"A few," he admits slowly.

"What's a few? More than like two?" He raises his eyebrow.

"Yeah, more than two. Why do you need specific numbers?"

"Just answer the question," I say exasperated.

"Like I said, more than a couple times," he explains, as he runs a hand through his hair. And immediately I know I won't like the answer to this question. But now I have to know.

"More than five?" I ask and pray that the answer is no. But he nods his head slowly. His jaw tenses.

"More than ten?" I ask disgusted. He looks at me, waits, looks down and proceeds to slowly nod his head. I want to cry.

"How many others were there? Like Jake," I ask, barely able to get the sentence out.

"Jeremy, please," he says.

"I need to know," I persist. He sighs and leans down into the sink.

"Many others," he replies and I can hear real regret in his voice. I want to cry.

"How many? Numbers? I need to know," I insist, feeling like a crazy person. He looks at me pleadingly. I wait.

"I don't know, I lost count," he says and I open my mouth in shock. Like a fish out of water I try to get sound to come out of my mouth but I fail.

"What do you mean you lost count?" I finally manage to ask, feeling sick. He stays silent.

"You don't remember how many people you've slept with? Is it because you were high, and you just forgot?" I ask clinging to the hope that yes, drugs just made him forget. He looks at me dejected.

"No, it's because there were so many that I simply can't count them," he says with no feeling in his voice. I shake my head astonished. Sex means nothing to him. I knew a person like that once, and he ruined my life. I stand there, in complete shock. Mark looks completely cold, and unreachable.

"Let's go," he says looking at me. He walks out and I follow him. The drive back is silent, as I nervously bite my lip. I can't believe what I've just learned. We get back to the apartment and I run up the stairs. Mark comes in shortly after me.

"Do you want me to stay in the guest room?" he asks and I nod, even though I don't want that. But I want him to know how mad I am. How hurt I am, even thought it might be irrational. I want him to know how I view his past actions. I shake my head, I don't even know what I want and that's the truth. Mark grabs his backpack and leaves the room. Instantly I feel sad, alone, and cold. And it's only afternoon time. What the hell am I going to do in here until tomorrow. Fuck. I fish out my phone from the mess that's in my backpack and check my messages. Suddenly Mark comes back in.

"Sorry, I forgot something," he says and picks up his Ipod from the floor. Just as he does my phone rings. I pick up without looking at who it is, I just want to be distracted from Mark.

"Hello," I say.

"Hey buddy," I hear Taylor's voice.

"Hey Taylor," I reply and notice Mark instantly freeze. I stare at him. Why isn't he leaving the room. He stares back at me.

"How are you? I just wanted to make sure your trip is going okay," he says and I sense worry, or suspicion in his voice. Not this again. Why don't these two like each other?

"It's going good, we just came back from the funeral," I say. Mark looks annoyed.

"Good, is Norton behaving himself?"

"What do you mean?" I ask, not understanding the question. Mark looks even more annoyed. He motions for me to hang up. I shake my head at him, I can't believe he thinks he can tell me who I can and can't talk to. Who does he think he is?

"I mean, is he being nice?" I sense Taylor is not telling me whatever it is he seems to know.

"Yeah, why wouldn't he?" I ask.

"Just making sure. I just, I don't like the guy," he says and that does it for me.

"What is it with you two? Can someone tell me what's going on. Because I have no idea why you don't like each other." Mark doesn't look amused. He's glaring at me, and the look gives me shivers.

"We'll talk when you come back," Taylor says.

"Fine," I snap and hang up.

"What the fuck was that about?" Mark asks me in a menacing tone and for a second I'm speechless, because he's never talked to me that way. The conversation I had with my mom before I left pops into my head. No, Mark would never hurt me, I tell myself.

"What?" I snap at him, and now it's his turn to looks surprised, because I don't usually talk to him this way either.

"Why are you talking to that guy?"

"Because he's my friend, how many time do I have to repeat that?" I ask annoyed.

"Well, perfect timing, just after we have a fight you decide it's a good idea to chat to some guy you know I don't like," he says accusingly and I stare at him. Unbelieveable. What is he accusing me of? Emotional cheating or something? I'm so puzzled. Is this jealousy?

"Well you might not have noticed, but I didn't call him. He called me!" I defend myself.

"Well you didn't have to fucking pick up!" he yells at me and leaves slamming the door. I'm so shaken that I just stare at the door. Did I just have a bad dream? This can't be happening. I slowly lay back and hug the pillow. But all of a sudden I hear yelling coming from downstairs. I get up, open the door and listen.

"It's none of your fucking business," I hear Mark yell.

"It is my business, it's my house," his father replies.

"Well I didn't even want to stay here, I'm here only for mom. So if you have a problem, I can leave," I don't even recognize Mark's voice. He sounds like a stranger.

"That's not what I meant. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"Nothing is okay, I fucking hate this place, I hate being here, every time I'm here my life just turns to shit." I hear the sound of glass shattering.

"Mark, calm down or I swear"

"What? What the fuck are you gonna do?" I hear more glass breaking. I'm shaking with terror at this point. I have no idea how to deal with this.

"I'll call security," Chris finishes. I hear Mark laugh.

"Go ahead," he says, "wouldn't be the first time," and I hear sadness in his voice. Then I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. I close the door. I hear the sound of another door opening and closing. I sit on the floor and cover myself with a blanket from the bed. But I'm not concerned for myself anymore, I'm scared for Mark. Scared because he seems really out of control. Scared because I don't know how to help him. I feel completely helpless. Mark is usually the person who is emotionally stable, and rational. And for a second I'm paralyzed with fear that he is going back to his old ways. I think about all the times I freaked out on him and did something irrational. Mark was there for me every time, without any judgement. How does he always know how to help me, and make me feel better when I'm out of control, I wonder. Then I know the answer. I get up and walk over to the door across the hall. I open it. Mark's sitting on a grey sofa, his face in his hands. He looks up when he hears me coming. He looks surprised. I notice that his hand is bleeding. I walk over to the bathroom and grab some tissues. I check behind the mirror and find some bandaids. I grab a few. I bring them over and take Mark's hand. He pulls it away annoyed. I take his hand back, more roughly.

"Give it," I snap. He looks up at me, his jaw tense. Finally he sighs and lets me clean up his hand, watching me carefully as I do so. I gently put three bandaids over the medium sized gash. He continues watching me. I sit beside him, and he's momentarily taken aback. But soon his expression becomes softer. He puts his arms around me and I put mine around his neck. He lays his head on my shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he whispers.

"I know you are," I say. Because it's true. I know Mark would never intentionally hurt me. He breathes out a sigh of relief. Like a weight has been lifted off of him. He looks up at me, and I can see remorse in his face.

"No, I was such a jerk. I'm really sorry. You didn't deserve that," he continues.

"I'm sorry for getting mad about your past, it's not like you can do anything to change that," I reply.

"You have every right to be upset about that Jeremy, anyone in their right mind would be upset as well. Actually anyone in their right mind would probably run very far away from me," he says.

"Well, I don't want to be anywhere but here," I reply. He smiles weakly.

"I know that you think all this is only a first for you, and not for me, but this is my first real relationship. I've never had to deal with being jealous about anyone, because I've never cared about anyone. And it's really hard for me to try to deal with these feelings like a reasonable person would, " he explains. I nod. My insides are glowing, he just called us a "relationship."

"I can't wait to go back home," he states simply. I nod agreeing. New York doesn't sit well with me either. After a while of talking and him apologizing a few more times, we order food and spend the rest of the day watching movies and being very unproductive. The day has exhausted both of us. We pass out on the bed.

"I'm so glad you're here," Mark whispers into my ear as I'm dozing off. He's spooning me, our legs intertwined.