Someday Out Of the Blue

By LittleBuddhaTW


Special thanks to Kitty (PiscesRising) from for editing!





The night of the big show, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, was now less than a week away. There was still no communication from Ryan, and I hadn't spoken with Mikey again since that one afternoon in the auditorium, except for the occasional casual greeting in the hallway. In this case, I wasn't so sure that no news was good news. The void in my heart was growing larger, my sense of loneliness even more profound.

Being ignored by Ryan for well over a month, the increased beatings at home, and the bullying from Trent Lomax had all taken a serious toll on me. I was basically just an empty shell walking around the hallways at school. I hardly even flinched anymore when my mother decided I was in need of a good hiding. I was losing all feeling. The only thing that kept me going at this point was fulfilling my promise to Ryan about performing at the talent contest. He might not want to talk to me or be friends with me anymore, but I was still going to keep my word to him, no matter what.

On the home front, the only change was that "The Lumberjack" had left. Whether he dumped my mother or vice versa, I didn't know nor did I care. Just two days later, there was a new man visiting our trailer regularly. Surprisingly, at the beginning, he was actually somewhat decent to me. He even told me his name -- Krull. I wasn't quite sure about what kind of name that was, but given his bizarre (and somewhat scary) appearance, I wasn't about to ask. I was just glad he didn't call me "You Little Shit" or "Boy." Instead, I got the distinct honor of being referred to as "Dude" (when he spoke to me at all, that is, which wasn't too often).

He looked to be about in his mid-twenties, tall, lanky, with long, dark brown hair. He had tattoos all over his arms, piercings in his ears, nose, tongue, and lips, as well as an awful-looking mustache and goatee. To me, he looked like a reject from a bad punk rock band. After I met him for the first time, my mother even spoke to me, threatening that I'd better be nice to this one because he was "hung like a horse." I figured that if I happened to walk in on them doing it, though, it wouldn't be nearly as disgusting as the image of the fat, hairy "Lumberjack" panting, sweating, and heaving over my mother. Despite the oddness of his attire, Krull actually wasn't that bad looking.

As the end of November drew nearer, the weather became colder and colder, and it rained or snowed many days, with the temperature rarely rising above forty degrees. The inside of the trailer was barely warmer than the air outside. We only had one small space heater, and that was kept in my mother's room. The times that she was actually at home, that is where she usually stayed.

I was freezing my balls off, though, and the blankets I had hardly kept me warm enough at night. I hoped that it wouldn't be a long winter. At least the school was heated, but in about a week, when our Thanksgiving break started, I would be out of school from Wednesday until the following Monday, so I wouldn't get to experience the luxury of heat.

Back when Ryan and I were still on speaking terms, I had even fantasized about getting to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with him and his family. Celebrating Thanksgiving was something I'd only heard about in school. My mother never cooked anything, much less a Thanksgiving dinner. Her way of celebrating was usually smoking an extra pipe full of crack that day. But now, my little fantasy about spending the long holiday weekend with Ryan and his family was about as likely to come true as my mother suddenly deciding to get sober and finding a nice, rich doctor to marry and settle down with.

The other thing that was going to totally suck about the Thanksgiving holiday was that I didn't have to go to work the entire week, so I wouldn't get the only temporary respite I had from my own personal little hell.

Part of me wished that I didn't have to work the prior week, because that meant that I had to do three shows in less than seven days, two at the pub on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and the talent contest on Sunday evening. That would put a strain on my voice, and I couldn't tone it down for my shows at work, because when it came to performing, I could never do a half-assed job. It was either all or nothing. Nevertheless, doing those shows prior to the talent contest gave me an opportunity to test out the songs I'd been working on in front of an audience. On Wednesday night, I added "Pinball Wizard" as the final song during my show at the bar. It was the only rocker I played that night, with the rest of the set being the typically depressing type of music that I'd been playing since the "incident."

As with most of the shows during that time, I opened with the haunting "Sixty Years On," followed by Elton John's "Talking Old Soldiers" (another one about the fear of growing old and alone), "I Only Want To Be With You," "He'll Have To Go," Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," The Beatles' "Yesterday," Bonnie Raitt's "Circle Dance," and Billy Joel's "And So It Goes."

For the Friday evening show, I switched "Pinball Wizard" with the medley of "Burn Down the Mission," "My Baby Left Me," and "Get Back," which earned me a loud standing ovation from the audience. It appeared as if I was as ready as I could be for the talent contest, and I felt pretty confident. The only butterflies in my stomach were from wondering whether or not Ryan was going to be there, which I was hoping he was.

I'd been looking forward to the talent show for over a month now, and it was pretty much the only thing that kept me going. It was bad enough that I had lost Ryan, but at least I had that one little thing that I could be a little excited about. When that was over and done with, though, I would once again go back to being completely empty. I was still enjoying playing at the pub, but my shows had become mechanical. The audiences didn't change that much from night to night, and I felt myself becoming too complacent being in the same place and doing basically the same show from night to night. I didn't know where else I could play, though, and since I needed the money badly, I had to keep doing it.



The recent cold weather and lack of heating in the trailer must have finally gotten to me, because when I woke up on Saturday morning, I had the sniffles and a slight sore throat. For most people, a little cold wouldn't be a big deal, but if I was going to be performing the following night, it could be devastating, especially if I lost my voice. I was already feeling a slight strain on my vocal chords from the long show I did the previous night, and I hoped having a day off would help and my cold wouldn't get any worse. My mother was gone all day Saturday, so I tried to rest and drank lots of hot tea. That night, I took the last of the anti-anxiety medicine Maggie had given me to help me get to sleep.

On Sunday morning, my cold had gotten worse. I was sniffling even more, my throat felt scratchy and slightly hoarse, and I was starting to cough a bit. I prayed that I could make it through the show that night.

I was also starting to get really nervous. Even though I'd performed in front of audiences many times before, they had always been strangers. I never knew any of the people at the pub personally. But at the talent show, besides parents, relatives, and school faculty, the large majority of the audience would be students -- people whom I knew and who knew me. If they thought I looked like a dork up on stage, they would certainly make my life at school more miserable than it already was.

I was also scared that even if my performance was good, they would still boo and hiss (maybe even throw rotten vegetables and eggs at me) just to be mean and spite me. Of course, I was afraid that Ryan would be disappointed too. Unfortunately, I had used up the last of the anxiety medicine the night before, so all day Sunday, I had a bad case of the shakes. It seemed like the butterflies in my stomach had been doing some serious reproducing and becoming more and more bad-tempered.

I knew I couldn't get through the show in the state I was in, worrying both about the show and Ryan, so I started to look through the trailer to see if my mother had any pills lying around. I rummaged around her bedroom, the bathroom, searched all the kitchen cabinets, but to no avail. My lack of success made my anxiety even worse. I started to consider not even showing up at the talent show, afraid that I might have a full-blown panic attack on stage and then really embarrass myself.

The last serious attack where I nearly lost total control of my senses had been the first night I spent at Ryan's. Fortunately, they had been the only ones to see it, and I knew they didn't judge me. Having that happen on stage, in front of all of my classmates, however, would have been the ultimate form of embarrassment.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally found a nearly empty bottle of pills under the couch. The label said it was "Demerol." I'd never heard of it before but figured it must be strong if my mother was using it. She'd apparently forgotten that she had it, otherwise it probably wouldn't have found its way under the couch in the first place. There were only two pills left, and according to the label, they were fifty milligrams each. I stuffed them in my pocket and planned on taking them about an hour before the show, giving them enough time to really kick in. I realized there were some valuable things you could learn when you have a mother who is a drug addict.

The show was supposed to start at seven o'clock in the evening, and I was scheduled to be the last act. I would have waited until later to show up if it hadn't been mandatory for all participants to sit through everyone else's performances (that was supposed to be the polite thing to do).

So at about five o'clock, I started getting ready. I grabbed a quick shower and put my "stage clothes" from the pub that I had brought home with me (for the first time ever) into an old, tattered garment bag, along with my blue tracksuit and Detroit Lions ball cap that I would change into after the show. I checked to see that the pills were still in my pocket, which they were, and then headed out the door to catch my bus to the school.

When I got to the auditorium at around six-thirty, I found Mr. Tillworth running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to make final preparations for the show. Other students were making fun of him behind his back for taking a "stupid school function" so seriously, but I couldn't blame him, because it was important to me too. It was the only thing I'd had to look forward to for the past month and a half.

Our school's auditorium was large, and the tickets had all been sold out. It was going to be a very large audience, the largest I had ever played in front of. The stage was done up very nicely, with an art deco-style backdrop that would be illuminated with colored lights set up on the stage floor.

Mr. Tillworth and I had previously arranged that I would have a myriad of colored spot lights dancing across the stage during my performance, with a smoke machine churning out smoke during my first song, "Pinball Wizard." Before I came out, they would play a recording of the orchestral introduction of the Broadway musical Aida, which had a really beautiful pan flute solo.

I would walk out on stage as the introduction was winding down, and as soon as it ended, immediately start pounding away at the piano. The sharp contrast of the soft, sweet orchestral piece segueing immediately into the piano rock intro of "Pinball Wizard" would create a stunning effect. A good performer knew how to toy with the audience's emotions, winding them up, bringing them back down again, and so on.

Mr. Tillworth noticed me walking into the school's band room, which had been set up as our make-shift changing room for the performance.

"Hi, Connor. Are you ready for the big performance tonight?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. I've been practicing a lot. I think it'll be ok," I replied, trying to sound as confident as possible. I figured I'd feel a lot more confident once I'd taken those pills.

"Oh, by the way," he said. "Someone left a box for you. Let me go get it."

He walked off into the band room office, and I wondered why in the hell someone would leave a box for me. He quickly returned with a large white box that had a little envelope taped to the top.

"Here you go, bud," he said, and then took off, undoubtedly to yell at some of the stage crew or lighting technicians or something.

I found a quiet corner in the band room and sat down with the box. I looked at the plain white envelope first, which simply said "For Connor" on the front. Inside was a small white note in a familiar scrawl:


Best of luck tonight. I'll be cheering you on.

There's a little something in the box that I thought you might need.


Wow, that was really sweet, I thought. After all of the effort I'd put into trying to push him away, he still cared about me, unless of course the contents of the box was a bomb or something. Then I might have to reconsider that.

I opened the box and inside found the white suit, shoes, frilly silk magenta shirt, and John Lennon-style wire-frame glasses with matching magenta lenses that Ryan had bought for me at the mall. I hadn't taken the clothes home with me after "the incident," and figured that he'd probably returned them to the store or maybe even burned them. I was happy that I would have something much nicer than my usual all-black outfit to wear, but also a little disappointed that it had been Toby who gave them to me instead of Ryan.

Still, though, I was pleased. Putting on that new outfit, I would be able to transform myself from the anxious, timid, wussy "Connor Matthews" into someone else. Someone that people other than Trent Lomax and his buddies would notice.

As the show was starting, I didn't really feel like going out and sitting amongst the audience, which would just make me feel more nervous, so I asked Mr. Tillworth if I could stay in the band room and practice my performance on the nice Kurzweil SP88X digital piano they had. I'd never really liked playing keyboards or digital pianos, but the quality had improved a lot in recent years, and this was one of the best. It had all eighty-eight keys, fully-weighted, which made it feel like you were playing a "real" piano when you struck them, and it also had built-in MIDI controller features. Not to mention it sounded pretty damn close to a real piano.

So I got changed into my stage outfit, popped the two Demerol pills into my mouth, and tinkered around a bit on the digital piano. Mr.Tillworth said I would be going on in about an hour and a half, which would give the medication plenty of time to kick in.

As I was sitting there idly fooling around with all of the gizmos on the digital piano, I thought about asking Mr. Bill to replace the old upright piano at the pub with one of these. With the MIDI features, I could program synthesized string parts into the keyboard that I could activate just by pressing certain keys, which would provide an even fuller sound to my solo piano shows. They weren't even that expensive. I couldn't afford one, of course, and even if I did somehow manage to save up enough money to buy one, I'm sure my mother would just pawn it to buy more drugs. But I was sure Mr. Bill could afford it. I just had to think of a way to convince him that it was worth it.

My voice was still a bit raspy from my cold and from over-singing on Friday night, and my sniffles hadn't gotten any better either, so I decided to just play the piano a bit and not try singing. I was afraid that I would strain my vocal cords even more, athough a slightly hoarse singing voice could sometimes sound cool (like Bob Dylan), and would also make me sound more "mature."

I figured I could get through it since I was singing all rockers and not any ballads, which would have necessitated a very smooth and clear singing voice. I just had to hope that I didn't completely lose my voice before the end of the performance. That was a distinct possibility, since I really had to wail out the vocals on all of the songs, not to mention that my final song was actually an eighteen minute medley of three songs.

I estimated my total performance would take about twenty-five minutes, and I couldn't slow down for a second. With only the piano and no band to back me up, I had to make the songs drive hard all on my own. With a band to back you up, you could usually get by just with playing chords. Playing solo, however, you had to supply the melody and keep the bass line moving, with no room for error. You were up there all alone. Naked, so to speak. Of course, it wasn't the first time I'd done it, but now I had to deal with voice problems.

Mr. Tillworth came back to the band room to tell me that I would be on in five minutes, so I quickly checked myself in the mirror, noticing that my new outfit looked really sharp. I had gotten my hair trimmed a few days before, so it looked much better as well.

By this time, the Demerol had really kicked in, and I was "high as a kite," as Elton John sang in his classic song "Rocket Man."  I felt completely relaxed, no feelings of anxiety, and with a new-found sense of confidence. If there were medications that could do that, I wondered why I wasn't taking them all the time. So I made my way out to the stage, waiting in the wings for Mr. Tillworth to introduce me.

As soon as he made his simple introduction, the house lights and stage lights went down, the art deco backdrop was illuminated by soft colored lights, and a lighted disco ball that was hung from the ceiling began to slowly turn, creating the image of white stars swirling slowly around on the stage floor. The soft yet moving sound of the orchestral introduction to Aida began to come through the speakers, and the murmurs from the audience grew silent in anticipation of the coming performance.

As I looked out at the stage, waiting for my cue to go on, I noticed how perfect everything looked, just as I imagined it would if I were a rock star getting ready to go on stage in front of millions of screaming fans. Deep down inside I knew it was really just an auditorium full of classmates, parents, relatives, and faculty members. But I didn't care. With the effects of the lighting, the stirring sounds of the pan flute and strings playing in the background, building to a crescendo, and the effects of the Demerol now at their peak, I felt like I was on top of the world.

The nine-foot Yamaha concert grand piano was sitting in the center of the stage, its varnish glistening. In just moments, the piano and I would become one. The only thing still bothering me was my throat, but I figured I could still get through it -- it was just a small cold anyway, so I would be as good as new in another day or so. It helped that as I stood there waiting, not a single thought of Ryan had entered into my mind.

As the grand crescendo of the introduction began to wind down, I took my cue and walked onto the stage, pleasantly surprised at the loud applause that I was hearing. I glanced at the front row and noticed Toby, Mikey, Natalie, and the twins all sitting there with big smiles on their faces and clapping loudly. But there was no Ryan, and my heart suddenly dropped. He wasn't there.

I still had a show to do, though, and I had to shake those thoughts off. I made my way over to the piano and sat down, adjusting the microphone, waiting for the final notes of the orchestral introduction to fade. As soon as the last sounds of the strings had died away completely, I immediately began fiercely pounding out the rapid, frenzied piano intro to "Pinball Wizard." The colored stage lights flashed on, dancing frenetically around the stage, the smoke from the smoke machine covering the floor in an ethereal mist.

I was barely conscious of my actions. The effects of the medicine, the flashing lights, and the sense of power I felt sitting at the piano were driving me on as if by instinct. I pounded away at the piano in a fury, as if I were possessed by some unknown force, singing as passionately and energetically as I could, my slightly hoarse voice making the vocals actually sound better, deep and raw.

I worked over the entire piano, my fingers darting back and forth rapidly, the bass reverberating throughout the auditorium. Even playing this classic rock song with just a piano, you could hardly tell that there wasn't a band behind me. The sound was full and intense. I put everything I had into that song, adrenaline surging through my body. As I beat out the final notes, ending with a dramatic flourish, I felt incredible, like I was on top of the world.

The reaction from the audience was immediate and deafening. The cheering, applause, and catcalls were louder and lasted longer than I had expected. I said a quick "thank you" into the microphone, then stood up to take a brief bow and wave at Toby and Ryan's friends in the front row, eliciting even bigger smiles from their faces.

I sat back down at the piano and waited for a few moments to let the applause to die down. Then I began the slow-tempo, almost gospel-sounding introduction to "Burn Down the Mission," teasing the audience into thinking that I was going to be playing a ballad. But as soon as I got to the first chorus and rocking piano solo, the spectacle of colored lights came flashing back on, and I once again began to pound away at the piano keys like a wild man.

I was already sweating profusely from all of the exertion as well as the heat from the stage lights, but at that point, it was if I was detached from my body, and I just played like I had never played before.

I kept going and going, playing harder and singing even more intensely, my piano playing frenzy never stopping as I finished "Burn Down the Mission" and sleekly segued into "My Baby Left Me," and finally "Get Back." By the middle of the medley, I was testing the limits of my endurance, but I continued pushing myself, giving it one-hundred and ten percent. I finally finished after more than twenty-five minutes of relentless piano playing and singing. After I beat out the final notes, exhaustion washed over me. I felt like I was going to pass out, but the deafening roar from the crowd kept me awake. I looked out to the audience to see every single person on their feet clapping and hooting wildly.

I almost couldn't believe my eyes and ears. It was like my dream of becoming a rock 'n' roll star had come true, and up on that stage I wasn't just that shy, poor kid "Connor Matthews" anymore ... I was somebody. Sure, in reality it was just a stupid school talent show, but during the time I was up on that stage, it was more than that. It was the one chance I had to really shine, to show all of those assholes out there that although I may be a poor, pathetic piece of white trash, there was at least one thing I could do to finally earn some respect, something to show them that I wasn't totally worthless.

The exhaustion soon won out over my elation, however, and after a quick bow and a wave, I made my way off the stage and back to the band room to change, as Mr. Tillworth announced that there would be a fifteen minute break while the judges selected the winner. At that point, I didn't even care if I won, I was so tired from what I had just put my body (and voice) through.

As I was changing into my blue track suit, I noticed how exhausted I really was. I was trembling slightly, sweating like a pig, and my throat felt like it was on fire. I donned my blue cap, put on the Buddy Holly-style black-framed glasses that I had originally brought with me, and dragged myself back to the auditorium to await the decision of the judges.

At that point, I was so tired that I just wanted to collapse and sleep for a week. It was a struggle to keep myself together physically, but I walked to the back of the auditorium and stood against the far wall with the rest of the contestants. I really had no idea how good the others were, or even what kind of acts they had performed, since I had been holed up in the band room during the entire show.

Mr. Tillworth finally walked up on stage and made his way over to the microphone to announce the winner.

"First of all," he stated, "I want to thank the Student Government Association for putting on this fantastic show for us tonight. It was a lot of work, and there were many people working hard behind the scenes to make it all come together. So first, I want to thank the people who worked the lighting, the stage crew, Matt Dobson who worked the soundboard, and all of our very talented performers. This was certainly one of the best talent contests we've had in years ... "

Jesus H. Christ! How long is he gonna drone on?
I thought to myself. I was ready to pass out, and he sounded like he was delivering the fucking State of the Union Address or something.

As Mr. Tillworth rambled on, thanking all kinds of people, I noticed Ryan standing at the other end of the auditorium. He did come! He didn't look over at me, his face was expressionless, but he was there. He saw me do what I had promised him I would do, and I knew that I'd given it my very best. It was the finest performance I had ever done, and I had done it for him.

" ... and finally," Mr. Tillworth continued, "the moment everyone has been waiting for. There were many good performances tonight, but in the end, there was one performance that outshined them all, and I don't think that the winner will be a surprise to anyone ..."

Wow, there must have been someone really awesome out there tonight. Maybe I shouldn't have hidden myself away in the band room the whole time and come out to watch.

" ... and the winner of tonight's talent contest and a two hundred dollar cash prize is ... Connor Matthews!" he proclaimed loudly.


The audience erupted again into thunderous applause and cheering. I was stunned. I couldn't believe it. I should have known, should have been more confident in my talent, but as soon as I had walked off the stage, all of my feelings of grandeur slipped away, and I was just plain old Connor Matthews again. But I really did it. I won!

I looked over towards Ryan, still standing at the other side of the auditorium. He was clapping, but not as enthusiastically as the rest of the audience, and his expression was blank. My heart suddenly dropped again. He didn't even care. He wasn't happy for me. Had I done this for nothing?

The next thing I knew, one of the other contestants who was standing next to me nudged me to go up to the stage to get my certificate and prize money. I suddenly regretted changing back into my "street clothes," feeling a little self-conscious, as without the "costume," I wasn't the piano-playing super hero anymore. But despite my uncomfortableness and fatigue, I made it up to the stage and collected the certificate and money, which would come in very handy since I wasn't working during the coming week and thus would have no income. The audience was still clapping and cheering loudly, so I gave them another quick bow, and then started to walk off stage again when Mr. Tillworth grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back over toward the microphone.

"How would everyone like to hear a final encore from our big winner tonight?" he asked the audience.

WHAT?!?! There was no way I could do that. My voice was shot to hell and I was totally exhausted.

The audience started cheering even more loudly.

"Mr. Tillworth," I whispered to him, "I'm totally exhausted right now and I really don't think my voice can take another song."

I probably should have spoken in a normal tone of voice so he could hear how hoarse I sounded, but since I was whispering he most likely couldn't tell.

"C'mon, Connor," he urged me, "this is your big night. You can do it. Just give them one more song. They love you!"

This guy really is a piece of work, I thought to myself.

I was already completely burned out, both physically and mentally. My voice was nearly gone, and my cold was really starting to bother me, no doubt made worse by all the exertion. Unfortunately, though, I didn't see any way to get out of it, so I begrudgingly agreed to do one more song.

I had to think about what I should play. I figured I should choose a song that everyone would know and could sing along to on the chorus, to help rest my voice a bit. After a few moments of deliberation, I decided that Billy Joel's "Piano Man" would be the perfect choice to end the evening with. My voice would sound hoarse and raspy, but I could fudge my way through it.

I instructed Mr.Tillworth to turn down the stage lights and shine a single white spot light onto me and the piano. I then walked over to the piano and sat down, readjusted the microphone, and addressed the audience.

"Thank you very much, everyone," I said nervously into the microphone, my voice quite hoarse by that point. "I've pretty much blown out my voice tonight, as you can hear, but we'll try to get through one more. I think everyone knows this one, so if you feel like joining in on the chorus, please do."

With that, I began playing the familiar opening bars to "Piano Man," and the audience immediately recognized it, applauding loudly with approval. It wasn't easy getting through it, and my voice was far from perfect. But I couldn't perform and not give it everything, so I did. By the second chorus, the audience was singing along.

"Sing us a song, you're the piano man, sing us a song tonight. For we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feeling alright ..."

Each time the chorus came around, I just accompanied on the piano to save my voice, only joining in again on the final chorus, belting out the notes as powerfully as I could manage.

By the time I finished, I didn't know how I was still able to stand up. I was exhausted, I felt like my throat was about to explode from the pain, and I felt sick. As the audience continued to applaud, I gave them one final bow and hurried off the stage. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Between my exhaustion and the heart-wrenching reality that Ryan really didn't give a fuck about me anymore, it was too much to take.

As I was walking, a few tears managed to escape from my eyes, the first time I had let myself cry in years. Fortunately, there was no one there to see me. After a night that should have been one of the greatest moments in my fifteen years, why did I feel so empty inside? Why could I endure beating after beating from my mother, endless harassment at school, and all the other shit that I had to put up with in life, but not be able to handle the rejection from one person?

I managed to make it to the bus stop just in time to catch the last bus for the night. I momentarily thought about stepping out in front of the bus as it approached, anything to make this feeling go away, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I was weak, too weak even to end my misery. As I sat on the bus, a physical and emotional wreck, for the first time that I could remember I was actually a little thankful to be going home.

As soon as I walked into the trailer, I could hear my mother's loud screams of ecstasy, undoubtedly getting a good old-fashioned deep dicking from Krull. I was just happy they'd decided to use the bedroom this time instead of the living room. After the last experience with my mother and "The Lumberjack," that wasn't something I wanted to walk in on again.

I stumbled to the bathroom and took a long hot shower. When I emerged from the bathroom about twenty minutes later, I could still hear them going at it. The way my mother was shrieking like a banshee in heat, I imagined that Krull must have been a pretty good fuck. She did say he was "hung like a horse," and I wondered if that really made a difference. Chuckling to myself at the thought, I went into my bedroom and plopped down onto my mattress. Despite the loud noises coming from my mother's room, I was out cold before my head hit the pillow.



I thought that I must be dying on Monday morning when I woke up. I couldn't remember the last time I had felt so sick. My nose was running like a leaky faucet, I had a hacking cough, my throat was sore, and my whole body ached. I figured that it would probably be a pretty good idea to stay home from school, especially since it was cold and rainy outside and I didn't want to take the chance of getting even sicker. When I walked out of my bedroom, however, I could hear my mother and Krull going at it again in her bedroom. I decided that if she was going to be home all day getting boinked senseless (and probably shooting up, too), I'd rather go to school, sick or not.

When I got to school, I was bombarded with greetings and congratulations from people I didn't even know. Getting approached by a whole bunch of strange kids was a terrifying experience for someone like me, to say the least, and feeling as sick as I did just made it even worse. So I made a beeline for my first class, and did my best to avoid people as best as I could, saying a simple "thank you" when complimented by someone about my performance and, as graciously as possible, darting away.

Despite the fact that I seemed to have gathered a number of "fans" (although I was pretty sure that would pass by the time the Thanksgiving break was over and there was some new drama or rumor going around the school), Trent Lomax wasn't one of them. Fortunately, he only had the opportunity to tell me that I looked like a "fag" dressed up in what he called "my frilly pink shirt" (it was magenta, dammit!) and that "only girls and fag boys play the piano." The "fag" insults didn't bother me, because he would pick on me and beat me up whether he knew I was gay or not.

I was hoping that I would start feeling better on Tuesday morning when I woke up, but much to my chagrin, I seemed to be getting worse. If I'd had a thermometer, I would have sworn that I had a fever. I'd also started coughing up thick, disgusting wads of yellowish-green phlegm. The school day went on pretty much the same as the day before. I ran into Toby in the hallway between classes and apparently he could tell that I wasn't feeling very well.

"Connor, man, are you ok? You look like shit," he said.

"Jeez, thanks," I said, not trying to contain the sarcasm that was clearly dripping from my voice.

"What's wrong?" he prodded, actually looking very concerned.

"Nothing. It's just a cold or something," I said. "Look, I've gotta get to class. See ya later."

And with that, I was off. I wasn't in the mood to talk to Toby right at that moment, and didn't even feel bad about totally dissing him. I was in a pissy mood because not only was I sick, but I was about to have to spend five miserable days at home, knowing that without school to keep me out of the house for a good portion of the day, something bad was bound to happen at the hands of my mother or Krull, the "fucking machine." It always did.

It was just my luck that afternoon that I missed my bus and had to stand out in the rain without an umbrella, feeling sick as hell, and angry at the whole world. And I missed Ryan. I was sure that I would feel a hell of a lot better wrapped up in one of his hugs, with Maggie there to take care of me while I was sick. I never had anyone to take care of me after my grandma died. When I was just a little kid and got a sore throat, she would give me a hot mug of whiskey mixed with honey. It tasted pretty raunchy, but it actually helped. I really missed little things like that.

As I was standing there alone at the bus stop, shivering from the cold, my clothes soaked through to the skin, and trying to think about pleasant memories from the past, I noticed a familiar dark green car approach and stop right in front of me. The passenger side window rolled down, and I saw the face of a rather perturbed-looking Ryan scowling at me.

"What the fuck are you doing standing out here in the rain like that without an umbrella?" he asked.

"I missed my bus," I said, trying not to make eye contact with him.

"Get in the car and I'll drop you off at your place," he said.

"No, thanks. I'm fine. The bus will be here soon," I replied. I knew I was in a bad mood and was afraid that I would end up snapping at Ryan in the car and making an already terrible situation worse.

"Get in the goddamm car, Connor!" he yelled, causing me to jump.

He'd never yelled at me before. I'd never even seen him look angry, and wasn't sure how to react, not to mention being stunned that he'd stopped at all. So instead of trying to argue, I just opened the door and got in. He quickly shifted the car into drive and took off.

As we drove toward the trailer park, I was wheezing and coughing up a storm, shaking quite severely from the freezing cold, and even managed to hack up a couple good loads of phlegm into some tissues that were sitting on the dashboard. It must have been a pretty pathetic sight.

"What's wrong with you?" Ryan asked, this time sounding considerably less hostile. "You look like friggin' death warmed over."

"It's just a cold. I'll be fine," I answered curtly.

He just gave me a measured looked and kept driving.

As we pulled up in front of my trailer, the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. I mumbled a quick 'thanks' to Ryan for giving me a lift and opened the door to get out. But as soon as I did, the unmistakable sound of loud screaming and large objects being thrown against the thin walls of the trailer broke the silence. I winced at the thought of having to walk in on whatever the hell was going on in there.

Suddenly I felt Ryan grab me by the shoulder and yank me back into the car.

"What're you doing?" I asked incredulously, attempting to wriggle free from his vise-like grip.

"There's no way I'm letting you go back in there," he stated simply.

Before I had the chance to protest, he shifted the car into reverse and backed out of the trailer park, tires squealing loudly.

As soon as we were back on the road, apparently headed in the direction of Ryan's house, I started to feel the familiar pangs of anxiety creeping up on me. Not only was I utterly confused by Ryan's reaction, having no idea what to expect from him at this point, but he had also gotten a quick yet terrifying glimpse into the environment I lived in. I should have felt happy that he obviously still cared enough about me to not let me go in there, but I was more concerned about what was going on in his head, how he was feeling about me, and what would happen as a result of he'd just heard. Did he still hate me? Was he going to finally talk to me? Was he going to call the police? What would Maggie say?

These were the questions that were now running through my frazzled mind. All the while, I continued shivering from the cold, coughing practically non-stop, and hacking up even more phlegm, which I was now having to spit out the window since the tissues were gone.

We finally pulled up in front of Ryan's house. The warm feeling that had always greeted me when I went there before was gone. All that I felt at that moment was dread and a sense that I wasn't in control of anything anymore.

As soon as we walked in the front door, Ryan started stripping off my wet clothes.

"What are you doing?" I asked him, a little surprised.

"I don't want you dripping all over the house," he explained.

Once I was down to my underwear, he led me upstairs to his room where he gave me a pair of his flannel pajamas. They were a couple sizes too large for me, but at least they looked warm. He also got me a dry pair of briefs from Toby's room.

"Sorry about the pajamas, but Toby's never worn any, so you'll have to make do with mine," he explained.

I just did as I was told, afraid to question what he was doing or what was going on.

After I was changed, he motioned for me to get into bed. He then proceeded to strip down to his boxer-briefs and slide into bed next to me. By this point I was really confused, even more so when he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close, and rubbing his hands all over my arms, legs, hands, and chest. It wasn't particularly sensual, but it felt good.

"Does this mean you and me ... I mean ... are we okay again?" I asked feebly.

I really wanted things to be okay again. I was hoping that this was his way of telling me that we could go back to the way things were before.

"This means that I'm trying to get you warmed up as quickly as possible. Using body heat is the best way. I don't want you getting hypothermia," he said simply.

"Oh ..."

Well, at least he doesn't want me to die, I thought. That's got to count for something, right?

We continued to lie there silently, Ryan holding me closely and rubbing me to keep me warm. Despite all of the questions and fears that were running around in my head, I felt that safe feeling starting to come over me again, and I quickly dozed off.

When I opened my eyes, Ryan had left, and I found Toby sitting on the edge of the bed staring at me, looking pensive.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," he replied.

"Toby, I really ..."

"Stop," he cut me off. "I'm not going to let you push me away again. I'm your friend, and that's that. I don't care how much you bitch or make excuses, I'm not leaving your side. You're stuck with me. No arguments. You may think I'm just a stupid little kid, but I'm not. So just deal with it, you doofus."

He sounded an awful lot like his mother as he said that. I wasn't about to argue with him. My throat was too sore to really talk much anyway. But all I'd been going to say when he cut me off was "I'm sorry." I didn't want to push Toby away again. I needed him, and I wanted him there with me. If I had known what "love" was then, that was what I was feeling for him at that moment.

He held on to my hand as I stared blankly up at the ceiling, neither of us saying another word. I wondered if maybe I had been stupid all this time. I had been pining after Ryan, being miserable for over a month and a half because he was upset with me. That had been one of the worst times in my life, but trying to think rationally, I realized that it was my own fault that I had gotten into that whole mess in the first place. I hadn't been honest about what I was feeling.

Maybe I should have just chosen Toby from the beginning. He was only a year younger than me, after all. Plus, he wasn't confused about his feelings. He knew what he wanted, and he treated me well. It had always been obvious how much he cared for me. Sure, Ryan cared for me a lot, too, but could it ever be the way I wanted?

With Toby, I didn't have to wonder about that. I couldn't think of a single reason why I shouldn't let myself fall for Toby like I had for Ryan. He was perfect, and he was here. Even during my time of isolation, he was always there in the background, trying to bring me back, trying to show me that he still cared. Why, then, couldn't I just let Ryan go and be with Toby?

As these thoughts were conflicting with each other in my mind, I dozed off again, with Toby still holding my hand.

The next time I woke up, the room was dark, and Toby was gone. I was alone. I didn't really feel like going back to sleep. Looking at the clock, I realized that I'd been asleep for quite a while. It was already eight o'clock. I felt well-rested, but my body still felt like shit. I was trying to decide whether I should just stay in bed, or get up and go downstairs to see what was going on. It turned out that I didn't have to make that decision as the door opened, and Maggie and Ryan walked in, turning on the light.

Ryan leaned up against the dresser, his arms folded across his chest, looking down at the floor. I couldn't decipher the expression on his face. Maggie's expression wasn't that difficult to figure out, though, as she came over and sat down on the edge of the bed. She was not a happy camper. I noticed Toby standing in the doorway with a look of compassion (or was it pity?) on his face. It looked like I was about to be ganged up on.

"First of all, Connor," Maggie started, "I don't know what's been going on between you and Ryan for the past month or why you suddenly stopped being friends, and I don't care about that right now. That's for the two of you to work out on your own."

I just nodded.

"Secondly," she continued, "I told you to come to me if there was anything wrong, and you didn't. I'm very disappointed in you."

Dammit, Ryan! What did you go and tell her?

"I don't know what Ryan told you, Dr. McCormack, but ..."

"Hush," she cut me off. "All Ryan told me was that you were sick and he brought you here to take care of you. And by the way, I'll give you a thorough check-up in a minute."

I nodded sheepishly.

"But this time I had to talk with your mother, as a mother and a doctor, if you were going to be staying here. So, I made Ryan take me to where you live," she said.


I glanced over at Ryan, and he actually looked guilty. He wouldn't even look over at me.

"Ryan put up a pretty good fight until I threatened to ground him until he was thirty and told him that if he wouldn't show me where you lived, then I would get the information from the school anyway," she continued.

"Dr. McCormack, I can ..."

"Hush," she cut me off again. "I went to your house and knocked on the door. Your mother answered, and needless to say, I was a little shocked. Actually, that would be an understatement."


"When she answered the door, she was stark naked, which I obviously found to be a bit ... shall we say, abnormal. I told her that you were very sick and that my son, your friend, brought you to our house so I could take a look at you and save you all a trip to the hospital, and that I just wanted to meet with her and discuss it."

I couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of "discussion" my mother would have with her. And oh my God, she came to the fucking doorway naked! I knew something like this would happen one of these days. I didn't even know what to say at this point. What could I say?

"Let's just say I was a little shocked," she continued, "when she told me ... how did she say it exactly? 'I don't give a fuck where that pathetic little shit is as long as he's not here, and if he's sick he can take care of himself. We don't need no fucking charity from some stuck-up rich fucks like you, bitch.' I think that was basically the gist of it. Then she slammed the door in my face."

Yep, that sounds like good ol' mom.