Skylar stopped at the corner, looked around, and stepped into the alley. He fidgeted with the straps on his backpack and cursed the man for being late. Where was this guy? Skylar glanced at his watch, seven-thirty. Sky was on time; the guy was not. Finally, the man entered the alley and walked over to Skylar.
“Hey, kid, sorry I’m late. You got the money?”
“Yeah. Right here.” Sky showed the man a bundle of cash. “You got what I asked for?”
The man pulled something out of the pocket of his hoodie. They exchanged the money for the merchandise. “Kid, don’t do anything stupid. I don’t want to regret my decision to sell to you.”
Skylar scowled. “Give me a break, dude. You know you don’t care what I do. You have your money, don’t worry about anything else.”
“Whatever, kid.” The man turned and left.
Skylar shoved the bundle into the bottom of his backpack and walked the rest of the way to school.
Jack sat in the back of the classroom and watched as the new kid, Skylar, arrived not ten seconds before the last bell rang. He also watched as, once again, Nate tripped the kid, sending him sprawling down the aisle between the desks. Idiot. Bullies are such cowards, and the people that laugh and do nothing are just as bad. Jack decided that the time to act was coming soon, maybe even today.
Skylar got up off the floor and quickly sat down. He blushed furiously when almost everyone in the class laughed. Sky held his backpack in his lap and caressed the outline of his new purchase. He was tired of being the target of bullies. If no one was going to help him, then he needed to help himself. Skylar decided that the time to act was coming soon, maybe even today.
Jack was in the cafeteria, eating his lunch. He saw Skylar walking across the room, tray in hand, looking for a place to sit down. He was about to call out for Skylar when he noticed Nate walking quickly, angling straight for the boy. Jack decided that the time to act was now. He got up so fast that his chair fell over and rushed towards the other two boys.
Skylar was walking through the cafeteria just trying to find a quiet place to sit down. The next thing he knew, his lunch tray flipped up, spraying the food all over him. He looked up just in time to see Nate’s fist connect with the side of his head, knocking him down. Tears of pain and rage welled up in Sky’s eyes. He didn’t even hear what Nate was yelling at him. Unthinkingly, his hands unzipped his backpack, and he reached inside. His hand reached the bundle that he put there this morning, and he began unwrapping the cloth from around it.
Jack reached the other two just as Nate knocked Skylar to the floor. He crouched down next to Skylar. “Hey, you ok? You want me to call a teacher or the nurse?” He rested a hand on Skylar’s shoulder. “First let me get rid of this idiot.” Jack gave Skylar a reassuring smile.
Skylar was unsure what to do. No one had ever helped him before. He decided to let go of the item he was holding and see what happened. He zipped his backpack securely closed again.
Jack stood up in between Skylar and Nate. “Nate, what is your problem anyway? Are you so insecure with yourself that you have to pick on other people? Grow up.”
“Shut up and stay out of this, Jack. This is between me and the little fairy.” Nate said with a sneer on his face.
“Fairy? Name calling now, Nate? What is this? Third grade? Your bullying of him and of everyone else for that matter ends today. Unless you want to try and bully me.” Jack’s track teammates had started to gather around the boys.
“What are you a fairy, too, Jack? Sucking dick in the locker room after school?”
“Whether I am or whether I’m not, that isn’t what this is about. It’s about you trying to target someone who you think you can get away with bullying. That stops now. You can stop on your own, or I can stop you. Your choice. I almost hope you want me to stop you.”
“You know what? Screw you. Screw all of you. I’m outta here.” Nate turned and stormed off.
Jack turned and saw his friends gathered in, watching. “You guys can go finish lunch. Thanks for having my back, but I can handle jerks like Nate.” After the crowd dispersed, he knelt next to Skylar. “Hey. He hit you pretty hard. You want me to walk you to the nurse?”
“No. I’m ok. Why did you do that? No one has ever helped me before. I didn’t think anyone even cared. Usually, everyone just laughs at him.” Tears streaked down Skylar’s face, though he tried his best to make them stop.
“Hey. Stop that.” Jack reached over and brushed away Sky’s tears. “Let’s go somewhere more private.” They walked out of the cafeteria and into an empty classroom. “Skylar, I’m so sorry I never stepped in sooner. I never laughed. I… I don’t know. I should have said something to a teacher or did something sooner. I’m so sorry.”
Skylar looked up at him through fresh tears. “I’m surprised you even know my name. I loved my old school, but I hate it so much here. No one even talks to me.”
“Well, that’s gonna change, starting right now.” Jack put an arm around Skylar’s shoulders. “You’re under my protection.” They both grinned. “By the way, don’t you have a study hall with Mrs. Jamison next period?”
“Ditch it. Come to art class with me. I’ll have Mr. Jenkins call her and tell her he said it’s ok. I’ve seen the drawings in your notebook. You need to show them to Mr. Jenkins. You belong in art more than I do!”
“You’ve seen my doodles? I didn’t think anyone even knew I existed in this school. I’m not really that good, but I’ll come to class with you.”
“Good. Come on. Let’s go.” The two boys headed down the hall towards the art room.
The last bell rang, and all the kids ran out to either catch a bus or walk home. Skylar looked around for Jack, not seeing him, he started walking home. He was just crossing the Stormy Brook Bridge when he heard Jack yelling from behind him. “Skylar! Hey! Wait up!”
“Hey, Jack. I thought maybe you took a bus. I don’t even know where you live. I forgot to ask you which way you went home before we left art class.”
“I live on Mitchell Drive. What about you?”
“Only two streets further. Monument Street.”
“I guess we get to walk home together then.” Jack nudged Sky’s shoulder with his own.
“Jack, I need to tell you something. I know we just started talking, and we don’t really know each other very well yet, but I need to tell you this. You have to swear to me that won’t tell anyone. Not your parents, not my parents, not the police, no one! Promise me!” Skylar said, leaning against the railing of the bridge, with tears forming in his eyes.
Jack grabbed both of Sky’s hands and held them in his own. “I promise. Whatever it is, I promise. You can tell me anything, Sky.”
“I bought something this morning. It’s in my backpack. I bought it because of Nate and all the people who laugh instead of stopping him from hurting me. In the cafeteria today, I had my hand in my backpack. I had it in my hand. I was going to use it. Then, like a miracle, you showed up. I don’t know why you picked that moment to show up and help me, but if you hadn’t, I would have used it.” Skylar had slid down the railing. His head was resting on his knees, his arms wrapped around his knees, sobbing uncontrollably.
Jack knelt and wrapped Skylar in his arms. “Shh, stop crying. I’m glad you told me this, and I’m glad I was there today. If that had happened, I never would have gotten a chance to meet you and talk to you. I’m sorry I didn’t get involved sooner, Sky. I’m sorry you felt so alone, but I’m here now, and I’m not going anywhere. I never want you to feel alone ever again.” He took Sky’s face in his hands and made him look at him. “If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, what do you plan on doing with it now? Are you going to keep it?”
Skylar stood up and set his backpack on the railing. He fished the bundle out and held it in his hand. Sky looked from item in his hands to Jack and back to the bundle again. He slowly unwrapped the cloth revealing the gun that he had been carrying around all day at school. He reached over the railing and dropped the gun into the river below. He smiled as relief flooded over him. “It actually feels like a giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders today. Jack, what you did for me means more than you can ever know. I’m happy for the first time since I moved here.” Skylar’s smile lit up his whole face, his bright blue eyes twinkling as he looked at Jack.
“I’m so glad you dumped that gun. If you hadn’t, I might not have done this.” Jack leaned in and kissed Skylar. Shocked, Skylar pulled back at first.
“Oh, my God. I’m sorry. I’m such an idiot. I thought you …. Oh my god….” Tears of embarrassment filled Jack’s eyes.
“Hey… hey stop. You were right. I do. You just surprised me.” Skylar grabbed the front of Jack’s shirt and pulled him close for their first real kiss.
Jack grinned from ear to ear. “For a minute I thought you were straight, and I’d ruined things already.”
“Hell no. How can I be straight when I’m around hot guys like you?” Sky teased.
Jack rolled his eyes. “I’ve created a monster.” They both laughed and continued their walk home.
Charlie’s hand pulled away from Leo as fast as if his skin was on fire. He spun around and said, “Mom! You’re back! This is Leo. Another boy beat him up down on the beach. I brought him here to see if we could help him. You weren’t here, so I was doing the best I could to help on my own.” Charlie was talking so fast it was almost as if he didn’t want to give his mother a chance to respond.
“He’ll be lucky if you didn’t do more harm than good.” Mrs. Davis shook her head. “Move aside, boy. Let me look.” She sat on the ottoman and began examining Leo’s injuries. She looked back at her son. “Well, don’t just stand there. Go get me two ice packs and my nursing bag.”
Mrs. Davis looked intently at Leo. “Leo, is it?”
“Yes, ma’am. Sorry for the intrusion. If you hand me my shirt, I can leave if you’d like. I am feeling better already. I don’t need the hospital. I’m sure of it and don’t bother calling my parents. They’re not home anyway.” Leo blushed and looked down under the intense gaze of the older woman.
“Nonsense. And my name is Helen, not ma’am. But I would like you to tell me why you do not want proper medical attention. And why you don’t want me to call your parents. Are you in trouble, son?” Helen stared at Leo with a look of concern.
“I told you. My parents are at work. And I don’t need a doctor. I’m ok.” Leo said.
Helen waved her hand at Leo. “I know when a teenage boy is lying to me. I have two of my own, and countless others have come through my emergency rooms. If you don’t want to tell me, just say so. Don’t lie to me.” Helen said, glaring up at Leo.
Leo was about to tell Mrs. Davis about the fight when Charlie came rushing back into the room. He stepped in between Leo and his mother and handed the nursing bag to his mom and set the two ice packs on the couch next to Leo. With his mom’s attention distracted, looking for her supplies, Charlie caught Leo’s eye. With a pleading look, almost on the verge of tears, he mouthed the words, “Please don’t tell her that you’re gay!”
Leo grimaced but nodded. Charlie sighed with relief. Mrs. Davis looked up from the nursing bag. “So, Leo, did you want to tell me what happened?”
“Yeah, um well, it was just a guy from school. We’ve been in fights before, and my dad would be mad if I got in another fight. Please don’t tell him.” Leo did his best to look as sad and pathetic as possible, so Reese’s mother would take pity on him. It worked.
“Ok. I won’t call your parents, but your dad is right. You shouldn’t be getting into fights.” While they were talking, Mrs. Davis wrapped Leo’s ankle in an ace bandage, applied the cream to his ribs and back, and had Leo hold an icepack over his eye. “How are you going to explain your injuries to your parents without telling them you were in a fight?” asked Mrs. Davis.
“I’ll come up with something before I get home. Thank you for not telling my parents, Mrs. Davis.” Leo reached over and grabbed his t-shirt from the couch.
“Here, you can keep this tube of ointment. It will help with the bruising on your ribs and back. You can put some on your face if that turns black and blue as well.” She handed Leo a tube of ointment, a couple of pills, and a glass of water. “Some Tylenol for the pain. Do you have some at home?”
“I’m sure we do. Thanks again. For everything.” Leo slipped his shirt back over his head, wincing with pain. He gritted his teeth and stood up. Seemingly out of nowhere, Charlie appeared by his side. Leo felt Charlie’s hand on the small of his back, supporting him as he attempted to put weight on his sprained ankle.
“You ok to walk?” Charlie asked him.
“Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better. I’ll have a bit of a limp for a few days, but I’m ok. Thanks for everything. I need to head for home now.” Leo starting walking towards the door.
Charlie followed Leo then he turned back towards his mother. “Mum, is it ok if I walk Leo back to his house. Just to make sure that he can walk and that that boy doesn’t come after him again?” Charlie looked uncertainly at his mum.
Helen thought for a moment and then said, “Yes. Walk him home, but then come right back. If that boy is a problem again, call the police this time no matter what Leo wants. Understand?”
“Yes, mum. Got it. Thanks!” Charlie ran out the door to meet back up with Leo.
The two boys started back down towards the beach. When they were away from the cabin, Charlie looked over at Leo. “Hey, Leo. I’m sorry I had you lie to my mum. She’s old school about the whole gay thing, and I didn’t want there to be a problem, at least until she finished helping you. I hope you’re not mad at me for asking you to lie.”
Leo leaned against Charlie’s shoulder for support as they walked. “No. I’m not mad at all. I understand. Most of the time, I wish I hadn’t told my dad about me either. My life would be a lot easier if he didn’t know. Overall, I’m glad I told him. It’s easier not having to lie even though I have to deal with a lot of shit sometimes. I understand, Charlie. I’m not even mad a little.” Leo looked over at Charlie and smiled. Charlie smiled back, and the two boys continued walking down the beach towards Leo’s house.
Charlie wasn’t sure how much further they were going to have to walk when Leo motioned for him to turn towards the right. They walked past a couple of picnic tables and across a grassy area to a fence at the edge of the beach. “This is it. I live right over there.” Leo pointed at a house across the street. “Will I ever see you again?” Leo asked, looking directly into Charlie’s eyes.
“I sure hope so. We’ve rented that cabin until the end of the week. What are you doing tomorrow?” Charlie replied with a grin. “I’d love to hang out sometime when I’m not saving you from a maniac.”
“School starts tomorrow. I could meet up with you after if you want.”
“What year of school are you in?”
“I start my senior year of high school tomorrow. You said that you just graduated, right?”
“Yep! I’m so glad that I’m able to finally focus on what I want to do rather than what the school wants me to do! I would have guessed you for a college boy, too. You look about the same age as me. I’ll be nineteen next month.”
“I’ll be eighteen in two weeks, so not that far behind you. Anyway, I need to get home before my brother sends out a search party. Should I look for you after school tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure what my mom has planned. Give me your number, and I’ll text you when I know our plans,” Charlie said.
Leo took Charlie’s phone and put in his contact information. When he handed it back, he leaned in and gave a very surprised Charlie a quick kiss on the cheek. Leo grinned at a speechless Charlie, then turned and jumped the fence and walked home without looking back.
The kiss shocked Charlie. Leo kissed him! It was just a kiss on the cheek, but still, it meant that he probably liked him! Leo flirted the whole time, but the kiss was still a surprise. Charlie’s grin nearly split his face in two as he turned and retraced his steps back to the cabin by the lighthouse.
Leo made his way across the street and into his house, where he found his brother Kam sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the door. As soon as Leo was in the house, Kam was on his feet, asking his brother question after question. “What took you so long? Are you alright? Hey, what happened to your face?”
“Kam! Stop with the questions, let’s go to my room, and we can talk there.” Leo said as he led his brother up the stairs and into his bedroom. Leo sat at his desk and motioned for Kam to sit on the bed. “I’ll tell you everything that happened, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, Kam. Not anyone! Understand?”
“Yeah. Of course. Like always. We always keep each other’s secrets and watch each other’s backs. We’re brothers.” Kam held his fist out to his brother. Leo complied, and they bumped fists and grinned silly grins.
“Ok. Well, here it goes.” Leo proceeded to tell Kam about everything that happened from the time they split up until Leo was back in the house. Kam listened without once interrupting. When Leo finished, Kam gave out a low whistle.
“Wow, bro. You had a busy morning after I left.” Kam said.
“Yeah, I know, right! Scary. Awful. Amazing. Confusing. I don’t know what to feel right now!” Leo ran his fingers through his hair and slumped back into his chair.
Kam scowled, then looked at his brother. “First, we have to worry about dad and what he’s going to say about your bruises. If you tell him that it was about Jasper, he’ll flip out.”
“Hmm. Hey! I’ll tell him I went for a swim after our run and a surfboard clipped me. I’d rather he thought that I was an idiot and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings than deal with him going off about Jazz again.”
“That might work for dad, but Jasper and Matt will have to be dealt with eventually. Now, what about this boy, Charlie? Do you think you’ll see him again? Should you even bother? You said he’s a tourist just here until the end of the week.” Kam stared intently at his brother, waiting for answers.
“He’s super-hot! That hair and those eyes. Mm-hm. I sure hope I see him again. I gave him my number and asked him to text me tomorrow when he knows what his plans are. Yes, I know he’s a tourist, but he makes me smile. I haven’t smiled because of a boy in a long time, Kam.” Leo said with a grin. “Plus, there’s just something about him. I can’t even explain it. The connection was immediate and strong. Maybe it was him saving me from Matt, but I looked up into those dark brown eyes, and my heart skipped a beat. In that one moment, I felt more for him than I ever felt in eight months with Jazz. So, yes. Yes, I plan to see him again. I hope he feels the same way! Who knows what can happen in a week? Maybe he’ll stay!” Leo spun the chair around and was leaning against the back of the chair, looking at his brother.
“You just met him, and he’s a tourist. Enjoy the week, but be careful. I’ll reheat breakfast. Mom, dad, and Allison all went to the mall for last-minute school shopping. Mom said she’d take you and me later today.” Kam disappeared down the hall, and Leo gathered some clean clothes and headed towards the bathroom to shower.
After Leo’s shower, he took a good long look at himself in the mirror. The bruises looked terrible, but he could move without too much pain. Nothing felt broken, Mrs. Davis was probably right about that. He had Charlie to thank. Matt probably would have done even more damage if Charlie hadn’t been there to stop him. Leo quickly shook thoughts of Charlie out of his head before he became distracted, and his food got cold a second time. He finished in the bathroom and went downstairs to join his brother for breakfast.
After breakfast, the two boys went into the living room and played some Xbox. After killing each other a couple dozen times in Call of Duty, they turned the game off. Leo started channel surfing, and Kam took out his phone and started texting. Soon, their family returned home from the mall, and Leo and Kam left with their mom. Once at the mall, their mom gave Kam explicit instructions on what she expected him to buy but just handed Leo some money. They each went their separate ways to find what they needed.
Leo nearly finished his shopping, thoughts of the upcoming school year clouding his mind. Thoughts of dealing with Jasper, thoughts of Charlie, all these thoughts ran through his head. His vision started spinning, and he felt himself begin to sweat. He leaned heavily onto the checkout counter.
“Sir? Are you ok? Sir?” The cashier spoke to Leo and grabbed his arm as she saw him start to lean forward. To Leo, the entire store began to spin and go dark. He lost his grip on the counter and fell to the floor. He felt hands grab him, but the voices around him sounded far away, and everything was dark.
Leo felt something cold and damp against his forehead, and he faintly heard someone saying his name and talking to him. He opened his eyes, and things weren’t so dark, and the spinning had slowed down. He closed his eyes again, leaned back against the counter, and listened to the voice that was talking to him. The voice sounded familiar. Leo opened his eyes again. The spinning stopped. He blinked. The first things he saw were the EMT uniform and the stretcher. Leo groaned. He did not want to end up at the hospital. Leo wasn’t ready to tell his mom that the dizzy spells were back. He looked up, and when he saw the face of the EMT, he smiled. It was Kyle, the same EMT who had saved his life six years ago.
“Hey, Kyle. Fancy meeting you here. I sure hope you’re not planning on putting me on that thing.” Leo pointed at the stretcher.
“Hi, Leo. It has been a long time. Which is good, considering my line of work.” Kyle reached over and removed the cold rag from Leo’s forehead. “How are you feeling? What happened?”
“Kyle, can we move over to the bench out of the store?” Leo started to push himself up off the floor.
Kyle helped Leo to his feet and held onto his arm as they paid for Leo’s purchases and then walked out to the bench and sat down. “So, what happened, Leo? The cashier told me that it looked like you got dizzy and passed out.”
Leo looked down, then looked back at Kyle. “I think it was just a bad anxiety attack. There’s been a lot on my mind lately. But I’ll be candid with you, Kyle. I’ve had a few dizzy spells and headaches. At least a couple a week. I’m a little worried.”
“Do you want me to take you to the hospital right now, Leo? With your history, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It might just be anxiety, but it might be something more.” As he talked, Kyle took Leo’s blood pressure and pulse readings. “All your vitals look good, but I am more than happy to load you into the ambulance and take you to the hospital. Is your mom here in the mall?”
“Yeah. Mom and Kam are both here. I appreciate you looking after me again, Kyle, but I don’t want to go to the hospital. If the dizzy spells continue, I promise to tell mom. I promise. I really do think it’s just the anxiety.” Leo told Kyle all that had been going on in his life. The breakup with Jasper, the fight with Matt, meeting Charlie, worries about school, everything.
“Wow. That is a lot. It could be the anxiety, but I’ll hold you to that promise about telling your mom if you get dizzy again. You know better than anyone how important this is. You can’t mess around when it comes to brain injuries. Don’t make me sic Doc Danny on you! Anyway, if you’re sure you don’t want to go to the hospital, I have to get going.” Kyle stood up and rested a hand on Leo’s shoulder. “You sure you’re ok, Leo?”
“Yeah. I’m good now, Kyle. Thanks a lot. I’m glad it was you that came for me again. Spilling my guts and telling you all that stuff probably helped more than anything else. I’m feeling much better.” Leo stood and gathered up his shopping bags as Kyle said one last goodbye, tossed his medical bag onto the stretcher, and left.
Leo glanced at his watch. “Damn!” He hurried off toward the mall food court, already fifteen minutes past the time his mom had said for him to be there.
After they got home from the mall, the boys put their things away and then went out to the backyard to help their dad set-up for the barbecue. “What happened to you?” Leo’s dad asked him.
“I was swimming this morning after my run. I guess I drifted out too far without realizing it, and the next thing I knew, a surfboard crashed right into me. It hit my face and my ribs. I’m pretty sore, but I’m ok, dad.” Leo said, hoping his father would believe the story.
“Hmph! Be more careful out there. You could have hurt yourself worse, or hurt the surfer. Pay attention to your surroundings, Leo. Now get the food from your mother. Kam, help your brother and bring the plates out, too.” Their father said.
When the boys came back out with all the food and other supplies for the barbecue, their sister, Allison, came out with them. The boys set the stuff on the picnic table, and Alli began setting it up.
“Nice shiner, big brother,” Allison said.
“Thanks,” Leo said, shaking his head, and repeated to her the same thing that he just told his father.
Alli smirked and whispered, “Matt?”
Leo sighed and shook his head, then motioned for his sister to walk with him. Once they turned the corner of the house, he said, “Come on, Alli, you know dad would freak out. Don’t get me in trouble. Please.”
“Of course not. You should talk to Jazz, though. As much of a dick as he turned out to be, I don’t think he’d want to see you get hurt.” Allison said.
“I know. I’m sure I’ll see Jazz at school. I’ll say something to him. Maybe he’ll keep Matt away from me. I hate asking him for a favor, but maybe it’s the only way.” Leo said. “Anyway, let’s get back before dad gets mad.”
After dinner, Leo told his mom that he was going to go for a walk on the beach. As he was about to leave the house, Kam caught up to him. “Hey, Leo, want me to come with?”
“Nah, bro. I’m just going to take a walk and chill out for a bit. I’m not going too far.” Leo blushed and smiled. “Maybe just as far as the lighthouse.”
“Ah-ha! Ok, bro. Have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Kam laughed.
“Well, that leaves my options wide open!” Leo clapped his brother on the shoulder and turned and left the house. He jogged across the street and leaped over the fence onto the beach like he’d down a million times before, this time though he winced in pain when he landed. Mentally cursing himself for his stupidity, he turned and started walking up the beach towards the lighthouse, hoping to see Charlie.
About halfway to the lighthouse, Leo saw a lone figure standing at the edge of the water, throwing rocks into the sea. He looked close to make sure it wasn’t Matt, but it wasn’t. It was Charlie. Leo walked up behind the other boy. Leo saw a look of intense concentration on Charlie’s face, apparently lost in his thoughts and not paying attention to his surroundings. Leo leaned in close. “Hey, gorgeous. You come here often.”
Charlie jumped and spun around. “Leo! You scared the crap out of me!” Charlie clutched at his heart, took a deep breath, and then laughed. “I didn’t think I would see you again until tomorrow. How did I get so lucky?”
Leo shrugged and smiled. “I guess I wanted to see you again tonight. I can’t stay long, though. It’s already late and tomorrow is the first day of school. Walk with me back towards my house?”
“I’m glad you came. I wanted to see you again, too. Yeah, let’s walk.” Charlie held out his hand towards Leo. Leo took Charlie’s hand, and the two walked back towards Leo’s house, hand in hand.
About halfway there they heard someone yell from off to their right. “Hey! Hey, guys! Wait a minute!”
Leo cringed and nearly hid behind Charlie before he realized that the voice did not belong to Matt. He turned and saw a boy about his own age running from the beach parking lot toward where he and Charlie stood.
The boy ran up and stopped right in front of Leo. “Thanks for waiting. I… I’m kinda lost.” The boy huffed out a laugh. “We just moved here a couple days ago, and I was out walking around the neighborhood and now I don’t know where my street is. Can you guys send me in the right direction for Spruce Street?” The boy ran a hand through his short, sandy brown hair. He looked at Leo, but then he blushed and looked down, unable to maintain eye contact.
Leo smiled and blushed a little. This guy was cute as hell, but Leo was standing here holding hands with Charlie. Nearly seven months of being single and then me meets two cuties on the same day. What’re the odds?! Leo cleared his throat. “Uh, go back through that parking lot that you were just in then take a left. Take your first right and then a left. Spruce will be the second left. It’s actually only one street away from where I live. Welcome to the neighborhood! My name is Leo.”
“Thanks, Leo. I’m Reese. Maybe I’ll see you at school. Have a good night!” And with that, Reese turned and ran back toward the parking lot, disappearing into the growing darkness.
Leo and Charlie walked in silence for a while, each casting quick glances at the other before Charlie finally cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “So, are you excited for senior year? Have you decided on a college yet?”
“Yes, for the first question, and no for the second one. I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life. Probably business management, but my dad is trying to push me into something science related. Everything in my life is just so confusing right now. That’s why I’ve started running every morning with my brother. It’s really the only time that I can focus and think things through. I’m even considering trying out for cross country or track. Kam is, too. He’s going to be a freshman this year, so this is the perfect time for him to get involved. They might not want a senior who has never really run before.” Leo shrugged.
“That would be so cool if you both make the team! I’m sure you can do it. Is that what you were doing on the beach this morning? Training?”
“Yeah. We were running on the beach, but I stopped to rest, and Kam went on ahead. That’s why I was alone when Matt found me.”
“That dude was a jerk. I’m glad I showed up when I did.”
Before they knew it, they were at the fence across from Leo’s house. The sun was just setting, and it was dusk but not dark.
“I guess this is my stop.” Leo looked up into Charlie’s dark eyes; Charlie was a good three inches taller. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess. I’ll text you when I get home, and you can tell me what your plans are.”
“That sounds great. I’ll make sure that I have some free time to meet up.” Charlie leaned in, very close to Leo.
Leo leaned back and felt his back press firmly against the fence. Charlie was so close that Leo could feel his body heat. “O-ok. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Charlie leaned in even closer. He thought about kissing Leo, then chickened out at the last minute. Charlie wasn’t sure how far either of them wanted this to go, knowing that he was leaving in just a few days.
Leo sighed, still looking up at Charlie. “I have to go.” He leaned in and gave the other boy a quick hug. “Good night! See you tomorrow!” This time Leo went around the fence instead of jumping over it and headed back home as Charlie turned and started walking back towards the lighthouse, smiling like an idiot.
Leo Kennedy hated family picnics, and the annual Memorial Day picnic at his grandparent’s house was always the worst, in his opinion. At least this year the weather was beautiful, eighty-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Last year it rained, and everyone was jammed together inside the house. He scanned the crowd of relatives, looking for his brother Kameron, but he didn’t see him anywhere.
Leo grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler and jumped over the porch railing, heading for the edge of the yard. If he couldn’t find Kam, he just wanted to be left alone. He was about to sit down when he noticed someone else sitting by themselves just staring off into the distance. Leo thought for a moment then picked up his chair and strolled over to where the man was seated. He set his lawn chair down next to the older man and sat down. “Hey, Uncle Kai, nice day, isn’t it?”
Kai took off his sunglasses and made a show of looking all around and behind his nephew. “You look like my nephew Leo, but he usually has two shadows close at his heels. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him by himself before.”
Leo snorted with laughter. “Jazz had to go to his own family picnic, and I’m not sure where Kam disappeared to. I’m by myself, sometimes.”
“Jasper is a very close friend, isn’t he?” Kai asked with a raised eyebrow.
Leo blushed. “We’ve been best friends since the first day of kindergarten and sophomore year is over in two weeks! So, yeah, we’re pretty close.”
“Leo, I want you to know that you can come to me any time and ask me anything. Even things that your parents may not be willing to understand.”
“I know, Uncle Kai. Thank you.” Leo squirmed in his seat and then looked back at his uncle. “Uncle Kai, how come grandma won’t even mention your friend’s name. The one that died in the war. Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember people like that. The family knew him. Shouldn’t we celebrate him most of all?”
Tears stung Kai’s eyes. “I celebrate him every single day, Leo.”
“He was your best friend, wasn’t he?”
The beginnings of a smile formed on Kai’s face. “Yes, Leo, he was my best friend.”
“Was he,” Leo hesitated, “was he more than your best friend?”
“He was much more than my best friend. He was the love of my life. He was my hero long before he was a hero to the country. He won me my own freedom, then all too soon he went off to Kuwait and Iraq to win others their freedom.”
“What do you mean he won you your freedom? Freedom from what?”
“Freedom from your grandmother. I’m sure you can see how she is. You are a brilliant boy for sixteen, Leo. After your father moved out, your grandmother monopolized all my time. She wanted me with her always. Anytime that anyone got close, she tried to push them away. Doug was the only one who stuck by me, and it was only because of him that I managed to get out from under her thumb. That’s why she still hates him to this day, even though he’s been dead for twenty-eight years.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean about grandma. I love her, but she is a bit overbearing. How did he help you, though? Why does she hate him so much?”
“You say she’s overbearing? That doesn’t even begin to describe how she was when I was your age. She had me scared of everything. Fear was my constant companion, especially fear of change. Any sort of change sent me into extreme anxiety attacks. Doug was the only one who could pull me out of it. By the time that I was eighteen, I knew that the only way for me to have a normal life was to get out of this house. She tried to make me stay, but thoughts of Doug pushed me forward through my fear. Let me tell you a story, Leo. The story of the day that I finally moved out of this very house. The day that Doug won his first battle and gained me my freedom.
The door was open, but fear held Kai in place. He needed to go through the door. Four steps, only four steps. He just needed the courage to make his feet take those last four steps.
Fear gnawed away at Kai Kennedy’s very soul, infecting almost everything in his life. Now, finally, on the verge of freedom, he was even scared of not being scared anymore. He was used to the fear. Change is what had him scared now. Change of any kind was a frightening prospect for Kai.
Kai’s life had been almost entirely without change for nearly all his eighteen years. Kai lived with his mother. He knew his mother loved him, but it was an over-bearing, jealous love. Kai’s mother craved attention. She needed all of Kai’s attention. All of Kai’s love. If he gave love or attention to anyone or anything else, it sent his mother into a rage. So, Kai gave his mother the care she needed. He didn’t go out with friends, he didn’t date, he didn’t do much of anything except spend time with his mother.
Kai’s thoughts returned to his present situation. The doorway. He still wasn’t any closer to it than he had been ten minutes ago. He knew a different life waited for him outside that door. He wanted that life, but he was scared to leave this one. It’s not that he liked the life he was living; it’s just that he was used to it. It was comfortable. Kai smiled for a minute. The reasons he thought of as positive were precisely the reasons that Doug told him he needed to change it. It was Doug that made Kai smile now. It was Doug that gave Kai the strength to consider this change. Thoughts of Doug made Kai smile again, and he took a step towards the door.
Three more steps now and he’d be free, just three more steps.
Kai couldn’t see through the doorway for some reason. It was just darkness where the doorway should have been even though the door was open, and it was the middle of the afternoon. Kai was beginning to feel light headed and dizzy from all the emotions raging through his heart and mind. His thoughts drifted back to his mother.
There had been plenty of good times between Kai and his mother. They had a lot of fun together over the years. He laughed when he remembered some of the family gatherings. He loved his family, especially his mom. He just wished she would let him love other people as well. When Kai would get close to someone, his mother would grow angry and try to destroy the relationship. She would try to fill Kai’s mind with any fault she could find with the other person. If that didn’t work, she would just use up so much of Kai’s time doing things for her that the other person would grow tired of it and go away on their own. The exception to this was Doug. Doug had stayed by Kai’s side through thick and thin. Doug wouldn’t allow Kai’s mother to drive him away. Kai’s mother hated Doug because of that, but Kai wouldn’t listen to her about him. The thought of his mother’s hatred of the one thing he loved angered Kai, and he took another step forward.
Two more steps now, just two more steps.
Kai loved his mother… and hated her at the same time if that was possible. He loved her for all the good things she had brought into his life. She had brought him up well and taught him a lot, but she had also sheltered him from the rest of the world. Kai didn’t believe that she did it on purpose. She craved the attention and felt she deserved it. She told him she had given up a lot for him, and she expected him to do the same for her. Kai had done just that. He had been made fun of all through school because he was so different from everybody else. He was always off by himself and didn’t get involved in any activities with anyone else. That was until Doug came into his life. Doug talked Kai into doing things. Not terrible things, just things that a kid like Kai should have been doing all along. Things like going to Prom. That’s when Kai’s mother’s dislike of Doug became pure hatred. She could sense that Kai was drifting away from her. She started trying to drive a wedge between Kai and Doug, but by now it was already too late. Her meddling in their relationship just drove Kai closer to Doug instead of the other way around. Now, two months later, a moving van stood packed in the driveway, packed with all of Kai’s things. Kai was moving out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment. An apartment he would share with Doug. Kai’s mother told him that if he did that that she would never want to see him again. She thought that he would change his mind. He didn’t. He cried at the things his mother said to him and about him, but he felt she would reconsider after she calmed down. Her threats only made him surer of his decision. He cleared his head and came back to the present again. He took another step towards the doorway.
One more step now, only one more step.
Kai’s mother was screeching in the background. “Kai, you will be sorry if you go with him! Don’t leave me! He won’t be there for you like I always am, Kai! You’re making a mistake! Don’t go to him!”
Just as Kai thought he couldn’t take that last step, a hand reached through the doorway. Kai smiled. He would recognize that hand anywhere. Kai could have grasped that hand and let himself be pulled through the door, but Kai knew for his own peace of mind that he needed to take the last step by himself. Knowing who was on the other side, waiting for him to step through was all the help he needed. Kai took a deep breath, looked back one last time, and then stepped through the doorway.
As soon as he was on the other side of the door, Kai felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. The stress of the moment overcame him, and Kai felt himself grow weak, the world around him started to go dim. Kai started to fall, but he never hit the ground. He felt himself being carried down the steps and away from the house. Kai looked up and saw the face of his best friend, his boyfriend, Doug. Kai knew he was safe. His last thought before he allowed himself to drift off was that his life would never be the same. Kai wasn’t scared anymore. Kai Kennedy was finally free.
Leo had tears streaming down his face. “Uncle Kai, that was a beautiful story, and Doug should be celebrated just for that even if he hadn’t ever gone to war.”
Kai patted his nephew’s hand. “Thank you for saying that, Leo, but I think you know that most in this family would not agree.”
Leo blushed. “I know. It really sucks. You don’t think my dad would accept a relationship like that, do you?”
Kai struggled to find the right words. “The look in his eyes, even today, when I mention Doug tells me that he probably wouldn’t. Times are a lot different now than they were in 1986 when I was your age. Even if you don’t feel that you can tell your dad yet, there must be people you can talk to.”
Leo’s eyes grew wide. “Me? What makes you think that I’m asking these questions because of me?”
Kai rolled his eyes. “I’m old, but I’m not dead. Even before we started talking today, I suspected. I see the way you and Jasper look at each other. It reminds me so much of Doug and me. Are you two, uh, are you two a couple?”
Now Leo was really blushing. “No! Nothing like that!” He shrugged. “Not yet, anyway. We have talked about it. A lot. And Uncle Kai, you’re not old!”
Kai chuckled. “At sixteen, I definitely considered forty-eight old but thank you for saying that.”
“You’re the coolest adult I know, Uncle Kai. You’re not gonna tell anyone about me, are you?”
“Of course not. No one should ever be outed against their will by someone else. I do suggest you find someone that you trust to tell. Maybe your brother or your sister?”
“Definitely not Allison. Maybe Kam. I can trust him.”
“Speak of the devil. There he is now.”
Kam waved from the other side of the yard. Leo grinned. “I should go check on him before he gets himself into trouble. Thanks for the talk, Uncle Kai. I’m glad you know. Your friend Doug was a true hero. Happy Memorial Day!”
Kai Kennedy wiped the tears from his eyes as he watched Leo race across the yard. Tears of sadness at the memory of his lost love, but also tears of joy at the bright future he sensed for his young nephew.
Noah paced nervously on the sidewalk before finally walking into Sonya’s Flower Shop. He started looking around, but he didn’t know much about flowers. Noah had no clue what to pick out for his mom. He knew that red roses were for romance, but that was the extent of his flower knowledge. He hoped to find Sonya or at least one of her employees. A girl would know what Noah should get his mom for Valentine’s Day. He absently brushed a few stray strands of his unruly black hair out of his face and walked toward the cash register, looking for help.
Noah stopped dead in his tracks. The cashier was not a girl, but instead was the hottest guy Noah had ever seen. Even from across the room, Noah was captivated by the guy’s stunning blue eyes. Those eyes added with the neatly trimmed blonde hair and killer smile made Noah weak in the knees. He guessed the guy to be sixteen, no more than seventeen, which was perfect since Noah himself was sixteen. He composed himself, so he wouldn’t look or sound like a complete idiot and walked up to the cash register to ask for help.
Aiden spotted the guy as soon as he walked in the door. This dude was hot as hell. Aidan was glad there were no other customers in the store because there was no way he could have concentrated on anyone but this dark-haired, dark-eyed beautiful guy. Aiden chuckled softly to himself. The teen looked utterly lost in the flower shop. Was he searching for a gift for a first girlfriend, maybe? Aiden sure hoped not. If he could get a read on this guy, he wanted to ask him out. The guy started walking towards the cash register, stopped, then started walking again.
Noah took a deep breath and thought about what he wanted to say. He was always nervous when talking to new people, but this guy made him even more nervous than usual. “Uhm, excuse me, sir. I need help in picking out flowers. Is Sonya here? Or do you happen to know anything about flowers? I’ve never bought them before. I know they all mean different things and I’m just so confused on what to buy.”
Aiden grinned. “Well, you’re off to a good start in asking for help. Sonya is not here. I’m her son, Aiden. We live right upstairs, and I’ve always helped out down here, so I do know a thing or two about flowers. I’d love to help you pick some out. Who are they for? A new girlfriend?” Aiden caught himself holding his breath, waiting for an answer.
Noah blushed and couldn’t look at Aiden. “No. I don’t have a girlfriend. They’re for my mom, for Valentine’s Day. It’s been a rough year, and I wanted to get something special for her.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. I hope the year hasn’t been too rough. What flowers does your mom like?”
“Everything is starting to get a little better for both of us, I think.” He looked at Aiden finally. “Could you help me pick out something a mom would like? I honestly have no idea.” He shrugged and gave Aiden a shy smile.
“Yeah. Of course.” Aiden walked out from behind the cash register and clapped Noah on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s look around. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Oh God. I’m so sorry. I’m Noah. Didn’t you say your name is Aiden?”
“Yeah. I’m Aiden. Pleased to meet you, Noah. Now let’s pick out some flowers.”
They walked around the little store for about fifteen minutes. Aiden showed Noah almost every flower arrangement in the shop. Finally, they narrowed down the choices, and Aiden began to engage Noah in non-flower related conversation. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before? Are you new in town?”
“Sorta new, I guess. Me and my mom moved here from across town right after my parents got divorced.”
“Oh geez, that really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s ok. Things were actually worse when they were together than they are right now.”
Aiden gripped Noah’s shoulder. “It must still be tough. Anyway, what school do you go to?”
“I’m still going to West Side High, but I’ll be transferring next week. A new school right in the middle of junior year. I hate that so much.” Noah’s smile instantly turned into a frown.
“Hey, I’m sorry. That sucks.” Aidan put his arm around Noah’s shoulders. “You transferring to Mystic River High?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“It’s the only high school around here. It’s not bad. Kinda small.”
“I guess I’ll know one person at least. I’m sorry for getting emotional. I’m still getting used to the whole thing.”
“No worries, Noah. I’ll show you around and introduce you to my friends. You’ll know a ton of people in no time at all.”
“Thank you so much. Maybe buying flowers for my mom was a better idea than I thought.” Noah finally smiled again.
“Flowers are the answer to everything.” Aidan winked. “You pick out a college yet?”
“God, no! Still working on the applications. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. Ugh.” Noah rolled his eyes and laughed. “I’m such a mess. Just put my picture in the dictionary next to ‘teen angst.’”
Aiden smiled and poked Noah in the ribs. “How about next to ‘teen hottie’ instead.”
Noah blushed and cleared his throat. “Uh, I’m totally not hot but thanks. Uhm, I think I’ll go with these.” He pointed at the display of tulips.
“Good choice, hottie,” Aidan smirked and winked again. “Everyone loves tulips. I’ll put in a few assorted colors, and I’ll be right back.” Aiden went into the back room then returned with an armful of tulips. “Here you go. One dozen multi-colored tulips and a nice mom appropriate vase.” His blue eyes gazed up and down Noah’s body. “You play a lot of sports?”
Noah blushed again. “I run track and cross country, and I play lacrosse. What about you? I’d guess football or maybe wrestling?” Noah tried to give a sexy smirk, but only accomplished a shy smile.
“I get my workouts around here. Lots of lugging bags of soil and fertilizer everywhere. I don’t have time for sports, but hey I do know one of the guys on the lacrosse team. Zac Simpson. He just started dating one of my best buds, Cole. It was so sweet. Their first date was on New Year’s Eve at the biggest party of the year in this town.”
“Simpson? The Simpsons that own half the town? Wow. I’m not sure if I’m more surprised that he goes to public school or that he came out while he’s playing high school sports! I..” Noah stopped what he was going to say, blushing furiously. “Any jock would get their ass beat at my old school for coming out. I mean yeah, there’s gay kids at my school, but the jocks are the ones that pick on them. They wouldn’t accept one of their own coming out.”
Aiden rolled his eyes. “Homophobia is so stupid. I do give Zac credit for coming out. The lockerroom is a different place than the classroom. His coming out does make it easier for any other gay lacrosse players to come out, though.” Aiden said with a smile.
Noah blushed even redder and walked with Aiden back to the cash register. “After I deduct the hot boy discount your total comes to $23.99.” Aiden said.
Noah smiled and handed the money to Aidan. “You don’t stop, do you?”
“Not until I get what I want.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Here’s your change, sir. I guess this means I’ll have to let you leave now. I hope your mom loves the flowers.”
Noah glanced down at the flowers. “Hey, Aiden, you made a mistake. There’s an extra flower in here. A red rose.”
Aiden’s grin returned. He reached into the bouquet of flowers and pulled out a single red rose. “It’s not a mistake. It’s more like a question. If you don’t already have plans, would you like to go out to with me for dinner Friday night?”
“Friday is Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t a sweet-talking gorgeous guy like you already have plans?”
“No. And even if I did, you are worth canceling any other plans I might have. Noah, will you be my Valentine?”
Noah nearly jumped for joy. “Yes! Absolutely, yes! I would love to go out to dinner with you. And I’d be honored to be your Valentine.”
Noah put Aiden’s contact info into his phone and smiled. A first date and on Valentine’s Day. He hoped that would be a good omen. He left Sonya’s Flower Shop, clutching his rose close to his chest, happier than he had been in a long, long time.