Chapter One

Collisions


It was Sunday morning, and I had nothing better to do than sit in the dining room and look over the newspaper. There was an article about a trial going on in Chicago, but I wasn't all that interested in anything happening in Chicago. The only thing about Chicago that interested me at all was the fact that in less than a month, Skyler Thomas would be performing there for his farewell tour. Ben and I were still arguing over which one of us would be driving to Chicago to buy tickets.

The radio was on, and Skyler's latest hit "Playing With The Boys" was playing. I tapped my foot to the beat of the song and tried not to sing the lyrics out loud as I listened. It was number one, so they were playing it about ten times a day now. The song was really good, and just about everyone I knew loved it. The video was a bit shocking for Skyler Thomas, but it was damned sexy.

"God, not that song again," said Andy as he came into the dining room with two plates in his hands. They each contained one of his special sandwiches, and my stomach growled at the sight of them.

"Oh yeah," I said with my best smirk. "You know you love it."

"I loved it the first nine hundred times I heard it," he laughed. "Can't they play something else? I mean the guy's got, what, like a thousand other songs now?"

"They're running a contest for backstage passes to the Detroit show," I said, ignoring his question. "Wouldn't it be cool to win?"

"Oh sure," he said, sitting down and sliding one of the pates to me. "But who's going to drive to Detroit? You and Ben can't even agree on which one of you is driving to Chicago to buy tickets to that show."

"You could settle it, you know," I said.

"I'm not driving you two to Chicago," he laughed. "I can't even go to the concert. Why would I drive you two clowns to get tickets if I can't go?"

"To stop us from arguing and ruining our friendship," I said just before taking a bite of my sandwich.

"Right," he replied sarcastically. "You and Ben will be friends as long as one of you can still remember the other."

"Probably," I laughed. "I'm going to miss him in August, though."

"Well that's what this concert is about, right?" he asked. "You guys are going alone aren't you?"

"We were," I sighed. "Nick and Wendy demanded that we take them along, though."

"Just make sure that you guys get to do something together without the others before they all leave for school," he advised.

Ben and Wendy were both heading to Chicago for college at the end of August. They'd been accepted at the University of Illinois. All of my close friends were leaving for college. I was staying behind to attend Storyville University. Jeremy would be with me, and so would Leo. I had friends who were already students at the university, but my best friends were leaving, and that really sucked.

"I will," I replied.

"Have you given any more thought about staying in the house this fall?" he asked carefully.

I'd decided to live in the dorms while I attended the university, because I wanted away from the memories inside the house. Andy would be living in the house alone until October when Gage's lease was up and he could move in. He'd been trying to change my mind since we had the first discussion about where I wanted to live. Tom and Shirley sometimes helped him with his task, but I hadn't budged. I wasn't going to.

"There's nothing to think about," I said. "I've already filled out the forms for the dorm. I have the money to pay for the room, and I don't want to live here for a while."

"I understand your reasons, Tommy, but I wish you would reconsider," he said.

"Thank you, Andy," I said as I got up to take my plate to the kitchen. "But I'm living in the dorm."

As I was coming back out of the kitchen, I found Leo standing at the side door. He'd become a completely different person since he and his brother were taken away from their parents and grandfather. Reverend Hartman was now in prison, and the church that he lorded over had a new preacher and a lot thinner flock. He and I had become friends after a fashion. Ben wasn't too sure about him, but I thought he was all right now that he didn't have anyone pushing their beliefs at him.

"Hey, Leo, come on in," I said. "Where's Noah?"

"Grounded," he replied, following me into the living room. "He was out too late last night."

We sat down on the couch, and I turned on the television. MTV was talking about tour dates for Skyler Thomas's farewell tour. Then they played one of his videos, but it wasn't the song that was being played like crazy. I noticed Leo had his eyes glued to the screen, and I wondered what his grandfather would have said about him being a fan of an open homosexual.

"That's too bad," I said. "So what are you up to today?"

"Nothing much," he replied. "I got bored, so I thought I'd come see what you're doing today."

"Well, pretty soon Ben will be off work," I said and watched his face fall. "He and I have an argument to finish, but after that I'm sure you and I could do something."

"Do you want me to come back after you talk to Ben?" he asked a bit quietly.

"No," I said. "You can stay, Leo. Ben won't do or say anything to make you feel bad. I promise."

I could understand that he knew that Ben didn't really like him, but I didn't understand why he was afraid of Ben. As far as I knew, nothing had happened between them to make him afraid. I didn't like it that Leo was uncomfortable around Ben, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I couldn't force them to like each other. I liked Leo, and the fact that Leo would be one of the only people I knew at Storyville University made Leo an important friend.

"I just don't want to get in the way," he said.

"You won't be in the way," I replied. "When Ben goes to spend the rest of his day with Wendy, you and I will find something to do, ok?"

"Thanks," he said with a smile.

The change in Leo was sometimes less than good. He'd been arrogant and sure of himself before the nightmare with his grandfather began, but after he and his brother had been taken away by Social Services, the change in Leo's personality was drastic. He was now just as meek and mild as his younger brother. I hoped that he could become almost like his old self soon.

We watched a few more Skyler videos, talking about random things. I got us both a bottle of water, and we just spent time together for a few hours until Ben got there. He was still in his uniform, and he smelled like fish. I made a big deal about that when he came in the door. I saw Leo trying not to laugh at my comments.

"Yeah, yeah," Ben replied when I told him he smelled like he'd bathed in fish. "We were busy today for some strange reason. I made good tips, though."

"Well, that's good," I replied. "You're going to have to pay your share for gas when I drive us to Chicago next week."

"About that," he said slowly. "My car isn't acting right, so I need Andy to take a look at it. I guess you're going to have to drive us. Don't consider this a victory, though. If my car wasn't doing whatever it's doing I would fight you to the death over this."

"Right," I laughed. "Now we just have to decide when to leave."

"Wendy wants to leave Friday night," he said. "I know why, though. There's a big deal going on at one of the malls. I don't want any part of it."

"Well I don't really want to make the voyage in the dark," I said slowly.

"I didn't think you would," he replied. "How about Friday morning?"

"That would give us an extra day in the city," I agreed. "I'm sure it isn't a problem for Nick or Wendy to pay for another night at the hotel. I'll call the hotel and see if they can add a night for us."

"Thanks, Tommy," he said. "Now I have to go get a shower."

"Yes," I chuckled. "You do."

"Wise guy," he said with mock malice. "Later, Leo."

"Bye," Leo replied.

Once he left, Leo and I drove over to the university. I needed to drop off my forms for the dorm as well as my check for the deposit. Leo didn't understand why I wanted to live in the dorm, so I tried my best to explain it to him. He said he understood, but I don't think he really did. I decided that I'd let him think about it for a while.

When we walked into the housing office, Steve was there. I guess he was going to be living in the dorm, too. He looked at us as we came in, and his eyes narrowed when he saw Leo. I just sighed and walked up to the counter. Leo stayed back by the door. I guess Steve made him more uncomfortable than Ben. I was just about to leave when Steve spoke.

"You look good, Tommy," he said.

"Thanks," I replied as I turned around. "You look good, too, Steve."

"How have you been?" he asked, and I wondered just what he wanted.

"I've been good," I replied.

"I've been meaning to call you," he said. "There are a few things at the house that I need to get."

"All of the things that you left behind are in the garage," I informed him. "Andy boxed them up for you. I'll call Vince in a little while and let him know."

"Well I thought we could talk when I came to the house," he said.

"Oh," I replied. "Well I'm not going to be home much today. I'm hanging out with Leo today, and tonight I'm staying with Ben. I'll call Vince."

With that said, I turned and walked out with Leo. Whatever Steve Sutton wanted to talk about would just have to wait. I wasn't even sure I wanted to talk to him at all. I was finally able to think about him without feeling like shit, and I wasn't about to let him back into my life to hurt me again.

Leo and I went to the mall and played video games for a while, but he said that he had to be back at his foster home for supper, so we didn't stay long. As soon as I dropped him off I headed home, and Vince was there talking to Andy. He was holding the box that I'd told Steve about in his hands.

"Hey Vince," I said. "I haven't had a chance to call you."

"Hey, Tommy," he said with a smile. "You're still coming for dinner on Monday, right?"

I'd forgotten about that. Vince was trying to make me and Steve talk to each other. One of his plans to make this happen was to invite me to dinner at their apartment. I had finally agreed when Maria came to talk to me about it. I wasn't happy about it, though.

"I'll be there," I replied. "I wouldn't miss Maria's cooking for the world."

After he left, I got my stuff together and headed across the back yard to Ben's house. Shirley was setting the table when I walked in. She smiled at me and told me I was just in time. I sat my stuff by the door and helped her with the table. She hugged me when we were done setting the table, and Ben walked into the dining room.

"Hey, Spaz," he said. "Glad to see you remembered."

"Well, Twerp, you only reminded me a few hours ago," I laughed.

"Where's Leo?"

"He had to get back," I said. "I wasn't planning to bring him along. Did this become a slumber party?"

"OK," he sighed. "Let's take your stuff upstairs."

We put my bag in his closet and went back downstairs to join his mom and dad at the table for supper. Tom and Shirley asked me how things were going, and I told them about running into Steve in the housing office at school. Shirley looked sad for a moment, but she covered the look quickly.

"He's called here a few times to talk," she said. "He's not happy with his decision."

"I can't help him there," I replied. "I'm ready to move on now. I don't want to go backwards."

"Can't you at least hear what he has to say?" she asked.

"I'm having supper over there Monday evening," I replied. "We'll be coming back from Chicago Sunday night, so it won't be a problem."

"Good," she said with a pleased smile.

After that I was let off the hook. Tom started talking about the University of Illinois, and that started a whole new discussion. Ben would be moving to Chicago with Wendy in less than a month. They'd both been accepted to the UofI. I wasn't really thrilled about that, but at least they weren't going to be in California. Chicago wasn't that far away.

Finally we helped Shirley clear the table, and then we went upstairs to play video games. Ben had just got a new game that he was excited about. We played it for a while, but I didn't see the excitement value in it. He beat me of course, and then it was time for a movie. We chose a "scary" one and changed into our shorts for bed. We ended up talking through most of the movie about Chicago and what it was going to be like to stand in line for tickets. We finally gave up on the movie and called it a night.

The next morning, Ben and I both had to work. He would be at work all day, while I just had to go in for a few hours. My boss already knew that I would be gone until Monday, so he wasn't making me suffer. I had to be there for three hours before he let me go with good time wishes for the weekend. It was common knowledge at the restaurant that I was going after tickets for the concert. Two of my co-workers had given me money to buy their tickets when I got mine.

Nick was waiting for me when I got home from work. He smiled when I pulled my car into the drive, and I noticed Steve's car was parked in the drive at Nick's house. I wondered what was going on. He informed me that Steve was back to weekly talks with his mom when I got out of the car, and I sighed.

"Well, if it helps him," I said. "What are you up to?"

"Staying away from Steve," he replied. "Want to hang out?"

"Sure," I said, deciding to ignore the fact that Nick was avoiding his best friend for a while.

We hung out in the living room after I took my shower. MTV was running a marathon, but this one had nothing to do with Skyler Thomas. We watched for a bit, and then Wendy showed up. She had her bag packed, and I chuckled when I saw that it was only one.

"One bag?" I asked.

"The other two are in my car," she replied with a smile. "Are we staying here or over at Nick's?"

"I think we'd probably better stay here," said Nick. "If that's all right with you, Tommy."

"Sure," I said, noticing the strange look he gave me.

"I'll call Ben," said Wendy. "Can one of you get the bags out of my car?"

We laughed out loud about that one. Nick went out to get the bags, and I went to the kitchen to get some snacks. I checked to make sure that there was enough food in the cabinets to feed the gang that night. The original plan had been to stay at Nick's for the night, and leave in the morning. Apparently there was a reason why Nick didn't want that to happen. I was sure he would tell me all about it eventually.

We hung out in the living room, watching mindless television for a while. We devoured the snacks and were just about to head to the back yard for a swim when Ben came in the door. Wendy moved in for a quick kiss and then told him he stunk. That made me and Nick laugh. I told Ben to grab a shower. He had clothes upstairs, and trunks were among the throng so he didn't need to go home.

After a long dip in the pool, we talked Andy into firing up the grill for hamburgers and hotdogs, which Wendy and I went to the store to buy. We bought enough chips to feed a third world country before returning to the house to hear Nick and Ben in the back yard hackling Andy. They were teasing him about the fire in the grill. He was threatening to add them to the fire for fuel when we came into the back yard with the food.

"Good," said Ben. "Tommy, tell my brother that he sucks at making a grill flame!"

"Why do you want an inferno?" I asked. "I actually like to be able to eat my food."

"Traitor!" Ben yelled while Andy and Wendy laughed.

"All right, guys," said Andy. "Tommy, bring me the food and let's get this done. I'm hungry, and Gage will be here in a little bit."

"Is he staying for burgers?" I asked, as I put the bags of chips on the table.

"That's the plan," he replied. "I was on the phone with him when you and Ben came upstairs to bug me about the grill."

"Cool," I said. "We bought enough food."

"You sure did," he said.

"Some of it is to take with us on the road," I informed him.

"Planning to get stuck on the side of the road?" he asked with a smile.

"Funny," I replied.

A little later we all sat down to eat. Gage arrived with his own trunks, and we sat around long enough to let the food settle before we engaged round two of the pool antics. Great fun was had, but there's only so much fun you can have before you get too tired. We each took turns in the showers and assembled in the living room for a bout of mindless television again. We called it an early night, though. We had miles to drive in the morning. Sleeping arrangements were made, and since all of us had reached the age of majority, Ben and Wendy spent the night in my old room. Andy and Gage were already in the basement by that time, so no one said anything. Nick and I headed to my bedroom.

The next morning, we ate a quick breakfast and got on the road. We made good time in my opinion. We only stopped three times for gas and bathroom breaks. Once, Wendy wanted to go into a little store on the highway to buy something. She was always wanting to buy something. We made it to the first of the series of Chicago exits before the sun set.

"Well, we're here," Ben said with a smirk as we pulled onto the exit that would take us into Chicago. We'd come for only one reason, though Wendy insisted that she would turn it into a shopping trip. We'd come to stand in line to buy tickets to see Skyler Thomas.

"I hate Chicago," I sighed as I drove. The traffic was unreal as we tried to merge into the closest lane off the off ramp. There were four of us in the car, and we'd been driving forever. Needless to say the whole thing was beginning to get on my nerves. What I really wanted was to stop driving, get out to stretch my legs, find a bathroom and then a beverage. After that I would be fine.

"Chicago isn't so bad," Wendy said. "It's just congested. You should see Los Angeles."

"Thank you, no," said Ben. "We just came back from Miami. We've seen enough."

"I'll be happy if we just make it to the hotel," I said just as someone rammed into the back of my car. We'd just merged with traffic, and I was sure I'd made sure that I wasn't cutting anyone off. Everyone lurched forward, and then we were all quiet.

I pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. After checking to make sure that everyone was all right, I accepted my insurance card from Ben as he passed it to me from the glove compartment. I sighed as I got out of the car. The person who'd hit me had also pulled over, and I could see that there was damage to the front of his car. The electric blue color was mixed with white from my car, and it was a bit dented. His passenger side headlight was broken, and there was smoke or steam coming from under the hood of his car.

What caught my attention about him as he got out of his car was that he didn't look much older than I was. He had blond hair that was cut similar to mine, short and slightly gelled so that it parted to the left with a bit sticking up in the part. His eyes were hidden behind black-out sunglasses, so I could see them. He walked to the front of his car and shook his head when he saw the damage.

"I'm so sorry," he said while still looking at the front of his car. I took the time to look at the back of mine and saw that there wasn't as much damage to my car. "I should have been paying better attention when I changed lanes."

"Well I guess I should have looked better when I was merging with traffic," I replied. "No one is hurt, so it isn't too bad."

"Right," he said. "I have my insurance information if you'd like to just exchange and get going."

"That'd be great," I said, holding up my own insurance card.

We both bent over the hood of his car to write down each other's information on the backs of our insurance cards. I about choked when he told me his name. It was Brian Porter. I looked at his face again and noticed finally that he'd removed his sunglasses. His eyes were light brown with what looked like little specks of green in them. I'd seen those eyes before only once in a picture of a boy that I was told was my brother. He'd been about six in the picture, but I was sure I was looking at the adult version of that six year old boy.


Storyville 3