DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 15

SANCTIONS AND SEDATIVES

~*~*[[ KP ]]*~*~

This is all on me.

This is all my fault.

It never would have happened if I just let him take what was supposed to be his. He was the senior and he was longest on the team. He was supposed to be the quarterback when Jesse left. But I joined and my brother and the twins' connection with the coach ensured me the position, even though I possessed the potentials needed to become the quarterback. It should have been his. Not mine.

Then, consumed by the power that the position entailed, I ordered him to fetch this and to do that - like a slave that has no other choice but to follow his master's orders. That must have eventually pissed him off. I would be angry with myself if I did that to me. So, I know for a fact that he did it to get back at me. Fucking coward!

Yesterday, as soon as the word of what happened reached faculty ears, all the witnesses and all of the names that has even the slightest bit of involvement to the incident, was called to the Principal's office. I was called. Stacey and Jonathan were there. Bruce, who brought Danny to the clinic, was there, too. And the fucking bastard who was sitting across from everyone - Murphy.

One by one, they told the Principal what they witnessed. How they were heading for their next class. How Murphy shoved Danny towards the trophy case. And how Bruce brought Danny to the clinic. Knowing the least, I only told him what I could: "All I know, sir, is that Danny is hurt." And I wanted to add, 'Murphy did it as retaliation.'

But I did not say it.

Another thing: Bruce, Jonathan and Stacey said that they all heard Murphy shout that I sent my regards after throwing Danny to the trophy case - which only implied that I was the one who was behind the attack.

The Principal grilled me. I did not say anything. At least not yet. I know that this is all on me, but I needed to speak to him alone and tell him my side of the story.

So, right after the others were dismissed, I spilled everything on why Murphy did it.

~*~*~*~*~

It was now the 20th of November and we had Saturday class. I took a glance at the seats near the front part of the room and only dampened my mood when I saw that his seat was still empty. Later that horrible day, a frantic Mary came rushing to school and brought Danny to the hospital with her for a more thorough examination. I could only watch as they wheeled Danny out of the school premises. I thought he only needed a couple of days of rest. Now the two days have stretched to three. What the hell are they doing to him?

Sitting in Art History, answering a fucking surprise quiz, the intercom announced that the Principal needed to have a word with me. I know that that was a code for "You're about to get it, mister!" Without permission from our teacher, I took my things - leaving my answer sheet on top of my desk - and got out of the room.

Principal Hark was sitting behind his desk in his lavishly decorated office when I entered. Coach Thomas was inside, pacing back and forth across the remaining space in the room. Then, my eyes went to the boy slouching on a chair - he gave me a wink.

I slammed the door close behind me and strode across the room towards the boy - heating with rage - and I would've beaten him to a pulp if Coach Thomas did not act interference.

"Take a seat, Mr. Princeton!" the principal raised his voice above the commotion, "We are all civilized men in a civilized room and-"

"My friend is in the hospital because of him!" I growled.

"Oh, he's your friend, now?" Murphy sneered.

Unable to answer, I only glared at him.

"MR. PRINCETON, TAKE - A - SEAT! We are here to discuss a serious matter and I will not have that kind of attitude in my office! SIT, MR. PRINCETON!" he pointed to the other chair towards Coach Thomas' left, opposite Murphy.

Hesitantly, with trembling fingers, I seated myself in the leather-covered seat.

"Great! Now that we are all settled," he took a deep, calming breath, "let us begin."

Coach Thomas nodded to the Principal before giving Murphy and I separate warning glares.

Before everything else was said, I - with great resolution - surrendered my position in the team to Murphy, saying with no emotion at all, that "Murphy has the right to the position, Sir. I'm just a sophomore. He has more experience on the field and he has more to contribute to the team. He has knowledge," I cringed at the thought of him struggling with his GPA, "that only a 12th Grader possesses. So, I have decided to step down from my positions."

Ten seconds after I said my speech, a smile played on Murphy's smug face when his infinitesimal excuse for a brain finally added up the things that I have just said and concluded that he was now the Captain and the Quarterback of the football team.

The positions mean nothing to me. If surrendering my rank meant that Murphy would finally stop torturing Danny, then I would gladly rip them off my sleeves, pin it on him, and return to being an average member of the team.

After the incident, I realized one thing: I cannot hurt Danny without hurting myself.

After saying my part, I saw Principal Hark and Coach Thomas exchange knowing looks. I know that they've finally reached a decision that the two of them have been obviously discussing prior to my and Murphy's arrival.

Principal Hark cleared his throat. He straightened in his seat and tried to look as superior as he can. "Stanley, you do realize that what you did to Mr. Mockins is subject to a suspension or even an expulsion, right?" he asked seriously.

I suddenly realized that I never knew Murphy's given name. 'Stanley'? Seriously? Given a different situation, I would've folded onto the floor, laughing my head off. I couldn't imagine Murphy here as a little tyke called 'Stanley.'

"Stanley's" head whipped from me to face Principal Hark's blank stare. His eyes widened with surprise. What a presumptuously dimwitted guy! Did he really think he can do all of those things without expecting some kind of consequence? For once, I was thankful that there were rules and regulations in school - and that punishments are encouraged.

"But, Principal Hark, that's unfair!" My thoughts turned to the present when Stanley protested. "I have-"

"Stan," he was cut short by Coach Thomas when he began speaking. "The School Board, after having our council meetings last Thursday and Friday, reached to the same decision." When he spoke, he was no longer just a teacher involved in his student's misdemeanors; he was now the coach that demands respect and instills discipline to his players. You don't want to cross this guy. "Your actions were unacceptable, Stanley, and - if I must say - a disgrace to the halls of this fine institution! I have never been so humiliated when I learned that it was one of my boys who was responsible for such childish acts. If this school was the field and we were playing, you would be out of the game this instant! You brought this to yourself, Stan, so don't you dare say it's unfair! I may not know that Mockins kid well, but I know that he did not deserve the situation that he is going through right now. You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Murphy was dumbstruck. It was all over his face. His mouth trembled, his eyes teary, and his breathing uncontrolled. Then, blinking hardly, he bowed his head in shame. "I'm so sorry, Coach." It was barely above a whisper, but I heard it, and it almost made me feel sorry for him. Almost.

"Very well," Principal Hark chipped in, "Mr. Murphy, you are on Disciplinary Probation - the duration and condition of which has been determined by the School Board and was already recommended to the President. You will do mandatory work in the form of Community Service, and you will attend to a weekly Formation Session and Counseling in our Guidance office. All of these you should accomplish in a month's time."

Smaller details were then added. When they finished discussing Murphy's punishments, they sent him to the Guidance Office for his very first counseling session.

Poor, Stanley.

When the door closed behind him, I suddenly felt like a mouse trapped in a cage - with two hungry cats present to enjoy me. I settled on my seat and tried to look nonchalant.

"Now, Mr. Princeton, what shall we do with you?" Principal Hark asked with a sinister look. Coach Thomas looked at me with a look more sinister than the other man's. Shit! They're going to punish me, too? What the hell for?

I must have paled and trembled because a second later the two of them started howling with laughter. Bastards! I chuckled when I realized they were only playing with me. They dismissed me after another round of laughter and I went for the door. Before the door closed, Coach Thomas called to me, "Oh, and Keith?" I turned to face him, and he added with a smile, "Make the team do twenty laps around the field before you start practice later, okay? I'll be a bit late for it."

I nodded with pride and closed the door. I believe I was just reinstated back to team Captain.

~*~*[[ DM ]]*~*~

It has been nine days since my . . . mishap. Everyone has been worried sick, I was really annoyed.

"I just have a few cuts and a twisted ankle!" I exclaimed at my overbearing family one time, "It's not like I'm dying, mom."

They acted as if I was invalid, spoon-feeding me, tucking me in to bed. Stacey and some of my friends from school visited, too. They brought gifts ranging from chocolates, fruits, balloons and flowers to lecture notes, projects, rough drafts and blistering hot gossip. Coach Connor dropped by with William and Richie once and he told me I would have to miss next week's Inter-School Swimming Competition, and also another swim meet to be held somewhere in Long Beach. I protested that I would be fine by then, but I knew it was futile to push the idea through Doug's thick skull. My team mates think so, too. So, I kept my mouth shut about the topic.

And, yeah, they made me cheesy 'Get Well Soon' cards, too. Sweet!

But it was during one Monday morning when I woke up and I saw the best presents yet have arrived. Captain America and Thor were standing side by side on my bedside table. They were the latest action figures from the latest movie. I was laughing with delight once I held them in my hands.

"That bastard!" I hissed through my smile. He must have asked my mom! That was the only logical reason. She must have squeaked to him that I collected Marvel action figures. No one else knows about my . . . addiction to superheroes.

'Well, no one except Keith.' my subconscious chimed in before whistling to the tune of "Bleeding Love."

My eyes narrowed to slits. I can't let negative thoughts ruin my mood so I shrugged him off to the farthest corner of my mind.

Just then, a small, green envelope caught my attention. I reached for it and turned it in my hands. Embossed on its back was a symbol - an intricate design of chains and flowers that curved and resembled the letter "S".

I tore it open and a card - plain, white, simple, but scented - fell out. I held it in front of me and read the single line written in long, cursive handwriting.

'I found you at last.'

Those five words jumped out of the page at me and sent cold shivers down my spine. A gasp came out of my mouth and I felt myself tremble. The card fell out of my grasp. My fingers were shaking terribly.

What the hell is this? Is this for real?

I flipped the card. Nothing. There was no address. No identification regarding who it came from. Just the small insignia with the letter "S" printed on its back.

Shit! Was this some kind of a prank? What does it mean? SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!

I shoved the card back inside its envelope and slipped it into my bedside drawer, hoping that it'd eventually slip out of my mind.

"Relax, Danny. Just relax." I told myself.

I decided to sleep for a while to keep the words out of my mind.

I woke up an hour later.

Like a seven-year-old, I played with my action figures for the whole day, much to my sister's amusement. She kept snapping pictures of me with my toys.

I looked at the hands holding Captain America. My cuts have been healing greatly - thanks to the miracles that Science can work. The nurses have been giving me sedatives to lessen the pain. My ankle doesn't hurt that much anymore - still a bit swollen, but I am now capable of moving from one place to another - with the help of crutches, of course. Though, I don't use them that much. I feel like an idiot every time I use them. Skipping and hopping and jumping like a freaking gazelle. Or is it an impala? Or maybe an antelope?

And this! I can't believe I almost forgot! The ultimate bummer: Networking sites - spearheaded by the pestilential Gossip Girl - were busy blabbing about the 'Tragic Fate of Daniel Mockins'. GOD! She's worse than my mother. She makes it sound like I'm already dead! Locally, I became a trending topic on Twitter, I had my very own page maledicting on abusers and ill-treaters on Facebook, and a very moving column about bullying was dedicated for me on Tumblr. And don't start me on Instagram! My name was circulating the local social media!

I really felt so ashamed for the sudden notoriety. Shit! All this fame for a twisted ankle? Fuck me!

I remember when Stacey, Tessa and Diane came in last Wednesday. They told me about what happened to Murphy. "Keith had nothing to do with the attack, Daniel." she had said. A tiny part of me was relieved that I was right, that Keith could never do anything like that to me or to anybody else, but the greater part told me it didn't change a thing. He still doesn't want to talk to me.

'But he was there!' my subconscious shouted with a sudden positivity, 'He brought you the badge! That was him!'

And he said sorry. I swear to God and all the angels in heaven he said sorry.

I frowned with the memory of his touch. Keith's touch. And my heart pounded against my chest. Oh, Keith. What happened to us?

A soft knock rapped on my door.

"Honey, there's someone here to see you." my mom entered the room with someone following her, pulling me out of memory lane. My recent thoughts made me think that it was Keith and a smile was plastered readily on my face, but then she stepped back and let the person move towards my bed. My smile faltered for a bit but I was thankful he didn't notice.

"I'm going to get something to eat. Bruce, honey, you want anything in particular?"

"Oh, I'm okay, Mrs. Mockins. I just had lunch. Thank you." he politely answered.

The door clicked shut and I smiled at him, genuinely happy that he finally decided to show up. "Hi." I greeted excitedly.

Shyly, he made his way to my side and sat on a chair. "Hi." he replied, surprised by my enthusiasm.

The afternoon light filtered through the hospital blinds as we stared at each other before I cleared my throat and began speaking. "Um . . . you know I haven't thanked you properly last time, right?" I said.

"Yeah," he slowly answered, blushing. "I remember. I was in a bit of a hurry, I know. Sorry 'bout that."

"So . . . Thank you." I smiled, despite the fact of what he said last time.

He smiled and I thought he would retort with something like 'Don't mention it.' or 'It's cool. No sweat.' but he simply said "You're welcome."

I grinned, glad that the cuts on my face were now completely healed. There was not a single scar on it to remind me of what happened. My arms were another story, though.

Bruce and I stayed like that for a long time - just looking at each other's face, content with smiling - until the door opened once more and my mother entered bringing food.

I ate my lunch with such good spirits that I finished mine even before my mother started hers. She laughed at my haste.

"What?" I exclaimed, "I want to go for a walk." I said in defense.

She looked surprised by my sudden interest for the outdoors before rolling her eyes at me. Leave it to my mom to be intuitive.

~*~*~*~*~

Despite the coolness of November, the afternoon sun felt good on my skin; it brought warmth to my body - like a battery that charges me with positive energy. Soft, cool breezes would occasionally pass through me, giving me fresh supplies of oxygen. These little things made me happy. It was as if Mother Nature was comforting me - healing me in her own special ways. I smiled at the thought.

"This is nice." I voiced out what I was thinking. I wonder why I haven't done this before. I haven't gone out since and I just realized I've been wasting my time sulking in my room.

"Yeah, it is." Bruce agreed, spreading his arms on the back of the bench.

Nervously, I shuffled closer to him. He and I were sitting on one of the benches outside the hospital, shoulder to shoulder, facing a small pond in the middle of a small group of trees. It was so peaceful here, situated just the right distance from the traffic. The chirping of the birds hopping on the branches filled the air. I shuffled closer, mindful of his reaction.

"So, how are you holding up?" Bruce asked after moments of comfortable silence. "I heard the doctors are letting you out tonight."

"Yeah, they are. And I'm feeling much better now, thanks. I'll be good as new when school starts. I'm really glad my 'tragic fate' happened right before the break." Bruce laughed at what the entire gossip corpus coined to my attack. "Speaking of which . . . any plans for tonight?"

I didn't know where the confidence came from, but I remembered what I promised to myself right after Mrs. Fowler, the school nurse, tended to my wounds. I wanted to be happy again. That was what I decided. No matter what. I needed Bruce.

"Huh?" Bruce quickly turned to look at me, stuttering. "W-wha-what plans?"

I chuckled, but I continued. "You should join us for Thanksgiving Dinner. I'm sure my mom wouldn't mind." I invited without really thinking.

"Oh." he said.

I can see that he was having trouble making a decision, so I quickly added. "Hey, it's totally cool if you don't want to. Really, it's fine."

'But I would really love having you there.' My mind added seductively for me and in soft, breathy moans, he added, 'Please come! Please, Bruce! Come for me! Oh, baby, come for me!'

I ignored my horny subconscious and he just rolled his eyes at me.

Bruce turned to me, made quite a show of considering my offer, then grinned and said, "Yeah, sure. I think I can cancel a few dates for a lovely night of turkey and pudding."

I giggled and punched his arm. Then - blame it on the positivity that I have been feeling the whole day - I did something totally new to me, something daring and really scary! Slowly, I leaned my head on his shoulder, holding my breath for the worst to come. I felt him gasp. His muscular chest heaved under me. Then, hesitantly, he brought his arm around me, locking me in a partial embrace. I can feel him smiling above me. I know I was.

Bruce left an hour later with the promise to see me tonight. I smiled, he smiled. I was happy.

~*~*~*~*~

The sun was setting low on the horizon when I decided to head back to my room.

"Someone's joining us for dinner tonight." My mom told me.

"Okay! I've invited someone, too." I can't believe I just chirped. Shit! I think Richie's rubbing off on me.

"So, how much did you win?" my mom chirped mockingly while packing all of my belongings into a duffel bag. I was sitting on my bed, fiddling with Captain America between my fingers. I gave her a questioning look. "You're smiling like you've just won the lottery, or something." She raised an eyebrow. And in an intrigued voice, she said, "Daniel, is it a boy?"

I rolled my eyes at her before answering. "Bruce and I are fine now."

I think.

"Really?" she chipped excitedly, sitting beside me and holding my hands. "About time! You've been miserable these past few months! You deserve to be happy."

I gave her an affectionate look and took her hands. "Thanks, mom."

"So it's safe to say we're setting five places for dinner tonight?" my mom asked happily.

Five? I did a quick Math. I was sure that adding mom plus sister plus Bruce plus Danny gives you four. Did she count Bruce twice?

"Someone else is joining us?"

"I just told you that earlier, honey. You weren't listening." She retorted.

Oh, well. Whatever.

My mom smiled at me, and I returned it. Then, like in every other cheesy book, movie or TV show ever released since the history of mankind, the mother hugged her son.

"Now, come on." my mom ushered. "Let's get you home. Stephanie has been planning this dinner for days. We better not disappoint her."

"Stephanie has?" amusement filled my voice. "You let her? What if she sets the house on fire? Or worse, what if she sets herself on fire?"

"Of course I let her! Now that she's fourteen, she's already - and I quote - 'a young lady.'" My mother rolled her eyes. "So, she said she should already be able to do ladylike things like cooking."

I laughed.

"I'm not complaining on that," My mom exclaimed, "if it means less work for me, then I'm game for that! Come on. Let's go. I'm starving."

~*~*~*~*~

"Why is the house so dark?" I wondered as we parked my mom's car.

"That's odd. I thought Stephanie's home." my mom said.

"Well, at least it's not on fire." I commented.

We got out of the car, with me leaning on one of my crutches and my mom carrying my bags for me.

She opened the door for me, then, BAM! Blinding lights turned on and a chorus of "SURPRISE!" rang into the night.

I squealed like a girl. My God! I thought I would die with a heart attack!

"You, guys, you scared the shit out of me!" I exclaimed above everybody's cheers and laughter. I saw a banner behind everybody saying, WELCOME BACK, DANIEL! , and tears stung my eyes. "Wow! This is really great!" I said when I saw everybody's smiles. "Wow!"

Stephanie was hugging me before I even got through the doorway. "Thanks, Steph." I whispered to my sister. "This is really great!"

"Anytime, big brother," she beamed, "I'm really glad you're fine now."

I was yanked from my sister's embrace by four gigantic arms screaming my name and hugging the soul out of me. "Whoa! Careful with the leg" I gasped within the muscular embrace, "Jake? Is that you?" I gawked at him first, then at the mirror image behind me. "Blake?" I was starstruck. "FUCK! And I thought you wouldn't get any beefier!"

They laughed at my expression.

Then, in a whisper, I said, "No offense to your absurdly straight genes Blake, but fuck, you two look sexy as hell!"

He kissed my cheek and I blushed. Dear Lord! Blake just kissed my cheek!!!

The twins gave me another hug before another pair of more gigantic arms took me. "Shit, Luke! What are you three doing here? I thought you were in New York!"

"Well . . . we heard about your 'tragic fate' and decided to spend Thanksgiving here, and besides; we couldn't not visit Orange County's newest celebrity, can't we?" he said with delight.

"Damn! You've seen those freakin' articles, too?" I groaned under my breath.

"Gossip Girl." he replied, and everything else was implied. "We were basically freaking when Jake received her blast! From the headline, we thought you died, man!"

That Bitch!

"Anyway, forget about that. What the hell have they been feeding you three at NYU?" I asked, referring to their larger figures.

"Aw, shut up, Daniel." he said through another hug. "You know you look sexy as hell, too."

"Not like you, though." I pointed and I ribbed him.

"But I'm really happy you're alright now, little brother." He smiled with concern then passed me to the crowd.

Little brother. It made me think of his little brother - Keith. My heart ached for his presence.

When I finally got a chance to return to my mother's side, I said, "I thought we were having a simple Thanksgiving Dinner, mom? This doesn't scream 'simple'. This is a party!" I exclaimed through gritted teeth.

"Blame it on Richard and your sister. They're the masterminds." Right then, I saw Richie, who was obviously flirting with Luke and the twins; give me a face that said 'Fuck! This is heaven!'

"And zip it already." My mom went on. "Besides . . . I know you like it!" She laughed at my face and vanished into the kitchen, muttering words that suspiciously sounded like 'celebrity,' 'tragic' and 'fate.'

I rolled my eyes at her and I went to my bag and took my phone out.

1 New Message

I slid the lock and opened the message.

'Outside by the hammock.'

My heart fluttered annoyingly. Taking a deep breath, I went for the back door.

~*~*[[ BA ]]*~*~

"Hi." Daniel walked out of the house towards the hammock where I was sitting. He was smiling and the beam of the streetlights behind me painted his face a radiant glow. I smiled with him.

"You were in on this, weren't you?" he accused as soon as he sat beside me, pinning me with a playful finger. The hammock swung back and forth above the raised platform made of wood.

"What? Of course, not! I don't do surprises." I feigned outrage.

But he crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes like saying that he remembered his surprise birthday party, and his mouth thinned to a single line. I chuckled at his stubbornness.

"Okay, maybe I'm a little bit involved. Guilty as charged."

And his breath-taking, heart-warming, dick-hardening smile was back on his face. "Thank you, Bruce."

"Yeah." Then, remembering his birthday, I lied down and let my feet fall to one side of the hammock before I lost my control and grab his neck and slip my tongue deep in his delicious mouth. With a hesitation that flowed out towards me, Daniel followed, lying beside me. A shiver ran along the skin where we touched.

The moon was waning, returning to earth's dark shadow, but the stars remained draped, scattered, like a tapestry of diamonds on the skies. I can hear the silence of the night, now and then broken by the crickets and cicadas buzzing. A light wind whirled past, sending a chill that only the winter season can bring. It was a wonderful night.

There was only one thing that's wrong with this picture. He shouldn't be here. If Keith saw them . . .

"So, what does this mean, Bruce?" Daniel whispered beside me.

"Mmmm?"

"Are we like . . . together now?" he stuttered.

"Mmmm-mmm." Fuck! How am I supposed to answer that?

"Stop it!" he punched my arm and I laughed.

"I'm sorry." And I propped myself up on my elbow and looked down on him. He stared back up at me, his eyes reflecting the night sky. My body shivered. It felt like I was being pulled down to the depths of his eyes. And right now, I so wanted to be pulled down, to drown myself in them. Right now, I so wanted Daniel.

I said his name.

"Bruce." He breathed against me.

And I took the risk.

I didn't give Daniel the chance to stop me. I swooped down and captured his lips with mine, swallowing the gasp that came out of his mouth with a demanding kiss. I drove deep past his lips, sweeping inside as if I couldn't wait another minute to taste all of his mouth. I didn't think of anything else. I licked him - his taste of spice and aroused male engulfed my tongue. I kissed him with all the passion that I felt inside.

I felt Daniel pursue, crushing his delicious mouth against mine. I groaned against his lips, his tongue lashed against mine. On his neck, my fingers tightened, and his clutched the skin on my shoulder blades. I slanted my head, finding the perfect angle until our lips fit together naturally, as if they were made that way, two halves of the same whole. Daniel sighed, and I pressed myself to him, tangling his top lip between mine and then shifting to the bottom, sucking on them.

Another brush of lips, followed by a lingering kiss on his jaw, and it was over.

"Oh, God." I breathed against his neck. I sat up and regained my composure. What have I just done? Somewhere, my mother was looking down on us . . . crying. Shit!

"Bruce, that was . . ."

"Daniel, let's not talk about this tonight, okay?" I interjected as softly as I could, gritting my teeth to avoid sounding harsh. "Please." I know I'd hurt him by that. I can see it from the way his eyes widened. But he nodded. Thank God, he nodded.

And he changed the topic.

"Okay. But I just want to say thank you for the gifts." He breathed and laid back down on the hammock.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts of 'letters' and 'bonds' only to be replaced by . . . 'gifts'?

"Oh . . . those flowers were peace offerings. And I thought your room needed color, so. . ." I trailed.

He turned his head to me, a questioning look on his face. "Dude, I meant the action figures."

I faced him and knotted my brows together. "Action Figures? Like G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls?"

He laughed. The kiss forgotten at the moment. What action figures was he talking about?

"Don't be so modest, Brucey. You talked to my mom about my collection, didn't you? I was really glad when I woke up last Monday and found Thor and Captain America standing on my bedside table."

What? Thor? Captain America? Like the Marvel superheroes? Collection? What's this all about? Why would I send him a child's plaything?

"I'm glad you liked them, Danny."

I'm sure it wasn't me who chuckled and said it, but I had a strong hunch. And my stomach tightened. So, I raised myself from the hammock and looked around. And there - like the dark prince that he was - he withdrew himself from the shadows of the night. When did he arrive?

"Keith?" I heard the surprise and anxiousness - and a tiny hint of desire - in Daniel's voice. He sat up from the hammock and reached for his crutches, but with his trembling fingers, he knocked them over instead.

Did he see us?

While picking Daniel's crutches from the wooden platform, Keith gave him a hesitant smile. "Hi, Danny." And Daniel gasped.

That fucking charming smile of his! I knew now that it wasn't Keith who ordered the attack, but still, I should just punch that smile off his fucking face. It was still his fault why Murphy wanted payback. It was still his fault why Daniel was hurt. I really thought he wouldn't dare show himself tonight. But, for me, his appearance was a small price to pay. From what he said to me right before I left the school clinic, I gathered that he knows my mother's secrets. And if I don't tread his waters carefully, his tongue might slip and all would be over between me and Daniel before they even started.

I can't let that happen.

Keith knew my secret. But . . . how?

"They were . . . they were from you?" Daniel gasped while taking the crutches from Keith's hands. The moment their fingers touched, I saw their bodies tremble. My gut tightened and I wanted to kick and punch and pummel something.

Keith shrugged and did a poor and awkward imitation of whirling Thor's hammer.

Daniel laughed in his rich, sweet voice. Keith laughed with him. And I just stood and gritted my teeth with my arms crossed.

"I should head inside." I grunted before I said anything unpleasant. Or worse. I pushed my way around Keith's kneeling figure and walked towards the house. But not before I could give him a warning look.

Mess this up, Princeton, and I'll fucking kill you.

~*~*[[ KP ]]*~*~

I arrived at Danny's house 7:55 on the clock with the intent to apologize and restore a broken friendship. Danny's mom had invited me earlier this week to join them for Thanksgiving and I gladly accepted. I figured that for this friendship to be re-established, I needed to make the first move. Mary Mockins greeted me with open arms as soon as I entered their threshold.

Ignoring my brother and everybody else, I immediately asked for Danny.

"Oh, I don't know where that kid is. He was with the twins earlier." She said after a tight hug. "Maybe he went outside. Why don't you check at the back, sweetie?"

"Thanks, Mrs. Mockins." And I did. I went back out of their front door and trudged along their stone pathway towards the back garden. What was left of the moon was high up on the skies and it gave shadows to the trees that lined the property - I was drenched in black.

Then I heard a boom of laughter.

I stepped around the side of the house and found two figures giggling under the moonlight. Immediately, I stopped on my tracks. Bruce was leaning down on top of Danny on the hammock.

Fuck! Are they - oh, fuck they are!

I watched as Bruce leaned in and kissed my best friend.

My knees buckled and I felt the sharp edges of the stone pathway cutting through the fabric of my jeans. I can't watch this! Not again! God, why are you doing this to me?

But, my feet remained on the spot - frozen by the horrible image unfolding before me. This is my best friend's sixteenth birthday all over again. This is the same image that made me furious. This is the reason why our friendship ended. Should I keep on pulling myself away every time I see him kiss another guy?

Not again!

I know better now. I will not let this cave in on me. This is nothing. And Bruce shouldn't even be doing this with his . . .

Bruce broke the kiss. I watched as he sat up on the hammock - his back facing Danny - and he closed his eyes in . . . anger? Was he angry at Danny for returning his kiss? Maybe. Or, maybe he was angry with himself for even starting it.

That must be it.

I moved through the shadows; stepping lightly on the rocks below me to keep myself hidden.

They started talking again. I heard Danny laugh. "Don't be so modest, Brucey. You talked to my mom about my collection, didn't you? I was really glad when I woke up last Monday and found Thor and Captain America standing at my bedside table."

So, he received my gifts! I didn't even care if he thought Bruce was the one who gave them. I smiled at the fact that he liked them.

"I'm glad you liked them, Danny." I heard the words tumble out of my mouth before I even realized that I have spoken them out loud.

Bruce's eyes scanned his surroundings - shocked with my intrusion.

SHIT! It's now or never.

Slowly, I stepped out of the shadows of a tree.

"Keith?" Danny gasped. He jerked up from lying on the hammock and reached for his crutches. He knocked them over the wooden platform. Was he scared of me? Why was he trembling?

I kneeled to get his crutches. "Hi, Danny." I tried to comfort him with a sincere smile. His expression eased up.

I ignored Bruce's glare and handed Danny his crutches.

Forget the kiss. Forget the kiss. I told myself.

"They were . . . they were from you?" Daniel stuttered while taking the crutches from my hands. I shivered when my fingers touched Danny's. His skin was cold.

I shrugged and whirled my hand above me, mimicking the movement that Thor does with his hammer.

Daniel laughed at me and I laughed with him.

"I should head inside." Bruce stood up and grunted. He strode around me and walked towards the party. But before leaving my line of sight, he sent me a look that was meant to deter me, to prevent me from spilling his dirty secrets. Which, I would love to do so . . . but not tonight. At the moment, Danny sees Bruce as his happiness. And I can't afford to take that happiness away from him. Even if it was Bruce. Not tonight. I don't want to see him miserable and broken once again.

~*~*~*~*~

A silence that never surrounded before enclosed the space of the garden around us. I never felt this nervous before. Why am I even feeling nervous? Danny and I had fights before. Our mothers would then tell us to sit down and talk about it. Then, minutes later, we'd then be back to normal. To being best friends.

But, something about this night was off. Not in a bad and weird way. It was just . . . different. My mind was suggesting words to say, but my mouth never opens.

Forget the kiss. Forget the kiss. I chanted in my head.

I did a mental check.

Danny and I had a fight. A really big one! Check!

Danny and I are sitting down on the platform. Check!

Danny and I are talking. Hmmm . . . that's it. We aren't talking.

What was so different this time that it made opening my mouth so darn fucking difficult?

I was pressing my hands together with nerves and anxiety, simultaneously stroking the length of my thumbs from wrists to tips. And then as one thumb crossed the skin just above my wrist, I felt something jump, something flutter.

Intrigued, I pressed my thumb above it one more time. There it was again. It was fluttering. Rhythmically. Realization then dawned on me and told me that it was my heartbeat.

That's it! Why is my heart so pumped tonight? Now that I realized it, I can feel it thrumming on my chest. Pounding. It felt like I just finished a whole game of football with no breaks and substitutions of some kind. And it felt strange. Strange but wonderful.

"I'm glad you came."

The sound came chiming down my eardrums. That sound. I missed it. I fucking missed it.

"Yeah. I am, too." My voice came out raspy and controlled, like a truckload of sand and gravel was just dumped down my esophagus. "I really am."

Shit! Why am I acting this way? All I have to do is talk, right? I will apologize to him. Tell him I was an ass. That I deserved to be beat down. I will ask for his forgiveness. Ask him for another chance to prove myself worthy of him. Or at least of his friendship. I will plead for it if I have to!

Okay, Keith. Deep breaths. Whoo!

"How are you?"

He chuckled. "Happier now." Because of Bruce, I guess. I fought the urge to throw up.

A light breeze passed and he shivered. Standing, I shrugged my coat off and draped it onto his shoulders. He muttered his thanks and held the coat tighter around him.

"That's good to hear." I said as I sat back down.

Then, I took a chance of asking him something personal. If he still thinks of me as his best friend, then he would have no problem answering it. Just do it. I told myself.

"So . . . you and Bruce, huh?" I tried to keep it nonchalant, uninterested, unconcerned, but, despite the blank expression I pasted on my face, the words were like poison in my mouth, and I retched in pain.

He took a sudden intake of breath, as if the question shocked him. That was a sign that I was right, I guess. He turned to me and the look on his face, though, says another thing. Was it uncertainty? Doubtfulness? He wasn't sure?

"I don't know, Keith." he forced a chuckle. "I'm thinking that this is a really odd topic to talk about."

"With me?" I quickly asked and he slowly nodded. "Why, Danny?"

The hesitation was full on his face before he answered. "You still haven't asked me the real question, Keith. I can't talk to you unless you fully understand my . . . identity."

I know what he was talking about - his homosexuality.

I know how hard it was for him to say that. So, I took the time to choose the right words to say.

"Danny . . ." I paused to keep myself from choking on my own words, "We have been friends since we were in Middle School. I think I already know who you are. And your . . . sexuality doesn't change that. Not a bit. You are my best friend and I should never have acted that way towards you. It's my fault. I was just shocked and I felt lied to - betrayed. But it's not your fault, Danny, it's mine. I overreacted."

He gave me a gentle smile. "Thank you, Keith."

I don't deserve that smile. I frowned and bowed my head in shame. "Danny, there's-"

"Shush now."

"Danny-"

"Shush!" He cut me off again. I looked at him then I realized that his eyes were closed.

I chortled. "What are you doing?" I asked, suddenly amused.

"Just shut your mouth, Princeton! You don't know how happy I am right now." He paused to take a deep breath. He released it with a sigh. "I'm trying to capture this. You. Me. This wonderful night. This precious moment. At least, this way, I can keep it in my memory. Forever."

His words touched something deep inside me. I don't know what it was that he just nudged awake, but it now kept thumping inside me, making me gasp a lungful of air. Then another. And another. Thump. Thump. Thump. Shit! What's happening?

He was smiling now. With his eyes closed. His lips curving up on the edges. A smiling angel. Beside me. As if everything that happened between us never happened.

My heart ached. How can he be so relaxed? How can he take this so easily? For months, I was a dick to him. I deserved some punishment. Not a smile - anything but a smile. My fists trembled before me.

"Don't make me beat you tonight, Nattie." I heard Danny mumble in his trancelike state. My head whirled towards him and I growled. Did I just hear him right?

"Oh, no, you didn't. You did not just!" I hissed.

A single eye popped open and it looked at me with a challenging glare. "I think I just did . . . NATTIE."

Everything forgotten, I flung myself above him and my fingers immediately found the sensitive skin just above his waist.

"NO! STOP IT!" Danny giggled beneath me, squirming to escape the tickles from my hands. "STOP IT, KEITH! ALRIGHT, I TAKE IT BACK! I TAKE IT BACK! IT'S NATHANIEL! NOT NATTIE! IT'S KEITH NATHANIEL! STOP!"

I tickled him a few more times before I stopped and sat up. He was laughing, trapped beneath me, lying right between my legs. "You know I hate it when you call me that!" I growled at him, breathless from . . . laughing? Was I just laughing with him? Laughing again?

I was!

Danny was still giggling on the wooden floor; his chest rising and falling sharply from his agitated breathing. I noticed the muscles dancing beneath the thin shirt he was wearing.

WHOA! I shook my head. Why the hell did I just thunk that?

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Keith NATHANIEL Princeton." Danny wheezed, feigning the innocence of a cute, little boy. "I forgot you didn't like it when I call you Nattie . . . NATTIE! NATTIE! NATTIE! NATTIE! NATTIE!"

And my hands were on him once more. I tickled the skin on his waist, my fingers grazing his sensitive spot. It was soft, silky, but every time my fingers came into contact, the muscles underneath flexed and tightened - like steel bars sheathed with silk. Whoa! Danny has abs! That was definitely not there the last time I've seen him shirtless! His months of swimming and, maybe even running, was now starting to show off.

Amazed at how . . . mature my best friend has become, I ceased the tickling and sat up. Then, something caught my attention - something hard and rigid. I looked down and my eyes widened with shock. I had a fucking hard-on!

WHAT. THE. FUCK!

Immediately, I sat down beside him, discreetly hiding the beer can running halfway down my fucking leg. Fuck! I hope he didn't notice that! My breathing was heavy and I willed my erection to behave, to return the blood that it stole to my brain. Why the fuck did that make me hard? We've done this before! Shit, I was just tickling him! Holding him. Touching him. "Shit!"

"Hey, are you alright?" Danny huffed beside me. "You look really pale, man."

Yep, that's what happens when all of your blood goes to your dick!

With my chest heaving, I turned to face Danny. He was propped up on his elbows, with the locks of his smooth, silky, brown hair falling like curtains before his warm chocolate-brown eyes. My eyes traveled down to his heaving chest and lingered and caught a small part of his abdomen, exposed by his upturned shirt. A line of dark hair trailed from his navel into his low-slung shorts . . . SHIT! KEITH, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I closed my eyes and took a composing breath before answering. "I'm fine, Danny." But my voice broke halfway and I saw his smiling face.

He was smiling again. At me. After all that I have done to him, he's still right there for me. Smiling.

Tears prickled my eyes. "Shit!" I cursed for being such a wuss. "Who am I kidding? Danny, I . . . you know I'm not really good with words . . . and . . . you know that . . . Fuck! I'm so sorry, Danny! I'M SO SO SORRY!"

I felt the unfamiliar feeling of tears splashing down my cheeks. Then, I felt his arms wrap around me. And I cried and cried with the happiness and relief that that simple act of affection brought.

"I know, Keith." He whispered right at the nape of my neck. His warm breath sending tingles down my spine. "And I'm really happy that you're here now. I missed you so much it hurts. I'm so happy."

He took me back.

And in that point in time, only the two of us mattered. Him. Me. In this wonderful night. In this precious moment. I cried in his arms, and I thanked the heavens for letting me feel my heart beat again.

*End of Chapter 15*

P.S.: Guys, I would really, really love to hear your comments!!! And I would just like to say that Colin Kaepernick is WAY HOTTER that Joe Flocca! Okay, I'm done! Read with you in the next fifteen days! COMMENTS! COMMENTS! COMMENTS! - XOXO NJ

 

Nerdy Jock

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