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Bonds of Blood and Tears


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Bonds of Blood and Tears

By Ryan ; Edited by Erin

Copyright Notice - Copyright ©2005 by Ryan Hickey

Chapter 1

The rain had only been falling for a few minutes, but already Jeff Slattery was soaked to the bone. The chill settled into his body, making his bruises hurt even more. The sky had been clear when he had left school, but a freak rainstorm had come up quickly out of nowhere and caught him out in the open. Normally, these storms would move off as quickly as they had formed, but this one did not look like it was leaving anytime soon. His too-small, flimsy rain jacket did little to keep him dry, and the holes in his shoes allowed the quickly pooling water to soak his socks and feet. His normally spiky black hair was plastered to his head, rain running down the back of his neck and dripping down his shirt. Jeff held his book bag to his chest. If the books inside were ruined, his mom would get really mad.

Jeff shivered, causing a new spasm of pain to run through his body. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he swiped the back of his left hand across his nose with a sniffle. Another five miles of this… I should take the jacket off and wrap it around my book bag. With that thought Jeff slipped out of his rain jacket and draped it over his book bag, shivering as what little part of him that had been dry was soaked in a matter of moments by the ice-cold rain.

As Jeff trudged along the side of the rural Eastern Washington road, his mind drifted with envy to his younger brother. Jeff was sixteen and his brother Thomas was thirteen, so they were in different schools. Thomas would be able to get a ride home from school after soccer practice. I wish I was still allowed to play soccer. I miss the guys, but Mom won't ever let me play again. Jeff sighed in frustration. I can't even get a ride home anymore. She thinks I'm up to something if she sees me with any of my old friends. God, I miss them. He sniffled as rain ran down his face. At least, he told himself it was the rain.

An old, beat-up Ford pickup pulled alongside Jeff. The passenger side window rolled down and the driver leaned over.

"Need a ride, son? Hop in; I'll drop you off. Your place is on my way," shouted the white-haired old farmer over the roar of the engine, a warm grin splitting his pockmarked and unshaven face. The smile extended to his light brown eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses.

Jeff glanced over and despite himself was forced to smile when he saw that it was old Mr. Clark from down the street. The old guy had always been a grandfatherly figure in Jeff's life, and his wife treated Jeff like a grandson. After Jeff's father had been killed by a drunk driver when Jeff was twelve, Mr. Clark had tried to be a role model for Jeff, to give him the guidance he would have normally gotten from a father.

Jeff had spent many summers mowing their lawn and getting cool glasses of iced tea and a five dollar bill for his work, but the real payment was sitting on the porch with them and just listening to the stories of their lives. Mr. Clark had been a Marine and engineer in the Pacific during World War II, and after the war had traveled the world with his wife working on dams and irrigation projects in countries Jeff had never even heard of in school. The people they had met and the ways of life they had described had always seemed so wondrous to the young boy, giving him dreams of one day seeing the world and experiencing a few adventures of his own. But that all ended six weeks ago, when his whole life changed. A moment of absolute joy had been followed by six weeks of hell and punishment… to be followed by a lifetime of the same if his mother had her way.

Jeff shook his head at Mr. Clark. "Thanks, but my mom thinks it's good for me to walk home these days. I don't think she would be happy if I got you to give me a ride."

Mr. Clark reached over and popped the passenger door open. "Don't be silly, son; walking home is good for you, but not in this rain. You're going to come down with something, so hop in. Besides, I could use the company – the radio has gone out on this old rust bucket. You'd be doing this old man a favor." The last part was delivered with a wink and a sparkle in the eyes.

Maybe Mom won't mind because it's Mr. Clark… she can't think I've been up to anything if he's the one giving me a ride, Jeff thought to himself as he dropped his sodden book bag onto the truck's floorboards and climbed into the passenger seat, shutting the door behind him. Mr. Clark smiled, pulled back onto the road, and continued on down the street.

The two rode in silence. Jeff was too tired and worried to say anything. Mom must not have told him what happened – if she had, he never would have even stopped. Mr. Clark glanced at Jeff from time to time, but kept whatever thoughts he had to himself, respecting Jeff's unspoken wish to not be bothered.

The pickup soon pulled to the curb in front of Jeff's house, with its small lawn and hydrangea bushes. The rain still poured out of the sky as if attempting to wash everything away. Jeff opened his door and began to climb out, but Mr. Clark put a hand on his shoulder.

"Jeff, don't be a stranger. Mary misses you, and you and I have a Risk game to finish. You can't save yourself by stalling. I'm just about to figure a way out of the trap you set for me."

"Thanks for the ride, Mr. Clark… and I'll see if I can come by in a few days." A faint smile touched Jeff's lips as he replied. "And there is no way you're getting out of that trap. I have you totally boxed in." Jeff slipped out of the car, pulled his book bag tight to his chest and made a dash for the house.

Jeff reached the front door just as the storm slackened and the rain began to let up. Well, that fits. It's how everything has gone in my life since… since… better not to think about it.

The door wrenched open out of Jeff's hand, and his mother stood in the doorway; her dark brown eyes flashed anger, her cheeks flamed bright red and her eyes narrowed in suspicion. She grabbed Jeff by the shoulder and yanked him in, slamming the door shut and pushing her son down the entry hall.

"Who was that? What have I told you? You're not to be hanging out with any of them any more… I can't have people finding out. I won't have you shaming me." Her voice pitched higher and louder the further away from the door she pushed him.

"Sorry, mom; it was just Mr. Clark. He saw me walking home and offered me a ride," Jeff answered, keeping his feet moving so that he wouldn't fall over.

Linda Slattery shoved her son into the kitchen, then grabbed him and turned him to face her. "You should have told him no. I told you that you needed to walk home from now on. Mr. Clark is a nice man – I won't have you spreading your sin to him too."

The numbness the rain had pounded into his body must have reached his mind, because Jeff never would have consciously said what fell out of his mouth.

"It's raining, I was cold, I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING WRONG! I…"Jeff was cut off as his mother's hand flew through the air and slapped him across the face, filling the room with a loud crack. Jeff didn't react. He had become used to this. His mother was much stronger than she looked, but the slaps happened so often that he had learned how to take them. She hardly ever broke the skin anymore.

"How dare you talk back to me? For that, you will not be having dinner again tonight. You should have walked in the rain. It is part of God's punishment; the penance you have to pay for being a sinner. The rain might have washed away the evil inside of you," his mother spat at him, glaring with barely contained rage.

Jeff's shoulders slumped and he hung his head, staring at the ground. "But – Mom, I…" The hand flew through the air again and a closed fist hit Jeff in the side of the head, knocking him sideways and into the fridge.

"Do I need to give you another lesson? Do I need to show you what happens to sinners like you? I know it's not only your fault; if that other boy hadn't seduced you, you might not have strayed. But you did and you have to pay the penance and suffer for your sins. God only knows what the two of you had been doing and for how long before I found out and put a stop to it."

"All we did was…" A third fist hit Jeff in the stomach, making him double over gasping for breath.

"I don't want to hear about it! Perversion like that should never be spoken out loud; it only invites more. I'm just glad I found out before anyone else did. The shame you would have caused me and your brother… I still don't understand how you could be so selfish not to think of that. But again, it's not fully your fault. It was that David boy who drew you into sin."

Standing up straight and looking right at his mother, Jeff blinked back tears. "He didn't seduce me or draw me into anything! Why can't you…" This time the slap across the face caught Jeff off guard, making him rock back on his feet. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth down his cheek and onto his chin.

"Silence! I won't have you speaking lies to me in my own home. His whole family is full of sinners! When I told his mother what I had found you two doing, they didn't seem to understand. They seemed to think that you and he had done nothing wrong. They even said I should not overreact… as if that were possible! That is why I never want you to ever see that boy again." She placed her hands on her hips and glared at Jeff. "I think you should show some gratitude that I am doing all of this for you, especially after all the trouble I had to go though to transfer you from that public school with him in it and get into St. Kathryn's. I'm doing all this for you, even after you risked embarrassing me and shaming me in front of the whole town!"

Jeff used his tongue to feel along his teeth where his mother had hit him. One tooth was clearly loose and would be out by tonight. He used his left hand to wipe away the little trail of blood from his chin before it could drip. His mother would be angry at him if he let the blood stain the shirt.

"…say it Jeff, say it and then you can go to your room and do your homework."

Jeff had not heard the last part of his mother's rant, but he had become so familiar with it that he already knew what it was she wanted him to say. It was the same thing she made him say every morning before school at least a dozen times, what she woke him up in the middle of the night for and beat him if he didn't give the answer fast enough. It was the same thing she forced him to say every day he came home from school.

Sighing, Jeff closed his eyes, holding back tears, and lowered his head. "I'm not gay: I do not have feelings for other males. I'm not gay: I am not going to be a sinner. I'm not gay: I was wrong and I will change."

"Good, very good. In time, we will fix you. Now off to your room. Remember to keep your door open. We don't want you to have any temptation to do anything sinful with yourself," replied his mother, a smile spreading across her face.

"Yes, mom," Jeff mumbled as he picked up his book bag and shuffled off to his room. He tuned out the sound of his mother moving around the kitchen, getting dinner ready for her and his brother Thomas. Dropping his bag on the floor, Jeff tossed himself onto his bed and began to sob silently, knowing that if his mother heard him she would punish him again. His body shook as wave after wave of despair washed over him, every bruise and joint crying out in pain. Jeff ignored the rumbling of his stomach as he drifted off to sleep, praying that at least his dreams wouldn't be as bad as life.

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Bonds of Blood and Tears

By Ryan ; Edited by Erin

Copyright Notice - Copyright ©2005 by Ryan Hickey

Chapter 2

Jeff woke to the sound of someone entering his room. Rolling over, a smile crossed his face when he saw his younger brother. Thomas was clearly just out of the shower, wearing his bathrobe, a towel over his shoulders, and his short brown hair still damp. Jeff's eyes locked on the small plate in Thomas's hands: two pieces of chicken and some sliced apples were barely hidden under a paper towel.

Thomas crossed the room and sat down on the edge of his brother's bed. He wordlessly handed over the plate to Jeff, who took it and greedily tore into one of the chicken legs. Thomas tried to force a smile onto his face, but when his eyes caught sight of the dried blood on his brother's cheek, the smile fell into a frown.

"She did it again, didn't she?" he asked in a quiet voice.

Stopping in mid-chew, Jeff just nodded his head, looking into his brother's hazel eyes.

"Don't worry, Jeff. She's… she's asleep in the living room. She won't be waking up till morning. If you get up early enough, I bet you could slip out before she gets up," Thomas said with desperation in his voice.

Swallowing, Jeff shook his head. "Can't do that. She wants to see me before I go out… she wants to make certain that I'm 'dressed right'. Sneaking out would only make her mad."

"I can't believe she sent you to your room without dinner. She didn't let you eat last night, and she didn't let you have breakfast this morning. All because she thought you were spending too much time in the bathroom… heck, I spent twice as long in there. She's not being fair, Jeff."

Jeff smiled at his brother's declaration. "She's doing what she thinks is right, Thomas. Thanks for the food, but you could get into trouble if she finds out you snuck me food. I don't want her to turn on you."

"I don't care; you can't… she…" Thomas sniffed back tears, looking away to hide them. "Why is she doing this to you, Jeff? What did you do? Why don't you just say sorry and you'll never do it again, so she will stop?"

Jeff opened his mouth like he had a dozen times before, wanting to tell Thomas. He wished he could tell his brother why, but he knew that if he did, he would lose his only ally. He could survive what his mother was doing to him, he hoped, but if Thomas were to turn on him, he would not survive. Silent tears began to fall once more, running uncontrolled down Jeff's cheeks. Over the last six weeks, he had become a master of crying while not making a single sound. His shoulders shook, his mouth clenched shut, and his eyes screwed shut, but the tears still flowed, dripping from his cheeks onto the shirt he had worn to school for the last week.

Thomas turned to look back at Jeff, and a look of shock passed over his face. Thomas slid up next to Jeff and wrapped his arms around his brother, laying his head on Jeff's shoulder and pulling him tight.

"Jeff, please tell me what happened; it's tearing you up inside. I have never seen Mom like this. I mean, she has been no picnic since Dad died and she started drinking more, but the last month or so she has… well, to you anyway, she acts like she's trying to kill you. She won't let you see your friends. She won't let you use the computer. She won't even let me hang around with you unless she is there."

Jeff put his arms around his brother, laying his cheek against Thomas' head. "I ca… can't, Thomas. I need you. If I lost you, I wouldn't make it. It would kill me."

Thomas hugged Jeff even closer, trying to express the absurdity of the idea of him ever turning his back on Jeff. "Ok; I'll let you tell me when you're ready, but please remember: there is nothing that could make me turn on you, Jeff. You were there for me when Dad died and I couldn't handle it, and mom was out of it. I want to be here for you now. Trust me, bro, and remember I'm here."

Jeff gave his younger brother one last big hug, then went back to devouring the small meal. Thomas just sat and watched as his brother ate, a fond look plastered on his face and a thoughtful look in his eyes. Once Jeff had cleaned the bones of every last morsel of meat and wolfed down the apple slices, Thomas took the plate and stood. "Well, I need to get to bed. Remember what I said, Jeff, and if you need some food, let me know. Mom lets me have a bedtime snack, and I can sneak it into you."

Jeff smiled at his brother. The wish to keep his brother out of the middle of what was going on between him and his mother warred with his near-constant hunger, but hunger finally won. "All right, but only if she's asleep like now. I'm not going to let you risk getting into trouble for me, ok?"


"No buts, Thomas. My way or no way, ok?" Jeff asked, interrupting his brother.

Looking down and digging his big toe into the carpet, Thomas just nodded his head.

"Good, now get out of here and to bed. You have a game tomorrow, and I have some work to do for Monday."

After Thomas left, Jeff pulled his books out of his book bag. They had only gotten a little wet and had dried out while he had slept. Taking a seat at his small desk, Jeff flipped on his desk lamp. Opening his math book and pulling out paper from his notebook, he began working on his homework. He didn't need to get it out of the way so he could do something fun over the weekend. If he didn't have it done by the time his mother woke up in the morning, he would be in for even more punishment.

Why don't I just take off? I could go to David's. From what Mom said, I might be welcome, and God, I miss him. But I can't… I can't leave Thomas here alone with Mom. Leaving will piss her off so bad she might take it out on him, and there is no way in hell I'm letting that happen. And besides, I'd have to come back sooner or later, and then she would be even madder at me. I love Thomas. I wish I could tell him. I wish… well, as long as I have him on my side, I think I can pull through.

Jeff crumpled up the piece of paper he had been doing his calculations on and hurled it across the room in frustration. Frustration with the home work and anger over what his life had become since that day six weeks ago boiled in his mind. The day his mother had barged in on him and David, half naked, laying on Jeff's bed, everything had changed. With a sigh, he pulled out a clean sheet of paper and started over. 'Argh, I hate math… I'm glad it's Friday. It will give me all weekend to come up with a reason for my split lip and the bruise. Maybe I can get into a fight at school before anyone notices. I can't let anyone find out what Mom is doing. If they did… if they did, they might take us away from her. With Dad gone, she's the only family we have. I remember Dad once talking about a brother, but he had a falling out with the family when they were younger and Dad never said what happened to him. Thomas loves Mom, and she loves him. I can't do that to him – I can't be the reason they take him away from Mom. We would go into the foster care system… and I won't do that to him, either. I just have to learn to live with it. She might even be right…'

Jeff finally put his pencil down, slid the last sheet of homework back into his binder and sagged back into his desk chair. He flexed his hand, working out the cramps that had started while writing out his essay for English. Without being able to use the computer at home, he had to write it all out by hand and go in early Monday to type it out on a school computer, which was not online. Jeff pulled himself out of the chair, stretching and letting his joints pop, feeling the new bruises as well as the old fading ones. Yawning, Jeff silently slipped out of his room and down the hall. He stopped for a moment outside his brother's room, listening to Thomas' snoring and smiling. Jeff continued down the hall past the kitchen and into the living room, where the TV was showing an infomercial for some kind of knife/blender set. Jeff silently walked up to the TV and flipped the switch off, plunging the room into darkness. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Jeff turned and saw his mother slumped in the recliner, a empty tumbler lying on the floor and a half empty bottle of Jim Beam on the stand next to the chair. Taking a heavy blanket off the couch, Jeff walked over to his mother and very gently laid the blanket over his mother, tucking in the edges so it would not slide off her during the night. Looking down at the sleeping woman, Jeff could remember, with a wrench of sadness, what she had been like before: before their father had died, before the drinking had started, before he had started to notice other boys, before she had found out what he had just discovered, before everything changed. He could remember her sitting in that very chair, him climbing up into her lap and her wrapping him in her arms, holding him tight, making him feel safe and secure. He could remember his mother's words of love, and how every time he fell and skinned his knee she would be there with a kiss, a hand to wipe away the tears, and a band-aid to make it all better. When he was be scared by nightmares, he could simply crawl into bed and she would hold him close and tell him that she would never let any monster harm him… then his life became one of those nightmares and his mother had become the monster he now needed protection from, a protection he knew he would never again receive.

With a sigh of loss, Jeff picked up the tumbler and the bottle and carried them back into the kitchen, setting the glass into the sink and putting the bottle back onto the shelf over the stove where the other half-empty and brand new bottles were kept. Not for the first time, Jeff felt the urge to simply take all the bottles and dump them down the drain. It would be easy. A few minutes and all of it would be gone, but he knew that it would make no difference. His mother could easily go out and get more, and in the end she would just get mad at him and punish him more for doing it.

Jeff started to run the water into the sink, keeping the flow low so as not to wake his mother up. Adding soap, Jeff picked up a sponge and began to clean the dishes, scrubbing the burnt food from the pots and pans that had built up over the last two days. After finishing up the dishes and placing the last piece of silverware into the dishwasher, Jeff could barley keep his eyes open. His arms and legs felt like they had weights tied to them, but he looked up and out the window over the sink at the slowly brightening sky. Dawn was only a few hours off, and the daily routine not far behind that. Jeff's shoulders sagged and his head dropped, not from the physical exhaustion, but emotional exhaustion. Jeff trudged back to his room. He pulled off his shirt, folding it and placing it on his dresser, took off his shoes and socks, placing them next to the dresser, and undid his pants, placing them on the dresser next to the shirt. Standing there in only his boxers, Jeff looked at himself in the full length mirror on his wall. If it wasn't for the bruises, Jeff had to admit that he was in really good shape. While not a muscle man, his arms were strong and lean, his chest was in the process of becoming sculpted and was hairless except for a small patch just above the waistline of his boxers. He had not yet gotten a six-pack, but the muscles were well-defined and there was little baby fat left. His long walks home every day had turned his legs into powerful machines. Well-formed and defined, they had the look of a runner. But his eyes would always be drawn back to the ugly bruises along his chest, side, and forearms, plus the ugly burn on his left leg from where his mother had tossed boiling hot water on him the first time he had talked back to her after one of her rants. He knew deep down she hadn't really meant to toss the water on him, and it was his fault that he had been wearing shorts, but the ugly burn still discolored his otherwise fair skin. His fingers traced along the scars on his right side, a small set of long scars newly healed, and remembered the pain of the bottle smashing into him and ripping his last good shirt open and the blood spilling down and staining his good slacks.

His mother had been furious that his clothes had been ruined, and had told him that till he learned to take better care of his things, he would have to make do with older clothes. He had been lucky that Thomas was at a friend's house for the long weekend. The weekend their mother had found out, and after she chased David out of the house and dragged a screaming Jeff into the living room, he had shouted back, his last act of outright defiance. That had ended quickly when his mother had grabbed the nearest thing she could and swung it at him. The empty alcohol bottle had missed on the first swing, but the return swing had hit him squarely in the side, shattering. He had used his dad's old first aid box to clean up. His scouting first aid training had allowed him to clean the scratches and bandage them up. Only the fact that he had scrambled into a thick shirt just after being discovered had saved him from needing stitches, he was certain.

Jeff shook his head, knowing it did no good to dwell on what he couldn't change. No matter how much he might have wanted it to change, he knew it never would. He knew he would always be gay and his mother would always try to change that. All he could do was try to survive and look for a way out that didn't leave Thomas alone or take away the only parent either of them had. With that thought, Jeff slid into bed, turning off the light next to his bed and drifting off to a troubled sleep where he was chased by shadows.

Jeff woke a few hours later to his mother standing over him with a scowl on her face. "Get up, Jeff. You have a lot to do today, and I have to take Thomas to his game and then to the pizza party afterwards."

Jeff pulled himself up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his blurry red rimed eyes, all the soreness and discomfort flooding back to him. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Jeff stood and reached for his shirt off the dresser.

"You need to shower first, and you need to get your homework done, and then get the dishes done. I also need you to do the gutters today while I'm out with Thomas. If they're not finished by the time I get home, you'll be in hot water, young man. Got that?" she said, poking Jeff in the side with one finger.

Wincing away from the finger, Jeff nodded and pulled open his drawer for a towel, not bothering to tell her that he had already finished the bulk of his homework and the dishes last night. If she was too hung over to notice on her own, he wasn't about to risk her wrath by pointing out her deficiency.

"Now… while your brother is in the shower, I want to hear it. Say it and you better do a better job than you did last night – I didn't believe you. It's like you don't understand what is wrong with you, and you don't want to fix it… I just don't understand. Is the sin that deeply rooted? I don't know what I'll do if it turns out you can't fix yourself. I'm doing everything I can, but you have to help."

Jeff tossed his towel over one shoulder and sighed. He looked his mother in the eyes, dredged up all the sincerity he could, and forced himself into the daily mantra: "I'm not gay: I do not have feelings for other males. I'm not gay: I am not going to be a sinner. I'm not gay: I was wrong and will change."

"Very, very good – much better, Jeff," she said, smiling at her son. They both heard the shower turn off, and her smile faded, replaced by the perpetual scowl. "Now let your brother get to his room and then get in there and shower… and remember, don't take too long; I'm timing you."

"Yes, Mom," Jeff mumbled as he shambled off to his doorway, pausing long enough at the door to listen to his brother humming as he walked down the hall and then his door shutting with a click. Jeff's mother brushed past him and headed back to the master bedroom, while Jeff headed to the shower.

Later, Jeff stared out the living room window, watching his mother and brother drive off in the family minivan. Dark storm clouds were clearly visible off in the distance, but his mother had made it clear that no excuse would be accepted for not getting the gutters done. Jeff walked to the garage and pulled a pair of work gloves off the shelf and the gutter scraping tool off the pegboard. He picked up the ladder, walked out the garage door and began on his chore for the day. Jeff found himself not minding the hard work. It required his concentration to not fall off the ladder, so it didn't let his mind wander. He had started to hate it when it did that, for it always wandered back to David.

I wonder what he's doing this weekend. I think the team has a game, and they would have to have their star goalie there. He was always the best on the team: fast, strong, agile, great-looking… in his shorts he looked so… Jeff's musings were cut short by a nearby thunderclap that nearly startled him off the ladder. Only his last-minute grab of the roof edge saved him from toppling into the backyard. His hands holding the roof in a death grip, Jeff looked around and saw the flash of lighting and the gray haze of the fast-approaching storm.

Damn, I'm only two-thirds done. The storm is about ten minutes away; I can get it done by then, if I stop daydreaming.

Jeff had to rush and the job was not as well done as he would have liked, but he knew his mother would never notice, especially with the storm. He finished just as the first big fat drops of rain began to fall. He hurried to get the ladder inside. He placed it against the wall, hanging the tool back up on his father's pegboard, and then laying the dirty work gloves on the workbench. Jeff turned to watch the rain fall. It began as a sporadic shower of large raindrops, and quickly turned into a downpour of rain coming down in sheets. I hope Thomas' game was over before this hit. His games are normally the first to play, so he should have been done by now. That means they should still be gone for an hour or so to the pizza party. The thought of food made Jeff's stomach grumble. Taking one last look outside, Jeff hit the button to close the garage door, and walked into the house, stopping off at his room to change out of his dirty work clothes. Wearing his last clean sweatpants and t-shirt, he took his dirty laundry for the week and put the load into the machine, then headed into the kitchen to make a fast meal before his mother got home.

The door from the garage to the house opened just as Jeff was putting the last of his lunch dishes away in the cupboard. The storm outside had not abated even a little in the last thirty minutes, and Jeff could hear his mother telling Thomas to change out of his wet soccer clothes.

"…and take a shower too. It will warm you up, and you smell like a locker room," Mrs. Slattery said with a laugh to her youngest son.

"Yes, Mom," replied Thomas, with an audible eye roll to his words. Thomas went down the hall, while their mother entered the kitchen.

"I hope you got the gutters all cleaned out. If you didn't, and the roof leaks, then there will be hell to pay. And why are you just now finishing the dishes? You had plenty of time to get it all done before we got home. What you been up to?" she asked, glaring at her eldest son's back.

Putting the dish rag back on the counter, Jeff turned around and looked at the floor. "I got hungry after doing the gutters, so I made some lunch."

"I don't remember telling you you could have lunch yet. Well, you did your chores, as far as I can see, so you earned it. But next time, wait till I get home to ask first. You may not have earned it," she said, crossing her arms and tapping her foot.

"Yes, Mom," Jeff said.

Crossing the room, she looked over the state of the kitchen with a critical eye, trying to find some fault in the cleaning job. Unable to find any, she simply sighed and opened the cupboard over the stove. "Now go get your school work done. You won't have time tomorrow; after church, I have volunteered you to help Pastor Johnson to get the rectory ready for the Bible group."

"Yes, Mom," Jeff said, as he walked out of the kitchen and to his room, trying to shut out the sound of ice being dropped into a glass and the sound of a twist cap falling to the counter top.

Jeff sat at his desk flipping though his history textbook. He had already read the chapter that had been assigned. He had already read most of the book, but he had to do something with his time. History was by far his best subject. He had always loved history. He loved learning, not just about who had done what, but why they had done it and who had influenced them. Sometimes this got him nasty looks from the other students, but Brother Farbber seemed to love it. He had told Jeff more than once that he had the makings of a scholar and might want to look at history as a major in college.

Jeff flipped to the chapter on the rise of Rome. The Romans had been a small tribe of people who had been conquered and ruled over by a succession of tyrannical kings. They tossed off the shackles of the oppressors to dominate the whole of the known world themselves, never forgetting where they came from. In all its long history, there had never been a Roman king. Emperors and Empresses, yes, but the title of 'king' was something no Roman would ever accept from another. Brother Farbber had said that was an underlying reason it was founded as a republic instead of a kingdom. No one dared claim that title, no matter how great and powerful they became. They even created a new word for their rulers to keep away from that one hated title.

His mind drifted back to the story Brother Farbber had told them in class a few days ago: Julius Caesar had been a young man and had been traveling the republic when his ship was seized by pirates. He had been taken prisoner and the cutthroats prepared to send a ransom demand. When Caesar had found out how much they were going to ask, he had been insulted and insisted on triple the amount, assuring the dubious men that they would get paid every gold coin they demanded. The ransom was paid and the overjoyed pirates let their captive return to Rome. They soon found that this had been a terrible mistake, for once young Julius Caesar had returned to Rome, he gathered an army and wiped the pirates out to the last man.

A smile spread across Jeff's face thinking about that. Despite not knowing anyone and missing all his friends, he had to admit St. Kathryn's was a much better school than the public one he had been attending. The order of Brothers that run the school truly seem to enjoy teaching, unlike some of the teachers at his old school.

"Whatcha reading, Jeff?"

Jeff's head snapped up at his brother's voice, the smile slightly fading. Thomas stood in the doorway to his room. He had showered and changed into an old pair of tattered blue jeans and an Akira T-shirt. He gave Jeff one of his mischievous 'I have a secret' kind of smiles.

"Nothin', Thomas, just studying. How was the game? It didn't rain too badly before it was over, did it?" Jeff asked, leaning back in his chair.

"The game was great; we totally whooped 'em and bad. The only guy they had that was any good was out sick, so we just walked over them. This win locks up a spot in the finals for us. And the weather wasn't too bad; it just started to rain as the ref blew the whistle for the end of the game. Talk about timing," Thomas replied, stepping into the room, walking over to Jeff's bed and taking a seat on the edge.

The rest of the smile faded from Jeff's face as he looked at his brother. "Thomas, you can't be in here. You know Mom's rule: she doesn't want me around you if she's not here, and she doesn't want you in my room."

"It's a stupid rule. I don't understand it, and you and Mom won't tell me why. Besides, I'm willing to take the risk, bro… and I have something for you, so be nice," Thomas said nonchalantly.

"You may be, but I'm… you have what?" Jeff said, looking puzzled at his brother's broadening grin.

"Guess who was at the match today?" Thomas asked.

"I don't know… and why should it matter to me who was at your stupid game?" asked Jeff, his fear of what his mother would do if she found Thomas in his room making him snap at his brother.

"Well, if you're going to be like that, I won't tell you," replied Thomas, putting on the wounded pout he had mastered.

Sighing, Jeff relented. "Fine… I'm sorry. Who was at your game?" Jeff asked, wanting to end whatever his brother was playing at. His nerves were on edge, knowing his mother was just down the hall… and had been drinking.

Thomas reached inside the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small folded piece of paper. "Well, Jess was playing on one of the other fields – you know, David's younger brother – so David stopped by the game to say hi. I think he had hoped you would be there. He asked how you were doing…"

"What did you tell him?" Jeff demanded, nearly leaping out of his seat.

"Nothing…" Thomas said, holding up his hands. "Well, not the truth anyway, Jeff. I know you'd get mad if I told him what was going on, so I told him you were doing fine. I told him you were really liking your new school and all," Thomas looked down at the floor, feeling a little ashamed at the lies he had told.

Not moving from the edge of his chair, Jeff's eyes locked onto the piece of paper in his brother's hand, his mouth suddenly gone dry, a dull ache starting in his chest. It had nothing to do with the bruises he had on the outside. While his mouth was dry, his hands began to sweat, so he wiped them on the legs of his sweatpants.

Thomas looked back up and seeing an eager look in his brother's eyes, he held out the piece of paper. "He asked me if I would give this to you, if I thought you would be willing to take it."

Jeff reached out with a shaking hand, fear filling him. What might it say? Would it be an angry letter from David for them getting caught, for him not calling, for their friendship of ten years just ending all of a sudden? Taking the piece of paper in his hand he pulled it to him, clutching it as a drowning man might a piece of driftwood. Then like a bolt of lighting, a thought hit Jeff. "You didn't read this, did you? Did you?"

"Why would I have? He told me it was private, so I just took it and tucked it away. You know you can trust me, Jeff," Thomas said, giving his brother an angry look of his own. "What, is it a love letter or something?" Snapping his fingers, Thomas smiled, feeling he had finally found the end to the puzzle of the last few weeks. "That's what happened, isn't it?" he asked.

Jeff's heart stopped beating for just a moment, but to him it felt like an eternity. His breath caught in his chest, and all his mind could do was scream the word RUN! But his body refused to obey that command. The moment passed and he looked at his brother, tears starting to well up in his eyes.

Not really looking at Jeff, Thomas continued without pausing for an answer. "That has to be it: Mom caught you with some girl and she flipped. You got yourself a girlfriend and never told me! You got caught and you're in trouble, so David is playing messenger between you and…" Jeff's heart started beating again, this time pounding in his ears, drowning out his brother's words. Relief warred with surprise for control of his brain, the note in his hand all but forgotten.

"…Earth to Jeff – you in there, bro?" Thomas had stood up and was waving a hand in front of Jeff's face. With a start, Jeff slid back in his chair, tipping it over and crashing to the floor. The impact shook Jeff out of his shocked stupor in time to hear his mother charging down the hall and into his room.

"What is going on here? Thomas, what… Jeff, I told you… Thomas, GET OUT! Go over to Mrs. Abiforth's; she needs some help moving a dresser. I told her Jeff would help, but I want you to do it."

Jeff began sitting up, rubbing the back of his head, slipping the piece of paper quickly into a crack in his bed frame, hoping his mother wouldn't see it.

Thomas stepped over to help Jeff up, but their mother had closed and grabbed Thomas by the arm. "I said go, Thomas, and I mean it."

"But Mom… we were just… why are you…?" Thomas began to protest as he was pushed out into the hall.

"I said go, Thomas. Unless you want to be grounded and not get to play in the championships in two weeks, you will do as I say," growled Linda.

Looking over his shoulder and giving Jeff an 'I'm so sorry' look, Thomas slowly plodded down the hall, grabbing his new rain jacket off the hook next to the door and heading out the door.

Jeff had just stood up and put the chair back next to the desk when his mother stormed back into the room, descending on her son like the storm outside.

"What… whack… did… whack… I tell… whack… you about having your brother in your room?" Jeff's mother ranted at her son, punctuating her words with open-handed slaps across the face, staggering Jeff back a step with each hit till his back pressed against the wall next to his desk.

"I will not… whack… have you violating… WHACK… my son, you hear me? What were you trying to do… how could you try… whack…I thought you understood the rules!" She continued her relentless pummeling of her son. Jeff did nothing more to protect himself than trying to turn his face away from the blows as they landed and cringing away from her. A steady trail of blood was trickling down his chin and onto his sweatshirt from multiple cuts in his lips.

"I… I... didn't do anything… oof… we… ouch… were just talking that's… ow… all, Mom. Please… please…" Jeff whimpered before the last blow knocked his head back so it struck the bedroom wall, making him dizzy and making his knees nearly buckle under him.

"I know what I saw: you got him onto your bed and then when you tried something, he pushed you away and you fell over your chair. I am going to have to teach you not to ever try something like that again." She began to rain blows down on Jeff with renewed force, hammering him with her fists, driving Jeff to his knees. Jeff hunched his shoulders, drew his head down and put his arms over his head and tried to just weather the beating like he had done in the past. It wasn't till she started kicking him in the legs and the stomach that he began to lose it. Tears began to flow down his cheeks. This time he was unable to keep from crying out, sobbing in anguish. This only seemed to enrage his mother more, driving her to kick even more brutally. Just as Jeff felt his will begin to break, could feel his hold on himself begin to let go, his eyes landed on the edge of the small piece of paper. He locked his eyes on that little scrap of paper. His mind locked onto the hope that it held something other than anger and hate, that it might truly be a love letter, like his brother thought it to be. Jeff's mind held onto that one glimmer of hope and shut out everything else, ignoring what was being done to his body and day dreaming about what might be, what could have been, what should have been.

Jeff came to wakefulness slowly. His body felt terribly heavy. Sharp pain coursed through his body, followed by a dull throbbing. Even breathing sent waves of pain across his chest, keeping him from taking too deep a breath. Jeff tried to open his eyes and found something cold and wet lying across his eyes. Slowly reaching up with his left hand, Jeff began to remove the damp rag from his eyes. Pain shot through his arm as he moved it, forcing him to gasp in pain. The inrush of air caused even more pain to shoot through his body, making his head swim. Giving into the pain, Jeff let his hand fall back to his side, deciding to let the rag just be where it was.

Jeff felt the side of his bed sink a little as if someone sat down next to him. A hand gently took his and lightly held it, taking care not to cause any further pain. Jeff heard someone whisper to him, but was still in too much pain to comprehend what was said. He squeezed tighter onto the hand holding his and then drifted back to sleep.

Some hours later Jeff woke again. This time the pain had subsided to a bearable constant throb in every joint and muscle in his body. The stabbing pains had gone. The wet rag over his eyes was still there, cooler than he remembered. Someone must have replaced it, he thought to himself. Could Mom have finally come to her senses? Could she have finally seen what she was doing to me and is she trying to make things right again? Jeff forced that hope down, knowing in the back of his mind that it was nothing more than a foolish dream. Jeff lifted his arm. This time he was able to bring it up to his face to pull away the rag. The dim light of his room hurt his eyes, but he saw Thomas sitting on the edge of his bed, nodding off to sleep. He noticed his brother's hand was still holding his. This shocked him, for he knew had must have slept for some time for the pain to have subsided so much. Did he sit there this whole time? How long has it been?

Foolishly, Jeff tried to sit up, causing a new wave of pain to shoot thought his body, making him gasp loudly and waking his brother.

Thomas looked at Jeff with red puffy eyes, his cheeks streaked with tears. Sniffling, Thomas gave Jeff's hand a light squeeze and tried to force a smile onto his face.

"I was so scared, Jeff… sniff… you wouldn't move when I found you. You were… sniff… barely breathing… sniff… I didn't know what to do. I just got you into bed and… all the blood, Jeff – Mom… sniff… Mom did that to you. I have to tell someone. I have to make her stop, Jeff…" Thomas began to stand, but stopped when Jeff gripped his hand tighter.

Jeff slightly shook his head, but even that little movement was enough to make his vision swim and pain to shoot through his head. He tried to speak, but his mouth was so dry all that came out was a barley audible croak.

Thomas sat back down and rested one hand on Jeff's bruised cheek, tears welling back up in his eyes. "She can't do this, Jeff. No one… sniff… no one should do this. This was the worst I have ever seen it. It's like…it's like she really tried to kill you this time."

With effort, Jeff was able to speak, but his voice was an unrecognizable hoarse whisper, "Wh-where is Mom?" he asked.

"Where else: passed out in the living room," Thomas said, blinking back tears. Jeff closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax. She would be out for the rest of the day or night – whatever it was – and he would have some time to recover.

"Jeff, what happened? Did I do this? Did she do this to you because I broke the rule and was in here?" Thomas asked, fear clearly in his words. "This… this is all my fault, isn't it?"

Jeff opened his eyes and gave his younger brother the best 'don't be an idiot' look he could at the moment, then whispered, "No, it is not. It's my fault. It's because of what I did."

"Why, then? What did you do? It can't be because she caught you with a girl. Not even that could make Mom lose it like this," sobbed Thomas.

Jeff closed his eyes, felt how heavy his body was, felt each and every bruise and scratch and worse his own mother had given him. She was a mother who had sworn to love him always, to protect him always, and now did this. Thomas keeps saying he won't turn on me, that I can trust him, but Mom said the same thing. If he flips out too, I don't think I could even defend myself right now. And even if I could I don't think I would. If I lose him, it's over.

"Jeff, you have to tell me. If you don't… if you don't, I'm going out the door right now and getting Mr. Clark. He will know what to do," Thomas pleaded with his brother.

That pulled Jeff out of his thoughts and back to what his brother had been saying.

"Thomas… please, you can't tell anyone. If you do, they will take Mom away from you. She's the only family we have left. I won't be the reason you get put into foster care," Jeff croaked back.

"But… I can't let her keep doing this. If you won't let me stop her, you are going to tell me why, or I go to Mr. Clark right now." Thomas punctuated this by standing and letting go of Jeff's hand.

Tears began forming in Jeff's eyes as he watched his brother stand up and look down on him. His fear of losing his brother and his guilt of what would happen if their mother was taken away warred within him, tearing him apart from the inside out. But he also knew that the time would come when he or his mother would slip up and Thomas would find out anyway. Better my way than at some unknown time.

"In a crack at the foot of…" Jeff was cut off as Thomas pulled a small piece of paper out of his pocket and put it into Jeff's hand. He just looked at his younger brother in surprise, shocked that he would know what he wanted without hearing it and shocked that he knew where to look.

"I still haven't read it. I should have, if it's going to give me some idea of what is going on. But you didn't want me to, and… and I can't break your trust, Jeff. I love you. You have always been there for me. You have always done what is best for me, even when I didn't think you were."

Jeff opened up the piece of paper and read the short note in David's unmistakable handwriting.

I'm sorry Jeff

I miss you Jeff

I love you Jeff

Jeff felt hot tears stream down his cheeks as he read and re-read the three lines over and over and over again, burning them into his mind. His hand shook as he held it. Spasms of pain coursed though his arm but he didn't care. The eleven little words on the small piece of paper washed away everything: his pain, his fear, his sorrow. It didn't make it go away forever, or even for very long, but for a brief few moments he was whole again, happy again, loved again.

Thomas watched as his older brother slowly opened the piece of paper he had been guarding ever since he got home. There was no way he would let his mother see it or know about it. Jeff deserved something to go his way. But then the tears started to fall, and Thomas cursed himself for not reading it. He could have spared his brother more pain. If he had just read it, he could have tossed it and then he wouldn't have delivered something painful to his own brother. But then Thomas noticed that a smile had spread across Jeff's face. His eyes, gone dark from pain and sadness over the last month, had begun to shine once more. It was a weak light and only there for a few moments, but for that one instant Thomas saw the brother he had grown up always wanting to be like.

Jeff let the piece of paper fall from his hand. It landed on the bed next to him face up, the words clearly visible, but Jeff didn't care. He was lost in his moment of joy. Thomas looked down at the piece of paper and tilted his head to one side so he could read the writing. Furrowing his brow, Thomas read the three lines over and over again.

I know I have seen that handwriting before… whose is it? he thought. Picking up the piece of paper, Thomas turned it around so he could get a good look at it. He sat there just staring at it, reading it over and over again, asking himself where he knew the writing from. Who would want to say they were sorry to Jeff, and who hasn't he seen in a while, and who…? Thomas' eyes looked up from the paper to Jeff's face, and back to the paper. Then the last thing David said to him before walking away after giving him the paper flew into his mind. "If he won't read it, just tell him I'm sorry."

Thomas' eyes finally came to rest on the paper, his mind working frantically to catch up to what he already knew. When the realization hit him, he jerked to his feet, nearly leaping away from the bed and looking at his brother, mouth open in shock, the piece of paper falling unnoticed to the room's floor.

Jeff was rudely awoken from his world of joy by his brother leaping away from him as if bitten by a snake. In that instant Jeff's heart shattered. His world turned from one where he knew he was loved to one where he knew he was alone, a world that he no longer had the will to live in. The next time his mother told him to do or say something, he would simply refuse and let her end it all for him. Jeff then turned his head, unable to look at the horror on his brother's face, unable to watch as another person who swore to love him forever turned on him. A cry of pure agony and despair tore itself out of his dry throat filling the house with his voice and his pain.

Thomas saw the light go out of his brother's eyes, saw how Jeff seemed to shrink into himself even more, saw Jeff turn away. Only then did he realize what he had just done and his own heart broke. He had driven that light, so newly minted, out of his brother's eyes and he with only unthinking action had crushed the last of his brother's spirit. The sound that Jeff made drove Thomas to his knees, rending his spirit and bringing tears to his eyes.

With a force of will he had not known he possessed, Thomas stood and walked to his brother's bedside. Sitting down, he reached over and took hold of Jeff's shoulder to roll him back over to look at him.

Jeff felt the bed sink and the strong hands take his shoulder. Through the sobbing, he begged, "Please, Thomas…please do whatever it is you feel you have to. I'm so sorry. I don't want to be this way. I don't want Mom and you to hate me. If you're going to hit me… if you're… if… just do it now and end it for me. I don't want to…" The racking sobs carried away the rest of his words as Thomas rolled him over to face him.

Thomas had tears rolling down his face, the pain Jeff felt mirrored in his brother's eyes. "God, Jeff; I didn't mean it. I didn't mean to jump away – I don't know why I did. I'm SO SO SO sorry! You have to forgive me. I don't know why I did it." Thomas leaned in and wrapped his arms around his brother, pulling him tight, trying to make right what he had just done.

"I don't hate you, bro… I… I can't hate you. You're my blood and nothing changes that. God, Jeff, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Jeff wrapped his arms around his younger brother, holding him tight, making him the rock that would keep him from being washed away in the storm of emotions he was being battered by. The two young men simply held each other and cried, not saying a word but expressing a lifetime's worth of feelings. The tears they shared would forever strengthen the bond of blood that held them together.

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Bonds of Blood and Tears

By Ryan ; Edited by Erin

Copyright Notice - Copyright ©2005 by Ryan Hickey

Chapter 3

The two brothers had held each other and cried together for more than an hour, but now Thomas sat on the edge of his older brother's bed and just looked down at Jeff as he slept. His brother should have looked at peace as he lay there, but the dark bruises and cuts on his face and arms gave silent testimony to the suffering he had endured, and Thomas felt his rage building now that he knew what lay behind his mother's madness. Thomas stood and slowly began to pace his brother's room, clenching and unclenching his fists, grinding his teeth and silently howling in rage at his own blindness for not seeing the truth before, at his own stupidity for letting things get this bad, and at the promise his brother had forced him to make just before nodding off to sleep.

"Promise me, Thomas, that you won't tell anyone. If you do, they will take us away from Mom," Jeff begged.

"Jeff, I can't. Someone has to make her stop. I can't make her stop… I'll try, but…"

"No, you won't!" Jeff interrupted, "She might turn on you too. You have to promise me you won't let her know that you know… she might even toss me out to get the 'bad' influence away from you."

It was that final argument that had turned Thomas around. He wanted to do something – anything – to help his brother, but he couldn't risk his help causing more pain. Some of his tears earlier were due to his guilt for having been the cause of his brother's most recent beating. That guilt also made the rage inside of Thomas flare up, not just at his mother, but at himself. Jeff had asked him to leave, begged him, really, and Thomas could not stop feeling the burning shame that he had so easily ignored the fear in his brother's voice and eyes. He should have listened, but if he had, he never would have found out the whole story. All he had done was check on his brother and talk to him, and that had earned him the worst beating Thomas had ever seen.

If I hadn't come back home when I had… God, he might have just lain there all night. Thomas stopped in his pacing as his eyes landed on the red stain on the room's carpet, about the size of a dinner plate.

The sight of the bloodstain drove the rage out of Thomas and replaced it with a frantic need to erase the horrible evidence of how truly brutal the attack had been. Deep in the back of his mind part of him thought that if he could erase the bloodstain, then he could erase what his mother had done. Thomas left his brother's room, went to the kitchen and rummaged under the sink for the cleaning solutions his mother used on the living room carpet, grabbing a bottle of carpet soap, the big bottle of Resolve spray, and a hand brush. Then Thomas went into the garage, stopping only long enough to check that his mother was still asleep, having not even stirred when her eldest son had cried out as if losing his mind, and he felt a single tear run down his cheek. Thomas shook his head and turned his back on his mother. His heart was being torn by two equally strong but now totally contradictory feelings. He knew what his mother had done, knew it was wrong, and he hated her for it. But he loved her – she had always cared for Jeff and him, had always looked after them and told them she loved them. Thomas felt the rage returning. How could she betray Jeff like this? How could she betray Dad like this? He left us in her care and he never would have let her do this. Taking deep breaths, Thomas took a bucket from the garage, filling it with warm water and the soap, then lugging it back into the house, splashing soapy water on the tile floor of the hallway and onto Jeff's carpet.

Setting the bucket down, Thomas dropped to his knees and plunged the brush into the water. Drawing it out, he began to scrub the bloodstain, pouring all his rage and fear and guilt into his strokes, making his arms ache with the force he was using. The pain gave a physical, tangible sensation to what he was feeling inside. The blood had been given too much time to dry for Thomas to get the whole stain out with the tools he had. The soap and water removed most of the surface stain and reduced it to a muted red color. The stain remover further worked on the blood, reducing it to half the size of the original and leaving it a faded dark splotch in the carpet.

Wiping perspiration from his forehead, Thomas dropped the brush into the red tinged water and sat back, leaning against the wall of his brother's bedroom. To him the stain still showed up as clearly as ever, still crying out the horror of what had happened. Thomas shook his head, knowing that the carpet could be pulled out and replaced but he would still see the stain. Looking down at himself, he finally noticed the red blotches on his own clothing, places where his brother's blood had stained his clothing as he had dropped to his knees and pulled Jeff's unmoving body into his arms, cradling him till he had been able to calm down and remember the first aid training Jeff had taught him, as their dad had taught Jeff before he had died. Moving Jeff had taken forever. Thomas had been terrified that every movement could cause more pain and injury but also knew he needed to get his brother off the floor and into the bed. After getting his brother into the bed, he had stripped off his brother's shirt and had discovered to his horror the full extent of the beating Jeff had received. The fresh jagged scarring along one side of his brother's ribs had stopped him in his tracks for five whole minutes while he stared at it horrified that his brother had kept that from him, and enraged that his mother had done it. After getting Jeff out of his shirt and sweatpants, Thomas had gotten a washcloth and a bowl of water and some iodine to clean the many scratches and cuts. The washcloth now resided at the bottom of the trashcan in the front yard, replaced by a fresh one that Thomas had placed over his brother's two black eyes.

Thomas sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs and laid his head down on his knees. For the first time since he had figured everything out, his mind was catching up to the events and revelations. He had discovered that not only was his mother beating his brother, but it had been far worse than anything he had thought was going on. Jeff had done a good job of hiding it, intent on keeping Thomas out of it, but that was no longer an option. Thomas knew the full extent of what was being done and why. His older brother was gay, a fag, queer, but, to Thomas' surprise, that didn't matter. He had made the jokes, and called the occasional kid gay or worse, but had never really taken the time to think about what he had been saying. Looking back upon the things he had said, he felt the lump of shame in his chest grow little by little. As a star soccer player and all-around good athlete, Thomas had always been one of the "cool" kids. He had always had lots of friends and had always loved the attention he had gotten. But he had also been cruel. He had fallen into the trap that many of the 'in' crowd fall victim to: he had thought himself better than everyone. He had thought that the kids that were no good at sports or were too smart were less than him, and he had treated them as such. He had taunted and whispered, and played his fair share of practical jokes, each time telling himself that the other kid 'deserved it'. If they just would change themselves and be more like everyone else, then they wouldn't be a target. Now his own brother – the person who had taught him how to play soccer, taught him how to climb his first tree, how to camp out, the person he had wanted to be like more than anyone on earth – his brother was one of the 'outsider' kids. Being gay was supposed to be bad. Everyone said so, but Thomas' mind refused to accept that. His brother had always been there for him, had helped out in the neighborhood, and even volunteered during the flooding last year when the other kids were all sent to the school gym for safety.

Jeff had always looked out for everyone around him, the one 'cool' guy that never picked on the 'loser' kids, and had always gone out of his way to make the rest of his friends feel bad when they did. Thomas had always thought his brother silly for bothering to coddle the weaker kids, for sticking up for the kids that couldn't stand up for themselves. Thomas had admired it, but could never bring himself to do the same thing. It just wasn't the way things were done in school. Now Thomas understood why: Jeff saw where he could be in the other kids. By standing up for them, he took a stand for himself, even if no one knew about it.

Thomas made a silent oath to himself. I will do what Jeff does. I'll stand up for the other kids. Because they're someones brother or sister, and I don't want anyone doing to Jeff what I have done to them. I will make it right, if I can.

Jeff woke at the insistence of his bladder. Opening his eyes, he slowly sat up in bed, wincing as the bruises protested the movement. Leaning against the headboard, he took a long look around the room, his eyes falling on the bucket of soapy water and his younger brother resting his head on his knees with his arms wrapped around his legs. Jeff sat there and watched his brother for a few minutes till the call of nature became too great. Pulling back the blankets, Jeff saw the dark red stains on the sweatpants he was wearing. Slowly swinging his legs over the edge of the bed Jeff bit his lower lip to keep from crying out. The muscles spasmed and his left knee felt funny and stiff. Leaning forward, Jeff felt a burning sensation through his lungs as he took a deep breath and began to cough, causing even more pain as his body shook, aggravating the bruised and torn muscles. Jeff's head swam from the pain, forcing him to lay back on the bed, closing his eyes and taking slow ragged breaths with his feet planted firmly on the floor next to the bed.

Thomas woke with a start at the sound of someone coughing and a loud groan. Looking up, Thomas saw his brother lay back on the bed with his legs over the edge. Knowing that his brother must have been the source of the sounds, Thomas stood up, stretching out the muscles that had become stiff as he had sat on the floor.

"Jeff, what are you doing? You're still not in any condition to be getting out of bed. You need a few days to recover, at least. It could take weeks for some of the worse stuff," Thomas said, stepping towards the bed and his brother.

"I gotta piss like a race horse, Thomas, so either I get up or you find me a bedpan and fast," Jeff said through gritted teeth.

"All right, but let me help you. Lean most of your weight on me, ok?" replied Thomas, standing next to the bed and holding out his left hand to help pull his brother up out of the bed.

The two were able to get Jeff out of bed and to the bathroom together. Jeff insisted on taking care of the business by himself, but Thomas said he would wait outside, and if he needed anything just call. After the call of nature had been answered, Thomas helped his brother back to his room and back into the bed. Jeff collapsed into the bed, exhausted from the pure effort it took to keep moving and to ignore the pain.

"Thanks, Thomas," sighed Jeff as he lay back against the headboard and finally took a long look at his little brother.

"You don't look so good, bro; you know that?" Jeff said with a smile, taking in the disheveled nature of his brother's clothes, the red and puffy eyes and tear streaks on Thomas' face.

"Look who's talking. You look like you just went three rounds with a bull elephant. You're going to have one really good shiner and the other… well, you'll end up looking like a raccoon," replied Thomas, taking a seat on the edge of the bed and grinning back.

Jeff slid down the headboard to lie on the bed, letting his aching body relax and closing his eyes. "That's going to be a problem; I don't know how Mom's going to explain it. And if she can't, I have to, somehow."

"Well, if worst comes to worst, just tell people you and I got into a fight and I kicked your a**," Thomas said, still smiling.

"That might work, but I don't know if anyone who knows us will buy it. I can at least explain away the black eyes at school that way," Jeff said with a thoughtful look on his face.

"Well, we can think of something. You get some rest. I have some classwork to do, and I don't want Mom waking up and finding me in here. I would like to talk to you about… stuff… sometime. I have a lot of questions, but I can wait," Thomas said, taking Jeff's hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. "If you need anything, I'll keep my door open, ok?"

"Yeah; thanks… for everything," Jeff whispered, squeezing Thomas' hand back.

Jeff woke early the next morning as his mother stood in the doorway of his bedroom and shouted at him to get up.

"Get up, Jeff! I will not have you making us late for services. I told you I was going to have you help the minister set up for tonight," shouted his mother.

It took a few moments for Jeff's mind to catch up to where he was and why he felt so bad, then the memory of the day before came flooding back. The pain of the beating was there, but so was the knowledge that his brother Thomas now knew and seemed to accept him for who he was.

Jeff tossed off the sheets and began to sit up. He winced in pain, resting his back against the headboard of the bed and closing his eyes to let his head stop spinning.

"I'll be right out, Mom," Jeff mumbled.

"Now, Jeff, we don't have time for you to laze about like that." Linda Slattery snapped back, still standing in the bedroom doorway.

Taking a deep breath, Jeff slid his legs over the edge of the bed and planted his feet on the floor. Taking hold of the headboard, Jeff hauled himself to his feet. Swaying, he clutched the headboard with both hands, willing his left leg not to give out as the knee made a popping sound. Jeff opened his eyes to see his mother, her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at him and tapping her foot in impatience. He looked past her and saw Thomas walk up behind her.

"Mom, do you really think that it's a good idea for him to go? There is no way anyone's going to miss the black eyes. Maybe he should stay home today," Thomas said, giving Jeff a devilish grin from behind his mother's back.

"You might be right, honey, and I don't want everyone asking questions. They might find out that… well, that he is in trouble. Jeff, you stay home today. Thomas will do your work at the church. But you better not laze about all day. Get this room cleaned up, you hear me?" Mrs. Slattery said, gazing a hole through her elder son.

Giving Thomas a grateful smile, Jeff lowered himself back into bed. "Don't worry, Mom. I'll get it cleaned up," Jeff said with a sigh.

Mrs. Slattery turned and put a hand on her youngest's shoulder, steering him back down the hall, across the living room and towards the garage door. "I'll need you to help after services today, Thomas. I'll go out and grab you some donuts or something as a treat. How does that sound?"

"Sounds fine to me, Mom," Thomas said, thinking that she wouldn't have offered Jeff anything like that. She would have just told him to do it and that would have been it. An idea popped into Thomas' head. Stopping just as he reached the door to the garage, he smacked his head with the palm of his hand. "Hold on, Mom. Ritchie asked to borrow my Halo II game. I need to go grab it from my room." Turning away from his mother and slipping out of her grip, he headed back through the family room and turned down the hallway.

"Be quick about it; we don't want to be late. I'll be in the car. Lock up behind you, honey," she shouted after him, taking her keys out of her purse and heading into the garage.

Thomas darted into his room, grabbed the Halo II case, a pen and a slip of paper, and ran down the hall and into Jeff's room. Jeff opened his eyes, surprised to see his brother pelting into his room.

"Thomas… what about Mom? What if she…" Jeff began to ask only to have the question waved away by his brother as he was handed the pen and slip of paper.

"Jeff, I don't have much time, so make it short and sweet." Thomas said in a rush.

"Make what short and sweet?" Jeff asked in puzzlement.

"You really are dense – your note back to David. He sent you one; now you have to send him one… it's how it's done, bro," Thomas replied with a playful smile.

Light dawned behind his eyes and Jeff scribbled a quick note on the slip of paper and handed it back to his brother, not bothering to fold it closed.

David, I'm sorry – it was all my fault.

I'm so glad you don't hate me. I miss you too.

Thomas looked at the note and pursed his lips, shaking his head. "Man, I thought gay guys were all sensitive and stuff. You can't just say that, bro…" Hearing his mother honk the car's horn, Thomas shoved the pen and paper into his slacks pocket and ran from the room. "Don't worry, Jeff – I'll think of something better to put down for you… I'll just add that you love him too," Thomas said over his shoulder as he hurried out the door and down the hall.

Jeff just shook his head, knowing that Thomas would do just that. The knowledge that his own brother was willing to not only carry a letter telling another boy that he loved him, but was insistent on it, filled Jeff with a warm feeling. A large grin spread across his face as he listened to the car pull out of the driveway and speed off, carrying his note to his best friend.

Chapter 4

The time leading up to Thomas' soccer teams championship game went by in a blur. Thomas ran interference with their mother with him every chance he could. Pointing out to her how things might look odd if Jeff was outside in the middle of a rainstorm doing yard work, or going to school before he had healed up enough so that the worst of the injuries didn't show. He also snuck Jeff food on the night that he did something that set her off and she sent him to his room without any dinner. Jeff had also become more and more adept at reciting his mother's litany in a convincing voice without meaning a single word of it. His brother's acceptance had given him a new sense of self-worth and had renewed his willpower that had begun to crumble under his mother's never-ending pressure.

Thomas tried to wander in any time he heard his mother start to go off on Jeff, getting up earlier and getting home as soon as he could after practice, knowing that she was still under the illusion that he didn't know what was really going on, and would cut Jeff off if he was reciting her mandatory mantra. But with school and soccer and friends, Thomas would still come home and find Jeff bruised and battered no matter what they tried. Thomas had also become the courier that took notes from Jeff to David and back again. David had freaked at first, finding out that Thomas knew about Jeff and was the connection to David too. But after a day or two to think about it, he had found Thomas at soccer practice and dropped off a second note. Jeff had given him a note in return that same night and Thomas had passed it on to a nervous-looking David.

"Now I know how the postman feels, Jeff. I should be charging you two by the letter," Thomas said, smiling at his brother as he slipped into Jeff's room holding out a slip of paper in his hand.

Jeff looked up from his schoolbooks, a big grin on his face, and took the proffered slip of paper, opening it and reading its short message hungrily.

Why can't we see each other, Jeff?

Why won't you tell me what's going on?

Please let me know if I can do anything

and remember I love you, Jeff.

Jeff stared at the small piece of paper feeling a lump form in his throat. David had been asking him to meet but Jeff's fear of what his mother would do had prompted him to always come up with reasons he couldn't. Then David began to ask what was wrong and hadn't bought the "nothing" response Jeff had sent. Now he was just asking each time and offering to help. Jeff looked up from the note at his brother and smiled in thanks, folding the paper and sticking it into his pocket until he could put it under his mattress with all the others.

"So what's it like, Jeff?" Thomas asked, sitting on the edge of Jeff's bed, late one night after their mother had once again drunk herself into unconsciousness.

"As compared to what, Thomas? I didn't feel any different once I admitted it to myself. But I always felt different from everyone else," replied Jeff, leaning back in his desk chair.

"How did you know?" Thomas simply asked.

"A lot of things, really. I like looking at guys. I think about them… you know…" replied Jeff, blushing and looking at his shoes.

"Ok, ok; I guess I don't really need to know," Thomas said, waving a hand to dismiss the question.

Chuckling, Jeff smiled wickedly. "Well, since you asked: you see, I just love the idea of… oogh" Jeff was cut short as Thomas tossed a pillow and hit him in the face.

"Jeff, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have – you ok?" asked Thomas, worry coloring his voice.

Jeff tossed the pillow back and smiled. "That's ok, Thomas. I'm not made of glass, and thanks to you I'm doing a lot better than I was. I kind of deserved that. You have been so great about all this that I don't have a right to tease you with things you're not comfortable with."

"Even if you were straight, I don't think I want to hear my bro talk about that… well, wet dreams – it's just odd," replied Thomas, standing up from the bed. "I think I'll leave you to your love note. I have some math to do anyway. You know I hate that subject."

"So do I. I think it's genetic," laughed Jeff.

As he was leaving, Thomas asked, "Did Mom tell you if you could come to my game this weekend or not yet?"

"Nope, not yet; I hope she does. I want to see you win that trophy. You're better than I ever was on the field, Thomas."

"Yeah; that and you know David will be there to watch his brother on one of the other fields too. And you and he can get together," Thomas said playfully, his eyes sparkling as he walked out of Jeff's room. "I'll bug Mom about it tomorrow. I want you there too."

Jeff went back to work, praying that Thomas could prevail on their mother to let him go to the game. Thomas was right: not only would he get the chance to watch his brother play in the biggest game of his life, he could slip away from his mom in the crowd and see David. That thought filled Jeff's stomach with butterflies. Despite the notes, Jeff was still scared that David would be mad at him for seemingly brushing him off so many times. Jeff found it hard to get back on task and just simply flipped thought the pages of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas for his English class. Tomorrow was a Friday and he had a test about the latest book the class had read, but he had read it himself last summer, so he already knew it by heart. Eventually giving up, Jeff put his books back in his bag for the next day along with his class folders. Slipping over to his bed, he pulled up one corner and pulled out the small envelope he was using to keep all the notes from David. With a sigh he slipped the latest out of his pocket and into the envelope, and placed it back under the mattress. He tossed himself onto the bed, reached under it and pulled out the battered old paperback copy of Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, and began re-reading the only book that had survived his mother's first ransacking of his room.

With much cajoling, begging and finally deal-making, Thomas and Jeff were able to convince their mother that Jeff should be allowed to go to Thomas' finals match and cheer him on.

"Jeff, you can go. I have some work that has to get done so I can't be there for the whole thing, and someone should be cheering Thomas on," Linda said, giving her two sons an exasperated look. Jeff and Thomas just glanced at each other, hiding their smiles.

"But I don't want you wandering around. You are to stay and watch the match and that's it. Once it's over you come straight home, got that?"

"Yes, Mom," Jeff said, nodding his agreement, knowing that once his mom left the park, he could slip a way for a bit.

"Thomas will be going to the party afterwards and getting a ride home with the McKinnons, so I need you to walk home, Jeff. It's only a little further than your school, so it shouldn't be too hard. Straight home; no detours," she insisted.

"Yes, Mom. I understand: straight home. Thanks so much for letting me go," Jeff acknowledged.

"Understand that this is a test, Jeff. You have made a lot of progress and it looks like you may be getting better. You may have gotten all that nasty…" glancing at Thomas, she shifted uncomfortably, "…all that unpleasantness behind you. I haven't had to correct you as much as before. So don't disappoint me: stay away from those bad influences that led you astray to begin with, or you will really be in for it, got that?"

"Yes, Mom," Jeff said, barely suppressing a smile. If his mother knew that he was even more comfortable with who he was and had truly started to accept that he was gay in part due to her constant lectures, mantras and beatings, she would totally lose it.

Saturday was the nicest day for weeks. The sun was out, it was warm, and the weather report showed no rain all day. The park with the soccer fields swarmed by kids on teams, the families of the players and the different officials. All the different age groups had their finals on the same day, because the park had so many fields. It saved time and effort, and allowed parents with kids in more than one age group to easily move from one game to the next.

Jeff sat next to his mother through the first fifteen minutes of Thomas' game, watching her fidget and glance around. She hadn't had anything to drink and normally by this time on a Saturday, she was well on her way. It didn't surprise Jeff when his mother suddenly stood up and declared that she had to get home to get some work done and that he had better remember the rules. Then she strode out of the park and Jeff watched her drive off.

Once his mother had driven out of sight, Jeff got to his feet. His knee still gave him trouble, causing a limp, and the worst of his bruises still hurt, including a new one he had gotten only the other day because his mom had caught him giving Thomas a hug. Luckily for Jeff, she had been mostly sober, so it had only earned him a few slaps and punches. Taking a deep breath, Jeff scanned the crowd. After a few minutes of searching, his eyes landed on the one person he had come to see. David stood next to the concessions stand one field over, leaning against a tree and chatting with the clerk. Jeff slowly started walking that way, drinking in the sight he hadn't seen in over two months. David was a classic hunk, just under six feet, at age 16, blond hair cut short except in the bangs that hung down covering his left eye. The other eye was a stunning crystal blue that would darken to a stormy color when he got excited. His face was as of yet hairless, and when he smiled, two perfect dimples formed on either side of his face.

Jeff was so captivated thinking of David that he was surprised when he nearly walked right past him and into the side of the concessions stand. David was smiling at him and laughing. Jeff loved the musical sound of David's laugh. It seemed to fill the world. David put out a hand and took Jeff by the arm to stop him from walking into the wall.

"Earth to Space Cadet Jeff – Earth to Jeff – you in there, buddy?" David asked.

Shaking his head, Jeff smiled back and blushed. "Yeah; sorry about that. I had something on my mind."

"More like someone, the way you were staring at me. Seeing you is like seeing a tall glass of water after the Sahara, but we have to be a little more discreet than that, Jeff," David said, blushing as well.

"Well… so… ummm… so…" Jeff mentally kicked himself. A real Don Juan you are, dumbass.

"Yeah… ummm… I missed you, Jeff. I REALLY missed you," David said, looking down at his own feet. "I'm glad you came. I was worried that I'd never get the chance to see you again."

"Yeah, well, you know, it's the new school and everything. Getting settled in, not much free time, you know?" Jeff said, looking anywhere but at David.

"Yeah, your note said that, but… well, but why couldn't I come over to say hi or something? I mean, I can understand if you didn't want to come over to my place but… what did I do?" David said, emotion making his voice break.

"Oh, gosh, David, you didn't do anything! Well, nothing bad anyway. It's not you, it's… it's…" Jeff looked around. This was too public a place to have this discussion with people coming and going. "Damn: we need to have a talk and this isn't exactly the place for it."

"My dad and I helped with the setup. I still have the key to the equipment shed next to number four field… if you wanna… well, we don't have… I mean…" David trailed off, blushing even more and digging the toe of one Nike into the dirt.

"No, that's a great idea. It will give us the privacy to talk… and um… stuff, if you wanted to, you know," Jeff said hopefully.

'Ok, great. Let's go," David said, and the two friends took off towards the far side of the park, arriving at an old wood and aluminum storage shed with a padlock on the door. David and Jeff made a quick scan of the area, but everyone was watching the game on field number four, so with the lock off, the two young men slipped inside, shutting the door behind them.

David flipped the light switch, and the small florescent bulb sprang to life, giving the dirty, dusty and crate-filled shed a dim light. David turned to look at Jeff and the two of them just stared at each other for what felt like hours. David opened his mouth to speak, but Jeff held up his hand.

"Please let me go first." Jeff closed his eyes and took a deep breath like a high diver preparing for the plunge. "I'm gay, David. I know I'm gay, and I… I think I'm ok with that. I'm not mad at you. I don't blame you for anything. I had these feelings before we kissed and started to make out. I have had a crush on you… well, forever, I think. I don't think I knew what it was for the longest time. I just loved being around you. I felt whole with you around. I felt happier, stronger… I simply felt better. And then that day we kissed for the first time – well, it was the greatest day of my life. I never wanted it to end, but it did and my mom found us. I know she outed you to your mom and dad. I'm sorry for that; I really am. I want what we shared, David. I want to hold you and be held by you. I want to kiss you and touch you and do all the things guys are supposed to do with girls." Jeff's eyes never left David's. He blushed more and more as he spoke, but he kept plowing on, knowing that if he stopped, for even a moment, he would chicken out and make a run for it.

"I don't know if it's love, David. I'm too young to really know what that is, but I know I love you. I know that I will always love you in some way. I hope you feel the same way, but if you don't, I can understand. If you just want to be friends, well, I can live with that, but you will be the center of my wet dreams for some time to come. I can't change that. I hope we can stay friends." Jeff let out a massive sigh and let his shoulders sag, his eyes still locked with David's.

David opened his mouth once, twice, three times but no sound came out. Closing his mouth the last time, he squared his shoulders and simply stepped up to Jeff. Wrapping his arms around Jeff's waist, he leaned in and planted a kiss on his lips. David held the kiss there, slowly opening his mouth and brushing his tongue along Jeff's lips, inviting him to open them. Jeff was stunned for a moment, but the moment passed and he opened his mouth and fell into David's arms and returned the kiss with all the pent-up emotions of the last two months.

The two young men stood like that for some time. Eventually, they had to sit on the edge of some crates holding hands. David looked into Jeff's eyes and smiled, the dimples forming on either side of his face.

"I'm not as good with words as you are, Jeff. I'm more of a man of action, so I hope that told you how I feel." David wrapped his right arm around Jeff's waist.

Now that the adrenalin rush of the moment had started to pass, Jeff's injuries came back in full force. He winced as David held him close, causing the other to look at him in surprise and concern.

"Ok, Jeff: time to come clean. If you really do feel that way about me, you have to tell me everything. What's happened?" David persisted, the look of concern on his face making the dimples disappear.

"You have to promise me – you have to swear on your life that you won't tell anyone, ok?" Jeff insisted.

"Ok," David said, nodding but feeling uneasy about making the promise to his potential boyfriend.

Jeff took another deep breath and began a narrative of the last two months, starting with the beating he had taken just after David had left that last night. In a blank unemotional voice, he relayed the pain of the shattered bottle across his ribs, and the agony as his mother had kicked him while he lay on his bedroom floor. He told David about the mantra he had been forced to say every day, and about the days on end he would have had to go without food until his brother had started to sneak him food. He told of how Thomas had finally decided enough was enough and took it upon himself to help Jeff, despite his insistence not to. He told the young man next to him, whose face had gone deathly pale and looked to be on the verge of throwing up, how Thomas had found out why this had all happened and how he had made it clear that it didn't matter, that he loved Jeff and would stand with him. Jeff finally told David why he and Thomas had not told anyone: the fear of what his mother might do if she found out, Jeff's stubborn refusal to be the reason Thomas lost his other parent, even if she was a drunk. Jeff told David how he planned to just survive till he was eighteen and then move out and away from her.

David just stared in shocked silence at Jeff, not knowing what to say and afraid to hold Jeff close for fear of doing more harm. David's thoughts went back to his own family's reaction. His mother had cried for a minute. His sister had said it was about time he had told them. His father had said "But you're so good looking." His brother still didn't know; the family had thought it best to wait and tell him when he was older. But even his father, who had stormed out and brooded after his first comment had come to David the next week and had told him that David was his son and he loved him. It didn't matter who David loved, as long as he was happy and the other made him happy.

Finally, David said pleadingly, "Jeff… we… we have to tell someone. My mom and dad, the cops, somebody."

Jeff stood, dropping David's hand and looked at him. "You promised! You told me you wouldn't tell anyone."

'I know, but this—! I didn't think it could be this bad. You can't live like this for two more years, Jeff. She'll kill you! I can't let you live like that. Even if I didn't love you, man... It's wrong, no mother…" David stood as well, still pleading with Jeff, tears starting to form in his eyes.

"NO!" Jeff shouted and turned to walk out.

David put a hand on Jeff's shoulder to stop him. "Jeff, she can't do this to you. You can stay with my family, you and Thomas. You don't have to live like that, not now, not ever."

Jeff spun around, his eyes flashing in anger. David missed the warning signs through his own tears. "I said NO, GODDAMNIT! NO! I will not be the one to take Thomas' mother away from him. I will not be the reason he is put into foster care and we are split up!"

"But, Jeff, you don't…" David was cut short as Jeff let fly with a right hook to his face. David stumbled back in shock. His eyes went wide as his hand came up to his mouth, feeling the blood there. He just watched as Jeff took a second swing at him, hitting him in the face a second time. This blow knocked David to the ground, and he just looked up at his attacker with true fear as if seeing him for the first time.

Jeff took a step towards the other kid's prone body, rage welling up inside him. He couldn't let it happen. He couldn't let anyone tell. Then his eyes locked with David's and in them he saw fear. He had never wanted to cause that in another living person. In that instant, he understood how his mother could do what she had done, and saw how he must have looked the first few times, but this time it was him beating someone who loved him and did not deserve it. He realized that if he didn't step back from this, he would become his mother someday.

Jeff spun on his heel and ran from the shed, tears streaming down his face as he cried. He wailed for what he had done. He could never forgive himself or let others forgive him. He had hurt David – he had attacked him because he got angry – he had become the monster he hated.

Jeff ran all the way home. Reaching the front door, he stumbled, out of breath and out of tears. His sides heaving, all the old pains forgotten for the run came flooding back. Opening the door he nearly collapsed on the entryway rug. But with the last of his strength he dragged himself to his room. He stopped at his door in surprise to see it a total mess with his mother standing in the middle of the room glaring at him, holding a fistful of small pieces of paper in one hand and… his eyes flew wide upon seeing what she had in her other hand. He looked up and saw no emotion in her eyes, just emptiness. She looked back at him and waved the fist of papers at Jeff.

"You lied to me. You made me believe you had repented. What's worse, you lied to God, and for that I cannot forgive you. You are a sinner! I have tried… Oh, have I tried to make you see this and to teach you how to be different but you are just too sick, too corrupted to get better."

Jeff opened his mouth to speak, but his mother shouted him down.

"YOU LIED, YOU DEVIANT! I will not let your evil and sin infect this house any longer. I will not let you spread it to my son, to my innocent lovely son." She spat at him as she raised her other hand, the light in the room glinting off of the chrome of the .38 snub-nose revolver she had gotten after her husband had died.

Jeff just stared at her as the gun came up, then, as if he woke from a dream, a sense of peace came over him as he accepted what had to happen. He stepped towards the woman that had once been his mother.

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Bonds of Blood and Tears

By Ryan ; Edited by Erin

Copyright Notice - Copyright ©2005 by Ryan Hickey


Thomas was charged up. The party after the end of the match had been epic and loud. They had all wolfed down mountains of pizza and played video games until they had been called back to the tables for the awards. They had won. Not only had they won, but they had blown the other team away. After the match he couldn't find his brother to celebrate with, but he had shrugged it off, knowing that Jeff would have done as he was told and headed straight home. The awards ceremony was great. Thomas still held the plaque he had been given as MVP for the season. The fact that his whole team had voted for him had nearly made him burst with pride. He couldn't wait to show his brother.

Sitting in the back of the SUV with his two teammates, they replayed the game over and over. They bounced around and made so much noise that Mrs. McKinnon had told them more than once that they could wake the dead. This gave the kids a laugh and then they simply launched back into their animated discussion, causing Mrs. McKinnon to just shake her head.

The car rolled to a stop and Josh and Alex suddenly stopped talking. Thomas looked up from the plaque he had been polishing on his shorts. The red flashing lights had his attention right away. They were about a block away from his house. He could see it from the SUV: the street was blocked off by a fire truck, an ambulance and two of the town's sheriff cars. The whole neighborhood was out standing on their lawns, watching the scene taking place in front of Thomas' house. As he watched, the paramedics loaded a stretcher into the back of the ambulance. The man hoisted the stretcher slowly and with great care to not shift the black bag that rested on it. Thomas' eyes locked onto the black bag. He had seen enough TV and movies to know what it was, but his mind rebelled against the truth of what he saw.

Mrs. McKinnon turned and looked back at Thomas, compassion on her face. "Now don't jump to any conclusions, Thomas. We don't know…"

Thomas didn't hear the rest of what the woman was saying. As soon as she had looked at him, he wrenched open the door next to him and jumped to the sidewalk.

Thomas ignored the shouts of his friends and of Mrs. McKinnon. All he could hear was the sound of an anguished scream. He didn't connect it with himself until much later. His face was suddenly wet, but it had not yet begun to rain. Wiping the tears away, Thomas took off at a run, darting past the people watching on the sidewalk. Some called out his name, some even tried to grab him, but he slipped through their hands, tears dripping off his chin. Darting past a police officer who had stepped out from behind one of the cars, Thomas was finally stopped when a tall figure, unrecognizable through the tears, stepped in front of him with arms open wide. Thomas would never understand how he knew to run into and not away from those arms, but he did. He felt them close around him and hold him tight, his tears soaking the other's chest as he sobbed.

As the sobbing subsided, Thomas looked up. Through red puffy eyes, he saw Mr. Clark's grief-etched face looking down at him.

"Thomas… Thomas, son, you're not making any sense. You keep yelling 'She killed him; She killed him,' but…" Mr. Clark began to say but Thomas cut him off.

"She did – OH MY GOD – she finally did. I told him; I begged him. You have to believe me, Mr. Clark! I begged him to tell someone; I knew this would happen. If… if I hadn't gone to the party, then I could have stopped it... OH GOD…" Thomas wailed and for the second time that day, the full story of what had gone on behind those doors came tumbling out, but this time it was not the dispassionate recitation of facts, but the heartfelt agonized retelling of the tale as it unfolded. Thomas told them everything: all the things he had seen, all that he had heard, the reasons Jeff had for not letting them tell anyone, the reasons Thomas had agreed with him. And finally, he cried out why his mother had done what she had done, not just that Jeff was gay, but that the drinking had always been a part of it.

Mr. Clark held on to Thomas as he finally told the story. Looking over the boy's shoulder, he looked into the grief-stricken eyes of his wife. He watched as grief gave way to anger and then horror. Mr. Clark felt himself go from grief to a boiling, seething anger. He cursed himself for not realizing sooner. All the signs had been there. His anger was also directed at the woman – no, the monster – being described to him.

When the tale was told, the sobbing subsided. Tears still flowed, but Thomas no longer seemed to have the energy or the will to cry any more. Mrs. Clark wrapped her arms around Thomas, whispering soothing words and rubbing the young man's back, telling him she and her husband were there for him, and that they would see that right was done.

"I want you to understand something, son: you and Jeff will always have a place with us. We love you kids as if you were our own. I learned to judge each man as they came. My caring for Jeff isn't changed by any of this," Mr. Clark said, feeling anger flow out of him as love for his young neighbors filled him.

Thomas felt Mr. Clark kneel down next to him and the young man opened his eyes. The elderly man locked eyes with him. Thomas could see and feel the steel behind the man's gaze. In the past, that look had made Thomas and his brother confess to their misdeeds. At this moment, it filled the young man with the resolve to make it through his grief. Mr. Clark shifted and turned his gaze back to the house and nodded at it, drawing Thomas' attention to the scene at the front door of the house.

"It sounds like she was well on her way to killing him, son, but she won't ever get that chance," Mr. Clark said.

Thomas felt his knees buckle under him. His surrogate grandparents tightened their hold to keep him standing as he watched a county sheriff deputy leading his older brother from the house. Jeff's hands were cuffed behind his back and there was blood all over the front of his clothing. His shirt was ripped but the blood did not seem to be his. Thomas stared as his older brother, the last member of his family, was led past him towards a waiting squad car.

"JEFF!" Thomas screamed, trying to tear away from the arms holding him back.

The procession stopped as Jeff turned and looked at his brother. All the tears were gone from his eyes, but the pain and fear still haunted him. Jeff took a step towards his younger brother, but was stopped by the deputy grabbing his forearm.

"Sorry, son; you aren't going anywhere but to the station," the officer stated, looking past Jeff to his struggling brother.

"Thomas… I'm sorry. I never wanted to take Mom away from you," the cuffed young man said.

Mr. Clark stood up and looked at the officers. "I think there are some things you need to hear, gentlemen. I'll bring Thomas down to the station and we can all have a talk." Looking Jeff right in the eyes, Mr. Clark gave a sigh. "Everything will be ok, Jeff. Once these men know what you have been going through and hear your side of the story, I am certain it will all work out. We will see you at the station, son."

Mrs. Clark put her arm around Thomas and her husband and smiled at Jeff, nodding in agreement. "He's right; we will be there for you. We weren't before but we will be now."

The officer led Jeff to the waiting car and placed him inside. Jeff's mind was a jumble of thoughts and emotions. He still didn't know how it had all happened. All he knew was that he had entered his room, confronted his mother, accepted what would happen and then found himself fighting her for the gun. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he relived the scene as the gun went off: his mother's eyes went wide in surprise and then simply closed as she slumped to the floor.

Jeff didn't know what would happen. He didn't know if Thomas would ever forgive him, or if he would ever forgive himself. As the car drove off, he looked out the window and watched as his brother was led off by Mr. and Mrs. Clark. Jeff thought about what had happened and realized that he had not killed his mother. That woman had not been the loving mother who had raised him; he finally understood that he had lost her a long time ago. He understood that now he and Thomas were the only family each other had, but a small voice inside of him said that was a lie. The Clarks had always treated them as family, as had many of his friends. He understood in a single moment of clarity that family was more than the bond of blood: it was a bond of soul, a bond of love. Those that laughed with you, cried with you, and shared their lives with you: they were the true family. Now he was free to be who he was, free of the daily pain and daily mental abuse. He was free to start healing and to start living again with a true family.

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