A New Door Opens

By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2011 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter 2

"What happened?" I asked as I opened my eyes.

"You fell asleep. Solak says that it sometimes happens when the muscles are relaxed after being tense for a long time. Don't worry, you're fine." Jake said from beside me.

I felt weird, still half asleep and somehow like I was dreaming.

"How do you feel?" Ken asked with concern.

"Okay I guess... Wait. I'm talking!" I said in astonishment.

"Yeah. Xain got the nerves in your face all straightened out." Ken said happily.

OhmyGod! OhmyGod! I've got to be dreaming, this can't be happening.

"I'm... I'm talking..." I said slowly, feeling my mouth form the sounds, hearing the words coming out of my mouth.

"Yeah cool, huh?" Jake said with a beaming smile.

"How? I mean, I remember that Xain was going to try something... Where is Xain? I want to thank him." I said as I looked around.

"He went up to our room to take a nap. Are you ready for some lunch?" Jake asked with a smile.

This can't be real. This has to be a dream. I must have fallen asleep when I got home from the doctors office and this is all a dream.

"Are you really okay?" Ken asked with concern.

I looked up to see the worry in Ken's eyes and realized that if this is a dream, I don't want to wake up.

"Um, yeah. I guess. Wow. You guys really fixed me?" I asked in disbelief.

"Well, not completely. But you can talk and you should be able to use your right hand... are you right handed?" Jake asked hesitantly.

"Yeah." I said and looked down at my hand to find it resting in my lap in a relaxed position.

Experimentally, I made a fist. My hand did exactly what I wanted it to do. I relaxed my hand again and it laid out flat, just like a normal hand.

It wasn't twisted and curled and looking like it was trying to snap the bones.

"It's... guys, I can't believe this... It's... it's like the best thing that's happened to me in years." I said as I reached up and felt my face and found tears on my cheeks.

I was able to move my arm. It lifted and moved just like I wanted it to.

I don't ever want to wake up....

"Um, it's not all good news." Jake said hesitantly.

I knew it was too good to be true... nothing good ever happens to me. But... whatever it is... it has to be worth it... to be able to talk again, to be able to move my hand...

"What's wrong?" I finally asked cautiously.

"Well, from the way I understood it, this isn't going to stay like this. You'll slowly go back to the way you were if Xain doesn't go back every so often and remind your nerves and muscles how they're supposed to behave. This will probably last for three or four days before it starts to wear off." Jake said seriously.

Okay... three or four days... I can deal with that. Three or four days... wait... he said they can do this again?

"Uncle Solak said this isn't a cure. It's just a way to work around the symptoms." Ken threw in, looking apologetic.

"Well, a cure would have been nice. But this is still the best thing that's happened to me, like, ever. Even if I go back to like I was before, just being able to talk and touch stuff again for a while..." I trailed off, not knowing what to say next.

"You don't have to worry about that. We'll make sure you don't ever have to go back to the way it was before." Ken said, and I swear that it sounded like a promise.

"Let's get into the dining room and see if they left us anything. I'm hungry enough to gnaw the leg off the table right now." Jake said as he walked toward the door.

"Yeah, me too." I said, still unable to believe that I was able to say it.

* * * * *

"Did you guys leave us anything?" Jake asked as he led the way into the dining room.

"We waited for you. Juana is in the kitchen reheating the soup." Allen said gently.

"You didn't have to. I know you were all hungry." I said, stunned at their thoughtfulness.

The entire family was sitting around the table with the platter of sandwiches in the middle... waiting for me.

A lot of people have done a lot of things for me since I got sick, but not like this. Most of the stuff that was done for me was because it had to be done.

They didn't have to wait, I didn't expect them to wait... It's like I'm... special or something.

"First of all, what kind of host would I be if I ate before my guest? Second... you look and sound great." Allen finished as he broke into a joyful smile.

"Thanks. I feel great." I said in return and couldn't help but smile back at him just as joyfully.

Once Ken had me in my place at the table and locked my wheels, I looked around to see if everyone was waiting for me to do something.

"Where is Xain?" Allen asked with concern.

"He went up to our room to lay down for a few minutes. Helping Rory tired him out." Jake said to his father.

"Is he really okay? I mean, I think I remember that Solak guy saying that helping me could hurt him." I asked as I realized that there was nothing I could ever do to repay Xain for what he did for me.

"He's fine. I made sure to keep a close eye on him while he was working on you. He's just tired, I promise." Jake said to me with a warm smile.

God! Why can't I find a nice guy like Jake for me?

Yeah, right. Like anyone would want a crippled little peanut like me for a boyfriend.

"Dad, would you mind if I take him up some food? I know he was hungry." Jake asked hopefully.

Jake deserves someone like Xain. Someone who's healthy and as good a person as he is.

"That's fine, why don't you take up enough for both of you. I think he'd like it better if you ate with him." Allen said tenderly.

Jake's dad is pretty cool too. I mean, he saw them kiss in the living room and didn't say anything...

"Thanks Dad. Would you mind watching Vina for a while?" Jake asked as he started pulling sandwiches off the platter in the middle of the table onto his plate.

"It would be my pleasure." Allen said with a smile.

And he watches Jake's daughter... I wish... wait, I learned that lesson too many times over the past three years. Don't wish. Never wish.

"We'll be back down in a little while Rory." Jake said as he picked up the plate.

He's going to take food to his boyfriend who is all tired out from helping me...

"Thank you for all your help, and thank Xain for me too." I said, trying to let him know how much I really meant it.

"Sure thing buddy." Jake said with a smile before hurrying out the door.

Oh, that smile. No one has smiled at me like that in so long... It's like I'm his friend or something.

* * * * *

"What would you like to drink Rory? We have apple juice, orange juice, milk, sweet tea and Kool-Aid, it's um... blue." Ken said in thought.

Wow. Kool-Aid! I don't care what color it is. It sounds like paradise.

"I'd really love some Kool-Aid" I said, and was again struck with wonder at my ability to speak.

"I'll be right back." Ken said with a huge smile and ran out of the room.

His smile is even cuter than Jakes. What a handsome guy...

"Do you feel better?" Reuben asked cautiously from a few places down the table.

I looked at the boy and saw his honest concern for me. I guess kids care for everyone, even people they don't know.

"Yeah, I don't even have words big enough to tell you how much better I feel." I said honestly.

Maybe it is a dream... except that in my dreams, it's back before I got sick. In my dreams, I'm with my old friends and my family is all like they used to be.

"Can you reach the sandwiches or would you like me to get some for you?" Kevin asked from my side.

I looked at Kevin and saw the same look of concern that Reuben was wearing. He just wanted to help me...

"I think I can get them, but thanks for asking." I said, amazed at how nice these strangers were being.

I reached out and marveled at my hand doing exactly what I wanted it to. I grabbed a sandwich and moved it to my plate, then on impulse, I grabbed another.

"So why don't you tell us a little about you Rory?" Billy asked from his chair across from me as he also helped himself to the sandwiches.

What you see is what you get. Cripple on wheels. End of story...

"There's not much to tell. I got sick about three years ago. It got worse and worse until this morning when the doctors said that I had stabilized." I said in thought.

"Well, that's good news. But what about you? What kind of things do you enjoy doing?" Billy asked with interest.

What? Hold on... time for a reality check here... for the past three years all anyone has wanted to know about me is about how my condition is progressing. I stopped being me about the time they put me in my first wheelchair. I haven't been me since I left school. I've just been a disease with a kid to cart it around...

"Well... I don't know. I haven't been able to do much for the last year or so. I just kind of sit around and listen to music." I said, trying to think of what I used to like doing.

It's been so long since anyone asked anything about me the kid, instead of me the disease, that I don't know anymore.

"What kind of music do you like?" Deacon asked, and for the first time I noticed just how much he looked like Billy.

What the hell am I doing here? I'm in a house full of beautiful people! Every single one of these guys could be a fashion model... in fact, I know that Billy IS a fashion model. They should just roll me out into the street so my ugliness doesn't rub off on them. Oh, they're waiting on me to answer...

"Um, the usual stuff I guess. Backstreet, *N Sync... stuff like that. Aaron Carter is my favorite because he's close to my age." I said, then took a bite of one of the sandwiches.

Heaven.

Now I'm sorry about all the bad things I've thought and said over the past three years.

There is a God. He is wonderful and loving and kind... and he just provided me the perfect tuna fish sandwich.

Absolute heaven.

"Are you okay Rory?" Allen asked with concern.

I quickly swallowed my bite of food and noticed that Ken was placing a glass of blue Kool-Aid beside my plate.

"Yeah. It's just... I can't remember when I've had anything that tasted this good." I said, still blissing out on the wonderful flavor.

"It's just a tuna sandwich." Ken said carefully.

Did I mention that Ken is cute? I wish... Stop! Stop, stop stop. No wishing! I'd better answer him.

"You tasted my mom's brownies. All her food is like that. All natural, whole grain, free range, organic, sugar-free, salt-free, high-fiber and steamed or baked, never boiled or fried." I said from memory, having heard it from Zombie Hyper-Mom many many times.

"Do you think that's grounds for Aunt Teri to invoke 'Safe Haven'?" Ken asked his dad seriously.

Aunt Teri? You mean there's more of them? Well, to be honest, there are more of my family too. There are grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins... but when I got sick they just kind of said how sorry they were and ::pooft!:: they were gone. Now it's just us.

Allen smiled and said, "I don't think so. But we'll see what we can do to help Rory out."

Did I mention how cute Allen is? I did? Well, it's worth repeating.

"The soup is ready." Juana said as she walked into the room carrying a big bowl with a lid and a ladle.

I took a deep inhale and smelled the most wonderful smell ever.

"It smells great." I said as I watched her place the bowl beside the platter of sandwiches.

"Thank you Rory. I made it myself, would you like some?" Juana asked me gently.

More than you know. Oh, if it tastes anything like it smells...

"Yes Ma'am, thank you." I answered, then watched as she ladled the chunky beef soup into a bowl.

"There is more in the kitchen, so everyone have all that you want." Juana said, then walked to take her seat.

As other people were getting soup, I slowly dipped a spoon of soup, then blew on it to cool it enough to eat.

Just a small sip.

Pepper. I can't remember the last time I tasted pepper. It's so wonderful...

Now a bite...

The meat is so tender...

"Rory has been on a health food diet for a while." Allen said quietly to Juana.

I looked over to see her look of concern directed at me.

"The soup is wonderful. Even before I got sick, I don't think I ever had soup this good before." I said to Juana, hoping that would be enough to keep her from worrying.

"I am glad you like it." Juana said with a gentle smile.

I looked beside me to see Ken looking at me happily.

"I really like your family." I said to Ken with a timid smile.

"Yeah, they're pretty cool aren't they?" Ken said shyly, looking absolutely... Oh, if I were a beautiful person like them and I could get out of this wheelchair, mmmm... down boy...

Finally, the food drew my attention again and I took another, larger bite of the tuna fish sandwich.

"Guys, if you don't have anything else going on, I'd like to take Deacon and Lawrence back to my place for a while after lunch..." Billy said into the silence that had fallen over the room.

"You guys have some big plans today?" Allen asked curiously.

Good soup. Maybe Juana could adopt me. I can be packed in a half an hour. I already have my coat, umbrella and galoshes.

"Billy said that he wants to do some test shots of me today." Lawrence said with a timid smile.

"That sounds great. You too Deacon?" Allen asked curiously.

"Yeah. He's gonna do some shots of each of us, then some shots of us together." Deacon said happily.

"I'm glad, I bet the pictures will be wonderful." Allen said warmly.

Pictures? Why didn't I think of that? I guess this is what beautiful people do at home when they're alone. They take pictures of each other... It makes sense...

"Could you take a picture of Rory too?" Ken asked from beside me.

Oh Ken, now you've put Billy on the spot and he's going to have to explain to you why he can't without coming out and saying that I'm ugly.

Billy looked at me and seemed to be thinking about it carefully before he said, "Yes... Rory, if you wouldn't mind changing shirts, I think Deacon's teal shirt would look perfect..."

I looked at Billy with question, then around the table, hoping that someone would explain what was going on.

"Billy is a professional photographer. If you'd be willing, he'll take a few pictures of you." Allen finally said at my bewildered look.

Really? Take pictures of me? Why? No one wants to see me... I don't even want to see me...

"What do you say Rory? Billy's pictures all look really great and I think it would be fun. Besides, it'd be, y'know, kinda cool if you'd let me have one." Ken finished shyly.

Ken wants a picture of me? Oooookay. Well, when opportunity knocks...

"I will if you will." I finally said.

"Would you take a picture of me too Billy?" Ken asked hopefully.

Gotcha! My picture won't be good for anything but scaring rats away. But I'll keep Ken's picture... with my pictures of Billy...

"Sure, in fact, why don't I do like I'm doing with Deke and Lawrence? I'll do a few shots of each of you and a few of you together?" Billy asked, and it was as if I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

From his look, I bet Billy is almost finished planning the whole shoot. He's really serious about this. A professional photographer wants to take pictures of me...

"You want to do it after lunch?" Billy asked, breaking me out of my momentary mental wandering.

"Sure. Sounds good to me." I said, not knowing what else to say.

"Don't worry guys. This won't be like a regular photo shoot. I'll just take a few minutes to set up, then pose you and take a few pictures." Billy said in thought.

"How long are we talking about?" Allen asked curiously.

"Half an hour maybe... not more than an hour for sure." Billy said carefully.

"That's perfect. By the time you get back from Billy's, your lunch will have settled and you'll be able to go swimming." Allen said with a smile.

Swimming? I forgot about that. Swimming, as in me being almost naked in the water...

...as in Ken being almost naked in the water...

"Okay Ken, I've just got to tell you that you've got the coolest family, like, ever." I said seriously.

"Yeah, I'm figuring that out." Ken said with a big smile.

* * * * *

"So what's your school like Rory?" Mona asked curiously before taking another spoon of soup.

"I don't go to school. When the doctors said I was terminal I didn't have to go anymore." I said as I reach for my third sandwich.

Silence fell over the room and I looked around to see what had happened.

Everyone was looking at me with these really sad looks, like they were about to cry or something.

"The doctors said I was stabilized so I guess they were wrong." I said quietly, hoping that would make them feel better.

"How long have you been thinking that you're about to die?" Allen asked in almost a whisper.

I thought about it and remembered when Dr. Look-At-How-Smart-I-Am called us in for a consultation to tell us that there was no cure for what was wrong with me.

"Um, I guess it's been over a year. Maybe a year and a half." I said in thought.

"You're such a brave boy." Juana whispered as tears filled her eyes.

"Not really." I said and noticed a shocked look on her face.

I felt like I had to explain, "It's not like I chose to get sick. I didn't do anything."

"I think what Juana means is that you're brave for the way you've faced everything that's happened." Allen said gently.

"Oh. Um, I guess. I mean, at first I cried and stuff. Then for a little while I tried to figure out why me? What had I ever done that was so bad to deserve this... All I could come up with was the time when my parents gave me a rabbit for Easter and I shaved it... I don't think that was really that bad. I mean, I was really careful and didn't hurt it. Did you know their skin is pink underneath the fur?" I babbled, then took a drink of my Kool-Aid.

"What then?" Allen asked quietly.

"Then mom knitted this really neat little sweater for it... Oh, you mean when I thought I was dying... Um, next I guess I got mad." I said as I tried to remember clearly what I had been feeling during those days.

"I was mad because it was unfair." I said more quietly.

"And then?" Allen asked in a soft, caring voice.

"Then I kinda just said, 'Okay'. I mean, I don't want to die, but if it's going to happen, it's going to happen." I said with a shrug of my one working shoulder.

"Rory, I'm going to be honest with you about something. From what you just told me, I think you'll be grown-up enough to understand what I'm going to tell you." Allen said carefully.

Well, that doesn't sound like it's leading to anything good...

"You mentioned that Solak was telling Xain what to do to help you overcome your symptoms. Well, Solak is a doctor and might either be able to help you himself or know of someone who can help you." Allen said carefully.

"Okay..." I said hesitantly, waiting for the part that I was going to have to be grown-up for.

"There is also the possibility that he won't be able to do anything at all for you." Allen continued.

"Okay..." I said again, waiting for him to get to it.

"If it's okay with you, I'm going to call Solak while you're at Billy's and find out what we need to do next." Allen said carefully.

"And..." I prompted, waiting for the awful thing that I was going to have to be grown-up for.

"That's it. I just don't' want to give you false hope. I want you to understand that this is just something else to try." Allen said as he looked me in the eyes.

I felt a smile of relief come over my face as I said, "I thought you were going to tell me I had to do something horrible like bone marrow samples or a spinal tap. Don't worry about getting my hopes up. Every time someone comes up with a new way to try and fight neuro-muscular disorders, I'm first on their list to be their guinea pig. Some of them even said they could cure me... those were the biggest jerks. They acted like it was my fault when I didn't get better."

"If you say it's okay, I'll make the call after lunch." Allen said again.

"Yeah, thanks for asking... I think you're the first person in a long time who asked me before doing something to me." I said in thought.

Well, that's not necessarily true. The physical therapists are usually pretty good about asking for my cooperation. But as far as doctors, they tend to talk about me like I'm not even in the room.

Allen smiled and said, "I can imagine how dehumanizing that is, being thought of as a case number or a disease instead of a person."

I looked at Allen with surprise, no one had ever said it so clearly before. That was exactly how I felt.

"Um... yeah." I said in astonishment.

"Well you don't have to worry about that here. We all see you as a person." Mona said in a voice that was so sincere, that I couldn't help but believe it.

They see me as a person... I think I've forgotten how to be a person...

* * * * *

"Why did you have a gym bag if you don't, um, go to the gym?" Ken asked from beside me, sounding kind of shy.

I turned to look at him and found him looking timid and apologetic and just gorgeous. If this is really heaven, then maybe I've got a chance...

"Mom takes me to this hydro-therapy thing twice a week. They put me in a pool and try to stretch out my arms and legs so the muscles don't atrophy too much." I said, and I'm pretty sure I didn't sound too happy about it.

"Does it hurt?" Lawrence asked cautiously.

Oh God. Another beautiful person. This guy has the most amazingly beautiful hair I've ever seen. Light shimmering blond hair that's down to his shoulders. And his face... like an elf. Mythical beauty. And those eyes... light blue like the sky... Oh, he's waiting for an answer...

"Um, yeah. It hurts a lot. The therapists really try to be gentle, but I guess there's no way to work the muscles without it being painful." I said in thought.

"That sounds horrible." Lawrence said with a look of concern, and I swear, it looked like he was about to cry.

This beautiful guy looked like he was about to cry for my pain... Imagine that.

Deacon leaned over in his chair and gave Lawrence a gentle hug.

I guess the surprise showed on my face, because Allen smiled at me and said, "I hope that doesn't bother you Rory. Lawrence and Deacon are... Are you guys an official couple now?"

"Yeah." Deacon said happily, still holding Lawrence gently.

They look so beautiful together. Dark and light. Why do I have to be so ugly?

My red hair makes me look like a clown and my freckles make me look like someone spray painted right across the middle of my face.

Lawrence and Deacon are both flawless... I know men are supposed to be handsome, but these guys are beautiful, there's no other way to put it.

"That doesn't make you uncomfortable does it Rory?" Allen asked with concern.

That snapped me out of my thoughts and I automatically answered, "Uh, No. I'm just not used to seeing guys, you know... hugging and stuff."

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Now they're going to think I'm some kind of homophobic asshole!

I don't know how to be around people anymore... I didn't even realize how hard it was to say and do the right things around people.

"Good. I'm glad it doesn't bother you. I wouldn't want you to be uncomfortable around us." Allen said gently.

Whew! I guess he understood what I meant. This has got to be heaven. That's the only explanation. There's no one on Earth that would be that beautiful and understanding.

* * * * *

As I reached for my fourth sandwich, Juana said, "Rory, I have made some dessert for after the meal. Be sure to leave room."

Dessert? OhMyGod! Anything! Bring it on!

I withdrew my hand and looked at her expectantly.

Juana smiled a radiant smile at me and asked, "Is everyone ready for the dessert?"

Ricardo nodded so hard I thought he was going to throw himself out of his chair.

"Yes Juana, I think we're all ready." Allen said with a loving smile directed at the young boy.

Juana smiled, then asked, Kenny, would you see who wants milk with dessert?

I looked at Kenny immediately and nodded.

Kenny smiled and looked around the table before hurrying out of the room, followed by Juana.

"Since I met Allen and Juana, I don't think I've had a meal at my house." Billy said happily.

"Yeah, Juana and Xain are really good cooks. It was like I never really ate before I came here." Deacon said with a big smile.

I thought about the words and had to agree.

"I'm glad I'm not the only one. Everything was really great. I really appreciate it, thank you." I said to the people around the table.

"Seeing you enjoy the meal is all the thanks we need." Allen said gently.

God! I never would have imagined such wonderful people. They're happy, beautiful, loving and they cook the best food I've ever had... maybe I am dreaming... or dead. Yeah, this could be heaven.

Maybe when I went to sleep last night I died or something and I didn't wake up...

If this is heaven, I love it and I don't think I'll ever miss being alive...

* * * * *

"Which do you prefer? Apple, cherry, or blackberry?" Juana asked from beside me.

I looked at her, then down to the large wooden bowl she was holding filled with pastries.

"Um, I kind of like them all." I said helplessly as the scent of freshly baked pastries washed over me.

"I will give you apple to begin with. Apple is my favorite." Juana said and put one on my plate.

"Thank you." I said as I looked at the puffy little thing that looked kind of like a folded over pie.

Ken walked in with a tray of small glasses of milk.

He sat the tray on the little cabinet thing beside the table, then started handing glasses of milk to everyone.

"You made these the other night. What are they called?" Allen asked as he took a pastry from the bowl.

"Empanadas. Most things I cook are things I learned to make as a child, but I did not have empanadas until I moved to Chicago." Juana said as she walked around the table to give everyone a chance to get some.

"They're really wonderful." Allen said with a smile before taking a bite.

I picked up the pastry and carefully took a bite of it.

Flaky, crunchy crust, sweet, gooey apple filling... Oh dear sweet Jesus, I have to be dead because if I were alive and tasted something this good, it would kill me.

Then I took a drink of my milk and nearly passed out with pleasure.

Cold, smooth, sweet... perfect... better than I ever remembered.

"From the look on your face, I'm guessing you approve of Juana's dessert." Mona said with a tender smile.

"Yes Ma'am... Grandma. I think this is the best thing I've tasted in my whole life." I said honestly.

Juana smiled as she took her seat and said, "I believe that is the best compliment I have ever received. Thank you Rory."

I smiled at Juana, then took another bite of the outrageously good dessert.

* * * * *

"Are you guys ready to go to my house now?" Billy asked as people started getting up from the dining room table.

"Sure, but you may need to use a wide angle lens on your camera after that meal." Deacon said as he rubbed his belly.

Billy laughed and said, "I'll just make sure to shoot you from the chest up."

I felt something behind me and turned in time to see Ken unlocking my wheels.

"You ready to go Rory?" Ken asked happily.

With you? Anywhere...

"Um... Yeah." I said unsteadily, like the total dork that I am.

"I'm going to take Rory out the back way so we don't have to mess with the front steps." Ken said from behind me.

"We'll go with you." Billy said as he changed direction and joined me and Ken as we passed through the kitchen.

I looked around to see that Lawrence and Deacon had joined us too.

I don't know why this seemed so odd. It's not the fact that they were walking with me the longer way because of my wheelchair, that happens all the time...

I guess it's because it's like, they're going this way because they want to spend time with me or something...

How weird...

"This is going to be sooooo cool." Deacon said with a big smile.

I looked at Deacon with question.

"Billy's pictures are really great. I just know this is going to be awesome." Deacon said happily.

"Hang on bro. That's a lot to live up to. But I'll do my best not to disappoint you." Billy said with a smile.

"I'm not worried. I just know it's going to be cool." Deacon said with a giggle as we walked past the garage and out into the driveway.

"Mr. Pierce! Mr. Pierce!" A woman's voice called out from the street.

"Mrs. Plimpton. How are you today?" Billy asked in a friendly voice that was somehow very different from the one he had just been using.

Happiness. That's what was missing. This voice was polite, but it wasn't happy.

"I haven't seen you in months. How are you doing?" The middle-aged woman asked with a surprised look as she held tightly to a leash with a perfectly groomed little poodle on it.

I remember the woman. She's one of the nosey old bitties that was always coming over to get my mom to join some garden club or some other snobby thing.

"I'm doing fine. Mrs. Plimpton, I'd like you to meet my brothers Deacon and Lawrence and our friends Kenny and Rory." Billy said in his artificial, pleasant voice.

"It's very nice to meet you." The old bat said as she looked at Deacon and Lawrence and completely ignored me and Ken.

All of a sudden I felt something and looked down to see that her dog was tugging at my pants leg.

"I hope you can stop by sometime for a chat. I know my son Davis would be delighted to meet your brothers and Kenny." The evil hag said in a delighted voice.

What a bitch... the old woman I mean, not the dog. Then again, the poodle was really starting to piss me off by pulling at my pants leg like she was playing tug-of-war.

Billy looked uncomfortable, almost in pain...

He glanced at me and I saw such a sorrowful look and suddenly understood.

He was feeling bad on my behalf. Her being rude to me was really making him feel bad.

Well, I honestly don't care what she thinks of me, but when she's hurting someone as sweet and gentle as Billy, she's crossed the line.

"Mrs. Plimpton." I said firmly, gaining her attention as she turned her surprised look on me.

I swear to God, I don't know where it came from. My mouth just opened and the words began to fall out.

"I realize that in your Nazi way of thinking, someone who is as imperfect as me shouldn't be allowed to live. But that doesn't give you the right to behave as if you don't have ANY social class by ignoring me. If you don't want to invite me to your house or to meet your son, then don't. But at least have the good grace to invite Billy and his brothers when I'm not around." I said as I looked up at her seriously.

She stared down at me, still looking surprised.

"And get your damned dog off my leg. I'm not a chew toy." I said in my most commanding voice.

"Oh... yes." Mrs. Plimpton said in shock, then began to tug on the dog's leash.

"Come on Pookie, we have to be going..." Mrs. Plimpton said weakly.

Billy motioned for us to 'come on' and hurried ahead of us to his house.

I guess I screwed up.

Now Billy will be mad at me for making him look bad in the neighborhood.

I really like Billy. He's not just beautiful, but he's really nice and talks to me like a person. I hope he doesn't scream at me too much. Well, he probably won't scream. He'll probably just try and explain why it's wrong to talk to old ladies like that.

...I was just trying to help...

Billy fumbled with the key to the side door of his house and finally got the door opened.

When all five of us were inside the house, I looked at Billy with concern, waiting for the lecture that I knew I deserved.

I had to let Billy know that I can't help it. Mom used to say that it's my red hair that makes me do stuff like that.

"You see, I've got red hair..." I began to say.

All of a sudden, Billy started laughing, and I mean hard.

Deacon, Lawrence and Ken all broke into broad smiles, then joined into the laughter, but Billy was the one who was laughing so hard that I was afraid he was going to hurt himself.

"Rory..." Billy gasped, then was lost in laughter again.

Ken was laughing almost as hard as Billy and he leaned in and gave me a firm hug as he continued to laugh.

OhMyGod! Ken is a good hugger.

I mean, it was warm, firm, safe, comfortable... everything a hug should be.

"Rory..." Billy gasped again and I looked down to see him laying in the floor clutching his sides.

That did it. I couldn't help it. I had to laugh too.

The sight of Billy collapsed in laughter was too much and I started laughing myself silly.

Lawrence and Deacon were holding on to each other they were laughing so hard.

I'm pretty sure if they weren't holding on to each other, they'd be in the floor with Billy.

"Dude! That was so awesome..." Billy gasped out as he tried to get his breathing under control.

"Yeah..." Lawrence was barely able to say as I could see tears of laughter streaking down his face.

"That was so cool." Ken said from beside me where he was crouched to be at my eye level.

"Thanks." I said, still feeling bubbles of laughter welling up inside me.

"That old broad has been terrorizing me ever since I moved in here. I've tried to politely refuse her invitations because... well, because I don't like her and I don't want to have anything to do with her. But she's so pushy that it's almost impossible to dodge her." Billy said as he sat up in the kitchen floor.

"Well, if she tries to corner you again, just sic Rory on her. He knows how to put her in her place." Ken said from beside me and I swear that I heard pride in his voice.

Ken's proud of me...

"Deke, would you grab the teal shirt you got for your birthday? I want to get Ken and Rory's shoot done first so they can go swimming." Billy said as he got up off the floor, still chuckling.

Deacon didn't answer, he just ran out of the room.

"If you guys will go in the living room and take off Rory's shirt, I'll start getting set up." Billy said, looking like he was about to break into laughter again.

"Come on guys, it's this way." Lawrence said with a delighted smile and led the way out of the kitchen.

To Be Continued...

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