***Please Note: This story contains scenes depicting sexual acts between men and boys. It also contains scenes depicting incestual sex. If you are under the age of 18, or if it is illegal for you to read such material in your state, please do not read further. If you are offended by this type of material, again, please do not read further.
This story is completely a work of fiction. The characters and situations in the story exist solely in the author's imagination. If you have questions, comments or suggestions regarding this story, please email me. Flames ignored.
For a list of my other stories, and info about me, go to my Website.
Copyright 2002-03 Eric DravenŽ.
All Rights Reserved.
I took the painting with me to my next session with David. He looked at it for a long time before he said anything at all about it. I was a little worried about what he was going to say. The painting was that of a nude male on his knees with his head thrown back, mouth open in a painful grimace, and his hands over his eyes. Silver rings with long spiked chains attached to them pierced his flesh under his arms. They were hooked to the black stone wall behind him. More chains could be seen coming from his back that hooked to the dark stone floor. Another spiked chain was around his neck with a padlock connecting the ends. The chain was so long that the padlock shielded his genitals from view. I'd worked on the painting for a long time, and I'd pored all of what I was feeling into it. Now, I was waiting for what my psychologist was going to say about it.
Finally, after an agonizingly long time of silently viewing the painting, he sat back in his chair with a sigh. He cleared his throat and took a long drink of his coffee before fixing me with a very blank stare. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. I was riding the edge of my chair, and my heart was pounding in my chest.
"When I told you to use your gift to release what you were feeling, I didn't expect to be so moved by the result," he said finally. "Christopher, I think that you are a very gifted artist, and what you've shown me tells me only a little about the suffering that you have endured."
"I put all of my feelings about my life in Chicago into that painting," I said, trying to relax. "I just painted what I felt."
"I can certainly see that," he said. "I just had no idea that you felt so tortured."
"Oh," I said. It was all I could think of at the time. I was sure that he expected a longer comment, but my mind wasn't working as fast as it usually did.
"I can see from this painting that you are in a lot of turmoil right now," he said. "Please believe me when I tell you that time will soften your wounds. I don't say that it will heal them, because I don't know what its like to experience the things that you've experienced. I can only hope that talking things out will help to heal the pain that you feel."
"That's why I come here," I said. "I have to tell you that I think this is really doing something for me. I've picked up an old friendship, and its better than it ever was. I'm talking to my father and brother a lot more, and I'm even able to sleep without nightmares now."
"That's really good to hear, Christopher," he said. "Tell me about your friendship."
"I don't really know how to tell you about James," I said. "When I first met him, I didn't like him at all. In fact, I think I despised him. Then, after getting to know him a little better, I found that he had qualities that I liked. We spent some time together, and he opened up a little to me. We were really starting to build a friendship when I was sent to live with my mother. Then I didn't see him at all."
"But you said that you've picked up the friendship again," he coaxed.
"Right," I replied. "He kept calling the house and asking my brother about me. Finally, one day, he sat down at the lunch table at school and demanded that I tell him why I was mad at him."
"And what did you tell him?" he asked.
"Well, I told him that I wasn't mad at him," I said. "I tried to explain that I was just having trouble getting over a few things. He seemed to accept that, but he wouldn't leave me alone. We now walk to and from school together every morning and afternoon. He comes to my house after school and just hangs out with me. I'm really glad that he didn't give up on me."
"You think that other friends have given up?" asked David.
"Tommy called the house a lot when I first got home," I said. "But he stopped after I wouldn't come to the phone or call him back. I know that its my own fault, but Tommy was my best friend, and knowing that he gave up really hurts."
"Have you thought to try to talk to him about this?" asked David.
"I thought about it," I replied slowly. "But, I don't know what to say to him now. I feel like he would just walk away from me. I don't think I could handle that."
"Well," he said looking at the clock. "Our hour is almost up. What I want you to do is to keep working on your friendship with James, and try to talk to Tommy. We'll talk more about it next week. But please try to talk to your friend."
"I'll try," I replied, realizing that I really wanted to try more than ever now.
"Good," he said. "I'll see you at the same time next week.
After covering the painting again, I went out to the waiting room. Evan was there waiting for me, and I quickly made the next appointment and walked out to the car with him. I was eager to get home and work on my newest painting. We drove in silence for a while. This was Evan's first time taking me to my appointment, and I wondered what he was thinking.
"How did it go?" he asked finally.
"Good," I replied. "David says that he has a better understanding of how I feel now that he's seen the painting."
"The painting is wonderful, Chris," said Evan. "But I don't like it."
"What?" I asked shocked.
"When I look at that painting, I want to cry," he said. "I really feel like shit when I look at it. Knowing that you feel that way, and there is nothing I can do about it really makes me feel bad."
"Evan, I'm dealing with all of it," I said quietly.
"I know, Chris, I just wish I could help," he said. I could hear the anguish in his voice.
"You are helping," I replied. "When you hold me at night, you have no idea how much help you're giving me."
We arrived at the house, and nothing more was said on the matter. Once we were inside, Evan pulled me into a tight embrace. He held me for a long time before letting me go, and when he did, I could see tears in his eyes. I hadn't thought about how much what had happened to me, and the way I had reacted to it, was affecting my father and brother.
"Chris," said my dad, coming out of the kitchen. He was covered in filth, and I wondered what he had been doing. "I'm glad you're back. I want to show you something. Evan, come with us. I want you both to meet Clint."
We looked at each other before following Dad through the kitchen. As we walked into the kitchen, the sound of someone hammering could be heard. It was coming from the basement, and that was where my father led us. We walked down the stairs to find a man with no shirt on, wearing jeans, and hammering nails into what looked like a new wall.
"Clint, the boys are here," said my dad, and the man turned around.
He was very good looking. He looked to be around 30 or so with very light, almost blond hair and blue eyes. His hair was cut extremely short, but just long enough not to be considered a burr. He smiled at us before wiping the back of his arm over his sweaty face.
"Hi there," he said. "I'm helping your dad divide the basement."
As he said that, it occurred to me that the weights were missing. I looked around and found them on the other side of the stairs. They'd moved almost everything around, and it they were building a room. I wondered what it was going to be used for. It turned out that I didn't have long to wait for my answer.
"We should be done before too much longer," said my dad. "We've been working on it all day long."
"What's it for?" asked Evan.
"Its for Chris," said my dad. "I thought it was time that he had a studio to paint in."
"We put in a lot of tract lighting to brighten up the room," said Clint. "Artists need a lot of light."
"I don't know what to say," I said, stepping off the last step and walking toward the new room.
I couldn't believe that it was all for me. I wanted to look inside, but I didn't want to get in the way of anything. Clint must have noticed my hesitation, because he stepped aside and motioned with his hand for me to go ahead. When I walked in, it was like I wasn't in the basement anymore. The cement walls were covered with wood, and they had been laying tile on the floor. It wasn't finished yet, but I could tell that it was going to be a great room.
"Artists also need their privacy," said my dad. He walked up behind me and looked at his handiwork over my shoulder.
"Thank you," I replied.
"Well, since you're going to be working on some paintings for your show, I thought you could use a place to paint," said my dad.
"Chris, I've seen some of your work, and I have to tell you that I'm astounded by your talent," said Clint. "Your father tells me that you've had no training at all."
"Well, I have had art classes in school," I said, turning to look at him. "But nothing that all the other kids haven't had as well."
"I think its time for a break, Clint," said my father just as the doorbell rang.
"That should be the pizza," said Clint.
"There's a check for it on the kitchen counter, Evan," said my dad. "Would you mind?"
"Sure," replied my brother before going back upstairs.
After my dad and Clint had both washed up, we sat at the kitchen table and ate the pizza. Clint told us all about his art work, and as he talked, I found myself liking him more and more. It was clear to see that my father liked him very much. They kept glancing at each other, and twice I saw my father's hand on Clint's knee. It was nice to know that my father was moving on. I wanted him to be happy.
After eating, they went back to work on the basement studio, and Evan and I sat in the living room and watched television. For the rest of the night, I noticed that Evan stuck close to me. I didn't say anything about it, but I was glad that he was sticking around me. It felt good to know that he cared.
The next day, I found out that Todd's suspension from school had ended. When James, Sheldon and I walked into the school, Todd was standing there with a bunch of his friends. He grinned at me and winked. I was about to say something to him when he opened his mouth.
"Hey fags," he said, and his friends all started laughing.
I decided not to say anything at all, and the three of us walked past them to our lockers. He didn't follow, so I thought he was finished. After fourth period, I found out I was wrong. I had come out of the classroom before everyone, and Todd was standing at my locker, waiting for me.
"Leave me alone, Todd," I warned him. I was in no mood to put up with him.
"You are a faggot, Wallace, and I hate faggots," he said, not moving away from my locker.
Just then, the rest of the kids started to come out of the classrooms around us, and a thought popped into my head. I decided that I was finished putting up with him. I had to say something back, but I didn't know what to say. As more people started to come out of their classrooms, they noticed us standing there, and everyone got a little quiet.
"For the last time, Todd, I'm not going to suck your dick," I said, surprising myself. "No matter how much money you offer me. Now go away!"
"You motherfucker!" he cried, shoving me as the people around us snickered over what I'd said.
He doubled up his fist and swung at me, but I managed to dodge him. Without thinking, I shoved him back against my locker. My body was on auto pilot, and I felt all the anger and hatred that I had for Zack and my mother and Ken rush through me as I grabbed Todd's arm and twisted with all of my strength. His body twisted until I had his arm pulled hind him and his face against the cold metal of the lockers. I even punched him in his side twice before I realized what I was doing.
"Let him go, Chris," said James from behind me.
"Yes, Chris, let him go," said the voice of Mr. Timmins, one of the health science teachers.
I let go of Todd, and he moved away from me quickly but not too far away. He looked at me, but the hateful glare was gone from his eyes. What replaced it was shock. I think I'd scared him almost as much as I'd scared myself. This was definitely a subject I needed to talk to David about.
"Bot of you get to the dean's office, now!" said Mr. Timmins.
Everyone parted as we walked through the crowd towards the offices. Neither of us looked at each other, and we didn't say a word. I was too busy trying to figure out what had just happened. The even kept replaying in my mind, and I couldn't believe that I'd done what I'd done. I wondered just what else I would have done if Mr. Timmins hadn't interrupted me.
Once inside Mr. Allan's office, he let go with a full speech about how violence would not be tolerated in this school. He told us both that he would not put up with what we had been doing, and I absently thought that he really hadn't been there to see what had happened. The more he screamed at us, the more angry I became. I couldn't stop the anger as it bubbled in the pit of my stomach.
"So, he can call me a fag and spread all over school what happened in court," I said. "But when he swings at me, and I decide to fight back, you say you've had enough?"
"Mr. Wallace, I will not put up with any smart mouthed comments from you," said Mr. Allan. "I suggest that you both try to remember where you are."
"I know where I am," I spat, standing up. "I'm in your fucking office! I'm not going to sit here and listen to this shit anymore. You can do whatever you want, Mr. Allan, but I will protect myself from scum like Todd whenever they put their face in mine."
"I suggest that you sit back down," he said. I could see that I'd made him angry. His face was red, and the little veins in his neck were bulging.
When I looked at Todd, he just looked shocked. He was staring at me opened mouthed, and I decided that I wasn't done with him either. Before I could even think of what I was going to say, my mouth was open again.
"And you," I said coldly. "If you so much as look at me wrong from now on, I swear to God that I will make you sorry. I've had it with putting up with dickheads like you. What happened to me in Chicago was not my fault, but people like you and your ignorant friends like to rub it in my face! Well I won't take it from any of you anymore."
"Mr. Wallace, sit down," snapped Mr. Allan. "I won't stand for your attitude."
"Attitude?" I said, barely able to keep from screaming. "You think this is attitude? No sir, this is plain old 'had it up to hear with all of this bull shit' looking you in the eye."
He sat there and stared at me for a minute. Todd was still being quiet, but I wasn't finished with him by a long shot. I knew that this wasn't over. I knew that he would seek revenge, but at that moment, I didn't care. Let him come at me, I thought to myself. Let him come, and I'd show him a thing or two.
What happened after all of this was quite strange. I was ushered off to the guidance councilor, Todd was sent home with his parents. My dad was called to the school, and I suddenly found myself looking at him and Mr. Fonda, my guidance councilor. They were both silent for a while as they looked at me. My dad had the strangest look on his face, and I didn't take my eyes away from his.
I was ashamed of myself, and yet at the same time, I was proud. I'd stood up to Todd, and I didn't exactly see that as anything to be ashamed of. However, my language in Mr. Allan's office was something that I was very ashamed of. I'd gone too far, and the scary part was that I hadn't felt in control of myself at the time.
"Do you want to tell us what happened?" asked my dad after being silent for a while.
"Dad, I don't really know what happened," I replied, looking down at my shoes. "He was waiting for me by my locker when class ended, and he tried to punch me, but I stepped out of the way. After that, I don't really understand what happened. It was like a dam broke inside me, and all of the anger and hatred that I felt came rushing through my body."
"And in Mr. Allan's room?" asked Mr. Fonda.
"Again, I don't understand what happened," I said. "He just kept talking like I was supposed to just put up with the way that Todd and his friends talk to me and treat me, and I got very upset and angry. I'm sorry for the things that I said, but I'm not sorry for standing up for myself."
"Chris, from what I heard, you did more than stand up for yourself," said my dad. "I was told that it looked like you wanted to hurt that boy."
"I don't know, Dad," I said. "I think part of me did want to hurt Todd. That's the part of me that scares me to death."
"I've put a call into the psychologist that you've been seeing," said Mr. Fonda. "I'm waiting for him to call me back. I think you need to sit down and discuss these feelings with him."
"I agree," said my father. "I think you need to talk about them a lot."
"Its been decided that for your actions inside Mr. Allan's office, you will be suspended from school for one week," said Mr. Fonda. "I tried to get Mr. Allan to calm down about this, but he said what you did was unacceptable."
"I know it was," I said, feeling miserable.
"Well, he's inclined to forget about what happened between you and Todd," said Mr. Fonda. "Seeing that there's animosity between the two of you already."
"And what has been said to Todd about his role in this?" asked my father suddenly.
"I'm not sure that anything has been said to him," admitted Mr. Fonda.
"Well, I hardly think that's fair, Mr. Fonda," said my father. "I feel inclined to tell you that I will not discourage my son from fighting back when situations like this arise. If Todd and his friends think they can bully my son and get away with it, I assure you that they're wrong. If Christopher can't solve the problem himself, then I will be forced to call the authorities in on this. I don't think that the school would benefit from that."
"Mr. Wallace, I hardly think that the authorities need be involved in simple school yard fights," said Mr. Fonda.
"Oh, I don't think you understand," said my dad. "This was no simple school yard fight. This boy, Todd, had been harassing my son since his mother told him about what was said in what was supposed to be a sealed courtroom. Now he's tried to elevate the situation and bring violence to the equation. My son decided to fight back. Now, I don't condone violence, but I hardly think that my son should be punished for fighting back when the other boy initiated the fight and gets nothing for the trouble."
"I didn't say that nothing was being done to reprimand the other boy," said Mr. Fonda.
"Oh, I believe you did," said my father, raising his voice.
I tuned out after that. I was too busy worrying about what I'd done to listen. I'd wanted to hurt Todd. I wanted to break his arm. I was sure about that. I just couldn't believe that I'd wanted to hurt him. After what had happened in Chicago with Ken, I swore to myself that I would never resort to violence, yet I had just found myself in a similar, though different situation with Todd, and I'd wanted to inflict as much pain as I could.
All the way home with my dad, I thought about what I had done, and I was ashamed. My dad didn't say anything during the ride home, and I was glad. He couldn't make me feel any worse about it than I already did. When I got home, I went straight to my studio and started a new painting. I worked furiously on it, and was surprised when Evan called me upstairs for dinner hours later. I'd been so engrossed in the painting that I hadn't noticed the passage of time.
"Dad tells me that you got into a fight at school today," said Evan when I met him at the top of the basement stairs.
"I really don't want to talk about that right now," I said, pushing past him and into the kitchen.
I didn't say anything throughout the rest of the meal, either. When I was finished, I went back downstairs to my studio. My old bed had been moved down there. My dad had said that he knew that Evan and I were sleeping in the same bed, and he thought it would be nice for me to be able to sleep down there if I got tired from painting long hours. By the time I'd decided to call it a night, I was so tired that I didn't even go upstairs. I just stripped and crawled into my own bed.
Over the course of the next few days, I worked on the painting non stop. I only took breaks when Evan or my father forced me to come upstairs and eat. I took my showers and slept downstairs for the rest of that week. James came over every night to talk to me. He'd sit on my bed and watch me paint. He never said anything about what I was painting, and I was glad. He did talk to me about the fight with Todd, though. I was surprised to find that I wanted to talk to him about the fight. I hadn't wanted to talk to Dad or Evan about it.
"Everyone is talking about it at school," said James. "Even Tommy can't believe you did that."
"Why hasn't Tommy called me to talk?" I asked.
"He's waiting for you to call him," said James. "He says that he's called and called. Its your turn."
"I guess that's fair," I replied, going right back to my latest painting. I'd finished two, and now I was working on a third. It seemed that I hadn't put all of my feelings into the one that I'd shown David, because these were proving to be a lot like that one.
"You going to call him?" asked James. I detected a hesitant tone to his voice.
"Probably," I said, not turning to face him. "He was my best friend."
"Why do you talk about everything in the past tense?" asked James. "You keep saying 'this was', 'he was' and all that. Chris, he's still your best friend. Just because you haven't talked to him in a while doesn't mean that you aren't still friends. I seem to remember that you and I had a similar problem before I just wouldn't quit bugging you."
"That was different," I replied.
"How?" he asked.
"Well, for starters, you and I were never as close as me and Tommy," I said. "It hurt when he stopped calling me. Sure, I know I was being an ass and not talking to him, but it just felt like he gave up on our friendship when he stopped calling. Then I see him in school every day, and he doesn't even say hi to me."
"Did you consider us to be friends before you moved?" asked James, completely flooring me.
"I thought we were becoming friends," I replied, remembering the night that he'd rode me. I'd thought that we might have been becoming a little more than friends then.
"But you didn't consider me a friend," he said. Disappointment was thick in his voice.
"I wouldn't say that," I replied quickly. "I just thought we were becoming better friends back then."
"And what about now?" he asked.
"I think we're better friends than we ever were," I said honestly. "We talk about a lot more than we ever did before. You get me to open up and tell you what I'm feeling and thinking, and you tell me the same things. At least I think you do."
"I try to," he said. "You know, as hard as it is for you to deal with what happened to you, its hard for me to deal with what happened to me."
"I realize that," I said, finally turning to look at him. "I would never try to make you think that what happened to me was worse than what happened to you, James. I think that because of what happened to both of us, we are better friends than we ever would have been."
"But what if I wanted more than that?" he asked slowly.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What about Sheldon?"
"Sheldon?" he chuckled. "You know, the funny thing about Sheldon is that he's straight."
"Really?" I asked shocked. "I thought that he and Ben . . ."
"So did I," he replied. "He swears that he and Ben were just best friends. Nothing ever happened between them sexually."
"Hmm," I said.
"You thought that I was with Sheldon?" he asked after we were both quiet for a few minutes.
"Well, I assumed," I said, turning back to the painting.
He let the subject drop after that, and I was glad. I wasn't ready for any kind of relationship, other than friendship, with anyone at that time. I still had much to sort out in my head before I hopped into bed with anyone. I didn't want to have to explain that to him and take the chance of ruining the friendship that we had developed. I hadn't seen any sign of the old James that I left behind when I moved to Chicago, and I was happy for that. I didn't want to see any sign of him, either, and I was afraid that if I rejected him, he would revert back to the boy I'd known back then.
Clint stopped by the house frequently that week. He came down to the studio to see what I was working on a few times. He didn't comment on what he saw the first few times that he came down to look, but on the third time, he stayed a bit longer, and I knew he was going to say something. After all, the paintings weren't the same as the ones he'd already seen.
"Experimenting with a new style?" he asked after being quiet for a while.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, these are much darker and very different from the ones that your dad showed me," he said, looking at the painting that I'd taken to the session with David.
"I'm nowhere close to being the same person I was when I painted the others," I said.
"Your dad told me that you had some bad experiences when you lived with your mother," he said. "Don't worry, he didn't elaborate. Judging from these paintings, I'd guess that those experiences were a little more than bad."
"I paint what I feel, Clint," I said, growing impatient with the conversation.
"These are just as wonderful as the first batch I saw," he said. "I was just commenting on the changing style."
"I doubt that I'll ever paint the way I used to," I replied.
"I wouldn't expect so," he said. "Artists change as they experience the world. Every experience changes their work slightly. Yours just happened to change drastically and quickly."
"Well, I've experienced way too much in too short of a time," I replied.
"Look, I know that you don't know me very well," he said carefully. "But if you ever need to talk, I just want you to know that I am a great listener."
"Thanks," I replied still not turning around to face him.
By Friday, I had nine paintings for the show. I was told to paint six, because it was only going to be a small show, but I'd continued past six until I'd exhausted every angry or sad feeling inside of me. I had them all lined up against the walls when Evan came down to talk to me. He looked at each one before he sat down next to me on the bed.
"You're pulling away again, Chris," he said. "I know that you are upset about what happened at school, but please don't do this to us again."
"I'm not pulling away," I said, looking him in the eye. "I was just really into what I was painting. I promise, Evan, I won't pull away like that again."
"I don't like these paintings, Chris," he said. "They all make me feel the same way that I felt about the one you took with you to David's office."
"That's probably because I felt the same way when I painted the other eight as I did when I painted that one," I replied. "I don't know if I'll ever go back to painting the way I used to."
"Is it that hard for you?" he asked. "I mean, you seemed to be dealing with everything fine in Chicago. I'm not trying to say I don't care about how you're feeling, but I'm a little confused. You seemed ok in Chicago, but when you got here, you completely changed."
"Evan, in Chicago, I kept telling myself that I had to be strong," I said. "If I let all of it get to me then, Mom would have won, and I wouldn't allow that. But when I got back to Springfield, it was like I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I was finally safe and where I wanted to be, and all of a sudden, everything came crashing down on me."
"I hate it that she let all of this happen to you, Chris," said Evan. "I wish that she'd never taken you to Chicago."
"So do I," I replied. "But she did, and now I have to figure out how to come to terms with everything. Evan, I wanted to hurt Todd that day. I wanted to really hurt him. I don't know where that came from, and I have to find out. I can't live with myself if that's the way I'm going to be."
"Is that why you are painting this way?" he asked, looking over at my paintings.
By the look in his eyes, I could see that he really didn't like the paintings. I had painted them with all the feelings in my heart and letting them all go into the scene. It was hard for me to even look at them now that they were finished, but I knew that part of my heart was in each of them. I was currently working on the tenth painting. It was going to be a self portrait, and I was almost done painting my face with bruises and long hair. I didn't know why I had painted that way, though.
"Just don't look at the paintings, Evan," I said finally. "I know you hate them."
"I don't hate them, Chris," he said, snapping his gaze on me. "They just make me think of the way that you feel, and I don't like the idea that you feel that way."
"I'm getting over it, Evan," I said. "The paintings are helping."
For the rest of the night, I worked on a self portrait. As I kept going, I could see myself in the painting. My face was there, but I still kept painting bruises and cuts on my face. The long hair on the painting was something that I couldn't figure out why I did it. It was shoulder length and stringy. It was the same shade of blond as my own hair. It looked ragged and like it was cut with a knife. I kept staring at the painting.
Then, a feeling moved through me, and I started to paint the rest of the body. I kept painting cuts and scars across the chest and abdomen of the boy looking back at me in the painting. I painted a dirty, blood stained towel wrapped around the boy's pelvis. He was holding it tight. This was they way that I felt every time that Zack looked at me.
Then I started to paint cracked and shattered glass over the entire painting. It looked like I was looking out through a destroyed window. The painting was finished, and I stood back to look at it. The boy's eyes had a far away look, but they were full of fear and pain. The painting was darker than the others, and I supposed that was because that was the way that I saw the world now. After looking at the painting for almost an hour, I turned my head and saw the room brighter.
I shivered as I felt a cold wind blow through my body. Suddenly, my mind cleared again, and my mind was flooded with happy memories at last. I could remember my dad holding me on his lap while I opened Christmas presents, and I could remember the first time I'd ever seen Evan naked. I remembered everything that ever made me happy.
I pushed the memories out of my mind and thought about Chicago. This time, when I thought about what had happened to me there, I wasn't filled with emotional dread. It was like I was looking back on something as if I were standing on the other side of a window looking in. It was the strangest sensation, and I knew that I had to talk to David about it.
After settling my mind once again, I cleaned my paint brushes and put the last painting against the wall with the others. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and stood in the shower while the hot water ran over me. I thought about what Evan had said about knowing how I felt by looking at the paintings. I almost shuddered when I thought about what he would think of the last one.
Sometime while I was painting that one, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to be anyone's fall guy. No one was going to make me feel that way again. I'd deal with my feelings in my own way, and the rest of the world could just keep their distance. I had my friends and family, and I had no more room for anyone else. I decided that what had happened with Todd was just a normal reaction to his talking about me. I still didn't like the fact that I'd liked hurting him, but that was something I would have to discuss with David.
When I got to the bedroom, it was dark. Evan's alarm clock showed that it was already four in the morning. I'd been painting all night long! I couldn't believe it. With the other paintings, I'd had to take breaks and collect myself. I cried a lot while I painted them, but the last one was different. I didn't cry, and I didn't take any breaks. I just painted until it was finished. I was amazed.
I crawled under the covers next to Evan, and his arms encircled me instantly. He mumbled in his sleep as he nuzzled his face into the back of my neck. I sighed and scooted back against him. This was where safety was. In Evan's arms, I felt like nothing and no one could touch me. I didn't know why in the world I hadn't realized that before. I fell asleep thinking about that.
I felt Evan crawl over me around nine that morning. He kissed me on the top of my head before going to take his shower. I fell right back to sleep. At half past three, he woke me up again when he came into the bedroom after coming home from work. I stretched and yawned, and he giggled.
"Well, look who finally decided to open his eyes," he laughed, coming over and sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Morning," I replied, stretching again.
"Morning?" he laughed. "Its afternoon, Chris. You slept all day!"
"I was tired," I replied, grinning.
"I'll say," he said, kissing me.
"I finished the last painting for the show last night," I said, sitting up.
"Yeah," he said, looking away from me. "I saw it."
"And you don't like it," I said.
"It made me cry, Chris," he said, turning to face me again. There were tears in his eyes again. "Is that how you really feel?"
"That isn't how I feel right now," I replied, getting out of bed and heading toward the bathroom.
He didn't follow me, and I was glad. I didn't want to have this conversation with him right now. I was in a good mood. It was a better mood than I'd been in since I'd gotten home from Chicago, and having that conversation would probably have ruined it for me. I didn't want to think about any of that. I just wanted to focus on the future.
While I was brushing my teeth, Evan came in and stripped for his shower. I watched his reflection in the mirror as he folded his clothes neatly and put them on top of the hamper. He really was a gorgeous guy. His dark hair and eyes matched his bronzed skin. His upper body was very tightly muscled. His pecs stood out as if he were flexing, and I knew that he wasn't. His stomach was packed with washboard abs, and his lightly hair dusted legs were powerful. His arms were twice the size as they had been when I'd moved out. He'd definitely been working out a lot.
He didn't look at me, and he didn't speak. He just climbed into the shower and closed the glass shower door. I stood there for a minute, trying to think of something to say to him, but all I could think of was getting into the shower with him. After a few minutes of debating, I did get in there.
"Hey," he said, smiling at me.
"Hey, yourself," I said, taking the soap from him and starting to lather up his chest.
I slowly moved my hand in a circle around his hard pecs, and I paid special attention to his small brown nipples. He sighed as I washed them, and I could see his dick getting fuller. I quickly moved the soap down to his stomach, marveling at how hard and tight it was. I washed him thoroughly, paying a little more attention to his navel than was really required. He giggled when I stuck my soap slicked finger into his belly button and twirled it around.
Then I started to wash his dick and balls, taking extra special care to make sure that I didn't squeeze his tender orbs. I worked silently, and as his dick got harder, I started to slowly stroke it. I looked up into his eyes and smiled at him. He was breathing a little harder.
"You know, this is the first time you've touched me since Chicago," he said breathlessly.
"I know," I replied, letting go of his dick and crouching down to wash his amazing legs.
"Its nice," he said.
"Turn around," I said, after washing his feet.
He silently complied, and I started to wash his back. I moved my hands in larger circles to wash all of his back quickly. When I moved on to his butt, he sighed again. I washed each cheek completely before running my soapy hand down his crack. When I brushed his hole, he jumped and moaned at the same time.
"So nice," he whispered.
I moved on after than to wash the backs of his legs. When I was done, I stood back up and rubbed myself against the back of him, getting myself all soapy. He let his head fall back and I heard him moan again. My dick was rapidly getting harder, and I didn't let the fact that it was running along his ass crack escape me. I'd grown a lot, and now we were almost the same height.
"I love you, Evan," I said as I wrapped my arms around him.
"I love you, too," he said, turning in my embrace.
He brought his lips to mine at the same time that he took the soap out of my hand. He pushed me back lightly and started to wash me just like I'd washed him. I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of his soapy hands on my body. He spent a lot more time washing me than I had spent on him, but I didn't care as long as the water stayed hot.
When he told me turn around, I was almost asleep on my feet. He massaged my back while he washed me, and I was in Heaven. His massages weren't as nice as the ones that Alex used to give me, but they were great anyway. I could have stayed in the shower with him all day long. Then he moved to my ass, and I freaked.
"I can do that myself," I said, turning around and taking the soap from him.
"What's wrong?" he asked. His eyes showed his concern, but I didn't know what was wrong.
"Nothing," I said, looking down. "I can wash the rest of me by myself."
"Chris," he said.
"Actually, I showered before I went to bed, so I'm not really dirty," I said, cutting him off. I turned us both so I was standing under the spray of water. When I was completely rinsed off, I got out of the shower. Wrapping a towel around me, I got out of the bathroom as fast as I could.
After getting dressed, I went downstairs. My dad and Clint were in the kitchen when I came in, and they both smiled at me. I didn't say anything to them. I just went to the fridge and pored myself a glass of orange juice. Still not talking, I downed the whole glass and put it in the sink.
"You're finally up," laughed my dad. "Clint and I got some things to finish your studio."
"If its alright with you, we'll work on it today," said Clint. "We should be able to finish it before its time for you to go to bed."
"Ok," I said and left the room. I could hear my dad calling for me, but I just couldn't stay there at that moment. I walked out the front door.
"Hey!" said James when I closed the door behind me.
"Where did you come from?" I snapped before I could stop myself.
"Sorry," he said, backing away from me. "I just wanted to come and see what you were doing today."
"Well, I'm doing something with you," I said, walking past him down the steps.
"Cool," he said, following me. "You all right?"
"I'm fine," I replied. "What do you want to do?"
"Well, its Sunday, and there's always a baseball game on Sunday when its nice like this," he said, falling into step beside me. "Wanna go over to the park and watch a game?"
"Sure," I replied, checking my pocket for money. There was always a little concession stand at the games, and I was hungry.
For the next two hours, we sat beside each other on the bleachers watching two teams that we didn't know play baseball. It was nice, because, being in public, we didn't have to talk about hard things, and we really enjoyed ourselves. James talked about school and his foster home life, and I told him about the paintings for the show, skipping their subject matter. He'd seen all but two of them, so he already knew what they were.
"You are so lucky," he said after a bit of being quiet.
"Lucky?" I asked, turning to look at him.
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "You have been off school all week, you're not going Monday, and that means you only have two days left of school before summer vacation."
"Why wouldn't I go tomorrow?" I asked.
"Your dad said that you have to go to court in Chicago," he said, looking at me like I was silly.
Chicago. I'd forgotten all about going to court to testify against Zack. Suddenly, I didn't feel very well. I wondered why my father hadn't reminded me. Maybe that was why he'd been calling my name when I'd walked out of the house. I felt like shit. I should have answered him. I'd promised not to pull away from him and Evan again, and that was exactly what it felt like I was doing.
When I got back home, it was just after six. My dad and Clint were sitting in the living room, but Evan was nowhere to be found. I really wanted to apologize to him for running out like that, but I didn't know where he was. My dad looked at me for a minute before he said anything.
"Are you all right?" he asked, not moving from where he was sitting.
"I'm ok," I replied. "I guess I forgot about tomorrow, and when I remembered, I just kind of panicked."
"I understand, Chris," said my father. "But Evan is worried about you. He said that you were upset when you left, and he's out there looking for you."
"Oh," I said. It was all I could think of to say to that. I felt more like an ass than ever.
"Its ok, Chris," said my dad. "He'll be back in a few minutes. But you have got to start talking to us when you get upset. Running out of here just isn't getting any of us anywhere."
"I know, Dad," I replied, sitting down in the chair. "Its just hard."
"Chris, I know that all of this is hard for you," he said. "I can't even pretend that things are going to just magically get better."
"I'm trying, Dad," I replied. "The paintings and sessions with David are helping."
"I'm happy to hear that," said Dad. "But, Chris, you have to talk to us. You have to let us know when you feel like you need to get away. That was one of the reasons that I decided to build that studio for you. I thought you would go there when you wanted to get away for a while."
"I do, normally," I said. "Today, I just wanted to get out of the house. I went to the park with James and watched a ball game."
"And do you feel better?" he asked.
I thought about that one for a minute. I did feel better sitting there with James in the park. For a little while, it was like nothing could be wrong in the world. We were just two kids enjoying a baseball game. Then he'd reminded me about tomorrow, and I didn't feel better at all anymore. How did I make my dad understand that?
"I felt better until I thought about tomorrow again," I said. "I'm really nervous about tomorrow, Dad."
"I know you are, Chris," he said compassionately. "Tomorrow is something that you have to do. I wish that I could tell you that you could just stay home, but I can't."
"I know, Dad," I said. "I'll be better after its over. At least, I hope I will be."
Just then, Evan came in. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me sitting there in the living room. He just looked at me for a minute, and I could see a mixture of emotions flood his face. There was relief to see that I was home, anger because I'd made him worry, concern about how I was feeling, and I could see that he was tired.
"You're home," he said finally.
"Yeah," I said. "I went to a ball game with James. I'm sorry I made everyone worry about me again."
"I'm going upstairs," he said, turning to leave the room.
He was really upset with me. I wanted to follow him and apologize, but I just sat there. Letting him have time to cool off might be the right thing to do. I spent the rest of the evening with Dad and Clint. They worked really hard on finishing the studio. Some time during their work, I started referring to the room as my bedroom. Dad looked at me funny for a minute after the first time I said that, but he didn't say anything.
When the phone started ringing, I ran upstairs to answer it. Evan still hadn't come downstairs, and he hadn't answered the phone. I looked out the window and noticed that his car was gone from the driveway. He'd left. I wished that I'd talked to him before he left, but the idea that he'd left without at least saying something to me pissed me off.
"Hello?" I said when I picked up the phone.
"Chris?" said Tommy's voice, and I was happy at once.
"Tommy!" I said. "I'm glad you called."
"I called twice today," he said. "You were asleep the first time, and you were gone the second time."
"I went to a ball game with James today," I replied.
"He said that you two have been spending a lot of time together," said Tommy. I couldn't miss the sad tone in his voice.
"Yeah, we have been," I said slowly. "But I really miss you."
"You do?" he asked, and I could hear the tone of his voice change to excitement.
"Yeah, I miss you like crazy," I said.
We talked about my new studio. I told him all about the show that my dad and Clint were setting up for my work. He was excited. He wanted to come over, but his mom told him that he couldn't. He asked what I was going to be doing after school, and I had to tell him about going to court in Chicago. He told me to call him when I got back, and he'd come over if he could. He sounded so happy to finally talk to me, and I was happy to finally talk to him. I couldn't wait to tell David that we were talking again.
When Dad and Clint finished with the work they were doing, Clint had to leave. My dad told me that I should grab a shower and get some sleep. We were leaving very early in the morning. I did take a shower, and I noticed that Evan was home again, but I decided that I was going to let him talk to me when he was ready. After taking my shower, I went back downstairs to my studio and went to bed.
I didn't get to sleep as quickly as I'd hoped that I would. I kept thinking about what it was going to be like to see Zack again. I really didn't want to see him. I had hoped that I would never have to see my cousin again. I realized then that I really hated Zack. I hated him more than I'd ever hated anyone in my life.
"Chris," said Evan's voice, breaking me out of my thoughts. "You awake?"
"Yeah," I said, realizing just how dark it was in the room with no lights on. I switched on the little lamp next to my bed and sat up.
"I want to talk," he said, coming over and sitting on my bed. "I was so mad at you when you didn't come home."
"I'm sorry," I said quietly. "I just had to think."
"So you went to a ball game with James?" he asked.
"Evan, I didn't plan on it," I said. "James was standing on the porch when I went outside. When I saw him, I just decided to get away for a while."
"You could have come back upstairs and talked to me about what happened," he said.
"First of all, I don't even understand why I reacted the way I did in the shower," I said. "I didn't know what to think about it afterward, so I didn't know what to say to you."
"You could have told me that then," he said. He was still angry with me.
"Evan, sometimes, I can't just talk about what I'm thinking or feeling," I said, getting angry myself. "I know that you and Dad are there for me, but what you both need to realize is that I can't talk about all of this most of the time. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings, Evan."
"I didn't intend to piss you off," he said.
"Well, walking away from me like that instead of at least yelling at me about not knowing where I was made me mad," I said. "You should have said something."
"Just like you should have come back and told me that you were having a hard time with what happened between us," he said.
"Fine, Evan," I sighed. "I was wrong, and I'm sorry."
"Why are you sleeping down here?" he asked.
"Because I needed to be alone tonight," I replied.
"Well, don't let me stop you," he said, getting up off the bed and walking out of the room.
I didn't follow him. I decided that if he couldn't understand that I needed space from time to time, I wasn't going to exhaust myself trying to explain it to him anymore. He would eventually realize what was going on, and if he didn't, there wasn't anything I could do to make him understand. I lay there in bed for the rest of the night thinking about how mad at him I was. I thought about Zack, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go to court. I wanted to see him get into trouble for what he'd done to me. I wanted him to pay.
I don't know when I finally fell asleep, but I must have, because I was woke up by my father shaking me. He kept saying my name until I opened my eyes and looked at him. He was dressed in nice clothes, so I guessed he was ready to leave. He looked at me for a minute quietly.
"You'd better get up and have some breakfast," he said. "We're leaving as soon as you're ready to go."
"Ok," I said, yawning.
"Did you get any sleep?" he asked.
"A little," I replied. "I'll be upstairs in a minute."
"Evan isn't going with us today," said my father as he walked out of the room. "He's already gone. I don't know where he went."
"Oh," I said, sitting up.
"You'd think that he'd want to be there for you today," said Dad, turning to face me from the door.
"Yeah, well, maybe he just didn't want to miss school," I said. I knew that my dad was silently asking me if there was something wrong between me and Evan, but I didn't want to get into it at the moment. If Evan didn't want to go with me, then there was nothing I could do about it. Let him do what he wanted.
I ate breakfast silently. I kept thinking about Evan not going with us, and the more I thought about it the more angry with him I became. It was one thing to be upset with me for walking out on him like I did, but for him to not go with me when he knew I'd probably need him more than ever was just being childish in my opinion. Perhaps I didn't mean as much to him as he always said I did. That was fine. I told myself to stop caring about it.
Shortly after my plate was in the sink, my dad and I were on the road. He was quiet for a long time as he drove. I just sat there, watching the scenery pass me by. I thought about the day that my mother had taken me to Chicago. I'd done pretty much the same thing when she was driving. I didn't say much of anything to her. In fact, I had only spoken when spoken to on that trip. I quickly made up my mind that I wasn't going to do that on this trip.
"What time do we have to be there?" I asked my dad, breaking the silence between us.
"Court is at one," he said. "We're meeting Jim when we get to Chicago. He wants to talk to us."
"It will be nice to see him," I said.
"You really like Jim, don't you?" asked my dad.
I tried to determine if there was anything in his tone that would let me know how he felt about that, but his voice was even. I thought for a minute before I answered him. I wondered just how he felt about me liking the man that had taken my mother away from him. What he didn't know, or maybe he did, was that Jim had been there for me when I needed him. For that, I loved Jim like a second father.
"Jim's a good guy, Dad," I said, turning to face the window again.
"I'm starting to see that," said Dad. "We've talked on the phone a few times since you came home."
"You have?" I asked, wondering why this was the first time I'd been told that Jim had called the house and not been allowed to talk to him.
"Yeah," said Dad. "He called to talk to me about court. You weren't home all three times he called. Twice you were at school, and the last time you were out with James somewhere. He asked about you each time."
"What do you think of Jim?" I asked.
"He is a nice guy," said Dad after only a moment's hesitation.
"He was there for me in Chicago, Dad," I said. "He even stood up for me with Mother."
"I know, Chris," said my dad, glancing at me.
I suddenly felt like I had just stabbed him in the heart with that line. I hadn't intended to. I'd only said it as an attempt to explain why I liked Jim. I hoped that he hadn't taken what I'd said the wrong way. Jim had been there for me when Dad couldn't be. I didn't hold anything against my father. I just hoped the he knew that.
"Where are we meeting him?" I asked.
"Well, he suggested that we come to his apartment, but after the way you reacted when you came home, I told him I didn't think that was such a good idea," said Dad. "We're meeting him and Kendal at a restaurant."
"Kendal's coming?" I asked. I hadn't thought about Kendal since I'd come back to Springfield.
"Yes," he replied. "Her classes are over, so she's going to ride back to Springfield with us."
"She isn't staying in Chicago?" I asked.
"Not since your mother wrote her off," said Dad. "Kendal and I have talked a lot on the phone, too."
"Oh," I replied.
"Your mother hasn't spoken to Kendal since the day we all went to court," he said. "She refuses to forgive her for saying what she said in court."
"I don't remember Kendal talking in court," I said.
"Well, we were only there for the second day," said my dad. "Kendal was there for the first day. She testified about the fight that she walked in on the day before I brought you home."
"I didn't know that," I replied.
"She's been calling almost every day to see how you are," he said. "Your sister loves you very much."
We arrived in Chicago with plenty of time to meet Kendal and Jim. Court wasn't for another two hours, and I was anxious to get it over with. We went to a nice restaurant and told the host that we needed a table for four. Dad said that the rest of our party would be joining us soon.
"This is a nice place," I said when we were seated.
"Jim picked it," said Dad, picking up a menu. He'd told the host that we would wait for the rest of our party before ordering.
"I've never been here," I said, looking around.
Just then, Kendal and Jim walked up to the table. I was so happy to see them both. I got up and hugged my sister. She held me tight, and I thought for a minute that she would cut off my oxygen supply before she finally let me go. She was smiling from ear to ear.
"I missed you!" she said before going over to hug Dad.
"Hey you," said Jim before he pulled me into an embrace that wasn't as tight as Kendal's, but I felt the love in it anyway. "Your dad says that you are doing a lot better."
"Sometimes better than others," I said, sitting back down.
"It'll come," he said, smiling at me.
After that, the waiter came over and asked if we were ready to order. My dad told him to give us a few more minutes. When I looked up, I noticed who the waiter was. He just stood there smiling at me for a minute. I hadn't expected to see Ted while I was in town. I didn't know that he was working.
"Hi, Chris," he said. "When did you come back?"
"I'm here to go to court," I replied.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I'm getting off in half an hour. I have to go to court, too."
"You'll be in the courtroom?" asked Jim.
"Didn't you know?" he said. "I thought you were the one who told them to call me."
"I didn't tell them to call you," said Jim. "I think Maggie might have told them. I'm not sure."
"She called me yesterday to ask if I was going to be there," said Ted. "I didn't want to talk to her, but I told her I would be."
"I wonder what she thinks she's doing," said Kendal. "She called me yesterday, too. She said that she was going to testify today."
"That's rich," said Ted. "If she thinks that I won't tell them about what she did, she's wrong."
"Well, we already went to court over that," said my father. "I'm Jeff Wallace. I'm Chris and Kendal's dad."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Wallace," said Ted. "I'm Christopher's friend, Ted."
"Well, we'll see you in court," said my dad.
"What does Mom think she's doing?" asked Kendal after Ted walked away.
"I don't know," said my dad. "Whatever it is, we'll find out soon enough, though."
Dad and Jim talked about what had been going on in Chicago since I'd been gone. It turned out that my mother had talked to him about court, too. She'd called him the day before yesterday and asked him what he was planning to say in court. He told us that he didn't tell her anything and hung up on her.
Jim told us that the court had agreed to a closed courtroom, because I am a minor. He said that no one would be in the courtroom except those who were going to testify. He also said that if I wanted to, I could keep even those who would testify out of the courtroom until it was time for them to testify. I thought about it for a minute, but I decided that things were fine the way he'd set them up.
When we got to court, Ben walked up to us. He didn't talk to me much after saying hello to me and telling me how sorry he was that I had to come to court. He talked to my dad and Jim mostly. They talked about the day that Ben had called the police, and Kendal and I just looked at each other.
Then Ted came into the courtroom followed by my mother. When she smiled at me, I turned my head. Ted came over to me and Kendal and started talking. He was in the middle of a sentence when my mother walked up to us. She stood behind him for a minute, but then she started to talk, and I thought I would kill her right there in the courtroom.
"Chris, you look good," said my mother.
"Don't talk to me," I said quietly.
"How are things going for you in Springfield?" she asked, ignoring what I'd said.
"He said not to talk to him, Mother," said Kendal.
"Kendal, stay out of this," said Mother.
"What is going on over here?" demanded my father from behind me. "Maggie, you know better."
"Jeff, I just wanted to talk to my son," she said.
"And you've been ordered by a judge not to," he replied.
"Maggie, I think you should go find somewhere to sit," said Jim, coming up beside me.
"I'm sitting with my son," she said. I couldn't believe her nerve.
"No, you're not," I said through clenched teeth.
"Chris," she said.
"GO AWAY!" I cried, cutting her off and startling everyone in the courtroom.
The bailiff walked over to us, and my mother glared at me. I looked at my father, and he put his hand on my shoulder. I noticed that Jim put his hand on my other shoulder as the bailiff came closer. My mother continued to glare at me.
"Is there something wrong over here?" asked the bailiff.
"Yes, sir," said Jim.
"My ex-wife was instructed by Judge Shrueman not to have contact with our son, Christopher," said my father.
"And are you Christopher Wallace?" asked the bailiff, looking at me.
"Yes," I replied.
"Ma'am, I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me," he said, taking hold of my mother's arm.
"Yes," she said, but her glare never left me.
He lead her from the courtroom, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn't noticed until that moment, but I'd been almost holding my breath. I hated her so much, and I was never so happy to see anyone be lead away from me before in my life.
"You alright?" asked Dad.
"Fine," I replied, following him and Jim to our seats.
As we sat down, Zack walked into the courtroom with his father. Time seemed to stop as we looked at each other. I felt several emotions run through me as I looked at him. I felt hatred and fear. Most of all, I felt revulsion. I broke eye contact and turned to look at Kendal.
"I hope he rots in jail," said Kendal.
As soon as the judge entered the room, I began to feel better. Things go under way, and I was called to the stand. My mother's lawyer wasn't representing me this time, so I knew didn't know what to expect from the district attorney. He smiled at me and asked me how my trip was. I knew that he was doing that to put me at ease. I was grateful. Then he asked me to tell the court, in my own words, what had happened the first time Zack had tried to assault me.
I focused on him and tried to block everyone else out. I told him everything from the time I got home that day to the talk that I'd had with my mother when I returned from Ted's after running out of the apartment. I left out nothing, but I found it difficult to talk at times. He told me to take a drink of water and relax. After I told what had happened, he announced that he had no more questions for me.
Then it was time for Zack's lawyer to ask me questions. He asked specific questions about the details of what I had told the D.A. He was trying to get me to change my story, but what I had said was the truth. I didn't change any of it. After about twenty minutes of questioning, he announced that he had nothing further.
I was excused, and when I stood up, my knees shook. I looked over to where my family was sitting and was surprised to see Evan sitting between my father and Jim. He was supposed to be in school, but just seeing him there made me feel better. I felt more sure of myself as I walked over and sat beside my dad.
Ted testified next. He told the court about my coming to his house covered in vomit. He told them that he'd washed my shirt as I told him what had happened. He said that he believed every word of what I had to say, and when the D.A. asked him why, Ted told them about the first time that he had sucked Zack's dick.
Ted had been in the shower at school, and Zack came in and started talking to him as they both showered. Ted thought that Zack was a cool guy, so he was happy that he'd started talking to him. They had lunch in the cafeteria later that day, and Zack told Ted about his mother's cancer. Over the course of the next few weeks, Ted began to hang out with Zack on a regular basis. Then, when Zack's mother went to the hospital, Zack stayed at Ted's for the first night before moving in with my mother.
He said that they each took a shower, but when he came back to his room after taking his shower, Zack was still naked, lying on the bed. He had his dick in his hand and he told Ted that he knew he was a cocksucker. When Ted tried to deny it, Zack started laughing at him. He stood up and walked over to Ted. He grabbed him and pulled him over to the bed where he shoved his face into his crotch.
Zack's lawyer questioned Ted after that, but he didn't faze Ted. I sat there shocked by what Ted had said. I'd had no idea about what had happened. I'd just assumed that Ted liked sucking Zack's dick. I never imagined in a million years that Zack had forced himself on Ted.
My mother was called next, and I silently prayed that she would die from a massive stroke on the stand. I was sure that she would say something to cast doubt on what I'd said. She told the court that she had walked into the apartment as I was running past her to get out. She said that she did notice that I had vomited on myself, but she didn't know why at first. She said that Zack had told her that he'd punched me in the stomach when I'd started throwing things at him. When the D.A. asked her if she had believed Zack, she said that she'd had no reason not to. She said that I had been acting strangely since I'd moved in with her.
Then he asked her about the second time when she'd caught Zack in the act. My mother told them exactly what she'd seen and heard. I'd had no idea how long Mom and Jim had been listening, but it turned out that my mother had heard a lot more than I'd originally thought.
Zack's lawyer questioned my mother briefly, but he didn't really have many questions to ask her. All he got her to do in the end was confirm my story. He stopped questioning her after it was clear that she wasn't going to add anything to what she'd already said. I breathed a sigh of relief when she left the stand.
Next, it was Jim's turn. He told them the same thing my mother had told them. On cross examination, again the lawyer had nothing to make Jim change his story. He was excused from the stand a lot faster than my mother. After that, the judge announced that the court would stand in recess. The bailiff said something to him in private, and then the judge spoke directly to my mother, which shocked me.
"Mrs. Wallace," he said, stopping my mother. "It has been brought to my attention that you have broken a court order that says that you are to have no contact with your son, Christopher Wallace. Let me remind you of that court order, Mrs. Wallace, and let me tell you that if you talk to him again in this courtroom, or if I hear that you've talked to him outside this courtroom, I will make sure that you are arrested."
As soon as we were out of the courtroom, the D.A. asked to speak with Ted privately, and the two of them walked down the hall together. I had a pretty good idea what they were talking about, but my dad pulled me in the other direction. We were going to sit in a room provided by the court house while court was in recess.
"I'm sorry about last night, Chris," said Evan as soon as we were in that room. "I was a complete idiot, and I hope that you'll forgive me."
I looked at him, and I could see the worry in his eyes. He was worried that I wouldn't forgive him. Up until that moment, I hadn't planned to forgive him at all. But I thought about his side of it, and I understood why he'd acted the way he had. I was sorry too.
"There's nothing to forgive, Evan," I said. "I was an idiot yesterday, too."
My dad looked at us as I hugged Evan, and I'm sure he was wondering exactly what we were talking about. I didn't care to elaborate, and I'm sure that Evan didn't, either. The two of us just sat next to each other in silence as we waited for the bailiff to come and get us.
Evan talked to Kendal, and I just sat there thinking about everything that was said in the courtroom. I didn't know what to think about what the judge must have thought by all of the testimony. I only hoped that he wasn't feeling sorry for Zack. I know that judges are supposed to be blinded by justice, but they were human.
When the bailiff knocked on the door and told us that the judge was ready for us again, I didn't know how to feel about what was coming. On one hand, Zack may be getting what he deserved, but on the other hand, I wondered what would happen to him over what he'd done to Ted. I still didn't know what to think about what Ted had said in court.
What happened next both thrilled me and amazed me. We had just gotten seated in the courtroom when Zack's lawyer stood up an announced that Zack was changing his plea from Not Guilty to Guilty. There wasn't a sound to be heard in the courtroom. I kept my eyes on the judge.
"Young man, you do realize that by pleading guilty to the charge of Criminal Sexual Assault, that you will be required by the state of Illinois to register as a sex offender," said the judge.
"Yes, your honor," said Zack.
"Plea accepted," said the judge. "The defendant will be remanded to custody until sentencing."
We filed out of the courtroom ahead of my mother. Dad said that he was trying to make sure that she didn't try to talk to me again. He quickly filled Evan in on what she'd done when we arrived. He said he wouldn't put it past her to try to talk to him or Kendal now.
Once we were all out of the court house, Jim asked if we wanted to go get something to eat, but my dad told him that we had to get back on the road. He said that Evan and I had school in the morning, so Kendal went and got her bags out of Jim's car and put them in Evan's. She was going to ride back to Springfield with him.
All the way home, I thought about why Zack had changed his plea. Jim had said the he was sure it was because he didn't like the way the judge kept looking at him after everyone had testified. I didn't know about that. All I knew was that Zack would finally get what he deserved. At least I hoped he would.
I was dead on my feet by the time we reached the house, and I went straight downstairs to my room and went to sleep. Evan didn't even question me about going down there to sleep, and I was glad. I was supposed to call Tommy, but it was after nine, so I was sure that his mom had sent him to bed already.
The next morning, Tommy was with James and Sheldon when they came to my house. I smiled when I saw him and explained why I didn't call him when I got home. James asked how court went, and I told him that Zack was about to get what he deserved. Tommy just looked at us, because he didn't have a clue about what we were talking about.
When we got to school, everyone was looking at me and talking about me. For a minute, I thought that they had found out about court some how, but then I remembered what James had told me. They were all looking at me because of what had happened with Todd. I felt a gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach when I thought about that.
"I told you, man," said James, laughing. "Everybody's talking about you."
"Right," I said, going to my locker.
All day long, people kept looking at me and whispering. At lunch, there were a lot of people sitting at the table that James and I usually sat at. Tommy was there, but there were a lot of people I didn't know sitting there, too. They all said hello to me just like they'd known me forever. I said hello back to them, but I didn't say anything else. I didn't want to be popular just because I'd fought with Todd.
"I haven't seen Alex lately," I said to James. "Where is he?"
"Oh, his mom and dad got divorced," said James between bites of his lunch. "Alex lives with his mom in California."
"Wow," I said, missing him.
"Yeah, after what happened, his mom and dad fought a lot," he said quietly.
I thought about that for a while. My mom and dad fought over what had happened, but I was forced to live with her over it. I wondered if Alex was as miserable living with his mom as I had been living with mine. It seemed that there had been fall out in every family after what had happened at James and Cole's house that night. James was now living in a foster home, because his aunt and uncle couldn't put up with the fights between him and Cole. I still didn't understand why they were fighting all the time.
I noticed that Evan didn't hang out with Cole too much anymore, either. I wondered about that, but I never asked him about it. I just thought he'd tell me if he thought I needed to know. James seemed happier in the foster home. He didn't get into near as much trouble at school. In fact, he tried to avoid trouble whenever possible.
Tommy was the one I didn't know about. I hadn't really had a chance to sit down and talk to him since I'd been home. I did notice that he and James eyed each other wearily when we'd all sat down to lunch. Neither of them seemed to be comfortable around each other when they'd come to my house that morning, either. I wondered what that was all about, but like the rest of it, I'd have to wait until one of them told me.
"You want to hang out after school?" asked Tommy just before we left the cafeteria. I noticed James watching me closely.
"Sure," I replied. "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," said Tommy. "I thought I'd just come over to your house for a while."
"Sounds good to me," I said, watching James out of the corner of my eye.
"We could watch a movie or something," said Tommy.
"What about you, James?" I asked, turning to him. "You coming over tonight?"
"No," he said quickly. "I have a lot of stuff to do at home tonight. You guys have fun."
With that he walked away from us. It was strange, but Tommy seemed to relax a little after James walked away. I wondered just what was going on, and I made up my mind to ask Tommy about it when he came over later. I'd have to talk to James about it another time. Tomorrow was the last day of school, and that meant that it was a half day, so I thought I'd be able to talk to him about it after school.
We all went our separate ways for our next class, and I temporarily forgot about my friends and their troubles as the next class started. It was a class that I shared with Todd, and I was anxious to see what he would say and do around me. When I walked into the classroom, everyone got really quiet. I noticed that Todd wasn't there, so I just went to my seat and sat down.
"Hey, Wallace," said Donnie Peterson, on of Todd's friends. "I hope you're happy. You got suspended for a week, and Todd got expelled. Now he has to do this whole year over again, because of you."
"Fuck off, Peterson," I said just before the teacher walked in.
Everyone watched me for a few minutes, but then things went back to normal. I did notice that Donnie looked at me from time to time. Every time he looked over at me, I returned his gaze. I kept my face expressionless, but I knew that he had more to say about this. I just wasn't sure when he thought he was going to say it.
After class, I went to my locker, half expecting Donnie to be standing there waiting for me. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Tommy instead. He smiled at me as I walked up to him, and I was so happy that we'd finally started talking again. It was almost like old times.
"Thought I'd walk with you to gym class," he said. "We're having a free day today, because this is the last full day of school. We don't even have to dress out."
"Cool," I replied, following him down the hall.
Gym class wasn't much different than the others that I'd been to that day. Everyone was talking about what had happened between me and Todd. Only in gym, everyone got to ask questions, because a lot of us were just sitting on the bleachers talking. I answered a few, but I only gave them short answers, and soon, they stopped asking. So I turned to Tommy and decided it was time to ask him about what was going on between him and James.
"What do you mean?" he asked, looking away.
"Well, I'm talking about the fact that you both acted like you were so uncomfortable this morning, and then when you asked if I wanted to hang out today, James watched me real close. When I asked him if he was coming over, he made a lame excuse and walked away," I said. "What gives?"
"We're just not friends anymore, Chris," said Tommy.
"That's it?" I asked, knowing there was more to the story.
"I don't want to talk about this here," said Tommy. "Why don't we just wait until we're at your house."
He got up and walked away from me after that. I just sat there and watched him leave. I didn't know what to think. Then I saw Sheldon watching me, and I was tempted to go over and ask him what was going on. Surprisingly, however, he got up and walked over to me.
"I know why they don't like each other anymore," he said, sitting down beside me.
"Why?" I asked, thinking that it might not be such a good idea to talk to Sheldon about this.
"Because Tommy told people what happened at James's house, and people started calling James a fag," said Sheldon. "James confronted Tommy about it, and they fought. James kicked Tommy's ass."
"What exactly did Tommy say happened at James's house?" I asked, knowing that I shouldn't be asking that type of question. This was not my business, but my curiosity wouldn't let me leave it alone.
"Well, you know what went on over there," said Sheldon, looking around.
"No, I don't," I said. "I was only over there once, and I stayed upstairs with Cole and my brother all night."
"Well, Tommy told them about James's dad fucking him," said Sheldon.
"Fucking Tommy?" I asked confused.
"No, he fucked James," said Sheldon, looking me in the eye. "Like every chance he got."
"So, why was it any of Tommy's business?" I asked, thinking that so many things now made sense.
"Because they tried to fuck Tommy, too," he said. "They did fuck Alex."
"Oh shit," I said.
"Yeah," he replied. "James was pretty messed up over it all, and Tommy shouldn't have run around running his mouth."
"No, he shouldn't have," I agreed.
I thought about it for a few minutes. Suddenly, I thought I understood the old James. That day that he'd gone to the website showing his dad and Josh, I think James was going to tell me what was going on then. Kyle must have known something, because he sure had a great time using it against James.
That was why James was always in trouble at school, I thought. He was always acting out because of what was happening to him. I even thought that explained why Tommy had said that Alex didn't like him very much. Alex must have still been here when Tommy started talking about what was going on.
I didn't know how to react to what Sheldon had told me. Tommy was my best friend, but I'd almost broken Todd's arm for doing basically the same thing that Tommy had done. How was I supposed to talk to Tommy about this? I didn't know what to think.
Later, after school had let out for the day, I noticed that Tommy was the only one waiting to walk with me. I wondered where James was. He was always there after school. I was going to wait for him, but Tommy said he wasn't coming. I looked at him for a few minutes, and then he went on.
"He isn't coming, because you're walking with me," he said.
"What about Sheldon?" I asked, looking around.
"He'll walk with James," said Tommy. "Come on."
I followed him out of the school, but I kept thinking about what Sheldon had told me. I wanted to ask him about it, but I didn't know how to bring it up. I mean, how do you ask your best friend in the whole world if he's a prick? You don't just blurt out questions like that. I decided to do it another way.
"I don't understand why you two don't like each other anymore," I said as we walked.
"Oh, come on, Chris," he said, stopping and turning to face me. "I saw you talking to Sheldon in gym class. I know he told you what happened."
"Tell me you didn't just walk around school telling everyone about what went on," I said before I could stop myself.
"No, I didn't do that," he said. He started walking again, so I followed him. "It was right after I had gone to court over it all. Everyone found out about it, and people started saying things. All I said was that they were wrong, and they were. They all said that I had been having sex with James's dad. I never had sex with that man. Then James is pushing me around because people are calling him a queer. I don't even know how that got started."
"Wait," I said, stopping and grabbing his arm. "You said this all started after you went to court."
"Yeah, so?" he said.
"Who was the court reporter?" I asked, thinking that what had happened to me was exactly what had happened to James and Tommy.
"Todd's mom," he said. "She's always the court reporter in family court."
"Oh my God," I said as things clicked together in my head.
"What?" he asked.
"I know how all of this started, Tommy," I said. "We both need to talk to James."
"Why?" he asked.
"Didn't you even wonder why Todd and I got into that fight?" I asked him.
"I know why," he said. "Because Todd called you a fag."
"Yeah, but why did he call me a fag?" I asked.
"I don't understand," said Tommy looking perplexed.
"Well, his mom was the court reporter when we went to court over custody, and a lot of stuff came out about what happened in Chicago," I said.
"So?" he asked.
"She told him what was said," I replied. "His little brother told Sheldon about it. He said that she always tells them what goes on in court."
"Oh, shit!" cried Tommy. "You mean that Todd's the one that started spreading all that shit about me and James and Alex?"
"That's exactly what I mean," I replied.
When we got to my house, I called James. He said he didn't want to come over as long as Tommy was there, but I begged him. I told him that I had something to tell him, and after a while, he agreed. I didn't understand why James hadn't thought of this before. He had been with Sheldon when he told me about Todd spreading my business everywhere. Surely, he had to have thought about what was said about him at the beginning of the school year.
"I hope he believes us," said Tommy as we went upstairs to wait for James.
"I can't believe that he didn't think of this himself," I replied.
"Why?" asked Tommy as we walked into the living room.
"Because when Sheldon told me about Todd telling everyone what happened in court, James was with him," I said. "He should have thought about what had happened when people started saying shit about you guys."
"Well then why didn't he think about it?" asked Tommy.
It was clear that Tommy was nervous. Sheldon had said that James had really beat him up when he'd thought that Tommy was telling everyone what had happened. I felt sorry for Tommy. That made me even more pissed off at Todd. One of these days, Todd would pay for all of this shit. I just wish Alex was still here, so we could tell him what had really happened.
"This better be good, Chris," said James when I let him in. "I know Sheldon told you why I don't talk to Tommy."
"But that's just it," I said, walking back into the living room where Tommy was sitting. "Tommy isn't the one who started all those rumors, James."
"How the hell do you know?" he asked. "You weren't even here."
"Yeah, but who was the court reporter when you went to court every time?" I asked him, hoping that he would put two and two together.
"That son of a bitch!" he breathed after thinking it over for a few seconds. "I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner."
"So, don't you see, Tommy didn't say anything about you and Alex," I said. "Todd did. Tommy just told them that what they were saying about him wasn't true."
"That was before they started talking about you, James," said Tommy finally. "I didn't know what to say about all of that, but then you and Alex cornered me in the hall, and you both believed that I was the one talking about you both."
"Tommy, I'm sorry," said James. "I swear I didn't know."
"I know you didn't know," he said. "But that doesn't change what you and Alex did to me."
"I know, and I'm sorry," said James.
"What you and Alex did to him?" I asked.
"Well, Sheldon didn't tell you everything," said James. "First, me and Tommy got into a fight. Then Alex punched him in the face right in the middle of school. Everyone saw it. I don't know why, but everyone stopped talking about us after that. Well, almost everyone."
"Who didn't stop talking about you?" I asked, knowing the answer already.
"Todd and Donnie mostly," said James. "I'll get that bastard."
"But you and Tommy are cool, right?" I asked.
"Tommy, I already said I was sorry," said James, looking at Tommy. "But I understand if you don't want to be my friend after what I did to you."
"I would have probably tried to do the same thing to you if the roles were reversed," said Tommy. "I'm just glad that you know that I didn't say those things about you guys."
"Friends?" asked James, extending his hand to Tommy.
"Friends," said Tommy, shaking James's hand.
For the rest of the afternoon, the three of us hung out. I showed Tommy my new room, and he asked me why I wasn't sharing with Evan anymore. I told him that I still was, but we slept in the same bed. I told him that this was really my studio, and then I showed him my paintings.
"Wow!" he said. "These are really intense, Chris."
"Yeah," I said, looking at James and silently pleading with him not to say anything about what they represented.
"His dad's boyfriend is getting him a show in a gallery," said James, never taking his eyes off of me.
"Cool!" said Tommy. "When did your dad get a boyfriend?"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure when they started dating," I said. "I met him the day that they started working on my studio."
"Hey boys," said Kendal, coming into the room. "Chris, there's a phone call for you."
I went upstairs to get the phone. It was Khayman, and he wanted to talk about coming to see me during the summer. He said that his dad said that all he had to do was talk to my dad about it. I was happy to hear that he could come visit. I just hoped that my friends could get along with him.
"That's cool," I said. "I'm hanging out with Tommy and James right now. I've told James all about you, and he says he can't wait to meet you."
"Cool," he said. "I have something that I want to talk to you about, but I want to talk to you about it in person."
"Ok," I said, wondering what he wanted to talk about. "I'll have my dad call you guys when he gets home."
"Alright," he said. "Talk to you later, and hopefully, I'll see you soon."
"Who was that?" asked Evan, startling me as I hung up the phone.
"Khayman," I said.
"Did I hear you tell him that you are hanging out with Tommy and James?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said.
"Together?" he asked shocked.
"Yeah . . ."
"And you left them alone downstairs?" he said, getting up off the sofa.
"Relax, Evan," I said, smiling. "We all talked about what happened, and it looks like Todd was the one who was spreading all that stuff about James and Alex. He even told everyone about Tommy's day in court."
"I wondered about that after Dad told me that was how everyone found out what happened when you went to court," he said.
That night, I slept in Evan's bed again. He seemed happy to see me when I came into the bedroom. He opened his arms to me, and I eagerly crawled into the bed and let him hold me. I sighed when his arms closed around me. I always felt safe and secure in his powerful arms.
"I really am sorry for running out on you yesterday," I said once we were both settled.
"Its ok, Chris," he said. "I just need to remember that you have to deal with things in your own way."
"But I should have at least told you I needed to think," I replied.
"Do you know why you reacted the way you did in the shower?" he asked.
"Not really," I replied. "To be honest, I was very happy to shower with you, but when you touched my butt, I freaked out. I don't know why."
"Well, maybe after all that's happened to you, there are parts of your body that are off limits to other people," he said. "I can understand that."
"You can?" I asked.
"Sure," he said. "After everything was out in the open about what happened to James and Cole, Cole stopped having sex with me all together. In fact, he became such a different person that we don't even speak to each other much anymore."
"I wondered what happened between the two of you," I said.
"Well, to be honest, I don't like the person that he's become," said Evan. "I tried to talk to him about the way he treated James, and then he started yelling at me and calling me names. I decided I'd had it with Cole right then and there. I told him that our friendship was over."
"I'm sorry, Evan," I said. "I know he was your best friend."
"He was more than that, Chris," said Evan. "But that's all over now."
"I'm still sorry," I said.
"Well, I just can't wait to go to college and get away from Springfield for a while," he said.
"You still have another year of high school," I said a little upset that he wanted to leave so badly when all I'd wanted was to come home.
"Yeah," he said, holding me tighter. "But after that, I'm out of here for a while."
"I'll miss you again," I said.
"Hey, don't get upset, Chris," he said. "I'll be home as often as I can be."
"It won't be the same," I said.
We didn't say anything more after that. I think we were both sorting out our own thoughts. He kissed my neck just before I fell asleep, and I moved back against him.
After school the next day, Tommy couldn't come over. His mother wanted him to go with the rest of their family somewhere. Sheldon was in trouble over his final report card for the year, and he couldn't come over, either. That left me and James. Evan had to work early, and Kendal was out with some of her friends that were also home for the summer.
We were sitting in my studio talking. I was working on another painting, but I was determined to make the new on lighter and more cheerful. After all, the Chicago mess was finally over, and I thought that I was feeling better about it all. James kept complimenting me on my work, and I just ate it up.
"You are like the most awesome guy I know, Chris," he said, making me stop painting in mid stroke.
"What?" I asked, turning to face him.
"Look," he said seriously. "I know I've told you this before, but have you looked in a mirror? You are incredible! You're sexy, your smart, funny, and you always know exactly what to say in every situation. And then there's this talent! My God, Chris. You are so fucking talented that every time I look at one of your paintings, I swear I can fell exactly what the person in them is feeling. Your 'Torture' painting made me cry, and your 'Self Portrait' told me so much about who you are and who you think you are. I swear, Chris, you are so totally amazing."
I didn't know what to say. He'd blown me away. I had no idea that he felt this way about me. It was hard to reconcile this James from the one I'd known before I'd moved to Chicago. It was hard for me to believe that a person could change so much in only a few months. Yet, the proof was here before me. Every time I expected a situation to bring out the old James, the new James just blew it off. And then this. I was stunned!
"Say something," he said, smiling at me after I'd been staring at him for a while.
"I don't know what to say," I said. "No one has ever said anything like that to me before."
"I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that I love you, Chris," he said, looking at the floor. "I know you probably don't believe me, and I guess I can understand why, but I couldn't keep it to myself anymore. You really are this wonderful person, and I really do love you."
"James, I don't know how to respond to that," I replied honestly.
"That's ok, Chris," he said seriously. "I just had to say it finally. I mean I knew that I was feeling something for you when we first started to talk again. Then we started to open up to each other, and you told me things about yourself that amazed me. When you told me about what happened in Chicago, I wanted to find Zack and Ken and pound the shit out of them. I didn't know why at first. I thought it was because we were getting to be such good friends. Then when you agreed to hang out with Tommy yesterday, I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I thought about it all day after that. What I realized was that I'm in love with you."
"You're sure about this?" I asked, thinking about the first night he'd spent with me when he'd told me to be patient with him and give him time to get where I was.
"I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life," he said.
"I have to be honest with you, James," I said slowly. "I can't say that I'm in love with you. I mean, I think you are a great guy, and I really do think that you've come a long way, and I care about you a lot more than I've cared for most people, but that isn't love."
"I told you that you didn't have to say anything," he said, looking down at the floor.
"Wait a minute," I said quickly. "I didn't say that I couldn't love you, James. You once asked me to be patient with you. Well, I'm putting the ball in your court now. I'm asking you to be patient with me. I care about you, James. Give me time, and that might turn into something else."
"Would it be too pushy if I asked you not to have sex with Tommy anymore?" he asked, biting his lower lip.
"What?" I asked. "James, I haven't had sex with anyone since I got home."
"Well, I know that you and Tommy just started talking again . . ."
"You don't understand," I said, cutting him off. "I haven't been interested in sex at all. I've been so busy worrying about myself that I haven't even really given sex much thought at all."
"Oh," he said, looking down again.
"But I will tell you this," I said. "I think about you a lot. You have no idea how happy I am every morning when you show up here. I was so glad that you kept hounding me until I started talking to you again. I'm excited to see you in the morning, and I'm excited to see you standing there, waiting for me after school."
"You are," he asked, looking up at me again with hope in his eyes.
"Yes, I am," I replied, smiling at him. "James you have shown me a side of yourself that I never knew existed. I think that you were trying to show me this side of yourself before I moved, but I can't be sure of that. All I know is that I really like this side of you. And I meant it when I said that I think about you all the time."
"Ok, let me rephrase my question," he said, biting his lip again. He was so nervous.
"Alright," I replied.
"Will you please not have sex with anyone?" he said quickly. "I mean, besides me."
"James, are you asking me to be your boyfriend?" I asked both shocked and excited at the same time.
"Yeah," he said, turning red all over. "I guess I am."
"Well, then my answer is yes," I said, smiling at him.
"Really?" he asked. There was a look of pure shock on his face.
"Yes, really," I said, getting up off the stool and walking over to the bed. I sat down beside him and drew him into a hug. "I'd love to be your guy."
Ok guys . . .
Long chapter, huh? Well, consider it a gift to those of you who have been writing me asking for longer chapters. This one was actually going to be two separate chapters, but oh well. LOL
Let me know what you think. Things are going to start looking up for Christopher in the future. Just remember, though, that every cloud can turn dark and produce rain.