"Are you sure it's okay?" Lisa asked the young, red-haired music clerk. Mark was getting a few things from behind the counter, CDs mostly, and smiled. "I don't think my parents'll care, Lisa," Mark answered her, "Hmmm.. huh... hmm.. heh... Besides, if they do, I'll just tell 'em you and Gina are my new girlfriends," he grinned again, "that's give 'em heart-attacks and then the prob's a moot one, yeah?" He twisted and hopped onto the counter, saluted his friends in the back room, letting them know he was going, and leapt down from the counter to face Lisa. "You shouldn't be alone," Mark said with too much emotion. He looked around, avoiding eye contact, and laughed his defensive laugh. Lisa noticed his lack of comfort and threw him a bone. "You're right," she began in a tone that suggested she read nothing into his last statement, "I could use the company... I... I sometimes get nightmares. After today, I wouldn't be surprised if I died in my sleep of freight," she mused. Noticing Marks smile (God he's beautiful), Lisa kept on, "besides, you and Gina, are the ones who take the best care of me... she's meeting us there in an hour?" "Yup," Mark answered, "we better get moving if we're gonna make it to my house by then and get you guys settled in." Mark, dancing a quick, silly jig, smiled and waved Lisa forward with a bow. Laughing, Lisa complied with a curtsey, and skipped in front of her escort. The taxi was already waiting outside (Joe insisted) and they stepped through the front doors and into the cool, crisp air of the night. Lisa stopped and thought to herself just before getting into the cab: I kinda hope Gina is REALLY late. **************************** Corey slowly, and with great trepidation, climbed the steps to one of the Humanities buildings where her new class was. Looking at her program, she fumbled a bit while searching it. Professor Freidman... room 312. She double-checked, looked up at the large brick building covered in leafless ivy, and started ahead once more. The room was easily found. At least this building makes sense, Corey thought, try and find something in the Chem building and you are royally screwed! She sighed as she looked at the fading, oak door. The scratches of many notebooks and binders embedded into it as students over the years went in and out. Well worn, but serving it's purpose, Corey mused to herself... that's kinda poetic; AJ'd love that, she smiled. With a final heft of her bag further up her shoulder, Corey opened the door into her new class. Small, she thought, as she looked about the classroom that sat, maybe, thirty people plus the teacher. Several seats were already taken... a young woman with a cute Winnie the Pooh backpack and a nosering sat near the back. Corey smiled as she sat down next to the girl who looked up at her approach. Smiling back, the young woman, a very attractive brunette girl with dark grey eyes, extended her hand. "Hi," she said, "I'm Anna." "Corey," she replied to the student as she sat down, "it's nice to meet you, Anna." The smile on young Anna's face was bright and warm, filling the room. Corey missed Gina and Deb very much at that moment. Anna sorta reminded Corey of a mix between her two best friends back home. Anna shifted in her seat to face Corey, her slender, ringed fingers tapping long nails on her desk in impatience. "He's always late," she frowned, "WE get here on time but our prof is late... good thing our time here is so cheap... a girl might feel cheated otherwise." Sarcasm dripped from the energetic woman's tongue and Corey giggled hard, making Anna smile. Corey really liked this girl. "So," Anna began, deciding to kill time with Corey, "where'd you transfer from?" "How'd you know I transferred?" Corey asked in astonishment at the girl's guess. "You're still holding your program papers in your hand," Anna smiled ruefully, turning an eyebrow up in an attempt to push the joke home. Corey, feeling like a complete idiot, simply smiled back and shook her head in laughter. "I came from Sciences... physics to be exact. It really wasn't what I wanted to do, but the parents have their ways of making you do what they want," Corey rambled on to the attentive young woman, who smiled. "Tell me about it. My parents are still trying to convince me that my being gay is 'just a phase'," Anna said, mocking her mother's voice, and giggling. She was used to the reaction Corey gave... but saddened, too. "Gay? You're a... a lesbian?" Corey stammered, trying, most unsuccessfully, not to appear shaken. She clutched her hands together (why?). "Hey don't worry," Anna lamented, "it's no biggy... most people freak out when I tell 'em, so I always bring it up quick so's to see if the friendship's worth the bother." Anna turned, hair short hair, held with a yellow barrette on one side, fell forward as she looked at her books as if nothing was amiss. She was very surprised to feel a hand on her shoulder and a voice piping up just after it. "Anna, I'm sorry," Corey began, "you just took me by surprise is all. Nobody's ever been that forward about their sexuality to me before... it kinda just shocked me is all." Anna turned, her eyebrows upraised, to see Corey's soft smile. There was no malice; no discrimination in those beautiful eyes, Anna realized. Smiling, Anna replied. "No, I'm sorry, Corey," she started, "most people who give that reaction are just scared or disgusted. I shouldn't have assumed so of you... it's just a rarity when someone doesn't freak for those reasons." "No harm done... friends?" Corey asked, hand outstretched. "You bet," Anna said, smiling and shaking her hand once again. "About time," she said when the dusty old professor walked in. Corey laughed quietly, joined by Anna, they took their seats and listened to the old man's lecture. ****************************** Debra tapped away on the laptop computer, trying her hardest not to think about the days events. Brows furrowed, she furiously hit the delete key, making yet another mistake. Dammit! She chastised herself, I should be finished by now. God I hope he's okay. Growing more angry with her worry, she made yet another typo and this time slammed the screen shut. Fuck! Putting her soft, short-maned head in her hands, she shut her eyes tight, blurring her thoughts. "It's out of our hands, Deb," came a voice from the doorway. The young woman stared at it and frowned at the speaker. "So what, Lucas," she began, letting her fear show by way of her anger, "doesn't mean I have to sit here and not fucking worry about him!" Glaring at the young man, she turned her head, her hazel eyes turning green with her passionate explosion. "That's true," Lucas stated, entering the count-out room. Finding a seat, he took it and adjusted himself, preparing for the talk he wanted to share with his friend. His leather jacket creaked as he leaned forward, coming face-to-face with Debra who was, leaning against the photocopier, on the floor. "That's true," Lucas reiterated, glaring at Debra, "but what good is your suffering going to do Chris, hmm?" Her head jumped back a tad, surprised by Lucas' tone (was he angry?). "Look, Lucas, I..." "No, Deb, YOU look," the young man interrupted her, his brow pinched together in anger, "I'm sick of this shit! You aren't even feeling sorrow for him... you're doing what you always do... pitying yourself!" "FUCK YOU!!!" Debra screamed, jumping up, she yelled, "what right do you have to judge me like that, Lucas!?!? 'The Great Lucas - master at avoiding responsibility'!!! You got another nine grand to throw away, Lucas? It wasn't your money and you played with Joe's... with ALL our lives!!! So don't you EVER talk to ME about being responsible and self-pity!" "How's that scar healing, Deb? Thinking of adding to it? Real responsible," Lucas stated firmly, holding his ground in the face of the tempest he'd created, "that day... AJ was hurt... bad, but I stuck up for you because I knew you had enough to deal with already. I also knew I could keep an eye on you, and that AJ wouldn't let you outta his sight... so don't start pointing fingers about being responsible for your actions, Deb my dear... in that department, you've used up your 'get out of jail free' cards!" "I don't have to listen to this!" Deb started towards the door but was grabbed, gently, but firmly and spun around. "Yes you do, Debra... I've seen the signs and I'm nipping this one in the bud," Lucas stated, still holding onto his friend. Deb just stared holes into the man's eyes... her anger was a palpable force filling the room. "Let go of me," she said in a soft, cold tone. "Stay and listen... it's time you heard this," Lucas said assertively, and in letting go, Debra did stay. She grabbed a chair, threw it across the room with a crash, and sat down--hard in it. Her arms were folded over her chest and she was literally rocking back and forth in the chair, with anger. She knew what was coming... she didn't want to face it. "Start talking," she said curtly. "You loved AJ... he loved you, but not the way you wanted," Lucas began, siting back down in his chair, facing the seething rage across from him. "It was unfair of you to place the burden of that on his shoulders. Do you know how long he felt badly and wished you'd love someone else, or that he loved you instead of Corey? Are you going to do it again?" "What the hell are you talking about?" She asked, her voice husky with growing tears. "I'm talking about Chris... you know damn well what I'm talking about!" Lucas answered, voice raised. "So I like him... big deal. What the fuck does that have to do with him being in the hospital, with AJ, with me... what??!?" She yelled back, breaking into a sob at the end. Refusing to give Lucas the satisfaction of her weakness, she just let the tears stream down her cheeks; through her nose. She could taste the salt in the back of her throat. Finally, Lucas thought to himself, she's finally letting it go. Softening his expression, he stood and walked to wards his friend. Blinded by her own tears, Debra let her head fall into her hands and sobbed as she'd never before. She couldn't stop crying. Feeling Lucas warm arms around her, comforting her, she leaned into him and kept crying. Lucas brushed her hair back, over and over. "Deb," he began anew, "You have a chance to start again, but you have to let go of the past... We've had tough lives, you and I.... we deserve the best the world has to offer," he continued as Deb choked on her tears, softly sobbing into Lucas' shirt. "Chris, AJ, Mark, even Me... we're all special in our own ways... and so are you. When you recognize that is when you will truly be able to love Chris." "I don't want him to leave me... they all leave me..." Deb sobbed, crying harder at the thought of Chris' death. "He isn't going anywhere Debra. He is sick, yes, but the doctors said it's only minor breaks and the blood is probably from a damaged part of his lung, but only a small part... that's why he was coughing the blood up. They won't let him die," Lucas smiled as he restated his words, "he won't let himself die, Deb. He's too stubborn... you guys are perfect for each other." At that comment, Debra choked back her tears with a laugh. She looked up at Lucas and smiled, giving him a big hug. "That's what I'm here for," Lucas grinned, "to bully my friends into recognizing what's in front and behind them." Sniffling, wiping away her tears, Debra chuckled, "you're good at it... I'll give you that." "Ah well... it's all part of not letting the 'Man' get you down, Debra." ***************************** Chris was lying on the sterile bed of the hospital in a fair amount of pain. He'd broken a few ribs and one had partly punctured his right lung. He kept coughing up blood, so the staff wanted to keep him in the hospital for a few days... just for observation. This truly sucks, Chris thought to himself, playing with a half-eaten piece of chicken at the end of his fork. At least the food isn't as bad as I always heard it was. He smiled outwardly, thinking about his head in Debra's lap not 24 hours earlier. She took care of me... I could swear I told her somethin'. Chris' thoughts were interrupted as he heard a gentle knock at the door. "It's open," Chris tried to say as loud as he could, but with the bandages around his chest it was difficult. The door slowly opened and a small, short-haired head popped in the room, a big smile spread across it's beautiful face. "Hey you," Debra said, as she entered the room. She closed the door, quietly, behind her and looked over at Chris, obvious concern revealing itself on her stunning, round face. Debra, dressed in her blue slacks and a short grey tank-top, let her flight-jacket down on a nearby chair. She pulled the chair towards the bed so she could sit with Chris and talk in peace. Chris, watching her, marveled at her grace and beauty. I MUST be dreaming now, the young black man thought, wondering if there was more than just saline solution in his I.V. Finally positioning herself, Debra grabbed Chris' hand. "How are you?" She asked the young, dreadlock framed man, clutching his hand in hers with her concern. "I'm doing quite well, now," Chris responded cheerfully, hoping his hands weren't as sweaty as he felt. "Good," Deb blurted out, too soon. Awkwardly, she tried to regain her composure, "I'm tired of taking your shifts for you," she teased, smiling, her husky voice bringing the sound of laughter with it. "Thanks, Deb... for everything. It means a lot to me to see you... ummm... where's everyone else?" He asked quickly, fearing he may have tipped his hand without wanting to. Debra smiled warmly. "They'll be here soon. Joe had to pick Warren and Jane up. Gina, Lucas, Lisa, and Mark are all one their way too, but I think Eddie has to work at the pizza place tonight, so he sends his 'What up, homes', I believe were his exact words," Debra nodded her head as she stared at Chris, smiling her crooked, wry smile. "He kills me," Chris chuckled, but the laugh broke into a whispered cough, followed by a painful look on his face. Debra shot up, worry paling her elfish face, as Chris closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. Her grip on his hand tightened, and she found to her surprise (and joy) that her grip was equaled on Chris' part. "How bad is it really, Chris?" Deb asked, obvious concern marking her words. "Not bad," he said, eyes still closed (her hand feels so nice), "it just hurts to use a bunch of the bruised muscles, and the small fractures don't help either," he reassured her. "It's just awkward, you know? Where everything is that hurts is, like, connected to every part of my body. Hell, I wiggle my toes and my stomach aches," he smiled, eyes still closed, enjoying the peace and his situation, to the fullest. Debra giggled, a sound not often heard by many, but never forgotten. It was kind and free and lovely. It was her true, inner-self shining. "Well you better watch the toe wiggling then... I heard it's a killer," she said sweetly. Chris opened his eyes then, looked sideways at her and smiled. "So how's Lisa doing," Chris managed, "is she holding up... they got to her pretty bad." "She's on 'Cloud Nine'," Deb chuckled, "she stayed with Gina at Mark's house last night because she gets nightmares. But I think Gina was there just to chaperone if you take my meaning." "Yes and no," Chris lamented, closing his eyes once again. Now he let go of Debra's hand and pulled it towards his ribs. "Whatayah mean 'yes and no'?" Deb asked (why'd he pull away). "Nothin'," Chris began, "I understand the joke." He sighed. Folding his hands together, Chris tried to find a comfortable position. Debra, now completely confused, just shook her head. "Okay," she started, "you understand, but you said you didn't" "Just forget about it, okay?" Chris almost pleaded, his eyes going to Debra, filled with sorrow. Deb looked into his deep brown eyes, lost in her confusion until she understood. She sat back, shocked at the revelation (why am I relieved?). "Chris... you... you're still a virgin aren't you?" She said in a soft non-condescending tone. Chris looked at her, then up at the ceiling. Deb didn't know how to react... she'd always assumed, in this age, that everyone had done the deed during their teens. Yet she sat across from one of the most kind, intelligent, sensitive, gorgeous men she'd ever laid eyes on... and he had never given himself to anyone. The silence left a pall on the room and Debra now felt both nervous and exhilarated. She noticed she was shaking. "Why'd you never..." she began, but was quickly interrupted. "'Fuck' anyone?" Chris retorted with an edge to his voice that was missing previously, "what do you care?" (why am I being a bastard?) "Okay... I think that's my cue," Deb stated flatly, her eyes betraying her anger. She stood, grabbed her coat and began to storm out of the room. "Deb! Please... wait a second... I'm sorry," Chris said, half sitting and in visible pain. Deb rushed back to the bed and pushed him back down. "What's your fucking problem?" She yelled, half angry, half worried, "You wanna get yourself more hurt?" "Impossible," Chris said, gritting his teeth against the pain, "I'm always hurt - it's just a matter of how much and why." He shut his eyes tight, blinking away tears of pain. "Self-pity doesn't become you, Chris," Debra comforted him. "Well neither does sex, apparently," Chris laughed at himself, a wry, self-deprecating smile spreading across his face. Debra sat back down and tried to fix his sheets and pillows for his comfort. Nodding his thanks Chris closed his eyes again, but he wasn't smiling anymore. "So how come you never did?" Debra asked, feeling more comfortable asking him these questions, and very curious. "I just never found the right person, I guess," Chris began, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, "It just isn't something I wanna throw away. Plus, every time I really care about a woman enough that I want to BE with her... she never feels the same way. She's either my 'friend' or she 'just doesn't feel that way' about me. After a while, you get tired of being hurt again and again... so you pull in, don't feel. You die emotionally. Maybe that's why I listen to music that is so powerful... because it has to fill the void I've created for myself - the void I feel safe in." Chris didn't even realize he was rambling on about how he felt, it just seemed right. "But you have so much to give, Chris," Debra began softly, her voice growing husky, and her eyes misty. "When I first met you, I thought, 'here is a guy who has it all'. Why can't you see what I see?" She asked. "Is that what you see?" Chris wondered aloud to her, looking her in the eyes. Kindness was born in those eyes, and love dwelled there like a frightened child. Deb leaned forward, her lips gently brushed his... her nose nudging his. She looked again deep in his eyes. Chris, forgetting all his pain, leaned up, his hands placed softly around her beautiful face. Kissing her back... so gently... so passionately... "That's exactly what I see..." Deb whispered as her mouth closed over his. ************************** "Hey Gina," Mark asked, looking at the beautiful new car before him, "where'd you get the boss car, man?" "My mother's way of saying 'Happy birthday, Gina, why don't you find yourself a nice husband and settle down?'" She mocked her mother's voice with a smile that made Lisa giggle. Gina and Lisa packed their over-night stuff into the trunk and began whispering to one another. Mark, left alone to his own devices simply looked at them like a lost puppy and frowned. They never tell me stuff, he complained. The entire night they're giggling and I'm playing host... ain't fair. He clipped the end of his board, popping it up into his hands, still looking at them. Taking the hint, Gina and Lisa tried hard to stifle their laughter, keeping it to a big grin instead. "Why you guys always laughing at me, anyway," Mark pleaded defensively. Gina walked up and squeezed one of his cheeks. "We're not waffing at you siwwy!!! We're laughing with you!" Gina exclaimed, causing Lisa to giggle again. Mark just squinted his eyes in an "I don't care" kind of look (failing) and caused more laughter. Giving up... he shrugged, grabbed his board under his arm, and hopped over the side of the convertible, placing himself firmly in the back seat... arms crossed and a look of mock sulking on his face. "Mark," Lisa cooed, "don't be mad... it's just girl talk." "Yeah, well... hmmm... uh... just wait 'till Lucas gets here then you'll know how it feels," Mark attempted with a rather lame comeback and smug expression. Now both girls burst into laughter. "Just get in already!" Mark sulked aloud, "we're going to be late!" "Okay, okay, you're right..." Gina said, fixing her dark purple blouse and violet skirt before sitting in the drivers seat. Lisa, meanwhile, hopped into shotgun and turned to face Mark. "You aren't really mad, are you?" She asked, more concerned than she had meant to be. Mark smiled and chuckled, never being able to stay mad at his friends. "Of course not! But we really better go if we're gonna get Lucas and see Chris in time," he added. As if on cue, Mark heard the starter turn over quietly, and the almost imperceptible purr of the engine. This is one nice car, Mark thought again. As Gina pulled out of her driveway unto the street, all three could feel the unusually warm breeze of the falling evening on their faces. Mark stretched out in the back seat, while he, Lisa, and Gina, continued to talk about the occurrences that had led to the visit of their friend. "You think they'll, like, come after him again?" Mark put forth, a worry that had been nagging him since this all started. "They're animals, Mark," Gina spat in disgust, her blonde hair shaking with her anger and the wind, "they'll be back... they're stupid animals!" "I hate this," Lisa said softly, reminded of how lucky she was and not wanting to test that luck again. She clasped her hands together in her lap and looked down at them. She felt cold and alone. To her surprise, a hand closed over hers from the back seat. Looking up she saw Mark trying his best to comfort her. His bright blue eyes showing no contempt... only warmth and compassion, Lisa felt less alone and much stronger with the gesture. She placed one of her hands over his and smiled... it was a sunrise over the ocean for Mark, her beauty took his breath away. They sat in silence, holding hands for some time. Gina, oblivious to the goings on in her car kept talking; ranting and raving about what she'd do if she ever saw any of the neo-nazis again. They weren't pleasant solutions... but definitely effective ones. It wasn't long before they pulled up to Lucas' apartment complex. Gina brought her car to an easy halt in front of the building and opened her door to get out. "I can get him if yah want, Gina," Mark piped up, still holding onto Lisa. "No it's okay, Mark, thanks," Gina smiled as she noticed the two holding hands, "I'll go, I need to get something from the weirdo anyway." Gina was laughing as she stepped up the walkway. Lucas lived in a nice apartment on the ground floor, easy to get to in these stupid shoes, Gina thought. She turned the corner in the inside corridor after entering the building. The buzzer had been broken for some time, but Lucas didn't seem to care. Finding the right door, her heart started to pound with anxiety. You are only picking him up, she scolded herself, quit building this up. She took a deep breath to calm herself, feeling out of her element here; off her own turf. She finally knocked on the door firmly. "You may enter, the door is open, Gina," came the response. Gina, rather stunned at the answer since Lucas sounded far away and wasn't looking through the peephole to see it was her at the door. Shrugging, she turned the knob and opened the door into the quaint, but warm apartment. It felt cozy and welcoming where most would think Lucas would be holed up in some artist's flat... cold and open. Stepping inside, she saw Lucas was dressed in a white T-shirt, covered by a nice black button-up shirt and bluejeans. Gathering his wallet and strapping on his watch, he motioned for Gina to come inside. "How'd you know it was me?" Gina had to ask the enigmatic young man. "Hmmm... well, I assumed that Mark and Lisa probably didn't want to part company - they make a cute couple don't you think? - so that left poor you to come and fetch old Lucas," he stated as if obvious. "Okay," Gina smiled at his thought process, "are you ready to leave good sir?" Giggling, Gina held out her arm for him. "Indeed I am fair lady," he said, bowing deeply before taking Gina's arm in his own. Smiling at her, he ushered her out the door before closing the door and locking his apartment. Hand in hand they walked down the corridor, Lucas, always the gentleman, opening the door for Gina to step through. Smiling, she leaned her head on the young man's shoulder while they walked. "So have you heard anything more about Chris?" Gina asked Lucas. "Well... when I phoned the hospital, they said it was nothing serious... just wanted to keep our friend for observation. Hoarding him for themselves... disgraceful," Lucas shook his head, smiling; Gina laughed at the accusation. "Debra went earlier to see him," Gina put in with a raised eyebrow and a grin, "'...couldn't let him sit all by himself' she claimed." "Surely not," Lucas said, his sly grin belying his serious tone, "I wonder how they 'made out' together?" Walking down the path to Gina's car, all that Gina could do was hold on to Lucas; and laugh and laugh. ************************** end chapter 7 ***************************
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