A Sanitaria Springs Story

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They say that time heals all wounds and though it’s only been a couple of weeks since my abusive ex-boyfriend got arrested for trying to rape me, and a friend, I believe it’s true. I’m not saying I’ve recovered overnight or that I don’t have nightmares but I see the potential to be better and I like having hope. Two weeks ago I didn’t have any hope or any friends, there was just me and Royce and pain and suffering but by a simple twist of fate I met the most wonderful group of guys I’ve ever known. Lucien likes to call them our ‘found family’ and though it’s kind of weird, he’s right. I say weird because I’ve never formed feelings for anyone so fast before let alone a whole group. Maybe it’s because of the experience we shared, maybe it’s my longing for companionship, maybe it’s because they make me feel safe, I just don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is I love them like brothers.

We met up every night for a study group at one house or another and worked on our homework. I only had twenty minutes of trigonometry problems that Thursday but study group was my favorite part of the day and I wasn’t going to miss it. When I finished my math I pulled a copy of GQ out of my bag and quietly thumbed through the pages so as not to disturb my friends.

I’m gay and maybe it’s a stereotype but I like clothes and I like to dress nicely. Royce once told me what initially attracted him to me was that I was, “Pretty and preppy.” I tried to change my look after that. I thought if I went grunge maybe he’d dump me and I’d be free of him but it just wasn’t me. I hated not recognizing myself in the mirror. It was also a pointless rebellion that only resulted in humiliation. Royce put a leash and dog collar on me as punishment and choked me with it while he…well, never mind. It’s an unhappy memory.

I wished I hadn’t started wandering down that path. The memory sent a shiver down my spine so chilling I actually broke out in goose pimples. I glanced up from my magazine and drew comfort and strength from the friends gathered around me. Austin, so beautiful and so brave, the bravest boy I’ve ever known who twice leapt into danger to protect me. Derek, so warm and friendly, I’d latched onto him as my security blanket when I needed one most and he never objected. I’m grateful to him for that, and that I can still just hug him anytime I think of something bad from my past and need someone to hold onto. I’m grateful to Austin too, for sharing his boyfriend with me in that way. Then there’s Robin and Lucien. Robin saved my life twice, the first time by calling 9-1-1 when they’d found my beaten body lying in the snow and the second time when I’d come so close to shooting Royce and throwing my life away. Lucien is all heart, everything I have, all the good things I’ve gotten from this group; I owe them to him because he’s the one who reached out to me. Each of them is so…

“What’s that you’re reading, Griff?” asked Robin, without looking up from whatever he was working on.

“Oh, nothing, just GQ,” I replied.

“Oh yeah? What did you think of the model in that Ralph Lauren ad?” Robin looked up with a gleam in his pretty eyes.

“Which one?” There were a couple.

“Page 36,” said Lucien.

I noticed the whole group now had their eyes on me as I thumbed over to page 36.

“Oh, yeah, he’s cute!” I smiled at the image of the dark haired guy in nothing but jeans, a shy, sexy grin playing across his face.

“Just cute?” Robin snickered.

“Really cute, in fact, I want to buy a pair of those jeans he’s wearing and think about him when I unzip them,” I joked. The guy’s burst out laughing. Derek almost fell out of his chair.

“Geez it wasn’t that funny,” I said.

“That’s, that’s Robin’s brother,” said Austin between bouts of laughter.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“You can tell him how bad you want to unzip his pants when he comes home for spring break,” said Robin which resulted in another roar of laughter.

“Hey now, he’s a happily married man with a kid and everything,” said Austin.

“You know, you guy’s all kinds of suck.” I pouted.

“Sorry, Griff,” said Robin, wiping the tears from his eyes. “You’re the only one who hasn’t met Kale. When I saw what you were reading, I couldn’t resist.”

“I’ll let it slide this time but next time, your ass is mine,” I teased.

“Careful, we all know how jealous Lu gets when anyone talks about Robin’s ass,” said Derek.

“Hey,” Lucien protested.

“He thinks everyone’s after it.” Robin giggled.

“They are!” Lucien exclaimed, then he started laughing and we laughed with him.

“Alright,” said Austin, once everyone had calmed down. “Tomorrow’s Friday, are we doing anything?”

“Oh, actually that reminds me,” said Lucien. “I was talking to Elliot in fifth period and he invited us to come hear Sahara play. They’re doing a concert at school tomorrow night at 7pm.”

“Sahara?” I asked.

“You know, the school show band,” Lucien explained.

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them. They’re supposed to be good,” I stated.

“They are good, great even,” said Robin.

“Yeah and our friends Elliot and Devyn are in the band,” said Lucien. “So what do you say guys? Wanna go?”

There were nods and affirmations around the table then Lucien turned to me, “You in Griffy?”

“Sure, tell you what, I’ll even pick up Austin and Derek so we can just meet you guys there,” I replied.

“Taking out the mom mobile?” asked Derek.

“Nope, my dad’s picking up my car tomorrow after work.” I smiled happily.

“Awesome, how did you finally convince them to get you one?” asked Robin.

“I didn’t really do anything; they’ve always said no car until I’ve had my license for three months,” I explained. “Of course, my Mom might have gotten tired of me changing all her presets when she sends me on grocery runs.”

“That’s it,” Derek chimed in. “Never mess with a man’s, or woman’s, radio.”

“What are you getting?” asked Lucien.

“No idea, Dad says it’s a surprise.”

“I’m betting it’s something sporty,” said Robin. “You’re the baby of the family; you’re supposed to be spoiled. At least that’s what Jamie keeps telling my parents.”

“Um, you’ve met my parents,” I teased. “It’ll be a tank with sensible gas mileage that forms a cocoon of safety foam when hit.”

“Awww, they just want to keep you safe,” said Lucien.

“Yeah, I told them I wanted a van like yours but they said they didn’t want to worry about me getting knocked up.” I grinned.

“That’s impossible, you’re a boy…wait a minute, Griffin Douglas, was that a crack at my bus?” asked Lucien, shooting daggers from his eyes.

“I know what goes on in that bus.” I giggled.

“Robin,” Lucien exclaimed as he turned to his boyfriend.

“I didn’t say a word,” Robin protested.

“Liar,” Lucien challenged and we collapsed into a fit of laughter once more.

By the time we all calmed down it was time to go home. We’d been studying at Lucien’s that night so Derek, Austin and I waited in Robin’s car while he and Lucien made out for ten minutes. Austin finally looked at his watch and as it was getting late he reached over and honked the horn. Lucien and Robin both flipped us the bird, without breaking their lip lock, but they wrapped things up a moment later and we were finally on our way home.

Mom and dad were still up when I walked in so I told them about my evening and asked permission to attend the concert the next night which they readily granted. They like the change my new friends have brought out in me and can’t say enough positive things about our study group. I have to agree with them, in the short time I’ve been studying with my friends my grades have returned to normal and my parents have their honor student back.

School was torture the next day. I was so excited about getting a car that I swear the hands on the clock seemed to stick or even move backwards just to torture me. Lucien dropped me off at home when we finally got out of class but I still had at least two hours to wait until my dad got home. I couldn’t sit down and ended up pacing a groove into the front porch despite the cold.

“Honey, you really should come inside,” said Mom, when she came out to bring me a cup of hot coco.

“I can’t, I’m too excited.”

“Well, I’m sure dad will be home any…oh, there his is now,” said Mom as she nodded towards the driveway and dad pulled up in a dark grey Toyota Prius.

“So what do you think?” asked Dad as he hopped out and took in my neutral expression.

It’s not that I didn’t like the car or that I was ungrateful, it just wasn’t what I expected. I knew my parents would get me something practical and safe; I was just surprised they went so…green.

“It’s got a sun roof, six speaker audio, an auxiliary port so you can plug in your iPod…do you like it?” asked Dad nervously.

“It’s great, Dad, I love it.” I smiled. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome kiddo,” said Dad as he pulled me in for a hug. I think he was about to cry.

My parents have taken my experience with Royce really hard. No matter how many times I’ve told them it’s not their fault and that there was no way for them to know, they still have trouble accepting it. Mom says it’s because I’m their baby and someone hurt me while they should have been protecting me. I told mom that was bullcrap but she says I’ll understand when I have a kid of my own. I think the car, more than being a reward for bringing my grades up, or anything else, was part of them paying me back for their presumed failure.

Since there was nothing I could do to absolve them of the guilt they felt I resolved to love the car, take care of it and show them how much I appreciated their gesture.

“Can I take it out and show my friends?”

“Ah, ah, dinner first,” said Mom. “Since you’re going to that concert tonight I want you to eat before you disappear.”

I looked at my watch and decided not to object. It was already 5:30, I was supposed to pick up Austin and Derek in an hour and then we were meeting Robin and Lucien at school. I didn’t know how long the concert would go but my stomach was already rumbling and I didn’t want to wait until afterwards to get something to eat.

When I finally did get behind the wheel of my car for the first time I took a moment to savor the feeling. The Prius was a neat little car, it had all the features I could ask for, it was safe, and it would be amazing on gas. Sure, I wouldn’t be drag racing Robin and his VW but that’s ok, that’s not my style anyway. It was time to pick up my friends though so I popped my iPod in the auxiliary port, went to my play lists and selected the one I’d labeled, “Driving.”

I am a lover of all kinds of music, well not rap or country, but I like rock when I drive. I discovered my car had a great sound system when Royal Blood’s ‘Figure It Out’ blasted from the speakers as I pulled up to Austin’s house. I honked the horn twice and he and Derek came running out.

“Did this come with a box of tampons?” Austin giggled as he jumped in the backseat.

“Wanna let your feet do the driving?” I shot back.

“I like it.” Austin smiled brightly.

“Uh huh.” I grinned.

“Well, I really do like it,” said Derek. “And not just because I don’t want to walk in the snow. I think it’s cool.”

“Thanks buddy,” I replied and pulled out of the driveway. We parked next to Robin’s blue VW Golf a few minutes later.

“Whoa, I think my dad’s SUV shit one of these the other night,” said Robin.

“Oh that’s good. I’ll have to write that one down.” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m kidding dude, come on, you know I had to tease you a little,” said Robin.

“Naturally.” I grinned.

“It’s nice, I like the color…” Robin started.

“Yeah,” Lucien interrupted, “And if you ever break down the five of us can probably pick it up and put it in the back of my van.”

“See, I told you my parents would get me something practical.” We all laughed.

Lucien put his left arm around my shoulder, his right around Robin’s and we headed inside. We were a little early so we chatted for a bit until the house lights dimmed and the curtain opened. The band took the stage, the boys dressed in tuxedos, the girls in black dresses, and I leaned in close to whisper in Lucien’s ear, “Which ones are your friends?”

“The pianist, that’s Elliot, Elliot Lindly, and the flautist, that’s Devyn Kennedy,” said Lucien.

Elliot was a nice looking boy and even from our vantage point I could see his ready smile. When my eyes turned to Devyn I was a little surprised, “Oh my God, he’s so little!”

“Kinda makes you feel like a dwarf among mere midgets, huh shorty?” Lucien teased.

“Hey, I know I’m short but that guy, well, he’s itty bitty,” I exclaimed.

Lucien snorted and the couple in front of us turned to “shhhhhhh,” at us. The band started to play and they were wonderful. I was really impressed; I didn’t think we’d see that much talent from a school band but then being the show band must count for something. As much as I love music I didn’t recognize all of the pieces they played, a lot of it was jazz which I’m not that familiar with, but I enjoyed it all.

When the performance was over the band got a standing ovation and then Lucien led me and Robin up to the stage area while Austin and Derek went to use the restroom.

“You guy’s rocked,” said Lucien as he fist bumped Elliot.

“Yeah man, great show,” Robin added.

“What did you think, Griffy?” asked Lucien, elbowing me in the ribs.

“I loved it, you guys were so good,” I exclaimed.

“Thanks guys,” said Elliot with a bright smile, he really was cute.

Devyn walked over then, he’d been packing up his flute while we congratulated Elliot. We gave Devyn his share of the accolades too but he didn’t say anything, he just smiled and nodded. I must have had a queer look on my face and Lucien noticed it.

“I’m sorry, Griffin, I keep forgetting that you don’t know everyone,” said Lucien, then he made the introductions. “This is Elliot.”

“Nice to meet you, you’re very talented,” I said.

“Thanks, nice to meet you too,” said Elliot as he shook my hand.

“And this is Devyn,” said Lucien.

Devyn stepped up to me and I was easily two inches taller, 5’8” to his diminutive 5’6”. I’d describe him as most people describe me, petite. He was very cute with shaggy blond hair and crystal clear blue eyes. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some sort of instant attraction to him, he was, in a word, darling.

“Hi, you were great too.” I smiled and offered my hand.

Devyn smiled this lovely smile and shook my hand with gusto but he still hadn’t spoken a word.

“Devyn’s mute,” Lucien whispered in my ear.

Devyn rolled his eyes and moved his hands in rapid sign language at Elliot.

“He says he’s mute not deaf.” Elliot giggled.

“Sorry Devyn,” said Lucien sheepishly. Devyn just smiled knowingly.

“Hey, it’s still early, you guys want to grab some coffee with us?” asked Robin.

Devyn and Elliot traded a look with Devyn nodding enthusiastically.

“That would be great but neither of us drove, do you mind dropping us off later?” asked Elliot.

“Sure, no problem,” Robin assured him.

We collected Austin and Derek and as we made our way to the cars Elliot intimated that they’d been practicing and then setting up for the show since last period and they were starving. We adjusted our plans and instead of a coffee shop we went to a diner. Devyn and Elliot ordered dinner, the rest of us ordered dessert and we talked excitedly before the food came and after it arrived.

“I still can’t get over how good you guys were,” I complimented as I took a bite of my brownie sundae. “Makes me wish I was in a band.”

“One little problem with that there, Griffster,” said Austin.

“Yeah?”

“Well, wouldn’t you need to play an instrument?” asked Austin.

“Um, I do.”

“You do?” my friends exclaimed collectively.

“The cello.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” asked Derek.

“Because I haven’t played in a year and I don’t care for cello jokes,” I explained. “Didn’t see the point.”

“I think I can put my hand over my heart and honestly say I’ve never heard a cello joke,” said Robin.

“Well, let’s see, this one’s a classic,” I began. “You know what they say about cellists?”

“Uh, no,” said Robin.

“That we do it sitting down with our legs spread wide.”

“That’s awful,” said Robin as he and the group laughed.

“Now you know what I’m talking about.” I smiled.

“What made you quit?” asked Lucien.

“Columbia High doesn’t have an orchestra and then I got with Royce and well, he was a full-time job,” I explained.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Lucien blushed at the mention of my ex.

“Don’t be, it’s healthy to talk about it. If I don’t talk about it it’s like I’m giving Royce a pass on the things he did to me. At least that’s what my therapist says.”

“You’re seeing a therapist?” asked Derek.

“Once a week, my parents insisted.”

“Yeah, I can understand that,” said Robin.

It was at that point I noticed Elliot and Devyn staring at me. They had no idea what we were talking about.

“Sorry for monopolizing the conversation, guys. I didn’t mean to exclude you,” I apologized.

“No worries,” said Elliot.

Devyn looked at me with concern then shook his head and started signing at Elliot.

“He wants to know if you were any good,” said Elliot.

“First chair with the Sacramento Youth Orchestra,” I replied with a grin.

“Awesome!” Elliot exclaimed. “Say, me and Devyn were planning to hang out at my house tomorrow and jam a little, you wanna come? We’d love to play with a cellist.”

Devyn nodded his head enthusiastically.

“I don’t know, it’s been so long…”

“You don’t have to be great, it’s just a friendly jam session,” said Elliot.

“You know, what the hell, why not?”

“Great,” said Elliot as he pulled out his phone. “What’s your number I’ll text you my address.”

I gave him my number and then Robin said, “So what time should we be there?”

“Everyone’s coming?” asked Elliot.

“Robin just wants to see Griffin do it sitting down with his legs spread wide,” Austin teased.

“Suck it, Hamster.” Robin laughed then turned to Elliot. “Sorry, I’m always inviting myself to your place aren’t I?”

“No, it’s cool,” said Elliot. “How about noon?”

We all agreed that would be a great time then divided up the driving duties. Lucien was sleeping over at Robin’s that night so they would ride together, I’d pick up Austin and Derek. Elliot would run over to get Devyn. The bill came and Robin and I fought over it until Lucien grabbed it, rolled his eyes and had everyone chip in. After that I dropped the guys off and headed home.

It was late when I got in, I’d had a long day at school and the excitement about the new car sort of sapped my energy. I put on my pajamas and climbed in bed but sleep wouldn’t come. I couldn’t get Devyn off my mind. As I noted earlier, he was adorable, a little pocket person, but that wasn’t what occupied my mind. Something drew me to him but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was his obvious talent or his charming smiles and nods. I had no idea.

The next morning I slept late then took a shower, threw on jeans and a hoodie and dragged my cello out of the closet. The case was dusty but when I opened it I found my instrument perfectly preserved inside. I took a moment to give it a quick polish anyway and rosined up my bow so that I’d be ready when I got to Elliot’s. That said, I looked at my watch and realized I needed to get a move on if I was going to pick up Derek and Austin and not be late.

“Oh no you don’t mister,” said Mom when she saw me drag my cello into the foyer headed for the door.

“What?”

“I’ve told you time and time again, that thing cost more than a small car, you are not giving it to Goodwill,” Mom scolded.

The Puzak cellos were commissioned by WH Lee Strings in Chicago and designed to meet the needs of gifted cello students and professionals up to the conservatory level. Hand made by an Eastern European master the Puzak is remarkably responsive and easy to play in the right hands.

“No, Mom,” I laughed. “I’m not trying to hock it. I’m taking it over to a friend’s house to jam with some new buddies.”

“Y-you’re playing again?” asked Mom. She looked like she wanted to cry and that embarrassed me. My parents may feel guilty for the abuse I endured from Royce but I feel guilty for making them feel guilty now, if that makes sense.

“Yeah,” I said and looked down at my feet.

Mom came over and hugged me. She squeezed me tight and rubbed my back.

“I gotta get going, Mom.”

“Ok, have fun, Honey,” said Mom as she watched me walk out the door.

I took the cello out to my car and discovered the one thing that truly sucks about driving a compact, storage space. I had to wedge the instrument into the backseat and whoever ended up sitting with it was going to be cramped. Once it was loaded I stopped by Derek’s first since he was closest and then we picked up Austin. Elliot’s house was easy to find and we followed the car’s GPS all the way there.

We were on time, but still the last to arrive. Elliot met us at the door with a fist bump and his friendly smile, then led us down to the basement. We said hello to everyone and I felt my face blush a bit when I greeted Devyn. The basement was pretty cool, Elliot had a well-worn, but also very well maintained, upright piano and there were couches set up for family and friends to hang out and watch TV or listen to him play. The guys filled up the couches and Elliot directed me to a folding chair while he headed to the piano bench. Devyn was already set up in an identical folding chair.

I took my cello out of its case, spread my legs wide and cradled it between them. I grabbed my bow and said, “So how does this work?”

“Since you’re new, why don’t you play something first? You can see how rusty you are and then we can go from there,” Elliot suggested.

“Ok, that’s a good idea, any requests?”

“You pick something,” said Lucien. “What’s your favorite?”

“Hmmmm.” I thought for a moment then a light bulb went off over my head.

I closed my eyes, placed my fingers on the bridge, brought up my bow and began to play 'Benedictus'. Having the Puzak back between my legs felt natural, my fingers felt at home on the strings. It wasn’t a performance worthy of Carnegie Hall but I was glad I hadn’t lost too much skill in the year that passed. I was smiling when I finished the piece and opened my eyes.

The room was quiet as my friends looked at me in stunned surprise.

“You are such an asshole! Just like Kale,” Robin exclaimed with a chuckle.

“Um, what?” I asked.

“My brother plays the piano like he’s freaking Beethoven, but he had the whole family sworn to secrecy about it until his wedding and now here you are some kind of secret cello prodigy,” Robin explained.

“Please, I’m no Yo-Yo Ma.” I laughed.

“Fuck Yo-Yo’s Mom,” said Lucien. “You were really good.”

“Thanks.” I blushed.

“He’s right, you are good,” said Elliot. Devyn gave me one of his enthusiastic head nods.

“Are you ready to have some fun, Griff?” asked Elliot.

“You bet,” I replied.

“Let’s play.” Elliot grinned.

Elliot starting riffing on the piano and a moment later Devyn picked up the tune and just sort of played with it. I sat as much a spectator as the others at first but when I felt comfortable I jumped right in. Elliot was right, it was fun! I can’t recall ever having so much fun with my cello before. I loved the cello from the moment I first heard one but I’d never just played before. Back home in California the orchestra was something I looked forward to but it was so formal, it was nothing like this.

We played for a couple of hours and each new thing we tried was greeted by the approving hoots and hollers of our friends on the couch. It was such a new and freeing experience that I was actually sad when we called it a day and I put the Puzak back in its case. I thanked Elliot profusely for his invitation and he told me I could come back anytime I wanted. I felt like I’d made real friends in him and Devyn through the music we played and I offered to drive Devyn home.

It worked out that Austin was staying for dinner at Derek’s and even though Derek only lived a few blocks away from my house I dropped them off first. I still felt strangely drawn to Devyn and his silence and I wanted more time with him. Devyn was quiet on the drive and I know that sounds silly when I’m talking about a boy who can’t speak but what I mean is I don’t think he’d have said anything if he could. He seemed to be in deep thought and I actually had to tap him on the shoulder when I stopped in front of his house.

“We’re here,” I said.

Devyn looked at me, shook his head then smiled sheepishly as he pulled out his phone and tapped out the message, “Sorry, I spaced out.”

“It’s ok.” I smiled.

“It’s been really nice meeting you, would you like to come in?” asked Devyn, tapping away at his phone.

It was only a quarter to four. My mom never had dinner ready before six and even if I wasn’t home by then she’d save me a plate if I called.

“Sure, why not,” I replied.

Devyn lived in a working class neighborhood full of small Cape Cod style houses. I got out of the car and followed him up the path, he unlocked the door and we stepped out of the frigid snow and into cozy warmth. Devyn took my coat and hung it on a peg by the door then led me into the living room which was full of boxes.

“What’s with all the boxes?” I asked.

Devyn started to raise his phone to tap out a message but someone, a woman, called out from somewhere in the house, “Dev, is that you?”

He couldn’t shout his reply so Devyn knocked on a wall, a moment later a middle aged woman, who could only be his mother, joined us in the living room.

“Oh, hello,” she said with a smile.

Devyn started signing at his mother. I think he was introducing me, at least the sign he made, flapping his arms, seemed like it could mean Griffin. Then again it could have meant chicken for all I knew. Devyn noticed me watching him sign and shot me a wink when his mom said, “It’s nice to meet you, Griffin. I’m Devyn’s mom.”

“Thanks, nice to meet you too, Mrs. Kennedy,” I replied.

“As for the boxes,” said Mrs. Kennedy. It must have been my question that alerted her Devyn was home. “My husband and I were doing a trial separation. Devyn and I just moved back in.”

“Oh, uh…”I mumbled like an idiot. What was I supposed to say to that?

Devyn rolled his eyes in embarrassment and signed at his mother.

“Sorry sweetie.” She winked at him.

Devyn grabbed my arm and gave me a gentle tug towards the stairs. I followed him up and into his small room which was dominated by his full size bed. Devyn kicked off his shoes, he had such tiny feet, then sat down on his bed. He looked at me and nodded for me to sit next to him. When I took my seat Devyn let out a sigh and began to tap on his phone.

“The other night at the diner, you were talking about something personal. You dated Royce McGuire? He was your boyfriend?”

“Yes,” I replied, my throat feeling dry.

“Royce was in my English class. He wasn’t a nice person,” Devyn tapped out.

“No,” I said and looked down at my feet.

I heard Devyn tapping on his phone again and then he nudged me with his shoulder and I read, “He disappeared two weeks ago. You said you were seeing a therapist. Royce did something…bad to you?”

“He was in jail, his parents moved him out of town when he posted bail.”

I couldn’t bring my eyes up to meet Devyn’s. He took my chin in his delicate fingers and turned my face to look at him. His eyes were kind and full of concern, and then he went back to tapping on the phone.

“Don’t be embarrassed. I see a therapist, too,” he wrote.

“Yeah?”

Devyn nodded in the affirmative. “Can I tell you a story?”

“Ok,” I replied.

“Did you hear about Ms. Carter last semester?” Devyn tapped.

“The teacher that got shot?”

Devyn nodded his head, yes.

“Yeah, it was all over the news.”

“Did you hear the rumors about her afterwards?”

“Yeah, Royce kept me on a short leash, didn’t like me talking to people, but even I heard she fucked a student or something…”

“The boy who shot her, and…me,” Devyn tapped.

“No,” I exclaimed.

Yes, Devyn nodded.

“I’m sorry, I…why are you telling me?”

“I sort of guessed at what might have happened to you from the way you were talking at the diner,” said Devyn. “Therapists help, mine has helped me, but I know what it’s like. I thought you could use a friend.”

Just like that it all came flooding out. I don’t even know why, maybe I was just that eager for someone to understand.

“Royce, he started beating me shortly after we began dating.” I sniffled. “He was so sweet at first. I gave him my first kiss and he took everything else.”

“He…raped you?” Devyn tapped his phone.

“I never said no, I was too scared.”

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape,” said Devyn.

“He hurt me so bad, and I couldn’t stop him.” I cried and hid my face in my hands.

Devyn pulled my hands away from my face and hugged me. I shook with sobs but he continued to hold me, he was almost as good as Derek.

“I’m ok.” I sniffled after a few minutes when I began to get control of my emotions.

“I know what that’s like. You’re small like me. I couldn’t stop Ms. Carter either.”

“Did she…” I started.

“She kissed me, shoved me up against a wall and forced a blow job on me,” said Devyn.

“Yeah but did she…” I started again.

“She would have fucked me but I threw up when she put her pussy in my face.”

“No way,” I exclaimed.

“'Fraid so,” said Devyn. He shrugged his shoulders and flashed a bewildered expression. I laughed and he let out this weird, muffled wheezing sound. “All I can do is laugh about it now. It beats the alternative.”

“I can’t do that. There was nothing funny about Royce.”

“That’s ok too but what you said at the diner is true. Talking about it will help you. It’s not your fault, Griffin.”

“I need to go home.” I sniffled and wiped my eyes on my sleeve.

“Are you sure? You’re upset.”

“I’m ok; I just need to clear my head.”

“I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Devyn tapped out and chewed on his bottom lip apprehensively.

“No, I’m glad you did.” I smiled to reassure him. “You’re right, I could use a friend. I mean, I have friends, they saved my life and I’ll tell you about that someday but you, you really do understand.”

Devyn smiled and put his hand on my back. It was a comforting gesture.

“Listen, um, we don’t have any classes together, I don’t see you at lunch and then I have a study group after school. I’d like to see you again, get to know you. Can I drive you to school?”

“I usually ride with Elliot,” said Devyn.

“Oh.” I sighed and looked down at my feet.

Devyn grabbed my chin and brought my face up to meet his gaze again then he scowled and wagged his finger at me as if to say, “Quit doing that.”

I smiled at him sheepishly and he grinned.

“I ride with Elliot because my car is an unreliable POS and strands me everywhere and we have band practice together after school. Why don’t you pick me up in the morning and since we have different things to do after school I can ride home with Elliot?”

“That’s a good plan but are you sure?”

“Yes, Griffin, I’d like to get to know you too,” said Devyn.

“Ok, pick you up at 7:30?”

Devyn gave me two thumbs up.

“Cool, well, I gotta get going.” I jumped to my feet feeling better than I did just a few minutes ago because I was going to get to see Devyn again.

I trotted down the stairs and grabbed my coat and when I had it zipped up Devyn tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face him and he threw his arms open and hugged me. It was a warm hug and my chin rested on the top of his head. That was a new experience; I’m never taller then, well, anyone!

I drove home thinking about Devyn and everything we’d talked about. He’d been a victim too and it instantly made me feel close to him. Maybe there’s some kind of kinship between abused boys. When I got home my mom was just coming in from the grocery store. I grabbed a couple of bags from her trunk then she helped me drag my cello in.

“Did you have a good time?” asked Mom.

“It was great. Elliot and Devyn are amazing musicians and it was so much fun to play with them,” I replied excitedly. That part of the day had been truly wonderful, reacquainting myself with the instrument I love.

“I’m so glad,” said Mom. “Does that mean you’re going to start playing again?”

“I think so. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.”

Mom smiled at me and reached out to stoke my cheek.

“Elliot and Devyn are great too. Elliot’s really fun and friendly and Devyn, well, he’s mute but it’s so cute the way he taps out what he wants to say on his cellphone.”

“Oh, you met a cute boy huh?” Mom teased.

I hadn’t meant to blurt that out. I mean, Devyn was cute, adorable, darling, but talking about boys with my Mom, yuck.

“It’s not like that, Mom. I drove Devyn home and spent some time talking to him. He’s had some experiences like mine…”

“Oh,” said Mom, her expression turning into a frown.

“It was a good thing. I mean, not what happened to him obviously, but being able to talk to him about it. He gets me.”

“I understand, Honey, I’m glad you have a friend you can talk about things with.”

“That’s the cool thing about the group I’ve been hanging out with. I can talk to all of them and none of them judge me. But it’s nice having someone who can relate.”

Mom gave me this look, I can’t really explain it, sorrow, anger and fear all wrapped into one. I felt I had to reassure her.

“Mom, you and dad, you know I’m going to be ok, right?”

“Of course Griffy, we know that,” said Mom, leaning in to hug me.

~IBB~

I had a weird dream that night. It started off like so many of my nightmares did. I was with Royce on his bed and he was hugging me, kissing me, telling me he loved me. Then he unzipped his pants and everything changed. Suddenly I was a tiny rabbit, the bunny he always called me, and he was a wolf snarling and drooling over what was sure to be his next meal. His room was transformed into a vast wilderness and I ran from him but never seemed to get away.

I stopped to take a breath and found myself staring at tiny feet. The next thing I knew Devyn had picked me up and was snuggling me in his arms and when Royce arrived on the scene he shattered into a million pieces. I was a real boy again but still in Devyn’s arms and he spoke, not with his cell phone but with his real voice, “You’re safe now.”

I woke up panting as if I’d really been running through the woods but without the sense of dread I usually felt when Royce invaded my dreams.

“Fuck, that must be what tripping feels like,” I told the night as I ran a hand over my face.

I slept soundly after that and when I woke up I had an idea. I knew Robin went to church with his family on Sundays and from conversations at lunch on Friday, I knew Lucien was going with him. Austin was going to brunch at the country club with his aunt and uncle but I couldn’t remember Derek having any plans so I gave him a call. He picked up on the second ring.

“Hey, Griff, what’s up?”

“Not much, I was just wondering if you might want to ride over to the Barnes and Noble in Vestal with me?”

“Sure let me ask my Dad,” said Derek. He covered his phone, I heard muffled voices and he was back a second later. “Ok, we’re good but I have to eat breakfast first. Dad says if you get here within the next hour he’ll make you an omelet.”

“Cool, I’ll jump in the shower now,” I replied.

I made it to Derek’s forty-five minutes later and knocked on his door. He padded down the stairs and a second later I was putting my arms around him and resting my head against his chest.

“Rough night?” asked Derek as he enfolded his arms around me.

“Actually no, I just needed some of that good Derek stuff,” I said as I smiled and let him go.

“Looks like you came to the right place.” Derek grinned.

“You should bottle that stuff, man.”

“Come on up, breakfast is almost ready,” said Derek as he turned and trotted up the stairs.

I love Derek’s apartment. It’s in an old building and you have to walk up a flight of stairs to his actual front door and that opens into a little entryway. I don’t know how old the building is but the classic architecture is really cool with its high ceilings and moldings. It’s like something you’d see in a city like New York or maybe Boston.

“Good morning, Griffin,” said Derek’s Dad from the stove. I’d met him a few times since I started hanging out with his son.

“Hi, Mr. Pelligrini,”I replied and then Derek’s sister breezed into the kitchen. I’d never met her before.

“Morning, Dad, nerd,” she said, and then she noticed me. “Who’s this?”

“Chloe, Griffin, Griffin, Chloe,” said Derek.

“Damn, Derek! Why are all of your new friends so freaking cute?” said Chloe, making me blush.

Derek raised his eyebrow and thought for a second before he replied, “Luck?”

“Must be. Anyway, I’ve got a date, how do my girls look, Griffin?” asked Chloe as she pointed her cleavage at me.

“Uh….”

“You don’t have to answer that,” said Derek, rolling his eyes.

“Well, you said it was inappropriate to ask you,” Chloe shot him a grin, and then a horn honked. “He’s early, I better get going.”

“Who has a date on Sunday morning?” asked Mr. Pellegrini.

“Lots of people, Dad, it’s not the 50’s,” said Chloe as she headed for the door.

Mr. Pellegrini shook his head then turned to me and Derek, “Have a seat, boys. Breakfast is ready.”

“That was…interesting,” I said as I sat down and Derek’s Dad put a plate in front of me.

“Ah, she’s harmless,” said Derek with a smile.

“Do you know this guy she’s going out with?” Mr. Pellegrini asked his son.

“It’s hard to keep track.” Derek giggled.

“April, my sister, well, I’ve always been more socially naïve then her. When she was fourteen and I was twelve, er, I didn’t understand why she had all these boys calling and following her around. I saw this stupid after school special and told my parents I thought she might be a hooker,” I said with a sheepish grin.

“Oh I bet that went over well,” said Derek.

“Dad burst out laughing right then and there, Mom slapped his shoulder and told him to ‘fix,’ me.” I laughed.

“Did you get fixed?” asked Derek with a snicker.

“Well, I got a lesson on dating so I guess so,” I explained.

Mr. Pellegrini makes a mean omelet. I devoured mine and when Derek finished his we hoped in the car for the ride over to Vestal. I love spending time with Derek, conversation with him is really easy, he makes me feel comfortable and the words just start to flow.

“So what are we doing here?” asked Derek as we walked into Barnes and Noble.

“I need a book, duh.” I teased.

“No kidding? I thought we came to get a beach ball,” he rolled his eyes.

“I wouldn’t take you shopping for balls without your boyfriend.” I smirked.

Derek followed me into the store, we browsed a bit and then I found what I was looking for.

“A Primer on American Sign Language?” Derek read over my shoulder.

“Uh, yeah.” I blushed.

“I guess you and Devyn hit it off, huh?” Derek grinned wickedly.

“You could say that.” I continued to blush.

“Griffin Douglas,” said Derek, scandalized. “Did you do something with Devyn after you dropped us off?”

“Yeah,” I replied and Derek’s eyes bugged out. “We had a really nice talk.”

“Oh, phew, for a moment there I thought you fucked him,” said Derek, laughing.

“Ass.” I slapped his shoulder playfully. “I’m not in any kind of shape to fuck someone.”

“Shit, I’m sorry, Griffin, I shouldn’t be joking about that,” Derek apologized.

“Derek, I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling my parents. I’m not going to break; you don’t have to walk on egg shells around me.”

“I know it’s just…” he began.

“We’re friends, right?”

“Of course, the bestest,” said Derek with a smile.

“Then treat me like it. You can tease me the way you would the other guys; in fact, I’d feel bad if you didn’t.”

“Ok, done,” said Derek.

“Anyway, you’re a fine one to talk.”

“What are you talking about?” said Derek with a raised eyebrow.

“Just saying, the way you were walking earlier, I bet Austin got more than dinner at your house last night.”

“Maybe.” Derek blushed.

“Slut!” I exclaimed then we both started laughing.

“Hey, you know my boyfriend, can you blame me?”

“Nope, he’s beautiful, gorgeous, perfect even...”

“Ok, ok, I get it.”

“Well, he is!”

“Yeah,” said Derek, dreamily.

“It makes me wonder though. How did you trick him into dating you?”

“Oh, ha-ha,” said Derek.

I patted my buddy on the shoulder and said, “See, I can tease too.”

Derek rolled his eyes, put his arm around my shoulders and we walked to the checkout counter. After I made my purchase we went to the nearest Starbucks for some coffee, ok, we ordered hot chocolate, and sat around chatting for a bit. I dropped Derek off at his house early, I figured Austin would be home and they’d want to spend some quality boyfriend time together before Monday took us back to our busy schedules. I was also looking forward to some quality time but with my parents.

Being with Royce was a fulltime job. I had school and him and there was little room for anything else, even my family. I missed my parents and we’ve been making it a point to spend Sunday afternoon’s together lately even if it’s just hanging around the house watching TV. When I walked in the house that afternoon Mom was just microwaving some popcorn and when it was finished we joined Dad in the living room to watch a movie.

I snuggled on the couch between my parents with the bowl of popcorn on my lap and thought about my week. I’d rediscovered the cello, made a new friend in Elliot and there was just something about Devyn. Even as we were trading sob stories there was this positive energy between us. A strange feeling came over me then, something I hadn’t felt in a long time and I couldn’t help laughing out loud.

“What’s with you?” asked Dad. We weren’t watching a comedy.

“I, well, I feel happy.” I giggled again and grabbed a handful of popcorn. My parents traded a look, shrugged their shoulders and turned back to the TV.

That night after I retired to my room for the evening I began the arduous task of teaching myself American Sign Language. I wanted to be able to communicate with Devyn without his cell phone and if we were going to become the friends I hoped we would I thought the best thing to do would be to at least try and learn his language. It proved to be harder than I thought as some of the signs were rather complex. I ended up falling asleep face down in the book I’d bought with Derek.

I had the dream again that night. I was the bunny running through the forest with Royce the wolf chasing after me. Devyn picked me up again and used his power to destroy my tormentor. “You’re safe now,” he’d said and when I woke I wasn’t scared, I was curious. What was it about Devyn that had the power to destroy Royce and make me feel safe? It was a question I couldn’t answer so I rolled over and went back to sleep rather than try and wrestle with it.

When next I woke it was time to get up and face the day. I got up and padded across the hall to take my shower. I came back with a towel wrapped around my waist a few minutes later and opened the blinds and blackout curtains that made my room dark as night on the brightest of days. I’ve never been one to set out his clothes for the next day the night before. My routine was to take my shower then open the blinds and see what kind of day I had to face.

That morning I opened the blinds to find there was a lite snow falling which meant it would be cold as hell. Snow is probably the biggest difference between my home in New York and the home I’d left behind in California. In California if we wanted to see snow we had to drive up to Tahoe, in New York the snow settled in around early December and covered us until spring. I turned to my closet and started layering up.

I liked wearing briefs but when it was cold I thought boxer-briefs were more comfortable. I grabbed a pair of grey Jockey’s and two pairs of white Nike athletic socks, jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt and a black pullover half-zip sweater. I dressed quickly and put on a pair of brown Doc Martens then grabbed my North Face jacket, gloves and a scarf before heading downstairs. I grabbed a quick breakfast then headed out to the car.

I hoped into my little Prius, popped my iPod into the port then started scrolling through my playlists. As I said before, I like rock music when I drive but that morning I skipped right past “Driving,” and settled on “Griff’s Riffs,” instead. It was a collection of recordings I’d made before moving to New York, a list I hadn’t touched since giving up the cello.

I made the short drive to Devyn’s and arrived right on time. I honked the horn and when he stepped out of the house I had to giggle at how cute he was. He was bundled up for the cold and in his peacoat, scarf and knit cap he reminded me of Paddington Bear. When he got in the car and buckled up I flashed him the only sign I could remember from the night before, “Good morning.”

Devyn raised an eyebrow then pulled out his phone, “Where did you learn that?”

“I bought a book,” I replied.

Devyn smiled and maybe it was just the cold but there was a little blush in his cheeks. I would have put the car in gear and driven off then but because I had to read his remarks I waited to see if he had anything else to say before we left. After a split second he tapped out, “I like this music, is it the Vitamin String Quartet?”

“Nope, just me and my cello,” I replied with a smile.

Devyn’s eyebrows shot up then he said, “Whoa, you really are pretty good. This song, it’s by Dave Matthews?”

“Yeah, Satellite.”

Devyn smiled, gave me two thumbs up and then turned up the volume. He pointed ahead with his index finger and I took that to mean he was ready to go so I put the car in gear and drove off. We obviously didn’t talk on the drive; I’d end up getting a ticket if I kept looking over at his phone. Instead we listened to a few more songs I’d covered, U2’s Beautiful Day and Fallout Boy’s My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark.

When I pulled into a parking spot at Columbia High and shut off the engine, Devyn frantically tapped out, “What would you think of joining Sahara?”

“Oh no, I don’t think I’m ready for that.” I shook my head.

“Griffin, you are a very good cellist. You should think about it.”

“I don’t know. I just met you guys. I wouldn’t feel right worming my way into your thing.”

Devyn rolled his eyes, “Anything that makes our band better is a good thing. Elliot agrees.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“He texted me after you left Saturday. He thinks you’re ‘The cat’s tits.”

I couldn’t help laughing at the expression.

“He has a way with words.” Devyn smiled. “When do you have lunch?”

“First period,” I replied.

“Me too,” Devyn tapped his phone.

“I’ve never seen you.”

“That’s probably because I brown bag it and eat with Elliot and the band in the band room. Why don’t you come hang out with us one day just to see how you mesh with the rest of the group?”

“Ok, I guess that couldn’t hurt,” I readily agreed.

“Good. One last thing before we head to class, can you burn me a copy of this playlist?”

“You really like it?”

“Griffin, it’s phenomenal.”

“Alright, sure.” I smiled.

After that we climbed out of the car and the moment our feet hit the sidewalk, Lucien parked his van next to my Prius. He had Robin, Derek and Austin with him as usual. They didn’t look surprised to see me with Devyn.

“Hey guys,” said Lucien. “How’s it going, Devyn?”

Devyn tapped out a reply and held it up for me to read for him, “Great, my new friend is a musical genius.” I started blushing after reading the note and Devyn winked at me.

“Yeah, he blew me away Saturday,” said Robin, clapping me on the shoulder.

“I have to get going,” I read for Devyn. “See ya.”

“Devyn’s awesome, Griffin, I’m glad you hit it off with him,” said Lucien once Devyn was out of earshot.

“Yeah he’s cool.” I smiled.

“How do I put this delicately,” said Robin, chewing on his bottom lip. “Did he, er, tell you about, um, his experiences?”

“Oh, yeah, we compared notes,” I stated.

“Ok,” said Robin, breathing a sigh of relief. I took his earlier lip chewing to mean he didn’t want to betray Devyn’s confidence.

“How do you guys know about it?” I’d heard the rumors about Ms. Carter but nothing about Devyn prior to meeting him. That didn’t mean it wasn’t common knowledge though. I’d been so isolated.

“You remember when you came to my house after you, Hamster and Derek had that dust up with Royce?”

“Yeah, I vaguely remember that.” I rolled my eyes. How could I ever forget?

“Right, duh,” said Robin. “Anyway, when I told you that my dad had helped my friends before, I was talking about Dev.”

“Anyway,” said Lucien. “If I’d known you were musical I’d have introduced you to Devyn sooner. He’s really cool.”

“Yeah, he is,” I agreed.

That’s when the bell rang and we all swore. We’d been standing there bullshitting and none of us had gone to our lockers to get our stuff for first period. We scrambled to get to class before the final bell rang with nothing more said then, “See you at lunch.”

The week was a busy one at school and I found myself looking forward to two things, the nightly study group with my friends and my morning commute with Devyn. I gave him the CD he asked for on Tuesday and then, since we were early, we sat in the car and talked. That became something of our routine; sitting in the car and just talking and it wasn’t all about Royce or Ms. Carter and our problems. Sure, we covered that and it made me feel incredibly close to Devyn but we also talked about music, our different circles of friends, pretty much anything under the sun.

Eventually I took Devyn up on his request that I have lunch with him and his band mates. I brown bagged it Thursday and told my friends I wouldn’t see them at lunch because I had something to do. I didn’t tell them where I was going because I didn’t want them to know Devyn had asked me to join the band. I know my friends would encourage it because that’s just how they are, but I’m not ready yet. Devyn keeps telling me how much he loves the CD I burned him but I recorded that over a year ago and I’d only played with he and Elliot the one time. I was practicing with my cello at home but didn’t feel confident enough to play in public, not just yet.

I didn’t tell Devyn I planned to join him that afternoon. He’d extended the offer every day that week and since it was an open invitation I got it in my head that it would be fun to surprise him. When lunch started I stopped by my looker to grab mine and then walked over to the band room. Devyn’s eyes went wide with surprise then he smiled and wagged a finger at me as I stood in the doorway. He walked over to me and tapped out on his phone, “You finally found us.”

“Yeah, I’ve been looking all week, you could have been more specific on the directions,” I joked.

Devyn rolled his eyes, shook his head and tapped his phone, “Your sense of humor is as bad as Elliot’s.”

He took my hand and pulled me all the way into the room to meet his friends. Elliot was there and he fist bumped me then addressed Devyn, “You want me to make the introductions, save your fingers a little work?”

Devyn nodded.

“Ok guys, this is the famous Griffin Douglas you’ve heard so much about,” Elliot announced.

“Heard so much about?”

“Yeah dude, we’ve been listening to that CD you made for Dev all week…” Elliot started. I glanced quickly at Devyn who blushed and shrugged his shoulders.

The rest of the band had come over to meet me and one of the girls said, “Yeah and we’ve been planning how we’re going to trick you into joining us.”

“That’s our drummer, Tricia,” said Elliot, then he introduced the rest of the band. “That’s Trent, the bassist and this is Sara, our lead guitarist.”

“Nice to meet you guys.” I waved.

“Seriously though,” said Trent. “What’s it going to take to get you to join up? Money, sex, drugs?”

“I hope not,” said Sara. “We don’t have any money or drugs and I doubt he wants to sleep with any of us.”

My eyes darted to Devyn and I blushed but shook it off before anyone noticed.

“Speak for yourself woman,” Trent exclaimed. “I am a sexy bitch.”

“Back to the topic at hand.” Sara rolled her eyes. “Join us Griffin, one of us, one of us, one of us,” she chanted.

“Back off, ya leg humpers,” said Elliot. “Let the man get a word in, quit going at him like a bunch of bitches in heat.”

“Um, thanks, Elliot.” I laughed. “Listen, I told Devyn I’m really not ready to perform yet, I only just started playing again. I came to have lunch and meet you guys. That’s as far as I can commit right now.”

“What about this,” said Elliot. “What if you bring your cello one day next week and just jam with us after school? It’ll be just like my basement only we’ll have a few more instruments to play with.”

“Ok, I guess I could do that.”

“And, to sweeten the deal, none of us will bug you about joining until then,” said Elliot. “Right guys?”

“Deal,” said Trent.

“Sure,” Tricia added.

“Whatever it takes.” Sara smiled. “It’ll give you a chance to meet Mr. Norris too.”

“Yeah, where is he?” I asked, directing the spotlight away from myself.

“Oh, he has class this period he just leaves the room open for us then heads across the hall to teach freshman choir,” said Tricia.

After that we sat around Mr. Norris’s desk to eat our lunch. Devyn sat next to me and bumped my leg with his every now and then and when it happened I got a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. Devyn’s leg had just brushed against mine and I was so focused on it I didn’t notice my phone was ringing until a smiling Sara tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Gonna get that?”

“Oh, right, sorry,” I replied sheepishly. I glanced at the number and didn’t recognize but answered anyway. “Hello?”

“Hey, Bunny,” said a voice that turned my blood cold.

“R-Royce?” I choked out. Devyn’s head snapped up and his eyes locked on mine.

“W-what do you want?” Everyone noticed the timber of my voice. All conversation stopped and all eyes were on me.

“I missed you and I wanted to say I was sorry,” said Royce.

“Sorry, sorry?” I exclaimed. “What are you sorry for, beating me, breaking into my house, trying to rape me, trying to rape my friend?” I demanded.

“Look, I know I hurt you and…”

“Hurt me, you son of a bitch you have no idea…”

“They beat me up in jail,” said Royce, catching me off guard. “I can’t go back there. I thought if we talked, if you knew how sorry I was…”

“I might drop the charges?” I scoffed.

“Please, Bunny, I love you…”

“Liar. You’re nothing but a liar.”

“Now look, Griffin,” said Royce, his temper rising.

“No, you look, Royce. You’re going to jail for what you did to me and I don’t care what those cons do to you. Don’t ever call me again,” I exclaimed and hung up.

I was panting. It was like I’d been holding my breath the entire time I was talking to him. My body was shivering, quaking in fear. You could have heard a pin drop in the band room and when the phone rang again, Royce’s new number flashing across the screen, I shouted, “FUCK,” and threw my phone, shattering it against the wall.

“Are you alright?” asked Tricia.

I wasn’t. My eyes were welling up, the tears were coming and I didn’t want the band to see. They’d seen enough already.

“I’ve gotta go. I’ve gotta get out of here, I gotta go,” I stammered. I grabbed my bag and ran out of the room. I didn’t stop running until I found an exit door and broke out into the snow covered parking lot. Tears were running down my cheeks in torrents and I felt like I might throw up. I doubled over and rested my hands on my knees but only managed a dry heave. I stood when I felt a hand on my shoulder and found Devyn standing next to me.

“It’s ok.” I read his phone.

I threw my arms around him and hugged him so tight I’m amazed I didn’t break him in half. I wanted Derek, but my security blanket wasn’t there and Devyn was more than an adequate substitute. He rubbed my back and let me drench his shoulder with my tears. When I stopped shuddering, Devyn pulled away and tapped out on his phone, “Give me your keys, I’ll drive you home.”

“What about school?” I sniffled.

“Fuck school, you need to go home and calm down,” said Devyn.

He was right. I wasn’t crying anymore but my body was still shaking and I knew it wasn’t from the cold. I fished my keys out of my pocket, handed them over without objection and gave Devyn my address. By the time we walked through the front door my fear had turned to rage.

“That mother fucker! How dare he!” I shouted as I paced the living room. Devyn stood at the threshold letting me rant but keeping a close eye on me. “After everything he put me through, what he did to Austin, what he was going to do to all of us, he actually thinks I could forgive him? That sick twisted fuck! I should have shot him when I had the chance.”

Finally Devyn walked over and stopped me. I was still ranting, ranting right in his face, so he put his hands on my shoulders and shook me until he had my full attention. When I stopped, when I stood there panting, he raised his phone and tapped, “It’s over, Griffin. You’re safe. Austin is safe. Your friends are safe. It’s time to calm down.”

“Ok,” I sighed, “You’re right.”

Devyn took me over to the couch and sat me down, then he went into the kitchen and came back with a glass of water. I drank the water and when Devyn sat next to me and put his hand on my shoulder I said, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Devyn tapped out. “I would have reacted the same way if my abuser called me out of the blue.”

“Thanks.” I smiled sheepishly. I was a little embarrassed for having a meltdown in front of Devyn.

“I only heard your side of the conversation but I gather he wanted you to forgive him?”

“Yeah.” I nodded.

“Abusers are liars,” Devyn tapped and sighed after I read the note.

“That’s for sure.”

“Griffin, you said you should have shot him when you had the chance. You’ve never told me that part of the story,” said Devyn.

I didn’t answer him right away. For a moment I looked out the living room window and relived the awful night when I walked into this room and stepped on broken glass. The night when Royce broke into my home and attacked me and my friend, the night he tried to rape us and threatened to kill us, the night I almost blew his head off.

“It happened right where we’re sitting, Dev.” I sighed and ran a hand over my face. “He was angry because I’d been hanging out with Lucien and the guys; he broke into my house while my parents were out to dinner. I came home and he was waiting for me. He was going to rape me but I’d forgotten my backpack and Austin brought it in for me. When he saw what was happening he tried to help me but Royce was bigger. Royce was going to hurt him so I got my dad’s gun and when I came back, Austin was unconscious. Royce was taking his pants off; he was going to rape him too. I couldn’t let him do that so I fired a round into the ceiling.”

“That wasn’t the end, I can tell,” said Devyn.

“It got him off of Austin but, God, Devyn; I wanted to shoot him so bad. I told him if he moved I’d blow his head off and I stood there willing him to move.” I shook my head still stunned that I hadn’t shot him. I’d wanted it so bad in that moment I could taste it. It was bitter and foul.

“What stopped you?”

“Robin. He and the guys were waiting out in the van and came running when they heard the shot. He talked me down.”

“Robin is a good guy,” said Devyn.

“Yeah, one of the best,” I said. “I love them all.”

Devyn leaned back on the couch and pulled me against him. When he started stroking my hair I couldn’t help giggling. “What are you doing?”

Devyn held his phone down in front of me and I read, “Helping you relax.”

What the hell, I thought to myself and snuggled in. I rested my head against his chest and focused on the beating of his heart. It was relaxing and eventually I became so relaxed I fell asleep. The dream started as usual, me with Royce on his bed about to take me, then I was the bunny and he was the wolf. The dream played out like normal but this time when Devyn saved me he had more to say, “You’re safe now…because I love you.”

I woke and found myself still resting against Devyn, wrapped in his arms. Devyn was sound asleep and I tried to process the twist my dream had taken when the sound that woke me to begin with repeated, a knock at the door. I got off the couch and padded to the door and when I opened it I found Robin, Lucien, Derek and Austin standing there.

“Are you ok?” asked Derek as he pushed past the others and enveloped me in a hug.

“Yeah, I’m ok now,” I said and squeezed Derek back for a second. “How did you guys know?”

“Elliot came and found us,” said Lucien as he handed over my broken phone. “He thought you might want this. It’s trashed but your SIM card should be ok.”

“Oh, yeah, I sort of lost my temper.” I blushed. “Anyway, I’m glad to see you guys, come in.”

I led the guys into the living room where Devyn was yawning and stretching. His shirt came up a bit and I got a look at his little stomach. Damn if he’s not a cutie. I shook the thought from my mind and sat down with my friends. I was next to Devyn and Austin sat closely on my other side. He always does that, sits close when he thinks I need protection. He doesn’t think I know what he’s doing, but I’m glad he does it.

“Thanks for looking after him, Dev,” said Derek.

“He’s my friend too,” Devyn tapped out on his phone.

“Griffin, you can’t let Royce get away with this. He can’t just call you like that, it’s gotta be illegal or something,” said Robin.

“I know but what can I do?”

“Will you let me call my dad?” asked Robin.

“Ok.” I sighed.

Robin went into the kitchen to talk to his dad but a moment later he came back out and handed me the phone. Judge Kirkwood had me tell him everything Royce said in as much detail as I could. When I was finished he asked me to hand the phone back to Robin who disappeared into the kitchen again.

“Griff, I’m so sorry,” said Lucien. My friends of course heard everything I told the judge which saved me from having to retell it again for their benefit.

“Nothing to be sorry about, you didn’t do it,” I said.

“I know, I just don’t like to see you upset,” said Lucien.

“Good thing you weren’t here a couple of hours ago.” I smiled weakly and both Austin and Devyn put comforting hands on my shoulders.

“Is there anything we can do?” asked Derek.

“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. Your support means a lot to me, guys,” I replied.

“I have to say, from what Elliot told us and after hearing what you told Robin’s Dad, I’m surprised you’re as calm as you are now,” said Lucien.

“Thank Dev for that,” I said and put my arm around the little guy. “He helped me calm down.”

Devyn squeezed in a little closer by way of thanking me for my comment.

“Ok,” said Robin, returning to the room. “Dad says that what Royce did is a big no, no. He’s not allowed to contact you because you’re the victim and the principal witness against him.”

“So can he do anything?” I asked.

“Not technically because he knows you, knows all of us, and since we’re also witnesses it would be a conflict of interest,” Robin explained.

“Great,” I sighed.

“Hold on,” said Robin. “Dad said he’d get the ball rolling. He’s going to call Judge McClure and when Dad tells him what’s happened, he’ll revoke Royce’s bail and issue a warrant to have him brought in. Dad’s also going to call the sheriff’s office and have them send someone over to take your statement.”

“What if they can’t find him?” asked Derek, giving voice to the thought running through my head.

“Dad says that as a condition of Royce’s bail he has to wear an ankle monitor, all the sheriff has to do is send someone over to pick him up,” Robin explained.

“Can’t his parent’s just bail him out again?” I asked.

“They can,” said Robin, “But it’ll cost them a lot more and my dad says the moment it happens he’ll issue a restraining order keeping Royce 500 feet away from you at all times.”

“He can do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, he said he’d be happy to,” said Robin.

I got up and hugged Robin, “Thanks and thank your dad for me, too.”

“Anytime, Griff,” said Robin, patting me on the back.

“So, um, would you guys mind staying here and waiting for the cops to come take my statement?”

“Duh, like we were going anywhere,” said Lucien. “We might as well get an early start on study group.”

The guys started digging out their books and I leaned into Devyn and whispered, “You’ll stay too, right?”

“Sure,” he tapped out on his phone. “You’re my ride anyway.”

I laughed at his cheeky comment and everyone looked at me but I brushed it off. I wanted to keep the little joke to myself. It belonged to me and Devyn. Because it wasn’t an emergency, there wasn’t an impending danger, it took the cops two hours before they got to my house to take my statement. It was all very straightforward and I was just warping up when my parents got home. My mom is a part-time professor at SUNY Binghamton, she usually gets home before me, but she had a faculty meeting that day and since she’d be staying late she rode with dad.

“What’s going on? Is everything alright?” asked my Mom as she raced in and hugged me.

“It’s fine, Mom, I’m ok,” I assured her.

“What’s going on?” asked Dad, parroting Mom’s question.

“Royce called me at school today…” I began.

“That little son of a bitch…” Dad started.

“It’s ok, Dad. I was upset at first but I’m ok. Robin called his dad and he’s working with the judge in the case to have Royce’s bail revoked. The cops just came to get my statement.”

“Speaking of which, Mr. Douglas,” said the officer, speaking for the first time. “Because your son is a minor I need you to have a look at his statement and sign it as well.”

“Right, of course,” said Dad.

“Thank you, Robin,” said Mom, giving him a quick hug.

“Anytime, Mrs. Douglas, we love this guy,” said Robin, shooting me a wink. “Someone’s gotta watch his back.”

Dad dealt with the cops and the guys packed up their things. Mom tried to get them to stay for dinner but they all insisted they were expected at home. Each of my friends hugged me when they left and then I grabbed my jacket so I could take Devyn home. Lucien offered to drop him off but I wanted to do it myself. When we got to Devyn’s house he tapped out a note, “I have an idea. Would you like to spend the night tomorrow?”

“Really?”

“It might help you take your mind off of things. We don’t have to talk about Royce, we can just hang out,” said Devyn.

“I have an appointment with my therapist tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Devyn replied. “Maybe some other time then?”

His eyes became down cast for a moment, he looked so disappointed.

“Hold on,” I said. “I see Dr. Freeman right after school. I can come over when I’m finished. I just have to get permission from Mom.”

“Oh,” Devyn tapped out with a big happy smile on his little face. “Great! See you tomorrow.”

He opened the door but before he could get out I pulled him to me and hugged him. When I released him he quirked an eyebrow.

“I just felt like it.” I smiled.

Devyn blushed, then waved and got out of the car.

Mom had dinner ready when I got home but Dad wasn’t there. Mom said he’d gone out to run an errand so she put a plate in the oven for him and we ate alone. It was my job to wash the dishes after dinner and I was just finishing when Dad walked in and handed me a new phone.

“The guy at Verizon said all you have to do is switch the SIM card with the one from your old phone and you’ll be back in business,” said Dad.

“Dad, you didn’t have to run out and get me a new phone, I could have waited.”

“No way, with everything that’s been going on, I don’t want you going anywhere without a way to get a hold of me if you need to.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I gave him a quick hug.

After that I watched a little TV with my parents then retired to my room but not before I got permission to stay the night at Devyn’s. My parents said it was ok and when I got to my room he was all I could think about, or rather, what he’d said in my dream. “You’re safe now…because I love you.” What could that possibly mean? I know enough about psychology to know that dreams are creatures of the subconscious mind but what was my subconscious trying to tell me? Sure I thought Devyn was cute and he was quickly becoming one of my best friends but did I want more? Was that even possible now? It’d been such a short time since I got away from Royce I didn’t know if I could love someone yet.

I had the dream again that night and it ended the same way it had the last time, “…because I love you.” I looked at Devyn in a different light when I picked him up for school that morning. I’m not sure what I was looking for really, maybe some spark of interest on his part, I don’t know. When we got to school he asked me if I was still coming over and I told him I’d be there by five. He flashed me a happy smile and the sign I’d learned for, “See you later,” then headed off to class. It was a typical Friday at school and when the last bell rang I headed over to Dr. Freeman’s.

I see Dr. Freeman at his home rather than at his office in Binghamton. He explained that he liked to work from home but there weren’t enough patients to keep him busy in Sanitaria Springs so he only worked there on Fridays. When I got to his house Mrs. Freeman answered the door and ushered me into her husband’s study.

“Hey there, Griffin,” Dr. Freeman’s voice boomed across the room as he came over to shake my hand. Dr. Freeman is easily 6’5” and probably close to 300 pounds. He’s African-American with closely cropped hair that’s begun to go gray at the temples. My hand felt tiny when he shook it with his massive paw. You’d think I’d be uncomfortable with someone so much bigger after Royce and the way he used his size against me but Dr. Freeman put me at ease. He was a teddy bear of a man who radiated calm and concern and made me feel like he’d tear someone to shreds if they tried to hurt me. I’d say it was a good quality to have in a therapist as it made opening up to him easy to do.

“Hey, Doc.” I smiled and took my seat on the couch as he sat across from me in a wing backed chair.

“Your mom called me this morning, said you had a little trouble yesterday,” Dr. Freeman began.

“Royce called me at school.”

“Did he now? What did he have to say?”

“A bunch of bullshit; that he loved me and he was sorry.”

“How did it make you feel to hear him say those things?”

“It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. They were lies then and they are lies now.” I sighed.

“I’m glad you understand that.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked with a puzzled expression.

“Believe it or not when some people have been abused for so long they start to see their abuser’s behavior as love and defend them,” said Dr. Freeman.

“But that’s…it’s so sad.” I shook my head.

“It is but it can be helped with therapy,” said Dr. Freeman. “Back to the matter at hand though, I asked you how you felt, not what you thought.”

“Right, well, scared at first and then angry, really angry. I kept wishing I’d pulled the trigger, that I’d shot him.”

“All natural feelings,” said Dr. Freeman. “You’re entitled to be angry, Griffin. Someone you thought loved you, and you loved in return, used your feelings to hurt you.”

“Yeah, I know, I just wish I could shake off that thought, that I wished I’d shot him.”

“Why?”

“Because I know what doing it would have meant. I’d be the one in trouble, not him. His parents would be on the news talking about how I murdered their poor boy and when I told the truth everyone would think I was lying just to save my ass,” I explained.

“That’s a very logical thought process you’ve constructed but I think you can reach deeper.”

“I don’t like having that kind of anger inside me. I’ll never in a million years forgive Royce for what he did to me but I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I’d killed him.” I sighed.

“That’s your conscience at work, Griffin. More than anything, more than your friend talking you out of it, your conscience protected you when you had that gun on Royce.”

“How do you mean?”

“It stopped you from becoming something you didn’t want to become.”

“I guess so,” I replied and then scratched my head. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Alright, what’s on your mind?”

“Since we last met I’ve been having this weird dream.”

“Interesting, tell me about it.”

I explained the dream in as much detail as I could recall. Dr. Freeman took furious notes and when I was done, when I’d told him about, “You’re safe now…because I love you,” he hit me with an old shrink standard.

“What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know.” I sighed in frustration.

“You’ve been spending a lot of time with this Devyn?”

“Yeah, driving him to school and hanging out a bit. He’s the one who drove me home after the call from Royce yesterday and helped calm me down. He’s like me, you see, he’s been a victim too,” I explained.

“That might explain why you feel safe with him. He’s been a victim and your subconscious thinks, because Devyn understands that experience, he’d never hurt you,” said Dr. Freeman.

“Yeah but what about the other part, the love part?”

“He’s a nice boy, you like him?”

“Sure, he’s a lot of fun, I really like talking to him, I feel like I could tell him anything,” I gushed.

“He’s cute?”

“Adorable, he’s got this shaggy blond hair and these amazing eyes and the tiniest feet, I mean I’m not some foot fetish weirdo or anything but they’re just so little and cute…”

“Easy, take a breath,” said Dr. Freeman with a chuckle.

“Sorry.” I blushed.

“Griffin, do you think it’s possible that Devyn says I love you in the dream because, well, you love him?”

“Maybe but how is that possible? I mean I just got away from Royce, shouldn’t there be, I don’t know, some sort of downtime or something?”

“I think your subconscious figured out what Royce was a long time ago and stopped loving him then. So while you haven’t been out from under his thumb for very long you’ve reconciled it’s ok to love someone else,” said Dr. Freeman.

“So what does that mean, should I just go out there and tell Devyn, hey I love you, wanna be my new boyfriend?”

“Not exactly.” Dr. Freeman chuckled. “I think it means you should allow yourself to accept the possibility you could be in love with this boy and do what your heart tells you.”

“Maybe…I’ll think about it.”

“Excellent,” said Dr. Freeman.

My session ended not long after that and I drove across town to Devyn’s. Was I in love with him? I’d never believed in love at first sight before. When I fell in love with Royce it had all been about physical attraction at first. He was hot and I wanted him but it was his initial kindness that made me love him. It was all very confusing and as I arrived at Devyn’s I tried to drive the thoughts from my mind so that I could enjoy my time with my friend.

Devyn must have been waiting for me because he opened the door half a second after I knocked. He greeted me with a bright smile and a wave.

“Hi.” I smiled back and he gestured for me to come in.

“Hi, Griffin, glad you could come,” said Mrs. Kennedy when I walked in.

“Yeah, me too.”

“Hope you like spaghetti,” said Mrs. Kennedy. “Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”

“Hope you made a lot, spaghetti is my favorite.” I grinned.

I looked at Devyn and he rubbed his stomach in a manner that suggested spaghetti was his favorite too. We took my bag up to Devyn’s room but no sooner had I put it down his mom was calling us to dinner. Mrs. Kennedy proved to be an excellent cook and I ate two helpings of her spaghetti and only stopped there so as not to make a pig of myself. After dinner we went back to Devyn’s room and I asked him where his dad was. He said he worked late on Fridays and I probably wouldn’t meet him until the morning.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said.

“Trust me, you’re not missing anything,” Devyn tapped his phone with a sigh.

That made me feel bad for him but I didn’t ask questions. I love my Dad, love spending time with him and really missed that while I was with Royce. I didn’t know anything about Devyn’s relationship with his dad and didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by asking him about it.

After the awkward dad moment, we settled in on Devyn’s bed and played some video games then watched a little TV. When it was time to call it a night I took my bag across the hall to change in the bathroom. I’ve always been modest, I don’t like changing in gym, and I was afraid there might be some residual bruising on my back from the last beating Royce gave me. I knew I was being silly, bruises don’t last that long but on the off chance there was one there; I didn’t want Devyn to see it.

When I went back into Devyn’s room he was propped up against the headboard. He was wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms like me but it was his feet that drew my attention.

“Pink socks?”

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I have to confess, you have the cutest little feet.”

Devyn blushed and looked away but there was a wisp of a smile on his face. I don’t know what possessed me but I grabbed his ankle and started to tickle his foot. Devyn laughed his muffled wheezing laugh but fought to get away harder than anyone I’d ever tickled. I let him go when he kicked forcefully at my hand. Devyn pulled his feet up under him where I couldn’t reach them.

“Please stop. I don’t like it,” Devyn tapped his phone.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it,” I apologized.

“I know you were just playing. It’s not your fault,” said Devyn.

“Can I ask why it upset you so much?”

Devyn let out a sigh and then tapped out, “My uncles are total assholes. When I lost my voice one of them started calling me Muttley.”

“Muttley?”

“I didn’t know what it meant at first so I looked it up. Muttley is a cartoon dog that laughs like me. My uncles like to tickle me so they can laugh at me.”

“Devyn, I’m so sorry. I like your laugh. I wasn’t trying to insult you.”

“I know, you’re like Elliot, he likes it too. I just have such bad memories about being tickled, I don’t like it.”

“I get it.”

After that we climbed into bed. When I woke the next morning I was alone. I didn’t know where Devyn had gone but I heard laughter coming from the living room and followed the noise downstairs. I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes when I got to the landing and found four men in the living room; one was watching TV and one of them was holding Devyn down, pinning his little wrists to the floor with one hand while he viciously tickled his ribs with the other. The rest of the men laughed. Devyn was laughing his forced laugh and struggling to get away.

I instantly thought of Royce holding me down to beat me with his belt or to make sure I didn’t squirm when he fucked me so hard I cried.

“Stop,” I said, but the men couldn’t hear me over their laughter so I shouted, “STOP!”

Everything went quiet and all eyes turned on me.

“Get off of him, let him go,” I ordered.

“Who’s this little piss ant?” said the man holding Devyn down.

“Yeah make fun of my size you tub of shit. Does it make you feel good, picking on little boys?”

I guess the guy was caught off guard when I stood up for myself because he loosened his hold and Devyn was able to wiggle out from under him. He ran to me and started pushing me back towards the stairs.

“That’s right, get back up there and fuck each other like a couple of little faggots,” said the man who’d held Devyn down.

I was about to unleash on him when the guy watching TV stood up and gently said, “Dev, you and your friend go on upstairs.”

I didn’t want to go; I wanted to tell this asshole what I thought of him. I wanted tell him what a piece of shit he was for hurting my friend. I wanted to tell him everything I’d never been able to say to Royce but Devyn looked at me with pleading eyes so I started back up the stairs.

“That’s right, get up there,” the asshole called after us.

“Ted, I’ve had it with you picking on my kid. Get the fuck out of my house.”

We stopped at the top of the stairs and Devyn’s eyes went wide.

“Ah, you’re just saying that because you don’t want to catch hell from your old lady,” said Ted.

“Maybe so but I’m not going to end up divorced and out on my ass because you can’t keep your trap shut. Leave the kid alone or get the fuck out.”

Devyn smiled brightly as Ted bitched and moaned but did as he was told and stormed out of the house. We went back into Devyn’s room and he started to sign frantically, the smile growing wider as he went.

“Dev, stop, I don’t know enough, I don’t know what you’re saying.”

He took a deep breath, grabbed my face in both hands and planted a kiss on my lips. I was stunned when he pulled back and grabbed his phone, “Thank you for sticking up for me.”

I looked at him, so happy, so beautiful and though I still didn’t understand the desires of my subconscious I said to hell with it and pulled him to me. I kissed Devyn and he kissed me back. His lips parted and my tongue slipped past them. We fell back on his bed and made out passionately. After a few minutes we stopped to take a breath and Devyn mouthed, “Wow.”

“Yeah.” I smiled.

Devyn grabbed his phone and tapped out, “You kiss better than Elliot.”

“Elliot, oh my God, is he your boyfriend? I didn’t know! I shouldn’t have…” I started blurting out but Devyn raised his hand and tapped out a message.

“I kissed you first.”

“Oh, yeah, you did.”

“And Elliot isn’t my boyfriend. He was for a while, but not anymore.”

“But you guys hang out so much and he’s so familiar with you…”

“He’s been a very good friend to me, Griffin. I love him but I’m not in love with him. He feels the same way. We tried dating but decided we make better friends. He has a crush on a girl now.”

“Oh.”

“Do you think you might love me?” asked Devyn. He looked up at me after he tapped out the message with a nervous expression on his face.

“I-I don’t know. I feel like I do but, Devyn, Royce fucked me up so bad I’m not sure what to do.”

“We’ve both been hurt, Griffin, but if you’re interested, we could take it slow. You should know though, I have feelings for you.”

“I feel so good when I’m with you.”

“You make me feel the same way.”

“Promise we’ll take it slow?”

“Promise, I don’t want to get hurt either,” said Devyn.

“Let’s give it a try.” I smiled.

Devyn smiled too then gave me a gentle kiss. I spent the day at Devyn’s house and then got permission to bring him home to spend the night at my place. We ended up spending the whole weekend together just talking and getting to know each other on a deeper level. We came from pretty different backgrounds but discovered we had so much in common besides the abuse we’d suffered.

On Monday I took my cello to school and at the end of the day I lugged it into the band room to jam with Sahara. The band, even Mr. Norris, begged me to join up and I have to say they’re wearing me down. I don’t want to get into a situation where my boyfriend dominates my entire life again, but I want to spend more time with Devyn and if that means joining the band, so be it.

After band practice I took Devyn with me to Robin’s house for study group. The guys welcomed Devyn with open arms and we were soon doing our homework. I love my friends and wanted them to know how happy Devyn made me feel. I wasn’t sure how to announce it to the group without sounding like a goober so as the studying wrapped up, I reached across the table and held Devyn’s hand for all to see.

“Uh, looks like you guys hit it off better than I thought,” said Lucien.

“Yeah, we kind of did.” Devyn and I both smiled.

“Itty bitty boyfriends, that’s so cute,” Derek exclaimed.

Devyn rolled his eyes and I said, “Derek, please never call us that again.”

“Alright but you two are soooooooo cute,” Derek exclaimed.

Devyn and I blushed.

“Derek’s right though,” said Austin. “I’m happy for you. Looks like you’ve got everything you could want.”

“Not quite,” said Robin. “He hasn’t gotten my present yet.”

“Present?” I asked raising an eyebrow. “Why are you giving me a present?”

“Because, you know, reasons and stuff. I’ll be right back,” said Robin as he ran up to his room.

“Do you know what this is about?” I asked Lucien.

“No, I’m usually in on his schemes but I’m as stumped as you,” said Lucien.

“Here,” said Robin when he came back downstairs and handed me a large manila envelope. “Open it.”

I looked at Devyn; he just shrugged his shoulders so I opened the envelope and extracted the magazine inside.

“Last month’s GQ?”

“Turn to page 36 and read the note,” said Robin. “Out loud.”

I thumbed to the proper page and recognized the ad, Robin’s brother.

“Dear Griffin, Thank you for your interest in my jeans. Affectionately Yours, Kale Kirkwood.”

The guys started laughing and I dropped the magazine on the table. “That’s it, you are so dead!”

I got up and chased Robin around the table and the guys laughed harder but nothing warmed my heart so much as Devyn’s muffled wheezing.

THE END