Chapter 8
by Julien Gregg
2003-2004 Julien Gregg

This story is about homosexual teenagers.  If you are offended by this kind of story, then you shouldn't read mine.  If it is not legal for you to read erotic fiction where you live, then you should not read this story.  If you have questions or comments, email me.  You can also visit my webpage.  There isn't much there yet, but soon there will be exclusive content.  This story is copyrighted, so please do not duplicate it in whole or in part without permission.

Grief is a powerful thing, and it can do things to a person that are worse than anything you'd ever imagine.  It can convince a person of wrongs they never committed, fights they never had and all sorts of ridiculous things.  It can ruin relationships and kill friendships.  It can halt an education, or make you decide to give up.  Grief is a powerful thing, alright, but sometimes it can also move you to a place in your life that you'd never have reached without it.  It can give you the insight you need to stop yourself from making the same mistakes again, and it can make you see things about yourself that you'd have never seen in any other light.

One thing that can become a large problem is people trying to help.  The problem in that is that they try too hard, making you reject the help they offer.  They don't always accept your rejection, so you fight harder to make them see.  Words are said, and actions are taken that you regret, but once its done, its done.  Bridges are burnt because of this, and soon you find that you can't mend the rifts you've created.

School is another thing that can be bad for you when your grieving.  There will always be someone in the world that gets a perverse kick out of your suffering, and inevitably, you'll respond badly.  There may be a physical fight, screaming or worse.  Sometimes, the cruelty that people dish out to each other is just too much for the recipient to be able to deal with.

In the weeks that followed my mother's funeral, I made many mistakes.  I hurt many people in ways I didn't even realize.  By the time my destructive streak was over, there was much apologizing to do.  I learned a hard lesson about life, and I didn't like it at all.  I'd lost my mother, because a client that she'd been unable to successfully defend had taken what he saw as revenge and shot her in the back of her head.  She was gone before I had a chance to even say goodbye to her.  I didn't even see her even once on the day that she was stolen from me.  That was a fact that worked on me for weeks after she died.

I went back to school the following Tuesday, and the snickers and everything that I'd made myself ignore before continued.  Only this time, I couldn't ignore them.  They snickered at me while I was grieving the loss of my mother, and during that time, I seemed to be keenly aware of everything going on around me.  It was because of this that I was sent to the dean's office so many times during my first week back to school.  I was sent to him, because I started using my fist to wipe the smirks off of the faces of my classmates.

My friends all warned me that I was going too far, but I didn't listen to any of them about that.  When Steve said something about it, we usually ended up in a fight.  Andy and I talked a lot, but he said pretty much the same things that Steve did, so our talks weren't working.  Mike and Tom both tried to talk to me about what was happening at school, but I kept telling them that I'd handle it on my own.

Mitch was getting pretty tired of seeing me, I'm sure, but he kept telling me that he understood that I was hurting.  He said that I needed to talk to someone, but I kept refusing to do that.  I didn't want to share anything with anyone about my mother, because for some reason, I felt like doing that would make her less mine.

Then, I switched gears and surprised everyone.  The third week after my mother died, I went back to working out and running.  Steve didn't like the intensity of the work outs or the distances of my running, but he tried to keep up with me.  I also threw myself into my school work.  Fighting at school was over, and I went back to ignoring the comments and looks that others gave me.  Most of them had stopped talking about me being gay and started to say much worse things, but I didn't care.

Doug and Frank had started studying with us, and that got me interested in what classes they were taking.  Before long, I was working out Calculus problems and Advanced Chemistry formulas.  My teachers were finally happy with me again, because my grades were coming up, my test scores were high, and I was once again virtually silent in class.

Mark started the GSA shortly after classes had resumed, and that was another thing for me to throw myself at.  I handed out flyers, talked to teachers and helped with posters and other decorations.  By the beginning of February, I was gaining muscle mass, getting better grades than I ever had in my life and basically driving myself to my death.

By Valentine's Day, I was falling asleep in most of my classes, because I was staying up later to study.  My workouts had gotten even harder, and my running was insane.  Steve was very worried about me, but I kept assuring him that I was fine.  In fact, that became my signature remark.  "I'm fine" was the answer that everyone got.  Inside, however, I was really in turmoil.

I missed my mother like crazy, and I snuck off to the cemetery whenever I could get away from everyone to talk to her grave.  I told her all about the things I was doing, leaving out the fact that most of them were crazy.  I usually ran to the cemetery every other morning, and Steve would follow, but when I went to visit her grave, Steve gave me space.

In early April, I took a test that basically challenged every class I was taking.  My guidance councilor wasn't happy about it, but that gave me all of the credits for the classes I was currently taking.  I wanted to go on to the more advanced classes, but no one on the faculty thought that was a good idea, because the semester was already well underway.  I signed up for three summer classes against the advice of my guidance councilor.  That way, I'd have three of the classes under my belt that were required for graduation before my Junior year even began.

I'd also advanced very quickly in karate classes, but David had threatened to kick me out if I didn't slow down.  For that reason, I pretended to go slower in class.  I don't know if he bought it or not, but he didn't kick me out.  I even signed up for a tournament, but other engagements at school prevented me from competing.

It was Easter when I got my wake up call.  That morning, Steve and I went for a run, and by the time we got half way through our new normal route, I started to feel funny.  My head started to pound, and my stomach felt like it was just completely gone.  Stupidly, I kept running, and by the time that we reached the cemetery, my vision started to get blurry.  I was half way to my mother's grave when I fell flat on my face.

"Tommy!" I heard Steve scream before I lost my grip on the waking world and unconsciousness claimed me.

When I opened my eyes, I was in a familiar and hated place.  The plain white, square ceiling tiles and the antiseptic smell mixed with rubbing alcohol were the first clues to my whereabouts.  When I moved my right hand, I noticed the IV, and I sighed in defeat.  I was back in the hospital, and this time, it was my own fault.

I could hear arguing in the hall outside my door, and the sound made my head scream.  I hated myself for ending up in the hospital again.  I was pretty sure why I was here this time, and that was no one's fault but my own.  I'd pushed myself far too much and too fast.  Now everyone was probably mad at me, and I deserved it.  Steve probably hated me for scaring him again.

Tom and Dr. Rizetti came in, and I could tell by the look on Tom's face that he was unhappy with me.  I wanted to just disappear rather than listen to a lecture, but I knew that I deserved it.  He sat in the folding chair beside the bed while Dr. Rizetti glared down at me.  They were both angry with me.  I had the feeling that I was in for the biggest lecture of my life.

"Well, I see you're awake," said Dr. Rizetti.  "How are you feeling?"

"My head hurts," I said quietly, shifting my eyes away from his.

"Well that's because you've got a nasty knot on it," he replied.

"Look, I know that everyone is mad at me," I said quickly.

"No," said Tom.  "We're not mad at you, Tommy. We're worried about you. There's a difference."

"Tom tells me that you've been running yourself ragged since your mother's funeral," said Dr. Rizetti.  "Running, working out, karate, school and a lot more."

"I wasn't trying to hurt myself," I moaned.  "I was just . . ."

"We know what you were doing," said Tom.

"Tommy, why didn't you call Dr. Franklin?" asked Dr. Rizetti.  "I gave you his number, so you could talk about your grief instead of bottling it up."

"I didn't want to talk," I replied, looking away.  "That's all everyone has been doing since January. Everyone wants to talk to me about it. I can't do that, because it hurts too much to talk."

"It hurts," agreed Dr. Rizetti.  "Talking about it will make it hurt less."

"It wasn't working," I said.

"That's because you weren't talking to the right person," he replied with authority.  "Dr. Franklin is a great man, and you should call him, Tommy. He can help you deal with this."

"I just don't know if I can talk to anyone about this," I said, looking at him finally.

"Well, you're going to talk to Dr. Franklin," said Tom.  "I'm setting up an appointment with him as soon as you're released."

"How long am I going to be in here?" I asked, looking from Tom to the doctor.

"Tommy, what day is it?" asked Dr. Rizetti.

"Its Easter," I replied, looking at him like he was crazy.

"No," said Tom.

"Easter was three days ago," said Dr. Rizetti.  "This is Wednesday."

"I've been asleep for three days?" I gasped.

"You had us worried," said Tom.

"You're going to be here at least another night," said Dr. Rizetti.  "We're going to monitor you. If you show us that you're not going to fall asleep again, then you can go home tomorrow."

"What about school?" I asked.

"Don't worry about school," he said.  "School will be there when you get home."

"No more insane workouts, Tommy," said Tom.  "Running is out, too."

"What about karate?" I asked.

"We'll talk to Dave and see what he says," replied Tom.  "But you are not running every morning anymore. If you work out, you will do it twice a week, and it will be after school."

He went on to tell me that Andy would be making sure that I went to bed at a decent hour, and I wasn't to get out of bed until six instead of four.  He said that Andy and Vince were worried sick about me, and Steve was blaming himself for not making me slow down.  I couldn't believe that one.  Steve had tried to slow me down several times, but I just snapped at him when he got too pushy.  I wasn't happy with myself for that, either.  He was trying to help me and look out for me.

When they left the room, it was nearly lunch time.  I couldn't believe that I'd been asleep for three days.  Had I really run myself that far? I worried about what Steve was thinking about this.  He had to be angry with me.  I was sure everyone was angry with me.  As I thought back to everything I'd said and done since the funeral, I imagined that most of my friends probably disliked me very much.  I couldn't blame them for it, either.  I'd been an ass, and I deserved whatever they threw at me.

As I was eating a tasteless lunch that consisted of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn, Tom came back into the room.  I wondered about his missing work, and I knew that was just another reason for him to be angry with me.  I wished that I could just make this all go away, but I knew that I had to be mature about it and face it.

"Are you mad at me?" I asked him when he sat down in the chair.

"I'm not mad at you, Tommy," he said.  "I am disappointed in you, though. You could have killed yourself with all of this. You're lucky that all that happened was exhaustion and a bump on the head. Steve is beside himself, Ben is more worried than he's ever been, and Shirley wants me to make you  move in with us, so we can watch you closely."

"I don't want to leave my house," I said quickly.

"I'm not going to make you," he said.  "Andy promises that he will keep you from over doing anything."

"I'll listen to him, too," I said.  "I'll listen to whatever he says."

"That's good to hear," he said.  "The poor boy has been chastised by his mother for all of this over and over again. He's a little upset about that."

"I don't blame any of them for hating me," I sighed.  "I deserve it."

"No one hates you, Tommy," he said.  "Now don't go borrowing trouble. They're all worried, but no one hates you."

"They should," I whispered.

"Stop that!" hissed Tom.  "This is what got you where you are, Thomas. Self hatred is the lowest form of hatred. You have got to deal with your mother's death. This will kill you eventually. Is that what you want? Do you want all of the people who care about you to grieve you?"

"I don't want to die," I cried.  "I just don't know how to deal with this. I tried, Tom. I really tried, but its too hard. How am I supposed to let go of my mother? How am I supposed to get over the fact that when I wake up every morning, she'll still be in the ground, because some son of a bitch shot her in the head and killed her? It hurts, damn it. It hurts more than anything I've ever known, and I can't stand it!"

"You need help, Tommy," sighed Tom.  "I know you're tired of talking about it, but from what I've seen you haven't talked about it at all. You've been screaming that you're fine for three months. You don't talk to Andy about it, and you used to talk to Andy about everything. Steve can't get it out of you, and Ben gave up trying after the third time you screamed at him. You need help, Tommy, and you're going to get it."

"I'll do whatever you want," I said, looking away from him.  "Whatever it takes."

"You can't do this, because I want you to," he said.  "You have to do this because you want to. It only works if you actively participate, Tommy. That's the only way its going to work."

"I will," I said.  "You're right. I can't do this anymore. I don't want to die, but I don't want to hurt like this any more, either. I don't know if it will work or not. I've never been very good at talking to anyone about what's going on in my head, but I'll do this and hope that something will change."

"That's all I can ask for," he said, taking my hand.  "But you have to understand that you are not alone, Tommy. We all love you very much, and we'll be here for you if you need anything."

After he left, I had to endure a phlebotomist drawing my blood.  I swear that some of those guys just love to inflict pain.  Its like they consider the hospital their own torture chamber.  I didn't get upset, though.  I just gritted my teeth and let him do his work.  He even had the nerve to smile at me when he was done.  It took every bit of self restraint I had to do no more than smile back at him.  I'm sure the smile looked as fake as it felt, though.  He didn't seem to notice or care.

I had plenty of time to mentally kick myself for my actions of the past few months after he left, though.  I looked back over the last three months, and I saw it for what it was.  The insane running schedule had me running three miles a day, and I dragged Steve along as well.  My workouts went from three days a week for a little over an hour to two hours every morning without fail.  I'd taken to going to bed around two in the morning most nights, and I was always climbing out of bed at four in the morning.  My nights were spent studying everything I could get my hands on.  Not only had I completely all of the work for almost all of my classes that semester, I'd borrowed text books from Doug, Frank, Don and Dustin to study what they were doing.  I'd made it almost all the way through each text.

It was a suicide mission.  I could see that now.  I had done everything I could to keep from even thinking about my mother.  They were right.  I was lucky that exhaustion and a knot on the head was all I got for my stupidity.  I just hoped that it wasn't too late to repair the damage I'd done to each of my friendships.  I owed them all huge apologies, and Steve was the one I owed the most.  I couldn't believe that I'd done this to him.  I could remember how many nights he'd tried to talk to me about slowing things down, and each time I'd snapped at him, telling him he would never understand.  How was he supposed to understand if I didn't talk to him? I thought about all of the times I'd gotten angry with him for hiding things from me and discovered that I was a hypocrite.  I'd been hiding myself from him for three whole months.  How could I ever make that up to him?

Steve cautiously walked in the door right after three that day.  I could see how worried he was by the tension in his face, and I hated myself for doing this to him.  He walked in and sat on the edge of my bed.  For a long time, neither of us said anything.  He just held my hand and stared into my eyes.  I'd never seen those beautiful azure eyes so stormy.

"Steve, I'm so sorry," I said finally, trying to face up to what I'd done to him and wondering how in the world he could ever forgive me.

"Don't," he said softly with a quiver in his voice that devastated me.  "I'm just glad you're ok, Tommy. I was so scared when you wouldn't wake up. I thought you were going to die on me. I can't even think of what I'd do if you died."

"It was exhaustion," I said stupidly.

"It doesn't matter what it really was," he said finally sounding angry.  "You fell, and I had to carry you to the bench. I sat there with you for almost an hour, trying to wake you up. I was so scared that you were going to die, because I couldn't leave you. I was just lucky that a grounds keeper saw us and called 911."

"Oh, God," I whispered.

"Then I had to explain to Tom and Shirley what happened, and then everyone was telling them about what you'd been doing," he said.  "Tommy, you were going to fast, pushing yourself to keep from feeling anything. You wouldn't stop, and when any of us tried to talk to you, you screamed at us. 'I'm fine' was all you said to anyone."

"Steve, I . . ."

"You scared me, Tommy," he said.  "If you ever do that again, I'm going to tie you up and make you rest."

"I promise that I won't do it again, Steve," I said.  "I'm going to make an appointment with Dr. Franklin. Tom and Shirley have put all kinds of rules on me, and I have to follow them."

"So, you're going to do all of this, because they imposed some rules?" he asked, getting angry.  "You're going to call the doctor to keep them from splitting us up? Why can't you see, Tommy? Why don't you understand that you really need the help."

"I do understand that, Steve," I said quickly.  "I'm not doing this just because of rules, and what do you mean about them trying to split us up?"

"They wanted to move you in with them," he said.  "They didn't want to let us spend much time together, because they believe that I would let you do it all over again."

"You tried to stop me!" I cried.

"But they weren't around to see that," he informed.  "All they ever saw was me trailing after you as you ran away."

"I'm so sorry," I said, looking down.  "I promise that everything will be different, Steve. I won't run away from you anymore."

"I hope you're serious, Tommy," he said.  "I love you, but I can't do this anymore."

"Things will be different, Steve," I said, looking into his eyes.

"I hope so."

By the time the supper tray was brought into my room, Shirley, Mike and Nick were there.  Each of them gave me a similar speech to Steve's.  Ben still hadn't come, so I knew that I had my work cut out for me with him.  Andy came and gave me Hell for scaring him, but he said that he wasn't mad at me.  By the time visiting hours were over, I'd seen just about everyone, and each one had given me a lecture about not overworking myself anymore.

I had a turbulent sleep that night filled with nightmares about my mother and my own death.  Each one woke me up, and so I got very little sleep.  I wished that Steve were there, but Shirley had been adamant about his going home with Vince.  She was the only one that had come that showed genuine anger, but I didn't blame her.  I deserved anger and a lot worse from all of them.

Tom showed up just before breakfast.  He sat with me, and we talked about Dr. Franklin and when to set the appointment.  I didn't want to miss any more school, but Tom reminded me that none of my classes were for credits anymore.  That was one of the insane things I'd done.  I'd challenged each class and passed tests to give me the credits.  I thought about it, and I knew that if I challenged the next year's classes, I could probably pass the tests for those as well.  I'd studied everything I could get my hands on.

"So," said Tom, bringing me back to the present and out of my mind.  "Are you ready to get out of here?"

"More than ready," I affirmed.  "I just have to wait for Dr. Rizetti to sign my release."

"Well, he'll be along after breakfast, I'm sure," he said.  "I trust that you and Steve had a good talk last night."

"We did," I replied.  "There's so much making up to do with him. I basically just shut him out all that time, and I feel really bad about it."

"Well, he loves you," he said.  "It won't be so hard for the two of you to get things back on track."

"I hope not," I sighed.  "Then there's Ben and Andy to deal with."

"Andy is actually looking forward to you coming home," said Tom.  "He asked about you every day, and he was here quite a bit. Ben was, too. He's been angry with himself for not stopping you."

"That's just ridiculous," I said firmly.  "No one could have stopped me. He has nothing to feel guilty about."

"Ridiculous or not, that's how he feels," said Tom.  "You have to understand that the people who care about you are all feeling guilty about letting you get this far."

"I'm the one who deserves to feel guilty," I mumbled.

"Well, that's just how things work," he said.  "You can always make a situation worse by adding a little guilt to it, Tommy. Its as old as time. There never was a person on the Earth that couldn't make his or her load heavier by adding a few pounds of guilt on top of the burden they carry. That's something you're going to have to learn to deal with. None of us can help you, because we've added our own guilt to this burden."

"And its my fault," I said, looking at him.

"Fault is irrelevant," he replied.  "You did what you did in grief. Grief strikes every person differently. You just need to work through it. I'm not saying that it will magically disappear, but you can learn ways to live with it."

"Does it ever go away?" I asked, hanging all of my hope on the answer he would give.

"It never goes away completely," said Tom.  "But it does get better. You learn to live with it, and it becomes a part of you. Its kind of like learning to wear glasses or to live with a new person in your life. There are things you can do to make it seem to go away. You can run yourself to death, fight with Steve or rebel against us, but it will always be there, waiting for you, until you face it and learn to live with it."

"Its so hard," I said as tears filled my eyes.

"It is hard," he agreed, "but you don't want to forget her, do you?"

"No!" I gasped.  "I never want to forget her, and I'm afraid that I will. I already can't remember the last thing we said to each other the night before she died."

"Well then, you need grief, Tommy," he said seriously.  "Grief makes sure that you don't forget. It makes sure that you remember forever."

I chewed on that one for the rest of the day.  I tried not to be distracted when I finally got home, but I couldn't help it.  He'd said that grief never went away completely.  So many things that he said required a lot of thought.  I listened with half of an ear as Andy told me all about what had been going on in the house while I was gone.

He told me that Vince and Steve were getting along better than he'd ever seen them.  Nick and Jeremy were over every night to do homework with Steve, and sometimes, Peter, Marcy, Ben and Wendy came, too.  They all asked about my recovery, and each of them expressed a desire to have me home and with them all again.

One thing that I knew had been going on since Andy had moved in, but failed to even pay attention to it, was the work on the basement.  We'd never really used the basement for more than laundry.  There was a bathroom down there, but the rest was pretty much open space.  Andy and Vince had been working to divide it up into rooms.  Now there was a bedroom down there where Andy slept, and there was an activity room of sorts as well.  Andy had tried to get me interested in furnishing the two extra rooms that he and Vince had created, but I'd blown them both off.

It really looked good down there, though.  The walls had been cinder blocks painted white, and the floor was cement.  In one corner, there was the washer and dryer, and they were still where they had been, but walls had been built around them to make a laundry room.  They'd built shelves over the machines, and all of the laundry soaps, fabric softeners and such were stored there.  Andy had even drawn water pipes from the washer's water source to put in a large sink between the two machines.

The bathroom had been in another corner, and it had consisted of a toilet and sink out in the open with a shower stall off to the side.  Now there were walls to add privacy, and more shelves had been put in above the toilet where towels and washcloths were stored.  There were two doors that gave access to the bathroom.  One was from the little hall they'd created at the bottom of the stairs, and the other went into Andy's room.

Andy's room was about the same size as mine, and he'd carpeted the floor and painted his walls.  His bed, dresser and desk were there, and I noticed the Ethernet cable running up the wall in one corner and through the floor above it.  I imagine that if I went upstairs, I'd see the cord continue up the corner and through the ceiling there, too.  I knew it was going to the router in my bedroom.

The largest section of the basement had been divided off into what Andy had called the activity room.  It was almost completely empty.  The only things in the room were a card table and four folding chairs.  The walls had been painted, and the floor was carpeted with indoor/outdoor carpet.  Andy said that he was wanting to build a bar like the one in Rick's basement.  I told him that I thought it would be nice.  There were so many things that I could see in the room in my imagination.  It would just take time to get it all the way we wanted it.

The last room in the basement was neither painted nor carpeted.  The room was about the size of the kitchen above it, and it was clear from what was in there that the room was a small gym.  Steve's weights were in there, and I wondered why they'd been moved from the basement.  Then I realized that there were at least two cars in the garage already.  That left very little room for weights.

When we got back upstairs, Steve was walking through the side door from school.  He came to me and wrapped his arms around me immediately.  I returned the embrace and silently thanked God that he loved me at all after what I'd done.  I was going to make it up to him.  There was only the figuring out how that would slow me down.

"Welcome home, Bud," he said, smiling at me.

"Thank you," I said trying to return his smile.

"Did Andy show you the basement?" he asked.

"He did," I affirmed.  "It looks great."

"You refused to go down there before," he said, looking down slightly.

"That's all over now, Steve," I promised.  "You'll see."

We went into the kitchen for a snack, which was our usual routine after school.  Andy and Vince were sitting at the table, talking about what to do when classes ended for the summer.  I listened to their conversation, but I didn't give them any input.  I wasn't even sure if I should remind them that I'd already signed up for Summer School.  Steve had been very upset over that, and he'd promised to let me tell everyone in my own time.  When I'd asked for that promise, I was still running from everything and everyone.  Now I was just worried about their reactions.

I sat with Steve, Nick and Jeremy in the dining room while they did their homework.  I read over a few things in one of Andy's text books, but I saw Steve give me a sour look a few times.  I wasn't over doing anything by simply reading a text book, so I ignored the sour looks.  Reading through Andy's text book was just something for me to do to pass the time while he and the others did their homework.  It wasn't as if I was trying to get a jump start on college.

Not long after Nick and Jeremy went back home, Ben came over.  He hugged me so tight that for a minute, and I thought my ribs would crack.  Then he called me a dick! I deserved it, so I didn't respond to it.  He gave me a long speech about being a real friend and coming to him when I needed to talk.  Everything he said was absolutely true and right, and I had no argument to counter him.  I wondered if it was going to be this way with everyone.

"You could have killed yourself, you know?" said Ben.

"I've been told that several time," I assured him.  "I owe you an apology."

"I accept," he said.  "Just don't do it again."

And that was that.  Ben and I were just as we had been before I'd gone off the deep end, but then we always buried the hatchet fast.  He joined me and Steve in the living room to watch a little television while Andy and Vince worked on supper.  Steve took many calls from friends, asking how I was doing, but he quickly explained to them that I was having a quiet evening at home.

Tom and Shirley arrived just before supper was finished, and Tom took Steve into the dining room for a private chat, leaving me with Ben and Shirley.  I was sure that they were talking about me, but I'd promised to just let things like that go, so I didn't even think about it much.  Shirley told me that she was happy that I was out of the hospital, but she still thought I needed to spend some time at their house.

"I'm not going to go back to what I was doing," I said quickly.  "Besides, I was promised that I wouldn't be moved out of my home."

"That wasn't what I was trying to suggest, Tommy," she said.  "I was merely suggesting that you recover at our house."

"Recover from what?" I asked slowly, wondering where she was going with this.

"Calm down," she said.  "I can see those wheels turning in your head. I was talking about the exhaustion, Tommy."

"Dr. Rizetti said that I will recover just fine with rest," I replied.

"And you're going to rest here?" she asked.

"Yes, I will," I said.  "Steve, Andy and Vince will even make sure of it."

"Damn straight we will," said Vince from the doorway.  "Supper's ready. Come eat."

We filed into the dining room, breaking up Steve and Tom's discussion in the process.  They were both smiling, so I wasn't worried about what they'd been talking about.  I could tell from the look on Shirley's face that our conversation was far from over, and the thought of it made me tired.  I didn't want to argue over whether or not I could rest in my own home.

"I have some good news," said Tom when we'd all sat down and Andy and Vince had put all of the food on the table.  "We got the statement on the dividends from your investments today, Tommy."

"What does it say?" I asked, trying hard to remember exactly what we'd invested in and how much we'd invested.

"Over forty thousand dollars has been deposited into your account over the last three months, Tommy," he said smiling.  "I'll be talking with you after you see Dr. Franklin in the morning. We'll decide how much to reinvest, and we'll go over the statement together."

"Forty thousand dollars?" I asked stunned.

"That's right," he chuckled.  "That's what Steve and I were talking about. I wanted to wait until tomorrow to tell you, but he thought it would be a good idea to tell you now."

"Judging from the look on his face, I think I was right," said Steve, grasping my knee under the table.

"How much of it do I have to reinvest?" I asked, thinking of the furniture that Andy and Vince wanted for the basement.

"Well, we'll discuss that in more detail tomorrow," he said.  "After Dr. Franklin."

"What time is the appointment?" I asked.  I'd already accepted that I wouldn't go back to school for a few days, but I thought I might be able to do some shopping.

"Nine," said Shirley.  "We'll expect you to be ready by eight."

"I will be," I assured her.

For the rest of the meal, they all talked about different things that were going on in their lives.  I kept thinking about the money.  It wasn't long before I remembered just how I had gotten that money, and that took the wind out of my sails.  It dawned on me that my mother had to die for me to have the money to have invested to begin with, and that hurt.  Then, for the first time since the funeral, I was crying again.  I was crying real tears.

"Are you all right?" asked Steve, putting an arm around me.  He looked so worried.

"I just wish she was here," I said, wiping tears out of my eyes.

"We all do," said Vince from across the table.

We were silent for a little bit after that.  I'm sure they were shocked to see such an outward show of grief from me after so long, and I was actually feeling more and more of it throughout that day.  Everything in the house reminded me of her, and I was too tired to do anything to keep my mind off of it.  Slowing down was going to be crushing for me.  I could see that very clearly.  I'd been running from this for a long time, and until recently, I'd successfully convinced my mind to think about nothing that had to do with my mother.

After supper, Shirley and Ben went home, but Tom stayed to discuss the next day's activities with Andy.  Steve and I sat in the living room with Vince, and I really listened while both of them explained that they were there for me whenever I needed them.  This time, I would actually come to both of them when I was feeling like I had felt at supper.  It was going to be hard, but I would do it, because I knew that I had to deal with this.

"You're not happy about my decision to take summer classes, are you?" I asked Steve when we were getting ready for bed.

"Not really," he admitted.  "To me it just seems like another way to run away from your grief."

"It was when I made the decision," I admitted.  "Now I'm just looking forward to it, because of the credits it will give me."

"But that means that you'll graduate a whole year early," he said, sitting down beside me on the bed.  "That's the biggest part that makes me not like it."

"What do you mean?" I asked quickly.  I wanted to start college as soon as possible.  I'd thought he would be happy for me.

"Tommy, this may sound selfish, but I can't help it," he said, taking my hand.  "I don't want to go through my Senior year of high school without you there with me. If you do this, you'll be in college, and I'll be in high school. We planned to do all of it together, remember?"

"I hadn't thought about it that way," I sighed.

"Then there's the fact that everything we'd originally planned for this summer requires that both of us be able to do them," he said.  "If you're in school all summer, none of it will really happen."

"You mean like Magic Land and the camping trips?" I asked, remembering the night we'd made the plans.  They'd seemed to me to only be desires at the time.  We didn't have the money to do any of it then.  We'd said we'd get jobs to pay for it all, but how would we have time to do any of it with jobs?

"That and the jobs, Tommy," he said.  "I want to get a job."

"My being in school won't stop you from getting a job," I countered.

"No, but you'll always be studying," he said.  "Summer classes cover almost triple the amount of material that regular classes cover," he said.

"So you're worried that we'll rarely see each other," I said in understanding.

"Partly," he said.  "I can't explain it right now, but I wish that you'd never challenged the classes this semester."

"I have to admit that school's been very boring since I took those tests," I admitted.

"Do you think you'll really be ready for college in one year?" he asked.

"What makes you think I'd be any more ready in two?" I countered.  "I may not be ready if I wait to graduate on time, either."

"That's true, but at least then you'd have your friends with you," he said.

"So, you think all of us will make it into the same college?" I asked.  "The odds of that are staggering, Steve."

"But you and I will go to the same college," he said.  "If you wait."

"So you're saying that if I graduate early and go to college a year before you, that you will go to a different college when you graduate?" I asked.  "That's kind of selfish, don't you think?"

"I didn't mean it that way," he said.  "Look, I don't want to fight about this."

"Neither do I," I replied.  "I'm too tired to fight about school. I understand where you're coming from, I think, and I even agree that it would be going too fast."

"I wasn't trying to make you mad, Tommy," he said, slipping under the comforter.

"I'm not mad," I said, joining him and putting my arm over him.  "You gave me something to think about."

"I love you," he said.  "I just don't like to see you push yourself so hard."

"That's over, Steve," I said.  "I love you, too."

The next morning, we both got up at six.  Steve went downstairs to work out while I sat in the kitchen with Vince.  Andy still hadn't come down, so Vince and I ate bowls of cereal.  It really bothered me that Steve was in the basement working out without me, but I knew that if I even attempted to walk toward the basement door, Vince would be on me.

"Its bugging you, isn't it?" he asked as he looked at me from across the table.


"You've only been glancing at the basement door every other second or so," he said.

"I just don't like him working out alone," I replied, dropping my gaze.

"Well, as soon as you show Andy that you can slow down, you'll be allowed to go back to working out," he said.

"Not if Shirley has anything to do with it," I said bitterly.

"Tom says its all up to Andy," reiterated Vince.  "Shirley's just worried about you."

"She's a bit bossy," I said.

"Yeah," he chuckled.  "I would be too, though. You scared us all to death."

"How many times do I have to say I'm sorry for that before people at least act like they forgive me?" I demanded, slapping the table.

"Easy," he said with wide eyes.

"Fuck," I sighed, rubbing my hands over my face.  "I'm sorry, Vince."

"Don't apologize," he said.  "You're showing an emotion."

"What do you mean?" I inquired, looking up at him again.

"Well, for three months, the only thing any of us ever got out of you was 'I'm fine!'" he said.  "At least anger is something new."

"Oh, I'm angry, all right," I sighed.  "I just wish that everyone would stop treating me like a kid."

"But you are a kid, Tommy," he countered.  "Don't try to grow up too fast. Believe me, being an adult isn't all its cracked up to be."

"You say that like you have experience with being an adult," I said, looking at him intently.

"I've basically been Steve's only parent for almost an entire year, Tommy," he said.  "How much more experience do you want?"

"I'm sorry," I replied.  "I didn't mean to imply . . ."

"No, its ok," he said.  "I just don't want you to think that you have to grow up so fast. You need to be the kid that you are."

"How about teenager?" I quipped, giving him a grin.

"Deal," he said.

"Well, I see you are showing that you can be trusted," said Shirley as she and Tom came through the side door with Jeremy and Nick on their heels.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I demanded, turning in my seat to face her.

"Well, with all of the times that I told you to slow down before you collapsed . . ."

"Shirley," warned Tom, giving her a look.

"You asked," I said quickly.  "Everyone asked. I never agreed to anything, so no one can say that I went back on my word or disobeyed anyone."

"Watch your tone," she said sternly.

"Watch my tone?" I bit.  "Look, I know that you and Tom are my guardians and everything, but you don't have to treat me like an insolent child. I said I'd be ready by eight, and I am."

"Woe," said my sweaty boyfriend as he came in through the basement door.  "What's going on?"

"Tommy is being rude," said Shirley, glaring at me.

"No, I'm being honest," I spat.  "If you're going to treat me like that, then maybe I should petition the court for another guardian."

"Thomas," said Tom.  "Calm down."

"Why?" I asked.  "She gets to talk to me like I'm four, and when I say something back, you're going to get angry? Well, I'm sorry if my attitude is so unacceptable. The bottom line is that I said I would be ready, and I am. I don't think that gives anyone to right to say that I can't be trusted. When statements like that are made about me, I will reply, Tom. Like I said, if you and Shirley don't feel like you can trust me, then maybe I should find another guardian."

No one said anything after that.  They all just stood there and stared at me like I was insane.  Andy had come downstairs and was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, staring at me.  Shirley was shooting daggers at me with her eyes, and Tom looked shocked.  They wanted me to deal with my mother's death, and I would do that in my own way.  Yes, running myself ragged to try and keep myself from even thinking about the grief had been wrong, but I wasn't going to be treated like an idiot for it.

I loved Shirley almost as much as I loved my mother, but she was not my mother.  I understood that I'd scared her when I collapsed.  I'd scared all of them, but she still didn't have the right to talk to me like that.  Guardianship didn't give her that right, either.  I would continue to stand up for myself whenever anyone said things like that to me.  They were going to have to get used to it.

Tom and Shirley were both silent all the way to Dr. Franklin's office.  I sat in the back seat of their car, watching the scenery pass by as we drove through the city.  I imagined that they had a lot on their minds, and I was thinking about a few things, too.  I'd promised Steve that I'd think about what we had talked about the night before.  Well, I was thinking about it, but I he wasn't going to be happy about my decision.  I was going to attend summer school, and I was going to do everything in my power to graduate as soon as possible.  It wouldn't be so that I could get into college sooner, though.  I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to gain out of it, but I would figure that out.

Dr. Franklin's office was in a plaza building down town.  His waiting area was large with soft red chairs along one wall and a dark wood coffee table in front of them with magazines stacked in three piles on it.  Tom spoke to the receptionist while Shirley and I sat down to wait.  We said nothing to each other, and I was happy for that, because I was still thinking about what I wanted to do.

I wasn't exactly thrilled when they called Tom and Shirley into Dr. Franklin's office and told me to stay in the waiting room.  The receptionist handed me a clipboard with five papers that I was told to fill out.  The questions asked were redundant.  They could have gotten almost all of the answers from Dr. Rizetti, but I filled out the papers like a good boy, and I was just finishing when Dr. Franklin came to fetch me.

He was a tall man, standing at least six foot and three inches tall.  His hair was dark and cut very short, and it was thinning quite a bit.  He looked to be in his late forties, and his dark eyes were framed by wire rimmed glasses.  He had a kind face, and I thought that I might actually like him.  I wanted to make sure that our sessions would be private, though.  I would not say one word to him in front of Tom and Shirley that wasn't common knowledge.

"Mr. Porter, I understand that you recently suffered the loss of your mother," he said, sitting behind his large mahogany desk.  I sat in one of the high backed chairs in front of the desk.  These were also mahogany.

"That's right," I said, keeping the emotion out of my voice.

"Mr. and Mrs. Meyers tell me that they are now your guardians, and they're worried that you are not dealing with your grief very well," he said, looking at me with scrutinizing eyes.

"There isn't any way for me to deny that," I replied in the same emotionless tone.

"Dr. Rizetti has told me a bit about your medical background," he said, looking at a legal pad in front of him.  "You suffered from severe exhaustion and collapsed on Easter morning. Is that right?"

"That's right," I affirmed.

"How close were you with your mother, Mr. Porter?" he asked, looking back up at me.

"Look," I sighed, "this isn't going to get anywhere this way."

"What do you mean?" he asked, and I noticed a sideways glance from Shirley.

"Well, as they told you, Mr. and Mrs. Meyers are my guardians, but shouldn't I be talking to you in private?" I asked, returning Shirley's glance.

"We thought it would be best if we all had a chance to talk," said the doctor, glancing at the Meyers as well.

"That's fine," I replied.  "I won't be sharing anything personal in their presence, though. If we are going to meet regularly, then I hope that in the future our sessions will be one on one."

"I assure you, they will be," he said quickly.

"Thank you," I said, settling back in my chair slightly.

"Will you tell me about your relationship with your mother?" he asked, picking up his pen to write more on the legal pad.

"Not on this visit," I replied, gaining another sideways glance from Shirley.  "As I said, nothing personal unless we're one on one."

"Tommy," she said softly, but her tone was angry.

"All right, look," I sighed, leaning forward in the chair.  "My mother was shot and killed by a man named Charles Pink, and I didn't take the news of her death very well at all. I suffered from some sort of stomach problem, and I had to be hospitalized for it. Later, I did everything I could think of to stop myself from even thinking about the fact that my mother was gone. That led to complete exhaustion, and I was hospitalized again. Now, I'm here to learn to accept that my mother is gone and to grieve her passing."

"From the way you describe it," he said, giving me that scrutinizing look again, "it sounds as though you aren't letting yourself feel anything now, either."

"Isn't that what I'm here for?" I asked.  "To learn how to feel it?"

"That's partly why you're here," he said. "Mrs. Meyers tells me that you've become a bit rebellious."

"Has she," I said bitterly.  "I wouldn't say that I've become rebellious. I spoke my mind this morning when she said something that I didn't agree with. If that is rebellion, then I'm mistaken."

"Did you not feel close to your guardians before you mother's death?" he asked.

"Yes, I did," I replied.  "I still do. I just don't think that it would be fair to discuss anything that is personal to me in front of them. That isn't because I don't trust them or feel close to them. I'm a private person, Dr. Franklin. If this is a problem, I can stop wasting your time."

"Your privacy isn't a problem, Mr. Porter," he said.  "I just thought that it would be good to have your guardians present for our first session."

"Fine," I replied, sitting back.

"Oh, come now," he said, smiling at me.  "Until just now, I saw in you real maturity. Pouting is for children, Mr. Porter. Don't ruin the image of you that I've built upon my first impression."

"I wasn't pouting," I replied, and I couldn't help smiling.  His expression was comical.

"There, that's better," he chuckled.  "I believe we'll start with seeing each other once a week. Any problems there?"

"None," I replied as Tom started to say something.

"Well, I'll let my receptionist schedule the appointments, and we'll do our best to make sure that you miss very little, if any school at all," he said, holding his smile even as the corners of his eyes tightened at my cutting Tom off.

"Thank you," I replied.

"Very well," he said, glancing at the calendar on his desk.  "Why don't we try for an appointment one week from now?"

"Sounds good," I replied.

"I'll see you then," he said, standing and reaching for my hand.  "Mr. Meyers, it won't be necessary for either you or your wife to be present for any of our sessions in the future. If Mr. Porter decides to include you in a session, we'll talk then."

"Thank you, Doctor," said Tom as we stood.

We said nothing in the car on the way back to my house.  I was certain that they were angry with me, and I knew that I could have handled that a bit better, but things were just popping out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop them anymore.  I didn't understand Shirley's attitude, either.  I'd had no idea that she would be like she was, but then I'd never really spent a great deal of time with her, either.  Maybe she was just prone to saying things that pissed people off.

Then I started to think about the things that she said.  Yes, the bit about showing that I could be trusted wasn't exactly the right thing to say, but had she really meant anything bad when she said it? This was all hard on her, too.  She probably didn't know what to say to me half of the time.  When my mother died, I started vomiting so bad that I had to be hospitalized to make me stop, and then I'd practically gone on a suicide mission to keep from having to grieve, ignoring everyone in the process.  I'd agreed to stop trying to bury my grief in more and more workouts and school work, but I'd just gone from doing that to doing something else.  Now I was biting everyone's heads off, because I couldn't deal with the grief.  I'd snapped at Shirley several times, and Steve and Vince had been on the other side of my harsh tongue a few times, too.

"Shirley," I said as the car turned into our neighborhood, "I owe you an apology."

"Tommy, what's gotten into you?" she asked, turning in her seat to face me.  "I realize that I should choose my words a bit more carefully, but you've been out right rude."

"I know," I admitted.  "I don't know what's gotten into me. I don't hate you. I'm very grateful to you and Tom for accepting guardianship of me, and I don't understand why I'm biting everyone's head off."

"This is something for you to discuss with Dr. Franklin," said Tom as we pulled up in front of my house.

"I plan on it," I replied.

We walked into the house in silence.  Vince and Andy were both gone to classes, so we had the house to ourselves.  Mike and I sat in the dining room while Shirley made some lunch for us.  He had brought a folder of papers with him, and he spread them out in front of me.  They were all stock reports, and I had no idea how to read them.

"We invested in four different companies," he said, and I could see that information at the top of each page.  "These are the reports from each."

"I don't know how to read them," I said, looking at them and trying to at least figure out what to look for on each page.

Shirley came into the dining room with a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches.  We ate the sandwiches with chips while Tom explained the information on each of the pages.  He told me again that forty thousand dollars had been deposited into my savings account, and we started to discuss exactly how much of that money I wanted to reinvest.  He said that I didn't have to invest any of it, if I didn't want to.  I didn't know what to do with forty thousand dollars.

"There are some things that still need to be done to the basement to finish what Andy and Vince started," I said.  "I'd like to furnish the activity room, too. I just don't see that taking forty thousand dollars."

"You'll need a car soon, too," reminded Shirley.  "You'll want to keep money for that."

"Yes, but there's still plenty of money in the trust to draw on for the car," I said, looking at Tom.  "Can't I reinvest most of the forty thousand and still draw some from the trust to get my car?"

"That's an option," he replied.  "You're thinking that reinvesting most of the forty thousand will increase the odds of making more money?"

"Well, from what you've told me, it sounds like it would work," I said.

"Oh, it will work," he agreed.  "I just wanted to make sure that I understood what you were wanting to do."

"Do you think reinvesting is a good idea?" I asked him.

"Oh, its definitely a good idea," he said.  "But you don't have to invest all of the money."

"How much?" I asked.

"Well, why don't we invest twenty-five thousand," he said.  "Fifteen thousand should get the basement finished and give you a little money to keep in your savings for summer and the next school year."

"That will be more than plenty for the basement," I said.

"Let's not forget that more dividends will be deposited into your account later," he said.  "This will happen as long as the stocks continue to grow in worth."

"You're going to be making a lot of money, Tommy," said Shirley.  "You chose very good stocks."

"I have to admit that I don't even remember choosing any," I said.  "I was too far into myself to really pay attention. Its just good that Tom knew what he was doing."

Thankfully, neither of them commented on that remark.  Tom left a few minutes later to carry out the investments, and I helped Shirley clean up lunch.  I admitted to her that I had no cooking skill, and she laughed.  We spent the next hour talking about cooking, and I saw just how wrong I was about her.  She had only said the things she said, because she was worried about me, and after everything I'd done since the funeral, her statement about me showing that I could be trusted was only a reflection of all of the times I'd promised to do something and failed to keep the promises.

We had a good time together that afternoon.  She taught me enough that afternoon to cook a basic supper that evening, and when Steve and Ben got there, they were both shocked to see me in the kitchen.  Ben made cracks about not knowing if he could trust the food, but Steve informed him that he had complete faith in my cooking abilities.  I didn't know if I should hug him for saying it or warn him not to be over confident in something I only just learned.

Shirley helped me put the finishing touches on the meal while Ben and Steve did their homework.  It was fun being the one to shoo them away from the dining room table when the meal was ready.  I'd baked a meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn and gravy.  The gravy was the absolute hardest thing to make.  Shirley had to keep coaching me while I made it, but she said it looked great.

We all sat down, and I laughed at the ominous looks on Vince and Andy's faces as they dished up their plates.  Tom and Shirley kept remarking on how good everything smelled, and Ben acted as if it was toxic waste on his plate.  Steve just smiled at me and thanked me for cooking.  I was going to have to remember to reward him for his behavior later.

"Its good," said Vince when he took a bite of his meatloaf.  "You did all right, Tommy."

"Thank you," I replied.

"Not bad," said Andy after trying his potatoes and gravy.  "Tastes just like my mom's."

"Thank you," I said, smiling at him.

"So what went on in school today?" asked Tom as each of them started to compliment me on the meal.

"Not too much," replied Ben.  "We had a GSA meeting after school today, so that's why we were later than usual."

"How's that going?" asked Andy.

"So far it seems to be going great," said Steve.  "The football team shows up at every meeting, and they've been passing out flyers all over school. I doubt that too many people will say too many negative things. They're scared of the football team."

"I still can't believe that you guys rounded up the entire varsity football team," said Vince.

"Well, actually, they rounded up themselves," I said.  "It started with Doug and Frank, and then other members of the team just started to appear next to us in the halls, and then the whole team started sitting with our group at lunch."

"It was kind of like a miracle to us," said Steve.  "Not all of them were really comfortable with our sexuality, but the longer they hung out with us, the more they got to see that our sexuality doesn't define us."

"Yeah," I said.  "They each started to spend a little time with us individually, and once they saw that we liked to do 'normal' things, they stopped having a problem with our sexuality."

"I've noticed that a few of them have been over quite a lot," said Shirley.  "Doug especially."

"Doug's cool," said Ben.  "He's been training me for the team next year."

"You're going to go for that?" asked Tom.

"I really want to," said Ben.  "Its been a long time since I played on a real team, Dad."

"I'm behind you on it," he said.  "It would be nice to come see you play again."

"Just don't get hurt," warned Shirley.  "You know I can't deal with that."

"I'll be fine, Mom," he said, smiling at her.

"He's got a great arm," said Vince.  "I've watched them play in the vacant lot next to Doug's house, and Ben can really throw the ball."

"Doug says he thinks he might just have a shot at quarterback," said Steve.

"That must be exciting for you," said Tom.  "Going from defense to offense."

"If I can actually do it," said Ben.  "Doug's trying to help me with it, though."

"What about you two knuckleheads?" asked Tom.  "Any football in your future?"

"Not mine," I replied.  "I'm more of a baseball guy."

"I like to play casually," said Steve.  "I just don't think I would like to dedicate so much time to it, though."

"What are you interested in devoting your time to?" asked Tom.

"Well, I know that I'll never be a professional sports star, and I don't want to be," he said.  "I'm more interested in financial studies. Maybe accounting."

"What about you, Tommy?" asked Shirley.

"Well, I've always wanted to be a computer programmer," I said.  "Lately, I'm also getting interested in web design and a few other things, but they all involve computers."

"Doug wants to design graphics for web pages," said Ben.  "We talked about it the other day."

"We've discussed that, too," I said.  "Graphics are fun, but I really don't need to go to school to learn to make them. Web page design would be a good place to start, but I'm not giving up my dream to be a programmer."

"You just want to work for Microsoft," laughed Ben.

"I admit that Microsoft used to appeal to me," I said.  "Lately, though, I think I want to be a bit more original."

"What do you mean?" asked Tom.

"Well, Microsoft programmers basically only work on improving a concept," I said.  "For instance, each version of Windows is really based on an earlier version. What I want to do is create something new. I want to create something original and a bit more user friendly."

"Windows is user friendly," said Vince.

"Yes, but not the way I mean," I replied.  "You can't really personalize Windows. You can change a few settings, but you can only change them based on options available in the programming. What I want to do is create something that is completely user friendly. That way, if you didn't like something about the way it worked, with a little programming knowledge, you could really get in there and change things around to better suit what you want your computer to do for you."

"Sounds like a lot of work," said Andy.

"Oh it would be," I agreed, nodding my head.  "I didn't say that I was ever actually going to be able to do that. Its just a dream."

"Don't let go of your dreams," said Tom.  "You never know what you can do until you apply yourself to doing it."

"Well, I know that the classes that I want to take next year in school will give me a lot more knowledge than I have right now," I said.  "I was surprised at the type of computer classes that Storyville High offers."

"Is that what you were planning to take in summer school?" asked Steve, and I could hear that he was still against it in his tone.

"No," I said.  "Summer school was just a way to get a few classes out of the way to open up more time for computer classes in the regular school year."

"You also wanted to graduate early," reminded Ben.

"Well, I've decided against that," I replied.  "I still may take a few classes in summer school, but college scholarships are easier to get with more classes under my belt. I could use the extra hours to get specific classes that would point me in the right direction for college."

"So you want honors?" asked Andy.

"Not really," I said.  "Graduating with honors would be nice, but that isn't really what I'm interested in at this time. I just want to be able to take specific classes that would show the colleges that I was serious about programming. I need a few more math classes, for one thing, and I only have two school years left to get them. Summer school will let me get Trig out of the way, so I could take Calculus in the next school year with Analysis in my senior year."

"What about Science?" asked Vince.

"Well, the next logical Science class to take would be Advanced Chemistry," I said.  "I just don't know if it would be a good idea to take it in summer school. I don't even think that it matters much for a major in programming, but I know that colleges like a lot of higher mathematics and science classes as well as language."

"What about foreign languages?" asked Andy.  "Have you taken any?"

"Well, I'm taking my fourth year of Spanish this summer, if I decide to go ahead with summer school," I said.  "That class will meet the requirement for foreign language according to the list of requirements for the colleges that I've looked into."

"You need another science credit to graduate, don't you?" asked Ben.

"Yes," I affirmed.  "We all need three credits in math, science and language. I have to take Advanced Chem, and Trig will take care of my math credits. Spanish Four is a done deal. I've already selected it for either summer school or next year. That will give me my third credit in language. I've already gained the two credits of foreign language, which is the minimum requirement for most of the colleges I've looked into. I'd have to take another year to have their recommended number of credits."

"Which colleges have you looked into?" asked Andy.

"Well, I've looked into five of them," I said.  "I'm really wanting to attend Storyville University, though. That way, I can stay home. They have a good computer department, too."

"Tommy, it sounds like you're going to be taking some very hard courses in the next two years," said Tom.  "Are you sure you're not biting off more than you can chew?"

"Well," I said, thinking about how to say what I wanted without scratching any raw nerves.  "Most of the classes that I need to take are classes that either Dustin, Doug or Frank are taking right now. I've studied a lot of their work, and that gives me a little head start on each of the classes. The only class I don't have any advanced knowledge of is Spanish, but I've been in Spanish for three years already, so that one won't be a shock or struggle."

"As long as you don't over do it," said Shirley.  "I'm all for you taking the classes for college."

That ended the conversation, but I knew that Steve still had plenty to say about it.  I'd thought about his reasons for not wanting me to take summer school, but I really believed that I needed to get some classes out of the way.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings or make him angry, but I was still planning to take at least one class that summer.

Shirley helped me clean up the supper dishes and clean the kitchen.  We talked about how Steve felt about me taking classes in the summer, and she told me that she would talk to him if I wanted, but I didn't know if that would help.  I was a little upset with him for making plans that involved me without consulting me on them, but I didn't know if he had or not.  I wasn't exactly paying attention to anything by myself the last three months, so he could have said anything to me, and I wouldn't really remember it.

"I promise that my 'running' days are over," I said.  "I'm just thinking ahead to college."

"There's nothing wrong with that," she said.

When we joined the rest of the bunch in the living room, they were watching a movie.  Steve put his arm around me when I sat down next to him on the couch, and it was like nothing was wrong.  Maybe he wasn't as upset about it as I thought he was.  I could hope.  If he was upset, I'd just have to do my best to explain why I wanted to do this.

When we got upstairs after everyone left, we talked a little about my decision to go ahead with summer school, but Steve seemed to understand why I wanted to do it.  I had been worried that I'd have to convince him, but I guess that the conversation at supper had told him all he needed to know about why I as doing it.

"I'm a little disappointed about not being able to do some of the things that I wanted this summer," he said as we climbed into bed.  "I do understand why you're doing it, though. Before it was just another way to run away from things, but now I think you're doing it for the right reasons, and I actually understand that it could help you."

"I still plan to get a job this summer, too," I said.  "I might only work part time, but I want to make some money, too."

"You have money," Steve countered.

"I want to make my own money, Steve," I said.  "Sometimes I really hate that insurance money."

"What do you mean?" he asked, sitting up in the bed and pulling me closer to him.

"Well, my mother had to die for me to get that money, and I just feel like if the money wasn't there, she'd still be alive," I said.  "It might not make sense, but I don't know how to explain what I feel about it."

"You may have worded it a bit strange," he said, "but it makes perfect sense, Tommy. I'm just glad that you finally trust me enough to discuss something like this with me."

"Steve, it was never that I didn't trust you enough," I said, turning in his arms to look up into his face.  "I didn't trust myself enough to even try to deal with anything like this."

"You're going to be working all of this out with Dr. Franklin, right?" he asked.

"I think so," I replied.  "I haven't really had a chance to see what he's going to be like. Our first meeting was kind of clouded by my stupidity."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, I didn't react well to something that Shirley said to me, and because of that, I acted like a complete ass in Franklin's office," I replied.  "I meant what I said about wanting our sessions to be private, but I could have said it better than I did at the time."

"Have you discussed this with Shirley?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, smiling.  "We talked about while she taught me to make meatloaf and gravy."

"Well, from what I saw at supper, you two seem to be doing ok," he said.

"We are," I replied.  "I just wish I hadn't snapped at her so much. I guess I just felt like she was trying to replace my mother or something. I don't know."

"Talk to Dr. Franklin about it," he advised.

The next day, I was allowed to go back to school.  Everyone was really happy to see me, and I had to admit that I had missed them all very much.  It wasn't just my hospital stay that had separated me from my friends.  It was the entire three months of selfishness that I had gone though.  I spent most of the day trying to catch up with my friends, and we got in trouble a few times for talking in class.

Just after lunch, I met with Mrs. Anton to discuss summer school and the next school year's classes.  She agreed with my thinking on the importance of taking the classes that I wanted to take, but she wasn't sure that taking Trigonometry in summer school was wise.  She said that there was a lot of complicated work to do in that class, and she was worried that taking that class along side of Spanish Four in summer school would be too much.  I was firm on my decision, however, and by the time I left her office, I had both classes confirmed for summer school.

The rest of the day was pretty dull, because I really had nothing to do.  I was really starting to hate the fact that I'd challenged all of the classes.  The only class that I still had to really participate in was Gym.  There was no way for me to challenge that class, but I was really happy for that, because it gave me one class to look forward to.  I couldn't believe how stupid I'd been.

It was an entire week before I was allowed to go back to karate.  David was very upset with me for ending up in the hospital, and even though I'd been released to go back to karate, he'd told Tom and Shirley to keep me home for a week.  When I went back the following Monday, he gave me a good lecture and made me feel like crap.  I had to show him that I could take things at a normal pace, and I was barred from competing in any of the upcoming tournaments.

My first session with Dr. Franklin went really well.  He suggested keeping a journal and just writing what feelings I had throughout the day, and I liked that idea.  We talked about my mother for most of the hour, and he seemed very interested in hearing about her.  I surprised myself at how much I could remember about her from my childhood, and I wasn't even upset with myself for crying.  Dr. Franklin told me that my reaction to her death was not common, but it wasn't unheard of, either.  My three months of denial was a bit excessive, but still not completely misplaced.  He said that denial was always the first stage of grief, and the fact that I had taken it so far showed him that I really cared a great deal for my mother.  Now it was the other stages of grief that I had to look forward to.

He said that the first stage of grief was denial, and boy did I have that one down.  I'd spent three months ignoring everyone around me, because they wanted to share my grief, and I'd pushed myself as hard as I could to keep myself from feeling any grief.  He said he was surprised that I visited my mother's grave so often in that three months.

The second stage of grief, he said, is bargaining.  That was supposed to be when a person struck deals with God and anyone they thought was in a position to bring back the one they'd lost.  I hadn't experienced that one, because I knew that there was no way to bring her back again.  He told me not to believe that this stage was uncommon, because grief is a powerful thing.

The third was anger, and I thought that I was fighting really hard to keep myself out of that stage already.  He agreed with me on that one, because of the way I'd acted toward Shirley.  He said that it made perfect sense that she'd be the one I was angry with, because she represented a mother to me.  Tom was safe, because I'd never known my father.

The stage that I was terrified of was despair.  He said that it would come upon me quickly, and it would be very powerful.  He advised that I seek comfort and understanding from everyone around me when it happened, and he'd be there for me if I called him.  Despair was the stage that was the hardest to come out of, he told me, and after the amount of time that I'd spent in denial, I wondered how long I'd suffer from despair before moving on to the final stage, which is acceptance.

Despair did hit me, and when it did, it hit hard and without warning.  I could feel it threatening to crush me as my birthday got closer and closer.  This would be my very first birthday without my mother, and for some reason, that made it seem so final.  She was really dead, and she was really never coming back.  I had lost my mother.

Steve and Ben were trying to throw a big party for my birthday, and I had no idea how to tell them not to do it.  Steve noticed that something wasn't right with me, and he kept asking me if I was ok, and all I could say to him was that I was thinking.  I didn't even know how to tell anyone what I was feeling.  I think Shirley understood better than anyone, because she stayed close to me for the entire week.

On the morning before my birthday, I finally broke.  When Steve got up to get ready for school, I couldn't get out of bed.  From the minute I opened my eyes, all I could do was cry.  By the time Steve noticed that I wasn't planning to get out of bed, I was sobbing, bunching the sheet in my fists and trying to hide my face in the pillow.  I could hear him screaming for Vince to get Andy, and then he was sitting on the bed, trying to pull me into his arms.  I fought for  few seconds and then all of the strength drained out of me, and he pulled me to him.

"Tommy, what's the matter?" he asked, and I could hear the fear in his voice.

I couldn't say anything, because I was sobbing too hard.  This was the most horrible feeling I'd ever had in my life.  I'd never felt so alone and miserable before.  I wanted so badly to tell him what was wrong, but I couldn't form words.  When Andy and Vince got into the room, I was clinging to Steve like I was afraid he'd try to get away from me.

"Call my dad," Andy told Vince as he sat on the other side of me.  "Tell him to call Dr. Franklin."

"Andy, what's going on?" asked Steve, and I could hear the shake in his voice that told me that he was ready to cry himself.

"I think it finally hit him," he said, rubbing my back.  "Can you talk, Tommy?"

"Oh, God," I sobbed finally able to form words again.

"Its ok, Tommy," said Andy.  "We're here, and my dad is on his way over."

"It hurts," I moaned as another batch of sobs wracked my body.  "I can't stand this."

"Tommy, what?" asked Steve, and then I knew that he was crying too.

"She's gone," I moaned into his shoulder.  "My mother is really gone."

The next thing I knew, Tom was standing in my room.  He took me from Steve and wrapped his arms around me, telling me that everything was going to be ok and that he was there for me.  I sobbed into his shoulder, and I couldn't stop shaking.  My mother was gone, and there was nothing that I could ever do to make her come back.  She was gone.

Dr. Franklin wasn't in his office, so Tom called Sharon.  As much as I didn't like her, I was so happy to see her when she walked into my room.  She brought a syringe with her, and after she'd plunged it into my arm, I was gripped by sleep.