By SF Writer
Copyright 1998 - 2009, All rights reserved.

SF36b: ... an Era

* * * * * *


"Hey, Beautiful." Mike said with a huge smile as he kissed Sarah good morning.

"You're not supposed to be here." Sarah said with a soft moan as she opened her eyes to see the sun barely rising. "What time is it?"

"Early. How are you feeling?"

"Ok. You shouldn't be here. I don't want you being distracted before the game."

"You don't distract me, Sarah." Mike said with a blissful smile. "You inspire me. I just wanted to see how my future wife is doing before I go and start prepping."

"I'm glad you came." Sarah said raising her head to steal a kiss from her man. "I wanted to see you."

"Something wrong, Sweetheart?"

"I didn't realize how much you meant to people here until I saw it from outside. You have such a bright future. Have I told you how proud I am of you?"

"Yeah, you have." Mike sighed happily, still getting butterflies from Sarah after all this time.

"Well, its true."

"Big day today. Game today. Are you sure you're up to it?"

"Of course I am." Sarah said with a grin that soon became somewhat melancholy.

"You sure you're ok?"

"No matter what happens, Mike. I hope you know how I feel about you. How much I love you."

"I know, Honey." Mike said reassuringly. "I know."

"Good." Sarah said with a sad smile. "Don't ever forget that."


* * * * * *


"Marty Lee. I gotta go. Mike just called, he needs me and Josh to head in early. You gonna be ok till Storm gets back from work?" Lucas asked as he stood in Marty Lee's doorway.

"I'll be ok, Lucas." Marty Lee replied with a yawn as he sat up in his bed. "Don't worry."

"Ok. Make sure you have some breakfast. I'll see you at the after match function. Coach says you can sit on the bench and watch with him if you want."

"Great. I'll see you there. Good luck."

"Thanks, Dude. See you later." Lucas said with a small smile as he left Marty Lee's sight.

Marty Lee sat up at the edge of his bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He looked down at his feet as he pondered his current situation. Tomorrow he was due to leave this house. He had a feeling Lucas might ask him to stay on but he wasn't entirely sure. He wanted to stay. Enjoyed being around people after spending so much time basically living on his own. His homestay family paid as much attention to him as his parents. He enjoyed his independence but not his loneliness.

Yet the longer he stayed here, the more he felt compelled to be honest with Lucas. Lucas more so than Storm. Lucas had taken him in the way he had in the past. Before Merlow, before Storm. When Lucas was in a rather intense relationship with his older sister. Back then Lucas treated Marty Lee like his little brother. Back then he was just Marty.

Remembering what things were like for the two of them and feeling the same way now, Marty Lee felt even more guilty. Not just for the sins Lucas knew about, but for some he didn't. With a heavy sigh, Marty Lee put his head in his hands and contemplated what his price of restitution would truly be. And if he would ever truly achieve it.


* * * * * *


I arrived home from my dawn shift down at the produce warehouse, hoping to catch Lucas before he left for the big game prep. Lucas and I had a really good time last night. I have to say, it's starting to feel pretty domestic now with Lucas and I living together. I feel as if things are maturing between us a lot and I'm really enjoying it. I always wondered what it would be like for us to reach this point. I didn't always know if we would. And I wondered how we'd handle becoming a bit less puppy lovey and a bit more settled. It's good that we can still have those sweet moments though. Like last night. You'd think after being together so long that you'd start losing a bit of the magic. The sort of goofy love butterflies you had when you first get together. It's not the same as when we first hooked up but it still feels really good. Things feel a lot more solid between us and I feel really content. Settled. That's a big thing for me. I used to be so afraid of commitment or being tied down. I guess it was really because I was afraid. Afraid of losing my independence and afraid that if I gave all of myself to Lucas that somehow he'd hurt me, when I was at my most vulnerable. I guess I'm just getting older now.

I walked through the front door and headed towards our room. I stopped in my tracks as I passed Marty Lee's room. I saw the strangest sight I'd seen in a while. Marty Lee crying. To be honest with you, I wasn't entirely sympathetic. I appreciate the effort he's making but he's still on the top of my hit list. He's hurt so many people. And I'm afraid he might turn around and hurt Lucas. Boy he better watch out if he ever does that.

But I do remember the way he took Dade from Orry. And the way he spoke to me the night I came back from Drake. It's really only for that reason that I don't just carry on walking. I still don't really like him. And I don't like the way he's becoming more of a permanent fixture around here. I only tolerate him because I know he's been hurt and I know Lucas wants him here. I would've like some time alone with Lucas before we altered the living arrangements. And if there was going to be anyone else living with us, I'd want it to be Dade before Marty Lee. But from what Lucas tells me, Marty Lee will only be here one more day so I'll do my best to be a courteous host. He is still a guest after all, even if I didn't invite him. This is Lucas' house first and foremost, I haven't been here long enough to say who stays and goes.

"Hey." I said alerting Marty Lee to my presence. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, Storm. Nothing."

"Doesn't look like nothing running down your face." I said as I leaned against the door. "Come on, get up. Go have a shower. I'll make us some breakfast. We'll talk."

"It's ok, Storm. I'll make it."

"Go on. Hurry up. I wanted to talk to you anyway. While Lucas isn't around. What's your hunger this morning?"

"Uhh anything you have. I like the way you eat. Lean and green. I'll have what you have."

"I'll fix us something up then." I said as I headed to the kitchen and began preparing our breakfast.

I could understand Lucas' motives for having Marty Lee here. And I have noticed a change in the way Marty Lee has acted since he's been here. But I still don't trust him. I don't know whether to believe he's changing or putting on a show for Lucas.

It must have only been ten minutes later when Marty Lee entered the kitchen. He stood in only a pair of board shorts and still wasn't entirely dry.

"Hey, you're getting the floor wet." I said motioning to his feet.

"Sorry, Storm. I just wanted to see if you needed a hand."

"I'm alright thanks. Nobody wants to eat cereal on a Saturday morning so we've got a smoked chicken, feta cheese and cashew nut salad. You said you'll have what I'm having so I hope you like it."

"Sounds great."

You know, if I wasn't so comfortable with Lucas and I right now. And I didn't already know the history between Lucas and Marty Lee. I have to say I'd be a little worried. Marty Lee is cut to perfection. I've seen him in the showers enough times now to be pretty immune to his charm and I know Lucas has too. But living here with us, I'd probably worry if I wasn't so secure in our relationship.

I knew Marty Lee was as obsessive as I was about keeping in shape. And whether he admits it or not, he's just as obsessive as I am about making sure we look good. He went for definition over mass but had increased his build since he'd started playing football. He was also similar to me in that he hardly ever flaunts what he has or shows off. Dade knows what he has and has an attitude to match. I think I'm much more reserved. I suspect Marty Lee is too. Unless I'm trying to show off, and then I start sharing a few of Dade's traits. We are brothers after all. I can turn it on when I want to.

"You're a bit of a hottie, Marty Lee. You always look better when you don't seem as much of an asshole though." I said with a smirk as I served our breakfast on the table. "Dig in."

"Uhh thanks." Marty Lee said rather wryly, surprised no doubt by my comment.

"So ..." I said as I began picking at my breakfast. "What were you crying about?"

"Uhh ..." Marty Lee replied uncomfortably.

"You don't want to leave?"

"Not really."

"You like it here?"

"I do."

"You don't seem as hard since you've been staying here. Chinks in the armor, aye?"

"I guess you could say that."

"I'll be honest with you, Marty Lee. I don't know what to think of you. And I feel a little uncomfortable with our living arrangements. Brad is my friend and me living with the person who hurt him isn't exactly my idea of loyalty. If it wasn't for Lucas, you and I would have more problems than we have right now."

"I know, Storm." Marty Lee said with a surprising amount of solemness. "And I understand why."

"So what are your plans? You going home tomorrow or are you gonna ask Lucas if you can stay?"

"I don't want to stay if it makes you uncomfortable. I don't want to cause any trouble between you and Lucas."

"You won't. Because I won't let you. I'll be watching you, Marty Lee. Lucas seems to have a lot of faith in you. He knows you a lot better than I do. Don't throw this in his face. He's going to keep you on. Just wait and see."

"How do you know?"

"Because I know my mate. He won't let you go until he thinks you've changed or that you're ready. If you went back to living on your own now, you'd probably turn back into the bitter asshole you used to be. And I guess he still cares about you. You two share a history that Lucas doesn't really talk to me about. I guess he feels uncomfortable talking about his life before Merlow. He'll probably ask me what I think but at the end of the day, this is his house and he can do what he wants. But the only way I'll give him my blessing for you to stay here is if you get down on your knees and make this up to Brad. Today."


"You heard me."

"Shit, Storm. You're a hard man."

"When I have to be. Don't fuck with the people I care about, Marty Lee. That's my golden rule. Especially Lucas. Watch out if you ever fuck with him. I'm not making a threat. I'm just telling it like it is. If he's happy, I'm happy. If he's not happy ..."

"I'm doing my best, Storm." Marty Lee said with a frustrated sigh.

"I know. And I appreciate it. But you've gotta do more. And you can start with Brad. I think what your problem is you've gone your whole life getting just about everything you want. When things don't go your way you start throwing hissy fits and lashing out at people. Lucas, me, Brad, Dade, who else? You need a bit of humility. You can't always have everything your way. Trust me, I speak from experience. And when things don't go your way you've just gotta start learning to let it slide. You're too extreme, you've gotta find some middle ground. If you don't, you're gonna be a really lonely guy for a long time. Don't be so angry inside. That's something you and I have in common. Only I didn't go around terrorizing people like you. But don't think I don't have it. I just let it out when I need to." I said with a reminiscing glance at my still slightly scarred fists. "Just try to relax more. Don't be so tense. The world isn't out to get you."

"Ok. Thanks."

"Well good. Now that I've finished sounding like my Mom, what do you say we just eat?"

"Sounds good, Storm." Marty Lee said with a broad smile.


* * * * * *


Mike sat in front of his changing room locker, just absorbing the atmosphere. The day had finally come. His last game for Merlow High. He would have liked to have finished his final season here but fate had taken that opportunity from him. Today would be a huge day for so many reasons. He wanted this win not just for himself but for his team and his school. For Merlow. His parting gift for the community he'd spent all his life in. He was held in high regard by so many people from kids to teaching staff to everyone in between. Not just because of his performance as a captain but also he hoped for his personal character as well.

With a heavy sigh, he stood up and closed his eyes. Not many people knew this but Mike slipped in a prayer every now and then. He did it for Sarah, for his family and the people he cared about. Today he just wanted to do his best. To give back. To leave Merlow on a high note.

"Mike?" Lucas asked as he put his hand on Mike's shoulder. "You ok?"

"I'm ok, Bud. Just sucking in the moment."

"I know." Lucas said with the early signs of watery eyes. "It's hard to believe. We've known for a while you were leaving us but ... this is your last game. I'll probably be as sad as you, Dude."

"Let's see if we can get one more win before we end our partnership. Think we can do it?"

"I think so." Lucas said with sad eyes as he clasped hands firmly with Mike. "I think we can do it. You're the best, Mike. I hope you know how much I care about you. I don't know how we're gonna get by without you. The team, but the four of us you're leaving behind especially. I have so much respect for you, Dude."

"Thank you, Lucas." Mike said with a grateful smile.

"They're ready, Mike." Josh said with as bittersweet a smile as Lucas'. "Time to get out there."

"Hey, don't you two get all sad on me here. This is bad enough already without having to look at you two. Let's have a great game. Let's do our best and have fun. Come on, let's get out there."

"You heard the man!" Lucas yelled as he turned to face the rowdy team. "Let's get our asses out there and rip some shit up for Merlow!"

"Come on, Cap." Carl said to Mike with a cheery smile. "Lead us out there one last time."

"Yeah, Bro. Let's do this." Dade joined in.

"Ok!" Mike said with a renewed vigor as he motioned for the team to throw their hands into a circle. "We are the Warriors! The Mighty Merlow Warriors! Band together, fight as one, we get out there and bring this home!"

With a mighty roar, the Merlow High Warriors fell into line behind their captain. This was it. The game they'd all trained, played, sweat and bled for. One more victory would see them champions of their division. Though more than that, many were playing for pride. So many factors made this day an important one. The rivalry between Merlow and White Swan was long running. Whoever lost would be laughing stock for at least a year. Town pride was at stake. More than that though, many of the players wanted to win this for their departing captain. Only a win would be a worthy parting gift.

And so with one last call for team spirit, Mike led his team out onto the battlefield one last time. Perhaps fate would give him this. But even as he ran out onto the field, he had a feeling he had already been given more than he could have ever hoped for.


* * * * * *


Brad rushed to make his way through the crowd. He wanted to get to his normal seat before the game started. Both teams were already on the field when he finally arrived at the back of the stands. Only his seat wasn't empty. Someone was already sitting in it. Someone he didn't want to bump into.

"Hello, Brad." Marty Lee said with a wry smile as he noted the fearful look on Brad's face. "I've been waiting for you."

"What do you want?" Brad asked literally petrified of Marty Lee. "Why can't you just leave me alone?"

"Because Storm likes you. If you're not happy with me, Storm's not happy with me. If Storm's not happy with me, Lucas isn't happy with me. If Lucas isn't happy, I'm out on my own again. And I don't want that. You get the picture?"

"I guess. So what do you want from me?"

"I want you to forgive me."

"And because you want that, I'm supposed to? Is that how it works?" Brad said with a surprising amount of forwardness in his voice. "You broke my fucking wrist. Beat me halfway to hell and left me lying in my own blood. I oughta send your ass to the cops. No way in hell am I forgiving you. And if you think about touching me again, you'll find out how loud I can scream. Manly, huh?"

"Ok ..." Marty Lee said taking a deep breath. "I'm trying not to be angry here. You and I have never liked each other. We both want the same thing. We just want to get along with Storm. You don't have to forgive me but can we at least just try to get along?"

"Go to hell. If I tell Storm not to hang out with you, he won't hang out with you. He's my friend, he's not your friend. I might not get to play football again next season because of you. Get away from me."

"No." Marty Lee said with frustration as he grabbed Brad by the collar.

"I said ..." Brad said unflinchingly as he stared Marty Lee in the eyes. "Get ... away ... from me."

"Or what?"



* * * * * *


The minute I heard Brad scream out to me, I was around the corner. Brad never knew I was here but I'm kinda glad he called out for me. He must trust me now. I wanted Marty Lee to talk to Brad but I didn't want the two of them left alone. I still didn't trust Marty Lee enough. I arrived just in time to see Marty Lee let go of Brad's collar. I just shook my head in disappointment as I shoved Marty Lee away from Brad.

"I told you not to touch him." I said with an angry scowl as I moved Brad behind me.

"Storm? Where'd you come from?" Brad asked in surprise. "I didn't think you'd actually hear me. I just wanted him to leave me alone."

"I tried to be reasonable." Marty Lee said with a flustered look on his face. "But he's just a ..."

"Storm, I don't want him anywhere near me. He's gonna come after me again." Brad said with an uneasy look on his face. "Don't let him near me, Storm. Please."

"I won't let him hurt you, Brad."

"I wasn't gonna hit him." Marty Lee said throwing his hands up in frustration. "I'm trying."

"Try harder."

"Gimmie one more chance, Storm. Please. I promise I won't touch him this time. Come on, Brad. I promise."

I turned towards Brad and leaned in to his ear so only he could hear me. I could still see Marty Lee pacing back and forth, waiting for Brad's response.

"Ok. I know you're scared of him but I promise I'm right around the corner. I know he hurt you a lot so you get yourself a little payback and make him do whatever you want. He'll do it. He needs a bit of humility. Don't be afraid of him. You make him pay for what he did to you. Because if you don't, somebody else will. And it'll either be me or Mike. You can end this now. I'm asking you this as a favor, I'll make it up to you. Just give him a chance but make sure he means it. And when you're done, make sure you come and sit by us. Sarah's waiting for you." I whispered into Brad's ear before I turned towards him to see what his reaction was.

He just nodded and I took that as my cue to leave again. I gave Marty Lee a warning look before I disappeared. I just hope this time they sort it out, I've got a game to watch.


* * * * * *


"Talk." Brad said flatly. "I want to watch the game. So make it snappy."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have hurt you. I have a really bad anger problem. I don't like it when things don't go my way."

"Anger? You mean you're a psycho. You make me look like an angel. I thought that'd be impossible."

"Just shut up and listen to me. I'll give you whatever you want. I'll do whatever you want. But we have to get along and you've gotta forgive me or else Storm won't."

"Or Mike. He's been trying to figure out who hurt me for ages. I could tell him or Josh and they'd come after you."

"I've had my run ins with Josh before. Has a nice punch on him. But trust me, I'd take him down. You wouldn't want him getting hurt."

"See. You're still a dickhead." Brad said in annoyance. "How do you expect me to believe you're sorry when you're still threatening people?"

"Ok, ok! It's just habit."

"Besides, I bet you couldn't kick Mike's ass. And if you ever touched him ... oh man you'd have so many people coming down on you. You'd be shitting bricks."

"You've made your point, Brad. What do you want from me?"

Brad found himself breathing heavily as he tried to suppress the anger inside him. He could never forgive Marty Lee. Never. But surprisingly, he didn't want Marty Lee getting his ass kicked either. That wouldn't solve anything and it wasn't how Brad worked now.

"I just want you to say sorry and mean it. And even then I won't forgive you but at least we might get along. And you can pay for all my medical too. Asshole. You're lucky I don't just get someone to kick your ass. You deserve a good ass kicking."

"Ok, I'm sorry. No, who am I kidding? I'm not sorry. I can't stand you. You're a weak little fool. You're just in my way. Storm wastes his time with you. They all do. I don't know why they bother. You're a loser, Brad. You jus..."

"Fuck up." Brad said suddenly, interrupting Marty Lee mid sentence.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me. Shut the fuck up. I don't have listen to this shit. I'm a loser? Uhh hello, at least I have friends. What do you have? You think you're so much better than everyone. Better than me. You're not. I'm an ok guy. You just have to get used to me being around because that's how it's gonna be now."

"Fine. So what else do you want from me? Just hurry up and get this over with."

"You are really something, Marty Lee. Forget it. You can get stuffed." Brad said as he was about to walk away.

"Ok! I'm sorry."

"Nope. Don't believe you. But this is what you're gonna do. You're gonna go and help Claire down at the shelter every Sunday until I say you can stop. You're gonna volunteer at the library and take some of my shifts in the afternoon."

"Excuse me but I have a life. I'll do the shelter, not the library. That's for geeks like you."

"Hey! I'm a better football player than you'll ever be. Don't even go there with the geek stuff. But even if I was? I wouldn't care. I'd still learn twice as much as you anyway. Get real, Marty Lee. Who uses geek these days anyway? You are such an idiot."

"And you're a defiant little bugger."

"You're gonna do the shelter. You're gonna pay for my medical bills. And ... you're gonna teach me karate. Like you and Storm."

"What!? You're not even in our league. Don't make me laugh. You're not fit to be a junior."

"Geez. I'm trying to make this easy on you but you just can't help being an asshole. So we're gonna play hardball now. Strip." Brad said confidently.


"Strip. Right now. You do this and our business is finished. And you still have to do the shelter work."

"What do you want me to do?" Marty Lee asked with exasperation as he actually began pulling his shirt over his head..

"You're gonna run across the field stark naked at half time."


"You heard me. Storm tells me you need a bit of humility."

"Not humiliation."

"Then are you gonna stop fucking with me? I'm trying to go easy on you. Even though you don't deserve it."

"Ok fine." Marty Lee said throwing his shirt back on. "I'll do the shelter. I'll pay for your medical bills. I'll ... even teach you to fight."

"I don't want to learn how to fight. Just defend myself. From people like you."

"Fine. But I don't have time to do the library. I have other commitments in the afternoons. I don't mind the library, I like it. Really. I just don't have time. I just wanted to have a go at you. I'm not used to ... being in this position."

"You know, Storm gave me another chance. I guess the least I can do is give you one. Even though you're ten times worse than I was. You still scare me though. I don't trust you. But I'll give it a shot. Shelter, medical bills, karate."

"Nothing else?"

"Hmm ... I want a Playstation 2."

"Now you're talking my language."

"And I want the latest Smackdown game."

"Done. Anything else?"

"No. Oh ... hell. Scrap the Playstation 2 and Smackdown. Wouldn't be right."

"What's with this town? You guys are all screwed. I would've given you anything you wanted."

"But you wouldn't have learnt anything. The only other thing I want is ... when my arm gets better, I wanna drive your car." Brad said with a huge grin. "That baby is sweeeeeet."

"You like cars?"

"Love em. But it'll probably be a while till I can get my own."

"Do you know how to drive?"

"Yep. I have my license. But obviously I can't drive. Thanks to ... someone." Brad said with a smirk.

Marty Lee contemplated what Brad had just said to him. He found himself actually connecting with Brad on some level. He wasn't just someone to despise anymore. He even started to feel guilty when he realized Brad wasn't so bad after all. That they may even have a few things in common.

"Ok, Brad. You've got it. I'll do everything you just said. Even the car. I guess I have looked down on you quite a bit. You're not so bad, I guess. I'm ... sorry."

"Still don't believe you." Brad said with a raised eyebrow. "But it's a start. Can I go now? I really wanna watch this game."

"I could watch it with you."

"Uhh no." Brad said shaking his head. "I don't think so. We're not buddies and I don't plan on ever being buddies. Just as long as we get along. See you on Sunday morning."


* * * * * *


I sat with Brad, Sarah, Claire and Marcel. All of us watching the game unfold before our eyes. Absolutely incredible. The two best teams in the competition going toe to toe. It was like a battle of wills between us and our arch nemeses', White Swan Central High. We'd always had this little rivalry going on between our two towns. They were much bigger than us but hell, we were prettier. Merlow is the most beautiful place on Earth as far as I'm concerned. It's been my home as long as I have been alive. Even if someday I leave, I'll always come back. Even more so now because Mom is buried here. This is where I will come back to die one day. Hopefully in about sixty years but you just never know.

But that's a thought for another day. Right now I'm just churning inside watching this drama unfold on the field. There's only twenty minutes left on the clock and we're down. People often ask me why I never played. I could have been a great player. Sometimes I wish I had of but I'm an all or nothing person and my all goes to karate. Watching a game like this though, I have nothing but respect for those guys on the field. Mike especially. To watch him play is like watching a commander leading his troops into battle. It's like he's a different person. In the zone. It's not hard to see why he was the youngest captain and has been ever since. He's locked in a mind battle with his opposite, Stache Willis. This isn't the first time the two have met in a final. Last time, Willis got one up on Mike and we were runners up that year. I hope Mike gets it this year.

"Come on, Sheridan!" Brad yelled. "Watch it wide!"

It was funny watching Brad. He should be a coach or something. I can see why he was VC. You can't doubt he's got the game in his blood and he's just itching to play again. You can hardly even talk to him. Claire's not much better. She should be a cheerleader. She's just picking a name at random and cheering them on. The only two really talking is me and Sarah but even we're not doing that much now. We're too busy watching the game.

"Come on, Baby." Sarah said to herself with a quiet intensity. "Bring it home, Baby. Bring it home."

Marcel was the quietest of us all. No surprises there. He's so different these days. But I know the reason he's so quiet is he's too busy watching Dade. He has a quiet tension written all over his face. As if he's trying to will the game with his thoughts. I have to say, Dade's playing a pretty stellar game out there too. He's a feisty guy, my brother. You knock him down and he gets up and comes right back at you. There were a few times I thought he'd be knocked out with some of the tackles he was taking. Even Lucas. For such a softie, when he plays he's pretty fierce. And so determined. Carl is a workman player. He's always in the right place at the right time. He doesn't make a big noise but he's always there. Kinda like he is off the field too, I suppose. Josh is pretty impressive though. He handles himself with a controlled steady authority, similar to Mike. He doesn't have an official captaincy or VC role but he's definitely the senior player behind Mike and Lucas.

Can't get away from Mike though. This game is riding off his shoulders. He's stamping his authority all over the field. He's an inspiration player and right now he's inspiring. Single handedly forcing an intercept turnover and leading a resurging play for a Merlow score.

"THAT'S MY BOY!" Marcel screamed with so much pride as he jumped on top of his seat. "That's my boy!"

"Yes!" Brad joined in, jumping so suddenly he banged his cast on the rail in front of him. "Stupid thing. Go Merlow! Come on, Mike!"

Sarah let herself manage a small smile but she knew the game was far from over. We were still down and needed to score twice over to get the win. With six minutes left, that would be a hard ask for any team. Admittedly, the loss of both Marty Lee and the benching of Scott had left the team initially lacking and by the time they found their rhythm, they were already down.

"Come on Merlow!" Marcel yelled, turning back to face the huge crowd of Merlow High supporters. "Give it up, People! Make some noise for our team!"

Marcel might not be a regular fixture around Merlow but he's still a legend here. Forget the rest, you know how it goes. He sure got the girls jumping, and few guys I'm sure. It isn't long before he's got our whole side of the stadium all raising hell for Merlow.

Four minutes to go and this time it's Dade who gets the score for Merlow. Busting out of nowhere to run it in from halfway. Little overachiever that he is. I can see the wry smile on Marcel's face right now. As if to all the screaming girls he's saying, yeah look all you want but he's mine. If the crowd was loud for Mike's score, it's amazing how quiet they were now. As if Dade's score had given them new hope, now they had a chance of winning. The anticipation was electric and everyone's nerves were shot.

One minute in now and we're at the wrong end of the field. It's too hard to watch. Anxious and nervous, I look down to the ground, unable to watch the final seconds unfold. I so wanted Mike to get this win. Hell, I wanted the school to get this win. The team played great and put in a stellar effort but in the end, it was too little, too lat...

Or not.

That'll teach me for looking away.

"You fucking beauty!" Marcel screamed like some crazy fan, jumping around like mad. "THAT'S MY BOY!"

"GO BABY!" Sarah yelled as she jumped to her feet, something I was rather pleased to see considering how tired she seemed today. "That's the King! Right there!"

Sure enough, Mike had turned the game around in the dying seconds. And I didn't even see it happen. How much do I suck? Hmm, now there's a thought. Perhaps later.

I didn't even have time to take in the victory before Brad grabbed me with his one good arm and lifted me off the ground in a celebratory hug.

"We won, Storm! We won!" He yelled excitedly.

We all hugged each other like this was the greatest thing to ever happen to us. It wasn't, but it sure felt like it right now. I was so happy for everyone. The school, the team, Lucas, Josh, Carl, Dade but mostly Mike. He's the man.

The crowd is just going wild and some of the fans are starting to rush the field now. Before they even celebrate their win, Mike makes sure the Merlow team shake hands with the White Swanners. He's classy like that. But as soon as it's over, he breaks out with the biggest grin ever. He looks straight in our direction, points to his heart then points to Sarah. Well if I was Sarah, I'd be melting right now. And she is. She must be so proud. And then he throws in a little wave for the rest of us normal folk that he isn't going to marry.

I could have sworn I saw Josh looking in Brad's direction. But the look he gave was really weird like a `I hope he thought I was good' kinda one. It was an almost hopeful look. Hmm.

Dade is over the moon as well, jumping and flipping around. He makes sure to throw a cheeky wink at Marcel though. The team give each other big celebration hugs as they start doing their victory lap. You know my mate didn't even give me a special look and everybody knows about us. I think I got more looks from him when people didn't know about us. Oh well, guess he's caught up in the moment. No too caught up obviously, because he does throw me a huge smile as he points to me like I'm the man.

"You're the man!" I yell back.

He just responds with that sheepish smile of his before he and Josh tip an ice bucket over Mike's head. Before Mike can react though, they raise him up onto their shoulders. Such is Mike's reputation around here that he gets a standing ovation as the team cart him around the field. He's a hero. Even after they've finished their on field antics and are starting to walk off, they're all inundated by fans. From young up and comers to the regular girl patrol. Mike got the most requests as everyone knew this was his last game. He seemed to pay particular attention to the second grade teams and junior team players, even the little kids who all wanted his autograph. A few girls managed to get their autographs in but he managed to redirect most of them to Dade and the other players. Dade of course got all the girls. Something he seemed to get quite high on. Even Lucas had his fair share but most people knew about us so I think they didn't bother him as much. Shame really, he's so damn beautiful. He deserves the attention.

Everyone's pretty happy now except Sarah. She's moved off to her own little space. I can see the look on her face now as she watches Mike. And I already know what she's thinking too. She's feeling guilty that she's taking all of this away from him. That it's her fault he has to leave. It isn't and I intend to make sure she knows that.

"Don't feel bad, Sarah. It's not your fault." I said reassuringly as I squeezed her hand. "He'll be ok."

"He would've been picked up at the end of next season. He would've gotten a scholarship and gone to college. He would've gone pro. You know how good he is."

"And he still can."

"We don't know if he's going to find a team that will give him the profile he has here. He's worked so hard. Scouts might not notice him. They won't know who he is in Saran City."

"Something will work out, Sarah. And Mom made sure his college was taken care of. He's got money. She made sure he's taken care of. You don't have to worry about that."

"I know. It just seems like a waste. He has so much potential here. And I know he wants to do more. To go further. I did too, Storm. I wanted more. I wanted to go to college. Look at him, he's so happy. Everybody loves him here. I don't know what to do, Storm. Do you think he'd hate me if I just ... left without him?" Sarah asked me with a pained look on her face.

"Don't ever say that again." I said shaking my head at her. "He'd die if you left him. Don't even say it. Don't even think it. He's prepared to give up everything for you and it's only because he loves you so much. Don't take that away from him. You ask him and he'll tell you, everything else comes second to you, Sarah. Everything. He'll tell you."

"What's the point in taking him away from all of this? From you guys? From his future? What if I'm just taking him away so he can watch me die slow? I don't wanna take him, Storm. I don't wanna take him away from all of this but I don't think I can do it without him." Sarah said with a tear filled sigh. "I'm so sorry all of this happened. June, Mike. All of it."

"It's ok, Mate." I said as I put my arm around her and pulled her close to me so people couldn't see her crying. "None of this is your fault."

Naturally, Marcel was over in a flash and had the other side of Sarah covered. Both of us watching over her protectively and instinctively. Luckily, Claire and Brad were talking to Carl. Mike was still on the field doing the celebrity thing. Sarah wasn't crying now, she was just quiet.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to be a crybaby."

"It's ok. You've got two hard men her to look after you."

"You sure do." Marcel said reassuringly.

"I do that a lot lately." Sarah said as her eyes still scanned over Mike on the field. "But it's ok. I know what to do."

"What's that, Sarah?" I asked curiously.

"Can one of you guys give me a ride home please?"

"Aren't you staying for the presentation?"

"No. There are some things I need to take care of."

"I'll take her, Storm." Marcel said dutifully.

"Are you sure? I can take her."

"No. I'll take her. Come on, Sarah. Do you wanna go say bye to Mike before we go?"

"No." Sarah said as she continued to gaze in his direction.

"I'll see you at the ball, Sarah." I said giving her a big smile. "Can't wait. We all know you and Mike will be the King and Queen of Merlow High tonight."

"Sure, Storm." She said giving me a rather sad smile.

I looked at her curiously for a moment. Something didn't feel right. I couldn't put my finger on it and before I had a chance to think about it much more, she gave me kiss on the cheek and a hug.

"Thank you for everything. I love you, Storm." She said before she turned to leave.

"You too, Sarah." I said a little weirded out for some reason. "See you tonight, right?"

"Sure, Storm. See you then."

I watched her and Marcel walk away with an increasingly uneasy feeling in my stomach. When she disappeared from view, I couldn't shake the feeling. Maybe I'm just making too much of it. I always tend to be oversensitive. That must be it.


"Yeah?" I asked as I turned to see Mike approach me. "Oh hey, Bro. Awesome game. Congratulations, you're a legend."

"Thanks, Bro. Where's Sarah?"

"Marcel took her home."

"She ok?" Mike asked in surprise. "Wasn't she feeling good?"

"She said she had some things to take care of."

"Marcel's with her though?"


"Ok, good. You hanging around?"

"Course I am. I'll be your substitute cheerleader."

"Lucky me." Mike said with a cheeky smile. "See you later then, Bro."

"Later, Bro."


* * * * * *


"You don't have to come in, Blondie." Sarah said with a smile as Marcel opened her door for her. "I'll be ok. Go back and have a good time. Watch that little hottie of yours celebrate."

"I'm sure he has enough attention without needing mine." Marcel said with a smile. "I'd rather stay."

"Go on." Sarah said rubbing Marcel's back. "Go have some fun."

"I get the feeling you're trying to blow me off." Marcel said with a raised eyebrow. "Sorry, you know what I mean. You sure you're ok?"

"I'm ok." Sarah said reassuringly. "Gimmie a hug before you go."

"You don't want me to stay?" Marcel asked, rather surprised by Sarah's insistence that he leave.

"Really. I'll be fine. Go on." Sarah said wrapping her arms around Marcel in a tight embrace. "Love you, Blondie. Now get outta here."

"Love you too, Sarah." Marcel said as he hesitantly walked back to his car. "You sure you wanna be on your own?"

"It's probably best." Sarah said with a sad smile. "I'll be ok. Just hurry up and get lost, will ya? Love ya, Mate."

As Marcel pulled out of Sarah's driveway, he still felt a little weird inside. The way she said bye. The way she's standing right now on her driveway, waiting for him to go. She waves at him and as he drives away, he can still see her in the rear view. She stands with a somewhat lonely smile. Still waving softly.

As he turns out of her street and she disappears from view, Marcel can't help but wonder if something's wrong. It's a feeling he can't seem to shake.


* * * * * *


Watching the presentation of our championship to Mike was something that filled me with utter pride. Everyone was proud of him and our team. And of course I'm proud of my baby too. Of everyone. Still though, I couldn't concentrate. I had this empty feeling inside. But it wasn't because I was depressed or anything like that. I'm sure it's Sarah but I don't want to be a worry wart.

"Storm." Marcel says as he puts his hand on my shoulder.

"Hey, I was hoping you'd come back. How's Sarah?" I asked as I motioned for Marcel to move next to me.

"There's something wrong with her. I'm worried about her. What do you think?"

"Yeah, I was getting pretty weird vibes off her this morning. Do you think she's ok?"

"No. I'm not sure if she's sick or something else but something's up. The way she was just kinda ... made me uncomfortable. It was like she was ..."

"Saying goodbye." We both said at the same time.

We both looked at each other for a moment. Each of us knowing what the other was thinking. We all have our own dynamics in our pack, but I'm really glad to have Marcel back on side. Mike and I were always more like brothers. Before Lucas came, Marcel was my best friend. He still is. We know each other more than we care to say. Sometimes it comes in handy. Like now.

"Let's go." We both say in unison as we make a bee line for Marcel's wheels.


* * * * * *


"We'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the young man responsible for leading our great team. A young man who has been an inspiration to many in Merlow High and the community. He's a role model for younger players, his peers and many more. You've already seen him up here but we thought we'd show our gratitude and give him a token of our appreciation. Mike Mitchell, this is for you." Principal Brooks said as he held a special football shaped trophy up for Mike. "You will be sorely missed, Mike. Thank you for being such a productive and supportive member of this school. We wish you all the best."

Mike was already sitting on the stage behind Principal Brooks and had already given his acceptance speech for today's win. He hadn't expected this. He was just completely blown away. Trying not to look so overwhelmed, he stood up with a huge smile and accepted the trophy graciously.

"And here's a small gift from the rest of your team." Coach Anderson said as he handed Mike a team photo signed by all it's members.

With it was a large card signed not just by the team but by various members of the school. All the signatures were accompanied by little notes. Not just for him but for Sarah as well. He couldn't believe all of this. It was just mind blowing. His team had also done rounds and gathered a parting gift of money to help Mike set up in his new life. It was beyond incredible.

"Oh man." Mike said, happy tears covering his smile. "I don't know what to say. I've spent my whole life in this town. I've known most of you my whole life. I just want to say thank you to everyone who's supported me throughout my life and especially the last few years. My Mom, my teachers, my friends and family. My team mates. This is incredible, I'm just blown away. Thank you. Thank you so much. I'll never forget this place. It'll always be home."

With that, Mike stepped off the stage to a loud chorus of wolf whistles and cheers. He was soon surrounded by his team mates who proceeded to tussle with him playfully.

"Dude! MIKE!" Lucas yelled with a serious face as he grabbed Mike and pulled him aside. "It's Storm on the phone. You better take this."

"Bro?" Mike asked with concern. "Where are you? You ok?"

"Mike. Sarah's gone. She's going to Saran City without you. She's already at the airport. She boards in twenty minutes. Marcel and I won't make it in time, we're still at Sarah's house. You're closer than we are. Grab my keys off Lucas and take the jeep. You might make it in time. Hurry, Bro."

"Storm?" Lucas asked as he held the phone to his ear. "Dude, he was gone before you even finished. I couldn't even go with him. You think I should go after him?"

"I don't think so, Babe. I think this is something Mike has to do. I just hope he makes it in time."

"What's wrong with her? Is she sick?"

"Connie told me Sarah's been doing worse than she's letting on. Sarah doesn't think she's going to make it. She doesn't want Mike to give everything up just to watch her die. That's why she's leaving now. She wants him to stay here. Babe, I feel so helpless right now. I wish we could do something for her. We didn't even get to say goodbye."

"Shit, Dude. What about the wedding? Everything's already organized. She's really going to leave Mike?"

"She wants to but I hope like hell he makes it in time. Marcel and I are going to head over to my house. We'll wait to hear from him. You guys just carry on over there in case he goes back there, ok?"

"Ok, Babe. Let me know if you hear from him. I hope he stops her. She can't leave like this. You, Sarah and Marcel are all alike. It's a good thing you've all got partners who are the opposite."

"Oh shut up, you."

"You know I love you, Babe. I wish you were here. I'm feeling a little lonely now with all of this happening. Are you sure we shouldn't all go to the airport? Just in case?"

"Marcel and I won't make it in time. I think this is something for Mike and Sarah. I just hope he makes it in time to stop her ..."


* * * * * *


Mike ran as fast as his legs would carry him. His heart beat through his chest as he raced to the departure gates. He knew Sarah would have to be on this flight.

"SARAH!" Mike yelled as he caught her just as she was about to walk through the gate.

Tears streamed down his face as he reached the security barrier, unable to go any further. His eyes pleaded with her not to go through. She looked back with tears in her own eyes, supported only by her brother, Carey. Her eyes said sorry to Mike but he wouldn't accept it.

"Sarah! Don't leave me!" He cried, desperation so evident in his strained voice. "I'll do anything for you! Please! Don't do this!"

He didn't care that he was causing a scene. Didn't care who was staring at him. Nothing else existed except him and Sarah. He'd never felt so scared in his life. This was worse than waiting outside her hospital room. He couldn't believe she was going to leave him like this.

"This isn't what I want!" He yelled as his face was wracked with so much pain. "I want you! I don't care about any of this. I just want you. Please, Baby. Don't leave me. I love you!"

He could see that Sarah's emotions were so conflicted right now. He knew she believed she was doing the right thing by him. She didn't want him to lose his dreams because of her. But she wasn't doing the right thing by him. She was the right thing by him.

"Don't do this to me. Don't do this to us." Mike cried as he tried as hard as he could to feel Sarah's hand through the glass security pane between them. "Please. I love you, Sarah. I'm not letting you go. I'll find you."

"I'm not getting better, Mike. I'm going away to die. I don't want you to see that. To see me any less than I am now. I want you to remember me like this. The way I am now. Even when I'm gone, I'll still be by your side. You're my guy." Sarah said with a tear filled smile. "I'm sorry I never became your wife. But it's better this way. I don't want you to see me fade. Please. You shouldn't have to suffer because of me. I love you too much to see you suffer or throw away your future for me. You have no idea how proud I am of you and how grateful I am that you were in my life. But you've got so much for you right here. I can't take that away from you."

"Don't do this, Sarah." Mike cried with desperation. "Don't say goodbye like this. I don't care what you say, I'll come to Saran City and find you. I'm not letting you go. We're getting married in five days, Sarah. That's my future. Don't take it away from me. From us. I'm not letting you go. You're not doing the right thing, Sarah. Not by me. And not by you. I know you're scared. I know you're afraid. But that's why I'm here. That's what I'm supposed to be. Your strength. Your support. I'm going to be your husband, Sarah. You know me. You know I'll stand by you till the very end. Don't ask me to do any less. I'm yours, Sarah. Please don't leave me. I'll die without you."

Sarah's eyes were overwhelmed with pain as she heard Mike speak. She leaned her head against the glass as Mike did the same. They held their hands against the glass as if they could feel each other. Sarah pressed her lips against the glass before she pulled off it completely and began to walk away.

"Sarah ... you're hurting me." Mike sobbed as she began walking away.

"Fuck." Sarah cursed as she glanced back at Mike. "I'm sorry, Baby."

Her eyes could not hide the pain she felt right now as she looked at him. With one last look, her lips mouthed that she loved him and she was sorry. And then his heart broke and his whole world seemed to fall apart. She walked through the gate and disappeared. Overcome with disbelief and shock, Mike slumped to the ground. Numb tears overwhelmed him as he stared blankly at the ground. He couldn't believe what had just happened. Sarah had left Merlow and she hadn't taken him with her.


* * * * * *


"How do you think he went?" I asked Marcel as the two of us sat on the hood of his car.

"I'm too afraid to think about it. I don't have a good feeling about it though, Storm. I should have known something was up."

"Me too. Two times in my life I've been close to death, or at least people thought I was. Both times she's been the one to find me. When I had my last problems with my ulcer. And then when I wrote those letters. I should have known too."

"We were just too slow."

"We're not psychic, Bud. We're ... empathic."

"You are, Storm. That's for sure."

"Nah, I'm just oversensitive I think."

"It's not a bad thing. I think that's why people are drawn to you. It's why I was. And you're mysterious."


"Yeah, you. You always seem to surprise us."

"You're pretty mysterious these days as well. Sometimes I think we're a little too alike these days. Even Lucas said it. Me, you, Sarah. We share a lot of traits. And our partners are usually the ones who have to put up with them. I think Lucas deserves some hazard pay by now. But Sarah ... I don't know. I can understand why she's doing this. I might do the same thing if I were in her shoes. But to be honest, I don't know if I'd be strong enough. If I were in her position, I'd have a hard time getting by on my own."

"If Mike doesn't get there in time, what do you think will happen?"

"He'll go after her."

"I know that but ... do you think the wedding will be off then?"

"I'd say so. I'll help you cancel all the arrangements if that happens. I think if Mike didn't get there in time, he'll probably want to leave Merlow pretty smartly."

"This isn't the way I wanted them to go." Marcel said with a heavy sigh.

"What are you worried about? You can go see them any chance you want."

"Shut up, Storm." Marcel said annoyed. "You can see them too."

"Sorry, Bud. I didn't mean that in a bad way. Don't feel bad just because you've got more than other people. I know you've always felt uncomfortable about it."

"As I get older, it seems to make more of a difference. I notice it even more than I used to."

"Guess since I've been out in the real world with Lucas, I've learnt even more the value of a good buck. And how much harder it is to come by. Even when Mom was around, I tried my best to be independent but I always knew she was there if I needed her. Guess I feel a little more on my own these days. She's not around to catch me if I fall anymore. But I don't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"You know I'm always here if you need me." Marcel said sincerely as he patted my back. "You're never on your own, Storm. Never."

"Thanks, Bud. Appreciate that."

"I meant to tell you, Storm. I really admire the way you've ... matured lately. Going out on your own, the way you are with Lucas. I notice all of it. You're a man now."

"You beat me by about two years." I said with a smirk. "You went off on your own after our sixteenth. I'm almost eighteen."

"Doesn't mean anything. I never had to worry about anything like you do. I've always had security. And it was a dorm. It wasn't exactly being out on my own. Not like you're doing now. But I mean, you've got the house now and June made sure you were taken care of."

"Haven't touched a cent of it and don't intend to yet. I'll wait till I need to or till I find a really good reason to. As for the house, well, it'll always be an open house. Whoever wants to live there out of us can live there. It probably won't be me. Even though I miss this place." I said as I looked at my watch. "You think we should call Mike?"

"I don't know. What if he didn't get to her in time?"

"Guess we won't find out until we call him."

"Don't think we need to, Storm." Marcel said pointing to my newly arrived jeep.

Both of our hearts sank as we saw the look on Mike's face. The only time I've seen him more sullen and despondent is when Mom died. His eyes were still red from crying. The fact he was by himself said a lot as well. I can't believe she's gone. I can't believe she left us the way she did. I can understand it but I still can't believe it.

Mike threw me the car keys but didn't say a word. He just walked straight into the house. Marcel and I both headed in behind him but he went straight up into his room and closed the door.

"I can't believe it." I said to myself as Marcel and I both sat at the bottom of the stairs. "She's gone. Sarah's gone. How much time should we give him?"

"I don't know. Ten minutes. Tops."

"Ok. Do you want me to make you something to eat?"

"No. I can't eat right now. I still can't believe she left like that. We should have known."

"Neither can I. Hasn't sunken in yet."

Marcel's face began to show the rare signs of distress. Sadness. His eyes did little to hide his sorrow right now.

"I can't help feeling like this is the end of something for us six. When Mike and Sarah go. It was different when I left. It didn't seem so final. But with Sarah, you can see it in her eyes. She doesn't expect to survive this, Storm. I want to do more but I don't know what to do."

"Neither do I. She might not be around, but that doesn't mean we won't be thinking of her. Oh fuck ten minutes. I'm going to see how my brother's doing now." I said turning to rush up the stairs.

"I'm right behind you."

I pushed Mike's door gently open to find him packing his bags. I knew he'd do this. He won't let her go. Mike's not a quitter. He never has been. And he always keeps his word. He promised to stand by Sarah. And he will. No matter what noble notions she might otherwise have.


"She left me, Storm. I was standing right there and she still left me. Did she seriously think I'd just let her go? That I'd quit on her like this? Hell no. She's my life, Storm. I've never looked at another woman in my life. I never will. You know me. I can't be without her, Storm." Mike said trying to choke back his tears. "I won't."

"You gonna say bye to Dade before you go?"

"Shit!" Mike said suddenly throwing his suitcase across the room. "Damn it! We're getting married next week, Storm. How can she do this?"

"Because she loves you. She doesn't want you to give up your life for her. Especially when she thinks ... she isn't going to beat this. She doesn't want you to see her fade. She doesn't want any of us to. But most of all, she thinks you're throwing away your future for her."

"She is my future, Storm. She's going to beat this. She's ..." Mike began to say before he slumped back against the wall and burst into tears.

"We're here, Bro." I said as Marcel and I both put our arms around him. "We're both here."

"How could she? I'll do anything for her. I can't believe this is happening."

Both Marcel and I did our best to comfort him. To let him know at least that he wasn't alone. Marcel and I both knew he wouldn't be able to go to Saran City today. He'd have to wait for a red eye or tomorrow morning at the earliest. Still though, it didn't change the fact that Sarah had left him behind. It's weird, I know she loves him even more because of this. She's trying to put him first. I know she wants him with her. I know she wants him around but she probably can see just how much he's giving up here. Just how much he's loved and how much potential he has. Still, from Mike's point of view it's all nothing in comparison to her.

This whole situation is just heart breaking. Sarah's such a strong person but I've seen her get stripped of her confidence, her pride, layer by layer. She's changed so much. I keep hoping that she'll go away for six months, a year maybe and then just walk in out of the blue with a big smile on her face. And she'll tell us she's cancer free. I know that's like winning the lottery though. All we can do is keep giving her the emotional support she needs and hope it helps. I wish we could do more. I feel so helpless. Not a day goes by when I don't think about her. It'll be even worse now that she's gone. She's out of sight but definitely not out of mind.

I feel so bad for Mike though. Geez, I wish I had my own plane. I'd fly him out of here right now. His eyes look so lost. He's not saying a word. He's just sitting between Marcel and I, staring at nothing. His face is still overcome with emotion but he won't speak. I hate seeing him like this. It's like when Mom died and he came home from the hospital.


"Sarah!" Marcel and I both yelled in elated surprise.

She stood at the door with a mournful look on her face. Her eyes welling up with tears as she looked at Mike. Mike's face was a mixture between rapture and pain. He just looked at her as more silent tears streamed down his face. Suddenly without saying a word he stood up and rushed to her. Before she could even say anything, he pulled her into his arms. He buried his head in her neck and cried, holding onto her as if she were the most precious thing to him in the world. And she was.

She let herself falter in his arms. She knew she was safe with him. She knew this was where she needed to be. Thank goodness she came back. Neither of them said anything, they just stood there holding each other. Mike rocking Sarah gently in his arms. It was absolutely beautiful. Made me and Marcel watery just watching them.

The two of us stood up and treaded softly towards the door. Both of us placed a kiss on Sarah's shoulder before we closed the door behind us. The two of them really needed some private time.

Marcel and I both looked at each other with the biggest smiles. Not to mention sighs of relief. We sat back down at the bottom of the stairs and just let ourselves chill down for a moment.

"Fuck." Marcel said finally. "I'm so glad that's over. She's back. Thank whoever lives upstairs for that."

"Shit. I need to find something to bring myself down. Like a beer. I wish I drank right now."

"You won't get any alcohol out of me. Don't forget, you're still on a tight watch too, Mister."

"I guess I'll need my normal fix then. You keen?"

"For sure." Marcel said pulling me to my feet as he stood up. "Milkshake's on."

"I feel like such a baby." I said rather self consciously. "Your car or mine?"

"Mine. But you can drive. I need to chill out. Leave your keys behind in case Mike needs to go somewhere."

"Of course. So let's go to Orry's. We both deserve a treat after that drama."

"Let's jet then."

"Woo hoo!" I said jumping on Marcel's back as we headed out the door. "We're having a wedding next week!"


* * * * * *


Mike dared not speak. Neither did Sarah. They didn't have to. Their eyes said it all. All they did was hold each other. Mike couldn't bring himself to let her go. To even move. He brushed her hair from her eyes as they peered into one another's souls. Refocusing themselves on one another. Finding understanding and acceptance for what was happening to them.

Mike knew Sarah was scared. He promised her he'd always be with her. That he'd never regret a minute. That it would all be ok. He said that all without saying a word. And she accepted. She'd done her little rebellion and couldn't follow through. As much as she wanted him to have his own life here, she couldn't bear the thought of being apart from him. Of doing this without him. She needed him as much as he needed her. And she too said all that without saying a word.

Such was the strength of their love. Such was the strength of them. Mike and Sarah. As long as fate would let them share this journey of life together, they would. And maybe, just maybe, fate would give them a little longer than they expected.



* * * * * *


"This is fun." I said to Marcel as the two of sat outside Orry's eating our lunch. "I'm so glad you're around these days. It's great having my bud back."

"It's weird though now. We've both got other halves. They're probably going to start getting annoyed at us hanging out so much."

"We were buds long before we both got other halves. They'll just have to deal with it. I feel like getting up to mischief. What can we do?"

"Shall we go windsurfing on the lake?"

"Sure you're up to it?"

"Yeah. My physio thinks I'll be back to speed in a matter of a weeks. I'll be back into full training in no time." Marcel said with a happy smile.

"Uhh what does that mean exactly?" I asked somewhat nervously. "Are you thinking of going back to Drake?"

"I think so, Storm. I never said I was coming back to stay."

"But it's so cool having you back. What about Dade?"

"I'll work something out. We'll work something out."

"He loves you, you know. If you weren't around, he'd be shacking up with anything pretty. Probably just to distract himself. And then we'd have lots of little Dade's running around. It's a bit early for that I think. But he really loves you, Blondie. And I know he's trying really hard to be supportive. Don't break his heart again. Please, Bud."

"Good to see that protective older brother again." Marcel said with a smile. "I don't plan on hurting him, Storm. Not this time."

"Man, this place is going to suck. Me, Lucas and Dade."

"I'll be around for a while yet, Storm."

"Are you sure you're ready to go back? I don't think you should go back on your own."

"What if Dade came with me?"

"No." I said suddenly and sharply. "He's too young. You can't take him with you."

"It was just a suggestion. Relax. And he's older than I was when I left."

"You're different."

"He's not a baby, Storm. You can't protect him his entire life."

"I can try. He's my baby brother. No matter how old he is, he'll always be my baby brother."

"He's almost seventeen, Storm. I'm not going to hurt him."

"You can't take him. That's all there is to it."

"Ok, Storm. We'll figure something out. I don't wanna fight about this. It'll work out, Storm. Somehow."

"I know, Man. Sorry to get all defensive on you. I just want him close to me. I'm being selfish but after Mom, I'm not in a hurry to be away from him. You know what I mean?"

"I understand."

"And he's too young. He's not ready. And what would he do out there anyway?"

"Go to school. Dade's a sports freak. I'm sure he'd find something to take his fancy."

"I always thought he'd get more into his music. I haven't seen him play much lately. He's got the looks, he's got the talent. I think he could do something with it. But he could do anything. He's good at so many different things. He could be a football player, a musician, a model, an actor."

"What about you, Storm? What do you think you'll do when you go to college?"

"Who said I'm going?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"Of course I'm kidding. Mom would kick my ass from heaven if I didn't go. I don't know what I plan to do. Something interesting for sure. Haven't really though that far ahead. I have a few ideas but ..."

I was interrupted mid sentence by my cell phone. I checked the number and recognized it as Doc Haslan's. It was a text message asking me to call in to his office as soon as I could.

"What is it, Storm?"

"He wants me to go in."

"Well we've got my car so I'm coming with you. You're not going to try and blow me off are you?"

"No. I'd rather it was you with me anyway." I said as I stood up, leaving some cash on the table. "Let's get this over and done with. We've got a ball to get ready for."


* * * * * *


"You ok, Storm?" Marcel asked as he dropped me off to pick up my jeep. "You gonna tell Lucas?"

"I will. But not tonight. I want us to enjoy tonight. He's really looking forward to it."

"I don't have to go back to Drake. If you need me here, I'll stay. And you know I'll come with you wherever you need to go."

"What if Dade needs you here?"

"That's different."


"It just is, Storm. He's not going to die if I go."

"Neither will I."

"Then why do you look so scared?"

"I'm not invincible. Sarah's going through way worse. I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. We just never know. So I'm scared. So what. There are things I'm more afraid of than this. Like losing Sarah. Something happening to one of us. That scares me more. I've always had this hanging over me, Marcel. I just don't dwell on it. But anytime in the last two years, something could have happened to me but it didn't. I'm grateful for that. Time's caught up with me. That's just the way it goes. It's not like I have cancer or anything. Sarah's the one to worry about. I just gotta be a good boy and get myself cut open. It'll be ok."

"Love you, Storm." Marcel said with a rather sad smile. "You're the greatest."

"People say that to me so often, you'd think I'd start believing it by now. I'll see you later, Blondie. Love you too. Thanks for today. It was fun."

"You're welcome. See you tonight, ok?"

"Sure, Bud. See you there."


* * * * * *


"Come on, Guys!" I yelled as I motioned for Sarah, Mike, Dade, Marcel and Lucas to all group up. "Photo time!"

The six of us were all ready to paint the town red. Or more specifically, go to the ball. It's sure been an interesting day but we're here now and that's what matters. Sarah looks stunning. She'll always be the only girl for our group. Any more and Sarah might start getting territorial. Mike's been glued to her since they got back. It's amazing they even managed to get ready! Dade and Marcel aren't `officially' going together but we're all going in the one limo. I guess that means all the bi gay hate'll be on me and Lucas. Bring it on!

I placed the camera on the mantle piece in the lounge and we all stood in a group. This'd be a photo to remember. No doubt about it.

"This is the prison photo guys. Do your best straight face."

"That oughta be pretty hard for most of you." Mike said with a smirk.

Well that didn't work. Everyone cracked up laughing when the flash went off. I gave Mike a jab in the ribs and we all did our best to keep a serious face. We managed to pull it off. Mike and Sarah in the middle, Dade and Marcel on one side, Me and Lucas on the other. We all looked pretty damn spiffy if I may say. Sarah in a long blue silk dress, her hair was done by Claire and it looked fantastic. Mike and Marcel went pretty standard with their black tuxes but they look great in anything they wears. Except of course Marcel has his Oakley's on to add a bit of his own flavor. Dade of course went his own way and skipped the tux altogether. He wore a half open forest green shirt with an overjacket and white trousers. His shirt had a loosely hanging bow tie on it that was more for show than anything else. As if to say, this is close to formal as I'm gonna go. White leather shoes that had green trims finished him off. Definitely has a way with fashion. Always has to go against the grain. Kinda like me. He'd no doubt be keeping the hoards off him tonight.

I went with a retro seventies blue suit that had a silver shirt. I had the bow tie on and my suit looked pretty formal but obviously with just enough uniqueness to make it stand out. Not to mention my own Oakley Juliet's Metals to match Marcel's Romeo's. Once we arrived at the ball though, I fully intended on ditching half the suit for what I had on underneath. I've never been much on formal wear either.

Lucas of course is looking like a damn model. He's so beautiful it isn't even funny. He's gone for the green flavor. Of course since it's his favorite color and his suits him so well. He's skipped the suit as well and gone for something similar to Dade. Except he has a turtleneck instead of an open shirt. Something I don't usually find appealing but since he's wearing it, I love it. Underneath he has a tight fitting tee that accentuates his form so well. I can't wait to show him off.

We managed to get about three straight photos in. With all of us switching around so we'd be next to someone else. We knew there'd be a photographer at the ball but we wanted to get some of our own in as well.

"Ok that's enough of the straight stuff. Goofy faces everyone!" I said with a grin as the jackets started coming off and the stupid poses started coming out.

I know we're only doing something silly like taking photos but this is so much fun. Marcel made like he was giving Mike a hickey in one of the photos. And that pretty much set the rest of us off on some pretty demented poses. We got in about three group photos before we started getting really crazy. At this rate we wouldn't even make it to the ball. We had the sounds up loud at our place and almost just wanted to party right there.

We started just doing all kinds of photos now. But we wanted to make the most of it because we didn't know how much longer the six of us would have together. This was one of those moments I just wanted to last for ages. We did all our pair photos. Me and Lucas. Mike and Sarah. Dade and Marcel. One set of serious poses then it was all on again with the stupidity. Us five guys facing the wall with one hand on the next guy's butt. Me on Mike's back. Sarah and Marcel both putting their hands on Lucas' chest rather suggestively. Dade and I standing next to each other like we were Neo and Morpheus. Dade giving me a fireman's carry. Marcel carrying Dade over the threshold. We were just having so much fun. The last photo we did we were so tired we all collapsed on the lounge suite in a heap. We were all happy. I think that last photo is the one I'll love the most.

All good things eventually come to an end though. Ours ended with the sound of a horn. Our limo had arrived. Time to rock!


* * * * * *


Our limo ride was designed to give us a detour around the Lake Herren waterfront. We had a few bottles of champagne, though for me and Mike it was sparkling grape juice. I wanted to be an ogre and tell Dade not to have any champagne, but it's a special occasion. Mike and I are the only square's in the limo.

"This is so cool." Lucas said as he stuck his head through the roof.

"Be careful, Babe. You might hit something." I say as I pour another glass of champagne for Sarah. "This night is going to be so cool."

"That's for sure, Bro." Dade said with a hugest smile. "This is great."

"Don't drink too much, Little brother. I don't wanna be hauling your ass home. I'll probably have to haul Lucas'."

"Hey!" Lucas yelled from above. "I heard that!"

"Good! Does that mean you won't get drunk off your face after the ball?"

"Oh shut up. It's a good night. I'll be a good boy, I promise."

"Why do I feel like such a square ass?" I asked as I shook my head and held my grape juice up. "Just once I'd like to be a complete idiot and know what it's like to be drunk. I've never been drunk in my life."

"Bro, don't change. Besides, you can't get drunk." Mike said emphatically. "You're not the only square ass in here. And I like the way I am. You and me will be on safety duty tonight."

"Maybe I should just get stoned since I can't get drunk." I said with as straight a face as I could.

It didn't take long. I tried not to smile. I didn't need to. It wasn't long before everyone else just gave me the weirdest look and started cracking up.

"Yeah right, Storm." Dade said with a laugh. "A control freak like you doing drugs? I think not."

"You're right about that. So here we go. Spotlight time. Who's done it?" I asked with a rather mischievous smile. "Truth now."

"Don't even have to ask me that." Mike said pretty smartly.

"Don't look at me. This is about as far as I go." Sarah said holding her glass up. "Never."

"Not me." Marcel said shaking his head. "Too risky. Never tried, never going to."

"Na uh." Dade said vehemently. "Not me."

I was just about going to change the subject when I realized everyone's eyes were on Lucas. I didn't even realize he hadn't answered. When I turned to face him, he just looked completely awkward and uncomfortable. His face was red and just looked totally embarrassed.

"Umm so ... what's everyone doing after the ball?" I asked quickly, in an attempt to spare my mate from any interrogation that I'd unwittingly caused.

"Na uh." Dade said motioning for Lucas to speak. "We all had our bit. It's his turn."

"Dudes ... I've ... yeah. I have." Lucas admitted uncomfortably.

"Holy shit, the world is going to explode!" Dade teased. "So Dude Boy's a closet druggie, aye?"

"Just weed man. That's it. I swear."

I wanted to say something but the last thing Lucas needed right now was me asking him questions. Mike and Sarah didn't seem particularly concerned with any of this. Neither did Marcel. It was mainly Dade and I suspect it's mainly to rib the hell out of Lucas.

"Never done anything worse than weed?" Dade asked with a raised eyebrow. "No needles or anything? Coke? Trips?"

"No, Dude. I swear."

"Is that a surfie thing?" Dade asked persistently, not seeming to let up on Lucas. "Were your friends druggies?"

"Can't we talk about something else?"

"But I'm enjoying this." Dade said giving Lucas a playful nudge with his leg. "Dude Boy's a druggie. What do ya think about that, Brother?"

"I think we should talk about something else because my baby's clearly not happy with the Dadester interrogation. And if he's not happy, I won't be getting any tonight. And if I don't get any, I get very cranky. So please shut up."

"And you call me a horn dog?"

"You are a horn dog."

"True. But come on, if I had of said I smoked weed, you would've been on my ass. How come Lucas gets off so easy?"

"Because I don't get to tell him what to do. I only get to tell you what to do because you're my little brother."

"That bites. Talk about double standards."

"Come on then, Dade. We've done the whole weed bit and Lucas fessed up. Your turn. How many girls have you slept with?"

"I'd tell you but that wouldn't be very gentlemanly of me. Why, Storm? How many girls have you slept with?"

"None, Asshole. And you know that. I'm a virgin when it comes to girls. I think I'm the only guy sitting here who hasn't had sex with a girl. What about you, Marcel? How many girls?"

"I'm with Dade. Can't kiss and tell. But you already know it doesn't work for me. Guys all the way for me."

"I don't drink. I don't smoke. I haven't had sex with a girl. If I wasn't with Lucas, I'd be the biggest square ass loser out. I mean hell Marcel's slept with a girl and he doesn't even like them!"

"Dude, you're never sleeping with a girl." Lucas said emphatically. "Because that would involve us not being together. Sorry, you're stuck with me. You should've scored before you met me on that bus."

"I don't care." I said feeling rather underwhelmed. "I don't need to sleep with a girl as long as I've got you. I'd rather have you anyway. You know that."

I have to admit, I was feeling rather inadequate right now. I'm this supposedly cool guy but sometimes I feel like I'm so boring. I never do anything on the wild side. Never drink, because I can't. Never smoke. Never done drugs. Which I don't want to. And I've never slept with a girl even though I've always wanted to. I seem so boring. Everyone else here has done more than me. Hell, Lucas has done way more than me. To be honest, I would've like to have slept with a girl before I met Lucas so I'd at least have it out of my system. I'll always be curious now. But never regretful.

I just wish I had more experience like the rest of the pack. I feel like such a virgin. And I'm not just talking about sex. What a dork.

"I wanna do something bad tonight." I exclaimed as the rest of the pack were engaging in small talk. "I'm too much of a virgin. My little brother's more worldly than I am for crying out loud. I wanna wig out for once. Any ideas?"

"No, Dude." Lucas said shaking his head at me. "We're not any better than you just because we've done more of certain things. I love you the way you are. Don't change."

"You sure as hell won't get any alcohol from me." Dade said vehemently. "I won't have anything to drink tonight either if it'll make you happy."

"Yeah Bro." Mike added in. "And remember the only thing I have on you is sleeping with a girl. But I've only been with Sarah so it's not like I've been around. I like the way I am and I like the way you are. Don't feel like you've gotta rebel or something. That's Dade's buzz. Let him get drunk enough for both of you. And if he doesn't, I'm sure Lucas will."


"Yeah, what's up with that shit?" Dade said nudging Mike. "Let's change tack before Storm starts feeling even more inadequate. Everybody name one thing you want in your life."

"Have children." Sarah said first, giving Mike a hopeful smile. "I'd like to have children. Mike's children. In about five or six years. So keep your fingers crossed for me. That's what I want."

"I like the sound of that." Mike said happily, pleased with Sarah's optimism. "I want to grow old with Sarah. That's what I want."

"I want to be a world class triathlete." Marcel said with a big grin. "That's what I want."

"I wanna be famous." Dade said with an even bigger dimpled grin. "But I don't think I could be a model. I've already tried that. Didn't really like it. I'd rather be a muso or an actor. Or both. Or a top sportsman. Something like that."

"I always knew you were vain." I said winking at Dade. "I can't really think of anything. I'd like to compete in the nationals."

"I wanna marry Storm." Lucas said with the goofiest grin ever.


"Dude, he asked me. I couldn't lie." Lucas said shrugging sheepishly at me.

"At least there won't be any competition for bridesmaid." Sarah said giving me an assertive gaze. "Right, Storm? No competition. Right?"

"Of course, Sarah. You're in there. No question."

"What about best man? And who's the bride exactly? How would all of this work?" Dade asked curiously. "I now pronounce you man and ... man wife? Husband and husband wife? What's the dealio?"

"Speaking for myself here, everyone in this limo would play some role. Unless Lucas has some other people in mind as well? Maybe friends from back home?"

"Dude, this is home. There's no one. It'd be us six. One bridesmaid and three best men. We'll do it all our own way."

"This is all a bit far out for me though. I'm only seventeen, Babe. There's only one wedding happening soon and that's Mike and Sarah. And that's a special circumstance."

"Of course, Dude. But like, one day, maybe?"

"But it's not legal." Dade said giving me a weird look. "Is it?"

"Do I look like I give a fuck whether it's legal or not? If Lucas and I do get married one day, as long as we know we are, that's what matters to me. I don't need a law to tell me I can marry him."

"Woo hoo!" Lucas said grabbing my hand. "It's gonna happen one day. I just know it."

"I hate to interrupt all this married folk talk but it's time to go." Marcel said indicating that we'd stopped outside the Merlow SuperDome, where the ball was being held in the convention center. "Ladies first."

Sarah stepped out first, followed by Mike. The entryway was pretty crowded with hoards of students from Merlow and beyond. There was no going through that front door without being seen. Most of Merlow knew about Lucas and I but this was really making a statement. And there were going to be a hell of a lot of outsiders here tonight as well. I'm almost as nervous now as I was when I kissed Lucas and outed the both of us in front of the whole school.

"You guys go first." Dade said reassuringly. "Don't worry, Bro. I got your back. Nobody will give you two shit."

"Thanks, Dade." I said gratefully as I turned to Lucas. "You ready for this, Babe?

"I'm nervous, Dude." Lucas said taking a deep breath. "You sure you're ready for this? I'm ready if you are, Babe. We're doing this together, right?"

"Of course. It's the only way I'd be strong enough."

"Oh don't make me puke." Dade said nudging us to hurry up. "Just get your asses out there."

"Hey! I don't see you holding hands with Marcel."

"We've only just gotten back together. And you know Marcel's not ready for any of that."

"I know, Bro. I didn't mean anything. I'm just nervous." I said as I let out a deep breath.

"I know, Bro." Dade said as he put his hand on my shoulder. "But I got your back, Bro. We all do. Knock em dead. You two look damn near gorgeous together."

"You two coming in or what?" Sarah said leaning her head back down through the window. "I'm getting cold standing out here. Pick your balls up and let's get in there. You got four bodyguards, what ya worried about?"

Lucas and I both smiled at each other before we both stepped up onto the pavement. We each let out a sigh before I extended my hand out to him. I'm actually pretty amazed that I can do this now. But it's only because of Lucas. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be able to. Hell, I wouldn't have a reason to.

He takes my hand and we lock our fingers together. Mike and Sarah are both smiling at us. They make this easier too. So do Dade and Marcel. It's amazing what they do for me. For us. Just them being around makes me feel more secure. Mike and Sarah are deservedly center stage. Lucas and I are on their right with Dade beside me and Marcel beside Sarah. The six of us head up the outside stairs towards the main entrance. Lucas and I do get a lot of stares. And a lot of glares. I did hear a few faggot calls and they were mostly from people who weren't from Merlow. I knew this would be harder than coming out at school because not everyone here would know us. We wouldn't have a reputation to help protect us.

Dade was like a pit bull, shooting daggers at anyone who said anything. But he wasn't as bad as Sarah. Good to see some fire in her again. She's got a foul mouth when she wants to, but it's all in our defense. Can't help but love her for that. Especially after everything she's been through lately.

We handed our tickets to the doorman and made our way inside. Holy shit, Claire. You are absolutely legendary. This place is incredible. Claire was the head of the organizing committee for the ball. She just blows me away. I'm really, really fond of that chick now. The ball has a whole Al Capone gangster era theme to it. With fake tommy guns on all the staff. The old school suits from that era. Gold foil wrapped chocolate coins on all the tables. Everything from the décor to the decorations is just spectacular.

"How do I look?" Mike asked as he threw on one of the Mannequin's long coat, gangster hat and fake tommy gun. "Am I Elliott Ness or what?"

"Elliott who?" Dade asked with a shrug.

"The Untouchables."

"Never heard of em. Are you sure you're only a little bit older than me? You an old man or what?"

"Hey, Guys!" Claire said with a huge smile as she rushed over to us. "I hope you don't mind, I already put a table aside for all of us. You don't mind if Carl and I join you, do you?"

"Of course not. I was going to tell you to anyway." Sarah said enthusiastically. "Is Brad here? Anyone seen him?"

"Nah, he's gone with Josh up to North Lakes. They're hiking and camping out."

"Bummer." Sarah said with disappointment. "Let's go to our table then before we hit the dance floor."

"What's on the menu, Claire?" Dade asked as he rubbed his stomach. "I'm starving."

"Dinner won't be ready for a half hour. I'm sure you'll love it though. Everything is like totally top class tonight. I hope you all have fun."

Times like now I wish I were still class president. So I could tell Claire to take her host hat off and just enjoy herself. I could tell she was going to be running around all night making sure everything was in order. Maybe I shouldn't have resigned. I quite miss it now. Oh well, tough shit. She's better anyway.

"You've done a wicked job, Claire." Lucas said still wowing at the whole thing. "This is fantastic."

"Yeah, Claire." Dade added in. "Total psyche out material. You rock."

"It's gonna be a great night. So just try to enjoy yourselves. I'll show you guys to our table and then I've gotta go check on a few things." Claire said as she noticed Carl coming over. "Carl! Do you think you could show everyone where our table is? Storm, can I have a word?"

"Sure." Carl said as he threw us his cheery smile. "Hey guys."

"Buddy!" Mike said giving him a big hug. "You rocked today!"

"Storm?" Claire said to me as she pulled me away from the group. "Listen, there are a few people you should keep an eye on. We've got security and chaperones plus all the teaching staff. But there are a few idiots here who might give you and Lucas a hard time."

"I expected that. Thanks for the info."

"You're welcome. Listen, I hate to say this but I need your help with something out back. I'm still new to the whole class president thing. Can you give me a hand? I promise I won't keep you long."

"Of course. I'd love to give you a hand. I'm starting to miss the job. But you're better at it anyway. I can already tell. Let's go."


* * * * * *


"I wonder who the DJ is tonight." Dade asked as he, Carl, Mike, Sarah, Marcel and Lucas all sat around a large eight seater table. "Think he'll mind if I go up and bust a few tracks?"

"Go ask him, Dude. Get this place jumping."

"If I'm not back when the food gets here, gimmie a holler."

"I thought Marty Lee was coming, Lucas." Carl said as he took a sip from his glass.

"He said he was. I've hardly seen him all day though."

"How long's he living with you, Lucas?" Mike asked as Sarah rested her head on his shoulder.

"He's supposed to go home tomorrow. There's nothing wrong with him now."

"Does he know who attacked him yet?"

"No. But he's got a long list of people who'd want to."

"Brad never told us who attacked him. I'd love to get my hands on them." Mike said with a serious face. "I'll never get over finding him like that. Poor guy. Maybe the same person who attacked Brad is the one who attacked Marty Lee."

"Yeah ..." Lucas said awkwardly, knowing full well that Marty Lee was responsible for attacking Brad. "Maybe."

"What do you say we share a dance my beautiful queen?" Mike said with a smile as he kissed the top of Sarah's head.

"I'd love nothing better." Sarah said with a doe eyed smile.

Marcel's usually stoic face made no effort to hide his joy at the pair. He watched them make their way to the dance floor. Among the huge crowd, they stood out. Everyone knew about Sarah's battle with cervical cancer and her presence was well received. Marcel was happy the two had overcome their problems to be here tonight. If any couple belonged together, it was those two. More so than even himself and Dade. Perhaps even Storm and Lucas. For him, Mike and Sarah were the mainstays. Merlow wouldn't be the same when they left.

"Hey, there's Marty Lee. Who's that girl with him?" Carl asked with a surprised smile. "That guy's got a babe on his arm. Haven't seen her around here before."

"It's his sister." Lucas said as his face almost dropped. "Ashley."

"That's Ashley?" Marcel asked in surprise as his eyes sought out Marty Lee. "Your Ashley?"

Marcel wasn't around Merlow when Lucas' drama with Ashley's reemergence unfolded. But he'd heard all about her.

"She's not my Ashley. She was. Not anymore." Lucas said anxiously as he quickly looked around for any sign of his mate. "What the hell is she doing here?"

"Ooh ... she's Ashley." Carl said with a knowing nod. "She's the girl you ran out on Storm for?"

"I didn't run out on him! It's complicated."

"Yeah you knocked her up and she gets her ass sent to a boarding school or something like that. Am I right?"

"Dude, there's more to it. This is the last thing I need." Lucas said as he stood up and made his way towards Marty Lee and Ashley.

Marcel's face took on a serious tone as he wondered what Ashley's presence was about. He didn't think Storm would freak but he knew Ashley was still a sensitive subject for the lovebirds.

"So ... how you doing?" Carl asked somewhat awkwardly as he found himself left alone with Marcel.

Marcel just raised his eyebrow at Carl and said nothing. The two of them hadn't spent much time together since Marcel had left Merlow. Marcel knew that Carl was Storm's friend and that was enough. Carl was always a nice enough guy. Marcel always found him easygoing. And getting Storm to see Doc Haslan was a plus in Marcel's books. Still, he knew Carl found him intimidating and he was riding it. Sensing that he'd made Carl squirm enough he let a smile pass over his lips. This brought a cheery and relieved smile from Carl who immediately loosened up.

"I'm doing fine." Marcel said finally. "How about you?"


* * * * * *


"Ash?" Lucas said as he tapped his former love on the shoulder.

"Lukey Baby!" Ashley said with a large smile as she kissed Lucas' cheek and hugged him. "It's so good to see you."

"It's good to see you too. What are you doing here?"

"Can't be that good to see me." Ashley said with a wry smile. "Relax. I'm not here to cause you any grief. I just wanted to see how my brother was doing. He invited me here. And I wanted to thank you for taking care of him. I really appreciate that. I know he does as well. I think it's good for him to spend time with you. You're a good influence on him."

"Thanks, Ash." Lucas said with a relieved smile. "How long you in town for?"

"Just tonight, I think. I might come back next week to spend some time with Marty Lee. I know this is a difficult situation, Lukey. But do you think you'd ever consider keeping him on? I always worry about him staying on his own. I know his homestay family don't spend any time with him. They're just collecting the cash. You're old enough to be his guardian. I know he's difficult but he really is fond of you. You're the closest thing he's had to a big brother. I'll make sure you're taken care of."

"Storm and I manage just fine. Do you get on with your parents much yet?"

"No. That's fine with me. You know I can't stand them. Pretentious ... well you know how I feel. But I'd really appreciate it if you took care of Marty Lee. I guess you'll have to talk to Storm first."

"I don't know what he'll say. Him and Marty Lee have a lot of bad blood. I think Storm only put up with him because he knew I had ties."

"Where is he? Would you mind if I said hi? I think he's really incredible for putting up with our history. It must be awkward for him."

"He's been really good. I don't want to upset things between us now."

"I didn't come here to cause any trouble. I just came to see my brother and to thank you."

"I know Ash. And I'm really happy to see you. I just ... Storm's had a really rough time lately and ..."

"I heard about his Mom. Were you close to her?"

"Really close. She took care of me. She took me in. Nobody's over her death yet. She was an incredible woman. She didn't deserve to go out like that." Lucas said with watery eyes. "Sorry. I just get a little emotional when I think about her. She meant a lot to me."

"I can understand that."

"I don't mean to be rude, Ash. It's just that I hurt him so bad when I went to find you. I broke his heart. And that whole situation after it. I know he'll be understanding, I just don't want to risk hurting him again. I know this all sounds stupid."

"Relax. I told you I'm not here for anything other than seeing Marty Lee and catching up with you. Storm and I are friends anyway."

"Oh yeah. I keep forgetting that."

"So may I have a dance?" Ashley asked with a beaming smile. "For old time's sake?"

"Uhh sure. Ok." Lucas replied hesitantly. "Sure."


* * * * * *


"Storm?" Carl called out to me as I stood against the wall in the back alley of the convention center. "You ok?"

"Yeah." I said as I feigned a smile to him and quickly wiped my eyes. "I'm fine."

"You don't look fine, Bud. You sure you're ok?"

"If I told you I was, would you leave me alone?"


"Then I'm not." I said with a sigh. "It's been a weird day. One of those happy sad ones. Some good, some bad, some happy, some sad."

"Is it Ashley?"

"You saw her?"


"I was going back in to find Lucas and I saw them dancing together."

"Is that why you were crying?"

"Nah." I said with a small laugh. "I'm not jealous. Or worried. It's just ... things are going so well for me and Lucas. I really love him, Carl. I know it might weird you out to hear me say that but it's true."

"It does have an ick factor to it." Carl said with a bright smile. "But I think I'll live. So why are you crying?"

"I got some pretty bad news today."

"You did?"


"What kind of news?"

"The kind that makes you think twice about your life. I don't really want to talk about it."

"Is that what's bothering you?"

"Kind of. Not really. When I saw Lucas with Ashley. I wasn't jealous. I didn't think anything of it. What it did make me think about might surprise you though."

"What, Storm?"

"This might surprise you, Carl. But I don't really think much of myself. It's all show. Some people tell me, like Dade, that Lucas isn't good enough for me. They're wrong. I sometimes feel like I'm not good enough for him. That one day I'll wake up and he'll realize he's too good for me. That I won't be what he wants.

"But you're awesome, Storm."

"No I'm not, Carl. I'm an asshole. For the life of me I can't figure out how I have all these awesome people around me." I said with slight tears in my eyes. "Dade looks up to me but I can't figure out why. He's got so much more potential than I have. He's more worldly. I'm less and less someone that he can really look up to. He can do everything I do. And then there's Lucas. I know you're a guy but isn't he just beautiful? I mean, how can I have him? It's a cosmic screw up in the universe. He's such a beautiful person. I don't say this to feel sorry for myself but I really don't feel worthy of him. I keep waiting for him to figure that out. And dreading it at the same time."

"Oww!" I yelled in surprise as Carl clipped me on the back of the head. "What was that for?"

"To smack the crap out of your atttitude. It's hard for me to believe you're so insecure, Storm. But then again it kind of makes sense. You are quite the nut. Hard shell on the outside, soft treat in the middle. You just don't usually talk to me about things so personal."

"What can I say? I trust you."

"It's about time you did. Listen, I don't know what the deal is with you and Dude Boy but I'm pretty sure he thinks you're awesome. We all have our doubts, Storm. I know you love him. I've only been seeing Claire for a couple days. We're not even official yet but I already can't believe my luck. She's so incredible to me and I've wanted this for years. I sometimes can't believe I'd get this lucky. I know how you feel. But trust me, people like you because as cocky as you are sometimes, you're more vulnerable than anyone else here. I don't hang around with you because you suck."

"But I do suck."


"Sorry." I said with a grin. "Couldn't help myself."

"Just trust me when I say that you are good enough for Lucas. He loves you."

"I know he does. It's just ... better than winning the nationals or something. You know?"

"Yeah man. I'm still new to the whole dating thing but it's a great feeling. I hate seeing you like this. I like the asshole Storm. The cocky arrogant one. It might be for show but it shows a lot. Get in there and see your man. I'm sure he'll be annoying everyone by asking around for you. You know how he is."

"Yeah." I said with a proud smile. "I know. Thanks, Carl. I'm sorry you caught me like this."

"Don't be. It's my pleasure."

"So what were you doing out here? Trying to sneak a smoke aye?" I asked with a raised eyebrow that Dade would be proud of.

"Hell no!" Carl said vehemently. "I don't smoke. I just came to get some fresh air ... ok no I wasn't. I was hoping to find Claire."

"Hoping for a bit of a make out aye?"

"Shut up, Storm. I'm a gentleman."

"I know."

"Have you had any trouble tonight? People giving you a hard time?"

"Some. I just don't pay any attention. Unless it's to tell them to bite me."

"No fighting, Storm. It's too risky. If you have any trouble, just yell for me. Hell, yell for anyone. You know you'll have all of Merlow High jumping in for you. We might squabble amongst ourselves but we protect ourselves from outsiders. Especially those White Swanners."

"They're the ones I'm worried about. And Scott. I'm just waiting for him to cause trouble. I'm not afraid of him, just worried."

"I'll keep an eye out for him. Just try and enjoy your night."

"Thanks, Carl."

"I mean it, Storm. I know you're feisty but try to stay out of trouble tonight. You're in bad enough shape as it is without tempting fate."

"You have no idea how right you are ..."


* * * * * *


"Psst!" Dade called to Marcel as he walked out of the men's room. "Marcel!"

"Dade?" Marcel said in surprise as he saw Dade poking his head out of a service entry. "Where have you been?"

"Come on!" Dade yelled as he grabbed Marcel's hand and pulled him through the door.

"Where are we going? Are we allowed to be back here?"

"Relax, Claire hooked me up. Come on, I wanna show you something."

Dade led Marcel through a endless series of passages before they reached a stairwell. Then for what seemed an eternity, the two made their way to the top. Dade opened the large security door to lead Marcel onto the roof.

"Holy shit." Marcel said in astonishment as he could see the entire dusk skyline of Merlow. "Dade, this is incredible."

The huge hulking roof of the superdome was to their right and still towered above them. But Marcel could see all over Merlow, Lake Herren and beyond. It was nothing short of spectacular. Then Marcel noticed the makeshift dinner set up on the ground. Three candles on the red table cloth. A portable CD player sat beside their makeshift table.

"I asked Claire if I could bring our dinner up here. We just gotta make sure to take everything back down afterwards. I figured since we can't dance down there. Maybe we can dance up here. What do you think?"

"I think that would be great." Marcel said with a blissful smile.

Dade flicked the cd player into action before he approached Marcel tentatively. Their close contact had remained limited lately. Not even a kiss on the lips had been exchanged between the two. Dade didn't want to push his luck but he hoped they'd at least share a dance. He held his hand out for Marcel, who took it with a smile. With more ease than he expected, Marcel let the two dance a steady, slow and close dance. Marcel being the taller of the two, led the dance, which was just fine by Dade as he didn't want to rush things.

"This is great, Dade."

"I was getting sick of watching girls ask you to dance. I wanted to have a dance of my own before the night was done. I figured this would be the best place."

"It's beautiful, Dade."

"You know what?" Dade said looking up at Marcel with a twinkle in his eyes.

"What, Dade?"

"I feel ... happy. It's a strange feeling. I kinda like it." Dade said with a grin.

"Me too." Marcel said giving Dade a small kiss on the forehead.

"You know we haven't kissed since we got back together. Do you think you'll ever let me kiss you again? For real?"

"You never usually ask me." Marcel said with a smile. "You usually just do it."

"Think I could?" Dade asked hopefully. "Just once?"

Marcel didn't answer him. And this time he surprised Dade by leading the kiss as he leant down and tasted Dade's lower lip. He felt a spark of electricity shoot through him as he remembered how much he loved this. Dade too couldn't believe he wasn't the one forcing the kiss this time. It was all Marcel. Strange, but nice. He finally got to kiss his guy again.

And so the sun set on the skyline of Merlow. High above the rooftops, a couple seemed oblivious to everything around them. Their silhouette casting a shadow against the fading sun. Their focus only on each other as they shared a kiss. Not just any kiss. It was their kiss. Filled with butterflies and nervousness, anxiety and anticipation, desire and hope. And most of all, happiness.


* * * * * *


"I'm sorry for today." Sarah said with sorrow in her eyes as she looked up at Mike.

"It's ok, Sweetheart. Just don't do that to me again."

"I promise. I was just scared."

"I know. Not as scared as I was. I'll never leave you, Sarah. And I'll never regret a minute we spend together." Mike said as he leaned down to place a gentle kiss on Sarah's lips. "Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?"

"Yes. But I never get sick of hearing it." Sarah said with a smile.

"You look beautiful tonight."

"This time next week, you and I will be Mr. and Mrs."

"I can't wait. The days can't pass by soon enough."

"Do you think we'll ever come back?" Sarah asked somewhat anxiously. "Does your heart tell you we'll be back here one day? Together?"

"I know what you're asking me. We just have to have faith, Sarah. The only way we're coming back here is together. We'll fight this and we'll come back one day. You'll see. You'll be queen again."

"Only your queen." Sarah said with a choke in her throat. "Only your queen."

"Only my queen." Mike said with an adoring smile. "Have I told you that I love you tonight?"

"Yes. But I never get sick of hearing it."

"I love you, Sarah Leo."

"I love you, Mike." Sarah said as she gazed longingly into her fiancé's eyes. "I love you."


* * * * * *


"Dude, about Ash ..."

"Shh. You don't have to say anything. And you might get sick of me saying this but have I ever told you that you're the most beautiful guy I've ever laid eyes on?" I said with a smile as Lucas held me in a slow dance.

"Dude!" Lucas said shyly.


"I remember when you used to look at me. I hated it, Dude."

"You did?"

"At first. You had that look in your eye and the way you used to treat me. Like you couldn't believe I was with you. It was flattering, Dude. But it was like I was untouchable to you. Always made me uncomfortable. Dude, I am so not the perfect guy you think I am."

"I've never looked at anyone else the way I look at you, Lucas. Never looked at another guy before I looked at you. No one else has ever come close to the way you make me feel. I still have butterflies in my stomach because I can't believe you're mine sometimes. You're the type of person someone wants but never gets. You're incredible."

"Dude!" Lucas said even more embarrassed.

"I was always afraid to give myself to you because I was scared you'd hurt me. Scared you'd realize you didn't really want me. And I wanted you ... want you so much that if I gave myself to you the way I have now and you hurt me, I wouldn't get over it. Like right now, I don't know what I'd do if I lost you. I couldn't handle it. You have my heart, Lucas. Corny as that sounds. You have it. But I'd never be this happy if I didn't give it to you. And I'm so glad I did. I love the way we are now, Babe. I can't imagine having a life without you in it."

"Oh man. What's with you lately? Dude, I always hoped things would get to this point but you just blow me away. You make me feel so special."

"You are."

"See? Dude ... if you keep this up ... I won't be able to stop myself from ..."


"Nothing, Storm." Lucas said with a sheepish smile as he looked away from me. "I'm just happy, Dude."

"That makes two of us." I said leaning in to steal a lingering strawberry fix.

And so we danced. Oblivious to the world around us. I never thought I could fall more in love with Lucas than I already have. But every day I just find myself feeling more and more lucky that he came into my life. If this is being in love, gimmie some more. For the rest of my life.


* * * * * *


"Well, we're all here." I said with a sigh as the six of us sat at Restaurant Frente, one day before Mike and Sarah's wedding.

"We sure are." Mike said with a melancholy smile.

"Yup." Sarah chimed in looking as sad as Mike was.

This was supposed to be a good thing. Mike wasn't having a stag party and Sarah wasn't having a hen night. This was what they'd chosen. A small dinner for all of us on the eve of their wedding. Mike, Sarah, Marcel, Lucas, Dade and me. We were all here. I've anticipated this moment for a long time. I know they've still got one more day. And I know that their wedding will be beautiful but still, this moment here seemed pretty poignant.

"I wonder when the six of us will be together again after tomorrow."

"Next week if Marcel has his way." I said with a silly grin.

"Don't go there, Storm." Marcel said with a mock glare.

"Well, I just want to say ... to all of you." Sarah said with a sad smile. "Thank you. Thank you for being ..."

It was at this point that we all saw the raw side of Sarah. The vulnerable side. Her face was filled with pain, trying in vain to hold back her tears. My heart felt for her so much. As did we all. Mike and I both took one of Sarah's hands and held them tight, so she knew she was safe. Everything was ok. I couldn't help getting water eyed seeing her like this though. Even when she opened her mouth to speak again, she struggled so much with the words.

"Thank you all for being the greatest part of my life. I love you all so much. I wish ... things could have been different. I wish we had more time together. My whole life is here at this table. Storm, Mike, Dade, I've known you since before I could even read. Marcel, you're like a brother to me. Lucas ... well, you're ok too." Sarah said breaking her melancholy with a cheeky smile. "You'll always be the newest addition to our little group but that doesn't mean you're not a huge part of us. You've been such a great support for me. Marcel might still hold it against you for coming in and stealing his guy but it all worked out in the end. But really, there's no way I can say thank you for everything. For so ... I just can't find the words to express how much I love all of you. I really hope that someday I can come back and we'll all be together again. Thank you all for standing by me. Marcel, for coming home when I told you what was wrong. All of you for just rallying together and proving why we're who we are. I know it's been hard lately with June passing on ..."

This brought a solemn bow from the rest of us. Sarah was right. It had been a really rough time lately. Especially with Mom leaving us. We'll be feeling that for a long time yet.

"But I know that she would be so proud of the way we've all stuck together since she died. I owe her so much myself. She was my guardian angel in life, and she still is now. She took my baby in looked after him for so many years. She has a lot to do with the way he's turned out. I just really want you guys all to know I'm going to miss you so much." Sarah said with pain filled tears, giving away how fearful she was of her own future. "And I'll always cherish and remember how much you all meant to me and what we had here. I can't say anymore, I'm sorry. I love you guys."

Mike kissed the side of her head and put his arm around her. Seeing them like this. The way he was with her. I knew he'd take care of her. Even more than that though, I knew the belonged together. More than any of the rest of us sitting here actually, I really believe Mike and Sarah are meant to be together.

"I guess I should say something too." Mike said with a heavy sigh. "But I won't. Because I don't want to cry."

"Come on, Mike." Dade said urgingly. "You have to. It's your last night. You gotta say something."

"Ok. Make sure you keep the house tidy, Dade. I'll be calling back every week to make sure you're keeping the house in order. You're the man now. No sex in the kitchen. Marcel, I can't think of anything to tell you because you're damn near perfect. Except to say that no matter what you do in life, we'll always be behind you. You can prove anything you want to yourself, but you've proved more than enough to us already. Forget the rest, Marcel's the best. Storm, don't be getting Lucas all high strung. You know he loves you more than he loves the word `Dude'."

"That's it?" I asked cheekily. "You tell Marcel he's the best and you just want me to make sure I don't get Lucas all high strung?"

"Ok. How's this for you then. Next time you and Lucas have sex in the treehouse, make sure you clean it up afterwards. I mean, yuck. Really, do we need to see the aftermath of your love making? Do you want me to say anything else, Storm?"

"Nup, I'm good." I said hurriedly. "Lucas' turn."

"Lucas, take care of the team next season and they'll take care of you. You and Josh have a big job ahead. But I know you can do it. Seriously though, Lucas. Don't forget to call. You more than anyone else at this table is probably wondering where you'll still fit in. I know you think you're the least likely to be called family in this group but it's not true. When Sarah and I go, we're not going to forget you so don't forget us, ok? Call us. We love you, Man."

"That's bullshit." I said with a small laugh. "You tell me off and then he gets all the love? And Dade has to tidy the house? What's up with that?"

"Dude, shut up." Lucas said shaking his head at me, overwhelmed with happy tears. "They love me, Man. Don't kill my buzz. I'm totally feeling the love here."

"Good for you, Dude Boy." Dade said cheekily. "And what's up with me and Storm getting the hard word? Where's the love?"

"I don't have to tell you two. You already know." Mike said with a warm smile.

"Ok, you're safe." Dade said in joyful recognition. "We love you too."

"We sure do." I said with a genuine nod. "You guys rock."

"What about you, Blondie?" Sarah asked with a smile, her eyes still wet from crying. "You gonna be ok?"

"I'll be fine." Marcel said with a nod, masking any emotion that he may well have been feeling. "I think. I'm a bit worried about being left here with these guys though. Does this mean I have to talk to Lucas more?"

"Dude!" Lucas said giving Marcel a light punch in the arm. "Why so harsh?"

"Holy shit." Marcel said with a huge smile. "Do you remember that argument we had? It was ages ago. That's what you said to me. You remember what I said?"

"Yeah, I do." Lucas said giving Marcel the mock evils. "Bastard. Don't even think of saying it again."

"I'm sorry, Lucas. We didn't get off to the best start, did we?"

"No. You hated me for a long time. You were mean to me. You kept blaming me for taking Storm from you." Lucas said with an increasingly cheeky smile. "Well I got him. Tough shit."

"I don't mind. He doesn't turn me on like this one does." Marcel said winking at a rather happy Dade.

"I resent that remark." I said piping in my own two cents. "You gimmie two minutes, I'll show you what turned on is."

"Oh hell no." Lucas said vehemently. "Aint no swapsies going on here, Dude."

"For once, I have to agree with you, Lucas." Dade said with a nod.

"They'll be like this after we go." Mike said to a casually sitting Sarah.

Both of them were quite comfortable just sitting there watching us. Both with smiles on their faces. Both seeming to revel in our little light hearted spat.

"We won't be here to keep them in line." Sarah said with mock seriousness. "Who's gonna be the bitch now? Probably Storm. He's the biggest bitch next to me."


"Have you guys all quite finished. I mean, hello? Our night?" Mike said jokingly as he smiled at me.

"Right. Sorry, Mike."

"Dude, he started it." Lucas said pointing to Marcel.

"You know I love ya, Lucas. Well ... ok ... maybe I like you. No ... oh hell, I put up with you because you're screwing Storm. Who am I kidding?"

"You bastard." Lucas said emphatically.

"I'm just kidding. Can I've a kiss?"

"Nope. Only Storm gets a strawberry fix."

"Na uh." Mike said with a cocky grin. "I got some too."

"What?" I asked in disbelief. "What do you mean, you got some?"

"Dude, it was just like platonic. No tongue."

"Can I see? Can you do it again?"

Mike and Lucas both looked at each before they spoke in unison. "Nah."

"You two kissed? Has anyone here besides me not kissed Lucas?"

"I haven't." Marcel said in deep thought. "No wait, I think I have. Just a little one. But it was on the lips. He does have strawberry lips."

"What about you, Sarah?" Dade asked with a very dominant raised eyebrow. "Are you and I the only Dude Boy free zones?"

"No ... I've kissed him too."

"What the hell is this? Is there anyone you haven't kissed, Lucas?" Dade asked in disbelief. "Does he charge by the second? What's the going rate?"

"Dude, those weren't real kisses. They were just friendly ones. And the only person I haven't kissed is you."

"There's a reason for that too." Dade said with the slightest hint of annoyance.

"Hey! Would everyone just please lay off my boyfriend. Especially you two." I said pointing at Dade and Marcel. "Don't make me whip some ass."

Dade just poked tongues at Lucas. And I must say, I was mighty pleased when Lucas gave him a friendly one finger salute.

"You know I love ya, Bud." Marcel said seriously as he rubbed Lucas' back. "You da Dude."

"Ahh fuck it." Dade said almost jumping over the table as he grabbed Lucas' face and planted him with a huge and I might add, a little too friendly kiss. I'm pretty sure I saw some tongue in there.

"Dade!" I yelled in annoyance, not to mention embarrassment with so many people around.

"Whoa, Dude." Lucas said with a grin as Dade let go and sat back down. "Wow. Now I know why everyone thinks you're so good."

"I hate being left out." Dade said casually. "I could taste the strawberry."

"You little bastard. What's with you kissing everyone all the time?" I said shooting Dade a mock angry look. "Don't ever touch my boyfriend. Especially not the lips, they belong to me."

"Relax, I probably just gave him the thrill of his life."

"You're good, Dude. But I hate to say it ... you're not that good." Lucas said shaking his head. "He's still better."

"Oh hell yeah. That's my boyfriend, right there." I said pointing proudly to Lucas. "He knows which side his bread is buttered on. You tell him, Babe."

"Well, I've had about enough of this." Mike said with a laugh. "Let's eat before they kick us out for being too loud."

"Yeah, I'm starving." Dade said as he rubbed his stomach.

"You're always starving." Sarah said with an adoring smile. "You'll always be my little spunky though."

"Thanks, Sarah." Dade said with a blush.

"You ok, Lucas?" Mike asked as he noticed Lucas wasn't eating yet. "You're usually the first to eat."

"I'm ok, Dude. I'm just ... basking. This is so totally ... awesome. You guys all rock. Even you, Dade."

"Everybody raise your glasses before Dade and Lucas start their spats again." Sarah said as she held her wine glass up.

Everyone followed suit. Whether it was OJ for Dade and I, beer for Lucas or water for Marcel and Mike.

"Hopefully this isn't the last time we do this. Here's to us. The Pack." Sarah said with a broad smile.

"The Pack." We all said in unison as we touched our glasses to one another.

And so we carried on. We ate. We laughed. We cried some more. Reminded each other of moments past. Moments that brought us to where we are now. Moments that created the bond between the six of us. We've had our share of ups and downs but at least we can say ... we're here. And though even I don't know whether this moment will ever come again. Whether the hand of fate, or the sands of time will separate or divide us. Be it by distance or circumstance. Whatever else may come. We have this. Nothing can ever take that away from us.

Though separately we all have our own lives. Our own crises. Tensions. Together they seem a little less significant. Marcel and Dade? Dade and I? Sarah's illness? My ulcer? What about it? And that's why we do this. That's why we're here. Because together we make whatever challenges we face, a little more bearable. A little less mountainous. That's what being friends ... no, family. That's what being family is all about.

You share the ups and the downs. Take the good with the bad. You have your moments of silence and your moments of laughter. Joy. Sadness. Anger. Love. Somehow, you survive. We survive. We've all been through hell. And we're still here. Older, wiser, but more importantly, together.

This may be the end of an era, but it's not the end by any means. Life will go on for all of us. Me, Mike, Sarah, Marcel, Lucas and Dade. Our bond is our love. Our affection. Our history. Our loyalty. And our bond is strong. We are the pack. That's who we are.

* * * * * *

* To Be Continued *

Before I carry on.  One Interludes chapter coming up that will spin off this chapter is 'Josh's Lament'.   It'll basically cover his trip to North Lake with Brad.  There's a few Interludes that are due out now.  I'll put a list of them on the SF: Interludes section.  All the Interludes chapters are pretty much stand alone ones so if you want to see one in particular come out first, you let me know. 

And just FYI, there will be a special 'Storm Front: Revelations' chapter that will serve as an addendum sort of, or a revealer so to speak that will show some key events that we didn't get to see around this chapter in particular and some of Season 4.  There's a lot more going on in this chapter than some might realize.  Not to mention that there's a week missing between the last scene at the ball, and the pack's dinner at Frente.  All will be revealed in time.  Revelations won't come out until the end of Season 4.  Hopefully you'll read it after everything's happened in Season 4 and go 'Holy Shit!' and it'll change your perspective on a lot of what's happening.

OK Before I start!  And before you get into reading this section, try and get a song in your head for the End of an Era series.  Let me know what you come up with.  I'd love your input.

Well, where to start?   There's a lot more I wanted to include in this chapter.  A lot more that ended up on the 'cutting room floor' to use a pun.  But much like the last chapter, it was just getting too long.  And also some key events won't be revealed till 'Revelations' between Season 4 and Season 5.  This will probably be the last of the big chapters.  Now that the cast of SF is getting trimmed down, it won't need to be so big in length.   There were so many characters and scenes I wanted to include in this chapter but it just kept adding length.  You'd be surprised how much got cut out.  Always the key thing for me in this chapter was to wrap up a lot of what's happened lately.  You could end your run in SF with this chapter if you wanted to.  It was the 'End of an Era'.  In more ways than one.  But I'm not finished.  Almost, but not quite.  After 'GoodBye', even though we're still in Season 4, Storm Front will begin it's final arc leading into Season 5 and the conclusion of Storm Front.  I'm not sure when I'll post the next chapter but SF will be taking a break either now or after 'GoodBye' while I concentrate on other projects.  All SF related.  Plus I'm sure an Empires chap is due by now.

Very pack oriented chapter.   With some great pack moments.  Of course, a lot of the focus was on Mike and Sarah, and rightfully so.  I was almost tempted to let Sarah be gone and not have their wedding.  And also so I could keep Mike around.  But that would totally fuck with the characters and their affection for each other.  Mike is completely devoted to Sarah.  That should be obvious by now.  I really love those two.   And this was really their last major outing in SF.  Of course the next chap will focus around their wedding though.

Storm is still Storm.   He's a central dynamic to SF.  It's been good to have him in the mix again.   He and Dade are more alike than people think.  They are both insecure but I think Storm is even more so than Dade.  Storm's insecurity is pretty deep seeded but it only comes out every so often.  Usually when he's happy.

The pack have a weird combination of relationships.  Their histories are pretty heavily interwoven and they all share bonds.  The only two who don't really is Dade and Lucas.  Lucas got on Dade's bad side in Season 3 and never really redeemed himself in Dade's eyes.  That's really why they have a lot of the nagging going on between them.

Did I mention how much I love Mike and Sarah?  And Marcel.  Hell, I love all the pack.  I love all the characters but my soft spot is always for the originals.  No matter how much the underdogs or B team comes up toward the end of SF.

Storm has changed in that Ashley showed up and he didn't throw a hissy fit.  It didn't really have much of an effect on him.  Neither did Lucas' drug confession.  Although that was more to spare Lucas any further discomfort and so Storm wouldn't show any dissent in their relationship.  It's good to see his loyalties to his mate.

Just how Marcel manages to work things out with Dade will be for the final run of S4.  How Dade will react to Marcel's wanting to go back to Drake.  Marcel was never meant to be a permanent member of SF.  He's been back longer than I planned to be honest.  But unlike Mike and Sarah, Marcel will probably be back even after he does go.  Even if/when he does go, it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that he will return to SF before the end.   As will Mike and Sarah even if it's flashbacks in the final episode.  Every major character will.

How will the pack manage after Mike and Sarah leave?  Storm's impending departure is also very near on the horizon.  He's due to leave Merlow the day after Mike and Sarah leave.  So 'GoodBye' will be his last appearance for a little while at least.  Just for how long will our loved/hated hero be gone?  Is Dade getting a promotion already?  Does that mean he gets bonuses?  You'll have to find out when Season 4 starts winding down!  But of course surely you know that the only reason Storm won't be in Season 5 is because I need him to lead the spin off in Saran City with Mike and Sarah.  Am I kidding?  MuaHaha!  You'll have to wait and see!  Ok yes, I'm kidding.   Spank me.  Ouch!  Not that hard!

Stay tuned for 'GoodBye'.

Feedback is always appreciated. You can email me or drop by my site