Disclaimer: All the normal rules apply.  Do not read if you'd be offended by material of a sexual nature; if local laws prohibit you from reading this, read no further.  Do not copy or reproduce, in whole or in part, without permission of the author, Nicholas Nurse.  All material is copyright Nicholas Nurse 2003.  All individuals depicted are imaginary, and any resemblance to real persons or events, express or implied, is purely coincidental.

Allow me to take a moment here and offer many people my sincerest apologies.  To all of those who have emailed me since about the 18th of July, I owe you a big "Sorry!"  I've been really busy with many things, including brief vacations and other obligations.  Please excuse me!  I will be responding to all the emails sitting in my box.  Again, my apologies to all who have emailed me.  Also--to those of you who have been waiting for the next chapter, thanks for your patience!  Here it is.  I promise that further chapters will follow a little more quickly than this one.  Now, without further ado, here's Chapter Eleven!  And feel free to contact me at viceroy12@hotmail.com.  All flames will, of course, be laughed at and summarily deleted.

Tristan's Redemption
By Nicholas Nurse

Chapter Eleven: A Different World

School flew by on Monday, primarily because I was both busy and terribly nervous.  Jared was a wreck; though he normally sat with his freshman friends at lunch, on Monday he came to sit by me and ask me for last-minute tips.  I watched him unwrap his lunch, stare at his sandwich, drink and banana, and turn slightly green.  I sympathized; I couldn't eat a single bite if my life depended on it.  Julian sat with us, and Liza and Garrett were a little way down the walkway; Garrett studiously ignored us, but Liza kept shooting us furtive glances when she thought we weren't looking.  I wasn't sure if the glances were for Jared or for me.  Liza and I weren't fighting, exactly, but she knew I was upset about something and, after having been snapped at a few times, accordingly spent most of her time with Garrett.  I guess I couldn't blame her.  Garrett didn't have the acid tongue that I did.  He just had the far superior ability to break hearts without uttering a single word.

Jared broke me out of my surreptitious study.  "Tris?  Okay, so there are three ways to do the sitting stretch?  Which is better?  Or should I do all three?  I don't want to get a cramp in—"

I didn't have the patience for this.  Not on, of all days, this one.  I cut him off.  "Jared, calm down.  You're making way too big a deal out of this."

"I'm really nervous here, Tris," Jared said.  "I couldn't sleep at all last night.  I tried everything, too.  Warm milk, soft music . . . I think I counted about a thousand sheep."  He rolled his shoulders.  "My neck and shoulders are all tense, too.  I can barely turn my head."  Giving up, he put his food back into his brown paper sack.

"Here, give it to me," I said.  I'd barely touched my cafeteria food.  I put his sack on my tray and threw the whole lot away.

"What's wrong—you can't eat either?"  Jared looked concerned.  "Tris, have you been okay lately?  I mean—seriously, something seems like—"

I held up a hand.  "I'm fine."

Jared was quiet for a minute, studying the grass at his feet.  Julian said quietly, "Leave it alone, Jared."

Jared looked up from his contemplation.  "No," he said suddenly.  "Tris, look, you don't have to say anything, cause I know you don't like to talk about yourself.  But listen.  I'm worried about you, and I've been worried about you for the past month or so.  You haven't been yourself.  I know something's bugging you and I just want you to know that I'm here for you."

Everything was silent for a moment.  I could hear the sounds of students talking and yelling; for a brief moment, I heard the high howl of Liza's laughter.  I winced.

Julian broke the silence with a low whistle.  "Wow," he said after he'd finished.  He looked at Jared with what I sensed was a new degree of respect.  "That was impressive, Jared."  He glanced at me.  "This one's a keeper, Tris."

For some reason, Jared's cheeks flushed.  I laughed.  Julian was right.  "I'm alright, Jared.  Look, I'm not gonna talk about it, so just leave it alone, but know that I'm alright with you."  He looked at me and smiled despite his reddened cheeks.  I punched him lightly on the shoulder.  "Don't be nervous.  You're gonna be fantastic today.  Everyone's nervous before meets."  The bell rang and we gathered up our stuff.  "I'll see you after school," I said as I got up to go.  

"What time's the meet at?" Julian asked Jared.

"Starts at three," Jared replied.  "You want to come?"

"Sure, I'll go," Julian said.  "See you, Jared."

"Bye, guys."  I took off for my last three classes.  The rest of the day flew by rather quickly; when the end-of-school bell rang, I was in the gym and just finishing drying off after my shower.  I could smell the chlorine of the pool and suddenly I wished I'd joined the team that year.  I'd have to work hard at my strokes to stay in shape enough to join next year.  Maybe I'd look into a personal trainer at some point.  I pulled on my boxers and popped open the locker that contained my clothes and shoes.  

I heard a familiar voice down the hall.  "Hey, Tris?"  Julian poked his head into the gym.  "Are you in here?"

"Over here by the lockers, Julian," I called.  I started tugging on my jeans.  Julian rounded the corner.  "Do you want to go get—oh, whoops, I'm sorry," he stammered, turning right around to walk back out.

I laughed.  "Julian, I don't care.  I've been on swim teams since junior high; I'm used to people seeing me in much less than this.  Do I want to go get what?"

Julian turned back around, but I could see that he was embarrassed.  I buttoned my jeans and tugged my turtleneck sweater over my head.  Julian was actually a welcome distraction from the anxiety that filled me over the prospect of my looming date with Seth.  "Er, I was going to ask if you wanted to go get seats now, since the meet starts in a half hour," he said, still red-faced.  

"Sure," I said, "although the swim meets don't exactly leave people spilling out of the bleachers or anything."

"Well, I know that, but I'd like to have a good seat.  That way Jared can see us.  Is his family going to be there?"

"Probably—they both can get off early enough, and Liza'll be there too."  The thought of talking to Liza wasn't entirely a pleasant one.  We turned the corner where the gym gave way to the pool deck.  The bleachers were up two flights of stairs on the north side of the pool.  We went up the stairs.  "Let's get seats down there," I said, pointing at the first row of bleachers.  From experience, I knew that those always filled the most quickly.  "We'll have the best view.  I brought my camera, and I wanted to take a few good pictures of Jared during his heats."

Julian was scanning the slowly-growing crowd.  The seats around us on the bleachers were filling in, as I knew they would.  The visiting team, in yellow and white warm-ups, were gathered on the far side of the pool.  "You used to swim, right?"  

I leaned back, then thought better of it when the hard metal of the seat-back dug into me.  "Yeah, up through last year.  I didn't join this year because I had . . . other stuff on my mind."

"You're brave."

"What do you mean?"

The first few swimmers from our school were windmilling their arms poolside and chatting amicably with one another.  I waved at a few I knew.  "Walking around in that," Julian said.  "Those Speedos."  He gave me a sly look out of the corner of his eye.  "Not that, from what I saw, you would've embarrassed yourself," he added.

I grinned.  "Honest?  I kind of liked strutting around in them.  Call me an exhibitionist or whatever.  Jared, though . . . he'll be a different story."  Sure enough, a moment or two after I said this, Jared slunk out of the changing rooms, arms crossed in front of his chest and shoulders hunched.  I could see his redness from here.  I shook my head; he'd had some time to get used to them, I knew—the swimmers usually started team practice right after teams were decided, and they always wore them—but then I realized that this was probably the first time he'd had to wear Speedos when fully-clothed people, other than the coach, were around.  My grin widened and I got up.

"Where are you going?" Julian asked.

"Save my seat," I said in return.  "I'm going to go talk to him really quickly.  They all know me, so they'll let me go poolside for a moment."  I trotted down the stairs, then jogged over to the gates.  The assistant coach nodded a greeting as I went through and headed over to where Jared was crouching.  "Hey you," I said as I came up.

"I think I'm going to die," Jared said by way of greeting.

I made a show of looking him up and down, then winked.  He blushed.  "Just kidding.  You look fine, Jared.  Go out there and do your thing."

"The nervousness is gone," he said.

"Yeah, I always found it went away right before we started the meet," I said.  "That's when calm would kind of descend over me and everything became rote."

"No, it's not so much that," Jared responded.  "I'm just so embarrassed about the Speedo that there isn't much room for anything else."

"Why're you so embarrassed?" I asked.

"Look at me!" he wailed, stretching his arms wide.  I couldn't see much to complain about, honestly.  I told Jared as much.  "Do you realize I'm the only guy who doesn't have to shave before a meet?" he asked.  "The other freshmen gave me the most hell about that."

I fought a laugh; I knew he wouldn't have to reach for the razor.  Then again, I barely had to before a meet either.  "Look at me, Jared.  We've been in the pool together.  I'm not exactly Cro-Magnon Man, either."

"But at least you had to shave part of your pubes!" he cried.  His cheeks flushed.  "I didn't mean to say that," he muttered.

"Listen, it's no big deal," I said, holding his shoulder.  "You're gonna do fine, and you should count yourself lucky you don't have to deal with stubble and razor burn.  Go ask Kenny how much he likes it when that Alaskan throw rug he has on his chest starts to grow back in."  

Jared glanced at his team captain, then turned back to me with a grin.  "You think his chest is bad . . . " he said conspiratorially.  "If you braided his back hair, it'd look like Bob Marley walking away from you."

I made a face.  "That's a new development," I said, laughing.  "Hey, some guys like that.  Look, you just have a natural advantage in the water that others don't.  It makes you that much more a born swimmer."  Jared was looking at me strangely and I couldn't figure out why.  "Now go out there and make me proud."

Jared nodded.  "Thanks for coming down, Tris," he said.  There was still a quizzical look on his face.  "Hey, can we go get food or something after the meet?  My mom gave me a few bucks—"

"Actually, I'm afraid I have set plans already," I said.  "I'll come get you around eight-thirty, though, if you still want to go," I added when I saw his face fall.

"Yeah, that would be cool," he said.  The other swimmers were gathering near Coach Alvarez.  "Okay, it's showtime," he said quietly.  "Listen, Tris, thanks again."  He grabbed my hand through the and held it for a brief moment.  "I'll talk to you after I'm done with my heats.  Coach says when we're done we can head up to the bleachers for this first meet."

"I'll be sitting with Julian," I said in reply, gesturing up at where he was sitting.  He waved; Jared waved back before turning to go.  "Good luck!" I called.  He threw me a grin and a thumbs-up over his shoulder.  Was it just me, or was he walking with a bit more of a confident bounce in his step as he went to where the other players were gathered?

And what was with that weird look he gave me?

"How's he doing?" Julian asked when I sat down.  

"He's more embarrassed about his spandex loincloth than the actual swimming part," I said wryly.  

"He's cute, you know," Julian said musingly.  "Not my type—I like them a little older, personally—but definitely cute."

"What is it with you and Taylor?" I asked.  "You both have this weird older man fetish."

"Dude!" Julian said, laughing.  "Taylor's bad.  I like 'em, say, seventeen, eighteen, tops.  Taylor's the one who wants to be up in some twenty-one year old."

"Well, I don't draw those silly age distinctions," I said loftily.  "Love is love, regardless of age."  Then I laughed.  "Seth is nineteen."

"Ahh, so you are interested in him," Julian crowed.  I glanced around furtively and told him to shut up.  "Sorry," he replied.  "I forget you're not out yet."

I shrugged.  "Well, hanging out with you doesn't exactly make me look like He-Man."

"More like Rainbow Brite," Julian sniggered.  I made a face.  "Seriously.  No one's really said much, but then you have that rep for being a huge asshole to anyone who crosses you."  He smirked.  "I think it's that more than anything else that keeps the mouths shut about you."

"And the fact that we're not trying to fuck each other in dark corners of the school like most couples."

"Yeah, that probably helps.  Not that I'd really stop you if you tried."  I gave him a glance and he raised his hands.  "I'm kidding!"  I turned away.  "Mostly," he added.

"I'd say your mind was in the gutter, but that speaks poorly of the gutter," I said, attempting to keep a straight face.

"Oh, right," Julian retorted.  "You're a human sewer.  I'm not sure if those things on your face are lips or manholes, you curse so much."

"Definitely manholes," I said, pantomiming a crude gesture with my lips and tongue.  Julian made a startled face and I laughed.  

After he'd regained control of his surprise, Julian raised his eyebrows.  "Like you've ever done that before."

"That's why they call it a joke, my friend.  Look, they're about to start."  Julian and I leaned back as the heats began.  I saw Liza come up the stairs out the corner of my eye.  She was alone.  Perhaps Jared's parents were running late, then.  She saw us, but our section was full and she didn't come over.  In times past, she would've checked to see if she could squeeze in anyhow, but she was well aware of my general displeasure and moved on quickly, ignoring us.

"There goes Liza," Julian whispered after she'd passed.

"She knows better than to try to slip her way in now," I said, keeping my eyes on Jared.  The boy was a fish, and much better than the other freshman and even most of the sophomores.  If he sticks with it, he can be the best swimmer they have by his junior year.  It would require more dedication than I'd been willing to give—I'd join next year, but this year my focus was on academics and getting my black belt—but if he put the time in, he'd eclipse me rapidly.  

Even as I watched the heats, I kept my eye on my watch.  Jared did well every time he got in the pool despite some tendency to roll his shoulders too much as he came up for air while running freestyle heats.  We'd have to work on that.  I snapped a few photos of him warming up poolside, and then an excellent one of him in mid-dive.  I was glad I had a fast shutter and a zoom lens.  I took a few of his stroke, including his exaggerated shoulder-roll, so I could show him later what he did incorrectly.  Then I took a few more as he walked around on the deck just so I could tease him later about how cute he looked in his Speedo.  Maybe I'd blow one up and frame it so his family could hang it in the living room.  I'm sure he'd love that.

"So have you talked to Seth since the other night?" Julian asked.  

I was surprised; it was the first time he'd brought up our trip to The Bean.  I figured he was still pissed about it, though I couldn't figure out why, except that maybe he was miffed that he hadn't been hit on.  If you hadn't stayed glued to Taylor like a barnacle, maybe you could've played the field more, I thought.  Never mind that I would've done the same if Seth hadn't snatched me away.  I felt a warmth flood me as I thought about that night, the way he'd seized my arm and carted me off.  "Yeah," I said distantly.  "We chatted Saturday.  We're going out tonight."

"Ah," Julian said sagely.  "No wonder you keep glancing at your watch like it's gonna explode."  I punched him in the shoulder.  "I didn't know you went for that type of guy.  He's in Taylor's range, man."

"So what if he's in college?  He's cute and fashionable, although I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of that ghettaux style."

"Ghetto?  He didn't look too ghetto to me."

"No, not 'ghetto,' ghettaux.  Like combining 'ghetto' and the French word 'faux'—as in, 'faux getto.' "  Julian looked confused, so I continued.  "It's that fake cheap look that's all popular and costs a fortune—you know, the distressed and faded jeans and the wrinkled, torn t-shirts and ratty beanies or caps with the messy hair.  It's all very expensive and very calculated and totally designed to look like you live in a thrift store."

"You don't dress like that."

"I wear the distressed jeans occasionally, and maybe one or two of the shirts, but you're right.  I'm more . . . "

"You just drop loads of money on really expensive stuff."

"Thanks a lot."

Julian shook his head quickly.  "No no no!  Not like that.  You pull it off really well—this kind of runway model thing right off of Rodeo Drive.  Or GQ.  Seriously."

"Nice save."

"Look, Tris, if I had your money, I'd dress the same as you.  Everybody knows you always look good.  Put it this way: I wouldn't be at all surprised if you're voted Best Dressed next year for the yearbook."

I snorted.  "I was kind of hoping for Most Likely to Take Over a Small Foreign Country."

Rolling his eyes, Julian said, "Wear more suits, Mr. Bond."  He gave me a more serious look.  "I do have something important to ask you."

I didn't take my eyes off of Jared, who was swimming one of his final heats of the day.  "Fire away."

He lowered his voice so nearby spectators couldn't hear.  "I need your help starting an LGBT Club."

That got me to glance his way.  "What?"  After I'd shouted, everyone else glanced his way too.  Julian flushed and waited until heads turned back to the swimmers.

Julian kept his voice low; I could tell he was nervous about asking for my involvement.  "Remember I've told you before that I've wanted to charter one for a long time?  Well, the administration's fairly open to the idea—they have to be, after all—and all I needed was ten member signatures.  Problem has always been that I couldn't get ten people to sign.  I figure with your help . . . maybe I can collect enough this time around."

"Oh."  I was quiet for a moment.  Jared was getting out; he'd placed fourth.  "I, uh—"

"Look, I know it's kind of a big thing I'm asking you to do," Julian said hurriedly, forestalling any comment I might have.  "But it's not like it's outing you or anything."

"Do you have an advisor?" I asked, stalling for time.  Shit, it's tantamount to me donning a purple shirt with pink triangles!

"Yeah," Julian said.  "Er . . . listen, can you keep a secret?"

I gave Julian a very cold look.

"Sorry, right, right," he said quickly.  "Well, after I came out, one of the teachers came sent for me one day and asked me if I wanted to talk.  Ms. Heimdall, the English teacher.  She's a lesbian."

Jared's heats were over, and it was about five o'clock; it was time for me to go.  "Look, Julian, give me the night to think it over," I said.  

"It's not like you're admitting to being gay," Julian clarified.  "It's more of a gay/straight alliance than anything else—in fact, that's what I'm gonna call it.  That way people don't feel as threatened."  He laughed nervously.  "Last thing I want them to think is that I'm training a rainbow army of militant gays."

I laughed at that.  "Well, if gays took over the world, at least it would be a cleaner, brighter place.  With way more fashion sense."  Julian looked a bit taken aback.  "I'm kidding, Julian.  I think an alliance club is a good idea.  It's a good way to teach kids that they can trust gays just as much as a lot of gay kids need to know that straight people can be trusted too.  That not everyone's a raging homophobe.  Now, look, Jared's done and he's going with his family after this is all over, and I have to jet, cause I'm meeting Seth soon.  Want a ride?"

"If you don't mind," Julian said.  "And take your time, Tris.  Last thing I want to do is rush you on this.  I just need a bit of support to get things off the ground is all."

"I'll talk to you about it tomorrow," I repeated.  "For now, let me think it over."  We walked to my car.  As we did, the school's varsity hockey team passed us.  I knew a bunch of them; having been on the swim team myself, I knew a lot of the kids who played sports.

"Hey, Tristan!" one of them called.  

I turned around.  Kyle Faber, one of the goalies, was motioning me over.  "Hang on a sec," I said to Julian, turning.  Kyle was tall, at least as tall as me, and much broader across the shoulders and back.  He brushed his long red hair out of his face and gave me a weird look.

"What're you doing hanging out with Lambowski?" he asked.

"We're friends," I said simply.

"Dude . . . " Kyle lowered his voice.  "He's a queer, man."

"Oh!" I said, slapping my forehead.  "I guess that explains the 'I Like Men' patch on his bag.  I'd been wondering about that!"

"Listen, smartass," Kyle said.  "You hang out with him and everyone's gonna think you're a faggot too."

"Better than hanging out with a bunch of troglodytes and having everyone think I'm a fucking moron too."

"What the fuck, Tristan?  Is he your fuckin' boyfriend or something."

I stole a quick glance at Julian.  He knew we were talking about him.  He'd started to wander away, and I could see by the set of his shoulders that he was upset.  "He's a friend, like I said."  I raised my voice so he'd hear me.  "A good friend.  And you can draw whatever stupid conclusions you want from that."

Kyle shook his head.  "I was trying to help you out, man," he said.  "But if you wanna hang out with faggots, then that's your own business."

"That's right, Faber," I snarled.  "Go back to your homophobe dumbfuck friends."

Oops.  That'd pissed him off.  He raised a hand to his mouth.  "Hey, faggot!" he yelled.  "I bet you suck Elliot's cock here, don't you?"

"Jealousy doesn't become you, you fucking moron," I said.  "Stop trying to put the moves on him."

I guess either my comment or the stifled chuckles from his hockey buddies set him over the edge.  With a growl, he reared back, cocking his fist.  I sighed and mentally chided Kyle.  Untrained fighters always telegraphed their moves and brought their fists too far back, leaving themselves vulnerable.  Quickly, I stepped in just as he started to swing.  Startled, he found me inside the arc of his swing; he tried to step back and I grabbed him by the shirt, knocking him backward and off-balance, and then swept my leg around, hitting him just below the knee.  He hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him.  I put my foot at his chin.  "Move and I'll kill you," I said quietly.  "Now, listen to me.  I won't put up with this bullshit, and I don't care how big you think you are.  I'll fuck you up.  I notice your hockey buddies aren't exactly rushing to your defense, either.  So if I were you, I'd cool it, cause I don't want to be your enemy.  But I won't tolerate you picking on my friends."  With that, I took my foot off of his throat and backed away.  I turned and walked in Julian's direction, every muscle in my body ready for the expected attack from behind.  It never came, and I didn't glance back to see what had happened.

I caught up with Julian, who was walking with his head down.  He kicked a rock and refused to make eye contact with me as I fell into step alongside him.  "Look, Tris . . . " Julian started.  "I—"

I held up my hand.  "Look at me when you talk to me," I said.  "Stop walking with your tail between your legs."

When Julian looked at me, I almost wished he hadn't.  Tears stood in eyes that were filled with anger and shame.  "I'm sorry," he whispered.

What was it about Julian and Jared that made hugging them something I would readily do?  I put my arm around Julian as we made it to my car and he sort of fell against me.  For a moment, he shook with quiet sobs, holding himself and weeping into his hands.  I think I was the only thing keeping him standing.  "You're going to sit down now," I said softly, lowering him down into my car.  I went around to the other side and started the engine.  The car started to warm up and Julian got himself under control.  "You okay?" I asked as he wiped at his eyes.

"Yeah," he said.  "Sorry—I just—"  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  "I didn't mean to drag you into this."  Julian laughed unsteadily.  "Welcome to my world, Tristan.  Where everyone hates you.  Where nobody cares to get close because it's like you're a leper."

Shit, I thought as I began to realize what I'd just done.  So much for confirming suspicions.  I couldn't help but wonder if I'd be ostracized too now that there was even a shred of evidence that I was gay.  I still had a year and a half of high school left to go.  "Not true," I said.  "I'm your friend.  So's Taylor.  And Sarah, and Jared."

"I know, I know.  But it's hard sometimes when most people instantly dislike me without even knowing anything about me.  It's just like Marc described it."  He sighed.  "And I've been yelled at before.  I usually just shrug it off.  Every time that's happened before I've just turned around and walked away, but it hurts so much."

"I don't want you to have to put up with that anymore."  I reached a decision in that moment—or, rather, I realized that I'd made a decision the moment I knocked Kyle Faber to the floor, and now my brain was just catching up with recent events.  "I'll do it.  The club thing."

Julian was surprised.  "What changed your mind so quickly?"

I gestured back toward the school as I put my car into reverse.  "That.  That's the kind of shit I don't want to see happen again.  If your club can make even one person realize that bigotry is unacceptable, then it'll be worth it."

"It'll be more than just one person," Julian said confidently.  "It'll be the trickle-down effect.  One person tells another person tells another few people and soon there will be a little oasis of tolerance and acceptance."

I drove down Julian's street.  It was beginning to get dark.  "I hope you're right," I said quietly.  "I really hope you're right."

*    *    *            

"Mmm, nice place," Seth said appreciatively as I led him into the house.  "What do your parents do?"

"My father owns a company—Elliot Aerospace, up in Irvine.  They make parts for weapons systems and radar equipment for military and commercial planes.  My mom works for him as a senior analyst."

He glanced around, taking in the library, the portraits in the hallway and the spiral staircase.  "They seem to do well."

I shrugged.  "We do okay."  As he glanced around, I took in all of him.  He was built so nicely—perhaps too fit to be called slim, his well-shaped arms and chest stood out starkly in an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt that was obviously one size too small.  His arms were completely hairless and nicely tanned.  Seth was a perfect storm of genetic pairing—every element of both his Asian and Caucasian heritage melded together in ideal confluence.  Seth was beautiful and exotic and utterly entrancing, and I think he knew it.  A pair of heavily distressed jeans—oh, yes, Seth definitely liked the ghettaux look—that were also a size too small left little to the imagination.  They covered nearly all of his brown flip-flops.  His light brown hair was tousled in every direction and he had the most flawlessly delicate cheekbones I'd ever seen.  And those eyes . . . those amazing, inscrutable eyes . . . I couldn't tear my gaze away even when he wasn't looking directly at me.  

"Are your folks still at work?"  I saw Seth take note of the darkened kitchen and breakfast room as he asked.

"They won't be home for another hour and a half or so.  Today's a very long day because of board meetings, and when they leave they have to pick up the twins."

Seth turned to look at me.  "So which way is your bedroom?"

"Ah . . . upstairs."

"Let's see it."

"Alright."  I led Seth up the left spiral.  "So where are you going tonight?" I asked.  "Did you still want to do dinner?"

"I already ate," Seth said.  He seemed to ignore my other question.

"Oh . . . that's cool, then."  I opened the door to my room.  "Here it is."  I saw Seth take in the room at a glance.  His eyes shifted over my computer and the rows of bookshelves and the enlarged photographs of the beach I've taken over the years.  I'll admit that my room wasn't the most exciting place, but it really didn't elicit any comment out of Seth at all.  "So how was your weekend?" I asked.

Seth moved and sat on the bed.  "Busy," he replied.  "Driving quite a bit."  He patted the spot on the bed next to him.  "Come sit here," he said with a smile.  

Nervous, but determined not to show it, I sat beside him.  "How was your day?" he asked me after I'd sat.

"I went to my best friend's swim meet," I said, then paused.  Had I just referred to Jared as my best friend?  When did I let him replace Garrett in my mind?  Time enough to think about that later.  "He did really rather well, especially since it was his very first one.  Do you swim?"

"Only when it's a private pool," Seth said.  He shuddered.  "I hate tan lines."

I thought about that for a moment.  Comprehension dawned, and I think I barely stopped myself from letting my jaw drop.  "You always swim naked?"

He laughed.  "Well, don't you?"  

"Er . . . only once or twice, when I know for sure no one'll be home," I said.  "Otherwise I always wear boardshorts or a Speedo."

"Speedos are hot," Seth said.  "I'd love to see you in a Speedo."

"Remind me to do that sometime," I said with a small laugh.

"How about right now?" Seth asked.  There was a look I couldn't identify in his eyes.  "You were the hottest thing at that coffeehouse that night, Tris.  You still are."  He put a hand on my thigh and I felt my body twitch in response.  "I choose to only talk to the hottest guys, you know.  They're the only ones worth my free time."

I couldn't get my mind off of the hand on my thigh.  I felt myself stirring in response to his touch.  "And everyone else?" I asked as calmly as I could.

Seth twitched his hand in a dismissive gesture.  "What about them?"  He leaned in slowly and I could feel my heart pounding its way out of my chest.  I half expected it to burst out of my chest and land on Seth's lap, it was beating so quickly.  He hovered maybe an inch away from my face, his lips nearly on my own.  "You're worth my time," he whispered, "and that's really all that matters, right?"  My lips parted and I leaned in and we touched, lips and hands and legs, and before I knew it Seth was pushing me backward on the bed.  I landed with him on top of me, his tongue in my mouth and his hands on my chest.  

"Seth," I gasped in-between kisses.  "Seth.  Isn't this all—all a bit . . . sudden?"

He grinned down at me and I could feel his excitement pressing up against my inner thigh.  In fact, glancing down, I could see it; the tightness of his jeans outlined every contour.  "So?" he asked, moving back in for the kill.  

I put a finger across his lips.  "My parents might be home earlier than—"

"You're not out?" he asked suddenly, leaning back.  "They don't know?"

I shook my head mutely.  Fear that my parents would find out like this, by walking in on me, warred with fear that Seth would get up and leave.  I put a hand on his arm to hold him in place; I was momentarily distracted at the feel of his triceps as he relaxed.  "I think I'm crazy," I whispered as I made up my mind, "but I don't want you to go."

"Good."  Seth slipped his hands around to my back, underneath my shirt, and I gasped as his hands made contact with my bare skin.  "Your skin is so soft," he murmured, running his hands down to where the waistline of my jeans began.  "Tris, you're so hot."

"You too," I murmured against his lips.  I slipped my hand underneath the back of his shirt and felt the gentle ridges of the muscles of his back as he moved.  Everything sort of fell away then in that moment when I let something I'd always held coiled in me gently loose.  We stayed like that for awhile, moving our hands up and down the rise and fall of our backs, lips connecting us as Seth eased his body more heavily onto my own.  Continued shivers ran up my body.  I could feel my muscles alternately tense and relax as Seth pressed against me.  I could feel Seth's hardness pressing into first my groin, and then my hip, and then my stomach, and back down again as he slipped his clothed form up and down against mine.  His hands held me as he moved, and when his lips weren't on mine I could do little more than breathe heavily and moan as pleasure rolled across my mind.  Every new sensation was like a question being answered, and the rhythm of his body against mine was like wind across a grassy plain, or the pull of tides against the shore.  I wanted to feel the water crash against the rocks.

"I love the way your cock feels against me," he whispered.  "It's so big."  He began to tug at my shirt.

My mind leaped in all directions at once.  Oh God he's taking off my shirt and This isn't right, not now, not here, not like this and I am so hard and I want it fast and quick with this beautiful boy—"Seth, Seth," I gasped again.  Somewhere in the process I'd started sweating; I stole a quick glance at the clock and realized over an hour had passed.

"What is it?" he asked, and when he looked down at me I suddenly saw not just his face, but Garrett's face, and then Julian's voice in my head: If you can be with him, then you should be with him.  But that was in reference to Garrett, not Seth.  Was this right?  A vision of Jared, face drawn in disappointment and sorrow, appeared and fled, replaced by a dream-Taylor's admonition—there are some chances we must take in this life—and then, startlingly, Sarah's friend Arachnia, writhing on the bed and telling me to enter her darkly.  I leaned away from Seth.  "What is it?" he asked, a note of impatience creeping into his voice.

"This is very fast," I said in a firm voice.  "I've never done this before, Seth.  I'm nervous my parents are going to walk in here."

He didn't let up the pressure on my body.  "Are you saying you want to stop?"  He seemed incredulous.

"I'm saying that I barely know you and already we're on my bed, sweating and . . . you get it."

Seth was silent for a moment.  "But you do know me," he said.  "And I want you to know every inch of me, just like I want to know every inch of you."  He reached down and ran a hand along the side of my hard shaft; I jerked violently and he moved his hand away.  "Especially those inches," he breathed.

I tried to sit up.  Seth reluctantly moved.  "Not yet," I said.  "Listen, my folks will be home with my sisters any minute now, and I don't need them catching me here like this.  They don't know, and this isn't how I want them to find out.  You understand that, right?"  

"I guess," he said.  "I ought to get going soon anyhow."  He got up, straightened his clothes, and headed for my bedroom door.

"Seth," I said as he stood in the doorway.  "Wait.  I'm sorry.  Listen, it's just . . . I don't want to rush things, you know?  I'm—I'm new to this.  Please be patient—I really do like you—"

"Sure, sure," Seth said impatiently.  "Come on, let's go."  He went down the stairs and, with a heavy heart, I trudged after him.  Somehow I got the feeling that I'd fucked things up royally.  Seth left with a curt "Goodbye" and a promise to call me later the next day.  I closed the door and slumped down, leaning against it.  My entire body still quivered from the intensity of our contact and my jeans were still tight around my groin.  With a sigh, I went to my bedroom, laid down on my bed, and closed my eyes.  Alone.    

This is the eleventh chapter of a seventeen-chapter series, although it is becoming clear to me that Tristan's Redemption may require up to twenty chapters to tell the tale in full.  Part two will continue with Chapter Twelve.  Again, thank you for being patient in waiting and I again extend my apologies to everyone who has emailed me to whom I have not yet responded.  Any comments or questions can be sent to me via email: viceroy12@hotmail.com.  Please feel free to email me; I love to hear readers' responses!  Thanks for reading!