By SF Writer
Copyright 1998 - 2005, All rights reserved.

SF31: The Ones You Leave Behind

* * * * * * *


"Dade, are you sure you'll be ok to go to school today? I'm sure they'll understand if you need to have some time off." Daniel Sr. said as he sat down on Dade's bed while Dade readied himself for school.

"I've had enough time off. Mom wouldn't want me slacking. I'll be ok." Dade said as he continued packing his bag.

"I'll pick you up for the will reading. Unless you want to catch a ride with your brother."

"You can pick me up if you like."

"Ok, Son." Daniel Sr. said as he patted Dade on the back. "Thank you for helping to make your mother's funeral such a great day. She would have been proud and I really appreciated your support."

"You're welcome, Dad. It was more Storm and Marcel though. Listen, before you go. There's something I wanted to say to you."

"What is it, Dade?" Daniel Sr. asked curiously, taking a seat on Dade's bed while he waited for Dade to speak.

"I'm sorry for being so hard on you lately. I...know what happened to Mom when she had me. I had no right to be angry at you. I'm sorry."

"It's ok, Dade." Daniel Sr. said reassuringly.

"What I really wanted to say is thank you. I don't know what you and Mom went through back then but I wanted to say thank you for raising me as your son in spite of what happened. I'll always be grateful. You didn't have to accept me."

"No matter what anybody else says, you'll always be my son. I'm proud of the man you're becoming, Dade. I thought I was going to lose you for a while. It doesn't matter that I didn't help create you, I still raised you. You're my son and that's all there is to it."

"Thank you." Dade said emotionally as he hugged his father. "Thank you. I love you, Dad."

"I love you too, Son. Try to have a good day and I'll see you at lunch."

"Ok. See you then." Dade said as he sighed to himself.

Dade stood for a moment with his bag over his shoulder, smiling contently to himself. Things finally seemed to be getting better for him. He felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He finally felt happy with himself for once. Finally felt as though he were a normal person for the first time in months. He only wished that his mother were around to see it.

He picked up a picture frame beside his bed that held a photo of Daniel Sr., June, Storm and himself from when they were kids. He stroked his fingers over the glass above June's face lovingly. A reminiscing smile passing over his face.

"Thanks, Mom." Dade said to himself. "Thanks for everything."


* * * * * *


"Lucas, sweetheart." Mira called to her son as she sat at the table with her husband. "Could you come here, please. We'd like to have a word with you before you go to school."

"Sure, Mom." Lucas yelled as he ran downstairs and took a seat at the table. "What's up?"

"Your father and I need to speak to you about something."

Lucas looked over his parent's awkward faces. He knew something was up because neither looked as though they wanted to speak first.

"Is something wrong?" Lucas asked concerned.

"No, Sweetheart. Nothing's wrong. Your father and I just need to talk to you about a few things."

"What is it?" Lucas asked, even more concerned than the first time he asked.

"I've been offered a new position in the company. A promotion." John said, trying to look pleased. "It's a great opportunity. President of the White Star Division. It's a global position."

"That's awesome, Dad!" Lucas said with a huge smile as he congratulated his father with a hug. "I'm so happy for you! You deserve it after all the years you've put in to that station."

"Thank you, Son. The thing is you see...I haven't taken the offer yet."

"Why not?"

"Because it will mean I'll have to move to the head office. That's in San Diego."

"Holy shit." Lucas said almost choking as he realized what his father had just said. "San Diego? But that's...that's so far. We're moving again?"

"I wanted to talk to both of you before I took the job. Your mother has said she'll support me no matter what I decide."

"Dad, you have to take it. This is too big an opportunity to pass up. You have to."

"We know the timing is bad for you, Son. Daniel's just lost his mother, we feel terrible about the timing of all of this."

"Dad. You have nothing to feel bad about. This is the best news. But...I'll be honest. I don't really want to move."

"We know, Son. You're eighteen now. You're old enough to make decisions for yourself. We have a proposition for you that may make things easier. If you think you're ready to handle the responsibility, you can stay here in the house. We don't have to sell it. Your mother and I will go to San Diego and you can stay here. We know you've made some real friends here and there's also Daniel to think about. You're a man now, Son. The choice is yours. We'll try to support you as much as we can but this is as much your responsibility now. Do you want to think about it?"

" about your heavy weeks. I don't know what to say. I want to stay but...I didn't expect that I'd be on my own so soon. And I don't really want to ask Storm what he thinks because he'll just tell me to go with you."


"I'll miss you guys." Lucas said with a cheeky grin. "Seriously though, I will miss you guys. And I can't believe you're letting me stay. You guys are awesome."

"Daniel needs you right now. So does your friend, Sarah. We don't want you to leave them. We know how much they mean to you."

"You guys mean a lot to me too." Lucas said sincerely. "Are you sure you're ok with all of this? I mean...San Diego. We'll be so far apart. With you guys in San Diego and Anna in Japan, we'll all be so far apart."

"This isn't easy for us, Sweetheart." Mira said giving her son a kiss and a hug as her eyes welled up. "Your father and I took a long time to figure this out. I don't want to leave you."

"I know, Mom. I don't want you to either." Lucas said as he hugged his mother and held onto his father's hand. "When do you have to leave?"

"Almost immediately. Once I say yes, I'll be expected three days after that. Your mother can come a little later on if she wants to make sure you're ok first. But they want me there soon."

"Oh, Man. You guys are leaving. I can't believe it. I just can't believe it."


* * * * * *


Marcel sat on a gym mat in the basement of the Marcus house trying to do some light rehab on his leg. It was actually coming along a lot better than he'd thought it would by now. He didn't know whether he'd ever be good enough to compete again though. He wasn't even sure if he really wanted to anymore. Right now his whole focus was lost and he wasn't sure what his next big step in life was going to be. At the moment he just wanted to be here in the Marcus house to do whatever he could to help out. He'd have to figure out during that time where his future lay and whether or not he'd be a permanent fixture again in Merlow or whether he'd be going back to the academy.

He was interrupted by the sound of knocking at the door and stood to his feet. He made his way upstairs as quickly as he could, his leg getting more comfortable again by the day. When he opened the door, he had no idea who he was looking at. He kinda thought the guy was cute, he was definitely attractive but something in his demeanor put Marcel off. Something behind the eyes.

"What can I do for you?" Marcel asked finally.

"Is Dade home?"

"Who's asking?"

"Marty Lee."

"Oh...right. He's not home. I'll tell him you came by."

"Thanks. You're Marcel, right?"

Marcel's eyes narrowed somewhat, trying to work this person out. He'd heard a bit about Marty Lee, some good, some bad. Right now though looking at him he tended to go with the latter. Just something greasy about him.

"Yeah. That's me."

"Dade was right. He was better off without you." Marty Lee said with a smirk as he walked away.

Marcel stood there fuming with anger. He'd never even met this guy before. He didn't mind so much if Dade said he was better off without him. It was the fact that this person had taken it upon himself to attack Marcel seemingly without any reason.

"Marty Lee, aye. I won't forget your name anytime soon." Marcel said to himself as he closed the door.


* * * * * *


I stood outside Sarah's hospital room, just watching her. She was in good spirits and looked to be doing ok. I was just getting a mental snapshot of her. One thing I've learnt this week is never to take anything for granted. I don't think I could handle losing someone else so close to me so soon. That would just be too much. I'm still adjusting to an empty house without Mom.

Sarah catches me through the glass and smiles brightly at me. She motions for me to come in excitedly. When I go in she gives me a great big hug and kisses me on the cheek. I return the excited sentiment and smile. It feels good to feel happy. That sounds stupid but I mean it.

"What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at school?"

"Still had a few things to take care of today. I just wanted to see how you were doing and to thank you for making the effort to come to Mom's funeral." I said sympathetically, brushing my fingers through the strands of her hair. "That must have been hard on you."

"There wasn't any way I'd miss it. I'd have to be dead myself to miss it. And even then I'd just haunt the proceedings. I loved her, Storm. I had to go. How are you holding up?" She asked sympathetically as she held my hand.

"As well as can be expected, I suppose. I dunno. I hate being at home though. Too many memories right now. It's not a happy house. Feels empty."

"I'm sorry, Storm. I'm so sorry this happened. She was on her way to try and help me. I feel so guilty." Sarah said as she began weeping softly to herself, turning her head away from me. "I'm so sorry, Storm."

"Hey, hey, hey." I said as I kissed Sarah's cheek and rested my arm over her. "Don't say things like that. Don't ever say things like that. The last thing you should be doing is blaming yourself. Nobody is to blame here. Mom would hate it if she knew you blamed yourself. It's not right, Sarah. Don't do this to yourself."

"I'm sorry, Storm. Ever since I found out I just...I can't get the thought out of my head. If I hadn't been sick she'd still be here with us. This is all my fault." Sarah cried, tears streaming down her face.

I held her for a while, rocking her as gently as I could. My own eyes began watering up as I felt so much sadness for what Sarah was going through. She didn't need this as well. She shouldn't be blaming herself because I sure don't. And nobody else does.

"Sarah, please. If not for me, then for Mom, don't do this. You're not to blame. Nobody blames you. I don't blame you. Please just try to remember the good things. That's what I do every day I wake up since she left us. I remember the good things. She was a great person. Just focus on that. Don't blame yourself anymore. Please, Sarah. Promise me."

"I'm sorry, Storm. Thank you so much. I've been feeling so low the last few days. Thank you. You've've grown so much, Storm. I feel like I can depend on you. You always make me feel better."

"That's what best friends are for. So you just get better ok? We're all here for you. We're all together now."

"I worry about you." Sarah said sympathetically.

"Don't you worry about me. I'm worried about you."

"Well don't. I'll be home tomorrow. One more night in hell and I'm free. Then I just have to keep coming back in for my chemo. I better start shopping for a wig."

"I'd rather you shop for a wig than not shop for a wig if you know what I mean."

"Don't worry, Storm. I'm going to be ok. I don't know if you believe this stuff but I saw your Mom when I came in here. She told me I was going to be fine. So I'm going to be fine. I'm not leaving my boys."

"Good." I said as I kissed her on the forehead. "Because your boys aren't looking to replace you anytime in the next sixty years or so. You get some rest."

"You just got here." Sarah said half annoyed and disappointed that I was leaving.

"I know. Sorry. I have to go to a will hearing. It's stupid. I don't want money. I want my Mom back."

"I know, Storm." Sarah sighed with melancholy "Your Mom was always prepared. Organized. She wanted to make sure you guys were taken care of."

"I know, Sarah. I have to swing by the school and pick Mike up too. He's included in the will."

"Wow." Sarah said surprised. "Wow. I didn't expect that. Does he know?"

"Not yet. I don't know what she left him but I have an idea."

"He's going to be overwhelmed. He was really hurting last night. He misses your Mom too."

"She was his Mom too. That's why he's in the will. She loved him like he was her own. She wants to make sure he's taken care of." I said with a sad smile. "She's really proud of the man he's becoming. The way he's stood by you, his achievements and just for the way he is. He's an underrated hero, my brother."

"Go get him. I know you're hurting right now but try and keep an eye on him. He's juggling school, football, looking after me and worrying about you guys as well as losing June. I don't want him to run himself out. He's really emotional right now."

"I can understand why. He's always been more feeling than he lets on. I'll keep an eye on him. I won't let anything happen to him. I promise."

"Thanks, Storm. I love you." She said sincerely.

I smiled back at her and kissed her hand before I turned to leave. "I love you too, Sarah."


* * * * * *


Brad made his way through the school gates, trying not to draw attention to himself. His forearm was in a cast, he had some visible bruising on his face but he felt and looked a whole lot better than he did before. He did feel somewhat nervous about returning to school, even scared. But he knew he couldn't hide forever.

The weather today was in stark contrast to the day before. Today the skies were dark again and storms were on the horizon. He wondered what other trials would be thrown at him. He only hoped he could go the day without bumping into Marty Lee.

"This must have been what it felt like for everyone I used to pick on." Brad sighed to himself as he headed to his first class.

He was hoping Storm would be here today but he couldn't see him anywhere. He wasn't surprised. You'd hardly expect him to show up to school the day after he buries his mother. He would have felt a bit more secure though knowing that he had a friend around. Something he didn't have much of these days.

First period went pretty much without incident. People would ask him what happened. Most just out of courtesy. He didn't feel as though anyone was genuinely interested and that didn't surprise him. Still no sign of Marty Lee but there were still a lot more periods left in the day.

Second period went a little bit better and he actually started enjoying class. Knuckling down and getting into his schoolwork. He'd missed quite a few days and had a lot to catch up on. He saw Josh during first break walking with Claire and was about to say hi, just so he wouldn't feel so isolated. He stopped himself though when he could sense some tension between the two. Things didn't appear to be all well for the two lovebirds.

He wasn't sure what they were talking about but Josh seemed to be trying to reason or make something up to Claire. She was the one who seemed angry and finally stormed off, leaving Josh by himself.

"Josh?" Brad said as he approached Josh from behind. "Everything ok?"

"Brad, what happened to you?" Josh asked still with an anxious look on his face. "I can't really talk now. Come over tonight if you want. I have to go and talk to Claire."

"Ok." Brad said as Josh ran off.

Brad sighed to himself and headed towards his next class. He had managed to go so long being a loner after Storm took his revenge on him so long ago. He'd gotten used to it. But now after finally starting to become friends with Storm again, he seemed to notice what it felt like when he wasn't around. He noticed how few other real friends he had. Josh just barely talked to him. Carl put up with him because Storm did. And that was about it.

The next two classes dragged on. He spent his time feeling pretty depressed and wondered whether things would get any better. Would he always be a loner? He would pass the time by observing other people and their little nuances. He seemed to find humor in watching people do things when they didn't realize they were being watched.

He watched Lucas sitting towards the back of the class, across the room from Brad. Lucas seemed distracted today. He kept staring out the window, spinning his pen around in his fingers. He seemed set in that position. His eyes looked lonely. Brad couldn't tell if it was because he was worried about Storm or something else. Lucas always came across as a not too bright, happy go lucky guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He knew from experience that he was a lot smarter than that. Brad seemed to think that Lucas played himself down quite a lot. He had a grudging respect for Lucas, they'd had some wicked fights but he still respected the guy. He just wondered what was playing so much on his mind today but after the last week it could have been any number of things.

Stacey Peters, she was another story. She just looked like a pretentious know it all bitch to Brad. She sat there gossiping one minute or writing away like her hand would fall off if she stopped. She was on of those people you knew was going to go far simply because she would do anything to get there.

Finally the bell sounded for lunch and Brad started packing his gear. Lucas noticed Brad and smiled at him. Brad wondered if it were genuine or forced but either way he appreciated it. Brad hoped that was all Lucas would do, he knew Lucas didn't really like him. Or he still hadn't forgiven him for beating Storm all that time ago. Whatever the case, Lucas came up to Brad as he left class and slapped his hand the way he used to when they were all playing football together.

"How you doing today, Dude?" Lucas asked with his typical smile. "Thanks for coming yesterday to June's funeral. I saw you in the back. You should have come and said hi to Storm. I told him you came and he really appreciated it."

"That's ok, I wanted to go and I'm ok, thanks for asking. How about you? Everything ok?" Brad asked, surprising himself with a question usually reserved for people who are friends.

"Uhh..." Lucas said surprised. "Yeah, I'm ok too. Why do you ask?"

"Oh...uhh...I well...I just noticed you sitting there and you seemed...distracted. That's all."

"Dude, chill out. I'm not going to bite or anything. I thought we were past that."

"Oh yeah, I mean, I hope so. I just...well...umm..." Brad stuttered uncomfortably. "I guess...I dunno..."

"Brad." Lucas said putting his hand on Brad's shoulder. "I know you and I have had our run ins but that's ancient history. Storm seems to really be fond of you so you must be doing something right. I know you're not the same person as before. Don't get all scared of me and shit, it gives me the creeps, Dude. Mind you...I can see why you'd be a bit jumpy today. Who are you avoiding, Dude? Who did this to you?"

"I can't say. I'm sorry." Brad said as he finished packing his bag. "I have to go."

"Dude, I don't know who you're trying to fool." Lucas said as he grabbed Brad's free arm. "But in your condition you couldn't get away from Elmer Fudd."

"It's best if I keep my mouth shut, Lucas. Trust me on this. It's best. Please."

"Ok, Brad." Lucas said as he let go of Brad's arm. "But if you can't tell me then at least talk to Storm."

"That wouldn't help. Not now. It's better if I just stick to myself. I don't want to cause any more trouble."

"Ok..." Lucas said reluctantly as he shook his head. "I'll leave it alone for now. But I don't make any guarantees about Storm. They don't call him Storm for nothing."

Lucas' comment seemed to lighten the mood significantly as both Brad and Lucas shared an all knowing smile. Brad nodded at Lucas and took his leave of him. Brad wondered how long it would be till people found out it was Marty Lee. He feared Marty Lee immensely right now. He feared another attack, wondering if next time he'd end up in much worse condition or whether Marty Lee would turn his attention to someone else. No matter what people thought of Brad, he had changed and he didn't want anyone else being hurt because of him. Recalling the events of his attack still sent Brad into a panic. Even now he had to stop and sit down in the hall as he passed through the spot where Marty Lee had attacked him.

"It's ok." Brad said to himself as he closed his eyes. "It won't happen again."

"History never repeats, you know. Not if you pay attention to it."

"Oh geez." Brad said as he opened his eyes to see Marty Lee standing over him. "Please just leave me alone. I don't want any trouble."

"Brad." Marty Lee said with a malicious snicker as he patted Brad harder than he should have on his lower back. "Still a little banged up I see. Hope you've learned your lesson."

Brad stepped back in apprehension. Not wanting to be taught any more of Marty Lee's `lessons'. He didn't see that someone was already standing behind him and he almost fell backwards. He struggled to pull away quickly until he realized it was Mike who had been standing behind him. Mike helped him to his feet and kept a hand on his arm in a show of security.

"What lesson would that have been, Marty Lee?" Mike asked flatly.

"History, Captain." Marty Lee replied with a confident smile. "Brad's missed a few classes. I'd hate for him to fall behind."

"I'm sure I'll be able to help Brad out. Now and anytime in the future." Mike said barely veiling the warning in his voice.

"Lucky for him." Marty Lee said snidely. "I heard about Sarah. I hope she's feeling better soon."

The stoic angry look on Mike's face gave no room for error, he was pissed. One thing to toy with Brad but it's another thing to have a go at Sarah. Especially at a time like this when she's helpless. Marty Lee caught the look on Mike's face and quickly spoke up again.

"I mean it. I think it's terrible." Marty Lee said emphatically. "I'm not being smart. I'm serious. I really hope she's feeling better soon. You must think pretty low of me if you think I'd get smart about something like this."

"Yeah, ok." Mike said reluctantly, his anger lowering somewhat. "I believe you."

"I went to see her but she was sleeping. I left a care pack up there for her."

"Ok, Marty Lee." Mike said reassuringly. "I believe you. Anybody ever tell you you're one tough nut to try and figure out?"

"My parents. I better go. If there's anything I can do to help out with Sarah, let me know." Marty Lee said as he quickly walked away.

"He's weird." Mike said as he shook his head. "Bipolar or something. I swear there's something odd about him. Was it him, Brad? Did he do this to you?"

"No, no. Anyway, I've got to go as well. I'll talk to you later, Mike. Give Sarah my best when you see her." Brad said as he quickly made his own exit.

Mike stood there completely baffled. He and Sarah were the only ones who had seen Brad after his attack. Were it not for the events of the last week, Mike would have followed it up a bit more. He had an idea it was Marty Lee now but he was a hard one to try and work out. At some times he seemed like a complete sadist asshole and other times he was the most concerned guy on the block.

"Maybe it's time to do a little digging on you." Mike said to himself as he headed to the lunchroom.

He noticed a familiar figure standing in the lunchroom surrounded by a group of awestruck girls. Mike grinned to himself as he let out a small laugh.

"If only they knew." He said as he approached Marcel through his groupies. "Still popular aye, Blondie?"

"You'd think they'd have forgotten my name by now." Marcel responded with a smile as he grabbed Mike's arm and dragged him away.

"Nobody forgot you, Marcel. You're a legend here. You left Merlow to go to Drake. Everyone here is expecting big things of you. They wanted you for the opening of the new Sports Complex last month but they couldn't reach you in time. I didn't know until it was too late or I would have called you myself. Forget the rest, Marcel's the best! You have your own saying, how cool is that? You're so popular, they scream that at athletics meets now. And you're not even competing in them!"

"I don't know if I'll be living up to anyone's expectations." Marcel said dejectedly as they arrived in the car park.

"What do you mean? Is your leg badly injured? Hamstring? Muscle tear? What is it?"

"The injury I think I can get past. I'm not sure to be honest but I think I can get past it. I'm just not sure if I want to now. It's a long story and I don't want to concern you with it right now. You have enough to deal with right now. To make a long story short though, after all that's happened lately, I'm thinking about coming home for good. Or at least for a while. I need a few months at least to recover so it might do me some good to be home again."

"Really?" Mike asked as his face lit up. "You mean it, Blondie? You're coming home to stay?"

"Well...I think so. I couldn't stay away knowing what's happened back here. I want to make sure everyone's ok."

"You're too cool, Blondie." Mike said as he put his arm around Marcel's shoulder. "Way too cool. That's just selfless of you. You know you can do better elsewhere but you still want to come home to make sure we're all ok. I want you here, Marcel. I really do but are you sure this is the best thing for you personally? We're not going to hold you back?"

"Mike, it's because of you guys that I got to leave in the first place. You guys are the reason I tried so hard and went as far as I did. You could never hold me back. I won't be back to normal for a couple months anyway, I'll hang around here till then at least and see how it goes."

"Will they take you back?"


"Well let me just say, Mr. Lewis. You are the bomb. I'm glad you're back. We weren't the same while you were gone. Everybody seemed to be having their gripes with each other. Since you've been back we've been complete again. Sounds weird but it's true."

"I just wish it were under better circumstances."

"Me too." Mike said with a tinge of sadness in his voice. "Me too."

"That's part of why I'm here, Mike. I came to pick you up. Storm couldn't get here in time so he asked me to get you."

"Where are we going?" Mike asked with surprise.

"Will reading for June. You're a beneficiary."

"What?" Mike said in disbelief.

"Don't be so surprised. You know how much she loved you. She helped raise you since you were born. And don't go feeling bad for me. You and I are on two completely different levels. I know that. It doesn't change the way I feel about June. I was only here for the last six, seven years and she knows I don't need money. You should be happy." Marcel said surprised as he faced an overwhelmed Mike.

"I...I guess I am. I don't want anything though. I'd rather have her back."

"I know, Mike. June was smart though, she made moves to make sure you guys were all taken care of if anything happened to her. Don't think of this as taking something. Just think of it as respecting June's wishes. This is one of the last things she'll ever do for you."

"I guess so." Mike said reluctantly.

"Shall we go then?" Marcel asked as he clicked the unlock button on his car keys. "I'll give you a ride to the hospital afterwards so we can see Sarah."

"Ok." Mike said as he hopped into the passenger side. "I guess we have to do this."


* * * * * *


The will reading had gone pretty much as I thought it would. Mom had made sure we were taken care of financially. That our education would be paid for. That we'd have enough money to survive for the foreseeable future. Be able to get started in our own homes. Everything had been taken care of. Dad had control over the house until I turned 18, then it would fall to me. But no matter who was in control, if ever the house was to be sold then the profits would be split between Abby, Dade and myself.

Mike had been granted enough money to pay for his education, to pay for the deposit on his first house after he graduates and basic living costs until he graduates. It wasn't as much as either Dade or I but it was still pretty significant. He was absolutely blown away. He couldn't believe it. He started crying after he found out he was definitely going to college. The rest was just overkill for him.

The reading itself was pretty somber. We just sat there waiting for it to be over. The only thing I was really interested in was the house. Not because I wanted to keep it or anything, but I did want to make sure it was going to be kept in the family.

Marcel had gone back to school to speak to Coach Anderson about training with him and doing some classes while he was here in Merlow. Mike and Abby had both gone their own ways and it was only Dade, Dad and me left here at home. Dad seemed to have a lot on his mind and I didn't blame him. We still hadn't figured out what was going to happen to Dade and I, but I had a feeling we were going to talk about it right now. The three of us all sat around the table awkwardly. Dad looked as though a hundred thoughts were running inside his head. I wasn't far off that. Dade was the first one to finally speak up.

"What's up, Dad?" Dade asked curiously as Daniel Sr. sat at the table with a grim look on his face.

"Obviously both of you know what the result of the will was. Your mother was very smart with her affairs and organizing everything. She has stated in her will that she'd like me to take care of you boys and that is what I intend to do. I've thought a lot about how we can make this work. What I'm about to say may be hard but I think it's the only way. You two can't stay here on your own."

"Wanna bet?" I said rather defiantly. "I mean, we could. I'll be eighteen within a year. You know I'm more than able to look after myself. And Dade as well."

"But right now, it's not an option." Dad sighed. "I'm afraid the only option I can think of right now is to sell the house and for you two to come and live with me. Abby has already agreed to come back and stay here until the house is sold."

"Oh hell no. No one is selling this house. And definitely not a day after we bury Mom. No way in hell. This is our only connection left to Mom. This is where all our memories are. You can't sell it. I won't let you." I said angrily as Dad contemplated what I had said to him.


"I can understand where Storm is coming from. This is our home. But if you really think this is the only way...I'll agree." Dade said with his head hanging down.

My own jaw fell slack in disbelief. I felt like he'd just betrayed me and Mom. I knew that wasn't the case. I may be angry but I'm not stupid. Still though, a bit of loyalty might have been expected. But this doesn't surprise me anymore. I don't know what goes on in Dade's head but I sure didn't expect this.

"Well I sure as hell am not agreeing to anything. But you don't need my vote now do you because Abby's agreed, right?"

"She has." Dad said with a nod.

"Daddy's girl. No doubt. She couldn't even hang around long enough for this. There's no way in hell I'm agreeing to this. Never mind the fact that you're just planning to uproot us from our home and our hometown. No, you can't sell this house."

"Storm, it's the only way. I won't get any money from selling this house but your Mom would want it this way. All of you children will get a share of whatever the house goes for. I'm not doing this for me."

"Fuck the money. She left us enough already. I don't want anymore damn money. I want Mom back and I want this house to stay in the damn family where it belongs. And what about Mike? It's bad enough Marcel felt like he had to go now that Mom's gone. What about Mike? He lives here. This is his home too, why isn't he at this meeting?"

"I'll make sure he's taken care of. I know he won't come to Canada because of Sarah but he'll always have a home wherever we are and I'll make sure there's something arranged for him here in Merlow."

"You've already decided this, haven't you?" I asked in absolute astonishment. "This meeting was just a formality for you."

"I'm afraid so. I'm your father. I have to make the decisions that aren't always going to be popular. You just have to trust me on this, Storm. We don't have many other options."

"How long? How long before we would have to move?" Dade asked rather meekly, surprising me with a comment.

"I've asked Abby to come here to live and look after you two until the end of the school year. Then you can come up by me. That's as good as I can do it, Storm. Please try to work with me here. I'm doing the best that I can."

"I don't want to leave Merlow. This is my home too. But Dad's right. We don't have much options." Dade said with a reluctant shrug of his shoulders.

"That's where you're wrong. All I want to know is, have you already decided that this house is going to be sold?"

"You're the only one who hasn't agreed, Storm. But I've already decided and your Mom left this decision up to me. If the house hasn't been sold by the time you turn eighteen, you get to decide. That was her clause. Right now though, you're not eighteen and I have to do what I think is best."

"Just answer me. Yes or no. Are you going to sell the house?"

"Yes. Dade's vote makes three to one. I'm sorry, Storm."

"Don't be." I said fuming inside with anger. "Obviously what I think doesn't mean shit. You've already decided but I want you to know that I won't have anything to do with any of this. You've made your decision and you've forced me to make mine. I won't be a part of you selling off everything Mom worked for. Her life is in this house."

"I helped your mother pay for this house!" Dad responded with a rare anger of his own, reminding me that her death was still raw for him too. "We both did!"

"I know. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it seem like you didn't have any part in this house. But that still doesn't change the way I feel about things. I'm sorry, Dad. You can keep my share. I'm not interested in anything to do with selling this house."

"Daniel. Son, please. I'm doing the best that I can. I need you to work with me here." Dad said in a much softer tone as he put his hand on mine, looking for support.

I responded by lowering my own tone and squeezed his hand. "Dad, I'm not going to stand in the way of whatever you're going to do. But you have to understand where I'm coming from too. I won't be a part of this. I'm sorry, Dad."


* * * * * *


Josh sat outside the school weights room. His feet dangling in the lap pool. He looked down at his toes while people swam by on the inside lanes. He seemed oblivious to their presence. His mind swimming with thoughts of his own. His joints ached and his body was sore from overworking his muscles in the weight room. It was a stress reliever for him. He had to do it anyway to keep his physique up for football but he also did it to try and clear his head. Today it hadn't worked. No matter how many extra sets he did or kilos he added, he still felt confused and guilty.

He truly believed that he had found himself when he started going out with Claire. He felt like a normal person. A happy person. Then in the space of a few days, it had all come crashing down on him. Reality bit him like a perennial bulldog. He wasn't that person he thought he was. He wasn't normal. He wasn't straight after all. No matter how much he'd tried to deny it, he wasn't.

His eyes began watering up as he realized the helpless position he was in right now. He truly felt alone. He hadn't really claimed Dade back as his best friend and he'd probably lost Claire as his only other best friend. He was torn between the two people he loved the most in the world. Yes, he admitted to himself. The two people he loved most in the world. But only one of them he realized he loved in a way he never thought he would. And that person wasn't Claire.

"Hey." Claire said as she sat down beside him, placing her shoes to the side as she let her feet dangle in the water next to Josh's.

"Claire." Josh said in surprise as he hurriedly tried to wipe the tears from his face. "I wasn't expecting to see you."

"I've had some time to think. I wish you had of told me you were still confused a long time ago but I know it's not easy. No matter what happens, I still love you and I don't like seeing you hurt like this. You're too special to feel low or scared or even ashamed. I'm not angry at you because of who you are, just...that you didn't realize it before I fell for you."

"I'm so sorry, Claire. I never meant to hurt you. I really didn't." Josh said with tears in his eyes as he looked at Claire. "Please believe me. I didn't want this to happen. I'm so sorry."

"It's ok, Sweetheart." Claire said as she held Josh's head in her hands and kissed him lightly. "It's not the first time this has happened to me. But it's the first time I've been in love and had it happen to me."

"Oh geez." Josh said as he shook his head in anger at himself.

"Josh, please listen to me. I'm trying to be understanding here. I want you to be ok. I want you to get through this but you have to try to understand where I'm coming from too." Claire said with tears in her eyes. "I love you. Even though you've told me this, I don't get to just turn my feelings for you off like a switch. It's going to take me time to get over you. I really thought we could've made it work. But not like this. Not now. You need to find yourself and do whatever it is you have to do and I wish I were a bigger person that I could help you do that but...I'm hurting too. I don't think I can help you fall in love with someone else. That's too much for me."

"I think I understand what you're saying." Josh said as he sobbed achingly.

"I'm sorry, Josh." Claire said as she kissed his cheek tenderly and stood up. "I hope you find what you're looking for. Look after yourself."

Josh watched Claire walk away with pain filled tears falling down his face. He cried softly to himself as he held his head in his hands. He'd never felt so angry at himself, ashamed or disgusted. Angry that he'd hurt Claire, ashamed that he'd admitted to himself now what he should have long before he had a chance of hurting Claire and disgust for the way in which he'd lost her. Not just her heart, but her friendship. He'd lost her altogether. He didn't care that he'd lost her, he just cared that he'd broken her heart and hurt her even more by making her feel as though she couldn't even be around him anymore without hurting.

He stood up in a daze, heading back towards the changing rooms as his tears continued. He didn't care if anyone saw him, he didn't care if anyone noticed him crying his heart out. He stumbled into the changing rooms and walked straight into someone who was just walking out. He didn't really care until he felt two hands on his arms, easing him down onto the changing bench.

"Josh? Are you ok?"

Josh focused his eyes through his tears and saw the face of the last person he'd expected here. Marcel. The eyes of the strong athlete seemed to bore into Josh's own with concern.


"What are you doing here?" Josh stammered as he struggled to compose himself.

"What's wrong, Buddy? What happened?"

"I just broke Claire's heart. That's what happened. I'm a bad person. I hurt her. All because I'm a fucking faggot." Josh said angrily as he through his shoes across the room.

"You're what?" Marcel asked in surprise, more at Josh's exclamation than the actual comment.

"I'm a fucking faggot. That's what I said. I hurt her all because I couldn't bury this damn thing inside me. I hate it! I don't want this! I don't!" Josh cried as he collapsed in Marcel's arms.

"Hey, hey. It's ok, Josh."

"No it's not." Josh cried as he sat up again. "You don't understand. My family...they're not ready for something like this. They're not like Storm's family or Lucas'. They're good people but they're not ready for something like this. I'm their only son. My father is so proud of me. He wants me to be the man of the family after him. They want all the normal things that parents want. They're good people, Marcel. I can't do this to them. It's not fair. I just want it to be over. I don't want this. I tried so hard to hide it. To deny it. And then I ended up hurting Claire. All this is doing to me is making me hurt the people I love. What good is it to be like this when all it does is cause so much pain?"

Josh's eyes pleaded to Marcel for some kind of explanation. Some kind of reasoning for the way he was feeling. Marcel himself was overwhelmed by Josh's confession. He'd never seen Josh so distraught in his life. He didn't even know Josh had this in him. But his cries were filled with so much pain and confusion, so much heart and so much hurt that Marcel himself couldn't help but become affected.

"Oh man." Marcel said to himself as his own eyes watered up. "I don't have all the answers, Josh. I had no idea you were going through all of this. The only thing I can say is if you don't be honest to yourself, you'll keep hurting people without meaning to. Whenever you try to hide something, no matter what it is, you always end up having to lie. And I know for someone like you, Josh. Someone who tries so hard to have integrity, this is tearing you up inside. It won't get better overnight. It's going to take time. First you have to stop hating yourself. Do you hear me?"

"Yes." Josh replied, nodding dutifully.

"And then you have to forgive yourself."


"And then you have to start liking yourself again. Because whether or not you want this or not, this is what you have. This is who you are. Stop hating, start forgiving, start liking. That's what you have to do or else you're going to self destruct."

"Ok." Josh whimpered to himself as he held his knees to his chest and buried his head in them. "I'll try."

"If you need me, I'm here. Anytime. Anywhere. Just call me. Ok?" Marcel asked, raising Josh's face so they were eye to eye.

"Thank you."

"It'll be ok, Josh. It'll be ok." Marcel said as he surprised Josh with a hug. "You're not alone."

Josh just sighed and let himself be held in a way he never had ever in his life. For the first time he had let himself be totally exposed. Be completely vulnerable. It felt good. It was healing for him.

"Thank you." Josh said again, his face red from crying but his heart finally feeling as though things may get better eventually.

"Anytime, Josh. Anytime."


* * * * * *


"Hey." I said somberly as I stood at Lucas' bedroom door.

"Dude!" Lucas yelled as he jumped up with a big smile on his face as he hugged me.

"Man, it's good to see you." I said with relief as I let myself hold onto Lucas for a while, resting my head on his shoulder.

"You too." Lucas said as he rocked me gently. "I've been thinking about you all day. I missed you."

"Me too, Babe."

I rested my forehead against Lucas' and kissed him hello. It was only meant to be a little one. Just a quick little angel kiss. But I guess we'd both missed each other more than we thought because that little kiss turned into a bit of a pashfest. Nothing lurid, just...nice. Gentle like we wanted the moment to last. I still love kissing Lucas now just as much as the first time we kissed. He lips still taste as strawberry as ever. I still wonder what I did to get him.

Things I don't think have ever been as good between Lucas and I before. I can depend on him, he supports me and I hope I do the same for him. We're...comfortable for the first time in our long history. We're comfortable with each other now. That might not sound like much but it's a big thing to me. I feel secure in us for once. I think I love and appreciate him more today than the first time we got together. It's a great feeling.

I rest my hands tentatively on the small of his back, easing his shirt up every so slowly. He loves it when I'm forward. My lips are still tasting his when he pulls away with a smile.

"Dude." Lucas said blushing. "You missed me too, huh?"

"Always, sweetness." I said with a wink. "I couldn't wait to see you. How was your day?"

"Crap. But it's great now." Lucas said with a smile as he pulled me down onto the bed.

I wanted to stop him. I really did. No, really. Ok, I didn't. I wanted it just as much as he did, probably more. I lay on top of him, my lips sucking gently on the nape of his neck as he fumbled to pull my shirt off. Our hands wandered over each other, the tempo of the moment escalating with every touch. It wasn't till the tips of his fingers began sending sharp jolts of excitement through my nipples that I pulled up suddenly.

"Your parents are here. You know how I am about that." I said with more of a grin than ever. "Even though I really really want to. No, I need to. You're just so damn lickable! I was having such a bad day before I got here. But just being here with you. Just lying here. You make my day."

"Dude, that's so sweet." Lucas said catching his breath as he mock frowned at me. "But you're still such a tease."

"I just don't want them busting in here while we're macking the knife, if you know what I mean."

Lucas giggled at my comment, manly like of course. I stole a quick kiss on his abs before I jumped off his bed and sat on his desk chair. He sat there on his bed just grinning at me. His fingers seemed to drift down his shirt to where it had risen up over his chest. He knew what he was doing to me. He gave me a quick couple of wicked winks and I couldn't help but blush.

I didn't really know what to say. We both just sat in our corners of the room while our eyes remained squarely locked on each other. A mischievous smile from him and a blushing grin from me. I hate it when Lucas gets like this. Sometimes he just won't take no. Probably because he knows I don't want to say no.

In the end he lay back with a sigh and put his hands behind his head. I don't know why I torture myself like this sometimes. I must seem like such a prude.

"You always make me work for it." Lucas said as he lay on his side, just gazing at me contentedly.

I just smiled back at him. "I know, I suck."

"You don't actually. That's half the problem."

"I can't believe you said that. That's too...crude for Mr. Angelic." I said with mock disgust. "And I do too!"

"Prove it."

"I think I'd better go before we do a bit too much proving. There's always the treehouse." I said shrugging my shoulders.

"I think we're a bit old for that." Lucas said as he sat up again on the side of his bed. "But don't go. I'll behave. You look like you had something on your mind when you came in. Everything ok?"

"Dad wants to sell the house." I said with a sigh. "He wants us to go and live with him."

Lucas' head seemed to perk up at this and he sat on his desk next to me. "What did you say to him?"

"Hell no. I can't believe they're thinking about selling Mom's house. Not a day after we bury her. They can do whatever they like but I'm not having anything to do with it."

"What are you going to do?"

"I have enough money saved up to head out on my own. I'm leaving."


"No. Just home. They've already made their minds up. I just...I'm so angry. I don't know what I'm going to do but I'm doing it soon."

"Are you sure you don't want to hang around and try and work it out with them?"

"There's three of them and they're all in agreement. It doesn't matter what I say anymore. It mattered when Mom was around but the power structure has all gone to hell. I don't care. Fuck them. Fuck all of them. They can all go to hell for all I care."

"Maybe your Dad has your best interests at heart. He wants you to stay with him. You and Dade can't stay there on your own. Maybe to him it makes sense to sell the house and for you to both move with him."

"You don't want me to go do you?" I asked as I turned to face Lucas.

"Oh heck no, Dude. I don't want you to go. I'm just trying to...I'm just trying to help if I can before you start burning bridges."

"I know. Thank you. You're always putting things in perspective for me. I don't know what I'd do without you." I said with a warm smile. "You bring out the best in me. Have I told you how much I love you lately?"

"Nah." Lucas said scrunching his nose at me cheekily. "I think I'm due for one."

"Well, I do love you, Mr. Sheridan. Just a bit." I said with a grin. "Quite a big bit."

"Do you think you could ever..." Lucas began to say nervously, his face becoming flush with shyness. "Maybe...I dunno, Dude...uhhh..."

"What is it, Babe?"

"Do you think you could ever me on a permanent basis?"

"Whoa..." I said stepping back in surprise. "I'm a bit young for that, don't you think?"

"Oh, Dude! No, no, no. I didn't mean that. I meant like...would you wanna live with me? Just you and me? Would that be an idea?"

"Are you sure you want that?"

"Dude, if you want to move out of home. I'd want to be the first place you'd ever go to. I want you to be with me. Just you and me."

"What about your parents?"

"Dude, they totally love you. You know that. They think you're a good influence on me. Mira totally loves you to bits. She'd love you to come here. We'd have to move rooms though."

"We would?"

"Yeah like coz...well they're actually leaving this week. Dad got a job in San Diego. He said I'm old enough to look after myself now and he doesn't have to sell the house. I can stay here, Dude. I can ask them what they'd think about you staying but I know they'll say yes. Come on, Dude. We've come so far. I've never felt so good about us before. I love you, Storm and I really wanna be with you every day. I'm all excited now. Please? Stay with me?"

"Oh...I think that's a great big hell yeah there, Mr. Sheridan." I said nodding my head vigorously with my face red with both excitement and disbelief. "Oh hell yeah, I'll stay with you."

"Woo hoo!" Lucas yelled as he grabbed me and lifted me off my feet with a great big hug. "I can't believe it! Dude, this is so awesome! We're gonna be living together!"

"We sure are." I said with both nervousness and excitement. "We sure are."


* * * * * *


Marcel stood in the waiting room of Merlow General. He stood by the window, looking out to the darkening sky above Merlow. The room was unusually quiet tonight but it still stunk of the over sanitized smell that hospitals have. He'd been in this place too much for his liking lately. June's death still playing heavy on his mind as he stood like some loyal warrior, keeping guard over his charge.

"Anyone else but you, June. Why you?" Marcel said quietly to himself.

His mind raced with so many different thoughts. He still believed the fallout from June's death would have some greater effect than already manifested. The void was obvious, but the ramifications were far from over. He himself had moved back to his own house, June's death making him feel as though his ties to it were all but severed. Sure, he was close to Daniel Sr. but nowhere near the level he was with June. It just wasn't the same.

He worried for his friends. His friends who he felt were his family. Mike and Sarah. Storm. He worried for them the most. His heart felt so heavy right now. His head working intently to try and find solutions to problems he had little control over. Not to mention his own problems. He had enough of his own but they always came second to those of the people he cared about. That was his way. It had always been his way.

"You look like a man with too much on his mind." Mike said as he approached Marcel and stood behind him, both staring at the night sky.

Marcel's eyes darted left to see Mike's reflection in the window. Mike greeted him with a small smile of recognition and Marcel nodded in response. He didn't turn to face Mike, he just kept staring out into the dark emptiness of Merlow's skyline.

"How's Sarah?"

"Why don't you go in and see for yourself? She'd love to see you."

"She doesn't need to see me. She knows I'm here. That's enough for now."

"You scared she'll be twice as observant as I am?" Mike asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Something like that." Marcel replied stoically.

"So you're just going to stand here like some loyal warrior, keeping the night away. Is that it?"

"At least until you're ready for me to take you home." Marcel said turning his face to the side for the first time, still no eye contact but more recognition than he'd previously shown. "That's what I'm here for."

"She won't crumble, you know. I know you have a lot on your mind. But if you don't want Sarah to worry about you, talk to me instead."

"You have enough to worry about."

"Yes, I do. So it won't do me any good if I'm worrying about what's going on with you as well. I'm not stupid. I do notice things. I'm just sorry I haven't had enough time to actually talk to you like this. We're family. Talk to me."

That got Marcel's attention. He turned to Mike with a look of bewildered surprise. Mike usually wasn't so pressing. If Marcel didn't want to talk, he never really pushed it. It was some unspoken understanding with them. At least that's what Marcel believed. Obviously things had changed.

"Ok. I'm worried about you and Sarah. I'm worried about Storm. I'm worried about Dade. I'm worried about how June's death is going to effect everybody. What happens to Storm and Dade now? What happens to you?"

"Mom made sure I was taken care of. I'm not sure what the living arrangements will be but Daniel Sr. has told me I'll always have a roof over my head and never to worry. I still don't know what's going to happen there though. Is that it?"




"Talk to me. Is it Dade? What is it? There's something else and I'm not going to let you fester over it."

"I talked to June before she died. She was going to help me but..."

"Then I'm going to carry on her role. I'm allowed, she was my mother. Now talk to me and stop being such a soldier."

"Ok...fine. Thank you. I have to tell you something I should have a long time ago. I didn't want to bother anyone. But it's hard to hide things from you guys when I'm around you. It was easier when I was gone."

"What is it?" Mike asked with increasing concern as he placed his hand on Marcel's shoulder. "I thought it was Dade or something but it isn't, is it?"

"No. I love Dade but I'm not ready to be with anybody right now. Just the thought of it..."

"What happened, Marcel?"

"It happened over a month ago..."


* * * * * *


Dade practiced his kata, leading one of the junior classes at the same time. His skills had improved greatly since he'd returned to Sensei Takada's class. Just one of his many sporting interests. This and football now seemed to be his biggest interests and he had a hard time trying to juggle both of them but he did. As did his training partner, Marty Lee.

"That's good, Dade. You've come a long way. Your grading is coming up. I'm sure you'll be happy about that."

"I am. Just not for the reasons you think." Dade said gruffly.

"I can understand that."

"I was wrong to want you to train me behind Storm's back. I'm not doing it anymore."

"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Marty Lee said with a sense of surprise in his voice. "You've worked so hard already."

"It was wrong of me. I feel like I've betrayed him. If he knew what I'd done...I don't know what he'd do. He's already angry enough as it is. That's probably why he isn't here. I was hoping to talk to him."

"He called Sensei to say he wouldn't be coming in. Said he had some packing to do. Is he taking a holiday?"

"What?" Dade asked with sudden urgency. "He said he's packing?"

"Yeah. Is he moving out?"

"I think so. I'd better go."

"Sorry, Dade. No can do. Storm's not here, Sarah's not here. You and I have to help pick up the slack. We're on junior training tonight."

"Damn it all. I have to talk to him."

"Maybe this will be a good thing for you. You get to be number one in the house."

"Don't, Marty Lee. I'm not interested in your manipulating anymore. I've just lost my mother, I'm not losing my brother too. You're not training me anymore. I just want you to leave me alone. You have a sick sense of helping someone. I'm not stupid or weak anymore. You'll have to find someone else to screw up. I'm going home to see my brother. You'll just have to make do for tonight."

"Don't do this, Dade. You know you need me if you want to be better than him."

"I can't believe I let myself fall for your shit. I feel sick thinking about it. How could you ever make me better than him when you can't even beat him? Just leave it, Marty Lee. It's over. You come near me outside of training or school and we're gonna have problems. Understand?" Dade said with half a bow before he walked off the mat.

Marty Lee stood there indignant as he watched Dade walk away. He signaled the juniors to continue their training and walked to the side of the room. He reached into his gear bag and pulled out his cellphone. He dialed in a preset number and held the phone to his ear.

"Yeah, Dade. I understand perfectly." Marty Lee said as the phone answered. "Hi, it's Marty Lee. Don't hang up on me yet. I think I have some information you might find interesting."


* * * * * *


The waters of Lake Herren lapped along the shoreline. Clouds hovered above in stark contrast to the day before. Wind blew through my hair with a cold chill. Yet still I felt at peace here. I stood at Mom's graveside, my hands clasped respectfully. I had been standing there for a while now, night had crawled in long ago.

I could hear Mom's voice in my head, asking me what I was doing here. Asking me what was wrong. I knew if she really was here, that's what she'd be asking me.

"Well, Mom. You've only been gone a little while and already so much has changed. Our home hasn't been the same since you left. I don't think it ever will be. I wish you could tell me what I'm supposed to do. I love Dad but I supported you. I'm used to being in charge. I guess it is kind of a power thing. I'm not used to taking orders from Dad like this and I'm not going to start now. I'm too old, he's been gone too long and too much has changed. When you died, my childhood went with you. I don't say that in a bad way, I just mean I have to grow up now. I'm older. I'm too old to start a new life and go back to being a kid. You never treated me like one. Dade's going with Dad but not for a while. I think it'll be good for them. As for me though, I'm moving out today. I've felt like a stranger in my own house since you died, Mom. It's not home anymore. I wish it were and I wish they weren't going to sell the house but they don't need me anymore to tell them what to do. I think Lucas and I will do ok. I'm moving in with him. Mira and John are both moving to San Diego. It's going to be strange for me. I'm so used to having a busy house and now I'm going to be in this big house with just Lucas and I to keep each other company. Maybe I'll get a dog. I don't know. Things are ok, Mom. They could be better but we're all still here and my friends are being really supportive so I can't complain. The only thing I guess I wanted to say now though Mom is going to really disappoint you. It's Dade and I. I don't feel like I know him anymore, Mom. It used to be mainly because of him but now it's me too. I've just lost any interest in trying to have a relationship with him. He's hurt me more times now than I'm able to let go of like I used to. I'm not here to pick a fight with him, it's nothing like that. There's just no bond between us anymore. I finally realized that today. I thought I knew him but...I don't. I blame him for starting it and I blame me for not wanting to fix it anymore. That's just how it is. Out of respect to you though, Mom. I'll keep an eye on him when I can and try to keep him out of trouble. That's about all I can promise."

I took a deep breath and sighed to myself as I looked over the lake waters. Moonlight reflecting over the water and the night sounds of insects setting the mood. I turned my attention back to Mom and blew her a kiss as I laid a bunch of flowers on her grave.

"You're still the best, Mom. See you soon."

I turned away and headed towards my jeep. The insurance had finally covered me for the jeep that had been stolen off me. They never found a trace of it and I still don't know what happened there. I was just glad to have my own wheels again. I drove home and without intending to, passed by the spot where Mom had crashed. I slammed on the brakes and stopped clear in the middle of the road. Not the best move but I'd been taken a bit by surprise. My eyes scanned over the area, some tiny shards from the light covers and glass still covered the roadside.

My heart felt heavy as I stepped out of the jeep and walked over to the area where my mother had spent her last moments. This was the first time I'd been here since she'd died. The only evidence of her death being a white cross on the side of the road with a wreath of flowers laid on it.

To be honest, it didn't hit me as hard as I thought it would. It hurt to be sure, but I'd dealt with my grief now and I didn't need to hurt myself anymore by staying here. I jumped back in the jeep and drove away as fast as I could. My thoughts ran rampant as I drove home. Wondering what it was like in those last seconds for Mom, hoping she didn't feel too much pain before the end.

I pulled into our driveway and just sat there for a while. The house looked empty. No lights were on and I took that as a sign that no one was home. Good. I didn't really feel like having anyone try to talk me out of moving out. Most of my packing was done already, I only had a little bit left to do. I was only taking what I had to, Dad could do what he liked with the rest.

My room was waiting for me like some old loyal companion. I felt guilty for the stupidest reasons. Like I was doing my room an injustice by leaving like this. I'd lived here my whole life, I'd never lived in any other room. It was like leaving an old friend. Some of my old photos were still lying about the room. I picked them up and looked over each one lovingly. They were all windows to the past. Each one told a story about my history.

Some with my friends. Some with my family. Some from when I was a baby, a kid, teenager. The best ones were the ones with Mom in them. They were gold to me now. Photos I would have till the end of my days. So many also had Dade in them. One had me, Dade and Mom in there from several years ago. Just after Dad had left us and we knew that it would be just us three for a while. Mike was the one who had taken the photo and he was always on the periphery of what we called our family. Still though, this photo in particular meant a lot to me. I always thought my Mom was so strong back then. Taking care of us on her own. Moving on with her life and making sure we were never left wanting for a thing. How much I truly admire her I can never say.

I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I slid the photo into a box and put it by the door. Almost every trace of me had been removed now. All my character and history. No more trophies, no more photos, no little souvenirs. The only thing still remaining was an old etching on the window sill, `Storm loves Lucas' and the old lines by my closet that marked my height changes over the years. Apart from that, she was completely devoid of me now. The only thing left to do now was pick up my gear and walk away.

"Hi..." Dade said at the doorway, distracting me from my melancholic reverie.

"Dade." I said as my game face came back into play and I picked up my boxes.

"Please don't do this. We can work it out."

"You three seem to be doing a fine job of that yourselves. I'm the one who stood by Mom when Dad left. I'm the one who stepped up to the plate. What I say should matter but just like the little turncoat you are lately, you just go ahead and agree to throw away everything Mom worked for."

"Be realistic, Storm. You and I can't live here on our own. We don't really have much choice. Dad's trying to look after us. We should be sticking together. I know you're unhappy, Storm. I'm sorry things have worked out like this but just give it time. We'll be ok. It'll work out."

"I'm not starting a new life. This is my life. This house is my life. I'm past my use by date, Dade. You have a chance to start over with Dad. I wish you well. I always have."

"Damnit, Storm." Dade said frustratedly. "Don't do this. I know what you're doing. You're going to tear us apart. You're part of this family too. Just because Mom's gone doesn't mean we need you any less."

"All this time you've blamed me for things I didn't even understand. You always said Mom loved me more than you. You always said I took all the glory. You said you were second best, not me. You know what, Dade? I never took the glory. All I took was the responsibility. I don't have that anymore but you finally have a chance to be the number one son in the family. I'm actually glad. You and I were a team, Dade. I expected you to stick by me. I expected you to show some respect to Mom. I know Dad means well but this isn't the way I want things to happen. I'm not going to be any part of this house being sold. That's all there is to it. So it's better if I'm just not here anymore. I've made my decision. For the last few years, I've played my role in this house. It's not my role anymore. Mom's gone. Dad's back. You don't need me here anymore anyway. Now I get to go and have my own life. I'm not starting again."

"I didn't betray you, Storm. Don't look at it like that. I just said what I thought was best. We're all we have left now. Don't break up what's left of our family."

"Don't, Dade. Don't put that on me." I said waving my hand at him.

"You're making this like it's Mom vs. Dad again. And you're siding with Mom because that's what you've always done. But this isn't Mom vs. Dad, Storm. This is Dad trying to do what's best for us. He didn't want Mom to die. None of us wanted this but this is where we are. You're going to alienate yourself from us. Please, Storm. Don't do that. Don't make this a war between you and the rest of us. You have no idea what that's going to do to everyone. I'm sorry if I've hurt you, Storm. Please. I need you to be my big brother here. I can feel you pulling yourself away from us already. Don't leave, Storm. Please. Don't leave. I'll beg you if I have to. Don't leave. Not like this."

"I'm not leaving Merlow, Dade. This is my home. Maybe a new start will be good for you. I don't have any ill will against you or Dad or Abby. But I can't do what you're asking of me. It's over."

"Storm...are you doing this because...because of me?"

"That depends on what you're talking about, Dade. Am I doing this because you agreed to sell this house? Am I doing this because I don't trust you or because I'm hurt that you hated me for so long? Or is it something else, Dade? I know you've been moving behind my back. I know you want to beat me. You're still on that whole buzz of wanting to be better than me. In case you hadn't noticed, Dade. You are an awesome person. You've got so much going for you and you don't even realize it. You have people falling all over themselves wanting to be with you and you probably don't even realize that either. I've always tried to support you but you kept throwing it back at me. Just when I thought we'd make progress. But going behind my back with Marty Lee and telling him how much you want to destroy me. Getting him to help you try and beat your own brother. That demented freak? That's unforgivable. So yeah this is because of you. Anything else?"

"Storm, please. I wasn't thinking straight. You have no idea what kind of...I was depressed ok. I blamed you for getting all the attention I wanted. I blamed you for being the son I couldn't be. You were everything I wanted to be, Storm. Everything I thought I could never be. I've been trying to find a way to tell you."

"Save it for someone who cares, Dade. Because I don't. I'm finished here. And yeah it has a lot to do with you. I almost killed myself going after you on that bridge. And you still didn't tell me what was really going on. You still haven't. Even worse than that though, you still didn't seem to get just how much I loved you. You still hated me, you just wouldn't say it to my face. So you said it to Marty Lee's and god knows who else. I've had enough. I'm not doing it anymore, Dade." I said as I walked past him. "But matter what's happened between us, I hope you do well."

I headed towards Mom's room one last time and stood in the doorway. My eyes drifted from one area to another. Her wardrobe, her desk that still had all her papers on it. Her photos of us by her bedside. It all remained as she had left it. This is the way I want to say goodbye to this house. I don't think I could bear seeing it empty or sold to people who had no idea what history it held.

"Bye, Mom." I said to myself as I turned back to head downstairs.

Dade still hadn't moved from my doorway. He stood there staring at me with a look of despair on his face. I never set out to hurt him but I still couldn't get over how he had set out to hurt me. I felt as though I didn't know him anymore.

"Storm, just let me explain. Please." Dade said pleadingly.

"There's no point anymore, Dade. It won't change anything that's happened between us. What's done now is done. You hurt me more than you have any idea. Just...look after yourself. And Dad."

"Are you going to at least say hi the next time you see me?" Dade asked with tears in his eyes. "I'm still your brother, aren't I?"

"I don't even feel like I know you anymore, Dade. But I'll still be watching. I owe Mom that much."

I headed downstairs and had one last walk through the house. I was grateful that neither Dad or Abby were home right now. They would have just made this harder. I'm disappointed in them but I don't blame them or hate them for anything. Whatever's happening in this house is something that isn't part of me. My time here is over. My life here is over. It was over when Mom died. I knew things would never be the same, I just never had any idea it would be to such a great extent.

I stood at the doorway with my bags in my hands and turned back one last time. This is the first time in my life I'll be living somewhere other than this house. I didn't realize how big an effect it would have on me. I'm going to miss this house. It has so many memories for me.

"So long, house." I said stifling back the tears. "Thanks for the memories."


* * * * * *

Coming Soon - SF32: Love Is

Well, life goes on.   The fallout of June's death is still being felt.  Sarah's still not out of the woods yet but her road to recovery is looking better.  Mike and Marcel are still the unsung heroes of Storm Front, both doing their best for the people they love.

The winds of change this season have been greater than any previously and who knows if this is the end. Marcel has returned for at least a while yet.  June is dead.  Mira and John are leaving Merlow and Storm has moved out of the Marcus home for the first time in his life.

Mike is still by Sarah's side as much as he can.  Sarah's illness will have more effects than he probably realizes now and so will June's death.  But no doubt, like the trooper he is, he'll soldier on.

Marcel's rape will have more of an impact on whether he ends up with Dade than many realize.  Josh's role in all of this is still unknown.  Right now he still seems to be coming to terms with himself.  He obviously hadn't dealt with his sexuality and once again, Claire is the unwitting victim.  Whether we have seen her last appearance in Storm Front will probably be revealed in the next chapter but either way, Josh would have been feeling much lower were it not for Marcel.  Once again, Mr. Stoic Soldier to the rescue.

Brad is one to watch.   His journey in Storm Front has been rather unexpected.  He is still terrified of Marty Lee.  Is it still karma or just bad luck?  He's become a bit of a nice guy.  A quiet one who tends to stick to himself.

Marty Lee is just one pure screwed up asshole.  Mike seems to be on to him.  Marcel's on to him. Storm's on to him.  Dade's sick of him.  It's only a matter of time before he pushes someone too far and he comes up against one of our own.  How long till he is finally dealt with?  And who's going to get the job done?  Or who's going to be done over by Marty Lee?

Lucas' parents departure from Merlow has left him in the unexpected position of being an independent.  He'll no doubt be feeling their leaving as well since lately he's been on good terms with Mira and John.  Whether he starts feeling some strain after they leave has yet to be revealed.  Obviously though, he feels his roots are now fully in Merlow.  Enough to choose it over leaving with his parents.

Storm and Lucas seem to be doing the best out of everybody.  Their relationship is probably the most steady and stable it has ever been.  Finally moving in together but not under the greatest of circumstances.  The greatest conflict right now is between Dade and Storm.  Even though Dade seems to be doing a lot better personally, his past actions have remained to haunt him.  With June gone, Storm feels even less inclined to hang around and play the big brother role he has done so many times in the past.  Especially after he feels Dade has hurt and betrayed him so much.

Storm is not the central figure like he once was.  He doesn't command the same kind of respect or attention he used to.  He was used to a structure that revolved around June.  She's not here anymore and the upheaval caused by her death seems to make him think it's time to move on.   The sale of the family home will never sit well with him and the added tension with Dade, not to mention the shift in power at home have all contributed to him feeling as alienated as he does.  Storm seems like somewhat of a lost soul right now.  Only time will tell what role he plays in the future.

Dade has a lot to do if he wants to try and salvage any kind of relationship with his brother.  He seems to be moving in the right direction by blowing off Marty Lee and mending fences with his father.   It's also obvious that he is still in love with Marcel but only time will tell whether or not Marcel will reciprocate.  Dade's biggest problem will be regaining the trust of his brother and trying to rebuild the bond they once shared.  It seems like a lost cause.  Some things just can't be changed.

Still a rather bittersweet chapter, some highs and quite a few lows but that's life.  It's up and down.   That's the journey.

Storm Front started off as a story revolving around Storm.  It's anything but that now.  It's an ensemble story based around mainly our core pack and a few others.  Because of this in some chapters, certain characters get more screen time than others but it usually always comes around.  Some people have commented about certain characters like Lucas, Mike, Sarah and even Storm not having as much screen time as they should.  It all comes around in the end, trust me. 

The end is coming for Season 4 and then the final run begins for the final season of Storm Front.

Stay Tuned for SF32: Love Is and send me a note to let me know what you thought of Chapter 31: The Ones You Leave Behind.  Or add your comments to the SN Forum

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