The first day of my last year of high school found me with a spring in my step and a song on my lips. I fully expected this year to be far more manageable than last year in terms of...well, everything. I'd caught up to Robin and we were graduating together, his mom had accepted that I wasn't going anywhere and that it was okay, and my bio-mom and sister had gone back to wherever the flying monkeys go when they return to the witch. Yep, overall, life was awesome.
I paid special attention to my clothes for the first day back. I tended to drift toward cargo pants and polo shirts these days, but today I had a nice pair of khakis, blue canvas boat shoes and a medium blue button up. I knew Robin would have nice things, especially for the first day, so I figured I'd try and keep up with him. My lips tugged into a smile at the thought of my boyfriend.
I headed downstairs, had a quick breakfast and kissed my mom goodbye before heading out. Shortly I was motoring down the road toward school. Last year I'd been driving Hamster and Derek to school, but now that Chase had given Hamster his truck, I didn't have that stop anymore. On the one hand it was nice to not have anyone depending on me for a ride, but on the other hand I kind of missed the company of my friends.
This year wouldn't be entirely bereft of company, though, as I picked up Nikolai on the way to school. Nikolai, or Nik, was Sasha's little brother. He was nervous, rubbing his hands on his pants; he wasn't really big on talking that morning. I told him to call me if he needed help at some point in the day, and that I'd volunteer to show him around. All of it seemed to flow off him; he was just nervous.
After Nikolai headed into the school, I found Robin and told him how I missed having Hamster and Derek ride with me in the morning. He laughed at me.
“I have Sean and Jamie by default, and they both wanted me to pick up the people they are dating. Of course, if I pick up Sean's boyfriend then his brother will want a ride, too. You want to pick them up? Be my guest.”
“At least you won't be lonely in the car,” I said, sticking my tongue out. “Nikolai was just too nervous to be good company today. I was just saying I missed having my friends along.” I chided. “Bad enough we have to leave them behind. Don't you just want to take them to college with us?”
I fell into step with Robin as he headed for the doors. “Kinky, Lucien,” he said, “but I thought you wanted to keep us exclusive?”
“Oh, ha, ha,” I said slowly. “Don't act like you won't miss them.”
“Baby, it's a year away. Can I think about missing them later?” Robin asked, letting a fake whine into his voice.
“Hmph,” I snorted.
“By the way,” he said as he stopped and faced me. “You look very nice.” He leaned in and kissed me, then grinned. “See you second period.”
I walked to my homeroom with a grin on my face and plopped into a seat. I placed my messenger bag on the desktop and noted it had an undone strap. Reaching to snug it down, I paused in suspicion and pulled the flap back instead, spotting a folded piece of paper. My lips curled in anticipation as I opened the note.
I want to cover you in peanut butter and lick you until my peanut allergy kills me.
I snorted and then giggled as I pulled my phone out and tapped a quick message. 'You don't have a peanut allergy.'
Moments later he replied, 'Guess I don't have to stop licking then, do I?'
I chuckled again and shook my head. The bell rang and the homeroom settled slowly as attendance was taken and the school year officially kicked off. It wasn't until I was on my way to first period that I got the impression the day wasn't going to stay as rosy as it had been. The crowd was thick in the hallways—although I did note that the freshies were parting pretty rapidly in front of me—but that's when I saw her.
I came to a sudden stop. She, however, didn't see me and continued on around the corner and out of sight. I was pushed forward, grumbles sounding around me, and I made my way to my first period class in something of a haze. What the hell was she doing here? I thought about this as the teacher handed out a syllabus and laid down the ground rules, which I barely listened to. Instead my mind was filling with reasons for Claire to be at my school; but there was only one reason, logically.
My bio-mother was in town.
I growled to myself. What sort of game was she playing? I thought I'd been pretty damn clear that I was done with her, and my sister had turned her back on me long before; I had no use for her. I briefly entertained a thought that this was merely some coincidence, their being here, and that they would leave me alone, but that wasn't only unlikely, it was stupid. Bio-mom doesn't approve of me or who I date – and plan to marry. The only real question was, what was the game? What was their purpose? What was her angle? Claire? Was she trying to dangle my sister in front of me? Not going to do any good, considering I wouldn't piss on Claire is she were on fire.
Even though I couldn't entirely dismiss my reservations, I decided the next play was theirs, really. After all, why should I let them bother me? The answer to that came in second period where the teacher was my bio-mother. I stopped as I entered the doorway and saw her.
“No fucking way,” I said and turned on my heel and marched right down to the guidance office. I was not entirely surprised to find Robin in the seat next to me, shortly afterward.
“That was a rude awakening,” he said.
“Shocked the hell out of me,” I agreed. “I knew something was up, though. Claire is here.”
“Really?” Robin replied, his tone more a statement than a question. “What could they be up to?”
“Beats me. I thought things were pretty clear last time we saw each other.”
We waited in silence, each trying to figure out what game my bio-mom was playing, until my counselor called me in. I tilted my head at Robin and he joined me. My counselor, Mrs. Abrott, was an older woman with an angry slash of lipstick where her mouth should be and makeup caked on her face.
“Why two of you?” she asked briskly as we sat in front of her desk.
“My biological mother is teaching my second period class,” I stated. “She also had me in court recently, trying to undo my adoption and she doesn't approve of my sexual orientation or my boyfriend.”
“That's a mouthful,” she said and, perching half-moon glasses on her nose, peered at her screen. “Kutsenko, right? It says here your teacher is supposed to be Mrs. Schwartz, but she's out on maternity leave.” She glanced down at her keyboard and back at her screen, clicking here and there. With a sigh she leaned back and slipped her glasses off, letting them dangle by their colorful strap.
“I'm not sure how much we can do. That class, American Government, is required for you to graduate and Mrs. Schwartz is the only one that teaches it. I hate to ask this, and do so with all sincerity – but do you think you can tough out half a year? Otherwise, we're going to have to do some dancing with your schedule.”
I opened my mouth to reply that there was a better chance of pigs flying out of my butt when her phone rang. Reaching for the headset she held up a finger and said, “Hold that retort. Yes, Mr. Kissick?”
She nodded once or twice and then spoke. “Actually, they are here in my office. It turns out there is a rather good explanation, in my view. Certainly, see you shortly.” Hanging up the phone she placed her glasses back on the end of her nose and began typing and clicking with her mouse. Then she paused to ask for Robin's last name and resumed consulting her computer. Minutes later Principal Kissick tapped on the door before entering.
“Mrs. Abrott, guys,” he said, tipping his head. “What's the story?”
“Our substitute for Mrs. Schwartz is Mr. Kutsenko's biological mother,” she said without preamble.
Mr Kissick's eyes were wide as he looked down at me.
“That's not all,” I added. “She sued to try and undo my adoption and she doesn't approve of my relationship with Robin.”
“Well, that seems like it trumps walking out of her class,” he said and slid over to the end of Mrs. Abrott's desk. “She's all we have for American Government, right?”
“For now. Lindsay is due back in November, so I think...we can move them,” she stared intently at her screen, moving her mouse and clicking here and there. “Yes. They can both move into Auto Shop for this half as an elective and take Am. Gov. next half.”
I glanced at Robin, who had stiffened. “Auto shop?” he questioned.
Mrs. Abrott looked at him over her glasses. “I'm afraid we're pretty full up. It's that or tough it out in Am. Gov.”
“We'll take it,” I said.
'Really? Auto shop?' Devyn signed.
“Babe,” Griffin chided. “Lu's mom is teaching here, his sister showed up and all you can ask about is auto shop?”
Devyn smiled broadly and signed quickly, causing Griffin to burst out in giggles. Robin sighed.
“Go ahead, laugh it up.”
“It won't be so bad, Robin,” I said cheerfully. “It can't be as bad as my bio-mom.”
“Well...” Robin placed a hand to his chin and I bumped him. He grinned ruefully and nodded slowly. “Okay, I guess there are worse things. Although, I can't think of one right now.”
There was a round of laughs at our table and conversation resumed. It turns out Devyn was in American Government first period and Griffin had had it in fourth. They, never having met the egg-donor, were impressed that she'd given birth – or, more to the point, that someone had slept with her. When they realized that she'd been laid at least twice, the teasing started about what my father's eyesight had been like and what drugs he may have been on.
At the end of the day I met Robin at his locker. I caught him just as he turned and I trapped him against his locker and looked playfully into his eyes. The corners of his mouth tugged up and he raised his eyebrows. I waited and was rewarded with his lack of patience, and as his lips parted to speak I darted forward and kissed him. Instead of something quick, though, he was ready for me and his hand was behind my head, holding me in place. We were interrupted by someone clearing their throat.
I turned with a lazy smile on my face to find a guy in a black tee shirt with white lettering that read 'Lev 18:22'. He had a sheet of paper in his hand and a sour look on his face.
“We have a new school group forming. You should really think about coming. Really.” He departed quickly and I glanced down at the paper in my hand, only to have Robin snatch it away and ball it up, angrily.
“What'd you do that for?” I asked.
Robin was glaring daggers at the departing guy, but as he did so he said to me, “His tee shirt quotes a bible verse. Leviticus.”
“Um. I'm not really up on...”
“Me either. But considering just about every single celled organism that preaches hate in the name of religion uses it, I'm more than familiar.”
“Oh,” I said, realization dawning. We fell into an awkward silence as Robin continued to glare at the now departed guy and I tried to figure out what I was feeling. About quite a lot of things, Robin and I are of one mind, within reason. Our fights are usually, ironically, about wanting to be together rather than trying to fight for our own space or because we angered each other.
Well, except that one time I didn't want Robin to meet my loony ex-mother, then he was actually angry with me. Other than that, we're pretty good. When it comes to religion, we don't really argue about it, but we do see it differently, and we seem to have reached a point where it doesn't matter much to our relationship.
My experiences with religion prior to Robin weren't positive, to say the least. Robin's congregation wasn't like that and, I admit, I like them as people. It's the God part I have trouble with and how so many people can look at the same phrases or book and get wildly different meanings from them. The only thing I know for sure about religion is there is no one way to look at it – but I don't think it's for me. I do better having faith in things I can see and touch than things like the idea of a supreme being.
I have faith in Robin – in his heart, in his innate goodness. I guess you could argue that his religion played a part in that, but there are plenty of religious people who are assholes, so I think that's up for debate if you enjoy such things. Robin, on the other hand, believed in God and his version of Christianity, but he was content that I didn't. We'd talked about it a few times and I understand what he feels he gets from it, and I won't deny him that or try to. It makes him a happier person, and so I put up with the odd visit to his church and focus on spending the time with him. That's the limit, pretty much, of religion in our lives.
Of course, there was always that fringe. People like, apparently, the guy handing out leaflets and wearing his righteousness on his shirt. I felt a sullen anger at him for taking something meaningful to Robin and twisting it into something ugly – and the fact that guy had a lot of company.
I cleared my throat. “I didn't get any homework, did you?”
He shook his head slowly and turned to look at me. “No. First day, you know,” he shrugged, “mostly just setting us up for what's to come this year.”
“Why don't we go get some food? We can drive over to the soccer field and watch practice?”
With a final, withering glance in the direction of the leaflet guy, Robin nodded and took my hand. We went to a deli across the street from the school and got small sandwiches and drinks enough for Derek and Nikolai, and went back over to the school. We'd decided to take things easier while the weather was still nice and join a school sport in the winter. In the meantime, I was content to park my bus sideways in the nearly empty lot so that Robin and I could use the table inside to eat and watch the practice through the open side door.
“You'd look hot in a soccer outfit,” I said to Robin. He smiled in response.
“My other sports gear isn't enough? I need to play soccer, too?”
“Well, I'm torn,” I said as I took a nibble of my sandwich, not really all that hungry. “Your Speedo is unquestionably hot. But there is something to be said for your lacrosse gear. In fact, I sometimes think of you in the shorts, the shoulder pads and helmet...and that's it.”
“No shirt? Socks or cleats? Kind of weird.”
“You're weird,” he said, chuckling.
“I think you should dress like that for me sometime.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are we moving into role playing or something? Or are you just getting kinky?”
“I can't help it if my boyfriend is hot and I have a healthy, active imagination,” I said with a shrug.
Robin glanced out at the team, who were running drills. His fingers moved restlessly over the plastic of his untouched sandwich. “Lucien...I never straight out asked you this. I, well...” He turned and faced me, ducking his head. “I know that you have a hard time with religion, given your experiences. I've never tried to push it...but, does me believing it bother you?”
I reached across the table and took his hand, which flipped over immediately to accept my touch. “I think, maybe, if I was raised into it I might feel like you do – but I wasn't. Even if I was, I think...” I stopped, sighing, and then choosing my words carefully, said “I think that there are so many different ways to interpret what's said that I don't know which – if any – are right.
“I know that, in your life, it's a positive thing. Your family represents the better side of religion.” I hesitated for a moment, squeezing his hand before plunging forward. “But I'm grateful you've never seemed to feel that I had to believe, too. I can't believe in a God that allows what happens in this world and...if the bible is his true word, then I don't understand why he wouldn't be more clear about it or correct things.”
He nodded slowly and let his gaze drop. “I question my faith, sometimes. The worst was when Charlie died – I still don't understand that.” He shook his head and said, slowly, “You'd think that the idea that there is a being so all encompassing that he knows and arranges for a boy like Charlie to die as part of his plan...it's too big for my head. I just don't understand that and the idea that it's part of some design really doesn't help.
“Other times, I'm incredibly grateful that God gave me the chance to know you, and to love you. I have to wonder if your bad experience was part of his plan, but then I have to wonder why.” He sighed and squeezed my hand. “I have comfort from my church and my faith, but sometimes it's not enough for me. People like that guy today, they worry me. That they can see something so...evil in what I find so comforting is more than a little disturbing.”
“I know, I can see how much it hurts you. I'm sorry.”
We sat quietly for a moment and then Robin sighed and sat up a little straighter, his gaze focusing on something. I turned to see Hamster approaching us.
“Hey, guys,” he greeted us and took a seat on the passenger side jump seat.
“Hi,” we both greeted him.
“Out to watch the cute guys in their soccer shorts?”
“Nah, just Derek,” Robin said, grinning. “Boy has an ass on him.”
“I know,” Hamster said, smiling and tilting his head back.
“If I was single...” Robin trailed off, giving Hamster a meaningful look.
“If you were single, you still wouldn't have Derek,” he laughed.
“You're confident,” I said, smiling.
“I have a good reason to be. But, since Derek would kill me if I said anything, I'll just let you two wonder what it might be.”
“How did he get punished with you as a boyfriend?” I wondered aloud. “I mean, you're clearly trying to say he has a thing for one of us.”
“Fish all you want, Lu,” he said, grinning insolently.
“Hey, who's that cute guy he's talking to?” Robin asked, sitting up straight.
“What?” Hamster said, spinning around quickly in his seat.
“I don't recognize him, do you?” I asked Robin. In truth, I couldn't even see where Derek was on the field and just assumed Robin was screwing with Hamster.
“I think I might,” he said in a contemplative tone. “Jack? Joel? Jeremy? Hmm...Jake! That's it, Jake Thayer. He played freshman lacrosse with me but his mom was one of those parents that obsesses over their kids and wanted him to play something safer. She pulled him out before the first game.”
“He's kind of cute,” Hamster said.
“I'm telling,” I said, laughing.
“Go ahead,” he snorted. “I'd be more concerned your boyfriend knows the name of this random, cute guy.”
“Please,” I said, laughing. “I don't worry unless I can't kick their ass. Even then, I know people.”
“You know people?” Robin asked, his mouth twitching into a smile.
“Damn right. Looks like practice is done,” I said, changing the subject. Derek had spotted the bus and was headed in our direction with Nikolai in tow; but he didn't come before giving a final wave to this cute guy, Jake. Derek and Niki strolled up, shirts off and skin covered in a light sweaty sheen from practice. Derek leaned over and kissed Hamster lightly before greeting us.
“Hey, Der, Nik,” I said cheerfully. “Hamster was just telling us that, if you were single, I'd be in trouble.”
He paused and narrowed his eyes before shoving Hamster. “You have a big mouth, Austin.”
Robin and I glanced at each other, waiting for the inevitable joking to begin but the moment turned awkward instead.
“I didn't say that,” Hamster replied. “Lu was just busting your stones – but he knows, now!”
Derek and I looked at one another awkwardly and Robin said, softly, “Damn.”
I looked at him in curiosity and Robin snickered. “I guess it's my turn to be jealous someone thinks you're hot.”
“Robin, stop egging him on,” Derek replied, but he was already starting to laugh; albeit awkwardly.
“I'm speechless, Der,” I said. “I'll never spank to you quite the same way.” We burst into giggles and I was almost, sort of convinced it had been a joke. But, no, Derek's face was flushed and I felt...weird. Not bad, exactly, but not comfortable, either. Would this change anything? No, of course not! It was only coincidence that I was noticing Derek with his shirt off right then. Nikolai appeared a little lost with the conversation and I patted him on the shoulder and handed him a drink.
Derek and Hamster headed off moments later, and Robin had to head home for dinner, as well. I dropped Niki at the Buchanan's and motored home to have dinner with my parents. Needless to say, they were unhappy to hear about my day.
“I'm glad Mr. Kissick got you moved, but I'm not happy that woman is there. She could still exert some sort of influence,” my mom said.
“Yeah,” I replied, nodding in agreement. “I saw her and just said 'nope' and went to get my classes switched.”
“I'm surprised she's there, given the history. Maybe there is a shortage of people to teach that particular class or something,” Dad said. “Keep us in the loop, though. I'm going to call our lawyer in the morning, just in case she's up to anything.”
After dinner I called Alec and filled him in. “Want me to come down and slap her in the tits for ya?” he asked.
“I appreciate the thought, but I think I can handle her.”
“Listen to you, all big and bad.”
“That's me,” I snorted. “Oh, another weird thing, turns out Derek has a little thing for me.”
“I hear it's not that little.”
It took me a beat. “Alec, really? You knew about this?”
“Word travels, man. Besides, I already knew. He's cute. You and Robin going to spit roast him?”
“That would be a no,” I replied slowly, as if speaking to an idiot.
“Come on, he's young, Hamster hasn't worn him out, yet.”
“Alec, shut up,” I said, laughing. A light went on for me, however, and I said, “Hey, why isn't this news to you. What gives?”
“I guess Chase dragged it out of Hamster. They've been talking.”
“I'm starting to think all you guys talk about is sex and other guys,” I grumbled.
“Well...yeah. Why, what do you talk about? Wait, you don't actually have conversations with Robin, do you?”
I laughed, “Of course.”
“Smart and pretty,” Alec said and whistled. “So did your sister say anything to you?”
“Nah, I don't think she saw me. I do kind of wonder how that might go, though. She didn't say squat when I met with Eileen, you know, or in court.”
“Eileen? Is that your ex-mother's name?”
“Yeah. I was getting tired of coming up with things to call her. Anything that made people think she was anything to me was too much was what I decided. Oh! Speaking of nut-jobs, there was this kid handing out flyers for some religious club at school. He was wearing a tee shirt with a bible verse reference from Leviticus.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked. “I bet he just needs a nice boy to straighten him out. Ones like that are deepest in the closet.”
“Yeah, I'm sure that must be it,” I said, rolling my eyes. “He saw me kissing Robin and just couldn't contain himself. That's why he gave me his little flyer.”
“You broke a kiss for that?” Alec asked.
“No. We were pretty well done with it. Come to think of it, though, he did watch the kiss before clearing his throat. I think.”
“There you have it.”
We chatted for a bit more before saying goodnight.
In the morning I dressed more casually, opting for cargo shorts and a tee with an open button-up. I headed over to pick up Nikolai, who was more relaxed, today.
“I am having lunch with Dylan and Hannah and Nathan,” he told me haltingly as he struggled to remember the unfamiliar names. “They are Nathan's friends and are being nice people.”
“I haven't met them,” I replied. “How did the rest of your day go? Did you like soccer practice?”
“I like,” he replied. He glanced at me, hesitated and then said, “Some people are saying things about my English, but many others say they like accent.”
“Yeah, it's kind of cute,” I teased him.
He smiled and then his face clouded. “I am taking two classes of the English. The teacher say that I not speak correctly. This is true?”
“Well, people can tell it's not your first language. You're smart, though, you'll catch up just from listening to the other kids around you speaking. Plus, we have a study group, so you'll get lots of help.”
“Study group? What is?”
“A bunch of us do our homework together, so we can help each other to study.”
“Nathan is being part of study group?”
I smiled at him, “You're supposed to study homework, not Nathan,” I teased.
He flushed, but smiled shyly. “I am not meaning that, Lucien. You are mean.”
I laughed at him. His accent was about the cutest thing ever, but it was even more interesting when he said my name. He made it sound so exotic. At school he headed off and I went in search of Robin. Although it had been almost four years since I'd heard her voice, and that last time had been her denouncing me to our foster parents as a homosexual, I still knew who it was immediately.
“Hello, Lucien,” she said. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my forward progress stalled. It shouldn't have been a shock to hear her voice; after all I knew she was in my school, now. Still, I was brought to a full stop. Turning, I saw her, my sister, dressed modestly in a skirt that fell just past her knees with socks that went past those same knees and a long sleeved cotton top. Her hair was the same shade as my own and it fell down to her shoulders.
“Hello, Claire,” I said neutrally. She rolled her lips nervously and tightened the grip on her books, held in front of her like a shield.
“They got rid of mom.”
“The school. They called last night and fired her. I guess she isn't allowed to teach, or something.”
“Oh.” I nodded to her. “Good.”
Her face took on a doubtful appearance. “Don't you feel bad for her?”
I tilted my head, incredulous that she'd even consider saying such a thing. “She tried to kill me. Then she tried to rip me away from my family, and she condemns my relationship – much like you did the last time I saw you. Why should I feel badly for her?”
She looked slightly abashed but said, “She's still your mother.”
I shook my head. “Eileen may have given birth to me, but she never tried to be a mother. At best she was an incubator. I have no emotions attached to any other incubator, and I don't have any for her. Now, move,” I said, brushing past her and into the school. In a way I was glad she hadn't tried to stop me, but in another sense I was surprised to find that I'd wanted her to try. Some part of me was spoiling for a righteous fight between us; some part of me wanted to condemn her for her long ago betrayal of me.
I stewed on that for most of the day and it was apparent to Robin when we sat down at lunch.
“You're quiet,” he said to me as I picked at my food.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I ran into Claire this morning. Kind of stupid, I knew she was here, but I still wasn't really ready to talk to her.”
“Maybe it's more you didn't want to,” Robin replied.
“Maybe,” I nodded.
“Not to pour it on, but...I won't be in school Friday.”
“Remember that wedding I went to last year?” he asked.
“Hard to forget,” I replied, grinning.
“Yeah. Anyway, the family wants to do some kind of reunion and I guess we're going this weekend. It's someplace up in the Adirondacks, so I don't know if I'll have cell service.”
“That sucks,” I replied. “You guys will be back Sunday night?”
“I think so. Kind of stupid if you ask me—we barely know anyone on that side of the family.”
“Isn't that the point of a reunion? So you can meet them, maintain family bonds and all that?”
The corner of Robin's mouth twitched up. “Wasn't the family camp this summer enough of that? And, by the way, this morning you were missing our friends because we go to college next year, but you haven't said you were going to miss me. So?”
“Of course I'll miss you,” I said, scoffing. “But last time we protested you got grounded and all sorts of other fun stuff.”
Our conversation was interrupted by two kids, the leaflet guy from yesterday and a girl. They both were wearing the shirts we'd seen the day before bearing the chapter and verse of Leviticus. Trailing behind then, also wearing the same tee, was Claire.
One of the kids dropped a flyer for their club on our table, saying, “I hope you'll think about coming to our school club. I think you could get a lot out of it.”
Shooting a glare at her I flicked my gaze to the speaker and said, “Maybe you can get a lot out of this.” Turning I kissed Robin. They stiffened, their faces turning into masks, except Claire, who simply looked away.
“God will judge you,” said the other, who'd been silent before. “It's an abomination.”
“So's your hair. Move along, now,” Griffin said, “Move along.”
With a final, sweeping glance, they did so.
“So annoying,” Robin grumbled. “It's more like harassment.”
I watched their retreating backs and wondered why some people felt the need to divide others. Why did they see my happiness and want to take it from me? Glancing around the table at my friends and then settling on Robin, I shrugged it off. They couldn't take this from me, I reminded myself.
Homework was issued on the second day and we met at the Kirkwood's. This was more about hanging out than homework, tonight, since we weren't getting difficult or new items; instead there seemed to be some sort of quick review of where we'd ended the previous year to get us back up to speed. Nate and Nik were new additions to us and I spent a decent chunk of time helping Nik with his English homework.
It was kind of funny. As I looked at him, I could see Sasha in him–his face, some of his hand motions—and I felt a surge of warmth at helping him to get adjusted. After all Sasha had left for school, and he'd been more than a little reluctant to do so. I was planning on taking Nik up to see him this weekend and, while having Robin would have made the trip better, I now had the added bonus of having something to distract me while my boyfriend was gone.
The next day I was mildly irritated and sort of amused to find a note stuffed in my locker that read 'Repent'. I was amused because if they thought this was going to change me in any way, they were so very mistaken. I was annoyed because I was used to notes in my locker being from Robin. At lunch I discovered that several of my friends had gotten the same notes and we had a very lively discussion about what to do about it.
I didn't want to play the victim card, and in the end we decided to make glitter bombs for their lockers – but to hold them in reserve, in case they decided to get more annoying. The one thing about glitter bombs is that they get everywhere and linger for weeks—and therein lies their appeal.
Homework was heavier that night and, again, I found myself spending the majority of my time helping Nik with his English. He was in a standard class as well as some sort of extra or remedial class to help him catch up – and while his understanding of the language was very good, it was in speaking or writing it that his problems came to the surface. My role was, largely, speaking to him so he could get used to where words were used and what those sentences sounded like because I couldn't diagram a sentence to save my life.
Griffin ended up being fairly good at grammar, though, and he ended up helping with some of that. Nik was smart and he was making very steady progress; but he was hard on himself. More than one person seemed to think he was stupid because of his accent or his broken English and that was fueling his desire to master the tongue of his adopted homeland.
I stayed up late that night, texting Robin as he finished packing. We weren't as nuts as we'd been before about being separated for a weekend—don't get me wrong, we weren't thrilled but we also weren't quite so unhappy about it, either. Maybe this was some of that maturity that adults were always going on about. Personally, I'd been thinking a lot about our experience at camp a few weeks beforehand and some of the conversations Robin and I had had. It was kind of a shock to me that I was doing something Robin found annoying and I wasn't aware.
We'd talked about it some more, and I'd felt a lot better afterward. I found the whole idea of discussing what we did in private to be uncomfortable—I loved Robin and being with him, but spilling the details really wasn't me. Robin said he understood and that I should only do what I felt comfortable with, which was a relief given how he and Hamster talk. He just thought that the intensity of my discomfort was a little disproportional when you considered the audience, the intent and the minor amount of detail that they used. I had to agree, especially considering how over the top my failed attempt had been.
On the other hand, it was also a little exhilarating to be able to talk about these things to some degree. And, outside of Robin, Hamster and Derek were the perfect people to talk to, weren't they? They understood and their experiences were far closer to mine than, say, Alec's.
We'd talked about a whole lot more than that, though, and had spent a lot of time swimming and hanging out with our friends. The camp was easily one of Alec's best ideas, ever. I stretched out in the dark of my room and thought about how it had felt for a few days sleeping with Robin, waking to him and sharing our space together and was warmed by the memory. It carried me off to sleep.
Friday morning started out with a steady rainfall and my wipers beat a hypnotic rhythm as I made my way over to the Buchanan's. The door opened almost before I'd come to a stop and Nik darted down the walk and hopped into the seat next to me. He sniffled as he put his seat belt on and I might have let it go, except that he gave me a short glance and I spotted his red rimmed eyes.
“Nik? What's wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replied and glanced out his window at his home. The curtain fell back into position and I cocked my head in curiosity. Putting the bus in gear, I pulled away from the curb and decided to go slow—after all, Nik didn't know any of us that well. However, I was overly fond of him, possibly due to the romance of his sudden arrival and the power of Sasha's emotion coupled with how much Sasha and Alec meant to me.
“Nik...I'm here if you need anything, okay?”
He nodded, looking a little miserable. Slowly he spoke, “I can call Sasha?”
“Sure,” I replied and handed him my phone. He stood and worked his way into the other end of the bus and, shortly, he was engaged in a hushed conversation.
The rain continued its steady beat and I wondered what could have made Nik so upset. Granted, I didn't know him all that well, but he seemed to be a decently happy guy. Also I felt very responsible for him in Sasha's absence—considering all Sasha's done for me, my own experiences and everything this kid has been through. He needed dependable people that cared about him. I glanced in my rear view and saw him sitting with the phone in his lap and looking out the window. We hit a bump and he jumped, coming back to the here and now, and he rejoined me in the front seat.
“Thank you, Lucien,” he said while holding out my phone.
“Better?” I asked while pocketing my phone.
“Not better...” he shook his head slowly. “Am confused.”
“I am confused,” I corrected.
“Why you are confused?” he asked, wrinkling his brow.
“No, no,” I said, smiling and waving my hand. “You said 'am confused'. You needed to put 'I' in front of it—'I am confused'.”
“Oh, I understand. I am not concentrating.”
“Yeah,” I said, letting my voice turn soft. “So what's got you confused?”
He shifted in his seat a little and gave me an appraising look. “Nate. He is confusing.”
“Oh? Why? What's he done?”
Nik bit his lip. “I am thinking he does not want to be boyfriends.”
“Oh. Well, that's a big step,” I said cautiously. “The way I understand it, Nate hasn't really settled down on the idea of what he likes.”
“But...but he kisses me,” Nik protested. “We kiss many times at camp, and then after.”
“Kissing is a step in the right direction,” I agreed. “I do think he likes you. But, as far as I know, he only dated girls before, so he might not be ready to try something like being boyfriends. Not yet at least.”
“But he...Oh, căcat!” he exclaimed. “Is not fair! I am liking him and he and I w-we...” At this point he stopped speaking and pantomimed jerking off.
“You guys...I mean, both of you...?”
“We make the hand sex,” he confirmed. “Was this bad?”
“Bad?” I asked, feeling a little off balance. With a mental shake I replied, “No, Nikolai, it's not bad. But it sounds like you guys are moving a little fast.”
“What is? I do not understand.”
I took a deep breath. “People usually take time to get to know each other before they...make sex of any kind. I think, because you and Nate did something so intimate, you're looking to take the next step.”
“I am confused,” he repeated. “Hand sex not bad, but boyfriend bad?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Hand sex isn't bad, but it was a little soon. I mean, you're moving really fast. You really don't know Nate all that well.”
Nik fell silent for a moment, with only the sound of the wipers and the 'tink' of rain hitting the metal roof over our heads to fill the void.
“You are saying,” he said slowly, “hand sex come later?”
“Sometimes,” I nodded. “Some people just kiss. Some people take a long time to get to sex of any kind.”
Nik bit his lip again. “What should I do?”
I smiled at him, “Just relax. You had fun with Nate, right?”
He nodded and smiled, his face blushing.
“I'm sure Nate had fun with you, too. Now, just relax and see what happens. You don't have to be boyfriends after that—it's not like one of you is pregnant and has to get married, now!” I chuckled.
“Lucien,” he said quietly. “I am liking Nathan.”
“I know, Nik. I know.”
I didn't get to my locker until just before lunch. As I opened it I spotted another note, and snatched it impatiently. Robin had always been the one of us to make these small, romantic gestures and it irritated me to be finding notes from those religious whack jobs in place of Robin's affections. As I opened the note, however, a smile stretched across my face as I read 'I'm so glad your parents decided to have unprotected sex'.
Giggling I made my way to my next class. I was impeded, however, by my sister who seemed to be lying in wait.
“Lucien,” she said, pushing herself off the wall and moving in front of me. “I need to talk to you.”
I pulled a sour look and said, “I don't need to talk to you. I think we've said all we need to.” I stepped around her and moved down the hall quickly. I didn't want to give her the chance to say something else, just in case it was something I couldn't let go by; something I had to respond to. That was playing her game and I wasn't going to do it.
Later I joined my friends for lunch. There was some lively discussion about weekend plans and, apparently, how some pastor—whose kid went to our school—was responsible for this new group with the creepy tee shirts.
“Lu, what are you doing this weekend?” Hamster asked.
“I'm taking Nik up to see Sasha. They miss each other and Nik has never been to Albany or seen where Sash goes to school,” I replied.
“That Nik,” Griffin said, shaking his head. “He's so adorable—but Nate is so clueless!”
“What makes you say that?” I asked, thinking of my conversation with Nik this morning.
“Well,” Griffin said, glancing at us and drawing it out. “Nik seems head over heels for Nate, but Nate's a little blind to it, I think. He's sweet, but he can be dense, too.”
“Hmm. I had a conversation with Nik this morning—he's wondering why he and Nate aren't boyfriends.”
“That's kind of what I mean, right Dev?” Griffin asked, tilting his head at his boyfriend. Dev nodded and began to sign.
'Nate is still kissing anyone that wants to. I warned him that it'll bite him in the ass and he's going to get hurt—or hurt someone else. So far, he's still riding high.'
I digested this as we began to clean up from lunch. Devyn tapped me and signed, 'Robin asked me to give you this.'
He handed me the small sheet of paper and I unwrapped it, a smile spreading across my face in anticipation. 'If you miss me, just look at the spaces between your fingers and remember that mine fit there perfectly.'
Griffin sighed as he read over my shoulder. Glancing at Dev he said, “You need to be more romantic. I'm getting jealous of Lu.”
Dev held his hands out in a questioning gesture amid the laughter around the table. I pulled out my phone and shot Robin a text.
I got your notes. I love you.
I threw out my trash and felt my phone vibrate as I headed to my next class. Checking it, Robin had put a smiley face and was asking if I missed him yet. I grinned and texted, 'I miss you like an idiot misses the point.'
Giggling, I went to class.
My day cruised along until classes let out for the week. I grabbed my stuff and strolled out to my bus, knowing that I was going to park over by the soccer fields and wait for Nik to finish practice. All thoughts of Nik and practice were pushed from my head as I spotted Claire standing by my bus. As I approached she leaned against the driver's door and fixed me with a firm look.
“I don't get it,” I said, adjusting my messenger bag and letting my keys dangle from my fingers. “You betray me, get me tossed into the foster system by myself and then disappear for years. When Eileen started all that 'family reunification' crap, you still kept your mouth shut. Why do you have such a burning need to speak to me now?”
She pursed her lips and shuffled her feet awkwardly. “Lucien, I'm worried for you.”
“I'm serious!” she said, her voice an impatient hiss. “Mom got us into this new church. The pastor says a lot of things about gays.”
“Newsflash, plenty of religious nut-jobs say things about gay people. So what?”
She sighed. “He's gotten some of the younger people riled up. I heard some of them talking about doing something to 'take care of the gay problem'.”
I shook my head. “Okay. Again, so what? Why should I believe you?”
She shook her head and said, slowly, “I am worried about your soul, Lucien. But more than that, as my brother, I want to see you in heaven with Mom and me.”
I snorted. “You know where heaven is, Claire? It's when my boyfriend reminds me he loves me. It's how I fall in love with him again every day. It's a love your religion can't understand—and so, neither can either of you. Leave me alone, Claire.” I pushed past her and inserted my key in the door lock.
“Mom's going to court again!” she blurted.
“So?” I asked, pulling my door open.
“There's a law about siblings. She's going to get us to have visits.”
I shot a withering glare at her. “I don't care to see either of you ever again. Go away, Claire.”
“Please, Lucien!” she exclaimed. I glanced at her, her book bag gripped tightly and a miserable expression on her face. “I'm sorry I hurt you. I thought I was getting you help. You're my brother and I love you and...”
A tear filled her right eye and I felt myself softening to her. Just a little.
“Claire,” I said, taking the time to choose my words carefully. “This is who I am. If you can't accept that, then we really don't have anything to talk about. I don't believe in the same things you do. And let's be clear.” I turned and faced her directly. “I've suffered for what you did.”
“I know,” she whispered, “I know.”
“I've gone through a lot. But now?” I shrugged, “I've never been happier, more confident...my life is good. I did this without God or religion, I did this with people. People that love me for who I am. Can you do that, Claire?”
She covered her mouth, briefly and looked down. Her hand drifted down over her chest and she said, softly, “I've learned a lot in the past few years. I've always regretted the way we parted. I've beaten myself up over the way things went and how much time we've lost.” She brushed her hand across her wet eyes and then pushed her hair back in place. “I don't know if I can do that, based on what I know. But I do know I love you, Lucien. I always have and even if we can't work anything out, I promise I won't ever stop loving you.”
I nodded slowly. “It's a start.”
She lifted her gaze to mine. “I hope so.” She took me a bit by surprise as she leapt toward me and hugged me, hard. I returned it, her scent reminding me of how things used to be between us. Could we ever find any of that again? Was that enough to build a new relationship? Sniffling, she pulled back a half a step.
“Lucien, I wasn't kidding about what I heard. Please, promise you'll be careful?”
“I will,” I replied. She nodded and broke the embrace. “Um, do you know who's planning to do...whatever?”
“No,” she said with a shake of her head. “I've just heard rumors. We—Mom and I—are still new, so we don't get talked to that much.”
“Oh.” I said. I still wasn't that worried, but it would have been nice to know.
“I should go. Mom will be looking for me at group. Um,” she looked abashed for a moment and then said, “do you want to exchange phone numbers?”
I thought about it for a moment, but shook my head. “Maybe later.”
I pulled up to the soccer fields and opened my side door, hanging out and watching the soccer players run through their drills. I searched briefly for Nik and Derek, but my mind kept coming back to Claire—and her saying that Eileen was going to court again. Where was the bitch getting the money from?
“Hey,” Hamster said as he climbed into the bus and collapsed into the back seat.
I grunted in greeting and resumed looking out at the fields.
“Claire,” I said, cutting him off. “She stopped me twice, today.” I shook my head in frustration and aired my previous internal conversation to him. “The whole time Eileen was trying for custody, she didn't say shit. Not to me, not to the judge—nothing. But now, all of a sudden, she's on my ass. Says she wants to connect with me, even though she thinks Robin and I are basically wrong. How can that be? How can she want what she claims to want but not accept me for who I am?”
Hamster stretched out and crossed his legs at the ankle. Letting out a low whistle he said, “She got into your head.”
“Sure. I mean, maybe not so you want to convert or anything—but you're thinking about her when, before, you wanted nothing to do with her,” he pointed out.
“Okay, yeah,” I said, pointing a finger at him. “But this is different. I'm actually kind of angry about this.”
“Because it's so fucked up!” I said, throwing my hands up in the air and letting out an incredulous chuckle. “She's sorry she told our foster parents, but because they didn't help me 'not be gay'. That's all she's sorry for—she doesn't get that this is who I am!”
“Yeah,” Hamster said, nodding. “Some of those folks are like that. Hate the sin, love the sinner; that sort of shit. But what I don't get is, you'd given up on her. I think what's pissing you off, now, is that there seems to be some hope and...what?”
I was shaking my head and replied slowly, “I don't know if that's it. Maybe you're right. Claire and I? We used to be very close. I knew I liked boys from when I was really little and she never turned from me until she got infected with Jesus. Now, it's this poisonous mix of loving me, but not as who and what I am. It's like being patted on the back as you get shoved out the door.”
“The experience,” I said, waving my hands. “It's confusing. On the one hand, she says she loves me—the pat on the back.”
“Oh, and the rest is the shove. I get it.”
“She asked for my number.”
“No,” I said and sighed. “It was moving too quickly and I felt off balance. I decided to take it a little slower. Claire...she's in the grip of this 'holy' thing and, for all I know, Eileen put her up to this.”
“Hmm.” Hamster looked out at the soccer teams and went silent for a few minutes. The distant sounds floated to us of the ball being kicked solidly, the yells of players calling for the ball or screaming at others to get into position. Clouds moved lazily and created a patchwork of light and dark on the ground below them.
“She say anything else?” Hamster asked, eventually.
“No—well, yeah. She gave me a warning that someone in that 'Jesus Club' might try to do something to me, I guess.”
“A threat?” Hamster asked, sitting up and pulling his feet to him.
“Not exactly. It was pretty vague. She just asked me to be careful.”
“That's fucked up,” Hamster said dubiously.
“Yeah. Let's not talk about it anymore.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” Hamster said with a chuckle. I looked at him quizzically as he reached into this pocket, he said, “I guess Robin thought you'd miss him—here's the note he told me to give you after school.” He had a wry grin on his face as he held out the small piece of folded paper. I accepted it and read 'You're on my list of things I'd do for a Klondike bar.'
I laughed and turned the note toward Hamster, but he just shook his head. “I read it. You guys are too much.”
“Nah,” I said, smiling as I thought of Robin going to our friends and handing out notes to be given to me throughout the day.
“Getting on the road early tomorrow?”
“I was thinking about it,” I said absently. “I don't know how early I want to get up but I was thinking about inviting Nik to stay over. I guess he's having some trouble dealing with his feelings for Nate.”
“Yeah,” Hamster chuckled, “Devyn seems to be concerned about that, too. Nate's too cute for his own good, but just dumb enough not to get it. Good thing he's a sweet kid.”
“Ugh. I'm so glad that sort of thing is behind me.” I laughed, “I sound like an old guy!”
Hamster snickered, “You guys act like a married couple, that's for sure.”
“Nah,” I demurred. “I just mean I'm glad I don't have to worry about if Robin likes me; all that stuff. Nik is kind of in knots—Is Devyn trying to figure out where Nate's head is at?”
“He's tried, but the problem is that Nate doesn't really know himself. If you ask me, I think Nate is where I was at a few years ago—except he's got boys and girls both willing to make out with him and he feels like he's just along for the ride. He hasn't figured out, yet, that there are consequences or that people could feel like he's leading them on, a bit.” Hamster shook his head, “People are going to get hurt.”
“Well,” I said, slowly, “that's one way to look at it.”
“You have a different idea?”
“Just a possibility.” I tilted my head from side to side, “I was thinking about how people always wish they looked good enough to get the person or whomever they want, you know? But what about the other side?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, do pretty people feel compelled to date folks they aren't interested in? Or could Nate be feeling a lot of pressure not to hurt anyone's feelings if he's not totally sold on someone?”
Hamster took on a thoughtful look, but didn't answer as Derek and Nik approached the bus. As they each grabbed a water from the icebox, Hamster said to Derek, “Der. You think pretty people have a hard time fighting off ugly people?”
Derek paused from his gulping to shoot his boyfriend a questioning look before shrugging. “How should I know?”
“I think he's trying to say you're pretty, Derek, “ I replied, laughing.
Derek grinned. “I know, and even though I like his opinion...”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hamster replied. “Ready to go? We have to work in an hour.”
“Yep. Thanks for the water, Lu,” Derek said with a wave. I waved back and then turned my attention to Nik.
“Want to sleep over tonight? We can get an early start in the morning?”
He pondered for a minute and then shook his head. “Papas tell—told—me there will be dinner in restaurant tonight. Special. Anniversary?” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Aww, and they're sharing it with you,” I said, tousling his hair. I recoiled in horror. “Shit! Forgot you were all sweaty and gross!”
Laughing he shook his head at me. After dropping him off I headed home and had dinner with my parents. I filled them in on what my loony tunes sister told me earlier in the day.
“Well,” my father began, “I spoke to the lawyer. He said that sibling law is pretty strong, but it generally applies before an adoption. Like, usually a psychiatrist has to certify that keeping kids separate is in their best interests. But with you guys, that happened.”
“It did?” I asked, stunned. “When?”
“Shortly after that religious family kicked you out,” my mom said, picking up the threads of the conversation. “Apparently they got your sister into quite a state in the doctor's office and they made that ruling. It's what enabled your adoption, actually.”
“Huh.” I pushed my food around for a moment, thinking. In a way, unintentionally, they'd done me a favor. If it weren't for that, I might not have had what I did now. I didn't think I'd be thanking them, but it did give me something to think about.
“What all that means is, essentially, your mom—“
“Eileen,” I said, cutting my father off. “My mom is here.”
Nodding slowly, with a glance at Mom, he said, “Eileen doesn't have a case. However...if you want to try and rebuild something with your sister...we'll support that.”
I leaned back, giving up on the pretense of eating. “I don't know what I want.” Drumming my fingers on the table I said, slowly, “Part of me misses what we used to have; how close we used to be. But another part of me hurts from the way she abandoned me. I don't know if I can forgive that.”
“I don't think it's a decision you have to make now,” Mom said. “But if she's reaching out and you feel something for her, it bears thinking about.”
“Speaking of Eileen, I guess the school fired her.”
“Yes, the lawyer called the school. I guess her teaching credentials had expired and she'd failed to tell the school that – or inform them of her mental instability,” Dad said. Forking a broccoli floret he added, “When the school checked on her teaching certification, someone fat-fingered the form and gave them confirmation for someone else. The whole thing was a train wreck.”
I nodded. Still feeling unsettled, I finished my dinner and then went up to my room. I was browsing Volkswagen sites, looking for parts or ideas for my bus. I found a great site with new interiors for the Vanagon and ordered one of their free catalogs; maybe one day I could do the entire interior over. Faintly, I heard the sound of breaking glass. It may have been a drinking glass dropped downstairs, but something was off about the tone; what I heard was deeper, like the glass was thicker. I glanced up at my window and saw, in the fading light, a dancing light—like a fire.
Curious, I climbed out of bed and went downstairs. The TV was on and it was loud. Mom was always trying to get Dad to go get his hearing checked, but he was adamant he was fine. It was most obvious when the TV was on, otherwise I think Dad was starting to read lips.
“Did you guys hear that?” I asked absently as I opened the front door. The first thing I noticed was a light inside my bus that shouldn't be there. Then I saw the figures, heard the giggling and hooting, and saw a flame held up over someone's head. I ran down our front steps and onto the sidewalk, yelling at the people who were damaging my bus.
“Hey! What the fuck do you think you're doing?”
“Oh, shit! There he is!” From one.
“Look out! Throw it!” said another.
The one holding the flame tried to throw it at my bus, whose interior was already burning. It must have slipped because it fell short, smashing just under the rear bumper. The flames jumped up, licking at the underside of the engine. The figures turned and ran while I ran toward my bus, desperate to get the fire extinguisher from under the driver's seat. With an enormous flare of light and a 'whump' sound, something blew up and I was thrown back by the concussive force. Everything went black.
I awoke what must have been minutes later. Heat was rolling over me and I felt hands pulling me, dragging me back across the lawn.
“Oh my God, the blood! Lucien?” my Mom was saying, her words filled with fear.
“Mom?” I said groggily, blinking my eyes. “Mom...I can't see you. What...?”
“You hit your head, baby,” she was saying, her words laced with worry and fear. “Dad's calling 911. Just lie still and talk to me, okay?”
“But...I can't see!” I said, my voice strange in my ears. I realized that everything sounded funny—and then I remembered my bus. “My bus!” I said, trying to sit, but being felled quickly by a horrible stabbing pain from the back of my head and nausea rising in my gorge.
“Don't move, sweetie,” Mom said, sniffling. “Just lie still and talk to me.”
“My bus,” I groaned and then I must have passed out.
I awoke sometime later, I think. I recall a gentle beep or two and some distant voices; but it may have been my wonky hearing. At some point, though, I did wake up. I was aware of soft voices. They still echoed a bit, but it seemed much better. I shifted and then gasped as my head stabbed with pain.
“Whoa, slow down, buddy.” Alec.
“Alec? What's going on?” I asked, confused.
“Hang on a sec, let me get the nurse. Your head hurt?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I groaned. I heard his footsteps as he walked away from me, and then someone took my hand.
“Hi, sweetie. Alec and I got here as soon as we could.”
“Sasha? I'm supposed to bring Nik...my...my bus,” I said, finishing in a whisper. “They—“
“I know, sweetheart, I know. Let's worry about you now, okay?”
My eyes felt gummy and I reached up to rub them, since they seemed stuck closed. Instead of my eyelids I encountered a stiff bandage. Sasha jumped in to answer my question before it could leave my lips.
“You hit your head pretty hard. I guess you got a pretty bright light to the eyes too, so, your vision was damaged. The doctors think it's temporary, but they want you to rest your eyes right now.”
My fingers roamed the bandage, covering thick plastic lenses that protected my eye. Likely there was tape underneath to keep the lids closed. The bandage went around my entire head.
“Okay, nurse will be along and get you some pain meds. I hope it's good stuff!” Alec said, trying to be cheerful.
“Alec,” I said, reaching my hand out. In moments flat his hand was in mine and I felt his weight settle on the bed.
“I'm here, Lu.”
“Alec...they torched my bus.”
“I...yeah. I know. I'm sorry, Lu,” he said quietly. “The cops are trying to figure it out. Mom and Dad are down at the police station right now. I called the Kirkwoods and they're on the way home.”
“But...my bus, Alec,” I said, a small sob escaping me. “All that work! All those memories and they just...took them from me!”
Mentally I ticked off all the repairs, all the afternoons where I'd roped my friends into some sort of upgrade or replacement. The days spent as we made parts runs for things I didn't always need. The laughter and the teasing and scraped knuckles... That bus was a patchwork of my friends and a time of my life that...well, it was precious to me. That bus represented not just my first car but it was the physical embodiment of my friendships.
Alec pulled my hand to his face as Sasha stroked my other hand and said, “The memories are always yours, sweetie. No one can take that away.”
“But, Sash!” I cried. “I did so much work! Everyone helped, but all that effort is just...gone!”
“I know, sweetheart. I know.”
The nurse came in and asked me a few questions, then I felt a little woozy and drifted off for a bit. When I awoke, the room was quiet but my hand was being held, once more.
I stirred and my hand was suddenly free. “Oh, thank God!”
“Claire?” I mumbled.
“I'm so sorry, Lucien,” she murmured. “I tried to warn you, but I had no idea it would...I'm so sorry.”
Before I could speak, before I could tell her how this was a direct product of her stupid religion and her rigid beliefs, a male voice spoke.
“I'm sorry, too, Lucien.”
“Who are you?” I asked, fear creeping into my voice. After all, I was alone with these two—or more— people and couldn't see a thing.
“My name is Jeremy Pace. I'm...seeing your sister.”
I snarled, “I don't care what she does. Your crazy religion nearly killed me and destroyed something I worked very hard on! It stole from me! Get the fuck out! Get away from me!”
“I understand,” he said calmly. “And I will. I don't mean to...upset you further. I only came to say that I know who did this to you and I went to the police this morning.”
He sighed. “My parents and I, along with my brother and sisters, are part of the church. Or, we were. We...well, we had a big talk last night. My parents—my whole family—were horrified at what happened. When I realized that it had happened to you...well. Um. Claire has told me about you and I know she's wanted you back in her life. It just...made it that much easier to walk away from the church.
“At any rate, I went to the police with my parents and told them everything I knew. I...I hope it helps.”
An awkward silence descended on the room. I was struggling to find something to say, but any word of thanks was dying on my lips. Was I being unreasonable? I could hear the door open and feet rushing in.
“Oh, my God! Lucien!”
“Robin,” I said, reaching out for him. His weight was on the bed and he was hugging me, whispering and shaking in my arms. “I'm okay,” I soothed.
He leaned back and said, through a voice thick with emotion, “Who did this to you? I'll fucking kill them! Jesus, look at you!” His hand stroked the side of my face and I leaned into the touch.
“The doctor said it was temporary. Alec told me earlier—hey, where is he, anyway?”
“He and Sasha are meeting everyone downstairs and giving them the update so you don't have to explain it to everyone. Jesus, I was so scared,” he said and I felt his forehead rest on mine.
I heard a small sniffle and felt Robin turn in my arms and then lean back. “Claire? Seriously? What the fuck is your crazy ass doing here?”
“Robin,” I said, squeezing his hand. I could picture him looking at me in frustration and confusion. “It wasn't her fault.”
“It's people like her that twist religion into things like this, though,” he growled.
“I...I have to agree,” Claire said, uncertainly.
“What?” I asked.
“I...thought I understood. I thought I knew. But seeing you here, hurt, and seeing how Robin...I can see the love. I, um, d-don't know...I guess I have a lot to pray about.”
“Try thinking, instead,” Robin spat.
“Robin,” I chided and pulling his hand, and thus him, to me. “She's trying.”
“And who are you?” Robin said, tightening his grip on my hand.
“I'm Jeremy Pace. I came to tell Lucien that I know who did this and I went to the police with my parents this morning.”
“Who? I'll fucking—”
“Robin,” I said, pulling him back to me, again, as he started to stand. “Stay with me.”
“Babe. Jesus,” he said, his voice trailing off.
“Um...they were members of the church that I and my family just left,” Jeremy said, tentatively. “I don't know what I think about...homosexuals, yet. I know I've been told a lot of things but, like Claire said, looking at the two of you...”
“Get an eyeful,” Robin said, bitterly. “This is two people in pain. It shouldn't be that hard to see that pain is universal, and so is love. I'm in pain because I love him and he's in pain. I'm in pain because I could have l-lost him.” Robin's voice deteriorated in emotion and he began to sob, resting his head on my chest. I put my hand in his hair and held him close to me. I heard the door open and close, and I assume Claire and Jeremy let themselves out quietly.
I tugged on Robin and slid over as I did, getting him to lay with me in the bed. He cried for a bit, clutching me to him and I held him close, grateful to have him with me. He sniffled, sat up and twisted in the bed and then I heard him blow his nose. Turning again, he lay next to me, molding his body to my side.
“I can't believe that old bucket is gone.”
“Me either,” I said, sighing. “All that work...gone.”
He sniffed again. “We had a lot happen because of that thing, you know it? Adventures? Remember getting the gas tank and Hamster sleeping on Der?”
I chuckled. “It was fun watching Hamster fall in love, wasn't it?”
“Piling everyone in to go places...remember the first time we slept in it? Before it ran?”
I grinned. “We camped out with Hamster and had pizza. We were trying to help him work through his feelings about...who was that guy?”
“I forget,” Robin replied and I felt him shrug. “How about when you found Dev and Griff in your bus?”
“Oh my God!” I said with a laugh. “They were butt naked and the bus smelled like sex!”
“I still can't believe they did that,” Robin chuckled.
“Moved where I put the spare key, I tell you that!” I grumped, with no real rancor.
“We had some great memories in there,” Robin said, his voice drifting in memory. “The first time we made love in it?”
I hummed in appreciation.
“That old thing gave us all kinds of opportunities. We found Griffin while out in it. Sean and Jamie conspired to get Trent and Teddy together—and we were out in it for that, too. That thing was a big part of us. The memories...”
The next few hours were a whirlwind of visitors and well wishers. The police were in and took a statement from me, which was frustrating since I didn't see anyone's faces. As it happens, with Jeremy's testimony, it didn't take much to find and get one of the kids to fold and turn on the others—and the pastor. It took several days for my eyesight to come back, even though headaches still persisted. Robin drove me everywhere and generally babied me while I recovered. I got a few odd looks when I arrived back at school, but there were plenty of people who I didn't know who said they were glad I was okay.
My parents took me to the junkyard, but there was nothing salvageable from my old bus. I looked at it forlornly, the carcass rusting where the paint had been burned away. The interior was metal and bits of ash—a total loss.
About a week later I was resting on the couch at home. I was still plagued with headaches, and I was a little light sensitive but I was also eating up the pampering I was getting. My parents were out grocery shopping, so it was up to me to answer the knock on the door. I was a little surprised to see my sister.
She looked a little embarrassed and stepped back as I opened the door.
“Claire,” I said, as I stepped out into the cool air. “What are you doing here?”
“I...um. Look, I...”
“Because they weren't able to pray away the gay? We still on that?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” she said, her gaze directed downward. “I'm sorry I didn't accept you for who you were. Are. I...Um, could we talk for a second?”
I nodded and we took a seat on the porch swing. She looked down the street, gathering her thoughts and I waited in silence. A small, cool breeze stirred and I shivered as the air crossed my bare arms.
“After the things that happened with Mom, the last time we all lived together...I felt lost. I had always looked to you for protection, but once we were in the system I realized you couldn't protect me.”
“Protect you from what?”
“Life, I guess,” she said, shaking her head. “Somehow, I think I blamed you for not being Superman and...fixing everything. But, it wasn't just that...” She sniffled and said, “Jim and Nancy Rowan were their names. Remember?”
“Hard to forget the people that turned my sister against me,” I snorted. She huddled in on herself, then turned on the bench, pulling her leg up to be more comfortable as she faced me.
“He snuck into my room at night,” she said, her voice brittle. “That's when I knew you couldn't protect me.”
“He did what?” I asked, stunned.
She nodded sadly. “He said God commanded it. He said...well, a lot of things. I felt like I didn't have choices, Lucien. I was scared.”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah, I can understand that.” In a flash I understood how trapped she'd been, and how much worse it must have gotten after I'd been bounced from that home. I shivered.
We sat for just a moment in silence, the cool autumn air stirring into a fitful breeze. “When I saw you in the hospital, it sent a jolt through me. Lucien...I'm sorry for—”
“Shh,” I replied and put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into me, gratefully. “So...Jeremy, huh?”
“He's nice,” she said, quietly.
“What does Eileen say?”
“She's struggling right now. As...crazy as you might think her, she loves you. That this happened was really a slap in the face to all of us. So, Jeremy is pretty low on her list of things to worry about. But, she seems to like him, all right.”
“He did a big thing, in my eyes, going to the police. It was the right thing to do.”
“It should have been hard,” she replied. “Those guys were his friends. He didn't seem to struggle, though, to make the right choice. It's one of the things I like about him; he has a good heart, Lucien.”
“He better, if he's dating my sister.”
Sunday came and Robin took me out to brunch. He'd been doting on me something fierce and I was loving it, to be sure. We took a little time to go on a walk after eating and we stopped for a hot chocolate while we were out. Around mid-afternoon his phone buzzed and, after checking the message, suggested we head home. I knew he was up to something, but I decided to let him have his fun. Once I got home, though, there was a crowd.
“Oh, no,” I groaned. “I hope this isn't a party, Robin. My head still hurts—why don't we go to your house?”
“Come on, it won't be so bad,” he teased as we climbed out of his car. Everyone was inside. Mercifully, though, people were kind of quiet as Griffin addressed me.
“I know we're all glad you're going to be okay, Lu. But, I think we were all kind of surprised how much we were sorry that your bus was gone.”
“That's because you—”
“Not in front of the 'rents, dear,” Robin said, putting his hand over my mouth to the amusement of the others.
“Anyway,” Griffin said, over the laughter. “I always felt a little bad because everyone had a hand in working on that thing, except me. I know I always joked that letting you have Devyn for a Saturday was my contribution but...I felt a real sense of loss knowing that opportunity had passed to become part of that. Also...well, you know how much value I place on our relationship and I wish I could have made that kind of memory with you.
“So, with that in mind and knowing your birthday is coming, we—”
'When he says 'we', he means he organized it,' Devyn signed which got another round of chuckles.
Griffin, red faced but smiling, continued, “I spoke to your folks and with the insurance check and everyone chipping in—and my mastery of the Google—I think I found just the thing.”
The crowd surged around me and I was jostled to the back door, laughing a little at their enthusiasm. Once there, we stepped out onto the deck to see...a new bus.
“Babe. This can't be as decrepit as your old one,” Robin joked.
I ignored him as I walked down the steps and approached the blunt nosed box, taking in the whole vehicle and trying to assess its needs. I began to note the bumpers, the cracked rear window and the small oil spot underneath the engine. I looked at the tires, rims, peeked at the interior and tallied up the work to be done, what parts I had. A note was tucked under the windshield wiper and, throwing a grin at Robin, I opened it.
'I just wanted to let you know I love you, even though you're not naked right now.'
Giggling, I came back around to face everyone, Griffin asked, “I hope you like it?”
“Guys, I love it. Thank you so much. And you're all helping to get it in shape!” I pointed at Griffin, “Starting with you – you want a set of old clothes? We can start now.”