I walked further away from the cliff. Hoping to assimilate into the party crowd and somehow forget my growing eagerness to get myself into what I KNEW would be trouble. But the more I tried to blend in with what was going on around me, the more enticed I was by the small handful of mischievious teens who were dettached from it all. Even Kriegar, who was now drunkenly walking on the edge of the beach...stepping forward with one foot on the sand, and the other splashing away in the water. He didn't seem to care though. He was much too busy turning that bottle of whiskey up to the stars and guzzling as much as he could stand with every helping. He didn't even bother to wipe the excess liquid away as it dribbled out of the sides of his mouth and down his cheeks into his shirt collar. It was so indulgent, his vagrant-like drinking and poetic stumbling, that it almost carried with it a sense of 'class'. He was a portrait, a poster boy, for whatever 'look' he was going for. And just like the rest of his friends at this party...he stood out. Nobody here could do it like he did. Figure that...a complete 180 degree turn from rogue to rock star. And all it took was an entire bottle of Irish whiskey.

I was kind of amazed at how the kids here were partying a lot harder than last time. They were more obnoxious in their shouting and dancing. More open with their kissing and grinding. It was like they had taken the events of last night's party and gave it an adrenaline shot in the heart. But as much as I wanted to just jump in and mimic the smiles and the laughter and the frivolity of the scene...my heart just wasn't in it. Not like I wanted it to be. Something was keeping me too grounded to just 'let go' like they were. If I had grabbed a beer and started yelling out curse words at the top of my lungs...I would have been accepted as a vital part of the party. But it would have been fake. It wouldn't be me. And I didn't want to 'fake' a good time. I wanted to have a good time. Why is that so hard here? Where all of the restrictions are gone and my life can belong to ME again instead of my 'parents' or the nearest legal guardian. Maybe I'm just a hopeless nerd with no choice but to sit on the sidelines and wait for life to happen to me. Who knows?

Wandering around for a bit, bottled water in hand, I caught a glimpse of Kyla and Jack on one end of the beach with a few friends of theirs. Considering that Kyla had been around here long enough to know about Rainbow's End, it made sense that she would know a little bit more about these phantom strangers around here. I figured...maybe she could give me some answers so I'll know what I'm getting into. So I started walking on over to see what I could find out.

But as I walked around the partying teenagers, I suddenly became aware of a huge dark shape coming at me from the side. Someone bumped into me and nearly knocked me over. My water came splashing out of the bottle and went all over his shirt and team jacket. "What the hell are you DOING???" He shouted, looking down at his shirt. "Why don't you watch where you're fucking GOING, asswipe!!!"

"But...you bumped into me." I said. And he DID! Helloooo?

"What?" He gave me an angry look that simply dared me to answer. "You spill water all over my shirt, and now you wanna get SMART with me?" It was as though he was escalating this so-called conflict all on his own.

He was almost three years older than I was and six inches taller from the looks of it. So he's already got the advantage, not to mention that I'm not much of a fighter. So I decided to tread lightly. "Ok...alright...I'm sorry." I backed down, choosing to walk away and have it be overwith instead of allowing him to provoke me into giving him a reason to pummel me into the dirt.

I stepped around him to walk away, but he gave me another hard shove from behind, almost causing me to fall. "Just keep your fucking eyes open next time, pee wee!" He said. And again, I was about to ignore it and leave the scene without causing anymore turbulence. But when I took another step forward...both Shank and Razor stepped in front of me from both sides. Instantly. It was like they had appeared out of nowhere.

"Is there a problem?" They asked at the same time. Both voices speaking with the same pitch, same speed...every word was in stereo.

I was a bit off my guard, seeing them rush to my assistance so swiftly. But after a short period of my mind being blank, I said, "No. No I'm...I'm fine." The two of them were stone faced, as though they were itching to 'protect' me. I watched as their eyes slowly left me, glancing up to look over my shoulder at the boy who had just pushed me.

"Are you sure?" They looked ready to jump on him, waiting ONLY for me to give them the signal.

"Yeah...I'm fine. Seriously." They were still staring intently at the boy, a lethal focus taking hold of them completely. "Seriously." I said again, and they broke their stare to look back down at me again. Then I saw them smile briefly before walking passed me, gently patting me on the shoulder.

"Sure thing." Shank said, and they were gone almost as quickly as they had appeared. Another action to add even more confusion to this weird game they all seemed to be playing with me. I needed to know more about them. And I needed to know it now.

Kyla and Jack hadn't even noticed the friction that had taken place a moment ago. They were involved in some kind of drink induced conversation about hating the current state of American music, and laughing it up with three other guys in a circle. They stopped only briefly when I walked up to them. "Heyyyyyyy, 'Camp Boy'!" Kyla said, already a bit blasted from the looks of it. Her eyes were half shut as she smiled lazily in my direction, and the five of them were passing around a small glass pipe of weed. Pass it, light it, puff it, pass it. Pass it, light it, puff it, pass it. The routine was flawless, and every puff of smoke was followed by a cat like grin and occassionally a cough or two. Watching them, it was like you could see their whole body relax. Hell...you could practically see their SOULS relax! It must have been good shit.

"Hey kid, you wanna hit?" One of the guys asked me, passing me the pipe and the lighter in the same hand.

I had never done it before, not that I'd ever admit that to them. And although my inexperience urged my need to experiment, my mind suddenly got bumrushed with every 'just say no' slogan that I had ever heard on television in my life. "No...no thanks." I said. They didn't pressure me. They didn't have time. I was a kink in their well oiled machine. Pass it, light it, puff it, pass it....who was I to stop the rotation? "Kyla...can we talk for a minute?" I asked.

"Hehehe, sure, Wes. What's up?" Her words were slurred, her balance about as stable as that of a baby learning to walk.

"Um...I mean...over here. Just for a second?" I motioned for her to follow me, and she shifted her lean from Jack's shoulders to mine with a slight skip.

We walked....well, actually I walked. Kyla just kinda stumbled in the direction that I was leading her...over to a quiet little spot to talk. "Wes...I am sooooo fucked up right now!" She giggled. "Wheeee!" She threw both of her hands up in the air and fell backwards on to the soft beach sand below. Once she hit the ground, she just laughed herself silly.

"Kyla? Kyla...are you alright?"

"I am now! But I'm gonna be bruised in the morning. Hahaha!"

I sat down and crossed my legs next to her, knowing that picking her up would be an excercise in futility at this point. "Listen...I wanna ask you something?"

"Sure....shoot." She said, making two little guns out of her fingers and following it up with little gunblast noises.

"You've been coming here for the last few summers in a row, right?"

"That's me. Always in trouble. Always on probation."

"Ok...so....do you know those kids that were hanging out here last night? The ones here tonight?"

"What kids?" She stammered.

"You know....the blind boy? The twins? The...you know! 'Those' kids." I said, hoping that she was sober enough to stay, at least, slightly focused.

"Ohhhhh..." She grinned. "You mean Cyrus and his crew? Yeah, I guess you can say that I know them. Especially the twins. Hehehe....mmmmm, they are dynamite. You have no idea." Kyla was sloppily swaying from side to side, her last puff of marijuana intensifying the potency of the alcohol in her system.

"What do you know about them?" I asked.

"Shit...not much. They don't really talk to anybody outside of their little group, you know? They just sorta 'show up' a couple of nights a week and hang out."

"So...you don't know anything about them other than they come here to hang out?"

"Hmmmm...nope." But then she added, "Except...that there used to be two other ones with them. A boy and a girl. I don't know what happened to them, but they used to all come down to Rainbow's End together. I haven't seen them at all this year. I guess they decided not to come back."

I could tell by the narrowing width of her eyes that she wasn't far from passing out for a short nap. "So that's it? Are you sure that there's nothing else that you can tell me?"

"Nothing except that they like sex. LOTS of sex. All KINDS of sex! And they are 'VERY' good at it." She grinned. She had to reach down to gently 'graze herself' in remembrance of her good time with the twins. "Mmmm...God DAMN are they good at it. It's like...they know how to make love to more than just your body, you know? When they touch you...sighhh...it's more than just physical contact. There's something soooo...'primal' about it. It's like you can feel the sex in your soul." I wasn't quite sure if she was being metaphorical or if she was really serious. But from the way her body seemed to tingle visibly from the mere recollection of it, the experience had to be pretty wild. I stood up to help her back to her feet, and walked back over to Jack and his friends so that they could at least keep an eye on her the rest of the night. There wasn't much more information that I'd be able to get out of her while she was in this condition anyway. Maybe another time. As I walked away from her and Jack, she grinned and said, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." And then cackled herself silly until she fell backwards again into the sand. The 'help' she gave me didn't help much at all, and I realized that the only way to really get a hint as to what these guys were all about...was to talk to Cyrus himself. And to be honest, I was extremely hesitant to do so.

He was maintaining his position, standing close to the fire with both hands clasped behind his back. He seemed completely relaxed, almost serene. I watched him for a few minutes, and he never moved. I casually walked around a bit, slowly zig-zagging my way closer to him without actually letting him know I was persuing him. I even walked past him a couple of times, taking little peeks at him here and there. Somehow, I could almost feel him...feeling me watch him. I don't know what it was, but I just had this moment where I understood that I wasn't hiding my presence from him. At ALL. He had to have known.

I took a few steps closer, very slowly, very quietly...until I was standing just fifteen feet behind him. I halted there, wondering what I would say. Wondering if I should approach. And silently hoping that he would turn around and maybe give me an invitation. For some reason, I felt as though that would make this so much easier. While I struggled with myself for what to do, the party continued all over the beach. A girl and her boyfriend walked past me, between me and Cyrus, and she smiled at me. "Hi sexy. What's you're name?" But her boyfriend yanked her closer to his side to keep walking. I have to admit, I was temporarily flattered. I grinned to myself and looked back towards the bonfire. But when I did......Cyrus was gone.

Vanished into thin air. I looked around to see if I had just missed him leaving, and caught no trace of him. Until I felt his hand creep over my shoulder from behind me. I tensed up immediately in shock, but didn't really jump. I kept my eyes focused forward, as Cyrus didn't walk in front of me just yet. His touch was electric, firm, confident. It was the kind of grip that you only get from your father, or a cop. A priest, or a high school principal. It was the grip of authority, one that you didn't dare break. Not even if it meant saving your life.

"If you want to talk to me, Wesley...we can talk." He said. His voice was soft, soothing, deep. The mellow vibrations in every word were almost hypnotic. "Do you need to talk to me?"

"Actually..." I said, trembling a bit, "...I heard that it was you that needed to talk to me."

Cyrus walked around to face me, and I saw a lopsided grin appear on his face. "Then perhaps we are just standing on two opposite sides of the same coin." He took his hand off of my shoulder, and began to walk back to the fire. "Come. Why don't you join me for a bit." That was it. That was the invitation I had been looking for.

Cyrus stood over by the fire again, a bit too close for my comfort, actually. But I went to join him anyway. The heat coming from it at that distance was beyond uncomfortable, and any random spark could have set my shirt on fire if it wanted to. Still...I think talking to this 'enigma' was more important than that at the moment. So I decided to stand as close as he was. It was almost a game of chicken, seeing who could lean forward the most. He could have won that competition easily, but I didn't want HIM to know that. He didn't say anything at first. Just stood there, his gaze piercing right through the flames. I stood next to him in silence for a few minutes as well, but then decided to break the ice a bit. "So what are you thinking about?"

He grinned, and slowly turned his attention in my direction. "What makes you think I'm thinking about anything?"

"Because anyone staring into a fire as long as you have must have something else on his mind." I answered. And I can't really explain it, but something about that comment seemed to make Cyrus smile. Almost as if in admiration.

He then turned his stare back to the flames, and said, "Actually, I was thinking about the last 60 minutes."

I wasn't quite sure what he meant, and wrinkled up my brow for a second. "What do you mean?"

"I mean the last hour of my life. The last FEW hours, really. I was replaying the thoughts and deeds of the evening, and wondering if they really had any true meaning." He could tell that I was still confused. "Think about it, Wesley. What have you done with the last few hours of your life? Starting from right now, looking backwards. What were you thinking? What were you saying? Ten years from now...will you be mentioning the last few hours of your life to someone else? Will you look back at it and playfully reminice over the events of the past few minutes?" He looked back over at me with a smile. "OR...did you waste them on some 'random routine' that has no impact on your growth or your character?" I just sort of stood there, not knowing whether this was a rhetorical question or something I should answer. But I got the feeling that he wanted me to come to my own conclusion about the comment. There was so much more communication in his gaze, in his smile, in his mannerisms...than there were in his words. "That's what I think about, Wesley. That's what I think about all the time. Because if the last hour of your life hasn't elevated you with some new experience or challenge...then it has been wasted. And later...when you're gasping those last few precious breaths that life has given you...you'll regret not using that time just a LITTLE bit better."

"That's a bit deep for a regular evening thought in the middle of the week. Don't you think?" I asked, hoping it would lighten him up a tad.

"Perhaps, yes. But it's something I think we all do from time to time. Just not as often as we should." The heat of the fire was getting to be too much, and beads of sweat were forming on my forhead. "So what made you come back to this place tonight?" Cyrus asked, his behavior switching almost instantly to something more 'welcome'.

"Kyla kinda convinced me to come back with her. She had a good time and..."

"I know why Kyla is here. I asked about you." He interrupted.

"I...I just told you."

"No you didn't. You told me about Kyla asking you to come. But I would assume that you came of your own free will. So....what was it? The party, the fire, the view of the lake? What made you say yes?"

I looked at him for a moment, and decided to tell him the truth. "I guess....I was curious about this place. And...about you guys." It wasn't something that I would have normally said, but there was something so deliberately inviting about him. This unseen magnetism that made you want to talk to him. It was as though I could tell him anything.

"Your honesty is refreshing." He said. "I must admit, we were quite curious about you too. It's not often that we get someone with your particular outlook."

"Heh...you can see my 'outlook'?" I chuckled.

"More like I've got a sense for it. Yes."

"Well...this should be interesting." I said, waiting to see what his accuracy would be in telling me who I am. Or better yet, what he thinks about me. Especially after only one brief encounter with one another.

"A test?"

"Yeah. A test."

That said, he turned his body completely towards me. Looking into my eyes deep, deeper than anyone else ever had, and he began to speak. "You're here at this place, this camp, but you're not from here. You don't live too far away...but you're not from here."

"So far, so good, swami." I smiled.

"You've come to this Bible camp, but you don't belong there. Your heart isn't into it like the people around you. No more than your heart was into the festivities taking place at this party tonight." He said, and I began to get more interested in his perspective...as he slowly dug deeper. "You didn't come here for the free booze or the hot girls. You came here because you were told not to come. Because you weren't 'supposed' to come. Because you're being punished for something. It's the only reason you're even at camp. Isn't it?" I felt my smile fade a bit, and listened closely. "You are not like the others here. No. You...you sit back, and observe. Pretending to be a part of the crowd but wishing only to blend into the background. You, my friend, are searching for an experience. Somehing real. Something right." I absorbed every word, and was immediately sucked in to what he was saying. "I've watched you, Wesley. Sitting off to the side, mentally trying to bridge the gap between 'you' and 'them'. But it doesn't work, does it? Deep down, it's not the assimilation you want...it's the acceptance. You don't want to be like them...you want to find people who are more like you. You want to find people who don't require you to imitate their wants, needs, and personalities just to fit in. You want to do your own thing, be your own person...and have them show more than 'polite tolerance' for your individuality." It was then that I felt another one of those inner 'doors' opening inside me. A new hallway in my mind and in my soul that was suddenly open to exploration. And the fact that he found it before I had...was almost abrasive to me. Just a notch above insulting. Yet, he continued. Even though I'm sure he could see the growing offense in my eyes. "Wesley...you strike me as someone who sees the world through the eyes of a skeptic. Constantly seeing through all of this material and social bullshit. Someone who is not finding the solutions he is looking for. Because....somewhere deep down inside you...you know there's more to this life than existing in this prison without walls. Somewhere inside you...you are searching for your true self."

"That's...a very assuming review, Cyrus." I told him with a faked smile, hoping it would give him enough doubt to leave it alone. "So what's the BAD news?" I said sarcastically.

"The bad news...is that you are still holding back."

"Holdng back?"

"Yes. The boundaries you set for yourself are far too confining. You possess the ability to reach further than a vast majority of the people here, but you're afraid to do so. Constantly having an inner conflict on how your next choice will effect the comfortable position you hold in this predictable world of limitations." He reached up a hand to wipe the sweat off of my eyebrows. "The same way you wonder whether or not to move a step or two back away from this flame. Even though you know it's too hot...you stay here for ME, instead of following your own instincts. Why?" I gave him a questioning look, wondering if I should ask further permission from him to move. "Go ahead, Wesley. Step back."

I guess I was thankful to get away from the heat, and took a few steps back to cool down a little. "I was gonna step back in a second anyway." I said.

"I'm sure you were." He said. I was glad to be at a slightly cooler distance from the bonfire. But after a few moments when Cyrus didn't bother to turn around, continue talking, or take a few steps back himself to join me, I could feel myself inching forward again. It only made him smile. "Your turn." He said. "What are you thinking about?"

I took a second, and said, "Actually...I was thinking...why here? Why did you decide to come to some offbeat Bible camp in the midde of nowhere? You and your friends don't neccessarily fit the 'design' of this place."

"To tell you the truth, it's the potential."

"The potential?" I asked.

"Yes. The untapped regions of their individual personalities. It's actually quite entertaining." Cyrus turned to look back at the crowd, and I looked out over the beach with him. "They work so hard to mask what they really are. The kids at this camp work especially hard. Harder than most. It's like they're desperately trying to discard everything that makes them unique and different. Just so they can run with the rest of the crowd like a bunch of lemmings over a cliff. It's like watching bad actors in a play."

"That's why you come to Rainbow's End? To watch people pretend to be something they're not?"

"That's just as good a reason as any. Believe me, you get a kick out of it once you notice it. All of this mental, social, spiritual, sexual, supression....it turns me on like you wouldn't believe." Cyrus seemed to get a delightful shiver from saying it, and his twinkled at the thought. "Say, do you want to see something cool?" He said.

I shrugged my shoulders. "Sure."

Cyrus picked up an empty plastic cup from the ground, pretending that it was full of alcohol. And he raised it up in the air towards the crowd of partying teens on the beach. Then he shouted outloud. "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" Every other kid on that beach that heard him looked back at us, and all raised their cups too. They shouted back in unison with a thunderous response, and seemed to practically drown themselves in alcohol with a tilt of their cups. Anyone who hadn't heard the initial holler, heard the second one, and the drunken battle cry worked its way down to the end of the beach and back.

I kinda chuckled at the idea of it. "What the hell are THEY so happy about?"

"I have no idea." Cyrus giggled. "And neither do THEY. But they'll pretend to know what the hell they're shouting about just to maintain their status as part of the herd." He threw his empty cup back down on the ground. I guess it was point proven. "They come all the way out here, night after night, in order to break the chains of control. In order to feel truly free. They don't even realize that all they're doing is falling into another method of systematic control." He gave me a nod. "Different lemming. Different cliff." "Interesting theory, doctor." I grinned.

"So...what's your story?" He asked, brushing back his short blond hair slightly. "You didn't deny the possibility of punishment...I would assume that you did 'something' to get yourself sent here."

"No, actually. I was practically 'framed' by a friend of mine in church."

"Some friend."

"Yeah." I said. "Long story short, I got blamed for something I didn't do, and now I've gotta pay the price for it. So my father forced me and my little brother to come out here and get some good old fashioned values brainwashed into me."

"Didn't you tell him you weren't guilty?" He asked.

"Of corse I did. He didn't believe me though. I kinda knew he wouldn't."

"Did you tell him that it was your friend? That he betrayed you and left you holding the bag?"

"Nah. I didn't rat him out. I was already on punishment. I figured...why bring him down with me. You know?" Cyrus gave me a rather mischevious look.

"A noble sacrifice, if I do say so myself." Then he put a hand on my shoulder. "The question is, would he have done the same for you, had you been in his place."

"I doubt it. I guess I'm too 'nice' for my own good."

"My thoughts exactly."

"But I AM innocent, though. I really am." I confirmed.

"I believe you."

"Really? Damn...you'd be the first."

"You don't seem the type of person who would indulge in mischievous behavior without purpose. Something tells me you'd rationalize that out to being a pointless act of defiance."

"Finally...somebody gets it." I said, happy to have found someone who is willing to listen objectively for a change.

Cyrus looked back out at the beach. "For what it's worth, Wesley...I'm glad that these circumstances brought you here. You impress me."

"Even when I'm holding back?" I asked playfully.

"Even when you're holding back, yes." He grinned. "You stand out as much as my companions and I. It's not often we get blessed with someone who has a true presence in this place. I was hungry for a spirit that was somewhat more challenging than the average." I'll have to admit, I was flattered. And Cyrus' smooth voice lured me into every spoken word. "We're wolves among sheep, my friend. Be proud."

"Well...since you put it THAT way, yeah...I guess I am."


"But wolf or no wolf...I'm STILL innocent." I said.

And Cyrus turned to look me directly in the eye, and said, "In order to gain knowledge, innocence must be lost." Then ended with, "No one stays pure forever. Why would you even want to?" I then watched as his eyes glanced over my shoulder and back out to the party. I turned to see the same controlled hysteria that was happening when I left. Nothing spectacular or different about it at all. But Cyrus...he was focusing on something else. "Tell me something, Wesley. When that boy over there...bumped into you earlier...when he threatened you...how did it make you feel?"

I wrinkled up my face, "Fuck him. He's just an asshole."

"Maybe, maybe not. But this isn't about him. It's about you. How did it make you feel?"

I cocked my head to the side a little. "Um...I don't know. Mad, I guess."

"Anger. That's a valid emotion. What else?"

"What do you mean?"

"What else were you feeling? Did it humiliate you? Were you embarrassed? Did you want to retaliate?" He said.

"Retaliate? Are you crazy? He could have pounded me into the DIRT over there. I'm not fucking with that."

"But what if you win?"

"What if he beats me SENSELESS first?"

"We're not talking about the consequences of your actions here, Wesley. I'm talking about your first impulse. Your initial feelings about what was going on." He said, and when I paused wth an answer, he continued, "You know what I'm talking about, don't you? That..savage...knee-jerk reaction to being verbally and physically assaulted, and then disgraced in front of your peers here at Rainbow's End. Bullied and belittled by someone who isn't expecting you to turn the tables on him because he's bigger than you. But what if he wasn't? Tell me...what would you have done, if the odds were in your favor?"

"You mean without any consequences whatsoever?"

"None." He answered. "What would you have done if you were free of your own 'home trained' sense of self control, and could lash out without any fear of the results? What...would...you...do?"

I giggled a bit to myself, looking at the boy in the distance and seeing him continue to be the idiot that he is. "Hehehe, I guess I would have decked him. Right in the mouth!" I replied.

"Really now?"

"Yeah. Hehehe, I would have balled up my fist, and gave him my best shot right across the jaw. Bump into ME, will ya?" I couldn't help but laugh at the idea. Like I said before, fighting just isn't me. But it was cool to humor him for a minute or two. Everybody's a tough guy when the moment has already passed.

"Good man." Cyrus just gently tapped me on the stomach with his hand for approval. "I would have too." And he smiled wickedly. It was the first time since I had first seen him, that we had a 'normal' moment. Maybe he wasn't so bad afterall. Just takes a while to get through that big barrier of 'weird' that he had surrounding him and his friends. "Say, Tiger...why don't you come and have a drink with me? I'll grab us a few beers from the keg." He said, his demeanor much more cheerful all of the sudden.

"Um...no thanks."

"C'mon! I'll grab us two cups, we'll get a little tipsy, what can it hurt?"

"Actually..." I said. "...I don't drink."

"Don't drink? Not a drop?"

"No. Not really."

"Well then you DEFINITELY have to let me be a part of your first experience as a true, pureblood, grade A, teenage alcoholic." He coaxed, "That way, when you look back at this particular hour of your life, you can say that it was the first time you ever got wasted with a friend." But I didn't go for it.

"You know, 'peer pressure' doesn't neccessarly work on me. So you can save your breath on that one." I replied with a smile. But I was dead serious about it.

"Hmm...funny how people always refer to it as 'peer pressure' when it's something the majority of 'well meaning citizens' dissapproves of. If I was asking you to 'vote' it would be considered normal, wouldn't it?" He said, and I merely raised an eyebrow in response. So he tried a different approach. "Ok...how about this. We'll let fate decide."

"Fate? Exactly, how are we gonna pull that off?"

Cyrus fished around in his pocket for a quarter and pulled it out, sitting it in the palm of his hand. "With this." He showed it to me, both sides, heads and tails. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to flip this coin, and it'll tell us whether or not you need a drink tonight."

"I'm not gonna drink. I don't care 'what' the coin says."

"We'll deal with that when the coin toss is over." He balanced it on his thumb, ready to flip it. "Ok, here it goes. Heads, you drink. Tails...you drink." I shot him a look and he patted me on my stomach again. "I'm just KIDDING. Geez, lighten up. Ok, heads you drink...tails, you pretend you don't wanna drink for at least one more night. Deal?"

"Whatever." I said, not really agreeing to anything.

"Alright then." He turned to stand next to me, facing away from the lake and towards the beach party. "You ready?" He asked.

"Just flip it already."

"Alright..." He said...almost as if in warning. I watched as he used his thumb to flip the quarter high ino the air above our heads, my eyes trying to keep track of it in the darkness around us. I saw it reach its peak and begin its decent back down towards the ground. Cyrus held his hand out, palm up, waiting to catch it. But...as the coin dropped further, he surprised me. Instead of 'catching' the quarter, or even letting it fall into the sand beneath our feet, Cyrus drew his hand back. Then, with a quick swing and a flick of his wrist, he knocked it out of the air. Sending it soaring back into the partying teenagers on the beach. The coin whipped through the air at top speed, eventually finding and hitting the guy who had pushed me earlier...directly in the back of his neck! It must have been pretty hard too, because I could hear it bounce off of him all the way from the beach. He grabbed the sore spot and winced through gritted teeth as he tried to recover from the impact. And he turned around with a scowl on his face that would have frightened the devil himself.

"What the hell did you do THAT for???" I said, looking at Cyrus in disbelief. But again...he only smiled in response, waiting for the big guy's reaction.

"Who the fuck threw that?!?!?!" He shouted. I froze up, knowing that both me and Cyrus were the only ones on the beach that could have hit him from that direction. The bonfire wouldn't be enough to silhouette us from having him know who we were. And as the snickers of his intoxicated friends pushed his anger to all new heights, I was praying that Cyrus would come clean and tell them that it was him. "WHO THREW IT?!?!?!"

I saw Cyrus proudly raise his hand high in the air...and then pointed the finger at ME! "Here's your man."

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!" I shouted.

"Now's your chance, Tiger. You wanted to hit him. You wanted to teach him a lesson. Well, you missed your chance the frst time around." I saw the huge form of that monsterous guy storming its way towards me, and Cyrus whispered in my ear with a smile. "Here's your chance."

"Are you CRAZY???"

"Let go of the worries, Wesley. Let your instincts take over. Win or lose, at least you'll be true to yourself."

"THAT'LL be a great epitaph for my tombstone! 'Here lies Wesley, true to himself! Rest in pieces!"

"Be strong, my friend. He's not as tough as he looks." He was almost upon us, walking with both of his fists clenched up, and I was sure that he could outrun me if I tried to make a break for it. "Go ahead, Wes...kick his ass."

"Funny, I feel more like kicking yours."

"One fight at a time, 'camp boy'." He grinned, and pushed me forward to meet the guy coming to bury me.

I walked forward a few steps, and was hoping that I could back out of this without losing any teeth tonight. "Dude...listen...I did NOT throw that! I swear to..." But before I could finish, a hard punch in the stomach had already been connected. I felt it twist itself into a knot as I fell to my knees, gasping for air.

"You son of a bitch! I WARNED you, didn't I?" He used his foot to push me over onto my side. "Get up!" My whole body felt like it was curling up around the pain in my stomach, and I couldn't even open my eyes, much less stand up again. "I SAID...get up!!!" I felt him grab a handful of my shirt collar and lift me, quite effortlessly, to my feet. Once he let go, I stood on shakey knees, just working to catch my breath.

Cyrus did NOTHING to help me. He simply stood off to the side, watching, waiting. His gremlin-like lopsided grin gleaming down at me as he enjoyed the event. As I looked around me, I saw that the party had basically stopped. That everyone was looking at us, looking at ME. Even Kyla and her friends were watching. And no one did anything. In fact...I think they were more concerned with SEEING a good fight rather than STOPPING one. It was clear that, not only was I on my own...but I was on display.

"Listen..." I huffed, doing my best to stand up straight. "...I told you, I didn't do it. I'm sorry, ok? Let's just forget about this and..."

But he shoved me again. Pushing me back a few steps. "Let's NOT forget about this! First you spill shit on me, then you mouth off, and now you're whipping fucking quarters at me? Are you LOOKING to get your head bashed in?" The whole thing was so surreal, and the fear of getting hurt even worse had paralyzed me. It was so embarrassing, having everyone stare at me while this jerk pushed me around and bullied me like I was some toddler. I didn't know if I was more hurt or angry. All I knew was that I didn't want to be a part of it anymore. "Let's GO! You and me! You wanna be a big man and all, then c'mon! Take a swing at me, faggot!"

"Dude..I don't even know you..." But he pushed me again, harder this time.

"You think I give a fuck? Let's do this! Come on!" He shouted. What the hell was Cyrus thinking? Why the hell did he DO this to me??? "COME ON!!!" He shouted again.

"I don't wanna fight you!" I said, trying to save some face. But there was no way of doing that now. Everbody knew. Everybody was watching. And I could practically feel them all calling me a pussy behind my back, mentally whispering it between each other.

"You don't wanna fight me, huh? Then why'd you DO that? Huh? HUH???" He gave me another shove, staring me down with an intensity. "You don't wanna fight?" His hand reached out, and smacked me hard across the face! Enough to make my hair fly up! "How about NOW, huh? You wanna fight now? Fucking sissy!" He smacked me again, and I backed away from him. Dammit to hell...I backed away from him. Holding my face, almost feeling these involuntary tears rushing to the surface. It was a weakness that only seemed to increase the silence of the masses surrounding us. Waiting for me to fall, waiting for me to cry. Waiting for me to get my ASS kicked and not doing a damn thing to help me.

Did I consider taking that swing at him? Of COURSE I did! I wanted to tighten my fist and swing for all I was worth. The rage I felt inside over being embarassed like this was burning red hot! I wanted to KILL him! But this isn't some action flick at the local cinema. Once I take that swing, chances are the fight won't be over until I'm seriously hurt. He's BIGGER than me! Older! Stronger! Taller! Tougher! There's no WAY I can win! I knew that, and he knew that. So...I backed down. Again, I said nothing. I just held my cheek, trying not to let a single tear drop from my watery eyes, and kept my mouth shut.

He held up his fist in a jerky motion, and I flinched like a little girl! But he didn't hit me. In fact, I heard one of the friends that he was talking to say, "C'mon, Quinn....leave the little kid alone. You made your point, ok?" He was the only person to say anything. And needing this stranger to come to my 'rescue', only made the humiliation worse.

Quinn, as I now knew him, put his fist down. "This is strike TWO for you, junior! One more, and I'm putting you down HARD! You got it?" He said, and gave me another hard push to the ground before turning around to leave. His friends followed behind him, and it was then that I saw the other kids start to slowly turn to leave too. As I got up off the ground and brushed myself off, I watched them switch off anything that could be considered compassion for a whimp like me. I could see it in their eyes...this sense of pity, mixed with the acidic taste of shame. They all went back to their precious 'party', and I guess I got off lucky, considering what could've happened to me. But when I saw Kyla and Jack sort of look at me concerned for a moment....only to turn their back as well and walk quietly to their corner of the beach again...I knew that she must have thought I was some kind of total loser.

I don't think I had ever felt so low.

"Another honorable sacrifice. Bravo. You should have told him it was me." Cyrus said over my shoulder. "Don't worry. You'll get him next time." And he actually had the nerve to throw a friendly arm around me.

I shoved him off immediately and stared him dead in the face. "FUCK YOU!" I said, and angrily walked away from him.

I didn't look back, but could hear him behind me saying, "You'll learn, Tiger. You'll learn."

But I only gave him a raised middle finger in response as I walked off of the beach. After my meek and sheepish display, I couldn't bear to look anyone in the face as I hurried towards the bottom of the cliff. I doubt I'd ever be able to look at them ever again. It hurt, deep down inside, it really really hurt. It's not that I'm just some twerp with no backbone. If I was his size it would have been a fair fight. He was BULLYING me for Christ's sake! I HAD to back down! They would have done the same thing, wouldn't they? I mean...it doesn't make me a sissy to want to keep living until my next birthday, does it? I was flustered and hurt and quickly trying to find a way out of there before someone could see my face. After this, I wondered if I'd even be able to come BACK to this place again without people laughing at me. He really did make a bitch out of me...in front of what felt like the whole world. At 14 years old, reputation is life. If one goes sour, how can the other have any meaning at all?

I sat down on the ground, in a dark corner of the beach, as far away from everyone else as I could get. And I just sat there. For almost an hour, I didn't talk to anybody, I didn't look at anybody....just sat. That's pretty much how long it took me to calm down and go from enraged with anger to pouting and self pity. I hardly even looked up from the ground, for fear of someone catching a glimpse of me and laughing in my face. I don't belong here anyway. Fuck them. Fuck them all. ESPECIALLY those fucking basket cases of Cyrus' little goof troop! I KNEW I shouldn't have gone over there. Something about him just rubs me the wrong way. I should have left the whole damn thing alone. But nooooo, I had to be curious. I guess that's what I get for being an idiot.

While I was sitting there sulking, using my finger to draw small circles in the sand, I noticed the sound of very light footsteps approaching. I looked up, and Kristin was standing in front of me. "It doesn't matter, you know?" She said, the softest sexual haze in her voice.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"The fight. It doesn't matter. Cyrus still sees great things in you."

I frowned. "You can tell Cyrus he can shove 'great things' right up his ass."

But it only got a girlish giggle from her. "He wasn't trying to hurt you, Wesley. He was trying to get you to let go."

"What the hell does that MEAN??? What the fuck kinda drugs are you people ON, anyway?" I shouted, ready to get up and leave.

"You could have hit him, you know?" She said, never once losing her calm. "That's all Cyrus was waiting for. But you decided to hold back instead. You keep holding back, and he can sense it. That's the barrier he wants you to cross."

"That guy would have KILLED me!"

"No...he wouldn't have. We wouldn't have let him." She said. "We stick together. Once you're family...you're family for life. And I think Cyrus has taking quite a liking to you, Wesley."

"Whatever. Like Cyrus was actually going to suddenly jump in and save me?"

"Not just Cyrus.......all of us." She stepped closer to me, and I stood up from the ground, brushing myself off a bit. "He won't let any harm come to one of his own. He won't allow it. That's his promise. If you...'accept' his invitation, you'll have all the protection you'll ever need." She stepped closer. "Not that you'll need it."

"He doesn't know me. He doesn't know anything 'about' me." She got even closer, and I could see a spark in the electric blue tint of her eyes. It was closer than most people stand when they're talking. Any closer and our lips would be touching. It made me a bit nervous. "I just...I don't understand. Why me?"

She used her fingertips to lightly trace an invisible trail up my arm, all the way up to the nape of my neck. Then she let it dangle as it hooked onto my shirt collar. "I don't know really. I didn't ask. But I suppose he sees something very...special in you." Her fingers let go of my collar, and slid slowly down my chest, over my stomach, my navel, and now hooking themselves to the waistline of my pants. "Something appealing that attracts him to you." She gave my pants a gentle tug. "Outside of the obvious, of course."

All sorts of bells and whistles went off inside my head, and I started trembling as my body betrayed me and started to stiffen up with her touch. There was something so seductive about her forwardness. Her fearlessness. The softness of her touch was enough to excite me physically, while my mind went searching for a polite way to put sme distance between her and I. "Uhhh....ok." She moaned softly, and I got lost in her eyes for a moment before pulling away. "What...what are you doing."

"I thought we were talking." She said.


"'but...but...' hehehe. Adorable." She said, mocking me, but not backing up a single inch. "Do you...wanna come down to the beach with me. Just for a while." She said, her eyes focused more on her hands at my waist then at my face. "We can 'talk' even more by the lake, if you want to."

"Um....er..." I couldn't find the words to say no. I didn't WANT to find the words to say yes. I was stuck, stalling like an old beat up car on its last legs.

But she looked back up at me, and her eyes held me still again. They were so blue that they seemed to glow in the dark from certain angles. "You don't have to hold back this time, Wes. I'm inviting you." She smiled. "All you have to do is say yes."

Just then, I heard a noise from the another corner of the beach, and I saw Kyla rushing over to throw up behind a rock. I could tell she was too wasted to even stand up really, but seemed mostly concerned with just holding her hair back as she lost every last bit of that tasteless lunch from the camp mess hall. It might sound like an awful thought...but I couldn't have been more relieved that she decided to vomit at that particular moment in time.

"You know...I...I should go see what's up. My friend, Kyla...she's had a bit much to drink, you know?" Saved! Thank God!

Kristin, instead of her usual smile, gave me somewhat of a 'tilted' look. Almost as if she was surprised that I could possibly put anything else over her offer to...um...'talk'. But then she simply responded with, "Go ahead. But if you change your mind, come see me." And she unhooked her fingers from my belt, and let them accidently brush across the front of my pants. She walked away at that point, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I wanted to high tail it out of there as fast as my feet could carry me. I don't think I've ever been happier to see someone have an 'out-of-stomach' experience.

I kept away from the center of the party as I walked over to Kyla and the rest. I didn't want to be seen really. Not at all. Still, my sense of 'duty' was calling and I needed to make sure she was alright. As I walked by though, I couldn't help but notice that Cyrus had taken his position again in front of the bonfire....and Kristin was standing there with him. They were talking, and both looked in my direction at once. I did my best to ignore them, but my mind was reeling with a bunch of confusing thoughts, and I kept looking at them as though they had the answers written on the palms of their hands. Before catching up to my friends, I saw a smile spread out on Cyrus' face again, almost as if in slow motion. Did he...did he 'know' about me?

When I got to the other corner of Rainbow's End, Kyla was still bent over behind the rock, with Jack a few steps behind. The others had evidently scattered out a bit once she started throwing up. I don't think they were coming back anytime soon either. When I put a hand on her back to soothe her, she was spitting out the last of it, it looked like. "Are you ok, Kyla?" She didn't say much, she just nodded lightly, hoping that no more heaves would take her over. "You sure? You don't look so good."

"It's ok, kid." Jack said, putting her arm over his shoulder. "I'm gonna take her home and put her to bed. I know a back way where I can sneak her in under the basement of her house so her parents won't see." I looked at him sideways. "Yes...we've done this before. Believe me." He grinned. And once he was sure she was 'safe' to touch, he began to move her.

"Be careful, ok? Take care, Kyla. Get some sleep." I said, and she stopped Jack from walking for a second to talk to me.

She sounded soooo tired. "Wesley..."


"I'm sorry about what happened. With you and Quinn. Don't let it get you down, ok? It wasn't your fault. He's an asshole." And with that, her eyes closed, and Jack started walking with her again before he ended up carrying her home over his shoulder. That short drunken display of sentiment...made me feel soooo much beter. Not entirely, mind you. But a lot better than I WAS feeling. It lifted my spirits just enough to give her a half smile as she was dragged away. I just hope she'll be safe.

"Personally...I think you could have taken him." When I turned around, Sebastian was standing behind me with a plastic cup of juice. His slim frame was curved so sweetly as he leaned against the side of the cliff next to me. Damn...that boy was beautiful enough to steal your breath right out of you if you let your eyes linger on him for too long. His soft brown hair was blowing gently with whatever small gale of wind it was that came off of the lake, and his brown eyes were shining even more brightly than before. His skin...so smooth, just off white enough to give it the look of creamy cake batter. Finely whipped to perfection. I gasped, and it took me a minute to reply.

"Hi..." I said.

"You shouldn't combat your feelings like that. It's a bad habit to suffocate your natural instincts."

I knew he had seen it too, and being humiliated in front of HIM just made it worse. My feelings dropped right back down to absolute zero all over again. "What do 'you' know about it?" I pouted.

"I know you wanted to hit him." He stood up and walked over to me. Tapping me lightly on the jaw with his fist. "Next time...just take the swing. Most of those guys are all talk. They're big, they're strong, they're surrounded by fifty of their friends...they never had to fight, not a day in their life. Most of them don't even know how. You put them in a situation where you're not willing to back down, and they crumble."

"Yeah, well I wasn't looking forward to chancing that theory tonight." I said. Honestly, Sebastian, even when he was being somewhat talkative, was hard to speak to. I couldn't quite understand it, but my body was completely in love with him. Like...in LOVE! Without my heart or my head's consent. And it was driving me crazy just to hear him say words in my direction. "I mean, look at him, and then look at me. There's positively NO way I could have beat him up."

"Nonsense." He said. "As long as a man has eyes, a throat, a breadbasket, and a sensitive pair of nuts between his legs...he can be beaten. Nobody's invinceable."

Sebastian leaned back against the cliff again, with one foot propped up behind him and his thumbs hanging from the two front pockets of his snug fitted jeans. It was one of the most gorgeous poses you could imagne. Everytime he stood still, it was like a model's photo. Everytime he moved, it was like music for the soul. It was as if he was making love to me just by standing there and acknowledging that I existed in his field of vision. "You don't look like you're having much fun here tonight." I said, seeing the emotionless, yet sensual, look on his face.

"I suppose I should be drinking and carrying on, like the rest of them?"

"No. I didn't mean it like that. It's just...if you're not having any fun, then why come back here?"

"Are you having fun here tonight, Wesley?" He asked.

"No. No, I guess I'm not."

"Then why are you here?"

"Shit, I don't know. I suppose because it's better than doing nothing at all."

"Bingo." He said, lifting himself from the wall. He started to walk away from me, and I wasn't sure if this was the end of our conversation, or if he was coming back, or what. All I knew was, I was too infatuated not to follow. I hesitatd for a second or two, trying not to look too anxious...and then carefully monitored a speed that would allow me to catch up to him. I ended up walking side by side with him along the side of the cliff, and although he was being quiet, it didn't feel uncomfortable. In fact, I kinda enjoyed the silence. He looked over at me after a few moments, and he said, "I know we must seem pretty weird to you. My friends and I."

"What? You guys? Psh! No, not..." He looked me in the eye, silently telling me to be honest. "..well...yeah, I guess. Just a little bit."

"It's not such a bad thing, you know. In fact, it can sometimes be a very good thing."

"To have everybody else think you're weird?" I scoffed. But he stopped, a serious tone in his voice.

"To have the courage to be true to your own heart, despite the fact that it may make you different from everyone else." It wasn't often that Sebastian let any hint of emotion cross his face. But a glimpse of it flashed by when he said that, and vanished just as quickly. "Fuck what everybody else thinks."

He started to walk again, and I followed at his side. "I guess I can see your point."

"Perhaps. But I'm willing to bet that you can't see it fully. Not like we do." He poured out the rest of his juice on the ground, and walked over to the drink table. He then scooped a cup full of ice out of the cooler. No liquor, just ice, and then turned to face me as he took a cube out with his fingers and slid it in between his moist lips. I watched him suck on the cube for a few seconds, before directing my gaze back up to his eyes. "I heard you and Cyrus had a bit of a conflict tonight." He said, switching the ice cube from side to side in his mouth, the heat of his soft cheeks slowly melting it back to its original form. I was nearly short of breath.

"It wasn't a 'conflict'. He tried to get me beaten up and I told him to fuck off." I said, still angry, but now wishing that certain parts of me could be that ice cube.

"Hmmm...I see." He said. Then there was a short silence while he sucked harder on the ice and swallowed the water runoff in his mouth. "Is that a part of the reason why you're not having any fun tonight."

"Yeah." I said, hoping that I could mentally keep my erection down and out of sight.

Then, just as I was getting more and more into watching his mouth manipulate that piece of ice, my eyes so fixated on it that I was almost forced to lean forward...he suddenly CRUNCHED down on it with his teeth! It snapped me back to being awake, and he smiled at my surprise, chewing the rest up into pieces and swallowing it down. I giggled a little bit, blushing a bright red, because I knew he had caught me red handed. "You wanna know something?" He asked.


"You may need some work...maybe even a lot of work...but Cyrus was right. You are a rare find, indeed."

My smile faded a bit. "Here we go again..." I mumbled.

"What's wrong?"

"Why do you guys keep doing this? Why are you making me feel like I'm going up for a 'job interview' or something?"

Sebastian actually gave me a partially flirtatious smile, and all sense of reason and logic went right out the window. "I was just saying...there's definitely something about you that I like." He looked at me closely and I froze up, a deeper blush appearing on my cheeks. "Don't hide your blush. It's beautiful. I have a weakness for blushes." He said, almost in a whisper. That was it. That was all it took. My body was panting and drooling all over him and my heart was quickly being dragged along for the ride.

"Really?" I giggled, trying to keep my composure somewhat.

"Yes. Really." He said seriously. And he raised his hand to place it softly against my cheek. I shuddered from the contact. God...his skin was so erotically smooth, so warm, like baby skin. And then he reached into his cup to take out another ice cube, reaching out to rub it against my lips as I closed my eyes. I opened my mouth and let it slide in, along with his index finger...which got a long suck on its way out. I was in ecstacy. I had never done anything like this before, and yet, it seemed as though it came so natural. As if every wet dream I had ever had was a simulation built to prepare me for this very moment. When I opened my eyes, Sebastian was looking back at me with this sense of satisfaction. Here I was, out here where everyone could see me, sucking this cute boy's fingers...and I was too far gone to care. "Do you wanna....go for a walk? In the woods, maybe? Up at the top of the cliff." He asked, and his brown eyes were causing me to MELT right there in front of him.

"Um...sure. Yeah. I'm cool with that." My whole BODY was quaking! Almost out of control. I could hardly walk. My erection started to swell and tighten beyond my ability to stop it, or even slow it down. I didn't know what to DO with myself. I was so....confused. But I'll be DAMNED if I pass up an opportunity like THIS!

"Cool. Come on. This way." He said, and he gently took a hold of my hand to follow behind him. I can remember being so conflicted. Feeling this boy tugging gently at my hand, walking across a beach full of teenagers, getting ready to do...God KNOWS what! I almost wanted to break the whole 'hand holding' thing because my instincts had never allowed me to engage in any kind of public 'gay' behavior before. I was always so careful, always so cautious. And now, I was about to throw it all away. But...damn, if this boy wasn't worth it. Walking behind him, hoping everyone wasn't staring at us, I looked down at his ass, the ripe cheeks flexing with each step. Deliciously full round bubbles that I wanted to reach out and grab. Hopefully he'll let me do that and a whole lot more. Omigod...I was literally skipping at this point. It never felt soooo good to be this nervous.

Then, it happened. As he led me back to the path and we were climbing our way back up the steep incline to reach the top of the cliff, I looked back down at the beach. And at the bottom...the rest of Sebastian's 'clan' was congregatng around a single spot. Right next to Cyrus. They all took their places at his side, and looked back up at me from the center of Rainbow's End...as their leader sent a wicked smile up in my direction. I stopped for a moment, but Sebastian squeezed my hand a little tighter. "C'mon. We're almost there." His soft alluring features were causing me to ache inside, anxious to see where he was leading me, and for what purpose. But my senses were cautioning me against it. Looking back down, I saw Cyrus give me a nod. And again I wondered....did he know? He was 'testing' me, wasn't he? He SENT Kristin to come 'talk' to me...and when I showed no interest, he sent something that he thought would be more to my liking. It was like baiting an emotional trap that he had set up for me. That he had BEEN setting up for me since the first words we spoke to one another. And I fell right into it. "Just a bit further." Sebastian tenderly pulled my hand to his lips, and gave it a tender kiss. It was so....sweet in its delivery. And trap or no trap...I was going with him.