Hurt & Comfort

Book 8: Seeking Comfort

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Chapter 3: Like Everyone Else

I noticed that I was in my room, staring at the wall when Bobby spoke.

"We need to get back to Logan soon. Do you need any help unpacking?" Bobby asked with concern in his voice.

I shook my head and continued to stare at the wall.

"I'm going to go downstairs now. Try and relax if you can." Bobby said quietly.

I nodded and continued to stare.

I heard Bobby leave the room and finally the floodgate opened and I began to cry for real.

Great heaving sobs erupted from me. The tears flowed and I couldn't do anything but let them fall.

I wrapped my arms around myself and rocked myself as I continued to cry.

* * * * *

I felt arms come around me and a voice said, "Shhh. It's okay."

I turned my head and saw that it was John, and he had such a look of concern on his face that I just turned slightly to allow him to pull me into a hug.

"It's always hard the first few days. You're not alone Clark." John said quietly.

"I... I don't even know why I'm crying." I said in confusion.

"I'm guessing a lot of stuff built up and you just need to let it loose. It's okay buddy. Just let it loose and you'll feel better." John said soothingly.

"I feel like such a freak." I said in a gasping voice between sobs.

"I know. But you're just like everyone else here." John said and held me tighter.

"No, I'm not... I'm not like everyone else." I said, really wanting to tell my deep dark secret.

"It doesn't matter. Whatever you are, it doesn't matter here. All we care about is what kind of a person you are." John said seriously.

I pulled back from John and looked into his eyes... wanting to believe. I needed to tell someone. I needed someone to know the real me. One person who I could tell anything... like I could do with Mom and Dad. If John could be that person, maybe I could stay here.

"If I tell you something, would you promise never to tell anyone else?" I asked before I realized that I had decided to trust John.

"Yes. I promise Clark. Whatever secrets you tell me, I'll never tell anyone else, not even Bobby." John said seriously.

"Um, okay... I guess I'll just say it... I'm an alien." I said in a shaky voice.

John thought about that for a second, then said, "Okay. What else?"

"That's it. I'm an alien... Isn't that enough?" I asked in surprise.

"I guess if you were the first non-human I'd met, yeah. But you're the seventh. And Robert is a good friend of mine so... it's just not that big a deal to me." John said with apology in his voice.

I gave a nervous laugh that turned somewhat hysterical.

"What?" John asked with concern.

"I tell you my big secret, afraid that you're going to think I'm a freak or a monster. Instead you just shrug and say 'What Else'. It's just funny." I said and started laughing harder.

"Okay, okay. What do you want me to do? Shrink back in terror? If you want, I can run screaming. Give me another chance to do it right." John said in a teasing voice, trying to hide his laughter.

"Sorry, no do-overs. I'll just have to live with the fact that it doesn't matter to you that I'm an alien." I said, then was struck by the realization that it doesn't matter... to John, I'm just like anyone else.

"Nope. It really doesn't matter Clark. And if you ever think about telling everyone else, it won't matter to them either. Robert and his brothers and sister have never tried to hide the fact that they're not human... I think Trey is proud of it." John said seriously.

"Maybe someday... not yet. I'm not actually going to lie to anyone, but if they think I'm a mutant, I won't correct them." I said carefully.

"Clark, it's your business and you do what you think is best. But as a friend, I need to tell you what I think... If you let people believe what isn't true... it's still a lie. I've lived with a few lies... it's like the lies eat holes in your soul, and the longer they go on, the bigger the holes get... till there's finally nothing left of you but the lie." He said with honest worry in his eyes.

"I'll think about it." I said seriously. He really laid it on the line... even though I might have been angry or hurt, he was honest with me... and that's what he wanted from me... honesty.

"Thanks for doing this... I hardly know you." I said shyly.

"Do you wanna know why I'm your friend so fast?" He asked quietly.

I nodded enthusiastically, I really wanted to know.

"When it was time to serve the food, you wanted to help. When you found out I didn't have clothes, you offered your own. I'm a stranger to you and you offered to share your clothes and your room with me. Clark, you impressed the hell out of me, you're a good guy. Anyone who's that good a person is someone I want to be friends with because I know you'll always watch out for me and be there for me." John said as he looked in my eyes to show the truth of his words.

"And because of that I trust you enough to watch your back and be there for you when you need me." He continued.

"Like now." I said in a whisper.

"If I was the one who was hurting and needing someone to care... would you?" John asked frankly.

"Of course." I said immediately.

"What about before our talk, before your mom left, would you have cared then?" He asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah, I would." I said, understanding what he was trying to say. I would have cared for anyone who was in need.

"That's why you're my friend, and why I'm trying to be yours." John finished with a note of triumph at my understanding.

"It worked John. Thanks for being a friend." I said, a bit shyly now that the crying, confessing, emotional revelation part of the conversation was over.

"Yeah, so what do you say friend? Want to come downstairs with me and visit with Logan for a while before we unpack the truck?" John asked, trying to divert attention from the awkwardness of our current situation.

"Didn't you want to look at my clothes?" I asked in confusion.

"I can do that later, before we go to sleep." John said and got up from beside me.

"Then why did you come up here?" I asked as I stood.

"Because Bobby said you were up here breaking down. I remember that I did the same thing when I was left alone on my first day... no one helped me. I felt alone for a very long time. I didn't want that for you." John said with a sad smile of distant remembrance.

"Thanks John." I said quietly as we walked into the hall.

"Yeah, sure." John said and led the way to the nearest elevator.

* * * * *

I walked into my room and went directly to my bed.

We had been busy for most of the day, running as a group from one place to another. First we visited with Mr. Logan for a while. Bobby, Robert, John and Ronny took turns telling about the things they had done while camping. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.

Then we went outside and carried the camping supplies to the store room. With all of us, we only had to make one trip.

While we were in the store room we found three boxes marked with John's name. Apparently when he left, he didn't take his stuff with him, so it was put into storage until he asked for it back. John and Bobby are going through the stuff now, to see what he's going to keep and what gets thrown away. The clothes don't fit him anymore, so he'll still need to borrow mine. But that's no problem.

John and Bobby will be up in a few minutes and then we're going to have dinner. I guess I should be putting my clothes and stuff away but... It feels good doing nothing for a minute, just sitting.

"Spacing out?" John asked from the door.

"Yeah. Wanna join me?" I asked with a smile.

"Maybe later. We just walked by the kitchen and dinner is smelling good. I'm ready to get to it." John said as he hauled a box to the second bed.

"Do you guys want to move the bed now?" Bobby asked from the doorway.

"Sure." I said and got up from my bed.

Ronny walked in and said, "I'll get the mattress."

"Do you want some help?" I asked. Even though it was a single, the thing was heavy and awkward enough that two people should carry it.

"No. I got it." Ronny said with a smile. Then the mattress floated off the bed and moved toward him.

"I guess you do." Bobby said with an impressed tone in his voice.

John and I grabbed the box springs and carried them easily into the hallway and followed Ronny into a bedroom three doors down and across the hall.

Bobby followed behind us with the bed frame.

"How'd you get it off the headboard so quick?" I asked.

"William had the thing off in a few seconds. He's really good at it." Bobby said with a smile as Robert and William came out of my room carrying the headboard.

"Let's get this thing set up so we can get to dinner." Bobby said with enthusiasm.

"Sure." I said and went to help.

* * * * *

After the bed had been assembled, we all walked out of Bobby's bedroom as a group.

"William and I must return home. It will be dark soon." Robert said with regret.

"Are you going running with us in the morning?" Bobby asked hopefully.

"Yes, I will meet you at the track at seven-thirty." Robert said seriously.

"I'll see you then." Bobby said with a smile and pulled Robert close for a hug.

"I love you." Robert said, barely loud enough for me to hear.

"I love you too." Bobby said in an equally quiet tone.

Then they kissed. Somehow, the kiss was less shocking than the one I'd seen earlier. I guess after spending the day with these two, I understood more about what it means.

"I want to find that someday." John said in a wistful voice.

"Me too." William said, with need showing in his expression.

I turned my attention to Robert and Bobby again and saw what they were seeing. It was more than a kiss. It was a connection, a relationship on a different level... a level beyond anything I'd experienced before.

The kiss finally broke and Bobby said, "Have a good night and a satisfying regeneration."

Robert smiled and said, "Sweet dreams."

William and Robert walked away and the rest of us grouped to walk to the dining room.

"Are  you going to dinner?" A large man asked with an accent.

"Yes Pete, would you like to join us?" Bobby asked with a smile.

"Yes, I would like that." The large man said happily.

"Pete, I'd like for you to meet Clark Kent. Clark, this is my friend Peter Rasputin." Bobby said formally.

"Nice to meet you." I said and shook his hand.

When I looked in his face I could see that he wasn't a large man, but a large boy. His youthful features made me suspect him to be about sixteen.

"A pleasure to meet you Clark. Are you a new student?" Peter asked carefully.

"I haven't decided yet. I'm going to visit  for a few days and decide on Thanksgiving." I said, having difficulty reading Peter's expressions.

John started walking toward the stairs and the rest of us automatically followed.

* * * * *

As we entered the dining room, a beautiful girl walked up to us and said, "John?"

John turned in time to identify the girl before she pulled him into a tight hug.

"How are you?" She asked seriously.

"About a hundred percent better than the last time I saw you." John said honestly.

"Who's this?" She asked and looked at me.

"Marie, this is my friend Clark. He's visiting the school to see if he wants to come here." John said while keeping an arm around her.

"It's nice to meet you Clark. John's a good guy, make sure you treat him right." She said with a knowing smile.

"He's not *that* kind of a friend Marie." John said with a laugh that held no offense. "He's the other kind of friend... like you and me."

"Oh, okay. But Clark, you still need to treat him right." Marie said as she held John close to her side.

"I will, I promise." I said, not able to shake the feeling that I was blushing.

"Marie, will you sit with us?" John asked hopefully.

"Actually, I've been invited to supper at the boathouse." Marie said with a shy smile.

John turned and looked Marie in the face.

After a minute of concentration, he said, "I know that look, who is he?"

"Icheb. He really likes me. He's trying to get to know me as a person before we do anything." She said with a tender smile.

"So do you think this one's a keeper?" John asked carefully.

"I think he may be. John... I can touch him." She finished in a whisper.

"Really?" John said in surprise.

"My touch doesn't hurt him at all. But best of all, I think that even if I couldn't, that I'd want to spend time with him. He's fascinating." She said with a little dreamy expression in her eyes.

"That's great Marie. I hope it works out. You deserve to find someone who'll treat you right." John said tenderly.

"So do you. Don't give up hope, if I could find someone, then nothing's impossible." Marie said, then gave John a ghost of a kiss on the cheek before she left.

I guess I had a look of question or something because John said, "We both got screwed over by the same guy."

I don't know if I was supposed to say something or still had a confused look because John continued, "Her figuratively, me literally."

"Um, okay... What did he do to you... I mean... not the sex stuff, but did he hurt you?" I asked nervously with concern as we walked through the line to fill our plates.

"Yeah. But he only did what I let him do... it wasn't all his fault." John said quietly as he made his dinner selections.

I thought about his words as we made our way to a table that was already surrounded by our friends. [Our friends. In one day I have a group of friends.] I thought in wonder.

"What's wrong Clark?" Ronny asked with concern from beside me.

"Oh, nothing. I guess it's just hitting me. How much my life has changed in just a few days." I said absently, noticing Ronny's honest concern.

Ronny gave a sympathetic smile and said, "I know that feeling, in fact, I still have it sometimes."

"Me too. Usually something triggers it, what did it for you?" John asked from my other side.

"You guys, sitting around the table. Knowing that I was welcomed to sit with you. It's just different from what I'm used to." I said in thought.

"How so?" Peter asked curiously.

"Where I'm from, I have a few friends, but... I don't know. We never talked about stuff like you guys do. It was always about school work, who's dating who, what's on TV. And at lunch time, Lana would sit with the girls and Lex... he never actually *said* I wasn't welcomed to sit with him, I just always kind of knew it." I said as I looked into my past. Then I noticed all eyes fixed on me.

"Well it's not like that with us Clark. You're one of us and we like having you around." Bobby said seriously.

"Thanks Bobby." I said and felt a shy smile, maybe a hint of a blush creeping up my face.

Mr. Summers stood and said from the front of the room. "Students, we have some new people with us. You may have met them already. If not, please introduce yourselves and make them feel welcomed. Clark Kent, Chris O'Rourke, Trini Nguyen and Ronny Drake."

"Trini?" Bobby said in question and looked around the room. His gaze focused on a slender Asian girl with smiling eyes and long black hair. She was dressed in yellow and surrounded by a group of girls.

"And I thought I was on top of everything that went on around here. I wonder how she sneaked in?" Bobby said with a smile.

"She's pretty." I heard myself say.

"Yeah. She seems really happy." John said, half turned in his seat to see her.

"I think we're making her self-conscious." Ronny said when he noticed the table of girls looking back at them.

"Are we supposed to pretend we're not interested?" Peter asked curiously as he turned his attention to Bobby.

"Yeah, I think that's part of the whole high school guy/girl dynamic. We're supposed to be interested, but we're supposed to pretend we're not." Bobby said in thought.

"Um, Bobby. You're gay. You don't have to pretend." John said seriously.

An exaggerated surprised look came over Bobby's face, then he said in a mock whisper, "Thanks for telling me John, I keep forgetting."

I couldn't help it. I laughed. Not a little chuckle, but a real, honest, *loud*, laugh. I reigned it in quickly and ducked my head.

I could feel the stares of all the people in the room as I felt a scarlet blush creeping up from my toes to my hairline.

"Clark?" Bobby asked quietly.

"Yeah?" I mumbled.

"You're allowed to laugh. It's okay." Bobby said with assurance.

I looked around and noticed that no one was looking at me except the guys at my table.

"What?" I asked in confusion.

"It's okay to laugh. You looked like you were expecting to get yelled at or something." Bobby said with concern.

"Teased." I mumbled.

"What?" John asked from beside me.

"I was expecting to get teased... If I did something to draw attention to myself at my old school, like laugh out loud, there would be a feeding frenzy of people teasing me about it." I said shyly.

"Oh, okay, I get it. The out loud teasing or the whispering kind?" Ronny asked darkly.

"Out loud." I said, and saw the look of understanding in Ronny's eyes... he'd been through it.

"That's the worst. At least when they whisper, you can pretend not to notice." Ronny said, then turned his attention back to his food.

"So was this school you came from a living hell or what?" Bobby asked with emotion in his voice. I'm not sure which emotion, but he seemed wound up.

"I never thought about it... I mean, it's always been that way. I've never been to another school so I figured that's just the way it is." I said, looking Bobby in the eyes.

"It doesn't have to be. We may tease a little here... very little. But never about the important stuff. It's too easy to hurt someone without meaning to then just sluff it off by saying, 'I was only teasing'. Words have power and meaning. You say hurtful stuff to the people around you... even in fun... you are causing them harm and it will come back to you." Bobby said seriously.

"Ease up Bro. We're not there anymore. You can let it go." Ronny said quietly to Bobby.

"Yeah, thanks. Just hearing that Clark went through that... it brought it all back." Bobby said, then turned his attention to his food.

I looked at Ronny curiously and he said, "Our old school was like yours. If you drew attention to yourself, you were a target for teasing and bullies... Bobby became so bland and normal that he faded into the background... I became a bully."

I saw the regret and shame in Ronny's eyes at the words.

There weren't any words to tell Ronny what I felt so I pulled  him into a small hug to let him know that it was okay.

"Thanks Clark." Ronny said after a moment, then pulled out  of the hug.

"Yeah." I said quietly. Something seemed to release inside me, like a knot just came undone.

"Gentlemen, what do you have planned for the evening?" Mr. Summers asked as he walked up to our table.

"Um... nothing?" Bobby said in thought.

"I must read." Peter said seriously.

Ronny, John and I shook our heads.

"Well Andrew and Alan have been wanting to start having 'family time' every night for a few hours. We'll just sit around, talk, maybe watch movies or cartoons... just spending time together. I was told to invite you that you are welcomed." Mr. Summers said to us as a group.

"Who?" Ronny asked curiously.

"Who was I told to invite?" Mr. Summers asked in confirmation.

Ronny nodded.

"Andrew said that I was to be sure to invite Bobby, Ronny, John and Clark. And since I know that Peter has a standing invitation, he's welcomed too." Mr. Summers said seriously.

"Why?" Ronny asked, he seemed unable to believe the invitation.

"I guess they feel like you'd enjoy it or fit in or something. I'm going to drive over at seven and you are welcomed to ride over with me. Or if you want, you can walk over." Mr. Summers finished with a shrug.

"Where should we meet you?" Bobby asked carefully.

"In the garage." Mr. Summers said with a smile, obviously happy that we were going to go.

"I can't promise that I'm going, but if I am, I'll be in the garage at seven." Bobby said in thought.

"Good, anyone who's there can ride over with me. I'll see you then." Mr. Summers said, then walked back to the front of the room.

"What's up bro?" Ronny asked with concern.

"We still need to get our blood tests." Bobby said darkly.

I looked around and could tell that everyone but Peter knew what they were talking about.

John looked at Peter and I. Then he looked at Bobby and Ronny and received nods of agreement.

"Bottom line guys. Bobby, Ronny and I have been sexually active, we weren't safe, Dr. McCoy is checking to see that we didn't get anything." John said grimly.

I was shocked... all three of them, sexually active, testing for... he meant HIV, he just didn't say it. I had a thousand questions but no voice to ask them with.

"May I accompany you to get the results?" Peter asked with concern.

"You sure Pete?" Bobby asked seriously.

Peter nodded with certainty.

"Me too." I forced out and turned to look at John.

"Yeah, sure buddy." John said with a smile of relief. He had been hoping that I would come... he needed a friend.

"Let's go then. This waiting is tearing me up." Ronny said gruffly.

I looked down to my plate and noticed that all my food had been eaten. I had no memory of even taking a bite of it... I wonder if it was good...

I followed the group  and we fell into a natural order. Ronny was in the lead, which seemed to be the case more often than not. Bobby and Peter followed Ronny, side by side. John and I followed them. It just seemed strange to me how I fell into this group dynamic and became one of them so quickly.

As we got on the elevator, John said, "Clark, you're doing it again."

I raised my eyebrows in question.

"The I can't believe it, is it a dream thing... don't make me pinch you." John said with a smile.

We walked into the hallway and silence fell over the group. It was like a subliminal message radiated from the walls saying that sound was not welcomed here, respect the silence.

We went through the, now familiar, airtight doors and into the BioLab where Dr. McCoy was working on a computer.

"Gentlemen..." He began, as he noticed us in the room.

"I would like to give each of you your results separately." Dr. McCoy said gravely.

"Fuck." John whispered and his eyes began to fill with tears.

"What?" Ronny asked with concern.

"He'd just say it if we were all clean." John said, trying to pull himself under control.

"Hank, if you want to do it privately, then let's do it." Bobby said firmly and walked into Hank's office.

I walked to John and pulled him into a hug.

"Clark, don't... what if I've got it... don't touch me." John said with fear in his voice.

I continued to hold John and said, "I'll make you a deal, if you'll keep your body fluids to yourself, I'll be here to hold you as long as you want."

John nodded and stopped resisting the hug.

"Next." Bobby said irritably as he walked out of the office and directly to Peter.

Ronny sucked in a breath and walked to Hank's office as John and I looked at Bobby.

"I ain't got it." Bobby said, not looking the least bit relieved.

"Aren't you happy?" I asked carefully.

"No. Not if it means Ronny or John has it." Bobby said as he began to pace the room, looking expectantly at the office door.

"Clark, could you?..." John began to ask when Ronny walked out of the office with a devastated expression.

"Yeah." I said, and led John into the doctor's office.

"Clark, you should wait outside." Dr. McCoy said seriously.

"Clark's here to help me Doc. Please don't make me face this alone." John asked in a pleading voice.

"Very well. The fact of the matter is that the results of your blood test were inconclusive. That doesn't mean that you have any disease at all, it only means that you can't be excluded from the possibility. That's the way this initial screening test works. If you absolutely do not have any of the seven diseases being tested for, then you'll receive a negative response. A positive result only means that more testing is necessary. Several factors can trigger a false positive so it is important that you not automatically assume the worst." Dr. McCoy said carefully.

"When will I know? I mean, HIV, when will I know if it's that?" John asked bravely as he held onto my hand with a crushing grip.

"I will draw a fresh blood sample and have the results tomorrow." Dr. McCoy said seriously as he walked to a cabinet and pulled out a syringe.

"Doctor, can you give us a minute or two before you do that?" I asked, noticing that John was on the verge of losing it.

"Yes, I'll be back in two minutes." Dr. McCoy said and left the room.

I pulled John to a standing position with our joined hands and into a full hug of support and comfort.

"Fuck Clark, it ain't supposed to be like this. I just got everything I wanted, and now I'm going to die." John said and began to cry.

I thought about all the logical things I could say, to tell him that the test was inconclusive, that even if he had it, sometimes people went for a decade without symptoms, a dozen other logical things that wouldn't serve to comfort him right now. This wasn't about logic, it was about feeling. So I held him tighter and whispered, "It's okay, you're not alone."

We stood like that for the rest of the two minutes, until we heard Dr. McCoy open the door.

John sniffed and straightened, then said, "Go ahead Doc, take what you need."

As Dr. McCoy carefully drew blood from one of John's arms, I held onto his other hand, knowing that he needed to feel connected to someone right now.

"I will contact you as soon as I have any result. It will take about twenty four hours." Dr. McCoy said seriously.

"Thank you Dr. McCoy." John said in a whisper.

"Please try not to worry." Dr. McCoy said as he carefully labeled the vial of blood and disposed of the needle.

John went from fearful to angry in a heartbeat. In a furious voice he said, "Why don't you inject yourself with a few drops of the blood you just took from me, then tell me if you're able not to worry for the next twenty four hours."

"Shhh. Come on. Bobby and Ronny are waiting." I said in my most soothing voice.

"I'm sorry John. What would you have me say?" Dr. McCoy asked, letting his professionalism fall away and his honest concern show in his eyes.

"I don't know Doc. I don't think there's anything you could say that would make me feel better. Sorry for that..." John trailed off.

"Quite alright. Go on, I believe your friends are waiting. By the process of elimination they will assume the worst and be quite worried about you." Dr. McCoy said sadly.

"Yeah, I'll go tell them it's inconclusive." John said, then pulled me into a quick hug that I took to mean his thanks to me.

* * * * *

We walked into the BioLab to the concerned faces of Bobby, Peter and Ronny.

"How bad?" Ronny asked with a tremble of fear in his voice.

"Inconclusive." I said, John seemed to be lost in his thoughts.

Bobby immediately pulled John into a hug and said, "Don't worry John, we're here for you."

"When will you know for sure?" Ronny asked quietly.

"Tomorrow about this time." I said darkly.

"Then lets go to the boathouse. Maybe being around the others will take our minds off this." Bobby said. It seemed he was trying to convince himself as much as any of us.

"Do you want to John? I can stay here with you if you'd rather not be around people." I said quietly, wanting him to know that I wouldn't leave him alone.

John slowly looked up at me and seemed to be searching for something in my eyes. I guess he found it because he said, "It's okay Clark. I've spent enough time alone the last few months, I think being around people would be good..."

"You know we aren't going to tell anyone but... I think we should tell Scott. He knows that we're being tested. He'll be worried." Bobby said seriously.

"Yeah, we'll tell him on the way over. Thanks guys. I don't think I could've handled this on my own." John said to all of us.

"You don't have to worry about that John. We're here for you. No matter what the test says, we're here for you." Bobby said with assurance.

* * * * *

Two hours passed... I don't know where they went. We moved as a group, went to the common room. I think we pretended to watch the television until it was time to go. None of us spoke during the entire time until Ronny said, "It's time to go to the garage."

All of us got up and followed Ronny. I guess Peter decided that his reading could wait because he automatically came with the group to the garage.

"You're early." Mr. Summers said with surprise from under the hood of an extended cab truck.

"The early bird gets the worm." Bobby mumbled absently.

"But the second mouse gets the cheese." Ronny said, obviously in reflex.

I felt a small smile flit across my face. Apparently sarcasm was the right defense mechanism to use in this circumstance.

Mr. Summers' mood changed from happy to deeply concerned. "Was there bad news?" He asked in an anxious voice.

"My blood test was inconclusive." John said from beside me. I could hear a tremble in his voice.

Mr. Summers immediately walked over and pulled John into a hug.

"It'll be okay John. If you need me, I'm here for you." He said seriously.

"Thanks Scott, I never doubted it." John said from the embrace.

"I'll be finished in just a minute, you guys can get in the truck and we'll leave." Mr. Summers said and carefully pulled out of the hug.

We all got into the truck. I don't know how we managed it, but somehow we were all able to fit. Ronny had to sit on Bobby's lap, which he didn't seem particularly happy about.

To Be Continued...