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SF39a: The More Things Change
* * * * * *
“It doesn’t look like he’s back.” Carl said to Claire as they sat in his car.
The pair were parked in the drive of the Marcus house, hoping to see one of it’s last inhabitants. Dade. Claire had even brought him a care basket to hopefully cheer the youngest Marcus up. Yet all the lights were off. The curtains were drawn. They didn’t have to knock on the door, they could tell just by looking that the house had been untouched for a long while.
“Is it just me or does that house seem … sad?” Claire asked curiously.
“Princess, houses don’t seem sad.” Carl said with a small smirk, “They’re houses.”
“You know what I mean. Call me crazy but I think when you spend enough time at a place, it takes on a spirit of it’s own. Like when you go to someone’s house, it has an atmosphere. Rigid, homely, inviting or chilly. You know?”
“I guess. It does seem kind of empty though. I guess it is kinda sad. For as long as I can remember, this was always a busy house. Always a popular house. I guess when June died, she took a lot of the life of the house with her.”
“Yeah …” Claire said with a sad sigh, “I wish Dade was back now. I feel so bad for him.”
“Not bad enough to sleep with him I hope.” Carl grinned, “That guy’s too hot for his own good.”
“Please don’t tell me you find him attractive. If you do, I’m becoming a lesbian.”
“I know when a guy looks good. That doesn’t mean I want to sleep with him. But by all means, please become a lesbian. Can I watch?”
“Sorry. Now I’m going to go to sleep with images of you and another girl making out. Or even better …” Carl began to say with a mischievous grin.
“I don’t want to hear it. I hope you’re not expecting your mother to clean your sheets in the morning.”
“She wouldn’t need to if you and me …” Carl said with a cheeky wink, “Just kidding, Princess.”
“I guess we should go. We’ll come back again tomorrow. Storm said Dade was due back soon.”
“Storm flew out from General State yesterday. So Lucas and Dade can’t be too far away. Probably tomorrow night.” Carl said as he revved up the car, “Maybe he’s at Lucas’s.”
The pair made the quick trip to Lucas’s house in the hopes that the Dude Boy may have returned to Merlow by now. Carl waited in the car while Claire headed up to the front door with a care basket in her hand. Just watching Claire walk seemed to bring a smile to his face. Knowing that the object of his affections for so long was actually his, still made the butterflies dance a tango in his stomach.
His fingers tapped on the steering wheel while he watched Claire talking to Lucas’s newest houseguest, Ashley Miller. He observed the conversation with a curious eye, noting Claire’s demeanor strain somewhat. He couldn’t hear what the two were saying, but he could tell by the somber look on Claire’s face as she returned to the car, that all was not well.
“He wasn’t home?” Carl asked as he started up the car.
“No … just that … that ….” Claire began to say with heavy restraint.
“Ashley? What’d she say?”
“She … she’s …”
“Oh come on, Princess. You can say it. Go on. You know you want to. Say a bad word!” Carl said with a wicked grin.
“No. She’s not worth it.”
“You’re such an angel.” Carl said as he kissed Claire’s cheek.
“I don’t feel like one. I felt like … like … like being a bitch.”
“Oh no … now you’re going straight to hell!”
“I’m being serious!”
“So you’re the new alpha female, huh?”
“I’m not Sarah. It’s just … Storm’s my friend. I don’t want that … that … girl …”
“She must have really said something to piss you off. He’s my friend too. Thanks for looking out for him. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. We both know how gaa gaa Lucas is over Storm.”
“Yeah well … as in love as Lucas is … he doesn’t strike me as someone who is very strong. Especially if Storm’s not here.”
“Don’t underestimate Dude Boy.”
“Well he almost kissed me when he was dating Storm.”
“That slut! How dare he!”
“Oh shush. Don’t get jealous. Nothing happened. It was ages ago.”
“Now you’re putting ideas in my head about him. You don’t really think he would, do you?”
“Well you saw what she did at the ball. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think …”
“Are you sure you aren’t just being protective?”
“I’m just worried. I’m not trying to be Sarah. I’m not as tough as she is.”
“Yes you are. You’re just different. She’s an iron fist. You’re a velvet glove.”
“I really miss her. But still, I have my doubts about that Ashley. I feel sorry for what she went through but Lucas is taken now. I’m just scared that with Storm not around to claim his man, she’ll be all over him.”
“And you don’t think Lucas can control himself?”
“I just hope she’s leaving as soon as he gets back. He’ll be depressed when he gets back and she’ll be right there acting like a supportive friend.”
“Maybe she is.”
“She isn’t. Well maybe she is but she has ulterior motives. Trust me, I’m a woman. I know these things.”
“Ok, ok. I’m not arguing with you. You win.”
“Sorry. Let’s just go to Bobby’s party. Try and have some fun.”
“Sounds like a plan, Princess.”
* * * * * *
“She’s with me.” Carl said with a huge smile.
He walked through Bobby Weiss’s front door with Claire at his side. His hand clasped Claire’s as if she were the crown jewel itself. This party was the first big one of the school break and Carl wanted to make sure Claire came with him. The pair had been dating for a while now and everyone at the party knew of their relationship, yet still Carl took great pleasure at reminding everyone that Claire was with him.
“I think they know that by now.” Claire smiled warmly at her boyfriend, “But thanks for the appreciation.”
“Do I get a free kiss?”
“Oh would you two just get a room.” Jacob said rolling his eyes, “Move along, move along.”
“Quiet, Jacob.” Claire said as she took Jacob’s hand and led her two companions into the main party lounge, “Let’s do the rounds and say hello to everyone.”
“Sis, are you sure this is such a good idea for me to be here?”
“Of course it is. I wasn’t going to leave you at home on your own tonight. You’re staying with us for the holidays, so that means I have to entertain you.”
The three began doing the rounds of the party. Saying hello, catching up and generally enjoying themselves at the same time. Jacob seemed to resent being the proverbial third wheel, but he did his best to put on a smile for his twin. He would often hang back a little when Carl and Claire did the expected meet and greet, even though Claire would always try to make him feel included. Jacob had never been one to actively hide his sexuality. He didn’t really care what people thought but he didn’t want Claire to get strange looks because of him. And even though Merlow was a lot more easy going than White Swan as far as acceptance went, Jacob didn’t want to push his luck by being too obvious. He wasn’t sure who knew about him, who didn’t know, and who just didn’t care. He really just felt like ditching the pair of them and finding a corner of his own to occupy.
“Excuse me?” Jacob said as he turned to see who greeted him, “Oh, Josh! Hey! Long time, no see.”
“Nice to see you, Jacob.” Josh said with his usual earnest smile, his hand extended to shake Jacob’s, “You’re here with Claire?”
“Yeah, I am. She was standing right next to me a minute ago. I guess they lost me. Or I lost them. Depends which way you look at it.”
“So how are you? You’re staying with your father for the holidays?”
“Yeah. That’s why I’m here. Claire didn’t want me staying at home on my own. I would rather have. How about you, Josh? I haven’t seen you for ages. How come you don’t come round anymore?”
“Oh, well … I guess …”
“Oh, right. Dade and Claire, huh? Sorry. I know Claire was hoping you’d be here. It’s a shame that … you know … she’s not your type. She really fell for you.”
Josh didn’t respond. The subtle look of guilt etched on his face said enough. Jacob kicked himself for saying the wrong thing again. Sometimes things just came out of his mouth before he even knew what he said.
“Sorry. There I go again.”
“So … how is Claire doing? Are things working out for her and Carl?”
“Maybe you can ask her yourself.” Jacob said motioning for Josh to look behind himself, “That’s my exit. Nice to see you, Josh. Give me a call if you ever want a male version of Claire.”
“Right.” Josh blushed.
“Jacob!” Claire said shaking her head as Jacob waltzed off in Carl’s direction.
Josh gulped with a twinge of nervousness enveloping him. He shared a somewhat feigned smile with Claire as each waited for the other to speak first. In the end it was Claire who took the initiative, much to Josh’s relief.
“Hi, Josh.” Claire said awkwardly, “How are you?”
Josh didn’t say anything in response. He simply gave Claire a small smile and shrug. The two hadn’t spoken for a while now, but for whatever reasons there had been tension before, they didn’t exist now. Not for Josh. He was genuinely happy to see his former girlfriend and best friend. She seemed equally pleased to see him as well.
“I’m sorry about Dade.”
“I’m sorry. I know I hurt you, Claire. It’s my fault.” Josh said sincerely as he instinctively took Claire’s hand, “I’m really sorry.”
“I don’t care.” Claire beamed with a smile as she pulled Josh into a huge hug, “I just want you to be happy. And I want you around. That’s all I want.”
* * * * * *
“You don’t have anything to worry about.” Jacob said as he stood behind Carl.
Carl’s eyes fixed onto Claire and Josh. He knew Claire still had strong feelings for Josh, but he wasn’t sure what kind of feelings they were. Even if they were just innocent, sincere feelings between two people who have shared a lot together, the sight still seemed to grate on Carl’s mind. He’d been dating Claire for a while now and things seemed to be going ok. But that was it. He was her boyfriend but he still felt as though she had deeper connections with both Josh and Dade. Maybe in time he’d feel more sure of himself. Maybe in time she’d look at him the way he looked at her. Maybe.
“Ground control to Major Tom.” Jacob said waving his hand in Carl’s face, “I told you, you have nothing to worry about with Josh.”
“How do you know?”
“You’ll just have to trust me.” Jacob shrugged innocently.
Carl studied the look on Jacob’s face. Trying to decipher the meaning behind Jacob’s statement. The more he looked at Jacob, the more Jacob seemed to grow nervous. The more Jacob grew nervous, the more curious Carl became. Carl’s eyes then began to dart between both Jacob and Josh. And finally as if a lightbulb turned on inside Carl’s head, his face went flush with disbelief.
“No … you’re kidding. No, no, no. Not Josh. I would’ve seen it. You’re wrong.”
“I never said a thing.” Jacob said shaking his head vigorously.
“You didn’t have to. Josh? But I’ve known him for years.”
“What’s your point, Einstein?”
“Well I figured it out with Storm. I had an idea with Marcel and Dade. But I had no clue … I mean, he seemed to really be in love with Claire. And they were together for so long. It still looks like they have feelings for each other.” Carl said as he motioned towards the two ex lovers.
“They do, el stupido. Just not the kind you’re thinking of. I thought you’d be relieved.”
“I am. I’m just … I can’t believe it. Josh? But he’s so …”
“Straight?” Jacob snickered, “Is that what you were about to say?”
“Wow … are you sure?”
“I never said anything. Claire would kill me. She can’t keep anything from me, I’m her twin. But I’m not supposed to repeat anything. Don’t say anything to Josh either. She thinks he’s really sensitive about the whole thing. I think he even feels uncomfortable being around me.”
“Well … Josh is subtle. You’re …” Carl began to say before he held his tongue.
“You said it.”
“I’m not some flaming limp wristed queen, you know.” Jacob snapped with annoyance, “I just choose not to hide. But I’ll kick your ass if you ever call me a queen. Don’t forget who outran you Merlow midgets in the athletics comp last year. I’m not some pushover pansy.”
“Buddy, buddy, settle down. I never said anything like that. Don’t make me out to be a hater, because I’m not. Just ask Storm, he’s my best friend. I wouldn’t let anyone give him crap, so I wouldn’t give it to you either.” Carl said a little taken aback by Jacob’s outburst, “But I’ll still tell you when you’re being a dickhead. And you’re being a dickhead.”
Jacob couldn’t help but laugh at Carl’s defiance. It seemed to take the wind out of his sails and he calmed down. He smiled as he realized how short he’d been with his sister’s boyfriend. His face taking on an apologetic demeanor.
“I’m sorry, that was stupid of me. I’m just used to getting crap from everyone at White Swan all the time. I’m used to being on the defensive. Forgive me?”
“Not likely.” Carl grinned, “Ahh, times like these I miss my boy. He used to have a short temper like you. Drove me crazy.”
“Now he’s all too damn soft for my liking. But he’s a great guy that Storm.”
“You miss him?”
“A little. It’s not the same without him around. Not having anyone to mentally abuse me or verbally humiliate me.” Carl sighed.
“Right …” Jacob said giving Carl a strange look.
“Anyway, back to you being a dickhead.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Forget about that. I need a man.”
“Don’t look at me.”
“I try not to. I still can’t figure out how Claire went from Josh to Dade to you.”
“Keep it up ya bitter hag.” Carl grinned, “Got a lot of sexual frustration pent up there?”
“Like you don’t. I know Claire’s not putting any up for you. And don’t you try taking advantage of her either. She’s … special.”
“Can’t argue with you there.”
“To be honest though, Carl. I like the way you treat her. All the other guys always had something else on their minds when they looked at her. But when you look at her, all your attention is on her. I can tell she really means a lot to you.”
“Think the feeling’s mutual?” Carl asked as his attention returned to Josh and Claire, “Like you said, I’m no Josh or Dade.”
“Better ask Claire that one.”
“So … you’re sure about Josh then? I don’t have anything to worry about?”
“I’ve already said too much. Don’t make me say it outright.”
“Phew, that’s a relief. Maybe I should talk to him. Make sure he’s ok. Come to think of it, he has been preoccupied lately. Even when school was in. I just thought it was because of him and Claire. I guess there was more to it.” Carl said with a shrug.
“I wouldn’t talk to him about it. You know how he is. He likes to keep things to himself.”
“Well there you go. Why don’t you ask him out?”
“Are you for real? Just because we both like other guys, we should go out? And maybe you should go out with that Stacey chick everybody loves. Some people are just so clueless. I’m not his type.”
“That’s obvious.” Carl grinned, “You’re the worst kind of sandpaper I’ve ever met. Maybe if you take this glass and have a drink before you talk to him again, he might like you.”
Carl handed Jacob a tall glass with what looked like a vodka mix in it. Jacob held the glass and studied it for a moment, wondering what Carl’s intention was.
“What is it?”
“A nice tall glass of shut the fuck up!”
Once again, Jacob burst into laughter. He was starting to like this man of Claire’s. He had grit underneath that cheery smile.
“Let’s see if it works.” Jacob said as he took a swig, “Hmm … nope. You still suck.”
“Na uh, that’s your department.”
“You and Storm must have these conversations a lot. You seem well trained in the smartass department.”
“I am. He’s sharper than he lets on.”
“And hot too. Lucas still has the monopoly on him, does he?”
“Definitely. Those two are silly for each other.”
“Well … this glass is starting to look pretty good.” Jacob said as he finished the rest of glass in one gulp, “Why can’t I find someone like that? Claire has better luck finding my type of guy than I am. Well, besides you of course, you’re just repulsive.”
“Would you like another glass? On your head maybe?”
“I’m just playing. Have a drink with me.”
“Sorry.” Jacob said as his attention was suddenly caught by another partygoer.
Carl caught Jacob’s gaze and followed it. When he discovered the object of Jacob’s attention, he grinned mischievously.
“You’re wasting your time. Stay away from him.”
“I wasn’t staring. I was just …”
“Undressing with your eyes?”
“Like you don’t with my sister. There must be over a hundred people here, that means theoretically there should be at least nine other hopefuls besides Josh. You know, one in ten and all.”
“Then there must be a hell of a lot of people left in the closet here. Somehow I doubt it. But good luck anyway. Just stay away from that guy. Trust me. He’s trouble.”
* * * * * *
“Come on, Brad.” Josh said to himself as he stood at the end of Bobby Weiss’s driveway.
Behind Josh a crowd of partygoers seemed to mull around aimlessly. All of them playing their part in the game of socializing. Josh couldn’t care less. This was the first major party for the break. Everyone playing for the football team next year was expected to be here. And now that included Brad.
The party had been raging for over two hours and there was still no sign of Brad. Josh had practically begged him to show up. He didn’t like the idea of coming without Brad but all his offers for transport had been rebuffed. Yet Brad had still guaranteed Josh of his attendance. As time wore on though, Josh began fretting over his friend’s absence. Though at least he’d managed to finally clear the air with Claire.
“Come on, Brad.” Josh said in frustration, “You said you’d be here.”
“And here I am.” Brad said with a smile as he tapped Josh’s shoulder.
Josh’s joy at seeing his friend was fairly obvious. He greeted Brad with a brimming smile as the two shook hands.
“I’m glad you came. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show.”
“You know how I am with parties. I only came because you asked me. I don’t have a good track record at these places.”
“Tonight will be different, I promise. I won’t leave you alone even if it means I have to drag you around by the hand.”
“Whatever makes you happy.” Brad smiled, “Shall we go in?”
Josh was ecstatic at Brad’s arrival. Even though Brad knew how he felt, their friendship still managed to endure. Even after all their awkward moments, their friendship still managed to endure. Now more than ever, Josh began to realize just how valuable a friend Brad had been for him. And even if he couldn’t have him the way he wanted, he might still have him the way he needed.
* * * * * *
Marty Lee sat in the corner of Bobby Weiss’s lounge. His feet perched on the edge of the lounge suite as he leaned back. His fingers tapped the wall while he watched the party unfold around him. He didn’t feel much like mixing tonight. He was quite content just to rule over his own corner. Even Ashley seemed to do more socializing than him, and she was only a visitor to Merlow.
His eyes would occasionally seek her out, just to make sure she was ok. Her stay here in Merlow hadn’t been what he expected. Both of them had changed since they last lived together. Maybe too much. He was looking forward to Lucas’s return, as he had become more comfortable with him than his own sister. It pained him to admit that he resented her presence here in Merlow. Even as he watched her now, he wished she would return to her life so he could get on with his. He felt threatened by her. Sure she was older and he respected her, but she had assumed things were the same as when they lived together before. That she was in charge.
Things had changed. Marty Lee had spent so much time on his own, taking care of himself, that he resented being ordered around like a kid now. And now that he knew Lucas would be returning without Storm, he feared her intentions. The last thing he wanted was for his things to be upset with Lucas.
Marty Lee was shaken from his thoughts by a curt tap on the shoulder. He looked up to see it was none other than Brad smiling down at him.
“What? What is it?” Marty Lee asked with a shrug, “Something wrong?”
“I just wanted to say hi. I thought I was the only one who liked to find the quiet corners.”
“Are you talking to me?” Marty Lee asked a little dumbfounded, “Without me saying something first? Are you ok? We’re not at Karate. We’re not at school. What’s up? Where’s your shadow?”
“Like I said, I just wanted to say hi. That’s all. Oh and your sister is sweeeeeeeeeeet. I’ll see you on Thursday.” Brad said with a small smile before he turned and walked away.
Marty Lee watched him walk off with a bewildered look on his face. He wasn’t expecting that. He’d spent time with Brad teaching him at the dojo, but that was the only place they talked. And even then there wasn’t a whole lot said.
“I need some air.” Marty Lee said to himself as he stood up and headed outside.
Once again, he found himself a quiet spot to occupy. He couldn’t get over some of the people here in Merlow. He’d wronged so many here, yet many seemed to go out of there way to still be civil or even nice to him. It just made him feel even worse about his past actions. Brad was an obvious one. The more time went on, the more Marty Lee found himself respecting his former victim. Yet there were still others. Dade was a major one. Yet still more remained. Two in particular who had no idea just how much he’d done to them. Two people who had welcomed him into their home.
Guilt. It only seemed to get worse the more he kept his sins to himself. With everything he’d ever done, could there be any redemption for him?
"So what's your story?” Jacob asked as he took a seat next to Marty Lee.
"Do I know you?” Marty Lee asked sarcastically as once again he found his thoughts interrupted.
"Just trying to be friendly."
"Then you're trying with the wrong person. Or hasn't anyone told you that yet?"
"I'm not from around here. I don't know shit about you."
"You know, you're nothing like Claire."
"Just because we're twins, doesn't make us duplicates. I have some things she doesn't have, if you know what I mean. And she has things I don't want."
"Things like class?” Marty Lee said with a smirk, “Pity. I quite like Claire."
"Actually, the two of us have a lot in common."
Marty Lee raised his eyebrow as if summoning Dade himself. Jacob's comment was as subtle as a sledgehammer. Even more surprising to Marty Lee was Jacob's forwardness when he placed his hand gently over Marty Lee's arm. Marty Lee paused for a moment, simply staring blankly at Jacob before he finally spoke.
“Would you mind taking your hands off me?”
“I’m sorry … I thought …”
“You thought wrong.”
Jacob pulled his hand away and gulped nervously. He ran his hand through his hair with a nervous anxiety as he waited for Marty Lee to say something. The pair sat in silence with the night air suddenly becoming a lot chillier.
Marty Lee's eyes turned away from Jacob. They seemed to glaze over as his face took on a tone filled with simmering anger. Just as Jacob was about to get up to leave, Marty Lee's hand shot out and grabbed him by the collar.
"I'm sorry, I don't want any trouble.” Jacob said as he struggled to get free of Marty Lee's grip.
In an instant, Marty Lee's demeanor returned to it's cool, emotionless state. He let go of Jacob's collar and returned his gaze to that of the lake.
Instead of making a quick exit, Jacob sat slowly back down. He took a few deep breaths to collect himself, running his hands through his hair shakily. Yet still Marty Lee said nothing.
"I'm really sorry.” Jacob said in ragged breaths, "I never meant to upset you."
"I don't like it when people touch me unless I say otherwise. Male or female. Ever."
"I just ... I don't know what I was thinking. I guess the alcohol made me brave but now I'm all sobered up."
"I'm sorry if I scared you. You should go."
"That's ok. I'm a little too shaken up to go back inside. Claire will know something's up. I'll just sit out here a while if that's ok with you."
"Not every guy in Merlow is attracted to other guys."
"I know that. There are dozens of guys in there, all suffering from horny straight jock fever. I just thought ..."
"Why did you think that? I don't have a limp wrist. I don't act like a queen. I have a reputation as the nastiest guy in Merlow. So why me?"
"Just ... something. It was a bad idea. I made a mistake. I'm really sorry. Please umm don't tell Claire about this. She'll be so pissed that I hit on one of her friends. Can we just forget about this please?"
"Consider it forgotten. But you should know, there are people out there who will hurt you if you do the same thing you did to me. I'm not saying it's right but it's the truth."
"Don't I know it.” Jacob said with his nerves still echoing through his voice, "White Swan is terrible. I'd be too afraid to try anything there."
"What makes you think Merlow is any different?"
"Just a feeling. And what Claire tells me."
"It is a nice place. But you still have to be careful."
"Are ... you ... careful?” Jacob asked with a gulp.
“I’ll give you ten points for persistence.” Marty Lee said with a rare smile, “I like that. And no, I have nothing to be careful about. I do what I do and that's all there is to it."
"Umm ... so ... are you ... like ... maybe ... like me?"
"Cute?” Marty Lee asked with a surprising smile.
"Oh wow. Really? I mean, thanks, but like ... are you?"
"I'm trying to be nice."
"Oh. So I'm not cute?"
Marty Lee let out a small laugh while Jacob still sat looking nervous as ever. A smile found itself glued to Marty Lee’s face. He let out a sigh as his tension slipped away from him. Then just as Jacob began to relax, Marty Lee stood to his feet.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying but you have a really nice smile. You should do it more often.” Jacob said as he extended his hand to Marty Lee, “Nice talking to you. Marty Lee, right?”
“Call me Marty.” Marty Lee said as he shook Jacob’s hand, “See you round.”
Jacob let out an anxious sigh as Marty Lee left him. He brushed his hands through his hair and leaned back, his eyes closing in labored relief.
“That was close, Jacob. You just about got yourself knocked out.”
Yet even as his adrenaline continued to run high, he couldn’t help feeling a little pleased. He found himself intrigued and enamored by this supposed black sheep of Merlow. And even if the odds weren’t in his favor, he let his thoughts run wild. Even if he had no chance in hell, he could still dream. Just maybe.
* * * * * *
“Josh!” Carl yelled as he ran up besides Josh, “Wait a minute.”
“Hey, Carl.” Josh said with a sincere smile.
“Are you leaving?”
“I think so. Soon as Brad comes back, I’ll drive him home.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“Ahh … listen, Josh. I know how Claire feels about you. Umm … I just wanted to say that I hope you and her can f…” Carl began to say before Josh abruptly cut him off.
“It’s not like that, Carl. You don’t have to worry.” Josh said with a reassuring smile, “We’re just friends.”
“Oh, I know. I know why you broke up.” Carl said before he closed his eyes when he realized what he just said, “I mean …”
When he opened his eyes, he found Josh staring back at him with a traumatized look on his face. Carl immediately put his hands on Josh’s shoulders to reassure him, but Josh would have none of it.
“You … you know?” Josh asked with horror, “She told you?”
“She didn’t tell me, Josh. But it’s ok, it’s not a big deal. It’s ok, Josh.”
“I … I have to go.”
Josh turned and ran before Carl could say anything. Just as Carl was about to go after Josh, he felt Brad’s hand grab his shoulder.
“What happened? Why’d Josh take off like that?”
“I didn’t mean to … I just wanted to tell him it was ok.” Carl said as he cursed himself, “I better go after him.”
“No, I’ll get him.”
“I didn’t mean to upset him, Brad. I just wanted to help. I’m sorry. Tell him I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. Thanks for trying, Carl. I’ll talk to you later.” Brad said as he ran off after Josh.
Brad ran outside and headed straight to Josh’s Cherokee. Sure enough, he found Josh leaning his forehead against the driver’s window. Brad approached tentatively and placed his hand on Josh’s back. Josh seemed to sense it was Brad without even looking, as his shaking seemed to slowly subdue.
“I can’t do this, Brad.” Josh whimpered, “I can’t keep doing this.”
“Josh … you’re right. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. Something’s gotta give.”
“I can’t keep hiding. It’s only a matter of time before everyone sees what I really am.”
“They can already see. They can see you’re a great guy, Josh. You don’t have to be so afraid.”
“Carl knows. It’s only a matter of time before everyone else does too. My parents.”
“And what would be so bad about that?” Brad asked as he moved his arm around Josh’s shoulder.
“You don’t understand, Brad. You’re not like me. How can you understand?”
“I can try. And I promise that whatever happens, I’ll still be your friend. Nothing will change. You’ll still have people around who won’t change. Your parent’s will still love you. I’m sure of it. No matter what they say, I know them enough to see how much they care about you, Josh. Don’t underestimate them.”
This comment seemed to calm Josh even more. He turned around and leaned his back against the car so he could now face Brad. Brad’s face was a mixture of concern and reassurance. His constant presence and support brought a gentle smile to Josh’s lips. Josh tilted his head to the side as he gazed at Brad with a quizzical eye.
“You know what Mike said to me before he left?”
“What?” Brad asked curiously.
“That one day I’d meet someone who would make it all worth it. Someone who would make me strong enough to do what I have to do.”
“Maybe he was right.”
“He was. Don’t you get it? That person is you, Brad. ” Josh smiled as he nudged Brad on the arm with a playful punch, “And it doesn’t matter that you don’t feel the same way. It’s enough just having you around.”
Brad smiled uncomfortably as his eyes met the ground. Uncomfortable only because he wasn’t used to being so valued or worthy. It was an unsettling feeling.
“Well … long as you’re happy, Josh.” Brad smiled self consciously, “That’s the main thing.”
“What about you? It’s not all about me, Brad. What do you want? To be popular? To have a nice car? A pretty girl under your arm? Captain of the football team?”
“Uhh … yup, all of that. You’re popular. You have a nice car. You know lots of pretty girls. And you’re going to be captain of the football team. You’re probably as close as I’m gonna get to what I want, Josh.” Brad laughed, “Can I be your girlfriend?”
* * * * * *
“Carl, have you seen Jacob?”
“He went home. He said he wasn’t feeling very well.”
“He said that?” Claire asked with a raised eyebrow, “He was lying. I would’ve known. Did he leave with anyone else?”
“No, but I think maybe he just didn’t like it here. He said he’d see you at home.”
“I’m feeling pretty tired actually. Would you mind too much if you took me home now?”
“As you wish, Princess.” Carl said as he took Claire by the hand and the pair made a quiet exit.
By the time they arrived at his car, he was almost carrying Claire. He gently swept her off her feet and helped her into the passenger side. Before she even realized she was in the car, they’d already started their drive back to her house.
“Thank you.” Claire smiled as she rested her head on his shoulder, “Sorry to kill the night early for you. I know you’re an all nighter guy.”
“It’s ok, I wasn’t drinking anyway. Designated driver, remember.”
“That’s right.” Claire said with a yawn, “Thank you for looking after me.”
“It’s in my job description. And if you can have a word with the boss, I’d like to keep my job as long as possible. If that’s ok.”
“It is. You’re so sweet. Thank you.”
Before Carl had a chance to respond, Claire had drifted off to sleep. He placed a tiny kiss on her forehead before he continued the drive. He could’ve driven all around Merlow like this. Taking turns to make the trip longer. He didn’t want to crowd Claire, but he enjoyed every moment he spent with her. Even now like this, everything was perfect. Alas, before he knew it, he was pulling up in her driveway.
All the lights were off in her house. No doubt Claire’s father and Jacob were fast asleep as well. Carl took it upon himself to put Claire to bed. He pulled her keys out of her pocket and opened the door. This was no easy task for him as he still had Claire in his arms. He carried her to her room and set her gently down on her couch. What he was about to do seemed to border inappropriateness but he was Claire would be ok with it. He knew Claire wouldn’t like to sleep dressed the way she was, but he couldn’t bring himself to change her fully. In the end, he settled on taking her shoes off along with her jacket.
“There we go, Princess.” Carl said as he laid her on her bed and pulled the covers over her.
His mind raced with possibilities. How much he would have enjoyed just lying with her like this. And if he was honest with himself, how much he would enjoy more than that.
“Mmm...” Claire mumbled as she turned in her sleep, “I have to...”
"Tell you ... "
Claire’s hand reached out for Carl and nudged him down beside her. Rather awkwardly, he lay down next to her. She wrapped her arms around him and lay her head on his chest.
The initially innocent kiss soon crossed into a heavy make out session. Carl’s addiction to all things Claire was insatiable. Her soft curves and delicate skin did nothing to curb his appetite. Yet still the little voice inside his head told him to stop. And then he tasted the nape of her neck, felt the touch of her skin and the voice would fade away.
Their tongues danced as he found himself on top of her. Her hands wandered up his shirt, as his did to hers. His hands wandered further up, and he could feel himself growing hard with expectation of what was to come. Finally, just as one of his hands tempted themselves with unbuckling her jeans, he stopped. He kissed her cheek softly and almost immediately she resumed her gentle sleeping.
“No. Not like this.” Carl sighed as he kissed her hand and eased off her bed, “Sorry, Princess. I just can’t do it to you.”
After an eternity of his nether regions giving him hell for seeing no action, he smiled. It was at this moment that Carl realized he’d done the right thing. He could’ve had his way with Claire and she would’ve reciprocated out of instinct. But he couldn’t stand the thought of doing that to her. He didn’t have an excuse. He wasn’t drunk. And even if he was, he’d like to think he would still be a gentleman. Especially for their first time. He hoped a first time would come for them, but if it did, he wanted it to be more than a half drunk romp.
As he buttoned his shirt back up and slipped into his shoes, he couldn’t help stealing one last kiss of her hand. Then with an adoring smile, he turned to leave.
“I think I love you, Claire Carlyle.”
* * * * * *
Marty Lee woke from his slumber with a cold sweat. His dreams still cursed him. His conscience grated on him more and more. Remorse and guilt ran rampant through his spirit. He kicked his cover off and sat up on his bed. He couldn’t tell what time it was now, only that the moon was the only sliver of light throughout his room.
“I need a drink.” Marty Lee said to himself as headed into the hallway.
When he stepped into the hallway he could tell immediately that something wasn’t right. The front door was wide open. Immediately Marty Lee shot into a weary posture. His first instinct was to check on Ashley, but just as he was about to, he heard a noise coming from the kitchen. With barely a sound, he darted along the carpet, sticking to the wall as he prepared to jump any intruder.
Adrenaline pumped through his body as he pressed himself against the kitchen doorway. He could hear footsteps approaching and on instinct he rushed straight into the kitchen. He shot his foot up at the intruder’s head with a sharp side kick. He held his kick back an inch away from the intruder’s head when he realized it wasn’t an intruder at all.
“Lucas …” Marty Lee said in surprise.
He was so surprised by Lucas’s presence that his foot still remained just inches away from Lucas’s head. Lucas on the other hand didn’t seem fazed in the slightest.
“Hey, Dude. Nice to see the alarm’s working.”
With barely a nod, Lucas raised a can of beer to his mouth and took a large swig. He stepped straight past Marty Lee and headed for the lounge, where he promptly let himself fall back into the large seat. Marty Lee gave himself a few moments to come down from his adrenaline rush before he headed into the lounge.
“I didn’t know you’d be back. Are you ok? Storm ok?”
“Sure. We’re ok. Everything’s ok.” Lucas said as he took another drink from his can, “The house looks good. Thanks for taking care of it.”
“Thanks for letting me stay.”
“Get some sleep, Marty. We can talk in the morning.” Lucas said with a tired sigh.
Marty Lee tilted his head to the side in veiled astonishment. If he wasn’t mistaken, Lucas had just called him Marty. Lucas didn’t even seem to realize and Marty Lee wasn’t going to press the issue. He simply smiled at the unintended gesture.
“Are you hungry, Lucas? Is there anything I can get you?”
“No thanks. I’m just tired.”
“Is Dade ok?”
“No. He isn’t. He’s on his own now. I’m probably all he’s got and that’s not saying much. I’ve never really been his favorite person.”
This comment only seemed to fuel Lucas’s funk. He once again raised the can to his lips and drank it down till the liquid ran no more. Marty Lee, in an effort to appease Lucas, quickly headed back to the fridge to get Lucas another beer. Lucas obliged the gesture with a small smile before he cracked the can open and made short work of emptying it.
“If you don’t mind, Marty Lee, I’d like to be alone for a while. Get some sleep.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
Lucas nodded in response before he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Marty Lee hesitated for a moment, sensing that Lucas was not ok. Yet he didn’t think their relationship was at a point where Lucas would confide in him.
“Ok, Lucas. I’ll see you in the morning. It’s good to have you back.”
“We need to talk. In the morning.”
“Oh?” Marty Lee asked with a sense of trepidation.
“About you living here. In the morning.”
“Ok.” Marty Lee said with as little emotion possible.
As he left the lounge and headed back to his room, he tried not to get too worked up over Lucas’s comment. He tried not to think the worst. Surely Lucas wasn’t going to send him away? That couldn’t be it. Had Lucas changed his mind about letting him stay?
“In the morning.” Marty Lee said with a heavy sigh, “Welcome back, Lucas.”
* * * * * *
To Be Continued in 'Small Miracles'
* * * * * *
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