If you are offended by male/male relationships, or male/male sexual relationships, then you shouldn't be here in the first place. If this conduct is illegal in your area, you must EXIT NOW. This story is not to be copied or posted elsewhere without permission from the author. If you are interested in a story about gay teenage males, then please take your time and enjoy. Feedback/comments/suggestions and even complaints are welcome at DomLuka@aol.com

Chapter Thirty

Nicky Davis returned the following weekend as promised, and just as Aiden promised, he didn't sleep in our room. I'm sure he didn't mind, though. That wasn't Nicky's last visit, either. Two weeks later, he was back again. When the visits continued after that, I slowly began to accept that my best friend wouldn't be fading out of my life again anytime soon.

The following months brought a lot of acceptance for me. It started when Dennis Gordon disappeared from school entirely. There were rumors that his knee finally gave out and he would be having surgery and finishing his last year of school at home, but I never did check up on that story. I won't lie and say that it didn't bother me, because it did. It bothered me for a long time, but accepting that it was time to let go of Dennis Gordon lifted a burden from my shoulders that was never really mine in the first place. For a while I did feel guilty about it; the fact that I couldn't help Dennis. Even after everything I'd learned about him, part of me still wanted to involve myself in his situation. I told myself that the only reason that I felt guilty about it was because I still wanted to use his situation to face what I couldn't face during my own troubles, and it made me a coward. But, sometimes I thought that it was more than that. No one deserved what Dennis was going through, and somehow knowing about it, and not being able to do anything was depressing as hell. But, if I'd learned anything from the situation, it was that you couldn't help someone who refused to help. So, all I could do was wish Dennis the best, and move on with my own life.

I did see Valentine, though. Dennis Gordon's dog seemed to have taken up a very happy residence at the Chesely house. I didn't exactly visit there very often, but Aiden did, and I often picked him up after work, because I'd gone back to my job with Jake. I think my boyfriend was attracted to the family environment in that house, and I guess I couldn't blame him. The Cheselys were good people.

In fact, the more I thought about how Reilly's mom mentioned that Dennis would stop by to talk to her husband, I saw how he could be attracted to the family environment too... just like I sometimes was. But, I kept my distance. I was still skittish around parents, something that I couldn't seem to help, and besides, Paul Chesely seemed to see right through me at times, and that was nowhere near my comfort levels.

I hadn't heard from Dennis or seen him since the night he handed over his dog, and I guess I couldn't help wondering if he was still in touch with the Cheselys. If he was, they never said anything, and I didn't exactly ask. It wasn't that I didn't want to, it was more because I couldn't bring myself to do it. If I asked, I wouldn't be moving on. And, I was getting better at moving on.

With school, and going back to work for Jake, making time to spend with Aiden, and with Nicky making more regular visits, I kept fairly busy. But, it was in a good way. Constantly surrounded by people who cared about me, it wasn't bad at all.

Ryan graduated early and quit working at the grocery store to come to work for Jake with me as a summer job before he started classes next year at the same college Tony went to. I definitely laughed a lot more with him around. I think everyone laughed more with Ryan around, and we even got some work done every once in a while. Our regular workouts became a weekend thing, and with Nicky there, the three of us usually had a good time. With Ryan and Nicky together, I started to think that I'd been able to get along with Ryan so well because he was a lot like Nicky, I just never noticed it before. Or maybe, I didn't want to notice. I'll admit, that having two of them around all the time could be overwhelming at best, but I also loved every minute of it.

I also noticed that Lacy seemed to show up more when Nicky was around, but that could have been because after he learned of her love of food he always seemed to have an extra candy bar in his pocket.

Unfortunately, even in good company annoying things could happen. Or rather, annoying people could ruin a good time. Janie never did leave Aiden and I alone, although we both noticed that she tended to harass me more than she did him. Neither of us understood why she even bothered. I mean, it wasn't like we were hiding anything anymore. But, at least I knew that one strategically placed make out session with my boyfriend could annoy Janie more than she could ever annoy me. It also made a good source of entertainment every once in a while, at least, her reactions did.

That night at Ryan's wasn't the last I saw of Adam, either. At first, I constantly wanted to kick his ass for the way that he seemed to ignore us one minute and want to be my best friend the next. But, I came to realize that it didn't matter. Adam seemed to be struggling with his own sense of morality, something that I couldn't exactly help him with, and when I stopped being bitter about it... I decided to just enjoy his friendship when it was offered, and when he kept his distance, I certainly didn't get lonely, especially when school ended and Nicky's parents agreed to let him spend a month in town with us, provided he went to visit at least one parent every other weekend. He stayed with Ryan, mainly because they got along so well. Besides, by then, we were in the process of moving and he didn't want to be in the middle of that. The fact that Ryan had the room at his place didn't hurt, either.

Aiden's the only one who ever knew the way that I balled like a baby the first night that we spent in the house that Jake and Leo once shared, without Tony. Tony and Jake kept saying that they wanted something bigger, but after Jake finished with enough of Aiden's building, they decided to stay there for a while, neighboring Ben and Leo. That left Chris, Aiden and I in a house that seemed too big at first. Chris made sure that Aiden and I both had our own rooms, but each night one of our beds was always vacant. I guess it couldn't be helped, though. Not that I wanted it to be. And, things got better soon enough when I came to realize-or rather, Aiden pointed out to me, that we saw Tony more after the move than we did when we all lived under the same roof. Every morning, in fact, because Tony was under the impression that Chris would never have a proper breakfast on the table and brought it to us himself, usually with a sleepy Jake in tow.

So, I still had my family, and the idea of living in the house started to grow on me before we were even unpacked. I think Aiden liked it too. I noticed that he seemed happier. He wasn't always looking over his shoulder when we stepped out the front door, and I knew why.

Karen Knightly never really bothered us, at least, our relationship. I remember once Aiden told me that the one thing she had always been supportive of was the fact that he was gay, and I don't know, maybe that was true. Maybe she only tried to come between us before for her own selfish reasons. I guess it was a question that wouldn't have an answer that I could see being granted in the near future, and that was okay, because what she did before, didn't work. But, when we were in the apartments, she did seem to appear abruptly to talk to Aiden. She was always trying to get him to move back in with her, and while I didn't hear all of their conversations, I knew that it was hard on him. He'd go through periods of feeling guilty, thinking that he'd abandoned his mother.

One particular time, just after school ended, I remember coming home to find him packing up his things. Just seeing that made me sick to my stomach, and scared me more than I ever thought it would. What was worse, was that he was insisting that if he didn't go home she would start drinking again. It definitely wasn't the easiest night of my life, and when I tried to talk to him he actually accused me of trying to keep him away from his mom. I think that hurt more than anything. I realized right then that it wasn't a problem that I could handle alone and I had to call Chris for assistance. I'm not sure what my brother said to Aiden, but my boyfriend never did move out, and he spent the rest of the week apologizing to me. He also became depressed for a while; sometimes I couldn't even get him out of the apartment because he was afraid of running into his mother, but once we moved, things seemed to change quickly.

The day we started packing I noticed that Aiden was smiling again, and as soon as he realized that I was having trouble accepting the move, he snapped back into his usual self just in time to help me through it, and things only got better from there. I think getting away from that apartment really helped him. He wasn't so close to his mother anymore. I think Aiden was actually beginning to feel smothered by her before, even if they no longer lived in the same apartment. At least away from her, he had the opportunity to just be young, and the following weeks were the happiest I'd ever seen him. He even started spending time with me when Nicky was around, something that he'd rarely do before. They still weren't completely comfortable with each other, but the tension between them was slowly fading, and I was happy, and relieved to see that. Aiden finally got his own camera. He always said that he was going to get one at the end of the school year, and he probably would have eventually, but I beat him to it on his eighteenth birthday when I dragged him down to the mall and made him pick one out. The fact that I hardly ever woke up anymore without a flash going off in my face was a pretty good sign that he was happy with it.

For the most part, life was peaceful. The world still had its ups and downs, and I still usually felt like most of them were mine, but at least for the majority of the time, I could say that I was happy, and more importantly, mean it.

My talks with Ben continued, and I developed a habit of venting my problems to him and spending the rest of the time not thinking about them. Those talks seemed to be enough for me, for the most part. Being able to talk about things really did help, and with Ben, I was getting better at it. In fact, I would even call him to see if we could get together. Besides being pretty good at getting me to open up, he remained a really good friend. And like all good friends, and therapists for that matter, Ben could really get on my nerves sometimes.

He kept talking about closure, so much actually, that I was beginning to wonder what the word really meant. A phone call? A letter? A visit? Contact with my parents? No thank you. But, Ben kept insisting that if I wanted to get over the past and move on, I'd have to make my own peace with it.

Peace with my parents. That's how I thought of it every time closure came up. And how was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to make peace with people like my parents, after what they did to me? Better yet, why should I? That would almost be like forgiving them, a task that seemed impossible to me. I didn't see any reason why I should forgive them. They certainly didn't deserve it.

I guess it was safe to say that these days, I was more angry than depressed over the whole situation. It wasn't like before, either. I'd gone from being angry with myself for doing nothing, to being angry with them. Maybe that was a step in the right direction. According to Ben it was. But, apparently redirecting my anger wasn't enough, also according to Ben. I wasn't sure what else he wanted from me, and that was what could be so damned irritating. Sometimes, I just wished that Ben could tell me what to do, rather than leave it all up to me. It was all on my shoulders to figure out, even with his guidance.

Unfortunately, sometimes, what I figured out, wasn't always the best thing as far as keeping my mental and emotional state in good health went. For example, it was about two weeks after school ended, Nicky had arrived and moved in with Ryan, while Chris, Aiden and I were still in the process of unpacking, I'd just had a particularly grueling conversation about my parents with Ben, and when I got home, I was probably in no condition to properly communicate with anyone, and I'd decided that when Ben said closure he meant that I should contact my parents.

How I came to that conclusion on my own, I have no idea. Maybe it was because I remembered Ben asking a few times if I ever thought about calling my mom and dad. Granted, he never said to do it, he just asked if I thought about it. But, despite the fact that the idea was terrifying, I'd decided that it needed to be done so I could have this closure we were always talking about.

I think it was fortunate that Aiden was there the day that I decided to pick up that phone. I even told him what I was doing before I did it. Aiden of course, saw that I wasn't exactly in the best place to be making a decision like that. He didn't try to stop me once he saw that I was determined, but he knew me well enough to know that I was acting irrational, even for me. That's probably why he waited right outside the bedroom door when I told him that I'd rather make this phone call alone. I think that having Aiden next to me the whole time would have made it even harder. Aiden disagreed, but I had my reasons. He was one of the best things in my life and while it might sound ridiculous, I didn't want him near anyone like my parents. Even having him sit next to me while I made a phone call seemed too close for comfort.

It wasn't long before I realized that me calling them was also too close for comfort. I only had the area code dialed before I was hanging up the phone and sitting in the nearest spot, which happened to be the floor, because my legs suddenly felt numb beneath me.

In the time I'd driven home from talking to Ben, I'd been able to convinced myself that I was going to dial the phone number that had once been mine and not look back until I'd spoken to my parents. It didn't matter that I had nothing planned to say to either of them, or that I didn't really want to do it. I was determined, damn it. I was going to get me some of that closure that Ben kept talking about and if a phone call to my parents would help me understand what closure meant, then I was going to do it.

Funny, how fear can just creep up on you in the most inconvenient of moments. I didn't even have time to feel the defeat when I hung up the phone, I was too busy concentrating on the way that my chest had suddenly tightened up and how my stomach seemed to be cramping in a way that was about to force me into losing my lunch.

What the hell was I doing? Better yet, what was I thinking? I guess I wasn't thinking. At least, I wasn't thinking in the right mind. I was too far out of my damned mind to be thinking with any clarity whatsoever. Why would I pick up a phone to call my parents? How could that help? I already knew where they stood. Did I really need to hear it, too? How could it help? To hear my father say those awful things again... to know that my mother didn't care... how could that help me? I already knew how they felt. The only purpose calling them would serve would be self torment. Why would I do that to myself? Why would I even consider it?

Aiden must have grown tired of waiting outside the door for me because eventually he became curious and picked up the other line. When all he heard was a dial tone, he entered the bedroom to find me sitting on the floor with the phone still in my hand. I didn't even have to look at him and he knew that I hadn't made the call. I was actually almost afraid to look at him. I felt like a coward at the moment and I'd hate for him to see that. After all, at seventeen my ego always seemed to be in jeopardy.

I heard Aiden sigh, and I did glance up when he walked around me. He sat down behind me and I didn't hesitate to lean back against him when he moved his arms around my chest and slid his hands up my shirt, and then I found myself stretching out comfortably as he kicked off his shoes and wrapped his legs around me from behind. I'm sure that the position was uncomfortable for him, but he didn't seem to care. When he took the phone from me and placed it aside, I actually found myself relaxing a little more, as if knowing that it was out of my hands kept me safe from what I'd originally planned to do.

"It's okay," he said quietly, "you weren't ready."

I silently nodded, unsure of what to say. I suddenly felt very tired. But, I doubted that Aiden was going to let me drift off anytime soon. He even broke the silence when it dragged on too long.

"What happened?" Aiden asked, and I shook my head again.

"I don't know." I sighed. "I started to dial and then..."

"I mean... why were you going to call? You always said that you didn't want anything to do with them."

"I don't know." I admitted. "I don't even know what I was going to say. I've just been thinking a lot lately, and then with talking to Ben, too... I don't know what I was doing."

"What have you been thinking about?" Aiden asked, lifting his hand to slide his fingers through my hair, a sure way to relax me.

"A lot of things. My parents." I let my head fall back on Aiden's shoulder and looked up at him. "I've been thinking a lot about my parents, ever since Nicky first got here."

I heard Aiden sigh again and I inwardly frowned. Knowing that he and Nicky weren't the best of friends didn't exactly help in this situation. I could see how easy it would be for Aiden to conclude that my sudden change in behavior was Nicky's fault, for bringing back old memories, and if that was the case, then my boyfriend probably wouldn't exactly be any more ready to except Nicky. Aiden had definitely become somewhat more... protective, since Nicky showed up. But, if Aiden was thinking it, he didn't let on, and I was truly grateful for that.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, and I think it surprised him when I nodded and then gently pried his legs from around me, turning around so he could be more comfortable. It didn't stop him from keeping me close, though. When he moved and arm around my waist and guided me to lie down on the floor so we were facing each other, I went with it.

"When Nicky first showed up I asked him about my parents." I explained.

"Naturally." Aiden replied with a small smile. "What did you ask him?"

"If they ever talked about me," I shrugged, "you know, all those times Nicky asked them where I was. I don't know. I just thought... it's just that, I think about them all the time. It's hard not to after everything that happened, and I guess, I just wonder if they ever think about me. I wonder if they regret anything."

Aiden's expression turned serious as he lifted his hand and moved his fingers through my hair again.

"What did Nicky say?"

"My dad hasn't changed." I replied, trying to sound as if it wasn't a big deal. But, I couldn't keep the disappointment out of my voice, nevertheless. It was just another thing to be annoyed about. "But he said that whenever I came up, my mom looked sad. I don't know what that's supposed to mean. He could have been imagining things. I mean, he probably was. I don't even know why I think about it. It's not like I care if she misses me or not." I finished bitterly.

"Do you want her to miss you, Owen?"

"No." I stated, somewhat defensively. "I said I don't care. "It's not like she ever gave a damn about me. Neither of them did. Shit. The whole things stupid, Aiden."

"But you're not them."


"Come on, Owen." he was smiling again. I didn't understand it in this situation, but I had to admit that it had a calming effect on me, and I found myself focusing on his mouth as he spoke to me. "You're not like them. Maybe they didn't care... and they hurt you. But not you. You still care."

I had to look away from him. Maybe it was stupid, but the fact that he was right, that I did care, didn't set well with me. But it couldn't be helped. I cared. I cared that every day I looked in the mirror and wondered what was so terrible about the guy I saw in the reflection, that would cause his own parents to hate him. I cared that every time a grown man raised his voice I could feel myself tensing up, wondering whether or not I was safe. I cared that I couldn't quite get past the fact that they'd never accept me. Why couldn't I get past it?

"I hate it." I said quietly. "I know I shouldn't care what they think... and maybe I don't. That's not it. But, I care... I don't know what I care about, Aiden. But I hate it. I'm tired of it."

"But you still care." Aiden replied. "That's okay, you know."

I looked at him skeptically and that soft smile of his appeared again.

"It is okay." Aiden shrugged. "I like that you care. That's what makes you better than them."

I stared at Aiden, and sadly enough, I had no idea what he was talking about. Better than them? I wasn't better than anyone. If I was better, I never would have just stood there while my father beat the crap out of me. I would have had the guts to tell my mother just how hurtful her neglect was. I would have seen past what was going on around me and I would have put more faith into my best friend, instead of speculating and leaving Nicky with no explanation. Caring about it didn't make me better. I wasn't sure exactly what it made me, maybe pathetic, or weak, or a coward... but not better.

Aiden must have seen my confusion, because he snuggled in closer to me and kissed my face. But, he didn't bother to explain himself further.

"So it was your mom, then? You were calling to talk to her, right?"

"Huh?" I said, still pondering the last thing he'd said.

"You said she looked sad, according to Nicky." Aiden replied. "I just thought, the reason you decided to call was because you wanted to know whether or not it was true. Was it?"

"I don't know." I admitted. "I don't know what I wanted."

That was the truth. I really had no idea what I would have said. I had no idea what I would have wanted to say. As much as I hated to admit it, I think that part of me just wanted to call to hear their voices, no matter how painful or frightening. I think maybe, I was less interested in what I would have said, and more-so, in what they would have said to me, as strange as it was. But, I still didn't know what I was looking for, and that was nothing less than frustrating.

"Hey," Aiden said when it became apparent that I wasn't feeling any better, and when his hand slid down my back, drawing me to him I found myself shifting closer, nearly going cross-eyed as our noses brushed together. "Don't do this to yourself, Owen. I won't pretend that I know what you're going through, but I can see it... don't do this to yourself."

"It's not so easy." I complained. "It's not like I can help thinking about things."

"Maybe not. But, it's not like you have to let it run your life, either. I'm not saying don't deal with it. Obviously, you need to deal with this. But, why let it get to you? So what? You weren't ready. There's nothing wrong with that."

"But there is." I frowned. "It's like...no matter what I do, they're still in my head, Aiden. It's like every day there's something... I just can't forget about them. They're my parents, you know? I want to say I hate them, and they'd probably deserve it... but I can't."

"And there's nothing wrong with that either." Aiden said quietly. " no one would blame you for hating them, Owen... but, I'm kinda glad you don't."

I raised and eyebrow and tilted my head back somewhat to see him better.

"I feel like an idiot for it... for not hating them." I admitted. "Do you know what happened as soon as I started dialing their number? I freaked out, Aiden. Every time I think about my dad, or even my mom... I start feeling sick. It's like I get punched in the stomach every day and there's nothing I can do about it because I'm too stupid to just forget about them. When I started calling today I didn't even have anything to say planned. Then, I kept asking myself why I was doing it. I already know what they would say to me. I know what they think. I feel like a dumbass for even thinking about putting myself through that."

"There's nothing wrong with wanting closure." Aiden responded, and I shot him an annoyed look at his use of the dreaded word. "Well there isn't." he smiled at me. "You're just not ready. That doesn't mean you won't be, though. Maybe one day you'll come home and want to call them again... I mean, hopefully you'll know what you're doing then... but maybe you'll want to talk to them. I'm not saying it'll be easy... but if it's something you need to do, then there's nothing wrong with it. It doesn't make you stupid, Owen. You definitely shouldn't feel stupid for it. I mean, maybe you already know what they'd say, I don't know. But, it's not like you picked up the phone today because you wanted them to hurt you again. You did it because you thought you needed to, to move on. There's nothing wrong with wanting that."

I let out a short breath and momentarily closed my eyes. I understood what Aiden was saying. I even appreciated it. But, knowing that I couldn't just forget, and knowing that I was too much of a coward to help myself do anything about it, just didn't help.

I felt Aiden's lips brush against my forehead and prolonged opening my eyes as I snuggled closer to him, becoming comfortable, even on the floor.

"What can I do?" he asked quietly, and I shook my head, starting to wonder if I could get away with a short nap right where I was. It was amazing, the calming effect that being so close to him could have. But, I noticed almost immediately that Aiden was nowhere near as relaxed as I was. His body felt tense against mine, and I was pretty sure that it had to do with more than lying on the floor. If anything, it was a sure sign that he was more concerned for me than he was letting on.

I opened my eyes and tilted my head back to meet his eyes, not wanting my problems to be Aiden's problem too. I was quickly learning that while he was good at masking his feelings over certain things, including his habit of worrying about me, that Aiden wasn't so good at letting things go when it came to people he cared about. He'd probably end up sleeping less than I would tonight if he wasn't assured that I was in fact, going to be alright. Whether I was okay or not, was a different question altogether. But for now, I just wanted forget about it and take advantage of a moment with my boyfriend.

"I love you." I said, and realized that my smile wasn't even forced. The words were definitely worth it, too, because Aiden's features took on signs of relief and he leaned forward to kiss me.

"I love you." he replied, but any mind-numbing, significant moment that would have followed was interrupted by the exasperated groan coming from our doorway. I smiled again when I saw Nicky, but I'm sure Aiden's expression wasn't so welcoming.

"God, you guys couldn't even make it to the bed?" Nicky remarked. "That is sick."

"I thought you said you talked to him about knocking." Aiden said to me with a disapproving look on his face as he moved away from me and got up, the comfort of the floor leaving with him.

"Don't blame Owen." Nicky was quick to say. "He did talk to me, and I did knock... it's not my fault you guys don't answer the front door and leave your bedroom wide open."

"Will you guys just stop?" I sighed, as Aiden grabbed my hand and helped me up. My boyfriend just rolled his eyes, but I doubted that he was truly angry about anything so I turned my attention towards Nicky and the football, which seemed restless in his hands. "What's up?" I asked.

"Ryan's down at the park," Nicky explained. "We were gonna play for a while with a few guys he's meeting from your school. Thought I'd stop by and see if you wanna join in. Or did you forget how to catch a ball?" Nicky smirked as he suddenly tossed the ball to me, and then laughed when I actually fumbled.

"I can catch a ball." I said defensively.

"I wasn't talking about Aiden's." Nicky remarked as he snatched the ball from the floor and then headed out of the room, calling back to me over his shoulder. "I'll be at the park. See you there."

"I didn't say I was going." I laughed, shaking my head after him. It really was nice to have him back in my life again. It was also nice to know that he could pop in at any moment, even if Aiden disagreed with me. I wasn't sure how I would feel, or what would happen when Nicky went back home after his summer visit, but for now, I didn't at all mind having him close.

Aiden suddenly brushed by me and I watched as he removed his shirt and grabbed an older one from the closet.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

He turned to me with a determined look on his face, but only a moment later it softened as he placed a hand on my waist and drew me closer to him.

"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine." I nodded, and watched him pull the shirt over his head. "Going somewhere?"

"We are going to the park to play football." he informed me.

"You're going to play football?" I asked skeptically. In all the time that I'd known him, Aiden had never shown an interest in sports whatsoever.

"You don't think I can?" he frowned at me. "You know, Owen, just because I'd rather be shooting it than playing it, doesn't mean that I don't know anything about the game. Besides, I've been looking for a good enough reason to tackle that guy ever since he got here."

I rolled my eyes at that, but when he passed me some older clothes I dutifully put them on and went to play football, hoping that a game among friends would serve to distract me from my otherwise troubled thoughts. And it did. For two hours I was distracted as Ryan and I watched while Aiden and Nicky did as much damage to each other as possible before the two of us decided to leave them to their own game of playing too rough.

I had to admit that Aiden was pretty good, though, considering Nicky, who was a lot more experienced in this area than Aiden was, was throwing out twice as much as my boyfriend was giving him. Yup. Aiden would be limping tomorrow, and for once, it wouldn't be my fault. Of course, that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

I had decided not to interfere in whatever rivalry Nicky and Aiden had against each other. By this time, I'd already informed them both that I didn't like it, but I was far from interested in involving myself in it. I wanted them both in my life, and I felt that my involvement in their issues would only force me to choose between them, something that I refused to do.

Fortunately for me, my best friend and my boyfriend wanted me to stay out of it, too. They each insisted that they'd work out their differences, so I shouldn't worry about it, but I didn't really see that happening anytime soon.

Ryan and I watched them for a while, and I'll admit that a few times I did worry about whether or not Nicky would let me have my boyfriend back in one piece or not, but Ryan talked me into walking around the park before my concern became panic.

Summer seemed to be showing itself, and between that, and the light breeze, the park was rather busy as Ryan and I walked around, stopping occasionally to talk to a few people. I realized that some of the people we talked to were from school, some of the same people who'd given Aiden and I a hard time when our relationship became public. It was surprising, what getting away from such a social environment full of clicks and teen gossip could do. They looked at me now as if I was your average teenager enjoying his summer vacation, no label included. I guess that was a good thing; not feeling so different from everyone else.

It was close to five o'clock when Ryan decided to walk down to a gas station for beverages. I would have gone with him, but I decided that I'd rather return to where we'd left Aiden and Nicky, if anything, to make sure that they hadn't run each other into the ground yet. I was sure that they would have taken a break by now. After all, when we'd left them, they had both looked worn out. And they were taking a break when I reached them, but the site of them, was actually a surprise to me. My best friend, and my boyfriend, had given up their game and were now sitting side by side on the grass, having what looked like a calm, serious discussion.

I didn't know if I should feel relief, or feel nervous over this new development. I guess it was a little of both. I definitely wanted to go over there. It was only natural for me to be curious about what they were discussing, but I decided that it would be better not to interrupt them. For once it looked like they were breathing the same air and not getting offended over it, and I definitely didn't want to intrude on that. So, I made myself scarce, sitting down at a tree-shaded picnic table where I could watch them. I wasn't exactly spying on them. If they would have looked up, they'd see me. But, I won't deny that I considered taking up lip reading. I knew that at least part of their conversation, if not all of it, had to be about me. After all, I was pretty much the only thing they had in common. I was beginning to wonder if either of them would tell me about what they talked about later, when something else caught my eye that distracted me from Aiden and Nicky altogether.

Ever since Dennis Gordon disappeared, I often wondered how I'd feel if I ever saw him again. I always thought that I'd be relieved, just to know that he was still out there, but nothing more than that. The night I took his dog was a turning point for my feelings towards him. I'd been disturbed by Ben's story, but hearing Dennis say that he was guilty didn't exactly earn him any points with me. Knowing that even Dennis could be capable of being involved with what happened to Ben, helped me realize that it really was time to let him go.

I had to admit that Dennis looked good... for Dennis. First, he was jogging, which probably meant that he hadn't had surgery, although there was a brace around his knee. He was also smiling. He looked... happy. This was not what I was expecting. What I expected to see even less, was Paul Chesely jogging along right beside him, although while Paul looked like he was bout to drop, Dennis looked like he could go on for miles.

It was strange, watching the two of them. I'd heard before that they talked, but to see them like this was just so surreal... the way Dennis slowed his pace and grinned at Paul, placing a hand on his shoulder, as if to see if he was alright... and the way that Paul just nodded and then attempted to run faster than Dennis, until Dennis took the initiative and turned so that they were headed for some shade and a water fountain. I wasn't at all sure what to make of it, but I couldn't seem to stop staring. There was something... different, about Dennis Gordon. Even from a distance he looked like a whole new person.

When they reached the drinking fountain Paul said something to Dennis that actually made him laugh, before the older man hunched over to take a drink. I almost felt shocked when Dennis suddenly turned his head and looked right at me. I blinked at the sudden attention thrown in my direction, and then followed Dennis's eyes until they rested on Aiden and Nicky. We both looked back at each other at the same time, and I paused again, especially when he actually lifted his hand and gave a small wave. I definitely wasn't sure what to make of this. Dennis Gordon acknowledging me in public seemed like a far fetched concept. I actually looked behind me, expecting to see someone who he actually liked standing there. But, it was just me.

By the time I looked back towards Dennis he was saying something to Paul-something that caused Paul to look in my direction. When the older man waved I still had no idea what to do, so I continued to sit there, unmoving as I wondered what was going on. It was when Dennis suddenly left Paul to take a seat by the water fountain that a wave of nervousness hit me, especially when Dennis Gordon started heading right for me.

I looked straight ahead, unsure of what to think as Dennis took a seat next to me on the bench. I think it was the fact that he was willingly approaching me in a public place that threw me off. I don't think he ever would have done that before, and why he was doing it now, was a mystery to me.

"Hi Owen."

Yup, that was Dennis Gordon's voice, saying my name. And, he actually sounded... nice. Maybe even shy. The fact that he flashed me a small smile when I looked at him didn't exactly ease my confusion.

"Hey," I replied, feeling guarded.

"Nice day, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess." I shrugged. Was he trying to make conversation? Polite conversation?

"Look," he suddenly sighed. "I know that you probably just want me to go away right now... I just haven't seen you for a while, and I wanted to say... hi."

"Why?" that seemed like a reasonable question, and it ended up being one that caused Dennis's smile to fade away. Maybe I would have felt bad, if this wasn't Dennis Gordon.

"I don't know," he said after a moment. "I just never got a chance to say thanks, you know, for taking Valentine. Sorry I bothered you."

And to my surprise, he stood up to leave. No confrontation, no obnoxious remarks... I was almost offended.

"Dennis," I said, before I could think to stop myself. "It was no problem... with the dog. We gave her to the Cheselys, but I guess you already know that."

"Yeah," he said, his smile returning as he reclaimed his seat, obviously thinking that my response was an invitation for him to stay a little longer. I don't know, maybe it was. "Thanks for doing that, they're pretty cool people. They've been taking good care of her."

"Are you going to get her back?" I asked, glancing towards Paul Chesely again, wondering what the connection between him and Dennis was. I wanted to ask, but wasn't sure if it would be too intruding. Fortunately, I didn't have to ask.

"I sort of already have her back." Dennis said, and I looked over at him curiously.

"I thought your parents wanted you to get rid of her."

"They did." he nodded. "But, it's not their choice anymore. I moved out."

"You did?" I asked, unable to keep the surprise from my voice. "I mean... I thought... You really did it?"

"Yeah." Dennis smiled at me. "I did it... my brother came home, and we didn't get off to a good start... I mean, I already put up with enough from my parents, I didn't want to spend all summer taking it from him too, so I left." Dennis released a shaky breath, as if what he was telling me was just now sinking in for him, and he looked terrified of it.

"Are you okay?" I asked carefully, not wanting to show too much concern. After all, Dennis had never really liked it when I showed any concern for him in the past. In fact, this was about the time he usually tried to pick a fight with me. Not this time, though. This time he silently nodded and momentarily looked away.

"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be." he said quietly, taking a quick glance in my direction. "I guess it could have been harder... I'm staying with the Chesely's."

"Oh... Reilly hasn't said anything." for some reason, I felt like I was more surprised than I should have been.

"I've only been there for about a week." Dennis explained. "Not even that, actually... I don't think Reilly is too happy about it."

"Can you blame him?" I remarked, remembering all of the times Dennis hassled Reilly. But, as soon as I said it, I found myself feeling guilty for it. "Um... sorry."

"It's alright." Dennis shrugged. "I know I was an asshole to him... I tried to get better... I don't know, I just hope he warms up. I'll be renting a room from them for at least the rest of the summer, and hopefully by the end of it I'll know what I'm doing."

"It thought you were going to college."

Dennis rolled his eyes, but it seemed like the gesture was for himself as he gently knocked on his braced knee and shook his head.

"I have no way of going to school next year." he explained. "But... I mean, that's okay. Paul already hooked me up with a job for this summer and after that, I'll figure something out. Besides, it's always been about football before. To be honest, I'd have no idea what to do with myself if I went to school next year."

"I'm sorry... it's gotta be hard."

"You got through it, though, right?" he suddenly said, turning his head in my direction. "I mean, you got away from your parents and things worked out for you... you know, I think that's the reason why I left." I blinked, wondering what he meant by that and he actually laughed at the perplexed expression on my face. "It's true." he continued. "When you kept saying that I needed to get away... I don't know, I kept telling myself you were full of shit, but... you were right, you know? I guess I never thanked you for that, either."

I found myself fidgeting in my seat. If anything was awkward, this was it. Dennis Gordon actually thanking me for something-nicely. But, the fact that he was actually crediting the way he got away from his parents to me made me feel like a big stupid fraud. I mean, only a few hours ago I was in my room hating myself over the fact that I hadn't gotten away from my parents, not really.

"You shouldn't thank me." I stated, shaking my head and frowning.

"Look," he said, "I know this is weird, you haven't even called me an asshole once, but... it really was you. Take it how you want it, Dovan, but I just... needed to say thank you. No one ever really... cared, like you did. You have no idea what that..."

"No." I interrupted. "Look Dennis, I'm glad you got away and all, and I'm glad things worked out for you, but..."

"Yeah, I get it." he frowned. "We're not friends, but the last time I checked I was supposed to be the one to remind you of that."

"I was going to say that..." I continued, somewhat irritably, " I don't know... you're the one who got away from your parents, I didn't do that. I appreciate the thought and all, but my life is more of a mess than you think. . . the only reason I ever wanted to help you... was because I thought that it would help me."

I'm not sure why I was confessing this to him. Maybe it was because the near phone call to my parents was still on my mind, or my conversation with Ben... or maybe I just thought that he deserved to know that the person who he was crediting was nothing more than a confused, selfish seventeen year old who's life felt so fucked up that he needed someone else's problem to focus on so he wouldn't have to deal with his own.

When Dennis fell silent I looked over at him again, feeling somewhat guilty. I wasn't sure how he'd react. He'd probably just think that I was a jackass. Maybe he'd tell me that I was one... or maybe, he'd surprise me again.

"How did you think it would help you?" he asked, his brow slightly raising.

"I never got away from my parents." I said, surprised at how easy I was able to tell him this. "I got out of their house, but they've always been in my head. I guess I thought... I thought that if I could get you away from your parents then it would be enough. It's too late for me to go back and face mine, but if I could get you to face yours, and get away... it's stupid, huh?"

"Yeah." he nodded, and I frowned at him, wondering if this was the part where we started jumping down each other's throats. But, Dennis actually laughed at the look on my face. "Well it is." he stated. "I mean, why do you even care?"

"Because they're my parents." I stated. "It's like no matter what I do, I know I'll never be able to take back what they did. And they'll never be sorry for it." I paused to reflect on that last sentence and my frowned deepened as I realized the truth in it. They would never be sorry. They'd never see the wrong in what they did. I couldn't change them. And it hurt, because I wanted to. It hit me just then; what I really wanted. I wanted them to be sorry. I wanted them to change, and it seemed unfair that they never would. Facing them would never help me. They wouldn't change. I knew that, I just needed to accept it.

"So what if they're your parents?" Dennis replied. "Like you said, they'll never change, right? I mean, you're only as good as the people who choose to care about you, Dovan. If there's any truth in that, I say you're better off without them."

My eyes snapped to Dennis's and I felt completely shocked that words that held so much clarity for me had actually come out of his mouth.

"Only as good as the people who care about you." I repeated, shaking my head slightly. "Where'd you hear that?"

Dennis just shrugged and then smiled at me again. I really wasn't used to that smile.

"I just figured it out, when you gave a shit about me." he said quietly. "I mean... I don't care what your reasons were. Fuck, I don't even care that you hate my guts... I lost everything I had. But I still had you, right? Even if it was just for a little while. Someone cared... you cared. I think that's pretty good."

I looked at Dennis, unsure of what to say. I don't think in a million years I would have fathomed something so... touching, coming out of his mouth. Aiden words from earlier came back to me then. When he said that I was better than my parents, I hadn't understood what he was talking about. I wasn't better than anyone else. I would never have seen myself better than anyone else. But, Dennis did. I meant something to him. No matter what my motives had been, Dennis was telling me that I made a difference for him, and even if he was the nemesis from hell, that meant more to me than I'd ever let anyone know. Of course, the asshole had to make sure that the moment didn't last. All he had to do to ruin it was open that big mouth of his.

"Damn, Dovan. Don't go all teary-eyed on me or I might start to think that Knightly really is making a pussy out of you."

I sighed. There was the Dennis Gordon that I knew and... well, I couldn't stand him, really. Obnoxious, rude, vulgar. That was the Dennis I knew. But hell, even I had to admit that it was nice to know that not everything had changed.

"You really are an asshole." I informed him, and he just smirked at me as he stood up to go again.

"I should get going." he announced with a backwards glance towards Paul Chesely. "Um, hey...look...it's Reilly's mom's birthday next weekend and Paul asked me and Reilly to invite a few people we knew, so..." Dennis paused and let out a breath when I frowned. I could see where this was going, and I couldn't help allowing reality to catch up with me.

Dennis and I weren't friends.

I wasn't sure that we ever could be. I really was happy for him, that he seemed to be working on getting his life together. But, after everything I just couldn't see Dennis and I as friends. I actually felt sad about that when reality seemed to catch him too as he realized what he was doing. I fully expected him to stop and walk away just then, the way that he appeared so utterly annoyed with himself. But to my surprise, he continued.

"Look, I don't expect you to show up or anything, but if you feel like stopping by... you're invited. It starts six o'clock, Sunday night.

I really didn't see myself going. Of course I didn't see myself going. But, I couldn't bring myself to tell him no, either. So, I just nodded and waved him off as he made his way back to Paul, who looked rested enough to start running again. I was still watching Dennis when I felt a familiar arm slip around my waist and I looked up as Aiden took a seat next to me.

"What were you talking to Nicky about?" I immediately asked him, and he laughed at me as he kissed my neck.

"Aren't you going to tell me what Dennis Gordon was just doing here, first?" he retorted.

"Actually, I am." I grinned at him as I laced my fingers with his and pulled him to his feet, noticing the way that he released a painful groan as I did so. It seemed that he was stiff from the game already. "Let's go home, though. I'm afraid you'll decide I need to carry you if we stick around here any longer."

"You'd do it happily if I did ask." Aiden informed me, and I laughed and then grabbed his hand again when he actually had the nerve to slap my ass.

I looked over to where Aiden had left Nicky and saw that Ryan had returned with drinks. Nicky was already attacking him for one of the beverages, and to my surprise, when they met up with us, it was Nicky who handed Aiden a soda... and Aiden didn't even ask whether or not it was poisoned. This was only the first of the relieving changes I saw in the behavior my boyfriend and my best friend had towards each other.

Aiden and Nicky would never be the best of friends. I wasn't so naive that I thought they ever would be. But, that night I noticed something there between them that had been missing before. Respect. At least, I saw it, even if no one else did, because the way they still talked to each other would suggest that I was completely imagining things. But, I'm sure no one else ever caught them smiling at each other when they thought that no one was looking. It was all I ever could have asked for.

Neither of them ever told me what they talked about in the park that day, but then again, I never pressed them to. I was simply grateful that the tension seemed to be gone when they were around each other. Nicky even started knocking before he entered our bedroom, and Aiden stopped threatening to send him home every chance he got. I guess, it really was possible to have the best of both worlds.

I would love to say that I called my parents the very next day and described to them in detail every single way that they'd managed to hurt me, growing up and otherwise, and after which they both profusely apologized, and meant it. But, if I'd learned anything, it was that life was never perfect. Even the most perfect of situations have flaws. But, those flaws, I think, can make you better, if you allow yourself to accept them with an open mind and every once in a while, some determination.

My life isn't perfect. It never was. I never did call my parents. I didn't write them a letter, and I didn't make any plans to visit them. I was quickly learning that some things in life are better left alone, and unfortunately, the majority of the time it's people who are better left alone. I don't believe for a second that people don't change. After all, I did. But, you can't want someone to change. They have to want it. They also have to make that first step on their own. That's why it was pointless to call my parents looking for people accepted me. I couldn't force them to. I won't lie and say that it didn't sadden me, because it did. But, I did accept that my parents were no longer a part of my life because they didn't want to be, and I moved on.

Letting go of all that, wasn't exactly the easiest thing in the world, but I discovered that it was possible. Because like an unlikely source once said, I was only worth as much as the people who loved me. When I looked around at the family I had now, and the friends I had-the same friends that at one point I thought I'd be better off without- I liked to think that I was worth more than I'd ever give myself credit for, because to me, they were worth everything I'd ever been through to get to where I was.

I won't say that this is the end of my story. After I'll, I'm seventeen. How over can it be? I can't even say that Aiden and I lived happily ever after, but I can swear that every moment spent with him, will be a moment well spent. I can't see into the future, so I don't know what comes next. But what I do know, is that I'll be okay. And if I ever forget that, I'll have as many people as I need right there, to remind me.

A/N Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me though this story, I hope you've enjoyed it. Yes, this is the end, although I am working on a sequel, which is why there have been some loose ends. If you have any questions/ comments you can reach me at DomLuka@aol.com, or come stop by at my official site where other works are hosted http://domluka.gayauthors.org/