If you don't like to read about male/male relationships, then this story isn't for you. Please leave if this type of material is illegal in your area, or if you are legally too young to read it. This story is a work of fiction, and strictly a product of the authors imagination. Any similarities to characters, places, or names are completely coincidental.

Chapter Two: Attempting amends

A/N: thanks to Jim for editing!

Another A/N: special thanks to Mary, too.

"Minor consumption, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest--assault! Those are only some of the charges I should be racking you and your friends up with right now! Nelson Larmont, what the hell were you thinking?"

I held my head in my hands as I sat in a very uncomfortable blue, plastic chair, the kind they made us use in junior high. I felt like I couldn't move at all. Everything was spinning. Everything hurt. I was also pretty sure that I was going to puke soon, and I had nothing to say for myself.

"I'm sorry, Uncle Ray."

I cleared my sore throat and forced myself to look upwards at the tall man standing over me in a western-style black hat that matched his beige-and-black uniform that included a nice, shiny badge and a gun on his belt. With his left hand, the one where he wore simple gold wedding band, he tugged at his thick, scruffy beard, as red in color as my mother's hair. His dark blue eyes, which usually appeared half-closed and tired were narrowed sharply on me as he regarded me with a worried but definitely furious expression over his sharp, masculine features.

Before now, I'd never actually known that the only perk I got as the sheriff's nephew was while everyone else had to wait in holding cells, I got to sit in his office--the small, windowless room with a standard metal desk, gloomy gray carpeting, and a door that faced the main office of the Heywell City Police Department. But that wasn't saying much. I'd never actually been in my uncle's office before, and I decided that it was just as gloomy as the holding cells. The only thing he'd done to brighten it up was pin an unframed photograph of my Aunt Patty and six-month-old cousin, Jay on an otherwise bare, white wall, right next to one of the three black filing cabinets. The picture had been taken at our house. I recognized the apple tree they were standing under, it was the closest to the back deck, where the goat liked to hang out. Also, I wasn't handcuffed anymore. But I had a feeling that the only reason for that was that my uncle hadn't felt like holding the metal waste basket when I was puking into it thirty minutes ago.

It was now three in the morning, and my Uncle Ray was just beginning to sort things out. He'd been able to call Haily's mom, because all she'd been caught doing wrong was being drunk, and he could release her with a ticket; but the rest of us were a little more complicated because of our various charges. All I knew was that parents had been called, but no one knew if we were going to be allowed to go home or not. This was probably the most unsettling experience that I'd ever gone through.

"You're sorry?" Ray responded, exasperated. "Nelson, were you even thinking?"

"No," I said honestly, and he sighed. "Did you call my parents?" I asked.

"And tell them you're in jail on your birthday? She'd have my head!" he ranted, sitting back on his gray desk, and I looked at him, surprised. "She'll get a call in the morning," he said quickly. "But for now, you're spending the night here. Now, tell me what happened. I need to know everything and your friends aren't being helpful."

I looked at him, a little uncertainly.

"Nelson..." he started, sounding stern, and I let out a breath.

"We had too much to drink," I admitted. "We were at my party."

"All six of you?"

I felt confused for a moment as I did the math in my head, and then shook it.

"Just me, Haily, Joe and Caleb... the other guys..."

"Haven't been drinking," Ray said as he looked down at some of the paperwork on his desk. "Do you know their names? I've only got ID off one of them and the other says he won't talk without a lawyer." Ray looked somewhat amused by that, and a little annoyed as he shook his head. "James Graham?" he said, lifting one of the five licenses spread out over his desk. "Do you know him?"

"He goes by Jame--and he's a jerk," I added dutifully.

Ray sighed again.

"Okay, Nels. I need you to tell me happened, from beginning to end."

I groaned to myself, and then clutched my stomach when it churned beneath my hand.

"Can I throw up again first?"


I trusted my Uncle Ray. But, it still felt pretty damn wrong to tell him what had happened that night. I felt like I was getting my friends into even more trouble, but I tried to be as honest as possible, and hoped that being honest was the right thing to do. Or at least, mostly honest.

I told him about the lake first, and buying the painting there. He quickly tied it to the art scattered on the street in Stratfort, but let me get to that part on my own. I explained that we were there because Joe wanted to show us...something. It seemed unnecessary to mention Andre Louer's naked aunt, but I confessed about the security car and running from it, apologizing because it had been a stupid thing to do. I also reminded my uncle that most of us had had too much to drink, and he pointed out that that included Joe, too, who'd failed a breathalyzer. This little fact pissed me off because Joe was supposed to be our designated. Pot was one thing, but to me, drinking for him was quite another. It did explain a lot, though. It also made it easier for me to tell my uncle how Joe had decided to play chicken with those crates. I explained that everyone else in the car told him to stop. But in the end I also told Ray that Joe was just trying to scare Jame, and that I truly believed that he didn't mean anything by it.

When it came to Jame and Milo--I told Ray I thought that's what his name was--it would have been easy to hang them out to dry, to just say that we were attacked. But instead, I found myself explaining that they were provoked. Except Jame and that car jack. That was just uncalled for. But when it came to Ray asking me why one of the deputies had to pull Milo off of me, I insisted that it was a misunderstanding, and even if I was scratched up from head to toe--torn clothing, scrapes on my knees and elbows, and plenty of bruises that stuck out easily on my fair skin--Milo wasn't at fault.

I just couldn't blame him. I wanted to think that he attacked me because I'd fallen into him, and it really had been a misunderstanding. But, I had no idea if that would be true. All I knew was that I'd seen the look on his face as he stood over all of those beautiful, detailed paintings of a place that I loved, that I'd had a part in destroying. I didn't want to blame him for anything. And I wasn't about to admit that part of that was because I was drunk and severely attracted to him.


Holding cells sucked. Just saying, is all. Uncomfortable, small spaces with cement benches that weren't even long enough to lie down on. And it really sucked to know that my friends were right there next to me, separated by thick, gray, stone walls, and I wasn't even allowed to talk to them. So, eventually I passed out, sitting on the cold floor. The room spun less when I was on the floor.

The next time I woke up, my uncle was opening the barred door and telling me that it was morning. But with the only light being the fluorescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling, I couldn't tell the difference. I was nauseous, everything was sore, and I hurt more than I had before I passed out. I was so uncomfortable, that the fact that I was in a shitpot full of trouble, was the last thing on my mind when Uncle Ray took me back to his office and told me to drink some orange juice and eat a plain, dry bagel. It was when he sat down on the other side of his desk and started on more paperwork that I finally realized how quiet things had gotten.

"Where is everyone?" I asked, attempting to swallow the last bite of my bagel. It was helping my stomach feel better, but it hurt to swallow just about everything at the moment.

"Home," he said simply.

I stared at him in confused silence. "Caleb and..."

"Home," he repeated. "Their parents got here a few hours ago."

"Oh... so, am I going to jail?"

Ray lifted his blue eyes from his work, seeming annoyed as he silently looked me over.

"I called your mom this morning and told her I'd bring you home when I'm done here."

"Okay... so how much trouble am I in?" I asked. My head hurt and I was confused. I wanted to tell him to just get to the point, but it seemed that I was on thin ice as it was. If Ray wanted to keep me in suspense, he was going to keep me in suspense. I frowned and sipped the rest of my orange juice as he continued to scratch at the papers in front of him with a ballpoint pen.

"Thompson Trust," he finally said, and when I looked up I found his eyes on mine.


"The kid you call Milo, is Thompson Trust Junior."

"I'm not following you," I admitted. Thompson? I preferred Milo, I think.

"Thompson Trust," Ray continued. "As in Trust Homes, and Trust Financial... Thompson Trust, who donated a large portion of that park the city built on your dad's land... Nelson, he's the man responsible for putting up all those houses in the neighborhood you and your friends decided to terrorize last night."

I had to think about it for a minute. Thompson Trust. Trust in Thompson Trust to bring you home. Trust homes. Okay, the name was starting to ring a bell. I definitely remembered TV ads in there somewhere. Thompson Trust...

And as I finally put the face to the name I thought of green eyes and dark hair on a man in his forties, always wearing a tie. His poster was up in the bank that I kept my money in and my mother had once said, and I quote: "He's so dreamy." Thompson Trust. Thompson Trust. The closest thing we had to a local celebrity in Haywell was Thompson Trust.

"That's Milo's dad?" I asked in disbelief. Honestly, despite the fact that they were both gorgeous, I didn't see it. Thompson Trust was all business. All money. He was the kind of guy you assumed had diamonds on his pillow case; and as I thought about it, it was a well-known fact that he was a bachelor, if you didn't count his recent engagement announcement in the paper. I didn't see him having a son, especially one who drove around in a dented old Honda and sold paintings for twenty-five bucks a piece at Hangman Cove just like any other vendor.



"Mr. Trust was calling him Tommy. I assume that's his name," Ray explained.

"Oh." I really did like Milo better. Tommy sounded like a little boy who'd wreck your sand castle. Just didn't fit. Lick-me-Milo sounded much better. "Um... so does Mr. Trust have get-out-of-jail-free cards?" I asked tentatively, and Uncle Ray rolled his eyes at me as he removed his hat, revealing a head full of thick red hair which was sticking up all over the place, before he stood up and walked around his desk so that he was directly in front of me. I shifted in the uncomfortable plastic seat as he sat back on his desk and crossed his arms.

"Let's just say Mr. Trust knows the kind of people that you'd want to know, being in your situation. He'd like to keep the matter quiet, and so would everyone else, I think," Ray explained, and I nodded in agreement. "So, here's what we're going to do for you, Nelson. You're going to be ticketed for minor consumption. You have to pay the fine, or you'll end up in court." He waited for confirmation from me, so I nodded. "And starting tomorrow, you will be reporting here at six a.m. every single day for the next three weeks until school starts."

"Six?" I incredulously repeated, but immediately shut up when Uncle Ray narrowed his eyes on me. He was right. I was in no position to argue. "Okay... six a.m.," I agreed quickly.

"You'll be here, or somewhere else, every day until three p.m. volunteering your time for community service. You don't get sick days, so if you're late, you'll make up the time at the end of the day, and for each day you miss, you spend two locked up during spring break when that comes around. I don't think I need to tell you how disappointed I am, Nelson."

I let out a breath. I already felt guilty. And horrible. And sick. The sick part was my hangover, I decided; but still, I understood what Ray was saying, and I really was sorry. I had a feeling that I'd be saying that a lot in the near future.

"I am sorry," I insisted. "And nothing like this will ever, ever happen again. I swear."

"It better not," he said sternly. "You're very lucky right now."

I nodded, and then lifted my eyes, regarding him curiously.

"What about everyone else?" I asked.

"I'm sure you can ask them that the next time you see them," Ray responded, and then shook his head at me once more. "Go wash up as much as you can in the bathroom. I'm going to call your mom and tell her we're on our way."


My mom wasn't a disciplinarian. Neither was my dad. I'd never been grounded. In fact, the worst I'd ever been punished was when I was twelve and they made me sit in the corner after Caleb and I had decided it would be fun to cut Haily's hair to make her look more like one of us. In our defense, she'd asked us to do it. It was her mom that hadn't liked the outcome, and for that reason, Caleb and I were held accountable. He had to do odd chores around his house for an entire week; I got sent to stand in the corner for ten minutes.

So now my parents were at a loss when it came to what they should do with me. They seemed more worried than anything, though. I got hugs from both my mom and my dad before they told me to shower and go to bed. They still planned on having the barbeque, and they wanted to make sure that I was rested enough for it. They told me that they'd want to know everything when I was feeling better, and I'd never been more grateful for their patience. Once I was clean, and I'd erased a very vile taste from my mouth, I was in bed, my white comforter pulled over my head, and passed out in moments.

Waking up wasn't very easy to do an hour before I was supposed to make an appearance at my own party. My headache was going away, and some of the aches in my muscles, but as last night caught up to me, I felt worse than ever. The fact that my friends and I had gotten ourselves into a situation like that angered me. But thinking clearly now, I also knew that it served us right, the way we'd been acting. Like a bunch of fucking idiots. And Joe... I was trying really hard not to be angry at Joe, but that fact that he'd lied to us about having had something to drink, and the way he'd made a sport out of destroying something like Milo's--or Tommy's--paintings were both strikes against him. It was just a situation where his good looks weren't going to bring him any leniency.

Leniency. I doubted that everyone else's parents had been as patient and understanding as mine. It occurred to me as I got dressed, making sure to wear long sleeves to hide any unseemly bruises, that I had no idea what was happening to any of my friends, and that just made me feel worse. I called Caleb first, but didn't get an answer. I would have called Joe, but I was afraid I'd start yelling at him on the phone. I tried Haily. Her mom answered, but wouldn't let me talk to her. Then, Mrs. Geld told me she was disappointed in all of us, but they'd see me at six for the barbeque. Haily was going to be there. I hoped that Caleb and Joe would be, too.

Chad showed up with Leanna around five thirty, just in time to hear me tell my parents what had happened. We chose to sit in the living room for this. It was a lot like the family room, but without all of the animals. And, it was just as comfortable as the kitchen with soothing colors of blue and green mixed into the soft sofa that wrapped around two of the walls, all covered with family portraits and photographs of various family members from my mom's side, and my dad's. The furry white rug covering the hardwood floor tickled my bare feet as I sat on the armchair that matched the sofa and told my family my story. It didn't get easier, either, knowing that they already knew the outcome.

Every time I mentioned that we'd been drinking, Chad would raise a pierced eyebrow at me, likely suspecting that we'd had more than alcohol. Later, I'd likely tell him that he was right, but any drug use I did partake in, was not something that I discussed with my parents. It ranked right up there with sex. Unless they were giving me the safe-sex or don't-do-drugs talks, I didn't even bring it up. Drinking was something I could `fess up to, though. They were aware that I'd been drunk at parties before, but they also knew that in the past I'd called them for rides when I knew I couldn't make it home on my own.

Next to Chad, Leanna was being a supportive ear, giving me sympathetic looks every time I apologized. She'd always been really good at that. She was one of those approachable people that you felt like you could talk to. Chad had managed to find a girlfriend who was shorter than he was and just above five feet; Leanna's short blonde hair, thick glasses and petite features gave her an innocent, nonjudgmental appearance that made her the easiest to face.

My dad just sat in his favorite leather recliner, the only piece of furniture we had that my mom actually hated, looking concerned, and as if he were concentrating hard on every word I was saying as he adjusted his boxed-shaped glasses every once in a while. He was also the one who kept the conversation on track when my mom became more concerned with what I'd actually done for fun on my birthday, than what I'd done to get in trouble on it.

I guess as far as conversation went, it wasn't as terrible as it could have been. My parents ultimately decided that I'd made a mistake, and since I felt like I'd definitely learned from it, they told me that community service, and having to work nights on the weekends at the bakeries for my dad was going to be punishment enough. Except, working in the bakeries really didn't count because I was getting paid for it, and I worked in the bakeries all the time, anyway. I think my dad just threw that in there because I kept telling them they could ground me if they wanted to.

I agreed that I'd be paying the fine for my minor-consumption ticket.


The deck on the back of our house could fit over twenty people on it, the way it wrapped all the way around the back of the house. It was all wood, and my dad would re-stain the entire thing maple every two years. The deck had been the last addition that his grandmother made to the house before she passed away. Now, it was home to my dad's gas grill--one of his favorite toys; and two years ago in October when my mom had inherited the goat from a neighbor who passed away, my dad and I had built a small, insulated, gated shed on the east end of it the day after my mom announced that she'd be bringing the goat into the house if it started snowing.

The back of our house was a good place for parties, especially in the summer when everything was green and the apple trees were in bloom; and because we were on the hill, and the terrain was anything but flat, all we could see looking out was fields. It was peaceful, and quiet. Since I'd lived there, we'd had two weddings in the back. One was for my Uncle Ray when he married my Aunt Patty, and one was for one of my mom's girlfriends. My mom had planned both weddings, and they'd both been so perfect that my dad always teased her about changing professions. Chad insisted that she shouldn't be encouraged, but I'd bet that was because my mom had been planning his and Leanna's wedding ever since Chad brought her home for dinner.

My mom also planned all of the barbeques we had back there. My entire family had summer birthdays, and mine was always the last of the year. She'd invite my closest friends; family friends; neighbors from around town that had known me since I was in diapers; her brother Ray and his family; my dad's cousin, Ruth, and her two daughters, his only relatives still living in Heywell; my brother's best friend, Greg Hugh, and his parents; and my mom's mom, Grannie Tenny. She'd had a stroke when I was thirteen, and she'd been recovering in a nursing home ever since. My mom went to see her all the time. On Sundays she came to church with us, and she was always around for holidays and birthdays. I always made sure to have chocolate when I saw her because besides her elderly, charming neighbor at the nursing home, Mr. Hoover, chocolate was her favorite thing in the world. Mr. Hoover would be at the barbeque, too. He was one of the people Grannie always remembered. Ever since her stroke, she'd been forgetting names and faces on a regular basis. She only seemed to remember my name once a year if I was lucky, but she always knew me as the boy who gave her chocolate.

She was the first guest I got settled at the barbecue. My mom had brought out the long outdoor folding tables with red plastic table cloths and placed them in the field, which had recently been cut down to look more like a lawn. I took Grannie Tenny in her wheelchair and seated her right next to Mr. Hoover before I'd complimented her curly white hair, which still had hues of red remaining from her youth, before I made sure they each were offered chocolate cupcakes left over from the morning before. I found myself wondering what Grannie Tenny would say if she knew about all of the trouble I'd gotten myself into the night before, but as I remembered the short temper she'd had before the stroke, I decided that I really didn't want to know. But, the question did make me wonder who would know. Heywell wasn't that big, and anyone's business was everyone's business. But, Uncle Ray helped calm my nerves when he arrived with my Aunt Patty, a plump brunette with a shining smile and Cousin Jay, who looked more like his mother than his father. Ray had hugged me with the rest of his family, wearing the friendly smile I was used to seeing on his face. In his khaki shorts and orange Hawaiian shirt, which clashed horribly with his red hair, he didn't look at all like the same man who'd arrested me the night before. I'd found myself apologizing to him once again, at which point he'd pulled me aside and explained that the matter didn't need to be discussed if we wanted to keep it quiet. He'd be telling anyone who saw me doing community service that I'd volunteered my own time.

It wasn't unusual for my friends and me to isolate ourselves from everyone else at events like this, and that's exactly what we did after having a few of my dad's fat and juicy burgers and my mom's homemade fries. The four of us made sure to stay in sight, not wanting to be rude, so while everyone feasted around the tables, and Cousin Ruth's younger daughters played with the white goat along with some of the other kids attending, Haily, Joe, Caleb and I sat in the four-foot-wide double set of stairs leading off the deck as Haily tiredly leaned into me and Caleb bounced my cousin, Jay, who was now only wearing a diaper, on his jean-clad knee. For all of Caleb's machoism, I was always amazed by his patience and love of little kids. He was the first person my Aunt Patty had sought out when she couldn't get Jay to stop crying, and she'd obviously made the right decision because the kid had been giggling ever since as Caleb made silly faces at him, even as our discussion turned more serious.

Haily was grounded, and lucky that her mom had even let her come to the barbeque. She'd be spending the next two weeks at home, working off her fine, and to her horror, she would be forced to wear a dress at her cousin's upcoming baptism. Joe had not only been ticketed with minor consumption, but also a DUI. There was a good chance that he'd lose his license. As soon as he'd started bitching about that, Caleb and Haily put two and two together and I wasn't the one who had to bring up the fact that he'd been drunk when he was driving us all around town last night.

"Hey, we were all fucked up," Joe said defensively, running a hand through his dark hair and setting his handsome face in a stern expression. "Don't even fucking think about blaming this whole thing on me."

"Hey! Little ears!" Caleb objected as he placed his large palms over the sides of Jay's little head, as if not wanting my cousin to hear us.

"No one's blaming everything on you, Joe," I insisted. "But you were designated. Getting in trouble's one thing, but you could have killed us!"

"It's not like you stopped breathing at any point," Joe responded, looking annoyed. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I just got carried away last night."

"I think we all did," Haily said quietly, her thumb brushing over my bicep as she leaned into me. "Listen, guys, it was all stupid, okay? Let's just be glad it's not worse."

I sighed and placed a friendly arm around her shoulders, deciding that she was right.

"Hey, at least you guys are just grounded," Caleb said. "I have to spend the rest of my summer waking up at five in the morning."

"You got community service?" I asked him, and he glared at me because I seemed happy about that. "I did, too," I explained, and after taking a moment to digest this information, Caleb actually grinned.

"At least I won't be bored, then," he said, but then his smile faded. "I got it because of the fighting, and if you got it..."

"Then Jame probably has it, too," I finished, nodding. And Milo, I decided silently, unless his dad got him out of it. "But look, I wouldn't worry about it, Caleb. Ray will probably keep him away from you. This is supposed to be punishment, remember? Not your opportunity to kill him."

"He should be so lucky," Caleb remarked maliciously, right before he stuck out his tongue and made the most ridiculous face at Jay, and my little cousin cracked up all over again.

"You know, this is so stupid," Joe suddenly said. "They're the ones that attacked us. We were just fucking around."

"Dude, you could have killed them, too," I said seriously, leaning out to face Joe, who was sitting on the other side of Caleb. "And did you even see what you did to those paintings?" Joe actually laughed, and I narrowed my eyes on him. "It's not funny."

"Oh, whatever," Joe responded coolly. "It was just a bunch of stupid pictures... listen, I'm sorry about drinking last night, okay? I didn't mean to get us in trouble. And, like Haily said, it could have been worse. Let's just... move on. Who knows, maybe we won't be grounded before summer's actually over and we'll have time to hit all the parties."

I continued to glare at Joe, not even sure what to say to that until Caleb nudged me.

"Hey," he said. "Forget it, okay? It's over."


With my eyes half open, I sat in the front room at the police department, watching as uniformed officers passed me every now and then. It was only five forty-five in the morning, and if you asked me, no time to be coherent. I wouldn't even have eaten breakfast this morning if my mom hadn't caught me on my way out the door with a few toaster waffles and a box of juice in her hands. Then, she'd pointed out that I wasn't wearing shoes, and I had to turn back around, not really willing to chastise myself for forgetting footwear because it had been difficult enough to dress in my old blue-jean shorts and a white t-shirt, stained from every time I ever helped my dad around the house.

I wasn't a morning person. I just wasn't. I wasn't when I woke up. I wasn't when I left home in my navy blue `81 Buick, which had been passed down to me from my mom. It had been rusty brown before I got it and Caleb helped me replace most of the interior and redo the paint job so it looked like a decent vehicle; and my dad helped me keep up with maintenance, so I never had any trouble with it. Except for when I was on my way to pick up Caleb so we could go to the police station together since he was having the jeep's window repaired, and I spilled hot coffee on my thigh, staining my shorts when I came to a quick stop at a yellow light. I blamed the car for that. It seemed reasonable at the time.

I was irritable, but that was probably because of my headache. I hadn't slept much the night before. I'd been too busy wondering what tasks Uncle Ray would put us up to, or whether or not I'd see Thompson Trust Junior. On the one hand, I hoped that he'd be there just because I liked looking at him. On the other hand, I knew that this attraction was completely one-sided and when I rationally thought about it, it occurred to me that the guy thought I was a complete prick, and probably blamed me just as much as everyone else for destroying all of his work. I wasn't really even sure how I'd face him if he did show up.

I wasn't irritable very often, which is probably why Caleb was so accommodating on the rare occasions when I was. I think he figured it made up for all the times that I put up with his less-than-gentle personality. I looked up as he came from a small lounge, where one of the uniformed officers had told us we could help ourselves to some coffee. I'm sure neither of us looked awake. Caleb sure didn't with his wavy hair a wavy mess on his head, and his chestnut eyes were less open than mine were. He'd attempted to put on a black button-up shirt that morning and the entire front was crooked. I sat up some as he took the seat next to me and handed me one of the two eight-ounce styrofoam cups he was carrying. I looked down at the black steaming liquid in mine and made a face.

"They're all out of sugar and stuff," Caleb explained, sipping his and wincing at either the temperature or the taste. Possibly both. "Coffee sucks... where's your uncle?"

I mumbled a standard don't know response and shrugged. "I hope he doesn't, like, separate us or something."

"I know," Caleb agreed, and then leaned back in his own plastic chair, which like mine, was bolted to the floor, and looked at me. "Hey, Nels, do you think your dad would let me work in one of his stores for a while?"

"Why?" I asked, confused by his question. Caleb had worked in the bakeries before, but as far as I knew, he'd never cared for it. "Do you need a job or something? You know, if you need help paying for that window I think it's only fair that we all pitch in."

"Hey," Caleb replied with a grin. "You guys can pitch in all you want for the window. But I don't really need a job. I'm grounded, you know? And my parents say that the only thing I can get out for is this bullshit or a job, and since you're working for your dad, I thought..."

I nodded. "Gotcha."

"That way we can at least still hang out."

"Here's not enough for you?" I asked, smirking.

"Nels, we're in a police station," he said matter-of-factly. "Not what I'd call a hangout."

"I'll talk to my dad," I promised him, smiling around a rather large yawn. I stopped smiling, however, as my attention turned to the tall double doors at the front of the building and I watched Jame Graham walk through them. Unlike Caleb and me, it looked like he'd managed to shower and actually took the time to put on clothes that matched. I found myself sitting up a little when Jame paused to hold the door behind him, but immediately sat back, feeling a little nervous as Thompson Trust Junior stepped into the building. Obviously, no one had bothered to tell him that it wasn't even six o'clock on Saturday morning, because he looked wide awake, his sharp green eyes taking in the room, sweeping over Caleb and me as if we weren't even there, and his soft brunette locks were styled neatly on his head. His wardrobe wasn't as tidy as Jame's. Obviously, Tommy Trust knew he was there to work and he'd dressed for it in a faded black muscle shirt and dark blue jeans with a rip in the left knee. He looked good. He'd probably look good in anything he wore.

"You two, take a seat over there." The same officer that had directed Caleb and me to the coffee was now in front of Jame and Tommy, pointing to the two seats left where Caleb and I were sitting. The two seats left, happened to be on either side of us, and for this reason, Caleb downcast his eyes in a you're-not-even-worth-looking-at way as he got up and moved to the seat on the other side of me as Jame and Tommy headed over, each of them ignoring us in their own way. It was awkward, and I found myself shifting in my seat to be closer to Caleb as Jame took the spot next to me and Tommy claimed the seat on the other side of him, and then there was silence.

A lot of annoying silence. There was silence until I couldn't take it anymore and released a frustrated breath before turning towards Jame.

"I'm sorry," I said, and Jame turned a surprised set of hazel-brown eyes on me. I noticed Tommy seeming a little surprised, too, before he went back to seeming uninterested. I decided to focus on Assface. "Look Jame, last night..." I grunted when Caleb abruptly elbowed me.

"Dude, don't fucking apologize to him," Caleb insisted. "It was his own damn fault."

"My fault you guys are always acting like a bunch of fuckheads?" Jame retorted.

"Oh, shut up, Assface," Caleb responded shortly as he glared past me. "I should have put your head through my fucking window."

"Why not yours?" Jame responded with one of the smiles that was meant to aggravate Caleb. "It's thick enough, meathead."

"Meathead?" Caleb repeated, incensed, as if Jame had thrown a real insult at him. "I will break you with my fucking meathead!"

I managed to get my hands on Caleb as he attempted to lunge across me to get to Jame, but I wasn't what stopped him. It was the loud, sharp whistle that had all four of us sitting back in our seats and looking up at my Uncle Ray, who was standing there with his arms crossed, looking disapproving. Next to him was the same young officer that had pulled Trust Junior off of me the night before right before promptly cuffing both of us. He didn't look at all amused now, with his sharp dark eyes focused on us, looking rather intimidating in the same blue-and-black uniform that every officer other than my uncle wore, his short black hair slicked back in a very businesslike way.

"Okay," Ray said sternly. "You... and you." He pointed at Caleb, and then Jame. "On your feet."

"Uncle Ray..." I started, hoping to get Caleb out of any situation that he'd just managed to get himself into, but the sharp look my uncle flashed me abruptly halted my train of thought.

"While we're here you'll be calling me Sheriff Bennet," he informed me, and I swallowed as Jame and Caleb moved to their feet. "That goes for all of you." He paused and looked between Caleb and Jame for a moment before he shook his head. "If I see anything like that again you'll both be spending your time in lockup. Understand?"

"Yes, Sir," they chorused.

"I want the two of you working here today where I can keep an eye on you," Ray decided. "Caleb, you know where my office is?"

Caleb simply nodded.

"Wait for me there," Ray instructed, and then looked at Jame. "Both of you. And don't even think about killing each other before I get there or you'll be washing out toilets all day!"

Caleb frowned, and looked at me for a moment, obviously not liking the idea of being separated, or stuck with Jame, but at least he had enough sense to do as my uncle said without argument. When Jame and Caleb were gone, Ray looked at Trust and me pointedly. "This, is Deputy Trujillo. You're both going with him and you'll do whatever he tells you to do, got it?"

I nodded at my uncle. I didn't hear Trust say anything, so I assume he did the same because Ray looked satisfied. And then, without another word, my uncle walked away. I watched him head to his office, feeling a little confused and abandoned before Trujillo's smooth, deep voice cut into my thoughts.

"You two, follow me. And no talking. If you talk, eventually you'll try to say my name. If you pronounce it wrong, I'll have to shoot you, and it's Saturday so no one feels like cleaning up that mess."

I found myself exchanging an uncertain look with Trust, who seemed fairly annoyed with this young officer as we stood and followed him outside. As instructed, neither of us spoke, although I for one was very interested to know where we were going. Obviously, it was away from the station because Trujillo led us to a squad car and instructed me to sit in the front, and Trust to sit in the back. The vehicle obviously wasn't used to transport prisoners because there was no cage, and I found myself feeling kind of grateful for that. Guilt over last night had me feeling like Trust should have taken the front seat.

We drove through the downtown area's narrow paved streets, past the courthouse, and a few minutes later we were turning onto Chariot Road, but not towards the lake. Instead we headed for the Hill, but turned left off a side street before we reached it and into a cluster of small businesses that seemed charmingly secluded by tall shade trees, the road that I used to get home leading up the hill behind us. I knew the area well. The dance studio where Leanna worked was in the area. I had no idea why we were parking in front of the white brick building with the pink sign that read A Woman's World, though.

"Okay, go in there," Trujillo ordered, pointing at the door. He didn't even bother to unbuckle his seatbelt. "Ask for Brenda. Give her a hard time--and I shoot you." He paused and looked at me. "You're going to have to open the back door for him because it won't open from the inside."

I just stared at the officer for a long moment, not really getting any of this.

"That's it?" I finally asked.

"That's it," he responded. "Now get out. I'll see at three o'clock. If you're not out here waiting for me, I'll find you, and..."

"Shoot us?" I heard Trust Junior's voice come from the back seat and bit back a smile when Trujillo turned his head to glare at him.

"Just get out of my car," he ordered, and I did this time, remembering to open Trust's door for him. I was met with a glare coming from emerald eyes when I did this, his way of telling me that he objected to my very existence, I suppose. I ignored it.

"Look, Tommy," I said reasonably. "We're going to be here all day, so..."

"Don't call me Tommy," he cut me off, and I frowned.

"Isn't that... your name?" I tried to smile. I hoped it would make me look friendly. He did no less than scowl at me. He was cute when he smiled.

"Milo. My name's Milo."

Oh, good. Milo. I liked Milo. When he said his own name, his mouth was fun to watch--the "l" curled off his pink tongue smoothly and by the time he got to the "o" it looked like he was blowing me a kiss with those pouty lips.

"I'm Nelson," I replied. I'm sure I didn't look as sexy when I said my name. Milo certainly looked unimpressed.

"I don't care," he responded coldly, and I frowned to myself as he moved ahead of me into the building while I closed the door to the squad car and Officer Trujillo drove away.


I'd never actually been inside A Woman's World before, but it was a clothing store. Obviously, for women. Walking in, it smelled like the lilac-scented candles that my mom liked to burn at home and clothing racks were spread over pink carpeting throughout the wide main floor. The cash registers were towards the back of the store, and that's where I'd found Milo talking to the woman named Brenda, who was wearing a blue two-piece suit over her full-figure curves and a matching barrette in her big blonde hair. She owned the store, and seemed to be under the impression that we were there volunteering to help her sort through the shop's storage because she'd be donating to an upcoming Heywell charity drive.

The storage, was actually a basement that had plenty of water damage. I guessed that the place had been flooded a few times, given its location on lower terrain. But the boxes we were supposed to go through had been on the many shelves throughout the room, which was about the size of my living room. We were supposed to sort everything there by size and bottom, top, or dress. But first, Brenda explained, anything too wrinkled from being in boxes needed to be ironed, and as I started sorting, she showed Milo to the ironing board. He didn't complain about his task, but I got more dirty looks when practically everything I found in the boxes needed to be ironed. Milo wasn't very sociable. I tried to talk to him again a few times, pointing out funny-looking clothes, or asking what he usually did on Saturdays. I was adamantly ignored. I was getting bored, too, feeling alone and isolated because he didn't feel like talking to me. Hell, he didn't even buy my attempt to make him laugh by putting on hot pink dress with yellow polka dots. Far be it for me to be a pessimist, but I was beginning to think that Milo Trust didn't like me.

I got so bored with being trapped in a room with someone who wouldn't talk to me, I found myself flirting with Brenda when she came to check on us, just so she'd stick around longer. This earned me no extra points with Milo, though. In fact, I think he was rather disgusted with me after that. By the time Brenda insisted that we go get something to eat at little taco shop across from her store, I'd completely given up on trying to talk to Milo. He left straight for the restaurant while I followed two minutes later after calling my uncle to make sure we were allowed to take a lunch break. He told me we had thirty minutes.

The small shop had a maximum occupancy of thirty people in the dining room, but that didn't seem to be a problem because it wasn't crowded at all. Which meant that there was really no excuse to sit with Milo, who was already picking apart his taco salad as he sat at one of the orange booths in the corner. I chose a table that had someone else at it. Peter Forest. He was in my year at school, and one of my mother's piano students. He'd been at my party the night before and spent a good fifteen minutes telling me how great it was as I ate my chicken tacos before he had to go back to his summer job at the video store across the street.

After Peter left, I found myself looking around for someone to talk to, but I didn't recognize anyone else, which sucked, because I really hated eating alone. I hated doing anything alone. I saw a few girls at a corner table near the door, one of whom might have gone to my school. I thought about joining them for a minute. They wouldn't have minded. But instead, I found myself looking at Milo again. He was sitting with his elbows on the table, silently staring out the window at traffic slowly passing by, as if he wasn't quite aware of anything else around him. In a moment of determination, I lifted my tray of food and my cherry soda, and promptly placed myself in the booth across from him. It didn't take him long to turn his head and glare at me, almost accusingly, as if I were committing a crime just by sitting there.

"Were they all ruined?" I asked, before he could object to my being there.

Milo gave me a funny look. "What?"

"Your paintings--were they all ruined?" I asked. "I mean I saw them, but..."

"Yeah, they were," he said coldly. He was looking at me accusingly again, but this time I guessed it was for a different reason. I felt like defending myself. I wanted to tell him that it wasn't my fault, but somehow, that didn't quite feel like the right thing to do.

"I'm sorry," I said honestly, but those words only earned me another hostile glare. I frowned. "Do you want it back?" I asked him.

"What back?"

"The painting--the scarecrow," I explained. "The one I got from you yesterday? I don't have it with me. It's still in my bag, I'll have to get it from Caleb. But, if you want it back, I'll give it to you. And, I'll pay you for the other ones. I mean, I probably don't have as much as they're worth, but if you want..."

Milo let out a breath as he lowered his eyes to stare at his hands, long, tan fingers spread out on the table, and I watched as his expression actually softened. Or at least, became more relaxed.

"It's not about the money. Just forget it."

I studied him for a long moment, until he met my eyes.

"Joe shouldn't have been driving," I found myself saying. "None of us should have been out there--look, it was fucked up. We were fucked up and I really am sorry. I know it's not an excuse, I just wanted to say..."

"Is it because of my last name?" he suddenly cut me off.

"What?" I didn't get it.

"My last name. Are you apologizing to me because it's Trust? Because you know my dad's the one who made sure things were kept quiet..."

"No," I said quickly, feeling a little surprised. "I mean, it's a very nice name, but it's not because... look, I wanted to apologize before I knew who you were. I really do like your paintings."

"If I was Jame would you be sitting there apologizing?" he responded, and I frowned at that. What was with this guy?

"No. He wouldn't give me a chance to apologize," I responded reasonably, and then found myself frowning at the suspicious look on his face. "I don't expect you to accept it, okay. Just... I wanted to say I'm sorry. I said it. Now, I'm gonna go iron some dresses." I stood up, taking my tray and drink again. Milo didn't object, but I still paused and looked back at him. "Just let me know if you want the painting back, or if I should pay you for the rest, okay?"

I didn't get a response. Just another glare. Milo Trust was really good at glaring. He just wasn't good at making it look intimidating. Just sexy. Green eyes and dark, thick lashes. I'm sure he didn't get it when all I managed to do was smile at him before I walked away. He kept glaring.

Milo glared at me for the next two and a half weeks. We weren't working together every day. Ray had decided that it was a bad idea to keep Caleb and Jame together the very next morning when they'd disturbed the peace at a retirement home where they were supposed to be helping out. They each had to stay an extra hour that day because of the incident. So, Ray kept Caleb and Jame separated, except for when he had the four of us picking up littler off the highway, or other places around town--mostly places where tourists frequented. He had us doing that a lot. The rest of the time, we were broken up into two, or just by ourselves, helping out around local businesses or charities. A couple times I ended up in someone's barn cleaning up after horses or at the Humane Society getting scratched to hell by cats that needed baths. The chores weren't so bad, I guess. And, it only took me a week to get used to the early schedule. Most days Caleb and I would get there together, Ray would tell us what we were doing, and Officer Trujillo would threaten to shoot us. Most of the time, Milo and Jame simply wouldn't speak to Caleb and me, and we didn't speak to them unless it was required. I tried to be friendly, though. Caleb didn't seem to understand this, but he tolerated it--to a point. One day when it was particularly windy, Milo was faced with a knocked-over trash can near the campground and when I went to help, he'd told me to fuck off. I helped him anyway, when he made no further objection, but Caleb had heard what was said and the next thing I knew he was with us and threatening Milo with all sorts of bodily harm before Trujillo, who was babysitting us that day, told us to knock it off, or he'd shoot us. Caleb's outbursts only earned me more dirty looks from Milo. It was becoming discouraging.

I wouldn't say that I was trying to be friends with Milo Trust. It would have been a futile task to attempt something like friendship. He hung out with Assface. According to Caleb, befriending Assface or anyone who liked Assface would be like a crime against the human race as we knew it. But, I couldn't help being a little drawn to Milo. Caleb had given me my duffle bag back that second night when I dropped him off at his house and I'd hung Milo's painting on my wall, so it was the first thing I saw when I walked into my bedroom. My mom had said that she really liked it. I told her I did, too, but I didn't say that every time I looked at it I thought of the artist, and spent most of the time I usually spent sketching up goofy comics of my friends, sketching images of that night, at least the ones I could remember. But, everything was of Milo. Milo at the beach, selling Haily and I that painting. Milo kneeling down in front of his car to change the tire, Milo over me, ready to rip my head off...

I did a lot of thinking about Milo. As the weeks passed and everyone's parents let up on their punishments, Joe and Haily began to come visit Caleb and me at whatever one of the four bakeries we worked at on the weekends; and as my friends and I were able to schedule more visits with each other, meeting for a short time at someone's house, or even meeting at Hangman Cove after Caleb and I were finished with our community service for the day, things began to feel normal again. But when I was home, and by myself in my room, I was always thinking about Milo. When it came to his painting, I thought about returning it every time I looked at it, but he never asked me to, so it stayed right there on the wall in room, and continued to be the first thing I saw when I walked in. Until four days before our community service was supposed to be over.

Uncle Ray had decided to let the four of us off two days early, giving us a free weekend before school started again. Four days before, on a Tuesday morning, once again I'd found myself picking up litter near the highway as I listened to Caleb bitch about how he wanted to get laid at least one more time before summer ended, preferably at Hangman Cove because this year, he wanted to hang a bra next to the scarecrow. I wasn't to tell Haily this because according to Caleb, she'd slap him. He was likely correct in his assumption.

"So you wanna go to Hangman this weekend?" I asked him.

"Hell, yeah. But Joe's not fucking driving. You think Haily will agree to be designated?"

"I'll do it," I replied.

Caleb gave me a funny look. "You sure?"

"Yeah, it's no problem," I insisted.

"Yeah, you guys missed a spot!"

I frowned, wondering why Assface took it upon himself to provoke Caleb. I found myself grabbing my best friend's arm, just in case he decided that he was in a bad mood. But instead he looked at the empty soda can amongst a tangle of tumbleweeds on the side of the road, picked it up, and threw it in Jame's direction. Jame laughed, and I saw Milo smack his arm and tell him to just get back to work. Caleb turned to me, shaking his head.

"I'm so tired of those fuckers," he remarked. "I can't wait `til this shit is over and we don't have to deal with them anymore."

It was those very words that had me pausing to look towards Milo, and suddenly, our community service being over didn't sound like such a good thing. Summer was almost over. I'd be starting school, at a school that Milo Trust didn't go to. I felt a little sad about that. Maybe we weren't exactly friends, but I was pretty sure that I'd miss seeing him. I'd even miss the way he glared at me, or the way he told me to fuck off when I tried to do something to help him. It was kinda pathetic, actually, this sense of loss I felt. But that night when I went home and looked at Milo's painting, a strange sense of closure came over me as I finally decided that I needed to return it. He'd lost all of his work that night, except this, and since I was partly responsible for destroying the other paintings, I'd convinced myself that I didn't have a right to have this one, no matter how much I'd grown to love it.

Only, returning it was easier said than done. I took it with me to the Police department the next day, but when I tried to return it to Milo, he rolled his green eyes at me and walked away. Now, I understand that a normal person would have figured that he didn't want it back, and likely would have left the situation alone, but I didn't do that. Instead, that afternoon, I looked up the Trust's phone number in the phone book. Of course, it wasn't listed. So, on Thursday, I did something incredibly stalker-ish. I followed Milo Trust home. Actually, first I followed him to Assface's house when he dropped off Jame, and then I followed him home. I was actually really surprised that he didn't see me, even though I tried to stay a block away from him at all times. But even then, I was really surprised that he hadn't heard me, since Caleb was in the car, and adamantly objecting to this behavior.

"Please tell me we're doing this so we can egg their houses later," he'd said.

"I just want his address so I can mail that painting back," I explained, at which point Caleb rolled his eyes at me and insisted that if it were him, that stupid painting would be in a million pieces and floating across the lake. We were on our way home shortly after that, after I'd seen Milo pull into a long driveway, only a block or so away from where all of our troubles had started three weeks before.


I'd never planned on mailing that painting back. I'd planned to do something much stupider, actually. But on Friday morning, our last day of community service, I decided to give myself one more reason not to do it as I brought the painting back to the police station and presented it to Milo while everyone was waiting for Ray. Fortunately, Caleb happened to be using the restroom, because he would have disapproved of this. Jame was there, though, standing up with Milo as I approached them in the bolted-down chairs that we always waited in. Milo's eyes were on the painting, his expression cold and blank.

"Will you just give it up?" Assface remarked, rolling his eyes at me.

I ignored him and held out the painting for Milo. "It's yours; you know you don't want me to have it, so please just..."

"I don't care about it, okay?" he responded firmly, right before he went to wait by the doors with Assface. As for me, I felt a little hurt, wondering how he couldn't care about such a beautiful piece of work that he'd obviously put a lot of time into. Definitely more than twenty-five-bucks worth, if you asked me. He had to care about it. I refused to believe anything else. That's why, as soon as we were done for the day, I told Caleb, who'd brought his jeep again, that I'd call him, and I drove to the north side of town, trusting that Milo would drive Assface home before he headed to his own house.

I parked my Buick across the street from the Trust residence, and took it in for a moment, something that I hadn't given myself time to do a few days ago. There was a tall, black gate around the property, which was located on its own little hill. The yard didn't seem very big, but then again, no one's yard seemed big compared to what I had at the back of my house. The Trust's seemed to have more gardens than grass, too. It looked like someone had raided a seasonal flower shop and dumped it all around their house. The house itself, was definitely much larger than ours. The molded stone entryway that shaded the front door looked more like something you'd see on a castle, and the house itself was as tall as it was wide, grayish blue, with plenty of windows.

As I left my vehicle with the painting, which I'd wrapped carefully in paper, I turned my attention to the gate. It was open at the driveway, where a black Mercedes was parked close to the closed, black garage door. It wasn't Milo's car, so I decided that I was safe. I planned to be quick, anyway. I walked up two steps, cement painted and stamped to look like dark stone, and moved under the entry where I looked at the wrapped package in my hands, imagining the painting of the scarecrow at sunrise, and the initials of MT one more time before I carefully placed it against the wall, wanting Milo to see it when he came home.

I was on my way down the steps, ready to get back to my car and out of there before Milo did get home, when the sound of the door swinging open behind me had me spinning around, feeling startled as I came face to face with a woman who looked to be in her early thirties, and looking equally surprised to see a strange boy with torn jeans and a dirty t-shirt standing on the front porch.

"Can I help you?" she asked, pushing her shoulder-length black hair behind her ear, taking a moment to touch the diamond earring hanging from it as she narrowed her dark eyes on me.

Feeling entirely taken off guard, I pointed at the package I'd just left on the porch.

"I'm sorry," I said quickly. "I didn't want to bother anyone. That's, um, Milo's. I was just returning it."

Her pretty face brightened at that as she held down her simple black dress as she knelt down to lift it up.

"Oh, are you a friend of Milo's?"

"Um... yeah," I lied, not sure what else to say as I fidgeted on my feet.

"I haven't seen you before, what's your name?"

Name? She was taking names?

"Bobby," I blurted, before I could think to stop myself.

"It's nice to meet you," she replied with a warm smile. "I'm Emily Hill."

She extended her left, manicured, thin hand and my eyes fell on the shining rock that she happened to have on it. When I put the ring and the name together, Emily Hill equaled Thompson Trust's fiancÉ. I shook her hand quickly, and gently.

"It's nice to meet you," I said. "Um, I've gotta get..."

"Oh no!" she suddenly exclaimed, glancing down at her watch. "I am so late... here." my eyes widened when she passed the package to me. "You really shouldn't leave this out here, it could rain." Confused, I looked above us, wondering where she possibly could have gotten the idea that it would rain while there wasn't a cloud in sight and the sun was beating down on us in full force. "Juanita!" Emily Hill suddenly called into the house, through the opened front door. I looked up as a petite latina woman who looked no older than Emily Hill and wearing a black-and-white pants uniform appeared in the doorway. "I really need to go," Emily said to me, looking politely apologetic. "Go ahead and give it to Juanita. She'll make sure Milo gets it. Juanita," she called over her shoulder as she moved past me and indicated the package in my hands. "Will you please give that to Milo?"

I sighed as Emily Hill gave me a big smile and small wave as she headed towards the Mercedes parked in the driveway, and then I turned to face Juanita, eager to get the package out of my hands.

"Milo?" she said in a thick accent, and I held out the painting.

"Yeah, could you..."

"El cuarto de Milo esta por allá, estará en casa pronto," she said, and I blinked at her.

"I'm sorry," I replied. "I took Latin, and I'm not even good at that, look..." I pointed at the package in my hands, and then shook my head when she started to actually wave me into the house.

"ˇˇApurate tonto, no tengo todo el día!!"

"No, no, no," I insisted as she placed a hand on my arm, looking entirely impatient.

"Sí, sí, sí su cuarto está por aquí."

As she pulled me into the house with surprising strength for such a tiny woman, I shook my head, feeling panicked. "Aren't you supposed to know what no means? I'm just trying to drop this off."

I released a disgruntled grunt as she closed the front door on us, and then I just stood there stupidly as she passed me, waving me into the house. I looked desperately at the package in my hands, wondering if I should just drop it and run, but Juanita was already waving to me from the bottom of the hardwood stairs that seemed to match the rest of the floors.

"ˇPor aquí, Vamos! "

I made a split decision--probably not the right one, and followed her, taking in the house as I went. The vaulted ceilings around me made it seem larger than it actually was, and I had a feeling that Emily Hill didn't live there yet. It didn't look like a woman had ever touched it, in fact, with bare white walls and masculine leather furniture in the long living room to the left of the stairs. The hallway above the stairs seemed dark, having all of the doors closed as we passed them. Juanita stopped at the very last door at the end of the hall and opened it, stepping aside to let me in. I didn't budge. I just stared at the full-sized bed with the plain maroon comforter that was directly in my line of sight.

"Milo estará en casa pronto," Juanita said. " Esperate aquí."

I looked at her, wondering if she knew that I couldn't understand anything she was saying. But she was waving me into the room, and wanting to get the painting out of my hands, I moved in, intending to leave it and get out of there. But, as soon as I'd stepped onto one of the many assorted rugs covering the entire bedroom floor, Juanita was walking off down the hall.

"Hey!" I called after her, and when I got no response I frowned to myself. "I'll show myself out," I muttered, and then quickly headed to the bed. I placed the package right on the end of it, where I was sure Milo would see it, spun around, and stopped in my tracks.

I was in Milo's bedroom.

I guess you could say that curiosity hit me then. After all that time thinking about him, wondering what he did with his spare time, wondering where he slept or whether he brushed his teeth before or after he showered, prevented me from fleeing right away. Instead I took a moment to take it in, and I found that I liked very much what I saw.

There was a wide window to the left of his bed and the dark curtains were drawn open, leaving the view unobstructed. As I slowly approached it, I could almost see a large portion of the lake, most of the town, and even the hill in the distance. In fact, I felt like I was driving down it, only facing the opposite direction. And Milo's room smelled like paint. There was a reason for that, I noticed as I looked around. There were easels scattered around, each one holding a different canvas with a different painting. None of them looked finished, but I immediately decided that they were all beautiful. Everything in his room was beautiful. He had paintings everywhere, some hanging on the walls, along with sketches of various objects, and there were more paintings, stacked against the walls, over the bookshelf and even a computer desk; and as I slowly walked around, looking at various landmarks and buildings--sometimes even faces that made up Heywell--I found myself studying details, holding my fingers above the initials MT that showed up repeatedly around the room, and wondering why I didn't see anything that looked like the view out his bedroom window.

Everything was perfect, though. Every single painting, all of the little details, like the cracks in the roof of the courthouse, or the blue-and-white tennis shoes hanging on the phone line above Chariot road at the stop light where I turned left to get to the lake. It seemed almost like Milo had the whole town in his bedroom. I even decided that I liked the paint splatter on some of the rugs as it occurred to me why he had so many of them.

As I looked around, I noticed more paintings next to closed closet door, only these were covered by a paint-splattered sheet, one end of the cloth hanging off a large painting which caught my eye. I went to it, pulling the sheet away curiously and smiled at the very view that I'd spotted out his window. He'd used a large canvas for this, and I couldn't blame him. It really was a beautiful view. But, my curiosity didn't stop there as my eye caught more paintings behind it, these being portraits of people. Some I didn't know, some I recognized. As I went through them, I found Assface, and actually laughed out loud. It was the only cartoonish figure I found in Milo's room, and he'd made Jame's cheeks comically big. I also found one of Emily Hill, and became interested in the way Milo portrayed her. She had an alarmingly stern look to her, set in a flaming background and her eyes were tinted a frightening red.

It was Juanita moving around in the hallway that snapped me out of my snooping, as I remembered where I was, and how I wasn't supposed to be there. I lifted the sheet, wanting to put it back exactly as I'd found it, but paused again when I noticed one more painting, the image facing the wall. I reached for it, turning the thin frame towards me so I could better see it, and then froze as I came face to face with myself.

I didn't know how to react to this. All I knew, was that I was blushing furiously--not in the painting but standing there in the room, looking at it. It was a black and white image, except for my eyes. He'd made my eyes so blue that they glowed back at me, and he'd made me look handsome, I thought. It wasn't exactly what I saw in the mirror, but... it was me, with a little smile on the right corner of my mouth. Flirty smile, if I had to describe it. Me. But, just seeing myself wasn't what had me blushing scarlet. Nope. It was me, naked, that did that. The me in the portrait, or painting or whatever the hell he wanted to call it, didn't have a stitch of clothing on his body as he sat cross-legged. And I was anatomically correct. But, that wasn't all. I was anatomically correct and completely hard--penis sticking right up. Yep. And he definitely hadn't attempted to make that according to scale because no one is that big! Just right there, a thick long penis sticking up between my legs like something a pornstar would kill for.

I stuttered incoherently to myself, my head spinning over this discovery as I quickly turned the painting around and threw the sheet back over all of them. I didn't even take the time to wonder why Milo had decided to make art out of me and my... parts. Or in this case, absurd parts that I just didn't have. I just needed to get out of there before he got home and I decided to ask why he hadn't bothered to circumcise me.

Once the sheet was in place, I fled, ignoring the way that Juanita shouted after me as she put matching red towels away in a hallway closet near the stairs. I made it down the stairs and to the front door, my hand on the knob before it suddenly turned on its own and the door swung inwards at me; and as the force of the thick cedar hit my shoulder I lost my footing and fell backwards with a dull thump, thoroughly bruising my ass on the hardwood floor.

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