You say I can't
hold on a troubled man
You want me but
you don't know how
To quit the chase
and settle down
I don't know but
I can tell
You fill that
saddle pretty well
But God knows I
need something too
I've hung in all
these years for you
So go ahead and
chase the wind
And if someday
you fold your wings
I'll be the nest
you never made
If not, so sad
So sad that you
When all you ever
had to be
Was balanced in
the games you played
You'll lose so
sad the renegade ...
soon as I finished, I knew I'd made a mistake, because it wasn't Ben
who was scowling this time, but Ryan. That hadn't been my intention at
all. The song wasn't directed at him, but since no one actually knew
that Ben and I had broken up (except for probably Derek), there was
nothing I could do about it at the time. From the looks on everyone
else's faces and the lack of applause, I figured they must have gotten
the wrong "hidden" message as well. I quickly recovered, though, and
led everyone in singing "Happy Birthday" to Ryan. Unfortunately, I was
afraid that the damage had already been done, and I'd ruined Ryan's
That night, after everyone had left, I had the strange urge to sit
outside in the rain. So, I got a couple of large rain ponchos and a
humongous umbrella, and went out to the backyard. I set one of the
ponchos on the ground to sit on, and then made a small, make-shift tent
out of the other poncho and the umbrella. My little fort was a bit
cramped, but it was cozy. Something about sitting out there, with no
sound but the raindrops pelting off the umbrella, was so tranquil. Even
though it was still August, the evenings were beginning to get chilly,
but it didn't bother me. In fact, the only thing that was bothering me
was how I was feeling about Ryan. How did I feel about him? How long
would it be before everyone found out that Ben and I had broken up?
Well, it probably wouldn't be too long, I figured. But why was I
insisting on keeping it a secret? What was I afraid of?
The start of the new school year was
fairly lackluster. It was amazing to think, though, how much had
changed over the past year. When I'd started my sophomore year in
school, I'd been a wreck. In some ways, maybe I still was. But at least
I wasn't getting the crap beaten out of me several times a week, and I
had a nice home, the best friends in the world (even though they had a
tendency to break my heart), a job, and a hell of a lot more confidence
in myself than I ever had before. And how did I get all of that?
The name I'd been avoiding and hoping to keep out of my thoughts. It
had been several weeks now since my breakup with Ben, but I still
hadn't mentioned it to Ryan. He hadn't said anything yet, so I was
hopeful that Ben hadn't brought it up, either. Of course, it was
possible that everyone did know, as Cody had suggested, and just chose
not to say anything. Either way, I was glad. Avoidance was working well
for me ... so far.
Initially, being friends with Ryan again had turned out to be easier
than I'd thought. Once I'd made up my mind that I needed to forgive
him, things just went from there. I knew that I still loved him and
cared about him, but was that really enough to overcome the problems
and trauma of the previous few months? I fell in love with the boy who
picked me up and took me home with him that day on the lacrosse field,
the one who saved me from the nightmare that I'd been living for years.
But Ryan had changed. I had changed. Could we ever go back to the way
things were before?
I didn't have a whole lot of time to dwell on that, as I was thrown
back into the daily grind of sitting through incredibly boring and
uninspiring classes and homework. We also started back to our GSA
meetings. Our first GSA meeting of the new school year began with a
moment of silence in remembrance of Mikey, and then we moved on to the
business of electing the student leaders. I was a little surprised when
Toby nominated himself to serve as president of the group, but then
again, with his outgoing personality and charisma, he was a perfect
I was really surprised, though, when Dominic volunteered to be
secretary. He'd never struck me as the leadership type, or one who
would be interested in being active in any kind of school organization,
but I was glad that he was getting more involved. Although he was
pretty quiet, he'd made a great addition to our group of friends. One
day as I was surfing around on the Internet, I came across a picture of
a seventeen-year-old kid, Nick Simmons, the son of Gene Simmons, better
known as "The Tongue" from the famous rock band KISS. The resemblance
between the two was uncanny.
I was also relieved to see that Trent Lomax seemed to be leaving me
alone. I supposed it would have been great if he'd suddenly turned into
Mr. Nice Guy, but considering I'd beaten the hell out of him and
probably destroyed his ego, I figured that probably wasn't going to
happen. He just ignored me completely, and I was fine with that. One
thing I did notice, though, was that his group of friends seemed to
have shrunk considerably, and the cocky, arrogant smirk he usually wore
Lunch was another possible complication, and one that I thought would
be best to avoid for the time being. It would have been weird sitting
there with everyone, and questions were bound to come up. So, once
again, I retreated to the school's auditorium, and spent the forty-five
minute lunch break tinkering away at the Yamaha grand piano. This time,
though, no one came looking for me. I think a part of me was hoping
that someone would.
One afternoon shortly after school began; I came home expecting to have
the house to myself, since Ryan and Toby were both at practice. I was a
little surprised to find Maggie there, since she hadn't been home in
the afternoon for a long time. I tried to slip past her so I could lock
myself up in my room, but I didn't quite make it.
"Hi, sweetie. How're you doing?" she asked. "I haven't seen you in a
"Fine, thanks," I muttered, looking around nervously and shuffling my
feet. I was hoping for a quick escape and to avoid any kind of
"You haven't been hanging out with Ben lately. Is everything okay with
you two?" she continued to prod.
I was tempted to tell her to mind her own business, but I was growing
tired of whatever conflict I'd been having with Maggie. She'd pretty
much left me alone, just like she'd promised, and I'd just continued
being stand-offish. I think what really got me to start taking a look
at my behavior and my relationship with my whole "family" was Ryan's
birthday party. He'd gotten some pretty nice gifts, but it was nothing
like the birthday party Maggie had given me, not to mention
Thanksgiving and Christmas from the year before, or everything she'd
done to give me a new home. Whatever my issues were with her, they were
pretty childish and petty. Sure, I thought she wasn't a very good
mother to Ryan and Toby, but other than a few minor incidents, she'd
done a hell of a lot for me. So, the least I could do was try my best
to be civil and polite.
"We broke up a while ago," I answered, my gaze now fixated on the
floor, and I could feel my face flushing.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, honey," Maggie said, stepping toward me and pulling
me into a hug. My first reaction was to pull away, but if I was going
to try to be nicer, I figured that maybe I should just let her hug me.
"It's okay," I replied, politely breaking the hug. "I guess it just
wasn't meant to be."
"Are you and Ryan getting along okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess so," I shrugged.
"You still love him, don't you, sweetie?"
Jesus, am I like an open book or
something? I thought to myself. It's not like I had photographs
of Ryan pasted up all over my walls and sat around all day drawing
pictures of him or tracing his name on my school notebooks!
I just nodded meekly in response.
"Have you talked to him about how you feel, Connor?" Maggie continued
"No, ma'am. And please don't tell him, either," I pleaded with her.
"I won't, hon. But I hope you'll at least talk to him. That doesn't
mean you have to get back together with him. That's something only you
can decide, if that's what both of you want. But keeping the lines of
communication open is always important. I don't think you've been doing
a very good job of that lately. Ryan seems a little hurt by that."
"Yes, ma'am," I answered. "I'll talk to him ... soon."
And that was that. Maggie went on with whatever she had been doing, and
I went up to my room to do my homework. I didn't talk to Ryan that
night, though. I knew I had to, just not right then. Maggie didn't
bring it up again, either, which was a relief to me.
The next day at school, it was announced that this year's talent
contest would be held the same weekend as homecoming, which was about a
month and a half earlier than it had been the previous year. They
wanted to make it one of the week's festivities. I didn't need any
prodding to participate this time, though. Right after school, I went
to Mr. Tillworth's office, adjacent to the drama room, and signed up.
With the talent contest moved up to the weekend of homecoming, I would
only have a short time to prepare, and I wanted to do some songs I had
never performed on stage before. I spent every moment I could
practicing, in the auditorium during lunch, while I was working at the
piano store, and I even went to a few small clubs by myself to try out
some of the new songs. I wanted to be prepared, because I wanted to
win. It also gave me another excuse to avoid the inevitable ... talking