Chapter Three


"So he's going to be at Storyville University?" Ben asked as we drove back from Chicago. I'd spent the better part of the whole day with Brian the day we'd gotten our tickets. We'd decided to get to know each other once school started.

"Yeah, so I guess I won't be as alone as I thought," I replied.

"Well you'll be in classes with Leo Hartman, right?" asked Wendy. I saw Ben's face blanch as soon as she said the name.

"Well we'll both be at the university, but I don't know that we'll be in any of the same classes," I said.

"But it's so cool that you and your brother will both be at Storyville University together," she said.

"Yeah," I agreed with a smile.

We drove on in silence for a while as I thought about getting to know Brian. It had all happened so quickly, literally running into him and then sitting with him in a restaurant to talk. Now we were going to be attending the same university. I thought it was strange how things sometimes just fell in my lap. This was a good thing, though, so I wasn't going to ponder it too much.

By the time we got back to Storyville I was dog tired. Rest wasn't on the list of activities for me though. I had one hour to get showered and dressed for my interview. The restaurant where I'd been working was about to close, and I really didn't want to be without a job. There was a newer coffee house in town, and when I'd been in there with Leo a few days before I saw a sign asking for help. Now I had an interview to get to.

There weren't many customers there when I arrived. I didn't see the manager, either, so I just ordered a coffee and sat on one of the couches to wait. It wasn't long until he came in, though. He was younger than I expected. His sculpted body was packed into a tight black t-shirt and form-fitting jeans. His dark hair was just visible under his black ball cap. He looked preoccupied, but he grabbed a clipboard off the counter and came right over to me.

"I'm Dean Halliwell," he said, reaching out to shake hands with me. "Your application is impressive."

"Thank you," I replied, trying to sound professional. "I've worked in the restaurant for a few years now as a bus boy. I've been waiting tables there since I turned eighteen. The problem is that they're closing soon."

He looked me in the eye as I spoke, which I liked a lot. He didn't glance around the lobby, and he made it seem like there was nothing more important than talking to me. He only looked away to make a few notes on his clipboard.

"Well, Tommy, it sounds like you're on top of things. Looking for work before the inevitable is always a smart thing. When would you be able to start?"

"If the position is only evenings, I can start any time you like," I said, thinking about my dismal schedule at the restaurant for the next week. Then I remembered the tickets in my pocket. "I'll be taking the weekend after next off, though. I have something that I have to do."

"That doesn't sound like a problem," said Dean. "The position is four to five nights a week. You'd be responsible for closing the store, balancing the register and simple paperwork. Now you'd be given a key, and I'm sure I don't have to remind you how important it is that you'd need to keep it in a place where you'd always be able to find it. There are only four keys to the store, and two of the key holders are on vacation. I hold the other key, but I'm so busy lately. Your key would be needed most for a while."

"That doesn't sound like a problem for me," I replied, thinking it would be nice to have a little more responsibility at work.

"Well then it sounds like you've got yourself a job, Tommy," said Dean with a smile. "Welcome aboard."

"Thank you, Mr. Halliwell," I said, retuning his smile and shaking his hand.

"It's Dean, Tommy," laughed Dean. "I won't call you Mr. Porter as long as you don't call me Mr. Halliwell. This is an informal place, so first names will do."

"I'll remember that," I replied.

"Come on up to the counter, and we'll get your schedule," said Dean. "I'll even give you a key."

We walked up to the counter, and he got the schedule to look over. We discussed which nights I would like to work, and he wrote my name in the spaces. He handed me a key, reminding me about paperwork that had to be done at the beginning of my first shift. After another handshake, I was free to go with my new schedule and the key. I would be working the next night. Until then I was off to Vince and Maria's apartment for dinner and not particularly looking forward to it.

I drove back across the city to Vince's apartment. I sighed in resignation as I parked beside Steve's car in the parking lot of the building. The last thing I really wanted was to sit at a table with Steve, but I'd promised Vince and Maria. With another sigh, I turned off the ignition and got out of the car. I decided that getting it over with was probably best. I'd just have to put a smile on my face and just get though it. I only hoped that Steve wouldn't talk to me at all.

Maria answered the door with a smile. I got a hug from her before she stepped aside to allow me to come into the apartment. I was impressed with what they'd done to it. Everything looked great. I was still a little sad that Vince had moved out of the house, but I understood that he felt he had to. The end of my relationship with Steve, as sudden and unexpected as it was, had changed the dynamics of my relationship with Vince. That hurt, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

"Vince is putting the food on the table, Tommy," she said. "Come on into the kitchen. I'm happy that you could come."

"Thanks, Maria," I said. "It smells great."

"There he is," said Vince as we came into the kitchen. He placed a bowl of pasta on the table and then came around to wrap me in his arms. "Missed you, man."

"I missed you, too," I said, hugging him back.

"I saw you at school last week, but I was a little too busy to come say hello," he said as I sat down. Steve wasn't anywhere to be found so far. I was happy about that.

"I was getting my tour," I replied. "My scholarship is a done deal, so all I have to pay for is housing."

"You won't be living in your house?" Maria asked in surprise.

"I decided that college was a new chapter of my life," I said. "Letting go of the past seemed like a good idea to me."

"I think I can understand that, Tommy," said Vince as Steve came into the kitchen. I tried not to react at all when he sat down beside me.

"I got a new job today," I said, trying to ignore Steve.

"I didn't know you were looking," said Vince. "What about the restaurant?"

"They've decided to close at the end of the month," I informed him. "I thought it would be a good idea to start looking."

"Where is your new job?" Maria asked as food was passed around the table.

"DH3," I replied. "I start tomorrow night. It's just serving coffee and things like that. There's some paperwork, too. I think I'll like it, though."

"We've been in there a few times," said Vince. "Nice place. I had a class last semester with Jamie Halliwell, but I've never really talked to him."

"Well I don't know who Jamie is," I admitted. "Dean Halliwell is the manager. He hired me."

"Well that's great, Tommy," said Maria. "We'll have to stop in now and then when we know you're working."

"Taking time away from your busy social life to work two jobs for the month?" Steve asked sarcastically, and I had to bite off the comment that wanted to pop out of my mouth.

"Steve, you promised me," said Vince from across the table.

"Right," said Steve.

"Anyway," said Maria, glaring at Steve. "Are you excited about the university?"

"Sure am," I replied, smiling at her. I was thankful that she was at least trying to move the conversation away from Steve again. "I'm all set for registration next week."

"When do Ben and Wendy leave?" asked Vince.

"Two days after registration here," I replied. "We're planning a party at Wendy's before they all leave for college. It's going to be strange to be without my friends after so long."

"Oh, but you'll still have Leo Hartman," Steve bit off.

"Damn it, Steve," said Vince, slamming his hand on the table so hard it made me jump.

"What? I have to sit here while he's in my apartment and I don't get to say anything? How is that fair?" he snapped.

"You promised that you would be..."

"Look," I sighed, interrupting Vince. "Don't fight with him about it. I don't know any more now than I did before what his problem is, but it isn't something you guys should fight over. I don't think this was such a good idea after all. I'm going to go ahead and go."

"Oh, sure," spat Steve. "Just run away like you always do, Tommy."

"What's that supposed to mean, Steve?" I asked, unable to resist. "As I recall you're the one who just walked out on me. It wasn't the other way around. I didn't even get as much as an explanation."

"You want an explanation?" he barked. "How about how stupid you were about getting yourself out there on the media and into every activist group you could find when we were being hunted like animals, Tommy? Was I supposed to stick around for that?"

"Boys," said Vince, but I wanted to reply to that one.

"Look, Steve, I don't know what your problem was then or is now, but I'm not going to rehash that part of my life. I'm over it all now, and I don't think it will do any good. You wanted out of our relationship for whatever reason, and you're out. We're not lovers, and we're not friends. So why don't we just leave it at that and never talk to each other again?"

"Fuck you, Tommy," he said, making Maria gasp.

"Not anymore, Steve," I said hatefully as I got up. "Maria, Vince, I'm sorry about all of this. I'll see you guys later."

I got out of there as fast as I could. I couldn't believe Steve, but boiling over about it wasn't going to do me any good. I sighed as I started the car and backed lot. Steve Sutton didn't have the right to make me feel like shit anymore, and I'd be damned if I'd let his childish outburst hurt me.

I went home and took a long hot shower before crawling into bed and closing my eyes. I thought of my mother, and all thoughts of Steve, and what I'd like to do to him, left my mind.

*   *   *

"Vince told me what happened last night, Tommy," said Andy when I came down for breakfast the next morning. I'd decided that running was out of the question that morning. "Want to talk about it?"

"Not really," I said, sitting down across from him at the kitchen table. "It isn't important."

"Well if you decide you need to talk, I'm here for you," he said.

"And I thank you for that," I replied. "Steve Sutton isn't important enough to give me something to talk about, though. For now I just want to think about starting my new job."

"You got it?" he asked, and I remembered that he was still out with Gage when I came home the night before.

"Yeah," I said, smiling. "I start tonight. It's going to be great."

"Outstanding, Tommy," he said, smiling. "I'm happy for you."

"Thanks," I replied. "I'm happy, too."

"So now you have a new job," he said. "You start school in less than a month, and you're set. That's got to be a good feeling."

"It is," I agreed. "I'm still sad that everyone is leaving, but I understand that we're adults now. We can't huddle together for the rest of our lives."

"That's one way to look at it," he replied. "I know you'll all miss each other. I miss my friends from Maine like crazy. But that's what the internet is for."

"Right," I laughed. "I can see me burning up cyberspace now."

"What time is your shift today?" he asked.

"Oh, I go in at five," I replied. "I'm meeting Ben in a little while to just hang out for a while."

"Getting all the time you can, huh?"

"Sure thing," I replied.

"Well have a good day, Tommy," he said as he got up from the table with his empty plate. "I have work for most of the day myself."

"Later, Bro," I said with a smile.

I ate the rest of my breakfast and then went across the yard to find Ben. He was just finishing his own breakfast when I came in the side door of his house. He smiled at me as he put his dishes in the sink. Without words we headed out to his car and got inside. He drove for a while, and then we finally parked at the lake. It had been a while since any of us had spent any time at the lake.

"Seems crazy," he sighed, breaking the silence in the car. "Sucks that we won't be together."

"I know what you mean," I said. "But you'll have Wendy."

"I love Wendy, Tommy," he said, "but she isn't you."

"I know what you mean," I replied.

"Do you?" he asked, looking at me hard. "Tommy you're my best friend in the entire world, and I feel like I'm leaving you behind."

"It isn't leaving me behind to get an education and follow your heart with the woman you love, Ben," I said. "We're adults now, and being adults means moving on sometimes. It isn't like we're not still going to be friends. We'll visit each other and write to each other. You're not getting away from me that easy, boy."

"Promise?" he asked softly.

"Swear," I replied.

It was strange to hear him talk that way. Ben was always the one to keep his feelings inside and not show anyone. I knew that he wasn't happy about us going to different schools, but I'd had no idea he was worried that we wouldn't be friends anymore. Sure I understood that distance changed relationships, but Ben and I had been friends for so long. We'd been more than friends. Ben was like a brother to me. That was never going to change just because we were in different places. College wouldn't last forever.

We stopped at a little shack type place that served hot dogs for lunch and ate on the picnic tables on the lake's shore. We talked about different things for a while, not bringing up college again. When Wendy called his cell phone and Leo called mine, we laughed and headed back to the car to return to the world. Our private time together was done for the day.

Leo was waiting for me when Ben dropped me off at home. It seemed that he was going to at least attempt to become my shadow for a while. I didn't mind it, but that day it just didn't sit right with me. I'd hoped to spend the entire day before my shift with Ben. Then I thought about Wendy, and I smiled again. Spending time away with Ben wasn't going to be easy with or without Leo calling.

"I heard you got the job, Tommy," said Leo when I walked up to my back porch around the pool.

"Yeah, I start tonight," I said. "What are you up to today?"

"Just hanging out," he said. "Noah is working today, so I was kind of bored."

"No boredom here," I said. "We've got video games, movies or we can go out."

"We don't have to go anywhere," he said. "You have to work soon. Can we just hang out for a bit?"

"Sure," I said, motioning for him to follow me as I went inside. "Hungry?"

"No, thanks," he said. "I just ate, actually."

So for about two and a half hours, Leo and I veged out in front of the television. We watched videos on MTV and then there was one of their many reality shows to sit through. I wondered when MTV stopped thinking that videos were the important thing.

I still hadn't exactly figured out what was going on with Leo. He came over almost every day, but he never asked for anything. He was content to just sit around. He'd started working out with me now and then, but I could tell his heart wasn't really in it. It just seemed like he needed to spend time with me. I was content to let him, but eventually I believed that we'd have to talk about it. He left when I said it was time for me to get ready for work. I thought about him the whole time I was getting ready.

As I drove across the city thinking about nothing but my new job. All thoughts of Ben and Leo were out of my head as I parked behind the building and turned off the ignition. I was a little nervous, but it was nothing like it had been before I started my first job. This wouldn't be too difficult for me. I was sure I'd like it. With a sigh, I got out of the car and went into the building.

There was a trio of customers sitting at one table. All three were young enough to be my age. They were talking quietly as I walked up to Dean and he shook my hand again. We went into the back for a few minutes to fill out my paperwork. He showed me where all of the supplies were and went over all of the emergency procedures. I noticed a lot of fire extinguishers in the back, but I didn't comment.

Next he got me set up on the register with my own employee number so I could clock in and out. We went over the cash policies and then he said he'd just let me handle things. He sat across the room in one of the darker corners with a newspaper in his hand. I stood behind the counter and washed coffee cups. A few minutes later, two of the boys sitting at the table in front of the counter walked outside, leaving the other. He looked over at me and smiled before getting up and bringing his cup back to me for a refill.

"Where'd your friends go?" I asked as I refilled his cup.

"Smoke break," he said, wrinkling his face.

"Ah," I said. "Can I get you anything else?"

"Yeah," he said, looking over at the pastry case. "Could I have a cheese danish?"

"Sure," I replied. I used tongs to grab one of the tasty looking pastries and put it on a glass saucer. "With the danish and the refill, that's three dollars."

"Keep the change," he said, handing me a five dollar bill.

"Thanks," I replied.

"Haven't I seen you before?" he asked. "At the university maybe?"

"Were you there last Thursday?" I asked as I put the change from the five into an empty jar that Dean had explained was for tips.

"Yeah," he said. "We were getting the tour."

"So was I," I replied, smiling at him. "I'll be a freshman this fall."

"Same here," he said, extending his hand across the counter. "Tyler Beckett."

"Tommy Porter," I replied, shaking his hand as his friends came back inside.

"Nice to meet you, Tommy," he said just before he noticed that his friends were back. He smiled at me before rejoining his friends to talk quietly.

I watched them for a few minutes while I continued to wash glasses. Tyler was an attractive guy with dark hair. He looked no older than sixteen. As I watched him it was clear that what his friends were talking about wasn't sitting well with him. As voices raised, I glanced at Dean to see him peering at them over his newspaper. I decided that it was time to show the boss that I could handle this type of situation. I walked over to their table and stood there for a second before they noticed me.

"Yes?" said the other dark haired young man. There was a smirk on his face as he looked up at me.

"Is there a problem here?" I asked, keeping my voice neutral.

"There wasn't until you interrupted," he snapped. "This is a private conversation."

"Well it's becoming a public one with your voice raised," I replied. "Please keep it down."

"Whatever," he said, giving me a tight smile.

I sighed as I walked back to the counter. My first night on the job and I had to find a shithead.

Storyville 3